A school in Singapore has an unconventional, but enlightened approach to teaching piano. This is a glimpse into the future of music education.
Are We Them? was an REM tribute project I joined after I ‘retired’ from the bar-band biz, so I wouldn’t completely lose my chops. It was a reason to get out of the house for a few hours every week. From the vault, here’s the opening number with a brand new band, live at JD’s Concert Pub North from 2016. Greg V on bass, and video editing. As Tom Snyder used to say on the Tomorrow show, “Welcome to the colorcast.”
What’s The Frequency Kevin?
In my book, I mentioned Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue as the earliest example of jazz in an orchestral composition, and I said that every serious music student, classical and modern, should get acquainted with it.
After you have listened to the orchestral version, then you should hear Alpin Hong’s rendition of the solo piano version.
Also, many people who love Ravel’s orchestral version of pictures at an exhibition have never heard the piano solo version as originally written by Mussorgsky. (I Hope I got that right.) Alpin Hong performs that as well.
In my book, I quoted a section of this very interesting talk Mr Hong gave at TEDx, ‘interesting’ even to non-musicians. Take a look:
Suzan Stroud is a writer and piano teacher. She has written a short article which might interest anyone who is about to buy a piano for their home. I hadn’t heard of them until I read her article. Suzan has a great blog about music education. She raises many of the same issues as me, and I agree with at least 90% of what she says. Read about hybrid pianos at her website.
I hope you’ll take a look at the video Yes Sounding Out on Youtube, part of the BBC’s Crown Jewels series from 1971. The link above goes to a page with parts of the interviews in the video transcribed. I’ve also included a few historical notes of my own. Some of the band member’s remarks have a bearing on modern music education:
5:16 Bill Bruford: “Yes was a good idea at the time. It still is a good idea. Because I wanted to be a musician, and I wanted to learn about the sort of jazz tradition and things. I would have gone to school, were there a school. But there wasn’t a school, so the best thing to do was to form one and to take it around the country, which is Yes. The best place to learn to play is on a bandstand.”
A response to a FaceBook post by Tom Marcellis
I like to engage in thoughtful dialogue and debate with other music instructors, like myself. I welcome comments, and encourage discussion, and the free exchange of ideas. I want to create a space where serious-minded professionals can compare notes about the best approaches and methods for teaching music.
In that spirit, Tom Marcellis, a fellow music instructor from Florida, got the ball rolling with his gracious response to something I wrote on my Get The Most Out Of Music Lessons book page on FaceBook.
Whoa! Hold up there, pardner. You got me confused with someone else. I never said you weren’t a good musician. And I also never said your students don’t appreciate you. In fact, I’m going to disregard that part of your post out of courtesy, because I’m not sure I’m the intended recipient.
As to the second part, you’ve got the right guy.
In a post on FaceBook, I did write a list of Grammy-winning instrumentalists who don’t read staff notation, and don’t use it during the composition or songwriting process. They were Sir Paul McCartney CH MBE, Prince, Mariah Carey and Stevie Wonder. Tom thinks my list is BS? Let’s see.
(2) Does Mariah Carey read and compose in staff notation?
(3) Did Prince read and compose in staff notation? Langebleu, one of the moderators at Prince.Org (independent and unofficial Prince fan community) posted this in 2003:
(4) Finally, does Stevie Wonder read and compose in staff notation? The answer is obviously ‘No!’
Does Stevie Wonder read and compose in music in braille? There’s one reference to Wonder possibly reading braille. But I can’t find any reference to him using it in the course of his daily life as a composer, or as a musician, and I’m betting you can’t find it either. I personally remember an interview with him on the old KZEW, in the really old days before Labella and Rody, where he talked about carrying a cassette player with him all the time so he could record musical ideas as he got them, no matter where he was.
So the answer is still ‘No!’
Looks like my list of non-reading Grammy-winning instrumentalists checks out after all. Looks like Tom was just trying to spread a little “fake news,” but we headed him off at the pass.
Of course, the point of my post was if these Grammy-winning instrumentalists can’t read the officially-transcribed sheet music to their own songs, then maybe it’s time for us to all take a fresh look at the traditional definition of “musical literacy,” so that well-meaning instructors like Tom don’t mislead their students into thinking that “musical literacy” is nothing more than just “the ability to read and write music.” Because that’s the way just about all traditional music teachers define it – at least up till now.
Next time, we’re going drill down a little on that third part of Tom’s post …
A while back, someone sent me a link to a compilation of 14 of Zappa’s guitar solos recorded live in New York in 1976.
Here is a free PDF of instructions on setting up the online note identification app at www.MusicTheory.Net. This is a great tool for anyone who wants to improve their note-reading skills.
Reading music requires two basic skills. First, you have to identify the note name based on it’s position on the staff. Second, you have to read the rhythms associated with the notes. To get better at reading, it’s a good idea to address these two tasks separately.
The note ID exercises help you develop the first of those two skills with this easy question-and-answer game. Click the link below for a downloadable PDF with visual instructions on how to set up this incredibly easy and useful learning app for someone who has never read music before.
Also, please consider donating to MusicTheory.Net, and purchasing their learning apps.
Here are three tracks from the San Francisco band, It’s A Beautiful Day, featuring classically-trained violinist, David LaFlamme, and his wife Linda Baker LaFlamme. “LaFlamme” was a stage name he chose to protect his orchestral career. Like John Lord from Deep Purple, LaFlamme understood that in the world of classical music, playing rock music is often a disqualifier. Their self-titled 1969 album is one of the best from the 60s psychadelic-rock genre. The engineering was good, the writing and the arranging excellent. The combination of electric violin with organ contributed to the band’s unique sound. White Bird and Hot Summer Days were long-running FM radio hits.
Hot Summer Days
David LaFlamme: “There had been a lot of interest in me becoming a member of the Utah Symphony there. I had played with the Symphony again I had won a couple of different competitions and because of the competitions I was invited to play with the Symphony as a soloist. To me the world of Classical music was at that point was mostly a lot of old people and I was very young, very spirited and really interested in a lot more kinds of music than just heavy classical music which I had played a lot of all of my life. So I set out on this musical odyssey, I guess you could call it, to discover and play with a lot of different types of musicians and a lot of different types of music in San Francisco.”