Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Howard Hanson's Laude

One of the more interesting pieces being performed in Lincoln this month is Howard Hanson's Laude: Chorale, Variations and Metamorphoses. Hanson wrote Laude as a commission for the College Band Directors National Association in 1975. It was premiered in Berkeley, California at the association's annual conference by the California State University Long Beach Band, conducted by Larry Curtis.

While Howard Hanson (1896-1981) is remembered as a composer of orchestral music (as well as being the director of the Eastman School of Music and the first American to win the Prix de Rome), he wrote several works for band throughout his career, works which are considered important in 20th century American band literature.

In his later years, Hanson looked back to his childhood in Wahoo, Nebraska for inspiration. Laude reflects this, as it is based on a Swedish chorale he knew as a child, All the world praises the Lord, a paraphrase of Psalm 150, which Hanson quotes as "Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet, With psaltery and harp, With timbrel and dance, With string instruments and organs, Praise him upon the loud cymbals, the high-sounding cymbals, Let everything that has breath praise the Lord."

Laude begins with a unison statement of the chorale theme accompanied by percussion, and fanfares. Throughout the piece, percussion sets off the variations, which are in various moods and tempos. In the seventh variation, the chorale returns in the Lydian mode, one of the ancient church modes, and the sound grows. Finally a simple melody from Hanson's childhood (and his Third symphony) appears, with the chorale superimposed, moving to the final climax of the work. (Thanks to Howard Hanson's extensive notes for the premier for some of these thoughts).

If you would like to hear Laude, it will be performed by the Lincoln Community Concert Band at Kimball Recital Hall on Monday, December 12, 2011, at 7:30 pm. The free concert is just one of many interesting musical events in Lincoln this month.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Pilgrims and the Wampanoag

Looking back to what is called the first Thanksgiving in 1621, we know the participants in this harvest festival or religious giving of thanks for the bounty were the Pilgrims and the First Nation tribe who had shared new world agriculture with the Pilgrims -- the Wampanoag. What we don't know about is the music from the gathering.

The music of the Pilgrims is more complex than their religious singing of psalms without instrumental accompaniment. Likewise, the music of the Wampanoag, while full of religious song, is much richer than that. Was there music at the feast? Who sang for whom? Were there instruments?

Today, Thanksgiving is filled with music -- from church music to the marching bands at the football games and the parades. May your Thanksgiving be filled with joy -- and music.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

November 19th, 1868

On November 19th, 1868, the first presidential election after the civil war took place. That day, 172 women from New Jersey, including 4 black women, attempted to vote, in a test of the 14th Amendment. Needless to say, they were denied, so they put their uncounted ballots in a "women's ballot box" monitored by an 84 year old Quaker woman, Margaret Pryer.

Typical suffrage songs from around 1868 include "Female Suffrage," "Clear the Way, For Woman Voting," and "Woman is Going to Vote."

Of the 5.7 million votes cast in the election, 500,000 were cast by black men, including former slaves who had just won the right to vote. U.S. Grant's margin of victory in the popular vote was only 300,000 votes, although he readily won the Electoral College. American women wouldn't gain the right to vote throughout the country until 1920.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Nebraska Music Educators 75th

Congratulations to the Nebraska Music Educators Association on 75 years. The music educators -- school and college music teachers -- have given many Nebraskans their introduction to music as an activity that can be enjoyed throughout their lives.

NMEA is meeting in Lincoln this week with programs, clinics, formal presentations and other activities for professional development and continuing education. Many young musicians will be in attendance, too, performing in their selected school ensembles or in All-State band, chorus, orchestra, or jazz band.

The gala opening tonight is A Concert and Conversation with Peter Buffett. The public is welcome, and tickets are available through the Lied Center box office. More information is available on the NMEA website.

Again, congratulations to the Nebraska Music Educators Association from the Polley Music Library. May there be many more years filled with music.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Got Sax?

Adophe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone was born on Nov. 6, 1814. Even as a child, Sax was working on "improving" various wind instruments. He attended the Brussels Conservatory, where he studied clarinet and flute. In 1842, Sax took a metal reed instrument he called the saxophone to Paris, and won a silver medal in the Paris Exposition of 1844. He finally won a gold medal in 1849 at the Paris Industrial Exposition. While ridiculed by critics and other instrument makers, composers such as Berlioz and Rossini supported his innovations. Sax taught sax at the Paris Conservatory from 1858-1871. Sax died in 1894, and interest in the instrument declined until it was taken up by jazz bands. And the rest is history.

Friday, August 26, 2011

I Feel the Earth Move

The first song that came into my head this week, as I heard about the moderate earthquakes in Colorado and the East Coast, was Carole King's I Feel the Earth Move. I was here in the Polley Music Library when I heard about the quakes, and I know from experience that "I feel the earth move under my feet" is the usual feeling in an earthquake (although I went through a few as a child oblivious to what was going on).

For those people who don't expect quakes because they don't live in "earthquake country," earthquakes may be frightening. As a child I learned to "duck and cover" for earthquakes (just like for civil defense drills). Get under a sturdy table or desk and protect your head. I also learned as a child that another place to ride out an earthquake is in an interior reinforced doorway, where the frame may provide some protection as the building sways. The bookstacks in a library are not the place to be in a quake, as not just the books, but the book stacks themselves, may sway to the point of failure, crushing anything in the path on the way down. Leave the book on the shelf and get to safety away from the book stacks -- then duck and cover, or these days, "duck, cover and hold."

May all your library visits be safe ones.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Eagle Has Landed

Space shuttle Atlantis arrived home just before dawn this morning, ending thirty years of NASA shuttle flights. The wake-up song for the astronauts on the final day of this last mission was "God Bless America" by Kate Smith. Wake-up song? That's right, for every space shuttle mission since the Apollo Program in the 1970s, the capsule communicator back on earth has selected the music that is transmitted to the shuttle to act as an alarm clock for the astronauts. Music for this mission included songs by Coldplay, Beyonce, Kool and the Gang, and ELO, among others. Head over to the NASA website to check out more details about the artists selected, and for great video coverage of the shuttle as it orbited earth.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Soundtrack

The wildly popular Harry Potter series began humbly in June of 1997 when Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (or Sorcerer's Stone, as it is known in the US) was published with an initial print-run of only 500 hardback copies. This Friday, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2, the final film adapted from the series, will be released in theaters across the country. For those of you who can't wait, the soundtrack was released today.

As anyone who loves music or film knows, the soundtrack plays a critical role in capturing the mood and flow of the story. This score, written by Alexadre Desplat, is no exception. Even the song titles act as a kind of "spoiler" for the action that will be seen on the big screen this Friday.

Desplat is the final of four composers to score the films, following Nicholas Hooper, Patrick Doyle, and John Williams, who scored the first three films and came up with the original and memorable musical themes heard throughout the series. David Yates, the director of the final films, says that Desplat included "Hedwig's Theme" (by Williams) during any moment in the film that felt nostalgic or relflective of the past. But the bulk of this score is exciting, new material composed to fit the dark mood and the intense action. Desplat was resposible scoring huge battle scenes, the deaths of major characters, true love, and new beginnings for characters that millions of people have grown up with and have grown to love.

While you are counting down the minutes to the release of the final film, stop by Polley Music Library to check out soundtracks from the Harry Potter series, and even some sheet music to play at home!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Itsy Bitsy Bikini

Sixty-five years ago, on July 5, 1946, the modern bikini was invented by a French engineer named Louis Reard. (A similar garment had been worn by the Greeks and Romans for athletic purposes, so Reard's invention is the modern version). Reard expected the tiny swim suit to have the same impact as the US atomic tests on the Bikini Atoll, that had just occurred, hence the name bikini. The bikini was first worn in public a few days later, on July 11th. The itsy bitsy garment was slow to become fashionable. Bridget Bardot helped. And in the US, the 1960 song "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" is credited with helping to make the bikini fashionable.

The song about a shy girl too afraid to be seen in her new swim suit was written by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss. The original release by Brian Hyland in June 1960 made it to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 on August 8, 1960. Several other singers, including Connie Francis, also sang it. And the rest is history.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

July 1st marks the anniversary of the release of Sony's "Walkman" - the iconic little "personal stereo" released in 1979 - whose brand name became synonymous with the technology itself, no matter who the maker. For those too young to remember, and we know you are out there, the Walkman was the portable cassette player that first made it fashionable to wear headphones as an accessory, that single-handedly killed the sales of vinyl albums, and that made it possible to enjoy your own intimate musical world no matter where you were. To commemorate this anniversary, Polley Music Library offers a few more interesting facts about how the way we listen to music can be as influential as the music itself.

1880s - The phonograph is developed and mass produced.
1902 - Opera tenor Enrico Caruso becomes the first recording superstar. Other vocal ranges sound terrible with the recording technology of the time.
1910s - Playback time on discs was brief so popular songs had to become instantly recognizable.
1917 - First jazz recordings released; large numbers of people exposed to new music.
1940s - Sound recording quality improves due to technology used during WWII.
1950s - Some recording artists fight for the right to receive royalties when their songs are played on the radio.
1954 - Pocket transistor radios allow teenagers to listen to rock 'n' roll wherever they went.
1965 - 8-Track players became popular due to their ease of use in cars.
1976 - Hip-hop culture embraces the "Ghetto Blaster" - turntables and microphones can be plugged in to make every street corner a place to mix records, rap, and dance.
1979 - The Walkman allows people to choose their music everywhere they go.
1980s - The Discman appears on the market. CDs create a boom in the music industry as people replace their music collections with the new technology.
1990s - MP3 technology becomes accessible to the masses. Some recording artists fight to punish anyone who "pirates" their music.
2000s - The iPod. Now capable of storing up to 30 days of music.

Before the invention of the phonograph, listening to music was a fleeting experience, enjoyed in the moment and never repeated. During the 20th Century, we music listeners have demanded more and more control over our musical environments - in our homes, in our cars, and eventually, everywhere we went. The way we listen to music has an impact on the music industry itself, on fashion, on vocabulary, and perhaps most importantly, on the way we interact with and experience the music itself.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Toscanini's Conducting Debut

On June 30, 1886 (125 years ago), Arturo Toscanini made his conducting debut in Rio de Janiero. The young Toscanini had been hired as principal cellist and assistant chorus master for an Italian opera company's tour of Brazil. On the ship on the way to Brazil, he coached the singers and impressed them with his knowledge of the music they were to sing. Although most of the company was Italian, the conductor for the tour was Brazilian, Leopoldo Miguez, and the company didn't meet him until their arrival in Sao Paulo. To put it mildly, Miguez and the troup did not work well together. Miguez resigned on June 30th, the day of a performance of Aida; Miguez also published a letter blaming his resignation on the Italians.

The show must go on, so the assistant conductor, Carlo Superti took the podium and began the opening of Aida. The audience made so much noise that the music could not be heard, and Superti left to jeers and catcalls. The company's impressario, Claudio Rossi, tried to speak with the audience with no greater success, and an audience heading to the ticket stand for refunds. What to do? The singers backstage suggested the nineteen year old Arturo Toscanini knew the score. What was there to lose? Toscanini took the helm of the orchestra and the rest is history.

To read more about Toscanini, books such as Understanding Toscanini, by Joseph Horowitz, Reflections on Toscanini, by Harvey Sachs, and Arturo Toscanini: the NBC Years, by Mortimer H. Frank, can be found in the Polley Music Library. The library also has several recordings with Toscanini conducting.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Happy Birthday Igor Stravinsky (June 17,1882 - April 6, 1971)

On a warm, May evening in Paris at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, a barely recognizable bassoon sang out the first few bars of the new ballet, The Rite of Spring. The bassoon continued in the highest notes of the intrument’s range as the dancers took their cues on stage. The audience, dressed to the nines, began to shift uncomfortably in their seats. Moments later, composer Camille Saint-Saëns walked out of the performance, loudly complaining that the bassoon had been misused. Fights broke out as members of the audience argued over the artistic value of the piece. People shouted both insults and accolades at the stage. Whether or not audiences were ready for it, Modernism had arrived in the classical music world.

Over the years, Stravinsky experimented with and transformed many 20th Century musical techniques including Neo-classicism, polytonal styles, and 12-tone serialism. Though his compositions were influenced by Russia’s expressive folk music and the romantic orchestrations of his famous teacher, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, his own voice was always present through his unique, energetic, rhythmic drive.

Stravinsky is also famous for his cosmopolitan lifestyle. He travelled the world and became a citizen in both France and the United States. He had numerous affairs with influential women, including Coco Chanel, and his second wife, dancer and artist Vera de Bosset. He was also close friends with composer Claude Debussy, author Aldous Huxley, and artist Pable Picasso.

Igor Stravinsky was an energetic, charismatic, musical revolutionary that never stopped evolving and experimenting. His personal life was as interesting and controversial as his musical creations. Learn more from Lincoln City Libraries!


Stravinsky in Pictures and Documents - by Vera Stravinsky & Robert Craft

Stravinsky - The Second Exile: France & America (1934-1971) - by Stephen Walsh


Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky - (2009) Sony Pictures


The Firebird: Russian Fairy Tale - Seattle Symphony Orchestra
The Rite of Spring - London Symphony Orchestra

Monday, June 13, 2011

International Surf Music Month

June is International Surf Music Month -- a perfect time to think of fun in the sun, sand and surf. And to think of the really fun rock and pop music from Southern California that's come to be known as "surf music."

There are two major types of surf music: rock instrumentals such as Wipeout, Pipeline or the Hawaii Five-O theme, and pop rock vocals like Surfin' Safari. Bands like the Tornadoes, the Chantays, the Ventures, the Surfaris, the Beach Boys, and artists like Dick Dale and Jan and Dean have left us the wonderful summer surf music.

A couple of books in our collection that touch on surf music include Timothy White's A Nearest Faraway Place: Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys and the Southern California Experience, along with Bob Greene's When We Get to Surf City: A Journey Through America in Pursuit of Rock and Roll, Friendship, and Dreams (as Bob Greene tours the State Fair circuit with Jan and Dean). There are also many websites devoted to surf music and lots of YouTube videos to get you in the summer surfin' mood.