Sunday, February 25, 2007

Success and Disappointment

Or, Ensemble 27 part 2.

Sibelius Academy is a huge institution. In fact, it is the third largest Music Academy in Europe -in terms of students and teachers. Unfortunately size does not always necessarily matter.

Yesterday evening, we had the premiere of our small ensemble, made entirely by Sibelius Academy students. It actually consists from students of at least four different departments of the school. This means that no department takes the responsibility of the group: we have some freedom, but again there is no one to take care of things. So, in the concert yesterday, there was -or at least I didn't see- nobody from the administrative side of the school, and of course no teaching staff -with an exception or two.

The concert was successful, or I should rather say, very successful. The audience seemed to like it a lot. Students that were just listening enjoyed it as well... What I would have hoped for is a larger audience: you see, 200 people are not few, but in a hall of 700 seats, I do get a strange feeling; and yes, I have played very often for smaller audiences.

I should be happy for these 200 listeners, as well because it was Saturday evening. The Academy's actions -or rather the complete lack of any action- did though affect the low number of attendants. I certainly got the feeling the last few days, that the "officials" could not care less for the concert. Before I come to the actions they did -or did not, I should mention that in my eyes this is a complete and utter lack of respect towards the students. Yes, an absolute absence of morals.

Few years ago, I wrote an essay for a writing course here in Helsinki comparing the Sibelius Academy and the Academy of Cologne (Hochschule für Musik, Köln). The comparison came out in favor of the Sibelius Academy, mainly since I believed that the German one is a school serving its teachers, while the Finnish one serves its students. I don't think I was so much wrong, since many qualities of the Sibelius Academy cannot be found in many other schools around the world. Things though, seem to change, and it is not just the school's fault: I understand the pressure "responsible" administrators get from the Ministry of Education. But, as a famous Finnish pianist would say, who cares about degrees and statistics, if you cannot produce musicians and artists???

So, here's what the school did (or not...): 1. There was no announcement in the daily press. 2. They could not provide us with 2 (two) persons for the needs of the concert (cloakroom and program sales). The cost for two persons is ridiculous for the Academy. Only after some personal negotiations somebody was found to help, and of course the conductors paid for him. 3. In the Academy's website, on the left lower corner, you can find the upcoming concerts. Our concert was advertised there until Thursday. For reasons I don't know, it was removed from that place on Friday... 4. The poster of the concert was not posted outside Sibelius Academy; not even for the day of the concert. I suspected before the concert, that possible listeners might even wonder whether there is a concert there. After it, some people confirmed my suspicion...

So, dear administrators! You can eat your degrees and the ones you produce (me one of them). You can eat the statistics. Congratulations! You managed to come out of the margin and become a MEGA company! But music and art, you don't produce.

Yours truly, Stefanos Nasos (DMus)

buzz it!

9 comments:

proinos said...

Μμ.. Κάποιος τα έχει πάρει στο κρανίο μου φαίνεται...
Any reactions?

Στέφανος Νάσος said...

Έχεις δίκιο proinos, μάλλον τα έχω πάρει... Αλλά όχι, δεν τα έχω χάσει, έστω κι αν το ποστ αυτό δείχνει. Επειδή μάλλον χρειάζονται εξηγήσεις, συνεχίζω στα αγγλικά.

So, my Greek colleague proinos thinks -correctly- that I'm pissed off. I haven't though lost my mind, and I guess that my post sounds logical to insiders of the Sibelius Academy. Nontheless, this doesn't apply to the outsiders, so I need to explain a thing or two.

First of all, the post is not targeting anyone. It's not a specific person's fault the four points I showed that the school ignored us.

Then, here some facts about the school:

1. The Sibelius Academy is a luxurious institution beyond anything you -proinos- or me have seen anywhere else: and that's no exaggeration. The resources of the academy are unique. Here some examples: a. there are more concert grand pianos than rooms!!! They keep permanently some of them in storage rooms, or often in the corridors, since there are no places to put them!!! b. The academy's payroll includes piano and IT technicians. So, everytime a piano needs tuning, or a string of one is broken, they don't pay somebody something extra to come and fix it. The same goes for websites and computer rooms -yes, we have many of those!

2. Last year, there was a "dialogue" -rather a discussion- on how to produce quality education on the one hand, and prove it on the other. It started of course, from the Ministry of Education and other Finnish Universities. So, in our short discussion, some teachers (professors as well) proposed that the quality can and should be shown by other means than just degrees and statistics. They are of course right, because some of them don't hold a degree, but still are very capable of teaching. Furthermore, we just did that without any support: why don't they (Academy's head staff) grab this opportunity?

3. The Academy does not only produce soloists and musicians. It produces among other disciplines, as well pedagogues. By ignoring anything that is not connected with direct reward from the state -like degrees, competition successes, invitations to teach abroad etc- the Academy rather gives a bad example to future pedagogues. (I learned to do -or not do- the right -or wrong- thing just because I feel it in my consciousness. Anything else -reward or punishment- is crap and just helps the consumer society...)

Finally, I strongly believe that expectations within a school work both ways. I explain myself: the higher the school's expectation from its students, the higher the expectations of the students from the school can be, and the way the latter treats them. And since the Sibelius Academy treats its students mostly well, if they mess up so badly I think I have the right to criticize them harshly.

Hopefully, I cleared up the situation.
Cheers.

Anonymous said...

My first reaction after reading this post was a bit of shock and then outrage, but not at the administration of the Sibelius Academy, but at the writer's juvenile and immature temper tantrum! He verbally attacks the administration of Sibelius Academy for its "actions -or rather the complete lack of any action" with regrades to their concert. He blames them for the fact that their concert was not publicized in the press and not advertised anywhere beyond the walls of the Academy. And thus they got only 200 people in the audience.

Now before anything else, let me make it clear that for one, to expect a huge number of people to give up their precious Saturday evening to come and listen to some student concert performed by totally unknown artists is not very realistic to begin with. So 200 is actually an extraordinarily good turn out considering the circumstances, and the performers should be celebrating instead of whining. But let's say that having the event publicized a bit more could have brought in more people.

I think any responsible adult before whining and blaming others should first take a look at himself and ask himself if he has done all that depended on him. As a student one must be humble and realistic enough to realize that he is no great Maestro (yet!) to have managers and PR staff and personal secretaries available to take care of the administrative side of things while he can concentrate totally on the artistic side and on making music and expressing himself through art, etc... He has to roll up his sleeves and do the hard work himself. Of course as a student he can ask for some reasonable help while he has done all that he could. But not before!

Now let's see, did the performers of the 24.2.07 concert do everything in their own power to bring in more audiences? I doubt it very much. I give you the reason for my serious doubts. In my hand I have a small flier that announces the 24.03.07 concert.The name of the performers with the exception of Taija Tyrväinen was nowhere to be found on this piece of paper. An odd name of an ensemble called "Ensemble 27" (Has anybody ever heard that name before?!!) appears on the upper part of the front page, but most of the front page is occupied by some unclear and almost invisible pictures of the composer whose music was supposed to be played. The back page shows (in the smallest possible print letters) the name of the pieces to be performed, while still no name of the players or conductors appear.

Students of the Academy mostly didn't notice the announcement of this concert for the reason that the poster was just as vague and unnoticeable and uninformative as this flier, and believe it or not people tend not to go to a concert were the performers are unfamiliar to them, let alone when their names are not even mentioned!!

There is noting in this silly little flier that would encourage anyone to go to the concert that is announcing.

Printing out a coherent poster with clear information written on it in a reasonable and eye catching size and sticking it to the walls of the academy is nothing that requires an army of administrators and bureaucrats! On of the students who was arranging the concert could take care of this simple task easily. And just a few blocks away from the Academy there is the University of Helsinki which consists of a few buildings, and in each one of those buildings there is at least one or two announcement boards where anyone can announce events such as concerts, and quite a number of intellectually curious and culturally sophisticated people pass them by on a daily basis. Again you (yourself, not anyone else Mr. Nasos) could have put a coherent and eye catching announcement of the concert (with the names of the performers, I emphasize) printed out of any average computer and copied on the copying machines of Sibelius Academy, on every one of those boards! No-one would prevent you from doing that!

I have it on fair authority that some of the performers of that concert didn't even inform their very own classmates (the people much more likely to take any interest what so ever in their performance than any average Matti on the streets of Helsinki) about their up coming concert, and kept it a secret! Instead they could have announced it in the class and not only invited their classmates to the concert officially and openly, but also could have asked them to bring along as many friends and acquaintances as possible.

When the very student/performers did not take these very simple, commonsense, inexpensive, effective, logical, and routine measures to increase the number of audiences for their own concert I think blaming the Academy administration who most important of all did help them a great deal by providing them with a stage free of charge and instruments (I assume Mr. Nasos played on one of those numerous concert pianos which are in every corner of Sibelius Academy, or should we think that he brought his own piano from home?) is not only unfair but is also a sign of narcissistic and immature character.

The job of Sibelius Academy (and every music institute for that matter) is to teach students music. It is neither a music management nor a PR agency! And its budget and resources, no matter how vast and huge they appear to you, are geared towards that purpose and that purpose only!!

I guess, Mr. Nasos, before your talents become discovered by some topnotch manager you have to role up your sleeves and do your own PR work yourself! The Sibelius Academy owes nothing to you, especially after giving you a free music education!

Ariadne auf Nasos said...

Hi Stefanos! I heard from one of my friends that the concert was good! Congratulations! In hindsight it is a pity I did not attend myself - but for that the sole responsibility lies with the Masterminds of the "Ensemble 27"!!!

Let me tell you first, that I am student at both Helsinki University and Sibelius Academy. Some 2 weeks ago I was REALLY puzzled when I received the invitation to this concert on one Helsinki University email list. Why? First, because I am suddenly told of a new ensemble of Sibelius Academy students, which I never heard of, even though I study there myself. Second, because the ad did not mention any performers (!), and, really, not even a contact person (or any web page etc. where to go) for more information!!!

I of course immediately checked the Siba web pages for information, but there was nothing in the official concert calendar. I Googled too, but nothing useful came up. So I concluded that this must be some kind of a little half-secret matine for friends and aficionados. I also thought that maybe the orchestra parts are not legal so the performers do NOT want any publicity, lest the publishers and TEOSTO become too interested!!!

So, if the concert was supposed to be "serious music making" (which it apparently was), nothing in the way it was advertised pointed to that direction. I think majority of the people seeing the ads came to the same conclusion: This is nothing serious, not worth attending to, we can spend our Saturday night in a "less risky" way, etc. etc...

When I later heard that actually I know many players who participated, I came to think that the absolute silence concerning the MAKERS of the music could either be because of them being shy or ashamed of what they were doing (or the quality of it), or some kind of FALSE modesty, like: "We are not worthy of being mentioned, because we are just tools for expressing the genius of these great composers", or "We only want REAL audience who comes only for the sake of music, not the sake of performers, so we won't even tell who the performers are", or along those lines. Or maybe the reason was a combination of both, who knows???

Now, knowing that the concert was supposed to be a very special event, a birth of a new and worthy musical collective (!), I have no other option than to think, that the Masterminds have themselves wasted a precious opportunity, and wasted the time of everyone who put their time and effort to the event.

Have you not ever heard of free internet notice boards, like "klassinen.fi"? Have you ever considered writing a press release? Have you not thought of the difference in reaction, when there is a paper on the wall saying just "Chopin", when it says "NASOS plays Chopin" (Wow, isn't it that wild-haired Greek guy? I don't know how he plays, but I will at least go to the concert to see how his hair is shaking when he plays!!!)? Don't you think that all the people playing in the concert need to have their fair share of publicity? Do you think all of them want to be perceived just as tools in service of great music and not as individuals who put their sweat into it?

I really think that what Academy did or did not do is of secondary importance. I think it is a pity that SOME thought that the players do not need to be advertised or their work for the concert acknowledged. It was an opportunity wasted, really! Next time make sure you make a big noise when the "Ensemble 27" has a concert - otherwise it will meet the fate of Leningrad Philharmonic on its American tour and has to be renamed "Ensemble 4".

Στέφανος Νάσος said...

Dear anonymous,
after reading a couple of times your comment, I was wondering whether you are in any way involved in the Academy or not. You see, this small piece of information would have make my life easier in order to answer to you. But you don't want to make my life easy, do you???

So, my answer will be on the basis that you are not, since many of your arguments imply exactly that.

First of all, I do beg you to read once again the main points of my post and the first comment, since it seems that you lost them in your shock and frustration about my "tantrums": these are the four simple things that the Academy always does with its concerts in the post, and then point no. 2 from the comment.

Then. First your quotes, followed by my answers.

Anon: "So 200 is actually an extraordinarily good turn out considering the circumstances, and the performers should be celebrating instead of whining."

Nobody is whining. I -only me- make a legitimate critique to the school, if you don't understand or share my arguments, I cannot do anything about it... You are right that 200 is a very good number, they get between 50 and 90 in the postgraduate concerts...

Anon:"I think any responsible adult before whining and blaming others should first take a look at himself and ask himself if he has done all that depended on him."

Thank you for characterizing me already without knowing me, I can ignore that. :-) But you assume, that we haven't done our own critique. I suppose that you cannot know that...

Your critique about the flyer is silly, not the flyer. The pictures were very clear, and if you have some problems with your eyes, you cannot blame us... You admit yourself that "people tend not to go to a concert were the performers are unfamiliar to them, let alone when their names are not even mentioned!!" So, according to you -and since nobody of us is famous in the small Finnish market- it would be the same whether our names were there or not... Furthermore, to you it seem to be important the name of the performer. Well, I'm very much sorry that you don't know me. I sincerely apologize for not doing everything in my powers to become famous.... lol!


Anon:"Printing out a coherent poster with clear information written on it in a reasonable and eye catching size and sticking it to the walls of the academy is nothing that requires an army of administrators and bureaucrats! On of the students who was arranging the concert could take care of this simple task easily."

There was a poster, it came out a bit late yes. "Eye catching size" posters... hmmm. Dozens of them on the walls of the academy... Do you read all of them??? If it is such a simple task sir (or madame), why the well-advertized concerts don't get the crowds they -too- deserve??? Yes, in theory everythin is simple, until you try to do it yourself.

Anon:"I have it on fair authority that some of the performers of that concert didn't even inform their very own classmates"

yes, yes. Where do you think that 200 people came from??? We gathered them from the cold streets of Helsinki just before the concert???


Anon:"When the very student/performers did not take these very simple, commonsense, inexpensive, effective, logical, and routine measures"

Again you assume too much, too easily.

Anon:"a stage free of charge and instruents"

I really cannot understand this argument: if I would play the violin would you ask me about it???
And then, concert halls tend to have concert grands on which pianists tend to play. As you mentioned I'm not the maestro who could have bring his own instrument, let's say like Zimerman ...

Anon:"The job of Sibelius Academy (and every music institute for that matter) is to teach students music. It is neither a music management nor a PR agency!"

Well, the job of the SibA is rather more complicated than to teach music. You simplify very yeasily my friend.

Nobody asked management nor PR. I talk about simple promotion and marketing. If you wish that the SibA would not do that, you might be right. (it might be good...) Unfortunately, the Academy does it. Not because I say so. There is an army of producers here -but as an outsider you must not know that- who organize all these concerts. I know personally some of them and highly respect a few (since I worked with some of them and not everyone).

About top notch managers: do you really think that I'm looking for one??? Are you the mature adult, who doesn't even understand that I know my value in the market too damn well in order not to dream about great careers???


Anon:"The Sibelius Academy owes nothing to you, especially after giving you a free music education!"

The SibA owes me and everyone of its students respect. When 30 musicians gather and create music, the essence of this school, (as they say) and get complete indifference, I call it complete lack of respect. You can call it arrogance and whatever your rage make you think...

Free music education: do you seriously believe this fairy tale??? And you come here to talk about adult behavior? I worked hard 5,5 years for my doctor's degree and the School got very well paid for that degree from the Finnish state last December.

I can damn well demand some respect for my work. No money, no fame! Just a pat on the shoulder Mr Anonymous is enough for me.

Στέφανος Νάσος said...

Dear Ariadne.

generally, you seem to be interested in marketing and arts management. I might even know you... But, I'm also interested in those, and I'll try to make you see that things are not always as simple as they look, or we think.

On a personal matter, you are more than welcome to join us on our next project and help us either by playing or promoting us. It seems, I repeat, that you know some tricks...

Ariadne:"Second, because the ad did not mention any performers"

I doubt very much that this piece of information is useful, especially if you don't recognize the names. You can of course believe the opposite, I learned however, that short texts with the essential information are usually more catchy than large -heavy- with all the possible info on it. The person who sent you the e-mail would have been a good place to start with for contact...

Ariadne:"I of course immediately checked the Siba web pages for information, but there was nothing in the official concert calendar."

Check point 3 in the post about the website. And on the other hand, we cannot hack the Academy's site and put there the information they already have...

Ariadne:"I also thought that maybe the orchestra parts are not legal so the performers do NOT want any publicity, lest the publishers and TEOSTO become too interested!!!"

Let me enlighten you: every concert at the academy is legal, because it pays an annual fee to Teosto for all the year's concerts, not a fee for each concert... About the legal scores: you can't get Ligeti and de Falla my dear on the net for free... The orchestra office hired the material for the conductors and their lessons.

Ariadne:"When I later heard that actually I know many players who participated, I came to think that the absolute silence concerning the MAKERS of the music could either be because of them being shy or ashamed of what they were doing (or the quality of it), or some kind of FALSE modesty, like: "We are not worthy of being mentioned, because we are just tools for expressing the genius of these great composers", or "We only want REAL audience who comes only for the sake of music, not the sake of performers, so we won't even tell who the performers are", or along those lines. Or maybe the reason was a combination of both, who knows???"

30 names are a lot... but in any case, I didn't design it. Again, names are important for commercial reasons -like the opera (and its problems). We don't aim for commercial results yet...

Ariadne:"Have you not ever heard of free internet notice boards, like "klassinen.fi"? Have you ever considered writing a press release? Have you not thought of the difference in reaction, when there is a paper on the wall saying just "Chopin", when it says "NASOS plays Chopin""

Well, nasos is definitely not over Chopin -and wherever nasos put almost any name comes to your mind. Thank you for the klassinen. fi tip. Press release: no, journalists and newspapers don't publish anything if it comes from somebody they don't know. This could have been hanlded only by the academy. Otherwise just lost of time...

Ariadne:"(Wow, isn't it that wild-haired Greek guy? I don't know how he plays, but I will at least go to the concert to see how his hair is shaking when he plays!!!)"

you don't know how he plays, but you still gonna go to his concert??? I seriously doubt it...

Ariadne:"It was an opportunity wasted, really!"

I don't understand what opportunity is lost and how! if we continue, we continue, if not, no. Simple things, not the end of life.

the Masterminds would be delighted to have your help on our next project -I guess (I was not an initiator, I got into that later, and think it is a brilliant idea...). Maybe then, they'll have more time to invest in practicing, because unlike what Mr Anonymous believes, even simple things take time.

ariadne auf nasos said...

Hi again Stefanos! And thanks for clarifying your stand on some of the issues I mentioned! Mostly we just can agree to disagree! :D

BUT, I have to tell you, that I have been doing self-promoting for my own concerts for quite a while, and although I cannot claim a big success, I anyway have learned from my mistakes and believe to have an accurate picture of what is possible to do with minimum of resources. And I think that you guys did not really do your homework on this issue!!!

I myself thought the same way about press releases until one music manager generously explained to me what they are all about. Because I want to help you so that you will not make the same mistakes over and over again, I will tell you what I learned from him:

First of all, a press release is FREE material for media. Someone else (you!) has written a potentially newsworthy piece of information, and distributes it freely to the newspapers and other media. The editors really DON'T care who is the sender, as long as the information is verifiable and they have a contact person to check or ask for more. I have proved this by myself, because the very first time I overcame my shyness and wrote a press release, even though I was nobody, it was published in several newspapers!

The rule is, when there is a silent day in the press or when there is a two-inch blank space on the culture page, the editors start to look for "something" in the pile of press releases they have been sent. When it is summer time, almost any "kissanristiäiset" will be looked favorably upon! On a busy week "Helsingin Sanomat" might not publish your news, but "Kirkko ja kaupunki" will!

Then, how do you write a press release? Take a look at the small news in the usual papers. First you have "who, what, where?" section, and after that you delve into details. A good press release is the one that you can cut at any point and be sure that all the most important stuff will stay there. So if there is only one inch of space, they will tell that this new enseble is having a concert, if they have three inches, we will learn something about the Masterminds and maybe the ideas they have, etc. etc. You get the picture!

To whom do you send it then? After the e-mail was invented this task has become really easy! Just go to the net and to the pages of all the newspapers and news sites you would like the event to be published in. Most of them have the contact e-mails of editors who are responsible of the news, or even better, cultural news. Just send it to all of them by email. And don't forget STT, the Finnish central news agency, because it will deliver all the press releases even to the smallest and most remote newspapers, who also might have lack of news on that day. I have read my own news in the most surprising papers!

I also learned that advertising a new artist or ensemble is no different from promoting a new product in the market. The manager who explained this to me said that a person has to read a new "brand name" for at least 10 times before he starts to remember it, and by writing press releases we are making sure that ours is not heard or read only 10 times, but maybe 50 or 100 times! Then we can start to expect some interest from the "average Matti" to find out what the fuss is all about!

So writing the first press release is just the beginning - you will reap the rewards later! If you start a new ensemble you should think of it as a long-time project and understand how slowly it might creep to the public's consciousness EVEN if all your press releases are being published. You also should not be discouraged if at first some papers don't publish your news - they just follow the same logic and need to see your name more often to take it seriously!

So, this is how it works! It takes two hours on a lazy afternoon to write the thing, it costs you absolutely nothing, and everything can be done from the comfort of your armchair!!! And I can tell you that this is true, because I have done that, been there... To conclude my lecture I just hope that next time you will take the lead in your own hand and become "oman onnesi seppä", like the Finns say! Good luck to your next ventures!!!!!

Στέφανος Νάσος said...

Thank you Ariadne for your time. You are very right in many aspects -the one about small newspapers hits the bull's eye (I've found things about me in some unexpected places).

I apologize for any tantrums, also for the ones that may have fallen upon you...

I don't know whether we disagree though. The press release was somebody else's work. It would have been easy to do it ourselves, you are right; but, if I am left to understand that someone will do it for me, why bother do it myself too?

Where I for sure disagree, is the notion of an average "Matti"... but that´s another post...

Finally, a small notice on hesari (helsingin sanomat): on the Saturday issue (24th) they had the press release about the youth dept. matinee -without names of the performers of course, in the minne mennä section.

cheers!

Ariadne auf nasos said...

Hello Stefanos! I think Ensemble 27 could learn something from this:

http://www.kohobeat.com/