The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: What do the Olympics and classical music have in common – and what sets them far apart?

August 5, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s Sunday.

That means more weekend ahead of us – and, for millions or even billions of people around, more watching the London Olympic Games ahead of us.

Some past posts have recently explored parallels between athleticism at the Olympics and athleticism in classical music.

Yesterday I also posted a “Deceptive Cadence” quiz by NPR that allowed people to match Olympic sports to classical music and characters in it.

But another fascinating blog about the London Olympics is by one of the most intelligent and original or creative bloggers about classical music: the virtuoso and prize-winning British pianist Stephen Hough.

Hough writes about every thing, from tips about playing ht epiano and his current concert tours to religion and politics.

But he recently wrote an extremely interesting post in which he discussed surface parallels to the Olympic Games, but also deeper differences — especially when it comes to competitiveness and notions of “winning.”

Below is a link to his blog in The Guardian about the Olympic Games. Enjoy what he says—and be sure to read the many informative comments form his readers:

And let The Ear and Hough know what you think of what he says by leaving a remarl in the COMMENT section.

Classical music: Take NPR’s Olympics Quiz. Can you match the right piece of classical music or the right character in classical music to the right Olympic sport?

August 4, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s the weekend again.

This summer and at the time of this summer, that means there will be a lot of Olympic watching of the London Olympics on the TV and over the Internet.

In keeping with that reality and with the spirit of the competition, NPR’s always creative “Deceptive Cadence” blog has once again come up with an original approach: A quiz (also called a Quizzler) that allows readers — and listeners — to match the right piece of classical music or the right character in classical music with the right Olympic sport.

As an Armchair Olympian, can you score a Bullseye or two?

It reminds The Ear of the kind of clever teasers and questions you hear during the intermission Opera Quizzes on the live radio broadcasts by the Metropolitan Opera.

Here is a link:

It is short enough that you can even do it during a break or an ad.

So enjoy! And please send in any other suggestions of questions and answers that you might have for a similar quiz to the COMMENT section.

NPR might even use your suggestion in Version 2.0 next weekend – when the Olympic Games this summer come to an end – or in four years.

Classical music education: The Olympic Games in London should remind us of the athletic aspects of practicing, playing and performing music.

July 28, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday was the official opening of the Olympic Games in London, according to official website.

For the next couple of weeks, we will constantly be reminded about the physical prowess of the participating athletes, with mention of injuries, recoveries and how they try to protect themselves.

Such athletes are an investment, after all, so they need to be kept healthy.

But musicians too are athletes – “small muscle athletes,” as the saying goes, versus the large muscle athletes competing at the games. And they too have careers to protect.

So it seems a good time to consider the various injuries that musicians suffer and the methods, especially the Taubman method and Feldenkrais – that musicians can use to relax, to avoid injuries and to improve their playing, to remain physically and mentally healthy.

An excellent account was recently published when New York Times music critic Vivien Schweitzer attended an annual workshops on the piano and on strings featuring  the Dorothy Taubman method of playing that are given every July by Edna Golandsky (below in a photo by Laura Pedrick for The New York Times) at Princeton University. Golandsky herself studied piano with more tradition training at the Juilliard School with famed teacher Rosina Lhevine and Adele Marcus.

Here is a link:

Perhaps you will agree with me that not enough details are given as advice. But then I expect that was part of the deal. People don’t pay big money to attend these seminars, master classes and workshops if they can get the same information simply by buying a newspaper or visiting a website.

I know a few of the basic guidelines – especially avoiding awkward stretches for octaves and using wrist rotation. But I would love to know more about fingering and about how and when to use or to avoid specific fingers, especially the fourth finger and the pinkie. (Some of this can be found, at leads partially, in the many videos that The Golandsky Institute has posted on YouTube, like the one at the bottom. Check them out.)

Can anyone else out there share some of the specifics of the Taubman and other important methodologies and techniques for fostering healthy music-making with this devoted amateur player?

Happy practicing, playing and performing!

Classical music: The 2012 Summer Olympic Games officially open in London today – and here is guide to all you need to know about music and the Olympics.

July 27, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the official opening of the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Sure, some of the events have already started. But the really big American and even global audiences will begin today and tonight with the broadcasting of the always spectacular opening ceremony and Parade of Nations.

Beyond the ever-present and irresistible trumpet fanfare, music has always played a major role in the modern Olympics Games right from their beginning at the end of the 19th century in Greece through Atlanta, Barcelona, Beijing and now London.

Composers such as Leo Arnaud,  Miwaukee-born Michael Torke (below), Philip Glass, John Williams and Leonard Bernstein have all written occasional music for the Olympic Games.

But the Olympics have also played a role in pushing non-classical and classical composers composers closer together, and in fostering “fusion” music that mixes genres, by incorporating composers as diverse as Ravi Shankar, Sir Edward Elgar and Freddie Mercury of the rock group Queen.

So, NPR’s terrific “Deceptive Cadence” blog has done it again by offering readers a thorough and engaging history of music and the Olympics — complete with many audio clips.

Here is a link to the in-depth story done by blog master Tom Huizenga that aired on Thursday’s edition of “All Things Considered.”

I hope you find this as enjoyable and informative as The Ear did.

And if you have additional information or questions, be sure leave something in the COMMENT section.

And finally here is my favorite piece of Olympics music: “Javelin” by Michael Torke.

What Olympics music most moves you?

Let the Games Begin.

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