Something odd about this Rigoletto video




The singing on this video of the quartet from Rigoletto is quite impressive, but the staging is unusual. And what’s with the costumes? And the “orchestra”? I have been so busy lately I haven’t had time to read and write as much as I would like. It’s times like these when I really appreciate the videos that I get by email. I don’t have to explain anything! I hope you have as much fun watching as I did—and as these people had making it. Oh, and tell all of us about it in the comments. … 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

Home, Sweet Home, by Henry Rowley Bishop




Home, Sweet Home” was the single most popular song of the entire 19th century, both in the United States and in England. Its success may owe more to the American poet who wrote the words than to the English composer of the tune. Henry Rowley Bishop was the most respected English musician of his generation. Contemporaries even called him the “English Mozart.” Almost single-handed, he kept the tradition of English opera alive. English opera and Bishop’s reputation. “Opera” seems highbrow nowadays. In the early nineteenth century it was the popular music of the upper class–that is, if it was in … Continue reading

The Bonnie Blue Flag, by Harry Macarthy




In its short existence, the Confederate States of America adopted two official flags. The Southern Cross flag so familiar today was adopted only in 1863 after it became apparent that the original Stars and Bars looked enough like the American Stars and Stripes to confuse soldiers in battle. No song about either flag ever approached the popularity of Harry Macarthy’s tribute to the Bonnie Blue Flag, which was never an official Confederate flag at all. The flag Search for “Confederate Flag” on Google, and you might find one or two references to the Bonnie Blue Flag, but it’s not the … Continue reading

Juan Tizol, Ellington’s valve trombonist




Of all the people who populated the trombone sections of professional big bands in the swing era, not many played valve trombone. Not many became famous, either, unless they became known as soloists or band leaders. Puerto Rican Juan Tizol was one of the few in both categories. Most municipalities in Puerto Rico offered musical instruction, and produced many excellent musicians in the process. Jazz bands and theater bands that catered primarily to African American audiences began to recruit them in large numbers beginning before World War I. Tizol first arrived in New York in 1917, but returned home, overwhelmed … Continue reading

Olympic fanfare(s): John Williams and Leo Arnaud




With the Olympics in progress, and snippets of John Williams’ Olympic Fanfare and Theme heard constantly, it seems good to take a closer look at this piece–especially since Williams’ 80th birthday is this month. One of Williams’ challenges in composing Olympic Fanfare and Theme was writing music that could bear comparison with a 20-year-old theme that was already synonymous with the Olympics. Another favorite Olympic theme Ever since the modern Olympics began in 1896, music has been composed especially for various Olympiads. Most of it seems to have been forgotten soon afterward. Ironically, the best known music associated with the … 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

Civil War field music: fifes and drums




Military music during the American Civil War was a blend of old and new instruments and ensembles. Brass bands like the 26th North Carolina Regiment Band or the 1st Brigade Band, Wisconsin represented fairly recent instrumental combinations. The bugle was also a recent invention. Fife and drum bands, on the other hand, reached their heyday in the Revolutionary War and saw their last military action in the Civil War. The United States Marine Band was established by an Act of Congress in 1798. Don’t be thinking John Philip Sousa just yet. The original band comprised 32 fifers and drummers. An … Continue reading

Warsaw Concerto, by Richard Addinsell




The Warsaw Concerto is a piece of film music. It is much more popular than its movie ever was. How many people know who composed it? Music has been associated with theater for centuries. So it’s no wonder that movies needed music even before it became possible to add sound to them. Film music Composers who wrote mostly concert music also began to compose film music–Aaron Copland, for example But every studio of any pretension has its own staff of composers and arrangers. With notable exceptions, these musicians labor in anonymity. If their names have ever become familiar to the … Continue reading