The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: This 90-year-old Belgian classical pianist learned how to play slow movements by Mozart and Beethoven by hearing Ray Charles – and shows why The Ear likes the arts reporting on PBS and NPR

January 15, 2017
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday, I posted a disconcerting story from the Columbia Journalism Review about how most mainstream newspapers and traditional media are cutting way back on art coverage.

After all, runs the conventional wisdom, how can the arts compete with sports, politics and crime for attracting readers?

Here is a link to that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/01/14/classical-music-newspapers-and-media-continue-to-cutback-on-arts-writers-and-arts-critics-what-is-the-effect-on-the-arts/

Well, that kind of mistaken thinking is one reason why The Ear likes to watch PBS and national Public Radio or NPR. Especially on the PBS NewsHour, you find terrific stories about and interviews with major figures in the fine arts and the performing arts.

PBS treats the arts as vital and essential, not ornamental or secondary.

A wonderful example happened this week on the segment called “Brief But Spectacular” in which people offer their thoughts about their own lives and careers.

In this case, it was Jean Stark — a 90-year-old Belgian-born woman who was an accomplished concertizing classical pianist. She performed in Carnegie Hall and Town Hall in New York City, and in halls around the world, and who talks about her life and career for PBS.

jean-stark

In the four-minute interview, she laments how classical music isn’t promoted these days and emphasizes how wonderful it was to be alive during the golden years of classical music with such great figures as composer-pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff and Sergei Prokofiev.

But, she confesses, for all her accomplishments she was unsatisfied with how she played slow movements of sonatas by Classical-era masters Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.

stark1-320x196

Until she came to the U.S. and went with a friend to a concert by Ray Charles.

Charles, she says, taught how to play slowly.

The Ear only wishes she had been more specific about the lessons she learned. Was it phrasing? Tempo? Accents? “Rubato,” or flexible timing?

It is a great, heart-warming story and typical of the kind of human interest arts coverage that you generally do not find on other television news channels, whether traditional networks like CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX or cable TV channels such as CNN and MSNBC.

So The Ear offers it as both an enjoyable and informative arts story, and as an endorsement of the PBS NewsHour and especially reporter Jeffrey Brown, who does such a terrific job of reporting on the arts.

Here is the segment, which you can find on YouTube, along with other recordings by Stark:

An after-thought: To the best of his knowledge, The Ear thinks that the music you hear her playing is the “Aeolian Harp” Etude in A-Flat Major, Op. 25, No. 1, by Frederic Chopin and part of the suite “Pour le piano” (For the Piano) by Claude Debussy.

What do you think of arts coverage on the mainstream media and on PBS?

What do you think Jean Stark learned from Ray Charles?

If you saw this story, how did it affect you?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What kinds of classical music and classical composers do the presidential candidates like?

February 6, 2016
3 Comments

ALERT: This Sunday night’s concert of new music for woodwinds and piano composed by UW-Madison professor of saxophone Les Thimmig, with UW-Madison pianist Jessica Johnson, has been CANCELLED.

By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight is the last debate for the Republicans before the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. It takes place at 7 p.m. CST in Manchester, and will be broadcast on ABC-TV.

This past week also saw both a town hall meeting and a debate between the Democrats – their last before the primary election (below, in a photo by Getty Images).

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders CR GettyImages

Here’s a question no one has asked them during the debates: What kind of classical music do you like?

I know, I know. The question has little relevance and little popularity.

But still.

The Ear is happy that the famed New York City radio station WQXR listed such preferences in its blog.

The Ear notes a couple of trends.

No specific pieces were named.

No sonatas or concertos, no symphonies or operas.

All the names of composers were extremely mainstream except for Arcangelo Corelli by Dr. Ben Carson (below), who also named Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi. Others mentioned Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Dr. Benjamin Carson, director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, March 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS HEALTH) - RTR3F2WE

Dr. Benjamin Carson, director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, March 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS HEALTH)

Bernie Sanders’ preferred composer echoes his own populist and defiantly anti-establishment, even rabble-rousing, sentiments. Can you guess which composer he favors?

Why is The Ear not surprised that Hillary Clinton remains vague about composers and pieces, but says YES of course she likes classical music and even has it on her iPod.

And former businesswoman Carly Fiorina (below, in a  photo by Politifact) surprises one with her youthful plan to be a professional musician, a concert pianist. Does she still play? The Ear wants to ask.

Carly Fiorina CR Politifact

The Ear also wonders:

Does Evangelical Ted Cruz consider classical music frivolous or even sinful?

Does the Cuban background of Marco Rubio feel ethnically distant from European classical music?

And what about Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich and especially Donald Trump?

The Ear bets that country music, rock and pop music draw many more voters and gets many more votes.

But doesn’t anyone else think that the irresistible opening thee of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony would be a great dramatic call to arms for a candidate?

But who knows for sure?

Anyway, here is a link tot he WQXR story:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/classical-music-presidential-campaign-trail/

Now, The Ear doesn’t expect that this survey will change anyone’s vote.

Still, it is interesting as a sidelight to the much bigger and much more important issues confronting the candidates and the electorate.

And perhaps more specifics about their taste in music will emerge during the rest of the primary campaign and the then the general election.

Their individual culture quotients must matter for something.

What are your reactions?

What do you think?

Let us know.

The Ear wants to hear.


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