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    2014: A Year In Entertaining Music

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    We already know that 2014 was a great year in discovering the scientifically-proven benefits of playing music but it was also a enjoyable year to be entertained by music. Although the highlights are far too long for one blog post, here are a few of our favorite music videos and stories by entertainers and every day people that will bring a smile to your face.

     

     

    “Happy” by Pharrell

     

    With so much global conflict and disease happening in the world, it is refreshing that a song, simply titled “Happy” struck a chord with people around the world. In the beginning, it started off as the first 24-hour music video featuring everyday people singing and dancing to his music. Then, the simple lyrics and the timeless beat gained momentum with people creating their own version of Pharrell’s song. We think Social Times put it best: “The song is catchy and it’s sentimental in just the right way. Who doesn’t like the idea of happiness? Like those inspirational quotes your mom probably posts on Instagram and Pinterest, you could spend a lifetime trying to figure out what makes people tick. A good beat and a positive message isn’t a bad place to start.”

     

    “Shake It Off”  by a Chris and Sean O’Malley

     

     

    By now you know, we love family music videos. There is just something about using music to bond and have fun with your loved ones that just makes us smile. And this video, will definitely make you grin and laugh. Father Chris O’Malley and his son Sean can be seen lip-synching a Guns n’ Roses song while in the car when Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off Appear.” Instead of stopping their act, they continue to lip sync this pop tune.

    The elder O’Malley told the Today show. “I hope this video encourages more parents to do fun stuff with their kids, and I hope teenagers can get over being cool for a minute and goof off with Mom and Dad.”

     

     

    “Scoring the Screen” by NPR

     

    Although it goes largely unnoticed, music plays a huge role in a film, arousing emotions and furthering the plot. As this Star Wars blog post shows, movies without music are lacking and sometimes hilarious. National Public Radio gave us quite a treat by talking with some of the heavyweight in film scoring including those who created the sound for “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Life of Pi” and “Halloween.” We are especially fond of the interview with Rachel Portman who compose “Chocolat” who discussing creating emotions and being honest with viewers. She says, “It’s important not to add another layer of the same thing that’s already on the screen.”

     

    Of course, there is also Idina Menzel’s performance of “Let it Go” with Jimmy Fallon that we wrote about earlier this year. It is a must see!

     

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    Music Lessons Help with Focus and Emotional Control

    There may be a lot of unknowns in the world of science but one thing that is clear: playing music does wonder for your brain.

     

    The latest research published in the November edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry shows that music lessons can help kids focus, control their emotions and diminish anxiety.

     

    Researchers from the University of Vermont looked at MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) brain scans of 232 children who range in ages from 6 to 18 and looked at ways music instruction affected the thickness of the cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain. The theory is that thicker cortices preserve the effectiveness of the brain’s functions while thinner cortices reduce the efficacy. The research team found that those who participated in music lessons had thick cortices in the regions of the brain related to motor control or coordination, executive function — which includes attention, memory, organization and planning — and processing of emotions.

     

    The research team believes in the Vermont Family Based Approach, a school of thought that young people’s environment – parents, teachers, friends, pets, extracurricular activities – contributes to their psychological health. The team believes that music instruction is a critical component to health, especially for children living with psychological disorders.

     

    In their study, the authors write: “Such statistics, when taken in the context of our present neuroimaging results, underscore the vital importance of finding new and innovative ways to make music training more widely available to youths, beginning in childhood.”

     

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    How Music Can Make Us Better People

    We know that music provides so many benefits to the brain but we were touched by one story about how music can make us better people.

     

    A newspaper from Everett, Washington talks about 19-year-old Brandon Gelo and his school’s commitment to offering a percussion ensemble for special education students. By integrating band for students of all learning abilities, the high school’s culture has transformed.

     

    Gelo began his life with many challenges. He was born with fetal alcohol syndrome that doctors said would limit his ability to walk, talk and respond to people. Born from a mother who was a victim of domestic violence and who was homeless during pregnancy, Gelo was part of the foster system from birth. His adoptive parents believed he could surpass doctors’ expectations and encouraged him to flourish.

     

    By the time Gelo was a freshman in high school, he joined the school band. At first, he found the high school environment over-stimulating and would curl up in the fetal position to cope. However, band director Lesley Moffat worked with him until he could join the other players in the percussion ensemble. He now plays by ear the guitar, banjo and piano. He has since been hired as a teaching assistant for the school’s concert band.

     

    Since Gelo’s inclusion into the band, more than a dozen special ed students have joined the percussion ensemble.

     

    The Herald reporter wrote: “With more special and general education students making friends, Moffat said, she and other educators have noticed changes at school. Students are sitting together at lunch, exchanging high-fives in the hallways and helping each other. Brandan’s bandmates, for example, signal him when it’s time to play. ‘They’re not just being nice because he has special needs,’ Moffat said. ‘They’ve built genuine friendships.’”

     

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    Imagine Charlie Brown Without Vince Guaraldi’s Music

    There are few cartoons that have as strong a musical component as the Peanuts. You may not know the name Vince Guarladi or the song’s title “Linus and Lucy” but chances are you know the song. It is upbeat and perhaps in your mind’s eye you can see The Peanuts gang dancing to it, jumping and moving their head side from side to side.

     

    In so many ways it is difficult to separate the song from the animated characters, especially this time of the year when “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is watched in so many households.

     

    Did you know that this song happened simply because of a drive near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco?

     

    According to a PRI story, writer and producer Lee Mendelson was working on a Charles Schulz documentary when he heard Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Face to the Wind.” Try listening to the song and you’ll see how it influenced Guaraldi’s later work.

     

    “Something in my mind said, ‘That’s the kind of music that I’m looking for,’” Mendelson told PRI, “It’s adult-like, but also child-like. It seemed to fit our characters.”

     

    Mendelson and Guaraldi met and the musician agreed to write a score for the Christmas special that aired in 1965. It was one of the first times that mainstream American audiences were exposed to jazz music and both the cartoon and music became an instant hit. At the time, half of American households watched the special.

     

    So, the next time you watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” enjoy the music, its importance in jazz history and know that this great collaboration of art and music is due to a car drive.

     

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    Holidays Tunes Help With Literacy Skills

    By now it should be no surprise to our readers how much we love this time of year with the music, live performances and general goodwill.

    Yet, we understand why others may not be fans. We know that the same 15 songs get played over and over and over again, which is enough to drive some people crazy. So, if you’re about to hear “Sleigh Ride” for the 30th time, try your best not to run away. Southern California Public Radio and other organizations suggest that holiday music may be good for your child’s development.

    Here are a few reasons why:

     

    • Singing Helps With Reading Skills: There is a good reason why early education is filled with songs and nursery rhymes. Singing builds vocabulary and sound discrimination, which are essential elements to reading.

     

    • Song Repetition Is Good: As we previously mentioned, this time of year tends to play the same songs again and again.  SCPR talked with Susan Canizares, the chief academic officer Learning Care Group, who says repetition is good for young children. “By singing those songs over and over again, they’re beginning to listen to the different sounds that are in words,” she says.

     

    • Improvisation is Important: One way to have an old song sound new again is to insert your own lyrics. Children especially love when their names are mentioned in lyrics and you can encourage them to let their imaginations run wild with new phrases and storylines for the song. And, improvising lyrics is yet another useful way to encourage literacy.

     

    • Use as Family Bonding Time: Singing and dancing with your child can strengthen “emotional bonding” and creates a positive home environment, something that is essential for learning.

     

    So, start singing before the season ends! If you do not know the words to some popular songs, visit this website.

    Happy holidays!

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    Celebrating The Holidays With Music and Jammies

    You know it is the holiday season when local radio stations play Christmas music 24 hours a day and the malls are filled with Santas ready to hear what’s on children’s wish lists. A new tradition has spring for those who follow YouTube viral videos.  You know it’s Christmas when the Holderness family creates their holiday video.

     

    And what a treat it is this year!

     

    The North Carolina family, which includes a mom, dad and two children, became Internet famous last year with their holiday video “XMAS Jammies.” In a video they intended for family and friends, the Holderness family donned matching pajamas, sang and danced together and generated more than 15 million views on YouTube. This year, their holiday video “card” is  “#JammieTime” and is set to the tune of REM’s “It’s the End of the World”

     

    While throwing fake snowballs and jumping on trampolines with guitars and cowbells, they sing “It’s the end of the year and we love it.”

     

    We wrote a blog post about their back-to-school video “Baby Got Class,” which we thought was hilarious and spot on about what it is really like to get children ready for school. Again, we cannot help but like this family who likes making music together and having fun.

     

    Watch the video and enjoy the holiday season!

     

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    Playing Music Reaps Many Benefits For The Brain

    Attending a baseball game doesn’t make you fit and neither does watching a legal thriller make you lawyer. The same thinking applies to music. Do not expect your brain to benefit from music simply by listening to Mozart.

     

    In order to reap the benefits of music — from improved memory to enhanced communication skills to better executive function — one has to play an instrument and be engaged, according to a recent Northwestern University study led by researcher Nina Kraus.

     

    “Because it is only through the active generation and manipulation of sound that music can rewire the brain,” Kraus told Time magazine.

     

    So, the bottom line is that listening to classical music and going to the Hollywood Bowl are great cultural experiences but they are not enough. Yet, the answer is not forcing an unwilling child to take lessons because there’s a good chance she will not pay attention and not practice.

     

    Ideally, children need express their opinions about music lessons. Even if she is not initially keen on the idea, let her pick the instrument and spend time together finding the right instructor, someone who is knowledgeable and can get her excited about making music.

     

    Adds Krause: “Making music should be something that children enjoy and will want to keep doing for many years!”

     

    We agree!

     

    If you would like to learn more about Kraus’ research or how the brain benefits from playing music, consider attending KPCC’s Crawford Family Forum that will discuss this subject in depth.

     

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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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    Holiday Music For Beginning Students

    By now, you know we love this time of year with all of the holiday music and special live performances but this is also a great time to be a beginning music student.

     

    Not only are “Jingle Bells,” “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” as well as “I Have A Little Dreidel” familiar to young children they are also relatively easy to play on the piano. In fact, the youngest musicians don’t have to know how to read music — what is known as the pre-reading stage — they can play by numbers. These songs are also good for beginning students because they stay within a five note range.

     

    “That’s important because a student can play all the notes with one hand without moving their hand position, so it keeps things very simple,” says teacher Charissa Vaughn-Wheeler.

     

    Teacher Brad Hubisz assigns similar music during the holidays and other familiar favorites — “Mary Had A Little Lamb” and “Yankee Doodle” — during the rest of the year.

     

    “It gives them a sense of accomplishment very early on, being able to play something they recognize without yet having to read notation,” he says.

     

    If you would like to expand your selection of holiday music, there are many beginner Christmas piano books for sale including this one and this one. The number of Chanukah books is not as vast but this is an option. The more advanced students can also pick any song through the iReal Pro app that we recently blogged about.

     

    So, start practicing and maybe your family can have some live music during the holidays!

     

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    New Film Promotes Music Education

    We have been fortunate lately to have so many new releases of music-related movies and documentaries. We were completely inspired by Alive Inside and were of intrigued by William H. Macy’s Rudderless. Now there’s a new documentary that shows the value of music education.

    Some Kind of Spark by Ben Niles follows five kids living in some of New York City’s poorest communities who receive special instruction from Julliard’s Music Advancement Program. The renowned program provides Saturday instruction to students ages 8 to 14. The program is free and gives students unique access to Julliard’s instructors yet demands a lot of them, even the beginners. The film follows the students for two years in the classroom, at recitals and at home and shows their commitment to becoming better musicians (they can spend hours in rain, sleet and snow just commuting to Julliard) as well as their struggles with family issues and stage fright.

    Niles is clearly a music fan (he made Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L103) and the film is meant to be uplifting and be a rallying cry for more music instruction for children. Yet, as one critic noted, the film can be frustrating for highlighting such a unique program.

    Firedoglake writer noted: “It’s a reminder of how much the lives of children are enriched by a musical education — and sadly an implicit lament about how children are increasingly being robbed of such opportunities.”

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