Top 10 of ’11

January 1 2011, not 2012. Sophie sleeps through the night now.

I thought about doing one of those shameless “year in review” postings in which I talk about the orchestras I conducted, how much traveling I do, how tired I am, how many famous people I met, all the places I went, etc. etc. but then I realized that material of that nature doesn’t belong on a blog: it belongs on Facebook.

So here is something completely arbitrary, compiled in an utterly unscientific manner bereft of statistical methodology or evaluative metrics. Ten thoughts from 2011, ten memories or developments or events or discoveries that I think might be worth mentioning. Have an addition? Use the comment form below.

Blog Postings

What does it say about the Zeitgeist when the two most viewed blog postings of the year contained the words “Apology” and “Domestic Dispute” in their respective titles? Unrefined interests of the public aside (sorry to disappoint those looking for self-humiliation or the airing of dirty laundry) the next most viewed posts were those concerning the publication of the Five Fundamentals article and my report from Brazil on Neojibá. There’s hope for the Internet yet…


Of the many excellent social music initiatives I saw this year, the one which really stood out was Neojibá, in Salvador, Brazil. Organizationally, strategically, artistically, they just seem to be getting everything right. The right faculty, the right administration, the right attitude and the right approach… and they’re responsive, honourable collaborators. If they keep going the same way, they’ll set the gold standard for years to come.

Musical Discovery

Schoenberg’s arrangement of the Brahms Piano Quartet No. 1 for Orchestra is now No. 2 on my list of things I’d love to perform. The orchestration is entirely un-Brahmsian but it’s just so much fun, especially the 4th movement.

Performance I attended (group)

They were in the least glamorous of venues , but the performances of Purcell’s King Arthur with a cast of hundreds of children in the South African townships has to be a highlight of the year. Cape Festival South Africa took on a monumentally ambitious project and executed – and in 2012 they’re going more than one step further. Stay tuned.

Performance (solo)

Back in January, right before I led off the Abreu Fellow keynote at NAMM in Anaheim, a Nova Scotian ukulele “virtuoso” was scheduled to do a short performance. Great, I thought, he’ll warm up the crowd. Five minutes later I was picking my jaw up off the floor and thinking “I have to go on after THAT?”

National Developments in Music Education

2011 might be a watershed year for music education in England. The country commissioned a long, hard look at its current infrastructure (it’s actually very readable!), but as impressively, took the results and acted concretely upon them with a national plan for music education. The entire system is going to be significantly overhauled, with an emphasis on improving access and quality, and the groundwork for a network of privately led but publicly funded (!) Sistema-like programs was laid. The English must be smart – they’re using my Five Fundamentals framework for their national Sistema initiative. Now if only the government had funded the programs to the extent originally promised

National contribution to Sistema research

Canada is really leading the way in terms of serious Sistema research, hosting two major academic conferences in the space of a year. A Canadian is also responsible for creating a Special Interest Group at ISME on Sistema and getting the topic on the agenda at the July 2012 conference in Greece. (Also using my Five Fundamentals framework…) Why is this research important? Because if we don’t understand the underlying theoretical roots of Venezuelan practice, we can’t adapt it, we can’t contribute to it, we can only imitate it or reinvent the wheel through unguided trial and error.

Professional Orchestra

This one’s a tie. My affections are split between CityMusic Cleveland and the Prince George Symphony, but for different reasons. Both perform in extremely challenging operating contexts. CityMusic Cleveland is an outstanding chamber orchestra, but they never charge admission for their concerts. They’re in a market dominated by a much more famous ensemble, but their houses are still full. The Prince George Symphony is a more traditional operation, but it performs in a town about 500 miles (800 km) from the next city anyone has heard of. (Sorry, Kelowna.) They go to incredible trouble and effort to put an orchestra onstage, which gives you an idea of their values and level of commitment. Kudos to both.

Moment of the year

Standing outside a church in Darling, South Africa, with my infant daughter sleeping in my arms, staring up into the vast luminescence of the Milky Way strewn across the incredibly black antipodean sky, to the grand accompaniment of a choral concert.

Quote of the year

“Let’s all have a party!” – the final (added) line of King Arthur, as delivered by Charles Ainslie in a township auditorium in Cape Town, reminding us all that the act of making music is something to be celebrated.

Happy New Year, everyone.




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