Week 60-62

Week 62 (Week of June 7, 2021): 

A warm greeting to all SRC participants & friends!  Hope this finds everyone doing well and having had a relaxing Memorial Day weekend!

This week we are going to take a look at a cultural instrument- a Slavic instrument (central/eastern Europe) perhaps more closely associated with Russian folk music- the Balalaika.

Piano Class students will recognize this word “balalaika” from one of our recent new piano songs, “Tum Balalaika”.

Along with being just plain fun to say, this instrument is characterized by it’s triangular shaped body.


A Russian folk stringed instrument with a triangular wooden hollow body and a fretted neck, the balalaika uses only 3 strings- 2 of which are tuned to the exact same pitch.

The third string is tuned to the interval of a 4th higher.

The most common tuning is E4, E4 (the e above middle C), A4.


Balalaikas come in many sizes- and in general the larger the instrument the lower the tuning.

There are six main sizes of a balalaika.

For example, the Contrabass balalaika is the lowest pitched of the balalaika family and is so large that it is placed on the floor and has a retractable peg just like the stand up bass.

The higher pitched balalaikas (the descant, piccolo and prima balalaikas) are used to play the melodies and chords.

There do exist balalaika orchestras – ensembles made up of different sized (and therefore different pitched) balalaikas that play music specifically arranged for various balalaikas.


Because the sustain or carried sound created by the balalaika is short and does not ring out for a long time, playing the balalaika necessitates fast strumming or plucking.

This rapid strumming is also closely associated with the instrument itself.

Another important part of balalaika playing technique is the use of the left thumb on the neck of the instrument to fret lower notes on the lowest pitched string.


The earliest mention of the term ‘balalaika’ dates back to a 1688 Russian document.

Interestingly enough, this 1688 document was a guard’s logbook from the Moscow Kremlin referencing that 2 drunk townsmen were stopped from playing the balalaika!

Further documents from the early 18th Century also mention the balalaika.


It is generally thought that the creation and evolution of the balalaika as an instrument was produced as a result of increased interaction with Asian-Oriental cultures.

Some think that the balalaika possibly descended from the ‘dombra’ – a round bodied 3 stringed long necked lute from the East Slavs.


In the 1880s, a professional violinist from St. Petersburg named Vasily Vasilievich Andreyev modernized and developed the instrument into what we know today.

It only took a few years later before the instrument was being made in different sizes, creating an entire family or orchestra of balalaikas.

Not only did Andreyev patent his design of balalaikas, but he also went on to arrange numerous Russian folksongs for the orchestra as well as composing an entire body of concert pieces for the instrument!


In today’s popular culture- the balalaika has been used prominently in film scores such as the 1965 film “Dr. Zhivago” and the 2014 film “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

In 1931, the instrument made a brief appearance in Charlie Chaplin’s film “City Lights” and The Beatles even referenced the instrument in their song “Back in the USSR.”


Let’s take a look and listen to the instrument itself.

Here is a great little introductory video on the balalaika:  https://youtu.be/U8m_XMYQVWg. (stay tuned at the end for a short performance clip!)

Another short introductory video on the balalaika:  https://youtu.be/BuEb8JBTlfc

And for your listening pleasure, here are a couple of performance videos that feature the balalaika.

    *  A Russian balalaika orchestra featuring a 7 year old balalaika soloist !  https://youtu.be/UAfuMol1e-0

   * A traditional balalaika ensemble:  https://youtu.be/0lN-iL3hz4g

   * The songs “Tum Balalaika”/”Hava Nagila” performed by a “Russian Carnival” ensemble- that features the large Contrabass balalaika!  https://youtu.be/V0rueHU1v7E


BONUS VIDEO:  As always, here is your weekly virtual piano concert from the ever-inspiring Henry ‘Hank’ Shapiro.

                                      Today’s video is from his Saturday, Facebook live streamed gig from May 8th, 2021.

                                        Enjoy!   https://youtu.be/rXG0xaG-swk


Week 61 (Week of May 24):

Hello all!  It’s my hope that this finds everyone doing well!

This week, let’s take a look at an instrument that is closely associated with our upcoming National holiday, Memorial Day.

The bugle!

Let’s learn about this instrument a bit more together and look at just why we associate the bugle especially with Memorial Day!

A bugle may, at first glance, appear to be the same as a trumpet.

However, one very important detail distinguishes the trumpet from the bugle- valves!

A bugle is the most basic and simple brass instrument – there are no valves (pitch changing buttons) on a bugle!

The bugle player is able to change notes/pitches on the instrument simply by changing the shape of their lips/mouth/facial muscles.

The term for this, in the world of brass and woodwind instruments, is the word ’embouchure’.

Embouchure is defined as “the use of the lips, facial muscles, tongue and teeth that includes the shaping of the lips to the mouthpiece.”

Since bugle players have no valves to press to change notes (as on a trumpet) AND all of this (pitch changing) must be done simply by the shape of their ’embouchure’, the bugle player is then considerably limited as to what notes their instrument is ABLE to play.

This is why standard bugle calls primarily consist of only 5 notes!

Here is a good video to demonstrate some basic “how-to’s” on the bugle:  https://youtu.be/G29e5yb_UZ8

The bugle is primarily used in the military and Boy Scouts.

For Boy Scouts the bugle is used to tell the daily routines of camp life.

Historically speaking, the bugle has been used in the cavalry to pass on instructions from officers to the soldiers in the thick of the battle.

The bugle has also been used as a sign of peace in cases of surrender in battle.

There are several standard bugle calls in the military (roughly 30 standard), that serve to announce scheduled events or activities in the routine of military life.

Here is a good video that plays and talks through a handful of these bugle calls:  https://youtu.be/42QGf3W2BZw

While we could look at some of these bugle calls (for example, “Reveille ” as the morning roll call), today let’s primarily look at only one famous bugle call.


As many of us, I’m sure, know and have heard before, the bugle call of ‘Taps’ is the bugle call that represents and signifies the end of a military day’s activities.

“Taps” is the bugle call played at 2100 hours during flag ceremonies or at military funerals by the United States Armed Forces.

The tune itself is a slight variation on another earlier bugle tune, “Scott Tattoo”.

“Taps” was officially recognized by the US Army in 1874.

“Taps” became a standard part of a US military funeral in the year 1891.

The melody for “Taps” is made up entirely of the notes of a C chord- C E G.

This is because the bugle can only play middle C, G above middle C, Treble C (the c above Middle C) and the E and G above Treble C- again, 5 notes!

While the entire “Taps” melody consists only of a brief 24 notes, (again only 5 DIFFERENT pitches!), these 24 peaceful yet mournful notes commemorate the members of all 5 branches of the  United States Armed Forces:  the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Air Force and the Coast Guard.

On Memorial Day, particularly at 3pm, this simple yet profound tune rings out in commemorative ceremonies across our Nation.

This final, “day is done” bugle call is a sign of respect and a tribute to those fallen members – both known and unknown.


Let’s listen to a version here :  https://youtu.be/i_HjrNoS78o

Here is also a moving news clip from Memorial Day 2020 that centers around the bugle and “Taps”:  https://youtu.be/GZId_3WJQVw


I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about the bugle and the bugle call, “Taps”.

Let’s remember those fallen in the service this Memorial Day; those who gave their lives for our country throughout the decades.


BONUS VIDEO:  As per usual, here is your weekly virtual piano concert from the amazing Henry ‘Hank’ Shapiro.

Today’s video is from his Saturday, May 1st Facebook live streamed online gig.





Week 60 (Week of May 17):

A very warm greeting to all SRC participants and friends! I hope this finds everyone doing well!

Today we are going in a bit of a different direction and I would like us to take a brief, ‘overview’ look at a field of study that can be a bit tricky to wrap your brain around!
While you may have heard of the word ‘Musicology’, it is quite possible that the meaning behind the word remains a bit fuzzy.
Today, let’s unpack the term a bit and briefly explain what a musicologist could study and focus on.
Oh and no, I’m not talking about the song/album by Prince! ;).

Musicology is defined as “the scholarly analysis and research-based study of music”.
Quite literally, ‘the study of music.’ Very broad and vague, right?
Another definition goes a bit further and explains that “Musiciology is the study of music encompassing all aspects of music in all cultures and all historical periods..”
The field of Musicology is often so broad and interwoven that it can be tricky to define without greatly restricting it.
Typically a collegiate level musicology department would belong to the humanities.

Traditionally the broad area of musicology can be divided up into 3 branches: Historical Musicology, Systematic Musicology and Ethnomusicology.
Let’s take a brief look at each and watch a couple Youtube videos that better describe Musicology.

Historical Musicologists primarily study the history of Western classical music- whether it be specific composer’s life and works or studying particular genres or eras of Music History.
These individuals, Music Historians, could study the minutiae of manuscripts, study past music critics, and dig into historical records to dive deeper into a particular composer, for example.
Historical Musicologists write journal articles on their findings, books, new editions of famous works, or write biographies or books on any given subject in Music History.

Someone who studies in the branch of Systematic Musicology would study music with respect to its structure, how it is perceived, how it functions as art and with respect to the means of performance (study of musical instruments, acoustics, etc).
These individuals could study Music Theory, Music Pedagogy (the teaching of music), the science of musical instruments, or the philosophy or psychology of music and music aesthetics.
A music theorist studies the elements of music and the application of different methods for composing and developing music and analyzes music notation.
A musicologist more focused on the field of Music psychology applies psychology to understand how music is perceived and responded to.
Music therapy is more of a specialized form of musicology and is often more closely associated with health fields.

An Ethnomusicologist draws from anthropology (i.e. field research) to understand how and why certain people groups and cultures make music.
Ethnomusicology studies music within its cultural context and is most often concerned with the study of non-Western music.
The majority of ethnomusicologists are involved in long-term participant observation and recording of their research.
Folklorists who began preserving folk music in Europe and the US around the 19th centuries are considered precursors of this field of study.
Many universities and programs around the world act as centers for ethnomusicology research and classes.

A brief explanation of ethnomusicology: https://youtu.be/gn74wzJk2Qk

Musicology as a field is very heavily research-oriented and most musicologists work as lecturers, instructors or professors in colleges or universities.

Here is a clip from a Musicologist, trying to broadly explain his field for us:
Musicology 101: https://youtu.be/QYiBqXTPLAA

Here is another more specific clip from the same Musicologist trying to summarize concepts studied in Ethnomusicology (and Music Philosophy…)
Here is our brief subject: Is Music a Universal Language? (His answer: No).
Let’s take a listen to practice together “thinking about music in a critical way.” (his personal definition of musicology).
Get ready for some deep thinking here….


I hope you’ve found our brief dip into the field of musicology and have found the 2 above videos interesting and a good start at thinking critically about music.

BONUS VIDEO: As always, here is your weekly piano concert from the inspiring Henry ‘Hank’ Shapiro.
This week’s video is from his Saturday, April 24th Facebook live streamed online gig. Enjoy!


The Latest on Festival of Trees Dec 5th – 12th

The Senior Resource Center of Chester is sponsoring its annual Festival of Trees on Saturday, December 5, through Saturday, December 12 at the Barn at High Ridge Park in Chester, NJ. The Festival of Trees is a community celebration featuring decorated holiday trees in...

COVID 19: What Senior Should Know on Monday, Dec.7 at 12 pm

Imge Uludogan, Field Representative for Health Education for the Morris County Office of Health Management will present “COVID-19”: What Seniors Should Know” at the Chester Library/Senior Resource Center Virtual Senior Lunch and Learn on Monday, December 7 at 12 pm....

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