Month: July 2018

Summer Music

Today’s Sunday Baroque show (7/29/18) includes some highlights about summer music festivals. No matter what genre of music you fancy, there is a music festival suited to your tastes. You may be solely a spectator/listener, or an active participant — summer presents so many rich and rewarding opportunities, so many hands-on possibilities.

I have a wealth of great memories of attending summer festivals over the years, sitting on a beach blanket or perched in summer concert venues enjoying world-class musicians. (And not necessarily baroque, or even classical performances!) As an orchestral and chamber musician, I’ve played my share of memorable summer festival performances, too. A number of my friends have attended summer festival camps for accomplished amateurs, or participated in intensive workshops that culminated in a performance at the end. Some of my professional musical colleagues have participated in summer training programs here and abroad. Perhaps it’s the casual summer mindset, but the music seems to take on a different role and meaning at these summer festivals. It has extra sparkle and fun! Even when it’s an educational setting, the tone is simply different in the summer … more luxurious in a way, more convivial, and with more room to take chances musically.

Are you enjoying summer music festivals this season? Have you participated in summer music workshops or classes, recently or in the past? Please share some of your memorable experiences of Summer music!

 

The Music of Silence

As much as I love music, I also appreciate silence. Or perhaps I should say I appreciate the absence of what we traditionally define as “music.” It offers a chance to focus on a different, more nuanced layer of sound.

Birds singing, leaves rustling, chipmunks fussing in the yard, rain gently tapping on the house … subtle yet, somehow, profound. Add a layer of neighbors and their children and pets cavorting nearby, even the brief Doppler-ized snippets of music from other people’s passing car radios, and these random sounds combine to create the effect of daily life on “shuffle.” I love it!

John Cage, the 20th century avant garde composer, famously “composed” a piece called 4’33” or Four Minutes and Thirty Three Seconds. He specified it for any instrument or combination of instruments, and the score instructs the performers to NOT to play for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. The music is in the sounds of the environment … people shuffling, coughing, sounds from outside the performance venue. Cage was prescient — he introduced the piece in 1952, long before we had as many sensory and media inputs as we do today. The concept has gained relevance and resonance as our world has become noisier.

There is something comforting and affirming to me in the sounds of nature and the hustle and bustle of life. It feels like home. Those sounds of the world around me also give me another level of appreciation for the music when I turn on the radio again or pop in another CD.  What about you? Do you find that silence — or the absence of “music” — enhances your appreciation of the music and the world around you? How you do find a balance that works for you?

 

 

The Music of Language

Did you see the fascinating recent article in Time about the connection between early piano lessons and language ability?  http://time.com/5322121/music-lessons-language-learning/

The findings resonate because I have long had strong feelings about the connection between musical ability and facility for languages. While it’s only anecdotal, I notice that many people around me with good musical ears also have good ears for language. (and more than a few people around me who lack a musical ear have difficulty with their foreign language pronunciation) For example, I have a beloved older cousin who regularly played piano from the time he was a little boy well into middle age. He also grew up to become fluent in Mandarin, Russian, Hungarian, and German. And I have always credited my own music lessons starting at age 8 for my interest in and ease in pronouncing a variety of languages. That facility has occasionally gotten me into minor trouble, too, because my native-sounding pronunciation far exceeds my limited vocabulary in some languages, creating some awkward exchanges. (That will have to be the topic of a future blog in the category of humor!)

There really is a “music” to spoken language — mastering the articulation, tempo, and rhythm of the words adds another layer of communication and nuance beyond the vocabulary and grammar.  I’m reminded of the hilarious scene in the classic 1966 film THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, when the stranded Russian submariners try to pass themselves off as New Englanders, walking the streets saying earnestly, “ee-MAIR-gen-cee … everybody to get from street!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOZuLD1u_K4

The study in the Time article looked specifically at the connection between children who had piano lessons, while speculating that the music/language connection may well exist for those learning other instruments, too. I will not be at all surprised if/when greater connections are revealed between music and language.

What about you? Did your early musical training help you with language learning? Do you hear the music in language, too? What did you think of the Time article?