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About Cortland Music

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 Cortland Music website developed, beginning with the Classical Music Festival series.

Classical Sundays 2004

Katy 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 2005

An 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 2005

The 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, Recordings

In 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.

Grant Applications

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 2007 with support from the
New York State Music Fund and
A NYSCA Decentralization Grant

My 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 focused 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.

Cortland Music 2008

2008 was a very busy year, with four festivals, including 8 hours of music at the Arts and Wine Festival. In addition to the festivals there were 4 individual concerts: Tekla Babyak (pianist/musicologist), Elinor Frey (cellist), Cindy Josbena (pianist) and the ensemble Elizabethan Conversation (Renaissance). I was also involved in the "Anthology of Zarzuela" concert that Gina Sikora organized. It was a big project, with soloists from NYC, ticket sales (including online), dancers from Syracuse and a chorus from Ithaca. I helped with ticket sales, publicity, recording and worked the lights during the event.

This was the second and last year of the two year grant from the NYS Music Fund. Looking ahead to 2009, I needed to apply for a NYSCA Decentralization Grant if the series was to continue. Since my initial DEC grant (2007) was made through St. Mary's Church in Cortland, I talked to Msgr. Minehan about it. He pointed out that, strictly speaking, the mission statement of the church is religious, while my purpose is artistic or cultural. So, while he was willing to act as a "conduit" for one more year, it was clear that I needed to work on some other arrangement for the future. I am grateful for Msgr. Minehan's advice, and for his willingness to help keep the series going.

I spent some time looking into other non-profits to act as a "fiscal sponsor". A complication is that the "conduit" for a Decentralization grant cannot already be receiving money directly from NYSCA through another grant. This limited the number of possibilities. In the end, I was unable to find any appropriate local group willing to act as a fiscal sponsor.

So my only option was to form a separate non-profit organization.

Cortland Music, Inc. 2009

With St. Mary's Church as a conduit, Cortland Music received a grant of $3,100 for 2009. Events included four Classical Music Festivals, a Harp Recital and a concert of Brass Ensembles. Msgr Minehan, who had been most helpful in obtaining the grant, died of a sudden illness late in 2008 - shortly after the grant application was submitted.

A great deal of effort went into incorporating as a non-profit. If you know what you are doing, the process is quite easy. That is, the state only requires a few page form (Articles of Incorporation) and a filing fee. But filing for 501(c)(3) status with the IRS is quite a bit more involved. It is especially important to get the initial filing with the state to have the correct wording. Otherwise, to satisfy the IRS, the Articles of Incorporation would have to be revised, etc. So, I took my time trying to get the wording right the first time. Incorporation was filed on April 22, 2009 and a letter from the IRS approving 501(c)(3) status was dated July 7, 2009.

Cortland Music, Inc. 2010
Decentralization and Wilkins Foundation Grants

We had planned an ambitious year with Classical Music Festival, guitar events, individual concerts and a major concert of a Baroque orchestra. Upon receiving a Decentralization grant of (only) $1300 and having our application to the Cortland Community Foundation rejected, we had to completely reorganize our program. For the February festival, we asked musicians to volunteer their time. Meanwhile, we applied to the Ralph R. Wilkins Foundation for support and received a generous grant of $2000, which helped a great deal.

As things turned out, it was quite a busy year. Although we couldn't pay the musicians fees, we were able to provide organizational support and work on publicity for several events. This included a concert of Renaissance music by The Frogwork Consort as well as a concert by Dana Huyge and the Quartetto Appassionata.

Cortland Music, Inc. 2011...

I have always struggled with attendance for classical events and have seen it as my primary responsibility to bring out an audience. The first classical festival of 2011 (February) was a disaster from that point of view. We had some friends and family of the musicians, and that was it. There was some great music, including a young violinist who played with expression that seemed far beyond his years. But almost no one was there to hear it.

In desperation I set up Cortland Music accounts with Facebook and Twitter as a way of developing local interest. But I am not very socially oriented and social media strikes me as a big waste of time. So I never did much with it.

At about the same time, I became interested in some aspects of what I was doing at work (Cornell). There is a particular measurement technique that I was working on (here's a summary) that no one else seemed to be interested in. I thought it was worth pursuing and ended up putting a lot of time and effort into it. And so I began to spend less and less time working on music events.

Meanwhile my marriage, which had always been a struggle, failed completely; so that now (the end of 2013) I find myself somewhat of a recluse and drifting slowly toward curmudgeon-hood. - John Sikora