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On September 20, Moby took part in #giveahome 2017 – a day of secret shows in homes around the world in solidarity with refugees. It was organized by Amnesty International and Sofar Sounds. Watch here, http://on.moby.com/2gUdSuL.

Many artistic people are sensitive to the struggles of the disenfranchised. That’s why as many as 1,000 musicians answered a call from Amnesty International to contribute their talents in support of refugees this past September.

Writes Amnesty, “Across more than 200 cities in 60 countries, musicians, artists, activists and local communities came together in a statement of support for the world’s refugees.

“Give a Home, a collaboration between Amnesty International and Sofar Sounds, saw living rooms across the globe play host to more than 300 special performances from some of the world’s leading musicians. …

“From the thousands of Rohingya currently fleeing Myanmar, to the desperate situation faced by those escaping conflicts in Syria and South Sudan, the world is in the grip of its worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. The global refugee population now stands at more than 22 million people.

“ ‘As the Secretary General I travel a lot and meet a lot of different people. But one person I have never met is a refugee who wanted to be a refugee. By definition, a refugee is a person fleeing a desperate situation of conflict or persecution. They are some of the most vulnerable people in the world,’ said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. …

“Of those 22.5 million, almost all are hosted outside the wealthiest nations, with just ten of the world’s 193 countries hosting more than half its refugees.

“ ‘While it’s a huge number, refugees represent only 0.3% of the world’s population. When we look at it that way, it seems crazy to me that we can’t find a home for all of them,’ said Salil Shetty. …

“Amnesty International’s research shows that four in five people around the world are open to welcoming refugees, while a recent attitudes survey by the World Economic Forum show that a huge 85% of young people in the US would welcome refugees.” More at Amnesty, here.

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Photo: Brian Morri
Pianist and scientist Elaine Chew makes music out of heartbeats to diagnose arrhythmia.

We’ve written before about how the arts can benefit your health through enjoyment and the exercise of different parts of your brain. Now music is being used diagnostically, to identify the kind of arrhythmia afflicting patients who experience an irregular heartbeat.

Angus McPherson at Australia’s Limelight Magazine has the story.

“The driving, spikey rhythm of Mars from Gustav Holst’s ‘The Planets’ is probably not the most comforting sound to hear through a stethoscope. A UK scientist, Elaine Chew is analysing the heartbeat patterns of people with arrhythmia – an irregular heartbeat – and turning them into classical music, in what she hopes may become an important diagnostic tool for doctors. …

“The project, which was presented at the British Science Festival in Brighton on September 8, takes electrocardiogram data and translates the information using music notation, which then becomes the basis for new compositions, which accurately reproduce the rhythms of the arrhythmic heartbeats. The performance of these compositions will allow doctors and other people who haven’t experienced arrhythmia themselves to gain a more visceral understanding of the condition.

“ ‘Once the heartbeat is represented in a musical score, it can be used to find patterns,’ Chew told the Daily Mail. ‘Right now they don’t relate them to musical patterns. It’s not part of doctors’ training. But it is part of every musician’s training. We notice timing.’

“ ‘The reason I came up with this idea is because I was an atrial fibrillation patient myself,’ Chew said in an article published on the Queen Mary University of London’s website. ‘I was about to have my ablation procedure, and when the senior registrar heard I worked in digital music, he told me about a quiz he had organised for his cardiology colleagues.

“ ‘He said he played different types of electronic music of varying tempos to them, and they had to guess the type of arrhythmia that the music most resembled,’ she explained. ‘And so that got me thinking. After my surgery, I requested my own ECG data from the consultant, and started my analysis.’

“Chew and her team have already created an Arrhythmia Suite, of music based on the rhythms of irregular heartbeats.”

More at Limelight, here.

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Photo: Johnny Milano for the New York Times
Members of the Long Island Vegetable Orchestra practice for a performance at Long Island’s Oyster Bay Music Festival.

If you liked my 2015 post about MIT wizards making vegetable instruments, wait! There’s more!

Recently, Annie Correal wrote at the New York Times about an orchestra of such instruments.

“On a muggy day in July, in a Long Island backyard, a group of musicians had gathered for rehearsal. As their conductor gently raised both hands, they steadied their instruments, and played the first notes of a Bach chorale, ‘Nun freut euch, Gottes Kinder all.’

“The conductor stopped them. The snake gourd had not hit the D and the butternut squash had come in a little sharp. Take it from the top, he told the players.

“The group rehearsing, the Long Island Vegetable Orchestra, plays instruments made entirely from vegetables. On this day, in addition to the squash and the snake gourd, it included two carrot flutes.

“The orchestra was created more than a decade ago by Dale Stuckenbruck, a classically trained musician from Germany who teaches music on Long Island. It is not the first of its kind. … But it may be the only orchestra of its kind in New York. Over the years, it has performed at schools, galleries, libraries and at an environmental conference in Geneva. It even appeared in a film.

“On this day, Mr. Stuckenbruck, 63, and his four players were rehearsing for their annual performance at the Oyster Bay Music Festival.

“Because vegetable instruments don’t last, fresh ones have to be made every time they play, and they had spent the hour before rehearsal carefully drilling into carrots and hollowing out squashes with an ice cream scoop. The table before them was covered with pulp and broken carrots. …

“The instruments had been kept in ice water so they would stay crisp. … But the temperature hovered around 90 and the day was windless, and as they played the Bach chorale, they were racing against time. In this weather, the instruments would soon grow soft and the mouthpieces gummy, or they might dry out.

“Mr. Stuckenbruck’s … patience was perhaps the key to the continued existence of the Vegetable Orchestra.

“ ‘Let’s do it again,’ he said, as they sat in the broiling sun. …

“Mr. Stuckenbruck was born in Stuttgart, Germany, the son of a saw player. He attended a Waldorf school — which favors hands-on learning — and moved to New York in his 20s to play violin and saw; he played the saw with the New York Philharmonic this spring. …

“He had been asked to create a music program for students who were not musically inclined, he said. After failing to capture their interest with in drumming and music theory, he stumbled across the Viennese Vegetable Orchestra on YouTube.”

“ ‘Everything looks easy on YouTube,’ he said.

“Making playable vegetable instruments turned out not to be easy, but once he got the hang of it, the concept caught on. Carrots could be wind instruments — flutes, panpipes and clarinets, or, as Mr. Stuckenbruck called them, carronets. (The reed is often made from a slice of sweet potato.)

“Depending on the depth of the cavity and the size of the mouth hole, butternut squashes could be trumpets, trombones or French horns.

“Over the years, Mr. Stuckenbruck added more instruments. Broccoli and potatoes made melodious flutes. A daikon, a big white radish, made a deep, honking sound like an oboe. Peppers, with their seeds, were natural maracas.”

More at the New York Times, here, where you can learn which leafy vegetables are good for a sound like scratching a record. Also, be sure to check out the array of instruments on the vegetable orchestra’s home page, here.

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Associate conductor Roderick Cox and the Minnesota Orchestra during rehearsal. Photo from the conductor’s collection.

There are not many African American conductors. Not yet. In Boston, we know Isaiah Jackson, whose distinguished career included a stint with the Boston Pops in the 1990s. But black conductors have remained scarce.

Now there is Roderick Cox at the Minnesota Orchestra. John Mancini writes about him at NBC News.

“Growing up, the sound of music was a constant in the Cox household. As a boy, Roderick Cox joined his mother and brother in their Macon, Georgia, gospel choir. At home he would put on his own concerts in his room — with the help of his action figures. …

“Cox began his musical journey at Northwestern University, where he studied conducting under the tutelage of famed Russian Conductor Victor Yampolsky. It was actually Yampolsky who planted the seed in the young musician’s mind.

“ ‘Yampolsky, who was very charismatic to me, told me “You should be a conductor.” At first – I laughed at him. But after he reiterated that, it started to become a reality for me,’ says Cox. …

“Cox is just one of a handful of African-American orchestra conductors in the world — and at age 30, certainly one of the youngest. Even with his undeniable talent, the road hasn’t been easy.

“ ‘You’re clawing yourself through the profession. I always say you can’t want to be a conductor you have to need to be a conductor,’ he says.

“It’s having that attitude that helps you withstand, ‘hundreds of rejections and people, organizations telling you that you’re not good enough,’ says Cox. …

“Black folks have been largely left out of classical music. Cox said he felt inspired to do his part to change that and is working hard to break down the barriers that exist between different kinds of people from different walks of life. …

“ ‘I think it’s important for people of different races and backgrounds to see themselves represented onstage.’ ”

More at NBC, here.

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Photo: SoundCloud
With his unconventional collaborations, classically trained cellist Seth Parker Woods draws new audiences to the arts.

I’m always interested in people who see the world in unconventional ways and take their talents down unconventional byways.

The July issue of Strings Magazine provides an example of one such path-breaker, cellist Seth Parker Woods.

Thomas May writes, “For Texas-born cellist Seth Parker Woods, pushing boundaries and definitions comes naturally — both for his own creative development and for his overall sense of mission.

“ ‘I’m trying to change the face and the landscape in which music can be experienced, regardless of class or ethnicity or background,’ Parker Woods says. …

“Parker Woods refuses to let his identity as a cellist be restricted by conventional perceptions of what a classical string player does. Which is why, even at this still-early stage of his career, he’s already been leaving his imprint on a fascinating variety of collaborations across disciplines.

“An increasingly frequent and welcome presence among new-music circles, Parker Woods also draws audiences from the spheres of dance and innovative visual arts. And while the cello is at the center of his creative work, it shares space with his ongoing explorations of kinesthetics and the body, choreography, electronic music, visual art, and theatrical performance. …

“ICED BODIES is Parker Woods’ contemporary reframing of a legendary avant-garde collaboration from 1972 between the maverick designer Jim McWilliams and the late cellist and performance artist Charlotte Moorman. The original version was a durational ‘happening’ … that involved Moorman using a saw and other tools to play a cello sculpted from ice as it melted. …

“Parker Woods [headed] to London’s Royal Albert Hall to perform with the Chineke! Orchestra for its debut at the BBC Proms on August 30. He’s one of the founding cellists of this ensemble, which was created to address the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities among Europe’s professional orchestras. …

“ ‘My upbringing is in classical, and that’s still a major part of my career. But I feel that we as performers have to usher in the music of now and be advocates for it,’ Parker Woods says. …

“As a boy in his native Houston, where he was born in 1984, Parker Woods recalls falling in love with the sound of the cello when he saw the film The Witches of Eastwick. In one over-the-top scene of this comedy-fantasy, based on a John Updike story, Susan Sarandon plays the instrument with Jack Nicholson at the piano until her cello bursts into flames.

“Parker Woods started lessons at age five or six. ‘My father was a gospel and jazz singer, and had a band that would rehearse in our basement studio. My earliest musical experiences came from listening to them rehearse when I was a toddler.’ …

“A connection to opera, ballet, and film composer Patrick Soluri opened the door to Europe, which has remained a major focus of Parker Woods’ career as a performer and scholar. Through Soluri, he was engaged to perform in the Berlin Staatsballett orchestra. He later worked with the contemporary choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and P.A.R.T.S., the dance academy of her company Rosas. A residency at the Centre Intermondes in La Rochelle, France, led to several more collaborations.”

“ ‘I just kept breaking all the rules,’ says Parker Woods.”

Read more here.

Hat Tip: ArtsJournal.

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Photo: The Victoria and Albert Museum
A notation knife that has music carved into each side of the blade. Italy, c. 1550.

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Photo: Alan Berner/The Seattle Times
Neurologist and musician Thomas Deuel, wearing a wired-up electrode cap, is researching brain activity in musicians and developing the encephalophone for people with limited motor ability so they can play by thinking.

Imagine being able to play music just by thinking about it! That day is coming, according to Brendan Kiley at the Seattle Times.

He writes, “In April of 2016, Seattle choir director and fifth-grade teacher Margaret Haney checked into the emergency room with an unusual problem — suddenly, she couldn’t sing.

“Haney had been in the classroom, trying to lead her students through George Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ when, as she put it, ‘I failed miserably, like I never have.’ …

“The physicians ordered some brain scans and discovered she was suffering from ‘amusia’ — the inability to make music — due to a viral encephalitis infection in one section of her brain.

“After the tests, she was referred to Dr. Thomas Deuel, a Swedish neurologist who plays trumpet and guitar, studied musical composition and molecular biology at Princeton University, and then jazz at New England Conservatory in Boston. …

“Deuel had been working with DXARTS, a University of Washington program that incubates collaborations between scientists and artists. DXARTS was launched in 2001, with an emphasis on projects that boldly crisscross borders: video, performance, music, virtual reality, robotics and all-around tech-art hacking.

“Lately, Deuel had advised DXARTS on building a lab, with state-of-the-art technology to study the relationship between neurology and art (particularly music), and explore deep connections between the body and the brain. Deuel had also teamed up with UW-based physicist Felix Darvas on a neuro-musical invention: the encephalophone (pronounced ‘en-sef-ah-lo-fone’), an instrument you can play simply by thinking. …

“To play the encephalophone, a musician wears an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap fitted with electrodes that read brain waves and transmit them to a synthesizer. The EEG caps looks like a beanie without the propeller but protrudes a cluster of wires hooked up to amplifiers and computers. The instrument is a kind of ‘brain-computer interface,’ and sounds like an electric piano, electric strings, or whatever other kind of music the connected synthesizer can produce. …

“[DXARTS co-founder Juan] Pampin hopes the encephalophone will be developed enough to host a public concert of ‘brain performers’ by late 2018. …

“And Margaret Haney? Doctors … treated her with antiviral medication to halt the spread of the infection — and the instrument helped relieve her amusia.

“[Deuel says] learning to play the encephalophone ‘helped her make pitch. We weren’t able to completely cure her, but she was able to get back to singing again. We can’t prove that we’ve done a lot with just one patient, but it was a promising start.’ ”

More here.

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