TAFTO 2006 Contribution – Jerry Bowles

Starting off this year’s TAFTO initiative is none other than Jerry Bowles: author and zoo keeper what is arguably known as the largest single online hidey-hole for contemporary composers, Sequenza21. If you’ve ever wondered about what lurks in hearts of contemporary composers, it’s entirely likely that it’s been aired at Sequenza21 in one way or another.

I couldn’t think of any better way to start TAFTO 2006 than with Jerry’s contribution, it’s everything you need to know about how not to make the performing arts contrived. When I read though Jerry’s contribution for the first time I wanted more once I reached the end, which is always the hallmark of a masterpiece…

Take A Friend To Orchestra Contribution
By: Jerry Bowles

My wife and I never had children of our own but we were lucky to have a nephew–my wife’s sister’s son–that we could “borrow” for a week or so during summer vacations. He started coming to New York to see us every year when he was nine-years-old, arriving at LaGuardia the first time wearing a name tag and carrying a small bag with his clothes and a slightly bigger bag which contained his Goofy doll.

Our nephew grew up in a fairly large city in one of those Red States where a variety of different music is available but you have to look for it. Anything other than Top 40 or country is pretty much underground. His parents are conservative and not at all adventuresome in music, films or theater. A big cultural event in this town is its annual Christmastime “Festival of Trees.”

Before his first visit, we had struggled mightily to think of a musical event that would be “age-appropriate” and settled on Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Starlight Express which, we understood, had something to do with roller skating but didn’t realize was nothing but roller skating. We showed up with some enthusiasm at the appointed performance and sat through the most boring, tedious year I have ever spent in a theater. But, we thought, maybe the kid is enjoying it. Nope. At the intermission, I asked him how he liked it and he hesitated for a moment and said “Well, it’s kind of stupid.” That’s when we realized we had a natural critic on our hands. His good taste was soon confirmed when we took him to see Peter Pan with Kathy Rigby flying through the air, and he complained that the wires showed.

>From then on, we decided to drop the kid’s stuff and take him to thing that we enjoyed rather than things we thought he would enjoy. And rather than try to “sell” him in advance, we would simply give him a little background on the performers and the pieces and let him decide if it was the kind of thing he wanted more of. If he enjoyed something or expressed an interest, we would go to Tower and buy him some CDs that expanded on the interest.

One of our big hits was seeing Sarah Chang play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. Not only is this a big, powerful piece that is easy to like, the kid who was playing it was only a couple of years older than he was at the time. He was mesmerized throughout the performance.

When he was bit older, we started taking him to jazz clubs which he liked, not only because of the music, but because it made him feel grownup. I think the first time we took him to a jazz club was then Sweet Basil to hear the trumpeter Art Farmer, who shook his hand and talked to him as if he were an adult. Over the next couple of years, he began to listen to more jazz and developed a teenage crush on Diana Krall whom we went to see several times. He was enchanted by improvisational African melodies of Abdullah Ibrahim. One night we saw Frank Foster and the Basie band at the Blue Note and he stunned us by remarking that the “sight lines” were better at Sweet Basil.

Our first foray into opera was a disaster. He came to visit with his father over a holiday and the only thing playing at the time was Stravinksy’s Rake’s Progress, for which we already had tickets. This is not a good starter opera and the situation was made worse by Dad looking at his watch every two minutes. We quickly realized that we should have started with La Boheme or Butterfly or some other sappy, but irresistible, Puccini and left Dad at home.

Over the years, he has become a genuine fan of Broadway musicals and has seen most of the big ones–Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Crazy For You, Showboat, Movin’ Out,
Spamalot and many others. He liked Cabaret so much he saw it twice.

Perhaps our most memorable “musical” experience took place on our 30th wedding anniversary when we took him with us–he was 16 at the time–to Las Vegas and got re-married by “Elvis” at the Graceland Chapel. Our nephew was our best man.

Of course, our efforts to share the world that we enjoy went beyond music. We also introduced him to modern art and films in which nobody gets blown up. He and I went to the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer together in 1994 and skiing in Verbier a couple of times. In looking back, I realize that the reason he was such a receptive student of a larger world than he might otherwise have been exposed to is that–after Starlight Express and Peter Pan–we stopped patronizing him. We simply did what we enjoyed and let him decide on his own if he liked it too.

Today, he’s 27, still our best man, a captain with the largest private aviation company. He likes and listens to all kinds of music, recognizes the painting that Jackson Pollock whipped up in 24 drunken hours for Peggy Guggenheim, and admires the films of the Dardenne brothers. He voted for the loser in the 2000 and 2004 elections. Both his parents think we are a bad influence. We couldn’t be more pleased.

All About Jerry Bowles

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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5 thoughts on “TAFTO 2006 Contribution – Jerry Bowles”

  1. I liked the approach of Jerry Bowles which he finally took…introducing the child to what the adults liked. I saw the success of this approach one summer, when two children in the extended family came to the country, tearing up everything in sight, generally behaving badly, or normally, for 8 and 10 year olds. One night, my brother-in-law, a pianist and teacher of renown, sat them down in front of the screen for a laser disk performance of Siegfried!

    The children sat, enraptured, totally silent, reading the subtitled German, and wanted to listen to the rest of it the next night, asking for it with great enthusiasm. I saw this work, also, with my grandniece when she was 3 years old…unable to read, but enthralled by Wagner! Just lead the horse to water…..

    One tiny disagreement, from my discipline of art: Jackson Pollack always said he didn’t do the drinking when he was painting. The only time he did was in his barn on Long Island with a fellow painter, and I suspect they were just fooling around. (The same goes for van Gogh. Not the barn, but the drinking.)The reason he did the painting in only a few hours was because he was able to compose it after looking at the blank wall for weeks without doing anything. It’s the Mozart thing, you know…genius.

    The pandering to what some marketer thinks the “audience will like” is what is killing interest in orchestra performances. The musicians are the experts. The conductor has a sense of what an interesting performance should be for the musicians and the audience. Trust the experts! It would be a lot more fun than the dreary experience of musicians playing the same things, year after year, and the audience watching bored professionals.

  2. I’m sure you are correct that Pollock had given a lot of thought beforehand to the Peggy Guggenheim painting and he may even have been sober when he completed the painting in the last few hours before Peggy was scheduled to come see it. But he was such a notorious drunk during those earlier years that his wife, painter Lee Krasner, soon after moved them from New York to Springs, Long Island, where she thought he would be more distanced from bars and drinking companions. It helped for awhile but he died in a terrible car crash while driving at a high speed while drunk. I have known several of his friends and former girlfriends, and they all agree that he was an alcoholic and the “bad boy” of Abstract Expressionism,” genius though he certainly was.

  3. I almost didn’t re-post in response to Jerry Bowles
    assertions about Jackson Pollock. I wanted to make clear that I was aware that he was a very sick alcoholic, but that most importantly he said, himself, that when he was painting, he wasn’t drinking. That’s why the atmosphere of the Village in New York was so deadly for his art and why he moved away. He worked hard to get off his addiction with a psychiatrist, but his illness was too deeply-rooted.

    All of which has nothing to do with the art, which was highly thought out and original and, according to Lee Krasner, his wife, created while sober. He didn’t wield a “drunk” paintbrush, in other words.

    One should be careful about stressing the “illnesses” of artists, when the art is the best thing about them, in many cases. How Pollock died is irrelevant to what importance his painting has to our understanding of his time, as well as the pushing of limits for artists in our own time.

    Surely, there are alcoholic composers, or other addictions suffered by composers, but one would have to argue that making art while “high” is not a good thing in the long run, as the work is so terrible as a result! Making significant art is sober work. And we do a disservice to the arts when we stress the illnesses over the discipline.

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