Thursday 1 October 2009

Tune of the Day: John Ryan's Polka

 Traditional Irish polka

This traditional Irish polka has recently become quite popular due to its appearance in the 1997 film Titanic. It's included in the track “An Irish Party in Third Class”, performed by the highly-acclaimed Celtic band Gaelic Storm

The tune is actually known under many different names, like: “Forty Pound Float”, “The Keadue”, “The Armagh”, “Hills of Connemara”, “The Dum Dum Polka”, “Death From Above” (like someone said, that's the most likely than can happen to you when somebody throws you a pint meanwhile you're playing the over-over-played tune at the best of the session), and, more recently, “The Titanic Polka”.

Categories: Celtic Music Dance tunes Film music Polkas Traditional/Folk Difficulty: intermediate
Friday 2 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Das klinget so herrlich

 from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera “The Magic Flute”

This is definitely one of the most hilarious scenes from The Magic Flute. It's at the end of Act I. Papageno and Pamina are looking for Tamino, but their search is interrupted by Monostatos, who mocks them and prepares to tie them up. Pamina and Papageno fear the worst, when Papageno remembers his Magic Bells: “He who dares has all to win!.” He lets the little bells sing out. Monostatos and the Slaves are entranced, and they all dance away singing this joyful song:

It sounds so happy,
Sounds so gay!
Larala la la larala!
Let’s sing and dance our time away!
Larala la la larala!

Categories: Classical Opera excerpts Difficulty: easy
Saturday 3 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Loch Lomond

 Traditional Scottish song
Loch Lomond

This tune, also known as “The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond”, is one of the most famous Scottish airs. It is often played as the final piece of music during an evening of revelry in Scotland, a phenomenon not seen in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Loch Lomond is a large Scottish lake located between the traditional counties of Dunbartonshire and Stirlingshire. The lyrics are supposed to refer to one of Bonnie Prince Charlie's ill-fated followers who was about to be executed for rebellion. His sweetheart had come to Carlisle, perhaps to seek his release, but he told her he would be taking the “low road” (probably referring to the passage to the underworld) back to Loch Lomond, where they had spent their happiest hours.

Scottish folk-rock band Runrig has made the song its unofficial anthem, closing all the concerts with a rendition for over 25 years.

The tune was even used in the series Smallville for a non-existent folk song called “The Birks of Saint Kilda”, played by a clock as a clue for finding a relic that activated a piece of alien technology.

Categories: Celtic Music Pentatonic Strathspeys Traditional/Folk Difficulty: easy
Sunday 4 October 2009

Tune of the Day: June (Barcarolle)

 from “The Seasons” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

The Seasons, Op. 37a (also published as Op. 37b with the French title Les Saisons), is a set of twelve short character pieces for solo piano. Each piece represents a different month of the year. The work is also sometimes heard in orchestral and other arrangements by other hands.

Tchaikovsky did not devote his most serious compositional efforts to these pieces: they were composed to order, and they were a way of supplementing his income. However, he saw the writing of music to a commission as just as valid as writing music from his own inner inspiration… with the difference that for the former he needed a definite subject, a time limit, and the promise of payment at the end.

Most of the pieces are in simple ABA form, and each contains a minor melodic masterpiece. “June (Barcarolle)” is arguably the most famous piece from the set.

Categories: Barcarolles Romantic Difficulty: intermediate
Monday 5 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Advance Australia Fair

 National anthem of Australia

“Advance Australia Fair” was composed in 1878 by the Scottish-born schoolteacher Peter Dodds McCormick, under the pen-name Amicus (Latin for “friend”). The song did not gain its status as the official anthem until 1984: in order to become the anthem, it had to face a vote between the Royal anthem “God Save the Queen”, the unofficial anthem “Waltzing Matilda” and “Song of Australia”. “Advance Australia Fair” received 43% of the vote, defeating the three alternatives.

Now, “God Save the Queen” is usually played at the start of Royal functions and “Advance Australia Fair” at the end, unless it is more appropriate to play both anthems at the start. “Advance Australia Fair” is played at all other official functions.

Categories: National anthems Patriotic Difficulty: easy
Tuesday 6 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Mazurka Op. 7, No. 1

 by Frédéric Chopin, arranged for two flutes

The mazurka is a Polish folk dance in triple meter with, characteristically, the first beat of the measure subdivided into a dotted eighth note followed by a sixteenth note. It is usually played at a lively tempo, with a heavy accent on the third or second beat.

Chopin's genius enabled him to devise numerous variants of this basic pattern without ever obliterating it completely. He composed 58 Mazurkas, and many of his other works of different genres are either inspired by the Mazurka or have parts of Mazurkas within them. It was he alone who put the Mazurka on the public stage and refined it into the highest art of music.

Categories: Dance tunes Mazurkas Romantic Difficulty: intermediate
Wednesday 7 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Anchors Aweigh

 Navy Service Song by Lieut. Charles A. Zimmermann

“Anchors Aweigh” is the fight song of the United States Naval Academy, and strongly associated with the United States Navy. It was composed in 1906 by Lieutenant Charles A. Zimmerman, a bandmaster of the United States Naval Academy Band. The song was first played the same year during the Army-Navy football game at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. Before a crowd in excess of 30,000 Navy won the game 10–0, their first win in the match up since 1900.

“Anchors Aweigh” is unusual for a college fight song in that it refers, specifically and repeatedly, to a particular opponent (the Army) which may not even be present at the event at which the song is sung. Nonetheless, the song has been gradually adopted as the song of the U.S. Navy. Although there is even a pending proposal to make it the official song, and to incorporate protocol into Navy regulations for its performance, its status remains unofficial.

As regards the etymology, the word “weigh” in this sense comes from the archaic word meaning to heave, hoist or raise. “Aweigh” means that that action has been completed, so the anchor is aweigh when it is pulled from the bottom.

Categories: Marches Military music Patriotic Sports music Difficulty: easy
Thursday 8 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Courante

 from Cello Suite No. 3 in C major by J.S. Bach

Courante, corrente, coranto, corant: all these names refer to a family of triple meter dances from the late Renaissance and the Baroque era. While in the original sources spellings are often found to be inconsistent, Bach used both the different spellings courante and corrente to differentiate between the French and Italian styles, respectively.

Originally, the courante had the slowest tempo of all French court dances. While some writers of the time described the dance as “fast”, what they probably meant is that the notes moved quickly, and not that the tempo was rapid. But this was going to change. In fact, courante literally means “running”, and in the later Renaissance the courante was danced with moderately fast running and jumping steps.

Categories: Baroque Courantes Etudes Difficulty: intermediate
Friday 9 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Brian Boru's March

 Traditional Irish march and dance tune

This tune is one of the oldest tunes in Ireland's traditional repertoire, yet it is still widely played by traditional Irish musicians.

Brian Boru, also known as Brian Bórumha, is sometimes referred to as Ireland's greatest king. He reigned for 39 years, from 940 to 1014, and it was a time of unsurpassed glory, prosperity and happiness. He promoted the arts and learning, and is even credited with having originated surnames. His patriotism and personal sacrifice brought the clans together, under one king, for the only time in Irish history. He was eighty-nine when his army faced the armies of the Norsemen at the Battle of Clontarf. Brian's warriors won the day, but soon afterward Brian was murdered in his tent.

The music of this march is wildly powerful and at the same time full of melancholy. It is both a music of victory and of mourning.

Categories: Celtic Music Dance tunes Marches Patriotic Traditional/Folk Difficulty: intermediate
Saturday 10 October 2009

Tune of the Day: The Memphis Blues

 Jazz standard by W.C. Handy

This song was described by its composer, W.C. Handy, as a “Southern Rag”. It was self-published by Handy in 1912, and has since been recorded by many artists.

“The Memphis Blues” is said to be based on a campaign song written by Handy for Edward Crump, a mayoral candidate in Memphis, Tennessee. Handy claimed credit for writing the song, which was subtitled “Mr. Crump”, but Memphis musicians say it was written by Handy's clarinetist, Paul Wyer. Many musicologists question how much “Mr. Crump” actually shared with “The Memphis Blues” since the words, taken from the old folk song “Mama Don' 'low”, do not match up with the melody of “The Memphis Blues”.

Handy first published the song as an instrumental piece. He immediately sold it to a music publisher, who took it to New York and started promoting it. Well, Handy actually claimed he had been robbed. In any case, the publisher convinced George “Honey Boy” Evans to use it for his “Honey Boy” Minstrels, and professional songwriter George A. Norton was hired to write words for it. The resulting 1913 publication was subtitled “Founded on W.C. Handy's World Wide ‛Blue’ Note Melody.”

Categories: Blues Jazz Difficulty: intermediate
Sunday 11 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Papageno's Aria

 from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera “The Magic Flute”

This famous aria is sung near the end of the second and last act of Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). After Pamina and Tamino fell in love with each other, the funny bird catcher Papageno also desires to have a “little wife”, and sings of this with his magic bells. The original first line is “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen”, but here's a translation instead, taken directly from the 1984 film Amadeus:

A sweetheart or a pretty little wife
Is Papageno's wish.
A willing, billing, lovey dovey
Would be
My most tasty little dish.
Be my most tasty little dish!
Be my most tasty little dish!
Then that would be eating and drinking
I'd live like a Prince without thinking.
The wisdom of old would be mine —
A woman's much better than wine!

Categories: Arias Classical Opera excerpts Difficulty: intermediate
Monday 12 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Frankie and Johnny

 Traditional American folk song

The first published version of the music to this famous folk song appeared in 1904, credited to Hughie Cannon; the piece, a variant version of whose melody is sung today, was titled “He Done Me Wrong”. Another variant of the melody, with words and music credited to Frank and Bert Leighton, appeared in 1908 under the title “Bill You Done Me Wrong”; this song was republished in 1912 as “Frankie and Johnny”, this time with the words that appear in modern folk variations: Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts

The story is that of a woman, Frankie, who finds his man Johnny with another woman, and shoots him dead. Frankie is then arrested; in some versions of the song she is also executed.

The story of Frankie and Johnny has been the inspiration for several feature films, such as the 1966 film Frankie and Johnny starring Elvis Presley. Terrence McNally wrote a 1987 play, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, which was adapted for the screen in a popular 1991 film starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Categories: Ballads Jazz Traditional/Folk Difficulty: intermediate
Tuesday 13 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Rondeau

 Baroque fanfare by Jean-Joseph Mouret

Tremendously popular for his extended stage works during the reign of Louis XIV, Jean-Joseph Mouret today is remembered only for this fanfare, lasting less than two minutes. Oddly, it became associated with the pomp and glory of England, not of France, when in 1971 WGBH radio announcer Robert J. Lurtsema proposed it as the theme for Masterpiece Theatre, WGBH-TV's repackagings of BBC historical dramas for broadcast on American public television.

The piece, taken from Mouret's first Suite de Symphonies (Fanfares for Trumpets, Kettledrums, Violins and Oboes), is a popular musical choice in many modern weddings.

Categories: Baroque Fanfares Rondos Wedding music Difficulty: intermediate
Wednesday 14 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Joy to the World

 Traditional Christmas carol

The music for this famous hymn was adapted and arranged by Lowell Mason from an older melody which was then believed to have originated from Handel, not least because the theme of the refrain (“And heaven and nature sing...”) appears in the orchestra opening and accompaniment of the recitative “Comfort Ye” from Handel's Messiah, and the first four notes match the beginning of the choruses “Lift up your heads and Glory to God” from the same oratorio. However, it can be stated with certainty that Handel did not compose the entire tune.

Even if today “Joy to the World” is commonly thought of as a Christmas song, its lyrics were originally written by Isaac Watts as a hymn glorifying Christ's triumphant return at the end of the age.

Categories: Christmas carols Hymn tunes Difficulty: easy
Thursday 15 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Hungarian Dance No. 5

 by Johannes Brahms

The Hungarian Dances (Ungarische Tänze in German) by Johannes Brahms are a set of 21 lively dance tunes based mostly on Hungarian themes. Actually, only numbers 11, 14 and 16 are entirely original compositions. Dance number 5, which is by far the most famous of these pieces, was based on the csárdás (a Hungarian folk dance) by Kéler Béla titled “Bartfai emlek”, which Brahms mistakenly thought was a traditional folksong.

Brahms originally wrote the version for piano four-hands and later arranged the first 10 dances for solo piano. Hungarian Dance No. 5, which in the original version was in the key of F-sharp minor, was later orchestrated in G minor by composer Martin Schmeling (1864–1943).

The Hungarian Dances bear many resemblances to, and may have influenced, the similarly profitable and popular Slavonic Dances of Antonín Dvořák. Moreover, they proved to be influential in the development of ragtime.

Categories: Dance tunes Romantic Difficulty: intermediate
Friday 16 October 2009

Tune of the Day: La Cucaracha

 Traditional Spanish and Mexican tune

“La Cucaracha” (literally, “The Cockroach”) is a traditional Spanish folk corrido, a popular narrative song form. It became popular in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. It has additionally become famous as a verse played on car horns.

The origins of “La Cucaracha” are obscure, with some versions of the lyrics discussing events that took place during the 15th century. Whatever its origin, it would be during the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th century that the song would see the first major period of verse production as rebel and government forces alike invented political lyrics for the song. So many stanzas were added during this period that today the song is associated mostly with Mexico.

Categories: Latin American Traditional/Folk Difficulty: intermediate
Saturday 17 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Valse Op. 69, No. 2

 by Frédéric Chopin, arranged for Flute and Piano

Frédéric Chopin's Deux Valses (“Two Waltzes”), Op.69, were not published during his lifetime, and in fact are products of his earlier days. A rather clear distinction can be made between those of the composer's waltzes that could potentially be used for actual dancing purposes and those which serve more purely musical functions. In this publication, only the latter category is represented.

The Valse in B minor, Op.69, No.2 was composed in 1829, when Chopin was nineteen, and is one of several works that the composer hoped would be burnt upon his death (his wishes, as composers' wishes about such matters so often are, were ignored). Instead, it has become quite popular, and is often performed. It is a melancholy work with three primary melodies and a somewhat more optimistic middle section.

Categories: Romantic Waltzes Difficulty: intermediate
Sunday 18 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Careless Love

 Traditional Jazz standard

This traditional song of obscure origins was one of the best known pieces in the repertory of the Buddy Bolden band in New Orleans, Louisiana at the very start of the 20th century, and has remained a jazz standard and blues standard. Hundreds of recordings have been made in folk, blues, jazz, country, and pop styles; some of the more notable versions include those by Bessie Smith, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, Louis Armstrong, Joan Baez, Ray Charles, Madeleine Peyroux, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash.

The lyrics change from version to version, but usually speak of the heartbreak brought on by “careless love”. Frequently, the narrator even threatens to kill his or her wayward lover.

Love, oh love, oh careless love,
You fly to my head like wine,
You've ruined the life of many a poor girl,
and you nearly wrecked this life of mine

Categories: Blues Jazz Love songs Traditional/Folk Difficulty: easy
Monday 19 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Grand March

 from Giuseppe Verdi's opera “Aida”

Aida is set in ancient Egypt. Its plot centers around Rhadames, a captain in the Egyptian guard, and two women, Aida and Amneris. Amneris is the daughter of the Pharaoh, the leader of Egypt; Aida is a slave. Unknown to others is the fact that she is also the daughter of the King of Ethiopia. During the first act, we discover that while Rhadames and Aida are in love, Amneris also loves the captain. Meanwhile, the countries of Egypt and Ethiopia go to war, and Rhadames is chosen to lead the Egyptian army. He defeats the enemy and returns as a conquering hero. However, Aida secretly mourns for her native country and her father, who has been taken prisoner.

In the second act of the opera, Egypt’s victory is celebrated by a grand parade, for which the “Grand March” (or “Triumphal March”) is performed. Musicians playing long trumpets lead the Egyptian troops into the city, while the booty and slaves they have captured in the war with Ethiopia are displayed.

Categories: Marches Opera excerpts Romantic Difficulty: intermediate
Tuesday 20 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Carol of the Bells

 Ukrainian Christmas carol

This choral miniature work was originally composed by the Ukrainian composer Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych. Throughout the composition, Leontovych used a four note motif as an ostinato which was taken from an ancient pagan Ukrainian New Year's chant known as “Shchedryk”. The original work was intended to be sung a cappella (that is, without accompaniment).

The “Carol of the Bells” was premiered in 1916 by a choral group made up of students at Kiev University. It was introduced to Western audiences by the Ukrainian National Chorus during its concert tour of Europe and the Americas, where it premiered in the United States in October 1921 at Carnegie Hall. It was later adapted into an English language version in the 1930s. An alternate English version, “Ring, Christmas Bells”, with more explicitly Nativity-based lyrics, was written in 1947, and is also widely performed.

Categories: Christmas carols Traditional/Folk Difficulty: intermediate
Wednesday 21 October 2009

Tune of the Day: The Bird Catcher's Aria

 from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera “The Magic Flute”

The opening aria for the jolly bird-catcher Papageno is entitled “Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja”, which may be roughly translated from German as “I am the bird catcher, yes”.

Papageno enters wearing his costume of feathers and with a birdcage strapped to his back. In both hands he has a pan pipe which he plays before and during the song. He sings cheerfully of the pleasures of catching birds, but muses that it would be nice to be able to catch pretty girls too, and to make the one he liked best his wife.

Thanks to Jennifer for suggesting this piece!

Categories: Arias Classical Opera excerpts Difficulty: intermediate
Thursday 22 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Ach! so fromm, ach! so traut

 Aria from Flotow's opera “Martha”

Martha, oder Der Markt zu Richmond (Martha, or The Market at Richmond) is a “romantic comic” opera in four acts by German composer Friedrich von Flotow. It was first performed in Vienna in 1847.

The opera is set in 18th-century England, during the reign of Queen Anne, and the story is that of a beauty of high rank, Lady Harriet, who disguises herself as a peasant, calls herself Martha, and, with her maid Nancy, similarly disguised, joins a crowd of girls going to the hiring fair at Richmond. Two young farmers, Plunkett and Lyonel, engage Martha and her companion for twelve months. The two ladies however do not like their situation, and escape the same night. The two farmers, on the other hand, had fallen desperately in love with the girls.

The aria “Ach! so fromm” is taken from Act three, where Lyonel sees “Martha” again with the ladies-in-waiting for Queen Anne. He is struck again by her beauty, and grieves that he will probably never be with her again.

Despite being the most famous original aria from the opera, this aria was not originally written for Martha, but for Flotow's L'âme en peine. It was first interpolated into Martha in 1865, at the first Paris production. It is also often sung in its Italian translation “M'appari tutt'amor” (“She appeared to me full of love”).

Categories: Arias Opera excerpts Romantic Difficulty: intermediate
Friday 23 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Molly Malone

 aka “Cockles and Mussels”, or “In Dublin's Fair City”
Molly Malone

As well as being known and sung internationally, the popular song “Cockles and Mussels” has become a sort of unofficial anthem of Dublin city. Molly is even commemorated in a statue at the top of Grafton Street, erected to celebrate the city's first millennium in 1987.

The song tells the tale of a beautiful fishmonger who plied her trade on the streets of Dublin, but who died young, of a fever. Recently a legend has grown up that there was a historical Molly, who lived in the 17th century. However, there is no evidence that the song is based on a real woman, of the 17th century or of any other time. The name “Molly” originated as a familiar version of the names Mary and Margaret. While many such “Molly” Malones were born in Dublin over the centuries, no evidence connects any of them to the events in the song. Nevertheless, in 1988 the Dublin Millennium Commission endorsed claims concerning a Molly Malone who died on 13 June 1699, and proclaimed 13 June to be “Molly Malone day”.

In fact the song is not recorded earlier than 1883, when it was published as a work written and composed by James Yorkston, of Edinburgh. However, as the song became naturalised in Ireland the attribution to Yorkston was generally omitted in published versions, encouraging a general assumption that it was an ancient folk song.

The song was featured in Stanley Kubrick's film A Clockwork Orange, sung by an old drunk.

Categories: Ballads Celtic Music Drinking songs Traditional/Folk Difficulty: easy
Saturday 24 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Che farò senza Euridice?

 from Gluck's opera “Orfeo ed Euridice”

According to Greek mythology, Orpheus was “the father of songs”: with his music and singing, he could charm birds, fish and wild beasts, coax the trees and rocks into dance, and even divert the course of rivers.

When his wife Eurydice died of a snake bite, Orpheus played such sad songs and sang so mournfully that all the nymphs and gods wept. On their advice, Orpheus traveled to the underworld and by his music softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone (he was the only person ever to do so), who agreed to allow Eurydice to return with him to earth on one condition: he should walk in front of her and not look back until they both had reached the upper world. He set off with Eurydice following and in his anxiety as soon as he reached the upper world he turned to look at her, forgetting that both needed to be in the upper world, and she vanished for the second time.

It is then that Orpheus intones the lament, “Che farò senza Euridice?” (“What will I do without Eurydice?”), a sublime aria which has truly become immortal.

Categories: Arias Classical Opera excerpts Difficulty: intermediate
Sunday 25 October 2009

Tune of the Day: La Borinqueña

 National anthem of Puerto Rico

The title of this anthem refers to the aboriginal Taíno name for the island of Puerto Rico.

The land of Borinquen
where I have been born
is a flowery garden
of magical beauty.

A constantly clear sky
serves as its canopy
and placid lullabies are sung
by the waves at its feet.

These beautiful words form the first stanzas of “La Borinqueña”. But the anthem was not originally sung this way; it was not even an anthem as we know it today.

The music was originally credited to Félix Astol Artés in 1867 as a habanera danza, with romantic lyrics, but there is some evidence that Francisco Ramírez, a native of San Germán, wrote the music in 1860, and named it “La Almojábana”. In 1868, poetess Lola Rodríguez de Tió wrote a poem in support of Puerto Rican revolution, which was set to the Ramirez/Astol Artés music. When the Spanish authorities investigated, Ramirez, out of fear, asked Astol to claim authorship of the music, since Astol was a native of Catalonia and would therefore not raise any suspicion. With the original lyrics deemed too subversive for official adoption, a non-confrontational set of lyrics was written in 1903 and taught in the public schools.

Thanks to Luis for suggesting this piece!

Categories: Habaneras Marches National anthems Patriotic Difficulty: intermediate
Monday 26 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Romanze

 from “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

This famous romance is the second movement of Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major, K. 525, more commonly known as Eine kleine Nachtmusik (“a small serenade”). Mozart wrote it in 1787, while working on the second act of his Don Giovanni. It is not known why it was composed.

This second movement is marked “Andante”, thus contrasting with the lively “Allegro” of the first movement. It is in a “section rondo form”, and is similar to the sonata rondo form (A–B–A–C–A). The first theme is graceful and lyrical, and is followed by a more rhythmical second theme. Then the first theme returns, followed by the third theme, which is darker than the first two and includes a touch of C minor. A restatement of the first theme returns to finish the movement.

Categories: Classical Serenades Difficulty: intermediate
Tuesday 27 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Jingle Bells

 One of the most famous winter songs

Although “Jingle Bells” has come to be practically synonymous with Christmas, James Pierpont originally wrote it in 1857 for a Thanksgiving program at the large Boston church where he taught Sunday school. He titled his song “One Horse Open Sleigh”, and made the rhythm so jaunty and the words so catchy that his 40 little Sunday schoolers learned it almost instantaneously. The children's first performance was such a success that they were asked to repeat it at Christmastime, and “Jingle Bells” became a Christmas song forever.

When Pierpont's song was originally published, it had a different chorus melody, which was more classical, and slightly different lyrics, too. It is unknown who replaced the chorus melody and the words with those of the modern version.

Dashing through the snow
Categories: Christmas carols Difficulty: easy
Wednesday 28 October 2009

Site update: New Trill Fingering Chart

A clear chart with all the fingerings you will need!

We've just finished our new fingering chart for trills. This has actually become a necessity due to the high number of requests we were receiving!

The peculiarity of this chart is that it only lists non-obvious trill fingerings, so it is considerably smaller and more easily readable than classical charts.

We have also included some advice on how to play trills, which many flute students will probably find useful.

Please feel free to let us know what you think about it!

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Tune of the Day: The Nutcracker March

 from “The Nutcracker Suite” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

This march is one of the most famous melodies of the ballet. The piece is simply called “March”, or “Marche” in French. However, instead of calling it, “The March from The Nutcracker”, most take the more direct route of saying, “The Nutcracker March”, or even “The March of the Nutcracker”.

Those vaguely familiar with the story of The Nutcracker may be surprised to learn that this is not actually a dance performed by the Nutcracker as he leads the toy soldiers to victory over the Mouse King. Instead, the march appears early in the first act, played during the lively party scene, which includes plenty of dancing, games and merriment. The cheerful rhythm of the piece helps to create a feeling of celebration among the holiday partygoers.

Categories: Ballet excerpts Marches Romantic Difficulty: intermediate
Thursday 29 October 2009

Tune of the Day: Toccata and Fugue in D minor

 by Johann Sebastian Bach, arranged for Flute duet

This piece of organ music was composed by Johann Sebastian Bach sometime between 1703 and 1707. It is one of the most famous works in the organ repertoire, and has been used in a variety of popular media ranging from film, to video games, to rock music, and ringtones.

However, the attribution of the piece to Bach has been challenged since the early 1980s by a number of scholars, and remains a controversial topic. In fact, the piece contains several features that are only typical for post-1750 music, and some musicologists have suggested that the work may actually be an exercise by a later composer, who tried to imitate Baroque idioms.

About the transcription: many parts of the toccata are very hard to play well as a duet, as they require perfect synchronization; the fugue is somewhat easier. You will also notice that the piece contains many passages that are fun to toy with even as solos.

Thanks to Erica for suggesting this piece!

Categories: Baroque Fugues Halloween music Difficulty: advanced
Friday 30 October 2009

Tune of the Day: In the Bleak Midwinter

 Setting by Gustav Holst

Composer Gustav Holst lived in the English village of Cranham for a while, and it was there, in the house now called “Midwinter Cottage” that he wrote what is probably the best known tune for the Christmas carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti. That's why the tune is called “Cranham”.

This version of the hymn has been recorded by a number of popular recording artists, including Julie Andrews, Allison Crowe and Sarah McLachlan, as well as by many choirs.

Another famous setting of the hymn was composed by Harold Darke in the early 20th century. The Darke version, with its beautiful and delicate organ accompaniment, has also gained popularity among choirs in recent years.

Categories: 20th century Christmas carols Hymn tunes Difficulty: easy
Saturday 31 October 2009

Tune of the Day: The Devil in the Kitchen

 A nice tune for Halloween

This great tune comes from Scotland. It is played in many ways and in several keys. It was originally composed by William Ross, who was piper to Queen Victoria from 1854 to 1891.

This is a strathspey, a particular type of dance tune in 4/4 time. It is similar to a hornpipe, but slower and more stately, and contains many Scotch snaps, a rhythm made up of a sixteenth note before a dotted eighth note; in traditional playing, this is generally exaggerated rhythmically for musical expression.

The tune is in mixolydian mode, which means that, by comparison with a major scale, the leading tone is lowered by a semitone. You can see this because the piece is in the key of A, but all the Gs are natural. That is, when playing you can actually forget about the last sharp in the key signature.

Categories: Celtic Music Halloween music Strathspeys Traditional/Folk Difficulty: intermediate