Monday, October 3, 2016

Marginally Interesting Moments in Musical History (Edition 1)

Do you remember when you were studying history in school, and how extraordinary the events and people you covered were? And, despite that, did you ever feel like your teacher had the unique ability to turn everything that was exciting and remarkable into the most dreadfully dreary and boring material? Welcome to Marginally Interesting Moments in Musical History, a continuing series of bite-sized tidbits and trivia that may or may not be apocryphal, but always fun to read!

In this edition, we’ll recount the tale of the brief encounter between the famous stride pianist Fats Waller and the notorious mobster Al Capone.

Successful early in life, Fats Waller, composer of such hits as “Ain’t Misbehavin,’” found himself on the wrong end of the barrel of a gun after a performance in Chicago in 1926. Several men pushed him into a car, and the understandably terrified Waller anticipated an untimely demise. He was taken to a building and shoved inside.

Although for very different reasons, Al Capone, the Prohibition era gangster dubbed “Public Enemy No. 1,” was similarly successful early in life. On the very evening Waller was kidnapped, Capone was celebrating his birthday. He and his goons warmly greeted their surprise (and surprised) guest, Waller, who promptly was ordered to play the piano in the room. Waller did so.

Three days later, when the party concluded, Waller departed. Very tired and perhaps a little drunk, he had nevertheless enjoyed a prosperous outing. The partygoers evidently had appreciated the services rendered, as they had provided Waller thousands of dollars in tips.

Stay tuned for the next Marginally Interesting Moment in Musical History!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Brief Introduction to Dynamics

In musical notation, dynamic markings instruct performers to play a passage loudly or quietly. Dynamics provided are relative – that is, there is not a specified volume level associated with a particular marking. There are two fundamental indications: f, or forte, and p, or piano. The forte marking means “loud,” and the piano marking means “soft.”

Very rarely will a performer be instructed to play a piece entirely at one dynamic level. By concatenating forte or piano markings, a composer imparts the level of loudness or softness. The marking ff (“fortissimo”) is louder than f, and pp (“pianissimo”) is softer than p. Continuing to link together the marking indicates more intense levels – fff is louder than ff, which is louder than f; ppp is quieter than pp, which is quieter than p. In the middle are mf, or mezzo-forte, and mp, or mezzo-piano, which indicate a moderate level of loudness and softness, respectively.

Other instructions let the performer know whether to employ a dynamic marking suddenly or gradually. “Crescendo” instructs the performer to gradually increase the volume, and “diminuendo” means gradually become softer. “Sforzando,” abbreviated sfz, tells the performer to accent a note or play a note louder. The fortepiano indication, fp, means play loudly initially, then immediately play softly.

Dynamics are very important and help provide color and interest to music. A passage ordinarily played quietly can impart a very different experience to an audience if played loudly and forcefully. It is crucial to understand dynamics to properly interpret the intentions of a composer, but it can also help a performer develop their own unique approach to interpretation when dynamics are not provided.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

10 Songs for Fall

Thursday, September 22nd, is the Autumnal Equinox – the first day of Fall. We’ve compiled our listening list! Have you?

From yearning for the changing colors of the seasons to sadness about the end of a blissful summer, here are ten songs for the onset of Fall. Did we miss anything? Let us know!