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    Watch Junji Play an Apple!

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    Japanese school teacher Junji Koyama has become world-famous for making musical instruments out of fruits and vegetables and posting YouTube performances of his work.  Junji has performed on every kind of fruit or vegetable you can think of – apples, pineapples, strawberries, limes, cactus, carrots, radishes, broccoli, cucumbers – a full orchestra of edible instruments.

    Originally, Junji’s work was exclusive to vegetables, until the world’s largest self-serve frozen yogurt brand, Tutti Frutti, approached him to do a commercial campaign using instruments made out of fruit.  This video is from that campaign.  Junji plays an apple, accompanied by a mechanical monkey on cymbals.  The monkey has a rhythm of his own, slowing down halfway through the song, and Junji lets the monkey be the band leader, following it’s varying tempos in this cute clip.

    Mr. Koyama is basically a very clever flute maker – his fruits and vegetables are all various forms of flutes.   A flute makes sound when breath is sent into the flute, and the air stream travels down the piping. The air stream hits against the side of the flute, which makes the stream move and create a sound. To change the pitch of the flute, you simply lift up fingers or cover more finger holes. This changes the frequency of the sound waves, creating a different pitch.  If a flute has no holes, which is the case with some of Junji’s instruments, then it will always play the same pitch.  With those types of flutes, Junji sometimes creates multiple replicas of the instrument that each have a different pitch, so that he can blow on them in varying order to create different melodies.

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    Watch 6-year-old Piano Prodigy, Emily Bear on the Ellen Show

    This is six-year-old Emily Bear’s first performance on the Ellen show, where she shows off her range as a pianist from classical to ragtime – all pieces extremely advanced for even a 10-year-old, much less at age 6.  This child has studied for only a year and three months, learning pieces that are at least high school-level repertoire for most piano students.  Emily’s compositions are also very impressive.

    Emily started at age four, which is the earliest age for piano lessons offered at the Music Junction.  Our lesson plan for 4-year-olds includes an introduction to all music concepts in a fun, activity-oriented way using an up-to-date lesson books series by Nancy Faber called “My First Piano Adventure.” Students are able to build a strong foundation, focusing on concepts like long/short/soft/loud/high/low and then moving on to understand note reading and developing finger technique.

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    See the Vocal Cords in Action

    Even though we speak throughout every day, most of us aren’t aware of how our voice actually makes sound.  Knowing how vocal sound is created gives us a great insight into singing, and can be very useful to make sure we are creating sound healthfully.

    Our voice makes sound in the same way all sound is made – through vibration.  We have two vocal cords, also called vocal folds, that vibrate when the breath passes them during exhalation.  These two membranes can stretch out to become long and thin and make high sounds, or shrink to become short and thick and make low sounds.  They can relax and separate from each other to allow normal breathing, zip up against each other to vibrate and make a sound, and vibrate a little farther away from each other to create a sound with breathiness (think Norah Jones).

    Everyone interested in singing should know this in order to avoid certain vocal “traps” such as trying to engage additional muscles outside of the two vocal folds to make sound.  For example, you do not need to use the throat or tongue muscles to create sound, those muscles should be completely relaxed.  Only these two little vocal folds create sound, with the aid of the breath passing through them to make them vibrate, so any other muscles getting involved just creates unnecessary tension.

    This image lays out the location of the vocal cords in the body:

    Vocal cords

    Location of the vocal folds, also known as vocal cords, in the body.

     

    In the above video, Miriam van Mersbergen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at Northern Illinois University and a professionally trained singer, speaks with John Consalvi, MA, CEO of Lingua Health about the Vocal Cords.  Miriam shares a video of her Vocal Cords in action with John and discusses how the structures and movement of the cords affect the pitch and quality of the voice.

    At the Music Junction, we think it’s important to be transparent with students about what we are doing in their voice lessons.  We want voice students to understand the whole picture of how their voice works, and how it can be enhanced.  We explain not just the how, but the why, of the vocal exercises we recommend.  The Music Junction focus is on laying down a strong, thorough, vocal foundation with students, making sure they can access all the different abilities of the human voice.  As a voice student becomes more advanced, they can start to choose which sounds, resonances, and textures they want to combine to make their unique sound.  With our help developing a wide range of vocal possibilities, the student has a large palate to choose from.  Understanding what vocal folds are and how they work is one integral part of having a comprehensive understanding of your voice.

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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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    Try Out “StarMaker” – a fun Karaoke App from The Voice!

    Traditionally, we’ve gone out to our local Karaoke Night to do some singing with a group of friends, but lately, those with a Karaoke itch have been turning to their smart phones.  That’s why The Voice created StarMaker, a karaoke app for android and iphones, says its users have logged 2 billion minutes of singing time since launching in 2010 – around 23,000 hours per day – and has nearly half a million likes on Facebook.  You can choose to submit a recording from the app to The Voice for consideration to be a contestant on the show.

    According to The Voice, StarMaker has “all the stuff that lets you create high quality recordings…StarMaker is your license to sing again, to practice a song until you nail it, to learn how fun it is to sing a great song. We’ve added studio-quality voice effects to help you sound better, and you can share your recording anonymously to the StarMaker community to see what people think”

    One thing that is great about this app is that StarMaker actually shows you how long or short your notes are, and if you are moving higher or lower with each note, in a way that borrows from reading music notes on the staff.  It’s nice to have a visual guide to a song – even when you’ve heard a song on the radio a million times, it’s still hard to remember every little nuance in the piece when you’re singing it on your own.  Another fun feature is “auto tune,” which corrects pitch for out of tune notes.  The corrections end up sounding a little computerized – think Cher in her song “Believe,” – but it does the trick.

    Karaoke apps are a great way for a singer taking voice lessons to try out their new vocal skills and have fun doing it.  In StarMaker, you have the opportunity to listen back to your recording after you’re done singing.  This is a perfect opportunity to check in on how you sound and make an analysis of vocal aspects you’d like to improve.  Then, try singing through again and see if you can make those improvements!  Or, take those concerns in to your voice teacher to get personalized instruction.  Your voice teacher will be your personal guide, and StarMaker can be your workshop!  If you love how you are sounding, submit to The Voice and see if they feel the same way.

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    Watch Jimmy Fallon, Idina Menzel and The Roots Sing “Let It Go” with Classroom Instruments

    Idina Menzel stops by the Tonight Show Music Room to perform the Oscar-winning song “Let It Go” from Disney’s “Frozen.”  The unique thing about this performance is that the song has a new accompaniment – composed from music instruments that you would find in a classroom.  Jimmy Fallon and The Roots created an impressive re-imagining of this Oscar-winning song.  My favorite part is the instrumental breakdown leading up to the bridge.  It’s at that moment that you realize how hard those basic childhood educational instruments can be worked!  The instrument choices make the accompaniment sound simple, but don’t let that fool you – it takes very skilled musicians to be able to turn those simple instruments into a full-fledged arrangement.  This is a fun rework of “Let it Go.”

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    100-year-old Pianist Still Using Music to Inspire Others – A lesson for Adult Beginner Pianists Everywhere!

    At the Life Care Center of Columbia, a Columbia nursing home, a 100-year-old woman has been putting on impromptu piano shows for the residents living there.  Even after Rosalind Gardner’s husband died in 1959 after 19 years of marriage, she never stopped playing. Instead, she joined a band, her daughter said. Now crowds gather at the nursing home each time she sits at the piano to play. (read more)

    This is a memorable example of being able to enjoy the piano later in life.  Most of us normally think about piano in the context of our youth, or as young adults trying a new thing.  But put into the context of a 100-year life span, it feels like it is virtually never too late to learn to play the piano.

    Some of us at 30, 40, or older feel like we have missed the boat on being a musician, although we might fantasize about it from time to time.   We discourage ourselves by thinking that it’s too late for us, and we should have started earlier in life to be able to enjoy the instrument.  The sad reality is that we end up talking ourselves out of something that, 10 or 20 years later, we could really enjoy.

    Many activities become prohibited by aging, but piano is not one of them.  As long as we can still move our fingers we can enjoy making music at the piano – which for most of us will be almost all of our lives.  Not only that, but being able to play piano enhances the lives of those around us.  Rosalind Gardner plays for cancer patients to lift there spirits.  What a beautiful way to have an impact on others.  The social aspect of music can also be a great benefit later in life.  Rosalind was able to join a band after her husband passed and have the community and support of a new network of friends.

    We start a lot of adult beginners at the Music Junction, so we can verify that it is possible to become a pianist as an adult.  An adult beginner that commits to regular weekly piano lessons will see leaps and bounds of progress after one year.  A good 3-year commitment will see you through to an intermediate level, and 5-7 years of study or more will put an impressive repertoire into your fingers.   But the week to week process itself is also an enriching experience, and for some adults it is the primary artistic outlet in their lives.  Enjoying the process is important, but also is appreciating the future you are creating for yourself, because you will have the rest of your life to enjoy the skills you are building now.

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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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    Watch Axis of Symetry perform 4 Chords: One chord progression, 36 songs

    The Axis of Awesome’s song “4 Chords”, a medley of 36 pop songs that all contain the same basic chord structure, received airplay on BBC Radio 1.[3] This airplay drove listeners to the internet and “4 Chords” went viral, receiving millions of hits on YouTube.  The musicians in Axis of Awesome not only have an interesting concept for this song, but they also have excellent voices for it – demonstrating lots of vocal range and style to stay true to the individual songs that are all mashed up together in this video.

    What Axis of Awesome is pointing to, is a basic chord progression based on the first, then fifth, then sixth, then fourth tones of the scale of the song, written as: I V vi IV.  Namely, in C: C major, F major, G major, and A minor chords.  These four chords happen to be the most popular chords used in pop music. There are not many different orders you can play 4 chords in, considering that you usually want to start on the I chord, so the likelihood of using this particular combination of chords in a song is high.

    If you are a beginning pianist or guitarist who would like to be able to play something you can sing along to, it may be a good project to learn these 4 chords and try out the songs that go along to them.  There is an even longer list of songs using the I, V, vi, & IV chords (not always in the same order) here.

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    “Let it Go” performer Idina Menzel – Rushing & Voice cracking at the Oscars

    Idina Menzel – or “Adele Dazeem” according to John Travolta’s botched introduction – gave a riveting performance of “Let it Go” at the 2014 Oscars this past Sunday.  But perhaps it was John Travolta’s mispronunciation stealing the media focus away from Idina’s performance, or perhaps the problems that came up were too subtle for an untrained ear to pick up on, but for whatever reason, few seemed to notice some of the tempo and vocal problems in Idina’s performance (which she sold like a pro, to her credit).

    Idina’s fantastic voice was a show stopper in her role as Elphaba in Broadway’s Wicked, which won her a Tony for Best Leading Actress in a Musical.  Then there was her recurring role on Glee as the birth mom of Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) who happened to conveniently have a spectacular voice for endless duets with Lea.  Now she is gaining rising acclaim with her performance of the Oscar winning “Let it Go.”

    So what happened at the “Let it Go” Oscar performance?  Idina took off like a race horse from the start, rushing through the first verse until she was a full beat ahead.  She had to hold off on starting into the next section to get back on track, but then there was still more rushing throughout.  It seemed like Menzel was nervous – which would just go to show that even a Tony award-winning performer, who sang on stage live for 8 performances a week for 2 years with Wicked, can still sometimes get nervous!  But to be fair, this problem can also happen if there is an issue with the monitors.  Since sound waves take time to travel, being too far away from the orchestra (or speakers if they used a per-recorded track) and then not having good ear monitors to rely on instead of the live sound, can throw a performer out of sync very fast.  If this was the situation, there would be nothing Menzel could do – you can’t tell the orchestra “hold it, stop everything, I’m having trouble hearing you right” in the middle of the Oscars.

    Secondly, Idina virtually screamed her last high not (“the storm raged oooon“).  She totally committed to it with plenty of breath support and luckily, the pitch didn’t change, but the tone broke into an airy crackling sound, then turned back into a clear tone for a moment with a little nice vibrato, but then just cracked and broke off completely at the end so that the note came to an involuntary halt.  (You can see this progression at the end of the video above.)  You could tell Idina Menzel felt a little insecure about that when she closed her mouth, but of course the audience was already so impressed by her at that point that she could do no wrong.  She jazzed up the last moment of “the cold never bothered me anyway” with a little riff to pull focus from the rough note, and of course she totally sold the song regardless.  But from a vocalists point of view on this performance, it sounded like Idina’s voice was a little worn out – which could be caused by different stressors like a little cold, too much singing, or not enough sleep.

    Even for someone who has a top notch belt, a singer is at the mercy of their vocal health.  That’s why professional singers have to be extra careful all the time about taking care of themselves, especially if they need to have regular access to the best version of their voice for constant performances.  That means they have to keep their immune system strong and find a way to never be sick!  A professional working vocalist has to do things like go to bed early, eat healthy, avoid foods that can create mucus or acid reflux, avoid caffeine or alcohol that could dry them out – basically live the life of a Saint – if they want to guarantee that they will always have the perfect version of their voice to conjure up at a moment’s notice.

    So it’s understandable why both the rushing and voice cracking can happen even to an expert like Idina Menzel, and luckily she still made the song come to life like the pro she is.  The aesthetics of her gorgeous dress and the twinkling ice mountain-shaped curtain light display set the scene.  The amazing versatility of Idina’s voice created dynamic, emotion, and contrast.  And her acting talent brought life to the lyrics.  When it comes to musical theatre (and Frozen could fairly be called an animated musical), the emotion and acting of a song takes precedence over tone quality and vocal perfection.  Adele Dazeem, er, uh, we mean, Idina Menzel, is still a singing goddess.

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