The Lute and Mandolin: Ancestors of the Guitar

One of the most popular and ever present instruments in our youth culture today is the guitar.  We all know what a guitar sounds and looks like, but have you ever wondered where they came from?  The guitar, through quite a few permutations, is a distant cousin of the lute.

The Lute

In the Middle Ages the lute was a very popular and ubiquitous instrument.  It was most popular between the years 1400 and 1700. The Harvard Dictionary of Music defines the lute as “a plucked string instrument with a round body in the shape of a halved pear, a flat neck with seven or more frets and a separate peg-box set perpendicular to the neck.” The lute is played by plucking the strings with the fingers or plectrum (pick).

There are two main types of early lutes: the long neck, with a neck longer than the body, and a short-neck, that is shorter than the body.  The lute first appeared around 2,000 BC on Mesopotamian figurines. 

The European style lute descended from the Arabian Ud (an ancient and modern lute, of the near east). It was present in Europe during the Moorish occupation of Spain from the years 711-1492 AD. Illustrations demonstrate that non-Moors were playing it from the 13th Century on.

“During the Renaissance, the lute, like other instruments, evolved into a family of different sizes and pitch ranges, corresponding to those of the human voice,” wrote John Stanley in his book, Classical Music.

Lute Music

The sound of the lute is similar to the guitar. This music, in the 16th and 17th Centuries, was of paramount importance as it was secondary instrumental music only to the organ and harpsichord. During the 16th century the lute was the most popular instrument played in the home, much like the piano is today.

In the late Baroque period the renowned composer, J. S. Bach, wrote pieces for the lute.  In 1530 and beyond there was a large number of printed lute books and manuscripts written by many European composers.

John Dowland (1563-1626) from England was a virtuoso lutenist, song composer and singer, whose works were harmonically advanced for their time.  In the late 16th Century the lute was a favorite instrument to accompany songs.  In England a distinctive song was developed: The Ayre – a song for solo voice, lute, and other instruments. Dowland excelled in writing Ayres. His four books of Ayres (1597-1612) were widely published and became extremely popular. Dowland reached star-status in his day.

Troubadours, Trouveres & Minnesingers

They were important groups of itinerant musicians who spent their lives traveling and roaming all over Europe during the Middle Ages. The Troubadours were poet-musicians who belonged to the nobility. They flourished in southern France from the 11th to the 13th Century.

They primarily performed songs about courtly love and everyday issues of politics and morals. The Troubadours were pioneers in Western European history and established a tradition of performing songs in their native language. Most of the music was monophonic (a single line of melody with no harmony) as opposed to Polyphony (with two or more independent melodic lines).   

The Trouveres were much like the Troubadours except they were from northern France and flourished in the 13th Century.

The Minnesingers were German singers of aristocratic noble birth.

They were poet musicians who flourished in Germany during the Middle Ages.  Quite similar to the French Troubadours, they sang of courtly love and romance.  Some of the texts differ in content from the Troubadours and are more narrative than amorous.

The Minnesingers became the leading performers of German music in the Middle Ages. The singers were superseded by the merchant-class Meistersingers of the 15th and 16th Centuries.  All three of these poet-musician groups used the lute as one of their instruments.

The Mandolin

The newest instrument of the lute family is the mandolin; interestingly it is the only one in wide use in circulation today. The mandolin’s construction is similar to the lute. It has a round back that is characteristic of the lute. Some say it has a “pot belly.”

The instrument is sometimes called the “Neapolitan mandolin” because it is often used in southern Italy. It has four double courses (eight steel strings) that are tuned in pairs.  It is played with a plectrum made of shell or other material that is somewhat flexible. Compositions for mandolin appeared around 1700.

On rare occasions the mandolin is used in the symphony orchestra.  Many notable composers have written for mandolin.  George Frederick Handel included it in his oratorio Alexander Ballus; Wolfgang Mozart’s Don Giovanni; Verdi’s Othello; Beethoven’s Four Pieces for Mandolin & Piano; and more recent works by Schoenberg’s Serenade and Stravinsky’s Agon.

The mandolin is used extensively in folk music, blue grass, country and other indigenous music of the people. The sound of the mandolin is somewhat similar to today’s banjo.

Today, it is very rare to see the lute being played, except in small ensembles that specialize in music of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  These groups use authentic instruments of those eras. 

In some universities a group called Collegium Musicum within the department of music, has an ensemble devoted to the preservation and cultivation of ancient music.  Locally, my alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley, has such a group.

It is very interesting to see and hear ancient music played on authentic instruments from this period; an uncommon sound in today’s world.

Don’t miss “Fifteen” the Danville Community Band’s Annual Spring Concert,

Saturday, June 10 2017, 3 p.m. at the Lesher Center for The Arts, 1601 Civic Dr., Walnut Creek.  Celebrating our 15th Anniversary, this delightful event will present a music mix for everyone’s taste. Go to our website, for information, selection titles and ticket sales. Tickets on sale now! Call Lesher Box Office, 943-7469 noon-6:00 p.m. Please submit your questions and comments to Visit our website at for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.






Electronic Music

Perhaps the least understood, listened to and least admired type of music is electronic music.  What is electronic music? You ask. The Harvard Dictionary of Music defines electronic music as music made by producing, magnifying and recording sound, then reproducing it by electro-acoustical means. In other words, electronic music is made up of sounds created exclusively by electronic implements rather than traditional instruments. It includes electronic instruments, synthesizers and recording equipment. 

“In 1955, David Sarnoff, chairman of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and Radio Corporation of America (RCA), unveiled the Electronic Music Synthesizer, that was intended to mimic sounds of all musical instruments,” wrote Alex Ross, in his book The Rest is Noise.

The Moog Synthesizer, an electronic instrument of great versatility and complexity, translates the composer’s desires into actual sound. It creates and manipulates sounds. This machine was probably the most famous of the early electronic instruments. It was marketed from 1965 on. The Mini-Moog, a relatively affordable and widely available instrument, was released to the public in 1970.

The forerunner of electronic music was Musique Concrete. Much of the research and development of this form of music was done after World War II, in the 1940s and 50s. In Paris, Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henri were using magnetic tape to record many different sounds that were either non-musical or musical.  They experimented with different speeds and even tried playing them backwards. They cut and edited the sound to create what they termed Musique Concrete.  It consists of electronically modified natural sounds or sounds that already exist in nature.

Around the middle 20th Century, electronic studios first began in Europe and later in the United States. Musique Concrete was started in the studio of the French Radio in Paris. Concurrently, composers in the Cologne studio in Germany were also experimenting in much the same way. The idea was to make pure electronic music. 

A leading exponent of this movement was Edgar Varese (1883-1965, a Franco-American composer, who lived in Greenwich Village, New York. Keen interest in electronic instruments attracted many composers. Electronic instruments included electric organ, piano and guitar. As early as the 1890s, there were experimental electronic instruments in Russia and France. In this early period of development, music was recorded on tape for later exposure and performance. Studios were being established all over the world.

In America, studios at Columbia University, University of Illinois, Stanford and Princeton were pioneers in this new field of technology. There were many others but these were prominent.  The people that worked in these studios were termed “composer-engineer performers.”

Composers of Electronic Music

John Cage (1912-1992), a Los Angeles native, was considered the most radical American composer in this genre. In the 1950s he was involved with “tape music” that was the mixing of both traditional and electronic music. Most assuredly, Cage used as an instrument any object capable of producing sound.  Apparently no other composer came close to using such disparate objects.  He used junk for instruments, like automobile brake drums, anvils and vacuum cleaners. He was more interested in rhythm than melody.

Cage wrote for a strange combination of instruments. His Imaginary Landscapes No. 4, was written in 1951. He manipulated the frequency and volume controls on 12 radio sets. The resulting sound varied according to the programs on the air at that time. Cage was more interested in a dissonant style, rather than consonant music.  He also composed a number of pieces for percussion ensemble.

About his music, Cage said, “I am going toward violence; rather than tenderness; Hell rather than Heaven; ugly rather than beautiful; impure rather than pure.  Because by doing these things they become transformed and we become transformed.” Cage’s writing reveals a glimpse into his character and personality. As early as 1949, Cage encountered several European pioneering technicians of electronic music, who set in motion a campaign against music of the past.

Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) was born in a village outside of Cologne, Germany. His musical training was conventional at the Musikhoch Schule and the university in that city. During World War II, Stockhausen became interested in opening his ears to new and somewhat strange sounds. He listened to American military band broadcasts and was intrigued by the jazzy rhythms of the Glenn Miller Band. Stockhausen was also moved by the melodies and overall feel and excitement of jazz.

The new art of electronic music intrigued Stockhausen from the beginning. “In 1955 and 56 he created, Gesang der Junglinge or, Song of Youth, his most original electronic creation and perhaps the most influential electronic piece ever composed,” wrote Alex Ross. In 1960 he completed Kontakte, where live and electronic sounds bounce off each other or blur together.  In 1962 a monumental work was conceived called, Momente. Ross wrote, “This work involved four choirs, soloists trumpets and trombones, a pair of electric organs, a large percussion battery and a Japanese Tam-Tam, (gong).” It was described as the Bacchanalia of the avant garde; a shouting, clapping, stamping liberation of the senses.”

Stockhausen created a two-hour long electronic-instrumental fantasy called Hymnen, in 1966-67, based on some of the world’s national anthems.

Early experimenters in electronic music thought of expanding, not replacing traditional genres. Today a divide exists between traditional and electronic music practitioners. A better understanding can be achieved by including the study of contemporary music with electronic music.

Today, computer technology and music software has made it possible to create new electronic music with devices commercially available for home use.

Many people, including myself, have not embraced and tried to understand fully, electronic music.  It is certainly not my favorite. Perhaps we should open our minds and ears and try a little harder to be receptive to new ideas and new sounds. 

Please submit your questions and comments to Visit our website at for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.


The Three Bs

The famous three Bs of the music world are, undisputedly, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Each of these unforgettable men were foremost in their respective periods of music history.

Baroque Period (1600-1750)

Near the end of the Baroque period, Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporary, Georg Frideric Handel, were bringing this period to a climatic, glorious conclusion. During this era the emphasis was on contrast and harmony rather than on polyphony—where two or more melodic lines are combined. This period saw a dynamic and expressive style that dominated music and art. Music during this era was characterized by its emotional appeal and by the energy and fluidness of its form. It had ornamented melodies, striking use of harmonics and strong rhythms.

The concerto form of music brought the stylistic contrast between the solo or small group against the larger group. After a period of predominately vocal music, instrumental music gained more attention by composers and new forms of writing for instruments became the norm.

Vocal music was mostly religious in content but secular music was gaining popularity. The music, written primarily for the church, was now for the princely courts of the aristocrats and then eventually for the general public. This was a huge change of practice and philosophy.

The chief vocal forms of the Baroque era are, opera, cantata and Oratorio. The instrumental forms were: fugue; toccata; overture; dance suite and theme and variations.

Johann Sabastian Bach (1685-1750)

Bach is the first “B” of these three great composers. Usually composers can be referred to by their last name, but not in this case. He came from a long line of musicians and his sons were also composers of note. Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany and lost his parents at the age of ten. He was raised by an older brother who was his first music instructor.

Considered a conservative, Bach was Lutheran and an intensely religious composer. After three years at the gymnasium (high school) in Luneburg, in Hanover, Germany, he began his professional life as a musician. Bach was an expert performer on organ and clavier (various keyboard instruments) and also the violin.

Bach was in the Ducal orchestra in Weimar and in the same year, 1703, he was organist in Arnstadt. During this time he married his cousin, Maria Barbara Bach. In 1708 he entered the service of the Thuringian courts. His job as a court musician in this period, was an employee who performed and created music upon request.

Bach held various posts as organist and chamber musician. In 1723 he settled in Leipzig as the director of music at Saint Thomas church and school; where he was in charge of choir boys and taught Latin. He married twice, as his first wife died in 1720. His new wife was Anna Magdalena Wicke, whom he married in 1721. Bach fathered 20 children between both wives, however, only nine survived to adulthood.

Bach became a master of polyphonic music, exemplified by his cannons and fugues; chorale cantata; the passions; masses; suites; concerto grosso and toccata. He was at the peak of the German baroque era. His religious music was nothing short of monumental. He excelled in the concerto grosso in the six Brandenburg Concerti. With the exception of opera,  all the other aspects of 17th and 18th Century musical idioms were brilliantly composed by Bach. His music was considered so superior it over shadowed the works of his contemporaries.

 Classic Period (1750-1827)

 This period of music is from the death of Bach to the death of Beethoven. This era saw the gradual decline of the social and political dominance of the court and the emergence of the middle class. Both the American and French Revolutions were fought during this period.

 The ‘Age of Enlightenment’ championed the ideas of J.J. Rousseau, who advocated a return to nature and proclaimed the rights of the common man. Music, at last, was made available to many different levels of society. The tumultuous climax of the baroque period was punctuated by the genius of both Bach and Handel. A new and vibrant era was just beginning with the advent of new composers. Vienna became the center of music in Western Europe during this period.

 Although the old style was still present alongside the new, interest in new forms and styles were taking hold, especially in the advancement of instrumental and secular music; replacing much of the religious music of the past. Music evolved from polyphony or polyphonic music to homophony or homophonic, meaning one voice or part with accompanying chords. Music took on a more simple style based on melody and harmonic structure, replacing the complexity of the Baroque counterpoint and polyphonic writing. The long arched melody of the late Baroque was replaced by short two and four measure phrases.

 Big changes occurred in instrumental music with the emergence of virtuoso writing for some instruments. Clarinets were added to the orchestra. The woodwind section was now complete, as were the strings, but the brass section was incomplete.

 The musical forms of the classic period became the foundation for much of the music of the 19th Century and beyond. The three phenomenal composers of this period were Haydn, (1732-1809) and Mozart, (1756-1791) who paved the way for our second “B,” Beethoven.

 Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)

 Beethoven was born in the Rhine town of Bonn, Germany. The Van in his name perhaps connotes some Flemish ancestry. His father, Johann Van Beethoven, was a tenor in the chapel choir of the Elector of Bonn.

 The musical talents of the young Beethoven were recognized by his father and he saw in Ludwig another boy wonder, like Mozart. His father was not a nice man and could see financial gain by exploiting his son. Young Beethoven was made to practice an inordinate length of time, to the detriment of his general education. He was abused and treated unkindly, thus he felt isolated and excluded from other worldly endeavors.

In 1787 his father took Ludwig to Vienna to play before Mozart. He had to return to Bonn because of his mother’s poor health. Beethoven did not return to Vienna until 1792, just after Mozart’s death.

Ludwig studied composition with Haydn; unfortunately the two men had temperamental problems and never hit it off. Beethoven completed his first of nine symphonies, in 1800. He became Vienna’s first successful free-lance composer and musician. Beethoven, unlike others, never held a court position after leaving Bonn.

Probably one of the worst things that can happen to a musician is deafness. In 1798, Beethoven began to experience ringing and humming in his ears. In 1802, in a fit of desperation he contemplated suicide, as his entire being was tormented and full of anguish. But even so, his musical output, over the next ten years, was nothing short of remarkable. By 1812, he completed symphonies two through eight; piano concertos; violin concerto and his opera, Fidelio, among other works. This output was extraordinary for a deaf composer and foretold some of the techniques of the future Romantic era.         

Beethoven broadened the range of personal emotional expression with his music. He was a master of form and expanded and developed the existing musical structures. A few of his last great works were:  The last piano sonatas; the Missa Solemnis and the monumental, Ninth Symphony, where he introduced choral parts in a symphony for the first time. His last works set the stage for the 19th Century and the Romantic period.

Romantic Period    

This period spanned roughly the entire 19th Century into the early 20th Century. Music differed from its predecessors of the Classic Period. It was more emotional and personal with a subjective or freer style. It went beyond traditional forms of structure and balance. The creation of new forms was prevalent and explored by many composers. Emphasis was placed on the ideal, the individual and the heroic,  as exemplified in Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony (No. 3). There was a progressive spirit abounding among composers during this period.

The roots of the Romantic Period began in the late 18th Century, with Rousseau and others rebelling against the classic traditions; they wanted a return to simplicity and nature; with more emphasis on human instincts and feelings than on intellectual pursuits. The Romantics favored emotion over reason. They advocated free expression over the previous concept of restraint. This was a reaction to the aristocratic courts and was in favor of the middle class.

Program music came to the forefront during this period. This is instrumental music that relates a story or tale and often has descriptive titles. An excellent example of program music is the Symphony Fantastique by Hector Berlioz.  

The range and power of the piano increased. Also many new forms of music are created; piano pieces; art songs; programmatic forms; romantic opera; tone poems and others. Improvements to wind instruments are prevalent and valves are added to French horns and trumpets. English horns, bass clarinets, tubas and harps are now accepted in the orchestra.

This was a ‘Golden Age’ for composers, as far as public acceptance and artistic freedom was concerned. Composers of this era are:  Carl Maria Von Weber; Franz Schubert; Hector Berlioz; Felix Mendelssohn; Robert Schumann; Frederic Chopin; Franz Liszt; Richard Wagner; Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and many others.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

The third “B” was born in Hamburg, Germany, the son of a string bass player in the town orchestra. His father instructed him on violin, cello and French horn. At the age of seven he studied piano and became very proficient at the keyboard.

Brahms’ study of music theory emphasized the music of Bach and Beethoven. Up to the age of 20 he remained in Hamburg leading an unremarkable life. Brahms had a reputation as a pianist and a conductor. In 1862, he went to Vienna and conducted choruses. Around 1864, he devoted his energies to full-time composing.

Brahms was a devoted follower of Beethoven with regard to symphonies, concerti and chamber music. However, he used a newer harmonic vocabulary than Beethoven. One of the most famous and endearing works of Brahms is, the Ein Deutsches Requiem, (A German Requiem) of 1857-58. The requiem mass is a mass for the dead. Brahms’ requiem does not use the Latin text and therefore is not technically a church mass. It was written in commemoration of this mother’s death. Biblical references are used as the basis of the text. The original text is in German and was later translated into other languages.

Paramount among Brahms’ instrumental music are the four symphonies. Hans Von Bulow, the famous conductor and pianist, after hearing Brahms First Symphony and recalling Beethoven’s nine symphonies, called it Beethoven’s 10th!

In 1879 the University Breslau conferred on Brahms a doctor’s degree. As the diploma said “The foremost living German Master of the art of composition.” In appreciation for this honor he composed the Academic Festival Overture.

Brahms was a perfectionist and would make many tries before he would accept an idea as finished. He did not primarily use poems, stories or programs in his music, like many of his contemporaries. Brahms believed “Music for Music’s sake.”

Brahms never married, however, he was in love with Clara Schumann, widow of composer, Robert Schumann. The Schumann’s were probably the greatest single influence in Brahms life.

There you have it—a thumbnail sketch of three of the greatest musical geniuses that ever lived. How ironic that they were all German, and all pacesetters in their respective eras. They wrote some of the world’s greatest and memorable music that is still very popular today. What a gift to mankind these incredible composers left.

Please submit your questions and comments to Visit our website at for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.





The Record Rage

            Who would have ever thought that a virtual relic from the past would be coming back like gangbusters in the early years of the 21st Century? Yes, that’s right—after all these years the phonograph record is again in the spotlight. Today’s young people are very intrigued with record players and vinyl discs many of us remember from our past. It is indeed true what the adage says, “What goes around comes around.” 

            All of my records from early teenage years in the 1950s and young adulthood from the 60s, have been stored in the garage. They haven’t seen the light of day or been played in years.  Does this phenomenon mean I should get them out again? 

            Our 14-year old granddaughter, Elaine Gerard, said, “All I wanted for Christmas was a record player. All the kids in my class have them and they are such a great thing!” She said the record companies are making new 33&1/3 albums featuring many of the latest popular artists.

             “You can buy the traditional black vinyl or get them in all kinds of colors, including pastels and even clear. They are really cool,” Gerard said.  The price is not so cool, averaging about twenty dollars a record. Gerard noted she really wanted the album of the top musical, “Hamilton,” which sells for a not-so-cool eighty dollars.  Not just new recordings, but many of the old ones are available at record stores and book stores, including Barnes and Noble.


            In 1877, Thomas A. Edison, the famous inventor of so many things, including the electric light bulb, invented the phonograph, sometimes called the Victrola.  Edison’s first goal was to produce a ‘talking machine’ capable of producing sound, not necessarily to reproduce music. The machine could record as well as play back sound.  Edison’s first success was recording his own voice reciting “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”  Early recordings were Vaudeville sketches and various monologues. The talking machine was manually run; definitely not electric.

             His early method of recording was on a tin-foil cylinder, later changed to a hollow wax cylinder that proved to be superior to the tin-foil. Recordings were made by speaking, singing or playing music into a horn-shaped or megaphone-like receiver. This method was the standard in the late 19th Century and was used for many years. In the late 1880s, the hollow wax cylinder almost single-handedly brought the sound market into the economic fabric of the nation.

            This invention revolutionized the whole musical and listening experience, from the concert hall or salon to the home. No longer did people have to venture out of their homes. They could listen to music in the comfort of familiar surroundings at a moment’s notice. Obviously, the quality of sound they heard from the phonograph wasn’t what they would have heard from the concert hall.

            Emil Berliner produced a machine called a Gramophone. This was an improvement over earlier machines.


             Disc records were first marketed circa 1889. Hard rubber was used and later shellac-based compounds were the basis of earlier disc records. Early prototypes of the discs proved to be inadequate as they produced poor sound fidelity. They were also brittle and easily broken. Berliner then partnered with Eldridge R. Johnson, a mechanic from Camden, New Jersey.  Johnson’s factory produced the motor and later the entire machine.

            They made substantially better records and improved the sound of the machine. Berliner and Johnson organized a company called the “Victor Talking Machine Company.” This later became RCA Victor, which still exists today. 

            The flat disc record had a spiral grove that received the stylus or needle.

By 1912, ten-inch and twelve-inch records could play more than three or four minutes per side, whereas Edison’s cylinders could only play for about two minutes. Various record speeds were tried and 78 revolutions per minute (RPM) was chosen. By 1925, 78 RPM became a standard speed for records.  In 1930, the ten-inch disc was the most popular size and played about three minutes per side. Diameter size of the record determined how many minutes of music could be recorded.       

            Recording sound was an inexact science in early days. Early recordings were done acoustically, not electronically amplified, of course.  For symphonic and operatic recordings, twelve-inch records were mostly used because they could hold four to five minutes of music.        

            The short limitation of recording space on records lasted for many years. It took many records to record a whole symphony or opera. In the 1920s, inventors were developing a way to record using a microphone rather than using the previous acoustic recording method. The first electronically recorded discs were released around 1925.  This technology was recognized as a major development in the recording industry.

            In 1948 the long playing record (LP) was developed by Columbia records and made its first appearance. It could play up to 30 minutes a side. At about the same time, RCA Victor released the first 45 RPM record—a seven-inch disc with a large center hole.

            The major innovation from the old cylinder to the disc was the speed of the turntable from 78 to 33 & 1/3 or 45 RPM. A slower speed with more grooves on the record made possible around 20 to 30 minutes without interruption of having to change records.

            After World War II, 78 RPM records were gradually phased out and replaced by the longer playing formats. In 1945, 33&1/3 and 45 RPM records took most of the market share.  Eventually 331/3 formats prevailed over the seven-inch 45 RPM format.

            Theoretically, vinyl records have the potential to last for many years, even though they may become easily scratched or warped. They don’t break easily, but they attract dust that can cause pops or noise.

            Record albums came into being to hold records of various sizes. The pages are of thick paper or cardboard sleeves, usually with a hole in the center so the record label can be read without removing the disc. The albums became a great sales tool with artistic pictures, graphics and information about the music and artists on the covers and inside.

            The term high fidelity was actually used as early as the 1920s.  It was generally used to designate better sounding products. Stereophonic sound was developed by Alan Blumlein in 1931. It was an attempt to provide the listening public with a more natural sound as heard in nature.

             Stereophonic sound production was first used in 1957.Virtually all discs issued to 1958 were monaural, meaning “only one sound channel.” Stereophonic sound was accomplished by combining two sound channels in a single recording groove on the record. 

              Compact tape cassettes were developed as early as 1963. Digital recordings and compact discs (CDs) appeared in the early 1980s. By 1991, the CD all but took over the market from vinyl records, but many disc jockeys were still using records and record players.

            Mark Coleman, wrote in his book, Playback: From Victrola to MP3 100 Years of Music Machines and Money, “Before the 20th Century, listening to music was a temporal fleeting experience-and a rare treat.” Thanks to the inventors of the past and modern technology we can have music whenever we want it, with exceptional fidelity and fantastic quality of sound.           

            Unbelievably the record has made a big comeback in the 21st Century, especially by young people who were not even born in the heyday of vinyl records. They are buying record players and records by the thousands. Is this new record rage going to be another “narrow tie, wide tie, short skirt, long skirt” phenomenon?  

Guess I’ll go get my old records out of storage in the garage. Like I said, “What goes around comes around.”

 Join the Danville Community Band as they present their annual concert, “A Day at the Museum,” Sunday, April 2, 2017 at 2:00 p.m.  3700 Blackhawk Plaza Circle. Free concert with admission to the Blackhawk Museums.  Free parking. 

Please submit your questions and comments to Visit our website at for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.


Music Schools

If one has a real passion and love of music and wants to make it their life’s endeavor, it’s important to know where to go to study music. A place of study should be chosen that will best provide the knowledge, skills and resources to help them succeed in the very challenging world of music.

One of the biggest decisions, both parents and high school students make, is selecting a good music school, college or conservatory. These schools are geared to certain types of music disciplines including classical, contemporary, and jazz.

Along with emphasis on the types of schools available; course offerings of specialization within the department is very important. Most schools offer classes in musical instruments; voice training; conducting; composition; musicology—the study of music history and literature; all aspects of music theory and music education i.e. training of future music teachers.

University Music Classes

Many university music departments place more emphasis on the study of music as an academic pursuit rather than on the more practical aspects of performance. Almost all university music departments have performing ensembles in orchestra, band, both concert and jazz, and choral ensembles, as well as chamber music and often opera.

Choosing a college or university music department over a conservatory school of music will generally lead to a more broad education, as in liberal arts. The student would include classes in other disciplines rather than concentrating just on music classes. There are numerous excellent college and universities with outstanding music programs.

The Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, has an excellent reputation and ranks among the top music schools in the nation. It was established in 1921 and is the largest accredited music school in America. Only 25 percent of applicants are admitted. There are 180 people on the faculty, many with national and international reputations. Admission to the school is by live or recorded audition. They offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

The University of California, Berkeley, (my alma mater) has an excellent department of music. It offers a comprehensive curriculum that includes composition, history and literature, arranging, conducting, and instrument instruction in strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion.

It also had a music education component that I chose, because I wanted to be a teacher and eventually a college professor. Unfortunately, they no longer have the music education program. Students who want to be a music teacher have to go elsewhere to get a teaching credential. The department is exceptional in musicology and composition. They offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. I was one of the last students to earn a Ph.D., in music education there.

Music Conservatories/Music Schools

If a student is extremely talented and wants to go into a solo career or play in a major symphony orchestra, he/she would most likely choose a conservatory experience and concentrate in depth on their instrument or voice.

The Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, in Rochester, New York, was founded in 1921 by George Eastman of Eastman Kodak fame. This institution has bragging rights of being ranked first in United States music schools by U.S, News and World Report. Locally, former Eastman graduate student, Robert Williams, said. “Having all students and all classes, lessons, and rehearsals within one building makes for a community of convenience, cooperation, and conviviality, where friendship and fellowship happens.” Williams is conductor of the Pleasanton Community Concert Band and plays French Horn with the Danville Community Band (DCB).

Eastman is a private school where almost all students receive scholarships. It is quite selective and emphasizes a comprehensive curriculum. The school has over 130 faculty. All first year students live on campus.

Principle Horn for the DCB, Christine-Ann Immesoete, said, “The Eastman School of Music, and the rest of the University of Rochester, continue to be the shining jewel in the crown of Rochester, and all of western New York.” Immesoete, like Williams, earned a master’s degree from the Eastman School of Music.         

Juillard School of Music is located at Lincoln Center Plaza in New York City. Founded in 1905, it is considered one of the finest music schools in the United States. Admittance is based on several factors including GPA, talent ability, interviews and recommendations. It has a very favorable student to faculty ratio of 4:1. Most classes are less than ten students. The first year students live on campus. The world famous Lincoln Center is very close to the campus.

Internationally known, concert pianist, Daniel Glover of San Francisco, has performed in 42 states and 22 foreign countries. Glover holds a master’s degree from Juillard, along with many other famous artists in America and abroad. They offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Interestingly, 89 percent of their students are from out of state.

The New England School of Music in Boston, located near Boston Symphony Hall, was established in 1867, making it the oldest private independent school of music in America. They have a unique five-year program with Harvard and Tufts Universities, where students can get a double degree. Admission to the conservatory is by live audition. Popular majors include composition, strings and jazz and they offer a prestigious chamber music program. Bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees are offered and it is also a training ground for the famous Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University, is in Baltimore, Maryland. It is the oldest music school in the country, dating back to 1857 and was founded by George Peabody. The school emphasizes a comprehensive program in many aspects of music training. It is affiliated with the John’s Hopkins University Preparatory School for school age children. The tuition is high but they have a financial aid package.

The Curtis Institute of Music located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was founded in 1924 by Mary Louise Curtis Bok. It is one of the most selective schools in America, however, all students attend on full scholarship. They have only a 4.8 percent admission rate. It was formerly a training ground for orchestral musicians. Admission is by live audition. Curtis graduates are in many symphony orchestras throughout the country.

Oberlin College Conservatory of Music is located in rural Oberlin, Ohio, southwest of Cleveland. Enrollment is fewer than 600 students, 25 percent of applicants are accepted and 90 percent have tuition assistance. They also offer a five-year program with Oberlin College. The students earn a bachelor of arts from the college and a bachelor of music from the conservatory. They are well known for their programs in contemporary and baroque music.

Locally, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, founded in 1917, is one of the least competitive institutions with a 40 percent acceptance rate and 95 percent of students receive financial aid. It is a relative small school with about 450 students. Their graduate chamber music program is rated excellent.

The Berklee College of Music is located in Boston. It was founded in 1945 and is one of the largest music schools with over 4,000 students. Its emphasis is on contemporary music and their Jazz Program is one of its strong points.

These are only a few of the many excellent schools, conservatories and university departments of music one can choose. The most important thing to remember is what program will best meet the needs and desires of the student, who will hopefully reap the benefits of a good musical education. If you are going out-of-state, public state supported colleges will charge an out-of-state tuition that is substantially higher than in-state tuition. Private schools charge about the same whether one is a state resident or not. Good luck in selecting the right school for you.

Please submit your questions and comments to Visit our website at for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band. 







The Harp

            A noble, ancient instrument, the harp dates back from antiquity to the present. Known to exist as far back as 3,000 B.C., some historians even trace it back to 3,500 B.C. The harp is certainly one of the oldest instruments in the world. Many ancient instruments have died out and are no longer in existence but the harp, through many permutations and construction changes, has endured through the ages to the beautiful and complex instrument we have today.

            “From medieval to modern, classical to jazz, acoustic to electric, steeped in tradition yet open to change; for many it is more than a mere instrument—it is a calling,” according to the International Harp Museum in Orlando, Florida.

            It is thought that the earliest harps probably evolved from a bow string. The ancient Egyptian harps ranged from a small shoulder harp of seven strings to a much larger standing instrument of 22 strings. 

            Updated versions of the instrument appear from the 11th Century on. The first appearance of harps in Europe was in Ireland during the 12th Century. When the harp spread to the European continent it was embraced by the Troubadours, Trouveres and Minnesingers.

            The Irish harp evolved in the 11th Century and initially had brass strings plucked with long fingernails. From the late Middle Ages until the 18th Century on, the harp virtually remained unchanged, except for the increased number of strings. The Irish still use the harp as a heraldic and political symbol today. 

Harp Construction

            The harp is triangular in shape and made primarily of wood. Woods used were willow, birch, pine, spruce and maple. The early harps had fixed strings that were limited in playing major and minor keys. The plane of the strings is perpendicular to the sound board, not parallel like the piano. Harps varied in size and some small instruments were played on the lap. In 1697, Jacob Hochbrucker of Bavaria, invented a pedal action that changed the pitch of the strings. Later, in 1720, Hochbrucker and J.P. Vetter of Nuremberg, invented a five pedal harp that raised the pitch by a half step.

            Around 1810, French instrument maker Sebastien Erard, introduced the double action or double pedal harp. This allowed the harp to be played in any key. The pedals were used to raise the pitch to a half or whole tone. Operation of the pedals made all of the major and minor keys available. This invention was revolutionary as it enabled the harp to eventually become a welcome member of the symphony orchestra.

            Pitch of the strings is determined by the length of string, tension and weight of string.  Different colors were used on the strings to indicate the names of the pitches. 

            Throughout its development, the harp grew and more strings were added to the instrument. The harp evolved from a small instrument of five or six strings to a giant instrument with 47 strings, according to the Harp Foundation.

Playing Technique

            The harp is played by plucking with bare fingers. Professional harpists develop calluses on their fingers as the skin thickens with constant playing and plucking. Two playing techniques are always associated with harp playing. One is the Arpeggio, a quick succession of notes in a chord played one after another, instead of simultaneously. Glissando, often used in harp playing, is a rapid sliding movement or sweep over the strings. Both techniques are characteristic, distinctive features of harp playing.


            Musicologist and historians generally agree that harp music of merit was not written until the end of the 19th Century. Harp music was mainly written by French composers. Some are:  Saint-Saens, Fantasy for Violin and Harp; Debussy, Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp; Ravel, Introduction et Allegro for Harp, String Quartet, Flute and Clarinet.

            Debussy and Ravel used the harp prominently in their impressionistic music. Other famous composers who wrote for harp are: Richard Strauss, Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner and Cesar Franck. Wolfgang Mozart wrote a Concerto for Flute and Harp and Beethoven wrote for the harp in Prometheus. Many composers used the harp in their orchestral scores.

            Writing for the harp in the 20th Century included the jazz genre; even the Beatles used the harp in their 1967 song, She’s Leaving Home.

            The portability of a modern harp is a challenge for harpists. The instrument is extremely large – six foot two in height and weighs in excess of 75 pounds. Transporting a harp is not done in an ordinary car; one needs a large SUV or van or a well-padded pickup-truck. If the harpist is a petite female, she usually needs some assistance in getting the harp loaded and unloaded.  Also, it really needs to be protected as a new harp costs over $20,000.

            One of my most memorable experiences listening to harp music, was in Chicago. We were there for a music convention around Christmas time. We love High Tea at the Drake Hotel, with the room decked out in holiday splendor.  In the center of the room is a large fountain surrounded by small tables.  A harpist, near the fountain, plays beautiful soft music throughout the tea.  What a delightful way to spend a winter afternoon – great food, and beautiful relaxing harp music with a wonderful holiday mood. Couldn’t be better!

            Another memorable experience was brunch at the beautiful, famous, Moana Hotel in Honolulu.  Again, the ambiance was devine, great food with wonderful harp music to accompany the gentle swaying palm fronds, beside the blue Pacific lapping the shore in Waikiki!   Aloha.

Have a Happy and Peaceful New Year!

Please submit your questions and comments to and visit our website at for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.       







Holiday Bells: The Music of Christmas & Hanukkah

            One of the main traditions of the holiday season is Christmas music and the sound of bells. Bells are often one of the predominating sounds in music during this lovely time of year.

            Most people in western cultures are familiar with, or have at least heard, the many Christmas songs, sacred and secular. Throughout the entire Christmas season carols and other seasonal music is heard almost everywhere; in churches, stores, malls and even in elevators.

            Many Christmas songs have bells in their titles and lyrics:Carol of the Bells; I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day; Jingle Bell Rock; Silver Bells; With Bells On; Come On Ring Those Bells and the most famousone of all, Jingle Bells. 

            Jingle Bells was written by James Lord Pierpont (1822-1893). It was published in 1857 with a different title – One Horse Open Sleigh. Apparently it was used originally as a drinking song at social gatherings. It is without a doubt, a most favored song and it is sung by almost everyone during the Christmas season. Jingle Bells is not only an American song but is sung in many languages and countries worldwide.

            Bells date back to ancient antiquity and were found to be used in Jewish temples during that era. Some of the earliest bells, found in China and Egypt, date from 1,000 BC and were made of bronze, silver and gold. Early uses were magical and ritual, not necessarily musical.Bells were also used to accompany ritual dances and used in religious ceremonies.

The tsar's bell on church background, Kremlin, Russia            Bells are made in different shapes and sizes, including rectangular and square. They are usually struck from the outside with a hammer or from the inside with a clapper. They were historically made of metal and sometimes even made of wood.

            The Tsar Bell is the largest bell ever made and is displayed in Moscow’s Kremlin. It was cast in 1733, weighs 432,000 pounds and measures more than 22 feet in diameter. This giant bell has never been rung. Some bells from France and Germany weigh from 20,000 to 40,000 pounds. Large modern bells, often used in churches and university campuses, may weigh from 5,000 to 15,000 pounds.

            The use of bells in churches can be traced to the 6th century in Tours, France, circa 560.  In England, large church bells date back to the 10th century.Christian churches use bells for many occasions.  They often announce the time for worship and are used in weddings, funerals and other services. An inscription found in ancient bells attributed to monks reads:  “I praise the true God. I call the people, I assemble the clergy, I bewail the dead, I dispense storm clouds, I do honor to feasts.”

            In earlier times, in continental Europe, church bells were sounded together producing a rather confused sound; some called it cacophony. Then in England, they began ringing several bells in succession to produce a melody.  This type of bell placement is called a carillon.  This set of tuned bells is designed for a belfry or tower.

            The Campanile (a bell and clock tower) on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, is one of the most famous landmarks in Northern California. Inside the tower is a musical instrument or carillon. It is a set of 48 cup-shaped, bronze-cast tuned bells, attached to a keyboard with levers and wires that activate a metal clapper inside the bells.

            Bells became the symbol of the wide-spread rise of Christianity. “The bell… praised the advent of Christianity into a world of strife,” wrote McGehee and Nelson in their book, People and Music.

            Over many centuries, bells have been used in Jewish celebrations. Bells were sewn on the Hebrew priest’s vestments for their protection. The sound of bells symbolized the music of water and represented thunder and lighting. Music is used at Hanukkah more than other Jewish holidays. 

            Hanukkah, known as the “Festival of Lights.” means dedication in Hebrew. It is celebrated over a period of eight days. This festival marks the rededication in 164 BC of the temple in Jerusalem.There are many songs connected with Hanukkah but the three most popular are: Ma’oz Tzar (Stronghold of Rock) The Dreidel Song and Oh Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah.

            In this era of modern technology the bell has come a long way. Digital systems produce true bell sounds with no moving parts. Our modern world has door bells; telephone bells; intercom system bells; electronic church bells and alarm-clock bells and watches, just to name a few.

            The sound of bells are very effective for calling communities together for general alerts, special announcements and ceremonies, including dire warnings of bad things to come, such as earthquakes, fires, floods and other disasters.

             We have hand bells; bell choirs; bells on children’s shoes and clothing; bells on jewelry; bells on animal collars on cats; dogs; cows; goats and sheep. We have school bells, bells used for fire alarms, police alarms and ambulances and even at some stop signs. And don’t forget dinner bells and Santa’s sleigh bells!  

            Percussion musicians in bands and orchestras use bells; and of course, every December we enjoy hearing bells making beautiful music at Christmas time.  Almost everywhere one goes you may hear bells of some sort used for many purposes.

            So next time you hear a bell think about how far the little bell has evolved. It certainly has added a lot, not only to our musical environment but it continues to be used in many creative and different ways.

Here’s wishing you a Wonderful Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and a Very Happy New Year! “Ring those bells!”

Don’t miss “Songs of the Season,” The Danville Community Band’s annual Christmas Concert, Sunday, December, 11, 2016, 4:00 p.m. Community Presbyterian Church,222 W. El Pintado Rd.  Danville. Free concert and parking. Please submit your questions and comments to Visit our website at for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.    











The Harmonica

The people’s instrument

If Volkswagen was once touted as the “People’s Car” then surely the Harmonica is the people’s instrument. Ironically, they are both of German ancestry.  No wonder it is the people’s instrument as it is generally played by everyday people, amateurs and professional musicians. It is quite inexpensive to buy and very transportable. The harmonica, also known as the French harp or mouth organ, is a rectangular metal box made of brass and steel. Most models can easily fit in a shirt pocket and taken anywhere but there are many types and sizes.

young adult playing the harmonicaThe harmonica is fairly easy to learn and usually comes with detailed instructions on how to play the instrument. You can learn to play it yourself but if one can afford lessons from a teacher, it is probably a better alternative. The harmonica is a very versatile instrument, to be enjoyed as a solo instrument or in a group ensemble.

Walt Schneider, a childhood friend, said, “When I followed instructions carefully, I could play Stephen Foster’s, Old Black Joe; what a feeling of accomplishment!”  In a few weeks he learned all the songs in the instruction book and said his feeling of satisfaction was very high. Schneider started playing the harmonica in the fourth grade and he actually got very good at it. As a young boy and young man I was in awe of his playing ability.


The ancient ancestors of the harmonica date back to before the time of Christ. Some researchers trace the origins of the harmonica to Laos and others to China. The ancients developed a crude rudimentary form of the instrument.

It took centuries before European craftsmen began to develop an instrument akin to the modern harmonica. In 1821-22, Friedirch Buschmann, a German from Berlin, made an experimental instrument.  In 1829, the manufacture of mouth-organs, as they are often called, started in Vienna, Austria. Also during 1829, Charles Wheatstone of London patented his version of the harmonica.

The modern prototype harmonica was invented in 1857 by Matthias Hohner of Trossingen, Germany. The Hohner Harmonica Company is still one of the leading makers of harmonicas and has continually been in business since 1857. The Hohner harmonicas feature duel-action reeds that enable players to activate different notes or pitches while blowing or exhaling into the instrument. Notes are also produced by a second set of reeds when the player inhales or draws air back through the instrument.


During the time of the American Civil War, the harmonica became very popular.  Because it was small and easy to learn, soldiers on both sides – the Union and the Confederates – used the instrument as a source of entertainment along with singing songs popular on both sides of the conflict.

After the war the harmonica became part of American folk-lore and the folk music scene – its popularity soared.  It was a real challenge for the Hohner Harmonica Company to keep up with orders, especially from America.

The popularity of harmonicas during wartime did not stop with the Civil War. The Golden Age of the mouth-organ in America was the years between the two world wars. World War I soldiers on both British and German sides used harmonicas as they went off to war.

By World War II harmonica imports were virtually stopped because of the embargo placed on German products. After the war, normal production was gradually returned.

John Philip Sousa, noted composer and band director, wrote a march called, The Harmonica Wizard, after he heard the Philadelphia Harmonica Band in concert. During the last two thirds of the 20th Century, the harmonica’s popularity became worldwide in many musical genres. It gained favor in blues, jazz, classical music, country music, rock and roll, and other modern forms of popular music. Some popular musicians that included harmonicas in their music were Creedance Clearwater, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Billy Joel and others.

Before the modern era, numerous players reached Virtuoso status, including Buddy Green, Charlie McCoy, and Borrah Minevitch, who formed the group, Harmonica Rascals.  One of the most famous and endearing players was Johnny Paleo, a comedian who dressed in funny costumes and had a group called, The Harmonica Gang. One of the most famous groups was the very popular Harmonicats. These groups reveled in slapstick comedy but excelled in fantastic harmonica technique and musicianship.

In decades past, the harmonica has been featured in Western movies with singing cowboy groups, including Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and The Sons of the Pioneers.  Likewise, movies depicting the South and old-time plantation scenes often show the harmonica in scenes of musical entertainment.

Even though it is a small, simple instrument, the harmonica has been enjoyed by people for centuries and will likely continue to be enjoyed for centuries to come.  Found in many homes throughout the world, it is loved by millions. The harmonica will always be the people’s instrument.

Please submit your questions and comments to Visit our website at  for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.       




Music & Politics

Does music play a role in national politics and especially in the political conventions of the two major parties in America? The answer is a resounding, yes!

Konzert- oder Festivalpublikum als Silhouette vor blauem Licht - Hunderte von Fans feiern mit erhobenen Haenden eine BandMusic plays a big part in both political parties, in the candidate’s conventions and in their individual campaigns for office. Music used in politics can be influential in supporting a political party or candidate; or it can be used to bring out the negative aspects of a political doctrine or candidate.

Clever spin doctors try to find music and lyrics that either enhance or detract from a candidate. If possible, they find music that advocates a partisan theme or opinion, making sure that it is primarily presented through radio and television. “It is not clear to what extent the political messages in and around music motivate fans, become a catalyst for discussion or function aesthetically,” said Pedelty, and Keefe. “Given the right historical circumstances, cultural conditions, and esthetic qualities, popular music can help bring people together to form effective political communities.”

In years past, the house band provided most of the music to introduce speakers and played music during pauses in the flow of a convention. There is always a need for music, such as the National Anthem, played usually at the start of conventions.

In more modern times, celebrity musicians are the norm rather than a house band.  These singers and musicians are usually very supportive of the party and presidential candidates. The nature of today’s music is usually pop and often rock oriented. Pre-recorded music is nearly always present.

Records indicate that music was present at early conventions dating back to 1860. During 1872, at the Republican Convention in Philadelphia, bands were out in the streets rallying people to get out the vote.  At the convention the band played a series of patriotic songs featuring, Hail Columbia, The Star Spangled Banner, Yankee Doodle and the Battle Cry of Freedom. 

After the last piece, the crowd was on its feet with excitement and great enthusiasm. These songs were followed by: The Loyal League Initiation Hymn and the March to the Sea. Hail to the Chief was used to introduce the speaker to the convention. The New York Times reported that in the Republican Convention of 1888 in Chicago, the crowd was united in a rousing rendition of Marching Through Georgia.

Traditionally, the Democrats choose music and artists that appeal to a more youthful, liberal group; as opposed to Republicans who present music identified with older people that are usually more conservative.

In modern political conventions the media, more specifically, the television media, is playing a much more dominant role than ever before.

None of the media-driven elements of a convention is more prominent than the change of daytime activities to prime time hours of the evening.  This, of course, was designed to significantly increase viewer coverage. Consequently, music became even more important to introduce and enhance candidate’s recognition and appeal.

Another aspect of music at party conventions is the question of the legality of using music without permission.  Although it may displease some composers or artists who actively object to a party or candidate using their music; the Christian Science Monitor stated, “While the use of famous  songs by political campaigns at live events may displease the musician, it is likely not a copyright violation.”

Apparently, if a venue has a general performance license and is a live performance, then it is considered legal, said Michael Carroll, a law professor at American University in Washington D.C.

Some well-known songs used by politicians at conventions and elections are:

Happy Days Are Here Again, by Milton Ager (music) and Jack Yellen (lyrics), was the theme song of Franklin Roosevelt and the Democratic Party. High Hopes, by Sammy Cahn, was used by John F. Kennedy. Born in the USA, by Bruce Springsteen, was Ronald Reagan’s campaign song. Don’t Stop, by Fleetwood Mac, was Bill Clinton’s song. I Won’t Back Down, by Tom Petty, was George W. Bush’s campaign song. Eye of the Tiger, by Frank Sullivan, was used by Newt Gingrich. Born Free, by Kid Rock, was used by Mitt Romney. Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours, by Stevie Wonder, was Barack Obama’s campaign song You and I, by Celine Dion, is Hillary Clinton’s song We Are The Champions, by Queen, is Donald Trump’s campaign song.

The importance of music to enhance political campaigns cannot be measured. The identify it gives the candidate and the campaign becomes recognizable by the public when hearing the music. Without the music in political campaigns the anticipation, emotional effect, drama, fun and tremendous excitement would be missing.

Please submit your questions and comments to Visit our website at for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.



Leonard Bernstein, a 20th Century Musical Genius

Few people ever reach the pinnacle of their life’s work while engaged in so many different aspects of their careers. One exception is Leonard Bernstein, lauded as one of the greatest American Composers of the 20th Century.

He was noted for “doing it all;” a composer, orchestrator, pianist, conductor, author and music educator.  He not only indulged in all of the above but truly excelled in them. As a young man Bernstein was heralded as the American ‘Wonder Boy’ of the 1940s.

“Bernstein became the first American conductor of international celebrity,” wrote Ethan Mordden in A Guide To Orchestral Music, “The only composer since George Gershwin to attempt a rapprochement between the popular native sound and the penetration of serious music.”

hands of leader on the orange backgroundHis Life         

Bernstein was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on August 25, 1918.  He studied at Harvard under the renowned theorist, Walter Piston, author of the book Harmony, (the same text I studied from while an undergraduate at University of California, Berkeley.)

Bernstein studied conducting with Fritz Reiner and composition with Randall Thompson at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. From 1940 to 1942, while at Tanglewood Institute, he was under the tutelage of Serge Koussevitzky.  During this period Bernstein became the assistant conductor of the famous New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 1943 an unexpected happening occurred that won Bernstein instantaneous fame and a meteoric rise in the music world. Bernstein had to step in and conduct a radio broadcast concert of the New York Philharmonic when Conductor Bruno Walter became ill at the last moment. He did such a brilliant job, critics said his debut was sensational. This performance launched his conducting career.

He became principal conductor of the orchestra from 1958 to1969.  During his tenure he guest conducted major orchestras in the United States and around the world. He especially enjoyed his relationship with the Vienna Symphony and the Israel Symphony.

With his good looks, pleasing personality, brilliance as a music educator and his amazing conducting prowess, he was a natural to appear on radio and television. Bernstein hosted a series of Saturday morning “Young Peoples Concerts” from Carnegie Hall on CBS; later moving to prime time on television.

He became an ambassador of classical music, giving lectures and concerts, making high art available to the American public.

His Music

Bernstein’s unique, eclectic style manifested itself in two musical spheres: the symphonic genre and the Broadway Musical style.  He was considered a master of both forms. “Life without music is unthinkable. Music without life is academic,” said Bernstein, “that is why my contact with music is a total embrace.”

Bernstein’s music reflects his international interests. He is particularly fond of European thinking; their way of life and his own Jewish and Russian heritage. This is often found in his musical expressiveness.

“He is at once linked with the music of Benjamin Britten and Dimitri Shostakovich, as well as George Gershwin and Aaron Copland,” said famed Music Director and Conductor, John Mauceri.

No matter what medium Bernstein wrote for, the distinction between serious and theater works became unclear, because he used idioms from both genres in his music. He had the capacity to blend several music styles in his own unique way to create the unmistakable “Bernstein sound.”

As good as his serious music is, he is more famous for his Broadway style musicals.  Bernstein’s very famous, first musical, On the Town, (1944) with hit tunes, New York, New York and Lonely Town, grew out of the ballet score, Fancy Free.  It was about three sailors on leave in New York.

Some of his background materials were drawn from literary works.  He wrote songs based on Voltaire’s Candide, including, the Best of All Possible Worlds and Make Our Garden Grow.

In 1957 he wrote his classic and most famous musical, West Side Story. This Show was claimed by many as the best musical ever written. Songs from this show include: Somewhere; Maria; Tonight; America; One Hand One Heart and I Feel Pretty.  The symphonic dances from West Side Story have become a staple of the concert repertory. This show later became a very popular film.

Bernstein’s serious, or concert music, is exemplified by his first symphony Jeremiah, written in 1944 and dedicated to his father. It was deemed the best new orchestral work by the New York Music Critics Circle. His second symphony was based on W.H. Auden’s poem, The Age of Anxiety but was somewhat less noteworthy than the first and third symphonies.

Bernstein’s third symphony, Kaddish, written in 1963, was much more avant-garde as he used new and experimental devices like the twelve-tone technique.

Other serious works include:  Concerto for Orchestra; Chichester Psalms; Ballets; Choral Works; Chamber music; Mass and Operas.

“Just as long as people care a damn about something finer in life, than power and money and their imagined superiority over others, there will always be Lenny around to educate, entertain edify, move and inspire – to change us all in some wonderful, subtle way,” from, My Brother Lenny, by Burton Bernstein, writer and younger brother of  Leonard Bernstein.

Needless to say, Bernstein accumulated many awards in his lifetime of musical endeavors.  He won numerous Tony Awards and also received Emmy Awards for his teaching and presenting educational broadcasts for children.

He was a popular television music educator without peer. I listened and watched these programs as a young person and was completely captivated by this charismatic man who made symphony music come alive and be exciting for young people.

Sadly, after a lifetime of chain-smoking, it finally caught up with him. He suffered with emphysema and lung cancer. He died in 1990 at the age of 72 from cardiac arrest and lung failure.

Bernstein said, “The key to the mystery of a great artist is, that for reasons unknown, he will give away his energies and his life just to make sure that one note follows another…and leaves us with the feeling that something is right in the world.”

His legacy will continue to enrich many lives for centuries to come.