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Spring Projects

6 hours ago

It’s a great time to get outside and enjoy the weather, but with the cold weather on its way out, this is also a good time for some spring cleaning and summer preparations.  Get out the ladder and clear out those gutters and downspouts.  Take stock of any parts of your home that may not have fared well through the winter.  


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.”

Yesterday we talked about design and location of your vegetable garden.  Today, let’s talk about how to care for your plants.  Now that you’ve decided to plant a garden, think about creating optimal soil with compost.


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..."


Spring is here and this is the perfect time to start thinking about planting a vegetable garden!  Growing your own produce is a good way to stretch your grocery budget and feel confident about the food you serve to your family.


The Paleo Diet

Mar 10, 2017

Perhaps you’ve heard of the latest buzzword diet: the Paleo Diet.  But what is a paleo diet, and why should you give it a try?  Simply put, this diet harkens back to the cavemen, which means you can eat anything a caveman could hunt or gather: grass fed meat, fish, nuts, leafy greens, regional veggies and seeds.


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...


Healing Foods

Mar 9, 2017

It seems like common sense, but using food as medicine may be the best way to head off illness before it becomes a problem.  For example, prebiotics and probiotics, those bacteria found in things like yogurt and sauerkraut can help regulate your digestive system and even calm an upset stomach.


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.


Washing fruits and vegetables to remove wax and pesticides is a good idea, but did you know that a white vinegar and water wash kills ninety-eight per cent of germs and removes pesticides?  You can reuse a sanitized spray bottle and combine three parts water to one part white vinegar.


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.


So, you want to grow your own vegetables, but you don’t have the space outside or maybe you want to cultivate your garden year-round.  Did you know there are many different vegetables that you can grow indoors?


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.


Vegan Fast Food

Mar 6, 2017

Plant based diets are good for your health and some studies suggest that a diet free of animal byproducts can reduce health care costs and are better for the environment.  So what do US companies do to encourage us to be meat free?

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.


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.


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.  


Homemade Makeup

Feb 24, 2017

While it’s true that inner beauty needs no make-up, as women we often feel like our outer beauty needs a little cosmetic help.  But if you’re a little nervous about the chemical additives found in many cosmetic brands, think about inventing your own make-up at home with a few simple ingredients.  Keep in mind that the process may take a little experimentation and just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s necessarily perfect for your skin.  


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.”


Mason Jar DIY

Feb 23, 2017

The Mason jar has made a comeback in recent years, but I’m not just talking about food storage.  Yes, glass jars are great for storing vegetables through the winter and all manner of other food stuffs, but these days, Mason jars are shabby chic decorating tools too.  Not convinced?  Do a Pinterest search for Mason jars and see how many hits you get!  


Claude Debussy in 1903 wrote about the importance of giving his imagination free rein. Five years later Debussy expanded on the theme in a published interview. “You know,” he said, “People leave their homes to get away from themselves and from their surroundings. I confess that I live only in my surroundings and in myself. I can conceive of no greater pleasure than sitting in my chair at this desk and looking at the walls around me day by day and night after night..."


It has happened to all of us: you open the pantry door and can’t find anything!  When your cupboards are a jumbled mess, finding ingredients can take longer than actually cooking dinner.  Maximize pantry space and keep things organized by installing shelves on the door and adding under-shelf baskets.   If you find there’s not enough space in the cupboard for all your spices, put them on display on the counter top in clear glass jars.  


Today is the birthday of George Washington, so I thought I’d talk about… Alexander Reinagle. And in case this doesn’t seem like the most obvious choice to you, I’ll explain. Reinagle was a keyboard player and composer who was born in England in 1756 but who came to America in 1786, landing first in New York and then moving to Philadelphia.


Beware of Mold

Feb 21, 2017

Few household problems are more terrifying than finding mold.  Not only is it unsightly, it can also be harmful to your health.  Mold thrives in damp, dusty and stagnant conditions, so it’s important to keep your home well ventilated.  Mold is most common in a basement, but can also occur around leaky pipes and windows.  Should you come across mold in your home, clean it without delay and repair any water issues that may have caused the damage.  


Robert Schumann called taking the titles of musical compositions too literally “clumsy.” Schumann’s friend Franz Liszt, on the other hand, coined the term “program music,” and said that when a piece has a program, or story, the musical ideas should clearly reflect the unfolding of the story—although that’s the same Franz Liszt who attached a “program” to his symphonic poem Les Préludes long after he had actually written the music.


Household staples like detergents and cleaners are common items on your grocery list, but rather than overpaying for those name brands, you can make your own at home and save some money!  Laundry detergent is so easy and CHEAP to make, stop buying those expensive brands and make your own with washing soda, baking soda and a bar of soap.  


Like many 19th-century composers, Robert Schumann often gave his works picturesque titles. Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood, for example, a set of pieces for solo piano, includes pieces with titles such as “Pleading Child,” and “Frightening.”  How literally should we take these titles – and perhaps the picturesque titles of other composers’ works? 

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