Google Doodle on Bernstein!

Reprinted from Google Doodles:

Happy 100th birthday to American music icon Leonard Bernstein! The youngest conductor ever to lead the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, he was also the first U.S. conductor to gain international renown, leading a 1953 performance of ‘Medea’ at La Scala in Milan, Italy’s foremost opera house.

The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Bernstein discovered music around age 10 and overcame his parents’ resistance to his passion for the arts. His creativity and talent spilled over from one artform to the next, and throughout his life, the most persistent criticisms of his work were that he did too much. “I want to conduct,” he wrote late in life. “I want to play the piano. I want to write for Hollywood. I want to write symphonic music. I want to keep on trying to be, in the full sense of that wonderful word, a musician. I also want to teach. I want to write books and poetry. And I think I can still do justice to them all.”

Today’s Doodle celebrates Bernstein’s life set to one of his  most iconic works—the score to West Side Story. The tale, following the turf war between two rival gangs and star-crossed lovers in the west side of Manhattan, was brought to life through Bernstein’s gripping score. The original 1957 production was nominated for six Tony Awards including Best Musical. Explore the history and legacy of the iconic musical by visiting Google Arts & Culture.

A larger-than-life personality, Bernstein held the baton with emphatic mannerisms, reacting to the emotion of the music mid-performance. As Director of the New York Philharmonic, he exposed generations of young people to musical programming on television. Before Bernstein’s tenure, no widely-aired television show existed to educate youth through musical performances. In this way, and as a popular commentator about music on radio and TV, he made intellectual culture more accessible to the public at large.

Bernstein was also a skilled lecturer—winning a Grammy in 1961 for Best Documentary or Spoken Word Recording (other than comedy). He published books about music and lectured on poetry at Harvard University.

His legacy endures as a musical polymath, a creator of culture, and an example that sometimes more is more.

Happy Birthday, Leonard Bernstein!

Here are some articles celebrating Bernstein from around the web:

Life With Leonard Bernstein

Jamie Bernstein watches her father, Leonard Bernstein, conduct the New York Philharmonic at a rehearsal for one of his Young People’s …

Here’s a fun example of Bernstein’s compositions performed by Kristin Chenowith:

Here’s an example of Bernstein as both a conductor and pianist:

And here is an example of Bernstein as an educator:

 

How to Kick The Blues, or, A Chance Meeting with a Living Louisiana Music Legend.

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for me and, I think, for a lot of people.  One day recently, I had a meeting that was really demoralizing and left me in a total funk where nothing would spark my interest.

 

Fortunately, the next morning, I had my own piano lesson (a two-hour workout on a Bach fugue, not much time to think about much else) and after the lesson, I decided I would go piano shopping, something I’d been meaning to do for months but just never actually had done. I think I was mainly trying to keep myself busy to distract myself from the doldrums.

 

At the second store I went into — where I fell in love with a grand piano that I probably can’t afford but very well might buy –there was just the owner, a man I’d known since middle school, and an elderly gentleman hanging out in the corner.  (I knew the owner because he had sold my parents their piano and because he used to let us use his store to rehearse five and four piano arrangements back in high school.)  Anyway, I’m talking to the owner and looking lustfully at pianos that cost more than my car, when the owner introduced me to the elderly gentleman in the corner as a two-time Louisiana Music Hall of Fame inductee(?).  The man, who introduced himself by his real name, not his stage name, told me about his music and after a minute, I asked if I could record him to share with my students and to preserve a little music history, and he said yes.

 

Unfortunately, I really wasn’t prepared to do a full-on interview, but I learned a good bit talking to him and managed to have sense to film at least a little of it.  His stage name had been Roy “Boogie Boy” Perkins and he was a singer and pianist in the ’50s.

 

Here’s a few samples of his music from back then:

Not bad, right? I have a particular weakness for this era in music, so needless to say, I was thrilled.

Here’s what Perkins had to say about his place in music history:

 

Sadly, I didn’t keep filming because he told me that when he was young, he lived nextdoor to his grandmother who had an old player piano that no one played. One day, he heard Lloyd Price on the radio and decided to try to replicate the sound and found out that he could just play. So his grandmother gave him the piano and that was his start. He didn’t mention ever taking any formal music instruction, just learning from the radio.

 

He told me his stage name was given to him by some country musician he was playing with (I’ve forgotten the name) and he later added the “boogie boy” part to make it go more with the style of music he enjoyed playing. Over the years, he made music, he also worked as a draftsman, worked offshore on oil and gas rigs, and at some point, became a minister. And, man, did he hate the term “swamp pop.” Now, I’ll think twice when I use it 🙂 [Side note: This man knew Elvis and Cossimo Matassa and other amazing artists of his day.  He didn’t care much for Elvis’ dancing, I think, but said he appreciated Elvis’ gospel recordings.]

 

After a little prodding, he agreed to play for me, even though he said he hadn’t much played in years. Fortunately, I had enough sense to record it (even if I did record vertically (oops)). Interestingly, he didn’t play his own song but played Lloyd Price, perhaps because talking about his early days playing made him nostalgic?  Hope you enjoy:

 

 

I nearly fainted with happiness, so I hope this also lifts your spirits like it did mine!

Best thing I’ve seen all day. Flash Chorus!

Not to overly spoil the surprise, but the following video depicts a random group of people bursting into “Va Pensiero” at a mall.  Well-worth watching.

Couldn’t stop smiling. Who knew there were flash choruses?  I NEED to participate in one ASAP.

In other news, this is the article from which I got the video.  Apparently “Va Pensiero” only became a rallying cry for Italian unification some years after its publication, contrary to common lore.

The image of Verdi as a “revolutionary” composer . . .  became standard in the early 20th century; it was encouraged during the Fascist years (the state-sponsored 1941 Verdi celebrations were a high point), and was sustained post-war by a continuing adherence to the “heroic” aspects of Italian nationalism.

In spite of all this latter-day boosting, there is, alas, no evidence that the chorus excited patriotic fervour in its early years (a often-repeated tale about it being encored on opening night by enflamed patriots is a blatant invention).

Free Beethoven Composer Quiz

My students have been learning about Beethoven in lessons recently and I’ve had several of them read the short Beethoven biography from MakingMusicFun.net.

To accompany this lesson, I’ve created a little quiz on Beethoven based on the bio the students were given above.  I’ve used it at a lesson the week following having them read the bio to make sure that the students pay attention.  It could also be used with the bio as a reading comprehension style worksheet.

Here’s a snapshot of the quiz.  The full text is available at my website here.  Beethoven Composer Quiz for piano students

Van Cliburn, RIP

van cliburn

Van Cliburn died this morning of bone cancer.  He is most well known for winning the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at the age of 23 (in 1958) at the height of the Cold War.

Here he is performing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1:

Here is the media coverage of his 1958 win of the competition:

Here is news coverage of Van Cliburn playing at the Reagan whitehouse for Mikhail Gorbachev:

One of my piano students is learning the Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata first movement.  This is one of those “classical pop” hits that I never wanted to play when I was studying, considering them a little too plebian somehow for me.  So it’s as thought I’m learning it for the first time too as he learns it.  And who knew that I would actually learn something, albeit about Chopin, as a result!

As a consequence of Beethoven’s instructions to play the opening movement– “”Si deve suonare tutto questo pezzo delicatissimamente e senza sordino” (“One must play this whole piece [meaning “movement”] very delicately and without dampers.”). — I gave the student a quick lesson about the history of the piano as an instrument and explained to him that Beethoven’s piano was different from those one which we play today.

Later that weekend, he emailed me these photos:

IMAG0220

IMAG0221

So I learned something new.  Chopin apparently favored the pianos by this particular manufacturer.

From Wikipedia:

The firm provided pianos to Frédéric Chopin,[2] and also ran a concert hall, the Salle Pleyel, where Chopin performed his first – and last – Paris concerts. Pleyel’s major contribution to piano development was the first use of a metal frame in a piano. Pleyel pianos were the choice of composers such as Debussy, Saint-Saëns, Ravel, de Falla and Stravinsky and of the pianist and teacher Alfred Cortot.[3]

Stream Purcell’s The Fairy Queen for free!

Here’s the link.  Streaming is available for free from now until August 17!

http://gu.com/p/392nk

From Glyndebourne’s website:

Purcell’s intoxicating combination of words and music alternates elements of the plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a variety of musical interludes. A magical brew has been concocted by director Jonathan Kent in inventive collaboration with designer Paul Brown.

The glass-fronted cases of a 17th-century cabinet of curiosities disgorge the black-winged inhabitants of a fairy world who make it their business to daze and confuse the poor humans who have accidentally strayed into their kingdom. The mixture is quintessentially English – one moment pastoral and elegiac, the next pure end-of-the-pier slapstick.

Baroque specialist Laurence Cummings will lead the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment from the harpsichord in this revival of a production that enchanted audiences on its first outing in 2009. The Daily Telegraph called it ‘an absolute riot, but executed with taste and style’ while The Observer said that ‘it is hard to imagine a more brilliantly creative approach to the work’.

When it was first produced at the Dorset Gardens Theatre in London in 1692,The Fairy Queen featured stage effects that nearly bankrupted the theatre. There were elaborate costumes, swans gliding over lakes, grottoes, woods and 12-foot high fountains. At Glyndebourne there will be dazzling singing and dancing, flamboyant cross-dressing, a flying horse and a warren full of rampant rabbits!

A revival of the 2009 Festival production

Sung in English with English supertitles

Co-Production with Théâtre National de l’Opéra-Comique

Supported by The Fairy Queen Syndicate

New edition for The Purcell Society by Bruce Wood and Andrew Pinnock. Performed by arrangement with Stainer & Bell.

George Gerswhin, remembered

English: George Gershwin, 28 March 1937 Azərba...
English: George Gershwin, 28 March 1937 Azərbaycan: Corc Gerşvin, ABŞ bəstəkarı, 28 mart 1937 Español: George Gershwin, 28 marzo 1937 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gershwin died this day (July 11) in 1937.  In his honor, I’m going to be doing some heavy duty, Gerswhin listening.  To start off, here is a playlist from Spotify:

In case the embed code is acting up (which it seems to be), here’s the actual link:  Gershwin

George Gerswhin was the son of Jewish immigrants to the US, born in New York in the 1890s.  His family name had been changed from Gershowitz to Gershvin sometime after immigrating.  Gershwin began piano studies sometime after his parents purchased a piano for lesson for his older brother (and eventual lyricist) Ira.  Ira wasn’t interested, but Gershwin took to it early on.  However, interestingly, George wasn’t the first in the family to make a living with music; his sister Frances made money as a performer but gave it up in favor of being a housewife.

George got his start in music working in music publishing in Tin Pan Alley.  He published his first song at the age of 17, earning him $5.  He wrote many songs, including his first national hit, during this period.  He also composed numerous piano rolls – music for player pianos – during this time.  From there, he moved into writing musicals such as Lady Be Good and Funny Face.

It wasn’t until 1924 that Gershwin composed his first classical piece, Rhapsody in Blue, which ultimately turned out to be one of his biggest hits.  After this, he moved to Paris, where he attempted to study with Nadia Boulanger and Maurice revel, who both rejected him as a student, apparently for fear that study with them would spoil his jazz-influenced style.  During this period, he also composed An American in Paris, before returning to the US.

Gershwin’s most ambitious composition was Porgy and Bess (1935). Gershwin called it a “folk opera,” and it is now widely regarded as one of the most important American operas of the twentieth century. “From the very beginning, it was considered another American classic by the composer of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ — even if critics couldn’t quite figure out how to evaluate it. Was it opera, or was it simply an ambitious Broadway musical? ‘It crossed the barriers,’ says theater historian Robert Kimball. ‘It wasn’t a musical work per se, and it wasn’t a drama per se — it elicited response from both music and drama critics. But the work has sort of always been outside category.”[20]

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