The 88th Academy Awards ceremony was held on Sunday, February 28th in the same splendor as it always is. This year, much was made of the Best Actor category, with Leonardo DiCaprio winning his first Oscar after five previous nominations and nearly thirty years on the big screen. Amid the controversy that surrounded this year’s awards, most agreed that this award was well deserved.
Our celebration of summer music festivals continues with a genre many don’t associate with beautiful scenery and fresh air: jazz music. Although a dark and intimate club setting is a wonderful place to listen to jazz, it’s also a blast to experience this quintessentially American art form in the great outdoors.
When I was young, I remember saving my allowance up until I had enough to purchase that new LP I wanted. For those of you too young to know what “LP” is, it stands for “long play” and differentiated between the 7-inch record which contained one song on each side and the 12-inch record which normally had at least five or six songs on each side.
The world of popular music comprises some pretty volatile terrain. What seems fresh and exciting one moment is old news the next. We hear stories from music directors and private teachers about how students are begging to perform the latest hit from Katy Perry one moment, and then something from One Direction the next.
On December 14th, Middle Earth fans got the chance to take in the next installment of Peter Jackson’s imagining of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Midnight marked the release of the first of his three films telling the story of The Hobbit.
A continuation of the discussion of the value of cinematic soundtracks to the world of both serious music and to music education…
Summer has hardly begun, but the summer movie season is already in full swing. Every year, a parade of blockbuster films compete with each other for the millions of dollars moviegoers will spend in search of a journey into the magic of the movies. For the music enthusiast, however, this season of film after film brings another art form into the spotlight: the soundtrack.
Recently, while watching an episode of Biography about the movie Jaws, my mind wandered back to the summer of my tenth year, to our family vacation in Florida and a visit to the theater where we saw, of all things, the movie Jaws. Don’t ask me why, on a family vacation to the beach, we wanted to see a movie about a man-eating shark loose in the ocean ravaging innocent people, but that’s what we did.
The year was 1975. No one had heard of Steven Spielberg yet, but everyone was talking about this movie. The terror! It all came down to one thing: the soundtrack. They played a short section of the film without the music, and then they played the same section again with the music added in. What power those few notes held! And I mean that literally, for John Williams chose to utilize only a few notes to instill terror and fear into those watching the film — and it worked, brilliantly! Would this film have reached the same heights of success had it not been for those famous notes?
I began to think about how our each of our lives also has a soundtrack attached to it — much like a movie does. From the nursery rhymes that our mothers sang to us when we were toddlers to the songs we were taught in Sunday School. The songs we learned in elementary school or the one that we played for our first piano recital. We remember our first dance or the music we listened to the first summer we drove our own car, and the tunes we listened to on the radio during our first date will always take us right back there! Who can forget the music from our senior prom, the first dance at our wedding, or even a favorite Christmas carol that we never tire of hearing?
These are the sounds that are the soundtrack of our lives, for our lives are filled with music every day. When you hear talk of cutting music programs from our schools and distributing those funds to other, “more important” programs, remind those people about the music that makes up the soundtrack of their lives. We are not talking about simply a “subject,” but a real part of who we are. We are exposed to music in some way almost every minute of the day through the internet, in advertising, on television, radio… it is everywhere.
Those who want to dismiss music from our schools might not be swayed by research demonstrating that children learn better when they are exposed to music, or that it makes us better, more rounded adults; but maybe they can identify with something that tugs at a memory within them — something from their own soundtrack. We all have one, it is the soundtrack of our lives.
When I was in college, one of my music theory professors would begin each class by sitting at the piano and singing a standard – one of the great songs by the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, Jerome Kern, et al. I developed a love of those tunes that has lasted ever since. Michael Feinstein is also passionate about these songs that make up the Great American Songbook. Like my professor, he uses his performances as an opportunity to educate as well as entertain audiences. He is raising awareness about this wonderful music among younger generations.
The PBS documentary Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook chronicles Mr. Feinstein’s efforts to preserve this music, which he refers to as a national treasure. The documentary’s companion website, which features in-depth information and even provides free lesson plans for teachers, can be found at michaelfeinsteinsamericansongbook.org.
Mr. Feinstein is also the artistic director of the new Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Indiana, which will house the Michael Feinstein Foundation for the Preservation of the Great American Songbook. Click here for information about the foundation.
As educators and musicians, I hope we will all be inspired to share these celebrated songs and pass our love for them on to future generations. Preserving America’s musical heritage while enjoying beautiful music – what could be better than that?
Click here for more information about Michael Feinstein and the Great American Songbook.
Click here for a list of Michael Feinstein’s songbooks.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said “Music is the universal language of mankind.” So many music lovers from around the globe have enjoyed listening to albums, cassettes, CDs and digital downloads that many artists travel to foreign lands in order to share music in person with their fans. We’ve seen an explosion in technological innovations on the internet and YouTube that gives people instant access to artists from different backgrounds and cultures.
A great example of the synergy of diverse styles happened right in my back yard, here in America at a concert held at the Mann Music Center for the Performing Arts located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That summer evening concert featured the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, and former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a classically trained pianist, both peforming along with the Philadelphia Orchestra. This benefit concert was held to support the Mann Music Center’s Youth Education and Community Outreach Programs.
Both Ms. Franklin and Ms. Rice expressed their musical talents individually during the concert, and much to the audience’s delight, they combined forces as Condoleeza accompanied the Queen of Soul on her version of “I Say A Little Prayer.” Just before the benefit concert came to a close, Aretha Franklin belted out “Freeway of Love,” “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” and believe it or not, Ms. Franklin performed Puccini’s operatic composition “Nessun Dorma,” creating an exciting and magical night for all who attended this wonderful musical event.
Aretha Franklin and Condoleeza Rice have obviously traveled through life on two very different paths, both professionally and musically, only to end up sharing a concert stage on a summer’s night. I remain amazed how music truly does bring people together.
Click here to read more about the concert and the Mann Music Center.
Click here to view music by Aretha Franklin.