Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Here are Five Awesome Renaissance and Medieval Works that – Surprise! – You’ve Never Heard of

Most people never listen to music from the Renaissance or Medieval eras. It’s no secret why: no funky beats, catchy melodies, or danceable rhythms. The style is completely foreign to contemporary ears. BUT… is it all really so unlistenable and boring?

Below are five pieces that are quirky, beautiful, crazy, or just downright weird. 10 points if you’ve heard of any of them. 20 points if you listen to them all the way through. How many points can you get?

5. Carlo Gesualdo: "Moro, Lasso"

Gesualdo is a famous late Renaissance composer… mostly because he murdered his wife and her lover. As a nobleman, he basically got away with it, but he was overcome with guilt for the remainder of his life. His remorse is made manifest in much of his music, which is hauntingly beautiful, very complex, and often terribly sad. “Moro, Lasso” is a quintessential example – such extreme chromaticism would not again be heard for 200 years or more.

4. Solage: "Fumeux Fume"

Easily the strangest piece in the list. We know almost nothing about Solage, a 14th century composer of a complicated style of music called ars subtilior. Much of the music in this style is rhythmically complex, but “Fumeux Fume” is unique for not challenging rhythms, but rather harmonic and melodic weirdness. Notably, the piece dwells on an interval called the ‘tritone’ (think the interval from C to F#), which at that time was called ‘Diabolus in musica,’ or the Devil in Music. It was generally diligently avoided.

3. Luca Marenzio: "Solo e pensoso"

Luca Marenzio was a 16th century composer, incredibly influential in his day. I included this piece because of the prominent chromatic scale at the beginning, which I think is really cool.

2. William Byrd: "Agnus Dei from Mass for 4 Voices"

As a practicing Catholic in England at a time when the government viewed Catholics with great suspicion, William Byrd had to tread lightly. That didn’t stop him from getting in a lot of trouble, however. This decidedly Cathloic Mass features a remarkable section towards the end of the Angus Dei in which there is dissonance on every single beat. In addition to being masterfully well written, it also sounds gloriously awesome.

1. Pérotin: "Viderunt Omnes"

This might be the most obscure piece in the list. Pérotin was an early 13th century composer who was highly regarded for his advances in polyphony (music with multiple, independent melodies running simultaneously. Viderunt Omnes is a very early example of polyphonic music – in this case, three similar, though distinct, melodies are sung over a drone.

Monday, November 3, 2014

10 New Release Books About Your Favorite Musicians That You NEED to Read

If you're the ultimate fan to your favorite artist, you'll appreciate the provocative, intimate look at their lives that only books about them can truly accurately capture.

1. "Weird Al Yankovic: The Kindle Singles Interviews" by Mara Altman
The man who basically invented the music video parody as we know it somehow continues to keep it fresh and inventive. He's at the top of his game and from what I've heard, a super fun and kind guy. With the interviews conducted by humor writer Mara Altman, the banter is bound to be hilarious, witty, and fun. A quick read but a delightful one.

2. "Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970's" by Tom Doyle
"Man on the Run" is a portrait of McCartney in a time little discussed. The 1970's had begun, and the Beatles were over. He was back in England without any clear direction in his life, adrift from goals and direction. However, what he then thought to be the end of his career, but it ended up being a turning point towards simply a new artistic direction.

3. "One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brother's Band" by Alan Paul 
Written by music journalist Alan Paul, who has followed the band since their formative years, this one gets it all out about the classic band. An incredibly in-depth look at the entire history of the band, this should be your go-to for all things Allman.

4. "Please Be With Me, A Song for My Father, Duane Allman" by Galadrielle Allman
Another about the Allman brothers, but such a different portrait. Galadrielle Allman, the daughter of Allman Brothers founder and legendary guitarist, Duane Allman, was 2 years old when Duane was killed at the young age of 24 in a tragic motorcycle accident. However, Galadrielle has always wanted to hear the stories of her father, to be able to fully understand her own. She published the stories she learned here.

5. "Dancing With Myself" by Billy Idol
Come on, how do you see a title like that and not know immediate that it is going to be fascinating as heck. It's Billy Idol, who only comes in "bold and spicy" flavor.

6.  "Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of The Rolling Stones" by Bill Janovitz
More of a listening guide and walk through history than an exposing novel, the book represents a fan's love for his favorite band, coupled with thoughtful research and fascinating insight. A fun time and a celebration of the fan experience.

7. "Wild Tales: A Rock and Roll Life" by Graham Nash
The legend of the Hollies, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash finally got around to writing an autobiography. Refreshingly, the book isn't just a little black book of nights gone crazy, but more of a love story between a man and music.

8. "Joni Mitchell - In Her Own Words" by Malka Marom
A journalist recounts the interviews over the course of years that developed into a close understanding and friendship between her and Joni Mitchell. An intimate and creative portrait of the singer, revealed through her own words and conversation.

9. "Turn Around Bright Eyes" by Robert Sheffield
Sheffield, granted, is not a musician. But the renowned music writer has become a voice so entwined with the music industry, that it would be criminal not to include his book. Sheffield has a fascinating story - a young aimless widower who found solace to his loneliness through the local karaoke bar, a solace that eventually turned into a deep passion for music. A music nerd's proud anthem.

10. "Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in his Final Days" by Bill Whitfield
A bittersweet tribute to remembering the man without the controversy as how his loved ones knew him. A devoted father, a brilliant artist, and an incredibly caring man. Fans of Jackson adore this version celebrating the life of the man who brought us so many wonderful musical moments.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Top Five Toccatas for Solo Piano

Everyone knows Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor for the organ as soon as they hear it. But what exactly is a toccata? There’s no set structure, and different composers have had different ideas in their compositions they call toccatas, but generally a toccata is simply a difficult piece with a fast tempo. Most often for a solo instrument, toccatas are played to demonstrate virtuosity. 

The following five pieces are good examples of toccatas. As usual, the title of this blog is complete fiction; the works below are my favorite 5.

5. Robert Schumann – Toccata, Op. 7

This toccata is among the most challenging pieces in piano solo repertoire. Take a look at the score to see why!

4. Aram Khachaturian – Toccata, Op. 24

Another famous toccata, formerly part of a 3-movement suite. This work has an epic and often mysterious quality, particularly in those sections where the higher register of the piano is used.

3. York Bowen – Toccata, Op. 155

The English composer York Bowen isn’t as well known as the others featured in this list, but his piece is no less interesting or virtuosic.

2. Maurice Ravel – Toccata from “Le Tombeau de Couperin”

“Le Tombeau” is a 6-movement suite for solo piano dedicated to several friends of the composer who died during the First World War. Like many toccatas, there are few moments of respite in this technically demanding work, though Ravel’s work is perhaps more lyrical than the others on this list

1. Sergei Prokofiev – Toccata, Op. 11

Prokofiev’s Toccata is a favorite among piano virtuosos for obvious reasons. It has a mechanical drive punctuated with a recognizable motif featuring a stream of repeated notes.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

5 Best Halloween Songs

With All Hallows' Eve right around the corner, you wouldn't want to be caught dead without the best Halloween songs in your repertoire. Learn to play these 5 Halloween favorites today!

5. "Thriller" - Michael Jackson

4. "This Is Halloween" - Danny Elfman

3. "Ghostbusters" - Ray Parker, Jr.

2. "Runnin' With The Devil" - Van Halen

1. "Monster Mash" - Bobby "Boris" Pickett

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

10 Reasons to Support Local Music and 20 Ways to Do It

You've heard the phrase "Support Local Music," but may not understand how to apply it in practice. Here's some ways to get it going!

Support local music because:

1. You're missing out on a great time! Local music is a great way to explore a new part of your city, have some fun with friends, and just try something you've never done before. It's the weekend! Treat it like the weekend.
2. There is such talent in your area. You don't even know it, but your new favorite band EVER could be from just a few miles away. Why miss out on that chance?
3. It perpetuates the creation good music. The music that will live on is the music that people go and see. Make sure it is the great music that continues.
4. It puts your money into something you believe in. It is awesome when you know where your money goes, and to know that it is benefitting your friends and close neighbors!
5.  You build a sense of community. With local music, you can start to recognize people at the shows you attend, and when a sense of community and friendship develops, that's when people get really passionate. 
6.  It supports your local economy in general. That means continuing jobs for your neighbors and other people! Yay!
7. They are cheap! An awesomely creative date idea too, I might add.
8. It supports cultural and musical diversity. Because music shouldn't all sound the same!
9. You can brag about a local band you love when they make it big! That always feels great.
10. You're supporting the arts in general, and supporting the dreams of people. That feels great too.

Here are Ways to do it:

1. Street musicians are awesome. In the Boston Common Gardens, there is always this man playing the most beautiful Spanish guitar I've ever heard. And the way he looked playing, you could tell he wouldn't be happier if he were in the biggest music hall in New York City. He just loved playing music. You will absolutely find some of the most inventive, unique, and awesome music played on your local street corner. Because, hey, they have no manager telling them how to play it, they are free to have the most fun possible.

2. Attend a community concert.  Most people aren't even aware that their town or city has a community orchestra or symphony. Oftentimes, these are great older musicians who have a lifetime of experience under their belt, and it shows. Their events occassionally take place in the park, and you just set up a picnic and blanket and suddenly its heaven!

3. Join a music promotion group in the area, or follow one on Facebook. They are constantly posting local bands that are playing in your community, as well as more opportunities to see music, like special events and lesser known shows.

4.  Get kids excited about music, and support children playing music. There are plenty of schools that are struggling to receive the funding to create music programs for children in their community. See a fundraiser for instruments? Donate. Since the recent recession, music and art programs have struggled with slashed budgets and large class sizes. Participation in a musical program is show to help brain development and math skills, and it is a way for children to feel part of something. School funding also allows students whose families may not have money to buy instruments to instead use leased ones from the school. Your money could mean an instrument for a child.

5.  Attend a cultural festival in your local community. These often feature local groups playing traditional music in the style and using the instruments of the past. Experiencing new cultures is one of the joys that music can bring, and it's always awesome to explore parts of the past that we aren't always aware of.

6. Just look at some fliers. Have you ever noticed that crowded board at the entrance to your grocery store? Well, just check 'em out. Some of them have funny pictures on them.  If that is enough of an enticement for you, then we should be friends.

7. Check out the alternative scene. There is a local skate bowl in my town that occasionally does a punk rock show, with local punk bands that play inside the bowl, and all of the audience just sitting on the rim of the bowl.  That's so alt, man.

8. Go to a house show, or throw your own house show! What a great way to mix up your routine, and rub elbows with some of your cool new musician buds!

9.  Simply educate yourself. How many bands in the area can you name?  That's not enough!

10. Join an association dedicated to local music. A lot of communities have a local music association that puts on events like music awards, concerts, and fundraisers. For example, in Madison, Wisconsin, the Madison Area Music Association puts on the local Madison Area Music Awards, and uses the ticket money to purchase instruments that are then donated to local schools. Membership is low, but the payout to the community is large.

11. Battle of the Bands!!! Battle of the Bands are AWESOME, and it helps you discover sooooo much new music at once. And then they compete for your attention. That seems like a situation worth getting into.

12.  Volunteer. All those local events and associations that I've been talking about? They need enthusiastic people to keep them going. Volunteering is a huge contribution that doesn't involve spending cash money.

13. Go to a local music festival.  Whether it be just a symphony playing in a park, or a whole 3 day extravaganza in the woods with 50 bands, festivals are full of fascinating stories and great ways to meet people who also love local bands! You'll have so much to talk abouuuut!

14. Don't forget about open mics. Just because it isn't a scheduled show for a specific band doesn't mean that it won't be awesome. Open mics are where novices and expert alike come to jam out and be heard; give them some ears!

15. Buy merchandise! Merch, whether anybody likes it or not, is where local guys make most of their funds. Plus you get to look cool with your backpack button and the shirts they sell are by my experience,  very soft.

16. Get to know your favorite venues, and don't be quiet about telling them why you love them! You are the people they continue to host music for. If you tell them how much you appreciate it, it is more likely for them to keep at it!

17. Get loud about your favorite local bands by sharing their music that you love on social media and by word of mouth.  Social media is more important than ever to bands, and they absolute love any help they can get.

18. Donate your own artistic services to bands! Do you have a camera and are okay at it? Then perhaps volunteer to take some press photos of shows, or maybe take a weekend to film a music video for them! It'd be so much fun!

19. Mix up your mix tapes (or mix cds or playlists) . I love making mix cds as gifts. People find it charming because it is a little bit dated, but still, everyone has cars and most of those cars have cd players. On a long drive, especially going through the country with spotty radio signal or only signals to the state's one ragtime-only station can get frustrating after a while. In those cases, cds are a godsend. Why not go ahead and sprinkle some local bands in there?

20. Start a baaaand! It'd be fun and you get to think up a cool name. And if you want to sympathize with local musicians, best way is to feel what they are feeling!