When I visited Pittsburgh recently I had the great opportunity to spend a little time with Bob Lauver, hornist in the Pittsburgh Symphony.
Bob is one of the favorite voices on the PSO’s blog, which includes blogs by musicians and staff as well as others outside the organization. Jeff Tsai, PSO staffer, says, “The original purpose was to drive more web traffic, and therefore more foot traffic, to the symphony. We had this naive idea that the involvement of volunteer writers would somehow duplicate the role of newspapers — magically at 1:00 AM after a concert, blogs would appear about the concert, people would flood the site to read and comment, and ticket sales would soar.” In reality, the blog can be a powerful tool to help build powerful relationships and loyalty, but it doesn’t necessarily translate directly into sales. And one of the keys to successful blogging is the quality of the individual authors rather than the ‘organization.’
I asked Bob how he got involved with the symphony’s blog and video projects.
Robert Lauver: A couple of the staff approached me and asked if I would be interested in participating. They were looking for musician perspectives to include in the written blogs. I began to think that a video version could be fun and effective.
Rebecca Krause-Hardie: How do you decide what subject to use and how to approach it?
RL: If there’s a vibe of something to talk about or make a video about, I do it. Just seeing YouTube made me realize there were a lot of interesting things being done through video that were creative and fun.
One of the first video blogs I did was Master Peter’s Puppet Show — a behind-the-scenes perspective seemed like a natural. Supporting the narrative with video scenes was easy.
Master Peter’s Puppet Show
In this video blog Bob interviews Judy Barry Brown about how the puppets and puppeteers create the scene and maneuver their puppets for their Don Quixote story.
RL: What I’m doing is really a result of the YouTube culture. Exploring that world can really treat you to some hidden creativity. My daughter’s friends did a couple of little videos and put them on YouTube. These little kids are so creative. They take the tiniest germ of an idea and turn it into something fun and entertaining. One of their videos was Stuffed Justice.
This is the story of Peep, a small stuffed animal with no legs, and how the others ostracize him when the ‘people’ leave the room.
RL: I want a project that is crying out to be done, not just a video representation of something we do. More like something that you might not see or hear us do … then I look for a way to present it. I’m getting better as I go along; I’m learning to be a better storyteller. I’m exploring visual and sonic clues that help convey the story.
One project I did was an interview with Jean Laurendeau, who was the Ondes Martenot soloist for Messaien’s Turangalila Symphony. Jim Rogers, a bassoonist in the orchestra was the other camera operator in my first two-camera video. We posted it on the PSO blog site and YouTube, and it’s had over 19,000 views (that’s a lot for a video that doesn’t get “featured” by YouTube, or have some overt hook into everyday culture). A lot of those views are coming from the electronic music world.
In this great interview, Jean Laurendeau demonstrates the ondes Martenot, a very cool and relatively unknown electronic instrument, similar to the theremin. Think ‘Star Trek’ – or catch the great example at the end of the video.
RL: We’ve also done a blog on the contrabass trombone in the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra. The videos I do are generally coupled with the concerts they go with, and we use audio clips from that music. In the case of the Bartok, there was an interesting story about the actual instrument used and its history. This made an interesting hook to explore: “A Rare Beast.”
A Rare Beast
The video shows the story of a very special trombone, built in 1902 and used to play just 2 notes in Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra.
RKH: Are you a ‘digital native’?
RL: No, I have just enough knowledge to do it, but not enough to make it easily ‘pop.’ I don’t have that kind of fluency, but I wish I did. My first computer was an Atari — I played Galaga and Frogger and PacMan.
My brother-in-law worked at Pinnacle and sent me their Studio 8.0 software for editing. The administration gave me the nod of approval by providing a camera for my use.
RKH: Why do you do this?
RL:I like to! It’s another expressive outlet. It’s good for the orchestra. The time demands are easy to manage because I can do most of the work of editing and putting the project together late at night when my kids have gone to bed, and I like that.
I also like to do this kind of stuff because I think that it’s good for the people who come to see us to get a glimpse of the things that make us alike. I think that the video blog is another opportunity for us to connect with our public and relate on another level.
This allows the audience to know parts of another world. They come in and see everyone dressed in black behind the proscenium arch, and that’s their perspective of the people in the orchestra. Sometimes they don’t realize that the PSO musicians might go home and watch the Letterman show, catch the end of the Steelers game, or throw together some mac & cheese for the kids. With the blog, they get a chance to know a side of the members of the PSO that they don’t normally see. Hopefully I come up with a little humor or insight that makes the visit to the blog site worthwhile.
RKH: Visit Bob at the PSO blog to hear more of his stories and great perspective.