Monday, December 30, 2013

Piles of Clothing

[Disclaimer: This is not my living room.]

There are piles of clothing in my living room right now awaiting donation to Goodwill.

Yes, they are all clean.

Yes, they are all folded.

Most of the items have been hanging in my closet or resting folded in drawers for quite a while.


I took comfort, however, in knowing they were there even though they were taking up space.

What in the world could this have to do with music?

Well, my closet was near overflowing so ridding it of some clothing is not going to really deplete my having clothing to wear.

Think about your music collection.

     Be it MP3s.
     Be it CDs.
     Be it Cassettes.
     Be it 8-Tracks.
     Be it LPs.
     Be it 45s.
     Be it 78s.
     Be it Cylinders. (For my radio friend!)

These are the tangible means by which we might possess music.

I can not forget to mention that music we access via YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, or whatever is created in years to come.

I won't even open the Pandora's box of including my sheet music in this total.

(Right now, next to my piano I have a stack of sheet music/books that is about 2 feet tall. That's just THAT stack of music.)

When is the last time you listened to ALL of your music?

Is that even possible?

I know of people who have days, weeks, months, yes, even years worth of music available to them.

Will they EVER be able to listen to all the music they possess or have available to them?

Just as this clothing once idly hung in my closet or rested in my drawers and I found comfort knowing it was there...

So too, do I - um, do we all - find comfort knowing that that piece of music in whatever form it may be in is there for us to play.

But, like these piles of clothing, sometimes we have to weed out our collections.

However, since I now have extra space in my closet and drawers, I have plenty of room for my music collection.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Sometimes I Just Have to Stop Myself

Sometimes I just have to stop myself.

"Stop doing what?" you may ask.


My downfall is tangents.

It all starts very innocently then I delve deeper and deeper.


Right now I am doing some pretty intensive research.

This is not a new thing.

I am the one who still has all essays and term papers I've ever written that had a musical theme.

I am the one who at a music conference in 1996 met a university professor called Edwin Gordon who is associated with the Gordon Institute for Music Learning (He founded the institute. See He also offered me a position as a research assistant.

My response at the time was, "Sure, I'm a research nerd!"

But then I declined the offer explaining I was content with my position. That the idea of going back to school did not appeal to me as I'd only been out of school fewer than 10 years.

Blah, blah, blah.

Excuses, excuses, excuses.

At the time I did not realize the amazing opportunity before me. 

(Very few know of this offer. And no, I do not regret my naïve decision for I might not be where I am today had I taken it. But....who knows!?!?!)

Little did I know that I would be a university professor one day conducting my own research.


Today it was this song that sent me off on a tangent.

Phillida flouts me

I had found the song appealing and thought I would arrange it for a small ensemble.

Then my search began.

It is an example of a song about unrequited love from the 1600s.  Many songs of this kind were written during that time period by the troubadours.

I listened to a variation of the song (it did not match the music given above).

Then I looked in to the man, John Coates, who is singing on this video. He was a famed English tenor.

Then I found more verses to the song and started a file.

Then I looked up "Phillida" to see where it came from and what it meant.

Then I found other poems that used the name Phillida.

Then I just had to stop myself.

One song.

A wealth of information.

To continue another day.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sacred or Secular?

I've been attending, participating in, directing Christmas programs for *ahem* nearly 50 years.

(That in itself is difficult to believe!)

For all that time a beloved Christmas carol has been "Jolly Old St. Nicholas."

I have always grouped it in the secular category when dividing Christmas carols as sacred or secular.

Secular (non-religious) in the same sense as "Jingle Bells," "Deck the Halls," "Up on the Housetop," etc.

As opposed to sacred (religious) which includes "Joy to the World," "Silent Night," "Away in the Manger," etc.

Until last week.


Last week I attended the Christmas program at a local private, church-affiliated school where both sacred and secular Christmas carols were included.

[I mention this because at many public schools in the USA sacred carols are not allowed.]

The bell choir played several tunes.  The director announced that since the program was near the Catholic feast day for St. Nicholas it was appropriate to play "Jolly Old St. Nicholas."


That caught my attention.

Never had I associated the "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" as a sacred song much less with a Catholic feast day, but this director had apparently done her research.

It made me wonder about that connection.

Had I been singing/directing a sacred carol unknowingly all these years?


As I revisit the lyrics, I notice that other than the title of "Saint" (sometimes abbreviated "St.") and "Santa" there is no obvious religious reference to the song.

Jolly Old Saint Nicholas,
Lean your ear this way;
Don't you tell a single soul
What I'm going to say,
Christmas Eve is coming soon;
Now my dear old man,
Whisper what you'll bring to me;
Tell me if you can.
When the clock is striking twelve,
When I'm fast asleep,
Down the chimney broad and black
With your pack you'll creep;
All the stockings you will find
Hanging in a row;
Mine will be the shortest one;
You'll be sure to know.
Johnny wants a pair of skates;
Susy wants a sled;
Nellie wants a story book,
one she hasn't read
As for me, I hardly know
so I'll go to rest;
Choose for me, dear Santa Claus,
What you think is best.
[Underlining is meant to draw your attention to those terms.]
I think that, while others in the world may assign this carol a religious connotation, I shall continue to consider it a secular carol.
It is more about the gifts that children, young and old alike, request from Saint Nicholas/St. Nick/Santa Claus/Father Christmas (or any other moniker for the "jolly old elf"). It aptly describes children secretly telling Santa of their wishes and the magical idea that he will come down the chimney on Christmas eve and encounter the stockings carefully hung.
If I write much more I'll find myself reciting "The Night Before Christmas."
And it's too soon for that, right?

Only 5 more days!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Beware of Modern Musical Variants

Beware of Modern Musical Variants
Perhaps it should be: Beware (or is it Be Aware?) of Modern Musical Variants
Regardless, here's a look at just one example.

A musical variant could be describe as when one takes a song or piece of music and makes it his own.

Typically musical variants occur in folk music when, through oral tradition, a song might be changed, or "varied," for some reason.

Sometimes the reasons for varying a song is simply because someone forgot the words and made up new ones or because they can't sing a certain part of the song so they adjust the melody to fit their ability.


In today's language a variant could be described as a "cover" or "arrangement" of a song.

Many performers take a song that someone else has already had success with and they "cover" it, or make their own version - or VARIANT - of it.

This in itself is at odds with the traditional idea of variant, but, thinking outside of the box, in a way it is similar.


A day or so ago a friend shared a modernized version of Handel's Messiah (written mid-1700s).

Listening to it made me cringe, but it also got me to noticing the other suggestions on the YouTube page so here are some variants that caught my fancy.

Beware, some might make you cringe. At least they may make you think differently about them.

The original: Handel's "Hallelujah" Chorus from the Messiah.

Royal Choral Society
[Notice the smaller Baroque era orchestra with the harpsichord (the keyboard) at the center of the orchestra. Listen for the trumpet around the 2:30 minute point; it's my favorite part!]

And then around 1980 there was an attempt called Young Messiah that modernized Handel's Messiah by bringing contemporary Christian music sounds to the old-fashioned music.

[This version takes on a very definite gospel vibe while holding some measure of accuracy with the original. The accompanying orchestra is expanded upon.]

Then in the 1990s a reinterpretation called Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration was created that drew upon African-American music styles.

[Liberties were taken with the melodies and harmonies throughout the piece. The singing is very much in the African-American vocal style. The orchestra/band includes instruments not found in the original. The addition of dancers is definitely new.]

Perhaps my favorite variant of the Hallelujah Chorus is this one:

[There are many imposters nowadays, but this is the original performance. This is one of those things that many music directors wish they'd thought of themselves.]

I do wonder what Handel would have thought about these variants/covers/arrangements of his work.

I also wonder how musicologists will categorize these pieces for music history courses.

Do you have any thoughts about these modern musical variants?

Please share...


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Kudos for Toto

No, not this Toto.

This Toto. (Remember them?)

Nelson Mandela has passed away. He was in his 90s. South Africa is celebrating his life and the contributions he made to eradicating apartheid and freeing the South African people.
One of the national TV news programs was covering some of the memorial services going on. The background music for the report was the band Toto's song "Africa."
Remember this song?

A co-writer and co-founder of Toto, David Paich, has reported he did not think the TV network should have used the song.  After all, it is a song written by American.  He questioned the network's rational for not using a traditional South African song.
Paich said, in part: "As the co-writer of the song, if I had been asked for sync approval, the answer would have been a decline with a recommendation they honor the musicians of South Africa setting their sights on indigenous repertoire. This is an important day, and both I and Toto, have always held a commitment towards supporting initiatives that benefit the populace of South Africa, the continent of Africa, and the entire Southern Hemisphere."
I love the statement: "honor the musicians of South Africa setting their sights on indigenous repertoire."
"Indigenous repertoire"
Perhaps like this.

What this means is that when choosing music for an event it is advisable to choose music FROM that country (“Indigenous) or, at the very least, music that SOUNDS like it is from the country.
This practice is frequently used in period films or those set in other countries.
The intent is for the music to enhance the storyline. To help set the scene.
For example: It would make very little sense to have a movie set in Asia and have German music making up the soundtrack.
So the idea of having an American pop tune represent a man who stood up for so much more than merely being from South Africa is a bit of (as my students would put it) an EPIC FAIL.
So kudos to the band Toto for realizing the place their music has in American culture and for not capitalizing on the errant use of one of their songs.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Most Unlikely Of Places

It's happened at the gas station whilst I was pumping gas.

It's happened at the grocery store right by the checkout lanes.

It's happened in some of the most unlikely places, but a teacher is seemingly always available.

No place is ...errr, safe.

The two instances above refer to two of the many unlikely places that I have had parent-teacher conferences outside of the classroom/school setting.

Tonight was another such occurrence.

Only this time it was with a potential student.

The discussion was with a carry out boy at my nearby grocery store.

He and I have become friends over the past year or so.

He's talked with me about taking music and piano lessons.

I've given him my card so he could contact me.

Tonight while still in the checkout line he asks me about music scholarships at my school.

Our conversation continues as we walk out to the car talking about auditions for scholarships.

He asks what he should work on to prepare for an audition.

I mentioned scales and arpeggios (of course) then some composers whose music would make good selections.

Then I mentioned sight reading.

No surprise he kind of ducked his head and said he wasn't very good.

(Most musicians aren't.)

I gave him some ideas and stressed how it was a learned skill, something to do every day, blah, blah, blah (typical music teacher rhetoric).

He said he'd never thought about practicing sight reading.

I imagine many musicians don't.

He said it was hard and he wasn't very good.

I told him it is slow going, but gets easier with PRACTICE.

Knowing he attended a local denominational church I suggested he play through a church hymnal.  It would be good sight reading practice and could also be a service to his worship.

I asked if he had a hymnal.

He said yes.

We talked a little longer about other things then he said apologetically,  "Ma'am, I'm sorry. I don't have a hymnal." He went on to explain that where he went to church they didn't have any, but the "bigger church" (I'm guessing his church was a mission field or branch of a larger church) did have hymnals.

I told him I would bring him a hymnal that he could keep.

He acted embarrassed by that.

I told him I had more hymnals in my home than some churches. That I would put one in my trunk for him and when next he was my carry out boy (he ALWAYS is when he is working when I go shopping - I've watched him leave another lane to help me).

I'm not sure if this was a recruitment conversation, a teacher-student consultation, or a door-opening-moment for mission work.

Who knows where this will lead?

Regardless, I am putting a hymnal in my car for him.

And I might add a Bible to it while I'm at it.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Like a Good Friend

It's like a good friend, it's always there for me.
Female college student

A student wrote this and I thought it to be so comforting.

So often we turn to music when we need a sense of comfort.

Just like turning to a friend.

Though, I believe, that many will first turn to music because of the solitary comfort it affords before revealing the vulnerability of turning to a friend.

For you see, music is there.

Whenever we need it.

And, even when we can't actually listen to it, it is there in our head.

Don't believe me? 

Turn off whatever might be playing - TV, iPod, stereo, etc. - and just sing (think) a song in your mind.

If it is a song you know pretty well and you think about it intently you will be able to hear the instruments and/or voices in your mind.

So, even when alone with no way of playing the music, our minds have the amazing capability of "playing" the music for us.

In the music education world we call this "inner hearing" or "audiation."

We work really hard to develop this skill in our students.

However, I believe they already innately possess the skill.

It is our job to guide them in realizing how to channel that skill and understand it.

So, next time you need the comfort of a friend, just turn the music on and let it soothe you.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A New New Year's Eve Tradition

Anyone who remembers the Lawrence Welk show possible remembers his music being called "champagne music."

When I think of the word "polka" I think of accordions (pictured above) and dancing.

I learned to dance the polka at Girl Scout camp when I was a young girl and have observed polka dancing at the Illinois State Fair.
Tonight at my local symphony's concert I learned of a New Year's tradition the combines champagne and polka. It was something that I'd not heard of before.

I have heard that many people drink champagne at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve.

[Not being a drinker of alcohol I base this on TV and movie depictions. I am picturing in my mind the Guy Lombardo orchestra's New Year's Eve performances.]

Apparently in addition to the uncorking of champagne bottles music would be played.

One type of music that was played was something called a Champagne Polka. 

Many composers would write champagne polkas however it was Johann Strauss, he who wrote many symphonic waltzes and polkas (both genres of dance music that originated in Central and Eastern Europe), to whom the New Year's Eve tradition would be attributed.

The story goes that Strauss wrote a scherz polka (or joke polka) to imitate the uncorking of champagne bottles during celebrations.

Listen to Strauss' Champagne Polka, Op. 211.
Listen carefully, around the 1 minute mark you will hear what appears to be a bottle of champagne being uncorked. In reality it is the temple block, if I am not mistaken.

The New Year's Eve tradition described by tonight's conductor was that on New Year's Eve a champagne polka would be played then the champagne bottles would be opened in great celebration.

This opening of the bottles and the music would accompany a toast for health, wealth, and prosperity during the new year.

I had not heard of this tradition or the musical genre "champagne polka" before tonight.

After Strauss many other composers would write these champagne polkas.

I find the music very light hearted. In fact, whilst listening I was imagining animation and wonder if Disney ever made a cartoon using this music.

I did learn during my brief search for info that gymnasts often use this type of music for their floor routines during competitions.

Maybe that's why it seems familiar.

Anyhow, I learned something new about music today.  Did you?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Tricks (or Techniques) For Memorization

I never saw a purple cow
I never hope to see one.
But I can tell you here and now
I'd rather see than be one!

Have you ever heard that rhyme?

Other than nursery rhymes this is one of the earliest poems I can remember being able to recite by memory.

Over my life I have memorized many things, including poetry.

My Brit Lit teacher in high school made us memorize the Prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

After ::mumble, mumble:: years I still remember it.



I've memorized Bible verses and the books of the Bible.

I have certificates and ribbons as evidence of my successes.

I found that 4 was a lucky number for me in memorizing verses.

If I read the verse aloud 4 times, then wrote it out 4 times, I was able to easily memorize verses.


In music there are many opportunities to memorize music.

When I was in high school if you played your solo at contest by memory then your score was raised.

When performing in choir we often had to memorize the music.

When in marching band it was not uncommon to be required to memorize music so as to not have to march with a lire.

Obviously the longer the pice the more effort was needed to memorize the piece.

I have nearly excellent short term recall. 

This would usually irritate classmates when a class assignment required memorization. The classmates would work all evening to successfully put an exercise in their memory.

Me, I would go off by myself about 5-10 minutes before class time and memorize the piece.  Then be ready to perform it in class.

What irritated my classmates was something that I had/have honed over the years.

Some techniques for memorization - kind of like my lucky #4 technique described earlier.


A recent radio interview prompted me to think about how I have been able to memorize music.

In the interview on NPR of the Chinese pianist Yuja Wang, she talked about memorizing Rachmaninoff's Concerto #3 or, as Wang called it in the interview, Rach 3.

First suggestion: listen to music.  Specifically, listen to the piece you are working on as it is performed by as many other artists as possible.

In this day of YouTube a musician can view/hear a piece of music played by 10s, 100s, 1000s of musicians. 

Good and bad. 

For you can learn from both types of performances: HOW to perform and HOW NOT to perform.

Second suggestion: a thorough understanding of the structure (form) of the piece.

Being able to recognize that each part of the piece builds upon what came before.
     "Whatever you just played tells you what you need to play next."

Being able to recognize repeated passages and new passages is important.

Third suggestion: desire to learn the piece. 

If you don't want to memorize something it won't happen.

This desire is directly fed by your persistence.

Three good suggestions.

What memorization techniques work for you?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Musical Genres and Personalities

Found this interesting comparison study conducted at Heriot-Watt University which connected musical genres with people's personalities.

How accurate do you find this?

Blues fans have high self-esteem, are creative, outgoing, gentle and at ease

Jazz fans have high self-esteem, are creative, outgoing and at ease
Classical music fans have high self-esteem, are creative, introvert and at ease
Rap fans have high self-esteem and are outgoing
Opera fans have high self-esteem, are creative and gentle
Country and western fans are hardworking and outgoing
Reggae fans have high self-esteem, are creative, not hardworking, outgoing, gentle and at ease
Dance fans are creative and outgoing but not gentle
Indie fans have low self-esteem, are creative, not hard working, and not gentle
Bollywood fans are creative and outgoing
Rock/heavy metal fans have low self-esteem, are creative, not hard-working, not outgoing, gentle, and at ease
Chart pop fans have high self-esteem, are hardworking, outgoing and gentle, but are not creative and not at ease
Soul fans have high self-esteem, are creative, outgoing, gentle, and at ease
I look over this list and am a bit confused for if I like all the genres then my personality must be pretty eclectic drawing upon a little something of each genres and personality traits.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sitting Around And Talking

A highlight of my day is getting to sit around and talk with students.

I love their enthusiasm.

I love their spontaneity.

I love their random outbursts of song.

The future of music is in good hands as long as they are able to hold on to each of these things: enthusiasm, spontaneity, and random outbursts of song.

I look forward to watching them grow during their careers.

I recall being just like them.

I recall having very patient and encouraging band and choral directors.

I have been and continue to be very fortunate with being able to surround myself with musical influences: students, classmates, professors, and directors.

May my students see the importance of lifelong learning from and with others in music.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Older I Get The Older the Music Gets


"I find that the older I get, the older the music I like." 
18 year old female
This post is inspired by a comment by a student.
I like that she is realizing that as she matures, her taste in music matures.
Matures in that she realizes that music that existed before she was born has some worth.
Now for me, obviously the older I get the older the music I like gets because, well, I'm farther away from those oldies than I was when I was younger.
These days more and more I am finding that many of the young people I come in contact with have some "classics"/"oldies" that they like.
For many of them, these designations mean the music was either from before they were born or the music of someone older than them.
Some times I worry that I am not able to sing recent hits word-for-word.
And then a song comes on the radio and I start singing along.
Somehow, I am picking up the songs and don't realize it.
That could be a scary thing, but for me I'm just glad that I am staying in touch with the music of today.
After all, as I get older so too will those songs.
I just hope that the songs that I happen to be learning and singing now evolve into new classics.
Otherwise I will know more useless, quality lacking songs.
Like the Billboards song.
Like "Hillbilly Will."
Like  ________________.
At least in my old age I will have lots of songs to sing for the
"Old Folks at Home."
(In case you older readers were wondering, yes, the lyrics to this song have been edited to be politically correct. This is a trend in music today that I have mixed feelings about.)

Monday, December 2, 2013

It's 2013.

Today's music thoughts dwell upon the music my students shared with their playlists today.

I found it interesting that two students in different classes chose the old song "You Are My Sunshine."

It is 2013.

This song was first recorded in 1939.


Another two students chose the song "Take Me Home, Country Roads."

It is 2013.

This song, by John Denver, was first recorded in 1971.


Another student chose the song "(I've Had) The Time of my Life."

It is 2013.

It was a cover of the song made popular by the movie Dirty Dancing in 1987.


It is often said, "Don't sell the younger generation short."

Despite an earlier blog, I believe that the younger generation is going to carry on the music of the past.

Nearly all of the students claim to have learned of a song from a parent, grandparent, or sibling.

The tradition of passing on songs from one generation to the next does seem to be continuing.

But is it ORAL tradition?

While it might be more an AURAL tradition, many students claim they learned to sing the songs from the repeated play of cassettes [YAY! They know what cassettes are!] so they are learning it from a voice though not a LIVE voice.

Sure, it might not be folk songs from 250 years ago.

But, they're off to a good start.

As long as music remains a vital part of our young people's lives, I believe that our music will survive.

Now, the challenge is to get students back to actively PERFORMING music and not just listening.

There's time.

After all, it is 2013.

And they are young.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Unpacking Books

Ever since I was a small child I loved to read.

I can remember staying up most of the night to finish a good book.

I can remember not being able to because the book I just finished was on my mind.

Nowadays I don't get to read too much for enjoyment.

Most of my reading is what academia calls "professional readings."

These can take the form of scholarly journals (nothing interesting like Better Homes & Gardens or People magazines) or nonfiction books (no interesting novels by, say, James Michener, John Grisham, or Victoria Holt).

I do have one book I am enjoying reading though it is taking me forever because of all the other reading I must do.

The current one is a biography about composer/music theory teacher Paul Hindemith.

The last book was an autobiography of Virgil Thomson.

I think it's taken about a year to read each one. :(

These are books you read.


At the moment I am surrounded by books I can sing.

And I have to mentally stop myself from trying to sing the entire book in one sitting.

You see, as I was completing my masters degree I had to collect folk songs.

At the time I bought a lot of folk songs books in order to have new and fresh tunes to build my song collection from.

[I recall my advisor asking me if I had thought to use the library. I told her I wouldn't be able to keep those books.]

I would say once a week or so I would receive a shipment of several books.

It was not uncommon for me to open the packages and sing through the entirety of each book.

Before I knew it hours had passed.

I would just sit and sight read the songs.

Call me a music nerd.

Yup, I am one!

Anyway, recently I have been unpacking books to catalogue (yes, I'm that nerdy too that I have a book inventory).

I have found myself singing through the books once again.

Then I would stop myself and move on to the next book...or box...

Where the singing would start all over again.

I have been blessed over the years with these wonderful books.

I actually have more books of song collections in my house than I do books to read.

And I see that as a good thing.

For me at least.

I may have to go buy some books that guests who visit may choose from.

I think I can give them one shelf of book choices.

A small shelf.

Lessons Learned From Ballet

Ballet Is a Microcosm of Successful Approaches to ________
Donna Sapolin, Forbes 11/18/2013


While the original article (cited above) was applying these lessons to the business world one might just as easily fill-in-the-blank with "success in music."

Listen intently.
     This one may seem like a given for those in music, however many times musicians become polarized in themselves or the music they are working on so much so that they do not listen very well - to people or to other people's music.

     By listening to music I not only stress the listening and learning from others' music, but also stress listening to LIVE music, not the polished studio engineered music. 

     (Come to think of it,, how much live music have you listened to in the past week, month, year? If you think about it, it may not be as much as you think.)

Take many steps. 

     This lesson stresses the many steps, or the process, it takes to achieve success. To successfully perform a dance there are many steps, gestures, etc to learn. So too in music there are many steps, or measures, or phrasings, etc. to learn.

     Don't try to skip a step. The outcome may not be what you desire it to be.

     I think back to math class in high school. I recall being excited when I learned the answers were at the back of the book.  I was still excited when I learned that only the odd answers could be found there. I recall being frustrated to learn that my teacher was more interested in HOW I got the answer.  He stressed the PROCESS rather than the end result.

     So, work out each piece measure-by-measure.  It will make the end result so much sweeter!

Collaborate face-to-face. 
     Dancing involves a lot of up close and personal contact.  So too should music.

     Collaborating with others is important for it enhances the learning and challenges one's rehearsal techniques.

     Too often musicians isolate themselves in practice and performance and don't even think there might be another approach to something.

     Get out of the practice room or classroom and talk with other people. Actually talk to them in the same room, not just on Facebook or Twitter.

Smile through it.

     Regardless of how the dancer feels, whether her toe hurts, or that the music is going slower than in rehearsal, she SMILES.
     Sometimes things don't go as planned. Learn the stage presence to perform with the appearance of excellence. Facial expressions give it away. Responses after playing can give it away.   Work through it and move on.

     Have you ever played with an aching arm or hand? I have.
     Have you ever sang with a cold or sore throat?  I have.
     Have you ever conducted with a fever? I have.

     Like the ballerina I worked through it gracefully and with a smile on my face and all was well.

     In other words, be professional, stop your whining and move on.

Show some leg. 


     No, this is not necessarily what you may think.

     Ballet dance outfits often leave little to the imagination.

     I am not advocating that musicians do this. (Unfortunately some already do.)

     I am meaning that in music when one puts him or herself "out there" (whether it be in the classroom, on the performance stage, or on the podium) in doing so one is leaving little to the imagination - by being put into a position of vulnerability.

     This is beneficial because it allows the audience or other musicians to engage with you for a performance is a collaboration with the listeners.

Lend a hand, take an outstretched one.

     Ballet dancers depend on the other dancers during their performance.

     Musicians need to learn to do the same for other musicians.

     Once again, the isolated musician often does not know how to ask for help nor do they even think to offer help.

     Help can come in the form of an encouraging word or being open to someone asking you a question.

     Be friendly.  Make friends.  Those friends will help you out when you need it.

     Need encouragement. They are there.

     Need stage hands for your recital.  They are there.

     And you, in turn, can do the same for them.

Stay active, keep moving.

     Ballet dancers are in excellent shape.

     As a musician, are you?

     After all, you are dependent on good health for breath support.

     After all, your body must be able to move to play your instrument or sing.

    I recall some of my students - singers - who ran each morning. I, not being a morning person, thought them crazy, but encouraged them.  Shortly after they were running a couple of weeks each one commented to me how their running was affecting their singing and overall well being.

    So, walk a little further. Take vitamins.  Eat right.  Be healthy.

    You will notice a difference in your rehearsal and performance.

So, can a musician learn something from ballet?


Does it involve dancing or wearing tights?

Only if you are so inclined! :)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Reclaiming Cultural Legacy

Recently Russian President Putin has asked a committee to look into the procurement of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Swiss home.  Until recently Rachmaninoff's grandson (I believe) has been very protective of his grandfather's music, papers, and documentation.  The grandson died last year, hence Putin's attempt to buy the estate.

This was described as Putin's continuing an effort to reclaim and repatriate Russian cultural legacy.


The idea of reclaiming or protecting cultural legacy is not new.

Study Bartok and Kodaly's collecting of thousands of folk songs and music in Hungary during the early 20th century.

Consider the John and Alan Lomax's song collecting in the USA.

These are just a few of the people who have made it their life's mission to retain the musical legacy of the past.

I am immensely thankful to these people because much of what they collected was evidence from an earlier time when every moment in time was not recorded, videotaped, or photographed.

However, now that we have the collected musics what is being done with it?

Sadly, very little.


Children today can sing the latest song by Adele or Maroon 5 or Taylor Swift word-for-word.

Many young people can recognize songs from earlier times - say, from sixty years ago, from the birth of Rock and Roll.

This is because of recorded music and its availability.

But what will happen to the music that existed before recorded music, before the 20th century?

Sadly, I really don't know.


I think the music of earlier eras will only echo in the ears of my generation and older.

Perhaps, music teachers, families, communities need to be as the Russian government and try to hold on to the cultural - musical - legacy of bygone days and share it with the current and future generations.

Before it is gone.



Thursday, November 28, 2013

When Less is Better. Seats in the Aerie.

Americans call them “the nosebleed” seats. 

British know them as the seats with “the gods.”

I, myself, like to refer to them as "the aerie" seats.

In reality they’re the top tiers, or balconies, of theaters.

In recent years I have found that I prefer these seats.

I have also recommended that others choose these seats.

I have unashamedly declared I was choosing these seats, not because of the cost, but because my enjoyment of the performance is dependent upon my chosen seats.


From the top balcony, you see faces less well,
     however you see visual patterns better.

You see the actors less well,
     but their staging and movement better.

You see dancers less well,
     but the fluidity of their dancing appears better.

You see the costuming and make up less well,
     but more clarity in the overall character portrayed.

When you are seated further away you are less distracted by other matters (a broken bow string, the visual age lines marked on a youthful actors face to show age, the wrinkles around the dancer's ankles, etc.)


An obvious benefit of the higher balconies is they are often the less expensive (or, less delicately put, "cheap") seats.

The less obvious benefit is the overall experience of the show, be it a concert, a dance, play, or a musical.

You will see not only what is going on at the front of the stage, but you will also see the entire stage.

You will be able to see the orchestra pit. I have been known to determine my enjoyment of a musical just by seeing how many and what type of instruments were in the orchestra pit.

[The more electronic instruments, the less enjoyment. The more REAL (i.e. traditional) instruments with human players, the more enjoyment. This topic in itself could be another rant, I mean, blog post.]

Not only do I recommend that audience members select these seats, I would urge the performers (actors, musicians, dancers, choreographers and directors) to do so.

I recall my high school choral director would allow members of the chorus to go out into the audience during rehearsal to listen to the group. 

Following his lead, I would often have my own students listen from the audience.

Performers learn so much from this experience. It gives new perspective. It enriches the performers own performance.


Audience members in the balcony seats do not experience a sense of separation from the activity on stage.

They are often the most attentive section in the theater because they appreciate the experience a little bit more.

Besides, theirs is the best view in the house.

The seats in the aerie.

Just one of those times when less is better.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Too Funny. Too Much Coughing.

At a recent Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert there was too much coughing from the audience.

The maestro, feeling frustrated, walked offstage after a movement in a piece then walked back in with two handfuls of cough drops which he proceeded to toss out into the audience asking for them to be passed to the ones who needed them.

This was received with laughter and applause and that is a good thing.


Too often audience members are not aware of how distracting some actions are during a concert. Even the littlest sound is magnified when the audience is quiet and when you are in an acoustically designed room.

[I, myself, have had to ask audiences to remained seated, be quiet, etc during concerts. It is awkward to say the least, but I would rather do that than have my students' hard work be ruined.]

Back to the topic of funny...

While the Maestro having to shush the audience is not funny, the musical puns that have been posted on various messageboards made me laugh.

Clever, clever audience members.

Those who are musically minded will "get" most of these.

Those who are not: most statements are a play on either the composer's name or a famous piece of music.

"Must have been a TchaiCoughsky Concert."

"Lawsuits pending from the Dept. of Putting Somebody’s Eye Out! in 3…2…1…."


"I think it was a Mahleria outbreak."

"What would John Cage say! There goes the soundscape!!!!!!"
"The encore was by Elliott Catarrh."
"May I suggest that coughing is purposeful. Even if unconscious, it is still ostensibly a revolt against aesthetics by boors. Can’t fight them, though. M.T.Thomas [the maestro] should build coughing into the concert and say to the crowd, “Whenever I turn toward you, that’s your signal to cough, clear your throat, relieve your flatulence, stand up and block the view, kick the seat in front of you, walk in late, slam the door, unwrap candy or talk over the music.” Did I miss anything? Yes,I know, I’m too up-tight!"
"An appropriate concert programme for such cases is:
  • Brahms: A-cough-phlegmic Festival Overture
  • Glazunov: The Sneezers
  • Doppler: Concerto in D minor for two Flus and Orchestra
  • Stravinsky: The Feverbird (suite)
And as encores, in order:
  • Busoni: Intermezzo from Doktor Faust
  • Berlioz: Symphonie Pharmacique – IV

The lesson behind this, dear readers, is if you have a really bad cold or cough it is perhaps more considerate to forego the concert than to disrupt the performance.

If you feel you must go, and I do understand concert tickets can be costly, please take cough drops with you AND unwrap them before you get to the theater and put them in a small baggie - you would not believe how LOUD those wrappers are in a quiet concert hall. 

And perhaps you might carry even a small bottle of water that can be hidden in one's purse or pocket.

And take along a handkerchief.  Yes, those things that older men carry in their back pockets and those things that we girls were taught how to iron with.

Lacking a handkerchief (everyone should have at least one) take something that you can cough into which will not only protect those around you from flying germs, but also will hopefully muffle the sound.
Etiquette lesson over.
Now, enjoy this winter's seasons of concerts!

Songs About Cities

It just struck me.

(Weird how thoughts appear in one's mind.)

I wondered how many songs were written that had a city name in the title.

Here's a some that I thought of:

  • "New York, New York" - Frank Sinatra
  • "Viva Las Vegas" - Elvis Presley
  •  "I Left My Heart In San Francisco"  - Tony Bennett
  • "Do You Know The Way To San Jose?" - Dionne Warwick
  • "Cleveland Rocks" - Ian Hunter
  • "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" - Glen Campbell
  • "Chicago" - Frank Sinatra
  • "Meet Me In St. Louis" - Judy Garland

Can you think of any others?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Priceless Books

Today while going through some boxes of books I was reminded of how blessed I am to have these music books.

The books that impress this on me the most are two oversized books that I used as an undergraduate student.

The Historical Anthology of Music, Volumes 1 and 2

These books have been taking up space and gathering dust for, well, about 30 years.


That is a long time to be in the way.


A few years ago while taking a graduate class my classmates and I decided to get our visiting professor from Hungary a token of our appreciation.

I gave money but did not have a part in choosing the gift.

If I had I would have tried to get my professor something else.

If I had I would have been so very wrong.


The last day of the course we had a luncheon.

We presented our teacher with the gift.

She eagerly opened the heavy package.

I couldn't imagine what it was so I was almost as eager as she.

I had to stifle a groan as I saw her pull out the two volumes of the anthology.

I thought to myself:


I gave money for those?!?!

I would have given her mine?!?!

Of course this was an inward conversation with myself.

I was not prepared for this stereotypical strong, stern Eastern European woman who, upon seeing the books, burst into tears.

Fearing we had offended her, a friend quickly said, "We can exchange it if it is not to your liking!"

She hugged the books to her chest and groaned tearfully, "No!"

When she had composed herself she explained to us that the only copies of these books in Hungary were in the Hungarian National Library and that if one wanted to use them a librarian with white gloves on sat next to you and turned the pages in the book. You were not allowed to actually touch the book.  They were so very rare and thus priceless.

We were all relieved she liked, no LOVED, the gift.

I was a bit humbled that I had thought so little of the books - until I heard her story.

Today, as I unpacked those two books I was so very proud to place them on the shelf.

So very proud to own my own copies.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Song Challenge

Whilst listening to NPR this morning I heard a bit about a song challenge.

I'm intrigued enough to want to investigate this more.

As I understand it, a group of musicians who dabble with composition and songwriting were gathering each week. A day or so before the gathering someone (the one in charge?) would send out a word phrase that HAD to be included in the week's song.  This phrase was sent out to everyone at the same time so that no one had an advantage over the others who were participating. It kind of gave them the starting point or "GO!"  Then when the group gathered each songwriter would share his/her new song. Constructive criticism, encouragement, and suggestions would be made for each new song.

I thought to myself, "Wow!" what a great way to generate a continuous supply of songs as well as offer a support system for novice and experienced songwriters.

I wanted to write on this topic as it might prove to be an interesting venture with students.

I think the whole idea of a support system for composers/songwriters would be so valuable. It would not be like a classroom setting.

That would be key.

There is no right or wrong.

There is no test.

There is just the offering of one's music. 

The idea of the required word phrase could help those who struggle with writers' block.

Or act as a springboard for all the lyrics.

I would suggest that each of the gatherings be recorded and then the recording shared in some secure way with each participant so as to provide feedback and recollection of session.

This way ideas that were generated during the session could be remembered.

This reminds me of many great musicians and bands who record(ed) their jam sessions or rehearsals. 

It takes great forethought to do this and I am curious about why they might have initially recorded the sessions, but I do see it as very valuable.

Not only is there documentation of a certain event via the resulting recording, but many times in jam sessions or rehearsals some amazing music is created that is not easily remembered the next day.  The recording helps with this memory.

Anyway, I am going to ponder on this idea of the song challenge and see how it might be used in the classroom.

I welcome any ideas you might have


Give me a phrase to use.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

I'll Have...Schlager

No, it is not a drink despite being a German term
and having "lager" part of the word.

It's a genre of music in Germany.

     I've never heard of it.

It's old people's music.

     Hey now!

It's about love and makes you feel happy.
     I like love and being happy.

It's in German.

     Um, I don't know German.

[Presses Play]


As the music fills the room I realize it is not anything new, per se, for I have heard it all my life.

Sure, I don't know German so I don't understand most of the lyrics.

But, I've heard it before.

The sonorities, or blending of the harmonies.

The lyrics are soothing - even in the German language.

Schlager, the term, means "hit".

Schlager are German hit tunes from the 1950s - 1970s that have recently come back into vogue. I only know this because my "teacher" (a 20-something student) really enjoys this music.

Schlager is often linked to folk music though not to authentic/traditional German folk music.


In the US we would call it "Easy Listening" music.

A composer that comes to mind is Burt Bacharach.

It is the music that the Lawrence Welk show played.

(Rather, any music that the Lawrence Welk show played became easy listening music. I recall when they, in an attempt to play a current hit, had Bobby and Sissy dance to Olivia Newton John's "Let's Get Physical." Now THAT was something to see!)

     Every week the show aired. 

          Every Saturday night my parents & grandparents watched.

               By default, I too watched the show and learned the songs.


I learned something new.

I learned something new about music from a student.

The day I get too arrogant or too old to learn from my students is the day I shall retire.

Thank you, students, for teaching me throughout my career.

Friday, November 22, 2013

You will Listen. You will Hear.

You will Listen. You will Hear.

An international student said this as he prepared the class for listening to one of the songs on his playlist.

It struck me that these two statements in one breath describe the ways people listen to words, sounds, music.

The statements describe the two ways of listening to music: passive listening and active listening.


Passive listening can best be described when you have music on as background music to keep you company or to avoid being in silence.

You may or may not realize when music is playing in the background though I imagine many would notice silence.

Many of my students say they have to have music on when they study.

Even now, as I write this I have music playing in the background.

I am not really listening to it - hence the passive listening.

I realize it is on - most of the time - but do not listen for specific musical elements or lyrics.

It just keeps me company.

In my office I have the radio on nearly all day because it helps me focus on the task I am doing at the time and aids my tuning out the cacophony of music that is going on outside my office in the practice rooms.

Sometimes I don't even realize I'm hearing the music...or responding to it.

[Read an earlier blog post titled "I Can Hear You!"]


Active listening is actually paying attention to the music.

Active listening is the goal of every music teacher as they guide a listening lesson in music class.

Active listening is the goal of every ensemble director as they encourage their musicians to listen to each other.

Active listening allows the listener to notice both the obvious musical elements as well as the subtle nuances that the blending of sounds, or sonority, creates.

Active listening on the surface does not take musical knowledge. It just takes an attentive ear to hear such things as when the instruments are playing and when the singer is singing.

In depth active listening is enhanced with musical knowledge. I find it is most helpful to understand music theory and musical form. Being able to hear the harmonic changes or being able to recognize repetition and variety in a piece of music really engages the listener.

At times this can be a curse. 

[Read an earlier blog post titled "Do you Listen to Music? Absolutely Not!"]


So next time you realize you are hearing music, consider whether you are actively listening to it or are you passively listening, or just hearing, it?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Music Has...The Power...To Inspire

Music Has...The Power...To Inspire.

A friend posted this and it gave me pause.

I was drawn to the key words: Music, Power, Inspire


Music is what I write about every day. 

When I read it nearly always involves the topic of music.
When I watch TV or Movies I always notice the music.
When I go through my day I notice the music around me.

It encompasses my life. It is my vocation.


Music having power is unquestionable.

Its power is

  • Very subjective.
  • Very individual.
  • Very personal.
There is no easy way to describe its power because for me its power changes from moment-to-moment from situation-to-situation.

I know...

It has the power to stir my emotions.

It has the power to take my breath away.

It has the power to fill me with pride.


But how does music inspire?

Music inspires Creativity. Improvisation. Composition. Innovation. Performance. Movement.

Music inspires action. Some good. Some bad.

Music inspires emotions. Grief. Fear. Anger. Joy. Contentment. Satisfaction. Etc.


One simple statement.

So many thoughts are provoked.

What are your thoughts?