Week 54 (Week of April 5):
Hello everyone! Hope this finds you all doing well & enjoying the warmer Spring-time weather.
Speaking of Spring, this week let’s take a look together at a female jazz pianist/vocalist whose very name evokes the season of Spring – Blossom Dearie!
(Sidenote: A couple years ago, I became VERY into Blossom’s music/albums so I admit this is biased- I find her utterly charming!)
Blossom Dearie, born ‘Margrethe Blossom Dearie’, was born on April 28, 1924 and passed on Feb. 7, 2009 at the age of 84.
Though she is primarily known as the jazz singer with a distinctly breathy & ‘girl-ish’ voice, Blossom was also an EXCELLENT jazz pianist in her own right.
Over her many decades of performing and recording, Blossom had many regular engagements in NYC and London.
She also collaborated with many other musicians and songwriters of that time- including Miles Davis, Johnny Mercer and Jack Segal.
It is widely circulated that her whimsical and unusual middle name of ‘Blossom’, which she came to be known as, may have originated from a neighbor who delivered peach blossoms to the family home on the day that she was born. From a very early age, young Blossom could easily pick out familiar songs on the family piano.
Blossom began piano lessons at the tender age of 5 and studied Classical piano into her teens.
While she was encouraged to enter the Peabody Conservatory after High school, to further her studies in Classical piano, around her late teens Blossom switched gears to Jazz Piano.
After High School, Blossom moved to Manhattan, where she dropped her first name (‘Margrethe’) and began to sing in vocal groups such as Avino Rey’s “Blue Reys” and Woody Herman’s “Blue Flowers” while performing in famous NYC clubs. Before beginning her solo career, she ‘rubbed shoulders’ with many “jazz greats” of the time- regularly spending time with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.
Blossom got her start as a solo act in a little club in Greenwich Village called The Chantilly in 1950. It was there that she met Eddie Barclay, who convinced Blossom to move to Paris in 1952 to perform and record. Her first solo album was recorded on the Barclay label in 1956. Blossom returned to the United States in late 1956/early 1957.
Blossom then, upon her return to the States, recorded six American solo albums on the Verve Record label in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
In 1962 she recorded a radio commercial for Hires Root Beer.
In the 1960s Blossom’s popularity grew when she shared the bill with Miles Davis at the Village Vanguard.
The 1970s saw her transition from a club performer to a concert performer.
In 1973, she played Carnegie Hall in NYC.
In 1974, Blossom made history by becoming the 1st woman to own a successful independent record label in the United States- Daffodil Records.
Blossom immediately went on to release the album “Blossom Dearie Sings” on her own Daffodil Records, featuring music written entirely by Blossom herself.
All in all, Blossom has a grand total of approx. 34 albums that she has appeared on- both solo albums and collaborations.
Blossom performed live up until 2 years before her passing- giving her last performance in early 2007.
Blossom passed at the age of 84 of natural causes, passing away in her sleep in her Greenwich Village home on Feb. 7, 2009.
Today Blossom’s music can be heard in soundtracks of several TV shows and movies, notably “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, “Gilmore Girls”, and “Call the Midwife.”
Blossom stands out as a jazz vocalist for her airy “childish Treble”- a breathy, ‘girlish’ quality that stands out as charmingly light and eccentrically delightful.
As a Jazz pianist, her technique for learning songs was to first sit down & learn the song separately on the piano.
Only when she felt she had mastered the piano accompaniment, would she then move forward to work on the lyrics.
In interviews she is quoted as commenting that, “…for me, it is all just one thing and the same thing. I don’t like to do either separately.”
This is most likely just one of the many reasons that Blossom was known throughout her career as a ‘musician’s musician.’
Her skill as both an accomplished jazz pianist and a jazz vocalist meant that she knew just how to complement the singing.
To Blossom, in her opinion, many jazz accompanists “…played entirely too much piano for the vocalist…”
Let’s take a listen to some famous Blossom Dearie songs/clips together!
- A rare recording featuring JUST Blossom’s jazz piano skills (Instrumental only): https://youtu.be/UVgJOhX7h3I
- A 1965 TV feature from Blossom’s Paris gigs- French TV: (the second half features her blues piano improv skills!). https://youtu.be/4hGjzuXchGg
3 . “They Say It’s Spring”- from her 1957 solo album: https://youtu.be/YMcMdoxYrmA
- “Tea for Two” – from her 1958 album ‘Once Upon a Summertime’: https://youtu.be/x8m51S_aq3U
- Blossom at the age of 74 performing live in NYC in 1999: (“The Ladies Who Lunch” by Sondheim)- https://youtu.be/ANhLSM9gtz8
BONUS VIDEO: As always, here is your weekly piano concert from the incredible Henry ‘Hank’ Shapiro.
This week’s video is from his Saturday, March 13th Facebook live streamed online gig. Enjoy!
Week 53 (Week of March 29, 2021):
A very warm greeting to all SRC participants & friends! Hope this finds you all doing well.
This week, I’d love to share another full length concert experience with you!
Let’s all enjoy a great collegiate concert program together- the Ithaca College Symphony Orchestra, under the principal conductor Grant Cooper.
This concert took place on March 8th of this year and was recorded and performed under Covid precautionary measures and then uploaded to their website.
Let’s take a closer look at 2 of the 3 works that you will hear in this concert program (video link posted at the end)
First in the program is the Overture from the opera Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi.
This Italian language opera composed in 1841 is based on the plight of the Jewish people as they are conquered and exiled from their homeland by the Babylonia King Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar II).
First performed in 1842, Verdi’s opera was an instant and colossal success. The opera Nabucco is still heard and performed around the world today.
The best-known and most recognizable melody from this Opera is found in the Choral number, “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” (“Va, pensiero”),
which first appears in the Overture of our concert video at around 3 minutes in. (2:57 to be exact)
It may be interesting to note that when the Metropolitan Opera in NYC opened its Fall season in 2001, just days after the World Trade Center tragedy, the first night began with the Opera company Chorus singing “Va, pensiero” as a way of honoring the 9/11 victims.
What a beautiful melody!
If you are unfamiliar with the Chorus “Va, pensiero”/”Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves here is a fantastic rendition from 2001 of the MET Opera Company: https://youtu.be/2VejTwFjwVI
(Side note: this youtube clip MAY even be a clip from the 2001 opening night discussed above- given the date of 2001 and the audience extreme applause and the close ups of some Choral members looking a touch misty eyed during the applause?)
This famous Overture is often played by orchestras around the world outside the context of the complete Opera. Enjoy!
The 3rd and final work in this program–found at minute 24:48 in our concert program–is one of the best-known compositions in Classical music
(and certainly the most frequently played symphonies!)- Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in c minor, Op. 67.
It is quickly recognized by many simply by those famous first four notes!
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 consists of 4 separate movements and typically takes approximately 30-40 minutes to perform.
Written between 1804 and 1808, it premiered on December 22, 1808 in Vienna, Austria and was conducted by Beethoven himself.
At the time, there was little response to the premiere performance- most because of how poorly the night had gone!
The night of the premiere of the 5th Symphony the orchestra did not perform well, as they had only been able to have one rehearsal prior to the concert.
In fact, at one point in the concert Beethoven had to completely stop and restart the orchestra!
The theater that night (given that it was the dead of winter) was extremely cold and the extreme length of the concert (over 4 hours!!!) that was jam packed full of Beethoven ‘premiere works’ caused audience fatigue!
However, over a year later once the work was printed, the Symphony began to get the positive reviews and praise that it deserved.
Within two or three decades the 5th Symphony soon acquired its status as a central item in orchestra repertoire (‘standard performed works’).
It may be interesting to note, that since the time of the Second World War, this symphony has on occasion been referred to as the Victory Symphony.
V is the Roman numeral for 5 and “V for victory” became a common campaign phrase of the Allies (orig: Winston Churchill).
Some 30 years later, coincidentally, the “short-short-short-long” rhythmic motif (repeated musical pattern) of the opening First Movement of the Symphony was used for the letter “v” in Morse Code.
Here is a brief Music History summation video that reviews what you have just learned about Beethoven’s 5th Symphony: https://youtu.be/Api9-BiFpNk
Now that we have walked through some background of what you will hear in this concert (minus the middle selection), let’s enjoy the full performance together.
Here is the video link for you to enjoy (just hit play in the video box): https://www.ithaca.edu/music/live/2020_2021/20210308_orchestra/
BONUS VIDEO: As always, here is your weekly piano concert from amazing, now 100 and a HALF years of age- Henry ‘Hank’ Shapiro.
This week’s video is from his Saturday, March 6th Facebook live streamed online gig. Enjoy!
Week 52 (Week of March 22, 2021):
Hello friends! Hope this finds everyone doing well and looking forward to warmer, sunnier days ahead now that ‘Spring has sprung!’
While throughout the past year (wow!) we have focused on some “Weird, Wacky and Bizarre” instruments (the Theremin and Pikasso guitar to name a couple!), this week in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, let’s take a look at a cultural instrument.
Today, let’s learn together about the national bagpipes of Ireland- the Uilleann Pipes!
Pronounced ‘ill-en’, the Uillean Pipes – native at one point in time to both Ireland AND England, date back about 300 years ago to the beginning of the 18th Century.
We believe that the Uilleann Pipes began to be developed around the 1700s. The current name of ‘Uilleann’ is a partial translation of the Irish-language phrase “pipes of the elbow.”
While this instrument at one point in time almost became extinct, today they are enjoying a continued revival in Irish folk music.
These bagpipes differ from the Scottish highland bagpipes as the Irish Uilleann pipes are intended for more indoor playing, are played while seated, and are more of a social instrument than the military Highland bagpipes. Also differing from the Scottish highland bagpipes, the Irish Uillean pipes have a sweeter, quieter sound quality to them!
Among the world of bagpipes, the Uilleannn pipes are the most complex and hugely difficult to learn and master!
They play two full octaves and are also capable of playing all the half-steps in between, unlike any other form of bagpipe in the world.
Learning this instrument is often a mechanical, daunting musical challenge!
The instrument itself, up until very recently, was very difficult to obtain and quite expensive to purchase.
Let’s take a quick look at the mechanics of the instrument itself.
A ‘full set’ of Uilleann Pipes includes a chanter, drones and regulators (although this differs with ‘half sets” and “practice sets” of the Uillean Pipes).
A chanter is the part of the Uilleann pipes used to play the melody and consists of 8 finger holes, similar to a flute.
The chanter uses a double reed similar to that of the oboe or bassoon.
The bag of the Uilleann pipes is inflated by a small set of bellows that are strapped around the waist and the right arm (the left arm if the player is left handed!).
The bag which the bellows fill is placed under the opposite elbow and the player squeezes the bag to control the flow of air.
Uillean Pipes also consist of 3 or more ‘drones’- the tenor drone, the baritone drone and the bass drone.
The main purpose of the drones is to provide a continuous background sound to the main melody or tune.
Another addition in the development of this instrument as we know it today, was the addition of three long stopped (closed) pipes with keys called “the regulators.”
They first appeared around the mid 1700s.
These three regulator pipes have keys that can be opened by a player’s wrist action. Each regulator key sounds a different note when opened.
The regulator’s main purpose is to provide harmonic accompaniment to the tune and they can each vary in size and length.
However, sometimes it is much easier to understand by simply observing!
Let’s learn (and listen) by first checking out this fantastic 10 minute Uilleann Pipes teaching video that I was able to find
– a good mix of teaching explanation on the instrument combined with performance demonstrations.
** Uillean Pipes Educational Video: https://youtu.be/4MxFsk4sYM4
Now for a handful of Uillean performance videos:
- Uillean Pipes and the Bodhrán (Irish hand drum): https://youtu.be/kLX0_U9JZCA
- Uillean Pipes and the Fiddle: https://youtu.be/VMOkEesmoOk
- Acclaimed ‘piper’ Davy Spillane – “Caoineadh Cu Chulainn” : https://youtu.be/Mwxga8udIio
*Sidenote: If this tune, “Caoineadh Cu Chulainn” sounds familiar to you- this is because it was include in the famous 1995 “Riverdance” theater show!!
A BEAUTIFUL melody!!!
***Speaking of the “Riverdance” show, if these videos have perked your interest, you can view the entire “Riverdance” show here: https://youtu.be/R9KkbU4yStM
Watch for the Uillean pipes, both featured as solos and in the background of the show! Enjoy the show!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day, friends! I hope you enjoyed learning all about the Irish bagpipes, the Uilleann Pipes!
BONUS VIDEO: As always, here is your weekly piano concert from the one and only Henry ‘Hank’ Shapiro.
This week’s video is from his Saturday, Feb. 20th Facebook live streamed online gig. Enjoy!
Week 51 (Week of March 15, 2021):
A very warm greeting to all SRC participants & friends!
Over the past few months we have learned about several ‘oddball instruments’ through our website mini-theme of “Weird, Wacky & Bizarre Instruments.
Today let’s learn about another unique instrument- Benjamin Franklin’s glass harmonica!
The glass harmonica, also known as the ‘glass armonica’, the ‘glass harmonium’ or simply the ‘harmonica’, is a musical instrument that uses a group of glass bowls that are graduated in size to produce tunes by means of friction. While the term ‘glass harmonica’ can refer to any instrument that is played by rubbing glass goblets or bowls, today we will be looking at Benjamin Franklin’s invention. Early forerunners to Benjamin Franklin’s invention included a set of wine glasses tuned with water known as ‘musical glasses’ or ‘the singing glasses.’
While Benjamin Franklin’s version of the glass harmonica was invented in 1761, the concept of rubbing a wet finger around the rim of a glass to produce musical notes is documented all the way back to the 15th & 16th Centuries.
Benjamin Franklin invented a mechanical version of the instrument in 1761. He worked with a glass blower in London, England to build this new instrument, after seeing the ‘musical glasses’ being played in England. Operated by use of a treadle (a mechanism that operates with a pedal to create a rotating motion), Benjamin Franklin’s invention consists of 37 bowls mounted horizontally on an iron spinal and nested together. Rotating the spindle by using a foot pedal, the player produces a sound by touching the rims of the bowls with wet fingers.
The rims of the bowls are painted different colors according to the pitch of the note, for example C is red and G is blue. An original Franklin glass harmonica is in the archives at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia; on a humorous note it was donated to the Institute in 1956 by Franklin’s descendants after “the children took great delight in breaking the bowls with spoons.”
Throughout the years over 100 composers wrote works specifically for the glass harmonica-with notable examples being Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Beethoven and Camille Saint-Saëns.
Marie Antoinette even took lessons as a child! It is interesting to note that the instrument’s popularity did not last far beyond the 18th Century. While this could be in part due to the fact that it’s sound does not have the power to fill a large concert hall for performances in the early 18th Century, it’s loss of popularity may also be due to strange rumors that the instrument could cause both it’s performers and listeners to “go mad.” Quoting a German musicologist of the early 1800s, John Friedrich Rochlitz, the glass harmonica “excessively stimulates the nerves, plunges the player into a nagging depression and hence a dark and melancholy mood.”
The glass harmonica produces a sweet and ethereal sound that can swell and be softened by stronger or weaker pressures of the finger.
Let’s take a listen to the instrument that Benjamin Franklin is quoted as stating “of all my inventions, the glass harmonica had given me the greatest personal satisfaction.”
- A short teaching on the glass harmonica: https://youtu.be/nmT-OFOU4Rs
- Mr Rogers even featured the glass harmonica in his final season of his show! Enjoy: https://youtu.be/VSK_qObahWY
- A brief performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” played on the glass harmonica: https://youtu.be/eQemvyyJ–g
BONUS VIDEO: As always, here is your weekly piano concert from the one and only Henry ‘Hank’ Shapiro.
This week’s video is from his Saturday, Feb. 20th Facebook live streamed online gig. Enjoy! https://youtu.be/6FuLf8IwyhM
Week 50 (Week of March 8, 2021):
Hello everyone! I hope this finds everyone doing well and hopefully soon to be enjoying some warmer ‘Spring-like’ weather sometime in the near future!
Spring can’t come fast enough!
This week’s website content goes out in particular to all of my Piano Class participants, as today we will be specifically learning about different practice methods to use during a weekly piano practice time.
Although, if you are reading this and are not currently learning a musical instrument, you may still be able to apply these same strategies to many other hobbies or activities that you are looking to progress and grow in.
Today I would love to share with you (and would encourage you to listen to) a short podcast audio from the channel “The Piano Superhuman Podcast” from their episode that was released in February 2020 entitled “Olympic Training Applied to Piano.”
In this 20 minute podcast teaching, we will be learning about 3 practice technique methods that high level athletes use in their own training and how we can apply these methods to our own piano practicing sessions.
While I would encourage you to first take a listen to the podcast episode link found below, here is a brief summary of the episode.
- The first training method that high level athletes may use in their practice sessions is called “Variability training.”
This training method was popularized by the P90X workout program.
Variability training can be used especially when the athlete (or student) hits a plateau in their own practicing or training (or when a piano student gets ‘stuck’ learning a part of a new song).
Rather than simply playing that part (or training that athletic skill) over and over again, variability training includes switching things up and ‘varying’ the way that song (or exercise skill) is performed or approached during a practice time.
Variability training as a method of practice involves using different learning strategies so that you don’t merely rely on repetition or the memorizing of a pattern.
For example, if you are working on learning a certain scale or warm up exercise on the piano, you may use ‘variability training’ by trying to play that same exercise in a different style (legato vs. staccato/loud vs. soft) or using a different rhythm to ‘switch things up’ on your brain and your fingers!
Scientists think that in order for our brains to fully learn a new concept or skill, we should work from different areas or facets of the skill, rather than leaning on endless repetition.
So piano students, a question: How can you use ‘variability training’ methods in your own piano practice?
- The second training method that olympic athletes use in their own training and that we can bridge over into the area of piano practicing includes a method of practice known as “Progressive Overload.”
This method merely refers to moving the bar of achievement up gradually inch by inch rather than trying to do too much too soon.
The podcast teaching gives the example of trying to move from lifting 100lbs to 1,000lbs.
For piano practicing, we can use speed (rather than weights) as an example. For example, try using a metronome in your piano practicing times and set your metronome setting first at a very slow speed when you are just beginning a new song or a new exercise. (see below for a good metronome app).
Rather than trying too soon to get both hands to move at a moderate speed, slow things down and try practicing just one hand at a time at a very slow tempo.
The more you practice that song or that exercise at a slow pace, the more you can slowly increase your metronome setting and build up speed (and consistency/flow) to where the song or exercise can be played at a good moderate speed.
So piano students, another question: How can you use the “progressive overload” training method in your own piano practicing?
- The final training method discussed in this podcast episode is the method of giving “attention to detail.”
While perhaps this method comes across as “a given”, we can all think of examples in our lives where we did not pay close enough attention to the details.
So, so many high level athletes use the motto: “Success is in the details.” But how can we apply this to music practice?
I’d encourage all piano students to take a closer look at how you practice- do you sit down with a goal or an objective in mind?
Think of what we have been covering in our Zoom classes- how we discuss and point out the nuances and details of each song or exercise.
Where are the rests? What notes are sharp? Where are my ties? What notes are staccato/legato?
Think about how regimented olympians have to be in their own training sessions- they know which specific exercises they are going to do, how many reps they will do of that exercise and even how long they will rest in between?
For piano, try to begin a practice time with a ‘game plan.’
For example, a piano practice ‘game plan’ may include :
“I will spend the first 5 minutes on this warm up exercise.
I will try the Right hand first, then the Left hand. If I am able, I will try my hands together.
Next, I will spend 10 minutes on this specific new song. Today I will just focus on the RH only, breaking my practice up into achievable 4 measure segments at a time…”
Paying attention to the details in a practice session means being specific and observing as much as you can in your piece.
Here is the podcast episode to listen to, “Olympic Training Applied to Piano”: click the play button to hear the 20 minute teaching:
Also, here is a good metronome app (free) to download if you do not have your own metronome:
* This is the app that I use, you can adjust the rate of speed by spinning the wheel clockwise or counter clockwise *
As you take a listen to this podcast teaching this week, ask yourself:
How can I implement one or more of these high level practice methods into my piano practicing over the next few weeks?
What would it look like to implement one of these methods into piano practicing?
BONUS VIDEO: As always, here is your weekly piano concert from the one and only Henry ‘Hank’ Shapiro.
This week’s video is from his Saturday, Feb. 13th Facebook live streamed online gig. Enjoy!- https://youtu.be/LqX2U0kfcxA
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