Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Arts at the STAR in Frisco with the Dallas Opera!

Yes, the Dallas Opera is coming to the STAR facility in Frisco on March 18, 2017!  I had the privilege of speaking at the press conference in Dallas on behalf of Frisco Arts, the city's official arts advocacy agency.  Thanks to generous underwriters, there will be a live, FREE simulcast of Puccini's Madame Butterfly on the massive screen in the outdoor pavilion of the STAR, which normally displays football players and cheerleaders.  What a huge step for Frisco and the arts to create a citywide, arts event for the public to be introduced to opera in a casual, non-threatening setting. 

So why should you attend this event, even if you (or your kids) are not into opera?  Let me explain. 

When I was 4 years old, my parents took me to my first orchestra concert.  The Chicago Symphony was performing at Orchestra Hall downtown, and we sat near the front.  My parents are not proficient at any musical instruments, but they wanted to expose me to the world of orchestra.  I was completely mesmerized by the violins, the sweet sound, the flying fingers, the experience of being engulfed in the incredible orchestral music.  I told my parents that night I had to learn the violin, and they didn't believe I was serious.  So what did I do?  I created a violin from a kleenex box, ruler, rubber bands, and a chopstick bow.  I was determined to play the violin!  Eventually my parents realized I wasn't going to give up, and they found a great violin teacher for me.  I became a star Suzuki student, traveling the area and performing my first concert at age 5 with the Rockford Symphony Orchestra at the Metro Center, and eventually becoming concertmaster of the Illinois State Orchestra.  My involvement in music completely changed my life and set me on a course to where I am today, still performing both piano and violin, teaching lessons, and now advocating for the arts in my new hometown of Frisco, TX.

All that from one concert, on one night, at age 4.

Exposing children to the vast, powerful, and engaging world of the arts is a passion of mine, and it's something that I believe every child should experience.  We never know the full impact of a child's first taste of music, dance, theater, and visual art, but I can attest, it plants a seed that can takes deep roots with time.  On March 18th, we may inspire the next generation of musicians, writers, philosophers, costume designers, tech experts, doctors, lawyers, teachers, city leaders, and more.  And if you're an adult that has never seen an opera, what better way to experience the romance of Madame Butterfly than relaxing under the stars with your loved one?  So come out with your friends, family, and neighbors to immerse yourself in the magical world of musical storytelling. . . and feed your soul in ways you never knew possible.

For more information, click here to view our online Frisco Arts calendar.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Mum War (according to this mum)

Homecoming mums are a hot topic right now at Reedy High School in Frisco, TX, and it's all our fault.

Well, actually, it's my 14-year-old daughter Ellie's fault.  Our sweet, unassuming, and beautiful girl decided to try something new, to run with an idea, and to embrace simplicity.  She created an option for herself and others where the only previous choice was "Go Big or Go Home."

Rather than explain Ellie's concept, here's the video that she created to share the idea.

When the video was posted to Reedy High School's social media and Facebook page on September 3rd, Ellie was immediately catapulted into the public eye.  Channel 5 news wanted to speak with her right away, as well as the Dallas Morning News and even sponsors who wanted to participate.  A news reporter came to the school the very next day to do a feature story, and Dr. Rick Reedy himself emailed Ellie to let her know that he'd like to take the challenge, asking her to choose 4 special needs students who will receive his mums.

Ellie was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and very grateful.  What she didn't expect was that she had inadvertently started a mum war.  According to the NBC Channel 5 report, 71% people agreed that the TX mum tradition had spiraled out of control and needed downsizing, but 29% felt that the larger-than-life mums were a beloved tradition.

Suddenly what began as a message that "simple is beautiful, too" turned into "us and them", right or wrong, old vs. new.  And the biggest fighters in the mum battle?  Moms.

Moms either love mums or hate them- there seems to be no middle ground.  I've heard from moms who feel that their daughters shouldn't be caught dead wearing something that big, and moms who can't wait to have their daughters finally receive a massive mum.  Moms whose sons just want to make their girlfriends happy, and moms whose sons detest the tradition.  Moms from TX who have proudly grown up with grandiose mums, and moms from out of state who will never understand it.  Moms who find the larger mums beautiful and a prized keepsake, and moms who prefer simplicity.

The reality is that everyone is free to choose, but at Reedy High School, there is finally a new option in place that wasn't there before.  You are free to take the Reedy Mum Challenge to receive a real chrysanthemum and donate to charity, but you are also free to design a larger-than-life mum to wear or give away.  You are free to buy your own mum at the local flower shop, or you can choose to completely opt out of any mums at all!

So my fellow mums, when we talk about all the mum options with our kids, let's model respect and kindness as we agree to disagree.  There's no disputing taste, after all!  It's truly a matter of opinion, so there's no need to bash the other side.  Everyone has a right to choose, and everyone has a right to comment, but there's no good that will come from shaming or judging each other.  If there's anything I can't stand, it's drama and unnecessary competition.  It feels so, dare I say, high school!

Let's remember what this is really about- school spirit!  It's not about us as parents and what we like or dislike.  Let's allow our kids to choose how they want to show their pride as strong Reedy Lions.  In the end, it's up to them to embody the spirit of "One pride, many dreams," as written on the high school walls.  As moms, let's give them the support and love they need to get there, no matter what kind of mum they wear.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Why School Auditoriums Cannot Replace a Civic Center for the Arts

School auditoriums are not meant to replace a city's performing arts facility.  Number of seats in a school auditorium does not automatically translate into available seats for the community at large.  Just because space is there doesn't mean it's ours for the taking.  If a city values thriving arts and culture as an unquestionable component of its citizens' quality of life (like parks), then it will create civic places to accommodate the community's needs to gather, celebrate, educate, and perform.

Here are some points to consider.

1.  School stages are not City stages.

The ISD and the City are separate entities.  They are related, but they are not the same.  This has become abundantly clear recently as a few FISD fine arts teachers have been reprimanded for speaking up at Council meetings, though they came as private citizens to represent the need for a larger civic performing arts space.  If we must tread so lightly on the separation of ISD and the city, then should ISD auditoriums be freely and uniformly considered city space?  It seems a bit one-sided.  If you're going to use someone's property, they have a right to talk about it.

Also, if we want to save tax dollars by not building a performing arts facility in a city and use the school auditoriums instead, then let's take a minute to apply that same logic to other services that exist within the schools.  I think we may have found a way to save even more money!

Take for instance the libraries.  Rather than paying for an expansion on the city library, why don't we just charge a nominal fee for citizens to use school libraries?  We have so many schools with so many books!  Why do we need a stand-alone library building for all citizens to use?  Aren't those school books sufficient for every citizen, young and old?  Can't you all use the same space?

How about sports parks?  Why don't we remove from the city budget any more plans to build publicly-funded sports parks and start sharing with the schools since they already have fields to use?  We've already paid for them- we might as well use them!  We can save a lot of money by sharing what already exists in the schools districts.

I understand it's important to be fiscally responsible.  But is saving money at all costs the goal and motivation behind not building a public facility for the arts?  Could it be possible that there are some things that cannot be measured or valued in dollars and cents?

Let's be clear, I support a stand-alone library facility in Frisco.  I support its expansion because I think citizens need a beautiful public space to gather, explore, educate themselves, and have time to reflect.  The library also provides unique programming beyond the instructional limitations of a school facility.  In fact, my 11-year-old daughter Chloe was selected this year as a student teller in the Lone Star Storytelling Festival, hosted by the Frisco Public Library.  She shared the stage with national storytellers at the Dr. Pepper Arena and told a Korean Folk Tale in front of an audience of 2,000 4th graders.  She says it was the best experience of her life!  And this is all thanks to the public library and its exciting programs.

I also support community sports parks in Frisco.  I don't think it would be fair to ask every single sports organization to share fields and facilities with the schools; it would be a scheduling nightmare, and there is no way those groups could survive.  Sports parks are publicly-funded spaces for recreational usage for the entire community to enjoy, whether or not every citizen actually uses them.  Can we consider doing the same for the arts community so that they don't have to share 120 publicly-funded seats in a 2,300 sq. ft. Black Box Theater?

2.  Lack of available dates

The assumption that there are 365 days a year and thus 365 available dates at the schools auditoriums is completely flawed and has no understanding of what really happens at the schools.

According to one of the fine arts teachers in FISD, each school has several performing arts programs (bands, choirs, orchestras, theater) with multiple groups and levels within those programs.  Each of those groups must plan for their year and set dates ahead of time.  There is already a lack of dates just to accommodate the school groups, and that is without the middle schools and elementary schools trying to utilize the stages as well.  Across the district, if you were to look at the Auditorium calendars, you would easily find that there are very few dates or times available for public use.

Of those remaining dates (which are not ideal since the best dates are now taken), community groups must go through a lottery system.  You cannot simply walk in and book a date.  April and May are almost completely off limits due to school functions (which is when many music and dance studios do their spring concerts), and the lottery is only held in February.  For dance studios who order costumes in December and receive them by March, it is prohibitive to work with a venue that can't give you a firm date until a few months before the concert.

So just because a handful of lucky community groups were able to get the dates they needed in the school auditorium lottery, it does not prove that community groups have found a solution to their performance needs or are using the schools on a regular basis.  Many groups have chosen to save the scheduling headache and move their performance to a city that has a stand-alone facility which can simply be rented on the available dates.  When they do so, Frisco not only loses money, we also lose talent.

3.  School stages are instructional space through the year, not performance space

If you've ever been to one of the FISD auditoriums to attend a high school show (which I highly recommend), you will see how incredibly professional their theater sets are.  And not just one, the students build many different sets for each show.  They use all of their work room, rehearsal space, and dressing room/lockers for their productions.  I visited a HS auditorium in Frisco recently whose set was on multiple levels with tiers and took up the entire stage.  I was extremely impressed; these students are learning what it takes to create a quality theater production, and they need their instructional space to do it.

Should students and teachers be forced to move their entire set in order to accommodate community groups during the week and weekends?  When you're teaching kids how to produce a show, is it your responsibility to constantly clear the stage, or make the set smaller, move it around or store it differently so that the community group coming in to use your space can take over for the week of productions?  The purpose of the school auditorium is for students.   A school auditorium is an instructional facility, not designed or readily available as a rental venue.  Could this change in the future?  Is there a way that the city and the ISD can partner to create a larger facility that could service both?  I believe so, and I hope we can explore those options.

4.  Students need to be inspired by professionals in their industry.

The FISD is doing an incredible job of raising quality, award-winning fine arts students.  The arts teach our children to solve problems, work together to learn new skills, communicate in creative ways, be innovative and strive for excellence.  These are well-documented facts, and fine arts parents witness it to be true.

Where can our students go in Frisco to be inspired and see professionals in their industry come to perform in a world-class facility?  Right now, the only publicly-owned place for the city to invite professionals is the Black Box Theater.  The Box cannot house a professional orchestra or a Broadway show.  It can't host the cultural arts programs that represent the changing demographic of Frisco.  The Box is limiting, both for students and professionals, and ultimately for the city.  We must think outside the Box.

Make no mistake, the ISD has shown a great commitment to the fine arts.  You can't walk into a new high school auditorium in Frisco and not clearly see that arts is a priority to the administration.  They are educating the next generation of arts enthusiasts, consumers, and professionals.  Are we as a city creating a place for these students to want to come back to Frisco to live, work, play, and grow?  Can we be a sustainable city without the presence of strong arts and culture, relying on schools and churches to fill in the gap for lack of public performance space?  I hope one day our city will be a cultural and performing arts destination for the graduates of the excellent FISD fine arts programs, as well as for the citizens at large.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Arts in Frisco, TX- Why the Controversy?

When I ask people about the arts in Frisco, TX, I am shocked when I see a visceral reaction of negativity and fear.  It is palpable.  I'll get a terse smile, a deep breath, and I can tell words are being carefully crafted before daring to be spoken.

I grew up near Chicago, IL, a city that deeply understands the great public value of arts and culture.  It's not questioned, it doesn't need to be justified; it's simply part of the daily conversation, intentionally woven into the very fabric of the city.  I have to say, I miss it.  I miss it terribly.

What has caused this black eye in Frisco's history with the arts?  What happened that has turned something so innately beautiful and unifying as the arts into fractured, broken pieces?

Let me pull back the curtain to reveal what I've learned about this complex history.

In 2000, a nationally award-winning Millenium plan was put in place for the city of Frisco.  It included a vision for the arts that states, "The City of Frisco should develop a community center for all ages, and/or cultural facilities (museum, performing arts center, etc)."  That was the vision for the arts in Frisco, 14 years ago.

In 2002, a project came to the table called the Arts of Collin County, or later renamed the Arts of North Texas.  It was a joint effort of neighboring cities to create a 2,100-seat performing arts venue as a regional cultural arts magnet.  There was a bond election at the time, and Frisco voters approved $19M towards creating this facility.

In 2006, a Comprehensive Plan was formed for Frisco created by citizens who had a vision for Frisco's future.  One of the objectives was, "Establish Frisco as a center for arts, education, and entertainment."  Other points included: "Increase cultural opportunities and choices through initiatives including more public art venues," and "Enhance the role of downtown as the cultural and social center of the city; reinforce and strengthen downtown as the heart of Frisco."

With this Comprehensive Plan in place, a new bond election occurred in 2006, and voters approved $5M towards Frisco's own "science and cultural arts facility," a separate bond from the larger Arts of Collin County project located in Allen, TX, right on the outskirts of Frisco.

In 2010, the Frisco Discovery Center was born.  It was created by converting the former aerospace building on Cotton Gin Road and the Dallas North Tollway into the Sci-Tech Discovery Center (a children's science museum), a 120-seat Black Box Theater, an "Art Gallery" (one hallway and central lobby space in the building), and a back-of-house space that could be used for special events.  Frisco Association for the Arts, the city's official arts agency, was chosen to be the managers of the entire space.

In 2011, all hell broke loose.

I can't pinpoint how it all started, but I can say, it was BIG.  Big enough to recall the 2002 bond measure for $19M that was already approved, big enough to have so much campaigning and politicking for or against the bond measure that it caused irrevocable damage to the community's understanding of the arts.  Friends became foes, lines were drawn in the sand, and the city became divided. . . over the arts.  Being pro-arts was considered fiscally irresponsible, rhetoric like "needs vs. wants" or "arts is a hobby" became pervasive, and there was no middle ground.  You either supported Frisco's infrastructure and safety, or you were a crazy arts person.  You couldn't be both.

Essentially, Frisco voters were given an opportunity to change a bond measure that had already been approved in 2002.  How did that happen?  Why was it targeted?  That in itself is disturbing.  But what's just as disheartening is that the project was less than $300,000 away from getting the shovel to the ground, and had it started before 2011, there would have been no turning back.

The end result was that in 2011, Frisco voters revoked the city's authority to issue the remaining $16.4M from the original $19M.  The City Council members stated that they couldn't support a performing arts center that was not in Frisco.  If it were located in Frisco, some councilmen assured, they would have voted for it.

Once Frisco pulled out of the 3-city project, it died.  There was no recovery.  Frisco was blamed for ruining the project and having no vision, but on the flip side, Frisco was also called a hero by those who believed it was the most fiscally responsible thing to do in an economic downturn.  And again, it wasn't in Frisco.

It's 2014.  Suddenly, a perfect storm has arrived.  A judge ruled that the 3 cities involved in the Arts of Collin County project will receive a small portion of funds back from their initial investment.  A week later, I gave a presentation with 2 other volunteers/arts advocates and the Community Development Corporation president to the 2015 Citizen Bond Committee in favor of a Cultural and Performing Arts Center IN Frisco and BY Frisco, asking for $20M in bonds to show the city's commitment to the arts and to attract a quality, dedicated partner.

The very next day, there were 4 forms of media asking our team's input on this issue: KRLD News Radio, Dallas Morning News, Community Impact News, and Channel 11.  The number one question?  What do you say about Frisco voting down the Arts of Collin County project in 2011?  Is it too early to be asking for an arts venue in Frisco given the history?

Is it too EARLY?  I submit it is 14 years TOO LATE!

As we get close to entering the new year, we must change the conversation about the arts in Frisco.  Art is the most beautiful form of human expression, a universal form of communication.  Art unites, it does not divide.  Art inspires, it does not create enmity.  We must remove the fear and negativity that surround the arts in Frisco.  No one likes a nagging wife who can't let go of an issue and keeps bringing up what didn't work, especially after it has been resolved.  That's how this 2011 issue is treated; we have to LET IT GO.  If we just keep looking back at this dark history, we will never move forward.

I believe that this 2015 Bond election is a litmus test in time.  Future generations are going to point to this moment, this particular bond election, and make a determination about what we value.  The character of the city is on the line.  What is Frisco all about?  Are we designing a well-rounded city?  Are we preserving our culture and creating sustainability for the remaining 40% left to build?  Or will we continue to be known as the best place to raise a professional athlete because of our public commitment to world-class sports facilities?  Will we only focus on the bones of the city (infrastructure), and neglect the heart and soul (arts), which is what gives every city its unique identity?  Will we decide a facility for the arts can wait another 5-7 years until the next bond election in 2020?  Or can we finally fulfill a 14-year vision for the arts to create a balanced face for Frisco?

These are all questions that I will be bringing to the table at our Citizen Bond Committee meetings in January 2015.  I expect opposition, but I know I am in the right place at the right time for this issue in Frisco.  And I hope that someday, the arts will become part of the very fabric of Frisco as it is in all great cities, and that we will be known as the place to be for the arts, not in spite of it.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Open Classical- Part 2: Classical Open Mic Night

I interviewed Mark Landson, Director of Open Classical, about the concept of the popular Classical Open Mic Night, an innovative way of introducing the public to classical music.  Here's our conversation. . .

T:  So tell me, what exactly is Classical Open Mic?

M:  Classical Open Mic is an opportunity for anyone to come out and perform classical music in a casual, social environment.  It's a fun night where the audience and artist can interact and enjoy classical music together.  It is free and open to the public, usually hosted at a restaurant or coffee house.  We increase customers, and they provide the venue; it's a win-win!  We also supply the sound equipment, keyboard, and offer an accompanist, making it very easy for anyone to participate; just bring your instrument, your music, and play!

NOTE:  Here's the Facebook link to Classical Open Mic in Frisco, TX to view pics, videos, and sign up to play!


T:  Is it limited to only classical music?

M:  No, just mostly classical!  We want to hear music that generally doesn't get to have a voice in our current culture, but we've definitely had lots of variety: a few jazz musicians, pop vocals, originals, and even Metallica performed by a crazy Korean violinist.

T:  Ha!!  Moving on. . . so what makes Classical Open Mic an important part of Open Classical events?

M: Well as you know, the classical audience is getting smaller and smaller, and we want to change that.  Classical Open Mic builds and nurtures this audience so that the Dallas Symphony and other orchestras around the US have more patrons in the future.  Not only do we bring classical music to audiences that would never hear it to create a hunger and appreciation for it, but we also create a ladder for aspiring performing artists.  In the current classical system, there is no ladder; it's all top-down.  If you win a competition, you get to perform.  If you don't, it's almost impossible to build a fan base: you have to spend hundreds of dollars renting out a church or venue, advertise and market yourself, practice for hours and hours and hope that at least 10 people who aren't related to you show up to hear all the work you've done.  Classical Open Mic inserts a performance layer that currently doesn't exist.

T:  So Classical Open Mic is essentially an arts ladder?

M:  Yes.  It is an audience-building tool that allows artists to take more control over their own career and development.  It is modeled much like the pop music world which often times starts with playing at an open mic.  There’s a stair step, a hierarchy to build your fan base in the pop world.  Why can't that happen in the classical music world?  We have literally thousands of musicians out there who could be performing regularly but with no venue, no first step, no bottom-up approach.  We need to create opportunities for classical musicians to gain fan bases by performing regularly, networking, and connecting with an audience.  That's what Classical Open Mic does.

T:  Ok, that's great for the aspiring performer.  But let's say I'm a suburban mom who listens to Justin Timberlake while I work out and maybe some Adele with a glass of wine at night because during the day I've been accosted with Dora the Explorer songs.  Not that I'm describing my life AT ALL, but how would you convince me to come out to a Classical Open Mic night to hear boring classical music?

M:  First, I KNEW you were a Timberlake fan!  But secondly, I'd say you need to come out because it's fun!  Classical Open Mic at its core is a social activity; you get to hang out with old friends, meet new ones, and get to know the artists performing in a very casual environment.  It's always a great time and uniquely different at each one.  Yes, there is classical music, but we are taking the stigma out of it by bringing it dressed down, not dumbed down.  When you get to be up close and personal with talented musicians just a few feet away from you, hearing what they create and watching their fingers fly, I think you might change your mind about classical music!  It's good for your soul; it takes you on an intelligent journey of emotions and gives your mind space and freedom to imagine without limits; you might be surprised at how much you love it if you are open to it.

T:  So I'm hearing you say that Classical Open Mic is both beneficial for the musician but also the audience?

M:  Classical Open Mic is great for the community at large.  It's an outreach program and the strongest one we have.  It brings people together from all walks of life, races, and ages.  Music unites people and when you have a community that values the arts, you have a stronger community.

T:  What about professional musicians who have made it to the top 1%?  Is there a reason for them to come and play at a Classical Open Mic?

M:  I would ask them to attend and perform not because they need to build an audience for themselves (which probably already exists), but to inspire a future audience for classical music in general.  If we have symphony musicians and performing artists volunteer their time to play at a local Classical Open Mic, it's a bit like having a professional football player come to a student game and play on the field with them.  They are essentially celebrities offering community service to nurture the next generation of classical musicians, both performers and supporters.  As our current listening audience is slowly dying off, this is a perfect way for professionals to connect with the public, sharing their talent and ultimately resulting in people who fill seats at their orchestra concerts!

T:  Speaking of the next generation, how about kids?  Are they welcome to attend a Classical Open Mic?

M:  Definitely!  We have had lots of parents eager to expose their children to quality classical music without the inconvenience of a high-priced ticket or the stuffy environment in a concert hall!  And another benefit of bringing your kids to Classical Open Mic is that they get to interact with professional-level musicians which inspires them to continue learning on their own.  We need to change the idea that music lessons are merely for the purpose of recitals, competitions, or formal concerts; many students drop out of lessons or playing their instrument once they reach 12th grade because there is no model for what comes next.  Either you pursue the very difficult career path of music, or you will stop playing regularly as you find another career.  We want to change that!  Classical Open Mic offers a place to continue playing and listening to others, and it shows the next generation that music is a lifelong gift!

T:  I completely agree with you and you know how much I love Classical Open Mic.  It has allowed me to play in ensembles again which I haven't done for decades, and I've also returned to practicing great classical music that I've missed so much!  It's feeding a part of me that has been starving for years.  Let's circle back to something you said earlier: if Classical Open Mic is the first rung on the new performing artist's ladder, what comes next?

(To be continued. . .)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Open Classical- Part 1: A Game Changer in the World of Classical Music

I discovered Open Classical on my birthday last year, Sep. 10th, 2013.  I had no idea what to expect when I arrived with my violin for Classical Open Mic night at Buzzbrews in Dallas, but I was curious to see what it was all about.  I couldn't have asked for a better gift on my birthday!  It was an incredible convergence of quality classical music, a casual atmosphere, and great fun!  Open Classical has literally changed the course of my life in the last few months, and as I've brought it to my town of Frisco, TX, something very exciting is happening; an arts community has begun to form!

I recently interviewed Mark Landson, director of Open Classical Dallas, to find out in his own words what people should know about Open Classical.  Here are the highlights from our conversation. 

What is Open Classical?

Open Classical is a non-profit organization committed to bringing the community together around great classical music.  We produce and promote events that place classical music into the heart of everyday popular culture.  Classical music is the social glue used to bind people together from all ages, races, and walks of life. 

Why Classical music?

Classical music is an incredible art form that speaks directly to the soul.  It takes you on an intelligent journey of emotions and allows you to tap into something outside yourself.  Classical music helps you understand the world on another level and immediately connects you to those around you.  Listening to classical music also gives your mind and soul space to think, to imagine, and to create without limits or boundaries.  Every measure of a classical piece is not dictated by someone else and the message of the music is not spoon fed to you; instead, the beauty of classical music is in its abstract nature, the freedom for each individual to hear it, get lost in it, and make sense of it in his or her own way.  This kind of experience nourishes the soul, and because listening to classical music creates a healthy, balanced life and connected community, it should be a fundamental part of our culture.  

What is the purpose of Open Classical?

The ultimate goal of Open Classical is to open more doors for classical music in our culture.  We want to create more opportunities for classical music to be played and in doing so, grow new audiences who can enjoy, appreciate, and support classical music and musicians.  Right now, public access to quality classical music is too complicated, too elitist, too top-down.  If you want to hear a good classical musician play, you have to schedule a time when you are available for the next orchestral concert, pay a hefty admission ticket, and drive miles away to get there.  It's no wonder that classical music audiences are shrinking in size and age, and all at the expense of the most beautiful music ever written.  The problem is not with the music itself; it's with the current structure surrounding classical music.

What do you think is the cause of the diminishing classical audience?

One of the contributing factors is that in the classical music world, the decision of who gets to have a musical career comes from the top.  If you want to become a piano soloist, you have only one way to get there: win a major piano competition like the Cliburn International.  Without that, your chances of becoming a famous pianist are slim.  If you want to be a part of a world-class professional string quartet, you have to win the Fischoff National Chamber music competition.  Right now, there is no middle ground for the thousands of professional-level musicians who all have the same dream of performing and sharing their talent.  Either you make it in that top 1% or you end up feeling like a failure even after practicing for countless hours.  There are scores of disillusioned music majors who leave with a degree in their hand, beautiful works of art they have crafted, but no place to play.  What happens to them?  Some hobble through for a few years trying to make a living by performing, but most will eventually take on a completely different career (someone has to pay the bills!) and their instrument sits alone collecting dust.

The classical music structure has been the same way for 75 years, and it's not working.  Orchestras are declaring bankruptcy and music is being silenced.  Students don't seriously consider a career in music because their chances of success as defined by the system are so slim.  We have essentially choked the life out of classical music by doing the same thing over and over.  However, if you look at the pop music world, it is completely the opposite.  They are well known for innovative practices and staying current, resulting in rising stars, millions of album sales, large audiences, and plenty of radio time.  They adapt and change with every decade since tastes change, trends change, and what was valued in the 70's is no longer valued in the 80's, etc.  Change is embraced, not feared.

How does Open Classical change the game of Classical music?  

Open Classical offers the public multiple entry points into the world of classical music.  A ticket to the symphony shouldn't be the only time you hear classical music.  We believe that classical music can be played and enjoyed as regularly as pop, jazz, or rock and performed in the same venues as these other genres.  As classical music begins to take root in our culture from the bottom up, we nurture future patrons for the arts and keep this important genre alive for the next generation.

This will require innovative practices that break the chains of the elitist attitudes we often find in the classical music world.  For instance, some believe that if we are listening to Beethoven, the audience must remain reverentially quiet and come dressed ready to meet the queen, and definitely no noisy children allowed.  Unfortunately, that's not very inviting to much of the public and it's not going to gain new audiences!  However, if we take away the stuffiness surrounding classical music, we are left with the genius of the music, which by itself is powerful, wonderful, and life-changing.  We need to expose the simple beauty of classical music to the public in new ways so that they learn to love it and want more, and that's at the heart of Open Classical. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Multicultural Minute

This year we started something at our elementary school called the Multicultural Minute.  I've had a lot of people ask me what it is and how it works, so here are the answers to some frequently asked questions!

1.  What is the Multicultural Minute?

It is a short segment during our Friday morning school assembly where we feature a child whose parents were born in another country or whose family speaks another language at home.  The child comes on stage, says "Good Morning Bledsoe (Elementary), my name is ____" in their language, counts to 10, and teaches us how to say "hello" and "goodbye".  The child and his family are also featured on the bulletin board in the main hallway which includes a large map of the world; this helps the student body learn their geography as well as get to know their multicultural peers.

To get a quick overview of how we implemented the Multicultural Minute at Bledsoe Elementary in Frisco, TX this year, here's a video featured by Frisco ISD-TV: Multicultural Minute

2.  How did the Multicultural Minute get started?

It literally came from a lunch conversation I had during a PTA conference in Austin last summer.  After attending a few Diversity/Inclusiveness breakout sessions, I heard a lot of interesting facts about the changing demographic of our schools in TX, and I realized that we didn't have a consistent way to highlight these different cultures.  I shared with our PTA president my idea about featuring a student/family during the morning assembly and calling it the "Multicultural Minute."  She loved it and we shared it with our principal, who was also totally on board.  I wasn't sure if we would have a lot of participation in our first year, but we ended up having 21 countries represented, 24 languages, and 43 student speakers!

3.  What is the purpose of the Multicultural Minute?

The mission and purpose of the Multicultural Minute is to celebrate the diversity at our school, help kids feel proud of their heritage, and open the minds of the entire student body to the value of each person regardless of racial differences.  Personally, this is such a stark contrast from how I felt growing up as a 2nd-generation Korean-American; I was embarrassed by my race, hated speaking a different language at home, and was ridiculed by others for being different.  The Multicultural Minute does the opposite and allows kids to see that being different is not bad- it's actually special and should be celebrated!

4.  What's the process to implement this at my school?

I recommend the first thing to do is talk with your PTA president and your principal to make sure you have their support.  After that, you can follow some of these processes I used this year.  Feel free to change and modify anything to best fit your school!


Create a flyer describing the Multicultural Minute and ask people to sign up if they are interested in participating in the program.  Ask for the child's name, grade, teacher, parents' email, country of origin, and language to be spoken.  We sent out the flyer during the first 2 weeks of school and I collected them throughout the year.  I also passed out the flyers during Meet-the-Teacher Night later in the fall.


Based on your responses from the flyer, organize a schedule of speakers.  We started out with a speaker every other week at the morning assembly and that worked well.


Using a map of the world (I purchased one at the local teacher's store), create a bulletin board that displays the following:

- Continents and Countries
- Speaker's family picture
- Name and grade of speaker
- Name of Country and Language featured
- "Hello" and "Goodbye" written phonetically in their language
-  Arrow pointing to the country featured
- Gold star placed on the country featured

Having a bulletin board displayed through the week helps the student body (as well as visitors) learn about the program, speak a new language, and get to know the participating students and their families.


Send out an email questionnaire to the speaker's parents 2 weeks before they are up for the Multicultural Minute.  Ask for the following information:

- Birthplace of the parents
- Birthplace of children
- When the family moved to the US
- Name of the country and language featured
- Written words for "hello" and "goodbye" in their language
- 1-2 interesting facts about their country
- Ask for a family picture (or an email with an attachment which I then printed out for the bulletin board)
- Ask students to wear any traditional clothing for the assembly. (One little girl wanted to keep wearing her traditional outfit from Pakistan all day long!)
- Ask students to practice saying "Good Morning, my name is _____", counting from 1-10, and saying "hello" and "goodbye" in their language.

Note: Some of the families did not use email.  In those cases, I sent a hard copy home with the teacher.  Also, there were times throughout the year where I had 2-3 different speakers for the same language, so I would combine and have them come on stage together.


Once you obtain the information from the questionnaire, write out a complete script of what you will say during the assembly and who will say what.  This should include everything in the questionnaire that you think is relevant and can fit within 1-2 minutes.  Send this to the parents a week before their turn so they can practice it with their children before the kids come up on stage.  In some cases, parents also wanted to come on stage and participate with their children, which was really special.  (We had a mom from Ghana sing their national anthem, and a mom from Australia help teach the Aussie war cry!)

Note: Our first few times, I did not write out a script and several of the kids froze once they got on stage.  It's difficult to get up and speak when you have 500 eyes staring at you!  I found that once I wrote out a script and asked parents to practice it with their kids at home, the stage fright greatly decreased and kids were more prepared for what was going to happen.


The most visible part of the Multicultural Minute is coming up on stage with your speakers and presenting them to the assembly.  In my script, I wrote out exactly what I'd say so that I could memorize the interesting facts about each country, introduce the student by name/grade/teacher, and make the "interview" feel really personal.  I don't think it's necessary to memorize the script, but it certainly made it easier for me to be more comfortable on stage.  It also helped to practice saying "hello" and "goodbye" in all the different languages beforehand!


After the Multicultural Minute was complete, I would put everything back into a folder that had a file for each country.  The file includes the printed words for "hello" and "goodbye" in their language that I used for the bulletin board, name of country/language, and the script used for the presentation.  This helped organize the countries/languages we featured this year in order to prevent overlap and repetition.  I would ideally like to see new countries and new speakers in the next year!

5.  Is there anything you would change for next year?

Yes.  I need help!!  It was a lot of work to undertake this on my own, and I would recommend having a team of people to help you with the flyers, the bulletin board, gathering information from parents, printing pictures, writing the script, and presenting at the assembly.  I am hoping to divide up the responsibilities next year so we can have a rotation of people who will present at the assembly.  Right now I have one other volunteer to present, but I could definitely use more!


Hope that helps!  If you have any other questions, feel free to comment and let me know how I can assist you.  I think you will find that this program will bring your school's community together and create a very welcoming and inviting culture!