Saturday, June 30, 2007

Tobin Music System

I've just finished watching an amazing video of Candida Tobin's Music System.

In this video you will see Julie Hall, an excellent primary school classroom music teacher revising the music theory knowledge of 8 year old children. The children from an ordinary class at Bird's Bush Primary School in England are reading simple music, understanding melody and chords and composing as well.

Downloading the video requires having fast broadband, as the video is 26 minutes long and 160 odd megs! It is professionally produced and is a pleasure to watch.

Dame Evelyn Glennie is one of many professional musicians who endorse the scheme.

I read about it at the International Piano Teachers Group, which produces a weekly interesting newsletter based on emails received from people all over the world who teach guess what? [Hint: it's the king of the instruments, and rude people make jokes about its similarity to a body part.]

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Performance Workshop

Today I did something I've never done before. I ran a performance workshop for my students in which a colleague kindly came and wrote comments about the performances, and then shared her observations with the students after they had all performed.

A few weeks before, I had attended a concert at our conservatorium which was organised by my colleague, recorder expert and teacher, Elizabeth Hassan. It was a terrific concert, which included Baroque and contemporary pieces for recorder, soprano, cello and harpsichord [though not always at the same time!]

Elizabeth had some helpful comments to make for each of the six students who played, and did this in a constructive and positive manner. She kindly drove over 50 kilometres [each way] to give her insights to my students.

And she had a great quote to share which I'd never heard before:
Amateurs practise until they get it right
Professionals keep practising until it can't go wrong

She told us she got that from her own teacher, many years ago.

Thanks, Elizabeth!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Einstein Factor

At last I can blog about my appearance on ABC TV's Einstein Factor. Coincidentally, the episode in which my special subject was The Music of J S Bach was recorded on 21st March, Bach's birthday.

It was not nearly as nerve-wracking as I'd thought it would be. All of the staff were pleasant and made us feel at ease, and the questions on my special subject were so easy, I didn't clam up while I was answering them. But I wasn't fast enough to get through all fifteen questions.

It was fun to win, of course, but the highlight was getting a free trip from Bathurst, in western New South Wales, Australia to Melbourne, capital city of Victoria and being able to see my son Daniel and his wife Louise. Since they moved further south, we have not seen them as much, and we had never been down to visit them.

If you would like to see my Bach jokes, a few clicks on the above link will get you there.

And if you have a broadband account, you may even wish to download the video of Episode 19 and watch the program. Please tell me if you do.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Chopin trumps Mozart?

People always talk about Mozart as a great prodigy, composing and performing as he did from the age of 4 or 5.

But if you compare Chopin's earliest works, from about the age of 7, they are amazingly intricate and much harder than anything Mozart wrote as a lad. You can buy Alfred's publications of Chopin's earliest works and of his easiest works. The earliest are by no means easy, and many of the easier works are not the earliest works.

So far, I've not seen anything cleverer, written at such a young age from well known composers, but I'm happy to be corrected.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Tell me that you've heard every sound there is ...

Neil, of One Salient Oversight, says he celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the release of Sgt Pepper by listening to Revolver.

Hi Neil.

I was a Beatles fan from 1964. I eagerly awaited the arrival of each single [didn't know a lot about the albums].

My friend, Paul invited me over to listen to Beatles For Sale. I met Paul at a Christian Endeavour sports day. We were the kids sitting eating lollies while the other kids were running around. We saw each otehr after that at Christian Endeavour youth rallies and Tahlee Bible College camps.

Beatles For Sale is a much-maligned album, but I loved it, and I must admit that part of this is because I listened to it with Paul. Even if you like Beatles For Sale, you are supposed to say "But I don't like Mr Moonlight". But I did. I thought that conga drum and John's raver vocals and the organ were terrific.

Dunno how, but I missed Revolver. I heard Eleanor Rigby and Yellow Submarine, but never knew that there was an album released in 1966 until 1968.

One day I saw a copy in a department store and wondered how I'd ever missed it.

Revolver is a superb album. Remember listening to it at Duncan's place in Belmont North.

But Greg's folks had a record player [3-in-one jobbie, I think] which had a big bass speaker, and when you heard the first notes of Taxman, after the little bit of studio chatter [added on later for effect], that low D boooomed.

I enjoyed every track on Revolver, but especially
Taxman - loved the crazy lyrics, and the way the PM and Leader of the Opposition were dragged into the song
I Want To Tell You - loved the weird harmony created by the persistent piano swung quavers
And Your Bird Can Sing - I was captivated by the 2 lead guitars playing that wonderful backing obbligato, as well as by the vocals
Good Day, Sunshine - it has lots of musically interesting features, including the great thumping piano accompaniment, the vocal harmony and modulation at the end of the song

Think I'll have to take up Neil's suggestion.

Friday, June 01, 2007

It was 40 years ago today

I've just finished listening to Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, on the 40th anniversary of its release in the UK. My parents bought me a copy for my 15th birthday in 1967. Mum commented that I had told her it would cost $5.25, but it was actually $5.50, which she thought was a bit steep!

I still have the record [which is mono]: it is well worn and the cover has a few tears. Many people say the mono version is superior to the stereo version, but I enjoy listening to the CD and like hearing the bits and pieces coming from the different speakers.

It is still very enjoyable to listen to, after all these years. Don't play Beatles CDs much now: played my records and later the CDs to death and can now "play" them without putting them in a reproducing device!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Cheap Aural Delights

Flute whizz, Philip Braithwaite put me onto an inexpensive way of hearing heaps of music for 19.99 per year, which you can pay in Euros or American dollars. [Much cheaper for us Aussies in USD, currently.]

Naxos lets you subscribe to their cattledog [thanks for that great word, Peter Smith] and play any track you like of the tens of thousands available distributed by Naxos or Marco Polo.

You have to listen on a track-by-track basis, and they do make you keep logging in, which is a little annoying, but if you are willing to fork out about 150 US dollars or Euros annually, you can set up whole programs of music to listen to without having to go back to the computer to select the next track. Wonder if you have to keep logging in, but?

The sound quality is superb and sounds about as good as my CDs sound through my modest system.

I've been following up interesting people I read about in Wikipedia and Grove [and I use that order intentionally] and at the moment have been listening to Amy Beach, an American composer who deserves to be better known. Might even buy a CD or two one day. Her Piano Concerto in C# Minor is well worth hearing, if you haven't already.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter Music

I'm still studying Bach, on and off, for The Einstein Factor, and have enjoyed listening to Bach's mighty St John Passion, his Easter Oratorio, the early cantata BWV 4 Christ lay in the bonds of death and BWV 31 The Heavens laugh; the earth rejoices, all of which were written for Easter Sunday.

Although I'm trying to be an expert on Bach, as best I can, I have only listened to each of the more than 200 cantatas once, except for the really well-known ones. I appreciate having the Teldec Bach 2000 set [purchased in 2001], but there are certainly some better performances than in that set. The worst aspect is the boy sopranos, and the worst aspect of that is the out-of-tune boy sopranos.

Still musing about John Eliot Gardiner's Pilgrimage set. The recordings you hear from the Monteverdi Choir website sound terrific, as do the 3 cantatas on the Pilgrimage DVD.

If you would like to view my efforts in my episode on The Einstein Factor, it is supposed to be on ABC TV on Sunday, 17th June at 6.30 PM.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Quotes about Composers

These quotes are sourced from the top of each page in Wendy Thompson's The Great Composers.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
The art of music above all other arts is the expression of the soul of a nation.

Felix Mendelssohn, speaking about Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
I have not seen any musician in whom musical feeling ran, as in Liszt, into the very tips of the fingers and there streamed out immediately.

Pablo Casals (1876-1973) on Felix Mendelssohn
A romantic who felt at ease within the mould of classicism.

Robert Schumann (1810-1856) on Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840)
Paganini is the turning-point in the history of virtousity.

Guiseppe Verdi (1813-1901) on Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835)
Long, long melodies such as no one has ever written before.

Franz Von Schober (1798-1882) on Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
If you go to see him during the day, he says "Hello, how are you? -- Good!" and goes on working, whereupon you go away.

Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Mozart is sunshine.

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)
The expression of thought, of sentiment, of the passions, must be the true aim of music.

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Scarlatti frequnetly told M. L'Augier that he was sensible he had broke through all the rules of composition.
(from Charles Burney's General History of Music

Mozart on George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Handel understands effect better than any of us -- when he chooses, he strikes like a thunderbolt.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
I should place an organist who is master of his instrument at the very head of all virtuosi.

Franz Schubert on Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Johann Sebastian Bach has done everything completely; he was a man through and through.

Martin Luther (1483-1546)on Josquin des Prez (c.1440-1521)
Josquin is master of the notes; others are mastered by them.

Anonymous (from the preface to Parthenia)1613 tribute to William Byrd (c.1543-1623)
How daintily this Byrd his notes doth vary, As if he were the Nightingale's own brother.

Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)
Dissonances are only the more remote consonances.

Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999) on Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
If wind and water could write music, it would sound like Ben's.

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)
Tonality is a natural force, like gravity.

Ernest Newman (1868-1959), reviewing Facade by William Walton (1902-1983)
As a musical joker he is a jewel of the first water.

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
I abhor imitation and I abhor the familiar.

Prokofiev on Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Bach on the wrong notes.

Samuel Barber (1910-1981)
As to what happens when I compose music, I really haven't the faintest idea.

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) on George Gershwin (1898-1937)
I don't think there has been such an inspired melodist on this earth since Tchaikovsky ... but if you want to speak of a composer, that's another matter.

Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
Music that is born complex is not inherently better or worse than music that is born simple.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Pachelbel Rant

Rob Paravonian's amusing whinge about the Pachelbel Canon [and especially about the boring 8 note repetitive cello part] is great fun. However, if you are one of those people who don't swallow everything they're told, if you check out some of the songs he claims are really just Pachelbel Redivivus, you'll find it isn't quite true: Let It Be is a case in point. The chords begin like the canon, but McCartney's 4th chord is not Pachelbel's.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Boning Up on Bach

I've spent the past month investigating J S Bach, having been selected to appear on the Australian television program, The Einstein Factor with The Music of J S Bach as my topic.

When Rachmaninov said that
Music is enough for a lifetime
But a lifetime is not enough for Music
he could have been speaking about the music of Bach. What a massive topic!

There are some excellent resources on the internet, including the Wikipedia article, The J S Bach Home Page, helpful biographical and other information at the Baroque Composers and Musicians Homepage, Tim Smith's wonderful Shockwave animations of the fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier and the superb Bach Cantatas Website.

I'm enjoying investigating this fascinating topic, but I wish I knew what kind of questions will be asked! I promise not to give out any information about the program, to be recorded on Bach's birthday, until after the broadcast.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Band That Money Couldn't Buy

I've always loved these crazy and often appropriately silly names for musicians.

It will help if you read them out loud, and with some, re-read them.

Here are some of my favourites:

Band manager: Robin Gitt

Singers: Barbie Hynde, Mimi Mee

Trombone: Hugh Jarms

Cor anglais: Diane Duck

Tenor Trombone: Oliver Guinnness

Classical Guitar: Segovia Carpet

Guitar: Ron Chords

Bass guitar: Ian Gee

Drums: Owen Transport

Friday, January 26, 2007

Miss Potter

We have just returned from seeing Miss Potter. Some of the professional critics were not particularly enthusiastic, but I loved it. I'm a sucker for terrific scenery [especially in Great Britain] and loved the story. I thought Renee Zellweger was brilliant and completely disagree that someone else would have done a better job.

I'm intrigued that the film has 2 composers and am wondering why: did Nigel Westlake feel he needed Rachel Portman for certain styles, or did the producers think he wasn't up to it?

I love Nigel's music, including his arrangements of Saint-Saens for Babe (also directed by Christ Noonan)and his own music, used so effectively in the IMAX Antarctica film. In fact, a couple of days ago, I purchased a score of his percussion ensemble that features in the part of the film called Penguin Circus.

I haven't found a student yet who is not captivated by this short, fun piece.

Rachel Portman's music in Chocolat is perfect. I'm still wondering if Satie's Gnossienne is really in the film, or if rather Ms Portman has captured the style of that work.

Friday, January 19, 2007

How to get your child to practise ... without resorting to violence!

I read most of this book at my sister-in-law's place: she is also a piano teacher. The author, Cynthia Richards, has several children of her own, and managed to help most of them to learn to play various instruments, as well as conducting a busy piano studio.

Ken Foster has excerpts from this great book here. Now I'm wishing I had my own copy!

She makes some great points in her book, and while I will give you a few of her hints here, you will find it well worth your while to read the whole shebang. And it's as cheap as chips!

Mrs Richards alerts her readers to these stumbling blocks:
1 Indifferent home environment
2 Faulty teacher-child relationship
3 Lack of maturity and commitment in the child
4 The wrong instrument
5 Unfavourable practice conditions
6 Bad memories
7 Peer pressure not to practise
8 Not proficient enough to be competitive
9 Too many conflicting interests
10 Sibling rivalry
11 Competitive feelings with a parent
12 Communications

She also suggests some ways to overcome these problems:
1 Start early
2 Practise with your child every day
3 Set up family rules for practising
4 Use incentives when needed
5 Handle conflicts by
a avoiding emotional involvement
b being friendly
c being matter of fact
d not giving in
6 Enjoy your children's music
7 Praise them for their successes
8 Look for stumbling blocks and do your best to remove them
9 Focus your efforts on getting your child hooked on music

I highly recommend this book. If you follow the advice of a successful mother and music teacher, your child may not become a little Mozart; but you will be a better parent, your child will be a happier child and together you will enjoy some great musical experiences.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Stephen Fisher-King

My wife, Joan rarely buys CDs, but when she does she always buys beauties. Several years ago, Joan bought 2 CDs in the one day at 2 different stores. I don't think this has happened before or since, but when she got home, we discovered that the 2 CDs were both recorded in the same studio: now I wonder how often that happens!

What was the studio? It was Shandar Media Studio, which I think is in the Southern Highlands.

What were the CDs?
Stephen Fisher-King's Where Do I Begin? and
Valerie Forbes-Mavridis
' Piano Gold.

I'm sorry that I can't find out anything about Ms Mavridis, and don't think it would be easy to track down her CD. But, if you do, you will enjoy terrific performances of
Rachmaninov's famous Prelude in C# Minor
Debussy's Clair de Lune
Zez Confrey's delightful Dizzy Fingers
Fats Waller's Alligator Crawl
Grieg's Wedding Day at Troldhaugen
Gershwin's set of 3 jazz preludes.

But Stephen's CD is equally wonderful and includes great performances of songs such as
Night and Day
They Call The Wind Mariah
and The Rhythm of Life

Stephen has won many national awards for his performances, and it was a great privilege to accompany him at church one Sunday, and in a concert he gave. Stephen is a great singer, and demanding on his accompanist: he won't let up until he gets the performance he wants, which is the sign of a professional performer.

We used to live around the corner from Stephen and it is good to see he is still winning awards and performing a lot.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Musical Banquet

We are enjoying Marshall McGuire's delightful Musical Banquet CD. It is terrific that the ABC has reissued some of the superb recordings from Andrew McKeich's sadly-defunct Artworks label.

This recording has just the right combination of very well known pieces, such as the Pezold Minuets [formerly attributed to J S Bach], Purcell's Fairest Isle and Handel's Largo, and lesser known but beautiful works.

And, at the moment, the CD is on special for $19.95.

We were pleased to be able to say a brief Hello to Marshall a few years ago, when our son, Daniel's band, Guitar Trek, played at the Sydney Art Gallery at a concert Marshall had organised. Of course, we think he has great taste in choosing to feature such a great band in that short concert series.