On the Air This Week

On the Air This Week

Highlights from March 31 to April 7

Tuesday, 7:30 am: School Spotlight: Kristianstad Harp Ensemble, of Sweden.
Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: retired business manager Mark Scannell.
Tuesday, 7:30 pm: School Spotlight: Kristianstad Harp Ensemble, of Sweden.
Tuesday, 8 pm: Archive on the Radio: guitarist Jeffrey Van, part one.
Thursday, 3:15 pm: Regional Spotlight: The South Dakota Chorale sings Bach.
Friday, 10 am: Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.
Friday, 8 pm: Minnesota Orchestra: Vaughan Williams and Messiaen.
Saturday, noon: The Metropolitan Opera: Verdi’s Ernani.
Saturday, 4 pm: A Musical Feast for Passover with Itzhak Perlman.
Sunday, 6 am:  Pipedreams: Music for Easter.
Sunday, noon: Handel’s Messiah, with the Minnesota Orchestra.
Monday, noon:  Learning to Listen: Psalms.
Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Korngold.
Tuesday, 7:15 am: Teacher Feature.
Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans.
Tuesday, 7:15 pm: Teacher Feature.
Tuesday, 8 pm: Archive on the Radio: guitarist Jeffrey Van, part two.

Classical music helps Portuguese cats get peacefully spayed


There’s a veterinary clinic called Handel with Care, but it turns out that Dr. Eugene Handel of Derry, New Hampshire isn’t the only person with that surname to have a special way with household pets. Portuguese veterinarian Miguel Carreira has discovered that “most cats like classical music, particularly George Handel compositions.”

Because Dr. Carreira and his colleagues are scientists, they didn’t rely on a simple hunch: they put tiny little cat headphones on a dozen female cats and played different music for the cats while they were going under for the kind of surgery that you wake up from and then don’t have to worry about having kittens any more.

The results? “Most individuals exhibited lower values for RR and PD when exposed to CM, intermediate values to PM and higher values to HM.” That’s how the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery says that classical music (“CM”) calms cats, while pop music (“PM”) has neutral effects—and heavy metal (“HM”) creates the opposite of calm.

Perhaps surmising that the “Hallelujah” chorus wasn’t what his furry patients needed at that sensitive moment, Carreira didn’t use Handel for the study; instead, he used Barber’s Adagio for Strings. For pop music, the researchers selected Natalie Imbruglia’s 1997 hit “Torn.”

This all supports what we—and Dr. Carreira—had intuited about the calming effects of classical music, but you have to feel for those poor Portuguese cats who had to go under the knife while wearing headphones blaring AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”

Photo: A cat is gently restrained, without benefit of music, during rescue training for firefighters in Minneapolis. Photo by Greta Cunningham/MPR.

Bringing a piano back to life

Piano in need of repair
Piano in need of repair (Jeramey Jannene – Creative Commons)
A piano rescued from a bombed-out concert hall is Gaza is restored, providing people with music and hope.

BBC News reporter Tim Whewell didn’t expect to find much. When he entered the formerly luxurious Nawras Theatre in Gaza, he “gasped at the scale of destruction.”

Nawras Theatre, not long ago restored to grandeur, was strewn with wiring and rubble, the twisted metal that provided the ceiling’s skeleton now dangling purposelessly above cushy, red-velvet seats laden with dust and dirt. War had rendered the hall useless.

In the midst of all this destruction stood a grand piano; this was what Whewell had come to see. He was reporting on the work of piano-restoration expert Claire Bertrand, who had come from France to put the piano back in working order. Whewell describes the project:

The restoration project was organised by Music Fund and financed by the conductor and piano virtuoso Daniel Barenboim, who gave a concert in Gaza four years ago. “Gaza is not only rockets and missiles and angry people,” Barenboim tells me. “The fact that the grand piano will be there — and restored and playable — will give the Gazans the possibility, as soon as life permits it, to have some kind of cultural activities … They need to hear really good music.”

For the restorer, Claire Bertrand, who volunteered to come to Gaza on her first foreign assignment, it was a big job.

Whewell explains that Bertrand’s restoration efforts required the replacement of all 230 strings, and all 88 hammers and felts.

Now restored, the piano has been moved to an adjacent music school, where it has already been used in recital by the students there. Khamis Abu Shaaban, the administrator of Gaza’s music school, is pleased the piano is being used once again. “It hasn’t been used because there were no musicians to play on it,” Abu Shabaan told Whewell. “But now we are going to teach a new whole generation.”

Below is Whewell’s video documentary about the project; you can also read Whewell’s complete story, view more photos and listen to Whewell’s radio documentary about the pianos of Gaza.

Click on Classical: Naxos opens Pandora’s box, synth-heavy horror, and hosts’ stories

Naxos CDs

Every Monday morning at 9:15, I visit the Classical MPR studio to talk about stories we’re featuring on our website. Here are the stories Alison Young and I will be discussing this morning.

The budget classical label Naxos has struck a deal to make its entire catalog available via the streaming service Pandora—a deal that’s raised questions among musicians’ advocates who want to ensure that performers are being fairly paid. In a statement released this week, Naxos insisted the deal with Pandora will in fact benefit musicians.
It Follows​ is shaping up to be the year’s surprise horror hit. Garrett Tiedemann talked with Disasterpeace, the composer of the synth-heavy—and deliberately unsubtle—score for the movie about teens stalked by a supernatural evil.
Last week was Member Appreciation Week here at MPR, and we asked two of our hosts to tell our members about how they got their starts in radio. Read about Lynne Warfel’s journey from the silver screen to the Silver City (that would be St. Paul), and how a flyer on a pegboard in Nebraska sparked Emily Reese’s radio career​.

On the Air this Week

Highlights from March 24 to 31

Tuesday, 7:15 am: Teacher Feature:  Patricia Kelly, of Folwell Performing Arts Magnet, Minneapolis.
Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: composer Gary Rue.
Tuesday, 7:15 pm: Teacher Feature: Patricia Kelly, of Folwell Performing Arts Magnet, Minneapolis.
Thursday, 3 pm: Regional Spotlight: The American Spiritual Ensemble, from Central Presbyterian Church in St. Paul.
Saturday, 11 am: The Metropolitan Opera: Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.
Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: The Stations of the Cross.
Sunday, noon: From the Top.
Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: Haydn and Schubert, performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Monday, noon: Learning to Listen.
Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Tuesday, 7:15 am: School Spotlight: Kristianstad Harp Ensemble.
Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans.
Tuesday, 7:15 pm: School Spotlight: Kristianstad Harp Ensemble.
Tuesday, 8 pm: Archive on the Radio: guitarist Jeffrey Van, Part One

Eight-year-old violinist wins international competition

Eight-year-old violinist Leia Zhu (publicity photo)
Eight-year-old violinist Leia Zhu (publicity photo)

Eight-year-old violinist Leia Zhu was recently named the winner of the 2015 International Competition “Young Virtuosos” in Sofia, Bulgaria — the youngest ever to do so.

She won the violin category (which included young performers up to age 11) with performances of Vladigerov’s Fairy Tale, Manuel de Falla’s Spanish Dance, and Wieniawski’s “Concerto no. 2,” which you can watch in the video below.

Her young career has taken off since receiving her first violin at the age of three and a half. She made her solo debut at age four in the Last Night of the Proms (in front of an audience of thousands), and since then has won numerous awards and competitions, as well as touring Europe as a soloist.

Click on Classical: ‘Carousel’ reconsidered, ‘Blurred Lines’ and Vivaldi, Nico Muhly sells out


Every Monday morning at 9:15, I visit the Classical MPR studio to discuss stories we’re featuring on our website. Here are the stories Melissa Ousley and I will be talking about today.

This weekend the Minnesota Orchestra presented a semi-staged production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. I saw the show—which was actually my first time seeing Carousel​ at all. I was surprised at how thorny the ostensibly cheery musical turned out to be.

Many classical musicians have probably tried their hardest to remain blissfully ignorant of the ongoing legal fiasco between Marvin Gaye’s heirs and the writers of the hit song “Blurred Lines.” It may be, though, that classical musicians have even more at stake in the case than pop stars do.

How much do you think it would cost to commission an original composition by Nico Muhly, one of the most acclaimed composers of his generation? How does $150 sound?​

Why ‘Carousel’ makes many think of soccer

Shankly Gates
The Shankly Gates at Anfield, the home ground of Liverpool FC, feature “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (Andy Nugent)

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Carousel’, which the Minnesota Orchestra will perform this weekend, contains a song that stirs passion in the hearts of soccer fans far and wide.

When the Minnesota Orchestra performs Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel this weekend, it’s fair to say many in attendance won’t be aware of Carousel’s soccer connections. And this Sunday afternoon in the North West of England, when Liverpool kick off against Manchester United, many of the Liverpool fans singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” may not be aware of the song’s Rodgers and Hammerstein roots.

Let’s call it a nil-nil draw.

In the second act of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, Nettie Fowler sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, and the song is reprised in the final scene.

Rodgers and Hammerstein released their musical in 1945. Fast-forward to the early 1960s, and a Liverpool band (no, not that one), Gerry and the Pacemakers, released a cover version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Although the song failed to chart in the U.S., it became a number-one hit in the U.K. for 1963.

It didn’t take long for fans to begin singing along with the recorded track at Anfield, the home stadium of Liverpool FC. “With the whole Merseybeat thing happening, and all these incredible songs coming out of Liverpool, it was inevitable that people would want to sing along with the local bands,” says MPR News Arts Reporter Euan Kerr. “And ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ by Gerry and the Pacemakers took off.”

The song has remained the anthem for Liverpool fans ever since. Such is the embrace of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at Liverpool that the phrase is incorporated into the team’s crest and is hewn in iron above the Shankly Gates at Anfield.

“You’ll Never Walk Alone” has so much emotion and appeal, it’s also become the anthem for fans of Glasgow’s Celtic FC, as well as by the supporters of other clubs on mainland Europe.

So why the enduring power of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”?

“The whole question of community is really, really important to soccer supporters in the U.K., and in Europe,” Kerr says. “There’s a marvelous thing about belonging, and the song really underlines that and brings people together.”

Although the precision and beauty of an onstage performance of the song by trained singers cannot be understated, there is an unmatched power that is achieved by a stadium filled with passionate fans.

“Imagine 50,000 people singing in unison,” Kerr says. “It lifts you off your feet. It is just remarkable. The power of a huge crowd singing together cannot be underestimated. And it is a magical experience.”

The curiously elusive date of Bach’s birthday

painting of JS Bach
Painting of JS Bach (photo by Guido Bergmann).
In recent years, the question has been raised about Bach’s birthday, and the calendar in effect at that time. Some posit that because of the shift from use of the old Julian calendar to the new Georgian calendar (in present use) the actual birthdate is March 31.

To help me out of my confusion, I wrote to Bach scholar and Harvard University professor Christoph Wolff:

I understand that recent reevaluations of the calendar have moved Bach’s birthday to March 31. This, of course, messes up our long-enjoyed belief that his birthday and the spring equinox more or less coincide. Is it inappropriate to celebrated the birthday on 3/21 these days, and should one now observe the ‘new’ 3/31 anniversary? Or do traditions die hard? Always curious.
Michael Barone

And I received this cordial reply:

Dear Michael,
Moving Bach’s birthday is absolutely ridiculous. True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700 — but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid. My Bach book discusses the situation a bit in conjunction with the trip to Lüneburg. Hold on to March 21, and feel good about it!

So we’ll continue to enjoy Bach’s birthday on March 21. Happy birthday, J.S.!

Teaching Science in Music Class

800px-Guitar_fretboard_closeupScience and music are related in both obvious and unexpected ways. Finding the intersections between these subjects presents opportunities for fun, hands-on, cross-curricular lessons. Here are a few ideas to incorporate science into your music curriculum, while addressing the standards in both subjects. I focus on the primary grades here, but take a look at the Minnesota Academic Standards in Science to find ways to support science learning in any level music class.

Exploring the Physics of Sound Using Musical Instruments

The physics of sound (MN Science Standard are taught in third grade. Properties of vibration, frequency, amplitude, and more can be demonstrated and explored using musical instruments, while simultaneously teaching students about how instruments are categorized into families according to how they produce sound.

— Show students the sound-causing vibrations visible on a drum head or a string.
— Examine the many different ways in which instruments produce vibrations – by plucking or bowing a string, buzzing the lips in a mouthpiece, vibrating a reed, fluctuating the direction of an airstream hitting an edge, hitting a surface, scraping an object, etc.
— Explore the frequency of sound waves through the manipulation of variables of a string, such as length (fingering), tension (tuning), and mass density (thicker low strings).
— Demonstrate the overtone series and its relationship to frequency of a soundwave using string and/or wind instruments.
— Describe amplitude of sound waves in terms of dynamics.

Teaching sound science is also an excellent way to introduce young students to a wide variety of instruments before they begin choosing instruments for school ensembles!

Learning Engineering Principles by Designing Musical Instruments

The “Principles of Engineering” standards for second graders involve identifying a need and constructing an object that meets that need, while making decisions about the types of materials to use (MN Science Standards and Designing and building new instruments is an engaging way to address this science standard in music class.

— Begin by categorizing instruments the students know by the materials they are made of. How can the sound of the instruments in each category be generalized (e.g. metal instruments sound bright or “jingly”)?
— Have students imagine the sound they would like their instrument to make. What materials would be best at producing that particular sound?
— Provide a variety of building materials. These could be as simple as rocks, paper clips, rubber bands, sticks, straws, paper cups, shoe boxes, and anything else that could produce a sound.
— After the students have built and demonstrated their instruments, invite them to reflect on their creation. How can the instrument’s sound be described in musical terms? Does the instrument produce the sound they intended? How might the use of different materials have affected the sound?

For older grades, you might guide your students to invent instruments to accompany a particular song or piece of music, taking into consideration the style, mood, lyrics, and/or instrumentation of that music.

Describing Characteristics of Animals through Development of Aural Skills

Kindergarten and first grade life science standards focus on observing, comparing, and describing animals in a variety of ways (MN Science Standards and Listening to the sounds of animals in the context of music class can train students to aurally recognize multiple characteristics of sounds, both musical and non-musical. Try a “sound scavenger hunt” to hone students’ listening skills. This is a fun activity to do when the weather is warm enough to go outside!

— Guide students in creating a list of sounds that they would expect to hear outside. For a focus on the life science standards, limit the list to only include animal sounds.
— Send each student to sit quietly, away from other students, to listen to their environment for the sounds on the list.
— Have students describe each sound that they “collect” using musical terms, such as piano or forte, high or low, and short or long.
— After the scavenger hunt, discuss which sounds were heard. Were there any surprises? How were the sounds similar to music?

The more ways in which we can guide our students to see the connections between music and other subjects, the more ways they will find to engage in music beyond our classrooms. Bringing science into the music room can spark ideas for hands-on, exploratory activities that will foster a spirit of experimentation and creativity in both subjects.