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Classical Notes

Category Archive: Education

These schoolkids play at an amazing level

Posted at 12:30 PM on November 23, 2014 by Lynne Warfel (0 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts, Education, Fun finds

This group of kids totally blew me away; it's an amazing band performance. If you haven't seen it, you must!

I choked up when I heard it — they are amazing. YouTube credits them as the Golden Hymn Brass Band:


Click on Classical this Weekend: videos, stories and musical worlds colliding

Posted at 3:50 PM on September 26, 2014 by Steve Staruch
Filed under: Click on Classical, Education, Fun finds

Karl is a very curious raccoon, as we find out in the video, "What's in a Title?".

As you're browsing the Internet this weekend, perhaps as you listen to Classical Minnesota Public Radio, I've got quite a few must-sees for you:

Watch some new videos

This week, Classical MPR posted five new educational videos to the website as part of our Music for Learning series. Although these are designed for use by teachers and schoolkids, there's something for all of us in these fun videos about such topics as: Take some time to watch some or all of the videos. I think you'll enjoy them!

Read our hosts' posts in Classical Notes

First of all, thanks for being here to read my post! Earlier this week, Michael Barone shared a fun story of some uncanny coincidences involving musicians with whom he crossed paths in Philadelphia, St. Paul and St. Cloud. Alison Young, meanwhile, shared some videos of what can happen when people forget their telephone manners while at concerts. And Fred Child shared how flutist Yukie Ota — who won our hearts after a butterfly landed on her face during a performance — fared in that flute competition in Copenhagen.

Stretch your musical boundaries

It turns out that the people who like classical music and the people who like video-game music have a lot in common — they just might not know it yet. Pierce Huxtable, a production assistant with Top Score, has posted an article in which he describes what video-game music lovers will like about classical music … and vice versa. I invite you to check that out.

And remember, you can also like Classical MPR on Facebook and follow Classical MPR on Twitter.

Have a great weekend!

Please turn off phones in the concert hall; here's why

Posted at 4:30 PM on September 24, 2014 by Alison Young
Filed under: Concerts, Education, Fun finds

Scene from Class Notes video, "What to do at a Concert" (Classical MPR)

Wednesday's Class Notes video is all about how to behave at a concert. It brought to mind a number of examples of well-documented bad behavior in the concert hall, all of it tied to telephones.

First, this is really good! It's a story shared by Performance Today on its Facebook page, describing the time NY Philharmonic conductor Alan Gilbert stopped the orchestra, turned around and spoke to a person in the front row whose ringtone kept interrupting Mahler's Symphony No. 9.

Artistic Partner of the SPCO Christian Zacharias stopped in the middle of his Haydn concerto when a phone started ringing at the Gothenburg Concert Hall in 2013. A live concert is "the rare moment where our minds can focus on one thing," Zacharias says.

In this case, a Nokia ring tone at a concert in Slovakia inspires a little improvisation:

Even buskers get annoyed with the phones:

The funniest of all was captured in an article in The Mirror (London) in December 2001:

Conductor Jac van Steen tried to drown out the unmistakable sound and carry on with Johannes Brahms' Symphony No.4.

But the mobile not only kept ringing — it seemed to get louder.

Finally, frustrated van Steen threw down his baton, turned to the audience and shouted: "If that is my wife, tell her I'm not here." The phone's embarrassed owner switched off the device without revealing his/herself to the crowd at Manchester's Bridgewater Hall.

Van Steen turned back to the Halle Orchestra and resumed his performance.

This is what every one of us in an audience wishes would happen when someone snaps a picture despite being told, "Please, no photography." It's over the top but absolutely hysterical … and must have been humiliating for the poor audience member. But Patti Lupone doesn't put up with any monkey business.

Improving your life with Mozart (and rap)

Posted at 9:00 AM on August 28, 2014 by Brett Baldwin (2 Comments)
Filed under: Education, In the media, Unexpected Classical

Kansas city-based rapper (and one time Rhymesayers recording artist) Mac Lethal catapulted into the spotlight with his incredibly popular, video singing/rapping "Look at Me Now" while making pancakes. That viral hit earned Mac Lethal press from The Washington Post and an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres's show … and a massive following on YouTube, which he encourages to email him with questions and comments.

His latest video may put him in the spotlight one more time. Mac Lethal posted this video on August 25th, 2014, responding to a letter he says he received from a teacher.

Dear Mr. Mac Lethal,

My name is Mrs. Francine, I'm a 53-year-old high-school music teacher, and I love your YouTube videos. The problem is I can't play them for my students because they contain too many bad words. Would you consider making a fast rap video for my students, to inspire them to be great? With no bad words?

Mrs. Francine

p.s. Do you like Mozart?

In response, Mac Lethal made this guide to life's best practices to the tune of Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 11, commonly known as the "Turkish March." See if you can keep up:

Mrs. Francine saw the video and wrote back that she and her students were "flattered beyond belief."

If you want to see what Classical MPR is doing to make classical music relevant to kids, please check out Music for Learning, our education site.


Minnesota Varsity alumnus Evren Ozel is a finalist at the Cooper International Competition

Posted at 2:19 PM on July 22, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Education

We were pleased to learn that Evren Ozel, a participant in this year's Minnesota Varsity showcase, is a finalist in the concerto round of the Thomas & Evon Cooper International Competition, a competition for young musicians ages 13-18 at Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio.

The three top finalists will perform on Friday night with the Cleveland Orchestra. Evren's next performance is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EDT/6:00 p.m. CDT; you can watch Evren's performance, as well as others in the competition, streaming here. Congratulations and good luck to you, Evren!

VOCES 8 Make High-Quality Choral Art and Educational Impact

Posted at 3:09 AM on June 5, 2014 by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu (2 Comments)
Filed under: Choral Music, Education


Getting to spend the day with a cappella ensemble VOCES8 was quite remarkable. I got to listen to eight extraordinarily gifted singers collaborate and work towards choral mastery; I left that rehearsal musically filled and inspired. But what really stopped me in my tracks was their commitment to music education.

Quite often, groups of this caliber have educational outreach programs that function as a side dish to the main course. After speaking with Robin Tyson and Louise Hughes, members from the VOCES8 management team, it became abundantly clear that their educational program is a major component of their organizational structure. This commitment is so major, that the group even published a textbook through Edition Peters called The VOCES8 Method.  The author of the VOCES8 Method, Paul Smith (pictured below), was excited and passionate about sharing this research-based textbook with over 20,000 students a year, and he hopes to create more of its kind.


On top of it all, I got a chance to hear VOCES8's recent album release, Eventide, on the DECCA label and was blown away by their breath-taking artistry and freakishly superb blend. This album isn't currently available in the United States, but the wait is almost over, and you should be able to purchase it before the month is done. Until then, enjoy this beautiful album-snippets YouTube video:


The well-tempered tablet: Esa-Pekka Salonen makes a splash as an iPad evangelist

Posted at 3:08 PM on May 30, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Education

Classical music lovers have been oohing and aahing over the new Apple campaign featuring Esa-Pekka Salonen extolling the merits of the iPad as a device for composition and music learning. An elegant TV ad shows Salonen going from a moment of musical inspiration (while shaving, no less) to a completed violin concerto, aided all along by his handy iPad.

The New Yorker's Alex Ross notes that "Salonen's enthusiasm for Apple products is genuine. When I wrote a Profile of him, in 2007, I began with an extended scene at the Santa Monica Apple Store, where he demontrated how he used various kinds of software to compose. He is now being rewarded with an extraordinarily powerful platform: in less than a day, the ad racked up a hundred thousand views on YouTube, and there is an auxiliary page of videos on the Apple Web site."

On Apple's site, Salonen specifically enthuses over an app called The Orchestra, developed by Touch Press in collaboration with the Music Sales Group and Salonen, who conducts the several orchestral passages heard in the app — and is seen, on video in the app, doing so. I decided to give the app a try. It's not free — in fact, it's $9.99 — but great Gershwin's ghost, is it ever a slick package.

Orchestra App 3.jpg

The app allows you to choose among excerpts from eight compositions, ranging chronologically from Haydn's sixth symphony to Salonen's own violin concerto. While you listen to each selection, you're allowed to explore the music in several ways: you can watch a guide line run through the full score, you can listen to commentaries from Salonen and his musicians, and you can watch the dynamics of the music visualized on a map of the orchestra, over which you can run your finger to hear specific sections. Further, there are specific pages for each instrument in the orchestra; you can read about the instrument and sample its range by running your finger up and down a little keyboard. (I spent a long time banging away at the virtual timpani.)

Orchestra App 1.jpg

The Orchestra app is certainly fun to play with; how many users will really dig in and absorb all the content is an open question. It's also unclear to what extent technology like this can help to overcome the prejudice Salonen identifies on the Apple site: "There is this idea that it's something for old people. You have to behave in a certain way, you have to wear certain types of clothes, you have to be kind of hopelessly boring." The Orchestra app certainly isn't boring, but it does have more than a whiff of this-is-good-for-you about it — and the members of the Philharmonia Orchestra did wear their Sunday best to the recording sessions.

Orchestra App 2.jpg

There's also the fact that iPads cost at least a couple hundred dollars, and the app costs ten bucks...so even with some investment by educational institutions, this technology isn't going to break down classical music's class barriers overnight. What it does do, though, is to give the audience an unprecedented look under the hood of a symphony orchestra, to see what marvelous complexity underlies a professional orchestra's polished sheen.

Joyce DiDonato to aspiring artists: "The world needs you"

Posted at 3:04 PM on May 29, 2014 by Julie Amacher (1 Comments)
Filed under: Education, In the media, Musical philosophy

Joyce DiDonato (Simon Pauly)

When I spoke with Joyce Di Donato just before her last performance as Cinderella in the Met Opera production of Rossini's, La Cenerentola on May 10, she also told me she had butterflies about her upcoming commencement address at the Juilliard School of Music on May 23. Those butterflies turned into sage advice for those young musicians, and for all of us.

On June 15, my daughter will graduate with a degree in vocal performance from the music conservatory at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis. She's on her way to pursuing her dream of becoming an opera singer. While some parents are hesitant to encourage their children to pursue the arts because it's a long, hard, competitive road, with often little compensation, my daughter is fortunate. Her parents understand that for her, there is no other option. Since she was six years old, she's told us singing is her passion. She can't imagine doing anything else. She is completely committed, and we believe in her.
"We need you to make us feel an integral PART of a shared existence through the communal, universal, forgiving language of music, of dance, of poetry and Art — so that we never lose sight of the fact that we are all in this together and that we are all deserving of a life that overflows with immense possibility, improbable beauty and relentless truth."
— Joyce DiDonato, in her address to the Juilliard School's class of 2014
As Joyce DiDonato points out in her commencement address, the world needs my daughter, and all the artists who are committed to this journey because it's the artists who help us remember who we really are, and that we're all in this together.


3D Tactile Stave Notation

Posted at 9:56 AM on May 13, 2014 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Education, In the media, Musician stories

Yeaji Kim's fingers dance across the piano keys with the grace and precision one would expect from such a highly accomplished pianist.

Kim, who was born with limited vision and has been completely without sight since age 13, has faced difficulty when discussing printed scores at an advanced level with her sighted teachers. Braille scores didn't quite bridge the gap, with teacher and student often needing to interpret for one another. And the ability to discuss music at a high level is vital to Kim; she's pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Music.

On a Wordpress site that describes Kim's studies, UW-Madison Professor Todd Welbourne says, "Blind pianists in the classical world need braille to succeed. They don't get very far learning things by ear."

But Braille has its limits. According to the same site, Professor Welbourne says there are some important musical elements that don't translate well in Braille, e.g. timing, piano pedal markings and other performance notation.

That's why Kim has worked to develop a method of teaching music that works for teachers and students alike, regardless of sight. It's the basis of her doctoral thesis, which she'll complete this month.

Here's a video that describes Kim's project, which was brought to our attention by our friends at the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra:

Read more about Kim's project — as well as details about her life as a performer and a profile of her service dog, Chan Mi — on this dedicated Wordpress site.

Student reflects on Breck Chamber Players experience

Posted at 5:00 AM on December 10, 2013 by Claire Philpott
Filed under: Education, School Spotlight

Nothing is a more powerful testament to the success of a music program than when a student of said program can speak passionately about the positive experience it has had on her life. Allison Cole is a senior at Breck School in Golden Valley, Minn., and a member of the Breck Chamber Players, today's featured School Spotlight ensemble. Here she writes about how her participation in this group has taught her things that she can apply to her growth as a person as well as to her musical development. Her high praise of BCP director Claudette Laureano clearly argues that "sky-high expectations" and aiming for perfection go a long way to achieve "professional" sounding results, while bringing the students together under shared purpose in the process.

While reading this essay, may I suggest listening to the below recording from 2009 of local composer Shelley Hanson's Elegy for Albinoni, commissioned in 2008 by the Breck Chamber Players.

I have been a member of the Breck Chamber Players since my freshman year in high school, and have been a part of the Breck string program since the fourth grade. That is nine long years. Being a part of orchestra has become a staple not only in my Breck experience, but in who I am as a person. Music education is something that is so important in our community in Minnesota, and having Mrs. Laureano as our teacher is such a blessing. Her extensive knowledge has taught me so much not only about music, but also about life. In class it doesn't matter whether we get through two measures or an entire piece, we won't stop until it is perfect because "professionals practice until they can't get it wrong". From our first day in the string program, she has challenged us so much over the years. For instance we played "Mother Ginger" from The Nutcracker, when we were only in fifth grade (which was absolutely crazy) and "Farandole" from Bizet's L'Arlesienne in the sixth grade. Her sky high expectations are the reason we excel in every piece that we play. Each day we prove people wrong and play things right, from a simple triplet rhythm to a dotted eighth- note sixteenth rhythm. All members who leave the Breck Chamber Players have a good understanding of phrasing, bow usage, a true forte, and how to play chamber music well. It is awesome when members of the football team tell us that we sound professional. While we know that we still have a lot of work to do, we know that our "professional sound" comes from the dedication that the members of our orchestra have to music, as well as to Mrs. Laureano's never ending dedication to us and our development as musicians and people. What I have learned from the Breck Chamber Players is that music is so much more than just that; it is love, dedication, blood, sweat, tears, practice, emotion, control and beyond. Most importantly however, I have learned that "without music life would be flat".

Instrument medic Mark Eskola: "I don't do plumbing"

Posted at 3:33 PM on November 25, 2013 by Luke Taylor (5 Comments)
Filed under: Education, Fun finds, Play It Forward

"I don't do plumbing," jokes Mark Eskola, referring to brass and woodwind instruments. "I just do strings. I have done wind instruments to bail somebody out every so often, but it's just something I don't want to do."

It's not as if Eskola isn't busy enough with strings. A longtime orchestra director at Duluth East High School, Eskola (whose brother Joe works in research at MPR in St. Paul) retired from that position in June 2013; during a school year, Eskola typically fixed more than 50 instruments, ranging from simple re-stringing to crack repair to major overhauls. And even though he's now retired from teaching, Eskola plans to continue repairing instruments.

Although it's easy to conclude a music teacher may have learned instrument repair by necessity, Eskola got started at it when he was about 14 years old. By the time he was a student at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., Eskola had lofted the bed in his dorm room so he could have space for a workbench underneath, where he repaired instruments for fellow students and for the Gustavus music department.

Much of his instrument-repair training was learned by doing, but Eskola did spend four summers at workshops in Madison, Wis., and he's read numerous books on the subject. "That was before the Internet," Eskola laughs.

Eskola_shop_2_photo_web.jpgMark Eskola's workshop (submitted photo)

In Eskola's home in Duluth, Minn., his workshop is outfitted with two workbenches, two computers, plus clamps, chisels and 20-odd drawers with tools and supplies. There are violins and violas on shelves, a string bass stuffed in a corner near the ceiling (which is conveniently high) and about six guitars awaiting maintenance.

Fixing stringed instruments is a science and an art. For example, re-graduating a cello, Eskola explains, involves removing the top of the instrument and cutting it to certain thicknesses. And a common malady for cellos is something called "wolf tone," which Eskola describes as when "the note wants to come out but it can't quite go" — a repair that requires strategically gluing a weight to the instrument.

Among Eskola's upcoming projects are a couple of violas and two string basses he's going to restore, for which he actually cut down some maple and oak trees specifically for use in the restorations. Whatever the project, there's trial and error and craft involved, but the desired outcome is always an instrument capable of making beautiful music.

Eskola_shop_photo_web.jpgAnother view of Mark Eskola's workshop (submitted photo)

Eskola typically fixes instruments for other people, but occasionally he'll get an instrument that someone can't throw away but doesn't want to keep. The cello Eskola himself uses was given to him by the Cloquet School District in lieu of payment for repairs; granted, Eskola had to fix the cello before he could play it, but it's the one he uses to this day. He recently repaired a rare 10-string guitar that arrived "smashed," which he resold through Rosewood Music in downtown Duluth. And another smashed instrument — a Gibson J-45 guitar that someone sold to Eskola for five dollars — became Eskola's personal guitar. "That's a sweet old guitar," he says, "but it's kind of already worn out again now."

Other instruments have found their way to others' hands somewhat unexpectedly. This past year, while on an outreach trip to Africa, Eskola saw an Applause guitar he repaired get donated to a young girl in Mozambique. Later, Eskola himself gave a bass guitar to a young man in Zambia. "They had nothing, so it was really fun to see him playing that," Eskola says.

And he's been able to stay in touch with the blossoming bassist. "We're Facebook friends," Eskola says. "It's crazy with the technology. He literally lives in a mud hut, but he's got a smartphone."

MarkEskola_photo-2_forWeb.jpgMark Eskola (L) with his wife, Sharon, on a recent visit to Kenya to see their friend, David Shivachi.

On a semi-related note: If you have a disused instrument that is no longer being played, consider donating it to Play It Forward, Classical MPR's statewide musical instrument drive. Read more about Play It Forward here.


Helping youth give voice to music

Posted at 5:30 AM on October 29, 2013 by Claire Philpott
Filed under: Education, School Spotlight

Manny Laureano, co-artistic director of Minnesota Youth Symphonies (MYS) and principal trumpet of the Minnesota Orchestra, originally submitted this audio in written form to be included as part of the today's School Spotlight feature on MYS.

But when I read it, I realized that I couldn't mix it in with my feature; it clearly stood on its own and deserved to be given special treatment.

Listen to Manny tell this powerful story of how he found a way, in an MYS Symphony Orchestra dress rehearsal, to help his students go from making good music to incredible music. Even he was surprised at how the experience triggered a profound emotional reaction in him. You'll see why this story needed its own blog post.

Are music lessons for everybody? Should they be?

Posted at 3:45 PM on October 2, 2013 by Alison Young
Filed under: Education, In the media

stylised image from SymphonyCast Facebook page

This recent piece in the New Republic generated a lot of conversation on our SymphonyCast Facebook page. I wanted to be sure you were invited to participate in the conversation.

Clearly, music education is important to me both personally and professionally. In fact, one of the most important pieces of our mission at Classical MPR is music education on all levels, from helping budding musicians take their very first baby steps with their own instrument in our Play it Forward program, to showcasing the most talented around with Minnesota Varsity, to the continuing-education aspect of Emily Reese's Learning to Listen.

But that doesn't address the gist of Mark Oppenheimer's article and why it gets so deeply under my skin. And I guess what is most upsetting is his smug, out-of-hand dismissal of music lessons for the average, i.e. for those not expected to become professionals. I did have a momentary reflective moment asking myself if we in the music business simply have an ulterior motive of training young musicians so we'll have a future audience.

a sample of Facebook comments

But quickly, I thought that conclusion is not only bleak, but misses the entire point of what makes music — and music making in particular — so life-changing and life-enhancing. Simply look at the incredible success of a program like Venezuela's El Sistema, which uses the very act of becoming proficient in music to add hope to a child's life, which may be one of poverty, not just financially but in spirit. These children don't all go on to be Gustavo Dudamel; most of them simply become better citizens, but their lives are forever changed by the discipline, the self-reliance and teamwork required to become a musician, not to mention the whole world opened to their ears of the greatest music ever written.

That's my two cents, and I certainly welcome yours. And if you're finished studying an instrument for the time being and want to donate yours to a young eager musician, you know who to call!

Miss America, education and classical music

Posted at 11:25 AM on September 16, 2013 by Brett Baldwin
Filed under: Education

You may be 'Miss Taken' when it comes to America's biggest pageant and its relationship to classical music.

The conventional wisdom about the Miss America pageant is that it is a vapid, image-obsessed parade focused on physical beauty above all else.

Conventional wisdom often gets it wrong.

Two great stories emerged around this year's Miss America contest -- and they're both tied to classical music and education in a major way.

The first: Miss Minnesota, Rebecca Yeh, (pictured above) is a classically-trained violinist, who competed as a Featured Round Artist in Classical MPR's own Minnesota Varsity showcase.

While Yeh didn't get the tiara, (she was an impressive fourth-runner up) she wowed them with her performance of Wieniawski's "Scherzo Tarantelle." Her performance was so strong in fact, she won the preliminary talent competition earlier in the week.

But that's not all. Using her first-person experience with her brother's Autism diagnosis, she also speaks eloquently of the need for Autism awareness and advocacy in the public school system. Read a profile from her hometown newspaper, the Brainerd Dispatch, or see her introduction from the Miss America YouTube channel.

The second story emerging from last night's pageant features another violin super star: Joshua Bell.

Perhaps eclipsed by the crowning of Nina Davuluri as Miss America, the Miss America Organization's announcement of a new partnership with Education Through Music (ETM) to support education in schools didn't receive too much attention. ETM is an organization that partners with inner-city schools to promote the use of music in schools as a means of enhancing students' academic performance and general development.

Joshua Bell, world-renowned violinist and ETM Board Member, forged the partnership when invited to become a judge at the Miss America Pageant this year.

"Music enhances the lives of children in so many ways, which is why it is so important that music education be valued in our society. My own commitment to music education has brought me to many public schools, as well as established music academies, and I have seen first-hand the positive effects of music education on these children. Music teaches about beauty, logic, mathematics, language, teamwork, and individual expression. Having seen many ETM students with their own instruments in hand, beaming with a sense of accomplishment after having worked together to create something beautiful is nothing short of thrilling. I don't think there is a human alive who could witness this and then argue against the importance of music education. Having learned of Miss America's mission for educating young people, I was pleased to introduce The Miss America Organization to Education Through Music, and even more thrilled at the excited responses received from both organizations to the idea of joining forces to improve music education," says Bell.

Davuluri, will use the partnership to focus on STEM curriculum in the schools as she tours the country this year.

"During her year as Miss America she will serve as spokesperson for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) this year as she travels to Washington, D.C., to work with the Department of Education," a statement from the Miss America organization explained.

So the verdict on Yeh and Bell: good looking? Yes. Vapid? Hardly.

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