Category Archives: Music

Creative Juice #263

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Creative Juice #263

Beautiful things to look at, and hints for the creative lifestyle.

Andrea in Song

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Just for fun, I’m going to tell you all about me—with songs!

I was born in November, 1952,  when this song was the most popular on radio:

I grew up in New Jersey. That’s right—I’m a Jersey girl.

I went to a Catholic school from kindergarten through eighth grade. This song was frequently sung in my classroom and my church. I had some of these images on holy cards in my missal:

From third grade through eighth grade and then again in tenth grade I took piano lessons from Sister Mercy. All her students practiced the Czerny exercises:

In high school, my favorite activity was chorus—so much so that I dreamed of being a high school choral conductor. My eyes still tear up whenever I hear kids’ voices.

And so I went to music school, first at Duquesne University, then Monmouth College (now Monmouth University) and finished my B.A. at Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) and my M.A. at Trenton State (now The College of New Jersey). In the course of doing a junior practicum at the high school, middle school, and elementary levels, I found out that elementary music class is the happiest place on earth. (Who knew? We didn’t have a regular music class at the parochial school I attended.) So I left my high school dreams behind and worked in elementary school instead. I found a video online of highlights of my kindergarten end-of-year program back in 2011. The theme of the show was the ocean. I’m playing the piano.

Greg and I married in 1974. This was the music for our first dance at our wedding:

From 1979 to 1989 we were busy giving birth to five kids. This song was a common sound in our house during those years:

Now we’re empty nesters. Greg spends his days refinishing gunstocks. I blog and work on my writing.

Now it’s your turn, bloggers especially: Compile a list of songs that tells your story, with videos if possible. Post it on your blog, or on social media, and give us a link in the comments.

Creative Juice #262

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Creative Juice #262

A lot of interesting articles this week.

  • Cats in stores.
  • I never really understood how vital the bison had been to the ecology of the prairies. Read how Native Americans are spearheading the effort to reintroduce bison to the wild.
  • Don’t you just hate it when you’re writing a scene in your novel and you get stuck? Here’s three ways to get unstuck.
  • Are you tempted to throw in the towel? Here’s why you should persevere.
  • Children’s book authors: when you submit a picture book manuscript, do you show where the page breaks are? It’s a controversy, but I like this approach.
  • A stroll through Jersey City, including a couple of awesome murals (be sure to scroll to the end).
  • Crap. I think I may be the friend that all my friends lovingly tolerate. I recognize myself in this poem.
  • The search for authenticity.
  • Oooo. More artistic people to follow on Instagram.
  • Yellow Submarine means different things to different people.
  • Connecting our Natural Worlds is an art quilt exhibition. In addition to photographs of the quilts, the website has links to videos of the artists talking about their creations.
  • How to write fiction about drug abuse when you have no clue.

Claude Debussy

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Claude Debussy was born August 22, 1862, in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France. He was a highly influential composer of the 20th century. His melodies and harmonies did for music what the the Impressionist painters of his time did for art. He is sometimes called the father of Impressionist music, a title he distained. His major works include Clair de lune (“Moonlight,” in Suite bergamasque, 1890–1905), Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894; Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun), the opera Pelléas et Mélisande (1902), and La Mer (1905; “The Sea”).

Listen to this piano roll recording of Debussy playing Clair de Lune:

Debussy showed his musical gift on the piano by the age of nine. In 1873 he entered the Paris Conservatory, where he studied piano and composition for eleven years.

While living with his parents in a poverty-stricken suburb of Paris, he was hired by a Russian millionairess, Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck, to play duets with her and her children. He traveled with her to her palatial residences throughout Europe during his long summer breaks from the Conservatory.

In 1884 Debussy won the Grand Prix de Rome with his cantata L’Enfant prodigue (The Prodigal Child). He was awarded a three-year stay at the Villa Medici in Rome to pursue his creative work. He fled from the Villa Medici after two years and returned to Paris. He associated with several women of dubious reputation. His first wife, Rosalie (“Lily”) Texier, a dressmaker, whom he married in 1899, shot herself, though not fatally.

Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun:

In the course of his career, which covered only 25 years, Debussy was constantly breaking new ground. He said that exploration was the essence of music. His single completed opera, Pelléas et Mélisande (first performed in 1902), demonstrates how Richard Wagner’s concept of Gesamtkunstwerk (“total art work,” which encouraged artists to draw on different art forms to create a cohesive whole) could be adapted to portray subjects like the dreamy nightmarish figures of this opera who were doomed to self-destruction. Debussy and his librettist, Maurice Maeterlinck, said that they were haunted by the terrifying tale of Edgar Allan Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher. In his seascape La Mer (1905) he was inspired by the ideas of the English painter J.M.W. Turner and the French painter Claude Monet.

Debussy’s work cannot be judged on the musical level alone. “One must seek the poetry in his work,” said his friend, the French composer Paul Dukas. There is not only poetry in his music; there is often an inspiration from painting. “I love painting [les images, a generic term that might apply to the whole of Debussy’s work] almost as much as music itself,” he told the Franco-American composer Edgard Varèse.

In 1905 Debussy’s illegitimate daughter, Claude-Emma, was born. (He had divorced Lily Texier in 1904 and subsequently married his daughter’s mother, Emma Bardac.) Debussy’s spontaneity and sensitive nature are particularly noticeable in his piano suite, Children’s Corner, which he wrote for his daughter, nicknamed Chouchou.

Seong-Jin Cho plays “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner:

Debussy did not adhere to the harmonic practices of the 19th century. He formulated a “21-note scale” designed to “drown” the sense of tonality. Debussy also challenged the traditional way orchestras used instruments. For example, he rejected the idea that string instruments should be predominantly lyrical. The pizzicato scherzo from his String Quartet (1893) and the writing for the violins in La Mer, conveying the rising storm waves, introduce a new concept of string color. In fact, in his music, the conventional utilization of the orchestra, with its rigid woodwind, brass, and string departments, becomes deconstructed sort of in the manner of the Impressionist painters. Each instrument becomes almost a soloist, as in a vast chamber-music ensemble.

Le Mer:

Debussy’s life was cut short by cancer on March 25, 1918.

Information for this article came from the Britannica website.

Video of the Week #324: Chopsticks

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Two of my favorite pianists being ridiculously sublime. Lang Lang and Jon Batiste.

Creative Juice #259

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Creative Juice #259

Pretty things and practical advice.

Creative Juice #258

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Creative Juice #258

All sorts of info to inspire your artistic brain.

  • I know the common green mantises; I didn’t know they have diverse cousins.
  • Flip through Nathalie’s art journal.
  • How things get done in Mozambique.
  • Lovely photographs of ordinary objects.
  • Funny and amazing animal videos.
  • Natural poses to suggest when you’re taking photographs of groups of people.
  • Teeny tiny paintings.
  • This artist’s quilted portraits celebrate Black life. Be sure to click on the link at the end of the article to see more. (Actually, you have to click on the little box that appears when you click the link.)
  • For the writers: mining memories for your memoir.
  • Incredible photographs of endangered species.
  • For the artists: open calls, grants, residencies, and fellowships.
  • The Presto from the Summer concerto from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons played on a big honkin’ organ.

Robert Schumann, Romantic Composer

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When I was a music education student at Glassboro State College (now known as Rowan University), I took a vocal repertoire class on art songs and discovered German lieder. All the women in our class fell in love with Robert Schumann’s song cycle Frauenliebe und Leben:

Click for links to the lyrics and translations of all the songs in Frauenliebe und Leben. You can follow along as you listen. I’m sure you’ll agree that these songs are incredibly romantic! Several students in the class worked Schumann’s songs into their senior recitals. (I’m sorry to say I no longer have my program and I can’t remember if I did or not. It was 47 years ago.)

Schumann was born on June 8, 1810. He began piano lessons at age seven, and loved literature and writing. In his teens, he continued to study piano and he wrote novels. But his family was not a happy one. When he was 16, his father died and his sister committed suicide. In order for Robert to receive his inheritance, his father stipulated that he had to complete a three-year course of study at the university, so Schumann enrolled as a law student at the University of Leipzig. He boarded with Friedrich Wieck, and also studied piano with him. Wieck had a daughter, Clara, who was ten years younger than Robert. During this time he discovered the music of Franz Schubert, who became a major influence.

In 1830, Schumann dropped out of law to concentrate on his piano studies with Wieck. As Schumann realized that numbness in one of his fingers was preventing him from becoming the performer he desired to be, he became active as a critic, and his articulate analyses of music of the past and of up and coming musicians was as well-appreciated by the public as his own compositions.

During the 1830s he wrote the majority of the pieces that established his reputation as a composer for the piano: Carnaval, the Davidsbündler Tänze, the Symphonic Etudes, the Fantasy in C, Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood), Kreisleriana, and others.

Vladimir Horowitz playing Scenes from Childhood:

During this time, he befriended Frédéric Chopin and Felix Mendelssohn. He also fell in love with Wieck’s daughter, Clara, provoking her father’s opposition.

By 1840, Clara Wieck, now 20 years old, was a distinguished pianist and had been in the public eye for more than a decade. Because Clara’s father would not permit her to marry Schumann, Robert and Clara filed a lawsuit against him. Schumann focused his pent-up emotion on vocal music, composing nearly 140 songs in 1840, most of them in the anxious months before August, when the marriage permission suit was decided in their favor. In 1841 he wrote two symphonies — No. 1 in B-flat and No. 4 in D minor — as well as Overture, Scherzo and Finale, and a Fantasie in A minor for piano and orchestra. In 1842 Schumann focused on chamber music, composing three string quartets, the Piano Quintet in E-flat, and the Piano Quartet in E-flat.

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under Leonard Bernstein play Schumann’s Symphony No. 4:

Such incredible productivity in a single genre at a time was symptomatic of the manic cycles of what was probably bipolar disorder. The depressive cycle turned up as the 1840s wore on, leaving the composer incapacitated. At the end of 1844 Schumann and Clara moved to Dresden. During his next few years, he completed the Piano Concerto in A minor, his Symphony No. 2 in C, his one opera, Genoveva, and a dramatic poem based on Byron’s Manfred.

In 1850, Schumann accepted a position as municipal music director in Düsseldorf. During the three seasons he held the job, Schumann ticked off city administrators and, due to his increasingly erratic behavior on the podium, lost the respect of the orchestra and chorus. He was fired in the fall of 1853. But during that time the Schumanns cultivated friendships with the renowned violinist Joseph Joaquim and the 20-year-old Johannes Brahms, who Schumann immediately recognized was extremely talented.

During the winter of 1854, Schumann’s insanity escalated, due to syphilis. On a February morning he walked to a bridge over the Rhine and threw himself in; he was rescued by fishermen. Insisting that for Clara’s protection he be institutionalized, he was placed in a sanatorium. His doctors prevented Clara from seeing him for more than two years, until days before his death. Meanwhile and after, Brahms stepped up and made sure that Clara and her and Robert’s seven children were cared for.

Schumann is best remembered for his vocal and piano music. His literary sensitivity and introspective nature shows in his work. Nearly all of his piano music refers to literature or poetry.

Schumann’s lyrical, intense musicality produced some of the most beautiful and moving lieder in the repertoire. His Dichterliebe (Poet’s Love), a setting of 16 poems by Heinrich Heine, is his best-known song cycle and a supreme achievement in German lied. Other cycles include the previously mentioned  Frauenliebe und Leben (Women’s Love and Life) and two sets titled Liederkreis (one to poems of Heine, one to poems of Joseph von Eichendorf).

He also composed four symphonies and a substantial amount of chamber music. His Piano Concerto is Schumann at his best. 

Biographical information for this post was taken from an article by Ted Libbey, author of The NPR Listener’s Encyclopedia of Classical Music, who said about Schumann, “He never became a great pianist, was a failure as a conductor, and at times was not even a very good composer. But his entire being was music, informed by dream and fantasy. He was music’s quintessential Romantic, always ardent, always striving for the ideal.”

Creative Juice #256

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Creative Juice #256

Things to think about, things to laugh about, things to love.

Video of the Week # 318: Musical Instruments You Don’t Often Get to Hear

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