The social benefits of music education

Our schools have become obsessed with job training and getting students into college. So much so that they tend to devalue everything else. They fail, or perhaps refuse, to value the social benefits of music education and other seeming frills. My wife taught English as a Second Language (ESL) in a middle school. All the teachers of “real” subjects had a duty-free lunch. Subjects such as ESL, foreign languages, physical education, art, and music seemed less important. So their teachers had to eat their lunch in the cafeteria and enforce discipline. If anyone has seriously written about why schools should … Continue reading

Victor Cornette and his trombone method

For most of a century, advanced trombone students have worked from a combination of the trombone method by Victor Cornette (1795-1868) and the Melodious Etudes compiled from Marco Bordogni’s vocalises by Johannes Rochut. Cornette published the first edition of his method in 1831. The Paris Conservatory taught trombone when it opened in 1795, but soon abandoned it. It didn’t offer trombone again until after Cornette published his method, … Continue reading

orKIDstra: delightful music outreach to children

The local newspaper had an article about a concert called orKIDstra. It combined building both literacy skills and enthusiasm for classical music in preschoolers. I wondered if it is strictly a local program, or something larger. Yes, sort of, to both questions. The Greensboro Symphony Orchestra has called its outreach to pre-school students “orKIDstra” for more than 15 years. Its emphasis and structure have changed a few times. It has used current combination of percussion ensembles and children’s books for about five years. A web search found classical music programming for children called orKIDstra in three different countries. Besides the … Continue reading

Before Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony Became a Cliche

Not too long ago, when an orchestra announced it would play a piece of new music, they had to program it carefully. They performed between two very well-known and popular pieces and right before intermission. The audience was stuck if it wanted to hear both favorites. New music was like medicine. It’s good for you, but no one expects you to like it. All of the favorites were once new. They never would have survived if audiences of their day behaved like modern audiences. What is classical music, anyway? Narrowly speaking “classical” music refers to the generation of Haydn, Mozart, … Continue reading

A Birthday Tribute to Benjamin Britten: The Young People’s Guide to the Orchestra

Ordinarily when I write program notes, I focus on a single piece. Since this year marks Benjamin Britten’s 100th birthday, it seems appropriate to widen the focus and look at The Young People’s Guide to the Orchestra within the context of Britten’s life at the time he composed it. His opera Peter Grimes becomes a very important part of the story. Benjamin Britten started composing at the age of 5. When he was 11 he met Frank Bridge at the Norwich Music Festival and became his pupil. Beside excellent technical skill, he learned about musical developments in Europe. When he … Continue reading

Antoine Dieppo, French trombone virtuoso and teacher

Antoine Dieppo’s name is familiar as the first professor of trombone at the Paris Conservatory upon the trombone class’ official formation in 1836. He deserves to be known as more than a name on a list, however. As it turns out, he obtained that position, and also that of principal trombonist of Paris’ principal orchestra by displacing established incumbents. He wrote a method book, which was the required text for his students. It has not maintained its place in the modern teaching literature, however. Thompson and Lemke note only a volume of nine etudes still readily available. I have a … Continue reading

Music education and gun violence

Three interesting and important stories about music education have come to my attention over the last couple of months. Then came the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As it turns out, there is a connection. Just before Christmas, I heard an interesting interview on the radio, found it on line, and emailed it to myself. Somehow, I couldn’t find it the first time I looked for it, but it turned up the other day when I was looking for something else. It’s an interview between NPR’s Scott Simon and Marin Alsop, conductor of both the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and … Continue reading

The Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

How did the town of Cateura, Paraguay get an internationally known youth orchestra? It sits on the largest landfill in the country. Its citizens pick through the trash to find things to recycle and sell. It’s almost as if both the contents of the landfill and the people who live on it are discards, out of sight and out of mind for most of the rest of the country. The story begins with Luis Szarán, since 1990 the conductor of the Symphonic Orchestra of Asunción. He grew up poor, the eighth child of Paraguayan farmers. He had musical talent. A … Continue reading

Children, music education, and opera

In an argument already almost two centuries old, some people claim that classical music is stuffy, old fashioned, and appeals only to a cultural elite. Popular music is new, up to date, and broad based. Opera seems to appeal only to a subset of the aging classical music crowd. School children know nothing of such philosophical arguments. They only know what they like. They like classical music, and even opera, just fine. I have written several posts about distinctions between classical and popular music, but I’d like to use “popular” in a broader sense for a while. It’s something a … Continue reading

College students and music

I remember hearing about a student who turned in his final examination paper after only half an hour. He had not written answers to any of the questions. He only drew a tomb stone, with the epitaph: “sacred to the memory, which leaves me at times like this.” Here are some comments on tests and papers from students who might as well have followed his example. Enjoy! Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is the product of the mad genius who struggled to find work, and keep his pants on. Michael Jackson brought back dancing, which still exists today. Composers of the … Continue reading