I was born in 1968, a year of mad generational uproar and confusion.
I don't think anything could better illustrate the cultural bewilderment of the time than this video of Andy Williams, singing "The Age of Aquarius" and "Let the Sunshine In," with the Osmond brothers, a year after I was born:
Some background: these tunes were written for the drug-dazed musical "Hair," which is about hippie counter-culture and the sexual revolution. Andy Williams was a soft-singing crooner, beloved by little old ladies, and the Osmond brothers were Mormon whiz-kid singers.
I was a toddler. I joyously embraced it all.
You see, I did not listen to Suzuki tapes when I was a small child (they didn't exist), nor did I listen to Mozart. I did not come from a musical family, so no one was playing Chopin on the piano or holding quartet rehearsals in the living room.
But my Grandma Izzie had a record player, and a huge collection of LPs, sitting in big, square, cardboard sleeves. I don't know how many she had -- more than I could count back then, for sure. Hundreds, thousands! Every one of them was Andy Williams. (The man did make 42 studio albums and I think she had them all!)
She lived in a little apartment attached to our house, and most mornings at around 5 a.m. I would sneak down the hall to Grandma Izzie's place. She knew how to keep me content: music. I climbed up on her big sofa, and she would put on the only music she had: Andy Williams. And I was happy, bouncing my head to the beat of the music, looking out the window and listening. Good morning, Starshine! Do you hear the violins in there?
These are possibly the most over-orchestrated tunes ever recorded. Can you even believe it? But that's what people did, when they wanted over-the-top sound before synthesizers: they hired a huge orchestra to back them up. Can you imagine a singer doing this today? I doubt it even occurs to most singers. It's much cheaper and easier to press a few buttons on a synthesizer, then hit the auto-tune to keep their own voice sonically palatable.
Processed food, processed music. Oh just spit it out, let it be all messy like it was! One last Andy Williams tune. May he rest in peace and love and squareness and grooviness. No, actually, I hope he's up there singing for Grandma Izzie and all her friends!
Good news: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians and management appear to have reached an agreement, according to both the CSO Musicians Facebook page and to the Chicago Tribune. According to the Trib, it's a three-year contract, and ratification is pending. Negotiations began at 2 p.m. today, and the tentative agreement was reached at about 6:45 p.m. Assuming they ratify the agreement when they meet tomorrow at 9 a.m., the planned shows will go on, including subscription concerts on Wednesday and Friday, a Symphony Ball fundraiser on Saturday and a run-out concert to Ann Arbor, Mich., on Thursday. Also, the orchestra's early-October tour to New York's Carnegie Hall and Mexico will go on as planned.
Here's that Chicago Trib article, it has a nice video short with longtime Chicago classical music writer John von Rhein about "why we should care." (It can be tricky to link to the Chicago Trib, but this seems to have worked)
Happy Rosh Hashanah for the many Jewish friends among us, and to make it happier, this month Itzhak Perlman released a new recording of Jewish liturgical and traditional music, called Eternal Echoes: Songs and Dances for the Soul.
Perlman helped bring klezmer music to a broader audience when he recorded the soundtrack for the 1993 movie 'Schindler's List'. Ironically, perhaps, the music for "Schindler's List" was not from any kind of Jewish canon; it was written by movie music composer John Williams. To that, Perlman said in the video interview posted below, "I couldn't believe how authentic (Williams) got everything to sound." One might argue that it was Perlman who shot the music through with authenticity!
Photo by Akira Kinoshita
In any case, Perlman's latest project features traditional Jewish works, 10 tracks in all, in collaboration with Israeli-born Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot, chamber orchestra and other klezmer musicians.
Perlman has said that his idea “was to do ‘Jewish comfort music’ – everything that I recognize from my childhood is in this program…There is so much history in this music. For me, every little musical groan or sob that happens is Jewish history. It makes you think.”
You can find out more about the album on Perlman's website.
Here is "Kol Nidrei" from Eternal Echoes: Songs and Dances for the Soul, with Itzhak Perlman and Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot:
And for old times' sake: a live performance from 1995 of "Schindler's List Theme," with Itzhak Perlman playing and John Williams conducting.
One of my youngest students was getting a bit bored with "Twinkle." Parents and teachers can attest to this common phenomenon. "Twinkle" is the first tune that many students, especially Suzuki students, learn, and it has five variations. They are learning some 45 skills in the process of learning Twinkle, and the whole endeavor can take a long time.
Very often it helps to go "sideways" instead of "forward," at this point. In other words, instead of going ahead with songs that require new skills, stay at the same level for a while and learn a lot of songs at that level. This gives the student a chance to build their foundation and repeat simple patterns, without getting bored. Also, the fact that they are playing a lot of songs helps them feel a sense of progress.
While there are many books out there which can serve this function, I'd like to share a book I've recently used that my youngest students have enjoyed. It's called 90 Favorite Songs, Classical Melodies, and Fiddle Tunes, written by violinist Lisa Berman. I had picked up several of her books while at the Suzuki Association of the Americas Conference in June in Minneapolis, where she is also based.
Suzuki's idea, in his first book, was to teach children folk songs that would come easily because they were simple and familiar. Lisa's book is full of very common kids' songs, most of which my students find to be very familiar: The Muffin Man, The Wheels on the Bus, The More We Get Together, Taps, Clementine, Simple Gifts, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, If You're Happy and You Know It, Oh Susannah, When the Saints Go Marching In, Star Spangled Banner, Yankee Doodle, Turkey in the Straw, Danny Boy, and Theme from Beethoven Symphony No. 9.
One can teach these songs by rote without listening to recordings, as the students already know them well. And if they don't, then pick another song -- there are more than 90.
Lisa has written and produced entire line of products all under the name Simply Violin. The materials fit the name: they are visually and conceptually simple, and thus easy to understand and use. For example, Lisa told me that she hired someone who designed signs for emergency use -- in other words, signs that could be read very quickly and easily -- to design her Circle of Fifths chart for Simply Violin. (I got a dozen postcard-sized ones and gave them to my students, instructing them to post them next to their beds and gaze at them while falling asleep…)
Other books by Lisa include a scale book with one, two and three octaves; a book of 40 easy fiddle tunes appropriate for a student in about Suzuki Book 2-3; also a more advanced fiddle book, a sacred tunes book and a Christmas book. All her books listed and described on this page.
As I said, there are a variety of books one can use to supplement beginning methods, but I just wanted to share this one, as its straightforward presentation and plentiful familiar songs make it so easy to use. Thanks, Lisa!
And you were wondering what movie to watch on this Friday night? Look what I found, in full, on YouTube! It's the wonderful 1939 Samuel Goldwyn movie that features legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz. And yes, it's one of those movies that makes you sigh and say, "They don't make 'em like they used to!"
Get your popcorn:
Last weekend I found myself at the sold-out Hollywood Bowl, along with a crowd of more than 17,000 people who had gathered for the Los Angeles Philharmonic's performance of music by Tchaikovsky.
With my ears still ringing from the death gongs sounding last week over the world's financially floundering symphony orchestras, I felt invigorated by this huge crowd of classical music fans and the celebratory feeling of the evening. And in fact, this was the second sold-out night of this performance!
Certainly, this was the kind of concert that everyone loves: all works by Tchaikovsky, including pieces from the Nutcracker and Swan Lake ballets, with ballet dancers and the lovely voices of the Los Angeles Children's Chorus (yes, including my son's voice). Then came the 1812 Overture, complete with fireworks and members of the University of Southern California band, who marched onto stage in their Trojan uniforms to help blast out the very end of the piece.
It was a show, for certain! Conductor Bramwell Tovey told the audience that, if this was their first time seeing a performance of the 1812 Overture, "then count it off your 100 Things to Do in Classical Music Before You Die." If not, "How are you doing on the rest of the list"?
More to the point of this blog, where is the rest of the list? We must make it! While many of us are performers and teachers, I mean this list to be for our friends with an interest in classical music, for our audience. What are the most wonderful things that a person, who may not be a musician, can experience in classical music over a lifetime?
Please contribute your ideas, I certainly need your help! I've started it with a few ideas, and when we have 100, I'll make it into a nice PDF/permanent blog for us all to use!
100 Things To Do in Classical Music Before You Die
We have to make this list, and I need your help. I will get us started:
1. See a live, outdoor performance of Pyotr Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.
2. Go to a Handel's Messiah sing-along (whether you sing or not!)
3. See a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York
4. See a concert at Disney Hall in Los Angeles
5. Watch at least a few of Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts
6. Attend a master class
7. See Gustavo Dudamel conduct a live concert
8. Go to a concert at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado
9. Buy season tickets to your local symphony orchestra's concerts
10. Go to Salzburg, Austria and celebrate Mozart's life and birth in some kind of very touristy manner.
11. See the Wagner's Ring Cycle. (or not, if you think it's just really racist)
12. See a big performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, complete with choir and vocal soloists.
13. See the Nutcracker Ballet -- and take a child with you!
14. See a Stradivarius or Guarneri del Gesu violin in person, or better yet, play one!
Without a populace that understands music and art -- beyond a gut reaction -- how can the best of it possibly to come to the surface?
People need education to appreciate music and art. Some might feel this idea is "elitist." It's only elitist if music and art education is given to some, and withheld from others. How about this?: ALL people should have music and art education.
You might ask, why? You might even say that when it comes to music and art, "I know what I like." But do people really "know" what they like? Why do some of those "likes" change, while others prove more long-lasting?
Our manmade sound and sight worlds profoundly affect the way we feel, the way we act, the way we handle our relationships with one another. I would argue that they affect the way we operate as a community and society. Should we educate ourselves about this? Should we put our best minds to work, making judgments on the nature of our surroundings and creating them? Should we know enough to see who has those special abilities? Or should we leave it all to those who have a pre-schooler's sensibility in regard to music and art? Should we continue to produce human beings who do not know the difference?
How about a hypothetical example: I know what I like, when it comes to football: My Team. I'm fully capable of watching a football game and rooting for My Team. What more do I need to know? So what if I don't know the rules, the name of the coach, the abilities of the players, the difference between a kids league or a professional league? So what if I don't know the history of the game? I know what I like. What if I tell you that none of it matters, I really don't think that anyone needs to know any of those things, beyond what they like. I like the coach, so we should keep him. He's been there 15 years, and I just like seeing his face every week. I like the quarterback, too. He's cute, in that No. 7 jersey, and it looks like he can throw a ball pretty far and the other guy catches it most of the time. Shouldn't my opinion matter?
You could easily see my deficiencies, in that case. I doubt anyone would cry, "elitist" if someone were to argue, "Despite your enthusiasm, you really don't know what you are talking about."
But in music, we seem to insist, as a society, that we are all equal arbiters. "Oh, I can't hear the difference," people insist, implying that the difference doesn't matter. Really?
We need to have the collective ability to identify our artists, and we need to be versed enough to understand what they do. We need to be able to argue intelligently about how we build the musical and artistic world around us and who we entrust with the task.
It matters. Those radio songs that profoundly affect what goes into our ears -- and our children's ears -- on a daily basis are produced in today's world through an astonishingly cynical process. Principals who never had arts education congratulate themselves for providing kids a shallow exposure to music, without understanding music as a serious and complex discipline like math or language. And the budget cuts always fall first on music and arts education programs, despite the known benefits such education provides in boosting abilities across disciplines, in motivating students to achieve in school, in lowering substance abuse in students, in promoting better citizenship, in creating cooperation among students, in boosting the school's image of itself and more.
If music creates a "beautiful soul" in a young music student, as Shinichi Suzuki famously said, I have confidence that a musically-educated public would go a long way toward creating a "beautiful society."
Earlier this week, the UK columnist Norman Lebrecht pointed out that a number of important orchestras in the United States are facing dire circumstances: the Atlanta Symphony musicians have no contract, no paycheck, and no health insurance; Minnesota Orchestra management is pushing for a $40,000 pay cut for musicians; the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra management has proposed cutting the number of musicians by 17 percent and reducing their pay by 15 percent; Indianapolis Symphony management has proposed reducing its season from 52 to 36 weeks, reducing musician pay by 40 percent and cutting number of musicians from 87 positions to 69; and the musicians of the San Antonio Symphony have had to resort to filing a union complaint against management for non-payment of wages and failure to negotiate a new contract.
It's a lot of bad news, but does it really mean that "the era of the symphony orchestra is done"? That is what our V.com member Michelle Jones wrote in a thought-provoking and very practical blog yesterday called The End of the Symphony and How Today's Music Students Should Adapt. Whether the era of the symphony orchestra is coming to an end or not, I'd highly recommend Michelle's blog as a must-read for music students of today, who will undoubtedly have to be much more entrepreneurial and self-propelled then classical and symphony musicians of the 20th century had to be.
I would add one thing to her list of 12 adaptations students, teachers and professional musicians must make in the new century: We must learn to advocate for our art. This goes beyond marketing ourselves, and it goes beyond simple education efforts -- though it does encompass those two things. We need to each take personal responsibility for showing why music makes a difference in our communities, why we have devoted our lives to it, why we love it. We have to make music matter in the lives of people around us, to find ways to incorporate it into our communities. We have to participate in efforts to raise private funding, leverage public funding, and incorporate our symphonies into public life.
Because frankly, I'm not ready to sit back and wave the symphony orchestra goodbye across all the cities in the United States and around the world. The symphony is an institution capable of doing vast public good. It is a work of art that is alive and present in a community, and its members spread that spark of both high competence and knowledge when they live and teach there. The symphony is a mark of civic pride, and its musicians give people, young and old, something excellent for which to strive. The symphony provides a venue to welcome performing artists from around the world and to celebrate community holidays and events. It brings people to the city center for concerts, provides a social forum, provides business to area restaurants. I could go on.
One thing is certain: the era of taking the symphony for granted CERTAINLY is over. As for the future of the symphony? If you have a symphony in your community, it needs every advocate it can get, and that means YOU!
Sometime near the very end of my life, I'd like to be sitting in the balcony of a symphony hall, listening to a Brahms Symphony. I don't want to be singing this song:
Our Celebrate Classical Music project inspired 22 blogs from Violinist.com members all over the globe, young and old, student and professional. Choosing a winner from among these blogs proved no easy task; they were all so good! Many thanks to our guest celebrity bloggers, Hilary Hahn, Philippe Quint, and Adam DeGraff, who wrote blogs at my request. (The guest bloggers weren't eligible to win!)
And now, I'd like to name the Violinist.com member with the winning essay…drum roll…it's Sam Rubin. Sam is a senior in high school from Monroe, New York, whose wonderful blog describes his evolution as a young musician, from a resistant child, through periods of experimentation and transformation, to a thoughtful young adult who appreciates many kinds of music, especially classical.
Celebrate Classical Music produced a wealth of beautiful and thoughtful blogs. I have listed them all below, with a a link and my favorite quotes or ideas from each blog. If you ever want to convince a friend, or a student, or a symphony board member, or anyone else, about the merits of classical music, here are many ideas to help you!
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Christian Vachon is from Ottawa, Canada.
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Mendy Smith is from League City, Texas.
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Rupert Kirby is from Lynton, North Devon, United Kingdom.
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James Holmes is from Connecticut.
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Sam Rubin is from New York.
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Bronwyn Edwards is from Williamstown, Australia.
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Laurie Niles, Editor and Founder of Violinist.com, is from Pasadena, California.
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Kendra Jacque is from Makkovik, Canada
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John Saunders is from New Orleans, Louisiana.
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Joseph Howell is from Conroe, Texas.
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GUEST BLOG: Adam DeGraff of The Dueling Fiddlers
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Jim Hastings is from Huntsville, Alabama.
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Karen Allendoerfer is from Belmont, Massachusetts.
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Azucena Pintado is from Toulouse, France.
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GUEST BLOG: Philippe Quint:
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Karis Crawford is from Ada, Michigan.
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Ingrid Popp is from St. Louis, Missouri.
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GUEST BLOG: Hilary Hahn
Real life, over the past 48 hours, has reminded me about the power of music and art.
Friday morning, my teenage daughter awoke with an ache in her stomach so bad she could barely walk. She's had a bit of pain all week, but this was something far worse. We took her to the doctor, and after a morning of uncomfortable medical tests, the results pointed to appendicitis -- and imminent surgery for her. Remembering my sister's burst appendix in childhood and her hellish recovery, I understood all too well that you don't mess with appendicitis, and you don't wait for it to worsen. But that didn't help my daughter feel any better.
We couldn't console her, and everything the surgeon at the hospital said just made things scarier and worse. He explained procedures that involved needles and knives, dangers, possible complications -- all in unvarnished detail. Suddenly we were being admitted to the hospital's pediatric ward and moved to a room for more tests. Our anxiety rose.
We sat despondently, already tired from our day, and knowing we had much, much more to face. At this point, a stream of beautiful sounds surprised us. What was that? I peeked out the door. A big, beautiful harp sat in the hall, a woman playing it. I can say with certainty, this would not have felt the same, piped over speakers as background music. A real, live person had brought her enormous harp to the fourth floor of the hospital, and her well-trained fingers strummed and plucked away, all with the intent of pacifying people in distress. Each note sprang so clearly from a vibrating string; it was so present. And it worked. We grinned at each other when we started to recognize the tunes forming in the ether: Feed the Birds from Mary Poppins; Scales and Arpeggios from the Aristocats; Winnie the Pooh… Play any song on the harp, and it sounds sophisticated and heavenly, no matter what its origin!
The music changed the hospital atmosphere completely, from a worried bustle to beauty and peace. We breathed easier -- for a while.
Because a number of hours later, our daughter was in surgery, and we had several hours to pass before we would see her. Having neglected to eat all day, I realized I was hungry, and my son accompanied me to the cafeteria. Choosing where we would sit, we noticed some outdoor seating and headed toward the door. We found a beautiful courtyard, with flowers, fountains and foliage. We sat in the midst of it. I wondered, who made this garden? Who raised money, who decided it was important enough to have this here?
Because it is. It's incredibly important to have this here. All these things helped us immeasurably; they gave us strength and courage. How can anyone fail to see that the arts heal us, help us, even save us?
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She is still recovering in the hospital but definitely on the mend. So many people have sent us their thoughts and prayers -- thanks to all of you!
More entries: August 2012
Enter to win Leonidas Kavakos' recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto.
Laurie Niles is from Pasadena, California. Biography
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