Olympic Spirit. Olympic Art.


I once organized an Olympics…in my neighborhood.  Such was the Olympic fever I felt growing up.  The 1972 Munich Games were the first in my memory.  I was inspired to organize the neighborhood competition during the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Games.  We even flew a homemade Olympic flag on the porch of our house.

It wasn’t only sport that inspired us.  It was also the art associated with the games.  Restaurants offered prints by LeRoy Neiman, celebrating the variety of Olympic achievement, and from various countries.  (Note Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut, above).  It seemed that there was also a new fanfare or theme written every year.  The numerous pieces composed by John Williams continue to inspire.  I still get a chill hearing Olympic Anthem – Bugler’s Dream” – composed by Leo Arnaud.

I was surprised to find an article from the Smithsonian that discusses the fact that the Arts were once Olympic events.  From 1912 to 1952, there were medals awarded for painting, sculpture, architecture, literature and music.  From the article:

“From 1912 to 1952, juries awarded a total of 151 medals to original works in the fine arts inspired by athletic endeavors… The 151 medals that had been awarded were officially stricken from the Olympic record, though, and currently do not count toward countries’ current medal counts.”

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/When-the-Olympics-Gave-Out-Medals-for-Art-163705106.html#ixzz22EI6Ddcv

Apparently, one reason for the end of these events was the concentration on amateur competition after WWII.  Artists were already making a living at what they did, and would inevitably use their victories to promote their work. But times have changed.   I wonder what would happen if the IOC reinstated those medals and also brought the arts back into the Olympic world.  Sure, there would be controversies. (Ahem, the subjective nature of figure skating, gymnastics, etc.).  Sure, there would be “winners and losers.” But promoting the value of the arts would support the spirit of Olympic competition:  The effort of coming together and competing.  What an incredible positive statement that would be!

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”—Olympic Creed, 1908

Copyright, 2012 Robert Baldwin

Update story on Petra Anderson

A good article appeared in today’s Salt Lake Tribune updating the situation with Petra Anderson and her family. Petra is the young violinist and composer who was shot in Aurora last week.  Her survival continues to inspire.  Incredible courage all around.  Here is the link:


Best wishes to Petra and her entire family!



Amazing story of a composer’s survival from Aurora

It’s not the custom to post and discuss current events on this blog, but this story was simply too amazing not to share.  A young composer, Petra Anderson, was attending the Batman premiere in Aurora last Friday when the tragic events we know all too well unfolded. Apparently she has an anomaly in her brain structure that may have saved her life.  An amazing story that is still unfolding.

The story is reported at the link above and here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/07/24/157297103/in-aurora-an-uncommon-brain-saves-a-young-composers-life

A fund to help the family is located here: http://www.indiegogo.com/readytobelieve 

Petra’s website with clips of her music and poetry can be found here: http://petraandersonmusic.com/index.html

Musical Big Leagues?


To wear the uniform in the elite league, your first 10 minutes need to be a highlight reel of epic proportions, without a fumble, bobble or slightest hesitation.  Your first years need to be Pro Bowl performances.  And you’d better make some friends, too. When you retire, there is no Hall of Fame to enter.  Being perpetually at the top of your game is the expectation of the profession.

Such is the pressure cooker world of top shelf orchestras in this country.  Many people wonder what it would be like to play for a professional orchestra.  A recent article from Boston Magazine sheds some light on the audition process from the outside.  It follows two young percussionists and their experiences with the Boston Symphony.  One is on his way out, having been denied tenure.  The other is taking the audition for the job of a lifetime.  The BSO is arguably one of the finest orchestras in the world, so we are talking top echelon here.   The article provides good insight and also provides opportunities of reflection for those musicians who are climbing that particular ladder.

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” – Milton Berle

One of the finest cellists of the past century, Janos Starker, put this into perspective for me about 10 years ago.  I was on a panel at a conference where he was a featured speaker.  His grandfatherly talk to us, an assemblage of several hundred string players and teachers, was quite memorable.  While I cannot recall his exact words, here is the gist of what he said:

“So many of you are worried about making it to some supposedly top level.  This is not the case outside of America.  Europe is filled with music masters and teachers in most every city, and town.  My advice is to be happy wherever you are.  You make a difference no matter where you are.”

That’s probably small consolation to the two percussionists in the article: one who just lost the job of a lifetime, and the other who was never given the opportunity.  But I think Mr. Starker’s advice is worth noting for anyone traveling down the road to becoming a professional musician.

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill

You can read the article by clicking this link: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/articles/2012/06/boston-symphony-orchestra-audition/

The story was also covered on NPR.  See their classical music blog here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/07/21/156989230/a-musician-and-the-audition-of-his-life

In full disclosure, I have never played in a “major” orchestra, nor auditioned for one.  I have “subbed” with professional orchestras and did win a few regional orchestra auditions (a few as a principal player, one with a salary where I could nominally survive).  For my career, I chose to pursue collegiate teaching instead.  I’ve never regretted the decision (Mr. Starker’s philosophy certainly helped put it into perspective, though).

Copyright, 2012 Robert Baldwin

“Poke” by Lawrence Dillon


Here’s some fun creativity. My friend Lawrence Dillon composed this piece as a satirical commentary on social media! Impressive work by the duo, Low and Lower, too. Lawrence recently contacted me and said he is doing an orchestral version of the piece. I look forward to programming it!

I had the pleasure to premiere Lawrence’s composition, Cool Night, in 2010 with the Utah Philharmonia. The Utah Phil Chamber Orchestra also took his Amadeus ex Machina on tour to Austria in 2006. It was a big hit over there.

Lawrence Dillon is composer-in-residence at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. More info on his music can be found here on his website: http://www.lawrencedillon.com/bio.php

Enjoy. And poke me, text me, ping me if you like it!

Break me off a piece of THAT!


“My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us, the world is full of it and you simply take as much as you require.”—Edward Elgar

The mountains, gorgeous; the rivers, majestic: the lakes, peaceful.  Just having returned from a family vacation at the Tetons, I am reminded of how important it is to take a step away to recharge.  I’m not “really back” yet, but I thought I’d share a few quick thoughts.

Jonah Lehrer writes about this in his new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works.  (It’s a very good read, by the way).  In the opening section he talks of how Bob Dylan was burned out from touring and simply quit, disengaging from his career.  He moved up to a cabin in rural New York and simply dropped off the radar.  That is, until the muse hit him again.  Being a creative person he couldn’t avoid it.  It was the hustle-bustle activity of touring that blocked his creative focus.  Thankfully, he dropped back in after resting.

Rest is not the point, even though it is a nice thing to experience.  It has more to do with providing the space to allow the creative process to happen.  Classical music is filled with stories touting the effectiveness of getting away.  Mahler escaped the rigors of a conducting career in Vienna to compose at small Komponierhäuschen or composing hut in the Austrian countryside.  Also inspired by nature, Beethoven took frequent walks.  John Cage would meditate on the I-Ching.

Lehrer’s book cites impressive research that explains why this works in the brain.  But while understanding the science tells us how it works, our commitment to the personal experience confirms why it is important.

“It is always the same with me; only when I experience something do I compose, and only when composing do I experience! After all, a musician’s nature can hardly be expressed in words.”—Gustav Mahler

About 30 years ago, I received an interesting summons from a professor.  I was a senior in college, on the road to a musical career, and was a serious overachiever.  This professor, Dr. Donald Hamann had done important research on musician burnout.  He saw in me the potential for success, and the potential for burnout if I wasn’t careful.  If not for him, I may not be doing what I do today.  He told me to make sure I spent a part of each day, week, month and year “not” doing what I thought I needed to do.  Interestingly, he encouraged me to make a routine of it.

So, whether it’s off to the wilderness or off to walk the dogs, I gladly take the respite to recharge the batteries.  Thanks to Dr. Hamann, all those years ago.  Now…where did I put that score I was studying?

Copyright, 2012 Robert Baldwin