Tilting at Windmills
Merry Christmas

Street Symphony

Picture1 When I first heard about the You Tube Symphony Orchestra, it sounded like another stupid gimmick cooked up by hidebound orchestras trying to appear "cool." But, after noticing that YouTube (which is owned by Google) is putting some serious promotion behind this venture - including a fixed logo on the front page - I decided to take a closer look. 

Turns out there's more there than you might think. Here's the deal: composer Tan Dun has written a crowd-pleasing piece for orchestra called the Internet Symphony No. 1 "Eroica", which he says was inspired by random street and garage sounds that reminded him of Beethoven's 3rd symphony (which he quotes in the piece.) But, instead of just having some professional orchestra perform the work, he's offered it up to the public via the Internet, which he sees as an opportunity to recapture Beethoven's loose, primal energy.

"There are oh-so-many invisible Beethovens behind the YouTube!" Dun says in his introductory video. "All those people, you know, crazy! Banging their chairs, banging brake and steel drums, playing piano...Anything could be your language to talk to the people. Even the cooking tools, even the brake drums, street noise, stones, water, paper, anything!"

As such, musicians are invited to upload a video of their performance of Dun's piece on their preferred instrument, or any other object ("from the erhu to wine glasses") that are in the same range and pitch; parts are available for download online. Participants are encouraged to record themselves while watching a video of Dun conducting the piece (see below), which you can view with the sound on or off. The London Symphony Orchestra (which has uploaded some 24 masterclasses from its members) will evaluate the submissions and then compile the best into a collaborative online video to be released sometime in the new year.  

In addition, musicians can submit a second video of selections by Mozart, Debussy, and Rossini for a chance to perform in a live You Tube Symphony Orchestra concert at Carnegie Hall on April 15, 2009, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. Starting on Feb. 14, 2009, YouTube users will get to help select the orchestra members from a pool of finalists. If selected, YouTube will provide travel and expenses to all participants, regardless of where they live. 

Say what you will about Dun's music, or the ulterior motives of the organizations involved: this thing has storybook ending written all over it.  Just imagine seeing onstage at Carnegie a 60-something flautist from central Asia who gave up her career to raise a family. Or a 16 year old from Zimbabwe who just happens to be one bad-ass percussionist. And, if some sort of new, democratic sound comes out of it - not to mention a new format for auditioning symphony orchestra candidates - well, that's just gravy. As Dun says:

"This Internet symphony provides a platform to enter anything you want to say through sound, with or without an instrument. All those sounds are the language of your heart, nothing related to the technique. That's the future of the expression of music... You can practice the music, but actually, it's a mirror of your life."

Deadline for submissions is January 26. More information available at http://www.youtube.com/symphony. (Hit play to start practicing.)