Children and the Eastern Music Festival

What picture do you suppose many people associate with “string quartet”? A bunch of old white men dressed like penguins playing stodgy old music for a few people who have learned to hold it in awe? Children don’t know that. When they hear a string quartet, or any kind of classical music, they love it. I got a chance to witness it in person at one of the Eastern Music Festival’s “EMF Encircling the City” concerts. Greensboro violist and EMF faculty member Diane Phoenix-Neal conceived and started the series three years ago as part of the celebration of the festival’s … Continue reading

The musical warfare of Confederate ladies

During much of the nineteenth century, the piano in the parlor served as the home entertainment center. Families bonded around it by singing popular songs together. They entertained guests there, too. Women especially were expected to be accomplished musicians and performers entertaining whatever guests showed up. Americans also frequently serenaded outside each other’s homes, either singing or playing instruments, as a tribute or compliment. These practices became politicized during the Civil War. Publishers on both sides churned out patriotic songs. The homes that did not acquire and learn a significant quantity must have been a distinct minority. … Continue reading

Classic cartoons: they don’t make ’em that way any more

Since this is a music blog, “classic cartoons” means something more specific than just the old ones. Many cartoons used to feature classical music, which is the only reason why they belong in this blog. I never had any kids, so haven’t paid much attention to the Saturday morning cartoons since I was a kid myself. Every once in a while I see one, though. I’m not qualified to say that they don’t use classical music, but I think I’d remember noticing if I’d heard any. I am principally struck by the lack of richness in the drawing. … Continue reading

Up from disgrace: two and a half beloved dances that no longer shock

Have you ever noticed how many of our cherished cultural traditions were considered disreputable and shocking when they were first introduced? Here are three dance forms from three different countries that had to overcome strong objections before they became respectable. Two of them remain as staples of ballroom dancing. Waltz The German verb waltzen appeared long before the waltz as a specific dance. It refers to the whirling movements of various dances that arose among the peasants of the German-speaking regions of Bavaria, Austria, and Bohemia. These dances were known in Vienna and throughout Europe simply as German dances. Besides … 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

A listener’s guide to the Minuet and Trio form

Once upon a time, music was music. There was no distinction between art music and popular music. Some people liked novelty and got tired of pieces after hearing them a few times. Others liked to listen over and over to discover the clever things composers did with melody, harmony, and form. But everyone pretty much listened to the same music. They really listened, too. Not everyone listens to music these days, even though many people carry radios and iPods and what not everywhere they go. Having something on as background doesn’t count. I”m not sure watching music videos does, either. … Continue reading

From the New World: 9th symphony by Antonin Dvořák

Antonin Dvořák came to America because of a woman who was used to getting her own way. In 1884, a wealthy arts patroness in New York, Jeanette Thurber, established the National Conservatory of Music and hired a Belgian singer as its first director. The Conservatory was unusual for a number of reasons: She conceived and ran it as a philanthropic, not commercial venture. Therefore, it admitted students who otherwise could not have gotten a musical education. Women as well as men comprised the student body. The student body was not limited to white students. Some Native American and African American … Continue reading

The Battle Cry of Freedom: best song of the Civil War?

Several songs of the Civil War remain well known to this day. Perhaps the best known today is “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but certainly the preeminent war song of its own day was “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” by George Frederick Root. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” with its religious allusions, quickly found a place in hymnals, which it retains to this day. “The Battle Cry of Freedom” is nothing but a war song, yet many of you reading this are probably humming it right now. What is it about this song that has given it such … Continue reading

Slave music and the Civil War

Since the American Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery, no survey of Civil War music can be complete without careful attention to slave music. Slave music didn’t arise from the war, of course. It had existed in one form or another for the entire two-century history of slavery. The war itself, while it was in progress, had little effect on slave music. Afterwards, when the slaves received their freedom, most of them were anxious to leave slave culture, including its music and performance practice, behind them. Slavery as an institution In the course of the American Revolution, … Continue reading