Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

How playing a musical instrument benefits your brain

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See also this earlier post.

Written by Leisureguy

18 September 2022 at 10:18 am

Why is the Oldest Book in Europe a Work of Music Criticism?

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Ted Gioia has posted (in two posts: Part 1 and Part 2) the first chapter of his book Music to Raise the Dead. Part 1 begins:

Greek workers were simply trying to widen the road from Thessaloniki to Kavala. On January 15, 1962, the work crew had arrived at Derveni, a narrow pass six miles north of Thessaloniki in present-day North Macedonia, where they stumbled upon an old necropolis.

They didn’t know it at the time, but they had discovered a burial ground near the ancient city of Lete. Judging by the weapons, armor, and precious items, it had served as a gravesite for affluent families with soldiering backgrounds.

Here among the remnants of a funeral pyre on top of a slab covering one of the graves, they found a carbonized papyrus. Experts later determined that this manuscript was, in the words of classicist Richard Janko, “the oldest surviving European book.”

The discovery of any ancient papyrus in Greece would be a matter for celebration. Due to the hot, humid weather, these documents have not survived into modern times. In this case, a mere accident led to the preservation of the Derveni papyrus—the intention must have been to destroy it in the funeral pyre. The papyrus had probably been placed in the hands of the deceased before cremation, but instead of burning, much of it had been preserved by the resulting carbonization.

Mere happenstance, it seems, allowed the survival of a document literally consigned to the flames. And what was in this astonishing work, a text so important that its owner wanted to carry it with him to the afterlife?

Strange to say, it was a book of music criticism.

But this charred papyrus contained a very unusual type of musicology. To start, it analyzed a song by a composer who didn’t exist, or so we’re told. Even by the standards of reclusive star musicians of our own time, that’s quite a disappearing act.

To add to the mystery, the expert analyzing the song, the author of our Derveni text, was also anonymous, but clearly was a sage consulted for his deep theoretical and practical knowledge—expertise that gave the possessor a quasi-magical power—of hymns by Orpheus, the composer of the song in question. But most unusual of all were the claims made about this music—which, as we shall see, go far beyond the usual boundaries of song analysis and interpretation.

Adding to the mystery, excavators also found in Derveni some of the oldest pharmaceuticals and medical tools ever identified in the Western world. Trying to put together the details is challenging—or even bizarre. What we seem to have here is the resting spot of rare individuals who were warriors and priests and healers—empowered by special songs with their own esoteric musicology.

If this was, in fact, the birth of music criticism, it’s unlike any kind practiced today. Lester Bangs at Cream or the gnarliest punk ‘zines seem conventional by comparison.

Yet, in some ways, all this was fitting. Orpheus was, without question, the most famous musician of antiquity, although also the most peculiar. He too was an adventurer and a healer and a musician. His songs were so remarkable that they charmed not only people, but also animals and trees, and even Hades, ruler of the Underworld, who rewarded Orpheus by allowing him to bring his dead wife Eurydice back to the realm of the living.

You’ve probably heard that story at some point. It’s one of the most famous tales in history. Orpheus literally knew music to raise the dead.

But this beguiling myth, still widely told today, could hardly be an actual historical event. You can’t really visit the Underworld, can you? Songs can’t really raise the dead, can they? That’s obvious, no? Maybe to us, it is—but 2,500 years ago, Orpheus was considered every bit as real as Homer, Hesiod, and other respected authorities of antiquity.

I’ve been researching the myth of Orpheus for almost 25 years now, and I’m not so sure he is merely a myth. Certainly the author of the Derveni papyrus was absolutely convinced of his reality. As far as I can tell, everybody back then believed that both Orpheus and his music were incontestably real, and capable of doing things that, today, would fall under the domain of medicine, or science, or philosophy, or even magic.

We would love to hear music of that sort, wouldn’t we? And the Derveni papyrus actually shares parts of a hymn, praised not for its beauty or artistic merits, but because of its extraordinary powers. In other words, the Derveni author was offering to teach the secrets of a kind of music much like that famous Orphic song that had brought a dead soul back to life. You can now understand why someone would want to bring this music to the next life—it was simply too good, too powerful to leave behind.

But let me emphasize, here at the outset of our journey, that . . .

Continue reading.

Then read Part 2.

Written by Leisureguy

17 September 2022 at 5:34 pm

Posted in Books, Music, Religion

This is your brain on piano

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See also this post.

Written by Leisureguy

17 September 2022 at 12:25 pm

Good electric bass

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I just recently came across Charles Berthoud’s YouTube channel, and I’ve been enjoy it a lot. He plays some unusual instruments — for example, a 12-string bass and a fretless 6-string bass — but he does a lot with a regular 4-string electric bass. Here’s a sample:

Written by Leisureguy

6 September 2022 at 12:21 pm

Posted in Music, Video

Unbridled ambition: Example

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That the person can’t spell “tambourine” is the icing on the cake.

Written by Leisureguy

1 September 2022 at 8:43 pm

Posted in Daily life, Music

John Atkinson is a great cartoonist

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Check out the mother lode.

Written by Leisureguy

29 August 2022 at 9:40 am

Posted in Art, Books, Daily life, Humor, Music

An Infinity of Young Talent

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Corporations go out of their way to be disgusting, in this case mocking young musicians to try to sell cars. (I wonder when we’ll see the commercials mocking those with disabilities.)

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2022 at 9:50 am

The Josh Hawley Trot in slomo with various soundtracks

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Click the link to see the full thread with the various soundtracks. (I like “Born to Run,” for example.) Though I call the move “the Josh Hawley Trot,” it was really more of a gallop.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2022 at 9:08 am

“Sonata”: A video animation

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Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2022 at 10:57 am

Posted in Art, Music, Video

The origin story of “Hello, darkness, my old friend.”

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From a Facebook post:

“Hello darkness, my old friend…” Everybody knows the iconic Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel song, but do you know the amazing story behind the first line of “The Sounds of Silence”?

It began when Arthur “Art” Garfunkel, a Jewish kid from Queens, enrolled in Columbia University. During freshman orientation, Art met a student from Buffalo named Sandy Greenberg, and they immediately bonded over their shared passion for literature and music. Art and Sandy became roommates and best friends. With the idealism of youth, they promised to be there for each other no matter what.

Soon after starting college, Sandy was struck by tragedy. His vision became blurry and although doctors diagnosed it as temporary conjunctivitis, the problem grew worse. Finally after seeing a specialist, Sandy received the devastating news that severe glaucoma was destroying his optic nerves. The young man with such a bright future would soon be completely blind.

Sandy was devastated and fell into a deep depression. He gave up his dream of becoming a lawyer and moved back to Buffalo, where he worried about being a burden to his financially-struggling family. Consumed with shame and fear, Sandy cut off contact with his old friends, refusing to answer letters or return phone calls.

Then suddenly, to Sandy’s shock, his buddy Art showed up at the front door. He was not going to allow his best friend to give up on life, so he bought a ticket and flew up to Buffalo unannounced. Art convinced Sandy to give college another go, and promised that he would be right by his side to make sure he didn’t fall – literally or figuratively.

Art kept his promise, faithfully escorting Sandy around campus and effectively serving as his eyes. It was important to Art that even though Sandy had been plunged into a world of darkness, he should never feel alone. Art actually started calling himself “Darkness” to demonstrate his empathy with his friend. He’d say things like, “Darkness is going to read to you now.” Art organized his life around helping Sandy.

One day, Art was guiding Sandy through crowded Grand Central Station when he suddenly said he had to go and left his friend alone and petrified. Sandy stumbled, bumped into people, and fell, cutting a gash in his shin. After a couple of hellish hours, Sandy finally got on the right subway train. After exiting the station at 116th street, Sandy bumped into someone who quickly apologized – and Sandy immediately recognized Art’s voice! Turned out his trusty friend had followed him the whole way home, making sure he was safe and giving him the priceless gift of independence. Sandy later said, “That moment was the spark that caused me to live a completely different life, without fear, without doubt. For that I am tremendously grateful to my friend.”

Sandy graduated from Columbia and then earned graduate degrees at Harvard and Oxford. He married his high school sweetheart and became an extremely successful entrepreneur and philanthropist.

While at Oxford, Sandy got a call from Art. This time Art was the one who needed help. He’d formed a folk rock duo with his high school pal Paul Simon, and they desperately needed $400 to record their first album. Sandy and his wife Sue had literally $404 in their bank account, but without hesitation Sandy gave his old friend what he needed.

Art and Paul’s first album was not a success, but one of the songs, The Sounds of Silence, became a #1 hit a year later. The opening line echoed the way Sandy always greeted Art. Simon & Garfunkel went on to become one of the most beloved musical acts in history.

The two Columbia graduates, each of whom has added so much to the world in his own way, are still best friends. Art Garfunkel said that when he became friends with Sandy, “my real life emerged. I became a better guy in my own eyes, and began to see who I was – somebody who gives to a friend.” Sandy describes himself as “the luckiest man in the world.”

Adapted from Sandy Greenberg’s memoir: Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: How Daring Dreams and Unyielding Friendship Turned One Man’s Blindness into an Extraordinary Vision for Life.

Written by Leisureguy

5 June 2022 at 8:57 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Medical, Music

BTS in dominoes

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Occasionally, a person will stumble into a cultural niche — sometimes so large it’s not really a “niche” — of which they knew nothing, and discover that there is a great world of detail in ideas and efforts and accomplishments of which they were ignorant. This happens at all ages: young people discover writers or directors or artists or philosophers or bands or genres or foods or writers or actors or movements that were completely unknown to them — and so do older people. In fact, it happens repeatedly to those who are curious and given to exploration because reality is incredibly rich.

I enjoyed this video because it shows two such niches.

Written by Leisureguy

5 June 2022 at 8:07 am

Quartet for the End of Time/The Crystal Liturgy

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Simon F.A. Russell writes:

Olivier Messiaen‘s Quartet for the End of Time premiered on 15 January 1941 in the prisoner-of-war camp where the composer was interned during World War Two. To celebrate the 75th anniversary Sinfini Music commissioned me to create an animation around it. Working with Prof. Marcus du Sautoy I used the piece to explore Messiaen’s complex relationship to mathematics, music and religious belief.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2022 at 1:12 pm

Posted in Art, Music, Video

Comparison of 4 guitars priced at: $200, $2000, $20,000, and $200,000

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The video will allow you to judge only appearance and sound, but (as is pointed out) playability is also very important, and they comment on that.

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2022 at 11:18 am

Beat out that rhythm on your feet — podorythmie from Quebec

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This morning I chanced across an essay in the NY Times by Eric Boodman (gift link, no paywall), a reporter for STAT who has written for The Atlantic, Undark, and other publications.  His essay begins:

When I was 17 or so, I worked evenings at a dentist’s office. At first, it carried the thrill of a secret world: The office building was locked — just me and the janitors and the whir of the autoclave. Then it was stultifying. I worked for only two hours at a time, but those two hours stretched out endlessly, a canvas for my teenage dread and insecurity. The families I was calling with appointment reminders often mistook me for a machine. I was there to develop some kind of work ethic, but all I could think about was the awful, oobleck-like quality of time. I tried singing between calls. I looked for constellations in the ceiling tiles. What I remember working best — what still works, when I feel the trapped-bug flutter of a panic attack starting up — is foot percussion.

It’s a ubiquitous sound in Québécois traditional music, a galloping pattern that musicians beat out with their shoes while playing, giving them a Dick-Van-Dyke-like dynamism. If you wanted to be fancy and ethno-musicological, you’d call it podo-rythmie, from the Greek for “feet” and “rhythm.” If you wanted to be down home and colloquial, it would just be tapage de pieds, or foot tapping. In English, it’s sometimes referred to as “doing feet.” It’s the secret weapon that allows a lone fiddler to make a whole room get up and dance.

At my high school in downtown Montreal, my classmates were . . .

Continue reading (gift link, no paywall).

That sparked my curiosity, so I went to YouTube and first found a set of three short basic instructional videos (first, second, third), and then a video of a conversation (with foot-tapping) between two practitioners, one of whom (Alain Lamontagne) originated the term podorythmie. The conversation video was followed by a demonstration with the two playing (violin and harmonica), with rhythmic foot-tapping.

With those as background, I understood more of actual performance, such as this 4-minute clip:


Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2022 at 6:59 am

Posted in Daily life, Memes, Music, Video

Ravel’s Bolero, performed by Wiener Cello Ensemble 5+1 on one cello

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Written by Leisureguy

27 April 2022 at 11:34 am

Posted in Daily life, Music, Video

“Happy birthday” in various styles

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Written by Leisureguy

27 April 2022 at 3:46 am

Posted in Humor, Music, Video

Radu Lupu – Schubert – Impromptu no.3 in G flat major D899

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And now, for something completely different:

See also “Happy Birthday, Radu Lupu!” — “Trying to understand his phrasing, timing, or the effect his bear-like posture at the keyboard has on the sound yields only partial results. The whole is greater than the sum of its ingredients.”

Written by Leisureguy

21 April 2022 at 7:30 pm

Posted in Art, Music, Video

Shugo Tokumaru / Katachi

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Written by Leisureguy

21 April 2022 at 7:26 pm

Posted in Movies & TV, Music, Video

It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)

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Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2022 at 6:49 pm

Posted in Jazz, Music, Video

10 of the greatest classical composers of all time

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I like classical music and I like lists, so Tim Brinkhof’s article in Big Think is a natural. It begins:

Like Greek sculptures or Renaissance paintings, classical music has stood the test of time. Compositions that were written several centuries ago are being played at an equal if not greater frequency today than when they were first performed. The most famous composers — Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven — have acquired an almost ubiquitous presence in the world; even if you know next to nothing about these people, you certainly have heard their music.

To figure out what makes classical music so alluring, you first have to define what it is. As the composer and music educator Angus Davison points out in a blog post, many of the qualities and characteristics we tend to associate with classical music don’t really hold up when you compare one composer to another. Some say it’s all about rhythm and harmony, but in this regard Mozart has more in common with modern pop music than his own contemporaries.

Others prefer to focus on the instrumentation. Classical orchestras mostly consist of old-school instruments like pianos, cellos, violins, trumpets, and tubas. However, these were just restrictions of the times in which the musicians lived, not the style in which they worked; the living composer Steve Reich, for example, incorporates electric guitars and other electronic sounds into his music, which is still recognized as unmistakably classical by listeners.

“What all classical music has in common,” Davison concludes, “is something intangible, more an essence than anything else: a set of values.” These values are “excellence” and “inquiry.” Excellence, because classical composers display unparalleled technique. Inquiry, because they know — as Arthur Schopenhauer once said — that music has the potential to be a direct embodiment of the human experience. When they compose, their highest aim is to realize that potential.

Hundreds of musicians have managed to do so with great success. Below, readers will find an overview of the 10 greatest classical composers of all time. This is by no means a definitive ranking. Rather, it is a distillation of various internet lists drawn up by authoritative sources such as music blogs and radio stations, not to mention publications like The New York Times and BBC Music Magazine, which polled 174 of the world’s leading composers.

Rankings are inherently appealing, but they can also be contentious. As the biopic Amadeus illustrated so successfully, our justified but admittedly overbearing obsession with geniuses like Mozart has diverted attention away from other, equally interesting musicians, like the child prodigy’s ill-fated rival Antonio Salieri, or Saint Hildegard, a medieval abbess and polymath known for her sacred monophonies. They do not appear on this list, but deserve a listen just the same.

10. Johannes Brahms

Brahms is routinely featured on concert programs. Because of this, the technicality of his compositions are often taken for granted, while their revolutionary aspects tend to go ignored. Listeners like to refer to his music as academic, but it could also be deeply personal. According to biographer Karl Geiringer, Brahms’ String Sextet No. 2 can be read as a commemoration of his engagement to Agathe von Siebold, which Brahms broke off due to his own insecurities.

“The musical politicians of our day call Brahms a reactionary,” the musicologist Alfred Einstein explained in his book, Music in the Romantic Era. “Others say that Brahms demonstrates practically that in the Classical forms something new can still be said. Not still, but always—so long as our music remains, this will be the situation. For these forms are derived from . . .

Continue reading

Written by Leisureguy

9 April 2022 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Daily life, History, Music

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