Arts & Culture

Arts and culture

The Violin Family

Dec 27, 2016

The members of the modern violin family are the violin, viola, cello, and double bass. These instruments are descendants of various kinds of medieval fiddles—fiddle, by the way, being an older word than violin—and the medieval fiddles themselves were bowed stringed instruments that were originally imported to Europe from the Middle East.


The Oboe

Dec 26, 2016

The modern oboe most likely originated in France in the 1600's. The word oboe, which is the instrument’s name in both English and Italian, comes from the French name, hautbois, meaning “high wood,” or “loud wood.” Oboes are usually made of African blackwood, which is sometimes called grenadilla.


Stephen Holden

Dec 26, 2016
Stephen Holden
Courtesy of the artist

Writer and critic Stephen Holden has covered everything from film to cabaret for The New York Times, as well as for TV programs such as 60 Minutes and 20/20. He covered the singer-songwriter explosion of the ’70s, and his 1980 satirical novel Triple Platinum was based on his experiences as a journalist and executive with RCA. This week Holden brings his wealth of knowledge to a discussion with host Michael Feinstein about music, lyrics and songwriting.

News Stations: Sun, Jan 01, 2 pm | Classical Stations: Sun, Jan 01, 6 pm

Loston Harris
Courtesy of the artist

For more than a decade, Loston Harris has headlined at Bemelmans Bar in Manhattan, delighting audiences with his smooth, soulful voice and piano style. Harris began his jazz career as a drummer but was encouraged by mentor Ellis Marsalis to switch to the piano. Hence, he discovered a new instrument and a new musical world. On this 1999 Piano Jazz, Harris performs “I Just Can’t See for Looking.” McPartland joins him for a rousing duet of Ellington’s “Do Nothing ‘til You Hear from Me.”

News Stations: Sat, Dec 31, 8 pm | Classical Station: Sun, Jan 01, 7 pm

A word of advice today for non-musicians reading program notes in concert programs: If the program notes are heavy on technical analysis and are loaded with terms like modulation, inversion, augmentation, diatonic intervals, chromatic progression, modified sonata form, what have you… ignore them.


Puccini's Birthday

Dec 22, 2016

Today is December 22, and on this day in 1858 Giacomo Puccini was born. Even a partial list of Puccini’s works reads like an “Opera’s Greatest Hits” list: La Bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Manon Lescaut, Turandot.


Vibrato Part 3

Dec 21, 2016

I’ve been talking this week about vibrato, the vibrato that string players use to warm up their sounds, and the vocal vibrato that’s the natural product of healthy singing. All vibrato consists of small oscillations in pitch, but not all vibrato is a blessing.

Vibrato Part 2

Dec 20, 2016

Yesterday I talked about vibrato, the technique that string players use—rocking the fingers of their left hands back and forth to create small oscillations in pitch that result in a warmer, more resonant sound.

Vibrato Part 1

Dec 19, 2016

When violinists play, their left hands always seem to shake. But it’s not because they’re nervous. Violinists, violists, cellists, and double bass players all use a technique called vibrato.


Wayne Brady
facebook.com/WayneBrady

Wayne Brady became a star improvising on the popular TV show Whose Line is it Anyway? A singer, actor, dancer, and comedian, Brady has also appeared on stage in Rent and Chicago, and hosts the TV game show Let’s Make a Deal. On this Song Travels, Brady discusses the musical influence of Sammy Davis, Jr. and Sam Cooke. With musical director Cat Gray at the piano, Brady performs the Cooke classic “You Send Me” and host Feinstein joins him in a duet of “It’s Only a Paper Moon.”

André Previn
Lillian Birnbaum/DG

Conductor, composer, and pianist André Previn has received multiple Lifetime Achievement Awards, including honors from the Kennedy Center, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Grammy Awards. Previn achieved an exceptional reputation as a jazz pianist in a series of recordings he made in the 1950s and 1960s. On this 1990 Piano Jazz, Previn plays a special treatment of “Stormy Weather” and then joins McPartland for an improvisation of “Stars Fell on Alabama.”

News Stations: Sat, Dec 24, 8 pm | Classical Station: Sun, Dec 25, 7 pm

It’s one of the hallmarks of great composers that they’re not limited by the practices of their times. Their imaginations are enriched, but not hemmed in, by the traditions they inherit, and they tend to push boundaries.


The composer Ernest Bloch was born in Switzerland, and after spending time in America, he was thinking of returning to Europe.  But a visit in 1922 to the Library of Congress, in Washington DC, convinced Bloch to stay in this country, and to take American citizenship. He was a famous composer, but Bloch was also one of this country’s most important educators, the founding director of the Cleveland Institute of Music and the first director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.


The Cantaloupe Thief

Dec 14, 2016

In the new novel, The Cantaloupe Thief (2016, Lion Fiction), protagonist Branigan Powers decides that too many people are staying silent about a ten-year-old murder case. Powers, an journalist, knows a good story when she sees one—and the ten-year-old cold case of wealthy Alberta Grambling Resnick's murder definitely makes the cut. Now Branigan must do some serious digging to get her story.

Imagine, for a moment, Mozart walking down Broadway, in New York City.  It’s not so easy. But Lorenzo da Ponte, who wrote the librettos for Mozart’s operas Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro, and Così fan tutte, died a New Yorker.


Inspired by Gershwin

Dec 13, 2016
Courtesy of artist

On this piano podcast listen to the Iranian born and Canadian trained Iman Habibi's piece Prelude a la Gershwin

The performer is pianist Deborah Grimmett who also happens to be the other half of the duo Piano Pinnacle with Iman, who also happens to be her husband. Terribly romantic...the way Gerswhin would want it. 

One can also subscribe to On the Keys via Itunes.

Sergey Prokofiev was a giant of 20th-century composition. He wrote great symphonies, operas, ballets, concertos, piano sonatas, and chamber music pieces, not to mention Peter and the Wolf.

This week we’ll focus on interesting facts and stories about important musicians. The first interesting item about the French composer Ernest Chausson is his name. The word chausson, in French, means “slipper” – as in the slippers you wear on your feet. But a chausson aux pommes is an apple turnover.


Jake Shimabukuro
Alex Ferrari

Jake Shimabukuro has carried the sound of the ukulele from the shores of Hawaii to the world’s concert stages. In his hands, the humble “little guitar” sings everything from J.S. Bach to the Beatles. His album Grand Ukulele shows off new sides of the musician and features a number of original songs and reinterpretations. On this week’s Song Travels, Shimabukuro performs “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and joins host Feinstein for a duet of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

News Stations: Sun, Dec 18, 2 pm | Classical Stations: Sun, Dec 18, 6 pm

Patti Wicks
Jimmy Katz

Pianist and vocalist Patti Wicks (1945 – 2014) began picking out tunes at the age of three and learned to play by ear because she was born visually impaired. As an adult, Wicks continued her music education at the Crane School of Music, SUNY. She honed her craft in New York jazz clubs and went on to perform in major venues and festivals the world over. In this 2004 Piano Jazz session, Wicks solos on McPartland’s tune, “There’ll Be Other Times,” and joins McPartland for “Body and Soul.”

News Stations: Sat, Dec 17, 8 pm | Classical Station: Sun, Dec 18, 7 pm

It’s an old question: if you were going to be dropped off on a desert island and you could only take a few recorded pieces of music with you, what would they be? For me, the first piece on the list is easy: Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro.


Neuroscience

Dec 8, 2016

I’m grateful for advances in neuroscience, and for many reasons glad that every day we know more about how the brain works. But for all the studies of left brains, right brains, and neuron networks, some things will remain mysteries, and there’s no way around it.


Elements of a Piano Piece: Melody

Dec 7, 2016
IMSLP

On this podcast an overview of melodies for the piano, how they work, what they are, and what makes them beautiful. You'll hear melodies from Bach to Thomas Ades. 

Spiccato

Dec 7, 2016

The literal meaning of the Italian word spiccato is similar to that of staccato—“detached,” or “distinct.” In string playing, to play notes spiccato means to play them with a bouncing bow. With its stiff but flexible stick and tightened horsehair, the bow is like a long spring, so it wants to bounce. But spiccato involves a controlled bouncing. The bow comes off the string after each note, but the player has to find the balance between making the bow bounce and letting it bounce.


Progress in Music

Dec 6, 2016

For musicians and music teachers, the concept of Progress can be misleading. We can strive in our own ways to emulate the masters who’ve preceded us, but it’s a mistake to think there’s such a thing as being better than those masters.


In fields such as science and technology, or in medicine, we’re used to achievements that represent Progress, progress that is obvious and indisputable. We do things better than we did before. But in the field of music, Progress has at times been a misleading concept.


Melissa Manchester
Courtesy of the artist

Grammy Award-winning vocalist and songwriter Melissa Manchester performed with Bette Midler as “Toots in the Middle” in the original group The Harlettes. She co-wrote and produced a number of hits during the ’70s and ’80s, and her songs have been recorded by artists such as Barbara Streisand, Alison Krause, and Johnny Mathis. She reprises a few of her hit songs on this edition of Song Travels, including “Through the Eyes of Love.”

News Stations: Sun, Dec 11, 2 pm | Classical Stations: Sun, Dec 11, 6 pm

Saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. (1943-1999) was a master musician and multiple Grammy winner. He performed internationally and worked with names like Bobby McFerrin, B.B. King, Patti LaBelle, and Nancy Wilson. He performed at the 1993 Inauguration of President Bill Clinton. Washington’s purity of tone and long, fluid lines are evident on this 1994 Piano Jazz. He and McPartland join forces to play “Prelude to a Kiss” and “What Am I Here For.”

News Stations: Sat, Dec 10, 8 pm | Classical Station: Sun, Dec 11, 7 pm

Strings

Dec 2, 2016

The strings of stringed instruments—violins, violas, cellos, basses, guitars, and harps—may be made of steel, nylon or other synthetics, or of gut. Often the steel, nylon, or gut serves as the core of the string, and around the core is a tight winding of very fine wire—wire of steel, aluminum, or silver.


The Flute, Part 2

Dec 1, 2016

I mentioned yesterday that by the mid-1700's the modern flute, technically called the transverse flute, had to a great extent replaced the recorder.  The replacement wasn’t complete, though: both Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel had continued to write for both instruments. Then again, by the time of Haydn and Mozart, just a few decades later, most orchestras included a pair of flutes, and no recorders. 


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