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Posts Tagged ‘composer’

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Photo: Diego Rinaldi/Casa di riposo per musicisti, Fondazione Giuseppe Verdi
The exterior of Casa Verdi, founded by famed Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi in the late 1890s.

Facebook has decided I like stories about kind people because I linger over some with spooling captions. It keeps showing me items that are “Similar to Posts You’ve Interacted With.” It may be that I like such stories, but I never click on Facebook’s suggested links because I definitely don’t want Facebook knowing anything about what I like. (OK, I admit that’s a lost cause.) If the site weren’t the best way for me to connect with Carole, who I have known since nursery school and who has Parkinson’s now, I don’t think I’d be there at all.

The following post on the kindness of Giuseppe Verdi didn’t come from Facebook. It came from a site that gives me loads of other ideas for blog posts, ArtsJournal.com.

It’s where I learned about Rebecca Rosman’s National Public Radio [NPR] report on “Casa Verdi, a retirement home for opera singers and musicians founded by the famed Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi more than 100 years ago.

“Soprano Lina Vasta spent her career performing in Italian operas around the world. Twenty years ago, she settled at Casa Verdi. The tiny singer, who uses a cane to get around, won’t reveal her age (through a translator she admits to being ‘over 65’), but she still enjoys singing bits of The Barber of Seville around the home.

“Vasta came to Casa Verdi with her husband when they both retired from singing. Since he died, this is all she has. But with ‘a beautiful house, a piano, a very nice garden, nothing is missing here — it’s perfect. Grazie, Verdi,’ she says. …

” ‘In Italy, Verdi isn’t considered only a composer, only a musician, but kind of a national hero,’ [Biancamaria Longoni, the assistant director of Casa Verdi], says. ‘He used his operas to give voice to people — to humble people, to modest people, to poor people.’

“Many of Verdi’s own former colleagues found themselves living in poverty toward the end of their lives. At that time, there were no pensions for musicians in Italy. …

“Using his own fortune, Verdi built the retirement home for opera singers and musicians, a neo-Gothic structure that opened in 1899. The composer died less than two years later, but he made sure the profits from his music copyrights kept the home running until the early 1960s, when they expired. Today guests pay a portion of their monthly pension to cover basic costs – food and lodging — while the rest comes from donations. …

“Casa Verdi has an extra 20 rooms set aside for conservatory students aged 18 to 24. … Armando Ariostini, a baritone in his early 60s, comes to Casa Verdi every Wednesday to visit the guests, some of whom are his former colleagues. And while Ariostini himself is still several years away from retirement, he says he knows exactly where he’ll be hanging up his hat once he leaves the opera stage for good.”

More at NPR, here.

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Although black history is not a one-month-a-year-thing, having a dedicated month does seem to turn up stories that might not otherwise be heard. I got this one from the BBC television show Our Classical Century, “a celebration of the most memorable musical moments from 1918 – 2018,” which focused on broadening the audience for classical music.

In this episode, Sir Lenny Henry expressed admiration for forgotten black composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

“I have been enthralled and captivated by the story of a man from Croydon in south London who died more than 100 years ago and who wrote one of the biggest musical hits of the 20th century. He was a total genius – a bit like Prince, but for late 19th-century London rather than 1980s California – and his name was Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. …

“Young Samuel was brought up by his mother and her extended family in Croydon. He never met his doctor father, Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor, who was originally from Sierra Leone and had come here to study medicine in London. …

“The family clubbed together to pay Samuel’s fees at the Royal College of Music, which he entered at 15 as a violin scholar. But the violin was set to one side and composition took centre stage and he was taken under the wing of the composer and conductor Charles Villiers Stanford. … For two years running, Coleridge-Taylor won the RCM’s Lesley Alexander composition prize and was championed by Edward Elgar, who recommended the talented young composer for a major commission – an orchestral work for the Three Choirs festival, his Ballade in A Minor, opus 33.

“The thing I like about Coleridge-Taylor is that he fought adversity to reach the top. He suffered racial abuse at school – apparently he even had his hair set on fire – but remained dignified. His compositions are dynamic, bold, incredibly melodic and immediately accessible. I was blown away. And I wasn’t the only one. He was known as the ‘African Mahler’ and his success stretched far and wide.

“In the US, he was a household name in his lifetime, and travelled there by invitation of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society of Washington DC in 1904, and again in 1906 and 1910. The US marines band were engaged for his first performance and 2,700 people were in the audience, two-thirds of whom were black. He went on to compose Twenty Four Negro Melodies and Five Choral Ballads after that visit. He became interested in interpreting African American melodies, writing: ‘What Brahms has done for the Hungarian folk music, Dvořák for the Bohemian, and Grieg for the Norwegian, I have tried to do for these Negro melodies.’ When success hit, he used it to tell stories about his racial origins in a musical way that might uplift others.

“His best known work, ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, part of the cantata trilogy ‘The Song of Hiawatha,’ premiered in 1898 to huge acclaim, and went on to play, with the other two parts in a semi-staged version, at the Royal Albert Hall for a fortnight in June every year for almost 30 years in the interwar years. …

“But Coleridge-Taylor never got to enjoy his success – he died tragically young, aged 37, of pneumonia in 1912 – illness said to have been brought on by overwork. Nor did his family enjoy the financial fruits of Hiawatha’s success – the composer had sold the publishing rights to it to Ivor Novello’s company for a low flat fee.

“[My family] never went to a concert hall, and I didn’t see any black musicians. When I finally heard a live orchestra as an adult, it hit me like lightning. … Perhaps it’s time for everyone to take a fresh look at classical music and put aside the stereotypes. … This is our music – it’s music for everyone.”

More here.

Photo: Hulton/Getty
The multitalented 19th-century British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was best known for “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast.”

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Photo: Serena McKinney
Ludwig Göransson, composer to the
Black Panther music score, spent a month in Africa, returning home with “a totally different idea of music.”

I’m looking forward to seeing Black Panther when we can get it on DVD. In the meantime, I’m reading a lot about it. This story by Jon Burligame in Variety is on the development of the movie’s musical score.

“Ludwig Göransson, the Swedish-born composer who was charged with scoring Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ movie and has worked with director Ryan Coogler on all of his films, didn’t just visit a university library or look at YouTube videos: He spent a month in Africa.

“The result was life-changing, he tells Variety: ‘I came back with a totally different idea of music, a different knowledge. The music that I discovered was so unique and special. [The challenge was] how do I use that as the foundation of the entire score, but with an orchestra and modern production techniques — infuse it in a way that it doesn’t lose its African authenticity?’ …

“Nearly all of the unusual sounds in the ‘Black Panther’ score were recorded in the West African nation of Senegal, where Göransson spent two and a half weeks accompanying singer-guitarist Baaba Maal on tour. Maal introduced Göransson to other Senegalese musicians, and many performed on the soundtrack.

“The music that pairs with T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), monarch of the film’s fictional African kingdom Wakanda, is led by six ‘talking drums,’ which Göransson explains as ‘a small drum you put on your shoulder, one that does what no other percussion instrument does — it breathes.’ The drummer squeezes, then loosens it to change the pitch. …

“For the theme associated with usurper Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), the composer used another West African instrument, the Fula flute: ‘It sounded sad but also aggressive, energetic and impulsive,’ he says, and with the flutist speaking and even screaming into the flute, ‘it really resonated with the character.’ …

“Having recorded hours of music in Senegal, the composer flew to South Africa, where he spent a week studying at the International Library of African Music in Grahamstown. There he sought out recordings from across the continent and played dozens of instruments.

“At the same time, says Coogler, the score had to work as a superhero movie … ‘Ludwig is so well versed in orchestral composition, he could find a way to merge the two, and know when to go with one or the other.

“After months of writing, Göransson recorded more than two hours of music with a 92-piece London orchestra and a 40-voice choir in October and December, augmenting the African recordings and even using the orchestra to echo the multiple layers of rhythms in some of the complex drumming he first heard in Senegal. The choir sang in Xhosa, a South African language. …

“Says Coogler: ‘Ludwig really set the table for the emotion that we were trying to get across, whether it was excitement or reflection or sadness.’ ” More at Variety, here.

Have you seen Black Panther? If you are knowledgeable about African music, I’d love to hear what you thought of the music. Even if you aren’t that knowledgeable.

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In this story from radio show Studio 360, we learn that music is intriguing to animals, at the very least arousing their curiosity and perhaps stimulating and soothing them.

“Laurel Braitman is a historian of science and the author of ‘Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves.’ She’s particularly interested in the mental health of animals in captivity.

“ ‘If their minds aren’t stimulated, they can end up with all sorts of disturbing behaviors,’ she says. Braitman wondered if music — so often soothing to people, but usually foisted on animals without their permission — could help counter their symptoms of anxiety and depression.

“That led Braitman to arrange a series of concerts for all-animal audiences: gorillas in a Boston zoo and a small herd of bison in Golden Gate Park. Recently, the bluegrass band Black Prairie played for the residents of Wolf Haven wolf sanctuary in Tenino, Washington. …

“Can we say that they liked it?

“Researchers are trying to answer this question in controlled experiments where they observe whether animals move toward or away from speakers, depending on the music.

“Dr. Charles Snowdon of the University of Wisconsin collaborates with a composer, David Teie, who writes music tailored for certain species. They base their compositions on sonic frequencies the animals use in nature. Their music for domestic cats features tempos of purring or suckling kittens; small monkeys called cotton-top tamarins, on the other hand, got music that sounds remarkably like nails on a blackboard. ‘It is pretty godawful if you ask me,’ Snowdon says. ‘But the tamarins dig it.’ ”

More here.

Music for Wolves: Black Prairie from Aubree Bernier-Clarke on Vimeo.

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At WBUR’s The Artery, Andrea Shea has a story about a composer with a penchant for unusual texts: the package blurbs practically everyone reads at breakfast when the newspaper hasn’t arrived.

“Musicians are always searching for inspiration,” writes Shea, “and sometimes they find it in some unlikely places.

“Take Brian Friedland, a prolific Boston composer and jazz pianist who’s discovered a creative goldmine in his cupboards. He takes words on packaging for products such as granola, mouthwash and tea, then sets them to some pretty sophisticated music. Friedland calls the funny-but-serious project ‘Household Items’ and he has a new CD. …

“Friedland is not a singer, but he sees amusing, absurdist potential in labels featuring characters, quests or ‘extreme’ wording. He started foraging for inspiration about eight years ago and had an epiphany when he read a can of carpet cleaner after his cat missed the litter box.

“It read, ‘Do not. Do not puncture. Do not freeze. Do not incinerate. Do not expose to heat above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not inhale.’ He made them into a percussive, vocally complex work where the singer repeats, ‘Do not! Do not! Do not puncture,’ with urgency.”

Percussionist and singer Laura Grill “performed a few songs, including one about a fragrant skin moisturizer.

“ ‘There’s one benefit of having these sort of accessible lyrics,’Grill said, ‘because people are like, “Oh right — Avon Peach Hand Lotion — I can connect with that.” ’

“Grill, also an [New England Conservatory] alum, says Friedland has found a unique solution to an age-old problem.

“ ‘As someone who enjoys composing and arranging, one of the hardest things is trying to write lyrics,’ she said, ‘so Brian finds them on his coffee packages and appliances.’ ”

Listen to Friedland’s SleepyTime tea music with lyrics taken straight from the box at WBUR, here.

Photo: Andrea Shea/WBUR
Brian Friedland, a composer who puts text from product packaging to music.

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Here’s an idea: music made with a bicycle.

Mario Aguilar writes at Gizmodo, “Riding a bike is a musical experience in more than a metaphorical way: Brakes squeal, spokes click, derailleurs clang. Composer Johnnyrandom sampled himself ‘playing’ his bicycle and the results are positively gorgeous. …

“It’s hard to believe that all of [the] sounds are made by a bicycle. Some of them are strictly the byproduct of the bike’s mechanical operation, like the sound it makes when you release a brake lever. Others are created when you play different parts of the bike with a musical accessory.

“For example, Johnnyrandom records the low-pitched flutter of a pick scratching on a spinning wheel, and tunes the bicycle’s spokes so he could play them with a bow like a string instrument. After capturing the sounds with a portable recorder, the different sounds were arranged and sequenced using software. This two-minute mix gives you a feel for the wide sonic that he was able to create.”

In typical bloggy fashion, I got this from Andrew Sullivan, who got it from Gizmodo (which also has a kinoscope of Frank Zappa, on the old Steve Allen tv show playing a bicycle, and a video of how Johnny Random works), who got it from This Is Colossal. Where will this message in a bottle land next?

(Be sure to check my post on composer Kenneth Kirschner, here, for more contemporary music using unusual instruments.)

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Gaelic McTigue, at All Things Bright and Beautiful in Waitsfield, Vermont, fills orders from around the world to create painted wooden ornaments. Here she is in her shop. Below is a bear ornament that she signed for two of our grandkids. (We got a Swedish elf ornament for our Swedish-American grandson’s tree.)

I’ve included a couple other seasonal photos: the Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, tree at Macy’s, the brass band starting to warm up at the craft market.

For a nice Advent carol, check out composer Jeff Fuhrer’s “What Are We Waiting For?” on http://www.soundcloud.com. I tried to upload the MP3 he sent but couldn’t figure out how. Catchy tune.

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All-Things-Bright-bear

Macys-tree-Downtown-Crossing

trumpet-warms-up

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