Hello Dolly! Celebrating 50 Years

Hello Dolly!
Hello Dolly!

Trailer screen shot from the movie (1969) with Barbra Streisand

Hello Dolly! opened January 16, 1964 and closed after 2844 performances on December 27, 1970. No previous Broadway musical had such a long run. Carol Channing as Dolly Gallagher Levi led the cast. It also ran for 794 performances at London’s West End.

The Broadway show won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and for Channing, Best Actress in a Musical. Not till 35 years later did another musical surpass Hello Dolly! Continue reading

The most song-inspiring Northern general: McClellan?

Parade march (McClellan)Of all the songs published during the American Civil War, many are dedicated to individuals. They are mostly about generals, although Union publishers issued two tributes to captains.

It’s no surprise that the greatest number of these songs concern the best-known leaders. But who would have thought there would be more about Gen. George B. McClellan than any other general? Continue reading

Symphony no. 7 by Sergey Prokofiev

prokofiev portrait

I never gave much thought to Prokofiev symphonies until my orchestra needed to hire a new conductor. We interviewed six semi-finalists and listened to them explain a sample program. Five of the six built their proposed program around Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony! We’re working on performing it now.

Prokofiev as symphonist

prokofiev portrait

Prokofiev in New York, 1918

When Sergey Prokofiev first performed some of his piano music in public (in 1908) critics found it unintelligible. In response, he carefully maintained his reputation as an ultramodern radical.  Continue reading

A prehistory of the trombone

Medieval wind band with early trombonist / slide trumpeter
early trombone / slide trumpet

Musicians and dancers from Borso’s Bible.

The familiar shape of the slide trombone has been around at least since 1490. That’s when Filippino Lippi included an image of it in frescos he painted at Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome.

It hasn’t been around as long as the word “trombone,” which first appeared in 1439 in court records in Ferrara. The court at Ferrara had a three-piece wind band for most of the century. Pietro Agostino played played trombone in that band from at least 1456 to at least 1503. Continue reading

Street music from antiquity to now


BuskersIn many places in many cities all over the world, pedestrians are treated to live music.

Pop singers, jazz musicians, gospel singers, even classical musicians perform for whomever passes by, most often with instrument cases or some other container open in order to solicit donations.

Collectively, these entertainers are known as buskers. They represent an ancient tradition. I say all over the world, and I’m sure that’s no exaggeration, but this post concerns only street entertainments that can be traced back to the Roman Empire. Continue reading

Music in Letters Home from Civil War Soldiers

civil war soldier

civil war soldierIn this series of posts on Civil War music I have occasionally cited Battle Hymns: The Power and Popularity of Music. Author Christian McWhirter commented twice about letters.

On the very first page he noted, ” Almost any war diary, letter collection, or memoir contains at least a passing reference to music.”

Later, in the chapter on soldiers, he wrote, “Music became intrinsically linked to the soldiers’ Civil War experiences—even combat performance—and is mentioned in almost every wartime diary, letter collection, or reminiscence.”

My sister-in-law, the family genealogist, presented us with a 100-page treatise at Christmas that fleshed out not only direct ancestors on my father’s side of the family, but their siblings and in-laws. She transcribed four extant letters from a Civil War soldier. When I noticed Civil War era letters, I expected to find reference to music. Here is is: Continue reading

I like that symphony. Who wrote it?


musicIf you attend a lot of live classical music concerts (especially orchestra concerts), chances are you hear music by the same composers over and over.

If you listen to classical music radio, you hear music by unfamiliar composers, but chances are it’s very nice music. Have you ever wondered who these composers are and why they’re not well known?

Anton Bruckner

Wait, you may say. Bruckner is hardly an unknown composer. He was one of the great symphonists of the late 19th century. Oh, and he also wrote some lovely choral music. But did it occur to you that probably no one would know about the choral music if he hadn’t become famous as a symphonist? Continue reading

Baby It’s Cold Outside, by Frank Loesser

Taxi in snow storm--baby it's cold outside

Taxi in snow storm--baby it's cold outsideHasn’t this winter been brutal? Ice storms in New Orleans, arctic temperatures in Chicago. Oh baby it’s cold outside. Hmm. That sounds like a good song title!

And of course, it’s the title of a most unusual song. There haven’t been many pop songs taking the form of a dialog and requiring two singers.

Frank Loesser wrote “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in 1944. He and his wife Lynn sang it for the first time at a housewarming party that year after they moved in to New York’s Navarro Hotel. After all, they were entertainers, and when entertainers held parties for other entertainers, everyone performed. Continue reading

You can’t play that on trombones!

Trombone Quartet
Trombone Quartet

Indiana University Trombone Quartet

According to an anecdote I read long ago and now can’t find, Theobald Boehm, inventor of modern flute fingering, spent a night at Rossini’s house. In the morning, he began a warmup, playing low trills.

Rossini burst into the room and said, “You can’t play that on a flute.” Boehm said, “But I just did.” Rossini responded, “I don’t care. You can’t play that on a flute.”

The same sentiment has followed performances on trombone, too. A European orchestra actually took Arthur Pryor’s trombone apart looking for the trickery. They knew what they had just heard was impossible. “You can’t play that on a trombone!”

But I’m not writing about soloists this time. A quartet of trombones can also astound audiences with what seems to be impossible. Continue reading

Beloved Christmas carols: A Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten

Harpist's handsToday’s post marks the last time I can possibly write anything to honor Benjamin Britten’s centennial. I have already written a program note to The Young Peoples’ Guide to the Orchestra, but I especially love A Ceremony of Carols.

Its composition is part of the same narrative I wrote about before. Britten and Peter Pears were visiting the United States when the Second World War broke out. He mentioned to Serge Koussevitsky, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, that he wanted to compose an opera but couldn’t afford it. So Koussevitsky commissioned him to write it.

At about the same time, he decided to return to England, which required a sea voyage made especially dangerous by German submarine warfare. He composed music, including A Ceremony of Carols, on the voyage, finished the opera Peter Grimes once back in England, became internationally famous, and composed The Young Peoples’ Guide to the Orchestra shortly thereafter. Continue reading