Week 21-24

Week 24:

Greetings SRC participants and friends.  I hope everyone enjoyed last week’s ‘tribute to college students’ concert.  While we certainly do have more instruments in the Keyboard Family to survey, this week I thought I would return to a fun theme that we began in Week 19- “Weird, Wacky and Bizarre Instruments.”  In Week 19 we looked at the strange world of the Theremin.  This week I would like to focus the spotlight on an instrument that seems surreal and also can elicit the question of “Why on earth….?” (To which the answer is usually “Because they CAN”).  Let’s look at a GIANT of a stringed instrument this week–the Octobass.  The large and very rare Octobass was first built in 1850 by the French luthier (a craftsperson who builds and repairs string instruments) Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume.  Vuillaume created the octobass to add an extreme low end ‘rumble’ to any given orchestra.  The octobass is a bowed string instrument that has 3 strings and is essentially a much larger version of the double bass that can be found in any orchestra.  In fact, where the average double bass stands at about 6′ 7″ the octobass is just about two times that height at an average of 11′ 5″.  Due to the extreme height of this instrument, the performer stands on a special platform and pulls on a system of levers connected to a mechanism that pulls down the strings on a fret to change the pitch of the string.  There are only 7 known octobass instruments in the WORLD- two of which are 2 of the 3 surviving original instruments that Vuillaume himself created.  The only professional orchestra to own an octobass is the Montreal Symphony Orchestra-the instrument also being the octobass with the lowest range.  The Montreal octobass has a range that extends to MORE than an octave lower than the lowest note found on a double bass.  To put that into context, the lowest note on this octobass is the low A (A0) that is the A below four C’s to the left of middle C!!!  In fact, some of the lowest notes on this octobass go beyond the frequency of notes that a human ear can hear- yet we would be able to feel the vibrations. Strange, right?!  Now for some videos:  let’s look at this excellent introductory video on the Octobass- done by the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona:  https://youtu.be/12X-i9YHzmE.  For some performance videos featuring the Octobass in all of its low rumbling glory –1.  Amazing Grace:  featuring a double bass and an octobass (for side by side comparison) https://youtu.be/jCEYPyUBDAU.   2.  Ave Verum performed by a quartet from the Montreal Symphony Orchestra:  https://youtu.be/uhB6JIKKvhA    What do you think?  A strange LOW instrument that (when performed with skill and care) creates an amazing low end rumble!  

Bonus Video:  Good news!  It looks as if Hank Shapiro’s missing gig from July 25 has been uploaded and added to youtube!  Here again is your weekly Henry ‘Hank’ Shapiro virtual gig from July 25:  https://youtu.be/_TUi0-stwQA


Week 23:

A warm greeting to all SRC participants and friends!  Hope this finds everyone doing well!  This week, I would love to share with you another special concert experience!  To honor all of the College Students across our country who are beginning their semesters so very differently this year, I would love for you to ‘step into their shoes’ (namely the ‘shoes’ of Music Majors), and experience a College Recital.  Since I am an alum of Ithaca College’s School of Music (go Bombers!), this week I would love to share with you an Ithaca College Music School Faculty Showcase Recital that was recorded live back in 2012 and put up on their livestream archive page via their website.  Settle in with a good cup of tea (or even put this on in the background while you are doing housework or making dinner) and let me share with you a “staple” of the experience of a College Music Student – Recital attendance!  Sidenote:  Did you know, at least at my College, all music students were required to attend a certain amount of Recitals and Concerts each semester. I believe the number was around 15 or 20 a semester?  We had a little card that had to get hole punched with a special hole punch at each Recital or Concert and yes, by each semester’s end you could see exhausted looking Music Students in back rows, quietly nodding off during performances, just trying to meet the semester’s required #. Haha, oh memories!  Before I share with you the web link for our concert today, let me give you a little background about one of the selections on the program.  First of all, you can download the Recital program via the link directly above the video box on the website and I would recommend you do so, in order to follow along!  All selections in the program feature the piano utilized as either a solo instrument or as part of a duet, trio or ensemble.  The first selection on your program is Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 12 in Ab Major, composed around the year 1801.  This work for solo piano consists of 4 sections (movements) and takes approx. 20 minutes to perform. This piece opens with a slow First movement in “Theme and Variation” format- a repeating musical idea/melody that gets ‘varied’ and altered throughout the section.  Listen to see if you can hear the repeating melodies, changed slightly with each repetition in various ways.  The Third movement includes a “Funeral March”–see if you can hear it!  This Piano Sonata by Beethoven was greatly admired by Frédéric Chopin, who later repeated the structure of this Beethoven Sonata in his own Piano Sonata in Bb minor composed in 1840.   Your pianist in this video is Piano Professor at IC, Charis Dimaras– who taught at the College when I attended and though I never had him as a teacher, I always loved his performance style and the emotion he shows when playing.  Other selections in this Recital include the Piano along with duets/trios/ensembles featuring instruments such as the French Horn, Tuba, Violin, a Jazz ensemble and the Percussion Instrument, the Vibraphone. 

Here is the web link to this Ithaca College 2012 Faculty Showcase Recital : https://www.ithaca.edu/music/live/2012_2013/20120917_facultyshowcase/.   Hope you enjoy this concert, don’t forget to download the Concert Program pdf to follow along and Piano Students:  pay attention to the different ways the Piano is featured in each selection in the program — as a solo instrument, as an accompanying instrument, as a member of an ensemble….etc.

And yes,to my Piano Class friends, this Recital DOES take place in what I have mentioned before was my favorite Recital Hall on my campus- beautiful Hockett Hall!  Enjoy some top level performances by some extremely talented Music Professors, as we all think of and send our best wishes to all College Students beginning their semesters at this time.

Bonus Video:  As always, here is your weekly Hank Shapiro virtual gig, this time from his live streamed event on August 8th:https://youtu.be/5yspc0NMeG4


Week 22:

A very warm hello to you all!  I hope this week finds you all doing well!  I do hope you all enjoyed the Broadway concert last week- I’m still rewatching parts of that video!  This week, let’s resume our study of instruments found in the broad category of Keyboard Instruments.  This week let’s take a look at another instrument that falls into the subgroup of an instrument that is a Keyboard Instrument that is also an Idiophone Instrument.  Other past Idiophone Keyboard Instruments we have studied include the Dulcitone, the Carillon and the Celesta.  Idiophone instruments are any instruments that create sound primarily by the vibration of the instrument itself- without the use of air, strings or membranes.  This week let’s take a look at the Toy Piano!  Also known as a kinderklavier (child’s keyboard), toy pianos are ‘small piano-like musical instruments’ that come in many shapes and various sizes- from “scale models of upright or grand pianos to toys which only resemble pianos in that they also have keys.”  Most toy pianos use hammers that hit round metal rods to produce sound- compared to strings in a regular piano.  The first toy pianos were produced in the mid 19th Century and were typically modeled off of an upright piano.  A typical range of a toy piano can consist from anywhere between barely one octave to as much as a three octave range.  While originally made and thought of as a child’s toy, the toy piano has been used in classical and contemporary musical contexts.  The most famous composition dedicated for toy piano is from 1948, John Cage’s  (yes, the same man of prepared piano/’the silent piece’ fame) piece “Suite for Toy Piano”.  Possibly the most famous pop culture reference for the toy piano is found in the Peanuts comics/animated movies when Shroeder uses a toy piano to play his beloved Beethoven pieces. 

Let’s look at some video clips of performances on toy pianos:  1.  Here is the John Cage “Suite for Toy Piano”…probably not your ‘cup of tea’ but let’s just remember how experimental John Cage truly was to 20th Century music:  Suite for Toy Piano:  https://youtu.be/WC78T-i6pow.  I also found this impressive video (I’ll let it speak for itself), being played on a toy piano modeled off of a grand piano:  https://youtu.be/NLq8-7Mspb4.  MY personal favorite comes from a musical duo (husband and wife actually) that I have loved for a long long time (and yes, I even do own one of those t-shirts they plug at the end of the video) “Pomplamoose” – Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn.  They are best known for their creative covers of famous songs, although they have produced and written original music throughout the years also.  In this video, Jack Conte uses a toy piano to add to the arrangement of this song (as well as an accordian –which we have also studied!).  You’ll probably recognize the tune–listen and watch for when the toy piano is used in the arrangement of “Mister Sandman”:  https://youtu.be/9xMCNmUaGko.  For more information on toy pianos, you can check out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toy_piano

***BONUS VIDEO:  As always, here is another Hank Shapiro virtual gig- from his live streamed concert on August 1st:  https://youtu.be/hH6nROGkYOM  ( FYI:  It appears that his July 25th gig must have had trouble uploading the video to YouTube as July 25 is not available)


Week 21:

Greetings SRC friends!  Hope this finds you all doing well.  This week, I’d like to take a break from our survey of instruments to bring you something extra special.  Those participating in our “Homebound” Emailed Piano Classes will know that for the past few weeks in our Listening Segment of class, we have been appreciating Broadway Piano arrangements- for fun and to bring a little joy and hope in a world where theater has been put on a temporary pause.  Well, to cap off our Broadway Piano Listening- I’d love to share with you a FULL LENGTH Broadway concert of sorts.  At the end of March, Broadway genius Stephen Sondheim celebrated his 90th birthday.  To celebrate, at the end of this past April, the Broadwaycom Youtube channel put together a virtual birthday celebration concert with some of the great Broadway vocalists sending in clips of them performing exclusively Sondheim songs!  Let’s cap off our Broadway Piano listening by celebrating Stephen Sondheim.  But first a little background and some tidbit facts about Stephen Sondheim.  Did you know Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy?!  He also had the privilege, when he was in his late teens/early 20s, of being mentored in the area of songwriting for Musicals by the late Oscar Hammerstein.  As a Musical Theater composer and lyricist, Stephen Sondheim has received 8 Tony Awards, 8 Grammy Awards, an Academy Award and a Pulitzer Prize!  While MY favorite Sondheim work is hands down “Into the Woods” (genius and so fun!), other best known works of his include “Company”, “A Little Night Music”, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, “Follies”, “Sweeney Todd” and “Sunday in the Park with George”.  Sondheim’s musical composition style is HIGHLY complex, sometimes criticized as too ‘cerebral’, and he stands as one of the most important figures in 20th Century Musical Theater.  Stephen Sondheim is praised as having “reinvented the American Musical” and for having “music and lyrics of unprecedented complexity.”  On a personal note, I stand in awe of Sondheim, consider him a songwriting GENIUS and still to this day remember where I was and the thrill of listening to my first Sondheim musical.  On to the concert–I’d recommend setting aside a good 2 hours for this virtual concert–perhaps even watching this Youtube video through your television or desktop/laptop.  Settle in and enjoy a concert of Sondheim ‘best of’ songs–it’s a good way to familiarize yourself with his works AND to hear from some of the great Broadway vocalists!  And yes, Bernadette Peters and Meryl Streep even make appearances!  Here is the concert. Piano students please take note especially to the opening Piano Prologue in the concert–played by another Musical Theater composer, Steve Schwartz (Godspell, Wicked)  Stephen Sondheim 90th Birthday Virtual Concert:  https://youtu.be/A92wZIvEUAw ….  Piano Students see your class emails for a short list of my favorite selections in this concert along with the ‘time stamp’ they occur).  ***BONUS VIDEO:  As always, here is another virtual gig from Hank Shapiro https://youtu.be/eLgoSMBiFUM–  from his live-streamed concert July 18th.


Beer-Making – June 6, 13, 20, 27

Beer-Making Workshop Catherine Segal, Senior Resource Center Board Member and beer aficionado, led us in a beer-making workshop last month! The class started with mashing, separating, boiling, stirring, and fermenting. Everyone was very busy planning the different...

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