Saturday, December 5, 2015

Enjoy Christmas Preparations with an Inquisitive Mind

As you prepare the tree, deck the hall, bake the cookies, and wrap those special presents I invite you to fill the hall with glorious Christmas music.  With this holiday comes traditions and history that date back before Christianity!

For instance, ancient Druids believed that decorating their dwellings with holly would protect them from the rigors of winter. The early Greeks and Romans sent holly boughs and gifts to their friends as a token of their friendship. Consequently, today we enjoy the carol The Holly and the Ivy as well as the joy of giving gifts.

Ancients held nature in great reverence. According the Julian calendar, December 25 marked the winter solstice and was observed by pagans as the birthday of the Unconquered Sun. The Romans spent the last two weeks of December paying tribute to Saturn, their god of agriculture. The Teutonic tribes of Northern Europe feasted and drank in honor of the supreme deity, Wodin, during “Yuletide.” Early Christians dovetailed these celebrations and marked the evergreen as a symbol of ever-lasting life in the celebration of Christ’s birth.[1]

The Christmas season brings the entire world together with traditions coming from every corner:  Chestnuts from Great Britain, the Christmas tree from Germany, and the crèche from Italy. And the songs have an equally varied historical basis:  Jingle Bells and We Three Kings of Orient Are from the US, O Holy Night and The First Noel from France, What Child is This? from England, Silent Night from Austria. The list goes on and on.  Take the time to explore your favorite carol. Allow it to impact your love for the tune.

To add to the interest of the Christmas Carol Season take your favorite carol’s melody and design a variety of interesting accompaniments.  Most carols use very basic harmonic structure.  Play around with simple tonic and dominant harmonies with creative accompaniment patterns.

Enjoy a Merry Christmas with music as an integral part of your preparations and celebration! For a little Christmas trivia fun enjoy the following carol quiz.

Christmas Carol Trivia Quiz

1. Name the Christmas Carol that begins with a descending major scale.

2. Name the Christmas Carol that begins with an ascending major scale.

3. Name the carol that was first sung with guitar accompaniment because the organ was broken.

4. Name the Christmas character that was created as an advertisement for Montgomery Ward in 1939.

5. Name the carol that dates back to Henry VIII and is originally known as Greensleeves.

6. Name the carol that was composed for Sunday school students in Medford, Massachussetts in 1857.

7. Name the carol made written by a Jewish composer and made famous by Bing Crosby.

(Answers: 1. Joy to the World, 2. The First Noel, 3. Silent Night, 4. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, 5. What Child is This?, 6. Jingle Bells, 7. I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas)

[1] The American Legion Magazine (December, 1983), 15.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Fortepiano: Beginning the Journey

Our strong desire for knowledge and musical honesty
makes us go back to the fortepiano.
                                        Discoveries from the Fortepiano (Oxford University Press. 2015), 1.

As the sap returns to the tree for rest and renewal, the leaves announce the Fall with glorious hues of red, gold, and burnt orange. We know that Winter rapidly approaches as each day steals minutes of sunlight and turns them over to the night; all part of the necessary process for new birth in the Spring. Likewise, Winter provides musicians the opportunity to rest, reflect, and renew.  Where would we like to be musically by Spring? What unanswered questions can be wrestled with in the darkness of Winter? And what discoveries can be unearthed to bring new life to our playing?

The desire to know where we are headed can only come through the path of where we have been. Wrestling with the questions surrounding performing Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart on the modern piano are best answered by looking back to the fortepiano. By better understanding the instrument and sound that inspired these masters we can come closer to a newly inspired sound. We can honor the past and create new art in the present.

Glancing back at the Classical Era Style we find an instrument distinctly different from today’s instrument. From the inside out everything is “different.” 

When comparing the over­all characteristics of the fortepiano [eighteenth century Viennese five-octave fortepiano] and the modern piano, we find that the differences are considerable. The fortepiano’s prevailing quality is its ability to be played with finesse. Everything on the fortepiano is literally and aesthetically lighter and more responsive than the modern piano.
                                                 Discoveries from the Fortepiano (Oxford University Press. 2015), 17.

Everything from string size and make-up, key dimensions, and responsiveness, to range, decay, and tone quality are distinctively different on the fortepiano.

Follow the link to view a comparison table between modern and fortepiano characteristics:

But the real take-away is the different sound aesthetic that is unleashed when one encounters the sound of the fortepiano.  The same score takes on an entirely new character when realized on the instrument for which it was intended.  Although this sound cannot be duplicated on the modern piano, awareness of the sound can influence our approach and aesthetic goal.

Follow the links to compare audio traits of fortepiano and influenced modern piano rendition of the opening bars of Moonlight Sonata

You are now invited into Winter to reflect and renew.  Dig into Discoveries from the Fortepiano to learn how looking back and unearthing these informational gems can open a musical path for you to welcome the new Spring of your own aesthetic.