Friday, March 20, 2009

YouTube Orchestra is the online “American Idol”

New York’s Carnegie Hall will host the classical music answer to American Idol next month when the YouTube Symphony (YTSO) meets for its inaugural concert.

The world’s first collaborative orchestra is being run by the online video site, YouTube in partnership with the London Symphony Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, composer Tan Dun and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.

"It's an amazing idea. It has promoted classical music to so many people. In some ways I guess it's like American Idol with the audience voting, but it is for classical music and orchestral players," enthuses violinist and surgeon, Calvin Lee.

More than 90 musicians from 30 countries were selected from thousands of people auditioned by recording and uploading their performance videos onto YouTube.

Describing the internet as the "invisible silk road", composer Tan Dun, best known for the score to the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon said: "YouTube is the biggest stage on earth, and I want to see what the world's undiscovered musical geniuses will create on it."

It’s not the first time surgeon and acupuncturist Calvin Lee has performed in Carnegie Hall. He performed there as a student of Brown University.

"I had just dated my wife the week before and then I had to be gone the next week for the Carnegie Hall performance. This time, I’m taking her with me," he says.

Sixteen years ago on April 15, he played Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with the Brown University Orchestra. This year on April 15 he will take to the stage with the YouTube Symphony.

Orchestra takes teaching online
The London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) presented a series of master classes on various instruments before the YTSO auditions took place.

These gave competition entrants an opportunity to get some guidance from professional musicians.

According to LSO Digital Space Development Manager Brian Moran, these were successful because they involved: "what the orchestra does best, which is playing music and of course it was for a project which was encouraging other people to play music. It was very simply captured, it was single camera, it was very YouTube in style in look and feel."

There were some concerns about audio quality considering most people were recording their auditions on camcorders.

But, when members of the London Symphony Orchestra judged the first round auditions, this was less of an issue than had been expected.

YouTube users were given the chance to vote online in the second round before conductor
Michael Tilson Thomas made the final choices.

Horn player Jim Moffat who secured a place in the YTSO explained that a video recording reveals important details about a musician and allows a teacher or audition panel assess performance standards.

"You can certainly tell when they breathe, you can tell how good their intonation (tuning) is , you can tell their rhythm, even their body placement," he said.

Most of the musicians playing in the YTSO have never played together before, says Mr Moffat, but they will rehearse together for three days before the concert.

The programme includes Tan Dun’s Internet Symphony No.1 ‘Eroica’.

Music crossing geographical and technological boundaries
Classical music has been a champion of new technologies for over a century.

"Classical music was the first kind of music to be recorded," for the gramophone and "with the advent of cinema, the possibility of sound tracking music, which LSO was heavily involved in well over a hundred years ago," says Brian Moran.

Audiences are keen to listen to music online and to follow what orchestras are doing even if they don’t come to concerts, Mr Moran explains.

"People want to experience the orchestra in different ways and classical music in different ways and ways that suits them and I think that’s the way the technology is bridging the gap. It’s allowing people to experience as much as they want at a time that’s convenient for them."

Social media help the orchestra to build a relationship with the more geographically removed audiences as "it’s much more difficult to be able and engage with them using the more traditional methods and the newer methods are great for keeping them informed about our whereabouts and what we’re doing," he said.

Doctor and Businessman dust off instruments
"You communicate through your music" even if you don’t have the language, Jim Moffat laughs as he recalls the time he spent studying music in Germany. The French Horn player says romantic notions of Bavaria tempted him away from Canada after completing his MBA.

However, on a rainy day in Cologne, he wondered if a move from business to the arts was such a good idea.

Clearly both his studies in music and business have paid off. As well as joining the brass section of the YouTube Symphony, he runs a marketing consultancy business in London.

"Orchestras, classical music, collaborative technology and social networking was an incredible intersection of all my interests," Jim muses when talking about why he auditioned for the orchestra.

Training as a surgeon meant that Calvin Lee’s violin became "dusty" and he recalls how much he missed playing the instrument at that time. He says he always intended going back to music.

"Being on stage is very much like being in the operating room, bright lights, people concentrating and a performance that must be masterful – giving it your best, and the show must go on… you can’t just stop the operation in the middle. Another similarity, MD to me means Medical Doctor, but to many musicians it stands for Music Director."

He encourages budding musicians to try a variety of musical styles including rap and heavy metal and to record and share their performances online, particularly through YouTube.

"There is much to learn from every form. I had a chance to play with Rachel Barton Pine," the classical and rock violinist, he explained.

"She had written a rendition of heavy metal songs for two-three stringed instruments."

"Violincase" Twitters about Grammy win
Classical musicians continue to embrace new technologies today.

Only earlier this week, the British Library announced it would be streaming 1,200 performances of music by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn and Mozart.

Most of the recordings are from 1915 to 1957 and provide a valuable insight into the style of classical music performance in the early twentieth century.

2009 also sees the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Haydn’s death.

Moving across the Atlantic, violinist Hilary Hahn, who collected a Grammy for best instrumental soloist with orchestra in February, uses technology to reach her fans.

After winning her Grammy, her Twitter name "violincase" read: "Hilary won another Grammy! Best Instrumental Soloist with Orchestra! Now we prepare for the recital tour."

YTSO horn player Jim Moffat suggests that YouTube video technology could be used to create an online music platform for music lessons and master classes, providing "the best of the world in every instrument and having a place to go where you can find them."

Setting the standards for this online music community would present one of its biggest challenges, he says.

In the meantime, the YouTube Symphony meets for its inaugural concert in New York on April 15.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Homeless going 'home'?

Two charities in Poole have joined forces to help reintegrate people who have been homeless back into the wider community.

Quaker Homeless Action (QHA) and Routes to Roots have launched a befriending scheme specifically designed to help homeless people who are moving into accommodation or who have recently moved into accommodation.

QHA Project Co-ordinator Kate Mellor explained that many people are surprised how easy it is for someone to become homeless over the long term.

An individual who has been homeless for more than 30 days has a "greatly decreased opportunity to ever return to what we might call normal society," she explained.

Each team of four people will include three befrienders and one participant, who has previously been homeless.

Social contact is a crucial element, Ms Mellor says, whether it's meeting for a cup of coffee, going to the cinema, taking a walk in the park or having a meal together.

Ms Mellor reveals how "it's a very vulnerable time, a very, very lonely time and a very isolating time to move into a tenancy if they have become entrenched in a way in the life of a street homeless person."

In addition, the person will be without the network of other homeless people living on the street.

Once the participant identifies a special interest or hobby, the befrienders try to assist and finding a local group, which arranges activities.

By getting involved with local groups, the participants can try ease the move into more traditional society.

Befrienders can also help participants with practical needs including how to open a bank account, how to access government benefits, how to write letters and how to begin a tenancy.

Both the QHA and Routes to Roots are keenly aware how difficult a transition it can be from street homelessness to living in a house.

"It may seem to us as if that would be the most desired place to be, some place firm and stable," Ms Mellor says.

There is already demand for the project with some expressions of interest since the official launch by Mayor Joyce Lavender earlier this month.

The pilot project is being funded by Quaker Homeless Acton and will run for two years until the end of January 2011.

Reaction to Poole speed cut proposals

Motorists in Poole could face new speed restrictions following a transport review at a council meeting on Thursday.

Credit crunch pushes up charity demand

Local charities are reporting their services are needed more than ever as the impact of the credit crunch begins to hit hard.

Many charities in Bournemouth and Poole operate consistently in the background providing valuable community services.

The demand for services, including financial assistance, low-cost furniture or essential food, has increased particularly over recent months.

Poole Citizens Advice Bureau has recorded a 70% rise in debt related queries in the last six months, particularly from those who have lost work or had a reduction in their working hours.

There have also been a significant number of employment queries, according to Bureau manager Richard Bristow, with people wanting to know about legal entitlements if they are made redundant.

While there have been some reported cases of unfair dismissals during redundancy periods, he says most employers go through a detailed formal process.

"They can't just pick somebody they don't like. There has to be a process which is fair and equitable for all of the people that are affected."

A sudden loss of income can very quickly lead to rent or mortgage problems, both for landlords and tenants, he explains.

"Increasingly we are seeing people whose landlords are losing the property even though they as an individual may have maintained their rent to the landlord. The mortgage lender is then taking back the property, which happens to be rented out."

In extreme cases, rent or mortgage problems can leave a person homeless.

"G" is a volunteer with the charity Dorset Street Angelz.

He spent six weeks homeless a few years ago and says, "Having been there, you understand where people are coming from."

Volunteers or "Angelz" provide a twice weekly soup kitchen at St. Peter's Church Yard in Bournemouth.

The group also tries to get some homeless people back into accommodation.

On the first night, seven people attended their soup kitchen in St. Peter's Church Yard. This has risen to an average of between 21 and 23 people at each session with eight or nine regulars who come "without fail".

"G" explains how important it is for homeless charities to build up trust with people living on the streets.

"Without the trust you've got nothing. For about four or five weeks, I was dishing food out and talking about the weather and that was it."

People often find it difficult to understand why a person would remain homeless, he says.

"Why don't you get a job, get off your arse and do something about it?"

"G" says this is a common response and people do not realise how difficult it can be leaving behind their homeless friends.

Understanding why a person is homeless in the first place is crucial if you want to "help them on the track of going back into a house."

Dorset Street Angelz are currently discussing a befriending scheme with Bournemouth Council to aid the transition from being homeless to returning to accommodation.

The notion of befriending is shared by many charities, including the St Vincent de Paul Society, which has a number of branches or "conferences" in Bournemouth and Poole.

A volunteer said the society tries to befriend and help people in need and that they are expecting more cases of hardship as the recession continues.

She spoke about a local family which recently had to file for bankruptcy. A person who decides to declare bankruptcy is required to pay court fees. This is something which the society assisted with, she explained.

The Poole Food Bank provides food parcels to help people experiencing hardship. A manager with the organisation outlined how people through various circumstances might not have enough food or "can’t get kids stuff for their lunchbox".

She emphasised that the dignity of the people using the service is paramount and how even in crisis, it can be hard to ask for help.

Food parcels provided are not labelled ‘food bank’ because people who are experiencing hard times want to "blend into the crowd".

Another charity supporting people in financial difficulty is Dorset Reclaim which sells low cost furniture, electrical and household goods to people on low incomes.

Poole Depot Manager John Randall talked about the steady growth of the organisation and that they are definitely getting "busier and busier".

The charity operates four depots and relies on individual donations to provide the items they sell. All money raised is used to cover costs.

Click below for a video about the Citizens Advice Bureau.

"Unrivalled" holiday options in the south

Bournemouth and Poole are uniting forces to promote the area as a summer holiday destination for people staying in Britain this summer.

The "Back in Britain" tourism campaign aims to highlight the variety of holiday possibilities available in the area.

The joint initiative is a logical step for the towns, which are only five miles apart.

A multimedia advertising campaign is planned over Easter and hopes to 'attract tens of thousands of holidaymakers', according to spokeswoman Sheron Crossman.

Chairman of Poole Tourism Management Board Bruce Gran-Braham said:

"Historic Poole, with its upscale hotels and restaurants, its marinas, and the renowned Sandbanks peninsula, is a perfect counterpoint to family-orientated Bournemouth, with its glorious beach, beautiful gardens and thriving cultural scene."

He went on to explain there are many holiday choices around Bournemouth and Poole without travelling abroad and that the two towns "aim to be the first to welcome them (holiday makers) back from the costly Costas."

It follows a challenging year with significant fluctuations in the value of Sterling, particularly against the strength of the Euro.

Chair of Bournemouth Tourism Management Board Alex Carter said:

"With the credit crunch rekindling interest in 'holidays at home', we will be extending a welcome to many more holidaymakers this summer."

Mr Carter is confident that the individual successes of Bournemouth and Poole as tourist destinations can be enhanced by this new venture offering "unrivalled" holiday experiences.

The joint-project will include a new website,, due to go live later this month.

Business activities between April 2007 and March 2008 brought £127m worth of tourist related income to Bournemouth.

Dr Death to visit Bournemouth

Dr. Philip Nitschke's controversial suicide lessons, known by the organisation as "Exitutorials" were cancelled in Bournemouth before Christmas following protests by local residents.

However, the sessions have now been re-scheduled in May at the Hamilton Hall Hotel.

Dr. Nitschke, who runs the organisation Exit International, is an advocate of assisted suicide.

The original sessions planned for last October were postponed when both Bournemouth Council and the Hermitage Hotel cancelled Dr. Nitschke's bookings.

Bournemouth is the first of the UK venues in this latest series. Eastbourne, Stroud and Glasgow are included in this latest visit.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Youth needed to save democracy

A Poole councillor has warned young people that 'democracy will die' if they don't take a more active role in politics.

Conservative council leader Brian Leverett says that local political parties need to unite in their efforts to get more young people involved.

"We have a duty to get people out to vote, even and this may surprise you, voting for someone other than our party. All parties have this duty because unless young people come out and vote, democracy will die."

According to Cllr Leverett, political apathy has developed over recent generations and young people don't realise the extent of their impact on politics.

Spending time reading up on political candidates as well as voting is high on his priority list and "if you don't like any of them, put your name on the ballot paper", he suggests.

Liberal Democrat councillor for Merley and Bearwood, David Brown says communicating with local residents is essential.

Brown insisted whether it is in person, by email or on social networks is very important to ensure people are actively engaged in politics.

"People might not want contact you by email. They might not come to advice surgeries but you're doing your bit to try and make yourself more available to them", he said.

His own interest in politics was motivated by the government's introduction of tuition fees and student loans alongside a reduction in grants while he was at university.