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?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My Favorite Time of Year

Today began what is my favorite time of the year, er, rather semester.

It is the time when my students share their personal playlists in class.

No, it is not because this is the time of the semester when I get to sit back whilst the students "teach" the class.

Though that is a perk! :)


At the beginning of each semester, when talking about the general overview of the course, I tell my students that I will teach the lessons about the musical trends in history.

THEY will teach the lessons about current music trends. I tell them that who better than they, the young listener, to teach about the music that they are listening to. 

While I do keep up with the trends on my own, since I have begun requiring this project I have learned so much more. 

From my students!

(I learn from them every day!)


The personal playlist project requires the students to select 10 songs that mean something to them.

(Often the hardest part of the project is limitation of 10 songs.)

For each song they find a picture of the album cover, choose a favorite lyric then write three paragraphs. 

  • Paragraph One is about the song itself - background info such as who wrote/performed the song, the story behind the song, any awards it might have won, etc.
  • Paragraph Two is a musical description of the song. In this paragraph I want the students to describe the timbre, genre - generally, what they hear in the music using musical terms.
  • Paragraph Three is a explanation about why the song means something to them. It is this paragraph that the students share with the class.
For the class presentation the students read paragraph three then play the a brief sampling of the song.


This third paragraph is often very revealing about the student.

I have had students cry whilst telling why the song means something to them. One student got so choked up he couldn't speak and I just quietly told him to play the song and let the music speak for him. 

I've heard students tell of a death of a loved one or friend and how the song helped them through the grief. 

I've heard a girl reveal that she had been raped and that a song had helped her to overcome the painful memories.

I've heard songs that were played before sporting events that were meant to motivate the team.

I've heard fun songs that the students love to play whilst hanging out and having fun with friends.

I've heard the songs that brought my students closer to God and encouraged their spiritual relationship with Him.


For the entire hour of class time we listen to music and learn a little bit about the students from what they share about the song.

There are obviously recent hits, but also classics and oldies.

There are songs from childhood. Songs from Disney movies are favorites.  Some boy band songs. Even the Barney theme song has shown up.

There are religious songs.  Contemporary Christians tunes, old gospel tunes, and even Latin Catholic tunes.

There are American songs, yes, but also songs from the homelands of foreign students or from places students have traveled to.

There are movie theme songs, TV theme songs.

There are instrumental works. True classical works as well as contemporary instrumental music.


Music is plays a vital role in my students' lives.

This project allows them to share a little bit about themselves through the music that speaks to them.

Because of this sharing and the listening to hundreds of new songs (as I grade their projects)

....this is why this is my favorite time of year.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Musical Warm Ups

It is normal to stretch before exercising.

It is normal to run through some drills prior to any sports practice or game.

It is normal to go through some sort of warm up in order to perform at one's individual peak.

So it is for the musician.


Anyone who has played in a band, a choir, or an orchestra has been led in warm ups by the conductor.

I remember finding these warm ups quite tedious.

Boring even.

I mean, really, how many ways can the Bb major scale be played?

Whole notes.
Quarter notes.
Four eighth notes.
In canon.

And on how many syllables can doh-mi-sol be sung?

I recall being highly amused by the silly song my choir teacher would have us sing:

        mah, may, mee, moh, mooooooo

Yup, I thought it was a song.
I did think we were preparing it for a concert.
Silly me!


One former student's warm up routine was quite impressive.

So impressive that I still use her as an example to current students.

She would come to the practice room each morning at 8am and warm up for about 10-12 minutes then head to her first class.

I might mention, her first class was often not a music class, but one in another building.

Despite this she found it important to start her day with warming up her voice.

This care of her instrument - her voice - proved to be valuable as she succeeded in her performances.


Have you ever had trouble singing in church on Sunday morning?

There is a good chance it is because you have not properly warmed up your voice before singing.

Next time, just sing a little bit (something soothing, nothing harsh) in the car on the way to church.

You should notice a difference.


My choral warm up routine is fairly intensive, but it is also intended to prep my singers for what they will encounter during rehearsal.

In addition to vocal warm ups gleaned from the music (intervals, harmonies, etc.) I have my students sing canons, sight read using solfege, perform rhythmic exercises.

This morning I started my day by singing my way through the Circle of Fifths.

To my knowledge I had not done this before, but I was inspired to create some warm ups for my files.

My choral groups can look forward to some new warm ups now. :)


Now I am that choir director who puts her singers through those tedious, silly warm ups.

Now I know what MY directors were up to.

I'm hopeful my music students will understand the importance of warm ups as they prepare their music now and their students in the future.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Musical Adventures in an Airport

I was voluntarily bumped from a morning flight to an evening flight.

And was compensated very well.

The delay of  9 hours gave opportunity to people watch and to hear the sounds of the airport.

Right as the transport train arrives or departs from picking up passengers there are about 4 beats of a jazz motive. Nothing recognizable, but just enough of a tease to make me want to hear more.

The voices of people also have been musical. From those speaking in foreign tongues to the small child screaming "I WANT TO GO BACK ON THE PLANE!!!!" all the way down the concourse to the ripple of chuckles and laughter as adults heard his screams.

My new friends from Connecticut were stereotypical Italian Northeasterners: loud, friendly, very talkative and fun to talk to.  He was a survivor of 9/11 having escaped Tower One; she is suffering from mild MS. We exchanged contact information and I've been invited to connect with them when I go to New York. She wants to show me NY - Lincoln Center, the Met, Broadway, and the museums. He promised deli visits, pizza, and hot dogs. They were just so entertaining.

I've not been too entertained by the nonstop calls for flights and for repeated calls for delinquent passengers. Though I have been amused by the threats to cancel people's boarding passes for nonarrival.

Me, I'm sitting 20feet from the gate.

I think I'm safe.

Even if I fall asleep there is no way I could miss the calling over the intercom.


And then there's my colleague who thought it would be ok to practice her recorder in the middle of a crowd gathered at a gate.

[Recorder: small medieval instrument popular as a pre-band/elementary school music instrument.  Most reading this have sat through some child's concert debut on this instrument.]

I'm not talking playing beautiful melodies on it.

I'm talking practicing while trying to remember a melody she made up in her head last year.

Let's just say it was less than appreciated by those around us.

There is a time and place for a recorder music.

In the middle of a packed airport is not the place.


Nine hours in the airport can be quite tedious, but it was musical and productive.

So next time you are in the airport notice the sounds around you.

Hopefully, you will make new friends and hear some new sounds.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Found Sound

I find myself drawn to people who make music with nontraditional instruments.

I just watched a group perform on buckets, a wash tub, pot lids, and lengths of tubes. Their music was very formalized in that I could determine musical form through repetitive and contrasting sections even though it was not performed on formal instruments.

In my own classroom I have a tub of objects on which my students and I have created musical experiences.

Perhaps you've seen or heard of S.T.O.M.P. which was/is on Broadway. In this musical the performers make music in different settings on familiar objects such as brooms, pots & pans, keys, apples, plastic & metal trash cans, buckets, and...pretty much any thing you can imagine.

(I highly recommend your checking it out on YouTube.)

Back a few years there was a man named John Cage. Most today have never heard of him. He was a pioneer in the avant garde world of music. Back in the 1950s he was making music on objects.  His music was not very well received. Many people thought he was crazy.

Funny, people were amazed by what the performers today were able to create.

They are amazed by what S.T.O.M.P. does.

Too bad people did not appreciate John Cage the same way.

But, thank you Mr. Cage for being brave enough to challenge the musical norm.

Your influence continues.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Train Music

I have always been fascinated by trains.

I loved watching them pass wondering what might be in the closed boxcars, identifying the coal cars, and counting how many cars there were.

I also enjoy the artwork, er, graffiti that someone has drawn.

Nearly always "There's the caboose!" is said as the train ends.

I recall being disappointed whenever there wasn't a caboose.

I guess I'm a bit of an oddball, but rarely have I been frustrated by having to wait on a train.

This topic is prompted by a colleague asking about a certain train song she hadn't heard. I found it on YouTube.

You might want to check these out.  Enjoy the journey ...

Bobby McFerrin "The Train"
Arthur Honegger "Pacific 231"
Trova Santiaguera "El Tren"
Duke Ellington "Take the A Train"
Glenn Miller "Chattanooga Choo-Choo"
The King Singers "I'm a Train"

Can you think of any more?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Can Snores Be Musical?


Have you ever been in a room with more than one person snoring?

Have you ever found yourself trying to make sense of the sounds in a musical way?

Have you ever tried to hum a tune in your head to the beat of the snores?



Must just be me.

By the way, it works until one of them snorts messing up the musical flow.

Just saying.

[Just a little amusement at the end of an exciting yet exhausting day. :) ]

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Elliott Carter

Recently I wrote about musicians who had had a long career.

I did not mention Elliott Carter.

I was introducing my students to his music by playing his piece, Shard. This is a guitar piece unlike any guitar piece you have heard.


Performer: Aaron Larget-Caplan
Seully Hall, Boston Conservatory
Carter studied with Nadia Boulanger, quite possibly the most influential professor of music theory during the early 20th century, while in Paris. He studied with Walter Piston and Gustav Holst at Harvard.

He could be listed in the book (if there was one) of Who's Who Among College Music Professors for he taught at Peabody Conservatory, Columbia University, Yale, Cornell, and Juilliard.

He was awarded two Pulitzer Prizes for two of his five string quartets. These are just a couple of his awards and honors.

His life as a composer is one for the record books.

He lived until he was 104 years old.

From the age of 90-100 he wrote 40 pieces of music.

During the last four years of his life he wrote 14 pieces of music.

His last pieces of music was written in August of 2012.

He died in November of 2012.

The point of this post is to emphasize not only the career of Elliott Carter, but to also draw attention to the longevity that is possible in the field of music.

Music really does transcend the continuum of life.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Rare Halftime Show

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Center
I'm one of those people who watch a football game for the halftime show then I'm perfectly content to change the channel or to leave the game.

I'm one of those people who watch the Super Bowl for the commercials and the halftime shows.  Mainly because the commercials are usually the best for the year and because the halftime show not only features some well-known performer, but also is a coordinated effort made up of many people and special effects.

Rarely do I watch football on Thanksgiving day because there are usually other things to do (like wash dishes) or watch (isn't that when they air The Sound of Music?).

This year I think I will be watching a football game - at least until the halftime show.


Because the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its youth program, OrchKids, will perform during halftime of the Baltimore Ravens' Thanksgiving-night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Baltimore Ravens organization has also made a sizable monetary donation to the BSO and its youth program.

All I can say is "Wow!"

Just "Wow!"

For a symphony orchestra to get the prized halftime period for a performance is pretty much unheard of in the world of sports.

Think of how many people in that stadium will perhaps hear a symphony orchestra for the first time.

Think of how many people watching from the comfort of their own living rooms will perhaps hear a symphony orchestra for the first time.

Sure, I know many people will head to the concessions/kitchen for food and drinks and/or the restroom during halftime - especially if they see a symphony orchestra taking the field.

But they probably won't be able to tune out the sound of the orchestra.


I was just wondering: how does a cellist march and play at the same time?!?!?!

Just kidding.

There won't be the usual field show routine.

At least I don't think so.

However, having a professional sports organization allow a professional music organization "air time" for a performance is HUGE!

I can't wait to hear what music is chosen for performance.

Now, I just need to find someone with a TV that will let me watch the game with them.


I'll make Thanksgiving dinner in exchange for some TV time.

Any takers?

Disclaimer: Yes, I did know the Ravens were in Baltimore. Yes, I do know how to play/watch football. Yes, I did know that Baltimore has a renown orchestra. Yes, I do know how to play in/conduct/listen to an orchestra.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Many Hats of the Musician

Today it is strongly encouraged that a musician develop many skills or, be able to "wear many hats" so as to make the music career profitable, at least intrinsically, if not monetarily.

This idea is not new. During the Romantic era of music (1820-1900) a musician could be involved in at least 5 if not more musical activities in order to make a living. These five options are still around today as well as several others. 

A musician could perform - the obvious choice - though it has recently been said, "Many are very good, but few are great, and even fewer have the star-quality that makes for a viable concert-only career."  This sounds a bit harsh and perhaps a bit of tough love, but it is the reality for most musicians.  Doing something else does not dismiss the option of being a performing musician. It does, however, provide financial stability so that performance can be an expression of one's passion for music rather than a desperate requirement for making ends meet.

A musician could teach often by taking on private students. A fee was usually charged or some sort of exchange took place, perhaps for room and board. Franz Lizst was known for offering free music lessons. This was quite unusual - a virtuoso offering free lessons. I don't know if he just worked with advanced students or beginners, but still it was a wonderful way to give young musicians a great start.  The idea of teaching would also emerge in formal school setting, both in K-12 and higher education. During the latter part of the 18th century music teacher training - music education - became more and more important.

Most musicians compose to a certain extent. I often compose for my for my musical ventures - this way music was written especially for the players at their level and for their instruments. All the genres of music that had developed prior to the Romantic eras was composed those usually in a "modernized" expanded manner. New genres would emerge - the symphonic poem, the art song - adding to the possibilities for composition. Chamber music became popular as more and more amateur musicians began performing in the home.

Many musicians would conduct, often their own works. How better to have your own music realized accurately than to conduct it yourself? This offered composers a semblance of control over how their music was introduced to an audience. Conducting did not mean just conducting an orchestra for there were many opera houses and other performance venues needing direction.

A somewhat new vocation for musicians was that of writing music criticism. Critiques of new music, artists' performances, concerts and opera were written to inform audiences about a work or a composer. These critiques commented on the study, discussion, evaluation, and interpretation of music and its performance.  Then, as now, critiques could either help or destroy a performer, composer, or conductor's work. The idea of writing about music was not new, but it did become more widespread during the Romantic era. Robert Schumann founded the New Journal of Music in 1834; it continues today and focuses on a different genre of music each issue.  Hector Berlioz also would write reviews and criticism of music.

As a result, music students today are trained in each of these areas and several others in their undergraduate studies. This allows each student to find their specialty area while still developing meaningful skills in all areas. And, as they enter the workforce, they are more marketable because of the preparation and foundation they have established.

A Day of Music

I love days like this.

Busy, yes.

[Hence the wee hours of the morning post.]


Choral music.

Christmas carols.

Vocal music galore!

(On days like this I value the importance of a solid period of time for vocal warm up.)

Visiting with students, alumni, colleagues (new & old), and friends.

Sharing the expressive enjoyment of music.

Invitation to perform.

Tomorrow, er, today will be pretty much the same thing.

Minus perhaps the invitation to perform.

Upcoming: another long yet musical day.

I hope you enjoy the same.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Old School After School


A generation or so before mine it was normal for a child to have some sort of formal music lessons outside of school.

Sometimes it was voice lessons...or violin.

Usually it was piano lessons.

Whatever the instrument, music was seen as being an important part of a child's development.

Despite the lure of other fun activities such as hearing one's friends playing outside whilst laboring over daily practice, many children, boys and girls, took music lessons.

(I find myself thinking of the Andy Griffith episode when Opie took piano lessons and was supposed to be practicing, but a friend who could already play took Opie's place at the piano so that he could go outside and play ball with his friends.)


As I was growing up I had voice lessons and trombone lessons.

I worked on my paper route and as a babysitter so that I could pay for them.

They were important to me - enough so that I paid for them when I could have spent the money on other things.

They were important to my parents - enough so that they made sure I was at each of these lessons.

They were important to my directors - enough so that I was able to have some pretty significant performance opportunities.

They were important to my career - enough said.

Unfortunately the trend of children taking music lessons has declined in recent years.

However, new research suggests that perhaps there should be a move back to "old school after school."

New research suggests music training as a child can lead to faster processing of sounds in senior citizens.  [Kraus, N., Journal of Neuroscience]

Results suggest music training, far from being an optional activity, helps shape the brain in positive and long-lasting ways.   After a year of training, children who have music lessons are better able to move to the beat and to remember the beat.  This can serve to promote other cognitive skills, such as reading and speech.

Musical training affects attention and memory, which provides a mechanism whereby musical training might lead to better learning across a number of domains. 

The younger children start music lessons, the stronger the connection between the two motor regions of the brain.  Crucial to this phenomenon is the high level of hand coordination involved in playing an instrument.  Therefore active engagement with an instrument, as opposed to passive listening, has proven beneficial in the long run.

Research aside, I heard an interview the other day where the comment was made that there are very few athletes who are active in sports when in their 60s, 70s, 80s, etc.

However, health issues...or death seems to be the only ways to stop musicians.

Just this morning I heard of a 95-year-old man who gave a piano recital.

Wait, there's more...
  • Ned Rorem (topic of a recent blog post) just turned 90-years-old.
  • John Williams, film composer, will turn 82 in February 2014. He has commissions for the upcoming Star Wars movies.
  • Philip Glass, minimalist composer, is 76 years old.
  • Placido Domingo, 72, is an opera singer who performs several times during the week (I follow his career on Twitter and Facebook).
  • Paul McCartney (no description is necessary for him) is 71 years old an still performing for sold out crowds.
  • Stevie Wonder, singer, is 63 and just completed collaborating with Celine Dion on her new album.
I could go on...

The music continues in the lives of these and so many more musicians.

If you have ever thought about taking music lessons, it is never too late.

What's stopping you?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Music Competitions Gone Bad

From the world of American Country and Western music, I believe it was the late Waylon Jennings who said, “Music is not a competitive sport”.

(An interesting statement after the celebrated CMA Awards.)

Bela Bartok said,
“Competitions are for horses, not for musicians”
Even Woody Allen doesn’t take part in awards programs, saying “Art isn’t a competition.”

In recent arts news it was learned a music competition was rigged.

Big surprise, eh?

From the old game show - $64,000 Question, I think though I'm not really sure - when it was learned that the contestant has been shown the questions/answers prior to the game this is not new news.

In the music world there are competitions that have very lucrative prizes for the winners, not to mention new opportunities and bragging rights.

It was learned that in this particular music competition that the winners were the students of the chair of the "jury" (the panel of judges).

Understandably many people were outraged by this.

It really is an ethical decision to remove oneself from a judging panel if you have any connection whatsoever with a performer.


I recall a talent show I was asked to judge.  I learned after accepting the invitation that one of my choir girls was in one of the acts. I contacted the organizer and explained my concern about the situation fearing accusations of bias.  She was, after all, a very good singer and I just knew she would be one of the top acts.  It was determined by the governing board of the hosting organization that I would not voice a vote for my students' group.

I still laugh at the thought and mortification of my student's group's act.

Here I was expecting to watch a wonderful performance of my student and her friends, for, as I mentioned, she did have a great voice.

Imagine my reaction when she and her friends came out on stage and proceeded to perform a dance of sorts to Madonna's song "Hanky Panky" with a key lyric "spank me" repeated several times. At one point in the performance they pulled red scarves from their tops and proceeded to ...well, I think you get the idea.

Oh, I forgot to tell you they were wearing black spandex pants with matching sports bras leaving very little to the imagination.

It was a nightmare! 
The men in the audience loved it.

Anyway, I am glad that I did not have to make any decision on that group for more reasons than my knowing the performer.

I learned a lesson that night that I have never forgotten.

Always preview whatever one's students are going to perform on a stage - even if you have nothing to do with the program!


In this day of American Idol, The Voice, X Factor, the Sing Off, etc we are well aware of those broadcast music competitions. Obviously they work because look at the ratings for the programs and how they seem to multiply.

Don't get me wrong, music competitions do have their benefits for the performer. However, it is always recommended to look into the competition before entering to make sure it is on the up-and-up.  Look to see who is sponsoring it. Look to see who is on the panel of judges.  Do your homework.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Do You Know What CSP Stands For?

That song's too high.
That song's too low.

And so it often goes when someone tries to pitch a song.

Some use a tuning fork or a pitch pipe.  This is great.
And, oh, so very helpful!

But what's to be done when the music is written too high?

For example, while assisting a local colleague with her children's choir (3rd - 6th graders) I observed that one piece (a hand-written arrangement) was written too high for their voices and commented on it. 

(I was talking about a measure that was written as the A above the treble staff!?!?!)

Her response was "That's how it was written."

I said it was not in the ideal child voice range.

Her response, "They can sing that."

I guess my face gave away my disagreement. I refrained from saying anymore because students were present and it was not the "time" for that discussion.

She went on to say, "That's what it has to be to go with the instruments."

Inwardly my response was YIKES!

[I might mention that the children's choir sings a cappella and so this connection to an instrument part is a moot point.]

Rehearsal continued - we got past the song in question.

Since my assisting the children's choir is associated with my mentoring this music educator she and I will be talking further about writing appropriately for children's voices in a future mentoring session.

Many times music teachers run into this problem - trying to connect instruments with limited ranges and choices of notes with children's voices. 

Unfortunately, if care is not taken, the integrity of the voice part is often sacrificed to accommodate the instruments' capability.

Solutions to this problem:
  • Rewrite the vocal part so that it fits the child's vocal range.
  • Rewrite the instrument part by transposing it to another key that fits the child's vocal range.
  • Sing it a cappella.
  • Perform it only on instruments.
  • Choose another song to sing.
Regardless of the chosen solution, something must be done so that the vocal part fits the voices that are singing.

That's kind of obvious.

Please don't get me wrong! I am not opposed to having instruments accompanying voices. I am opposed to poorly written music that combines the two horrendously.

Something else that might be done, especially if the song is a folk tune or some other song to be sung in unison as a group, is to determine the "comfortable starting pitch," or CSP.

I learned of this while completing my Kodaly certification.

I had noticed that many of the songs in one of the books we used were written in the key of G, which for my alto voice, was oftentimes much too high.

Then I noticed that each song in the book had CSP: ____ written near the title of the song.

This suggested CSP indicated the "best" note on which to start the song so that it fit, in this case, the child's voice.

When I followed this suggestion it was like, "Voila!" ("That's it!")

Suddenly all these years of thinking, "That song was way too high (or low)" was solved with the understanding of CSP.

No CSP indicated? Then look for the range of the song.  What is the highest note? What is the lowest note?  Then determine to what pitch can you lower or raise the song so that it fits comfortably in the voice?

Now, this pretty much only works with voices in the same range (children's, women's, or men's voices) on a cappella pieces that are either, ideally, in unison or, if necessary, harmony (with parts that do not go too high or too low).

[Note: Add an instrument to the mix and you begin to limit your options. Though this explains why many singers have a preferred key they sing in - they have found their comfortable starting pitch.]

I am reminded of something Ysaye Barnwell (former member of the AMAZING African American a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock) said at a conference I spoke at this summer.  She mentioned that the group Sweet Honey did not use anything to set the pitch of their songs and that sometimes when a song was started too low she would just have to "look" at that person questioning "Are you really going to pitch this song that low?"

Ysaye said her voice just kept getting lower and lower over the years because they were pitching the songs lower. (Ysaye could sing bass well enough to challenge any male bass!)

So see, even a professional group of singers struggles with pitch issues.

This means that anyone, amateur or professional, who leads songs needs to be aware of how to pitch a song so that it fits the voices that are singing it.

Pitching a song at one's speaking voice pitch is usually a disaster waiting to happen.

It does take effort to pitch a song correctly.

It does means singing higher than one thinks or wants to naturally sing.

If you try, you will probably find those you are leading will respond more musically to your leading.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

You Never Know Who Might Be Listening


"Can you hear me now?"

This is a catch phrase for one of the cell phone companies.  I'm not sure which one, but that doesn't really matter.
Hearing it a few moments ago reminded of an event in a store the other day.
I was looking at some items when I heard a voice say, "I can hear you."
I kept about my business.
Again I heard the voice and, being alone in the aisle and thinking it might be speaking to me, I raised up on tiptoes to look over the shelving. 
Seeing no one I went on my way down the aisle.
I paused to look at something.
Then I heard the voice again say, "I can hear you."
Again rising on tiptoes I peered across the shelves and saw a grizzled old man's face.
He was smiling a toothless smile and I said, "Pardon me?"
He said, for the third time, "I can hear you. I can hear you humming that song. It's a good one, isn't it?"
I was caught.
What could have been an awkward stranger-danger moment became a youngish person's learning about an older gentleman's enjoyment of music.
We chatted for a few moments about the oldies/classics being played on the store's system.
Oldies to me.
The music of his youth for him.
Joined in a moment in time in 2013.
Proof once again music is intergenerational and stands the test of time.
Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to whistle or hum as I go about my business.
At first I felt a bit sheepish that a stranger had commented on it.
However, the resulting musical conversation was worth any momentary discomfort.
And I will continue my solitary music making...
Until the next encounter.

Learn those Scales!

If you are a musician of any level you have sung or played scales.

Scales are what outline the tonality or key of a piece of music.

Scales are required practice of all musicians.

Piano lessons get a bad rap for having to play scales. However, piano lessons are not the only ones that require scales. Pretty much any instrumental lesson requires scales.

Endless scales.

Vocalists don't get off easy.  Singing "doh-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-doh'" is singing a scale.


Most of the time students deal with the "normal" scales - the major scale (C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C') and corresponding (relative) minor scales: natural (a-b-c-d-e-f-g-a'), harmonic (a-b-c-d-e-f-g#-a'), and melodic (a-b-c-d-e-f#-g#-a'-g-f-e-d-c-b-a).

Some venture to the chromatic scale - a scale where every note played is a half step apart. There are 12 notes in the chromatic scale (c-c#-d-d#-e-f-f#-g-g#-a-a#-b-c).  I'm not really sure why instrumentalists are required to know how to play this scale. I was just told to play it.  This scale was integral to the twelve-tone technique of Schoenberg. His use of it is like a science experiment - very complex.


Beyond these "normal" scales the following scale can challenge the musician and intrigue and perplex the music nerd.

Today in class we talked about the seemingly obsolete "church modes" of the Medieval and Renaissance periods. These include the Ionian (1), Dorian (2), Phrygian (3), Lydian (4), Mixolydian (5), Aeolian (6), and Locrian (7) modes. The numbers indicate the starting note and then play to one octave above.  The modes are called "church modes" because they are commonly associated with the music of the Roman Catholic Church during the periods named above.

The pentatonic scale is a 5-note scale. It is most easily explained by playing the black keys on the piano - a set of 3 black keys and the set of 2 black keys above. If one starts on C the pentatonic scale would include: C-D-E-G-A.  The pentatonic scale is most commonly associated with folk music and Asian music.

The whole tone scale is made up completely of whole tones.  If one starts on C the whole tone scale would include C-D-E-F#-G#-A#-C. This 6-note scale is often heard in the music of the early twentieth century.

Another 20th Century scale is the "octatonic" scale which has 8 notes and is created using a pattern of alternating whole steps and half steps. If one starts on C the octatonic scale would include C-D-Eb-F-Gb-Ab-A-B-C.


All of these scales I've mentioned were incorporated in some way into the music of the twentieth century. The variety of scales offered great variety to the composers.

This was not meant as an exhaustive list of scales.  They are important to the musician and to the composer.

So, students, practice those scales.  One day, while playing or singing a piece of music, you WILL realize why you learned how to play or sing all the scales.

I guarantee it.

I speak from experience.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Songs that Make Me Laugh

My last post about the impact of radio in my life and how I used to "surf" the stations on the radio dial late at night reminded me of a song I heard one time during one of those nights of spinning the dial.

I never heard it again.

  • I remembered the name of it. The name of it was "Cow Patti."
  • I remembered it being about a cowgirl.
  • I remembered it being funny.
  • I remembered it being a clever play on words.
I did not remember who sang it.

Today I found it on YouTube.

The first video was of a Jim Stafford on the Smothers' Brother show. 

That in itself told me something right there since the Smothers Brothers tended to push the envelope as far as the content of their show was concerned.  I seem to recall their show being censured by the TV censures way back in the 60s.

I learned the song was written and performed by Jim Stafford.  I'm going to have to spend a little time hearing more of his songs and learning about him as a songwriter.  I like it when songs can give me a good chuckle. :)

I listened to it again.

It was as I remembered it.

Funny. :)

(Disclaimer: It has just enough questionable content that I don't feel comfortable sharing the video or lyrics here.  It is no worse than what airs on TV or radio today. Check it out on your own if you are curious.)


Finding this song made me think of other songs & artists whose music makes me laugh.

Two that came to mind:

  • Ray Stevens: His songs are so creative and hilarious. The first song of his that I recall is that naughty daredevil "The Streak" then later would come "The Squirrel that went to Church" with "Bertha Better-Than-You's" confession. Somewhere I have a cassette tape of his hits.

  • Mac Davis: I remember him singing with nonsense syllables and doing the hambone (can't recall that song at the moment) and "Oh Lord, It's Hard to be Humble."  I found I could still sing along to this song. Funny what remains hidden in one's brain until something prompts its resurfacing.  As I looked into his music today I did not realize he wrote songs for Elvis Presley ("In the Ghetto" "Don't Cry, Daddy").  I did not realize he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame among other awards.
I started to put Weird Al Yankovic in this category of comedic songwriters, but didn't because his songs are parodies of already existing songs, not original tunes nor stand alone songs.

I will think on this some more, but I really didn't think he belonged with Ray Stevens and Mac Davis.  It will have to suffice that he was mentioned.


Throughout the ages songs have been sung to entertain audiences.

Comedic songs. 

Songs that make people laugh have been around for centuries.

Of course, what is considered funny changes over time, but humor itself is ageless.

I've found these comedic songs tend to be ballads - or storytelling songs.

Everyone likes a good story.

Everyone like a good song.

Especially a funny one!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Impact of Radio

When I was young
I'd listen to the radio
Waitin' for my favorite songs
When they played I'd sing along
It made me smile
[From "Yesterday Once More" by The Carpenters, 1973]
I found myself singing this song by the Carpenters earlier.
And I wondered where it came from.  I mean, why did I recall that song out of nowhere?

Earlier I was listening to some smooth jazz.

Though not on an actual radio.

I have an app on my iPad that allows me to listen to radio stations from across the world.

This smooth jazz station was from Greece.

Here I am in a small town in southern USA listening to a radio station in Greece 5000+ miles away.

My! How far radio reception and influence has come.


In the early days radio stations came on the air. Stations like KMOX 1120AM in St. Louis, MO, which came on the air in 1925. The call letters came from K (West of the Mississippi River) - MO (Missouri) - X (for Christmas as it first came on the air December 24, 1925). At night this radio station could be heard all across the USA it was so powerful.

In the early days of radio people would gather around a huge radio in the living room to listen.  I remember watching TV shows like The Waltons where the family gathered to hear the news, or music, or to listen in on the most recent episode of their favorite serial program.

In the early days of radio people would build their own crystal radios.  My grandpa built his first radio.  I believe he built each of his grandchildren a radio.  I am happy to say that I still have that radio he built for me.  I imagine it still works though it probably only gets AM stations. That's Ok, I tend to like AM stations.

In the early days there were programs like the Grand Ole Opry.  Live shows filled with music and comedy.  I believe many of the early TV shows had their start on radio.  The Lone Ranger for one.  I believe some of the old soap operas as well started on radio then moved to TV.

For the record, I wasn't around in the early days. :)


When I was young I did listen to the radio.

My sister and I listened to WLS (World's Largest Station) out of Chicago, IL.  That's where I got to hear all the Top 40 songs.

At night I loved turning the dial (I guess in today's lingo I was "surfing" the stations) to see what I might hear.

I remember being amazed to be able to hear radio stations from so many miles away from me.  I was transported to those places because of the music and talk shows those radio stations brought to me.

I recall hearing a man called Wolfman Jack (before the Friday night TV show Midnight Special).

I recall hearing a man called Rush Limbaugh (back when he had a midnight to 3am shift - before his popularity grew).

I recall hearing a man called Jim White ("The Big Bumper").

Those late night personalities kept me company many nights as sleep eluded me. Though to be honest it wasn't that I couldn't sleep - I just didn't want to miss anything on their shows. :)


Today I tend to listen to NPR (National Public Radio).  I like its programming - the shows, the variety shows, the music. It is often associated with the more mature listener.

While each day I come closer and closer to becoming "the more mature listener," I actually listen to NPR because it is not all music.  As an earlier blog post explains, I tend to not listen to much music because it is so associated to my job.

Now, at any given time of the day I can tune in to radio stations around the world because of this iPad app.

I am amazed and thankful for this technology that brings the world closer to me.

I hope that radio, with its seemingly ancient history by today's technology standards and with the new every-changing technology, always continues - in some form or another.

It certainly has been a big part of my life.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Program Notes

For years program notes have accompanied concert programs.

In fact, they have often been included as "liner notes" in LP albums. 

There was a day when researching a musical piece that liner notes would be a primary source about a piece of music.

I haven't seen too many included in recent CD purchases.

That's too bad.


By means of explanation, program notes are included in the paper program handed out at concerts. They provide information about a work's composer, a description of the music to be heard, as well as background or trivial information that might be associated with the work.

Sometimes program notes are written by the composer. These are my favorites for they give the most insight into the work.

Other times, the program notes are written by the conductor of the program. These are very good for they not only give factual information, but also the insight of the person recreating the work of the composer.


When I attend symphony concerts I find that I will read about a work as it is being played (if it is light enough to read - otherwise I read it all before the concert begins). I like having that background knowledge about the music as I listen to the music.

I also find I don't want it to be just about the music. I like knowing what the composer was up to - where he was, jobs he might have held, etc.

I like hearing about premieres of works, especially those that might have been chaotic or poorly received.  I think sometimes our 21st century ears are not as shocked by works that caused chaos at first performances. Though, I admit to being rather amused during concerts of music that startles the audience with forte sections. Seeing them jump nearly out of their seats is funny.

If they'd read the program notes they could have expected it. :)


Tonight I prepared program notes for a small program tomorrow. Nothing extensive, but something to add interest to the program for the listeners. Names and countries of origin for the composers, a description of the pieces - mainly Renaissance dances.

Very basic.

*I* want to learn more, but didn't go overboard for this event. This audience does not require more than I've already accumulated.

I have to remind myself that while I can making this a teaching moment it does not require a lecture.

One of those times when "less is more."


I've often felt I would like to prepare program notes as a side job. Sure if I got paid it would be great, but I would do it even if I didn't. 

I think it's the music nerd in me. 

I like learning about musical topics.

Program notes are little capsules of musical information.

Perfect for someone like me!