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What's Playing on Lynne Morrow's iPod? and other questions on the record...

January 22, 2009

Bay Area choral conductor and music professor Lynne Morrow talks to SFCV about why she doesn't listen to classical music.

What's playing on your iPod?
D'Angelo, Sergio Mendes & Brazil 66, Charlie Hunter, India.Arie, and Kim Burrell.  I don't listen to classical music, mostly because a lot of what's recorded is stuff I've heard before. So much of my career has been spent performing new music that I'm not really a recorded music person. It  also means I'm on NPR overload. Normally, don't listen to music at all.


What do you do when not making music?
I read a lot. I'm trying to get back to reading fiction. I read magazines, I try to keep up on a couple of design magazines. I have a subscription to Art Forum and Good magazine and Funny Times. I read in the middle of the night or at the gym on the treadmill.

What are you reading right now?
Adam Gopnik's collection of essays about Paris. And I just finished reading Nights in Rodanthe. Gotta have my trashy novel at the end of the semester!

What would you be if not a musician, and why?
Oh.[pause]  I was a computer programmer, and when I took the GRE I got all this information from Engineering schools, so I'd probably be an engineer. In fact, I always wanted to be a recording engineer. I was a premed student for a while, but then didn't have time to practice [my music], so that was that.

What is your favorite thing about performing/living in the Bay Area?
First, it's home, so it allows me to see old friends and stay in contact with my family. But the other part of it is that Bay Area audiences just love it. They're knowledgeable listeners. They know what they like, and they let you know it. You think you've performed something, but they're like, "Oh no, it was this." They're interested in something new.

What is the single most important reason why one should listen to classical music?
This is an interesting question. I just developed a new class called Music and Action-it's a  general ed class, so most students are non-majors. I ask them to identify 5 branches of music, and when I said classical, they thought that meant classic rock-it was the oldest music they knew of, it's what their parents listened to. So when they went to concerts I'd assigned, it was really the first classical they'd heard, or certainly the first they heard live. For me, what's important is the continuity of a long line of tradition, understanding where the music you enjoy comes from. It's starting to understand structure, timbre and color and also the organization of music.

What is the greatest challenge facing classical music today?
The fact that people are not exposed to it on a regular basis. Lack of music education in schools. Going back to my students, they had no idea what they would find. Music is one of the classic areas of study, going way back in time. It's the way the culture is transmitted in all cultures. In America we have failed our children because we do not educate them in music.

What do you like least about being a musician?

Not having an agent. [laughs] At this moment in my life, I think so. I cannot even tell you-I was up at 2am emailing, working stuff out, I have an orchestra to put together. I need help. There is so much work that nobody ever sees. I hate music that's so hard but sounds so easy. Being director of a group is like that. All my conducting students are like "Oh, I can do that"...until they get up there and do it. Then they understand.

What kind of computer do you use?

A Dell PC. I want a Mac, but I'm poor.

How do you use the Internet most?

Email and research-the only way I use it. A friend of mine made me get Facebook account, and I don't use it. And all my students find me and I don't invite them, because there's stuff I just don't want to know. People sent me birthday greetings in September, and I got them in December! I don't have time to sit there. I get hundreds of emails every day, so I'm just doing triage.

What is the best thing the Internet has done for music? What is the worst?
Best thing is that it has allowed people to find and be exposed to music they may never have listened to. Worst thing: It keeps them from going to see live music. Same with CDs-that's why my class exists.

What is the one non-musical thing that you do that most influences your musicianship?
Tai Chi. Because music and tai chi are energetic: you're observing the energy and putting the energy out.

What is the best advice you ever received?
I go back to what my father told me on the first day of kindergarten when a little blond girl stuck her tongue out at me: "That negative thing over there doesn't have anything to do with you. That's her problem. You're fine. Now go play."

Dr. Lynne Morrow is Music Director of the Grammy-nominated Pacific Mozart Ensemble; Music Director of the Oakland-East Bay Symphony Chorus; and Associate Professor of Music at Sonoma State University.  

Polly Winograd Ikonen is a freelance writer and communications/marketing consultant in the arts. She was formerly director of communications for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and handled both communications and marketing for the New York Philharmonic. Polly lives in Berkeley and sings with the Pacific Mozart Ensemble (PME).