On learning to play the piano without a piano

From the Guardian: Experience: I learned to play the piano without a piano.

I was 11 years old when I asked my mum for piano lessons, in 2010. We were in the fallout of the recession and she’d recently been made redundant. She said a polite “no”.

That didn’t deter me. I Googled the dimensions of a keyboard, drew the keys on to a piece of paper and stuck it on my desk. I would click notes on an online keyboard and “play” them back on my paper one – keeping the sound they made on the computer in my head. After a while I could hear the notes in my head while pressing the keys on the paper. I spent six months playing scales and chord sequences without touching a real piano. Once my mum saw it wasn’t a fad, she borrowed some money from family and friends, and bought me 10 lessons.

I still remember the first one. I was struck by how organic the sound of the piano was, as I had become familiar with the artificial electronic sound. The teacher tried to explain where middle C was but I could already play all the major and minor scales, as well as tonic and dominant functions, and the circle of fifths. [continue]

Home therapy from opera singers

From The Guardian: Last night a diva saved my life – home therapy from opera singers.

The soprano reaches a dramatic climax, demonstrating impressive lung power as she sustains the dizzying peak note, before bringing Quando me’n’ vo’ to its close. It is a powerful, emotionally draining performance, and one that seems to resonate around the room for some time after she has finished. Which is why I get up off the sofa and ask her if she would like a cup of tea.

This, as you might have guessed, is not your typical night at the opera – and not only because it’s only just gone 11am. It is called Opera Helps, and is a project dreamed up by the artist Joshua Sofaer. The gist is this: contact the Opera Helps phoneline with a personal problem, and they will endeavour to send a singer to your house. Said singer will briefly discuss the issue with you, select a suitable aria that addresses it, then perform it for you while you relax in familiar surroundings: on a comfortable chair, for instance, or even in bed. [continue]

There’s a group of singers in my community that does this, too.

Medieval music brought back to life

From Media-Newswire.com: Medieval music brought back to life.

Music from a medieval manuscript that has not been heard since the 15th century has been brought back to life, thanks to researchers at The University of Nottingham.

The project, involving collaboration with academics in Germany, has resulted in the production of a modern colour facsimile of one of the largest, oldest and most important collections of vocal music to survive from late-medieval Europe, as well as a CD recording of some of the music it contains. The St Emmeram Codex is a handwritten anthology of 255 compositions of mostly polyphonic music ( music for more than one voice ), both sacred and secular. The manuscript belonged to the Benedictine monastery of St Emmeram in Regensburg, Germany, but since the early 19th century has been kept under lock and key in the Bavarian State Library in Munich.

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Ice instruments

From The ice instrument recording project:

Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset has for years used a variety of organic sound elements in creating music and instruments. (…) Utilizing ice as a source of sound has long been a dream of his, and in year 2000 a serious opportinty came along to explore this possibility. He was commissioned the create a performance piece and composition incorporating the live sound of water beneath a natural frozen waterfall at the 2000 Lillehammer Winter Festival, at minus 15°C degrees and with Palle Mikkelborg og Lena Willemark as participating musicians. (the consert was televised in Norway). This was likely the first public concert ever combining instruments of ice with traditional musical instruments. While making preparations for the Lillehammer concert, Isungset was contacted to help create Sweden’s contribution to the worldwide televised New Years Day Millenium Celebration . In cooperation with sculptor Bengt Carling, Isungset created a set of ice percussion instruments that were played for the whole world to see and hear. [continue, see photos, hear sound samples]

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Sounds like a Strad? Must be the mushrooms

From AFP: Sounds like a Strad? Must be the mushrooms

A Swiss researcher said Thursday he had hit on an unlikely way of recreating the unique sound of a Stradivarius violin — by treating the wood of a replica instrument with mushrooms.

Francis Schwarze of the Zurich-based Federal Materials, Science and Technology Institute (EMPA), made a replica of a violin by the Italian master Antonio Stradivari from the year 1698, which was presented this week at the "Swiss Innovation Forum" in Basel.

Schwarze found that [continue]

Mathematician solves Beatles chord mystery

From Scientific Blogging: Beatles Unknown "Hard Day’s Night" Chord Mystery Solved Using Fourier Transform.

It’s the most famous chord in rock ‘n’ roll, an instantly recognizable twang rolling through the open strings on George Harrison’s 12-string Rickenbacker. It evokes a Pavlovian response from music fans as they sing along to the refrain that follows:

"It’s been a hard day’s night
And I’ve been working like a dog"

The opening chord to "A Hard Day’s Night" is also famous because, for 40 years, no one quite knew exactly what chord Harrison was playing.

There were theories aplenty and musicians, scholars and amateur guitar players all gave it a try, but it took a Dalhousie mathematician to figure out the exact formula.[continue].

Sea shanty recordings unearthed

From the Beeb: Sea shanty recordings unearthed.

Relatives of a sea captain from Sunderland have heard their long dead ancestor singing sea shanties recorded in the 1920s.

The songs, which were in a collection recorded on wax cylinders by American academic James Madison Carpenter, were restored for a BBC documentary.

Mark Page, born in 1836, ran away to sea as a boy and contributed to the scholar’s work when he retired.

The recordings then lay untouched in an attic for decades.

Relatives of Mr Page were tracked down by BBC documentary makers and invited to the family reunion, but not told the reason why. One guest came from Australia. [continue, see video]

Danilov Monastery’s bells — going home at last

From csmonitor.com: Russian monastery anticipates the familiar toll of ancient bells.

As the chiming of bells rang through Harvard University’s campus among a field of caps and gowns last week, it was the final time they would be heard — the end of an era for the university, but also a new beginning.

For the past 78 years, the 18 bells have hung high above Harvard’s buildings, chiming on Sunday afternoons and every year at commencement. This summer, the bells will return home to ring at the Danilov Monastery in Moscow from which they were rescued in 1930 at the height of the Stalinist era, at a time when antireligion campaigns sought to destroy monasteries and melt down their ironwork.

In a world where artifacts are often stolen and seldom returned, the story of the Danilov bells is rare.

It all began in 1929 when [continue]

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Music ‘can enhance wine taste’

From the BBC: Music ‘can enhance wine taste’.

Playing a certain type of music can enhance the way wine tastes, research by psychologists suggests.

The Heriot Watt University study found people rated the change in taste by up to 60% depending on the melody heard.

The researchers said cabernet sauvignon was most affected by "powerful and heavy" music, and chardonnay by "zingy and refreshing" sounds.

Professor Adrian North said the study could lead retailers to put music recommendations on their wine bottles. [continue]


Vivaldi work revived 278 years on

From the Beeb: Vivaldi work revived 278 years on.

A long-lost opera by the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi has been performed for the first time in 278 years, in the city of Prague.

Argippo was written for the Czech capital and premiered there in 1730.

But the opera – a tale of "passion, love and trickery" in an Indian maharaja’s court – later disappeared without trace.

Most of the score was discovered in Germany by a young Czech musician who [continue]

Experts ‘rebuild’ composer’s face

From the BBC: Experts ‘rebuild’ composer’s face

The face of Johann Sebastian Bach has been recreated by experts at Dundee University more than 250 years after the German composer’s death.

It is believed that only one portrait he sat for still exists.

However, forensic artists at the university built up a picture of his appearance using a bronze cast of his skull and documents from the time. [continue, see picture]

No Quasimodo, he brings music to Notre-Dame bells

From the New York Times: No Quasimodo, He Brings Music to Notre-Dame Bells.

Stéphane Urbain stood leaning against a heavy wood frame high in the north tower of Notre-Dame, wrapped in a navy blue woolen cape against the wind, as he waited for the bells to sound.

Then three of the four immense bells tolled, shaking the massive oak frame, which weighs more than 187 tons.

"C-sharp, D-sharp twice, F," Mr. Urbain said, a broad smile lighting up his face, even in the darkness of the bell cage.

Mr. Urbain, a 40-year-old chemist by training, is the chief sacristan of the cathedral. As such, he is also the chief bell ringer. His role often brings mention of Quasimodo, Victor Hugo’s misshapen "Hunchback of Notre-Dame," who as the bell ringer was deafened by the volume. [continue]

Lost 16th-Century Mass discovered by Berkeley music scholar

From Lost 16th-Century Mass Discovered by Berkeley Music Scholar.

More than 400 years after Italian composer Alessandro Striggio wrote his extravagant 40-part Missa sopra Ecco sì beato giorno, it has been rediscovered by a Berkeley music scholar who identified the work and rescued it from obscurity.

Although most of Striggio’s piece is in 40 different voice parts, the last movement is for 60 separate voices (five 12-part choirs) and is the only known piece of 60-part counterpoint in the history of Western music. "It’s one of the first great pieces to use architecture and space, with musical phrases physically moving around the ring from choir to choir," says Professor of Music Davitt Moroney, who after years of research located a complete set of partbooks for the mass in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris. "It is an intellectual achievement of the highest order. There are other large choral works, but Striggio’s mass is unique, with its five eight-part choirs. This is Florentine art at its most spectacular." [continue]


Oh, look! The New York Times has an article about Solemnes:

One of the tasks of Roger Server as mayor of this quaint village in western France is to console misguided tourists who want to hear the monks in its 11th-century monastery singing in Gregorian chant. "People come and ask, ‘Can you visit the concerts?’ "

Tourists are restricted to the back of the church, he said, shaking his white hair in mock exasperation. "I tell them: ‘You can visit at the offices. You can admire the sculptures in the church.’ But the monks say, ‘We’re not here to receive tourists; we’re contemplatives.’ "

The monks, 55 of them, inhabit the monastery that hovers over the village like some great granite mother hen over her chicks. But in recent times the monks have gained a measure of fame for their dedication to Gregorian chant, the simple vocal music whose cadences, in Latin, for centuries adorned the Roman Catholic liturgy.

Now, a constant stream of visitors comes to Solesmes to sit in the monastery church and listen while the monks sing the psalms and prayers, seven times a day, of the sacred liturgy.

"They want their calm," Mr. Server, 65, a retired schoolteacher, said of the monks. "And after all, the monastery was there before us."

The monks’ dedication to Gregorian chant dates to the 19th century, when the monastery was refounded as the Benedictine abbey of St. Pierre de Solesmes, after having been closed after the French Revolution. [continue]

Chants of the Russian Orthodox Church

Now this is lovely. Here are the Monks and Choirs of Kiev Pechersk Lavra, with:

…26 hymns from the ancient church, sung by the monks of the historic Kiev-Pechersk cave monastery. Included are rare sacred music pieces by both Rachmaninov and the Italian composer J.Sarti, who was so enraptured by Orthodox singing that he left Italy for Russia in 1724 and lived there the rest of his life. Gorgeously layered, these venerable hymns bring together Byzantine traditions with those of old Russia.

(This post used to link to magnatune.com, where you were able to listen to, or purchase, the album. But that page on magnatune.com is gone, so I’ve removed the links.)