Pianist Michael Arnowitt, a longtime Montpelier resident now living in Toronto, has found an unusual way for people to share in his music making. He wants you to become his patron, just like Haydn’s Prince Esterhazy or Beethoven’s Archduke Rudolph. But you don’t have to be rich — or have a lot of money.
“The coronavirus and its resulting shutdown of all my piano concert performing has motivated me to get up and running something I’ve been meaning to do for a few years now,” Arnowitt said in a recent email.
During Arnowitt’s 32 years in Vermont, he was much more than one of the state’s finest pianists. He created unique programs that explored ideas rather than virtuosity, attracted new listeners through his progressive politics creating something of a “cult,” and joined Vermont’s jazz world. His biggest creation was the four-day 2000 Vermont Millennium Music Festival involving 300 performers. But mostly he’s an excellent pianist and musician.
Conductor Scott Speck, artistic director of the Chicago Philharmonic, said of Arnowitt, “Michael is so much more than a world-class pianist. He’s a thoughtful writer, a fascinating composer, a dedicated community member, a great humanitarian and a supremely sensitive human being. Michael is the purest musician I know.”
Arnowitt discovered Patreon.com, which helps musicians raise funds not just for an individual project, but to financially support a musician’s creative activity. Patreon isn’t new to Vermont as Montpelier’s Lost Nation Theater offered video of past productions last month. More artists and organizations may well jump on the bandwagon.
Ordinarily, in order to finance big new music creations, Arnowitt had only two options.
“I would have to find a record company or concert presenter willing to put thousands of dollars behind a project or performance, or I would have to speculatively front a large amount of money myself, hoping to perhaps break even after many years,” he said.
For Arnowitt, Patreon is a third way, where many give a small amount of money each.
“In effect, you have become the record company executive, the performing arts center’s artistic director,” Arnowitt said. “You, collectively, are giving the green light to the project and making it happen.”
Entry level in Arnowitt’s case is a standard support level of $7 per creation, which means each patron’s card will be charged that much when he completes a project.
“My hope is to ultimately have 250 patrons, so that each time I complete a creative project, I’ll receive about $1,500,” he said.
Arnowitt’s creations involve a major amount of work, from a low of 10 hours (writing an original jazz composition and preparing the printed music for performers) to a high end of about 300 hours (creating and learning an entire new classical piano program).
“I think on average you would be getting charged the $7 about once every three months, or four times per year,” Arnowitt said. “You always have the right to cancel the arrangement with Patreon at any time. You can also choose to give more per finished creation if you wish.”
Among the projects Arnowitt will be working on during 2020-21 are:
— A new eclectic classical piano program featuring music of Bach to Bartok, Messiaen and Turina music by composers.
— Completing learning and beginning to perform a program of Bach’s six keyboard partitas.
— Creating a jazz arrangement Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.”
— Composing “Sound Essence,” a composition for jazz quartet and Indonesian gamelan orchestra.
— Creating a way to produce three-dimensional raised print tactile music to enable blind musicians to access printed music.
— Creating a new performance concept of a special multi-sensory concert.
In return, Arnowitt will offer patrons excerpts from unreleased recordings, discounts on CDs and DVDs, behind-the-scenes photos and thoughts, advance release of recordings, and special patrons-only private Q&A session after an online piano performance later in 2020.
“Patrons will receive these tokens of my appreciation every now and then as random surprises which will hopefully brighten your day,” Arnowitt said. “A side benefit is that your contributions will motivate me to finish my artistic creations because as soon as the composition is complete or the concert program is fully learned, I will get paid.
“In these coronavirus times, with my performance income down to zero, this is, of course, especially helpful,” Arnowitt said