In this episode, we speak to Rob Cottman, Executive Chef and Director of Food & Beverage at World Cafe Live, about how restaurants and food service have adapted to the challenges of the pandemic.
Chef Rob Cottman’s road to professional kitchens was driven by an entrepreneurial spirit when a unique opportunity presented itself to operate his own restaurant. After selling his first establishment, he decided to return to the basics and climb the ranks in established kitchens. Absorbing every ounce of knowledge around him, he accepted a position at World Cafe Live’s former location in his hometown of Wilmington, DE and spent years covering all aspects of the business from large scale a la carte service to formal catered dinners to specialty pairing menus. Now as the Executive Chef and Director of Food & Beverage at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, Rob is responsible for the dining experience of over 100,000 guests a year, overseeing service in two spaces daily and over 200 catered events annually while playing an integral role in the next stages of the organization’s development.
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In this episode, we speak to Donald Nally, music director of The Crossing, Philadelphia’s Grammy-award winning chamber choir, about creating choral performances through the pandemic and the process of “musical journalism”, to capture and reflect our times.
Donald Nally collaborates with creative artists, leading orchestras, and art museums to make new works for choir that address social and environmental issues. He has commissioned over 125 works and, with his ensemble The Crossing, has produced over 25 recordings, with two Grammy Awards and six nominations. His 60-chapter series Rising w/ The Crossing, a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, gained national attention and was featured in The Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, The Washington Post, and NPR’s Performance Today; it has been archived by The Library of Congress as a cultural artifact as an “important part of this collection and the historical record.” Donald has served as chorus master at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Welsh National Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and the Spoleto Festival in Italy. Recent projects have taken him to London, Osaka, Cleveland, Boston, Edmonton, Houston, Helsinki, Haarlem, Riga, Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. Donald is professor of conducting at Northwestern University.
There are some minor glitches and dropouts in this episode. Our apologies to Donald and our audience for the audio issues, but it’s still well worth a listen!
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Last newsletter, I teased some big news for this summer…
It goes without saying that the past 15 months have been… unprecedented. We’ve all had to adapt to a new and evolving set of constraints, and many have had to endure and persevere through significant changes to their work, social lives, and creative experiences. But we have also developed new skills and discovered new ways of doing things; things we previously didn’t think possible. As we begin to return to more traditional, in-person activities, how can we take what we’ve learned during the pandemic and create, collaborate, and just do things better?
To explore this topic, I’m teaming up with Melinda Steffy, Founder & Principal of Concentric Strategy, which brings creative problem solving to organizational strategy & communications. She previously served as Executive Director of music education nonprofit LiveConnections, which she guided for 8 years from start-up through its merger with music venue World Cafe Live. Melinda’s 18-year career in the nonprofit sector has been deeply shaped by her perspective as a visual artist and musician.
Together, we’re launching a new conversation series So, where do we go from here?As co-hosts, we’ll talk to members of Philadelphia’s creative community (broadly defined) about what they’ve learned and what changes are informing their efforts moving forward. We’ll connect with authors, performers, educators, industry and government leaders, and more. By sharing experiences and ideas for the future, we seek to highlight pathways and opportunities to find creative solutions for the many challenges we still face, individually and collectively.
Our chats will be 45-minute Zoom conversations, open to all for live streaming and Q&A. After each live session, we will post lightly edited recordings as a podcast for those who aren’t able to join live or just want to listen on their own time. We plan to group these conversations into “Series”, the first of which will launch in July.
As a sneak preview, we’re hosting an “open dress rehearsal” on June 17 at 12:15pm for our live conversation with our mutual friend, David Bradley. David brings decades of experience as a producer, theater director, writer, and arts educator to his work. Throughout his career he has specialized in boundary-crossing artistic collaborations which frequently explore civic and community themes. He’s a long-time member of the resident ensemble at People’s Light, where his more than 30 productions as director include The Diary of Anne Frank, Of Mice And Men, Young Lady from Rwanda, and The Giver. David is a co-founder of LiveConnections and been a producer on all of LiveConnections’ collaborative albums with Philadelphia schools. He teaches at Arcadia University and is a graduate of Yale University.
We are aiming for fun and informative conversations that we hope will resonate with many of us in Philadelphia as we emerge from pandemic constraints. More amazing guests are lined up for July, which we’ll announce in a few weeks, and we look forward to some great discussions. We invite you to join us in kicking off this new adventure next week!
Broadway’s Back [The Tonight Show] I don’t usually like these kinds of musical parody collages, but this one is so earnest and captures the excitement of returning to live theater!
First 8 Minutes [In the Heights] In case you didn’t hear, the film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Tony Award-winning musical premiered this week, directed by Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians). Here’s the first 8 minutes of the movie!
AI Song Contest 2021 [Wallifornia MusicTech & Deepmusic.ai] 38 teams from across the world have been collaborating with AI to create new songs. Check out some really interesting creations, and vote for your favorites to determine the winner (vote by July 1).
Whole New Worlds [A Cappella Science] Again, I generally dislike song parodies (changing the words to existing songs), but you have to admire the incredible effort put into this virtual a cappella medley, a mashup of astronomy and songs from Aladdin. This is from 2017, but I’m now following this channel!
What I’m creating…
There have been quite a few music announcements recently from Apple, Amazon, and Spotify, specifically service enhancements like “Lossless”, “HD” or “HiFi” audio and new “Spatial Audio” content. I posted several Twitter threads commenting on these new features:
The world of a cappella (singing ensembles without any instruments) is a showcase for the human voice and group collaboration. It’s a unique musical subculture requiring a wide range of skills: vocal arranging, live performance and stage direction, choreography and dance, humor, imagination, and of course, great singing. The genre has a particularly strong presence in higher education, where there are over 1000 collegiate a cappella singing groups.
I’ve been fortunate to sing with several groups. In college, I was particularly drawn in by the ability to present rich musical performances, without having to carry instruments or set up any gear. This makes it easy to perform anywhere and to tour, visiting other schools and venues. In fact, much of what I know about music directing, graphic design, marketing, and studio recording comes from my collegiate a cappella experiences.
There’s a well-established annual multi-stage competition called the International Championship of Collegiate A Capella (ICCA), as featured in the book and movie Pitch Perfect. (There are also annual high school and pro competitions, too, all organized by Varsity Vocals.) Participating in the event can be an incredible experience, and the live performances are truly astounding and have some of the most enthusiastic audiences ever.
But the 2021 ICCA competition is different: it’s all virtual, with groups submitting a 4-minute video performance. I’ve linked to a few examples in recent weeks, but wanted to highlight the creativity that I see emerging to take the genre to new places. Remember, this isn’t what singing groups normally do… most have just learned to make videos this year.
While some are in the standard “Zoom squares” format, you’ll also find a variety of remote and socially distant collaboration, video effects, and high quality musical production. Things I could’ve only dreamed of in college are now within reach for ambitious college groups (and even high school ensembles). From the competition rules: “all audio and video recording, mixing, and editing must be done by group members”, so it’s all the creative work of students. Similar to how a cappella entered popular culture through movies and TV, I believe some of these ICCA submissions will redefine the virtual ensemble video. I’m certain some of these methods will be incorporated into popular music videos.
A Native Hill [The Crossing] The trailer for a new album by the Grammy Award-winning Philadelphia ensemble in collaboration with composer Gavin Bryars, featuring a beautiful water color animation by artist Will Kim.
SonoBus sound test [Royal Academy of Music Aarhus/Aalborg] For the super nerdy… here is video of a test session with remote participants using SonoBus (which I’ve heard good things about) for real-time music collaboration. It shows that some degree of synchronization is possible… within limits.