Category: YouTube

Diary of a YouTube Symphony tryout: Well, that was short!

December 10, 2010 |  9:00 am

Three weeks. That was all the time I was supposed to need to get fit enough to make an audition video for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. I had barely touched my French horn since I quit playing in 2004 but I wasn't worried. As a university student, I used to quit playing every summer until three weeks before Labor Day at which time I would my get out my horn and begin my fitness routine.

There is a modicum of method to my madness. For players at a professional level, daily maintenance is required to keep the face muscles in tip-top shape. During the school year, I could go one day -- at most -- without playing before I noticed a difference.

Somewhere along the line, I discovered that muscle fitness is exponential, not linear. You don't lose, say, 5% of your facility for each day you don't practice. Instead, the impact decreases as time goes by. The difference between one and two days of not practicing is much bigger than one and two weeks.

Why spend the summer feeling guilty about not practicing enough when I could just get it all done in the three weeks before school started again? I'm sure this line of reasoning horrifies many a music teacher --  mine were appalled. All I can say is that is worked for five summers. Proof, pudding, etc.

This time though, after announcing I was going to audition, I got caught. (With that level of smugness, it was inevitable.) It turns out my system had a weakness: breath control.

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Diary of a YouTube Symphony Orchestra tryout: Meet the horn player

October 29, 2010 |  9:00 am

Whenever I tell people I have a master's degree in French horn performance (which is usually only to secure a win in a most-useless-degree contest), they are shocked to find that aside from one weekend Christmas gig with a friend two years ago, I haven't played since I graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England, in September 2004.

Why don't I keep it up? they always ask.  The main reason is that, lovely as it is, the French horn is a social instrument. It needs other horns or, even better, an orchestra to really shine.  Noodling around on the piano or guitar is satisfying as a solitary activity.  The horn, not so much.

Why, then, don't I join an amateur orchestra?  Mainly, the rehearsals.  In my experience, amateur orchestra rehearsals are an end in themselves.  Two hours of chitchat every week punctuated by a bit of playing and then, every four months or so, a concert is given.  This makes me crazy.  It's not that I'm too good for rehearsal, it's that I'd rather get it done in three to four sessions and do my socializing in the pub.

Practicing was difficult enough when I was playing every day.  Now that there's nothing to stay in shape for, there's no chance. But what if there was?

Two weeks ago, I took issue on Culture Monster with the YouTube Symphony Orchestra for taking what was essentially a fun-sounding week of orchestra camp and blowing it out of proportion into something totally novel and world-changing. PR quibbles aside, the YouTube Symphony Orchestra is still an interesting project, especially considering winners get to go to Australia for seven days on Google's dime.

Amateur endeavors like orchestra, theater or choir are always more meaningful to the participant than the observer, so in the interests of journalism, I'm going gonzo -- or at least auditioning to do so.

The last day for uploading the video is Nov. 28,  which gives me 33 days to get ready. All the audition pieces are standard rep, which means for me the main challenge will be building up enough muscle strength and endurance to play everything the way I would like. 

The end goal is to submit a video that won't send the audition panel into fits of hysterics.  As of today, I could easily pass for a middle-school beginner with a preternatural grasp of the fingering chart.

I'll be checking in on Culture Monster from time to time throughout the next four weeks, but for the moment, my horn is calling.

-- Marcia Adair


Culture monster The YouTube Symphony Orchestra is back for a second year -- but why?

The YouTube Symphony at Carnegie Hall: What did the critics think?


Gay Men's Chorus of L.A. creates anti-bullying video

October 28, 2010 | 11:35 am

The recent string of suicides by gay teens in the U.S. has spurred a number of politicians, celebrities and organizations to create "It gets better" videos -- public service messages intended to inspire a degree of optimism in the face of anti-gay bullying from peers. 

The Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles recently put together its own video in which members perform their version of the Cyndi Lauper hit "True Colors." The group said that more than 200 people participated in the five-minute video, which was filmed at the Immanuel Presbyterian Church in L.A.

Notable politicians and celebrities who have lent their voices to the national grass-roots effort include President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, actor Neil Patrick Harris and comedian Sarah Silverman.

-- David Ng


Gay teen endured a daily gantlet

Photos: A gay teenager's daily gantlet

Hate crimes, gay student's suicide cited in California gay-marriage court fight


Finalist in Guggenheim's YouTube Play competition finds a use for WikiLeaks

October 26, 2010 | 12:49 pm


WikiLeaks, the website that publishes leaks from sources in the government, corporations and other institutions, has been in the news a lot lately for the headaches it is causing the Pentagon on information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some of that published military material has now found its way into an unexpected format -- a work of art. "Post Newtonianism," by Josh Bricker, is a two-channel video work that uses audio from a WikiLeaks video released earlier this year documenting a U.S. military offensive in Iraq that is believed to have resulted in the deaths of two Reuters news staffers, among others.

The artwork recently was selected as one of the top 25 videos from a field of more than 23,000 submissions in the Guggenheim Museum's YouTube Play competition.

In the piece, the screen is divided into two panels, one of which features actual wartime footage while the other shows scenes from the war-themed video game "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare." On the soundtrack, audio from the WikiLeaks video gradually merges with audio from the video game.

Bricker, 30, lives in New York, but he grew up in Southern California, in the town of Fillmore in Ventura County. In a phone interview this week, he explained that the artwork is intended to explore the increasingly blurred boundaries between military technology and video games. It also serves as a commentary on the way people experience warfare via television and online.

"I wanted it to be a catalyst for conversation," he said. "Obviously, I have my own political agenda, but I wanted to give it wiggle room so people can argue about it and not be didactic."

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3-year-old kid conducts Beethoven's Fifth impressively and, well, acts 3

October 26, 2010 |  6:00 am

The conductor as tyrannical eminence grise of the classical music world seems to be quickly becoming a thing of the past. Enter the young, fun-loving maestro with an infectious smile who makes classical music fun again.

But just how young is young? While Gustavo Dudamel, 29, is the informal poster boy of youthful baton beating, he appears positively ancient compared to "Jonathan," who has become a YouTube star for conducting Beethoven's Fifth Symphony at the age of 3.

In this video, little Jonathan conducts along to a recording of the fourth movement of the Fifth Symphony. Far from being a random arm-flailer, the tyke seems to know the difference between forte and piano, allegro and andante. At one point in the video, Jonathan picks his nose; being a consummate professional, he does not stop conducting to carry out the icky task.

NPR's Thomas Huizenga points out that little John's conducting style is similar to that of maestro Kristian Alexander conducting Canada's Kindred Spirits Orchestra of Markham, Ontario.

Little Jonathan is also a budding violinist. The person who posted his conducting video on YouTube has also uploaded a number of clips showing Jonathan, who is now 4 years old, playing classical pieces on the violin.

-- David Ng


The YouTube Symphony Orchestra is back for a second year -- but why?

October 13, 2010 |  1:39 pm

We're not really sure why, but it's back.  The YouTube Symphony Orchestra is having another go, this time in Sydney, Australia.  The general idea is the same as last year -- post a video of yourself playing the set audition and maybe you'll get selected to perform with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas at the Sydney Opera House.

We love the idea of people getting together to play music, meet colleagues from different countries and have a great time. This is why there are summer camps, study abroad programs or chamber music salons.

What sends our cynicism meter flying into the red zone (our heart is black so yours doesn't have to be) is what appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding of how orchestras actually work.  Even worse, there are too many people involved that know better for it to be a nonspecialist marketing mishap.

Here are a few snippets from the press release announcing YSO 2011.

-- "YouTube opens online auditions for a second global collaborative orchestra"

Except for the online part, none of this is news.  Almost all orchestras are global in their makeup and, unless they really hate the conductor, are made up of people who collaborate artistically for a living.

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Monster Mash: Guggenheim, YouTube short-list videos; feuding art museums in Paris

September 20, 2010 |  8:23 am

Guggenheim -- But is it art?: About 125 videos on YouTube have been culled from more than 23,000 submissions for a new biennial organized by the Guggenheim. (Associated Press)

-- Feuding institutions: A Paris museum is refusing to loan a single painting for a large Monet exhibition at the Grand Palais. (Telegraph)

-- Lost and found: More than 600 ancient artifacts that were smuggled out of Iraq and later found and returned by the U.S, only to be lost again for nearly two years, have been rediscovered in a storeroom of the office of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. (New York Times)

-- Portraits of war: A traveling exhibition featuring art created by U.S. Army personnel is launching in Philadelphia. (Associated Press)

-- Epic production: A look into director Robert Lepage's conception for the "Ring" cycle at the Metropolitan Opera. (New York Times)

-- Recovered: Conductor James Levine says his back has improved significantly since he underwent surgery. (Boston Globe)

-- Defaced: A prize-winning outdoor sculpture in Grand Rapids, Mich., has been vandalized. (The Grand Rapids Press)

-- And in the L.A. Times: Architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne on a welcome ethos in museum design, as seen in the Centre Pompidou-Metz in France and other recent buildings; theater critic Charles McNulty reviews "Misalliance" at South Coast Repertory.

-- David Ng

Photo: The Guggenheim Museum in New York. Credit: Guggenheim Museum

Hand dancers Suzanne Cleary and Peter Harding are a YouTube hit

September 14, 2010 | 12:06 pm

Dancers Suzanne Cleary and Peter Harding have appeared with Riverdance and other Irish-style dance productions in venues around the world. For their latest project, however, they have forsaken the stage and opted for the more populist medium of YouTube.

In a video titled "We No Speak Americano," the dancers perform a comic number entirely with their hands and arms, executing a series of complicated choreographed contortions while seated and blank-faced. The video, which has been picked up by Vulture and other sites, was initially posted on YouTube in July and has logged more than 180,000 views.

The video uses the song "We No Speak Americano" by the Australian duo Yolanda Be Cool and producer DCUP. It's not clear whether the dancers have permission to use the single, but such are the vagaries of YouTube.

— David Ng

What should Jackie Evancho sing to win $1 million?

September 10, 2010 |  2:00 pm

Jackie Evancho

On Tuesday Jackie Evancho -- the 10-year-old girl with the operatic voice -- will sing for $1 million in the finals of NBC's "America's Got Talent."

What she chooses to sing will determine how well she can show off her talent. As her previous performances of "O Mio Babbino Caro" and "Time To Say Goodbye" showed, even an exceptional voice suffers when it doesn't play to its strengths.

The Anglican choral tradition is full of treasures like Mendelssohn's "Hear My Prayer" or this setting of the "Pie Jesu" text by Gabriel Fauré.

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Vote: Is Jackie Evancho changing her sound?

September 2, 2010 |  2:17 pm

In the non-surprise of the summer, Jackie Evancho made it through to the top 10 on NBC's "America's Got Talent"  Wednesday night. Earlier this week when Evancho inspired us to look at how common it is for children to emulate their heroes when they are first starting out, several opera singer friends suggested that the 10-year-old must listen to a lot of Sarah Brightman.

"America's Got Talent" only allows its cast to speak to reporters from their hometown while the program is still airing, so we can't ask Jackie herself. So we did some more YouTube diving.

An old interview from a Pittsburgh-area news broadcast said that Evancho likes Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli, but what is even more interesting is comparing performances. The song Evancho sang on Tuesday was "Time to Say Goodbye," a Bocelli and Brightman signature.

From the first few seconds of Brightman's performance, the mystery of Evancho's strangely mobile hands is solved. It's a classic Brightman tic.

What's not at all like Brightman, bizarrely, is the voice. In Tuesday's performance, Evancho's voice was even darker and more adult-sounding than it was three weeks ago. "America's Got Talent" vocal coach Yvie Burnett assured me that the performers work with the talent they have and don't try to change it, but the difference between Evancho's two "America's Got Talent" rounds is not something that would happen without coaching. It may not be the show that is encouraging Evancho sing like this, but someone is.

You can compare for yourself with these videos, but to my ears, when you factor out physical maturity, Brightman's voice is much lighter and sounds more like Evancho a year ago.

Which voice do you prefer -- Jackie's original or the new, more grown-up sound?

-- Marcia Adair


Jackie Evancho's voice strikJackiees a chord

Before Jackie Evancho: Remembering Julie Andrews, Beverly Sills and other young vocal prodigies

Hear Jackie Evancho, the 10-year-old with an operatic voice

The Emmys gets a little musical with "Glee"


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