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.
A few months ago I came across a program on PBS called On Canvas: The Ahn Trio which presented a live performance from Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Three young ladies, Angella, Lucia, and Maria, are sisters who were born in Seoul, Korea and eventually moved to the United States. They had the good fortune of being classically trained at The Julliard School of Music in New York City. Angella is the violinist, Maria is the cellist, and Lucia plays piano within the trio.
Growing up, they learned to play and appreciate the classical compositions of Mozart, Beethoven, Dvorak, and Smetana. But the Ahn Trio have also been performing commissioned pieces by modern-day composers such as Pat Metheny, Michael Nyman, Kenji Bunch, and Paul Schoenfield, just to name a few. These young ladies are not afraid to think outside the box regarding the music that they play, exploring various forms of artistic expression by combining performances filled with other types of performing and visual artists. The Ahn sisters have collaborated with painters, dancers, pop singers, DJs, photographers, and other artistic groups, adding even more energy and excitement to their shows while still displaying their classical prowess.
They are also making their presence known on the record charts, too. They’ve recorded CDs such as Paris Rio; Dvorak, Suk, Shostakovich: Piano Trios; Ahn-Plugged; Groovebox and Lullaby for My Favorite Insomniac. They’ve even recorded a European version of Lullaby for My Favorite Insomniac made exclusively for iTunes. This was number eight on the Billboard Classical chart for 26 weeks. The trio has been touring for the last ten years and are already scheduled to perform in 2011 at high schools, universities, and concert halls within the United States and around the globe.
The Ahn sisters don’t just play concerts, they’ve also been performing and teaching at musical workshops and master classes nationally and internationally. Their success just doesn’t seem to stop. Their talent, flair and style are recognized by magazines like Time, GQ, People and Vogue. Photographers such as Walter Chin and Ellen von Unwerth have captured their young faces and popular retailers like Anne Klein, Gap and The Bodyshop have featured the Ahn Trio in ad campaigns. These young ladies will definitely make your ears perk up and take notice of their musical talents when you listen to them play. Then you’ll truly understand why the Ahn Trio is a powerful force in the music world.
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.