Classical Tyro

A Beginner's Guide to Great Music

Music for Baby Boomers


“Memory is the scribe of the soul.” – Aristotle

Memory is a product of our ability to make associations — every memory is connected in some way to other memories.

And very little sparks memory with the intensity of music.

Music can work like a time machine, taking us back to a specific time and place. If we hear a song that was popular when we were young, we might suddenly begin thinking about friends, places, and events long forgotten.

Those of us who are baby boomers possess more than our share of "time machine" moments from music. For most of us, popular songs shaped our youth. “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” for example, can bring back such distinct memories that many boomers will remember where they were and what they were doing when they first heard it.

If you would like to test this theory, I recommend clicking on the "Music for Baby Boomers" link below and take a look at page recently added to this site that links to dozens of songs from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. If you are a baby boomer, the songs will most likely evoke a variety of memories, thoughts, and emotions. Listen to the songs and let the memories flow.

For those of you not old enough to remember when the songs were popular, I can guarantee that you'll be listening to some absolutely terrific music.

"Music for Baby Boomers" (Click Here)


FB Cover Front
In the spirit of helping baby boomers tap into memories of their youth, I will soon be publishing a book titled Flash Back: A Baby Boomer's Guide to Talking about Something Other than Declining Health and How the World is Going to Hell.

Flash Back provides baby boomers with over 300 conversation prompts that are designed to spark memories of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The book is designed to help boomers begin conversations about everything from metal cap guns and Polaroid land cameras to John Wayne and Sidney Poitier, from Zig Zags and waterbeds to Gloria Steinem and Barry Goldwater. The book has no higher purpose than entertainment and will, of course, include many references to the music that helped baby boomers define their youth.

Flash Back will be available on March 31, 2017, through Amazon. For more information, click on the link below.

Flash Back (Click Here)


The Beatles, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”

Comments

Oscar Peterson's Master Class

The distinguished and elegant Oscar Peterson (1925-2007) was a Canadian jazz pianist who was trained in the European classical tradition. This short video of Mr. Peterson explaining styles of jazz piano is a gem. All told, the video provides six examples of jazz piano.



As for Peterson’s own style, here’s how it's described in
A Natural History of the Piano by Stuart Isacoff:

“The Peterson style was always characterized by rapid, graceful, blues-tinged melody lines unfurled in long, weaving phrases with the inexorable logic of an epic narrative; and, equally important, a visceral sense of rhythm, transmitted with fire and snap. Those qualities for which he was renowned — effortless fluidity and clockwork precision — were not merely aspects of his playing; they were the very foundation on which his artistic expression rested. And pulling them off required the highest level of athletic prowess.”



Comments

Ubiquitous American Music

As a supplement to my presentation at Rice University on classical music in the United States, I have embedded three pieces of music by American composers that are ubiquitous in concert halls around the world. For those not attending my presentation, I simply ask that you take time to enjoy the music. By any measure, these are three masterworks.

George Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue (1924)

Maxim Eshkenazy conducting the Symphony Orchestra of the Bulgarian National Radio,
Andrew Armstrong (piano)

Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings (1938)

Leonard Slatkin conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Aaron Copland, Appalachian Spring (1944)

Seikyo Kim conducting Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen

As a bonus, here’s a piece not heard often in concert halls but discussed at length in my presentation. In brief, it’s a piece that celebrates the democratic ideal — the uniqueness of the individual, as well as the responsibility of the individual to contribute to the community. (Keep in mind that Carter composed music designed to challenge the intellect rather than evoke emotion.)

Elliot Carter, Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano (1961)
Comments

The American Sound in Classical Music


When listening to Chopin’s
Polonaise in A Major we are told the music represents the sound of Poland. We are also told that Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 provides a musical slice of Hungarian culture, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture takes us into the sound of Czarist Russia. But what classical composer best provides the sound of America? What is the sound that best represents the United States? These are not easy questions to answer.

Since the 1890s, when Americans were beginning to develop their own traditions in classical music, composers have recognized the dilemma of creating the American sound. In 1892 the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák became the director of the newly formed National Conservatory of Music in New York City and was paid a sizable wage to help create an American school of composition. The problem confronting Dvořák stemmed from the absence of a unified American culture. Quite simply, there were too many different types of people living in the United States to create a sound that was distinctly American. (Like Dvořák, Gustav Mahler, the great Bohemian composer and conductor, also believed the United States was too culturally diverse to be represented by one type of music.)

Dvořák’s solution to the problem can be heard in the cultural diversity evident in his
Symphony No. 9 in E minor ("From the New World"). The symphony includes original themes that sound somewhat like Stephen Foster tunes, African-American spirituals, and Native American music. Although From the New World has been accused of having too much of an eastern European accent to truly sound American, Dvořák did get the process of creating an American sound started, a process that has been forced to consider the diversity of American culture.

Antonín Dvořák, Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Fourth Movement (1893)


After Dvořák left the United States in 1895, various classical composers have been associated with the creation of an American national sound — most notably Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, and Elliot Carter.

Charles Ives (1874-1954) is best known for composing his memories of a pre-industrial, small-town America. Although his music ranks with the greatest composed by any American, the nationalism in his music did not acknowledge the tremendous ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity that defined the United States. Ives looked at America primarily through the eyes of someone who grew up in a small New England town in the late nineteenth century.

Charles Ives, Country Band March (1903)


Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is probably most associated in the public's mind with the American sound, creating music that defined an ideal America. Copland’s music romanticized the United States and celebrated the best in the American Spirit. In general, he also avoided the complexities and diversity of the American experience.

Aaron Copland, Appalachian Spring, "Simple Gifts" (1944)


The composer, in my opinion, who best captures the complexities of America — and therefore the true American sound — is
Elliot Carter (1908-2012). I make that declaration, however, with a confession that I don't always understand his music, and I cannot overstate the challenges of listening to his compositions.

Photo of Elliot Carter
Carter was an intellectual composer, and the music he created is among the most cerebral that any of us will ever confront. Although he composed in a variety of musical styles, he was best known for the masterworks that did not romanticize the American experience and seemed designed to avoid any desire to evoke emotional reactions from listeners. His music is best understood on a purely intellectual level.

What helps me understand Carter’s compositions is to think about the diversity of American culture and the reality of what that diversity should sound like when represented musically. I think about the “salad bowl” of humanity that defines the United States — the variety of religious, cultural, and philosophical beliefs, as well as the cultural gaps too often separate the American people according to their ethnic, racial, and other differences. I think about how America is home to almost all types of people. I then think about what all those various types of people would sound like if they were all expressing their differences at the same time.

That, in a nutshell, is how to think about Carter’s music. It’s a type of music that celebrates democracy, freedom, and diversity. It's classical music's version of Martin Luther King's "Beloved Community," a society in which people of all types live together in peace.

In describing the complexity of his music, Carter used these words to describe his
Variations for Orchestra:

I have tried to give musical expression to experiences anyone living today must have when confronted by so many remarkable examples of unexpected types of changes and relationships of character uncovered in the human sphere by psychologists and novelists.… The old notion of unity in diversity presents itself to us in an entirely different guise than it did to people living even a short while ago."

Carter's music may not be easy listening, but it challenges us to recognize the prodigious diversity that defines American culture.

Elliot Carter, Variations for Orchestra (1955)


Elliot Carter, Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano (1961)


Comments

Brubeck, "Blue Rondo à la Turk" (1959)


In 1958, the jazz pianist and composer
Dave Brubeck was touring the Middle East when he heard a Turkish folk tune that repeated a rhythmic pattern divided into beats of 2 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 9. Brubeck later recast that Turkish music into a jazz tune titled "Blue Rondo à la Turk," a piece of music that serves as a great example of what can be done with odd meter in jazz. The Dave Brubeck Quartet first recorded the piece in 1959 for their ground-breaking album Time Out.

The rhythm of "Blue Rondo à la Turk" is organized into groups of nine beats, but it is the subdivision of the nine beats that makes the piece so fascinating. At the beginning of the tune, the nine beats are subdivided as
2 + 2 + 2 + 3. This subdivision is then repeated three times before switching to a subdivision of 3 + 3 + 3, which is only played once before switching back to 2 + 2 + 2 + 3. This pattern repeats itself several times before leading into an extended section of improvisation without the Turkish rhythms, which do make a reappearance at the end to wrap things up.

Whew! I wish you the best of luck at keeping up with what happens rhythmically, and I hope I have described it clearly and accurately.


Dave Brubeck Quartet


Comments

Evelyn Glennie: Teaching the World to Listen


"My aim really is to teach the world to listen. That is my only real aim in life."
– Dame Evelyn Glennie

According to
Evelyn Glennie's biographical information on her Facebook page, she is "the first person in history to successfully create and sustain a full-time career as a solo percussionist." What her Facebook bio does not mention is that she has been profoundly deaf since she was twelve years old. She claims to hear with parts of her body other than her ears and performs barefoot to help feel the music. In this TED talk from 2003, Glennie not only provides a great musical performance (beginning at 27:15), she also offers a new and more mindful way of listening to music. As a bonus to the TED talk, I have embedded a video of Glennie performing Piazzola's Libertango.


Evelyn Glennin, TED Talk, February 2003


Astor Piazzola, Libertango, perfromed by Evelyn Glennie
Comments

Bach, Suite in E minor for Lute, "Bourée" (c. 1717)

Sometime around 1717, Johann Sebastian Bach composed the Suite in E minor for Lute, which includes a Bourée as the fifth of six movements. Over 250 years later, in 1968, Paul McCartney borrowed the Bourée as an inspiration for his song “Blackbird” on the Beatles' White Album. A year after that, the rock group Jethro Tull included the Bourée on their album Stand Up, providing even more evidence that Bach's music is ubiquitous in our culture. (For more information about what I'm saying, as well as a video showing how McCartney used the Bourée to create "Blackbird," see my blog titled “The Ubiquitous Bach”)

For what it's worth, a "Bourée" is a seventeenth-century French dance with two beats per measure.


Andreas Martin, Lute


Paul McCartney, "Blackbird"


Jethro Tull with Ian Anderson on flute at the AVO SESSION Basel, Switzerland

Comments

Stephen Malinowski: Celebrating 10 Years of Music Animation on YouTube

Some people are synesthetes and claim to see various colors when they hear music. I’m not one of them. I would like to be. I would love to be able to visualize the tapestry of sound that so easily sets fire to my emotions. I would love to see what it looks like when my emotions change from sorrow to joy with a single key change. Music affects how I feel, but it doesn’t evoke color in my mind’s eye.

StephenMalinowski_forWikipedia_2011
Fortunately, I have Stephen Malinowski and his Music Animation Machine to help me with that. Malinowski creates animated graphical scores for great pieces of music, and I faithfully follow his YouTube channel, waiting for his newest creations.

I have always enjoyed following printed musical scores while listening to music. Knowing what’s in a score brings music to life. I can see individual notes and voices as they weave together, generating music’s magic. Following a printed score helps me understand how a piece of music is organized and grasp the musical narrative.

Malinowski’s animated scores serve the same purpose — and they do it with much more power and excitement than printed scores. His videos allow me to see what I am hearing and anticipate what is coming. The persistent forward motion of beautiful shapes and colors in Malinowski's videos has forever changed how I hear music. Malinowski helps me understand what it must be like to have some form of synesthesia, a condition for which I would seek no cure. If synesthesia would cause music to conjure up colors in the manner of a Malinowski video, I would welcome the diagnosis.

Malinowski published his first YouTube video — a recording of Bach's
Toccata and Fugue in D minor — in December 2005, and I am posting this blog in celebration of the tenth anniversary of that event.

Although Malinowski has posted over 365 videos in the last ten years, that first video has remained his most popular, receiving over 25 million views on YouTube. (That's right,
25 million!) Malinowski recently told me via email that his first video of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue was “crude and the recording was poor.” He recorded the music for that video on a synthetic pipe organ and decided to celebrate its anniversary with the creation of a new version. His first choice for the new recording was organist Hans-André Stamm, and Malinowski was thrilled when Stamm agreed to collaborate.

Here's how Malinowski described his newest version of
Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. (The video he is describing is embedded below. The toccata begins at 0:05 and the fugue begins at 2:26.)

“Since 2005, I've been developing tools and techniques for visualizing music, but for this video, I decided to keep it relatively simple (as a tip of the hat to the simple original video) and not distract from Stamm's performance: I use balls for the fast-moving parts of the toccata, rectangles for the toccata chords, and octagons for the fugue. The three-note motif that is the seed of the piece is highlighted in red."

Thank you, Stephen Malinowski! Thank you for bringing so much pleasure to those of us who love classical music and for introducing millions of people to classical music who might never have listened to it without you.


Performed by Hans-André Stamm on the Weyland organ in the Catholic parish church
Heilig Kreuz in Köln-Weidenpesch Cologne (Köln), ca. 1992.


As an encore, I invite everyone to follow the links below for a few of my favorite videos from Malinowski's Music Animation Machine. Enjoy!

Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Second Movement

Debussy, Syrinx (for solo flute)

Satie, Gymnopédie No. 1

Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring, Part 1

Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring, Part 2

Comments

Hall of Fame Film Scores

The UK’s Classic FM (my favorite classical music station) is creating a Hall of Fame for great film scores and recently polled their listeners for three HOF candidates. I participated in the poll and chose three soundtracks I thought were integral to the character of their films. In other words, I can’t imagine these films without their soundtracks, and when I think of these films one of the first things that comes to mind is the music. Here’s my HOF candidates (listed in order):

To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962 (music by Elmer Bernstein)


On the Waterfront, 1954 (music by Leonard Bernstein)


High Noon, 1952 (music by Dimitri Tiomkin)

Comments

Bacharach, South American Getaway (1969)

In 1970 Burt Bacharach won an Academy Award for Best Original Score for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In the film, “South American Getaway” is performed by the Ron Hicklin Singers. The version I’ve embedded below, however, is arranged for cello ensemble, and if you’ve never heard Crocellomania, you’re in for a treat.


Crocellomania directed by Valter Dešpalj
Comments