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.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Over the River and Through the Wood

Probably the best known Thanksgiving song is Over the River and Through the Wood. The original poem was written by Lydia Marie Child (1802-1880), and first published in her Flowers for Children, vol. 2 in 1844, with only six verses. Maria Child, as she preferred to be known, was a writer, abolitionist, and activist for women's rights and Indian rights (as they were known at the time). Although the life-long Massachusetts resident was a prolific writer, she is remembered for her beloved Thanksgiving poem.

Later, additional verses were added, and the poem was even adapted into a Christmas version. Hence, the debate over whether Over the River is a Thanksgiving song or a Christmas song.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Polley Music Library.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Tale of a River

Another of the pieces the Lincoln Youth Symphony is working on for their November concert is Smetana's "Moldau," a very famous symphonic poem that depicts the Moldau (the German name)or Vltava (the Czech name)River, the longest river in the Czech Republic.

Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884) was a nationalist romantic Czech composer of the 19th century. He is considered the father of Czech music. Although he wrote all sorts of music, he is best remembered for his opera "The Bartered Bride" and for his cycle of symphonic poems "Ma vlast (My country)," of which the Moldau is the second one, written in 1874, and premiered in 1875,

A symphonic poem or tone poem is an orchestral work in one movement that depicts, illustrates or evokes a story, a painting, a place, or some other non-musical content. Smetana's "Moldau" depicts the course of the river through the country. He wrote his publisher about his work:

"The work depicts the course of the river Vltava, beginning from the two small sources, the cold and warm Vltava, the joining of both streams into one, then the flow of the Vltava through forests and across meadows, through the countryside where gay festivals are just being celebrated; by the light of the moon a dance of wter nymphs; on the nearby cliffs proud castles, mansions and ruins rise up; the Vltava swirls in the St. John's rapids, flows in a broad stream as far as Prague, the Vysehrad appears, and finally the river disappears in the distance as it flows majestically into the Elbe."

That description can be followed through the music, with the initial source of the river depicted by the flutes starting in the first measure, and the second source inverted in the clarinets a few measures later. You might want to listen for a hunt in the forest or polka strains of a country wedding, and the broad melodies as the stream becomes a river.

You can hear the "Moldau" at the Lincoln Youth Symphony concert on Sunday, November 11, 2012, 3 p.m., at Lincoln Southwest High School. The concert is free.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Hebrides, a concert overture

One of the pieces that the Lincoln Youth Symphony is preparing for their November concert is The Hebrides, by the German romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847).

The Hebrides is an overture. It's not an overture that is connected with a another work, like an opera or oratorio. Rather it is a concert overture, an independent symphonic work that may or may not have a programatic basis. The Hebrides is frequestly used as an example of the concert overture. While many people hear The Hebrides as a seascape, with tides and waves, glimmers of foam, and even a storm, Mendelssohn indicated that his overture was inspired by the beauty of that part of Scotland, rather than being a depiction of it.

In 1829, a young Felix Mendelssohn visited Scotland as part of his grand European tour. It was the first summer that steamer trips to the islands were advertised. The night before catching the steamer, Mendelssohn sent his sister Fanny a letter with 20 bars of the theme he later used in the overture. The ship that Mendelssohn took visited both Iona and Staffa, where Fingal's Cave is the main attraction. Mendelssohn, however, remembered little of that day because he was quite sea sick, so Fingal's Cave was not the inspiration for his work.

Mendelssohn spent three years working on his overture. The first draft was called The Lonely Island (Die einsame Insel). The first version was completed in Rome in 1830, and called The Hebrides. Mendelssohn decided he didn't like it, and so wrote a second version that had a premier at a London concert in 1832. He made a third version the next year.

The first published version of the overture was called Fingal's Cave by the publisher, a name that has stuck, even though Mendelssohn hadn't even seen Fingal's Cave on his trip to Scotland. It has also been called The Isles of Fingal and Ossian in Fingal's Cave, in addition to the titles Mendelssohn used.

Whatever you want to call Mendelssohn's concert overture, the Lincoln Youth Symphony will be performing it on Nevember 11, 2012.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

President Garfield's Inauguration March to be Performed

President Garfield's Inauguration March will be performed on Monday night, October 15, 2012, at Kimball Recital Hall at UN-L. It will be performed by the Lincoln Community Concert Band as a part of their fall concert. The 7:30 p.m. concert is free. President Garfield is subject of Destiny of the Republic, the One Book One Lincoln selection for 2012.

A young John Philip Sousa wrote the march in 1881 for the March 4th inauguration of James A. Garfield as President of the United States. Sousa had been named leader of the U.S. Marine Corps Band in 1880. The march was first performed at the inauguration by the Marine Corps Band with Sousa conducting. Inaugural processions take a long time, and this march is a little longer than the typical Sousa march.  Sousa also wrote a march for Garfield's 1881 funeral -- Garfield being the only president for whom Sousa wrote two marches.

Also on the band's concert will be three movements from Poulenc's Les Biches, the ballet which launched Francis Poulenc's career. The ballet was written in 1923 for Serge Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe, and premiered the following year. Les Biches has multiple translations and is a play on words, being a female deer (doe) or a darling. Poulenc (1899-1963) said that he based the work on paintings of Watteau depicting Louis XV and various women in Louis' deer park. The ballet was reorchestrated in 1939, and Poulenc pulled out an orchestral suite, from which these three pieces are taken.

Other works on the concert include a fantasy on sea songs, a selection of tunes from Meredith Willson's "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," and selections by Chicago (the musical group) and the Kingston Trio.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Audition Time

It's time to get out those instruments and warm up the vocal cords. Auditions are right around the corner for a variety of community groups.

Want to play in a concert band? Three local bands offer opportunities for community musicians.
The Lincoln Community Concert Band's season begins on August 20th with folder pickup; LCCB meets Monday nights at UNL. The Seward Municipal Band, a 125 year old community band, meets on Thursday evenings at Concordia University in Seward; they are just finishing their summer season. And, the Waverly Area Community Band has varied rehearsal dates; they meet at Waverly High School.

If you play an orchestral string instrument, the Lincoln Civic Orchestra might be for you. LCO meets Thursday evenings at Wesleyan. Auditions are August 23rd, with rehearsals beginning on August 27th. Check the Facebook page for further information.

If you want to sing, there are quite a few opportunities. Lincoln Choral Artists (formerly known as the Lincoln Civic Choir) will be auditioning in August. Check their website for information. Lincoln Lutheran Choir (not just made up of Lutherans) has not yet posted information about their upcoming season, or when they will hold auditions. Again, check their website. Other choirs usually have audition notices in the Neighborhood Extra.

Looking for a theatrical experience? Lincoln Coimmunity Playhouse holds auditions for their various productions. You can find audition information under the volunteer tab on their web page. And if you are a seasoned performer and a member of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (at UNL), OLLI's Radio-Active Players just might be for you. The auditions for their 50s revue will September 5th at the Community Playhouse.

If you're interested in joining any of these groups, check their websites or Facebook pages, or use the "Contact Us" information on those pages. Making music in a group is fun and rewarding.

Monday, July 16, 2012


Tomorrow the library's summer reading program special event is "Didgeridoo Down Under," an Australian themed program. Well, what is a didjeridu or didgeridoo?

The didjeridu is the main musical instrument of the Aboriginal peoples of Northern Australia. The instrument is simply a hollow tube of wood that becomes a sophisticated wind instrument in the hands of a skilled player. Traditionally, it was not used as a solo instrument, but as an accompaniment to vocal music.

The actual instrument is made from a piece of wood or bamboo, about 4 or 5 feet long, usually a natural branch. Eucalyptus that has been hollowed out by white ants is considered ideal. The open wooden tube is blown at one end. Sometimes there's a mouthpiece of wax, clay or hardened gum used to hold the player's lips as they vibrate as with a modern brass instrument.

The didjeridu only plays 2 notes, a fundamental and an overtone a major 10th higher, an acoustical oddity. The usual explination for the overtone at the 10th is the differences in diameter at parts of the tube, coming from a natural branch.

Soaking the instrument in water is said to make a mellow tone, while playing a dry instrument creates a flat tone that does not carry well. Sometimes water is poured down the inside of the tube if the instrument dries out while it is being played. 

Technique goes beyond the vibrating lips. The overtone is produced by lip pressure. Tongue movements create intricate rhythmic patterns. Different tone colors come from altering the shape of the mouth cavity and the position of the tongue.

The didjeridu is a combination of a drone and a rhythm instrument. The sound must continue, so breathing must continue for a continuous air stream. Breathing is done through the nose, with extra air stored in the cheek and pharnyx to be used while the player is breathing.

Additionally, the player makes hummed chords against the drone, and uses various types and styles of toungings, as well as changing color and timbre, providing a varied accompaniment for the singer and the song.

In the hands of a skilled player, the didjeridu is a very sophisticated instrument, even tough it comes from a simple branch.

More information on the didjeridu (or didgeridoo) and Australian music in general can be found in the Polley Music Library.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Music Education

NOT because I expect you to major in music.
NOT because I expect you to play or sing all your life.
NOT so you can relax or have fun.
BUT- So you will be human
So you will recognize beauty
So you will be sensitive
So you will be closer to an infinite beyond this world
So you will have something to cling to
So you will have more love, more compassion, more gentleness, more good…
In short, more life.
Of what value will it be to make a prosperous living unless you know how to live?
~Author Unknown~

            Why do we have music education in our schools?  It can’t possibly be as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic can it?  The truth is that music is an elemental part of every person’s life weather they realize it or not.  Music has been used as a personal and cultural expression of identity in every civilization since the beginning of time.  Music education helps to cultivate and enhance this innate human characteristic, but that is not all.
            There are proven benefits to music such as developing the brain in language and reasoning and helping to develop creative thinking and problem solving skills.  In ensemble settings such as band, orchestra, and chorus students learn teamwork skills and discipline as well as, if not better than they would on any sports team.  Studies have also shown that students who took part in music instruction for four or more years scored an average of 100 points higher on their SAT’s than students who studied music for half a year or less.
            Despite all of these benefits, there are those who would disagree that music is a vital part of every child’s education.  It is not uncommon across the country to find funding being taken away from music/arts programs and given to athletic or standardized testing programs.  But there are some organizations that fight to keep music in our schools.  On the national level there is the National Association for Music Education (of whom UNL’s own Dr. Glenn Nierman has recently become the president-elect) and locally there is the Nebraska Music Educators Association.  Both of their websites have advocacy pages which we the public can use to stay informed and to get involved.  My best memories from elementary, middle, and high school revolve around a music classroom, what about yours?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Music Therapy

Most of us by now have probably heard the news about 7-year-old Charlotte Neve who came out of a coma earlier this month in England when she heard Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” This may seem rather fantastical to some, however, the use of music as a medical treatment has been prominent since just after the Second World War. Another, equally incredible, example of music therapy being used is with Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s recovery from a gunshot wound. The congresswoman is said to have received music therapy treatments in order to assist her speech recovery with remarkable results. After a bit of digging into how music therapy works and some of its proven benefits these two cases may begin to seem less extraordinary.

The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) defines music therapy as, “an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.” It uses tools such as composing, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music to aid its patients. The most common beneficiaries of music therapy are patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Autism Spectrum Disorders, brain injury, mental health disorders, and also high stress. This seems rather too good to be true, so how exactly does music therapy do all this? It has to do with how music affects the brain. No, I’m not talking about the much hyped and equally disproven “Mozart Effect,” but there are proven ways in which music affects the brain.

Have you ever spent days and weeks trying to memorize something (especially lists) only to finally give up, set it to song, and have it memorized within the hour?

This works because music helps recall memories by stimulating the hippocampus: the part of the brain responsible for long-term memory storage. Without getting too technical into the cognitive neuroscience of music  I can say that music benefits memory and language skills because it uses both left and right sides of the brain. It is also important to note that music that is familiar to the patient tends to evoke a more positive response; likewise, the degree of a patient’s affinity for the music can determine the degree of result.

What about access to music therapy in our local community? In terms of studying music therapy, there are over 70 AMTA approved college and university programs across the country. Within the top ten of these programs (and the program closest to home) is the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas which offers both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in music therapy. Also, in Lincoln there are two AMTA certified music therapists (Tana Bachand and Crystal J. Sato) both serving the senior citizens of the community.

Visit the Polley Music Library for more information about music therapy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Over the past ten years the ukulele has been enjoying unprecedented popularity. Not since the 1960’s has the instrument received a fraction of the attention it currently boasts. Within popular culture it can currently be found being played by popular musicians such as Paul McCartney, Amanda Palmer, and Eddie Vedder, and by popular actors Zooey Deschanel and William H Macy. Even Omaha resident Warren Buffett has been known as a ukulele enthusiast for years. In addition to this, the ukulele is now starting to be used in the classroom setting by music teachers all over the country. So where did this instrument come from and why is it now so popular? I’m glad you asked.

The ukulele originated in Hawaii in the 1880’s. It is a combination of two Portuguese guitar-like instruments: the four-stringed cavaquinho and the five-stringed rajao.  While the modern ukulele has four strings like the cavaquinho, it is tuned in fourths like the rajao making the string tuning G-C-E-A. Within the Hawaiian culture, the instrument was promoted to prominence by King Kalākaua; a well known patron of the arts and writer of “Hawaii Ponoi,” the state song of Hawaii. It is because of his influence that the ukulele became synonymous with Hawaiian music and culture and has remained thus for the past one hundred and thirty years.

In the continental United States, the ukulele first came on the scene in 1915 when it was featured at the Hawaiian Pavilion of the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. From there it was picked up in Hawaiian themed Tin Pan Alley songs and by vaudeville performers. It was also used somewhat in early jazz music, but did not have a huge surge in public notoriety until the 1960’s. At this point the ukulele’s popularity was cultivated by use on the Arthur Godfrey Show as well as by Tiny Tim with his famous hit “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.”

In 2003 the ukulele was brought back to the limelight by Israel Kamakowiwo’ole’s recording of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” This was reinforced and brought to the youth of pop culture by Jason Castro’s performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on American Idol in 2008.

In addition to being promoted to the youth of America as a now hip instrument, the ukulele is quite affordable. As opposed to acoustic guitars, which can range anywhere from $200 to over $2500, ukuleles can be bought for under $100; which is obviously a huge benefit in today’s economy. They are also much more portable than regular guitars. Music teachers love the ukulele not only because of its affordability, but also because it is easy to learn and appropriate for all ages. It also promotes the musical multi-tasking skill of singing while playing and is FUN!

So whether you’re looking for a cultural music experience, wanting to broaden your knowledge of stringed instruments, or simply wanting to entertain yourself by the pool on a sunny summer day, the ukulele may just be exactly what you’ve been waiting for.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Chabrier Times Two

Lincolnites will have two chances to hear works by Emmanuel Chabrier this Sunday, April 22nd. The Lincoln Youth Symphony will be performing Espana, while the Lincoln Civic Orchestra will perform Habanera.

The French composer, Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894), made his greatest contribution as a composer of piano music, but is remembered for a couple of orchestral pieces, including Espana. Chabrier, a pianist, always wanted to focus his life on music, but spent nearly 20 years as a civil servant in the French Department of the Interior, as his parents wanted. During those years Chabrier continued his musical activities as a sidelight, including playing piano in Parisian nightclubs. He resigned from his day job in 1880 in order to truly devote himself to music. He and his wife visited Spain in 1882. Inspiration from that trip led to both Espana and his Habanera.

Chabrier began the composition of Espana as a piano duet. But soon the sketches based on dance rhythms took on the life and color that only an orchestra can provide. Written in the first few months of 1883, the work was originally titled Jota, but was retitled in October 1883. It premiered to critical and public acclaim and has remained a favorite to this day. Mahler supposedly proclaimed Espana to be the beginnings of modern music. But Chabrier kept his perspective, calling it "a piece in F and nothing more." Modern listeners may hear in the work strains of "Hot Diggity," a popular song from 1956.

Chabrier's Habanera was written a couple of years later for piano. It became so popular that it was soon orchestrated. Habanera is a dance form of Cuban origin that had been brought back to Europe and popularized (somewhat like the tango). It was especially popular in Spain, and was danced in bars and taverns, among other places. Chabrier catches the feel and spirit of the dance, and incorporates the basic rhythmic patterns that define the dance.

The Lincoln Youth Symphony will present their concert at East High School, Sunday, April 22, 2012, at 7 p.m. They will also be performing Faure's Pelleas and Melisande, the Academic Festival Overture by Brahms, and the first movement of Lalo's Cello Concerto, with senior soloist Maddie Witters. The concert is free.

The Lincoln Civic Orchestra will be performing at O'Donnell Auditorium in the Rogers Center for Fine Arts on the Nebraska Wesleyan University campus, Sunday, April 22, 2012, at 4 p.m. Their program includes Rimsky-Korsakov's Procession of the Nobles, Lalo's Le Roi d'Ys Overture, Rossini's Overture to Cinderella (La Cenerentola), Finlandia by Jean Sibelius, and music from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, in addition to the Habanera. The concert is free.

And if you're in the mood for band music, instead of orchestra music on the 22nd, the Waverly Area Community Band will present their free concert at Waverly High School, at 7 p.m.

So many choices...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Haydn Who?

The Lincoln Community Concert Band is performing a mostly British concert Monday, March 19th, at 7:30 p.m. While several of the composers are well known, one in particular, is not -- especially in the U.S. That's Haydn Wood. In the UK, Wood is remembered as a composer of light orchestral music, but he was much more.

Haydn Wood (1882-1959) was born in Yorkshire, England into a very musical family, but at the age of 2, moved with his family to the Isle of Man, where he grew up. He was considered a violin prodigy, who entered the Royal College of Music at 15. He made a life of music, touring as a musician, composing songs, light music and serious classical music. A few of his songs became so popular in the World War I era (Roses of Picardy in particular) that Haydn Wood was able to compose what he wanted, rather than worrying about if his music would be published or performed.

Wood always considered the Isle of Man to be his home, and a number of his compositions recall that island in the Irish Sea. The band will be performing one of them, A Manx Overture: The Isle of Mountains and Glens. Some 40 of Wood's works are for band, either written or arranged. That's not suprising in that Haydn Wood's father conducted a brass band.

A Manx Overture can be heard Monday, March 19th, 7:30 p.m. at the College View Seventh Day Adventist Church here in Lincoln.

If you're interested in hearing more of Haydn Wood's works, the library has some CDs, including one with his Violin Concerto.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lincoln Youth Symphony Concert Changes

Sometimes the best laid plans don't work out. That's the case for the Lincoln Youth Symphony with this weekend's concert. They found out late yesterday that Lincoln High would be unavailable for their scheduled concert Sunday. They scrambled and have been able to line up a new performance venue -- at East High School.

The Lincoln Youth Symphony is affiliated with Lincoln Public Schools, but also includes fine young musicians from other schools in Lincoln.

If you are interested in their free concert, it is this Sunday, February 12, 2012, at East High School. The concert time also changed, now beginning at 3:30 p.m. The program includes Beethoven's Egmont Overture, Rimsky-Korsakov's Concerto for Trombone, and Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet Suite No. 2. Mr. Clark Potter will be conducting. It's sure to be a wonderful concert.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Beethoven's Egmont Overture

Music lovers in Lincoln will have a couple of chances to hear Beethoven's Egmont Overture this month. The Lincoln Youth Symphony will be performing it at their February 12th concert, and then joining forces with Lincoln's Symphony Orchestra for an all-Beethoven concert on February 25th.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), one of classical music's greatest composers, made a name for himself in the classical period, and then transitioned into the romantic period of 19th century music. Around 1802, Beethoven's middle period work began to celebrate freedom and nobility of spirit, with works such as the Eroica Symphony (Symphony no. 3), his opera, Fidelio, and the Coriolan Overture.

In May 1809, Napoleon invaded Vienna. Life was difficult for the Viennese during the months of French occupation, and freedoms were restricted. The French left in October 1809, and Beethoven was immediately engaged to write incidental music for a revival of Goethe's political drama, Egmont. In the play, the hero, the Count of Egmont, is condemned to death because of his struggles for justice and liberty against despotism and tyranny. Beethoven, a great admirer of Goethe, wrote nine pieces for the play, in addition to the overture. Egmont, with Beethoven's music, premiered in June 1810.

The music of the overture is considered to be a condensation of the main themes of the play. The opening is solemn and tragic. The melodies then become ominous and threatening. A silence marks Egmont's death, but then victory is proclaimed by the orchestra, as tyranny is overcome.

The overture is written in the sonata form of the classical overture. There's a slow introduction, exposition of the themes, the development the themes, a recapitulation of the themes, and the dramatic coda. One analysis of the work relates the introduction to the prison, the body of the work to the fight, and the coda to the victory, as form expresses the play as a whole.

The Lincoln Youth Symphony's free performance of Beethoven's Egmont Overture will be at Lincoln High School, 3:00 p.m., on Sunday, February 12th.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Rimsky-Korsakov's Concerto for Trombone

Rimsky-Korsakov's Concerto for Trombone will be performed by the Lincoln Youth Symphony at their February concert, with Kyle Pearcy as the senior soloist. The concerto is part of the standard trombone literature.

The trombone is not usually thought of as a solo instrument. In his book on orchestration, Rimsky-Korsakov describes the trombone as "dark and threatening in the deepest register, brilliant and triumphant in the high compass. The piano is full but somewhat heavy, the forte powerful and sonorous. Valve trombones are more mobile than slide trombones, but the latter are certainly to be preferred as regards nobility and equality of sound, the more so in the fact that these instruments are rarely required to perform quick passages, owing to the special character of their tone."

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), a Russian romantic composer and professor of composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire, was also a naval officer who served as Inspector of Military Bands from 1873-1884. It is believed that the Concerto for trombone and military band was written around 1878. It was later arranged for trombone and orchestra, and for trombone and piano.

In the concerto, Rimsky-Korsakov uses the full range of the trombone and requires substantial technique for the 1st (Allegro vivace) and 3rd (Allegretto) movements (and the cadenzas) and musical lyricism for the middle movement (Andante cantabile). All the terms that Rimsky-Korsakov used to describe the trombone in his book on orchestration are found in the Concerto, except that he does require the solo trombone to perform quick passages.

The concerto is very listenable. You can catch the performance Sunday, February 12th, at 3 p.m. at Lincoln High School. And admission is free.