Arts

Arts and culture

Symphony orchestras and opera companies across the country continually ask the same question: How do we attract a younger and more diverse audience?

Saturday night, I discovered something of an answer at the Washington National Opera's east coast premiere of Champion, a four-year-old opera by jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard.

In 21 seasons of attending WNO performances, I've never witnessed a more diverse crowd.

Practice is a physical activity, of course, but it's also hard mental work — if you're doing it right. A new video published by TED Ed gets down to the scientific nitty-gritty of what good practice looks like, and what it does to your brain. (Think axons and myelin, not "muscle memory" — muscles don't have "memory.")

Photo provided

Kevin Stites is ranked among the “Who’s Who” of Broadway conductors but, despite the impressive body of work he's put together, he'll proudly tell you he’s from Pecatonica, Ill.

Years ago I had the good fortune of working with Kevin on a number of shows in the Chicago area. He was resident musical director at the Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre, where I performed in a number of shows in the 1980s.

I went off to tread the boards in Broadway National Tours and London’s West End while Kevin made a name for himself with the biggest stars, composers and producers in the world.

It's become an annual tradition for NPR to host a live band in our studios for a full day. This year, we upped the ante and invited around 70 musicians from Washington, D.C.'s National Symphony Orchestra to play the musical interludes between stories on All Things Considered.

"I feel your pain." The phrase might still be linked to Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, but it's also an apt descriptor for a new project by The Crossing, the adventuresome Philadelphia-based choir, based on some very old music.

BIFF

The soon-to-be director of the Beloit International Film Festival says it’s a very special event in a number of ways.

Max Maiken will take over as executive director when this year’s festival, which begins Friday, concludes March 5. He has worked with the festival, affectionately known as BIFF, for several years and is the current Assistant Director. He says the transition at the top is historic for the organization.

When Christine Sneed begins a story, she never knows where her characters will take it.

"Usually I'm about halfway through and I still won't know what's going to happen at the end," Sneed says, "but I have some sense of where I'm going."

The award-winning author has the experience to avoid early-draft pitfalls, and shares this knowledge with her students at Northwestern University and Regis University.

The 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which takes place every four years, begins later this spring in Fort Worth, Texas. For the past six weeks, judges have been traveling the world to hear potential competitors audition. One notable stop is Moscow — where the American pianist for whom the contest is named stunned the world 59 years ago, winning the International Tchaikovsky Competition at the height of the Cold War.

The next four years will be very good for poetry.

That's according to Susan Azar Porterfield, who says our nation's current political divisions echo previous tempests, which sprouted an abundance of biting verse.

In 2003, Robert Bly, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and more than 8,000 other poets submitted their work to a global movement opposing the Iraq invasion. The book Poets Against the War collected 262 of those poems.

The Polish-born conductor and composer Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, who led the Minnesota Orchestra for nearly two decades and worked with that symphony for well over 50 years in total, died Tuesday at age 93.

"You can take the girl out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the girl."

We've all heard this, which is why it's refreshing to find a story that shows the opposite.

Rachel Raines is the protagonist of Small Town Roads by L.B. Johnson, one of our Read With Me selections for this month.

In a story about an alcoholic teen and the twin brother who covers for her, who's the protagonist?

"I have people come up to me and, in some cases, they say alcohol is the protagonist," author Kathleen Tresemer says. But, in an interview with WNIJ, she hints that the twins' co-dependent relationship may be the real main character of her novel, Time in a Bottle.

The book is one of four Read With Me selections for February.

DCCG

Several choirs from the DeKalb community and Northern Illinois University will raise their voices to raise money for the nonprofit DeKalb County Community Gardens in the third annual "Make Our Garden Grow" concert Sunday in NIU’s Boutell Concert Hall.

Eric Johnson, director of Choral Activities at NIU, says he started the concerts with two visions in mind.

It was The Magnificent Seven that inspired Ramin Djawadi, the musician behind Game Of Thrones' iconic soundtrack, to become a film composer.

"The greatest stories ask the biggest questions," budding animation artist Alex Sopp replied when I asked about the video she's created for "Sunset Boulevard," a song from First, the upcoming album by the new music sextet yMusic.

Guy Stephens / WNIJ

Most musical ensembles of great renown have some large institution behind them. Not so with the St. Olaf Choir. Its home is a tiny college, but its stage is the world. 

St. Olaf Choir director Anton Armstrong says the choir’s success also is built on a foundation of support that goes back to the very beginnings of the college.

Music has been essential in the curriculum since its inception. There was a hymnal that was one of the required textbooks back in 1874,” he says.

A graphic novel featuring U.S. Rep. John Lewis became the first non-fiction work to receive The Michael L. Printz award.

The award recognizes the best young adult book of the year, plus up to four "Honor Books" or honorable mentions.

March: Book Three is the final piece of a trilogy that tells the history of the civil rights movement as experienced by Rep. Lewis. It was co-written with Andrew Aydin, and illustrated by Nate Powell.

Pick up WNIJ's book bag and turn it over. What falls out?

Two novels, one book of poems, and a story collection -- all by northern Illinois writers.

Each will share her insights into the craft of storytelling during interviews that air during Morning Edition on 89.5 FM and WNIJ.org.

WNIJ invites you to read the following selections before the series airs Feb. 20 - 23.

American composer Philip Glass turns 80 years old on January 31. To mark the occasion, we asked several of Glass' colleagues and collaborators to pick a piece of his music and write about it.

Sessions from Studio A - Grandkids

Jan 26, 2017
Carl Nelson


Grandkids performs "Agur" in WNIJ's Studio A.


Find Grandkids on the web at grandkidsmusic.bandcamp.com.

Sessions from Studio A - Seasaw

Jan 19, 2017
Carl Nelson

Seasaw performs "Folklore" in WNIJ's Studio A.


Seasaw performs "Ex-Girlfriend" in WNIJ's Studio A.

Find Seasaw on the web at singseasaw.com.

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