The Nutcracker

            One of the most popular, endearing and delightful things to do during the Christmas season, is attend a performance of Peter Ilitch Tchaikovsky’s classic Christmas ballet, The Nutcracker. It is so popular it has become a traditional family outing for many devoted families and fans alike. In some cities it has become an annual affair not to be missed. Ballet companies around the country have this ballet in their yearly repertory.

            Alexander Dumas Pere’s adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story, was the impetus for Tchaikovsky’s setting. The Nutcracker is known as a Christmas ballet; as the story revolves around a German girl named Clara on Christmas Eve. She experiences a coming of age awakening. This encompasses an awareness of the world and visions of romantic love, beyond her own experience.

            The ballet is a fairy tale setting in two acts based on a family celebration on Christmas Eve. It was commissioned in 1891 by the director of Moscow’s Imperial Theatre, Ivan Vsevolozhsky. Tchaikovsky worked on it off and on and it was premiered in December, 1892, at the Imperial Mariisky Theatre in Saint Petersburg. The first performance outside of Russia occurred in England in 1934; almost 40 years after its premier in Russia. It wasn’t until 1944 that the United States premier of The Nutcracker was performed by the San Francisco Ballet Company. 

            Before the first performance in Russia, Tchaikovsky did something unique and unusual. He made a selection of eight of the pieces in the ballet and called it, The Nutcracker Suite, OP.71a. Traditionally, a suite is a collection of short movements, usually contrasting dances with a pause between each one, played as one piece. This suite was meant for concert performance, not ballet; first performed in March, 1892, with Tchaikovsky conducting.

            The suite was so popular and famous, it was featured in the Disney film production of Fantasia. This suite is not the complete ballet. The eight selections of the suite are: Miniature Overture; Marche; Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy; Russian Dance (Trepak); Arabian Dance; Chinese Dance; Reed Flutes and Waltz of the Flowers.

            In the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Tchaikovsky uses the celesta; an instrument consisting of steel bars that are struck by hammers controlled by a keyboard. It has a unique, relatively soft sound that is very appealing. This dance has become very noteworthy because of the inclusion of the celesta.

            Tchaikovsky was born in Votinsk, Russia and died in Saint Petersburg. He was not born into a musical family; nevertheless he showed early talent for music. In early adulthood, age 19, he was a clerk in the ministry of justice.

Tchaikovsky did not plan a professional career in music. When he was 21 he began a serious study of music. At 23 he gave up his clerkship to devote himself 100 percent to a music career. His friend and colleague, Anton Rubinstein, whose brother, Nikolai, founded the Moscow Conservatory, hired Tchaikovsky in 1865 as a professor of harmony.  He was not particularly happy teaching at the conservatory.

             Around 1876 he had an unusual relationship with a generous benefactor, Madam Nadejva von Meck. She offered an annual stipend to him with a very strange stipulation—that they never meet—they communicated only through correspondence. This gift was enough to sustane him financially; as a result, he left the conservatory and was totally free to compose music. This allowance lasted for 13 years.

            Tchaikovsky has been described as a romantic composer of Russian temperament. His music is largely based on Western European traditions mixed with some elements of his own temperament and Russian nationalistic traits. Generally, his music was considered as Russian as his nationalistic Russian contemporaries. His melodies are broad and sweeping and he occasionally used folk tunes, as in the 4th Symphony and 1812 Overture. He is known for sensational climaxes and violent contrasts of mood. His understanding of symphonic form was considered utterly masterful. Personally, Tchaikovsky was morbidly sensitive, very creative with bouts of depression and had an unhappy temperament.

            His orchestration is characterized by strong, heavy brass and sometimes, use of string basses for somber melancholy effects. He wrote brilliant solo parts for various instruments. He also wrote rapid changes of texture (light texture uses fewer instruments, heavy texture uses many instruments) for the various sections of the orchestra, resulting in sharply contrasted independent groups.

              Performances of his music are intended to be very emotional.  Notable compositions are: six symphonies; The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty ballets; Overture Fantasia; Romeo and Juliet; Piano Concerto No.1; Violin Concerto; Chamber Music; March Slav; 1812 Overture; Capriccio Italien and eight operas.

            Tchaikovsky’s gift for melody and inspired orchestration, plus the drama, excitement and emotional intensity of his music makes him one of the most popular of all composers. He was one of the first Russian composers to win world-wide fame. He conducted his works in major cities of Europe; and also conducted at the 1891 opening of Carnegie Hall in New York City. Tchaikovsky was honored by Emperor Alexander III in 1894 and awarded a lifetime pension.

            One of his best known compositions is the Piano Concerto No.1. It premiered in Boston in 1875 and was an extremely popular favorite with the American public. It was so popular that Freddie Martin used it as his theme song for his band. 

            Due to Tchaikovsky’s popularity, it is no surprise that two of the most famous ballets ever written–Swan Lake and The Nutcracker– became  tremendous successes. What a legacy Tchaikovsky left for all to enjoy.

Don’t miss the Danville Community Band’s annual Christmas Concert, Sunday, December, 10, 2017, 3:00 p.m. San Ramon Valley High School, Danville, CA. Free concert and parking. New venue for this performance. Please submit your questions and comments to Visit our website at for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band. 











Orchestra Origins

In the long and exultant history of music, particularly in musical performance, the symphony orchestra is a relative newcomer to the concert scene.

In the Middle Ages and early Renaissance period, large instrumental ensembles were virtually non-existent. There were a few exceptions, of course, as larger groups sometimes were used for ceremonial and festive occasions. The various instrumental combinations were actually more reminiscent of chamber music rather than orchestral music.

The development of the orchestra had its roots in the 16th century. It was not until the early Baroque period that instrumental music foretold what it would become later.


Giovanni Gabrieli (1567-1612), wrote for specific instruments for each part. He wrote, Sacrae Symphoniae in 1597. He also wrote Sonata pian e forte for two instrumental groups, one was soft and one was loud.

The Opera Orfeo of 1607 was written by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643).  He was one of the first early composers to write for individual instruments for special expressive purposes.

The most famous and renowned orchestra of its time, in the mid-18th century, was the court orchestra in Mannheim, Germany. This orchestra recruited the best players and composers available. The Composer, Johann Stamitz (1717-1757), was prominent in the evolution and development of this ensemble. It was known for its precision; technique; beauty of tone; range; dynamic shading and contrasts, virtually unknown before.

Stamitz trained the musicians in the technique of gradually changing intensity and using a sudden fortisimi (very loud) as a means to stir emotions.

This orchestra was truly the forerunner and prototype of the modern symphony orchestra. It was the leading ensemble of the day. From these humble beginnings sprang forth the pacesetter of all instrumental ensembles – the modern symphony orchestra.


Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), was known as the “Father of the Symphony.”  He further developed the growth of the Mannheim Orchestra. Haydn standardized the instrumentation of the classical orchestra. The String section included: Violins, violas, cellos and string basses. Woodwinds: two flutes, two oboes and two bassoons. Brass had two horns, two trumpets and a pair of timpani. The harpsichord, used to fill in harmonies, was eliminated from Haydn’s orchestra.  In 1766 he started with a group of 17 musicians and by 1790 he had 50 members in the orchestra.


Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791), further developed the orchestra by adding more instruments. A big change was the addition of the newly invented clarinet. This instrument was added to his later symphonies. Mozart continued the style of Haydn but went beyond the scope of his predecessors in several ways. He had a more perfect balance between harmony and counterpoint (notes played against each other) and he was very gifted in the creation of spontaneous melodies. He had a harmonic vocabulary, including the use of dissonance (lack of harmony), that was advanced for its time. Mozart was extremely versatile in all types of composition including symphonies; concerti; sonatas for various instruments; chamber music; opera and sacred music. All of these various forms contributed to the advancement of symphonic writing.


The composer that contributed more to the establishment of the modern orchestra is Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827). He used the model of Haydn and Mozart with his own style that has never been surpassed. His orchestral innovations include: adding new instruments, new roles for all of the instruments and the bold use of the human voice and chorus in the 9th Symphony. The addition of the trombone, for the first time, is in his 5th Symphony and he also used established instruments more widely.

Beethoven wrote more complex and demanding parts for all the instruments. In order to do all these innovations, he had to have a deep understanding of the capabilities, limitations and knowledge of all the instruments in the orchestra. He went beyond traditional roles established by his illustrious predecessors. He used the basic instruments of the Haydn orchestra but increased the numbers of established instruments and added new ones. The English horn, clarinets, trombones and more percussion instruments were added.

Beethoven did something that had not been done before to any great extent; he wrote detailed directions for performance of his work. He left instructions regarding tempo, dynamics, phrasing and expression. Until this time, interpretation of a piece was largely left open for speculation by both performers and conductors. The role of the conductor really wasn’t present until around 1800. Then conductors could relate to the players how the composers wanted their work performed.

The modern day symphony orchestra has grown to around 100 to 110 players. In the String section there are: 30-40 violins; 10-12 violas; 10-12 cello and 8-10 string basses. Woodwinds: 3 flutes; 1 piccolo; 2-3 oboes; 1 English horn; 3 bassoons; 1 contra bassoon; 2-3 clarinets and 1 bass clarinet. Brass: 3 to 4 trumpets; 4 to 6 horns; 3 trombones; 1 bass trombone and 1 tuba. Percussion: 4 Timpani; snare drum; bass drum; symbols; gong or tam-tam; xylophone; orchestra bells; chimes and various auxiliary percussion instruments. Also used are the Celesta, piano, harp and organ.

Beethoven used the orchestra as a means of personal expression. His music, reflected to a certain extent, how he felt and viewed the world. He was a true genius in every sense of the word.

The Symphony Orchestra was, and is today, the cornerstone of the performing arts. Generations have thrilled to the sound of the orchestra throughout the world and will, thankfully, continue to do so in the future.

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




The English Horn & French Horn

Two of the most interesting and yet disparate, members of the symphony orchestra, are indisputably the English horn and the French horn. Some people may think they are somehow related and from the same family of instruments – not!

About the only thing they have in common is, they are both aerophones, meaning they both produce sound by the vibration of air. In truth, they are different as night and day. The English horn is a woodwind instrument and the French horn is a brass instrument.

English Horn

The English horn has a rather disputed history. The name itself is a misnomer as the instrument is not of English origin, nor is it a horn in the strictest sense. In French the instrument is known as Cor anglais, a corruption of Cor angle, meaning bent horn. The early English horns were bent in the middle. Later they were made straight, like their cousin the oboe. The present-day straight horn was made by Frenchman, Henri Brod in 1839. Actually the English horn is an alto oboe or lower pitched oboe.

Musicologists are unsure why it is called English horn. By the 1830’s the English horn was an accepted member of the orchestra. There are generally three oboe players in an orchestra and one of the three usually plays English horn.

The English horn is made of wood with a slightly conical bore and a pear-shaped bell on the end. It is longer than the oboe, hence it has a lower pitch. It is played with a double reed – two thin cane blades tightly bound together by a string. The reed is on a bent metal, small hollow tube, attached to the top of the instrument. In the double reed instruments the reed is the mouthpiece. The fingering and key work is similar to the oboe.

The English horn is a transposing instrument that sounds a fifth lower than written. It is customarily written as a solo instrument; its tone is rather soft, somewhat melancholy with an expressive timbre (quality of sound). It can express music of sorrow, sadness and solitude very well.

Famous English horn passages in the following works are:  Dvorak, Symphony in E Minor from The New World Symphony; Franck, Symphony in D Minor; Wagner, Tristan and Isolde Shepherds Tune; Sibelias, Swan of Tuonela; Berlioz, Roman Carnival Overture and Vaughan-Williams, London Symphony.

English horn parts are also written for concert band scores.

French Horn

This noble sounding horn has the distinction of being referred to by musicians as “The Horn.”  It is a lip-vibrating wind instrument belonging to the brass family.       The horn is a beautiful and expressive instrument when well played. It has a very wide range, the widest of any brass instrument, with a rich, warm elegant sound that composers have exploited over the years.      

The ancient ancestors of this instrument were actually made of animal horns with their characteristically curved shape. Other materials used were tusks; wood; bamboo; ivory and metal. Early forms of the modern instrument were hunting horns. Long before its admittance into the orchestra it was used for calls to the hunt. Hunting horns had no valves or crooks (brass tubing of a given length). The French called them Cor-de-chasse (horn of the chase). The horn was also commonly used in the military for signaling and other calls to battle. Ceremonial use was also one of its functions.

Modern style horns before Beethoven’s time were termed natural horns. This means the horns had a given length of tubing and consequently had one harmonic series possible. A harmonic series is a series of notes or overtones that vibrate above a fundamental note or pedal tone. Different lengths of tubing have a different harmonic series therefore the early natural horns had different lengths of tubing to produce different sets of harmonics. This was obviously a restriction on the composer and the player. If the key of a piece changed the player would have to change horns to accommodate the new key. This all changed when it was possible to add length to the instrument by changing the length of the tubing or pipe. By 1718 it was possible to do this by adding a crook to the natural horn. This was a huge step forward and much more practical for the player. It was much easier to change crooks than to change horns.

Construction of modern-day horns have a narrow conical bore that is wound into a spiral ending in a large flaring bell. It has a funnel-shaped mouthpiece. An important invention that revolutionized both horn playing and composers writing was the work of Bluhnel in Silesia (Prussia) and Stolzel in Berlin (Germany). They invented the valve around 1815.

Valves open sections of tubing that change the length of pipe both singly and in combination. There are three valves on the French horn. This enables the horn to execute a complete chromatic scale forever freeing it from the confines of a single harmonic series. Prior to 1750, horns had a rather coarse and sometimes vulgar tone, somewhat like early trumpets. After 1750 they had a more mellow timbre.

The horn is a transposing instrument that is written a fifth higher than it sounds. Playing technique includes a method of placing the hand in the bell, called stopping. Experienced players use this technique to not only change the pitch, usually by a semitone (half step) but also change the timbre of the tone produced.

The modern orchestra has four horns, sometimes five, the fifth is an assistant first horn. Composers write four parts from high to low. Interestingly, the higher parts are played by first and third horns and lower parts are played by second and fourth horns.  They dovetail.

Some famous horn passages occur in Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, the Andante movement;  Mendelssohn’s Nocturne from Midsummer’s Night Dream; Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, Trio of the Third Movement and Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, Prelude to Act III.

Both the English horn and the French horn, although not related, are valuable members of bands and orchestras and are not to be treated lightly. If you are considering learning to play either instrument be aware that they are expensive and require patience and long hours of practice.

Of the wind instruments the French horn is probably the hardest to play well. One needs to have a keen ear for pitch as there are many notes available with each fingering. Many horn players start on trumpet and then transfer to horn.

Rarely does one start out on the English horn as players almost always begin on the oboe. After learning it well, they then add the English horn. Because it becomes very costly to buy two expensive instruments; the player needs to be very dedicated and serious about investing in an oboe and an English horn.

Choosing these instruments will always put you in demand for most bands and orchestras. The satisfaction gained from mastering these elegant instruments will provide lifelong pleasure and pride for the musician.

Bob Williams, French horn player in the Danville Community Band and Director of the Pleasanton Community Concert Band, kindly contributed to this article.     

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


The Care and Feeding of Musical Instruments

(Woodwinds and Brass)

In order for any instrument to operate properly it needs constant and careful attention by both beginner and professional musician alike. The care and maintenance of any musical instrument is essential for its ability to operate and produce the optimum quality of sound it was manufactured to render.

An instrument that is well cared for can, and in most cases, last a lifetime.  This is an important aspect of instrument ownership as some instruments are so expensive, you want and need them, to last a lifetime; otherwise it becomes a serious financial consideration. If beginners are taught properly from the outset how to care for their instruments, it should carry over for the rest of their lives and become a habit. 

As a former high school teacher and later university professor, I have seen many students who have not adhered to a strict regimen of care and cleaning of their instruments. The result of this neglect is an instrument that does not play well and sound as it should.

If one does not clean and swab out after playing it may become an instrument with a smelly and distasteful mouthpiece. The results can be unpleasant at best and not healthy at worst. Not only does the instrument, especially the mouthpiece, need to be cleaned after each playing, but also the implements—swab, chamois and cloths—need to be cleaned for optimum sanitation.


The key work on all woodwind instruments is quite delicate and is precisely aligned so all keys, pads and tone holes can work properly.  If any of the key work is bent, or not properly aligned, the notes may not be playable or badly out of tune. Therefore when cleaning, care must be taken to be very careful when handling the instrument, and when removing all the parts that need to be cleaned.  Always hold the instrument carefully in order to prevent damage to the key mechanism.


After playing the flute, the bore of the instrument must be thoroughly dried with a soft lint-free cloth or piece of a chamois on the end of a cleaning rod. One can dust under the key mechanism with a small soft water-color brush. The intricate key mechanism should be oiled with a special key oil several times a year. Use a tooth pick or needle with a drop of the key oil on friction points.


Since the Oboe is made of wood it must be thoroughly dried after each playing. The wood may crack if moisture is left in the joints. Swabs are either cloth, chamois or pheasant feathers. Many oboists prefer feathers. Swab each joint several times to insure there is no moisture left. The Oboe reed needs to be blown out and put in a special case. One can clean the reed with a wet pipe cleaner.


There are five separate sections of the clarinet including the mouthpiece.  Make sure each section is dried properly and cleaned with a cloth or chamois swab. Start the swab at the upper end of a joint and draw it out at the lower end.  Like other instruments the key mechanism can be dusted with a soft water-color brush. Use key oil to oil at friction points on the intricate key work. The cork on the end of the joints are lubricated with cork grease. Remove the reed and dry the mouthpiece with the swab then place the reed in a reed case or holder.


A special saxophone swab is used to dry and clean the inside of the body of the instrument. The neck joint is cleaned with a special neck cleaner for the inside of the neck. Keys are oiled at friction points with key oil three or four times a year. Remove the reed and dry the mouthpiece and reed until free of moisture. Place the reed in a reed case or holder. Remember to keep the neck cork lubricated with cork grease. The neck strap and cleaning swabs should be in the small compartment inside the case to prevent damage.


Disassemble the instrument with great care as the key mechanism can be easily damaged. Swab out the inside of each piece so it is moisture free. The bocal or neckpiece may be cleaned periodically by running warm water through it. Shake the bocal and blow out the moisture. The joints should be well lubricated with cork grease. Tone holes should be blown out or swabbed with a folded pipe cleaner. Clean the reed with a wet pipe cleaner then blow the reed free of moisture. Keep the outside blades of the reed free from dirt so the vibrating surface is not hampered.


Instruments in the brass family require less meticulous care and maintenance than the woodwind instruments. This is because they have far less moving parts and are considerably less delicate, largely because they do not have an intricate key mechanism. 

But the finish on brass instruments requires special care. There are four finishes for brass instruments: Clear lacquer requires a moderate amount of care. This is the most common finish on most new instruments. Silver-plated finish is more expensive to purchase initially but in the long it is more economical because it is more durable. Wipe off with a soft jewelry cloth and apply a tarnish preventing silver polish when tarnish appears. A gold-plated finish is very costly and usually used by professionals only. Polished brass is the most economical finish to purchase and must be constantly polished as it tarnishes very easily.

One of the common problems in all brass instruments is the possibility of the air passage being blocked. Fortunately, this is a rather rare occurrence and does not often happen. Solutions are available and solved by experienced players or instrument repair technicians. Occasionally, a brass instrument should be flushed out with warm water (never hot). Never do this to a woodwind instrument!

Players, especially students, should not eat, drink or chew gum before or while playing. Water is the exception. Food particles can accumulate in the mouthpiece or blowpipe, becoming partially blocked, resulting in a fuzzy or breathy tone. The mouthpiece can be cleaned by a cone-shaped mouthpiece brush and the blowpipe can be cleaned with a flexible cleaning brush.

Trumpet, Cornet, Flugelhorn, Euphonium& Tuba

These instruments have piston valves in valve casings. In all of these instruments the valves should be removed, cleaned and wiped with a lint-free cloth. The valve casings are cleaned with a swab tool. The valves are then oiled with a special valve oil. The valves must be returned to their properly numbered casings. This should be done one at a time so a valve is not replaced into the wrong casing. Some euphoniums and tubas have rotary valves.  This requires different methods for care and maintenance.

French Horn

The rotary valves in a French horn are considered the most delicate mechanism of all the brass instruments. Only people skilled in rotary valves should attempt to remove one. The valves are oiled by removing the valve cap and placing a single drop on the axle. Only use oil specially made for rotary valves. Trombone oil or household oil should never be used as they may be too thick and cause sluggish action. 


The slide on a trombone is carefully machined to very close tolerances and can be easily scratched, dented or put out of alignment by a twisting motion resulting from sloppy handling. The slide can be oiled by a commercially grade light weight oil. Some advanced players and professionals use a thin glaze of cold cream with water sprayed over the cold cream. This combination takes more care but some players consider it a superior lubricant to oil.

Do not put any foreign objects like books or music in the case as it may put pressure on the slide and cause it to warp.

The best care for any woodwind or brass instrument is preventive maintenance. If young students or beginning players are diligent in the care and cleaning of their instrument there is no need to purchase another one. The exception, of course, is when one wants to upgrade their instrument to a more sophisticated or professional model.

The end result of a properly maintained instrument is one that will provide many years of productive and enjoyable musical satisfaction. Happy playing and take good care of that precious instrument.  It will be your friend for years if you treat it well.

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


De-mystifying a Concert Program

Most concert programs provide interesting reading and information regarding both the composer and the music to be played. But many people, who are not versed in the language of music, open a concert program and are often at a loss to understand some of the words, terminology and phrases they encounter.

The idea for this subject came from a good friend and former colleague, W. Richard Smithousen, a biologist. After going to a Danville Community Band concert he told me he had no idea what some of the words meant and was confused by the terminology. He asked me to clear up and explain some of the mysterious words and phrases in the program.      I can appreciate his confusion and frustration. Many people don’t know some of the commonly used musical jargon found in almost all concert programs.The main part of a program is in English but Italian is the language usually used for musical directions in the vast majority of music compositions. So if one does not understand the Italian language, many musical terms are quite a mystery. Italian is the universal music language but this is not the case in 100 percent of music written throughout the world. The directions for playing, singing or conducting are usually in Italian. This may also be true in music written in other countries by composers who speak other languages.

Some of the words and phrases are categorized according to their function and meaning. Many words denote names of movements that make up the composition, others are directions for volume, tempo, and style of playing.

There are literally thousands of words that could be used to describe some aspects of musical expression. Space does not permit but a few of the most common words and expressions found in music literature. Some of the words and phrases used in music are:


Volume or dynamics, indicates loudness or softness

            Pianissimo pp – very soft

            Piano p – soft

            Mezzo piano mp – medium soft

            Mezzo forte  mf – medium loud

            Forte f – loud

            Fortissimo  ff – very loud


Tempo or speed of a composition

            Allegro – fast, happy, quick

            Allegro con brio – played in a brilliant style

            Allegro con fuoco – played with fire and extreme animation

            Allegro con spirito – performed with spirit

            Allegro ma non troppo – allegro but not too rapid

            Allegretto – slightly slower than allegro

            Andante – a moderate or walking tempo

            Andantino – slightly faster than andante

            Moderato – a moderate tempo

            Vivace – quite fast, lively, quick

            Presto – very fast

            Presto assai – as fast as possible

            Adagio – slow

            Largo – very slow and broad

            Lento – slow

            Grave – very, very slow

Terms used to alter tempo markings:

            Accelerando – becoming gradually faster

            Stringendo – quickening the tempo

            Ritardando – gradually slowing the tempo

            Rallentando – slowing the tempo

            Meno mosso – less movement

            L’istesso tempo – the same rate of speed

            Maestoso – majestically

            Dolce – sweetly

            Grandioso – grandly

            Pesante – slowly, heavily

            Con moto – with motion

            Agitato – agitated

Program Makeup

The components of a concert program vary according to the ensemble, either band, orchestra or choral and what each ensemble deems important and appropriate to mention.

I’m proud to say that the programs of the Danville Community Band (DCB) are very complete in content and scope. When we take sample programs to national conventions they are called exemplary and are quickly sought after.

Our printed programs begin with greetings from the conductor and a list of dates for all upcoming concerts and events. Then the musical selections to be performed and a brief history of the founding of the band follows. Biographies of the conductors and featured guest artists (if performing) are next, then a list of the musicians name, profession and the instrument they play. Corporate and individual contributions of financial donations follow. Also included are

acknowledgments of individuals who help the band in many ways, including the Board of Directors of DCB. Photos of band members are featured throughout the written program.

Program Notes

This section is where you will find some words and phrases that you may not now. These are common words to describe something that is inherent in the music being performed.

            Acappella – unaccompanied

            Bel canto – beautiful singing, associated with Italian opera

            Chorale –         a hymn tune (or a choral group)

            Coda – means tail, a section at the end of a piece

            Concerto – a composition for one or more solo voices and orchestra or band

            Consort – a small instrumental ensemble

            Counterpoint – two or more melodic lines played together

            da capo – go back to the beginning

            da capo al fine – go back to the beginning and play to the end or fine

            Diatonic – major and minor scales

            Etude – French for study

            Legato – play smoothly without separate attacks

            Leitmotif – a recurring theme

            Libretto – text of opera, oratorio or musical

            Minuet – a country dance in triple time

            Monophony – a single line of melody, no harmony

            Ornaments – a little quick note, a trill, grace note or turn

            Opus – a number assigned to the works of a composer

            Overture – an introduction to a musical work

            Polyphony – two or more independent lines combined

            Sotto voce – Soft or low voice

            Staccato – detached, each note short

            Syncopation – accent on the weak part of the beat

            Secco – dry or simple

            Segue – without a break

            Sonata – multi-movement composition for solo instrument

            Sordino – mute

            Subito – suddenly or immediately

            Tacet – be quiet, do not play or sing

            Tessitura – range of a part

            Tutti – all

            Timbre – tone quality or color

            Unison – two or more playing the same note

            Vibrato – a wobble or fluctuation of pitch

There you have it. A thumbnail sketch on how to read and interpret the words and phrases in a concert program.

Many thanks to the very fine members of DCB who produce our programs before each event. George March, DCB’s business manager, who does the leg work and writes the copy for each issue, Jim Ketsdever, of Sara Waters Design Group, who designs the graphics and does the layout and Steve Tom, of Printing by Coast Litho for printing our beautiful programs. These dedicated folks do a superior job, getting the word out to our audience and making us look good.

Hopefully, I have dismissed some of the mystery in understanding what is offered in a program.

Happy concert going.

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

Music Can Cure

…and relieve physical and emotional stress

Can exposure to music produce curative results from physical and mental distress and disorders?  Science has proved many times over that the answer is yes! Experts have shown that experience with music has great benefits for individuals with various afflictions and pain.

For many generations health professionals have used music in some form to treat illnesses of both body and mind. However, some have dismissed these claims because they were mostly anecdotal and not of a scientific nature. In recent years many scientific studies have been conducted in varied aspects of physical and mental health care; the evidence from these studies is overwhelming and conclusive, proving the positive results of music when treating patients. So let us lay to rest the notion that music treatment for disorders is an “old wives’ tale.”

Music and the Brain

Activities that engage both sides of the brain at the same time, such as playing an instrument or singing, causes the brain to be more capable of processing information. A case in point: Children learn their ABC’s faster by singing rather than saying the letters. The addition of the tune makes learning the ABC’s easier to learn and remember.

“Music memory is processed across many parts of the brain and is thus preserved better than language memory alone,” said Dr. Kathy Johnson, CEO of Home Care Assistance.  “The power of music to affect memory is quite intriguing,” writes Laurence O’Donnell, author of Music and the Brain. “The order of music from the Baroque and Classical periods causes the brain to respond in special ways.”

Researchers claim that students can improve tests scores by listening to certain types of music. Also, high school students that study music have higher grade point averages than those that don’t study music. 

Albert Einstein said the reason he was so smart was due to the fact he played the violin.  He said he was able to figure out his problems and equations while improvising on the violin. Likewise, Thomas Jefferson used music to help him write the Declaration of Independence.  He said he played his violin to help him write the correct wording and phrases; playing the violin helped him express his thoughts clearly.

Pain Relief

“Research studies have substantiated the positive effects of music on chronic pain, both pre and post-operative, as well as anxiety related to injury or illness,” said Deborah Vanderbilt-Anderson, certified hand therapist.

Music provides meaningful, intellectual and emotional engagement to help reduce pain. Researchers have found the same results from listening to and involvement with music—it definitely helps reduce stress and physical pain. Dr. Raymond Bahr, of Saint Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, found that a half hour of music produces the same effect as 10 milligrams of valium.

Alzheimer’s & Dementia

Music Therapy can and does help alleviate the severity of Alzheimer’s and Dementia by addressing the physical, emotional, cognitive, psychological and social needs of affected individuals.  In nursing homes therapists use music to help patients create, sing, play simple instruments, move, dance and listen. This greatly helps decrease wandering and disruptive behavior among Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients.

Music therapy was conceived and developed in the 1950s.  One of the leading proponents of this new field was Dr. E. Thayer Gaston of the University of Kansas. Training for music therapists includes a major in music plus specialized courses in psychology and related fields. The contribution of music therapy in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and stroke patients is significant and well documented.

Mozart Effect

Don Campbell, is the world’s foremost educator and lecturer on the connection between music and healing.  Campbell wrote, The Mozart Effect: Taping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind and Unlock the Creative Spirit. In the book, Campbell cites numerous examples of people benefitting with increased awareness, both mentally and physically, through listening to music.  Listening to music can slow down and equalize brain waves.  It affects respiration, heartbeat, pulse rates and blood pressure.  It also increases endorphin levels and enhances the immune system.

Dr. Alfred Tomatis, in one of his studies, recognized that the fetus hears sounds in the womb. Hearing music enhances physical, mental and spiritual well-being in the unborn fetus as well as in children and adults. Listening to classical music improves memory and concentration.

One may ask, “Why Mozart?”  Why not other composers?  Campbell says, “Yes, other composers’ music have enhancing qualities, but Mozart’s music appears to be significantly more potent.” It’s been shown to help heal the mind and strengthen the body.

General Health

Different types of music can have different effects on our minds, bodies and souls.  For example, rock music may raise the heartbeat, pulse rate and blood pressure while softer types of music may have the opposite effect. 

It appears that listening to music of a medium or moderate tempo is the best motivator over all, according to a report published in the Journal of International Sports Medicine, because “people may be more likely to stick to it.”

Patients who suffer from chronic pain in the back, legs, knee joints, and feet report less pain, depression, and disability after spending a week listening to music each day. As a result, many nurses and physicians are using music in addition to regular medical treatment to help alleviate pain in their patients.

While exercising, music can act as a distraction from the tedium, drudgery and boring aspects of repetitive motion found in almost all exercise programs.  Fast music stimulates treadmill users to get up to speed faster and keeps them there; this leads to a faster heart rate.

Science has proven listening to music or making it, by playing or singing, has a positive effect on both physical and mental health.  Music boosts the intellect, enhances learning, and brings a sense of well-being, happiness and contentment that aid over-all health.  Music offers a pathway to peace for many people.

Please submit your questions and comments to

Visit our website at for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.


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.