Category Archives: Unexpected Classical

Beethoven’s Disco Hit

Nearly 40 years ago, many people in discotheques were discovering, celebrating — and yes, getting their groove on — to the music of Beethoven.

On Oct. 9, 1976, Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band went to No. 1 on the U.S. singles chart with “A Fifth Of Beethoven.” The music is a disco rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Op. 67, First Movement.

Here’s a performance of the track from the 1970s music TV show, The Midnight Special:

A Strauss soundtrack for babies doing what babies do

And the winner of today’s award for “Best Use of ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ in a Diaper Commercial” goes to … (drumroll, please)

Safe to say that Richard Strauss wouldn’t have anticipated Pampers, but in real life, he was indeed familiar with babies in particular and domestic routines in general. In fact, he composed a symphony, the “Domestic Symphony,” which describes a day in the life of the Strauss family. As Strauss described it, “”My next tone poem will represent a day in my family. It will be partly lyrical, partly humorous.” The dedication reads “to my dear wife and our son.” Strauss was 40, he’d been married 10 years, and his son was 7.

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.”

Helene Grimaud to play in a flooded armory

Helene Grimaud Douglas Gordon.jpg

As the New York Times notes, New York’s Park Avenue Armory is big enough that it once housed the three orchestras required to perform Stockhausen’s Gruppen. Now, Helene Grimaud is playing a series of solo recitals in the space — but the vast armory won’t be empty. As Grimaud plays, the armory around the pianist will slowly flood with water.

Grimaud’s performances, which will take place on ten evenings over the course of a period starting tomorrow and concluding on Dec. 21, are part of tears become… streams become…, an art installation by the acclaimed conceptual artist Douglas Gordon. “I once saw a small boy playing the piano with one hand,” Gordon told the Times regarding the piece’s inspiration, “and wiping away tears with the other. The tears ran down his face and onto his hand and then onto the keys of the piano. It stuck with me, those tears.”

Gordon and his team have equipped the armory for full-on flooding, complete with elaborate waterproof flooring and a piping system that will flood the floor with 122,000 gallons of water and then suck the water back up at the end of each performance.

As the water seeps over the floor, Grimaud will play a program of works inspired by water — such as Ravel’s Jeux d’Eaux and Debussy’s Sunken Cathedral. She’ll perform in an outfit custom-designed by the French designer agnes b.; Gordon told ArtNews that the costume is “incredibly sexy.”

Grimaud will be playing a concert grand lent by Steinway — but only after Gordon and his engineers assured Steinway that they’d keep the air in the Armory at zero percent humidity by maintaining air temperature in the 70s and water temperature in the 50s. That non-destructive approach is new for Gordon, who, for a 2012 film, set a Bechstein grand piano on fire.

Details regarding the installation and Grimaud’s performances are available at the Armory’s website.

Photo: Douglas Gordon and Helene Grimaud making plans at the Park Avenue Armory. Photo courtesy Helene Grimaud.

Unexpected yet welcome music for traveling

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (MPR photo/Luke Taylor)

This week marks one of the USA’s busiest travel periods of the year. According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation, during the six-day Thanksgiving travel period, the number of long-distance trips — more than 50 miles away — increases by 54 percent.

I won’t be going anywhere at Thanksgiving, but I’m looking forward to seeing visitors from out of town. Due to a couple weddings at the start of October and of November, I paid my travel dues early; both weddings were a bit further afield, necessitating air travel.

Airports are rather fascinating places. The mass of humanity that moves through any major airport on a given day is astounding. For example, the Airports Council International reports that Atlanta International Airport saw almost 9 million passengers in July 2014 alone, the most recent month for which complete statistics are available.

But aside from hard statistics, airports represent a fleeting snapshot in time: At a given moment at an airport, all those hundreds or even thousands of people are in one place at the same time, seeing one another, interacting, bumping into each other; but fast-forward a few hours, and they’re scattered around the globe.

With all those people gathered in one place — even if just for a few hours at a time — major airports resemble cities unto themselves. Atlanta’s airport has an underground train that seems a counterpart to its citywide MARTA system; Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport has restaurants with seating areas alongside concourses resembling sidewalk terraces; Chicago’s Midway Airport largely eschews national restaurant chains in favor of local flavor, with food options like Gold Coast Dogs, Miller’s Pub and Nuts on Clark.

WPA muralAnd a city devoid of culture is not much of a city at all; thus public art has found its way into airports. Tampa International Airport features a series of restored WPA murals; MSP features aviation-inspired Snoopy statues; Atlanta has a gallery dedicated to artwork created by local youth. Chicago’s O’Hare Airport even has an indoor garden from which its more foodie-leaning restaurants gather fresh produce.

Naturally, music is also part of that artistic landscape. Julie Amacher met a guitarist at the Portland (Ore.) Airport, and you can read about him and listen to his music on this week’s New Classical Tracks. A few months ago, Bob Collins of MPR News shared this video of a pop-up pianist in a departure lounge in Prague. In October, Elena See found this video of a cellist and a beatbox artist collaborating on a piece by Bach while in flight.

Recently I discovered this video of some kids at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, returning from a piano camp in Austria, entertaining fellow passengers between connecting flights. Notice the people capturing the moment on their smartphones, or the fellow at left enjoying a glass of white wine as the kids play; sure, the scene was recorded in an airport concourse, but it could just as easily have taken place in the center of a town.

So if you’re traveling this Thanksgiving holiday, what music will you seek? If you’re traveling long-distance by car or by train, what music will you bring with you? If by air, what music will you listen to in flight? What might you encounter at the airport? If you happen to come across something remarkable, please share it with us — Tweet it to us if you’d like, or tell us about it in the comments below.

Safe travels, and happy Thanksgiving!

In-flight entertainment: cello and beatbox

A cello gets its own seat aboard a flight. (Flickr / modenadude)

According to a report from Classic FM, a cellist and an air steward on a flight to Denver teamed up to treat the other passengers to an improvised cello/beatbox duet of the Bourrée from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3.

The flight attendant, known only as Maximilian, can be seen crouching in front of cellist Francisco Vila on the Southwest Airlines flight in the video taken earlier this month, as the pair put an inventive spin on a Bach cello piece:

Pianos for planes, trains and automobiles

The western departures concourse of London King’s Cross railway station (photo © User:Colin CC BY-SA)

In mid-August on the News Cut blog, MPR News’ Bob Collins shared this video of a man playing a piano in a departure lounge at Prague’s Václav Havel Airport:

The pianist in the video, Maan Hamadeh, was quoted by Lebanon’s Daily Star, saying, “I would love to see pianos in all public place[s], especially those where the waiting factor is present.”

Inside London’s King’s Cross/St Pancras railway station, there’s a piano that gets a lot of attention. Here’s a beautiful video by Richard Moore that captures a day in the life of that very public and very popular piano:

And finally, this piano seems just plopped along the side of the street in York, England. Despite what seems to be a chilly day when this video was shot, this boogie-woogie piano player is not slowed down at all — even though he appears to be wearing gloves!

What do you think of pianos in public places? Would you stop and listen? If you’re a piano player, would you be inspired to stop and play? If so, what piece(s) would you perform?

Improving your life with Mozart (and rap)

Kansas city-based rapper (and one time Rhymesayers recording artist) Mac Lethal catapulted into the spotlight with his incredibly popular, video singing/rapping “Look at Me Now” while making pancakes. That viral hit earned Mac Lethal press from The Washington Post and an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres’s show … and a massive following on YouTube, which he encourages to email him with questions and comments.

His latest video may put him in the spotlight one more time. Mac Lethal posted this video on August 25th, 2014, responding to a letter he says he received from a teacher.

Dear Mr. Mac Lethal,

My name is Mrs. Francine, I’m a 53-year-old high-school music teacher, and I love your YouTube videos. The problem is I can’t play them for my students because they contain too many bad words. Would you consider making a fast rap video for my students, to inspire them to be great? With no bad words?


Mrs. Francine

p.s. Do you like Mozart?

In response, Mac Lethal made this guide to life’s best practices to the tune of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11, commonly known as the “Turkish March.” See if you can keep up:

Mrs. Francine saw the video and wrote back that she and her students were “flattered beyond belief.”

If you want to see what Classical MPR is doing to make classical music relevant to kids, please check out Music for Learning, our education site.

Video: Strauss, synchronized swimming … but no pool

Margaret Hutto via YouTube

Maybe it’s because there’s not a lot of water in Texas. But these kids from an elementary school in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area pull off a pretty entertaining synchronized-swimming routine during their school’s talent show.

Classical MPR’s Jodi Gustafson spotted this video online and shared it. The music is Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz.

We’re pretty sure the music and the video will make you smile. Even without water, these kids make a splash.