Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Free Concert Webcast: Beethoven’s Ninth and Bob Dylan Reimagined

Tonight, May 19, 2017 at 8PM EDT (GMT -5), the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present a free webcast.  The program will feature Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and John Corigliano’s Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan.

Corigliano has set Bob Dylan’s words to music that is very different from the original recordings.  You can read more about the song cycle here on the composer’s website.  Those interested in a more detailed musical analysis of the work can find one at the link.

You can see the concert at http://www.dso.org/live.


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Haiku Wednesday: Bach’s Ukulele-Piano Duet

Bach in Hawaiian shirt photobombs picture of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig

Bach photobombs tourist’s picture of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig

What would Bach do if
He had a ukulele?
I picture the scene:

We see him scowling,
As he does in his portraits,
Unwrapping a box.

Carefully, he lifts
The lid, and peering inside,
Smiles, then roars, laughing.

The kids all gather
As he gleefully extracts
His new tiny lute.

And, of course, he then
Plays it instantly and well,
Playing his own tune.

A kid brings a bow
As he sees what it can do,
Thinking what he’ll do.

And as the kids leave,
He sits at his desk. With quill
In hand, he begins…

A friend of mine got a ukulele for Christmas.  We were talking about the availability of music, and joking, said there were no ukulele and piano duets.

We were picturing a ukulele trying to contend with a concert grand, figuring that, short of amplifying the ukulele or alternating solos, it would be an exercise in futility.  A clavichord, maybe, they were known for being whisper soft.  But a piano?  It’s a classic(al) David and Goliath story.

Of course, I couldn’t leave it alone.

The easiest way to make it happen was to borrow from Bach.  So I borrowed the Minuet in G Major (BWV Anh. 114) from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach.  As it turns out, it is now believed that Bach borrowed this little ditty from Christian Petzold.

Those of a certain age will remember hearing it popularized as the song “How Gentle is the Rain?” or “A Lover’s Concerto”.  I transposed it from G major to C major to make it easier for the ukulele to play.  Then, I tried to figure out how to integrate a piano without overwhelming the ukulele, while allowing them each to have their moments to shine.

No matter what, the pianist will need to use restraint (and the soft pedal).  A piano, even the subtlest piano, can easily overpower the ukulele.  But balance can be achieved, and it’s fun!

Here’s what it sounds like.  Warning: if you use the link rather than the player displayed on this page, you may hear unrelated music afterward.  Can’t prevent it (Soundcloud!).  Hit the pause button (at the bottom of the Soundcloud page).

Here’s what it looks like (below).  Click the image to magnify, or click the following link to view/download/print the Minuet for ukulele and piano as a PDF file.

Sheet music, Minuet for Ukulele and Piano page 1Sheet music, Minuet for ukulele and piano, page 2

If you’re a ukulele player (ukulelist?), give it a try and let me know how it turns out!

_____

Image attribution: Photograph of Leipzig Thomaskirche by Tuxyso / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thomaskirche_Leipzig_Westseite_2013.jpg.  Vintage Hawaiian shirt by Omaopio (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AVintage_aloha_shirt.JPG. Portrait of Bach by Elias Gottlob Haussmann [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Johann_Sebastian_Bach.jpg.


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Musical Construction Project Ahead and a Detour Down Memory Lane

Helmeted stick figure holding sign with music note next to a road made of piano keys

I’ve been working on an interesting musical construction project I want to tell you about.  But first, I want to take you on a detour to give you some background.

When I was still in school, I had a Yamaha Electone organ, one of the home organs that were popular in the 1970s.  Here’s a picture from the ad booklet.  Check out those sideburns!  Does this picture scream 70s or what?

Cover of Yamaha E10R booklet

That model is bigger than what you’d normally think of as a “home” model.  I didn’t start out with that one though.

It all started with a little air-driven couple-octave reedy toy organ that was not so much musical as LOUD.  Like a bad accordion hooked up to an air pump.  Not cool.

One Christmas, my father got my mother a fancy (by comparison) Magnus organ with buttons for six of the most popular major and minor chords.  Same principle as the first one, but much more sophisticated (wow! volume control!).

Child playing a Magnus chord organ

I played it more than my mother did, and soon set up the LOUD keyboard next to the Magnus, and played them both at the same time.  It was time for a model with two keyboards.

So, I graduated to a Yamaha with two short keyboards and an octave of pedals.  Pretty nifty.  There was one problem.

I started running out of keys.

Oddly enough, one of my children ran into the same problem with an electric keyboard I had, which prompted me to buy the Piano That Does 11.

Loudness does seem to be a theme here, doesn’t it?

So, a short time later, my parents traded in the little Yamaha for the big Electone.  But here was the deal:  I could have the Electone, but there would be no lessons.

I worked my way through the home course that was provided, and bumbled my way into reading music and chords and pedaling.  It was wonderful.  It was loud (yeah, I know…).  If I played a certain frequency loud enough, the metal Venetian blinds would rattle. Not optimal concert conditions.  See photo for Venetian blinds.

Person playing a Yamaha Electone organ

When I moved away, the Electone waited for me at home.  My mother polished it every week.

I had planned to get a truck and move it to my current residence.  One day, I switched it on and gave it a whirl (literally—it has a spinning Leslie speaker).  Suddenly, no sound.  An internal fuse had failed.  Once I found out which one to replace (with the help of a technician), I would pop one in whenever this occurred.

Unfortunately, it started occurring regularly.  I couldn’t play for more than a few minutes before it died.  Clearly, there were bigger problems.

I was torn.  I hated to let it go.  It would probably cost too much to fix (if I could find someone to fix it, if it was fixable).  It would cost to move it to my house, and then, how long would it last?

How could I replace it?  I have two keyboards (aside from the Piano That Does 11) at my home.  But pedalboards are expensive.

So I started researching.

I found webpages showing ways to convert old pedalboards so they can be used with modern technology.  Keyboard output can be integrated as well.  There is software called Hauptwerk that has samples of the great organs of the cathedrals of the world that you can use as the voices of your keyboards and pedals.  So I could play one of the great Cavaillé-Coll organs in my own home! And there are no Venetian blinds to rattle!

Which brings me to my construction project.

I brought the pedalboard and bench to my house.  The pedalboard has not been converted yet, but it’s a start.  I’ve already set up my keyboards.

I slid onto the bench, powered up both keyboards, selected voices, balanced the volumes (not too loud), and…magic.  It’s wonderful, and surprising vestiges of what I once played remain in my memory.  But more importantly, my musical world is much larger than it was back then, and I think I see some Bach organ works in my future.

Hmmmm, I wonder if that spinning speaker can be rewired….

 

Here’s one piece I aspire to, Bach’s Fugue in G Major, called the “Gigue” fugue.  The performer, Rob Stefanussen is using Hauptwerk in this video.


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Free Webcast Concert: “Seductive Showpieces” featuring De Falla, Gimenez, Marquez, Bernstein

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

Today, Saturday, May 13, 2017 at 8PM EDT (GMT -5) the Detroit Symphony will present a free concert featuring violinist Alexandra Soumm and conducted by Carlos Miguel Prieto.  Here’s the program.  You can learn more about the works and composers at the links.

Márquez: Danzón No. 2

Bernstein: Serenade (after Plato’s “Symposium”)

De Falla: The Three-Cornered Hat

Gimenez: Intermezzo from La Boda de Luis Alonso


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New in the Digital Audio Guide: Audio formats

Stick figure confused by music note comprised of ones and zeroes

I’ve just published a new page in the Guide to Digital Audio.  This one is called ALAC and Alas! Which Digital Audio Format Should I Pick?  Here you’ll be able to learn about the differences between WAV and mp3, FLAC and ALAC, and what the heck Ogg Vorbis is.  You’ll find an overview of audio file formats, and, if you’re digitizing your music collection of LPs and CDs, help to figure out which format is right for you.

Coming soon will be an overview of music streaming services and more on digitizing huge music libraries.

Not keen on all the flap about FLAC?  I have some music for you, and something that will tie in nicely with the post on digital audio.  Here is Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint: III. Fast.


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The Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin

On Sunday, May 7, 2017, at 3PM EDT (GMT -5), the Detroit Symphony will present a free webcast of The Defiant Requiem, a performance of Verdi’s Requiem that tells the story of the prisoners of the Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp who performed the requiem during World War II. The multimedia performance was created by Murry Sidlin, and includes projections of scenes from propaganda films and testimony from survivors of the concentration camp who performed the requiem. Murry Sidlin will be the guest conductor and will speak during the pre-concert talk that begins at 2PM EDT. Do not miss this powerful presentation. You may see it at http://www.dso.org/live.

You can read more about the Defiant Requiem Foundation here.


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Free On-Demand Viewing of 10 Operas for the European Opera Days Celebration

stick guy singing opera on a television with a viking helmet for an antenna

The Opera Platform will present ten operas as part of the European Opera Days celebration, May 5-14, 2017.  On-demand viewing begins at midnight CET (11PM UTC; 7PM EDT).  Here’s what you can see:

Ginestera: Bomarzo from the Teatro Real Madrid

Bizet: Carmen, two performances, from the Latvian National Opera and the Opéra de Lyon

Vivaldi: Farnace from the Opéra National du Rhin Strasbourg

Janáček: Foxie! Cunning Little Vixen from La Monnaie De Munt Brussels

Rossini: Il Turco in Italia from the Bergen National Opera

Monteverdi: L’incoronazione di Poppea from Opéra de Lille

Charpentier: Médée from Theater Basel

Thordarson (Þórðarson): Ragnheiður

Mozart: The Magic Flute (set in outer space) from Den Norske Opera Oslo

Learn more about European Opera Days and the featured operas here.

See other operas currently available on The Opera Platform here.