Audio Backpack: Kid Tested, Teacher Approved

Eric Peacock/Flickr Creative Commons
Eric Peacock/Flickr Creative Commons

Classical Minnesota Public Radio’s Audio Backpack is one of my favorite teaching resources in my elementary general music classes. Exposing my students to high-quality recordings is important, and Audio Backpack is a convenient and easy-to-use source of classical music audio clips. The carefully-chosen clips illustrate specific concepts and styles, and they’re short enough (most of them around 30 seconds) to keep even the youngest students’ attention. The clips are organized into playlists by an MPR curator, but anyone who makes a free account can create playlists from the growing collection of clips. Audio Backpack is a versatile tool that can enhance learning in any music classroom and save valuable teacher prep time.

Welcoming Music: Help students get into a musical mindset by playing a recording as they enter the classroom. Audio Backpack has a wide variety of classical music, so it’s usually easy to find a clip that corresponds to concepts that will be covered in class. Depending on the size of your classes and the set-up of your room, the half-minute clips could also be used as a timer to get students to their seats before the music stops.

Entry/Exit Tickets: Entry and exit tickets are very short exercises at the beginning or end of a class period. They can be used to focus students’ attention on a topic to be covered, help them remember previous learning, or assess at the end of a class period what they’ve just learned. Audio Backpack clips are perfect for this! Provide a question for students to consider while they listen, such as “What instruments do you hear?”, “What tempo is this music?”, “Who is the composer of this piece?”, or “What do you think this piece of music is about?” For older students, this could be a writing activity, but for students of any age, directed listening can be a wonderful discussion starter.

Identifying Instruments: A favorite activity in my kindergarten and first grade classes is “Mystery Instrument.” I created a playlist of clips featuring solo instruments, and I play one clip each day. Students determine what the instrument is from the sound and identify its family. We talk about how the instrument produces sound, look at pictures of it, and pretend to play along with the recordings.

Music Theory Concepts: There are a number of Audio Backpack playlists that organize clips by music theory concepts, such as steady beat, tempo, and major and minor. Musical examples help students understand theory, and Audio Backpack makes it easy to access the sections of pieces that illustrate particular concepts.

Composers: Audio Backpack contains clips from the Renaissance through modern times that are great for enriching lessons about composers. Search for a clip by a composer’s name, or use the playlists of works by particular composers. Also check out the playlists of women composers, African-American composers, and young composers.

Performance Techniques: Hearing an instrumental technique can help students better perform that technique. Orchestra and band teachers might be particularly interested in the playlists that demonstrate different techniques, such as arco vs. pizzicato, muted vs. open, and extended techniques.

Listening Quizzes: Being able to create my own playlists has saved me a lot of time in preparing listening quizzes for my students. The clips are a good length for this purpose, well-chosen to illustrate specific concepts that need to be assessed, and can be arranged in any order in playlists.

I’ve enjoyed using MPR’s Audio Backpack to enhance and streamline my teaching of kindergarten through third grade music classes in a variety of ways this school year. I use more recordings in class and spend less time preparing to use them. It makes my life easier, and my students love listening to the clips!

‘Living on Love,’ play starring Renee Fleming, disappoints on Broadway

Renee Fleming

After fewer than 40 performances, the Broadway play Living On Love, starring renowned soprano Renee Fleming as a singer who’s in a troubled marriage with a conductor, will close on May 3.

Billboard notes that last week the play only made about 16% of the possible revenue it could have made if fully sold-out, and that its failure to earn a Tony nomination may have been the final straw for the play, written by Tony-winner Joe DiPietro and co-starring Anna Chulumsky (VeepMy Girl).

Photo courtesy Decca Records

BAFTA honors go to ‘Penny Dreadful’ and ‘Sherlock’


The 2015 British Academy Awards were bestowed by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) on Sunday night. The BAFTA awards are a celebration of film and television on the scale of our own Academy Awards; many believe they have an even more acute eye (and ear) for quality.

Of the many honors bestowed came three for Showtime’s Penny Dreadful in Production Design, Makeup and Hair Design, and a Best Original Music award for Abel Korzeniowski. I spoke with Korzeniowski last year about the incredible richness and experimentation of his classically-inspired score for the show’s first season. The BAFTA honor is a well-earned reward and comes just in time for the show’s second season premiere this Sunday on Showtime, which the network will be offering for free.

In addition to Penny Dreadful, fan favorite Sherlock (above) took home awards for Sound and Editing. I spoke with the composers David Arnold and Michael Price of Sherlock last year and learned how vital their work is to the show’s success. While the award may not be a win for the composers personally, it’s a great success regardless that reflects the creativity and hard work put in by the show’s entire creative team.

On the Air This Week

Highlights from April 28 to May 5

Tuesday, 7:15 am: School Spotlight: The St. Michael – Albertville High School Concert Choir.
Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: Sara Lien Edelman, public relations specialist.
Tuesday, 7:15 pm: School Spotlight: The St. Michael – Albertville High School Concert Choir.
Thursday, 3:15 pm: Regional Spotlight: Two finalists from the Fargo-Moorhead Young Artist Solo Competition.
Friday, 8 pm: Minnesota Orchestra: Copland’s clarinet concerto, with guest soloist Burt Hara.
Saturday, noon: The Metropolitan Opera: Verdi’s A Masked Ball.
Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Midwestern Marvelous.
Sunday, noon: From the Top.
Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: An all-Russian program from the Russian National Orchestra.
Monday, noon: Learning to Listen.
Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Handel, Prokofiev, and Beethoven.
Tuesday, 7:15 am: Teacher Feature.
Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: composers Libby Larsen and Carol Barnett.
Tuesday, 7:15 pm: Teacher Feature.
Tuesday, 8 pm: Light and Gold: The Music of Eric Whitacre.

Click on Classical: Video game music, Mahler on Earth Day, and graphic coughing at the Ordway

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 8.18.33 AM

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

In Emily Reese’s Top Score podcast, you can learn every week about the dynamic world of video game music. Last week, Garrett Tiedemann interviewed composer Paul Leonard-Morgan, who gave a fascinating look at how musical tension is built in an interactive environment.
We celebrated Earth Day last week, and in honor of the day, Taylor Brorby wrote about Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, his “Song of the Earth.” Mahler’s masterpiece, writes Brorby, “bears witness to the complexity of the world, of how art can inspire new ideas, new changes of mind in our collective imagination.”
Acclaimed violinist Hilary Hahn recently performed at the Ordway in St. Paul, and afterwards her violin case tweeted about hearing some “graphic coughing” in the audience​. Yikes!

Taking Scriabin apart… and putting him back together again

Charlie McCarron (Jason P. Schumacher)
Charlie McCarron (Jason P. Schumacher)

Since early 2013, Minnesota composer/producer Charlie McCarron has been producing a weekly podcast called “Composer Quest” which centers around composers and songwriters speaking about their work. Every two months, he challenges composers around the world to complete unique, often challenging (but always fun) composing “quests,” resulting in nearly 200 new compositions.

Over the past year, quests have included composing spooky music for Halloween, string quartet music inspired by autumn, and a challenge to write music for four-hands piano in honor of “Star Wars Day” (May the 4th be with you).

For his most recent quest, he invited composers to record one measure of Scriabin’s Prelude in A Minor, Op. 11, No.2. Charlie then gathered all the recordings and stitched them together to form a “sound quilt” of sorts. You can hear the final result below — 68 uniquely-produced measures, in which you’ll hear brass, synthesizers, strings, wine glasses, accordion, guitars, and much more.

Local rockers raise money for music education

Lori Barbero of Babes in Toyland (Billy Briggs/MPR)
Lori Barbero of Babes in Toyland (Billy Briggs/MPR)

The Minnesota Music Cafe has donated their venue to host “Best of Minnesota” — a rock music festival to raise funds for music education.

The concert is hosted by the School of Rock, and takes place this coming Saturday, April 25th, from noon to 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for ages five and up.

A number of local musicians will be performing in the event, including Lori Barbero (Babes in Toyland), Claudio Rivera (Motion City Soundtrack), and The Current’s own Sean McPherson (Heiruspecs).

Stacey Marmolejo (School of Rock Twin Cities Franchise Owner) says:

“This family-friendly, all ages event shines the spotlight on both the need for music education funding and the benefit of music education as 60 youth musicians and 10 professional musicians perform 6-1/2 hours of music created by Minnesota musicians.”

Proceeds from the event will go to Rock School Scholarship, and PACER’s Bullying Prevention Center. Tickets can be purchased at BestofMN.

Here is a clip of School of Rock kids in action, performing at the Progressive Motorcycle Show in Minneapolis, earlier this year:

On the Air This Week

On the Air This Week

Highlights from April 21 to 28

Tuesday, 7:15 am: Teacher Feature: Jeremy Rockford, Director of Bands at White Bear Lake North Campus H.S. in White Bear Lake, MN.
Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: electrician Jim Zieba.
Tuesday, 7:15 pm: Teacher Feature: Jeremy Rockford, Director of Bands at White Bear Lake North Campus H.S. in White Bear Lake, MN.
Wednesday, 8 pm: Minnesota Opera: Arabella.
Thursday, 3:15 pm: Regional Spotlight: The Minnesota Sinfonia, from the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis.
Friday, 8 pm: Minnesota Orchestra: Rachmaninoff’s 3rd piano concerto, with pianist Simon Trpceski.
Saturday, noon: The Metropolitan Opera: Cavalleria Rusticana, by Mascagni, and Pagliacci, by Leoncavallo.
Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Toccatas, Again.
Sunday, noon: From the Top.
Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra plays Beethoven and Mahler.
Monday, noon: Learning to Listen: Handel’s Coronation Anthems.
Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Peter Lieberson’s Neruda Songs, and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.
Tuesday, 7:30 am: School Spotlight: The St. Michael – Albertville High School Concert Choir.
Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans.
Tuesday, 7:30 pm: St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir of London, live from the Cathedral of St. Paul, Minn.

A piano twist on the Doctor Who theme

Pianist Sonya Belousova (Publicity Photo)
Pianist Sonya Belousova (Publicity Photo)

Player Piano is a YouTube channel that is the result of a collaboration between director Tom Grey and composer/pianist Sonya Belousova. The channel features piano arrangements of popular songs, soundtrack themes, and video game music, paired with highly produced video accompaniment.

In their latest collaboration, they pay tribute to over 50 years of Doctor Who with a piano arrangement of the show’s iconic theme — performed on a beautiful TARDIS-blue piano in the midst of 12 costume changes (paying tribute to each of the show’s 12 Doctors).

See the video below. And for more of their arrangements, subscribe to their YouTube channel.


Hilary Hahn’s violin case hears ‘graphic coughing’ in St. Paul

Hilary Hahn violin

One of the most popular Twitter accounts in classical music is that ostensibly run by Hilary Hahn’s violin case. After Hahn’s recital last Wednesday at the Ordway, WQXR noticed, her instrument insulation shared some candid comments about what seems to have been an unusual amount of hacking from the crowd.

Despite largely supportive responses, the case then clarified that “Hilary didn’t mind the coughing” and issued a self-deprecating response to a fan who asked why.

In the end, all feathers were smoothed, and the case—so to speak—was closed.

Hilary Hahn will co-host Performance Today on May 7, sharing some of her favorite recordings.

Publicity photo by Michael Patrick O’Leary