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

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, Wisconsinrepresented 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 army … Continue reading

Warsaw Concerto, by Richard Addinsell




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. 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 public, their music has been seldom heard on the concert stage until fairly recently. How did Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto become such a well-known exception to the rule? … Continue reading

Trombone ensembles: a brief history




The trombone has been primarily an ensemble instrument from the beginning. It found its first use in the bands sponsored by towns beginning in the 1300s. In fact, the bands predate the trombone. They started out as ensembles of shawms and trumpets, but rising standards of shawm playing left the natural trumpet in the dust. The trombone came along because shawms needed a competent companion. Ensembles of trombones alone came later. The 1500s saw a great deal of experimentation with new instrumental combinations. Courts in Italian city-states, notably Florence, led the way. They presented elaborate theatrical entertainments to project their … Continue reading

Duke Ellington’s music: how did he do it?




Duke Ellington was hardly a composer at all in the traditional sense. For centuries, both “classical” and “popular” composers had worked in solitude. They often collaborated with other people in the process, but they worked out their ideas by themselves. Ellington composition didn’t usually come about that way. He didn’t compose for instruments. He composed for people, and he needed those people around him. Composers rarely share their procedures with the public, but Ellington briefly described his in a magazine article. Sometimes he wrote out a melody, worked out the arrangement, and presented it to the band. That’s traditional composition, … Continue reading

A one-man band like no other: James Morrison




Historically the one-man band has been a form of low entertainment with one person playing multiple instruments at once. It dates back to the combination of pipe and tabor (a three-holed flute played with one hand and a drum with the other) in the 13th century. Nowadays, clever performers can make contraptions combining a dizzying array of different instruments, using their knees and armpits to play some of them. No one has ever considered such a one-man band to be art. As soon as recording studios began to record separate tracks and mix them together, ambitious performers began to record … Continue reading