Monday, June 1, 2020

NICCOLO PAGANINI - A Short Biography

Български: Николо Паганини
 Paganini (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Paganini's name is one that burns with lustre peculiarly of its own in the record of musical art in the nineteenth century. He represents the climax and the highest triumph of the virtuoso. Soon after the beginning of the nineteenth century came about what Dr Hanslick calls a "new birth of the wandering musician," in the travelling virtuoso. Thalberg, Liszt, Chopin, Henselt, Clara Schumann, Döhler, Dreyshock, the pianists, and the violinists Spohr, Paganini, Vieuxtemps, Ole Bull, Lipinski, de Beriot, the cellist Servais, and still others, all appeared within a very few years of each other, contesting for the palm. 

Of all these, the most potent in his spell upon the public, the most mystifying in the magic of his wonderful technical powers, was Niccolo Paganini. With only one other of his kind was the comparable - Franz Liszt. But unlike him, Paganini lacked a high and truly musical gift. His powers were chiefly comprised in his marvellous mastery of the violin, and in the effects, he obtained upon it, before him unheard of and unimagined. His composition has certain originality and charm and many of them still appeal to violinists of the virtuoso style, and through them to the public; they exploit, naturally, the brilliancy and novelty of the technical devices that he introduced and that have become famous.

Paganini was born at Genoa, Italy, February 18, 1784. His father was a petty shopkeeper, uneducated, but fond of music, and a performer on the mandolin.

The young Niccolo, like most who have made a great mark in music, early showed evidence of his genius, and his father took steps to develop it, forcing his talent, in fact, with the greatest roughness and severity. He studied at first under local teachers. He had made much progress by the time he was six years old, and when he was eight he wrote a sonata. His master made him play a new concerto in church every Sunday, and at the age of nine years, he made his first appearance at a concert. Then he was sent to Ghiretti and Alexander Rolla, of Parma. He even then began to experiment with a veritable frenzy. He made his first concert tour in the neighbouring Lombardy cities when he was thirteen years old, and laid there the foundation of a reputation that never ceased growing during his lifetime.

He speedily entered upon a checkered and adventurous career, in which his artistic successes were mingled with dissipations of all sorts, especially with a passion for gambling. For some years he experienced the strangest vicissitudes of mood, sometimes giving up the violin for the guitar for months at a time, sometimes devoting himself exclusively to amateur agriculture.

But he finally began his concert tours again, which he kept up in Italy with constantly increasing success, to the admiration and bewilderment of the public. In 1828 he left Italy for the first time and appeared in Vienna. The contemporary accounts exhaust the resources of language to describe the delirium of excitement and wonder into which his performances threw the whole city. During his long stay in the Austrian capital, he was honoured in every possible way, official and unofficial. His progress through the cities of Germany was similar in kind. He reached Paris in 1831, where his success was quite as great.

Only in England was he received somewhat coldly, and his business methods aroused opposition: but his pecuniary gains were enormous.

The winter of 1833 he spent in Paris; one fruit of his sojourn was the symphony with viola obbligato, "Harold in Italy", which Berlioz wrote for him at his suggestion. In 1834 he returned to Italy, where he had invested his great earnings in landed estates. The final chapter of his life was a miserable end to his brilliant career; it was unfolded in France between 1836 and 1840. He joined with a firm of speculators in the building of a clubhouse, called the Casino Paganini, in Paris, nominally for musical entertainments, really for gambling. The government refused it a license: the concerts failed to pay. He hurried to Paris to save the venture by performing at them himself, but he was too ill to play. The company collapsed; he was sued for 50,000 francs, which he had to pay under pain of arrest. As the sentence was about to be executed upon him, he died of laryngeal consumption, on May 27, 1840, being at that time in Nice, in search of health.

Much has been written about the characteristics of Paganini's playing, which must have been much more than the mere trickery of a virtuoso. He seems to have had a fine though not very large tone, and an expressive cantilena; his intonation was unfailing, his rapidity on the fingerboard lightning-like, his bowing of the highest dexterity. He had such a command of double stops, harmonics, and double harmonics, as none other ever possessed. He introduced or revived a number of novel effects that long puzzled violinists, notably by tuning his instrument in unusual ways.

His violent staccato, his frequent use of left-hand pizzicato passages, were peculiarities of his playing. One of his most noted feats was to play solos upon the G-string, which he tuned higher, and upon which, by the use of harmonics, he attained a compass if three octaves.

Paganini's influence upon the modern technique of his instrument and the development of its style was very great, comparable only with that of Liszt upon pianoforte playing. His compositions are not numerous. Paganini's sheet music includes twenty-four caprices for violin solo, twelve sonatas, two concertos, in E flat and B minor, a "Moto Perpetuo", several sets of variations and three quartets for violin, viola, guitar and violoncello.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Most Commonly Played Musical Instruments in MARCHING BANDS

The Boy Scouts Marching Band.
The Boy Scouts Marching Band. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There are numerous and variety of musical instruments played by the members of a marching band. Most commonly played musical instruments in a marching band include brass, woodwind and percussion instruments.

These instruments can be easily carried and simultaneously played by marching band members while marching.

Brass instruments of a marching band include Cornet, Trumpet, Tuba and French horn.
  • Cornet is similar to a trumpet which is usually pitched in the B flat. Cornet is a transposing instrument that features valves and it is extensively used in brass bands.
  • The trumpet is also a transposing musical instrument that has undergone numerous changes with the passage of time. The trumpet was initially used for the military purposes to declare danger and today it's used band members of Jazz bands.
  • Tuba is a deep sound-producing musical instrument and regarded as the largest instrument in brass-wind family.
  • The main feature of the French horn is that it produces a unique musical effect with bell point backwards.

Woodwind instruments in a marching band comprise clarinet, flute, oboe and saxophone.

  • The Clarinet has undergone numerous innovation and changes since its inception. As a result of unique sound, it is extensively used in band performances.
  • The flute is a man-made musical instrument and initially, the flutes were made up of wood.
  • Oboe is one of the musical instruments and has only two keys. This instrument is used in orchestras and military band performances.
  • The saxophone is available in a variety of types and sizes. Baritone sax, alto sax and tenor sax are the most commonly used saxophone varieties in musical bands.
  • Bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, timpani and xylophone are the percussion instruments used in a marching band.
  • Bass drum is a percussion instrument regarded as the largest members in the drum family.
  • Cymbals are shaken, scraped or struck percussion instrument with or without a pitch.
  • Glockenspiel is the best example of a tuned musical instrument
  • Timpani is a kind of musical instrument that emerged from the kettledrums.
  • The xylophone is a variety of percussion instruments that has resonating metal tubes and supported extensively by the frames.

Most of these instruments can be practised by enrolling in your school's music class. Most teachers allow students to practice these instruments during class. Try practising each instrument before choosing which one you will be using full time. It's important to know the ins and outs of each instrument, which will help with your decision. Visit your local music class for more information.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Your SINGING Career

Yung Singer
As a former talent booking agent with the William Morris Agency, I know the struggles and the emotional whirlwinds that often face young singers attempting to find their niche in the music industry.   Satisfying the desire to become successful in the music industry is not easily achieved or obtained, but those who make it, are well aware of the rewards.

In an effort to increase your odds and to obtain any “real” recognition in the music industry, whether as an artist, jingle singer, or just plain session singing, let’s take a closer look at a few factors that might increase your odds.  Notice, I didn’t say do this or that and it’s a done deal.  If you’re familiar at all with the music industry you are well too familiar that some make it with virtually no talent at all and others, with incredible style, look and drive, never even get the slightest nod from music industry executives.

To begin with – What’s your career blueprint look like?  What are you doing from a pre-determined game plan right now?  Have you actually taken the time over a cup of coffee and sat down with a pad and pencil and jotted down 1) your goals, short term and long term 2) your overall game plan and 3) how you are going to implement yours to-do list to get to your end goal?

I’m surprised to learn how few really get this far.  Sure, many sit in the car or on the couch “thinking about life and their career” and have a general idea, but until you put it down on paper and follow through with a course of action, you might as well forget it.  Start by writing down your goals with a course of action and break it down with what you can do this month, this week and what I can get done today -  This will help you to not only stay focused but give you the boost when you feel like giving up.

Next, now that you’ve figured out what you want to do and how you’re going to go about doing it with a set blueprint, what does your demo sound like?  It can’t just sound pretty good – And yes, this does take time and money - $75 demos won’t get the job done.  Good and pretty good won’t get it – It has to knock their socks off and turn the heads of the listeners.  Yes, as I mentioned earlier, some with virtually little talent get in, but what I’m talking about here is reflected in an overall picture of what’s being sent to the A&R director, producer, etc.  

Not only does this demo sound great, but “Should we use it as the final mix in the CD, because it’s already in the pocket and we won’t have to spend any more production money re-cutting any of these songs.”   That’s how good your demo’s should be – And as an aspiring jingle singer, don’t settle for a “mom and pop” or car commercially sounding demo reel.  Your jingles ought to sound like they’re national TV and radio spots like you’ve already arrived.

The next important element, almost as important as the music itself, is your press kit and how you present yourself to industry professionals.  I will break this up into 2 segments the first on the artist press kit and secondly phone calls and interviews.  Anything that you send out in print or on your CD, has got to look like you’re established and you’ve already made it.  Make sure that your CD covers are printed on gloss paper with high-quality photographs of you or the band.  Managers, producers, and A&R directors alike, are more inclined to pick up an act that looks together.  They don’t have time to figure out if this poorly imaged act has what it takes or not – And they very well might – But they don’t have the presentation.  In here lies what I consider to be your greatest ally.  If you will spend time and money to have your artist press kit not only look professional but with an edge, you can convey 1) your image, 2) your marketability, 3) and your dedication and sincerity – This is not a fleeting moment or idea for you.  You’re in this for the long haul and your presentation states that.  Make anything in print that you send out, shine.

The next part of your presentation is in the phone calls, meetings, and grin and grip events, whether concerts, showcases or otherwise.  If you don’t have a natural ability to interact with individuals, you are going to have to practice.  And furthermore, there’s nothing wrong, and I would suggest, writing down on paper anything that you want to come to mind before a phone conversation even begins.  If you’re bad with names, as many of us are, have those names written down, easily obtained in the middle of a call.  Prepare as much as you can before the conversation and be honest.  Honesty goes a long way with people.  Most in the industry have “heard it all” and it’s so refreshing to hear somebody state, “I’m not sure, but I’ll find out.”  Speak with sincerity, honesty, but with confidence as well.  After all, you’ve got something unique and it’s your vocal career.  You need to sell them, but they also need to recognize the obvious, and that is that they’ve just discovered the next…

So as you begin or at least start looking at your singing career, look at these simple to implement principals that we have just looked at and know ahead of time that you are going to be specific, analytic, and purposeful in your singing career strategies.  Take a look at your strengths and weaknesses and be honest.  Ask others.  Don’t be afraid to change course or look at other singing alternatives as well.  We know that short articles are difficult to present every point of the equation, so don’t hesitate to contact us should you have further questions.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Was BEETHOVEN Actually Deaf?

Beethoven in 1818 by August Klöber
Beethoven in 1818 by August Klöber
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let's put aside everything that we've been told about Beethoven and consider this question. It's an ugly question that will probably provoke aggression, but it is nevertheless interesting.

What is the evidence that Beethoven was deaf? Scrounging through literature and websites shows many anecdotes, letters, and references to an autopsy report (of which the original has been lost). It looks pretty promising, however, we really can't definitively say whether or not it is authentic. This is where this post begins to sound like a conspiracy theory, but rest assured, I'm only trying to use an example to ask a larger philosophical question.

Beethoven's biggest legacy could be his development of the idea of how we think of artists. His music broke the classical boundaries and originated the idea of the brooding, highly individual artist (as opposed to the former artisan status of composers). At the time, his music was very avant-garde and widely criticized. That's not to say that his music was bad, it was arguably pretty amazing, however, it wasn't what people were used to, and in order for people to accept progress, they need to think that it's worth their time to do so. This is where it gets interesting. For argument's sake, let's say that Beethoven was a genius. The problem posed to him was: How do I get people to give this music a chance?

Imagine you are a 19th-century citizen. It is a Friday night and you're looking to go out and have a good time. You hear that there is a concert being given with some new Beethoven piece. You're slightly interested. Then you hear the rumor that Beethoven's gone deaf... What? At this point, you are fully interested. You feel compelled to go, even if it's just to laugh at the chaos of the music. That is exactly the type of person that Beethoven's music would snare. 

Their minds would be open and without expectation for normal classical-era music. What happens when you go to this concert and the music is actually really good? It is human nature to love stories of brave people overcoming tragedy, therefore people would want for his music to be good and would be more likely to pay attention and accept his eccentricities as a genius. Beethoven was notorious for stopping concerts if he felt he wasn't being given full attention. Did his deafness not afford him exactly the attention wanted?

English: Photograph of bust statue of Ludwig v...
The bust statue of Ludwig van Beethoven by Hugo Hagen
(Photo credit: 
One of the reasons that Beethoven's deafness could be viewed as an attention grabber is the way that he revealed his affliction to everyone. Whether or not his deafness was real, it is obvious that he was portraying himself as romantically as possible, trying to evoke feelings of sympathy or admiration for his courage in accepting every challenge life had to offer. I would say a wonderful example of this is the report of him having guests over to his house in 1814, whereupon he proceeded to play piano extremely loudly (that he may also hear), whilst remarking "Isn't it beautiful?". 

This apparently had a wonderful effect on the guests who felt deep sympathy for him and his courage. Nice one. Another piece of evidence for his self-romanticization is in his letters in which he says things such as: "Live alone in your art! Restricted though you be by your defective sense, this is still the only existence for you" or my personal favorite "Perfect the ear trumpets as far as possible, and then travel; this you owe to yourself, to mankind and to the Almighty! Only thus can you develop all that is still locked within you;-- and a little court,--a little chapel,--writing the music and having it performed to the glory of the Almighty, the Eternal, the Infinite---". 

Oh, what a tragic character he is. What makes it so much more charismatic is that it's a true story! The references to religion are particularly interesting. It gives him so much more power to say that he is driven by divine forces.

It would seem as though he was trying to employ a gimmick or create a character for himself. Where would he have gotten an idea like this? Why was the timing for this "deafness" historically logical? The answer to both of these questions could be Mozart. The concept of Mozart is a perfect father to Beethoven's deafness.

Mozart was also, to a lesser extent, a romantic character. His music is backed by a story. The story of a child genius, born only to compose and enchant. He was writing symphonies by the time he was 8. Wow! It didn't matter that the music was bad, people didn't care about the music, they cared about the story. His father was also a musician, so who knows how much of these early works were actually Wolfgang. I'm not trying to say that all of Mozart was a sham and that he's a worthless composer, just that he was founded on a gimmick. His later music is actually quite good. 

Nevertheless, the gimmick was quite successful and everyone wanted to see the freak of nature that was Mozart. The idea of the child genius caught on and many people tried to replicate it exactly. Beethoven, a huge fan of Mozart, could have seen this gimmick and wanted to have his own. Thus the age of gimmicks (that is still alive today) was born.

The gimmick is such a powerful tool in art. Beethoven's legacy has proven this to us. Ask anyone today about Beethoven, and you will just as likely hear a reference to his deafness as to an admiration for any particular piece. In fact, I would argue that the average person would know Beethoven only by his deafness. To demonstrate the power of the gimmick, imagine showing a person the second movement from Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata

It's a beautiful piece to be sure. Imagine their expression when you tell them that it was written by a deaf composer and that it saved him from suicide. Just then, the piece transforms from a beautiful piece to a compelling testament to the triumph of human perseverance. Although it's only a partially true statement, the effect that it has on the listener is enormous. My question here is: If backstory can create such a powerful effect, why would a genius such as Beethoven not seek to employ is strategical?

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Terrific And Terrifying PIANOS

Image of a Bösendorfer piano. The removable ca...
Bösendorfer piano. The removable capo d'astro bar is located across
the upper two (treble) sections of the cast-iron plate.
(Photo credit: 
What’s the best piano you’ve ever played on? What’s the worst? Can the quality of pianos that are used for composing and performing seriously affect your musical output? Here are some thoughts.

Two of the most remarkable pianos ever built are the nine-foot Steinway and the nine-and-a-half foot Bosendorfer. The Bosendorfer is more of a conversation piece because of its additional low notes, used for extra resonance when playing the sustain pedal. Both brands are of the highest quality and produce a sound and key action second to none.

There are so many quality brands these days that deserve honorable mention. Heintzman pianos are generally gems and Yamaha is producing wonderful instruments. I could go on, but I’d rather talk about lousy pianos. It’s more fun.

Terrifying pianos are just another name for poorly maintained pianos. Although these types of pianos can be found virtually anywhere, occasionally they are found in schools and in retirement homes. What a shame!

A bad piano in a school supplies students with lesser music education. Musical demonstrations by an instructor are out of tune and private piano tutoring is a disastrous effort on such instruments.

Retirement homes with bad pianos are truly tragic circumstances. Just because residents in a home are retired, doesn’t mean that the poor piano has to retire from a life of tuning and maintenance. Yours truly encountered one such piano in a retirement home in Baltimore, Maryland. The year was 1988, and it was the year that I came closest to breaking a finger. While playing a Chopin study (opus. 10 no. 8), my right-hand third finger actually got stuck in between two black notes!

Ouch! One of the black keys was too close to the adjacent black key, either through poor construction or through some sort of warping process over time (probably the latter). The otherwise happy Chopin Etude must have had a painful emotional feel to it from about the midway point of the composition until its conclusion. Thankfully, this was the last piece on the program. Suffice to say, there were no encores.

Here’s another gem of a piano. When first arriving at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, I was invited to the house of a friend. After dinner, I was asked by our charming host to perform on their piano for the three couples that were also invited to dinner. On this occasion, I decided to play the Chopin Barcarolle. To my great surprise, the piano was out of tune by more than a semitone. To a composer with perfect pitch, this is a death sentence.

Hamburg Steinway D-274
Hamburg Steinway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before going on, no implication was intended in labeling Baltimore and the surrounding areas with an infestation of bad pianos. Two bad pianos in one state is nothing more than an unfortunate coincidence.

From the above past experiences, it can be concluded that badly maintained pianos can most definitely have a negative impact on performers. However, can the quality of a piano actually improve one's output? After all, it can be argued that music comes from within and that true emotion will not be subdued, regardless of the instrument that one is composing or performing on.

In the practical world, good equipment is always an asset. If a piano delivers a quality, singing tone, it becomes addictive to play. That, alone, is an extremely positive consideration. Any composer or performer that has the incentive to remain at their instrument for greater lengths of time is bound to produce positive results.

Another point to consider is that a singing tone makes ones soul sing. Any performer or composer that is brought to a state of singing is in a very positive creative place.

As a final thought, a well-maintained piano makes for a happy performer, composer, and piano. The better the instrument is, the better the chance of a successful emergence of profoundly moving performances and compositions from performers and composers respectively.