Posted in Music stories, Musical Creativity

Lessons are about more than music

When you give yourself or your child the gift of music lessons, you’re doing more than introducing and building the skill of music in their (or your) lives. What are some the things that you are giving themselves (or you)?

 

You are giving a growth in emotion. There is music to make us happy, joyful, ecstatic, sad, broken, and many other words! Music connects us deeper to our emotions because when we make music, we get to bring that emotion out of the music and share with the listener.

 

You are giving a growth in empathy. Hand in hand with the emotional growth, as musicians, we put ourselves in the place of the composer, the arranger, or even the listener. As we do that, it brings about a growth in thinking about the place of others in the spectrum of making, creating and hearing music.

 

You are giving a growth in confidence. As students of all ages learn and develop musical skills, one of the things to see is a growth in confidence. When students believe that they can achieve a goal or grow a skill, it’s amazing to see their progress! And it can translate outside of music making!

 

You are giving a growth in physical skills. Music helps in brain development, whether it’s building hand-eye coordination through tracking the music and playing an instrument (even the voice is an instrument!) or whether it’s the physical skills of stretching an octave on the piano, or learning hand positions on the guitar, there is a lot of physical development that comes through making music.

 

You are giving a growth in mental development. Music is a language, and studies have shown that when you learn a language, there is a growth in mental development. It’s learning different terminologies and their definitions, learning about the stories behind composers and their compositions and much more!

 

You are giving a growth in community. Music is about community. Even if you learn an “individual” instrument like piano or guitar, typically you have an audience. And you are joining the greater community of people who call themselves musicians. And in joining the community at Harmanny Music Education, you’re joining a community of like-minded individuals and families who want to grow and build skills and knowledge.

 

There are so many more things that come from music lessons, such as self-worth, discipline, creativity, learning to do your best work, persistence and even more! If you click on this link, you can sign up to give yourself or your child these gifts and so many more! To find out more about Craig, click here. To see frequently asked questions about lessons, click here. To see when Craig has time available for lessons, click here.

Posted in Music History, Music stories

What Child is This?

Throughout my years of life and musicianship, I’ve had lots of favorite Christmas songs. But more recently, one that wasn’t high on the list of my favorites has become one. And in today’s post, I’m going to explain a little about the song and why I’ve come around on it.

 

What Child is This is one of the few Christmas carols written in a minor key. Minor keys usually evoke a sad or melancholy feeling, where major keys, usually evoke a happy or triumphant feeling. So what’s going on here? Well, you can ask the question, “which came first, the melody or the lyrics?” to a song, and in this case, the answer is the melody. An old English tune named “Greensleeves” about a woman…with….green….sleeves. Logical, right? So what does it have to do with Christmas? Nothing. The tune fit the text, and it isn’t clear (but doesn’t like it was intended) if William Chatterton Dix, the author of the text intended it to be set to music at all.

 

So what’s the story behind the words? This is where it gets fun. In 1865, Dix experienced an unexpected and severe illness that left him bedridden and suffering from depression. Not fun at all! But this experience (and his recovery) led to a spiritual renewal in him, and somewhere around the Christmastime of 1865, he penned these words.

1. What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

2. Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

3. So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Raise, raise a song on high,
The Virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

 

These words are extremely powerful, and set to the tune “Greensleeves” are a perfect backdrop for the full life of Jesus. At Christmas, yes, Christians celebrate His birth, but His whole purpose was not to solely be born, but to redeem the world through His death and resurrection. THAT is why I’ve changed my opinion on this song. It’s not just about a cute little baby born in a stable, laid in a manger (that part may or may not be true) on a silent night (definitely not true! There were people and animals everywhere!), but it’s the full story. Some songs focus on a snippet or a section of a story, and leave you wanting more. This gives you a full picture, leading to the last verse, reminding us that it isn’t just about a birth, not only about nails and a spear piercing, but salvation for the whole world!

 

Posted in Music History, Music stories, Musical Creativity

Get Back Thoughts #2: Teamwork

Last week, I wrote about the Beatles documentary “Get Back”. I wrote about how they needed help and got it from Billy Preston. This week, I’m going to talk about teamwork.

The Beatles were known as the “Fab Four”. It wasn’t John or Paul or George or Ringo. It was John and Paul and George and Ringo. One of the things that I really appreciated in watching this documentary was that even in the midst of personal disagreement and strife (this was very close to the end of the Beatles as a band), when they made music together, you could see how they worked together to create an amazing and unique sound.

One of the ways you see this is in their songwriting process. It wasn’t always just Paul or George or Ringo or John individually writing the songs. It’s all of them working together. One of my favorite parts was when Ringo was sitting down at the piano working on Octopus’s Garden.

Music can be an individual effort. But from my experience in making music throughout my life, I’ve found so much more joy in a collective experience. Whether that was singing in a choir, playing handbells in a group, playing trumpet in band, accompanying singers or instrumentalists on the piano or organ, the teamwork that goes into making music is so important. The Beatles, even in the midst of struggles still worked and clicked together in making music. Whether it was just goofing around on songs they all knew, or making new songs, you can see their teamwork happen so clearly.

Yesterday, I got an email from a church that I am filling in for on the organ later in the month. The email was letting me know that at each service, there would be two violinists. I got very excited and replied immediately saying that I would be looking forward to it. The response I received intrigued me. There was some worry that it would be an issue. My response to that was that I was going to start looking through my resources for music to work on. Of course, this church doesn’t know me or my background, I was just recommended as a sub. They don’t know that I’ve grown up around music in the church, spent 18 years as full time church music minister and that I feel very strongly about utilizing instruments in worship. But sometimes, musicians don’t always want to work with others. Sometimes, musicians don’t like working with others. When we do work together, beautiful music happens. Just like what you see when you watch the documentary “Get Back”.

“Get Back” is currently streaming on Disney+. It is in 3 parts, each about 2+ hours in length.

Posted in Music History, Music stories

Get Back Thoughts #1: Help

Recently on Disney+, the documentary “Get Back”, using archival footage of The Beatles was released. I had the opportunity to watch all 3 parts, and as a musician and a Beatles fan, I had a lot of takeaways. I will be sharing a few different snippets of my thoughts over the next couple of weeks on Wednesdays.

The subtitle that I came up with for this was “Help”. Not just because of the song the Beatles wrote by the same name, but my takeaway was on musicians needing help. One of my biggest fascinations with this documentary was the creative writing process. They had a deadline of January 31st, 1969. They started on January 3rd, 1969. Essentially, a month to write, craft and record songs. Ultimately, it took longer than the month, but that was pretty much their time frame.

This album brought the songs “Get Back”, “The Long and Winding Road” and my personal favorite, “Let It Be”. All of these (and others) were written in the course of a month. The creative process is fascinating. By this time, there had been a lot of interpersonal tension, and that plays out in the documentary. But, to watch them work together, make music together, and have fun together is an absolute joy.

The other “Help” part was when they realized they needed an extra musician. This was the biggest, most well-known band in the world. They had created songs that people loved and it was always just the 4 of them. But they needed more in their sound. So, they included Billy Preston, keyboard player for Ray Charles. The maturity and understanding to ask for someone else to be involved speaks volumes. They could have been arrogant about it and said that they didn’t need help. They could have settled for what it sounded like without Billy. It was OK, but adding Billy and electric piano in made everything come alive and filled in the spaces that needed filling in.

As musicians, we can’t and shouldn’t do it alone. Not just including and working with other musicians, but we need others to encourage, support and help us along the way. I know that I wouldn’t be the musician I am today without others. My instructors, my parents and so many more who encouraged me along my journey. Asking for help as a musician isn’t a weakness. It’s a strength. Another set of eyes and ears can do wonders for creativity, learning and musicianship. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Posted in Music stories

Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella?

I was working with my student, Caleb, on an arrangement of the Christmas carol, “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella” and we were discussing where this song came from. I told him that I knew it was French, but that was pretty much it.

So, to my friendly Google search I went. And what I found was fascinating! I never knew about the extra comma in the title. I always thought it was “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella”. My thought was, it was one girls’ name. Don’t really know why she was bringing a torch, but it worked in my head. The truth is, that extra comma brings in another person to the song. Jeanette AND Isabella were supposed to bring a torch.

So who are Jeanette and Isabella and why are they supposed to bring a torch? While originally, this song wasn’t supposed to be a Christmas song, Jeanette and Isabella found Mary and the baby Jesus, and they go tell everyone in the town, but of course, encouraging the visitors to keep quiet so the baby can sleep. They’re bringing torches to light the way to see baby Jesus!

There’s typically an interesting story behind most songs. For the Christmas season on Tuesdays, I’ll be sharing a bit of a story behind some Christmas carols that are well known, or in the case of this one, not so well known. I can definitely see how this one would have been a dance for French nobility, because it definitely has a wonderful lilting dance-like quality to it.

Posted in Music stories, Musical Theatre

Rest In Peace, Stephen Sondheim

On Friday, I saw a tweet that Stephen Sondheim had passed away. My heart sank. If you don’t know who Stephen Sondheim was, you know at least one of his works. West Side Story. He did much more than that and had a huge impact on 20th century musical theater.

 

First off, Sondheim lived to be 91, which was a very long and prosperous life. While Sondheim had a very rough childhood, he became friends with the son of Oscar Hammerstein II, which turned out to be a huge life change for Sondheim. Hammerstein took Sondheim under his wing, introduced and developed a love of musical theater, as well as helped to develop Sondheim as a writer and lyricist.

 

While in his younger years, Sondheim learned to craft scripts and lyrics, in college, he studied music and learned how to craft songs. Throughout his early years, his connections in the musical theater world got him the opportunity to be the lyricist for Arthur Laurents’ adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet”, which we now know as “West Side Story”. Sondheim was 27 when “West Side Story” opened. The next musical that he wrote lyrics for was “Gypsy”. The first musical that he wrote music and lyrics to was “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”. 

 

In 1973, Sondheim wrote “A Little Night Music”, which featured a very popular song, “Send in the Clowns”. He continued to write music and lyrics for musicals, including two of his musicals that were adapted into movies, “Sweeney Todd” and “Into the Woods”. Sondheim is known for his tackling unique topics in his musicals, and having a complexity to his music and lyrics. 

 

That’s the story of Stephen Sondheim, now I’d like to share a few of my thoughts. When I was in high school, I was introduced to the musicals of Stephen Sondheim. I was in the backing band my senior year for our show choir, and they did a medley of West Side Story songs. It was there that I heard those lyrics, and became enthralled with the musical and it’s creative retelling of “Romeo and Juliet” in New York City. Also in my senior year, our musical was “Into the Woods”. I was disappointed at first by the choice. We had done “Guys and Dolls”, “Pirates of Penzance” and “The Music Man” the previous years, and this one just seemed to fall flat in my mind compared to those. Boy was I wrong. As we went through learning the music, and putting on the show, I loved it. It grew on me in it’s beauty, creativity and fun. 

 

Stephen Sondheim will definitely be missed. And yet, his legacy lives on. Just released on Netflix is a musical called “Tick…Tick…Boom” which was written by Jonathan Larson, who wrote “Rent”, and Sondheim had a profound influence on Larson, which is shown in the musical. Along with that, in a couple of weeks, Steven Spielberg’s movie adaptation of “West Side Story” will be in theaters. I’d encourage you to check out any of Stephen Sondheim’s musical works. I do think you’ll enjoy them. 

Posted in Challenge, Music stories, Singing

Carnegie Hall

2 years ago yesterday, I got to sing at Carnegie Hall. That sentence seems very surreal to write. The experience itself was totally surreal. Growing up in the church, as a pastor’s kid, a performance venue like Carnegie Hall was never on my radar. Only churches. But it was a once in a lifetime, life-changing event.

The most amazing part was how it happened. I was a church music minister and at the end of 2018, I got an email from a representative of Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) who said, “We’ve seen that your choir has performed Joseph Martin cantatas. He’s premiering one next November at Carnegie Hall and we’d like to invite your choir to participate.”

The old saying: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice” is quite true, but it also works to be able to pay your way for an event like this. And it was unbelievable. I have sung in some beautiful sounding spaces, and Carnegie Hall is one to behold. It was amazing to be accompanied by a professional orchestra, standing on the stage that so many musical greats stood on.

It was definitely the highlight of my career as a musician. It changed my life and reminded me how much I had missed performing music. Since college, I had only directed music, not participated in making it, outside of playing the organ. Singing was always something I loved doing, and it awoke something deep inside of me.

The experience seems like it was just yesterday, and also far away. It is difficult to put into words, but those unexpected surprises are usually the best ones!

The smile pretty much sums it all up!
Posted in Music stories, Musical Creativity

Lin-Manuel Miranda

If you go back to last July (or even farther), it’s been an amazing year and run for Lin-Manuel Miranda. Last July, the video of Hamilton was released on Disney Plus and when you have a daughter who is a self-professed musical theater nerd, it’s going to be pretty much CONSTANTLY on.

This July, In the Heights, another creation by Lin-Manuel was released. Again, this was a production that he created years ago, it won a number of awards on Broadway (deservedly so!) and the movie adaptation of the show was fantastic! Once again, the movie and the soundtrack was on constant rotation at our house.

And then, last Friday, August 6th, the movie Vivo was released on Netflix. If you haven’t watched it, go do it! I wasn’t familiar with much of anything relating to the movie, other than Lin-Manuel did the music, and I was blown away. It was an excellently written movie, with an engaging story, and of course, as it seems any time Lin-Manuel is involved, excellent music. The song “Beat of My Own Drum” has been a staple at my house this week, as my younger daughter has taken to that song as HER anthem.

It is clearly evident that Lin-Manuel Miranda is extremely talented. Take a listen to the music he’s created for In the Heights, Hamilton, Moana, Mary Poppins Returns and Vivo, and you’ll hear it. Of course, with that talent takes work. Also, it’s extremely easy to see that he is regularly hard at work as what he has been creating and continues to create takes up time, energy and effort. But, when you fall in love with music, and making music, as Lin-Manuel has, the work isn’t hard. It’s fun.

Since it’s been stuck in my head all week, I figured I’d share!
Posted in Different styles, Music literacy, Music stories

The Four Seasons

The Four Seasons, by Vivaldi, are exquisitely written and the Spring theme is one of the more famous melodies out there. But why did Vivaldi write it?

The Four Seasons is a concerto, one of over 500 written by Vivaldi, who was born in 1678 and died in 1741. The thing about this concerto, though, was that it was radically different than all of the other concertos written at this time. What was different about it? It was themed. Up until this point, concertos were just….concertos. Typically labelled by what key they were in, each movement was typically titled by the tempo, or speed of the piece.

But Vivaldi radically changed the musical landscape around him in writing The Four Seasons. You see, he encouraged the players as well as the audience to use their imaginations. If you’re listening to music, do you typically associate it with a season? Probably not. But, if you listen to the Spring movement, and you’re thinking about all of the things that happen in springtime, it doesn’t take much work to imagine the music being the background for it.

We can definitely thank Vivaldi for many masterworks of music that are in the world today. Personally, one of my all time favorite choral works is his “Gloria”.

Check out Gloria, The Four Seasons and many other compositions by Vivaldi. You may find a new favorite classical composer!