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A Short History of the Piano

The first piano was made some time during the late 1600s or early 1700s by the Italian musical instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori. These early instruments were called clavicembalo col piano e forte, which translates as harpsichord with soft and loud. This description is how the piano got its full name; the pianoforte.

History

Descriptions of Cristofori’s pianos were printed in scientific journals in 1711 in Venice and later in 1725 in Germany. This led to Gottfrield Silbermann, an organ-builder and harpsichord maker, creating his own pianos. Silbermann introduced the instrument to the musician and composer Johann Sebastian Bach in 1730. One of Silbermann’s apprentices was Andreas Stein whose instruments convinced composers Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven to move to the piano from the harpsichord. Experts believe that the pianos which survive from the 1740s were modelled on an instrument that had been imported into Germany rather than from the technical descriptions.

The strings of a harpsichord

Another of Silbermann’s apprentices was Johannes Zumpe. Zumpe developed the square piano (which was actually rectangular) in England. Square pianos were smaller and therefore more accessible than the early grand pianos, and examples can still be seen in stately homes such as National Trust properties in the UK. One of the most prominent collections of historic keyboard instruments can be seen at Hatchlands Park in Surrey. The piano was further developed in England by John Broadwood who invented the right pedal which sustains the notes. Broadwood made pianos for both Beethoven and Chopin. John Broadwood and Sons Ltd. still make pianos today.

A Steinway square piano

During the 1700s , the English Zumpe and Broadwood pianos were popular in France, but a French harpsichord maker called Sébastien Érard began making pianos. He also pioneered further improvements to the instrument. Érard’s company later made pianos for Franz Liszt.

In 1848, Heinrich Steinweg, a German piano maker emigrated to New York to avoid war in Europe, changing his name to Henry Steinway. Steinway’s sons studied science, engineering, music and acoustics. In 1854, the Steinway piano won prizes at the Washington and New York Trade Fairs. Steinway created notes on his research and developed the piano even further. Steinway is perhaps the most famous piano maker in the world and Steinway and Sons pianos are still considered amongst the best.

The mechanism of an upright piano

The Instrument

The sound of a piano is made by hammers hitting strings. This is the same mechanism as a dulcimer, and can be traced back to early stringed instruments. In modern pianos bass notes have one string, middle notes have two finer strings and high notes have three even finer strings.

Once the hammer has made contact with the strings, it bounces back to allow the strings to continue vibrating. A mechanism called an ‘escapement’ stops the hammer returning to the string. In early pianos, this meant it was difficult to play a repeated note. However, Érard invented a double escapement to make repeated notes possible. The piano’s strings are stretched tight by a frame. Under the strings is a wooden soundboard to amplify the sound.

A quick tour of the Bösendorfer factory:

Famous pianists and composers for piano

The first public piano concert took place in 1768 in London, performed on a Zumpe piano. The pianist was Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of J. S. Bach.

Mozart wrote 23 concerti for piano and orchestra during his short life. Beethoven produced five. All of these are still key works of the concerto repertoire. Like Mozart, Beethoven was a virtuosic pianist before deafness put paid to his performing career. He taught Carl Czerny, who is perhaps most famous for his piano studies, which many piano students still use today. Passing on the baton, Czerny’s most famous student was Franz Liszt, a composer who included the piano in every single one of his compositions.

Muzio Clementi is another key figure in the history of the piano, he was born in Rome, but spent much of his life in England as a pianist, teacher, composer, publisher of piano music and piano maker.

Types of piano

From the early days of the instrument, there have been different types of piano.

The two perhaps most well known pianos today are the grand piano and the upright piano.

Grand pianos have frames and strings laid horizontally, with the strings extending away from the keyboard. The grand piano comes in several sizes:

  • Baby grand (around 1.5 meters)
  • Parlour grand, or boudoir grand (1.7 to 2.2 meters)
  • Concert grand (between 2.2 and 3 meters)

The upright piano was invented in London in 1826 by Robert Wornum, who developed the specific action structure. Upright pianos became the more commonly owned version of the instrument as they were less expensive and took up less space. They were therefore more suitable for the home. However grand pianos remain the most popular for performances. They have better projection over the sound of an orchestra, and their shape is more conducive to recital playing and positioning on stage than an upright.

Grand vs Upright pianos: Why grand pianos are generally better:

Other variants of the piano exist. For example the player piano or piano roll was developed in 1863 by Henri Fourneaux. For a player piano to work, a pianist must first perform a piece of music on the instrument. A machine then translates this into perforations on a roll of paper. The player piano then plays the “piano roll” using pneumatic devices. Modern versions of this using MIDI and similar technologies are available today.

In the 20th and 21st Century, some composers began to call for a prepared piano. This is where a traditional piano is ‘prepared’ with objects. The objects, which include paper, metal screws and washers, are placed inside the mechanism and between the strings to change the sound. John Cage is perhaps the most famous composer for prepared piano. His goal was, “to place in the hands of a single pianist the equivalent of an entire percussion orchestra”.

As technology progressed, electronic and digital pianos were developed and remain popular today. These instruments have keyboards the same as a traditional piano, but the sound is made by synthesisers or digital sampling. The keys do not have the same weight and it is not possible to produce such a depth of sound and tonal variation.

The popularity of the piano

Pianos were a central part of many homes for over a hundred years. Before the development of the radio, record players, television and the internet, if you wanted to hear live music, you had to attend a public concert, pay someone else to play music, or to play it yourself. Examples of the importance of the piano, particularly as a mark of accomplishment and social status for young ladies, can be seen in Jane Austen’s writing, but people of all backgrounds and classes would enjoy social gatherings round the piano, whether for a singalong or a display of skill.

The piano proved to be particularly adaptable in the 20th Century as musical styles changed. The instrument remains at the heart of new genres such as jazz and rock and roll. Even the famous John Lewis Christmas advert focused on the instrument in 2018, telling the story of a little boy receiving the gift of a piano: That little boy was Elton John.

If you want to get started on the piano, check out our videos from MWC’s Matthew Forbes:

And how to read piano music:

Images thanks to Shayan Bemanian, Jason Zhang and ZU photography

A Vision for Digital Learning

The ongoing lockdown has pushed many music teachers to move their teaching online. But for one pioneering violin teaching business, online teaching is nothing new.

Simon Hewitt Jones, Director at ViolinSchool, which launched as an online violin teaching school in 2012, says:

As we move forward into September 2020 and beyond, ViolinSchool will be leveraging the power of digital technology more than ever before.

I believe that the pandemic has stripped away much of the mystique that perhaps surrounds instrumental tuition. The practical requirements of continuing to operate during such an extreme situation have forced everyone to question how they are delivering education, and why.

In a world where digital resources are so readily accessible, physical experiences such as concerts and printed books are more important than ever. Digital formats don’t replace physical formats, but each plays its role in enhancing learning, music-making, performing and listening experiences. Digital shouldn’t detract from what’s precious and unique about shared in-person events. If anything, the opposite is true.

ViolinSchool offers a mix of public violin-learning resources such as the Glossary and scales and arpeggio notation, fingering charts and audio, and materials that are exclusively available via subscription.

The two guiding forces behind the school are creativity and community. The method is designed with a holistic and social approach. ViolinSchool is research-focused and results-orientated. 

The vast majority of the school’s learning programs are anchored around three key ‘pillars’: music, violin technique and performance skills. These are underpinned by a meaningful knowledge of how to practice, and an understanding that performance psychology is an integral part of violin learning. Each ViolinSchool student has a clear understanding of practice skills, so that they can take responsibility for their own learning.

Simon’s vision for the future is optimistic: 

I think that it’s going to be a lot more creative, and a lot more focused on empowering learners. It will be less about following rules… and more about gaining a deep understanding of the fundamentals of music in a creative way and learning how to apply that on a musical instrument.

Ultimately, what we do always comes back to our raw materials – rhythm, pitch, sound, expression, and so on, and that’s not going to change whether we’re teaching in person in a room or digitally over Zoom. 

I think the key is to be flexible about how we approach new technologies, and always be ready to innovate and try new things. That way, we can constantly encourage creativity and curiosity in our learners, whilst opening their eyes to the fundamental principles of our art. 

That’s how we set free the imagination of the next generation of musicians. And that’s the future for which I’ll keep advocating!

Find out more

Interested in exploring ViolinSchool’s digital resources? Check out String Music or Tick Tock, Tock Tick.

Or you can sign up for ViolinSchool’s FREE Getting Started course (registration required).

Image courtesy of ViolinSchool.com

Jazz: the “Standard Repertoire”

Jazz standards are musical compositions that form a fundamental part of the repertoire and language of jazz. They are often performed and recorded, and are therefore widely known to listeners. They are also used within education to introduce key musical concepts such as certain chord progressions and modes. 

Most of the compositions that become standards have their roots in popular culture.  The 1959 song My Favourite Things first appeared in The Sound of Music, but it wasn’t long before jazz musicians began producing their own stylistically diverse versions of the melody. John Coltrane’s approach (1960) was to play extended modal sections around the tune with such high intensity that it turned into an almost hypnotic dance: 

Whilst Sarah Vaughn’s version (1961) was slow, mournful, and forced a new emotional twist onto the unaltered lyrics:

The original:

The majority of jazz standards originate in the first half of the 20th century. Each decade brought its own set of standards, and this can provide a useful snapshot of the changing musical style of the period. Here’s a whistle-stop tour through some of the standards that defined the first part of the last century…

The 1920s saw the beginnings of the Jazz age in America and the first songs that would become standards. These songs often contained simple harmonies:

Fats Waller’s Ain’t Misbehavin

Some interesting facts about Fats:

Fats Waller was kidnapped while leaving a performance in Chicago in 1926. He was bundled into a car and taken to the Hawthorne Inn, which was owned by the notorious gangster Al Capone. Waller was ordered inside the building where a party was in full swing. With a gun to his back he was pushed towards a piano and ordered to play. Terrified, he realised that he was the ‘surprise guest’ at Capone’s birthday party. Capone released him after three days.

Waller died on December 15, 1943, while traveling aboard a Los Angeles to Chicago train near Kansas City, Missouri. He was just 39 years old.

The 1930s is considered to be the start of the “Great American Songbook” era. Many of the standards from this decade came from Broadway, such as George Gershwin’s hit, Summertime:

1940s

The 1940s was the era when improvising musicians began writing their own songs. Theloneous Monk’s Round Midnight shows off the developing complexity of the jazz repertoire during this period:

Learning to play jazz standards

Learning a standard will help develop any student’s understanding of the language of jazz. The process goes far beyond scales, modes and chord progressions. Too much time spent on technical exercises without improvising on tunes can quickly become boring. Conversely, simply playing tunes without infusing the new vocabulary that accrues from practicing exercises can hold the student back. It’s a question of balance, curiosity and immersion.

When learning jazz standards, it is always helpful to memorise the melodies and chords. The act of note reading can interfere with listening and the intuitive improvisation process. The jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz suggested playing the melody over and over, embellishing it slightly each time. Eventually it will no longer sound like the melody but an improvisation. This method also gives the student the opportunity to experiment with notes that maybe outside the expected scales or chord, enabling them to begin to develop a unique style of their own. 

This blog is published with thanks to Ed Alton who furnished us with his extensive knowledge of jazz. Ed is part of the MWC workshop team.

Feature image with thanks to Mick Haupt at UnSplash


Get Happy

Music is a great leveller. It expresses emotion and helps us to connect. According to psychologists, we listen to music in order to regulate our mood, to achieve self-awareness, and as an expression of social relatedness.

These are challenging times. Concert halls have fallen silent and we are all under pressure as work and home life is disrupted. For this reason, we decided to share some happy music with you!

Let’s start with an obvious one. Here’s Pharrell Williams, Happy.

And wonderful Judy Garland singing Get Happy…

How about Shania Twain’s Up!

A piece that always makes our Artistic Director, Maria smile; the energetic Festive Overture by Shostakovich

A beautiful piece of ballet music by Tchaikovsky, the Dance of the Little Swans…

Here are some silly songs to make you smile:

The perfect silly song, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious from Mary Poppins

Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate, Brush Up Your Shakespeare

Aretha Franklin – Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive

As we appreciate nature more, Feeling Good sung by Nina Simone:

And of course, family and friends who will get us through this …

The Late, Great Bill Withers singing Lovely Day:

Friendship sung by Red Skelton and Lucille Ball:

And to end with, the song that has come to be the anthem for this time – Somewhere Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz, sung by Judy Garland… There’s no place like home!

Images with thanks to Andre Hunter and  Lidya Nada on Unsplash.

Our Favourite Home Learning Resources

At a time when more families are engaged in home learning, the MWC team wanted to share online resources that might be useful over the coming months…

General advice on Home Learning

Home Learning UK are sharing their expertise – https://homelearninguk.weebly.com/

MWC’s Maria loves opera for so to find out the best places for streamed opera check out BachTrack’s list – https://bachtrack.com/search-opera/medium=2,3

Explore Folk Music from around the World with https://folkcloud.com


Singing

Need inspiration for some new songs? Check out Sing Up who are currently offering free resources – https://www.singup.org/home-schooling

For families who have budding instrumentalists here is some advice on specific instrument challenges:

Oboists – Parents guide to an oboists reed crisis! https://www.rachelbroadbent.co.uk/post/parents-guide-to-an-oboists-reed-crisis?fbclid=IwAR0b9FMcX8mnibH84EK3ARmwHEtxUmXslao0K2sQ1sPhqlFyUXTGrVe6WGk

Ever wondered how to tune a violin? ViolinSchool have a handy resource to help you https://www.violinschool.com/how-to-tune-a-violin/


Creative Activities

Keeping It Creative with Miss Hodgson – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC04w15zk1qpp1wMVxIUN_BQ/videos?app=desktop

The Roald Dahl Museum has great resources to help children develop their creative writing skills – https://www.roalddahl.com/museum/make-stories

Creative Boom have put together links to lots of fun creative activities at –https://www.creativeboom.com/resources/fun-activities-to-do-at-home-brought-to-you-by-the-wonderful-creative-community/

Felt Tip Pen gives lots of suggestions for Art activities – http://felt-tip-pen.com/art-teaching-resources-you-can-access-anywhere/

Get free ballet Lessons with the English National Ballet – https://www.youtube.com/user/enballet

If you are looking for inspiration for theming activities, visit Teaching Ideas for festivals and celebrations from around the World – https://www.teachingideas.co.uk/events/march

London Bubble have created a free Speech Bubbles resource full of activities for drama at https://www.londonbubble.org.uk/parent_project/speech-bubbles/

64 Million Artists are sharing a daily creative challenge, sign up at https://64millionartists.com/


Exploring Art

Have a virtual day out at the National Gallery – https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/visiting/virtual-tours

Explore Tate Modern with Nick Grimshaw and Francis Morris – https://www.tate.org.uk/art/360-video/grimshaw

Visit the Vatican including the Sistine Chapel – http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/tour-virtuali-elenco.html


General Home-Learning Activities

BBC Bitesize includes resources and activities for children and young people from age 3 up – https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize

TTS are offering free downloadable resources for Early Years, Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 –https://www.tts-group.co.uk/home+learning+activities.html

Robin Hood Multi Academy Trust has free projects for Early Years, Key Stage 1, Years 3/4  and Years 5/6 on their website. These are broken into weekly tasks. Visit their site – https://www.robinhoodmat.co.uk/learning-projects/

NASA kids club has lots of activities for children – https://www.nasa.gov/kidsclub/index.html


Languages

Duolingo is a free app that supports learning a wide range of languages – https://www.duolingo.com/

Rosetta Stone is offering free access to their resources for the next 3 months – https://www.rosettastone.com/freeforstudents/


MWC’s Artistic Director, Maria loves Reading and History, so here are some recommendations in these areas…

Reading

Audible Stories now has free classic children’s stories – https://stories.audible.com/discovery

The World of David Walliams is offering free audio stories –https://www.worldofdavidwalliams.com/elevenses/

Literary Shed + has free resources for Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 – https://www.literacyshedplus.com/en-gb/browse/free-resources

Ok, it’s not quite summer yet, but the Summer Reading Challenge has lots of great resources – https://summerreadingchallenge.org.uk/

The Stay-at-Home! Literary Festival is an international online literature festival running from 27th March until 11th April 2020  – https://stayathomefest.wordpress.com/

And the British Library have great resources and activities linked to children’s books – https://www.bl.uk/childrens-books


History

Did you know you can do virtual visits to museums such as the British Museum? Read their top tips on how to access their amazing collection – https://blog.britishmuseum.org/how-to-explore-the-british-museum-from-home/

The Chester Beatty Museum in Dublin is one of Maria’s favourite museums, visit their virtual museum at https://chesterbeatty.ie/exhibitions/gift-of-a-lifetime/

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has more than 103,500 objects in its online collection – https://www.ashmolean.org/


Mental Health

And of course, supporting children, young people and their families with mental health.

We need to talk about Children’s Mental Health – https://weneedtotalkaboutchildrensmentalhealth.wordpress.com/2020/03/27/tips-to-share-with-children-to-help-them-cope-with-the-new-normal/


N.B. MWC is not affiliated with any of these websites. This list should not be taken as a recommendation for any products or services (and those featured should not claim any recommendation). All data and GDPR rules – and terms and conditions – should be closely scrutinised by schools and parents.

The images used in this post courtesy of Unsplash, by Goetz Heinen, Sharon McCutcheon, Dragos GontariuToa Heftier, Kelly Sikkema, Annie Spratt, Brett JordanNational Cancer Institute

2020 – the year of Beethoven?

December 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

The event seems to have split the Classical Music community. Some individuals and organisations see the occasion as an opportunity to celebrate Beethoven’s musical achievements. Others suggest that Beethoven’s music is popular enough and performances and recordings of it are already so plentiful that audiences should be exploring new repertoire and lesser known composers, and particularly work by underrepresented groups.

Beethoven is one of a group of composers from the Western Classical tradition who is often given the title ‘genius’. He was a prolific composer, writing 722 works, including 9 Symphonies, 16 overtures and incidental pieces, 16 string quartets, 32 piano sonatas, 20 sets of variations for piano, 10 works for chorus and orchestra, hundreds of songs, operas, piano trios, works for wind ensembles and concertos for violin, piano and a lost work for oboe. His development of musical forms such as the symphony, string quartet and piano sonata are seen as revolutionary, and his influence on later composers is often cited.

If you want to take 2020 as the year to explore Beethoven’s works further, check out #TheCompleteBeethoven on Twitter for advice from The Symphonist or follow the hashtag #Beethoven2020.

Beethoven led an interesting life. His father was abusive, he struggled with his health, he lived in politically turbulent times, his romantic life was complicated and he suffered hearing loss. However there are stories of his bad temper and of his poor treatment of his sister-in-law and nephew. All these elements add to the image of a tortured genius, a persona that has appealed to audiences and, it could be argued, has helped keep his music popular over the past 200 years. 

As Beethoven’s work is frequently performed, recorded and broadcast on radio, should we take his 250th anniversary as an opportunity to enjoy ever popular works such as his 9th Symphony and 5th Piano Concerto, or should we explore some of his lesser known works, such as his works for military band…

or his songs…

Or should we be exploring more obscure composers? As William Gibbons states on Twitter:

Every time I listen to Beethoven, I’m not listening to something else.

Inspired by some of the discussion around exploring a wider range of composers, Musicology Duck’s blog influenced by Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, has suggested a hashtag of #ListenWider. Rather than recommending specific books or pieces, both challenges give categories, allowing readers and listeners to find works that appeal to them. Musicology Duck gives 30 categories of pieces to listen to including a composition of 60 minutes or more in length by a woman or non-binary composer, a miniature composition under 90 seconds long, a top hit from the year you were born or from a country other than your own, and a concerto for tuba, bassoon or double bass. 

You could take the opportunity to explore works by other composers and performers who have key anniversaries in 2020, such as:

Dave Brubeck – 100th anniversary of his birth

Dorothea Anne Franchi – 100th anniversary of her birth

Ravi Shankar – 100th anniversary of his birth

Del Woods – 100th anniversary of her birth

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) – 100th anniversary

John Rutter – 75th Birthday

Of course, there is a happy medium for those who love Beethoven’s music but still want to discover new repertoire. Ensembles such as the English Symphony Orchestra are taking the opportunity to partner Beethoven’s works with lesser known composers such as Ruth Gipps and Adrian Williams.

So how will you approach your year of listening to music? Let us know what you think in the comments!

‘State of the Nation’ Music – the APPG Speaks Out

As part of MWC’s wider engagement in music education, Artistic Director Maria Thomas attended two key music education events this month, the meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education and the 2019 ROH Bridge’s annual conference, The Thriving Child.

In this blog, Maria shares her thoughts about the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Music Education. We’ll take a look at the findings of the ROH Bridge Conference at the end of July.


“The APPG for Music Education meeting took place on Wednesday 19th June at the Palace of Westminster. The event was Chaired by Diana Johnson, MP for Kingston upon Hull North and Chair and Registered Contact of the APPG. In attendance were a wide range of people engaged with music education, from MPs to Music Hub heads, Conservatoire heads, music organisations, and small charities that support young people.

The first speaker was Ian C. Lucas, MP for Wrexham and member of the DCMS Select Committee. Mr Lucas talked about his experiences of music education in Wrexham and his concerns following the loss of the council run music service. He demonstrated how music is being used to bring people into the town centre through festivals such as Singing Streets. With reference to the work of his wife, who is a music teacher and very engaged with the local music community, he lamented that although it benefits schools, students and the community to put on school shows, Ofsted gives no credit for this work.

Lucas went on to discuss recent reports on Live Music including research from Arts Council England and Youth Music, and Participation in Culture and Sport, published by the DCMS Select Committee. He said that while it is clear all these reports give the same message concerning the value of music education, that message is not getting through to Government. 

When the discussion was opened up to the floor, Kevin Brennan, MP for Cardiff West, said that schools should not be awarded ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted unless they have a strong music offer.  Tracy Brabin, MP for Batley and Spen stressed that music should not be just about Head Teachers and Heads of Music.

Discussion about Music Hubs flagged up the fact that funding will be ending in 2020 and at present Hubs have no information about future funding. This naturally makes planning impossible and results in a workforce who have an uncertain future.

Wera Hobhouse, MP for Bath, explained that the focus on linking sports to health benefits has enhanced the delivery of sport. She suggested that stronger links should be made when it comes to the positive effect of music on mental health. She stressed her concern that music and the Arts are becoming only available to the elite. A suggestion was made that funding for music be ringing-fenced, as funding for sport has been, with a focus on schools working with their local music hubs. MPs agreed to explore this as an option.

Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the ISM, admitted that there is pressure on finances, but said that music in schools is also being squeezed by time pressures with the focus on SATs and other exams.

One Music Hub raised the point that Music Hubs are tasked with working with every school in their area, but schools are not pressured to work with their local Music Hub. It was also highlighted that some schools that join an Academy chain are told they cannot use their local music hub and must instead use suppliers identified by the Academy chain.

The second panel member, Zena Creed, Director of Communications and External Relations for The Russell Group, updated the attendees on recent developments at the Russell Group Universities, including the changes to their subject choice guidance and the decision to scrap facilitating subjects. She highlighted that the previous approach by Russel Group Universities of highlighting ‘facilitating subjects’ at A-Level had led to confusion and potentially impacted negatively on the number of young people taking Arts A-Levels. Their new website has more specific guidance and is now actively promoting Music and other Arts A-Levels.

The third speaker was Dr Alison Daubney, Senior Teaching Fellow at the University of Sussex and author of the recent Music Education: State of the Nation report. She underlined the lack of KS2 and Year 9 music in some schools, and the decline in the number of young people taking GCSE and A-Level music – leading to Music becoming the fastest disappearing A-Level subject. She mentioned that some geographical areas have no A-Level music applications and that the strongest number of applications come from private schools: In essence, there is no equitable access to A-Level music across the country. 

Dr Daubney also discussed the lack of Ofsted reports exploring music, pointing out that where music is discussed, it is sometimes only mentioned in one sentence in the report! She emphasised her concerns that Music Hubs are being expected to be ‘all-things-to-all-people’, delivering early years through to A-Level.

It was mentioned that the system of bell curve marking severely impacted the number of students getting high grades due to the small number of applicants which may encourage high achieving students to select other subjects at A-Level.

Two key concerns for many in the room were the fact that Academies do not have to follow the National Curriculum and the impact of the EBacc, something the ISM have been actively campaigning against. The worry is that with no requirement to teach music in Academies and no focus on the Arts in the EBacc, many schools will choose to omit music from the classroom altogether.”

Are you a teacher or music educator? We’d love to hear your response to these points and your ideas for the future of music education. Let us know in the comments or find us on Facebook.

Kubrick and the Timelessness of Classical Music

2018 is the 50th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking science fiction film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The narrative follows a voyage to Jupiter with a sentient computer called HAL. It explores themes of human evolution, technology, existentialism, artificial intelligence and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. The film features scientifically accurate depictions of spaceflight, ambitious imagery and groundbreaking special effects.

However, the aspect that arguably makes the film so memorable is the use of sound. Dialogue is sparse – there are only 40 minutes of it in a two and a half hour movie – and rather than the constant underscoring to which film audiences have become accustomed, almost no music is used in scenes with dialogue.

When there is music, the choice and use of music is significant. Whilst two composers, first Frank Cordell, then leading Hollywood professional Alex North were engaged to score the film, Cordell never got off the starting blocks, and Kubrick abandoned North’s score, deciding instead to use a selection of pieces of classical music – pieces that have now become synonymous with the film – marrying music from an age with which we might feel detached with an exploration of an age we have not yet lived.

In 1968 the use of classical music in films was not new (for example, David Lean used Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto to great effect in his film Brief Encounter in 1945) it had been standard practice since the dawn of the ‘talkies’ to score music directly for each film. In fact, a major part of the appeal for movie audiences was the chance to hear new, original music.

And film music had been as original as it comes from the start. For the 1951 film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Bernard Herrmann pioneered an early form of multi-track recording, laying down the sound of two Hammond organs, a vibraphone, an electrically-amplified violin and a pair of Theremins. ‘

Seven years later, in 1958, Louis and Bebe Barron generated the world’s first all-electronic film score for Forbidden Planet. The score was so modernist that the studio billed them as creators of “electronic tonalities” rather than as musicians.

Despite his very different approach, Kubrick’s use of music was breathtakingly innovative, both in the illustrative power of music to support visual effects and in the way he managed to create such originality with pre-existing music.

Take the “stargate” sequence near the end of the film. It’s nothing more than a mosaic of brilliant colours rushing past and would have been completely ineffective without the music of György Ligeti, yet the scene was not conceived around the music any more than the music was written for the scene.

In this scene, the vast loneliness of space is wonderfully expressed in Khachaturian’s Adagio from the Gayane Ballet Suite.

Ligeti was understandably shocked on attending the Vienna premiere of the film to discover that four of his compositions had been used without permission. He was later to receive a modest payment from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM) and substantial royalties. However, by acknowledging Ligeti’s work in the final credits, Kubrick made the composer world famous and the two became friends over subsequent collaborations. Alex North was equally shocked to discover that his score had been totally dropped.

Although MGM Studios were not advocates of the ‘unoriginal’ soundtrack, they were perhaps instrumental in its existence. In March 1966, the studio had become concerned about the progress of the film. Kubrick put together a show reel of footage to an ad hoc soundtrack of classical recordings. The studio bosses were delighted with the results, and Kubrick abandoned North’s score in favour of his ‘guide pieces’. 

Kubrick explained his reasoning in an interview with Michel Ciment:

However good our best film composers may be, they are not a Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music available from the past and from our own time? When you are editing a film, it’s very helpful to be able to try out different pieces of music to see how they work with the scene…Well, with a little more care and thought, these temporary tracks can become the final score.

The most easily recognised piece and the one perhaps most associated with 2001 is the opening theme from the Richard Strauss tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra(Usually translated as “Thus Spake Zarathustra” or “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”.

The theme is used both at the start and the conclusion of the film.

While the end music credits do not list a conductor and orchestra for Also Sprach Zarathustra, Kubrick wanted the Herbert von Karajan/Vienna Philharmonic version. Decca executives did not want their recording ‘cheapened’ by association with the movie, and so gave permission for its use on the condition that the conductor and orchestra were not named. When the movie was a massive success, the label tried to rectify its blunder by re-releasing the recording with an “As Heard in 2001” flag printed on the album cover…

The full track listing comprises only six pieces of music:

  1. Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss         
  2. Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, 2 Mixed Choirs and Orchestra by György Ligeti
  3. Lux Aeterna by György Ligeti
  4. The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II
  5. Gayane Ballet Suite (Adagio) by Aram Khachaturian
  6. Atmosphères by György Ligeti
  7. The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II
  8. Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss

It’s notable that Kubrick’s spaceships waltzed to the Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II while NASA was girding its technological loins to put the first man on the moon.

2001: A Space Odysseyis widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. In 1991, the United States Library of Congress deemed it to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry. Sight & Soundmagazine ranked 2001: A Space Odysseysixth in the top ten films of all time in its 2002 and 2012 critics’ polls editions. It also won joint second place in the magazine’s 2012 directors’ poll. In 2010, it was named the greatest film of all time by The Moving Arts Film Journal (source Wikipedia).

The Etiquette of Applause

It’s a question that comes up seemingly annually, often around the BBC Proms Season, it’s confusing and even controversial in classical music: when it the “correct” time to clap? The Music Workshop Company’s Founder and Artistic Director, Maria Thomas, shares her feelings about applause and its impact on the concert experience.

“Different styles of music each have their own traditions about when clapping is appropriate. In Latin American music clapping along to the music is often encouraged. In jazz is it usual to clap immediately after a solo and then again at the end of piece. In classical music, recent tradition suggests audiences should refrain from clapping until the end of the piece, signified by the conductor placing the baton down on the music stand, rather than at the end of each movement. The etiquette of clapping in opera seems to be particularly nuanced depending on programming and venue.

The topic of concert etiquette is so challenging it even has its own Wikipedia page.

Note that I mentioned “recent tradition” with reference to Classical Music above. In the past it was usual for audiences to applaud between the movements of symphonies, and if enough enthusiasm was shown, a movement would be repeated before the next movement was played. The response of audiences indicated to composers and performers the views of those listening.

[Image: Domdomegg]

However, in the 19th and 20th Century there was a move to restrict clapping so audiences would only applaud at the end of a piece. Mahler apparently specified in the score of his Kindertotenlieder that its movements should not be punctuated by applause.

The debate on clapping in classical music has been raging for decades. Arthur Rubinstein, the pianist, said in a 1966 interview, “It’s barbaric to tell people it is uncivilized to applaud something you like.” Alex Ross’s discussion in The Rest Is Noise gives a variety of examples of the debate.

Back in 2016, the Telegraph discussed the response to clapping in between movements at the Proms and reported that many regular ‘prommers’ dislike the habit, whereas Proms Director David Pickard believes it is a good thing:

If you’re listening to something and you think it’s exciting you applaud it.

This year the question was raised again by Chi Chi Nwanoku, double bass player and Founder of the Chineke! Orchestra. In an article in the Guardian, Nwanoku states:

I despair when anyone is reprimanded for showing their spontaneous response at the end of a movement, particularly a heady one that ends on a high… It’s absolutely fantastic to be on the receiving end of rapturous and spontaneous applause.

The Guardian’s letters page featured a number of responses to this comment, some agreeing with Nwanoku’s opinion:

It is intellectual snobbery at its worst to maintain that one must listen to the entire work in silence.

And some disagreeing:

The silence at the end was a profoundly emotional one. And it was into that silence that a small amount of applause broke the spell.

Those who support the idea of clapping in between the movements of a classical work seem to come both from both sides of the performance; auditorium and the stage.

As Nwanoku discussed, reasons for accepting that people will clap in between movements include cultural differences and the possibility that people might be put off attending concerts because they don’t understand the etiquette or are worried about getting something wrong.

As both a performer and concert-goer (including regularly as a ‘prommer’), I know what I prefer in the concert hall, and that is saving the clapping until the end. As noted by the Guardian letter-writer above, there is often a magical moment at the end of a movement, a short pause before moving into the next.

In a similar way, I find it frustrating when a classical radio station plays individual movements of symphonies. The end of the movement is reached, and if I know the work I am mentally preparing for the opening of the next movement when the presenter speaks…

I also find it frustrating in jazz gigs when audiences clap over the music to acknowledge a solo.

As one of the Guardian letter-writers acknowledged:

I would never be so rude as shushing those who clap between movements, but that doesn’t mean that I like it.

So is there an alternative way for audiences to show their appreciation? Orchestral musicians shuffle their feet when a colleague has performed particularly well. It can only be heard by those nearby and is designed to be a subtle movement and sound, but large audiences doing this would still break that magical silence.

How about adopting an alternative way of showing appreciation that is in use by many people already – the gesture of waving both hands in the air, sometimes called ‘jazz hands’ that is used by the deaf community and others such as those with autism. It allows people to ‘applaud’ without breaking the peace, and for those who do not want to be disturbed between movements, they can shut their eyes and enjoy the silence.”

How do you feel about concert etiquette and applause? Does clapping between movements bother you, or would you prefer to be able to spontaneously express your appreciation of a particularly fine performance? Is it elitist or respectful to follow tradition? Would worries about correct etiquette put you off attending concerts? Let us know what you think!

[Image: Niccolò Caranti]

Higher Education: What’s Right for You?

Although the deadline for applying to conservatoires and music colleges has passed, the closing date for university applications through UCAS (UCAS.com) is the 15th January 2018.

This gives plenty of time for potential applicants to consider whether they want to study at university, and if so, which university and which course best suits them.

Alex Baxter, Programme Leader Music Technology Programmes at the University of Hertfordshire advises:

The best degree courses expose their students to the huge range of connected areas which make up music technology as a whole – including those that students may not know even exist when they start their course.  Industry accredited degrees highlight that the broader industry sees the course content as being relevant to current industry practice, and this also offers excellent opportunities for industry input, and live projects where students’ developing techniques can be applied.  Universities which foster collaboration opportunities between courses (ie music technology students working with film & TV and animation students) offer that great extra dimension, as does the opportunity to study abroad or take a work placement.

UCAS offer 1,763 courses with ‘music’ in the title. These range from BMus(Hons) and BA(Hons) in Music to courses in Music Production, Songwriting, Music Performance, Community Music, Music Psychology, Music Technology, Music Composition, Music Business, Musical Theatre, Commercial Music, Digital Music, Popular Music, Sound Design, Composition for Film & Games and Music Industry Management…

That’s before looking at Joint Honours Programmes: Music and another subject.

[Image: Emily]

 

Supporters of universities suggest that benefits for students include the opportunity to study an area of interest, meeting people with both similar and different interests, making connections with fellow students, lecturers and industry, and improving job prospects.

With current fees in the UK at £9,250 per year for many degree courses, plus the additional costs of study (text books, resources, accommodation, travel etc.), it’s important to consider whether university study is for you.

There is a big difference between studying for A-Levels or BTEC and studying at university. Although universities offer a range of support services, particularly for those with learning needs, university studies are much more focussed on individual study and research. This requires self-discipline and focus.

Choosing the right university for you is also important. Different universities have different specialisms and contacts within particular Industries or Sectors. For example, if you are considering studying Music Business or Music Industry Management, you may want to study in or close to London to take advantage of the opportunities in London for internships and attending Industry events.

Universities also have different ‘feels’. Attending open days where you can meet staff and current students and check out the facilities can help you get a good feel for each institution.

[Image: Ольга Жданова]

The teaching staff are also a key element of your university experience, so research the teaching team. See what research they have been involved in, what their position in the industry is and how active they are outside the university. Also find out about industry speakers and alumni. Developing your network while still at university is crucial to developing a career on graduation.

When selecting a university, key questions to ask yourself include:

  • Do you want to live at home or move away?
  • If you want to move away, does the university have halls and suitable accommodation nearby?
  • If studying music, what aspect of music do you want to study? What might you want to do as a job?
  • Do you want an academic programme or a more vocational one?
  • Do you want to study with particular tutors/lecturers?

Key questions to ask the University include:

  • How much contact time do you get on the course? What wider support is available?
  • What experience do you get on the course? For example performing opportunities, recording, managing live projects?
  • What opportunities does the course give for Studying Abroad or a Work Placement as part of the degree?
  • Does the course focus on a specific discipline or does it give you a wide overview of your chosen area?
  • How involved in the programme are named tutors?
  • How many students are in each cohort / class?
  • What jobs do recent graduates get? Where are alumni working 3 – 5 years after graduation?

[Image: Danchuter]

The key to finding the right path for you is in looking at the most important aspects of study thoroughly. The most important decisions centre around whether or not to go to university, which course to study and where to study. It’s vital to take time to visit any universities you’re considering, and to seek advice from family, friends and people in your preferred industry.

The author of this blog, MWC’s Maria Thomas, is a Senior Lecturer on the Music Industry Management course at the University of Hertfordshire. 


If you would like to speak to the Music Workshop Company about anything in this blog, or to book a workshop, contact us today:

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