Category Archives: Fun finds

Brooklyn Duo covers a-ha’s ‘Take on Me’

Brooklyn Duo recently joined forces with members of Ensemble Connect to cover a-ha’s 80s hit, “Take On Me.” Check out video of their fun arrangement below.


Brooklyn Duo  — Marnie Laird, piano; Patrick Laird, cello

Members of Ensemble Connect — Rebecca Anderson, violin; Maren Rothfritz, viola; Madeline Fayette, cello; Lizzie Burns, bass; Bixby Kennedy, clarinet; Rémy Taghavi, bassoon; Oliver Barrett, trombone;

For something more “classical,” here are members of Ensemble Connect performing the third movement of Brahms’ beautiful Clarinet Trio, Op. 114 (recorded that same day):

Classical music and popcorn help fuel PSAT preparation

According to a recent Kaplan survey of 400 teens preparing to take the PSAT this month, classical music is the most popular soundtrack for test preparation.  Mozart, in particular, was cited as the favorite composer to listen to while studying.

“Depending on the individual, studying with music can be calming, motivating or distracting, so we recommend students find whichever works best for them,” says Vice President of College Admissions Programs for Kaplan Test Prep, Lee Weiss. “What’s important is that they stay motivated, calm and focused.”

In terms of study fuel, most common options are popcorn, chips, Cheetos, and chocolate. Somewhat surprisingly, water is the overwhelming beverage choice among teens studying for the test — nearly four times as popular as coffee or soda. Weiss warns against snacks that have a lot of sugar (which can lead to fatigue and irritability), and recommends high-protein snacks instead.

Weiss also advises that students plan their study schedule ahead of time and avoid the typical last-minute cramming: “The night before a big test should be spent relaxing and getting a good night’s sleep.”

Millions of teens across the country will take the PSAT on Oct. 19. For more information (as well as free practice exams) visit Kaplan Test Prep.



An animated duet featuring Noah and Sydney Lee

Noah and Sydney Lee are a brother and sister from Oakland, New Jersey. They also happen to be talented cellists.

They’ve appeared on NPR’s From the Top (which you can hear Sundays at noon on Classical MPR), and recently, filmmaker Dillon Buss and animator Jack Quinn collaborated on a video using a technique called rotoscoping, in which live action video is traced and animated.

In the video, the siblings perform Johann Halvorsen’s Passacaglia in G Minor on a Theme by Handel. Check it out below.

Kyrgyz folk musicians take on the Game of Thrones theme

A quick internet search of ‘Game of Thrones theme covers’ reveals a wide array of musics and styles — from a western version, to an 8-bit cover, to a rendition featuring goats.

One of the more interesting and evocative entries comes from central Asia, and the mountainous country of Kyrgyzstan. Recently, a group of Kyrgyz folk musicians known as Ordo Sakhna uploaded a video featuring their rendition of the Game of Thrones theme performed on authentic Kyrgyz instruments  such as the sybyzgy (side-blown flute), the komuz (a three-stringed, fretless instrument, related to the lute) and the kyl kyyak (a two-stringed, bowed instrument).

See the group in action in the video below.

Junji Koyama: Virtuoso of Vegetables

Junji Koyama is an elementary school teacher in Japan. But for the last nine or so years, he’s been making a name for himself by demonstrating a special talent on YouTube — making instruments out of vegetables.

You can see how he makes vegetable instruments here. It’s a complicated process!

Earlier this year, Koyama shared a video of himself performing “Amazing Grace” on a cabbage slide whistle:

Other veggie instruments include a carrot slide whistle:

A radish ocarina:

A celery nose flute:

And here’s a carol on a ‘broccolina’:

Hear more of Junji’s creations on his YouTube channel.

Happy birthday to electronic music pioneer Clara Rockmore

Today's Google Doodle honoring Clara Rockmore
Today’s Google Doodle honoring Clara Rockmore

On this day in 1911, electronic music pioneer Clara Rockmore was born. Her birthday has been commemorated with a Google Doodle, which offers an interactive lesson on playing the theremin (using your mouse to hover over pitches and play a melody).

From a very early age, it was clear that Rockmore was musically gifted. By age two, she already had perfect pitch and could pick out melodies on the piano. She was on her way to a promising career as a violinist, but developed debilitating arthritis in her bowing arm as a teenager. Not long after that, she met Léon Theremin, and switched to the theremin as her primary instrument — and eventually becoming its most prominent and respected performer.

“I was fascinated by the aesthetic part of it, the visual beauty, the idea of playing in the air,” Clara recalled in an interview, “and I loved the sound. I tried it, and apparently showed some kind of immediate ability to manipulate it. Soon Lev Sergeyevich gave me, for a present, the RCA model theremin.”

Here is Rockmore performing “The Swan” from The Carnival of Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns.

Hear the largest musical instrument in the world

Organist Otto Pebworth performing on the Great Stalacpipe Organ (YouTube screengrab)
Organist Otto Pebworth performing on the Great Stalacpipe Organ (YouTube screengrab)

Have you ever wondered what the largest instrument in the world is?

Well, you can find it deep in the Luray Caverns, located in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. In 1954, mathematician and scientist Leland Sprinkle built a gigantic pipe organ there — The Great Stalacpipe Organ.

While it first appears to be a standard pipe organ, it actually uses the cavern’s stalactites to deliver the sounds instead of pipes.

In a recent episode of “Great Big Story,” organist Otto Pebworth demonstrates the instrument and explains how it works:

“When I press a key, it sends an electrical pulse up to a rubber-tipped mallet, which strikes the stalactite, causing it to vibrate and produce an incredibly beautiful, musical tone.”

The stalactites chosen to make sound cover a range of more than 3.5 acres, making it the largest musical instrument in the world.

Hear the organ in action in the video below, as Pebworth performs a bit of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”

Collaboration between Mozart and Salieri discovered

Mozart and Salieri
Mozart and Salieri

Milos Forman’s Academy Award-winning film Amadeus (based on the Peter Schaffer play) depicts Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri as fierce rivals. It even suggests that Salieri may have played a role in Mozart’s early death at 35.

Scholars have long dismissed stories of the two composers being archenemies — and the discovery of a long-lost 1785 composition demonstrates that they even collaborated.

“We all know the picture drawn by the movie, Amadeus. It is false,” said Ulrich Leisinger of the Mozarteum Foundation Salzburg. “Salieri did not poison Mozart, but they both worked in Vienna and were competitors.”

The work was discovered in November by German composer and musicologist Timo Jouko Herrmann, who found it in the catalog of the Czech Museum of Music while searching for pieces by Salieri’s students. It’s titled Per la Ricuperata Salute di Ofelia (For the recovered health of Ophelia), and celebrates English soprano Nancy Storace, who performed works by both composers.

“Here we have a short, not great, piece by Mozart, but at least something that really sheds new light on his daily life as an opera composer in Vienna,” Leisinger said.

It was performed earlier today at the museum, and it’s unclear whether or not the piece has ever been performed publicly.

“To hear a joint piece by Mozart and Salieri … lost for more than 200 years, is an amazing experience,” Czech National Museum director, Michal Lukes, said.

The video below is edited from the film, Amadeus:

Hear a 1679 Stradivarius guitar — The Sabionari

Rolf Lislevand plays "The Sabionari" (YouTube screengrab)
Rolf Lislevand plays “The Sabionari” (YouTube screengrab)

When you hear the name Antonio Stradivari, you most likely think of the finest violins in the world, selling for millions of dollars. However, the legendary luthier also produced a handful of guitars — only one of which remains playable today.

The “Sabionari” guitar was produced by Stradivari in 1679. It was slightly modified around the turn of the nineteenth century (to follow the style of other instruments of the time), but was recently restored to its original Baroque configuration by Daniel Sinier and Francoise de Ridder. The instrument has four double-sets of catgut strings (tuned A-D-G-B) and one single string (tuned to E).

In the video below, Rolf Lislevand performs Santiago de Murcia’s Tarentela on the Sabionari. Learn more about the guitar here.

Classical Music Mashup Quiz

Classical Music Mashup (YouTube Screengrab)

It’s not often that you hear the word ‘mashup’ associated with classical music. But in a recent YouTube video, composer and ‘one-man production team’ Grant Woolard has done just that.

In the video, Woolard has cleverly woven together 57 famous tunes of classical music by 33 different composers. You can follow the different melodies on an animated staff, with tiny composer images in place of note heads to indicate who wrote the melody.

How many can you identify without looking at the score?