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    Nora the Piano Cat

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    If you haven’t met Nora the piano cat this is a good time to do it – this kitty is inspired!  If cats had fingers I think Nora would be doing a lot more than pawing at the keys.

     

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    Watch Learning Matters – Harmony Program: an After School Music Program for Under-Privileged Kids

    This aired on PBS NewsHour on February 24, 2012; it was produced by the Learning Matters group, specifically Cat McGrath and John Merrow. It looks at the Harmony Program out of CUNY in NYC, which provides after-school music education to under-privileged children. That program is modeled off El Sistema, a famed Venezuelan program of the same nature. For more resources on all this, consult learningmatters.tv.

    The Harmony program consists of a 2 hour after school group class on their instrument every day, plus practice on nights and weekends.  That’s about 500 hours of practice during the school year, and 300 hours of group instruction.  This could cost the family thousands of dollars a year, but is provided for free through private donations.   Students are given donated instruments to use for their instruction.

    Having daily reinforcement of the music concepts is a brilliant approach, because with that much support it is impossible for a student to fail.  With our normal piano lesson or voice lesson program, students meet with their teacher once per week.  It is up to the student and parent’s motivation at home to touch back in on their studies each day in between lessons.  Since practice schedules very, students can progress at very different speeds.  A program like this one, that makes sure students are working on their instruments every day, can really ensure consistent success.

    Students in the Harmony program are more likely to attend school regularly, and perform better in school, compared to their peers.  “Sometimes it’s hard not to smile,” says Julianne, a 5th grader in the Harmony program, “Every day after school when I come into Harmony, when I play that first note it makes me smile.”

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    Watch 4-year-old Boy Sing with lots of gumption on Ellen!

    4-year-old Kai gives a riveting performance of Bruno Mar’s “Grenade” on his youtube video sensation, and then again in front of a live audience on this Ellen show.  This boy has an impressive handle on language and expressiveness for his age.  These are some of the skills young people can build in singing lessons, along with intonation, breath control, tone, and broadening the range.  But besides developing a pretty-sounding voice, voice lessons are a great way to help children with speech – to be able to pronounce long sentences like Kai demonstrates for us in this video.

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    Watch Victor Borge’s Piano Comedy

    Initially a concert musician, Victor Borge soon developed a style that combined comedy with classical music. In 1940 he immigrated to the U.S., where he achieved fame appearing in various venues, including radio, films, concert halls, Broadway and TV. Though he performed with many of the world’s leading orchestras, his pianistic talent was often overshadowed by his humor.

    Source: Biography.com

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    Don’t Sing Out of Tune, Use “Tunable” – The App That Says “You’re Flat!”

    A lot of folks believe that if they sing out of tune it can never be corrected – they they either “have it” or they don’t.  This is simply not true.  What is true, is that the brain is a muscle, and if someone has not put much thought into matching pitches over their lives, the part of their brain that controls pitch accuracy is just weak – it needs to be strengthened.

    But vocalists who want to improve their “ear” to make sure they don’t sing off pitch (as in flat or sharp) can’t really make corrections on their own, they need someone else there to correct them.  They often can only work on it while in the room with their teacher, when they can get personal feedback about whether their pitch is correct or not.  Tunable, an app for phones and computers, can be a great substitute teacher in between voice lessons.

    This app is technically designated to be used by instruments, but vocalists can use it in the same way.  One function that works well, is where a note is played for you to try to match with your voice.  The app then has a vertical line that moves to the left if you are flat, and to the right if you are sharp, with the ultimate goal being to get the line to stay right smack in the middle while you sing.  Please note that if you are using vibrato, the line will be wavy, but if you sing in a straight tone, the line will be straight and give you the most accurate reading.  This is a wonderful exercise for singers.  Being able to receive immediate feedback on if you are singing flat, sharp, or right on, is a huge asset.

    What should eventually happen is that, as the singer starts to make vocal adjustments to achieve having the gauge to lay right in the sweet spot, they should start to understand what they should or should not do to stay in tune.  Also, the hope is that through continual exercises of listening to a note and trying to match it, the singer should be able to hear their accuracies or inaccuracies more and more.  They should then eventually be able to start correcting themselves on their own, without needing to be prompted by an outside resource.

    The Tunable app can be a great tool to add to a student’s practice sessions.  Then in their lessons, their voice teacher should also be assigning vocal exercises that help with pitch accuracy – such as solfedge (“do, re, mi”) work – as well as helping the student make corrections in their repertoire.

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    Watch Piano Tricks! 8yo Plays Piano Backwards & Upside Down For Ellen

    Umi Garrett is a child prodigy classical pianist. In May 2009, 8-year-old Umi appeared on NBC’s The Ellen DeGeneres Show as her first public broadcast performance. Since then, she has been receiving requests to perform worldwide and appearing regularly with symphony orchestras in the US and around the world. Umi also challenges herself in the international competitions regularly.

    Now at the age 12, Umi’s most recent accomplishments in 2012 include winning the first prizes at The 13th Osaka International Music Competition in Japan in October, The Chopin International Competition in Budapest, Hungary in June, and Bradshaw and Buono International Piano Competition in New York earlier in the same year.

    Source: UmiGarrett.com

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    Listen to Traditional Buddhist Monk Chant

    Across religions and countries, chanting has often been used to create spiritual and meditative results for the listeners.  This is another way music has been utilized to create positive effects on our human emotions – in this case to calm the mind and encourage introspection.

    Catholic monks created the “Gregorian” chant. “The Gregorian chant originated as a form of plainsong in the Roman Catholic church under the auspices of Pope Gregory the Great. Gregory is depicted in early Christian art receiving the gift of chant from a dove, representing the Holy Spirit, who sits on his shoulder and sings into his ear.”  ~Don Campbell “The Mozart Effect”

    Buddhist monks created their own form of chanting. Wikepedia reports that in the Buddhist faith, “chanting is used as an invocative ritual in order to set one’s mind on a deity, Tantric ceremony, mandala, or particular concept one wishes to further in themselves…In Buddhism, chanting is the traditional means of preparing the mind for meditation.

    Our voices are a powerful part of the human body, with it’s capacity to connect us with each other through language.  But also the voice is our most organic musical instrument.  Using the voice to musically touch our spirit seems a natural progression from using our voice for language.  But even more effective than communication through language, the musical aspect of communicating through singing provides the most direct route to touching the emotional core of another human.  As Leo Tolstoy said, “Music is the shorthand of emotion.”  Music can achieve things that our words can’t.

     

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    Watch – iPod heals Dementia Patients in a clip from Alive Inside

    Alive Inside is a documentary that follows social worker Dan Cohen as he creates personalized iPod playlists for people in elder care facilities, hoping to reconnect them with the music they love.   Despondent patients come back to life after listening to familiar songs that they connect with.  Long lost past memories come back to them.  Their mood is lifted and they become more conversational.  In this clip one of the patients receiving the music therapy, Henry, is asked “What does music do to you?”  He replies, “It gives me the feeling of love; romance; I figure right now the world needs to come into music, singing. You’ve got beautiful music here – beautiful, oh, lovely.  I feel the band of love and dreams.”  Before listening to music, Henry was not responding to interaction at his nursing home, and normally sat with his head bent forward, covering his face with his hands.  His stories and others are documented in Alive Inside.

    “My goal has been to find ways of bringing the cost down to zero,” says Cohen on NPR last year. “Since there have been so many generations of new digital devices that come fast and furious, we have the old iPods — many of us in our drawers at home — so let’s bring them in. On Long Island, there are five school districts that are running iPod donation drives.”

    NPR.org Lists Dan Cohen’s Tips On Music And The Elderly:

    Get the playlist right. Find out the person’s tastes and create a varied mix: no more than five to seven songs per artist. Have them weed out tracks that are so-so, so you end up with 100 or 200 songs that all resonate.

    Keep it simple. Make sure the elder knows how to use the player, or that someone nearby can help. Use over-ear headphones rather than earbuds, which can fall out.

    Be patient. It can take time to reach the music memory. If the person is responding, feel free to sing along. If someone doesn’t like the headphones, try a small speaker at first and incorporate the headphones gradually over time.

    Keep it special. Don’t leave the player on all the time. Nursing homes are finding it works well during transitions: If someone is hesitant to take a bath or eat or get dressed, music may help move things along.

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    Watch 8-year-old prodigy play Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu

    Though for many, Fantasie Impromptu is a college level piano piece, this student has learned it beautifully at age 8.  She has extremely developed finger dexterity and strength for someone her age.   A long hand span is also needed to reach the octave (8-note) stretches in this piece.  And the song definitely requires a sophisticated understanding of the subtle musical nuances in the dynamics and phrasing. Does that sound like a normal 8-year-old??!

    A neat example for beginning piano students to see what they can aspire to (though definitely not at age 8)!

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    Listen to “The Most Unwanted Song” (According to Scientific Research)

    “The Most Unwanted Song” is a song created by artists Komar and Melamid and composer Dave Soldier in 1997. The song was designed to incorporate lyrical and musical elements that were annoying to most people. These elements included bagpipes, cowboy music, an opera singer rapping, and a children’s choir that urged listeners to go shopping at Wal-Mart.

    Komar & Melamid and David Soldier‘s list of undesirable elements included holiday music, bagpipes, pipe organ, a children’s chorus and the concept of children in general (really?), Wal-Mart, cowboys, political jingoism, George Stephanopoulos, Coca Cola, bossanova synths, banjo ferocity, harp glissandos, oompah-ing tubas and much, much more.

    The vocals for “The Most Wanted Song” are provided by Ada Dyer and Ronnie Gent; Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid is featured on guitar.

    Source: Wikipedia; Wired.com

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