Category Archives: Education

Composer Corner: Schumann

Robert Schumann (Joseph Kriehuber/Wikimedia Commons)

June’s composer of the month is Robert Schumann.


Born: June 8, 1810

Died: July 29, 1856


Five facts:

• Schumann’s first known work was a piece for piano, written in 1830.
• In an effort to be a better piano player, he built a device from a cigar box and wire that was meant to strengthen his fingers. Instead, he permanently damaged two fingers on his right hand.
• Schumann married Clara Wieck — also a composer — in 1840.
• The year he and Clara were married was also his most prolific, by far. Most of his known work for solo voice (nearly 168 songs!) was composed between February and December of 1840.
• In 1854, he tried to take his own life, and spent his last two years in an institution.


Three important works:
• Carnaval (1835)
• Dichterliebe (1840)
• Symphony No. 1 in B-flat (1841)


Audio Backpack playlist: Robert Schumann

Composer Corner: Brahms

May’s composer of the month is Johannes Brahms.


Born: May 7, 1833

Died: April 3, 1897


Five facts:

• As a young man, Brahms was required to play piano in area dance halls, inns, and brothels to make money for his family, as they were very poor.
• The composer began writing his First Symphony in 1854, but it wasn’t premiered until November of 1876.
• When Robert Schumann died in 1856, Brahms went to be with Schumann’s wife, Clara. It’s unclear what sort of relationship they had (though apparently, they destroyed a number of letters to each other, possibly hiding any evidence of a romantic relationship). While Brahms was engaged for a short time, he never married.
• Brahms attempted to retire from composing in 1890. It didn’t take. He went on to write a clarinet trio, a clarinet quintet, two clarinet sonatas, a number of song cycles for piano, and the Eleven Chorale Preludes for Organ.
• The last time Brahms appeared in public was March 3, 1897, at a performance of his Fourth Symphony (the piece received a standing ovation after each movement). He died exactly one month later at the age of 63.


Three important works:
• Variations on a Theme by Haydn (1873)
• Symphony No. 3 (1883)
• Clarinet Quintet (1891)


Audio Backpack playlist: Johannes Brahms

Composer Corner: Prokofiev

April’s composer of the month is Sergei Prokofiev.


Born: April 23, 1891

Died: March 5, 1953


Five facts:

• Prokofiev was a child prodigy, composing his first piano piece at age five and his first opera at nine.
• He was an accomplished chess player, beating future world champion José Raúl Capablanca in 1914 (and later defeating fellow composer Maurice Ravel).
• In 1917, he composed his first symphony, the “Classical” Symphony, written (according to Prokofiev) “in the style that Haydn would have used if he had been alive.”
• He wrote Peter and the Wolf for the Moscow Children’s Musical Theater, and did so in less than two weeks.
• Prokofiev died on March 5, 1953, the same day that the death Joseph Stalin was announced. For three days, it was impossible to remove Prokofiev’s body from his home because of the throngs of people gathering to mourn Stalin.


Three important works:
• Symphony No. 1 in D major (1917)
• Piano Concerto No. 3 (1921)
• Peter and the Wolf (1936)


Audio Backpack playlist: Sergei Prokofiev

Minnesota Varsity Alum chosen for National Youth Symphony

Carnegie Hall has announced the roster for the 2017 National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, and Minnesota’s lone representative is 2016 Minnesota Varsity Showcase Artist Anders Peterson of Northfield, Minn.

116 outstanding musicians between ages 16 to 19 have been selected from across the country, and they’ll be performing in Mexico, Ecuador, and Colombia, as well as New York. This Latin American tour will be led by acclaimed conductor Marin Alsop, in a program that features a newly-commissioned work by Gabriela Lena Frank.

“We are thrilled to launch the National Youth Orchestra of the USA’s inaugural tour to Latin America with these young artists serving as remarkable musical ambassadors for the US,” said Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Hall’s Executive and Artistic Director. “The musicians who make up NYO-USA’s 2017 roster are truly among the very best in our country, and we look forward to embarking on another wonderful summer of music-making.”

Here’s a video featuring Peterson from Minnesota Varsity 2016.

Composer Corner: Chopin

March’s composer of the month is Frédéric Chopin.


Born: March 1, 1810

Died: Oct. 17, 1849


Five facts:

• Chopin was already composing at age six, and performed his first concerto at age eight.
• As a child, he would play in the dark, blowing out the candles before sitting down to play. Even later in life, when playing at parties he would often ask that the lights be extinguished.
• When he was 15, Chopin played piano for the Tzar of Russia. The Tzar was so impressed, he gave the young Chopin a diamond ring.
• The pianist/composer arrived in Paris in 1831, never returning to Poland. While he was there he made friends with composers like Liszt, Berlioz, and Mendelssohn.
• Chopin’s body is buried in Paris, but his heart is buried in Warsaw.


Three important works:
• Nocturne No. 2 in E-flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2 (1831)
• Prelude Op. 28, No. 15 in D-flat Major (1838)
• Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 35 (1839)


Audio Backpack playlist: Frédéric Chopin

Eddie Van Halen donates guitars to low-income schools

Eddie Van Halen — widely considered to be one of the greatest guitarists of all time — has donated 75 guitars from his own personal collection to Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, which provides instruments to students in low-income schools.

“My whole life has been music. I could not imagine anything else,” Van Halen told CNN’s John Vause in an interview earlier this week. “Music is the universal language to me. It transcends everything.”

“Our goal is to give kids every tool they can possibly have to succeed. Music is the common denominator,” Foundation president and CEO Felice Mancini added. “You put a kid in a music class and it builds community, communication and they find a place. It’s a safe haven.”

Each year, Mancini’s foundation delivers 1,800 instruments to low-income schools, providing music education to more than 10,000 children.

Watch Van Halen’s interview with CNN below.

Composer Corner: Adams

February’s composer of the month is John Adams.


Born: Feb. 15, 1947


Five facts:

• Adams is widely considered to be the most-performed living American composer.
• Now and then, you can find Adams — a baseball fan — attending an Oakland A’s game.
• His 1985 work Harmonielehre was inspired by a dream of an oil tanker leaving San Francisco Bay, and by a theory-of-harmony book written by Arnold Schoenberg.
• The composer’s Chamber Symphony draws inspiration from Schoenberg, as well as Ren & Stimpy cartoons.
• He won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2003 for his work, On the Transmigration of Souls, which commemorated the attacks of September 11.


Three important works:

• Harmonielehre (1985)
• Short Ride in a Fast Machine (1986)
• Nixon in China (1987)


Audio Backpack playlist: John Adams

$2.5M grant awarded to Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth

It was announced this week that the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has made an unprecedented $2.532 million multi-year grant to the Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth (PMAY) — a consortium of music education organizations serving students all over Greater Philadelphia.

The grant will help prepare the most committed young musicians in the area, ensuring that they possess the necessary skills and talents to excel in conservatory, college, or university settings.

Participating organizations from the PMAY include: Musicopia, Philadelphia Sinfonia, Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, Play On, Philly!, Project 440, School District of Philadelphia Office of Music Education, Settlement Music School, Temple University Music Preparatory Division, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and The Primavera Fund.

In a recent press release, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance President Maud Lyon says, “This is a tremendous example of how our arts organizations make Philadelphia unique. Settlement and the PMAY coalition are breaking new ground in music education, creating an unprecedented collaboration that will have profound impact upon the careers of emerging musicians. This transformative grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is a strategic long-term investment that ensures that talented young musicians, regardless of their resources or background, will have access to the incredible array of arts education opportunities that these organizations provide.”

The newly-funded program — known as the “PMAY Artists’ Initiative” — will start this spring with musician recruitment, and the first group of around 75 student participants will be chosen by the summer. Each student will benefit from tailored plans to help set them up for future successes as they pursue future music schooling.


Composer Corner: Berlioz

December’s composer of the month is Hector Berlioz


Born: Dec. 11, 1803

Died: Mar. 8, 1869


Five facts:

• The composer’s father (a respected physician) wanted Hector to study medicine. He studied for a couple years but hated it — much to his father’s dismay — and began to study music. One of the final “straws that broke the camel’s back” was an anatomy class during which Hector decided he’d had enough and leapt out a window.
• It is believed that Berlioz composed Symphony fantastique (at least a part of it) under the influence of opium. Leonard Bernstein once said, “Berlioz tells it like it is. You take a trip, you wind up screaming at your own funeral.”
• Niccolo Paganini commissioned a viola concerto from Berlioz, but the initial sketches weren’t difficult enough (and there were too many resting measures) for the violist. Those sketches eventually became Harold en Italie.
• Fellow French composers had strong opinions on Berlioz. Ravel said he was “a musician of great genius and little talent,” while Debussy called him “a monster.”
• His Grande Messe des morts (Requiem) is scored for a huge collection of over 400 performers, including singers and four brass bands. In the score, he noted, “if space permits, the chorus may be doubled or tripled, and the orchestra be proportionally increased.”


Three important works:

• Symphonie fantastique (1830)
• Grande Messe des morts (1837)
• Le carnaval romain (1844)


Audio Backpack playlist: Hector Berlioz

The secrets of Mozart’s “Magic Flute”

Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” is widely regarded as one of history’s most influential and important operas. And in TED-Ed’s video, “The Secrets of Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’,” teacher Joshua Borths investigates the intentional symbolism found in the opera, and the relationship between the opera and Freemasonry.

One of the symbolic elements of the opera that pops up repeatedly is the number three — a very important number in Freemasonry, representing order and balance. As Borths notes, there are three trials, three ladies, three spirits, and three doors. A large portion of the opera is written in E-flat major, which has a key signature of three flats. In addition, many Masonic rituals began with three knocks, and those are referenced in the opera by three powerful opening chords — root position E-flat major, root position C minor, and an inverted E-flat major.

Watch the TED-Ed video below to learn more about the connecting threads between Mozart, “The Magic Flute,” and Freemasonry, and see the entire lesson on TED-Ed’s website.

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