December 18th, 2013
Some friends of mine are dancing in The Nutcracker over the holidays so I thought this last blog of 2013 should feature Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece. I know that when I think of Christmas the first thing that comes into my head is ballet. Well not really! In fact I have never been to the ballet and I wouldn’t say no to a free ticket if anyone wants to take me, he blatantly hints.
The Nutcracker premièred at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on Sunday, 18 December 1892. Reviewers were non-plussed but raved about the score and it wasn’t until the 1960’s that the ballet became a Christmas mainstay particularly in the United States.
Here is the “ Sugarplum Fairy “ (their misspelling of faerie) played on the glass harp.
I love that version and have great admiration for the two musicians.
Short and sweet this week and I will leave you with a video sample from the ballet. You’re eyes will be riveted on the main dancers but pay attention to the saucy lion who decides it’s time for his 15 minutes of fame. You’ll be glad you did.
Have a wonderful holiday season and may 2014 bring you abundance and joy.
December 10th, 2013
“ I’m too old and beyond hope! Go and redeem some younger, more promising creature, and leave me to keep Christmas in my own way!”
Well it’s that blasted time of year again. There is no place one can turn, walk or run and not be reminded that Christmas is upon us. It’s not the true meaning and spirit of Christmas that I’m appalled at, it’s the commercialism, lies and phoniness.
I personally love the idea of Siberian shaman going from tent to tent on the Winter Solstice handing out gifts of amanita mushrooms to everyone to combat the effects of low sunlight, low energy and the lethargy of being snow bound. Now that’s a tradition I can get behind or chew on! ha ha!
What I can’t abide is the gross consumption of consumer goods that corporate psychologists have tranced us into thinking we must buy for our loved ones and people we hardly know. And if we don’t then we face being ostracized and labeled as bad people. Gifts should be given with an open heart and when the desire to give arrives. Aren’t there 365 days in a year in which to give? Just ask anyone who manages a soup kitchen! For 364 days no one gives a shit and then everyone wants to help out on that magical day 25 at the end of the year.
And then there’s Jesus.
How on earth did the spin-doctors combine the pagan Winter Solstice, the myth of St. Nicholas and the birth of Jesus into one glorious multiple orgasm of retail mayhem! It boggles the mind.
But on to audio matters as this is the odd audio blog.
Do you hear what I hear? Why yes I have heard that annoying song about one thousand times already and it’s only December 11th. T’is the season of the Christmas song and as you may have guessed I am not a fan. Did you ever ask yourself, “ why do we only listen to and sing Christmas songs in the winter in November and December? Aren’t they good enough to sing at other times of the year? “
The answer is no, they are not good enough and besides that the lyrics are much too specific. Go into any retail store, mall or café and you’ll hear the 115th version of “ Frosty the Snowman “ or “ Jingle Bells “. Again it’s the trance state induced by such songs that get people to buy, buy, buy! It’s Pavlov an in nature, as soon as you hear it your mood changes and instead of salivating, you reach for your credit card. Ah yes, I maxed out my credit cards buying things you don’t need and which won’t last and you probably don’t even like- but it’s Christmas.
And why do famous singers keep pumping out Christmas records? Money and exposure of course! That nasty singer can’t be as bad as they say he or her is because they sing Christmas songs, right!
Well if I don’t start sharing some fun audio-you’re going to think I’m the Grinch.
“ And then, they’ll do something I hate most of all. Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, will stand close together… with Christmas bells ringing. They’ll stand hand in hand… and those Whos… will start singing! “
There is one way to sway a Grinch like me who’s offended and that’s to cover a song in a way unintended. Take a Christmas song and chop it all up, a different arrangement and ______ it all up!
Ok so here we go. Conveniently, my talented friend, Suzy Easton, just released 5 Christmas songs that have been rearranged delightfully and you can find them here…
Nice work Suzy.
And here is a classic cover of a classic with two unlikely musical collaborators. Bing and David…
Ok not much of a rearrangement but freakin cool!
Wouldn’t be much of a Christmas music blog without “ Jingle Bells “ and take it away Dick…
And finally some more Richard Cheese and this time “ Do they know its Christmas Time “. Not as classic as the others but its now been around for 29 years.
“ You’re a rotter, Mr. Grinch / You’re the king of sinful sots / Your heart’s a dead tomato splotched with moldy purple spots / Mr. Gri-inch! / You’re a three-decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce! “
December 4th, 2013
When evolving hominids started making tools and fashioning musical instruments from the natural environment you can be sure that their eyes fell on the animals that flew, ran, crawled and slithered along the ground. But which animals to use and how to produce the best sound?
In the only known photographic record of an early human or caveman utilizing a dinosaur to make music, we see a crude yet affective xylophone.
Photo courtesy of NASA.
Of course with the extinction of the dinosaurs, due in large part to ridiculously vigorous concert scheduling, early humans turned to mammals and rodents. The geographical dispersion of growing human populations influenced the musical genre and choice of instrumentation. The early Celts for example and especially the Scottish tribes had an affection (healthy or unhealthy is not for this blogger to comment upon) for the ungulates and in particular sheep and goats which would be surpassed in later years by the Australians.
Here we see a Scotsman playing a jaunty jig and reel on his goatar a precursor to the bagpipe. Unfortunately the switch from goatar to bagpipe was purely economic in nature as the goatar could only be played once!
Moving on to North America and the extreme cold temperatures of the Canadian north, we see that the style of music became more harmonious and melodic due in large part to the instrumentation. Musical individualists began to emerge and Loreena McKennitt, the Enya of North York, became a shining star of medieval harp music.
“ I have come to use the pan-Celtic history, which spans from 500 BC to the present, as a creative springboard. The music I am creating with the harp seal is a result of waiting patiently and quietly on the ice by the breathing hole which may or may not be overtly Celtic in nature. “
believed to be Loreena McKennitt website notes for “ Mask and the Mirror “
And what about cats? For hundreds of years, catgut was used to make violin strings but what about the rest of the cat? What about the whole cat?
Archeologists have recently unearthed previously unknown sheet music and sketches of the Viennese maestro Ludwig van Beethoven. The sketches show the plans and design for an innovative instrument called the Katsertina.
To date, no evidence of the instruments existence has been found but the sheet music leads one to believe that at least a prototype was built.
Opus 40: Romance for cat and tuba in G major (1802)
Opus 124: Consecration of the litter box (Die Weihe des Hauses), overture (1822)
With the proliferation of groups like PETA (spoil sports) and other animal welfare groups, using live and whole animals as musical instruments is on the decline. Those composers still using animals have tended to exclusively use rodents (gerbils and mice) due to their small size and portability in case one needed to run from hostile and sometimes outraged crowds.
To learn more about gerbils please visit:
And finally, a wonderful and spritely performance of “ The Bells of St, Mary’s “