Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Here at the house it is so quiet. I can hear the ceiling fan running in my bedroom and I think I can hear raindrops outside, but otherwise it is silent.

I appreciate silence for when I am at Shenandoah I stay in "dorms" that used to be hotel rooms with the H/AC units that have to run non-stop to keep the room bearable. I have never been a fan of what is called "white noise," but that is what I must deal with at SU. It bothers my inner peace. At SU I would often turn off the unit despite knowing it was going to get hot and muggy in the room just so I could have some quiet. Some silence.

Before I left for SU the frogs' croaking was incessant in my back yard. Once the sun would go down they (the frogs) saw that as a cue to start singing. They would be so loud I could hear them though the windows were closed and the TV was on. They were nature's white noise.

John Cage (1912-1992) was one of the most controversial composers of the 20th century. Much of what he composed is not considered to be music by many people. He believed that anything could make sounds and was one of the first to use objects as instruments. Kind of a forerunner of the STOMP sensation. He wrote a book called "Silence: Lectures and Writings ."

He also wrote a piece of music titled 4'33". In this piece the performer - most often a pianist - approaches the piano, sits, poses as though preparing to play, then just sits. He just SITS for FOUR MINUTES AND THIRTY-THREE SECONDS! Those in the audience who know the "joke" get great amusement watching the other audience members as they begin to feel awkward and begin fidgeting and coughing. The music is the environmental sounds created at that moment in time; therefore, the piece is NEVER the same.

Once, Cage put himself into a position of sensory deprivation. He went into a controlled, sound-proof chamber, put ear plugs in his ears and stayed for a period of time. When he exited the chamber he commented to the technician that the room was not sound-proof for he had heard sound when he had expected silence. The technician told him that the "sound" he heard was his own body - his breath, his heart, his blood pulsing, even his eyes blinking.

And so, in the silence of the early morning (2:30am) I write about John Cage. Something about his music appeals to me. I think it is because he was a pioneer, one who was not afraid to do what he believed in despite critics saying his music was trash.

Given below are two videos: the first is John Cage talking about Silence; the second is a cool clip from the 1960s of his appearance on a game show where he performs his piece, "Water Walk." Enjoy...

John Cage about "Silence"

John Cage: Water Walk

Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence" is going through my mind...that's a topic for another blog, but not tonight!

Thursday, August 6, 2009


The seven dwarves singing "Whistle while you work" is the tune most associate with whistling.

Then, for the artists out there, there is Whistler's Mother. All I know about her is she rocked in her rocking chair a lot. (Admittedly I may be thinking of the wrong painting!) Was the man's name really "Whistler" or did he just whistle a lot?

Anyone who knows me for very long knows that I whistle...a lot. My dad whistles a lot. I think whistling must be hereditary. :)

My students know I'm approaching the classroom because I whistle. I love teaching others to whistle. Rather I enjoy watching the little ones go the rest of the day irritating their classroom teachers by trying to whistle. :)

I whistle in the car. Recently I found myself wondering how many songs I've composed whilst whistling. Unfortunately those compositions have never been written down and thus are gone forever. That sounds profound. Honestly I hardly think much of what I've created whilst whistling is of any account, but one can dream. :)

I do know that when I whistle I tend to follow the established rules for melodic construction. Most of my melodies are a period with a definite antecedent ending in a half cadence followed by the consequent ending in an authentic cadence.

Lest you get the wrong idea, I can not whistle in harmony (yet!), but while I am whistling I have harmonies flowing through my mind.

I don't whistle entire classical compositions like those sometimes seen on TV, but I whistle well enough to enjoy it. I do know there are whistling conventions that intrigue me. I just might find myself at one of them one of these days.

How appropriate...the theme song for the Andy Griffith Show is indicating the end of the program...and so I must join them...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

There's a Piano on the Porch

As I drove home today I noticed a piano on the porch of a house. It was an older upright piano - one with the really high back to it. My first thought was (ever the pack rat and gatherer): are they getting rid of it? The next thought was: the humidity and wetness from rain will ruin the felts!

Then I mused whether the piano was on its way into the house or out of the house:

If it was on its way in I imagine there is some person waiting inside with a whole lot of excitement to FINALLY have a piano. And just imagine the music that will be plunked out and how the piano will love making music for a new audience!

If the piano was on its way out of the house imagine how forlorn (permit me some "fancy" here) the piano would feel - unwanted, unused. I know an inanimate object can not have real feelings, but pianos need to be used. Unless they are housed in a beautiful casing, unplayed pianos are often unappreciated. The occasional comment "Oh! What a beautiful piano! Do you play?" is answered by the usual "No - it was my grandmother's piano. The piano hasn't been tuned in years!"

Ugly pianos can make beautiful music.

Take my piano for example. At my former job the kindergarten teacher had a piano in her classroom (a sign of the times when teachers taught music or used music to teach their lessons). When she retired, the new teacher didn't want the piano so the superintendent was asked what to do with it. He said, "We'll have the guys take it out to the dumpster." AAACK! I told them I would take it. After a lengthy period of time it was finally brought to my house. Ugly from many years of little fingers touching and picking at it. It had broken keys, was never tuned, was missing a wheel - it was ugly. But I loved it! I had never had a piano save a chord organ whilst growing up and an electronic keyboard. The local piano tuner said he could replace the plastic on the keys and gave me suggestions for fixing up the wood casing. Time passed and the tuner returned with my new white keys (recovered at the Steinway factory), replaced felts, made adjustments and tuned the ugly piano. And, while it's still missing a wheel and has scratches from the many little fingers and my recent move, it makes beautiful music!

You know, there was a time in American when having a piano at home was a status symbol. If that was the case now I HAVE ARRIVED! :)

However, it was inside the home...not on the front porch.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Tonight was the final planned performance of Standing Room Only for this semester. I have watched the students grow both musically and as people. I have gotten to know new students - some I've not had the opportunity to teach. I will alway remember this group of students. They have learned MANY new songs and learned how to move while singing them.
There were many funny moments. There were many happy moments. However, recently there have been some "goosebumpy" moments. This is an involuntary response that I have only occasionally with my performing groups. I know the group has "arrived" when the goosebumps begin to make an appearance.
This is a good thing. My thanks to the students in SRO for making it happen once again.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Boob Tube Tunes

Many years ago there was a slang phrase for the TV: "boob tube". This prompted an article I once read that was titled "Boob Tube Tunes". The article covered the many theme songs for TV shows. I used this article as the basis for a music lesson where, over the course of a month or so, I painstakingly recorded (with my cassette player) the theme song of many TV shows then played them for my students who had to identify the show.
Still today I can hear a tune and recognize the TV show it belongs to - long after the TV show has moved on to the world of reruns. Most who read this can sing the theme to the Adam's Family, the Brady Bunch, and even whistle the theme to Andy Griffith.
I find that today I do not know the theme songs to very many TV shows. I know they still have them. I recognize the theme song to the CSI shows - but can't tell you right off the bat which tune goes with which show. Most people recognize the "du-dum" sound that accompanies the beginning of the L&O shows - it is a familiar theme shared by the shows, but does that make it a leitmotiv?
It's not that I don't watch TV - because I do. However, I record most shows and watch them in playback. When I do this I fastforward through the theme song.
TV theme songs don't have the "memorableness" that they once had. Many don't have even have words that I can sing along with. So why bother learning them?
What does this all mean? It means I may make the effort to listen to TV theme songs for a short while - but I doubt that is something I will continue.
Oh, I just remembered one show theme song I can sing: REBA. Of course, that would be the one since its star is a country music legend who sings the theme, but then it too has moved to the world of reruns.
I'll return to my rerun of Andy Griffith and as the show closes I'll whistle along as I make my way to bed for night.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Anne Brown (1912-2009)

As I listened to an NPR broadcast this evening I heard that Anne Brown has died. Her significance in music history began when she was cast in George Gershwin's all-black cast opera "Porgy" as in incidental character named "Bess". A student from Julliard, she auditioned singing a Schubert art song. Gershwin asked her to sing a Negro spiritual. This request offended the modern woman, but she complied demonstrating to Gershwin she could sing in the Negro dialect. Gershwin so liked Brown's voice that he kept adding songs for her character to sing. He soon told her that the opera "Porgy" for which she had auditioned was being renamed "Porgy and Bess". And so it was because of Brown's talent that Gershin's famous opera had both a leading man and a leading lady. One song, a lullaby, was to be sung by another incidental character. Brown so liked this song that she convinced Gershwin to write it for Bess to sing. That lullaby was titled "Summertime".
And, as Paul Harvey would say..."Now you know the REST of the story!"

Sunday, March 15, 2009


This group was also at the OAKE conference and deserves its own post. Libana has been singing together for 30 yrs. There are 6 members in the group. I couldn't tell if they'd all been together 30 yrs or if there had been member changes. I think the latter because some of the performers seemed like they were in their 30s.
From the group's website [http://www.libana.com/]: Libana is a women's world music ensemble that illuminates the creativity, vision, and spirit of the world's women through the performance of traditional and contemporary music and dance.
This group sang a capella and with simple accompaniment. The songs were in the native languages. The accompaniment might be drums and tambourines of various sizes and other small percussion instruments, a wind instrument, and a lute. Some of their music included traditional women's dances. Simple costuming - mainly scarves - completed their outfits of black.
Each song was of a different culture: Bulgarian, Armenian, Japanese, Arabic, etc. The variety kept the concert very entertaining. The groups learns many of their numbers first hand from people of the cultures. This gives great authenticity to their performances.
One song from the Middle East appealed to me. It was called a "zar" (I'm unsure of the spelling, but is pronounced the same as "tsar"). It is a healing song/dance where a woman joins with the women of her community and seeks healing (of some sort) through the music and movement. It is difficult to describe it. It had a couple or three singers and a dancer. The dancer moves as she is moved by the music. Then as the music's tempo, which begins slowly, builds feverishly the dancer's movements become more energetic. It was easy, as an audience member, to become caught up in the performance.
It is not very often that I thoroughly enjoy a group's performance. I did enjoy this group - so much so that I bought one of their CDs.

OAKE National Conference

I have returned from the OAKE National Conference which was held in Washington, DC. This organization is a group of music educators who adhere to the Zoltan Kodaly pedagogy. My masters degree was in music education with a Kodaly emphasis; hence, my specialty area is in "Kodaly". I have a fondness for this group and have met many amazing musicians.
Of course, a music conference is filled with just that MUSIC!
The organization has a theme song called "Harmonia Mundi". It is sung at all gatherings of Kodaly educators and, since everyone singing is a music teacher of some sort, the music is glorious! The words are: "We gather here together with joyful heart and mind. We raise our voices ever our distant souls to bind. To remember in this moment of friendship, love, and joy, that music made together may one day heal mankind." To stand and watch people's faces as they are singing this is quite an experience. The faces are nearly blissful.
All sessions are music oriented and there are concerts throughout the day.
Thursday night the Washington DC Men's Camerata performed. They were quite good. Of course, Kodaly educators only promote quality music and I love listening to men's choruses so I knew this would be a great concert. A favorite that they sang was Biebl's "Ave Maria" [NAXOS BIS-CD-533 Track 11]. It just swells and encompasses the listener.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The First Post

I hope to use this blog to inform family, friends, students, colleagues, and anyone who cares to read this about quirky music related things that strike my fancy. As I search the web I often stumble across newsworthy music-related items. Of course, I realize they may only be of interest to me. If that be the case then this blog will serve as a journal for me. So please join me on this Musical Sojourn.
May you find peace...