Thursday, October 23, 2014

Not Your Ordinary Scary Music

October is the time for scary music. This year I decided to pass up the standard classical titles (Danse Macabre, Night on Bald Mountain, Bach's Toccata, or even In the Hall of the Mountain King). I skipped over the classic TV themes (Addams Family, Munsters, Twilight Zone, X Files Theme, and Dr. Who). I didn't check on the musicals (Rocky Horror, Sweeney Todd, or Little Shop of Horrors). I started looking for something different and ended up in film music. Not recent flicks, but titles from when film music was a special effect and horror films didn't have to show everything on the screen. And I discovered some great scary music.

Back in the early 1940s, Hans J. Salter wrote scores for several scary films, including Man Made Monster (1941), The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), and Son of Dracula (1943), while Frank Skinner wrote the score for Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942). All of these were from the Universal Studio.

The mid-1940s was a wonderful time for film noir and psychological thrillers. 1945 saw the release of Spellbound, a classic Hitchcock thriller with music by Miklos Rozsa, and a sheet music piano version that many pianists played in the 40s and 50s. The film noir Hangover Square was also released in 1945, with a score by Bernard Hermann. 1947 brought the film noir Possessed, with a score by Franz Waxman. These are legendary film composers who were legitimate classical composers in their own right.

I don't want to forget the other wonderful scores to Hitchcock films, many by Bernard Hermann: Vertigo, Marnie, North by Northwest, The Trouble with Harry, Psycho...

And I discovered Richard Addinsell's Gaslight -- from a British thriller released in 1940, not the better-known Hollywood flick from 1944.

For something different in scary music, try the film music section at the library.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Woodstock's 45th Anniversary

Forty five years ago, on August 15, 1969, on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in the small town of Bethel, New York, a crowd of about 500,000 gathered to celebrate “3 Days of Peace & Music.” Today, Woodstock remains an iconic point in American history, giving a glimpse into the counterculture of the 60s, becoming an emblem of togetherness and illustrating the power of music. Initially proposed by businessmen John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfield, and Michael Lang, as a way to raise money to build a recording studio, Woodstock turned into one of the grooviest moments in history. By the time of the festival, 186,000 tickets were sold, and they expected no more than 200,000 people to show up. However, by Friday night, thousands of early arrivals were flooding the gates and pushing to get in. Realizing they could not control the massive crowd, the festival promoters decided to make the concert free for everyone. Performers such as The Who, Santana, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Ravi Shankar were among many to grace the stage. Highlights of the festival include the massive downpour and thunderstorm, during which Joan Baez sang “We Shall Overcome,” the group yoga exercises led by hog farmers while waiting for Sweetwater to take the stage, the fact that no violent crimes broke out in such a huge crowd, and the epic closing performance of the “Star Spangled Banner” by Jimi Hendrix. While there have been many attempts to recreate the music festival, most notably in 1991, none have successfully been able to replicate the original, the one and only, Woodstock.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Paul McCartney's 72nd Birthday!

While much is known about this beloved musician, fans will be thrilled to know that there is still more to uncover. For example, did you know that Paul McCartney, or Macca as some call him, wrote his first song when he was fourteen called “I Lost my Little Girl?” Or how about the fact that in his youth he twice failed auditions to become a choir boy- yes, Paul McCartney, failed singing auditions not once, but twice. Another little known fact about Macca is that his first instrument was not a guitar, but a trumpet. It was a gift from his father on his 14th birthday, but he soon traded it for a guitar. Other little known facts about him include that he is an honorary detective with the NYPD, he witnessed the 9/11 attacks from a plane in New York, he is a vegetarian, and is in the Guinness Book of Records with 60 gold discs and sales of over 100 million singles. However, one of the most fascinating aspects of his artistry come from the fact that not only is McCartney a world-renowned musician, he is also an accomplished painter, who has had over 70 of his paintings exhibited at the Walker art gallery in Liverpool. 

(McCartney with his exhibit at the Walker Gallery)

Though he began regularly painting at the age of forty, his interest in art dates back to his childhood. When McCartney was eleven, he used a school prize to buy his first modern art book, which included works by Dali and Picasso. At fourteen, he won an art prize for a drawing of St. Aidan’s Church on the estate where he lived. While he lacked any formal art training, he became very friendly with many artists, critics, and gallery owners who exposed him to contemporary art and fed his enthusiasm for painting. One of Paul’s biggest inspirations is Willem de Kooning, whom he met when de Kooning was a client at his father-in-law’s law firm. Willem de Kooning became a family friend and a mentor to McCartney, inspiring many of McCartney’s works. 

(McCartney with de Kooning)

As for his process, McCartney remarked that, “sometimes just putting on the paint is more interesting than actually thinking what it all means.” Many of the themes and titles of his pieces are spontaneous and are inspired by what instinctively happens on the canvas. McCartney has talked about how John Lennon and Andy Warhol “appear” in his pieces. Some of McCartney’s most famous pieces include “My Eye” (2001), “Big Mountain Face” (1991), “Boxer lips” (1990), and “Yellow Linda with Piano” (1988) (Shown from left to right):

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Summer Music in Lincoln

While the 2013/14 concert season is winding up in Lincoln, the summer concert season has already started. There's lots going on, and quite a bit is free.

The Lincoln Community Foundation Garden Performance Series has been underway for 2 weeks now. A wide variety of individuals and groups will be performing at noon on Wednesdays at the LCF garden, 1415 N St. And its free. This week was guitarist Paul Siebert. Bring your lunch, sit in the garden, and enjoy the music.

Hear Lincoln 2014 starts tomorrow. Fridays at noon, May 16 through July 25, an eclectic group of Nebraska musical acts will take the stage at 13th and O St. Up tomorrow is Churls. Food trucks will be in the vicinity so you can enjoy the free music while getting your lunch. Hear Nebraska is sponsored by Hear Nebraska, the Cooper Foundation and the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce.

On May 30, Friday Nights Live will begin at Southpointe Pavilions in the center courtyard, 6:30-8:30 pm.  The series opens with the ever-popular D*Funk. Goodwill donations for local charities are requested. And don't forget your blanket or lawn chair.

Jazz in June runs Tuesday evenings, 7:00 pm throughout June (June 3-24), in the plaza west of Sheldon on the UNL campus. Visit the marketplace by the Lied Center starting at 5:00 pm for a bite to eat, and other interesting booths -- including a Lincoln City Libraries booth where you can learn about various library services (like the Polley Music Library) and the finalists for 2014 One Book One Lincoln. See you there.

The Stransky Park concert series begins June 5, with Jackie Allen, at 7:00 pm. The Thursday night series runs through August 14. It's sponsored by KZUM and is free. Stransky Park is located at 17th and Harrison.

The Lincoln Municipal Band kicks off their summer season July 6 in the John Shildneck Band Shell at Antelope Park. These Sunday night concerts (starting 7:00 pm) are a long running tradition in Lincoln and great for the whole family. Bring a lawn chair or a blanket. The July 6 concert features patriotic music and the 2014 Shildneck Young Artist Winner. The band performs through August 17.

Another summer tradition in Lincoln is ZooFest. This year the festival runs July 7-10 inside the Zoo Bar and outside July 11-12. Blues, country, zydeco, rockabilly, funk, soul and rock & roll will all be represented.

Of course, what's gotten the most publicity are the stunning lineups at Pinewood Bowl and Pinnacle Bank Arena. Pinewood Bowl will be presenting outdoor shows between June 7 (Ben Folds & Blue October) and August 25 (Moody Blues). The community musical at Pinewood Bowl this summer is Shrek, with performances July 10-13, 17-20.

Pinnacle Bank Arena has a full summer schedule. The shows that caught my eye include Zac Brown Band, Cher, Rod Stewart, James Taylor, Cirque dy Soleil's Michael Jackson show, Katy Perry, and of course, Paul McCartney.

And don't forget that Pershing Center is officially ending with Goo Goo Dolls and Daughtry of August 6.

Add in Uncle Sam Jam and you've got plenty to do this summer here in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Richard Wagner’s 200th birthday!
One of the most influential musicians in all of modern classical composition, Richard Wagner created complex musical masterpieces.  The controversial Wagner would spend much of his life in exile and is also known for his anti-semitic writings, love affairs, and extraordinary ego.  Although many loved Wagner’s music, some found it difficult.  Charles Baudelaire stated “I love Wagner; but the music I prefer is that of a cat hung up by its tail outside a window, and trying to stick to the panes of glass with its claws".

Wagner was born in Leipzig, Germany on May 22, 1813.  He wrote his first orchestral pieces in 1830, which were not well received due to their provocative (and somewhat off-putting) percussive elements.  Wagner would spend several years conducting in small opera houses while working tirelessly on his own material.  Accumulating massive gambling debts, Wagner fled Germany in 1939 and spent years in Paris where he and his wife faced starvation and imprisonment.  While in Paris, he completed Rienzi, Eine Faust Overture (A Faust Overture), and the libretto to Der fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman).

Wagner joined the revolutionaries in Saxony and was almost arrested in 1848.  He was forced to flee Germany again and lived in exile for the next thirteen years.   Wagner began to reject traditional opera and set out to create a new type of music known as “Gesamtkunstwerk” or a “total work of art” based on German and Norse mythology.  This new music would engulf him for the next twenty five years (from 1848 until 1874) in which he would produce four musical dramas, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelungs) based on German mythology.  These included the four works:  Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold), Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) which are largely considered Wagner’s masterpieces.

 Equally important, Wagner is considered to have invented modern classical music with one single chord from his work Tristan und Isolde which was completed in 1859.  The chord’s harmonic suspension resolves on another dissonant chord, never giving the audience the expected resolution. 

Although Mark Twain once said, “I have been told that Wagner’s music is better than it sounds”, Wagner’s influence on music is incalculable.  Wagner’s rich and complex melodies, dissonant chords, and textures have made him one of the most complicated and enduring composers of all time.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lincoln Youth Symphony April Concert

The Lincoln Youth Symphony will be performing its last concert of the season Sunday, April 21, 7:00 p.m., at Lincoln East High School. The concert is free.

One of the works to be performed is the "Prayer for Peace," by John Williams, from the 2005 movie, Munich. The movie was based on events surrounding the killing of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, and the search for the perpetrators. The film itself was controversial, violent, and a work of historical fiction, not fact. But, the music by John Williams rose above the movie. Director Spielberg considers that the "Prayer for Peace" respects the fallen athletes, while remembering the historical significance of the whole of the tragedy.

Also on the program are Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 and senior solist Maia Behrendt performing the third movement of Haydn's Violin Concerto in C. The Russian romantic composer, Pyotr Tchaikovsky wrote his fifth symphony in 1888. A theme runs throughout the four movements of the symphony, transforming itself with the changing character of each movement. Tchaikovsky described "a complete resignation before fate" as the beginnings of the symphony, and an acceptance of Providence by the final movement. Tchaikovsky was not happy with the ending he wrote, and it had mixed reception by the critics. But over the course of time, it has become one of Tchaikovsky's most popular works.

The Lincoln Youth Symphony, under the baton of Clark Potter, is sure to inspire its audience with this program.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Mannheim Christmas

The first Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album appeared in 1984 -- some 28 years ago. And recorded Christmas music has never been the same. Initially, major buyers and distributors didn't think that the modernized, electronic versions would work in the holiday genre. But Chip Davis persisted, and has sold 27 million Christmas records -- 9 million of that first CD. Mannheim Steamroller is produced and marketed through Davis' Omaha company, American Gramaphone, and now distributed through Universal Music.

Mannheim Steamroller has been doing Christmas tours for 27 years. There is so much demand that there are actually two tours going on at the same time -- a red tour and a green tour. This year, the eastern red tour will make it as far west as Kansas City on December 27 & 28, playing the Music Hall. The midwestern green tour will play Lincoln on December 19, at the Lied, and will make other stops in Kearney, Des Moines, and Omaha. Tickets are available through the Mannheim Steamroller website or at the Lied box office.

If you like Mannheim Steamroller's modernized arrangements of traditional Christmas carols, you might enjoy the Lincoln Community Concert Band's concert on Monday, December 10, at Kimball Recital Hall on the UN-L campus. The band will be playing the authorized concert band arrangements of the Mannheim Steamroller tunes. All Mannheim Steamroller. And admission is free.