Archive for January, 2009


Franz Liszt: The Greatest Pianist Ever?

Saturday, January 31st, 2009
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Is there a way to definitively say someone is the “greatest pianist ever,” especially when the person in question lived long before recorded music? One of the contenders for the title is a gentleman by the name of Franz Liszt. His peers were awed at his skill and proclaimed his playing to be the pinnacle of instrumental prowess. European audiences bowed before him; women fawned over him; and fellow musicians aspired to be like him. Liszt was a master of the piano.

Born in the Kingdom of Hungary in 1811, Liszt was exposed to music at an early age. His father was an aspiring musician who played piano, violin and guitar and was personally acquainted with Beethoven. As a young child, Liszt would watch his father playing piano. He was interested in both sacred and gypsy music, which greatly influenced his later playing.

At age 11 he studied in Vienna and met both Schumann and Beethoven. Moving to Paris as a teenager, he was surrounded by virtuosos. The great violinist Paganini, who so accomplished that he was accused of being in league with the devil, sparked Liszt’s imagination. If someone could perform that well on the violin, he thought, why couldn’t a virtuoso do the same with the piano. He quit playing concerts for a few years in order to devote himself to practice. Having already become wildly successful as a live performer, this move stunned the public.

After moving back into the public eye, Liszt showed his new mastery of the instrument. He wrote that “ten fingers have the power to reproduce the harmonies which are created by hundreds of performers.” Just to show the audience what he meant, he followed an orchestral version of a Berlioz piece with his own solo arrangement. On a lone piano he made the piece more powerful than the entire orchestra.

In 1933 Liszt made an impression on Countess Marie D’Agoult, who left her husband and children to join his side. The couple lived in Switzerland and Italy for four years. He still gave performances, one of which is particularly noteworthy. The pianist Sigismond Thalberg had become very popular, and the two gave a dueling piano concert. While Liszt hadn’t been playing as often as Thalberg, he was more than ready to match his skill. Before a stunned audience, each pianist transcended the ordinary confines of the instrument, both technically and emotionally. Both were proclaimed victors by the assembled guests.

Though he constantly toured and composed his own pieces to rapturous reviews, he wanted to be recognized as a composer rather than a performer. He quit touring at age 36 in order to concentrate on his pieces. Liszt conducted orchestras and gave away free piano lessons. Later in his life he took holy orders, which was a definite contrast to his earlier life as a notorious playboy. He continued to compose experimental piano pieces until his death in 1886.

Throughout both his concert and composing careers, Liszt pushed the envelope of the piano. His work stretched the definitions of both acceptability and accessibility. Since his life, piano playing has never been the same.

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Mr. ShowmanShip of the Piano: Liberace

Friday, January 30th, 2009
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Better known as just Liberace, Wladziu Valentino Liberace was born on the 16th of May, 1919. Born of Polish-Irish parents, he was born with a caul – a membrane covering him when he was born. In some cultures, including the cultural background that Liberace came from, being born with a caul was a sign that the new born was going to be genius in life. True or not, he was a great entertainer otherwise he would have not earned the names – Mr. Showmanship and The Glitter Man.

His father used to blow a horn in many bands and in movie theaters. When it didn’t pay the bills, he had the odd job here and there, working as a laborer. While the father taught the family to learn to value music, Liberace’s mother was one who didn’t agree that investment in music – be it a music player or music lessons – was a wise investment taking into consideration the amount of poverty that they lived in.

Liberace was quoted saying later in career that it was his father’s love for music, which he imbibed in his children was what taught him his musical values. Liberace’s musical education began with the piano classes that he started attending. The concerts that he was taken to and the way they were put to task, to practice and grow in music, imbibed in Liberace the need to be excellent.

Liberace’s obvious talents were noticed by the fact that at age seven, he learned many difficult pieces of music. He became well versed with fellow Polish pianist Paderewski’s work, whom he met when he was eight years old. His meeting with Paderewski greatly fired him up and he admitted that his new found passion for the piano post meeting Paderewski made his the passion previous to the meeting look like neglect, Liberace later said.

Apart from the music side of things, the family was not doing well. The Great Depression has reduced their manner of living greatly. Liberace had a speech problem which he was ridiculed for, in addition to him not being sports savvy and had liking to cook. For ten years, he studied under the able guidance of his teacher Florence Kelly. He learned all he could simultaneously playing gigs wherever he could find them for various occasions.

His first group was the mixers which he formed in 1934. He decided to name himself Walter Busterkeys during this period of time. He started making the style statement that he would be known for in his later life as an entertainer. It got a lot of attention which worked for him.

In 1937, Liberace competed in a music competition where he won the appreciation for his flare and showmanship. At 21, he was playing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In 1942 Liberace made a switch to a more pop sound as opposed to playing classical music which was his forte.

He had to struggle making a career in the early 40’s, but by the time the 40’s ended, he was pretty well established. The reason for this was that he moved on from classical piano, to a more commercial pop sound which was more fun and he made the change from piano player to an all round entertainer.

He used the attention seeking acts that he used when he was growing – only this time he was getting more attention as a result of them. He started talking to the crowds and interacting with them instead of just playing for them. He even had a phonograph accompany him at times. What drove the drive to innovate the way he did was the wish that he had to connect directly with his audience and also to escape the reality of the struggle that a classical pianist would go through at the time.

He tried his hand at soundies too. Soundies were the early versions of the music videos, that we have now. He used the acts that he used to enthrall people with at his nightclub gigs and reproduced them in the soundies that he was in. He became a regular at Las Vegas.

His innovativeness took him to extremes to see that he was the talk of the town, that he got people’s attention. He finally took his final stage name Liberace, categorically stating that it should be pronounced as “Liber-Ah-Chee”. Liberace extended his fans base to the rich and famous at whose parties he was a regular act.

In 1947, he brought a gold plated piano to go with the image that he projected then of being Liberace – the most amazing piano virtuoso of the present day.

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Flying High with The US Air Force Band

Thursday, January 29th, 2009
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There are currently 12 Air Force Bands in the USA. They include the US Air Force Academy Band, The US Air Force Band, US Air Force Band of Liberty and the US Air Reserve Band to name a few. Each of the bands plays in the geographical region in which it is assigned.

The band began in 1941 as the Bolling Army Air Forces Band. The band’s mission according to its website is “to deliver world-class musical products that inspire emotions, create positive impressions and communicate information according to Air Force objectives for the defense of the United States of America.”

To be considered for the United States Air Force Band, applicants must be between 18 and 34 years old. Like some of the other military bands, a waiver can be requested if you are older than 34. Other requirements must be met as well, such as being physically fit and passing yearly physicals. There is also a standard weight to height ratio that must be maintained. More information is found on the Air Force Band website.

Prior to becoming a member of the band, a Secret Security clearance is conducted. Failure to obtain clearance results in a member being asked to leave the US Air Force Band.

How to join

The first step in getting into the US Air Force Band is to submit a resume. Resumes are generally submitted along with a taped CD of a performance. Once the audition committee reviews the CD and resume, they will contact you. A telephone interview is normally done at this time to ensure that you are a likely candidate for the band. The Air Force band website states that some members of the group should have a high school diploma to qualify. Others, such as conductors, should ideally have a bachelor’s degree in music and be younger than 35 years old at the time of auditioning.

After the telephone interview, applicants whose responses did not indicate a problem with security clearance will be invited to a live audition. At this audition, prospective members must be able to demonstrate proficiency in sight reading, music theory and ensemble skills.

Upon successfully getting through the audition, applicants are officially invited to join the Air Force Band. At this time they will need to complete enlistment into the United States Air Force Band and the US Air Force. Recruits must then take and pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test. The final stage in becoming a member of the Band is to undergo basic training in Texas.

Successful completion of the six and a half week training at Lackland Air Force Base guarantees assignment to the Air Force Band. Once assigned, trainees must move to the Bolling Air Force Base, located in Washington, D.C.

As long as you are enlisted in the Air Force you will be a member of the United States Air Force Band. Exceptions are made if your commander permits you to leave or your skill level falls.

The US Air Force Band plays at various functions, and it is normally the military band of choice at Arlington Cemetery. The Ceremonial Brass performs not only at Arlington, but at other ceremonies that have a nationalistic purpose. The Air Force Band is known as the training ground for some of the nation’s best musicians.

Do you have musical talents and a desire to help maintain the morale of your fellow airmen through music? Or do you want to help to increase public awareness of the role and function of the US Air Force? If you answered yes to these questions, perhaps you have what it takes to be a member of the US Air Force Band.

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The Dynamic Talent of Rodgers and Hart

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009
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The celebrated musical team of Rodgers and Hart came about when musician Richard Rodgers paired with lyricist Lorenz Hart. Rodgers, then only 17 years of age, went on to collaborate with Hart to create a musical revue, which hit theatres in 1925.  “The Garrick Gaieties” was initially scheduled for a two night run. Instead, it continued over several months and cemented one of the most successful musical partnerships of the early 20th century.
Lorenz Hart was an energetic and dynamic lyricist, whose talent was evident from an early age. During his teen years he first demonstrated his enthusiasm and talent when putting words to music at summer camps. Rodger’s musical talent emerged in much the same way, with his earliest work consisting of writing music for amateur theatre productions. By the time the pair first met, the 17 year old Rodgers had already completed study at Columbia University and expressed his strong admiration for the dynamic lyrics of Hart’s work.
Following their first meeting, Rodgers said later that the introduction provided him with “a career, a partner, and a best friend.” It was inevitable that the pair would work together, and they began to prepare from that point forward to find the break they both sought as a team. Their big break came on May 17, 1925, when the Garrick Theatre hosted the instantly successful “Garrick Gaieties.” The musical was to run briefly as a charity benefit performance. However, following the success of the main musical number “Manhattan,” the brief run extended to a massive 200 performances. The Rodgers and Hart team had arrived as a new musical force on Broadway.
The body of work produced by Rodgers and Hart was based on a naturally harmonious partnership. Hart’s ability as a lyricist was pushed along by Rodger’s musical inventiveness, while the more business-like Rodgers managed the sales side of things successfully. The team then forged opportunities to work with producers such as Lew Fields (Peggy-Ann), Ziegfield (Betsy) and CB Cochran in the UK.
The advent of the “talkies” had Hollywood calling the pair. The second musical that they produced for film secured their success in this medium, with the release of “Love me Tonight.” The songs “Lover” and “Isn’t it Romantic” gained widespread popularity.  The next musical they wrote was “I Married an Angel.” When MGM shelved the project, Rodgers and Hart rewrote it for Broadway and it had outstanding success on stage. So, MGM reconsidered the project. It was a hit, just like the play.
In the mid 1930’s, the musicals of Rodgers and Hart were rolling out at a rapid rate. “On your Toes” in 1936 was followed by “Babes in Arms” and “I’d Rather be Right” in 1937, “I Married an Angel” and “The Boys from Syracuse” in 1938, “Too Many Girls” in 1939, “Pal Joey” in 1940 and finally “By Jupiter” was released in 1942.
Sadly, personal problems for Hart and his descent into alcoholism saw the gradual breakdown of the musical partnership as their success escalated. The first of what would come to be many famous collaborative works with Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein was released early in 1943. A final attempt to pull the Rodgers and Hart partnership back together was made with the Broadway release of the reworked “A Connecticut Yankee” in 1943. Hart’s health by this time was seriously compromised, with his death coming just 5 days into the Broadway season of the last Rodgers and Hart musical.
The musical partnership of Rodgers and Hart generated some of the most innovative and successful musical comedies on Broadway and in Hollywood. With their collaboration spanning more than 20 years, the partnership of these two musical talents gave the world 28 Broadway musicals, eight Hollywood movies and some 500 plus songs. The rich musical legacy of Rodgers and Hart remains a fine reflection upon an extraordinary musical team.

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Minor 7th Chords

Monday, January 26th, 2009
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Minor 7th chords are one of the most useful chords of all. Great for improvising and creating a mellow sound.


Minor 7th Chords

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