Arts & Culture

Arts and culture

Staccato

14 hours ago

The literal meaning of the Italian word staccato is similar to that of staccato—“detached,” or “distinct.” In string playing, to play notes staccato means to play them with a bouncing bow. With its stiff but flexible stick and tightened horsehair, the bow is like a long spring, so it wants to bounce.


Bach's Birthday

Mar 21, 2017

If I told you about a letter from a famous composer to his employers, a letter in which the composer complained that he needed a higher salary because he’d been making less money freelancing playing the organ at funerals, because there hadn’t been nearly enough disease going around – could you guess who the composer was? 


Carli Muñoz
carlimunoz.com

Pianist Carli Muñoz’s musical journey has taken him from Puerto Rico to the studios and clubs of LA, and back to the island of his birth, where he owns his own jazz club. His musical career has taken a similar circular trajectory. Having started out as a jazz musician, he played with pop musicians such as the Beach Boys and Rickie Lee Jones before returning full time to his first love, jazz. On this 2007 Piano Jazz, he plays his own tune “Mia” and joins McPartland for Cole Porter’s “So In Love.”

The Song Cycle

Mar 20, 2017

A song cycle is a set of songs whose texts—often by a single poet—are linked by a common subject, mood, or story. Though the songs of the cycle are all individual entities, they’re designed to be heard together.  And if the marriage of music and poetry in the song represents a 19th century Romantic ideal, the song cycle carries that ideal even further, allowing for an expanded range of expression, a deeper exploration of the individual psyche.

Jon Regen
jonregen.com

Pianist, vocalist and composer Jon Regen was an apprentice of the renowned pianist Kenny Barron. Regen has performed at venues worldwide, including a month-long stint at the Blue Note in Japan, and toured with Kyle Eastwood’s band. On this episode of Song Travels, Regen performs the title track from his 2015 album Stop Time and joins Michael Feinstein for a duet of “Young and Foolish.”

News Stations: Sun, Mar 26, 2 pm | Classical Stations: Sun, Mar 26, 6 pm

Musical Borrowing

Mar 17, 2017

For centuries, composers of classical music have been borrowing and adapting ideas and styles from popular music. Renaissance composers, for example, based Roman Catholic masses on popular tunes. Later composers made liberal use of folk tunes and folk styles of all kinds, and modern composers have borrowed freely from jazz and blues, among many other popular styles.

I’ve been reading about the guitar lately, and here’s what I’ve found: When it comes to the history of the guitar, the only thing that’s certain… is that nothing is certain. Did the early plucked ancestors of the modern guitar make their way to Europe from Asia and the Middle East? Possibly. There are tomb paintings from ancient Egypt, after all, and Hittite stone carvings from over three thousand years ago that show guitar-like instruments, not to mention an actual guitar-like instrument from Egypt that’s 3500 years old.

Arrangement

Mar 15, 2017

To make an arrangement of a musical composition is to rewrite the composition for a new set of musical forces—to rewrite a wind quintet for string quartet, for example, or to transform a string quartet into a piano trio. In the process of arrangement, a piece may be altered in all sorts of ways, but the original composition always remains recognizable.

When a TV show really connects with viewers, it's often a lightning-in-a-bottle experience; a collision of talent, material and public mood that is difficult to define. But that hasn't stopped people from asking Dan Fogelman, the creator of NBC's supersuccessful family drama This Is Us, this question: How did you pull this off?

Fogelman's answer: tone, timing and cast.

Cassandra King
Courtesy of the Author

In the Fall of 2016, the Newberry Opera House, in partnership with the Pat Conroy Literary Center, presented a special night in honor of the late author, Pat Conroy. The evening featured Conroy's widow and fellow novelist Cassandra King interviewed by Walter Edgar, and was presented in benefit of the Pat Conroy Literary Center.

All Stations: Fri, Mar 17, 12 pm | News Stations: Sun, Mar 19, 4 pm

A Cappella

Mar 14, 2017

The term a cappella is one of the more familiar Italian terms we run into in the music world. When applied to vocal music, a cappella simply means “without instrumental accompaniment.” But you may find the derivation of the term interesting. The literal meaning of a cappella in Italian is “as in the chapel,” or “in the style of the chapel.”

Judy Roberts
judyroberts.com

Pianist and vocalist Judy Roberts is one of Chicago’s best-loved musicians. She’s an imaginative and insightful pianist with an articulate touch, and her voice readily conveys many different moods. Since beginning her professional career at age 15, Roberts has traveled the world, gaining fans and garnering critical acclaim. She always keeps her audiences enthralled, as she did on this 2005 Piano Jazz, recorded in front of a live audience at WAMC in Albany, New York. She performs McPartland’s “Twilight World,” and the two get together for “Gravy Waltz.”

Composers on Mozart

Mar 13, 2017

Many composers over the years have tried to express in writing what the music of Mozart has meant to them—and to the world. Here are a couple of examples of Mozart appreciation from two 20th century composers who were also wonderful writers. First, from Aaron Copland: “Each time a Mozart work begins…we composers listen with a certain awe and wonder, not unmixed with despair..."


Herb Alpert is a world-renowned musician, composer, producer and co-founder of A&M Records. He rose to fame with the Tijuana Brass, and remains the only artist to have a No. 1 record as a singer and an instrumentalist. This week Alpert and his wife, vocalist Lani Hall, share stories from their remarkable careers. Alpert joins Feinstein for an instrumental duet of “When Sonny Gets Blue,” and Hall performs “That Old Black Magic” with Feinstein’s accompaniment.

News Stations: Sun, Mar 19, 2 pm | Classical Stations: Sun, Mar 19, 6 pm

Letters from Mahler

Mar 10, 2017

In the letters of great composers, certain themes come up again and again, especially the composers’ struggles to get their works performed, and the desire—often frustrated—to have those works understood and appreciated. Here’s Gustav Mahler writing in 1906: “For the time being I must rest content with knowing that in a few places there are small circles of art-lovers for whom my work has some meaning, even perhaps some value. The first obstacle to its performance, no matter where, consists in the resources that would have to be employed...


Sergei Rachmaninoff

Mar 9, 2017

Sergei Rachmaninoff was an example of one of the great “types” in the history of classical music: the virtuoso performer who was also an important composer. And indeed he was one of the greatest examples of this type, because both his performing and his composing activities were on the highest level. During his time, in fact, Rachmaninoff was considered by many to be nothing less than the greatest pianist in the world—and if you go online and check out some of the many Rachmaninoff recordings, I think you’ll see why.


Jean Sibelius

Mar 8, 2017

Jean Sibelius was a fascinating man. He was born the year the American Civil War ended and he died in the year of Sputnik. He was a prolific composer—in addition to seven symphonies, many other orchestral works, choral music, music for the stage, and chamber music, he wrote more than a hundred songs—but over the last thirty years of his life he wrote virtually nothing. He was the greatest of Finnish composers, but he was a Swedish Finn: his first language was Swedish, and in fact he didn’t even learn to speak Finnish well until he was a young man.


As Observatory Manager at the South Carolina State Museum, Dr. Matthew Whitehouse is keeping busy with a few preparations for the upcoming solar eclipse on August 21st—he has even written a piece of music inspired by the event. The astronomy educator is also an organist and composer, and doesn’t mind taking an interdisciplinary approach when it comes to celestial phenomena. In fact, merging seemingly separate fields is one of his major interests.

There’s very little that’s natural about the physical positions and movements that are required to play most musical instruments, and during the course of practicing and performing, awkward movements may be repeated literally thousands of times a day and millions of times a year, and unnatural positions may be maintained for untold numbers of hours. Muscle strain, tendonitis, nerve damage—all fall in the general category of “overuse” syndromes, and all are unfortunately extremely common among professional musicians.


Joey DeFrancesco at the North Sea Jazz Festival.
Thomas Faivre-Duboz [CC 2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Joey DeFrancesco was only 20 years old when he was McPartland’s guest on Piano Jazz. Hailed as the new hero of the organ, his stint with Miles Davis brought the classically trained keyboardist national attention. He has since gone on to release more than 30 albums and has earned multiple Grammy nominations. For this 1991 session, DeFrancesco switches to piano to play his own compositions and joins McPartland for “Cherokee.”

News Stations: Sat, Mar 11, 8 pm | Classical Station: Sun, Mar 12, 7 pm

There’s no question that good performers are necessary in order to bring musical compositions to life. I play the viola, and I’m always aware that when I’m playing a concert, the quality of my performance is of great importance in bringing the music to life for the people who are in that particular audience. So yes, in the limited sphere of my performances and my audiences, my role is critical, and if I play Mozart well, or Brahms, or Beethoven, I’m playing at least a small part in sustaining a vital and beautiful tradition.


Neil Sedaka
neilsedaka.com

Neil Sedaka is synonymous with popular music. He had a string of early-1960s pop hits, and his songs have been recorded by Frank Sinatra, Connie Francis, Elvis Presley and The Monkees, among others. On this Song Travels, host Michael Feinstein and Sedaka talk and play iconic pop and great standards, including one of his many hits: “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.”

News Stations: Sun, Mar 12, 2 pm | Classical Stations: Sun, Mar 12, 6 pm

Music That Lasts

Mar 3, 2017

People often wonder, “Which pieces by contemporary composers will be familiar to classical music lovers fifty… a hundred… two hundred years from now”?  Well, it’s not foolproof, but one pretty good indicator is that if a piece remains unloved after fifty years, or has entirely dropped out of sight, it’s not likely to be in the standard repertoire after a hundred years.


Debussy on Bach

Mar 2, 2017

Here are a few words that one great composer wrote about another—and I wonder if you can guess who was writing about whom. Ready? “Once again one finds almost the entire piece is pure musical arabesque…In reworking the arabesque he made it more flexible, more fluid, and despite the fact that [he] always imposed a rigorous discipline on beauty, he imbued it with a wealth of free fantasy so limitless that it still astonishes us…” “We can be sure that [he] scorned harmonic formulas. He preferred the free play of sonorities whose curves…would result in an undreamed of flowering, so that the least of his manuscripts bears an indelible stamp of beauty.”


Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel were roughly contemporaries, and as two of the greatest figures in late 19th and early 20th century French music, they tend to be linked in people’s minds. But although they had similar training and came under many of the same influences, their musical styles and techniques were really quite different. And each admired the other’s talents, but that didn’t stop either one of them from criticizing what he saw as the other’s weaknesses.


Timpani 2

Feb 28, 2017

The timpani, or kettledrums were the original percussion instrument of the orchestra. The “kettle” of a kettledrum is called the “bowl,” and is made of copper or brass. The “head” of the drum, the surface that the player strikes, is a piece of Mylar plastic stretched over the rim of the bowl.


Ahmad Jamal
Courtesy of the artist

One of the most popular stylists in contemporary jazz, pianist Ahmad Jamal has been a major force on the jazz recording scene ever since his 1958 live album made at Chicago’s Pershing Lounge. On this 1985 Piano Jazz, Jamal reprises two classics from that session—“Poinciana” and “But Not for Me”—in duet with McPartland. Jamal solos on Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday,” and he and McPartland close the program with a final duet on “Silent Night, Holy Night.”

News Stations: Sat, Mar 04, 8 pm | Classical Station: Sun, Mar 05, 7 pm

Timpani 1

Feb 27, 2017

The timpani, also called kettledrums, have been regular members of the orchestra since about 1700. Their history can be traced back to ancient times in the Middle East, but they first appeared in Europe in the 1400's—they were originally imported from Turkey for use in cavalry bands. Timpani are tuned drums—they play notes, not just booms.  


Maurice Ravel

Feb 24, 2017

A famous music critic once referred to the French composer Maurice Ravel as “this most conscious, most naturally artificial of composers.” And in fact Ravel specifically said that he wasn’t seeking “profundity” in the music he wrote. He was merely seeking…perfection—some sort of technical perfection in composition, as he defined it, with “absolute beauty” as the guidepost and goal. But here’s the problem: I’m not sure we should completely believe him. Ravel once said, “In my opinion the joie de vivre expressed in dance goes much deeper than the puritanism of César Franck.”


Trudy Pitts
lifelinemusiccoalition.com

Organist, arranger, composer, teacher, and singer Trudy Pitts (1932 – 2010) earned a reputation not only for her technical prowess, but also for her ability to convey a wide range of emotions. Her formal training was classical: she studied piano at Juilliard and Temple University, but came to jazz by way of the organ. On this 1992 Piano Jazz, Pitts’ sensitive touch is apparent when she solos on “A Child is Born.” Then she and McPartland create a memorable “Mood Indigo.”

News Stations: Sat, Feb 25, 8 pm | Classical Station: Sun, Feb 26, 7 pm

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