Musical Moments with Anthony Tommasini:Two Operas, Giacomo Puccini's Turandot and Richard Wagner's Siegfried

Anthony Tommasini, classical music critic of The New York Times, performs some of his favorite classical music moments on piano and explains why.

Turandot –The opera's story is set in China and involves Prince Calàf, who falls in love with the cold Princess Turandot. To obtain permission to marry her, a suitor has to solve three riddles; any wrong answer results in death.

The Prince tries to convince Turandot to love him. At first she is disgusted, but after he kisses her, she feels herself turning towards passion. She admits that, ever since he came, she had both hated and loved him. She asks him to ask for nothing more and to leave, taking his mystery with him. The Prince however, reveals his name, "Calàf, son of Timur" and places his life in Turandot's hands. She can now destroy him if she wants. Turandot and Calàf approach the Emperor's throne. She declares that she knows the Prince's name: Diecimila anni al nostro Imperatore! – "It is ... love!" The crowd cheers and acclaims the two lovers (O sole! Vita! Eternità).

Siegfried, is the third of the four operas that constitute Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). This part of the opera is primarily inspired by the story of the legendary hero Sigurd in Norse mythology.

Siegfried enters the ring of fire, emerging on Brünnhilde's rock. At first, he thinks the armored figure is a man. However, when he removes the armor, he finds a woman beneath. At the sight of the first woman he has ever seen, Siegfried at last experiences fear. In desperation, he kisses Brünnhilde, waking her from her magic sleep. Hesitant at first, Brünnhilde is won over by Siegfried's love, and renounces the world of the gods. Together, they hail "light-bringing love, and laughing death."

Leonardo da Vinci the musician.

Viola organista (Codex Atlanticus, 1488–1489)

Watch Leonardo da Vinci’s Musical Invention, the Viola Organista, Being Played for the Very First Time

First performance of the viola organista made by Sławomir Zubrzycki. INTERNATIONAL ROYAL CRACOW PIANO FESTIVAL 18TH OCTOBER 2013, Aula Florianka.

As the archetypal example of the polymathic, intellectually omnivorous “Renaissance man,” he not only attained mastery of a wide range of disciplines, but did his most impressive work in the spaces between them. Given the voluminousness of his output (not to mention the technical limitations of fifteenth-century Europe), many of his multiple domain-spanning ideas and inventions never became a reality during his lifetime. However, just this year, 494 years after Leonardo’s death, we now have the chance to see, and more importantly hear, one of them: the viola organista, an elaborate musical instrument that had previously only existed in his notebooks.

We owe this thrill not just to Leonardo himself, who left behind detailed plans for the (to him, purely theoretical) construction of such devices as this behind, but to a reported 5000 hours of physical effort by Polish concert pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki, who actually put the thing together.

You can read more at the Sydney Morning Herald, whose article (on “Leonardo Da Vinci’s wacky piano“) quotes Zubrzycki: “This instrument has the characteristics of three we know: the harpsichord, the organ and the viola da gamba,” and playing it, which involves hitting keys connected to “spinning wheels wrapped in horse-tail hair,” and turning those wheels by pumping a pedal below the keyboard, produces exciting unusual waves of cello-like sounds.

The Composer and his Muse: Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved: Countess Josephine von Brunsvik

Probably the most important woman in the life of Ludwig van Beethoven, as documented by at least 15 love letters he wrote her where he called her his “only beloved”, being “eternally devoted” to her and “forever faithful” was  Countess Josephine von Brunsvik. Given that there is no other similar evidence that he might have been in love with any other woman, she is generally considered to be the most likely recipient of the mysterious “Letter to the Immortal Beloved”

Josephine came from an aristocratic family of amateur musicians who lived in a magnificent castle near Budapest. She and her sister Therese were brought to Vienna in 1799 for private piano lessons with Beethoven. His feelings for her are documented in at least 15 love letters penned over a long period. Although she appears to have been attracted to the great composer and moved by his devotion, the surviving correspondence indicates that things never progressed beyond close friendship – family pressure and her suitor’s lack of title and social graces may have had something to do with it.

Josephine married twice: first to the much older Joseph Count Deym, with whom she had four children. When he died in 1804 Beethoven resumed his advances, seeing the young widow far more frequently than decorum permitted. At this most intense period in their relationship, the composer was writing the jubilant finale of his opera Leonore (later revised as Fidelio), a work exalting a virtuous wife and the power of married love. The most tempestuous sonata of his middle period, the Appassionata, was written during this time and dedicated to Josephine’s brother Count Franz von Brunsvik.

By 1810 Josephine had re-married, and her union with Baron von Stackelberg proved an unhappy one.

Beethoven composed the song An die Hoffnung (To Hope) and the piano piece Andante favori as musical declarations of love. He seems to have carried the torch for a long time: it is widely thought that Josephine is the subject of his famous, tormented letter to The Immortal Beloved, written in 1812: “…you know my faithfulness to you, never can another own my heart, never – never – never…”

Peter Schreier, tenor. Walter Olbertz, piano. Adele Stolte, soprano.

Powerful connection between music, memory helps dementia patients

There's a powerful connection between music and memory. So much so, there's a program named just that -- It's tough to have a conversation with Socorro Kennedy, better knows as Miss Cora. She's 90 with dementia and often sits quietly all day.

That is, until the music in a pair of ear phones is turned on.

"She comes alive when you put that music on, from her toes to the top of her head," Naomi Mathes said.

The oldies playing are specifically researched and chosen for her, based on family interviews. Then they're tested and a full playlist is set.

"When you can no longer reach them with words, you can reach them with music," Mathes said.

Mathes is part of the Juliette Fowler Communities. She says music primes your brain to get active again.

"Music is one of the last things to leave that is connected with emotions and memories and is stored in multiple parts of the brain," she said.

Listening to music stimulates Cora's brain so much, she now responds to conversations. She even speaks full, recognizable words.

Although Cora wants more, Mathes said they have to limit her time with music or she will wear herself out.

Mathes says the ear phones are key. Blaring the music on a speaker comes with too many distractions and doesn't have the same affect.

With headphones, Cora gets lost in the moment -- proving that there's much joy left to share -- thanks to every beat, tap and clap.

Reposted from

A Violin Concerto Back From Beyond The Grave

Schumann Violin Concerto, a work buried for nearly a century and recovered — or so the story goes — by a message from the beyond.

In the summer of 1853, the young violinist Joseph Joachim asked a friend, pianist, composer and conductor Robert Schumann, to write a violin concerto for him. Schumann, though suffering from depression, went into a frenzy of activity, completing the Violin Concerto in D Minor (fully scored for all the different musical parts) within 13 days in late September and early October. Within months, however, the composer attempted suicide and was confined to an asylum until his death two years later at the age of 46.

Neither Joachim nor Schumann's wife, Clara, nor their young friend Johannes Brahms, thought the piece was good enough. In fact, Clara didn't like much of what Schumann wrote in those last years, according to Christoph Eschenbach, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. She was a famous pianist and musical personality and, Eschenbach maintains, she used her influence with the younger Joachim and Brahms to bury the Violin Concerto.

"Brahms was easy to convince that she was right, and there is also the story of the love affair between Clara and Brahms," says Eschenbach, who notes speculation that the alleged love affair might have caused Schumann's suicide attempt.

The concerto was not performed or published, and it would end up in the Prussian State Library in Berlin, with the proviso that it not be performed for 100 years after the composer's death. But a grandniece of the violinist for whom the concerto was written had an interest in the occult — as did the Schumanns. Her name was Jelly d'Arányi and she too was a violinist. At a seance, she is said to have received word from the beyond urging her to find and perform an unpublished work for the violin. Who, she asked, is the composer of this work? The dial on the Ouija board is said to have pointed to the letters spelling out the name: Robert Schumann.

Maestro Eschenbach treats all of this with a grain of salt, but the fact is d'Arányi somehow tracked down the concerto in the Prussian State Library. "Because she wanted to play it," Eschenbach says, "but Berlin said no, no, no, no, no."

The year was 1933, and Hitler's Germany wanted a German to play the debut performance. The honor went to Georg Kulenkampff, who played the premiere four years later. "He was unfortunately not so good a violinist," Eschenbach says, "but a terribly good Nazi."

Famed violinist Yehudi Menuhin loved the piece, calling it the "bridge" between Beethoven and Brahms, and he played the American debut shortly thereafter. D'Arányi played the British debut. But only recently has the concerto been played more and more. Eschenbach's eyes sparkle when he talks about the piece, calling it "visionary" and "courageous for its time."

Of the beautiful and heart-wrenching second movement, Eschenbach says, "When you listen to this very simple theme, it is so from deep down and so heartbreaking." Schumann would write variations on this theme, which, like the Violin Concerto, were suppressed until the 1930s. They are now known as the Ghost Variations.

Reposted from NPR

Musical Moments with Anthony Tommasini: Mahler

Anthony Tommasini, classical music critic of The New York Times, performs some of his favorite classical music moments on piano.

Tommasini discusses one of the songs from Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer', "Ging heut Morgen übers Feld" ("I Went This Morning over the Field"), contains the happiest music of the work. Indeed, it is a song of joy and wonder at the beauty of nature in simple actions like birdsong and dew on the grass. "Is it not a lovely world?" is a refrain.

However, the Wayfarer is reminded at the end that despite this beauty, his happiness will not blossom anymore now that his love is gone. This movement is orchestrated delicately, making use of high strings and flutes, as well as a fair amount of triangle. The melody of this movement, as well as much of the orchestration, is developed into the 'A' theme of the first movement of the First Symphony.

Three Quick Lessons From The Violin Wunderkind Who Became A Master

Joshua Bell was once a boy wonder of the violin. Now, at 46, he leads nine young musicians in Masterclass. HBO's 30-minute documentary series pairs young artists with world-renowned mentors such as Placido Domingo, Frank Gehry and Patti LuPone, and gives both the teacher and the students opportunities to learn from each other. During an interview with NPR's Robert Siegel, Bell offers three solid pieces of advice to musicians new and old:

    "It's important to understand] your role in playing chamber music."

    "The key is to figure out what you're contributing. If it's rhythm, then you don't want to drown everyone out. You want people to understand the rhythmic basis."

    "To play with great energy and great character within [the soft dynamic] piano is something that one needs to learn how to do."

Fascinating Author Interviews Dr. Warren L. Woodruff

Dr. Warren L. Woodruff holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Piano Performance and a Ph.D. in Musicology with a concentration in Piano Performance. He has a twenty-five year distinguished teaching career and is currently head of the Woodruff School of the Arts in historic Roswell, Georgia. His interests include attending great musical performances across the country, reading books of philosophy, history and science as well as fiction. His favorite pastimes, besides music and writing, are fitness and weight-training. To learn more, please visit

About the Book:

When the dark musician Jedermann and his fierce Seirens of Dis gain control of the legendary Gold Baton, Tyler, his sister Christina and their friends are drawn into a perilous adventure foretold by an ancient prophecy.

Guided by the mythical Dr. Fuddle, the explorers must leave earth and journey to Orphea. Will the Messengers of Music be able to save the world of the immortal composers from chaos and destruction? For them to have even a chance at victory, they must master the most difficult instruments of all–themselves.

Author Interview:

Q. What excites you most about your book’s topic? Why did you choose it?

A. What excites me the most about my book is the mysterious, fantasy land of Orphea and what the Messengers of Music learn there. I chose this setting to likewise inspire our young readers to achieve excellence in all they do and find their passion in life.

Q. How long did the book take you from start to finish?

A. Two years, nine drafts total.

Q. What aspect of writing the book did you find particularly challenging?
A. Learning the technical skills of writing, when my professional background is music.

Q. Did you do any research for your books, or did you write from experience?

A. Both. Since I have a Ph.D. in Musicology, I have more information than anyone could ever dream of wanting off the top of my head, but there were some details I wanted to make sure were historically correct.

Q. What surprised you most about this process?

A. How difficult it is to get a book to tell a story and make it read like a “real” book.

Q. Did you have any notable experiences from writing your book?

A. Yes. There were times when I was working with my writing coach Mardeene Mitchell that I felt like I was no longer on earth, but that we were working on a spiritual plane.

Q. What do you hope your readers will gain from reading your book?

A. Primarily, I want them entertained and feel as though they’ve actually been in Orphea with Dr. Fuddle and the Messengers of Music and that they’ve fought in the battle against Jedermann to reclaim the Gold Baton. Secondarily, I want to pique their interest in classical music.

Q. What other projects are you working on?
A. The screenplay of Dr. Fuddle and the Gold Baton and a sequel to the first book. I’m also working on re-writing my six scene play Beethoven in Final Draft.

Q. Is writing your sole career? If not, what else do you do?

A. No. Writing is like a second career. I’ve been teaching the art of classical piano for over twenty-five years and with the autoimmune disease threatening my musical career, I’m transitioning to becoming a professional writer, but will always teach as long as my hearing allows.

Q. When can we look forward to your next book?

A. Within one to two years, then one a year after that. I plan to make Dr. Fuddle a series of five to seven novels. I’m also envisioning a children’s picture book series entitled The Adventures of Dr. Fuddle, which would be more educational musically rather than fantasy adventure, but still entertaining, something like The Magic School Bus series.

Classical musicians honor 'Batman' history with an incredible music video journey

The Piano Guys are probably having more fun than anyone else in the classical music business. The group — composed of a pianist, cellist, a videographer, and a music producer — has just released a music video that celebrates nearly 50 years of Batman. The video perfectly matches the group's new "Batman Evolution" composition, which travels through the classic ‘60s TV show, Tim Burton's 1989 take on the Dark Knight, and Christopher Nolan's most recent trilogy.

The result is not just some impressive piano and cello work (the two instruments alone were used to make every sound in the composition), but a music video that displays some incredible attention to detail. Each of the three eras gets its own location, Batmobile, and visual style to go along with the shifts in music. (Pay close attention to the aspect ratio: even it is tailored to each era.) The Piano Guys have made a name for themselves doing these kinds of over-the-top classical music videos, and while this might be some of their best work, be sure to check out their Mission ImpossibleBourne Identity, and Star Wars music videos as well. And for more on the making of 

"Batman Evolution," take a look at the group's website.

Why Do All My Friends Like the Same Music?

Your weekend was radical. Your friends loved your “Bitchin’ Summer 2014″ playlist, and together you drove around for hours, singing along. Later on, at the barbecue, you were nominated DJ. As the party progressed, you got a little bolder and threw on some deep cuts. A cute friend of a friend of a friend complimented your taste, and the two of you started talking about music. Before long the conversation drifted to other topics, and you two talked for hours.

Music has chemistry, both in maintaining friendships and helping us forge new ones. But science is still pretty far behind in understanding music’s power to create social bonds. “To this day, it hasn’t struck people that there must have been tremendous evolutionary pressure for music,” said Petr Janata, a psychologist who studies music and the brain at UC Davis. But this doesn’t mean we are completely without answers. Since at least the late ’80s, researchers have been studying how music affects peoples’ social lives.

A number of studies have used surveys and controlled experiments to confirm what seems pretty obvious: People express their identity through music. In one study, from 2007, researchers had strangers meet in a chat room with the only instruction being to learn about one another. After analyzing the transcripts, the researchers found the most common topic, by far, was musical preferences. Another study from 2003 (paywall) used a series of experiments to establish how people link their taste in musical genres to their personality characteristics. “There’s a lot of correlation between the type of music you like and your personality,” said Janata.

Other studies have found people readily make assumptions about someone else’s identity based solely on their musical preferences. Several studies asked people to describe personality aspects of fans of various music genres. It turns out there’s a lot of agreement about the various stereotypes of music fans. One study showed that many people described top 40 fans as outgoing. In another, most subjects agreed that heavy metal fans have bad moods. Yet another showed people believe classical music listeners as more likely to enjoy a glass of wine than a doobie.

These generalities don’t necessarily hold up for all places and all points in time. In a 1989 study (paywall) asking women and men to rate potential dates, heavy metal dudes rated pretty favorably among the ladies (this was the heyday of Mötley Crüe and The Scorpions, after all). The guys went for women who were into classical (no doubt a sign of classiness and intelligence). Place probably matters too: It’s hard to imagine much common ground in the public perception of a mariachi fan in Mexico versus one in Connecticut.

People project their personalities through music, and make assumptions about other peoples’ personalities based on their playlists. But, how does this equate to friendship and romance? Is it reasonable to assume that music is a shorthand for compatibility?

In 2011, a group of researchers set out to see exactly whether music actually had the power to draw people with the same values together. The researchers used pairs of college kids who had been randomly assigned as dorm room mates for around 1-2 months. They had each kid describe their musical tastes and fill out a survey to determine their values. Also, each subject was asked how much they liked their room mate, and to rate how similar their own values were with what they perceived were their room mate’s values. After controlling for factors like difference in age and study subject, the researchers found with compatible tastes in rock, hip hop, and other western musical genres tended to share similar values, and be more socially drawn to one another. (The study also included genres like K-pop, Chinese Opera, and movie soundtracks, none of which showed strong correlations with values or likability.)

Studies like these show strong indications that people use compatible musical tastes to help them choose their friends, but a lot more research is needed before we know for sure. But there’s no doubt that music is a powerful force in many people’s lives. Whether you turn it up loudly and sing along, wearing the music’s emotion like garlands of your own inner feelings, or just use it as nonintrusive background noise while you work, your choice of music may be telling the people around you more than you realize about your personality and values. Scientists still have a lot to learn about the role music plays in our social lives, Janata says. “It is something that engages the brain so strongly that the brain wants it and is willing to put energy into it, therefore it’s a significant phenomena to be understood.”

Reposted from Wired

This Is What Your Favorite Music Does To Your Brain

No matter what type of music is heating up your earbuds this summer, your brain is responding to the beat—and not just by making your head nod. Research shows the right tune can temper your feelings of anxiety, energize your limbs, and even bolster your immune system. Here’s how.

Your Ideal Beat

Scientists who study music have identified something called “preferred motor tempo,” or the theory that everybody has an ideal rhythm when it comes to the jams they enjoy. “When you hear music traveling at your favored rhythm, the areas of your brain that control movement become more excited, making you more likely to start tapping your feet or moving along to it,” explains Martin Wiener, Ph.D., a psychologist at George Mason University who has investigated preferred motor tempo.

Generally, faster beats will pump up your brain more than slow ones, Wiener adds. But there’s a limit. “If a tempo is faster than you like to hear, your brain will become less excited as you become less interested,” he explains. The older you get, the more your “preferred tempo” tends to slow, Wiener says. (That’s why you get pumped up listening to Pharrell, while your parents snap their fingers to Josh Groban.)

Your Workout Playlist

If you’re listening to your ideal groove while exercising, your brain’s amped-up motor cortex can make your workout seem less effortful, Wiener’s research suggests. Another study from Florida State University (FSU) also confirmed that, by distracting your brain, music lowered the amount of difficulty and effort people perceived while exercising. Why? Your brain regards good music as “rewarding,” which leads to an uptick in the feel-good hormone dopamine, Wiener says. “This increase in dopamine might explain the high that some people feel when they're listening to music that they greatly enjoy.” Dopamine may also dull the pain your body would otherwise experience, studies indicate.

U.K. researchers found that, just as upbeat music lights up the parts of your noodle responsible for movement, it also turns up the volume when it comes to brain activity related to attention and visual perception. Basically, up-tempo tunes can quicken your reaction time and your ability to process visual information, the FSU study suggests.

Music and Your Health

People who listened to relaxing music before surgery felt less anxious than those who swallowed anxiety-lowering drugs, found a review study from several neuroscientists including Daniel Levitin, Ph.D., of McGill University in Canada. Levitin and his colleagues have conducted lots of research on music and the brain. And they’ve found evidence that, apart from lowering levels of stress-related brain chemicals like cortisol, music also seems to boost your body’s amounts of immunoglobulin A—an immune system-strengthening antibody. There are also indications music cranks up the number of “killer cells” your body used to fight off germs and bacteria, Levitin’s research suggests.

While the mechanisms behind all of these benefits aren’t totally clear, the stress-lowering powers of music could help explain how groovy tunes bolster your body’s defenses, Levitin’s studies indicate. Even if the music is slow and somber, as long as you’re into it, you’ll feel good, shows research from Japan. When people listened to sad (but enjoyable) tunes, they actually felt positive emotions, the authors found. Why? A separate study from the U.K. that turned up similar results suggests that, because the sad music is beautiful, it may make the listener feel less bummed out.

So, fast or slow, energizing or enervating, music seems to be great for you as long as you’re listening to stuff you dig. Summing up one of his research papers on music and the brain, Levitin and colleagues hit the nail on the head when they say, “Music is one of the most rewarding and pleasurable human experiences.

Reposted from Shape

Top 10 Composers by Anthony Tommasini

Johann Sebastian Bach

Anthony Tommasini explores what makes these classical composers great.

In the first video of his series the chief classical music critic Anthony Tommasini explains the importance of Bach and his influence on classical music to come.

Watch Videos Here

What Would Beethoven Do?

What Would Beethoven Do?

This is not your grandparents’ classical music. This is classical music for everyone.

For decades, this has been the story: classical music is at death’s door. With the advent of a technologically brave new world, who could be interested in this stodgy art form? Yet, classical music has enduring significance. It still stands as a pillar—if a somewhat wobbly one—of our culture today.

Although financial difficulties and declining attendance rates plague many orchestras, new technology and shifting audience demographics have inspired some artists to think creatively and step outside the box. Classical music lives.

“What Would Beethoven Do?” highlights recent innovations that are breaking down the genre’s highbrow perception and introducing classical music to a broader audience. Despite some institutional reluctance about maintaining the “purity” of the genre, many musicians and artists are taking risks to reinvent classical music for a new age.

The classical music world is at an exciting crossroads “What Would Beethoven Do?” focuses on individuals and organizations that are taking classical music to the next level and paving the way for future success.

Treble Productions, a documentary film crew that believes that there are many individuals and organizations out there doing great things to propel classical music forward. Their film, What Would Beethoven Do? shares the stories of people like Benjamin Zander, who is building the next generation of classical musicians in the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra; Eric Whitacre, who is bringing classical music into the digital age with his Virtual Youth Choir; Bobby McFerrin who is challenging audiences with performances filled with fun and humor; and many more people who are doing amazing things with classical music.

What Would Beethoven Do? | New Documentary Teaser from What Would Beethoven Do on Vimeo.

Lang Lang Rocks Toy Piano During a Visit to Classic FM, London

The Instrument

Lang Lang was in the studio to tell Charlotte Green about his new Lang Lang Piano Academy and accompanying books, 'Mastering The Piano'. He was only too happy to play a snippet from the first book in the series for them

NPR Field Recording: Yuja Wang

"On A Chilly Factory Floor, Yuja Wang's Piano Sizzles"


Chinese-born pianist Yuja Wang isn't one to do anything in half measures. So when NPR invited her to record a performance in a room at the Steinway & Sons piano factory, she showed up in Queens that frigid morning with her A game.

The 27-year-old ultra-glam artist wore one of her trademark dresses, significant stiletto booties and a Gucci fur stole, as well as some wrist warmers as a concession to the temperature. She played a piece that would chop shrinking violets to mulch: Prokofiev's blisteringly difficult Toccata in D minor, Op. 11.

Somehow, that combination of bling and brawn — in both the music and Wang's approach — seemed just right for the factory, where artisans labored nearby over raw material.

See more at Field Recordings


Simone Dinnerstein Plays Bach's Inventions

Almost any pianist, from a budding beginner to a pro like , will tell you that one of the basic techniques of keyboard playing is also the toughest to master: making your hands to do separate things simultaneously. 

The great knew this to be true. That's the primary reason he composed his Two-Part Inventions. On one hand (pardon the metaphor) they are rigorous exercises he wrote in the 1720s for the musical education of his children and students. On the other hand, as Dinnerstein told the audience at this Tiny Desk Concert, they are "an endless well of musical knowledge and imagination." Some of the Inventions zing with the speed of a sewing machine. Others dance and some unfold like a gentle aria. 

Dinnerstein learned a number of Bach's Two-Part Inventions as a youngster. Later she used them to teach her own students how to divide their brains. And now, as an adult musician with a major career, she has returned to these deceptively simple pieces, finding their complexity especially satisfying. 

She also likes the way the inventions force the player to make the piano sing. That's not easy when you consider the piano is actually a percussion instrument of wires and hammers concealed inside a box. Bach himself noted that they are good not only for playing "neatly in two parts" but also "to achieve a cantabile style of playing." That's musical jargon for playing the music in a singable style. And oh how poetically Ms. Dinnerstein makes our Tiny Desk piano sing. 

 J.S. Bach: Inventions Nos. 1, 6, 8,
J.S. Bach: Inventions Nos. 9, 10,
J.S. Bach: Inventions Nos. 12, 13, 14

4 Unusual Ways Music Can Tune Up the Brain

By Bahar Gholipour

Music shapes the brain in many ways — it can alter brain structures in musicians, and enhance cognitive skills in children and adults alike, research shows. Still, scientists are continuing to learn much about the way the brain responds to music.

Here is a look at four ways that music is known to affect the brain.

Unearthing patients' lost memories

Music has the power to bring back memories, leading some researchers to say that music could be used as a treatment for people with memory problems.

In one recent study, researchers found that music could bring back old-age memories in people who had memory problems after sustaining traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

In fact, the musical treatment, which involved playing hit songs from different periods in people's lives, was better than an interview at eliciting past memories, according to the study published in the journal Neuropsychological Rehabilitation in 2013.

Other investigations have found that for people with severe memory problems as a result of Alzheimer's disease or dementia, music can affect the memory when nothing else does. The effect can sometimes be so great that experts have likened it to "awakening" a patient who has been unconscious.

Sharpening emotion-detecting skills

Musical training may turn people into better emotion detectors, some studies have suggested.

In one study published in the European Journal of Neuroscience in 2009, 30 participants watched a subtitled nature film while listening to a very short, almost undetectable clip of a baby's cry. The researchers looked at the brain's electrical waves to measure how sensitive the people were to the sound, and whether their brain's emotional circuits were evoked.

The researchers found that the musicians' brains responded more quickly and accurately than the brains of non-musicians, suggesting the musicians may be better at perceiving emotions even when music isn't being played, the researchers said.

Blocking out the noise

The aging brain normally becomes less and less capable of blocking out background noise, but people with musical training may be better than others at hearing and understanding sounds in a noisy environment as they age.

In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2013, researchers found that even people who took music lessons only in childhood still showed some long-lasting brain effects when it comes to detecting sounds amid a noisy background.

Noteworthy: Learning language through singing

It might help to practice a new language you're trying to learn by singing the words in the shower. Scientists recently found that when learning a new language, singing the phrases can help people learn the language better, compared with simply reading those phrases.

In the study published in the journal Memory & Cognition in 2014, researchers asked 60 adults to listen and repeat phrases in Hungarian, a language entirely foreign to the participants. Some of the participants were asked to simply repeat the phrases, some were told to repeat the phrases rhythmically, and the rest were asked to repeat the phrases by singing them.

The results showed that the participants who sang did significantly better than others in a series of Hungarian language tests.

Reposted From Live Science

Music ignites lost memories in 'good-news' film

Music has an unmatched power to bring back our pasts. But what if our memories have been lost to Alzheimer's or some other condition? Can music still work its magic?

A new film, Alive Inside, says yes. The film features the work of Dan Cohen, a New York social worker who started taking personalized iPods to people with dementia in nursing homes several years ago. Cohen's non-profit Music & Memory got a huge boost in 2012 when an early clip from the film, featuring a gentleman named Henry, became an online sensation. It has been viewed more than 10 million times at various websites, filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett says.

In the clip, Henry, then 94, is shown slumped and unresponsive in a wheelchair – until a nursing home worker places a set of headphones over his ears. Henry comes alive. He scats along with Cab Calloway and sings a soulful I'll Be Home for Christmas. The music "gives me the feeling of love, romance," he says.
Henry has since passed away, but that clip is one big reason that the Music & Memory program is in 640 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, Cohen says. He says he won't be satisfied until personalized iPods – loaded with music especially chosen for each participant – are in all 16,000 U.S. nursing homes, available to all 1.6 million residents.

"Ninety-nine percent of these people are still sitting around and doing nothing all day when they could be rocking to their music," he says.

The reasons for Cohen's passion become clear in what Rossato-Bennett dubs "the only good-news film ever made about Alzheimer's." In segment after segment, people with Alzheimer's and other conditions don the headphones, hear the music of their youths and light up. A World War II veteran named John dances in his chair as the Andrews Sisters sing Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh! Another man holds his wife's hands and sings a duet of Can't Take My Eyes Off of You. An agitated woman becomes serene as she dances to strains of Schubert.

Such scenes are interspersed with comments from doctors, including the neurologist Oliver Sacks, who says, "Music has more ability to activate more parts of the brain than any other stimulus." Others talk about the need to reconnect with lonely, inactive and neglected elders, in and out of nursing homes.

Viewers might come away with the idea that a skillfully loaded iPod is a proven and universally effective cure for all that. In fact, the first big study of Music & Memory is just getting underway in Wisconsin, as part of a state-funded rollout in 200 nursing homes. Researchers will look at whether the approach improves social engagement and reduces agitation, anxiety and depression, say University of Wisconsin researchers Jung Kwak and Michael Brondino. The study won't focus on memory but will look at overall effects on dementia, Brondino says. One thing they know, he says, is that staffs and patients "absolutely love this program."

The program, which relies on families and aides to work with patients, should not be confused with formal music therapy delivered by professionals trained in that discipline, says Alicia Clair, professor of music education and therapy at the University of Kansas.

Still, she says, "it's a wonderful thing" for many people. Caregivers need to know, she says, that not everyone will respond and that some people can even respond negatively. A song that stirs up sadness or anger might do more harm than good, she says.

Cohen says, "This is not a cure for Alzheimer's, and this does not work for everybody." But, he says, it is something just about anyone can try – something that might open up a whole lost world.

Cohen's tips for setting up an individualized music program and for donating used iPods to the program are at

Alive Inside will open in theaters and be shown in film festivals around the country through mid-September.

Language of Music: Derek Paravicini

Lesley Stahl profiles British musical savant Derek Paravicini, whose computer-like memory for music is matched by his creative abilities to play it in any style.

Seattle Authorizes Special Loading Zones for Musicians…

What’s worse than loading gear into a venue?  Getting a ticket for loading gear into a venue.  But that issue may soon go away, at least for a few musicians, thanks to an initiative by the City of Seattle that would authorize musician loading zones outside of venues.

The Musician Load Zone pilot program kicked off  in March and currently involves five venues.  “Seattle’s Music Commission strives to champion innovative ideas that help local musicians make a living making music in Seattle,” explained Jody McKinley, Chair of Seattle’s Music Commission (and an executive at Seattle-based Rhapsody).


Reposted From Digital Music News

Tritone: The Devil in Music

In classical music, the tritone is a harmonic and melodic dissonance and is important in the study of musical harmony. The name diabolus in musica ("the Devil in music") has been applied to the interval from at least the early 18th century. People were actually executed "back in the day" for writing songs that used this interval. 

Because of that original symbolic association with the devil and its avoidance, this interval came to be heard in Western cultural convention as suggesting an "evil" connotative meaning in music. Today the interval continues to suggest an "oppressive", "scary", or "evil" sound and is known colloquially as "The Devil's Interval".

The theme features prominently in the 1949 film Portrait of Jennie, and is used as a musical motif for the ethereal heroine played by Jennifer Jones.

The theme opening Claude Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune outlines a tritone (between C and G) About this sound Play 

Music Changes the Way You Think

Hum the first two notes of “The Simpsons” theme song. (If you’re not a Simpsons fan, “Maria” from West Side Story will also do.) The musical interval you’re hearing—the pitch gap between the notes—is known as a “tritone,” and it’s commonly recognized in music theory as one of the most dissonant intervals, so much so that composers and theorists in the 18th century dubbed it diabolus in musica (“devil in music”).

Now hum the first few notes of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, or, if you prefer something with a little more street cred, the “I’m sorry” part in Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson.” This is the “perfect fifth.” It’s one of the most consonant intervals, used in myriad compositions as a vehicle of resolution and harmony.

Is it possible that hearing such isolated musical components can change the way you think? An ambitious new paper recently published by Jochim Hansen and Johann Melzner in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology argues precisely that. The researchers brought pedestrians into a laboratory and played them a short, stripped-down piece of music consisting of a series of alternating chords. Some people heard chords including the tritone; others the perfect fifth. A couple other tweaks were also made: in the tritone condition, the chords were played slowly—only once every four-beat measure—while in the perfect fifth condition, the chords went by rapidly, sounding every beat. Further, a “reverberation” effect was added such that the tritone chords sounded like they were being played in a cavernous cave and the perfect fifth chords in a carpeted closet.

What the scientists found is that the simple act listening to either of these two chord sets changed how people processed information in a very basic way. For example, the researchers asked people to take a list of shopping items and organize them into groups. Think detergent and paper towels: same kind of thing, or different? Results showed that “tritone” people formed fewer categories than “perfect fifth” people, indicating that they were thinking in broader, more inclusive categories than their counterparts.

In a separate measure, the scientists asked people to imagine buying one of two imaginary toasters. These toasters varied in what is known as “aggregated” versus “individualized” information. Do you know how on you can learn the average star rating of a given item? This is aggregated information; it’s pooled from a wide range of sources. Individualized information, by contrast, would be the customer reviews that appear at the bottom of the page. Which do you pay more attention to when these give conflicting messages—when, say, the aggregated information is largely negative but there is a single glowing customer review? Turns out that people who are exposed to “tritone”-type music samples are more likely to be swayed by aggregated information, and “fifth” people by the reverse.

Underlying these seemingly disparate questions is a relatively new theory in social psychology that has shown itself capable of explaining an impressive variety of human behaviors. It’s known as construal level theory, and its core premise is that there’s a link between how far things are from people and how abstractly they construe them. Distant things—a Hawaii vacation next year, say—appear to us general and decontextualized, their basic features (the beach, the sun) forefront in our minds. As they draw near, however, elements we never before considered (the packing, the possibility of rain) suddenly demand our attention. The forest, in other words, becomes the trees. Overall, the theory helps explain many seemingly disparate phenomena, like why we’re bad at predicting how long it’ll take us to fix the kitchen sink, why absence makes the heart grow fonder, and why we rarely follow through on New Years resolutions. In all these cases, what seemed a certain way from afar turns out, up close, to be a different beast entirely.

How does all this relate to repeating chord patterns? What the researchers have done, cleverly, is consider music’s ability to conjure up highly specific mental states. Tiny, almost immeasurable features in a piece of music have the power to elicit deeply personal and specific patterns of thought and emotion in human listeners. (One need only listen to Astrud Gilberto’s Grammy-winning performance of the Girl from Ipanema to re-appreciate music’s ability to capture strange and mysterious moods.) Hansen and Melzner have exploited this fact to provoke in listeners thought patterns corresponding to precisely those mapped by construal level theory.

Ponderous, resonant, unfamiliar tonalities—the proverbial “auditory forest”—cause people to construe things abstractly. By contrast, the rapid, consonant, familiar chords of the perfect fifth—the “auditory trees”—bring out the concrete mindset. The groups of shopping items, the reviews of toasters—these correspond to measures of abstractness that have been developed in experimental psychology. When you group a shopping list into only a few categories, it suggests that you are considering the list abstractly, clustering items according to a common core. And heeding aggregated (versus individualized) information implies the same: you’re seeing the forest rather than being swayed by a single tree.

That music can move us is no surprise; it’s the point of the art form, after all. What’s new here is the manner in which the researchers have quantified in fine-grained detail the cognitive ramifications of unpacked melodic compounds. This investigation of music’s building blocks may be more relevant than you suppose. Nowadays, experts in the production room can hone a track—the timbre, tone, rhythm, phrasing—with digital precision. These songwriters and producers are the true geniuses behind the success of popular music today, and they seem to have an intuitive grasp of the phenomena underlying the findings of this psychology article. An extra breath-sound here, a pitch adjustment there—these additives pepper the songs we hear on the radio. So the next time you hear a piece of music from the Billboard Top 40, it may be interesting to wonder, how many components were manipulated just so, in order to change the way I think?

Reposted form Scientific American

Daniel Yudkin is a doctoral candidate in social psychology at New York University and a jazz pianist. He graduated from Williams College, was a Fellow at Harvard University, and once attempted an eleven-country European busking tour funded entirely by street-coins. More here.

Yaacov Trope is a Professor of Psychology at New York University. He received his
Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and is a member of the American Association
for Arts and Sciences. He has edited several books, including Dual-Process Theories
in Social Psychology (1998), Self Control in Society, Mind, and Brain (2010), and Dual-Process Theories of the Social Mind (2014). His general areas of interest are social cognition, motivation, and self-control.

Interesting Stories Behind Classical Compositions: Dvorak’s 9th Symphony

This beloved symphony is better known as “From the New World” or “New World” because the famed Czech composer from Bohemia composed this masterpiece in 1893, while he was staying in America. However, the nickname is somewhat misleading, because while he composed it in America (a.k.a. the New World), it’s not an exclusively American symphony. While American Indian and black American themes inspired the symphony, it has as much, if not more, influences from his native Bohemia. Leonard Bernstein said it best when he described the 9th as “multinational.”

Read More

Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 (Obertura) - Richard Strauss, 1896.

Eumir Deodato Almeida's singular rendition of "Also sprach Zarathustra" won the 1973 Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. It is arguably the world's most renowned Latin jazz opus ever.

The introductory movement of the original work, a tone poem by Richard Strauss (1896), served as the musical motif in Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film, "2001: A Space Odyssey." Deodato's arrangement wondrously elaborates on the movie's modernistic theme.

Strauss, in turn, was inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's iconoclastic philosophical treatise of the same title (1883-85). Zarathustra, of course, refers to Zoroaster, the Persian prophet and religious poet of antiquity (traditionally, 6th century BC), on whom Nietzsche based the principal character of his book.

Interesting Stories Behind Classical Compositions:Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony

Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 (sometimes identified as No. 7) really is unfinished. A symphony traditionally has four movements; Schubert completed two movements but then abandoned the project for reasons that are not clear. However, he did sketch a third movement. Various composers have “completed” the symphony based on that sketch, and their interpretation of the first two movements, but for all intents and purposes, Symphony No. 8 remains truly unfinished.

Read More

Fred Stobaugh: Amazing story of the 96-year-old's musical tribute to wife that's outselling Justin Timberlake

Wedding day: Fred and Lorraine 

At one stage his debut single was outselling singing superstar Justin Timberlake and he has pulled in an online audience topping six million.

Not bad for a 96-year-old who’s practically tone deaf.

Yet the story of Fred Stobaugh’s success with Oh Sweet Lorraine – a love letter to his wife of 73 years – is bittersweet.

Because the great, great-grandfather from Illinois in the US, penned the song while he was in mourning for the love of his life who passed away in April at the age of 91.

Fred says: “It comforts me to have written this song. I know she’s looking down on me, smiling, knowing I’ve written this for her.

“I miss her terribly, especially evenings when I’m on my own. There is not a day goes by when I don’t visit her in the cemetery.

“I first met her when she was working on a root beer stand in 1938, she was bringing trays of drinks to car windows.

“She was real timid like, but I fell in love with her right there and then. She was just the prettiest girl I ever saw.”

After channelling his grief into the lyrics, Fred submitted them for a songwriting contest promoted by his local newspaper.

Musicians at the Green Shoe Studio, who ran the ­competition, were so touched they set his words to music.

Four months on and the track has been downloaded more than 200,000 times and a string of musicians have covered it on YouTube. It even hit number five in the iTunes chart, ahead of some music megastars.

As well as making it into the charts of Switzerland and Austria, he entered America’s top 50 at number 42, making him the oldest person to get into the Billboard Hot 100. Tony Bennett was the previous holder of the title when he charted two years ago aged 85.

Fred, who lived with his wife in Peoria, about 150 miles south-west of Chicago, is enjoying being a household name in the US.

“I’m in a daze,” he says. “The song has just exploded all over the world. It’s all been like a big dream to me. I saw the ad in the paper about the contest and I just thought: ‘Shoot, I’ll just write a letter and send it in.’

“I didn’t even think I’d get an answer. You know I just sat there one evening and the song just came to me – the words just seemed to fit Lorraine somehow. We both loved music throughout our time together.

“We would regularly take coach tours to places like Nashville. In fact, one of us would hardly go anywhere without the other. So she’d think this song was just wonderful.”

Fred was just 21 when he first met 16-year-old Lorraine between the end of the Great Depression and the Second World War.

He says: “We dated for two years, then got married. June 26 would have been our 73rd anniversary. She gave me 75 years of her life.”

The couple had three daughters, four grandchildren, five great grandchildren and one great great granddaughter.

With a chorus of “Oh sweet Lorraine, I wish we could do the good times all over again. Oh sweet Lorraine, life only goes around once but never again,” the song reflects the couple’s love of music and each other.

But despite the captivating story, Fred’s song only became a hit through sheer luck.

The competition was only open to musicians who made their own recordings and uploaded them to YouTube. Fred’s mode of entry was more old school.

Jacob and Fred Stobaugh

Jacob and Fred Jacob Colgan of Green Shoe Studios, says: “Instead of a link to video we received a very large manila envelope entitled: Singer ­songwriter contest.

“When I opened it up there was a letter from a 96-year-old man who said: ‘I’ve written a song for my wife.’

It was only as I read through the letter that I realised his wife had passed away just a month earlier. It was just so heartwarming. He also said he was not a musician and not actually a very good singer.

“In fact on the envelope itself it says: ‘PS I don’t sing – I would scare people, ha ha’.”

Although they felt he was ineligible, the studio bosses instead decided, without even meeting Fred, to set the lyrics to music and record the track professionally.

Jacob, who sang the finished composition, says: “When we told him he said: ‘Well, that’s great, but how much is this gonna cost me? I don’t have any money.’

“Then when we told him we were going to do it all for free he started crying on the phone. He said: ‘Why would you do this for me?’

“We just said we weren’t just doing it for him, that we were doing it together because his words had touched us so much.”

But even before the track was released, a ­documentary chronicling its creation seemed to capture the imagination of a nation.

From the moment the nine-minute recording was posted online in July, viewings soared on YouTube and Vimeo. It has now been seen by over six million people.

“We thought the documentary might do well,” says Jacob. “But, we never expected the song to hit the charts.

"We’re freaking out. But really, we’re just honoured we’ve been able to do this for the love of Fred’s life.”
 Fred Stobaugh
Global success at 96
Now the studio and Fred are planning a follow up, once again singing the praises of his beloved Lorraine.

In the meantime he has been besieged by the media in the US who’ve both interviewed him at home and flown him across the States to television studios.

His grandson Rocky Hemp, 42, has found himself acting as his chaperone and press officer, fielding calls from TV, radio and the press and making sure he is safe.

“It’s just been crazy,” he says. “But there was no way I would want him to be going off all over the place on his own. I’ve been filling all sorts of roles, including managing his Facebook page – and, you know what, I don’t even think he really understands what Facebook is.

"But this is kind of payback time because when I was younger I was into writing and recording music and when he would go off to Nashville to watch shows he would always take cassettes of my work and try and make sure I ended up in the right hands.

“He’s been a terrific grandfather to me over the years, and I had a terrific grandmother too.”

With huge sales has come some financial reward too, with around a third of the purchase price of each download going to Fred.

"It won’t make him a millionaire though,” laughs Rocky.

“But I think he has really enjoyed these past few weeks.

“He’s a simple, regular guy who’s suddenly had a little taste of stardom – it’s been relief after seeing him so upset and lonely for so long.”

And Fred agrees.

But he says: “As much as I’ve enjoyed the success of the song I would give it all up in a heartbeat to get just a few moments more with Lorraine.”

Originally Posted October 1, 2013 in the Daily Mirror