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Sounding off online

Musicians' personal website journals attract followers with good writing and good information.

March 07, 2004|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

For years, Net-savvy teens, twentysomethings and others have been telling the world what they think on blogs -- shorthand for "web logs," or personal website journals. Lately, though, classical musicians have been joining their ranks.

Sam Bergman, a 27-year-old viola player with the Minnesota Orchestra, posted a lively journal called "Sam's RoadTrip" -- about the orchestra's three-week European tour last month -- on ArtsJournal.com, a popular arts information website. He wrote his last entry shortly after the tour ended Feb. 26.

Meanwhile, Pasadena Symphony violinist Laurie Niles has chronicled her dashed hopes of auditioning for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, along with a host of other stories about her life as a violinist-teacher in the Southland, on her website, Violinist.com. Her writings continue.

"We were swept up in a wave of drunken revelers," Bergman wrote after a concert in Cologne, Germany, which was celebrating the pre-Lent festival of Karneval. "Music was everywhere, blasting from loudspeakers as well as from the throats of the people around us, with everything from German pop songs to old folk tunes to a bizarre German version of 'She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain' audible within a single block."

A Niles dispatch: "I just got my music for my next gig and it's

You might think such musings would be of little interest beyond a small circle. Yet both musicians have been surprised by their number of readers.

"My blog has been getting nearly 500 hits a day, far more than I expected," Bergman said during a stop in London near the end of the Minnesotans' tour. "I've been getting feedback from people all over the world, from people whose work I've admired for years and from people I never heard of.

"Some even come up to the stage. When we got to Carnegie Hall, I was warming up when somebody tapped me on the shoulder. There was a person in the wings who asked, 'Are you the blogger?' "

For her part, Niles says her site gets about 2,000 hits a day and that she has more than 1,900 registered members from 77 countries and 49 states.

"New Hampshire is the only one we don't have," she said in a recent phone interview. "I don't know why. Every day about five new people register for this site. It's amazing."

What's the appeal? Good writing and good information.

"I've required myself to write something informative and useful," Bergman said. "I've written about things that didn't go well, but I didn't bitch just to bitch. And I didn't want to review the concerts. I sit in the middle of the orchestra, which is really a lousy position to know how the concert is going. You know what is going on immediately six feet around you, but not in a large sense."

Even so, the sense of what's going on "six feet around you" can be revelatory.

After a concert in Leeds, England, for instance, Berman posted this Feb. 1 note:

"Leeds Town Hall is a beautiful building. Unfortunately, it is not a concert hall, and no amount of tinkering can change that fact. [Playing there] is like performing inside of a whale whose inner cavity has been tiled with bathtubs [or] not unlike standing in the middle of a hurricane and attempting to gently reverse the direction of the wind by blowing through a straw."

"I was worried that I was going to offend Leeds," Bergman said later. "But people there wrote to me and said, 'The hall is a bit of a barn, but we enjoyed the concert.' "

Bergman wanted to maintain a cool head in his postings.

"I decided early on my gut reactions after a concert are going to be intensely positive or intensely negative. So I thought, before I write something that hundreds of people are going to read, I need to sit back and get perspective, whether that means talking to other musicians or sleeping on it. I don't want to bang things out. Basically, I write when I can find the time."

The diary was never intended to be permanent. Bergman believed that as managing editor of ArtsJournal.com, another hat he wears, he was "already treading on the gray line of journalistic credibility."

"I'm a musician in an orchestra and also chairman of the members committee of the orchestra, privy to all kinds of information I couldn't or wouldn't want to write about. And working for ArtsJournal, I'm putting up stories about negotiations, etc. Clearly, I already have a vested interest in those stories, so I'm trying to make sure I don't cross the line," he said.

Still, he thought "a temporary blog would be a good way to promote the orchestra and the tour, and I wouldn't be dealing with the issue of being a committee member. With only three weeks to fill, it seemed like a great opportunity."

Bergman's blog was easy to find on such a popular website. To get to Niles', on the other hand, takes searching.

"People just found it," she said. "The thing that's amazing to me, it's attracted people from all over the world."

Niles began her site in 1996 when her husband, Robert Niles (a staff writer at The Times), gave her the Web domain name as a Christmas present.

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