Violin of the Future?


On the heels of the announcement of ‘the birth of a new grand piano’ from world-renowned Hungarian pianist/innovator Gergely Bogányi, a Miami-based studio has come up with a new, beautifully bizarre design for a violin.

Monad Studio — artists Eric Goldemberg and Veronica Zalcberg — and musician Scott F. Hall have created a violin that seems to be more like something you might see used as a weapon in a futuristic sci-fi film or video game than in a concert hall. The instrument uses only two strings, and its interactive surface allows performers to create various timbres and textures through the use of a computer.

The violin will be on display as part of the 3D Print Design Show in New York City, this coming April.


Michael Barone on Bach, Stokowski, and ‘Fantasia’


In commemoration of Fantasia‘s 75th anniversary, I’m writing about the various segments of Disney’s animated masterpiece. When I set out to write about the opening segment, J.S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, I asked Pipedreams host Michael Barone if he had any thoughts on the piece—originally written for organ. Here’s what Michael shared:

“The Toccata and Fugue in D-minor is the best known and most popular of all organ pieces. From its opening fanfare-like gesture and throughout its demonstrably dramatic and dynamic course, this score has captured the general imagination with a ferocity and consistency unlike any other composition for the pipe organ. Likely because of its dark ‘minor key’ tonality and the phantasmagorical profile of its thematic exposition, it also has taken on ‘sinister overtones’ and become a nearly obligatory presence in spooky Hallowe’en concerts, the ‘theme song’ of The Phantom of the Opera.

“However, the history of this remarkable composition is complicated.  Attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach but first published only in 1833, 83 years after Bach’s death (and eventually catalogued as BWV 565 in the Bach Werk Verzeikniss…the official listing of Bach’s many compositions), the Toccata and Fugue was given its first documented and significant public performance by Felix Mendelssohn in 1840, which event ignited its continued popularity. Yet no autograph score exists, and those copies from which the piece has been derived left enough detail uncertain as to cause some musicologists in recent times to question whether the work really was by Bach after all. Though we may never know with absolute certainty, the majority vote is for Bach’s authorship, a marvelous display of his well-documented youthful zeal and virtuosic technical skill.

“Bach’s style adapts well to transcription, and his popularity has been consistently enhanced by arrangements such as those of the mercurial and innovative conductor Leopold Stokowski.  Remember that Stokey’s career began on the organ bench.  But just as his imagination demanded the greater potential of the orchestral conductor’s podium, his delight in Bach required a tonal palette more expansive than what could be provided by even a large pipe organ.  His Bach orchestrations proved hugely popular with his Philadelphia Orchestra audiences which, along with his history-making experiments in stereophonic recording caught the attention of the emerging master of the animated film, Walt Disney.

“Their collaborative project, the epochal family-friendly cinematic spectacle Fantasia, a visual recasting of classical works by Tchaikovsky, Dukas, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Ponchielli, and Mussorgsky, used as prelude Stokowski’s orchestral arrangement of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. That piece, the film’s opening sequence, almost literally blew people’s minds back in 1940, and it has lost none of its magic through the ensuing years.  Any number of the young and young at heart had their first exposure to Bach in this context, but when they then rushed out to ‘find a recording’ of the Toccata and Fugue, discovered unexpectedly the further magic of Bach on the organ. And so it goes.”

Playing a handmade cello from World War I

To what extent would you go to hear music or to play an instrument you love?

The BBC in Hereford and Worcester recently shared a story that tells one man’s answer to that question. During the privations in the trenches in World War I, army sapper (or combat engineer) Reginald Quelch put his ingenuity to work and fashioned a cello using whatever was to hand — most notable is the oil can used for the cello’s body.

When Quelch passed away, he donated the handmade instrument to the Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum. The cello was recently played by Julia Palmer-Price, who performed “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” — a popular song from the World War I era. BBC Hereford and Worcester posted this video of the performance to its Facebook page.

Julia Palmer-Price plays oilcan cello

(H/T Euan Kerr)

Jóhann Jóhannsson Brings ‘Chaconne’ and ‘Drone Mass’ to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Johan Johannsson

Following the acclaim of his Golden-Globe-winning score for The Theory of Everything, Jóhann Jóhannsson is set to premiere two pieces at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art  on Tuesday, March 17. Uniting with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble and the 2014 Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth; Jóhannsson will perform pieces titled Chaconne, featuring violinist Yuki Numata Resnick; and Drone Mass, which “uses texts based on the Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians.”

Jóhannsson’s art, impressive as it is on record and on screen, is even impressive in a live setting; often, the composer includes an electronic visual media component that shows him to be an experimentalist at heart—a composer who knows how to bridge classical music and a contemporary milieu.

The specific venue for this performance, however, will be anything but contemporary: the Met’s Temple of Dendur. If you’re going, don’t forget the kids! Though adult tickets are $40, kids can come for just $1.

Young percussionists take on Zeppelin

The Louisville Leopard Percussionists are a group of more than 60 young musicians (ages 7 to 14) from different schools in and around Louisville, Kentucky. Founded in 1993, the students study and become proficient on several percussion instruments, including marimba, xylophone, vibraphone, and drum set.

In November of last year, they uploaded a video  to YouTube, and over the last week, the view count for that video has sailed past 1.5 million views — in part, because former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page shared it on his own Facebook page (proclaiming it “too good not to share”).

In the video, the youngsters perform a fiery medley of three classic Zeppelin tunes  — “Immigrant Song,” “The Ocean,” and “Kashmir” (from the album Physical Graffiti, which happens to be celebrating the anniversary of its release, 40 years ago today). See them in action here:

Cappella Romana album hits No. 8 on Billboard charts

Good Friday In Jerusalem
‘Good Friday In Jerusalem’ by Cappella Romana.
Good Friday in Jerusalem — a new CD from the male singers of Portland, Ore., choir Cappella Romana — hit Number 1 three days in a row last week on Amazon’s Hot 100 Classical bestsellers, and the album is now charting on Billboard’s national Classical chart at No. 8.

Sung entirely in Byzantine chant, the recording recreates a Good Friday service as it might have been celebrated in 10th-century Jerusalem. The choir and three cantors trace the Passion narrative with breathtaking solemnity and power. Their mastery of the liturgies’ ancient musical language transports contemporary Western listeners to a vastly different time and place while fathoming the still-familiar accounts of Holy Week.

Good Friday in Jerusalem was produced Classical MPR’s own Steve Barnett, who for two-and-a-half decades served as the chief music producer for the Peabody Award-winning series Saint Paul Sunday. Barnett is a three-time Grammy Award winner for his recordings with Chanticleer and is currently on staff at MPR to preserve and repurpose MPR’s and APM’s deep musical archive.

Click on Classical: Barbershop’s tops, BeethovenFest, and a new soundtrack for boxing

Barbershop quartet

Every Monday morning at 9:15, I join John Birge on Classical MPR to discuss stories we’re featuring on our website. Here are the stories we’ll be talking about today.

When you think of barbershop singing, you might think of straw hats and striped jackets—but there’s a world of variety and a lot of challenge to the genre, explains Emily Michael.

Last night, the Oscar for Best Original Score went to Alexandre Desplat for The Grand Budapest Hotel. Another Oscar-winning composer, Hans Zimmer, is now writing a soundtrack for boxing matches.

People in the Fargo-Moorhead area are celebrating Beethoven this month, with events across the (other) twin cities. Austin Gerth went to a discussion of some of the composer’s “deep cuts,” and got more than he bargained for—including a Beethoven joke​.

Alexandre Desplat’s ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ wins Oscar for Best Original Score

Grand Budapest Hotel

At Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, the Oscar for Best Original Score was presented—by Julie Andrews, no less—to Alexandre Desplat for The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Desplat earned two nominations this year, for Budapest and The Imitation Game. Writing about Desplat’s Budapest score for Classical MPR, Garrett Tiedemann praised the French composer’s “classically-informed flair.”

Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer gives boxing a new soundtrack

Hans Zimmer boxing

Hans Zimmer can now add Premier Boxing Champions to his list of credits. Tapping the Oscar-winning composer—arguably the most influential film composer working today—makes sense as live sporting events begin to turn more narrative, modeling the storytelling tricks of cinema and television to capture audiences’ interest.

A video shows Zimmer at a boxing gym in California, recording percussion with musicians from the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, and the London Philharmonic. Listening closely to the sound of boxing allowed Zimmer to craft music that fits well with the sport’s soundscape—rather than just floating above or rumbling below.

With Hans Zimmer this year, and Brian Tyler last year for the NFL, the best film and TV composers are increasingly being drawn into the world of sports. Whether this is good or bad is hard to say, but it is at the very least interesting, demonstrating that sports producers understand the importance of keeping score.

Making the Mundane Musical

As any teacher can attest, a portion of every day is taken up by the mundane, but necessary, tasks that keep a classroom running smoothly. Seating arrangements, grouping procedures, behavior management, and structuring lessons may not teach content, but are essential to creating a learning environment in which content can be taught.

Clear procedures are essential at any grade level. However, I am very aware of how much of my short, 25-minute general music class periods can be taken up by these necessities — especially when establishing expectations at the beginning of a school year — and how the time I have to teach music is reduced as a result. Therefore, my goal is to make every possible element of my classroom management into a lesson about music.

  • Orchestral seating arrangements: At my school, general music classes and the bands share the same classroom. With no time between classes, changing the arrangement of chairs is not an option, despite the band set-up not being ideal for my primary-level students.However, sitting in chairs arranged for an ensemble creates a teachable moment. When my students are assigned new seats, they are handed a card with a picture of an instrument on it. They use what they’ve learned about the arrangement of an orchestra to find their “sections.” This makes it easy to set up group work or to assess performance in groups of different sizes­–for small groups (around 4 students), we use specific sections like “2nd violins”; for larger groups (about half of a class), we use instrument families, like “strings.”

Orchestral Seating Cards

  • Musical roles in cooperative learning groups: Clearly defined roles are essential in cooperative learning groups. My students’ role assignments teach them about the variety of careers and roles in the field of music. For a recent third grade project in which groups created an instrumental accompaniment, an orchestrator chose instruments, a director assigned parts to group members, and a librarian collected and put away materials.
  • Rhythmic behavior management: I aim to create an ensemble attitude in my classes. The whole class works toward common goals, whether those are musical goals or rewards for positive behavior. In each class period, I randomly select a few students to have the opportunity to earn a quarter note (a point) for the class if they are demonstrating positive behavior when they are selected. Students put quarter notes into their class pocket on a bulletin board, and are able to trade them in for larger rhythmic denominations, working toward a certain number of whole notes. Reaching the whole note goal earns a whole-class reward.

Rhythmic Behavior Management

  • Programmatic lesson structure: I like to structure my lessons as if my students were attending a concert. When they come into the room, they see the day’s plan written out as the “program.” The class begins with an “overture,” which is usually a very short written assignment, similar to an entry slip, which assesses previous learning and connects to what the students will be encountering in class that day. The class period is divided into “acts” (learning segments or activities). At the end of the period, a “coda” summarizes and concludes the lesson.

Many elementary music teachers feel that they never have enough teaching time. By infusing content into everything that takes place in a music classroom, we can get more out of the time we have with our students.