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Tag Archives: art

Although I had summarized and blogged my thoughts about being a sports athlete for a career, I’ve still been thinking about how difficult it is to make a good living depending on the career path you took.

I had the possibility of following a musical career path when I was younger, but that was quickly a non-starter for me because I knew that there were a lot of people much better than me. But for other musicians, like the athletes in the B-leagues, it is not so easy. Here’s the story of Mike Tetreault as he auditions for a spot in the Boston Symphony, one of the top 5 orchestras in America.

At 33, Tetreault was putting in 100-hour weeks on a patchwork of gigs he’d pieced together — simultaneously serving as the music director at the Galilee Baptist Church in Denver; teaching at the University of Colorado; and working various gigs with the Boulder Philharmonic, the Fort Collins Symphony, the Colorado Ballet, the Colorado Symphony, and Opera Colorado. Yes, he was doing what he loved for a living, but when he added it all up, it was barely a living at all. He’d made $55,000 the previous year, pretty good — until you factored in all the hours, and the fact that the salary had to support two since his wife, Rachel, had been laid off in 2010 from a communications job with the Colorado Symphony. The couple was living in a 625-square-foot one-bedroom apartment.

Waiting for his practice room in Symphony Hall, Tetreault reminds himself that if he can win a spot with the BSO, his very existence will be transformed. He’s aware of the challenges — the selection process is brutal, and even if he lands a job, there’s no guarantee he’ll keep it (as his former schoolmate learned). But the orchestra is a godsend for the very few who make it. The positions pay more than $100,000 a year. You get health benefits. You get vacation. You get to lead a normal life. Which is why the BSO is one of the handful of orchestras for which musicians the world over will drop everything to scramble for a job. Like Tetreault, they’ll practice endlessly for months, sacrificing family and personal time. They have to.

Unlike the ballplayers, you’re not even trying to make millions, you’re just trying to have the job security and income to live comfortably. And this is when you are already one of the best at your instrument (although to be fair, percussion is not as glamorous as a pianist or violinist).

Mike Tetreault was one of 294 percussionists who sent a résumé to the BSO in the fall of 2011 for the two openings. Rumors circulated that the applicant pool included a number of heavy hitters, including two candidates from Big Five orchestras, former players from Chicago and Cleveland.

That October, the BSO contacted Tetreault with instructions for preparing for his live audition in January 2012. But first, he’d have to make the preliminary cut. He was given a month to submit a videotaped recording of 14 musical excerpts, all of which had to be recorded without a break, and without him leaving the frame of the camera during the take. He could make no mistakes during the 10-minute-long segment. If the BSO was suitably impressed with his offering, he’d be allowed to formally audition in person.

For about a week around Thanksgiving, Tetreault rehearsed eight hours a day with the Colorado Symphony, then drove 30 miles to practice at the university in Boulder. He would use the university’s recital hall from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. to work on the excerpts. After a week of recording, he was at last satisfied with his audition tape, and sent it off to Boston.

On December 3 he got the e-mail he was hoping for: Of the 74 people who’d sent in tapes, 35 had been invited to audition, and he was one of them. In a little more than a month, he’d be auditioning live in Symphony Hall.

I read recently (but have misplaced the source) that Asians prefer working a career in finance and law because it is a way to guarantee are decent income after you graduate. It makes a lot of sense, especially faced with the alternative of being a musician.


  • Inside Minority Report’s ‘Idea Summit’, Visionaries Saw the Future
    When Steven Spielberg started working on Minority Report, he called together a group of thinkers to help him envision what the future would look like. Here’s a discussion from a couple of people who were there 10 years ago.
  • Cheap, Chic, and Made For All
    A look at the success of Uniqlo, who is, surprisingly, the fourth largest clothing retailer behind Zara, H&M, and Gap. Although I’ve been to a couple of Uniqlo and prefer their style over H&M, Gap, etc; reading this article didn’t make me feel excited about the company.
  • From Beach to Bunker
    Although this article leads with a neat story of combining brain waves and image recognition to look for terrorist hideouts, the underlying theme seems to be that the US government should fund more scientific research, even though the results may not be readily apparent, because they may cause long term breakthroughs.

    With the introduction of computers, however, researchers could look not just at the continuous EEG over long periods of time but also at the changes that occurred around specific events by averaging the data from a large number of painstakingly timed trials. Most researchers began using this newfound capability to study sensory responses—placing electrodes over the visual cortex at the back of the head, for example, and analyzing how the EEG signal changed when flashes of light of different durations were presented to subjects. Chapman was one of the first to apply that approach to cognitive tasks.

    What Chapman found in his study immediately excited him: When subjects viewed any stimulus, there was a quick change in brain activity, the size of which depended on how bright the stimulus was. But when subjects were shown a number, crucial to performing the task before them, the EEG registered a huge spike in brain activity about 300 milliseconds after the stimulus appeared.

  • Beat Boutique
    A look at the world of library music, which is easily-licensed music that you might find in commercials or TV shows (although TV shows seem to want to feature up-and-coming artists now).

    “I felt like I did have a lot of carte blanche with what I was doing,” Stanton says of her subsequent library work. “But the deadlines were very tight so I’d work in ‘crank it out’ mode. It wasn’t [always] heartfelt.” What most turned Stanton off from writing production-library music, though, was when she felt pressure from her director to compose blatant imitations of other popular artists. “In that era, everyone just wanted you to sound like the Chemical Brothers,” she recalls.

    Tim Lee, who currently works with KPM and is also the founder of the Brooklyn-based Tummy Touch Records, expresses similar disdain for “soundalikes”; he also thinks their proliferation has been the biggest change between (what he does not object to me calling) the Golden Age of Library Music and what is produced now. “If Katy Perry is popular, people will knock out a Katy Perry soundalike CD,” he observes. “There didn’t seem to be so much of that back in the ’60s and ’70s.”

  • Sponge-Fraud
    The guy behind the visual design of the SpongeBob SquarePants character has apparently made it big as a (conventional) artist. But here’s a weird tale about how he had to become a ninja to control counterfeits of his work.

    Convinced Howell was faking his works, White hired a private investigator, Dave Hance, to try to buy a bogus print. Wearing a wire, Hance showed up at Gallery HB and recorded himself buying a print of Playing Around for $2,000. Howell told Hance she’d send it to White for embellishment, and call him when it returned. Two weeks later, the private eye received a voice mail from Howell telling him his giclée was ready. “I look forward to seeing you and the expression on your face,” Howell trilled, “when you see your new embellished Todd White, Playing Around.”

    When Hance told White about his purchase from Howell, the artist was crushed. He says he hadn’t heard from Howell about the giclée at all and hadn’t signed a thing. “I felt stabbed in the heart,” he recalls. But he says he worried that if he reported the fraud to the police, the legal maneuvering could give Howell time to unload his works on the Internet. White says he also worried that making Howell’s malfeasance a matter of public record could contaminate his hard-earned market and depreciate the value of his work. Instead, he’d settle the matter on his own.