Classical music and the science of the brain

Culture Monster

All the Arts, All the Time

RobtA new series that takes place in Santa Monica this spring will look at some of the big questions that connect classical music to the basics of human life -- emotion, evolution and the brain itself. The series, put on by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, will include music performances and addresses by three scientists intimately familiar with the overlap of music and the mind.

Dr. Peter Whybrow, a UCLA neuroscientist who has spent a lot of time thinking about creativity, will speak about depression and the way it can both provoke and frustrate musical talent. He’s concentrating mostly on composer Robert Schumann, but says that the patterns often recur.

For artists with mood disorders, he says, three things usually drive their work. “One, the ability to generate intelligence, which is tied to intelligence. Two, a prodigious memory to be able to manipulate those ideas, like keeping a score in your head. Third, mood swings turn things in a novel way. Some artists produce these by taking drugs. But it you have an instability of mood, which Schumann had, you have an acceleration of creativity. You feel an exuberance, which allows you to see things in novel ways.”

Schumann, like Van Gogh and many other artists and writers, likely had a combination of depression and a mild kind of mania called hypomania. “When you’re hypomaniac, you’re very willing to talk to anybody. People like to talk to you, and suddenly you ‘re the center of attention, which excites you because you’ve spent the last three years sitting against a wall drinking beer.”

This is a little different than more conventional mania, which sounds unpleasant. “They became sexually promiscuous, spending money they don’t have, running around insulting people. The manic people tend to fall out of favor.”

For more on the LACO’s series on music and the mind in my Arts & Books article, click here.

-- Scott Timberg

Lang Lang’s search for young pianists

Calling all youthful ivory ticklers! Lang Lang wants you to join him on stage...

Lang Lang has embarked on a quest to find young pianists to join him on the Royal Festival Hall stage for a special performance. The Chinese maestro is looking for musicians aged between 5 and 24 to take part in a massed piano event at the London venue on Sunday, May 22.

The pianist is asking aspiring performers to send in videos of themselves at the piano. The deadline for entries is midnight on February 28, with successful applicants being notified on 15 March. Lang Lang will then let everyone know which pieces to learn!

For more information, as well as the address to send videos, head to the Southbank Centre website .

Mozart helping deter loiterers

By Jennifer O'Brien
The London Free Press

Borrowing a page from the convenience store industry, London's largest downtown landlord is piping out classical music from the building housing the city's welfare office to drive away drug dealers and other unwanted loiterers.

So far, Mozart and Beethoven have been excellent security guards for the entrance of Market Tower, at the southwest corner of Richmond and Dundas streets, notorious for loiterers.

Market Tower landlord Shmuel Farhi said he's been playing classical music from CDs into the street for a couple of weeks now, to try to clear suspected drug dealers from outside his building.

"It's not a secret that the Dundas and Richmond corner is (known) for drug dealing. We have to do everything in our power to move the traffic there,"

said Farhi, who's also asked the city to move the bus stops from the busy intersection as a pilot project.

"It's my building, and health and safety is very important to us. We want to deter people from doing illegal transactions," he said. "And I love classical music."

But not everyone shares his taste in music.

The traditionally clogged corner entrance seemed to have fewer loiters this week. The music could be heard from the coffee shop across the street.

"We know that it's having a direct impact in terms of keeping loiterers away from that corner," said London police Const. Dennis Rivest. "Our sergeant in foot patrol said . . . the music does discourage loitering by youth,"

Asked if the music violates the city's noise bylaw, bylaw enforcement boss Orest Katolyk said he hasn't heard any complaints.

"If we did get a complaint, we'd look into it, but at this point all the complaints we ever get about that corner have come from the other side - about the loitering," he said. "It's a proven theory that if you play classical music where there is loitering, the loitering seems to move to another area."

For some passersby, the classical notes provide lively ambiance to the area - as they have for months just a few blocks away, outside the Central Library.

The library started piping out classical music last summer for the same reason. Pedestrians there must pass through some Tchaikovsky - but few loitering smokers - to get into the library's Dundas St. entrance.

The idea isn't exclusive to London: Many businesses, especially in the convenience store industry in the U.S., have employed classical music sound systems for years to discourage unwanted gatherings of teens and others at their doorsteps.

Farhi said he hasn't heard any complaints about the music so far. Not that he cares.

"If people complain about it, I turn it up," he said, adding he hopes to inspire passersby with his CDs.

"Classical music is good for the heart and soul," he said. "I'm a lover not a fighter, and I want to put classical music to everyone downtown."

E-mail, or follow obrienatlfpress on Twitter.

Market tower. (QMI Agency file photo)

Big Break Online Contest for Young Musicians - Meet the 2010 Winner!

Marcelina was performing Concerto for Marimba, Mvt.3 by Anders Koppel

From the Top and Carnegie Hall announced today that 17-year-old percussionist Marcelina Suchocka from Chicago, Illinois, has been selected by public vote as the Grand Prize Winner of Big Break, a new online contest for young American musicians.

Ms. Suchocka is a student at Chicago's Whitney M. Young Magnet High School and is also a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Percussion Scholarship Program. She was selected from a pool of hundreds of classical musicians who submitted videos to the Big Break contest between October 18 and November 18. Her winning performance of an excerpt from Anders Koppel's Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra can be viewed below.

As Big Break's grand-prize winner, Ms. Suchocka will appear on a national radio broadcast this spring of NPR's From the Top, hosted by Christopher O'Riley. The episode will be taped on Sunday, April 10, before a studio audience at The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, the performance venue of Classical 105.9 FM WQXR, New York City's sole dedicated classical music station. The previous day, on Saturday, April 9, she will perform at a Carnegie Hall Family Concert in Zankel Hall, produced in partnership with From the Top and hosted by Mr. O'Riley.

Classical-music fans invent titles for 'budget' classics on Twitter at #BudgetClassical

Culture Monster

All the Arts, All the Time

Classical music doesn't often inspire passionate pile-ons on Twitter -- at least not on the Justin Bieber or Kim Kardashian level. So we're happy to note a popular Twitter trend, viewable at #BudgetClassical, in which users riff on the titles of famous classical pieces by re-imagining them as low-budget versions of themselves.

The trend has been seen on Twitter in the past, but it was revived this week and has inspired a number of creative tweets.

L.A.'s own classical radio station KUSC (91.5 FM) has also gotten into the act, taking time out from its pledge drive this week to tweet its own "budget" classics such as Berlioz's "Eggs & Benedict Overture" (after "Beatrice and Benedict") and Bela Bartok's "Picokosmos - Etudes for Casio Keyboard" (after "Mikrokosmos").

Here are some recent #BudgetClassical tweets that are especially witty:

@mahlersoboes: The Abduction from the Seedy Strip Club (after Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio")

@violinscigars: Adagio for String (after Barber's "Adagio for Strings")

@stravinskyite: The Merry Wives of Winston-Salem (after Nicolai's opera "The Merry Wives of Windsor")

@ellisrobbie: Short Ride in a Toyota Celica (after John Adams' "Short Ride in a Fast Machine")

@scareduck: In The Closet of the Mountain King (after Grieg''s "In the Hall of the Mountain King")

@stravinskyite: Slonimsky's Earwax (after Adams' "Slonimsky's Earbox")

@mahlersoboes: The Shrubs of Rome (after Respighi's "The Pines of Rome")

@DaCameraSociety: Schubert's Guppy Quintet (after Schubert's "Trout Quintet")

@NaxosUSA: Holst's The Comets (after Holst's "The Planets")

@mahlersoboes: Nixon in Chinatown (after Adams' "Nixon in China")

As a side note, @stravinskyite happens to be Alan Chapman, a KUSC-FM host and a teacher at the Colburn Conservatory.

Sherry Tang, Piano Solo, From the Top

12-year-old pianist Sherry Tang from Monterey Park, California, a recipient of From the Top's Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, performing Andante & Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 14 by Felix Mendelssohn at the Parkersburg, Iowa show (Oct. 13, 2010).

About From the Top

From the Top is the preeminent showcase for America's best young musicians. Through award-winning NPR and PBS programs, online media, a national tour of live events, and education programs, From the Top shares the stories and performances of pre-collegiate musicians with millions each week. Each program provides a compelling and entertaining window into the world of a diverse group of young people, who pursue life with passion, determination, and joy.

Learn more at

Black Violin mixes classical music with modern hip-hop sensibilities

The members of Black Violin, Kev Marcus and Wil B, met when they were students at Dillard High School of Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

In some ways they were like all the other kids. They listened to hip-hop, and they dressed cool.

But they also played viola and violin in the school orchestra. And they loved classical music.

“We were unique kids, living in two worlds,” Wil B says.

Black Violin is Wil B and Kev Marcus, who have collaborated since they attended Dillard High School of Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Black Violin is Wil B and Kev Marcus, who have collaborated since they attended Dillard High School of Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Wil B says he’s always been fascinated by the lives of composers. One composer in particular has been especially inspiring for him: Dmitri Shostakovich, a Russian whose music was denounced by the Stalinist regime.

“You can really hear him speaking through the music,” Wil B. “You can feel (the) story of where he came from.

“It’s the same with hip-hop,” he adds. “There’s always a story behind the music.”

It felt perfectly natural for Wil B and Marcus to play gentle chamber music at orchestra practice and then put on headphones and crank Biggie Smalls and Tupac.

But it wasn’t until they both went to college, Wil B to Florida State University and Marcus to Florida International, that they started to, as Wil B says, “put it together.”

What sparked the fusion was an album that a professor played for Marcus.

“He said, ‘Put your instrument away. I want to give you this tape,’” Marcus said in a recent interview with City Link Magazine. “And he gave me this tape which was unbelievable — classical violin with soul and fire. I loved it. I listened to the album all the time trying to figure out how this guy was playing that stuff. The album was called Black Violin, and it was by Stuff Smith.”

Smith was a jazz violinist during the swing era.

Marcus shared it with Wil B, and they decided to form a band and call it Black Violin.

They began performing in clubs around Miami. Then they sent a tape to the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem. Two years later, they got the call.

The show in New York was an overwhelming success. “That’s when we realized we had something special,” Wil B says. “The Apollo has one of the toughest crowds anywhere.”

Since then, the band’s trajectory has been strictly upward. They’ve toured the world, including a stint performing for soldiers in Iraq. And they’ve received props from heavy hitters in the entertainment industry.

“Innovative, creative, talented, amazing physicality on stage,” Queen Latifah said of Black Violin in an online documentary about the band. “I thought some strings were going to burn up and blow up because they were playing so fast.”

“We’re doing something that’s never been done before,” Wil B says. “When you come to our show, expect to see something you’ve never seen before or experienced. We take it to a new level that no one has ever seen.”

Cultural Life: Lang Lang, pianist Interview

by Charlotte Cripps

Music: Arthur Rubinstein's 'Music of Spain'. I always learn music from Rubinstein's interpretation and have many of his records on my MP3 player, so that I can listen whenever and wherever I am.

Film: 'Let the Bullets Fly', the new film directed by Wen Jiang. I watched it during my tour of China. It tells the story of a Robin Hood-like character, who kidnaps a con man, who is about to take up the mayorship, which he secured through bribes. It's a must see.

Television: I admit I watch 'Family Guy' and 'Gossip Girl'. I really don't have that much time for watching TV, just a little late at night, after a whole day's work, just for fun and it helps me to unwind.

Opera: I recently saw the Wagner opera 'Rheingold' at the Berlin Opera. Wagner's music has been used a lot in movies. I love the effect that music has on films. I also recently saw 'La Traviata' at The Metropolitan Opera in New York, starring Marina Poplavskaya.

Visual Arts: I visited the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in Dublin recently when I was there on tour. They have a wonderful collection of over 4,500 works of art in the permanent collection. I find that Modern Art museums can sometimes provide you with some inspiration for contemporary music. From exhibitions I can always find some kind of connection with music.

Books: Shakespeare's 'Antony and Cleopatra'. I have a dream of reading all Shakespeare's works and I'm slowly working my way through them. I've already read 'Romeo and Juliet', 'Twelfth Night' and 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', but I have a bit of a way to go.

Nashville Public School Students 'Keep The Music Playing'

By Chris Cannon

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Hundreds of Metro Nashville Public School students played on the stage of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center Tuesday night. They were there to celebrate the money given to the school district to fund music education by the Country Music Association.

Music has continued to be funded in Nashville schools, despite tough economic times.

"Keep the Music Playing really provides that opportunity and keeps the hope of arts in school, keeps it very alive," said country artist Luke Bryan.

He hosted Tuesday's concert and is a member of the CMA board.

DeOrndrea Foster is a senior at Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School in Nashville. She had a solo during the second annual Keep the Music Playing All-Stars Concert.

"This is just another stepping stone in our musical education," Foster said.

Foster emphasized how important her music education is to her.

"Because music is what I've always known. Music is my life and just to know there is somebody out there that really, really and truthfully cares about that part of school is exciting," Foster explained.

Every summer when tens of thousands of country music fans come to Nashville for the CMA Music Festival, a portion of the money they spend here goes to the Keep the Music Playing program.

Nashville School for the Arts senior Sam Hunter had the chance to play guitar for Luke Bryan when he sang his number one hit "Do I" at the concert.

"I don't know how else I would have played out here if it weren't for this program. I've very grateful to be here," Hunter explained.

Since 2006 the CMA has donated $4.7 million to Metro Nashville Public Schools. The money has helped fund music education in the district's 139 schools.