Two Pianos, Twenty Years On: Remember “The Mozart Effect”?


More musings on the subject of two pianos:

During my Performance Today years, we sure devoted a lot of coverage to “The Mozart Effect” — and the flurry of books and recordings that came in its wake. And here in the Age of the InterWebs, I discovered that there’s an entire website from a University of Illinois grad student devoted to “the study of the studies,” e.g., the breathtaking number of academic inquiries to discover if listening to Mozart really did make you smarter.

And the cause of all of this was not the totality of Mozart’s amazing output.  Nor any of a handful of great works, like the late symphonies, or the piano concertos, of operas like Don Giovanni.   No, there was a single, little known, Mozart piece that started this fire.

It began with an article published in Nature in the fall of 1993, authored by University of California-Irvine neurobiologist Gordon Shaw, with researchers Frances Rauscher and Katherine Ky.   They described the nature of their research:

They assigned thirty six Cal-Irvine students to one of three groups, and offered the same “pretest” to each of the students. One group then listened to a selection by Mozart (Sonata in D major for Two Pianos, K. 448). A second group listened to what was called a “relaxation tape,” and the third group was subjected to ten minutes of silence. All of the students were given the same test, which was designed to measure spatial IQ. This test is described as mentally unfolding a piece of paper is that has been folded over several times and then cut. The object is to correctly select the final unfolded paper shape from five examples. The students who listened to the Mozart sonata averaged an 8-9 point increase in their IQ as compared to the average of the students who had listened to the relaxation tape or who had experienced silence. The increase in IQ of the Mozart group was transitory, lasting only about the time it took to take the test– from ten to fifteen minutes.

Hardly conclusive, but it hardly mattered; An author and psychologist named Don Campbell was the one who spun this somewhat spurious research into commercial gold. He went  so far as to trademark the name “Mozart Effect” via his 1993 book called The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit.”   In the words of one professor quoted in the Illinois study,

“By trademarking the name “Mozart Effect,” Campbell has even gone cable with infomercials for his book and its accompanying compact discs and cassettes. In the great tradition of P. T. Barnum and the “Veg-O-Matic”, Mozart has now hit the mainstream of American life.”

Campbell may be gone – he passed away at the age of 65 in 2012, but lives on, twenty years later, both in the halls of academe, where far more thoughtful and nuanced research about the very real effects of music on brain development and healing are taking place.  Not to mention in the commercial marketplace, where Mozart’s brain-enhancing abilities are still touted. Check out this fascinating 20th anniversary discussion on WQXR for a sample of some recent thinking.

Meanwhile, check out this smartly-turned performance by Martha Argerich and one of her young proteges, Gabriele Baldocci, play that (in)famous first movement.   Then go do a crossword puzzle!

Six Lines

One hack that I’m fond of — but have failed at — is the efficient idea that every e-mail you send should be five sentences or fewer. Outside of my in-box, brief writing is thriving with the publication of “Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure,” edited by Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith. Amusing examples abound (“Most successful accomplishments based on spite”), and more than a few have a melancholy kick (“He left me for good eventually”). Wired magazine editor Kevin Kelly points out the boomlet in brief review sites, such as The Four Word Film Review ( and Paul Ford’s six-word music reviews ( But none of these matches the wit of their more long-winded ancestor, the Guardian’s The Digested Read (,,124958,00.html). When you need to skewer a pretentious book in six paragraphs, only an Englishman will do.

Music Lessons from Seth Godin

I’ve been an admirer of Seth Godin for a while. His book “Small Is the New Big,” (among others) is one of the seminal publications of the so-called Web 2.0 era. Godin periodically weighs in on the music business, (I think I mentioned this fascinating dissection on the future of the radio industry before) and what he has to say is invariably smart, on point, and a few laps ahead of the field. Some of what he says may appear stunningly obvious, but it’s amazing to me how little of it has been understood – or, more to the point, embraced, by the music-biz world at large.

So anyway, let me commend to you his Music Lessons blog entry posted earlier today. Godin’s 14-point manifesto-for-music-in-the-digital-age (starting with Point Zero!) is the first “must-read” of 2008, to my mind. Here are a couple of memorable grabs:

2. Copy protection in a digital age is a pipe dreamIf the product you make becomes digital, expect that the product you make will be copied.

There’s a paradox in the music business that is mirrored in many industries: you want ubiquity, not obscurity, yet digital distribution devalues your core product….

Most items of value derive that value from scarcity. Digital changes that, and you can derive value from ubiquity now…The solution isn’t to somehow try to become obscure, to get your song off the (digital) radio. The solution is to change your business.

You used to sell plastic and vinyl. Now, you can sell interactivity and souvenirs.

3. Interactivity can’t be copied

Products that are digital and also include interaction thrive on centralization and do better and better as the market grows in size (consider Facebook or Basecamp).

Music is social. Music is current and everchanging. And most of all, music requires musicians. The winners in the music business of tomorrow are individuals and organizations that create communities, connect people, spread ideas and act as the hub of the wheel… indispensable and well-compensated.

4. Permission is the asset of the future

… Permission is an asset to be earned. The ability (not the right, but the privilege) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them. For ten years, the music business has been steadfastly avoiding this opportunity.

It’s interesting though, because many musicians have NOT been avoiding it. Many musicians have understood that all they need to make a (very good) living is to have 10,000 fans. 10,000 people who look forward to the next record, who are willing to trek out to the next concert. Add 7 fans a day and you’re done in 5 years. Set for life. A life making music for your fans, not finding fans for your music…

5. A frightened consumer is not a happy consumer.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but here goes: suing people is like going to war. If you’re going to go to war with tens of thousands of your customers every year, don’t be surprised if they start treating you like the enemy.

There are 13 more equally thought-provoking points in Seth’s manifesto. Take a moment to read the whole thing. I’ll return to point 2) in a little while.

Born on Jan. 6th

So, out of morbid curiosity upon becoming a semi-centurion (and not, the dreaded AARP mailing hasn’t shown up yet!), I wondered what other music types were born on Twelfth Night: This is what I found, mostly thanks to the so-called “intelligence aggegator”

Maurice Abravanel
Conductor 6-Jan-1903 22-Sept.-1993 Music Director, Utah Symphony 1947-1979
Syd Barrett Singer, songwriter, guitarist
6-Jan-1946 7-Jul-2006 Pink Floyd
Max Bruch Composer 6-Jan-1838 2-Oct-1920 Kol Nidrei
Earl Kim
6-Jan-1915 19-Nov-1998 Violin Concerto
Van McCoy Musician 6-Jan-1940 6-Jul-1979 The Hustle
Johnny O’Keefe Musician 6-Jan-1935 6-Oct-1978 King of Australian rock and roll
Earl Scruggs Musician 6-Jan-1924 Bluegrass banjo pioneer
Don Sickler
trumpet, arranger, composer, record producer 6-Jan-1944 Nightwatch
Alan Stivell Musician 06-Jan-1944 Breton/Celtic harpist
Alex Turner Singer 6-Jan-1986 Lead singer, Arctic Monkeys
Jack Varney Banjoist, Guitarist
6-Jan-1918 Aussie Jazz pioneer
Kim Wilson Harmonica, bass, vocals
6-Jan-1951 Fabulous Thunderbirds
Malcolm Young Guitarist 6-Jan-1953 Rhythm guitar for AC/DC

Beyond music, a few other famous names jumped out at me, including (so some sources claim) the Benjamin that It’s All About:

Gilbert Arenas Basketball 6-Jan-1982 Washington Wizards
Rowan Atkinson Actor 6-Jan-1955 Blackadder, Mr. Bean
John DeLorean Business 6-Jan-1925 19-Mar-2005 Automobile designer and entepreneur
E. L. Doctorow Author 6-Jan-1931 Ragtime, The Book of Daniel
Benjamin Franklin Diplomat 6-Jan-1706 17-Apr-1790 American founding father
Khalil Gibran Poet 6-Jan-1883 10-Apr-1931 The Prophet
Louis Harris Business 6-Jan-1921 Pollster, Louis Harris and Associates
Lou Holtz Football 6-Jan-1937 Head Coach, South Carolina, 1999-2004
Victor Horta Architect 6-Jan-1861 9-Sep-1947 Art Nouveau architect
Joan of Arc Religion 6-Jan-1412 30-May-1431 Visionary burned at the stake
Nigella Lawson Chef 6-Jan-1960 UK’s domestic goddess
Anthony Minghella Film Director 6-Jan-1954 The English Patient
Tom Mix Actor 6-Jan-1880 12-Oct-1940 Old-time silent movie cowboy
Sun Myung Moon Religion 6-Jan-1920 Head Moonie
Sam Rayburn Politician 6-Jan-1882 16-Nov-1961 Speaker of the US House, 1940-61
King Richard II Royalty 6-Jan-1367 14-Feb-1400 King of England 1377-99
Carl Sandburg Author 6-Jan-1878 22-Jul-1967 Illinois poet, Lincoln biographer
John Singleton Film Director 6-Jan-1968 Boyz N the Hood
Charles “Cane” Sumner Politician 6-Jan-1811 11-Mar-1874 Anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts
Danny Thomas Actor 6-Jan-1914 6-Feb-1991 Make Room For Daddy
Alan Watts Philosopher 6-Jan-1915 16-Nov-1973 Zen beat counterculture sage
Bob Wise Politician 6-Jan-1948 Governor of West Virginia, 2001-05

Required Reading – The Well-Tempered Web

In the Oct. 22 issue of the New Yorker you’ll find
a Critic At Large piece called “The Well-Tempered Web” – in essence, a Postcard from the Brave New Media World, written by Alex Ross. There’s a reason Ross is at the top of the list on my blogroll….this is one of the best, most stylishly written and comprehensive snapshots of what’s happening with classical music online, and its implications for the future. Ross writes about a lot of the things I’ve been trying to see and describe in this space, though, in my experience, the scenario is not quite as rosy as he paints. Sample grab:

Classical-music culture on the Internet is expanding at a sometimes alarming pace. When I started my blog, I had links to seven or eight like-minded sites. Now I find myself part of a jabbering community of several hundred blogs, operated by critics, composers, conductors, pianists, double-bassists, oboists (I count five), artistic administrators, and noted mezzo-sopranos (Joyce DiDonato writes under the moniker Yankee Diva). After a first night at the Met, opera bloggers chime inwith opinions both expert and eccentric, recalling the days when critics from a dozen dailies, whether Communist or Republican or Greek, lined up to extoll Caruso. Beyond the blogs are the Internet radio stations; streaming broadcasts from opera houses, orchestras, new-music ensembles; and Web sites of individual artists. There is a new awareness of what is happening musically in every part of the world. A listener in Tucson or Tokyo can virtually attend opening night at the Bayreuth Festival and listen the following day to a première by a young British composer at the BBC Proms.

Those who see the dawning of a new golden age should bear in mind the “Snakes on a Plane” rule: things invariably appear more important on the Internet than they are in the real world. Classical music has experienced waves of technological euphoria in the past: the Edison cylinder, radio, the LP, and the CD were all hailed as redeeming godsends for a kind of music that has always struggled to find its place in American culture. At the end of such bouts of giddiness, classical music somehow always winds up back where it started, in a state of perpetual fret.

Thanks, Alex. I’ll go back to fretting now. I think there’s still a critical missing link having to do with music education (or lack thereof) and the general broader cultural awareness of events outside of the roar of the pop-culture surf, which is what’s driving the UTunes: Music 1.01 project.

Ross also makes a marvelous point about the utterly transparent online accessibility of arguably the most inaccessible of all composers….Arnold Schoenberg. Throwing copyright concerns to the winds, the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna has created a transparent, robust, and comprehensive site dedicated to the inventor of “twelve-tone” music, a man some (like John Adams, f’irnstance) to have led classical music down a 75-yeard spiritual dead-end.

On the site, you can read immaculate digital reproductions of Schoenberg’s correspondence, listen to his complete works on streaming audio, examine his designs for various inventions and gadgets (including a typewriter for musical notation), and follow links to YouTube videos of him playing tennis.

And there’s this trenchant “deep catalog” observation:

Classical music, with its thousand-year back catalogue, has the longest tail of all. In Naxos’s case, thirty to forty per cent of its digital sales in the U.S. come from albums downloaded four times a month or less. Thus, a not insignificant portion of the company’s revenue comes from titles that, by Justin Timberlake standards, don’t exist

Required reading, if you care about classical music.


Concert Previews: Fall 2007

Here’s a look at some of the Concert Previews (e.g., pre-concert lectures) I’ll be giving for subscribers to the concert season of the Washington Performing Arts Society:
Wednesday, October 10, 8:00 pm The Music Center at Strathmore
La Scala PhilharmonicRiccardo Chailly, conductorThe long-awaited D.C.-area debut of the La Scala Philharmonic, led by the charismatic Riccardo Chailly, the ensemble plays beloved works and classic Italian repertoire. Founded in 1982 by conductor Claudio Abbado, the orchestra has since been led by such renowned directors as Lorin Maazel and Wolfgang Sawallisch. “Chailly is a first-class interpreter of Italian repertoire.” (The Irish Times)

ROSSINI Overture to William Tell

ROTA La Strada Ballet Suite

RESPIGHI The Fountains of Rome

RESPIGHI The Pines of Rome

Monday, October 15, 8:00 pm Kennedy Center Concert Hall

The Cleveland Orchestra

Franz Welser-Most, conductor

Music director Franz Welser-Möst led this venerable orchestra in a journey throughout centuries of musical composition, from Mozart’s delicate Symphony No. 28 to Adams’ contemporary composition.

Mozart: Symphony No. 28 in C Major

John Adams: Guide to Strange Places

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 “Pathetique”

Thursday, October 18, 8:00 pm The Music Center at Strathmore

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

Yefim Bronfman, piano

This celebrated conductor-less ensemble continues tackles Brahms’ mighty Piano Concerto with Yefim Bronfman….

Brahms: Hungarian Dances Nos. 1, 3, and 10

Schoenberg: Kammersymphonie No. 1, Op. 9

Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15R

Tuesday, October 23, 8:00 pm Kennedy Center Concert Hall

St. Petersburg Philharmonic

Yuri Temirkanov, conductor

Julia Fischer, violin

Young violinist and WPAS Kreeger Series alumna Julia Fischer joins the former Baltimore SO conductor and one of the most storied orchestras in the world…

Mozart: Marriage of Figaro Overture

Beethoven: Concerto for Violin in D Major, Op. 61

Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5, Op. 100

Monday, November 12, 8:00 pm Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Yo-Yo Ma, cello

Kathryn Stott, piano

Yo-Yo Ma and one of his favorite collaborators in the world, English Kathryn Stott, in a breathtaking program of music from France from the southern hemisphere…

Tuesday, November 20, 8:00 pm The Music Center at Strathmore

Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone

Academy of Choral Art

Moscow Chamber Orchestra

Constantin Orbelian, conductor

“From Russia with Love:” A range of songs and opera from Russia old and new from Opera star Dmitri Hvorostovsky and a hand-picked choir.P

Thursday, December 6, 8:00 pm Kennedy Center Concert Hal

lThe Philadelphia Orchestra

James Conlon, conductorHélène Grimaud, piano

The Fabulous Philadelphians return for their annual concert under the leadership of guest conductor James Conlon. Fresh off the release of her new recording of the Emperor Concerto, Hélène Grimaud performs the Beethoven concerto live with the Philadelphians. The orchestra also plays for just the second time a work by Edgard Varese they commissioned in 1924…

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5, “Emperor”

Varèse: Amériques

Ravel: La Valse

The Classical Convergence

Waking up from summer vacation…

Remember the car ad from a few years back? Special “Bob” lane on the highway and at the tolls, even a “No Parking – Except for Bob” sign. And the kicker – when “Bob” finally gets pulled over, the cop merely removes his sunglasses and says “Oh, it’s you Bob.” and lets our driver go.

There is a tale, perhaps apocryphal, that the “Bob” commercial was inspired by the legendary driving antics of Herbert von Karajan, who indeed had his own personal rules of the road (not to mention custom-built cars direct from the Porsche factory) during his salad days in Berlin. Of course, it meshed perfectly with von Karajan’s brilliantly-burnished reputation as the supremely talented, driven, impervious, willful, and accomplished Maestro to end all Maestros. Exceptional in all ways; a god among mortals. Now, fast-forward to 2007. Sir Simon Rattle, no slouch with the baton, is the kinder, gentler, face of the Berlin Philharmonic. But I doubt he has a “Singularly Simon” lane on the Autobahn. More to the point, the “Bob” ad comes to mind when I consider the changes – some would say crisis – wreaking havoc in the classical music world of today. It’s Topic A among any manager, agent, musician, administrator, (or even us hardy media producers) even remotely connected to the art form.

Earlier this summer the subject got a thorough going-over at with a “group blog” called Engaging Art: A Public Conversation, timed to coincide with the American Symphony Orchestral League (before they changed their name!) conference in Nashville, not to mention a new book called Engaging Art: The Next Great Transformation of America’s Cultural Life, edited by Steven Tepper and former NEA chief Bill Ivey.

As a public conversation, it’s pretty impressive stuff, with contributions from some of the industry’s heaviest hitters and deepest thinkers, offering opinions that range from brutally pessimistic to cautiously optimistic. It’s worth your time (and yes, it’ll TAKE time!) to read it all.

So what’s the verdict, and what does it have to with “Bob?” Reading through the anguish and the gallows humor, what emerges is that Age of Exceptionalism for classical music is over. The World (of music) Is Flat. Or, as the ever-salient Greg Sandow puts it, “..the arts don’t just represent art any more, since so much terrific art happens outside their boundaries. That makes the arts (as opposed to art) seem increasingly stale.”

Bingo! No more special lanes. No more customized parking spots….no more classical-music-only critics in Your Hometown Daily News for the 3 – 6 per cent of the population that attends classical music concerts. In the democratized world of iTunes, Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms need to compete with Beyonce, Bjork and the Notorious B.I.G..

Classical music is, in short, entering what Henry Jenkins of the MIT Media Lab describes as today’s “convergence culture:”” a new territory where old and new media intersect, where grassroots and corporate media collide, where the power of the media producer and power of the consumer interact in unpredictable ways.”

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing; it is, however, merely a game-changing, life-threatening disruption to the status quo. And while we’ve had our gaze upwards, watching what the ground tremors are doing to the mighty redwoods in
the forest, we haven’t looked closer to the ground, where there’s a riot of vitality, energy, and colorful new growth.

*Classical music accounts for 1-3% of sales in “traditional” stores: it’s 11% on iTunes.

*Just as an outsider – Apple & iTunes – re-shaped the recorded-music industry, MySpace (whose origins are far removed from the world of IMG and Columbia Artists) now has 3 million artist pages.

*The top “beach-listening podcasts” for the summer of 2007? Pat Conroy or Sue Grafton? Nuh-uh. Try “Pride and Prejudice” and a series called “The Classic Tales Podcast,” featuring works by Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle and Thomas Hardy, on iTunes’s top 100 podcasts list. Who says intense listening to long-form artistic creations is dead?

*How about those 500-plus classical-music groups on Facebook?

*The record industry’s woes are well-documented, but what about the publishing industry? Last year ASCAP reported record revenues – and record royalty payments to its members, who divided up $680 million – a hefty 5 per cent increase.

*Finally, this vital statistic from the National Association of Music Manufacturers, who also reported record sales last year of musical gear, to the tune (sorry, couldn’t resist!) of $7.5 billion. The reason? According to their Harris-commissioned research, in 1997 about one in four Americans (24%) between the ages of 18-34 owned or played a musical instrument. In 2007, that number is now almost one in three – 32 percent!

What’s going on here? To be sure, this isn’t all due to the fact that kids putting down their Playstations and trudging over to the piano bench to learn Czerny etudes. But it does suggest that our commonly-taught and understood about the value, order, rank, and hierarchy of music – and music education – is being stood on its head. Henry Juszkiewicz, co-owner of Gibson Guitars, told the LA Times: “We are looking at the first creative generation,” “The cost of creative tools has gone down. And now you have the ability to share with other people your creation. These two fundamental, solid changes are allowing the younger generation to be actively creative .”

It could be argued, in fact that we are entering a new “Golden Age” of unprecedented access, discovery, and creation of music. Virtually the entire history of musical composition is only a few keystrokes away from the average American.

The dizzying pace of technological innovation has made the production and distribution of music similarly ubiquitous. “Mass Media” no longer means just mass consumption of content; it now represents mass creation.

So what about classical music, bent on teaching, preserving and showcasing starkly individual, timeless, and lofty musical ambitions? Will we be subjected to “Missa Solemnis Mashups?” That’s a scary thought to many. But we also have the potential now to perform a world-wide “Messiah meetup.” As it is today, people already line up around the block to do “Messiah sing-alongs.” Can you imagine staging a December event with Handel’s oratorio, arguably the most beloved (and certainly the most translated) work of Western music, using technology tools to make it truly a global mass-participation event? I can see the headlines now: “Handel Works Server Havoc: ‘Messiah’ Sing Meltdown.”

(Hey, I can dream, can’t I?)

But this is not to minimize, or trivialize, the challenge before the classical-music community. Once the “special lanes” are removed (and we are surely witnessing that on the fundraising level as well), the symphony orchestra, in the form as we know it today, may not survive my generation. In other words, Beethoven will still be around, but the context in how we hear, perform, and present Beethoven will be fundamentally altered in ways that we are just just beginning to glimpse. Strap in and hang on, because it’s going to be an exciting (and terrifying!) ride.

Lots more to say on this subject (the whole blog, really) but more about what’s popping up in the classical underbrush in coming days and weeks…