The website cortlandmusic.org was created in May 2005. The original idea was to have a place to document the "Classical Music Festivals", of which there had been two at that time, and as a home for a virtual museum of sound and music (a project which I have not yet been able to work on). Almost the same day that I registered the domain name, I got a call from David Beale of the Cultural Council, asking if I could help organize the music for the Arts in the Park Festival that was being planned for July 30, 2005. So I spent most of the summer working on that project and on another website cortlandarts.org.
The purpose of the cortlandmusic.org website has been evolving, even in the space of these few short months. At the moment (Sept. 2005), in addition to documenting the Festivals that I have helped organize, it seems logical to have links to other sites that might be of interest to local classical musicians. So the hope is that this site will become a resource for local musicians, especially those who are new to the area.
Anyway, below is a history of how the Classical Music Festival series got started.
Classical Sundays 2004Katy Silliman was the originator of the "Classical Sundays" idea at the Blue Frog Coffeehouse in Cortland. Sundays were pretty slow at the coffeehouse (where Katy was working at the time), and they were looking for an idea to attract customers. The idea was to organize the day into half-hour time slots that would be filled by local musicians, in exchange for a free cup of coffee. My son and I participated in this experiment beginning in June 2004, appearing in the coffeehouse almost every week. But the audience was small, and few musicians were participating. It seemed that something was needed to publicize the idea in order to get more people involved.
Classical Music Festivals 2005An event was needed to help get the idea off the ground. So I organized the first Classical Music Festival in February 2005, scheduling musicians who had participated in Classical Sundays at one time or another, and anyone else I could find. The result was a mixture of professional musicians, students and amateurs performing from 12:00 until 4:00PM. This was repeated in May 2005. Both events were very well attended.
After two of these events, a few things were becoming clear:
Mixing professional musicians with students and amateurs as part of the same event worked well. The presence of professionals raised the overall quality of the event, and provided a framework in which others could perform. At the same time, the informal format of the coffeehouse, with people milling about and holding quiet conversations, helped to reduce performance jitters for everyone.
An important part of the May festival was the presence of what I will call a "mentor" musician. Marion Giambattista brought her Madrigal Singers from Cortland High School. As director of the group, she provided first-rate music for the festival and a positive experience for the students involved in the Madrigal Singers. It probably would have been easier for her to sing a set of songs herself, but by involving students in making music she did a great service for them and for the community. All of which could have been done without singing a note herself.
However, despite the success of the festivals at the Blue Frog, the non-festival Sundays at were just as sparsely attended as before.
It was also becoming clear that professional musicians deserve some monetary compensation for their work. In conversations with some of them, it was learned that they are being asked continually to give performances free of charge for various groups in the community. For a person whose source of income is making music, it can be frustrating to have more requests for freebies than for paid work.
Arts in the Park 2005The third festival occurred as part of the Arts in the Park Festival on July 30, 2005, which was sponsored by the Cultural Council of Cortland County (CCCC). I received a call from David Beale of the CCCC just after the May 2005 festival, and learned that there was actually a budget for music ($500). As a result of a few discussions that I had with local musicians, it seemed that a fair compensation for professionals would be $50 per half hour, per musician. The definition of a "professional" being someone who earned their living as a musician, as opposed to someone who performed music in their spare time. (The definitions of different musician categories will be taken up in some detail later). My original plan was to hire the trio that had played (for free) at the previous festivals, hire another duo for additional support, and fill the rest in with amateurs and students (unpaid). So with the groups that I had in mind, the trio and the duo would be able to play an hour each.
The problem, was that I could find very few professional musicians who were able to play at the July 30th event. In the end, I was able to fill the six hour duration of the Arts in the Park festival with music, using the talents of available amateurs, students and a fair number of semi-professional musicians. That is, musicians who are well trained, but whose full time occupation is something other than music. The result was a great combination and variety of music the covered the 6 hour festival. It seemed that the semi-professionals should also have some sort of financial compensation. So in the end, I arbitrarily decided to pay some of the musicians at a rate of $25 per musician per half hour, to a maximum of $100 per half hour for a group. This was a rate that I had heard was paid by the organizers of the Ithaca Festival (unconfirmed).
So from the latest festival, where there was a budget, I found it difficult to determine how much each person should be paid. So I'd like to think out loud for a bit, first on the different categories that musicians might fall into, then on how much a person in each category might be compensated for their work. I'd like to get suggestions from musicians and anyone else who might be interested on both the categories and the compensation.
Here is a link to a proposal for Monetary Compensation of festival musicians.
Cortland Music 2006, RecordingsIn February 2006, there was another Classical Music Festival. I had some digital recording equipment, so I brought it in an recorded the entire festival. This has been standard procedure ever since then, to record the events and get copies of the recordings to the performers. For music in the public domain, and with the performers permission, I started putting links to 32kbit/sec mp3 files on the website. I also experimented with making CDs of festival excerpts and selling them for $6. This was a lot of work, and even at $6, not many were sold.
In March 2006, I signed a paper that made me sole proprietor of Cortland Music. This was done mostly so that I could get a tax number and license, that allowed me to sell things legally and collect sales tax for New York State.
In the fall of 2006 I applied for a NYSCA Decentralization grant. At the same time, a local (ad hoc) group call the Central New York Arts Coalition (SUNY Cortland, Center for the Arts of Homer, and the Cortland Downtown group) were applying for a grant from the NYS Music Fund that was being administered by the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. The group got a 2 year grant of $500,000.
Cortland Music 2007My portion of the budget was enough to pay for the entire Classical Music Festival series, plus some other events. The original budget that I was given had more money for marketing than there was for musician's fees. I rearranged things, putting more money into musician's fees and equipment, with only $2000 for marketing. With the equipment money, I was able to buy some simple recording equipment, with a laptop computer used for both recording and editing. I also bought a Yamaha Clavinova digital keyboard for use in the summer festivals in the park as well as other events where a piano was not available. I've had music events in "outlying areas" in the back of my mind for some time and having a decent keyboard available will make many more types of events possible. Since this was a two year grant that might not be extended, I wanted to invest in some capital equipment that would help the effort in the long run. The keyboard and computer carry a SUNY Cortland tag, because they technically belong to SUNY (the official recipient of the grant).
Another portion of the grant was that I was to be paid $100 a month to do website development. The proposal to the Coalition was to provide a website and links so that recordings of local music could be heard. After a meeting or two, folks decided that they really liked my domain name of CortlandMusic.Org So I took my original website, which was focussed on documenting the Classical Music Festival series and extended it to include all styles of music. I started programming in PHP so that the site could be set up with common header and navigation files, with the content being "included" with PHP scripting. My original proposal to the Coalition was to provide links to recordings and that the various participating venues would send me recordings to post. I ended up doing most of the recordings myself.
There were four festivals in 2007, including the music for the Wine and Arts Festival organized by the Cultural Council of Cortland County in the Courthouse Park. I finally got my Decentralization Grant money ($1500) in July (this is a long story that I won't go into here). So with the extra money, I scrambled to organize a couple more individual concerts. There was a fair amount of money left over at the end of the year. Having the extra money, plus the $100/month for website development, made it so I didn't have to worry about checks bouncing before I got the reimbursement checks from SUNY.