Happy Birthday Giuseppe Verdi the "King of Opera"

Image result for verdi


He was born near Busseto to a provincial family of moderate means, and developed a musical education with the help of a local patron. Verdi came to dominate the Italian opera scene after the era of Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Gioachino Rossini, whose works significantly influenced him.

He struggled for success and in 1842, at age 28, it finally came with his bold new opera Nabucco, about the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. While the opera is justly famous for its moving chorus "Va, pensiero" — which became a rallying cry for Italy's struggle for independence and was sung spontaneously by a few hundred thousand people at Verdi's funeral in 1901 — it should be noted that the entire opera is a forward thrusting, rollicking affair. You would not be incorrect in describing it as "ass-kicking Verdi."





It's fun to trivialize Trovatore, Verdi's 18th opera, because of its outlandish plot. The Marx brothers spoofed it magnificently (but with a palpable appreciation) in their 1935 film A Night at the Opera. OK, so an old gypsy woman throws the wrong baby into the bonfire, setting off a string of unfortunate events. It could happen to anyone! Still, Trovatore is a treasure trove of some of Verdi's best and most hummable tunes, and they come lickety-split one after another. There's the crowd-pleasing "Anvil Chorus," plus "Di quella pira," with its brain-splitting high notes for the tenor, two gorgeous arias for soprano ("Tacea la notte" and "D'amor sull'ali rosee"), the exuberant "Stride la vampa" for the mezzo-soprano and "Il balen," a gorgeous moment of reflection for the baritone.



Verdi's operas act on deeply sociopolitical levels, and La Traviata is a perfect example. Here Verdi empowers the common individual. The opera stars a prostitute — something unheard of at the time — and she's the smartest, most sane and honest person in the opera. It takes very little imagination to see how this realistic story (nice boy falls in love with hooker, who breaks up with him to save his family's honor) dovetails with our contemporary concerns. La Traviata was also an act of daring for Verdi, a little jab at the conservatives of his native Parma who balked at the fact that he wasn't married to the woman he lived with. The lead soprano role is so multifaceted and difficult it almost requires three different types of sopranos to pull it off.


By the time Verdi wrote Simon Boccanegra, he was the king of opera. Even so, Boccanegra flopped at its 1857 premiere. (Verdi revised it successfully 24 years later.) It's not too nerdy to note that whatever one thinks of the convoluted plot (a 14th century doge, amid intense political maneuvering, manages to find his long-lost daughter), the work contains examples of two Verdi trademarks: The father-daughter duet and the "Verdi baritone." Verdi excelled at richly drawn, highly expressive roles for the baritone voice (Rigoletto, Falstaff, Macbeth, Iago, Nabucco) and Boccanegra is one of the most rewarding and detailed. He also focused on father-daughter relationships and the duet "Orfanella il tetto umile" from Boccanegra's first act, when he realizes Amelia is indeed his daughter, is a two-hankie affair.


Near the end of Verdi's incredible six decades in opera, he threatened to quit, but instead came up with one fresh work after another. Finally, after some two dozen serious operas, he capped it all off with a comedy. Falstaff is witty and furiously paced but with the autumnal warmth of an old man looking back on his life with a chuckle. Falstaff's Act 3 monologue is a slice of operatic heaven. Drenched from being dumped in the river (with the laundry), Falstaff muses on his fate in a cruel world. As the wine warms his immense belly in the late afternoon sun, he's revived, and the trill of a cricket (listen for it in the music!) brings a smile. Falstaff is one of three ingenious operas (with Macbeth and Otello) Verdi based on Shakespeare. The composer ends his final masterwork with a chorus of "Tutto nel mondo è burla" — everything in the world is a joke.

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Children and Music

An infant at a piano

There is no downside to bringing children and music together through fun activities. We are able to enjoy the benefits of music from the moment we’re born. Although a good dose of Mozart is probably not increasing our brain power, it’s enjoyable and beautiful. From the pure pleasure of listening to soothing sounds and rhythmic harmonies, to gaining new language and social skills music can enliven and enrich the lives of children and the people who care for them.


Toddlers and Music: Toddlers love to dance and move to music. The key to toddler music is repetition, which encourages language and memorization. Silly songs make toddlers laugh. Try singing a familiar song and inserting a silly word in the place of the correct word, like “Mary had a little spider” instead of lamb. Let children reproduce rhythms by clapping or tapping objects.

Preschoolers and Music: Preschoolers enjoy singing just to be singing. They aren’t self-conscious about their ability and most are eager to let their voices roar. They like songs that repeat words and melodies, use rhythms with a definite beat, and ask them to do things. Preschool children enjoy nursery rhymes and songs about familiar things like toys, animals, play activities, and people. They also like finger plays and nonsense rhymes with or without musical accompaniment.

School-Age Children and Music: Most young school-age children are intrigued by kids’ singalong songs that involve counting, spelling, or remembering a sequence of events. School-age children begin expressing their likes and dislikes of different types of music. They may express an interest in music education, such as music lessons for kids.

Teens and Music: Teenagers may use musical experiences to form friendships and to set themselves apart from parents and younger kids. They often want to hang out and listen to music after school with a group of friends. Remember those days of basement and garage bands? Teens often have a strong interest in taking music lessons or playing in a band.


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A fun lesson in how to get kids into classical music


 

While the merits of classical music are almost limitless, it is oftentimes a bit tricky to get kids to listen to and love it. With this problem in mind, one of our favorite experimental groups has decided to find a novel way to approach and answer the question. Take a look and listen.

By transforming contemporary pop, which kids all love, into some legendary classical compositions, the group
CDZA, short for Collective Cadenza,, has taken a very fun, "spoonful of sugar" approach to the classic (ba-dump-bump!) problem. They write about this latest project:

How do you teach the classics to students today? How do you get students thinking critically about how Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach are relevant to music today? These composers provide the building blocks of modern music, and are necessary knowledge to a well-rounded musical education, but how do you get students to pay attention to these long-deceased classical music masters?

CDZA presents an innovative way to connect with students and teach them the classics.


Happy Birthday George Gershwin

George Gershwin wrote great songs and shows for the theatre, but he always fancied himself as a serious composer. And he was - in fact, one of the 20th century’s greatest.

George Gershwin piano composer


George Gershwin was born in New York City into a Russian Jewish immigrant family. As a boy, George frequented the local Yiddish theatres, ran errands for them and appeared onstage as an extra. Around the age of 10, he took to playing the piano his parents had bought for his older brother Ira.

Young George GershwinThe acclaimed piano teacher Charles Hambitzer took Gershwin on at the age of 14 and immediately realized the level of talent he had on his hands. ‘I have a new pupil who will make his mark if anybody will. The boy is a genius,’ Hambitzer wrote to his sister. Gershwin was sent off to concerts and given significant pieces by the great composers to learn for the piano. Hambitzer's efforts certainly paid off.

Gershwin began his career as a song plugger in New York’s Tin Pan Alley. To earn extra, he also worked as a rehearsal pianist for Broadway singers. In 1916, he composed his first published song, ‘When You Want ’Em You Can’t Get ’Em.’ His first big hit was 'Swanee', composed in 10 minutes on a bus. Not long afterwards, the singer Al Jolson heard it and recorded it. ‘Swanee’ sold a million sheet music copies, and an estimated two million records. It became the biggest-selling song of Gershwin’s career.


 
In his 20s, Gershwin started composing Broadway musical theatre works with his brother Ira writing the lyrics. They even created an experimental one-act jazz opera Blue Monday, set in Harlem – a pre-cursor to Porgy and Bess. In 1924, the brothers collaborated on the stage musical Lady Be Good, which included the classic song Fascinating Rhythm. 


 
Gershwin's most ambitious composition was Porgy and Bess, which he called a ‘folk opera’. The action takes place in the fictional neighbourhood of Catfish Row, South Carolina. The opera contains some of Gershwin's most sophisticated music and some huge hit arias – ‘Summertime’, ‘I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'’ and ‘It Ain't Necessarily So’. When it was first performed in 1935, it was a box office flop. It is now widely regarded as one of the most important American operas of the 20th century.

After the disappointing reception for Porgy and Bess, Gershwin moved to Hollywood and worked on many film scores. His music for Shall We Dance, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, married ballet with jazz in a new way, and ran for more than an hour in length. It took Gershwin several months to write and orchestrate it.


 
Early in 1937, Gershwin began to complain of blinding headaches and there were signs he was suffering coordination problems. He was diagnosed with a brain tumour. An operation was unsuccessful, and Gershwin died on 11 July at the age of 38.

From the opening clarinet glissando of Rhapsody in Blue to such standards as 'Embraceable You' and 'Someone to Watch Over Me', Gershwin's music has been part of our world for almost a century. It evokes an era of glamour and sophistication and gave the United States its first authentic voice in the concert hall. The American singer Michael Feinstein has said, 'The Gershwin legacy is extraordinary because George Gershwin died in 1937, but his music is as fresh and vital today as when he originally created it.'

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Four composers at the court of Louis XIV

A quick look at those who brought music to the Sun King’s palace


Louis XIV was crowned King of France in 1654. His reign of 72 years and 110 days is the longest recorded of any monarch in European history, and he is often seen as the echt example of an absolute monarch – his power, so he perceived, came directly from God. His enthusiasm for the arts brought about musical riches that were the envy of Europe, and influenced composers for years to come.

While the French court was aware of Italian operatic practices, the musical styles that developed there in the late 17th century were considerably different. Castrati were not a common sight in France, and there was a significant emphasis on vocal and instrumental technique rather than the acrobatic, virtuosic performances seen in Italy. Here, we introduce four of the composers present at Louis XIV's court, as well as our recommended works.


Lully

The Italian born Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-87) – composer, dancer, violinist and comedian – was the architect of the French national style. He became the most powerful musician in France, a true Troubadour of the era, and held a virtual monopoly over court music. His music is known for its power and vivacity: lively in the fast movements, deep and emotional in the slower. He is also credited with the invention of the French overture, a musical form used extensively in the Baroque and Classical eras, particularly by Handel and Bach. He died from gangrene after driving a conducting stick through his foot.





Lalande

Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) was head of music in the Chapel Royal for longer than any other composer. In this capacity he brought the grand motet – a sacred work pleasing to Louis XIV because of its pomp and grandeur – to its zenith. He delighted in contrasting solo airs with homophonic (all parts moving together like a hymn) semi-choirs, and large choruses using many voices moving independently.






Hotteterre Family

The Hotteterres were a multitalented family of woodwind players, composers and makers, who in about 1670 did a makeover on the flute, oboe and bassoon. This greatly improved the tuning and tone, and enabled players to perform in an increased range of keys. The family’s most celebrated member was Jacques-Martin Hotteterre, whose first published work, Principes de la Flute Traversière (1707) is the first known essay on flute-playing. The Hotteterres wrote lots of tuneful suites and sonatas for wind instruments.






Couperin Le Grand

François Couperin (1668-1733) was the greatest French composer between Lully and Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) and the finest composer of chamber music. His exquisite works, likened in their detail to the paintings of Watteau, combine highly ornamented refined melodies with sumptuous harmony. He was known as Couperin ‘the Great’, with the inclusion of the epithet to distinguish him from other members of the musically talented Couperin family.




This article first appeared in the August 2008 issue of the BBC Music Magazine
More at ClassicalMusic.com



Classical music inspired by the Jazz Age:


Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue

When it comes to jazzy classical music, Gershwin's your guy. His Rhapsody in Blue from 1924 is one of the most famous examples of his unique style, from the boozy opening clarinet tune to the virtuosic piano solos throughout. It encapsulates the spirit of the Jazz Age - so much so, that Baz Lurhmann uses the piece to accompany the decadent party scene in his film adaptation of The Great Gatsby.



 

Copland, Piano Concerto 

"The slow blues and the snappy number". That's how Copland described the two sections of his impressive Piano Concerto, and it sums up the 1926 piece pretty perfectly. It's the ultimate example of jazz-classical fusion, both indulgent and refined in equal measure.




Gershwin, An American in Paris

Strolling through the streets of Paris in 1920s, this piece attempts to capture the sights and sounds of the city. Gershwin even brought back a few horns from Parisian taxis to add some authentic Parisian noise to the New York premier.




Weill, The Threepenny Opera

European swing, American jazz, and opera. It's all there in Weill's 1928 opera, set, unexpectedly, in Victorian London. The opening song, The Ballad of Mackie Messer, translated into English as Mack the Knife, has now become a jazz standard in its own right.

Songs from The Threepenny Opera have been widely covered and become standards, most notably "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer" ("The Ballad of Mack the Knife") and "Seeräuberjenny" ("Pirate Jenny").






Stravinsky, Piano-Rag Music

Stravinsky proved himself in the field of angular tunes and stabbing rhythms in his 1910 ballet, The Firebird. It was only a matter of time before the quirky rag-time dance got its own treatment by the composer, and the results are remarkable - it's jazzy and jarring all at once, with a menacing sense of fun.

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Happy Birthday John Cage!



An American composer and music theorist. A pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde. Critics have lauded him as one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. He was also instrumental in the development of modern dance, mostly through his association with choreographer Merce Cunningham, who was also Cage's romantic partner for most of their lives.

Born in Los Angeles in 1912, Cage studied for a short time at Pamona College, and later at UCLA with classical composer Arthur Schoenberg. There he realized that the music he wanted to make was radically different from the music of his time. “I certainly had no feeling for harmony, and Schoenberg thought that that would make it impossible for me to write music. He said ‘You’ll come to a wall you won’t be able to get through.’ So I said, ‘I’ll beat my head against that wall.'” But it wasn’t long before Cage found that there were others equally interested in making art in ways that broke from the rigid forms of the past. Two of the most important of Cage’s early collaborators were the dancer Merce Cunningham and the painter Robert Rauschenberg.






The piece 4’33” written by John Cage, is possibly the most famous and important piece in twentieth century avant-garde. 4’33” was a distillation of years of working with found sound, noise, and alternative instruments. In one short piece, Cage broke from the history of classical composition and proposed that the primary act of musical performance was not making music, but listening.

Happy Birthday Claude Debussy


Born in 1862, Claude-Achille Debussy was one of the most important French composers ever to sit at a piano, but he also boasted a romantic history to make even the most salacious tabloid journalist salivate.

Aged just 18 Debussy began an eight-year affair with Blanche Vasnier, wife of a wealthy Parisian lawyer. After Blanche, Debussy lived ‘in sin’ with Garielle Dupont, a tailor’s daughter from Lisieux. He cheated on Gaby with Thérèse Roger (to whom he was briefly engaged) before leaving her for her friend, fashion model Rosalie Texier, whom he did eventually marry. Rosalie clearly had the looks but not the brain to interest Debussy long-term, and she was soon packed back to her father’s home when Debussy met the captivating Emma Bardac, the mother of one of his students and wife of a Parisian banker. It’s something of an understatement to say that Rosalie did not take the rejection well. She shot herself in the chest while standing in the middle of Paris’s Place de la Concorde. Amazingly she survived this violent suicide attempt, but the bullet stayed lodged in her spine until her death 28 years later.

Claude Debussy at the home of Ernest Chausson

This was one scandal too many for Debussy. He and the now pregnant Emma found themselves so unpopular that they were forced to flee to England, before eventually returning to France for the birth of their eponymous daughter Claude- Emma.

When Parisians first heard Debussy’s music they didn’t know what to make of it. It was different to anything they had heard before, but they liked it. His visionary Préludeàl’après-midi d’unfaune premiered in 1894 and even now when you listen to the music, every note is surprising. It sounds incredibly earthy and sensuous, yet deliciously light. Predictably the work was not without its critics, but it got a standing ovation at its premiere and it is still popular today.

Inspired by Stephane Mallarmé’s poem ‘Afternoon of a Faun’, the work tells of a faun trying to seduce two nymphs. The poem is full of the sounds of nature and has a sultry, hazy atmosphere, all of which can be heard in the music. The faun tries to seduce his nymphs with sound by making a flute, an incident from the poem which can clearly be heard in the work. Just as Mallarmé’s Faun inspired Debussy, Debussy’s Faun inspired a ballet by the world renowned Vaslav Nijinsky in 1912.



Though he rejected the term himself, Debussy is considered to be a central figure of the Impressionist movement by music historians.

When Debussy died in Paris in March 1918 after a long illness, Stravinsky honored his colleague with a musical tribute:

 “I was sincerely attached to him as a man, and I grieved not only at the loss of one whose great friendship had been marked with unfailing kindness towards myself and my work, but at the passing of an artist who, in spite of maturity and health already hopelessly undermined, had still been able to retain his creative powers to the full, and whose musical genius had been in no way impaired throughout the whole period of his activity.”

When the Parisian Revue Musicale published a memorial supplement to Debussy, Stravinsky submitted a chorale that would, a short while later, form the final section of his Symphonies of Wind Instruments, a single-movement piece for twenty-four woodwind and brass instruments dedicated to the memory of Claude Debussy.






Was this man Beethoven’s ‘Salieri’?

Daniel Steibelt challenged the great composer to a duel.


The 1984 film Amadeus made Antonio Salieri practically a household word. After a couple of centuries of  relative obscurity, Salieri came to be known to moviegoers as the jealous confidant and rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Another musical great, Ludwig van Beethoven, also had a rival, though it’s unclear whether there is a filmmaker out there who is keen on telling his story on the silver screen.

The story of Daniel Steibelt came to light recently, thanks to an article at the website historycollection.co. Steibelt was “a German born classical pianist and composer“ who “apparently also had a huge ego because he challenged the one and only Beethoven to a musical duel in Vienna in 1800,” writes Lindsay Stidham.

Like Salieri, Steibelt achieved a modicum of success in his day. “He rose to great popularity with ‘La Coquette,’ a song he composed for Marie Antoinette,” Stidham writes. The young composer made his way to Vienna in 1800, where he first floated the idea of a duel with his fellow German composer, Beethoven, who accepted the challenge.

The city’s music patrons liked the idea of a duel between Steibelt and Beethoven. Each musician got a Prince to sponsor the idea.

The contest  took place at the home of Austrian nobleman Count Moritz von Fries. Steibelt brought along a string quintet, which performed a stormy composition, and with bravado, he improvised at the keyboard.

Beethoven, not to be outdone, picked up the sheet music from the string quintet, placed it on the piano upside down, and worked out his own improvisation on one of its themes, which he showed up to be overly simplistic. It was clearly the more inspired performance, and the gathering recognized it. Humiliated, Steibelt stormed out of the room while Beethoven was still playing, followed by his prince-benefactor.

Though Steibelt has been an obscure figure in recent years, he went on to have a fairly successful career, even writing music for Napoleon and Russian Czar Alexander I before his death in St. Petersburg in 1823.

But it’s the genius of Beethoven that has stood the test of time.



Daniel Steibelt (1765-1823) : Three Sonatas Op.51 - No.2

I. Allegro Moderato
II. Air Allemande avec Variations, Moderato

The second movement is variations on the well-known German air "Ach, du lieber Augustin".

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Seven of the best works by Rachmaninov



Rachmaninov's compositions were the last representations of the Romantic Style in Russia. Rachmaninov was born into a musical family and studied the piano at the Conservatoire in St Petersburg from the age of nine. Despite the enormous span of his hands, his technique was precise and clear. His incredible skills as a pianist make his compositions some of the most difficult for virtuoso pianists.


Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 3 No. 2 
Although less assertive than his later works, the Prelude in C sharp minor won Rachmaninov much of his early popularity and became a frequently requested encore in concert. With its attractive 'dark-hued' disposition, it is impressive that this work was composed even before his graduation from the Conservatoire in St Petersburg in 1891.





Piano Concerto Op. 18 No. 2
Rachmaninov composed his second piano concerto after a particularly low period, professionally and emotionally, spurred by the difficult reception of his first symphony. The piece is notoriously difficult to play (not everyone can span 12 piano keys with one hand!), and was dedicated to his therapist, Dr. Nicolai Dhal, who encouraged him to start composing again despite bouts of depression.





Prelude Op. 23 No. 5 
One of 24 movements in this cycle, No. 5 is a brief, melodic and delicate Prelude. The floating melody, which gradually gains momentum, shows something of Rachmaninov's idiomatic piano writing and perhaps even subtle evocations of Debussy's piano music.





'Bogoroditse devo' from his All-Night Vigil 
This painfully evocative movement is set to the well-known Ave Maria text taken from the Russian Orthodox All-Night Vigil ceremony. The texture is dense throughout and reaches an emotional climax.





Prelude Op. 32 No. 7
This prelude adopts a mysterious quality thanks to the recurring dotted rhythmic motif. Tonal ambiguity constantly asks the listener to interpret whether the piece leans more towards a major or minor tonal world.





The Isle of the Dead (1908) 
This atmospheric orchestral piece shows the ease with which Rachmaninov was able to evoke a sense of place via musical means (tone-painting). Inspired by a painting by Arnold Bocklin, the orchestral colours reflect the sounds of waves and oars as they meet the dark waters, in a characteristically late Romantic style.





Moment Musicaux (1829) 
This set of solo piano pieces are similar to miniatures: each moment musical features unique passage work, and sound like separate introspective worlds. The miniature size of these pieces show a more humble side to Rachmaninov's usual bravura virtuoso style.



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8 Reasons You Should Listen More To Classical Music


1. It makes your brain work better

At Northumbria University (UK), a research team performed some experiments on students’ brain functioning when doing tests while they listened to Vivaldi’s Spring concerto. They were answering faster and better than when they listened to the sadder Autumn concerto. The conclusion was that brain activity is improved when listening to pleasant and arousing stimuli. If you want to refresh your memory on the uplifting Vivaldi Spring concerto, you can listen to it here.

2. It helps people with dementia

If a loved one suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s, it is well worth noting the studies showing how music can help them to regain memories and enormously improve their quality of life. Watch the video here of a man who was brought back to life by listening to music he loved in the past. If your loved one was particularly fond of any music, classical or non, they can be enormously helped by listening to the same music. The explanation is that because music affects many parts of the brain, it can reawaken those parts of the brain not affected by dementia. This is especially true when the music is linked to a particular event or memory. It is fascinating to read the book by the late neurologist Oliver Sacks called Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain which explains the phenomenon and recounts many moving stories.

“People with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias can respond to music when nothing else reaches them. Alzheimer’s can totally destroy the ability to remember family members or events from one’s own life—but musical memory somehow survives the ravages of disease, and even in people with advanced dementia, music can often reawaken personal memories and associations that are otherwise lost.”- Oliver Sacks

3. It can help you sleep better

There are many studies on the beneficial effects of classical music on sleep quality. One study shows that a group of students who listened to relaxing classical music were getting much better sleep quality than when they were exposed to an audio book, for example. Researchers are convinced that music is better than verbal stimuli for the purposes of relaxing body and mind before sleep.

4. It can calm you down when driving

Are you prone to road rage at times? The German government is worried about the high number of road accidents on the country’s motorways (2.4 million annually). Many of these accidents are caused by aggressive driving and road rage. To counteract this, the German Ministry of Transport has released a CD for drivers which features Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21. played by the Minister himself! He hopes that the soothing effects of music will calm drivers down. (Fun fact: There is no word in German for road rage). Let us hope they will not need it now.

5. It can help reduce pain

Various studies show that listening to music can reduce post operative and chronic pain especially after surgery. It will never replace painkillers of course but will be a great help in reducing depression, disability and pain. The reason seems to be that it can help to tune out the pain by increasing the brain’s reward center, thereby alleviating the sensation of pain.

“One good thing about music, is when it hits you, you feel no pain.”- Bob Marley

6. It can help you express your emotions.

“If music be the food of love, play on, Give me excess of it.” – William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Music can express what we may never be capable of verbally and thank goodness for that. We may have to struggle with anger, love, depression and many other emotions and feelings. When we connect with music, we can begin to cope. It helps us to be more honest with ourselves. Research at The Southern Methodist University shows that when listening to classical music, undergraduate students were more communicative and open about their emotions. Everyone has their favorite playlist to help them when they feel romantic, lazy or exhausted. Listening to classical music helps you express your emotions in unique ways.

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” – Sigmund Freud

7. It can help blood pressure

It is fascinating to discover that cardiologists have found a connection between Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and our blood pressure levels. They found that this piece and many other classical music pieces are in natural sync with our own body’s natural rhythm and that helps to keep blood pressure at optimal levels. Professor Bernardi at the University of Pavia in Italy has done some interesting research on this.

8. It can help people on diets


You now how difficult it is to eat slowly, chew your food properly, and really enjoy it. Playing soft music and dimming lights in dining areas has been found to help people enjoy their food more and eat less! This is the main result of a study carried out at Cornell University. On the other hand, places like fast food joints use brighter lights to encourage fast eating and more profit for the business. You can improve the way you experience food by being more intentional in the way you eat, including playing soft music during meals.




Read more at Lifehack.com


The Composer and his Muse: Gustav and Alma Mahler



Not just the inspiration behind several of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies, Alma Mahler-Werfel (née Schindler) was the ultimate groupie of the twentieth century's European artistic elite, serving as muse to visionary men in many creative fields.  When Mahler first met her, she was already a renowned beauty in Viennese intellectual circles, with the painter Klimt wrapped around her little finger and an affair underway with her composition teacher Alexander von Zemlinsky.

During his second season in Vienna, Mahler acquired a spacious modern apartment on the Auenbruggerstrasse and built a summer villa on land he had acquired next to his new composing studio at Maiernigg. In November 1901, he met Alma Schindler, the stepdaughter of painter Carl Moll, at a social gathering that included the theatre director Max Burckhard. Alma was not initially keen to meet Mahler, on account of "the scandals about him and every young woman who aspired to sing in opera". The two engaged in a lively disagreement about a ballet by Alexander von Zemlinsky (Alma was one of Zemlinsky's pupils), but agreed to meet at the Hofoper the following day. This meeting led to a rapid courtship; Mahler and Alma were married at a private ceremony on 9 March 1902. Alma was by then pregnant with her first child, a daughter Maria Anna, who was born on 3 November 1902. A second daughter, Anna, was born in 1904.

Friends of the couple were surprised by the marriage and dubious of its wisdom. Mahler's family considered Alma to be flirtatious, unreliable, and too fond of seeing young men fall for her charms. Mahler was by nature moody and authoritarian—Natalie Bauer-Lechner, his earlier partner, said that living with him was "like being on a boat that is ceaselessly rocked to and fro by the waves". Alma soon became resentful that, on Mahler's insistence that there could only be one composer in the family, she had given up her music studies. She wrote in her diary: "How hard it is to be so mercilessly deprived of ... things closest to one's heart". Mahler's requirement that their married life be organised around his creative activities imposed strains, and precipitated rebellion on Alma's part; the marriage was nevertheless marked at times by expressions of considerable passion, particularly from Mahler.

The Adagietto of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony is dedicated to his young wife in what friends and contemporaries described as a “declaration of love”.



The Sixth may be subtitled Tragische but, ironically, his most pessimistic symphony was composed in 1903-4 during a period of relative domestic bliss and features a soaring melody widely known as the “Alma theme”.



He also dedicated the Eighth Symphony of a Thousand to his wife.



In June 1910, after becoming severely depressed in the wake their daughter  Maria's death who died of scarlet fever or diphtheria, Alma began an affair with the young architect Walter Gropius (later head of the Bauhaus), whom she met during a rest at a spa.

Alma's affair with the architect Walter Gropius wrenched from Mahler some of his most anguished musical outpourings. The manuscript of his Tenth, unfinished, symphony is littered with annotations of broken-hearted utterances: “Why hast Thou forsaken me?”… “To live for you! To die for you!”



Following the emotional crisis in their marriage after Gustav's discovery of Alma's affair with Gropius, Gustav began to take a serious interest in Alma's musical compositions, regretting his earlier dismissive attitude and taking promotional actions. Gustav edited some of her songs (Die stille Stadt, In meines Vaters Garten, Laue Sommernacht, Bei dir ist es traut, Ich wandle unter Blumen).Upon his urging, and under his guidance, Alma prepared five of her songs for publication (they were issued in 1910, by Gustav's own publisher, Universal Edition).

In February 1911, Gustav fell severely ill with an infection related to a heart defect that had been diagnosed several years earlier. He died on 18 May.


Beethoven Suffered from Lead Poisoning

Tests confirm that Ludwig van Beethoven suffered from lead poisoning. The legendary composer, who experienced decades of illness that left him in misery for most of his life, died in 1827.

Researchers aren't sure why his lead levels were so high, but they have some ideas. "There are many possibilities," says Bill Walsh, who headed a team that studied Beethoven's hair samples and fragments from his skull at the Department of Energy laboratory in Argonne, Ill.

The composer was a wine lover, and wine at the time was known to contain high lead levels. He also drank out of a goblet made partially of lead and stayed at a spa where he drank mineral water, Walsh says. But Walsh says Beethoven may not have been exposed to higher-than-normal lead levels. The composer may have been hyper-sensitive to lead and his body may not have been able to eliminate it, Walsh says. Walsh says researchers are convinced the hair and bone samples they tested are Beethoven's because they came from two different sources and were matched by DNA tests.

The blue rise at the center of the chart shows high levels in Beethoven's bones; the red lines show much lower levels in a bone from a control subject, who lived in the same historical period.

Argonne National Laboratory

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Around 1801, Beethoven began to lose his hearing. He suffered a severe form of tinnitus, a "roar" in his ears that made it hard for him to appreciate music and he would avoid conversation. Over time, his hearing loss became acute: there is a well-attested story that, at the premiere of his Ninth Symphony, he had to be turned round to see the tumultuous applause of the audience, hearing nothing. In 1802, he became depressed, and considered committing suicide. He left Vienna for a time for small Austrian town of Heiligenstadt, where he wrote the "Heiligenstadt Testament", in which he resolved to continue living through his
 art.  



As Beethoven's hearing loss worsened, he tried to improve his situation with these "hearing trumpets."  They did not work for him.

Beethoven's Ear Horns

As a result of Beethoven's hearing loss, a unique historical record has been preserved: he kept conversation books discussing music and other issues, and giving an insight into his thought. Even today, the conversation books form the basis for investigation into how he felt his music should be performed, and his relationship to art - which he took very seriously.


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The Man Who Wrote Mozart's words: Librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte


Lorenzo Da Ponte Engraving by Michele Pekenino
Lorenzo Da Ponte, was a Venetian priest and poet. Da Ponte wrote the words for 28 operas by 11 composers, including three of Mozart's greatest and most beloved operas — Don Giovanni, and The Marriage of Figaro and Così fan tutte.

At certain creative junctures, even the greatest of artistic minds depend on empathetic collaborators to unlock their true potential.

Mozart, of course, composed numerous operas – a total of 22 musical dramas, to be precise – but more than 225 years after his death, it remains the realm of scholarly critical debate why he enjoyed such a prodigious, prolific run alongside Da Ponte. It cannot be a coincidence – lightning, as they, say, does not strike twice, let alone thrice.

Historically, listeners have tended to overlook Da Ponte’s contributions, characterising the Venetian wordsmith as smartly workmanlike, rather than inspired – the true genius, of course, was Mozart, his librettist a historical footnote.

Yet it remains amusing to remember that, when the pair first met in 1783, it was Mozart who was starstruck by his illustrious elder. Some seven years the composer’s senior, Da Ponte was at that time already shining among Vienna’s brightest lights. As the official poet to the Habsburg’s court theatre, he was ironically best known for composing librettos for Antonio Salieri.

Mindful of Salieri’s success, and eager to establish himself further in the same city, Mozart surmised that the key to fame was penning an Italian “opera buffa” in the same light-hearted, comic mould.

"The best thing is when a good composer, who understands the stage enough to make sound suggestions, meets an able poet, that true phoenix,” Mozart wrote around this time.

He rightly supposed Da Ponte to be his “true phoenix”, yet the librettist repeatedly rejected the advances of the impoverished composer, overworked as he was writing for better-known names. Eventually, Mozart landed on a project he would not resist. A recent audience favourite had been Paisiello’s The Barber of Seville – more famously adapted by Rossini, three decades later, based on the French play of the same name by Pierre Beaumarchais.

Despite the fact the source material was banned, Mozart convinced Da Ponte to write a libretto based on its sequel, The Marriage of Figaro. After the latter succeeded in convincing his employer, Emperor Joseph II, that the play’s “subversive” content had been cut, the pair had themselves a modest hit.

Continuing the plot from Paisiello’s work, the opera told the farcical story of how the lowly barber Figaro eventually succeeds in marrying his beloved Susanna, despite the efforts of their lewd employer Count Almaviva.

Figaro was not quite the Viennese blockbuster Mozart was hankering after, running for only nine nights in total, but it did make history in its own way. Following the opera’s May 1786 premiere, conducted at the Burgtheater by Mozart himself, the stars returned to the stage for five encores, repeating favourite musical moments from the score – leading the impatient Joseph II to issue an official decree ordering that in future no vocal piece should be performed twice at the historic hall on a single evening.


However, Figaro did prove a smash in Prague, then the second city of the Habsburg Empire, early the next year, and Mozart was promptly commissioned to write another opera. This time it was Da Ponte who had the pertinent suggestion of revisiting the centuries-old tale of Don Juan.

The dramatic potential offered by this legendary libertine was to prove an intoxicating inspiration to Mozart, with the monumental Don Giovanni artistically eclipsing even its two chronological neighbours. Blurring the conventional boundaries between comedy and drama, there was a maturity and intensity to the score, and a metaphysical gravity to the theme, which paved the way for the romantic movement to come. The conflict between masked Juan’s roguish vice and Donna Anna’s earthly righteousness, between sensualist pleasure and religious invocation, willingly subverted Mozart’s perceived role as a mere entertainer.

Following its Prague premiere in October 1787, Don Giovanni was to have a rippling effect beyond the world of music – it is said Goethe began work on his masterpiece Faust after sitting down to the opera, while philosopher Kierkegaard was lyrically moved.

“The usefulness of Don Giovanni is that it puts a stake through the heart of the chocolate-box Mozart, the car-radio Mozart, the Mozart-makes-you-smarter Mozart,” once wrote the New Yorker music critic Alex Ross. “If the opera were played in bus stations or dentists’ waiting rooms, it would spread fear. It would probably cause perversion in infants.”


The pair’s final collaboration Così Fan Tutte, another opera buffa which premiered 43 months after The Marriage of Figaro. Translated directly as 'Women are Like That', Mozart reluctantly wrote the lead role of Fiordiligi for Da Ponte’s mistress Adriana Ferrarese del Bene.



Recent research has undermined the well-worn legend that Joseph II commissioned the work. Instead, newer research supports the ironic notion that Mozart took on the project after Salieri felt unable to score a libretto – a harbinger of the further changes in favour to come.

In either case, Così Fan Tutte marks something of anomaly in Da Ponte’s oeuvre, as one of the only two original librettos from a catalogue of more than 50 which were otherwise based on existing material.

It was to prove not just his final work with Mozart, but his last contribution to the city which made his celebrity. Shortly after its premiere, at Vienna’s Burgtheater in January 1790, Joseph II passed away and, haunted by malicious rumours, Da Ponte was exiled by the succeeding monarch, Leopold II. He fled to London, where he was persecuted by debt and arrest, and later New York, where he worked variously as a grocer, a milliner, bookseller and an Italian teacher. Mozart, meanwhile, went on to write just three more operas before his death less than two years later.














The Composer and His Muse: Salieri, Mozart and Nancy Storace


Did Salieri plot Mozart's demise to the point of actually poisoning him? Or is it just as fanciful as all those serpents and magic bells in the younger composer's opera The Magic Flute?

Antonio Salieri was a hugely influential composer of opera and a much in-demand teacher who taught Schubert, Beethoven and Liszt. The chances are, however, that you've only ever heard of Salieri because he happened to be the arch-rival of the irrepressible Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Or was he?

The rise of the poisoning tale

Mozart's rivalry with Salieri could have originated with an incident in 1781, when Mozart applied to be the music teacher of Princess Elisabeth of Württemberg, and Salieri was selected instead because of his reputation as a singing teacher. In the following year Mozart once again failed to be selected as the Princess' piano teacher.

In addition, when Lorenzo Da Ponte was in Prague preparing the production of Mozart's setting of his Don Giovanni, the poet was ordered back to Vienna for a royal wedding for which Salieri's Axur, re d'Ormus would be performed. Obviously, Mozart was not pleased by this.

Within six years of Salieri's death, the Russian writer Pushkin wrote a play, Mozart and Salieri , which portrayed the danger of envy. In 1898, Rimsky-Korsakov turned Pushkin's play into an opera. In both, it's suggested that Salieri's jealousy of Mozart led him to poison the younger composer.

However, even with Mozart and Salieri's rivalry for certain jobs, there is very little evidence that the relationship between the two composers was at all acrimonious beyond this, especially after 1785 or so, when Mozart had become established in Vienna. Rather, they appeared to usually see each other as friends and colleagues, and supported each other's work. In several of Mozart’s letters, there is evidence that the Italians (supposedly lead by Salieri) in Emperor Joseph’s court did get in the way of several attempts to advance Mozart's career, and some of these are portrayed in the film Amadeus. There is, however, no clear proof that Salieri hated Mozart or plotted against him or planned his death, although those ideas made for a much more exciting story.

Where the film rings true is in its portrayal of Mozart's uncanny improvisational ability, his computer memory and instant recall, his effortless skill at composition - "without setting down his billiard cue" - his talent for languages and his genius for musical and verbal mimicry. That the divine Mozart could also curse like a sailor, improvise obscene verses and even talk backwards was also true  though its doubtful Salieri and his faction would have been as offended by Mozart's language as he is in the film. The late 18th century was not noted for its delicacy of language. However - all quibbles aside - this moving and hugely entertaining film is still an excellent introduction to Mozart, his music and his world.


Lost cantata by Mozart and Salieri found in Prague



A long-lost composition co-written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri was rediscovered in the Czech National Museum in Prague. German musicologist and composer Timo Jouko Herrmann found the piece while doing research on Antonio Salieri in the collection of the Czech Museum of Music. It’s a libretto written by Lorenzo Da Ponte, a Venetian priest and poet who wrote the librettos for three of Mozarts most beloved operas — Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro and Così fan tutte — and published by printer to the Imperial court in Vienna Joseph von Kurzböck. Very unusually for a libretto, this one includes the sheet music in a simple piano arrangement. Mozart and Salieri’s names do not appear anywhere in the pamphlet, only their initials in the musical notation identifying which measures were written by which composer. There is also a third composer credited, one Cornetti, who is unknown under that name.

The piece is entitled Per la Ricuperata Salute di Ofelia (“For the recovered health of Ophelia”) and was written in 1785. The Ophelia in question was Nancy Storace, an English coloratura soprano who was friends with and muse to both Mozart and Salieri.


Nancy was a musical prodigy from a very young age. She gave her first public performance when she was eight years old and debuted at London’s Haymarket Theatre the next year. Her older brother Stephen was also a child prodigy, taught by his father to play violin so expertly that by the age of 10 he was performing the most complex, difficult pieces of the time.

Nancy traveled to Venice to take voice lessons from composer Antonio Sacchini and began getting professional gigs, rapidly rising from minor parts to leads and becoming something of a sensation. While still a teenager in 1782 she performed the role of Dorina in the Milan premiere of Giuseppe Sarti’s opera Fra I Due Litiganti Il Terzo Gode, a part that Sarti wrote specifically for her, to great acclaim.

When in 1783 Austrian Emperor Joseph II decided to put together a company dedicated to performances of Italian opera buffa (comic opera), he snapped up the 18-year-old Nancy Storace for his prima donna.

The opera that Nancy premiered was Antonio Salieri's La scuola de gelosi (The School of Jealousy), in which she took the role of the Countess Bandiera.  The plot of the opera involves love intrigues, attempted seductions and provocations to jealousy between members of the three different social strata: the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie and the working class, which was typical for plots in the early to late 1780s.


Mozart had first seen Nancy when she made her Viennese debut in Salieri’s La Scuola De’ Gelosi. He immediately fell in love with her as an artist and, it was rumored, their relationship actually went much deeper. Certainly Nancy and Stephen became part of Mozart’s circle and were often at his house, while he frequently had dinner with them and their mother.


The role of Susanna in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro was written for and first performed by her. it is possible that her lively acting style was the inspiration for the central character of Susanna.


When she was about to leave Vienna, Storace performed in a farewell concert on 23 February 1787. For this occasion Mozart wrote the concert recitative and aria "Ch'io mi scordi di te?

The rediscovery of Per la Ricuperata Salute di Ofelia underscores that Mozart and Salieri were on good terms in 1785, even though a few years earlier Mozart had written in letters to his father of his frustration with the Italian cabal at the Viennese court. He thought Salieri, Da Ponte and other Italians who had the ear of the Emperor were blocking his ascent, but by 1785 Mozart was well-established and was working closely with said Italians. Salieri would go out of his way to express approval of Mozart’s work, even directing performances of several of his compositions.

Vasiliy Shkafer as Mozart and Fyodor Shalyapin as Salieri
(Russian Private Opera, 1898)

Nonetheless, decades after Mozart’s premature death rumors were rife that Salieri had poisoned his rival. The rumor was immortalized in art when, six years after Salieri’s 1825 death, revered Russian poet Alexander Pushkin wrote a verse drama Mozart and Salieri that posited Salieri as the bitterly jealous poisoner of the greater man. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov set the play to music in the opera Mozart and Salieri, and playwright Peter Shaffer based his 1979 play Amadeus on Pushkin’s drama. That in turn was adapted for film in the Oscar-winning movie of the same name directed by Miloš Forman. So now when people think of Mozart and Salieri they think of a rivalry unto the death, when in fact the two men were on quite good terms.

And now, possibly for the first time and certainly for the first time in centuries, here is Per la Ricuperata Salute di Ofelia by Wolfgang Mozart and Antonio Salieri, played on the harpsichord by Lukas Vendl.






Sources:  http://www.classicfm.com/composers/mozart/guides/did-salieri-murder-mozart-mythbuster/#yi3zSJWK2xaMF3wI.99http://www.classicfm.com/composers/mozart/guides/mozart-love/#dS2kjorX0xDfOkRh.97
http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/40680 https://reelrundown.com/movies/Historical-Inaccuracies-in-Amadeus

Music Education: More Than Just Music!



Whether your child is the next Beyonce or more likely to sing her solos in the shower, she is bound to benefit from some form of music education. Research shows that learning the do-re-mis can help children excel in ways beyond the basic ABCs.

More Than Just Music


Research has found that learning music facilitates learning other subjects and enhances skills that children inevitably use in other areas. “A music-rich experience for children of singing, listening and moving is really bringing a very serious benefit to children as they progress into more formal learning,” says Mary Luehrisen, executive director of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation, a not-for-profit association that promotes the benefits of making music.

Making music involves more than the voice or fingers playing an instrument; a child learning about music has to tap into multiple skill sets, often simultaneously. For instance, people use their ears and eyes, as well as large and small muscles, says Kenneth Guilmartin, cofounder of Music Together, an early childhood music development program for infants through kindergarteners that involves parents or caregivers in the classes.

“Music learning supports all learning. Not that Mozart makes you smarter, but it’s a very integrating, stimulating pastime or activity,” Guilmartin says.

Language Development


“When you look at children ages two to nine, one of the breakthroughs in that area is music’s benefit for language development, which is so important at that stage,” says Luehrisen. While children come into the world ready to decode sounds and words, music education helps enhance those natural abilities. “Growing up in a musically rich environment is often advantageous for children’s language development,” she says. But Luehrisen adds that those inborn capacities need to be “reinforced, practiced, celebrated,” which can be done at home or in a more formal music education setting.

According to the Children’s Music Workshop, the effect of music education on language development can be seen in the brain. “Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways. Linking familiar songs to new information can also help imprint information on young minds,” the group claims.

This relationship between music and language development is also socially advantageous to young children. “The development of language over time tends to enhance parts of the brain that help process music,” says Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and a practicing musician. “Language competence is at the root of social competence. Musical experience strengthens the capacity to be verbally competent.”

Increased IQ


A study by E. Glenn Schellenberg at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, as published in a 2004 issue of Psychological Science, found a small increase in the IQs of six-year-olds who were given weekly voice and piano lessons. Schellenberg provided nine months of piano and voice lessons to a dozen six-year-olds, drama lessons (to see if exposure to arts in general versus just music had an effect) to a second group of six-year-olds, and no lessons to a third group. The children’s IQs were tested before entering the first grade, then again before entering the second grade.

Surprisingly, the children who were given music lessons over the school year tested on average three IQ points higher than the other groups. The drama group didn’t have the same increase in IQ, but did experience increased social behavior benefits not seen in the music-only group.

The Brain Works Harder

 
Research indicates the brain of a musician, even a young one, works differently than that of a nonmusician. “There’s some good neuroscience research that children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity than people not in music training. When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain,” says Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at the Peabody Preparatory of The Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches a specialized music curriculum for children aged two months to nine years.

In fact, a study led by Ellen Winner, professor of psychology at Boston College, and Gottfried Schlaug, professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, found changes in the brain images of children who underwent 15 months of weekly music instruction and practice. The students in the study who received music instruction had improved sound discrimination and fine motor tasks, and brain imaging showed changes to the networks in the brain associated with those abilities, according to the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that supports brain research.

Spatial-Temporal Skills


Research has also found a causal link between music and spatial intelligence, which means that understanding music can help children visualize various elements that should go together, like they would do when solving a math problem.

“We have some pretty good data that music instruction does reliably improve spatial-temporal skills in children over time,” explains Pruett, who helped found the Performing Arts Medicine Association. These skills come into play in solving multistep problems one would encounter in architecture, engineering, math, art, gaming, and especially working with computers.

Improved Test Scores


A study published in 2007 by Christopher Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, revealed that students in elementary schools with superior music education programs scored around 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math scores on standardized tests, compared to schools with low-quality music programs, regardless of socioeconomic disparities among the schools or school districts. Johnson compares the concentration that music training requires to the focus needed to perform well on a standardized test.

Aside from test score results, Johnson’s study highlights the positive effects that a quality music education can have on a young child’s success. Luehrisen explains this psychological phenomenon in two sentences: “Schools that have rigorous programs and high-quality music and arts teachers probably have high-quality teachers in other areas. If you have an environment where there are a lot of people doing creative, smart, great things, joyful things, even people who aren’t doing that have a tendency to go up and do better.”

And it doesn’t end there: along with better performance results on concentration-based tasks, music training can help with basic memory recall. “Formal training in music is also associated with other cognitive strengths such as verbal recall proficiency,” Pruett says. “People who have had formal musical training tend to be pretty good at remembering verbal information stored in memory.”

Being Musical


Music can improve your child’ abilities in learning and other nonmusic tasks, but it’s important to understand that music does not make one smarter. As Pruett explains, the many intrinsic benefits to music education include being disciplined, learning a skill, being part of the music world, managing performance, being part of something you can be proud of, and even struggling with a less than perfect teacher.

“It’s important not to oversell how smart music can make you,” Pruett says. “Music makes your kid interesting and happy, and smart will come later. It enriches his or her appetite for things that bring you pleasure and for the friends you meet.”
While parents may hope that enrolling their child in a music program will make her a better student, the primary reasons to provide your child with a musical education should be to help them become more musical, to appreciate all aspects of music, and to respect the process of learning an instrument or learning to sing, which is valuable on its own merit.

“There is a massive benefit from being musical that we don’t understand, but it’s individual. Music is for music’s sake,” Rasmussen says. “The benefit of music education for me is about being musical. It gives you have a better understanding of yourself. The horizons are higher when you are involved in music,” he adds. “Your understanding of art and the world, and how you can think and express yourself, are enhanced.”
 


Laura Lewis Brown caught the writing bug as soon as she could hold a pen. For several years, she wrote a national online column on relationships, and she now teaches writing as an adjunct professor. She lives in Baltimore with her husband and three young children, who give her a lot of material for her blog, EarlyMorningMom.com.

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