Saturday, December 26, 2009

Miami has innovative program for middle school musicians: grades improve!


Mark Potter on NBC reported on “America’s Children’s Orchestras for Peace” in Miami/Dade County FL, an extracurricular music program comparing to what was done in Venezuela by Gustavo Dudamel. The program has been shown to lead to an in grades for middle school kids. The music shown in the MSNBC report was mostly Christmas carol music.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Sundance Channel presents "Rufus Wainwright: Prima Donna"


On Monday Dec. 21 The Sundance Channel broadcast a documentary “Rufus Wainwright: Prima Donna”, directed by George Scott. The Sundance link for the film is here.

It’s unusual for a young artists (Rufus is now 36) to achieve enough “notability” (a Wikipedia term) to get a documentary film made about him for cable. He was born in New York State but spent a lot of his youth in Montreal. He came out as gay as a teenager and could convince people he was older, and talked his way into clubs – a sensitive item to mention, but it does happen. The film mentions a gay bar named the Akbar in Los Angeles, but that sounds like a bizarre name for such a club.

Early in the documentary Rufus says that everyone needs to find a personal passion before puberty, or else he will fall under the spell of other people’s aims. He describes himself as a complete libertarian (I don’t recall hearing about him in my Libertarian Party of Minnesota days from 1997-2003).

The film talks about the classical music world, and the view of classical music as a “museum” art film, but Rufus seems to be trying to bridge the pop and classical worlds (but so did Leonard Bernstein). A lover raised in Germany introduced him to the world of Viennese music, including Mahler and Schoenberg. The classical audience is somewhat more demanding and critical.

In fact, an early scene in the documentary shows him trying out for a part in Puccini’s “Tosca”.

The documentary describes a period of drug abuse, where Rufus temporarily goes blind. Then he enters rehab. Later, his mother develops cancer, and Rufus works for her to hear his works.

The film goes briefly into his CD and DVD “Rufus Does Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall” (etc.).

Then the film shows his composition of “Prima Donna”, or “A Day in the Life of an Opera Singer”. The musical style is a mixture of pop and parody of late romanticism, with a touch of comedy. Some of it reminds one of Bernstein’s “Candide” a bit in spots. A little of it resembles Glass. There was some controversy over the commission with the Met. The work was premiered in Manchester, England.

Wikipedia mentions a 2006 DVD "All I Want" with a documentary "A Portrait of Rufus Wainwright."

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Montreal. My most recent visit was in August 1993.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

LDS, Presbyterian Churches in Arlington present combined Christmas concert





On December 13, 2009 the Ward 2 Congregation in Arlington VA of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints joined with the Trinity Presbyterian Church across Inglewood Street, on north 16th (very near the Virginia Hospital Center) to present a one hour “The Sounds of Christmas: Carols of the Season”.

The Trinity church provided trollers, tuned to play a D Major scale (“Joy to the World”) which joined with the LDS choir to perform “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” ; later LDS performed “Night of Silence”.

The two congregations are as far apart politically as imaginable. Both congregations graduated a lot of high school students this year. It’s interesting to note that students who attend church (or synagogue or mosque) of any political leaning tend to do much better in school. There were relatively few minority members present, however.

There were a very large number of small children in attendance. The service was noisier than usual.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Did my own piano lessons make me a good student as a kid? Probably so.


I checked into some scrapbook paper records of my own piano lessons today. It looks like my parents purchased the Kimball spinet piano in February 1951, when I was in second grade (I was born in July 1943). But my first recital took place in June 1952 in Falls Church, near the end of my third grade year. I played the “Tom Thumb March” which is the first piece in John Thompson’s “Teaching Little Fingers to Play”. (The First and Second grade books got more interesting). The piece comprised all middle C’s.

I did well in school the first two grades, but had trouble getting along with my third grade teacher right off the bat. I fell behind physically, a problem that would always nag me, and I actually suddenly had learning difficulties (doing poorly on a “My Weekly Reader” test that fall). But it seems that I started taking piano from a certain Mrs. McDermott in the basement of an Arlington home in November 1951. Curiously, I snapped out of my learning doldrums and by fifth grade was a consistently good student, as I would be from then on, all the way through college. Did the music help? The evidence is certainly that it did.

On the other hand, the "space" or resources in my brain used for music could have detracted from normal physical development. But generally that has not been the case for other male musicians. So I don't know why this happened with me. Maybe a case of measles after first grade (in 1950) did some subtle damage.

Does learning an instrument help with academics in general? There’s a good chance it does. Kids who perform (music, drama) tend to do better in school as a whole. Most movie studios have to hire studio teachers, and it seems like usually only the smartest kids consistently get parts.

The Kimball got out of tune over the decades, and was given away in 2003 before I moved back to the DC area from Minnesota.

Some experts on autism and Asperger's say that developmental issues like mine are the result of a "slow brain reaction time." I could become good at piano (and develop a musical ear) because that involves turning on one "brain application" and letting it run -- in a manner similar to what a computer has to do to start a service when it boots up -- the brain works very efficiently once it is engaged on something, and develops a narrow range of interests. (Can any concert pianist explain how he can play a Rachmaninoff concerto perfectly?) But slowly this range still expands, as into academics, anyway, but always at a measured pace. Playing the piano well (an entire composition) engages the brain very differently than does driving a racing car or hitting a fast ball in MLB.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Trans-Siberian Orchestra on PBS, to come to Baltimore



On November 30, Maryland Public Television presented a brief concert by the “Trans-Siberian Orchestra”, called “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve”. Ossie Davis (late) narrates the homeward journey of a runaway girl who encounters a shelter. A variety of Christmas and adaptations of classical music with a rock-like setting occur, such as the famous Pachelbel Canon.

The link for Trans-Siberian is here. It will perform in Baltimore soon. There was a mystery adventure film by the same name in 2007.