Strictly ’70’s Joel

•January 21, 2013 • 2 Comments

Thanks to the hit comedy movie Step Brothers, the phrase “We do strictly 80’s Joel” floats around. I think about it all the time when I hear the differences in Joel’s music between the two decades.

It’s great to hear “For the Longest Time” once in a while, but I’m here to tell you that 70’s Joel deserves all the attention. Call me sappy, but you can’t compete with the gut-wrenching emotion of Billy Joel’s earliest tracks. I’ve been especially hooked on his first album lately – Cold Spring Harbor.

Legend has it that the Cold Spring Harbor LP was accidentally mastered at a slightly higher speed, making his voice sound a bit like a chipmunk – Joel’s own description. On the upside, it was remastered in 1983 at the correct speed. Downside? A lot of the original orchestration was removed.

Either way, this album reveals a side of Billy Joel that the strictly 80’s fans will never see. It includes an instrumental piece simply titled “Nocturne” – a daring thing to release on his first solo album, but a demonstration of musicianship. Then there’s the track “Tomorrow is Today”. It’s derived from a suicide note written by Joel. You can just picture Joel at the piano singing this gospel-inspired song about how there’s no hope in tomorrow. Let’s just say it’s a little heavier than Uptown Girl.

Other tracks you need to hear from Cold Spring Harbor:

She’s Got a Way – This video includes him making fun of his “Chipmunk” voice on Cold Spring Harbor

You Can Make Me Free – You’d probably never hear it in a concert, but I’m a huge fan. It evens out the heaviness of Tomorrow is Today.

Everybody Loves You Now – Included on his first live album “Songs in the Attic” (1981). I think it would fit perfectly on his Piano Man album, snarky and upbeat.


My Marriage Must: Sposalizio

•December 3, 2012 • 1 Comment

I can’t say I’m anywhere close to planning my wedding, but when I do, I know the music selection will be on the top of the priority list. One thing has already been decided: Sposalizio will be played.

When I started learning Sposalizio, I had no idea the degree to which I would fall in love. I am mesmerized  this jewel of a work – it is one of those pieces that has the potential to actually take your breath away.

This romantic style piece was written by Franz Liszt in 1958 with the vision of Raphael’s oil painting “The Marriage of the Virgin” in mind.

Raphael's Lo Sposalizio

Raphael’s “Lo Sposalizio” | “The Marriage of the Virgin”

The serenity of the painting is reflected by Liszt’s musical interpretation.

The first sounds heard are the wedding bells. This melody is stated simply at first, but evolves throughout the entire piece. Eventually, the ringing of the bells takes the listener into a wedding march. However, the march becomes increasingly passionate. Through this transformation, Liszt tells a story much more elaborate than a perfect love on a cloudless wedding day. I can only imagine that the conglomeration of sound represents the mix of emotions felt on a wedding day.

This changing theme leads the listener to the climax, in which the march is played over crashing octaves that represent the first wedding bell theme. The intensity resigns into some of the only heartbreak felt in the piece, (from 6:40-7:10 in this video), but not to worry – the ending is a happy one.

Brendel’s version is one of best interpretations I could find on YouTube. My perception is a bit different – come hear my unique take on Liszt’s charming piece at my Senior Recital on April 21st. I hope to post an MP3 of my performance after that date.

Music as an Agent of Peace

•February 16, 2012 • 2 Comments

“Politicians don’t bring people together. Artists do.” – Richard Daley, former mayor of Chicago 

               Like Richard Daley, I have a strong belief in the power of the arts.  My passion for music has enabled me to be a more imaginative student, leader, and creator.  More importantly, music has provided me with the opportunity to learn incredible amounts about other cultures and has given me a certain hope in humanity.  During my time studying abroad in Egypt, I saw music bring people together like nothing else I had ever experienced. Cultural arts can inspire peace by acting as a common ground between two people, which facilitates initial conversation.  Then, individuals can build upon that exchange to develop a better understanding of one another.  Because cultural elements like music help define what it means to be human, the arts can lead to previously unseen connections between diverse individuals and groups.  This connection and understanding is where peace must begin.

In a world where people can seem so different, the commonality of music, theatre, or visual art can be used as a gateway to create topics of discussion.  I experienced this when I performed concerts last January in Egypt as a member of the Augustana Band.  It is my observation that as humans, we often perceive differences before similarities, especially with people living on the other side of the globe.  Because of our sometimes skewed views, we become reluctant to converse because of the potential uneasiness.  In Egypt, the sharing of our music enabled us to strike up a conversation with local students because both cultures were emotionally moved by the art created.  The audience members respected us because of our enthusiasm to share our music, and we respected them because of their graciousness and general interest in the concert we worked hard to prepare.  We also received the opportunity to hear Egyptians perform, and seeing them artistically made me realize that these people have the same desire as we do to express ourselves.  In exchanges that involve the arts, there are no differences of race or religion – people are just people.  The arts gave us a reason to get to know each other as artists and people, not strangers or opposites.

                After our art was shared and initial conversation created, we were able to see each other in an entirely new light.  This proves to me that music and the arts can play a significant role in breaking down stereotypes we might have about other cultures.  Once we discover acceptance of a group of people, we can begin a journey of true understanding – and the arts facilitate this process.  Wars, conflicts, media, and prejudices present in the world today often dehumanize people of other backgrounds and beliefs.  However, the arts help to remind us of our similarities and reveal that deep down, people have the same wishes for happiness, freedom, peace of mind, and creative expression.  The arts bring out humanistic elements, and therefore, promote peace.

As a Nobel Peace Prize Scholar and arts-enthusiast, I would be interested in studying the effects of the arts, and lack-there-of, on society during war and peacetimes.  The arts provide a national vision and the inspiration necessary to develop a better world.  It would be beneficial to both the development of the arts and international relations to compare the roles that nations with different levels of cultural arts play in a global context.  Within an individual society I question, ‘Is the strength of democracy and freedom measured by its nation’s commitment to the arts?’  ‘Are countries that place little value on the arts more apt to have violent, unjust, or war prone societies?’  Or on the contrary, ‘Are countries involved in war unable to make time for the arts?’

I believe the Nobel Peace Prize Scholarship would help me build upon my ideas of music and peace and help me put these thoughts into action both on campus and in my future career, along with provide me with a background in international politics, social issues, and environmental projects.  As a Music major, I would develop an even greater appreciation for music because of its extraordinary cultural value.  As a Business/Communications major, I would be better equipped to actively promote the idea of liberal arts and be able to effectively communicate why the arts are so essential to the betterment of society and promotion of peace.  As more emphasis is placed on math and science, I want to have a voice in making sure the arts are not trampled or left behind, especially because of the proven positive effects music has.  After my time as a Nobel Peace Prize Scholar, I would become a more practiced and devoted liberal arts student, with an enhanced global perspective and desire for justice.

Post graduation, it is my aspiration to have a career in the promotion of the arts, and more specifically, music.  I want to share with others what I believe – music is much more than a form of entertainment. Whether listening to it or performing, music provides people with needed inspiration and hope; it keeps people in tune with their emotions and sensitive to the world around them. The universal language that is music has the potential to bring strangers together in common understanding.  If I were to receive the opportunity to study in Norway, I will be able to better understand the effects of music on a society’s aptitude for peace and justness, and be an even more passionate advocator of the arts in my career.

Ultimately, I hope to use what I’ve learned to create acceptance of other cultures through cultural arts, including music.  No matter where my career takes me, I want to combine passions of music, knowledge, and people to inspire others to better understand issues regarding peace and human rights.  I have seen a great deal of social and economic unfairness both in America and abroad and I would like to use what I discover as a Nobel Peace Scholar to break harmful prejudices that lead to violence, hate, greed, and corruption.  I also want to use my beliefs about the power of music to inspire others to share their art, and learn from the arts of other cultures.   With optimism, I can use my experience as a Nobel Peace Prize Scholar to encourage individual conversations leading to individual growth, tolerance, and motivation to take action.  If I am able to promote music more effectively, I will be more capable of spreading peace – which is what the Peace Scholarship was designed to do.

The Greatest Gift of All

•December 26, 2011 • 1 Comment

After every Christmas passes, I like to sit by the tree for a little peace and quiet, much like I’m doing now.  I try to take everything in, you know, bask in what’s left of the Holiday.  After 20 Christmases, I still can’t believe how fortunate I am.  I mean seriously lucky.  Completely and utterly blessed.  My parents have always been so generous and provided us with so much.  They’ve always  made Christmas a wonderful time to spend as a family.  I have been given a lot of gifts over the years, probably more than I should, but what’s The Greatest Gift of All?

Surprisingly, this gift is one that has never been on my Christmas list.  I have never exactly asked for it.  Wait – The Greatest Gift of All has fallen into my hands?  I guess so.  It’s never been wrapped in paper, under the tree, or opened on Christmas morning.  I didn’t get it from Mom, Dad, Santa, or anyone in particular.  I received it from anyone and everyone who has supported me or who inspires me or who challenges me.  I might not even know who it’s from.  Or I might know exactly.

The Greatest Gift  is the gift of music.  It’s the fact that my parents put me in piano lessons, and never let me quit.  It’s the gift of recorders, bells, a lap harp, maracas, anything we could get our hands on as kids.  They encouraged me to be in choir, band, private saxophone lessons, to try guitar.  But more than that – Mom and Dad took me lessons, recitals, camps, auditions, concerts.. you name it, they were there.  They selflessly provided the resources I needed to fuel my drive, my desire, my addiction to music.  My family has been the vital support.  Without them, I would never be the musician I am today.

This Greatest Gift is the instruction and dedication my teachers have given me.  It’s the inspiration I receive from great musicians of yesterday and today.  It’s every song or piece that has ever challenged me to play better, learn more, or appreciate more fully.  It’s my band-mates, my friends, my audience.  It’s the stranger who doesn’t even speak the same language, but it doesn’t matter because his language is wailing through his horn, exciting me to learn something new.

This Greatest Gift is the musical ability that a being greater than I has blessed me with.  The talent that has been instilled in me. I don’t need to be a virtuoso to consider what I have the greatest gift.  I’m so thankful to be able sit at the piano and play a happy tune.  To sing sad tune.   To perform a Christmas tune.  What would I be without this form of release , expression, and creativity I’ve been given?  The greatest gift is the calming, exciting, melancholy, joyous feeling that music gives me, every single day of my life.

I’ve always felt blessed because of all these things and opportunities I’ve been given.  I realize that without all these components, I would be nowhere near the same person I am today.  I also realize that it took a lot of luck, fate, who knows, combined with my passion, dedication, and curiosity in order to receive this perpetual gift.

This Christmas, I realized that music is The Greatest Gift of All, because it never stops giving.  As you can see, I continue to receiving this gift every day.  But, I can also give it back, which is what made me feel so strongly about the gift of music.   I  can simply play for my Mom while she prepares a fantastic Christmas meal (I’d rather entertain than cook any day).  I can play Billy Joel for my dad.  I can sing the cheesy-yet-fantastic ‘Africa’ by Toto in 3-part harmony with my siblings while my parents look on, amazed that their kids turned out this musical while they struggle to hold a tune.  I can teach my little cousins how to play Happy Birthday and keep rhythm with the maracas.  I am able to play a Chopin Nocturne for my 95-year-old Grandpa, until he is in tears, remembering his Mother playing the piano.  Through music, I can evoke emotions in others that can’t be replicated,  feelings that only music can create.

I might have mentioned this, but I have no idea how the stars aligned this perfectly for me.  How I was  born in this place, given this family who gave me these opportunities that allowed me to go these places and do these things?  How was I lucky enough to receive so much music in my life?

Because the gift of music has been given to me, I hope that I will always be able to give it back.

If this doesn’t put you in the holiday spirit, I’m not sure what will.

•December 2, 2011 • 1 Comment

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of the “4-chord” song – almost ANY pop song you hear that uses the exact. same. chord progression. What is so fascinating to me is that even though they are so similar that you can sing one on top of the other, these songs are beyond catchy. They are the top 40 hits of today’s radio music, and people, whether music junkies or not, can’t help but singing along.

Two of the most popular four chord songs? The famous baroque wedding tune, Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” and the 1980-something U2 hit “With or Without You.” Layer these on top of one another in a cello-piano duet and what do you get? A simple, easy to listen to piece that puts me in the ultimate holiday mood. I hope you enjoy one of my new favorite Christmas time tunes.

Prokofiev Piano Sonata No. 7 (II and III Movements)

•November 25, 2011 • Leave a Comment

As I am winding down after a full Thanksgiving of family and food (and NO Black Friday shopping I might add, sitting next to the fire listening to music like this is a MUCH more relaxing use of my time) I came across one of my favorite piano works.  Jump 5:42 to for some incredibly impressive piano playing, and some of the most exciting sounds of Prokofiev.

A little back story of the performer: When Alexi Sultanov was only 19, he won the prestigious Van Cliburn competition.. that’s what this video is from!  Sadly, his piano career was cut short when his left side was paralyzed by a stroke. This piano great died at only 35.

I hope you find him as incredible to watch as I do, and the music as interesting. Prokovief, the Russian composer, spent time in America and was a fan of American Jazz. Hear the influences of jazz in this piece?   It maybe explains why I am drawn to it so much.

Today on Thanksgiving, I am thankful for… inspirations like this.

Thoughts of a Musical Insomniac

•November 22, 2011 • Leave a Comment

For months now, I’ve laid awake at night, unable to shut my mind off.  What am I thinking about?

Mostly music.

I think about bands, composers, history.  I sing in my head melodies, chord progressions, and rhythms.   I worry about upcoming performances and if I’ll ever be a “good enough” musician.  I wonder if people are influenced by the art of music as much as I am.  Honestly, I wonder what I’d do without music.  I thank a greater being that I will be able to wake up the next morning (provided I fall asleep in the first place) and use music as an unmatched source of comfort in a chaotic, scary world.

Now, instead of lying awake wondering, I’ll also be sharing.

I hope you enjoy my insomnia.

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