Beloved Christmas carols: Chanticleer sings "In the bleak midwinter"




At least within the context of Christian worship, the male chorus can be dated back to priests singing liturgical prayers, a practice even older than Gregorian chant. By the time singing choral music in parts became commonplace, the church disapproved of women participating in worship anywhere but in a convent. Mixed church choirs would have been anathema. Churches initially found two ways to provide treble voices within a male chorus. Men could develop the so-called falsetto register, substituting a kind of head voice for the normal, deeper chest voice. Probably plenty of tenors in volunteer church choirs today occasionally cheat … Continue reading

Gisele MacKenzie sings Papa Loves Mambo in a holiday setting. 12-18-1954




The mambo, a Cuban dance form, first became popular in the United States in the late 1940s and reached its peak of  popularity here in about 1954. Perry Como’s recording of the song “Papa Loves Mambo,” by Al Hoffman, Dick Manning, and Bix Reichner,  was released on August 31, 1954 and made it to #5 or #4 on the Billboard chart later in the year. Nowadays most recording artists perform their own material, but in the 1950s, the fact that Como scored big did not mean that other stars regarded the song as his. Many performers sought to capitalize on … Continue reading

Toyota robot musicians




Recently someone posted four videos on Trombone-L of musical robots made  by Toyota. Someone else found them very depressing. Live musicians, he wrote, have enough  trouble without competition from yet another machine. If Toyota has already had this much success, what’s next? I have an answer, but first, here are the robot musicians: A tuba player–to me the least impressive of the bunch but still quite amazing: A trumpeter with pretty good sound. It plays better than a lot of human trumpeters, even if it’s stage presence is a little, shall we say, mechanical. A small jazz combo. What, no … Continue reading

Children and classical music revisited




Last March I wrote Children and classical music, which featured Charlie Loh, a professional conductor’s five-year-old son conducting Rite of Spring. The proud father also mounted a video of Charlie conducting something else when he was only four. Charlie got off to a good start then, but made remarkable progress by the time he was five! Lately, a video of a three-year-old, identified only as Jonathan, conducting the finale to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony has been making the rounds. There are 10 videos in all (as of today) of Jonathan either playing violin or conducting something. I see he showed interest … Continue reading

An excellent high-school orchestra from Indiana




A friend of mine sent me a link to the video below and said to prepare to be impressed. It is a prize-winning performance of the Carmel (Indiana) High School Symphony Orchestra playing “Jupiter” from The Planets by Gustav Holst. As a result of this performance last May, they were named the Indiana State Orchestra Champion. My friend tells me they also won in 2008 playing the finale of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and “Mambo” from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein. These performances are also available on YouTube. This performance is better than many concerts I have heard by prestigious … Continue reading

It’s Too Darn Hot, from Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate




There have been a lot more 90º degree-days than normal this summer. From what I see on weather reports, most of the country has been broiling, baking, roasting, or stewing, depending on how bad the humidity is. So lots of other people must be thinking, “It’s Too Darn Hot.” The song of that name by Cole Porter appears in his great musical Kiss Me Kate, a play within a play in which a divorced couple, who still secretly love each other despite their constant quarreling, star in a production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare’s bawdiness provided Porter … Continue reading

Building an audience for symphony orchestra concerts — with video games?




According to stereotype, classical music in general and symphony orchestra concerts in particular appeal to an aging elite. That perception justifies cutting orchestras from schools, booking orchestras for school assemblies or college arts series much less frequently than in the recent past, and changing classical music radio stations to other formats. Orchestras must develop strategies for building an audience in order to survive. Here is a video about the kind of orchestral music used as the sound tracks to video games. Someone on an email list I follow sent it along. Several orchestras have presented entire concerts devoted to video … Continue reading

Brass Bands of the American Civil War




I like to look around on YouTube from time to time. I recently typed “brass band” into the search engine, and a video called “Brass Bands of the Civil War” came up on the first page of results. I wondered how that subject could possibly work in a video. I have seen “videos” with a single photograph and music playing in the background. This one has a collage of wonderful photos and drawings while the Federal City Brass Band plays on period instruments. At the time of the Civil War, brass bands ruled. Few bands included woodwinds. As the photographs … Continue reading

An unexpected crossover: a rock guitarist plays opera




I will confess that I have never liked very much of the popular music of my lifetime. Once I got out of college, I stopped paying attention entirely. As I have studied the history of popular music, I noticed that from its beginnings at the end of the eighteenth century through the heyday of Tin Pan Alley, it was marketed to adults. Beginning with the rock music, marketers have sought to appeal to teenagers or even younger children. It appears that the audiences age along with the performers. Many people in their thirties and forties consider the Rolling Stones to … Continue reading

The vuvuzela: a new South African musical instrument (?!?)




With the World Cup taking place in South Africa, we can’t exactly say that soccer fever is sweeping the world. After all, it did that generations ago. But with the American team playing well and gaining an international following, it’s sweeping the US, at least for a while. Who of us have not seen news stories of a plastic trumpet made in South Africa called the vuvuzela? That’s actually nothing new, either. Cheap stadium horns were readily available for baseball games and other sporting events in this country fifty years ago. In any case, most people declare that it has … Continue reading