Tag Archive: music


I have been composing this post for a couple of days, ever since Thursday night when I was gathering music for DiscoveryTime, and afterwards was listening to the songs I had downloaded off of Freegal. For those, who have no idea what I’m talking about, here is the description: “Freegal is a downloadable music service from your library. All you need is your library card number and, if your library requires it, a PIN. Freegal offers access to about 3 million songs, including Sony Music’s catalog of legendary artists.” While this E-library music program is not without its problems, i.e. hard to search and only Sony artists, I am enjoying get free legal music. I was actually listening to Weird Al Yankovic’s song Word Crimes off his most recent album Mandatory Fun, which by the way I think is one of the best and funniest of all his music. The way he rhymes is just incredible and although I’m sure some people will be offended by the song, others like those who appreciate correct words and spelling will enjoy it.

Spike Jones

I have been listening to parody music for ages. When I was little, my dad had Spike Jones albums and those were pretty hilarious. My favorites were the opera parodies of Bizet’s Carmen and Leoncavallo’s Il Pagliacci. Spike Jones influenced other comedians like Dr. Demento, who later influenced Weird Al, so I guess moving to him was a natural progression for me. I started listening to Weird Al probably when I was about ten or eleven. My younger brother, probably courtesy of my dad, was the first one to listen to him. We started watching the music videos and bought a couple of the video tapes. Honestly, for awhile there, if it wasn’t for Weird Al’s parody versions of songs, I probably wouldn’t have listened to the originals. For example, “Eat It” was better than Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”, “I Love Rocky Road” in my opinion is better than Joan Jett’s “I love Rock ‘n Roll” , “Like a Surgeon” was better than Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, and “Pretty Fly for a Rabbi” instead of The Offsprings’s “Pretty Fly for a White Guy”. If anyone is interested, here’s a full list of his parody songs and polka mash-ups.

amish-paradise

My favorites of his are “Smells Like Nirvana” (parody of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”) and “Amish Paradise” (parody of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise”). Weird Al mentions on his website that he asks permission from the artist before doing all parody versions, and Nirvana commented that they “knew they had made it after hearing about his parody of their song”. In all honestly, I never listened to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” until after lead singer Kurt Cobain killed himself, and really not until my undergraduate years when I had friends that listened to that kind of music. The marble part of the song makes me laugh every time. As for “Amish Paradise”, it’s all about Florence Henderson, Amish guys rapping and butter churning. Need I say more? My new third favorite is “Word Crimes,” a parody of the very controversial “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke. I will admit the original song is really catchy, despite its subject matter, which makes the parody version even more awesome. For other great songs on his newest album Mandatory Fun, check out the artist’s homepage and scroll down a bit.

Happy 79th Birthday Elvis!

Elvis_Presley_Jailhouse_Rock2

I was never a huge Elvis fan, but I appreciated what he did for musical history, especially the history of rock. He was after all The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. I think my favorite song of his would probably be A Little Less Conversation, as it is a bit cheeky. The two things I always remembered about Elvis growing up was that he was born in Tupelo, Mississippi (near where my maternal grandparents grew up in the Delta) and that they both listened to him. He was one of the few non-strictly country music stars that they listened to, as when I was growing up I remember finding records of him, along with Conway Twitty and Johnny Cash. It is interesting to note that his music is considered Country, Pop and R&B.

The way I got to know Elvis was through musicals. As I have said numerous times before on the blog, I grew up watching movie musicals from the 1930s-60s. I went through a brief obsession with the 50s and 60s, where I listened to a lot of Beach Boys and other music from that area, and this included movies. So I watched Elvis in movies like Blue Hawaii and Viva Las Vegas. The above photo is from Jailhouse Rock, and shows him with his famous dancing pelvis. Does anyone have any Elvis stories to share?

 Here are some factoids about The King:

  • Elvis is Norse for “all wise.”
  • Elvis’ famous black hair was dyed – his natural color was brown.
  • He was distantly related to former U.S. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Jimmy Carter
  • When he was 15 months old, Elvis almost died in a Tupelo, Mississippi tornado, which would have meant that he would have joined his dead-at-birth twin Aaron.
  • Elvis purchased his first guitar when he was just 11 years old. He wanted a rifle, but his mama convinced him to get a guitar instead.
  • At 18, Elvis paid $4 to make his first record, a gift for his mama.
  • In 1954, Elvis auditioned for a gospel quartet named the Songfellows.  They said no.
  • That same year, a local radio DJ played Elvis’ version of That’s All Right.  He went on to play it 13 more times that day, but had trouble convincing his audience that Elvis was white.
  • His breakthrough hit was Heartbreak Hotel, released in 1956 – a song inspired by a newspaper article about a local suicide.
  • When performing on TV in 1956, host Milton Berle advised Elvis to perform without his guitar, reportedly saying, “Let ’em see you, son.”  Elvis’ gyrating hips caused outrage across the U.S. and within days he was nicknamed Elvis the Pelvis.
  • A Florida judge called Elvis “a savage” that same year because he said that his music was “undermining the youth.”  He was subsequently forbidden from shaking his body at a gig, so he waggled his finger instead in protest.
  • Elvis bought his mansion, Graceland, in Memphis, TN in 1957 for $100,000.  It was named by its previous owner after his daughter, Grace.
  • In December 1957, Elvis was drafted into the U.S. Army, earning a $78 monthly salary.  During his brief two-year stint on active duty, he was unable to access his music-generated income of $400,000.
  • In 1959, while serving overseas in Germany, Elvis (then 24 years old) met his future wife, 14 year-old Priscilla Beaulieu.  They were married 8 years later.
  • Elvis’ 1960 hit “It’s Now or Never” so inspired a prisoner who heard it in jail that he vowed to pursue a career in music upon his release.  The artist, Barry White, was then serving a 4-month sentence for stealing tires.
  • “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, a 1961 Presley hit, is set to the melody “Plaisir D’Amour,” an 18th century French love song.
  • Elvis recorded more than 600 songs, but did not write any of them
  • Elvis is the only solo performer to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll, Country, and Gospel Halls of Fame.

 

Resources

Heather Jarvis, Student Loan Counselor at: http://askheatherjarvis.com/blog/25-fun-facts-about-elvis-presley-the-king-of-rock-roll

Connie Wilson on Yahoo Voices, 2010 at: http://voices.yahoo.com/fifty-freaky-flakey-fun-facts-featuring-elvis-presley-5291223.html

CNN Library’s “Elvis Presley Fast Facts” on Aug 30, 2013 at: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/30/us/elvis-presley-fast-facts/

Hard Out Here

So I usually try to stay away from commenting on pop music’s latest thing, mostly because I tend to stay away from it. But I do get some exposure from Glee, which I love watching (again, if you read my posts you will know I love musical theater so this should come as no surprise). Anyways, I was catching up on the last couple episodes of Glee and the current one I’m watching (Season 5, Episode 5) is called The End of Twerk. The first major song they did was Robin Thicke’s uber-controversial song Blurred Lines, which even if you don’t listen to popular music you’ve probably heard of or at least had an inkling about because of the raunchy performance he did with Miley Cyrus at the VMA’s. Yes, it is a super sex charged song but frankly I thought it was pretty catchy (would much rather have Matthew Morrison performing it than Robin Thicke). So while trying to figure out what the song was really about, I stumbled across this other song by British pop singer Lily Allen. I had heard of her before, just realized she wrote another Glee-sung song SmileI realize that she is making fun of the music industry and the lengths women have to go through to be successful but it was so in your face about it, I couldn’t quite decide if she was being really sarcastic or what. I’m still not sure if repeatedly using b**** is empowering or just offensive. Here are her comments, and here are her inspirations.  I will give up a warning though, the video is explicit and definitely not something you want to watch with children around. I would really like to know what other people think about the video or of Robin Thicke’s song, so please leave some comments below.

The Rite of Spring

Today is the 100th anniversary of the world premier of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring score and ballet, which was originally done  in Paris in 1913 . For a cool visual interpretation of the music, check out this link. It featured Sergey Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky.  The piece forever changed classical music and ballet, in the way that it introduced a new kind of modern music, dance and story.  According to this NPR article:

“In addition to the outrageous costumes, unusual choreography and bizarre story of pagan sacrifice, Stravinsky’s musical innovations tested the patience of the audience to the fullest. When the curtain rose and the dancing began, there appeared a musical theme without a melody, only a loud, pulsating, dissonant chord with jarring, irregular accents. In the introduction, Stravinksy called for a bassoon to play higher in its range than anyone else had ever done. In fact, the instrument was virtually unrecognizable as a bassoon. One of the dancers recalled that Vaslav Nijinsky’s shocking choreography was physically unnatural to perform. ‘With every leap we landed heavily enough to jar every organ in us.’ The music itself was angular, dissonant and totally unpredictable.  The audience responded to the ballet with such a din of hisses and catcalls that the performers could barely hear each other.”

Ballet Russe Dances from The Rite of Spring 

The  ballet and score was seen as scandalous and required the police to come and stop the riot caused by the audience’s reaction. People reacted in the voilent way they did because the ballet and music went totally against other traditional ballet and orchestra pieces of the day. According to this webpage about the riot, “As the ballet progressed, so did the audience’s discomfort. Those in favor of Stravinksy’s work argued with those in opposition.” The composer himself was said to be incredibly angry at the crowd’s response to his music.

I first heard The Rite of Spring score as a kid, though I didn’t know it. It was one of the pieces of music selected for the Disney movie Fantasia. It is shortened by ten minutes instead of having the full 35 minute piece, and is the fourth and longest segment in the film. To be honest, it wasn’t one of my favorites, probably because it is so dark and discordant sounding (although I loved Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by JS Bach, which was also dark). I much preferred the happier sounding Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky, The Pastoral Symphony by Beethoven, or Ponchielli’s La Giaconda: Dance of the Hours. I know the movie gets a lot of complaints about scaring children with The Night on Bald Mountain sequence and all the topless female centaurs in the Pastoral Symphonys section of the film, it has always been one of my favorites and probably at least part of the reason why I still really enjoy listening to classical music today. I’ve never seen the piece live and it is probably one of the few ballets that I would actually love to go see, just to hear the music.

JohnPhilipSousa-Chickering_LOC

I love John Philip Sousa’s music and it is because of him that I enjoy a good march. We had to play his music in my high school marching band because of being so close to the Nation’s Capital (my last two years of high school were spent in Alexandria, Virginia, about 20 minutes outside of Washington DC). Plus they’re just fun to play, especially if you’re in the woodwind section, which I was (I played clarinet in band for 7 years). While Stars and Stripes Forever will always be my favorite, I also love his piece The Washington Post. In fact, this is the one I am humming while writing this post. My dad used to work down the street from the Marine Barracks in DC, where the Marine Band would give free concerts in the summer, though I never managed to go to one. I found this Muppet version of SaSF while browsing for related material. If you want to see a decent movie about the maestro, check out this 1952 musical film Stars and Stripes Forever starring Clifton Webb as Sousa.

John Philip Sousa Band

Today’s post topic comes from the celebration of Stars and Stripes Forever Day, which marks the first public performance of  on this date in 1897, though it was composed on Christmas Day 1896. It is the offical march of the USA, actually written into the Constitution.  So to start, I would like to give a little biography on John Philip Sousa. “March music is for the feet, not for the head,” John Philip Sousa once stated, and that is definitely true as you can’t help tapping your feet along to a good march. Born of German and Spanish parents, Sousa grew up around military bands as his father played trombone in the U.S. Marine Band, which Sousa himself was apprenticed to in 1868 at age 13. In 1872, he published his first piece entitled Moonlight on the Potomac Waltzes. He left the Marine band in 1875 and went on to conduct Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore on Broadway. He returns to DC in 1880 to assume leadership of the Marine Band, which he does for two years. Then he goes to form his own band. He composes The Washington Post March in 1889 as part of a commission, from the newspaper, to promote an essay contest.  This is the piece that made him famous worldwide. Stars and Stripes Forever is what most Americans think of when they think of July 4th, Independence Day. It is thought to represent the country and its eternal quest for freedom, as you can see from the lyrics. As noted on that website, Sousa composed the march after his band manager died and he had to get back from an European Tour to manage things. “The march was an immediate success – Sousa’s Band played it at almost every concert until his death over 35 years later.” According to Sousa’s own words, he came up with the idea for it while on the ship coming back to NYC :

“Suddenly, I began to sense a rhythmic beat of a band playing within my brain. Throughout the whole tense voyage, that imaginary band continued to unfold the same themes, echoing and re-echoing the most distinct melody. I did not transfer a note of that music to paper while I was on the steamer, but when we reached shore, I set down the measures that my brain-band had been playing for me, and not a note of it has ever changed.”

Marches were not the only things he composed, though they were what made him the most famous. For a complete list of all of his composed works, check out this page from the Dallas Symphony. I was surprised to learn that he composed 15 operettas and 70 songs that weren’t marches. I will end on this great quote I found from the maestro on an exhibition done by the Library of Congress, as they possess Sousa’s original scores from Stars and Stripes Forever:

“A march speaks to a fundamental rhythm in the human organization and is answered. A march stimulates every centre of vitality, wakens the imagination . . . . But a march must be good. It must be as free from padding as a marble statue. Every line must be carved with unerring skill. Once padded it ceases to be a march. There is no form of musical composition wherein the harmonic structure must be more clear-cut. The whole process is an exacting one. There must be a melody which appeals to the musical and the unmusical alike. There must be no confusion in counterpoint.”

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