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    A Shocking Statement on Music Education

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    Most of us bemoan the state of music instruction at public schools and some of us are compelled to write a letter to the editor or speak at a school board meeting.

     

    Arizona artist Julie Comnick shows her distaste another way. She burns musical instruments.

     

    Her latest work, “Arrangement for a Silent Orchestra,” displayed at the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum shows the destruction of 100 old violins that could no longer be played. She recorded their burning, which lasted from sunrise to sunset. Then, Comnick painted and drew their destruction and saved some of the burnt violins and showcased them together.

     

    It certainly is a shocking piece of art from what we can see in the photographs. Despite the fact that we knew the violins were beyond repair, we could not help but cringe at their destruction and the story that each one had, of a child or adult devoting hours to playing it as perfectly as possible.

     

    Comnick said her art is a statement against reduced funding for the arts in public school and a technology-infused culture where everything is on demand and lasts a second. With the current culture as a backdrop, how can children learn a skill that takes years to develop and requires quiet and prolonged practice?

     

    Yet, we think the real story is in Comnick’s personal relationship with music.

     

    In describing her latest artwork, Comnick writes: “As the only child of a piano teacher, I was instructed at an early age to choose an instrument and stick with it.  At age eight I selected the violin, and at eighteen I put it down.  The years between were fraught with accomplishment and ambivalence as I excelled at an instrument that in my adolescence I didn’t feel particularly passionate about.  To re-familiarize myself with the instrument after an eighteen-year hiatus, I resumed violin lessons and incorporated music practice into my studio practice.”

     

    Call us crazy, but this art and Comnick’s backstory makes us feel hopeful. After so many years of leaving behind the violin and violently destroying it in her artwork, Comnick chose to resume instruction and performed music as part of her artwork. There is this unspoken strong connection that makes us feel good.

     

    What do you think?

     

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    Live Holiday Entertainment for the Family

    There are so many reasons to love the winter holidays: the twinkling lights on houses, a free excuse to drink hot chocolate (regardless of LA temps) and the music. As an added bonus to families, this is also the best time to go to the theater. We’ve picked some local productions that intersperse art and music that we think you will like.

     

     

    SLEEPING BEAUTY and Her Winter Knight — Pasadena Playhouse from Dec. 10 – Jan. 4

    With a live pony, Pharrell’s “Happy” playing the background and Xena, Warrior Princess making an appearance, this is not your ordinary play. This kid-friendly production offers a unique take on the fairy tale classic in the style of British Panto, which means you should expect comedy, audience participation and lots of physicality …just what young kids love!

    Before every performance, the playhouse offers crafts, activities, even an appearance from Santa Claus.

     

    Rogue Family Series — Atwater Village Theatre from Dec. 20-21

    This series has two shows — Zen Shorts and The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone — which offers puppets, original music and video projections that are sure to keep the youngest theater-goer on her toes. At $10 a show (or $15 to see both), it is also one of the more affordable holiday theater outings. Between shows, children can decorate cookies and participate in other activities.

     

     

    Nutcracker— The  Bob Baker Marionette Theater,  now until Feb. 1

    Everything about this show is like taking a step back in time. The marionettes, which seem to magically come to life with just a few wrist movements from their puppeteers, are unlike most puppets you see today. The theater which is red and ornate is also something to be treasured. This is a very kid-focused production in which the chairs are only in the back for adults. The kids sit up front, all the better to view these magical puppets.

     

     

    A Christmas Carol — Glendale Centre Theatre, now until Dec. 24

    For a more traditional theater experience see this Charles Dickens classic that is mean to renew the human spirit. The production sold out its first weekend so get tickets as soon as you can!

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    Celebrate The Season With Live Music

    There is a reason why the next few weeks are called “the most wonderful time of the year.” It is a chance for people honor their faith, spend time with loved ones and enjoy all the goodwill and high spirits from friends and strangers.

    We also love that this is the best time for music and singing! There is so much music associated with the winter holidays and it is one of the few times of the year that people feel confident enough to sing.

    Take advantage of this season and enjoy or make music!  We’ve listed a few events in the Los Angeles area. Enjoy!

     

    The Christmas Caroling Truck: If you live in North Hollywood or Toluca Lake, chances are you have heard of the Christmas Caroling Truck, a brightly lit vehicle full of hundreds of carolers, dancers and, of course, Santa Claus. The truck usually rolls around Magnolia Boulevard and Riverside Drive on Christmas Eve. This year, they have a special open house on Dec. 5. Don’t miss it!

     

    Holiday Sing-Along at The Music Center: What better way to put those singing lessons to the test than at a sing along. At this annual (and, luckily, free) event, carolers are handed music sheets to songs such as “Silver Bells” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and sing under the stars with live accompaniment.

     

    Honor Hanukkah with The Klezmatics: This year Hanukkah begins on Dec. 16 and ends Dec. 24. Celebrate the season with an all ages show by The Klezmatics, a Grammy-award winning who fuse traditional klezmer music with Latin, Afro-Caribbean and folk beats.

     

    The Nutcracker: For us, the holiday season is synonymous with The Nutcracker. Appreciate both music and dance at Tchaikovsky’s most famous ballet. There are so many different productions of The Nutcracker and, thankfully, the Los Angeles Times has compiled a list.

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    Explaining Lost Love Through Optical Illusions

    They have sang their songs dancing on treadmills, while testing elaborate Rube Goldberg contraptions and off-roading in a car. Now, OK Go wants its latest video for the new song “The Writing’s on the Wall” to make you question reality.

    Equipped with only a handheld camera, the group, along with 50 video assistants, created 28 different optical illusions on its first video for the group’s new CD. The video appears to be shot in one continuous take and shows illusions that vary from gravity stunts to mirror tricks to having band members oddly mesh into their surroundings.  A behind-the-scenes video that shows how much work went into making the video is almost as entertaining the original.

    What we like most about this video is how well it pairs with the song. The song follows a relationship just before it ends and some of the lyrics are heartbreaking in their honesty and simplicity.

     

    The writing’s on the wall

    It seems like forever

    Since we had a good day

    The writing’s on the wall

     

    But I, just want to get you high tonight

    I, just want to see some pleasure in your eyes

    Some pleasure in your eyes

     

    The Wall Street Journal talked with band member Damian Kulash who also co-directed the video. The newspaper aptly explained how well the song and the video work together: “At the bridge, the words ‘I think I understand you, but I don’t’ appear, painted across small wooden crates. Even as the message of the song becomes clearer, the visual itself becomes more disorienting, as the camera fully rotates in front of the words. ‘That’s where the song comes out emotionally,’ said band member Damian Kulash who also co-directed the video. ‘The meaning emerges in a contained space before the camera, rather than in “this big open space we’ve been running around in.’”

    Have you seen the video? What do you think of it?

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    Inspiring A Love of Classical Music

    The British Broadcasting Corporation is concerned that children do not know enough about classical music. Now, they’re trying to fix that problem with a massive outreach program.

    The program, referred to as Ten Pieces, focuses on 10 classical works that range from Beethoven to Handel to Stravinsky. To add a modern touch, John Williams’ “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” and Anna Meredith’s edgier “Connect It” are also among the Ten Pieces.

    “Historically there has been this whole issue around classical music being elite and our role is to break down that barrier,” says Suzanne Hay, head of partnerships and learning at the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

    BBC created a 50-minute film and attempts to explain the music through visuals. From sophisticated digital effects to scenes from outer space, there is a serious attempt to engage children. Fortunately, schools seem to be embracing the project. In one week, 100,00 students visited the movie theater to watch the BBC film.

    Once children leave the theater there are many ways to continue fostering a love of classical music. For example, brief videos on the Ten Pieces website explains the meaning of the music composition as well as provide facts about the composer. Children are also encouraged to respond to the music through art, dance, poetry and their own music making.

    Although the Ten Pieces website is accessible throughout the world, the videos on BBC iPlayer are not. BBC uses geo-IP technology to limit users outside of the BBC viewing area, which is disappointing. We think children around the world would benefit learning more about classical music.

    What do you think of the project? Could Ten Pieces be brought to the United States?

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    The Ultimate YouTube Mashup Video

    The artist who gained fame by composing original works of music using YouTube videos is back at it again and promising more tunes soon.

    The latest song from Israel-based artist Kutiman is called “Give It Up” and includes more than 20 different clips from amateur artists playing the bassoon, piano and cello as well as featuring an acapella singer.  In his official YouTube page, Kutiman cites his sources and it’s worth clicking on the original works just to see the how much effort goes into creating an original piece of music. The music is also a worthwhile listen!

    Kutiman first became famous of pioneering this type of YouTube mashup five years ago with “ThruYou” and another song in the “ThruYou Too” series is set to be released Oct. 1.

    Apparently, making this type of music is painfully time consuming.

    According to a Billboard article: “In the past year, Kutiman decided to start working on ThruYou Too, which he estimates took him about three or four months to put together. ‘I open 20 tabs of bass players and see if something sounds like it works,’ he says. ‘It’s just searching for improvisation or whatever. If I have free time I just sit and watch YouTube. if I’m looking for a guitar player, eventually I’ll find myself watching people playing guitars for the rest of the night.’”

    Check out the video and let us know what you think!

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    A Garden Orchestra

    We like when science and music collide, especially when it makes us re-think the meaning of sound.

    News site Vice published a video story on an artist who ditches the violin and piano and finds her instruments in nature. She also proudly proclaims: “I want to make a mouth for plants.”

    For this artist, her garden is her symphony!

    Mileece, a Los Angeles-based artist and environmental designer who goes by one name, attaches electrodes to hearty plant leaves and conducts their bio-emissions into a special software program she created. The data collected in the software is then turned into musical notes. She creates her own unique compositions based on each plant’s different sound. She has performed her unique creations — what she calls “organic electronic music” — at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, London’s Kew Gardens and has been an artist-in-resident at Los Angeles’ Lycee International school.

    In the video, you can see Mileece pressing gently on a leaf and a light sound akin to the ringing of a small bell emerging. It’s very interesting to witness. You can listen to more of Mileece’s music here, here and here. As a whole, her tracks are very soothing and calming, as a garden orchestra should be!

    Mileece’s art is part of a larger movement to recognize that plants are sentient — or capable of feeling, hearing and smelling — and should be  treated with the utmost care and respect. While we don’t know enough about botany to even assert an opinion, it’s intriguing to think of a landscape in which every plant and flower is capable of producing music.

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    Watch Artist Neil Harbisson – What Does Color Sound Like?

    Artist Neil Harbisson was born completely color blind.  “To me, the sky is always gray, flowers are always gray, and television is still in black and white.”  But these days a device attached to his head turns color into audible frequencies.  Instead of seeing a world in grayscale, Harbisson can hear a symphony of color — and yes, even listen to faces and paintings.  Now even the way Neil dresses is affected by this device.  “Today I’m dressed in C major, so it’s quite a happy chord.  If I had to go to a funeral, though, I would dress in B minor, which would be turquoise, purple and orange.” Hear his story in this TED talk, “I Listen to Color.”

    Harbisson speaks for his ability to now paint music, but you can also imagine what this new device could mean for a musician.  Many interesting songs could be written with this new device.  What would a purple and green song sound like?  Or a tie-dyed song?  There are a lot of fun artistic implications.

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    Watch Location-Aware Music on TED Talk

    In this TED talk Ryan Holladay of Bluebrain tells us why he is experimenting with what he describes as “location-aware music,” a project that he created with his brother, Hays.  Location-aware compositions are special albums composed specifically for a particular place – in this case, Central Park – and each track on the album is synced with the listeners locations within the area.  Remarkably those outside of Central Park can not access this album – the music is only available through an app, and then only for people walking through Central Park.  The app is called “Listen to the Light,” and uses a phone’s GPS location to weave together musical themes inspired by New York City’s Central Park.  Ryan and his brother, Hays, who together formed Bluebrain, went to college in New York City and were inspired by Central Park, which motivated them to use this location for one of their location-aware music projects.

    The Huffington Post describes how the app for “Listen to the Light” works: As you approach one area, you hear one piece of music. As you move, the music changes — the melody could be generally the same, but the piece may begin incorporating different instruments, different volume levels and other variations.  As you move to other areas of the park, the melodies may change completely. How it changes is up to you and how you move through the park, but it’s designed to always blend seamlessly.  Since the app is determined by a person’s movements, there are countless musical journeys from which to choose.

    In this image of the Washington Monument, you can see some of the circles of sound that will play different compositions depending on the location of the listener:

    Location-Away Music

    This map shows the circles of sound that will play different tracks of Bluebrain’s album.

    Many of us who jog or take walks with our little white earbuds connected to our iPhones know how much music can enhance an outdoor experience.  What is unique about a location-aware musical experience is that the music is composed for the space, forever linking the composition to the location.  This creates a new dimension that has never existed before.  It’s important to note how technology has enabled this experience, which would not even have been possible before the creation of “apps.”  If more musicians take on this initiative, every large city could have its own location-aware music compositions for its most popular landmarks.  This could create new activities for tourists, and add more access to artistic experiences for the community.  Let’s get Bluebrain to Griffith Park next!

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    Watch the Detroit Symphony Orchestra IKEA Flash Mob!

    About 20 members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) arranged a flash mob inside Ikea on Jan. 12 to promote its new Neighborhood Concert Series in Canton. Shoppers gathered around, many taking photos and videos with their smartphones, as the DSO brightened up the wintery day with Beethoven’s “Ode to Jöy.”

    Gabrielle Poshadlo, DSO Communications and Public Relations Manager said the idea came while brainstorming ways to promote the new Canton concert series.   “We were thinking ‘what do people do in Canton? What is Canton known for?’ And people travel from all over southeastern Michigan to go to the Ikea in Canton, so it just seamed like a natural fit for us,” Poshadlo said.  “We called the Ikea and asked if they would be interested in collaborating in some sort of performance and they were really responsive.”

    A video of the performance was posted to YouTube on Jan. 23 and already has more than 19,000 views as of Monday.

    Flash mob orchestra performances of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” have taken the nation by storm ever since the recent release of Bill Moyers’ “Following the Ninth,” a documentary about one of the world’s greatest works of art.  But for an orchestra to create a flash mob performance of any song is an excellent community outreach idea.  Often, accessibility is a problem for  symphony orchestras.  Ticket prices can provide a barrier to communities who have less economic stability, and many people lack the exposure to classical music to understand it’s value.  But when an impromptu flash mob provides a taste of what it’s like to witness the power of a large group of musicians playing together to produce the depth and brilliance of songs like Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, it can go a long way to renew interest and appreciation for the arts.

    Be it a flash mob or another outreach idea, giving the local community a reminder about the beauty of orchestras should be a regular habit everywhere – lest we get too wrapped up in our iPads to loose sight of the importance of attending live music events and supporting the arts.  A live symphony orchestra concert is a great event to take your family to.  So next time you plan a family event, consider a symphony!

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