Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Rich Men Who Have Organs Built In Their Homes

From September 17, 1911

RICH MEN WHO HAVE ORGANS BUILT IN THEIR HOMES

RICH MEN WHO HAVE ORGANS BUILT IN THEIR HOMES: And Who Employ Organists by the Year to Give Them Music at Their Own Firesides — More Than $50,000 Has Been Paid for Some of These Organs. (PDF)

As mentioned in the article, the “largest and costliest organ in the United States” belonged to Frederick G. Bourne’s and was installed in his Oakdale, Long Island home.

According to the Organ Historical Society’s Pipe Organ Database (who knew?) the residence became a military academy after Bourne died, and in 1948 the organ was sold. Part of it went to Detroit, and part went to San Diego.

Today, the largest organ in the United States may be (and I say “may” because I found conflicting details) the Wanamaker Organ currently displayed in a Macy’s Department store in Philadelphia.

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Written by David

September 16th, 2011 at 10:00 am

“Most Of Our Music Teachers Incompetent” — Frank Damrosch

From September 3, 1911

MOST OF OUR MUSIC TEACHERS INCOMPETENT -- FRANK DAMROSCH

MOST OF OUR MUSIC TEACHERS INCOMPETENT — FRANK DAMROSCH: Well Known Conductor Deplores the Condition of Musical Instruction in This Country and Tells Why It Is So Bad. (PDF)

Frank Damrosch was a German-born American conductor, and director of the New York Institute of Musical Art. In this article, he bemoans the state of music education in America:

“Ninety-nine per cent of the music teachers in the United States are totally incompetent to teach music… Thousands of so-called music teachers are not in any way qualified to teach,” he continued, “because they have not been trained to teach, nor have they received even a rudimentary knowledge of music.”

“Many so-called music teachers have had only inferior instruction on the piano and have learned to play a few pieces after a fashion. Such persons start to teach for a livelihood on this slender foundation because it seems to them to be the easiest and pleasantest way to earn a living. The general ignorance of the public in matters musical makes it possible for such teacher to get employment…

“And this has a bad effect on society in general. It places society on a low plane of culture. It affects the music in the churches, and causes those who cater to the amusement of the public to provide an inferior class of music.”

Thirteen years later, the Institute of Musical Art became the Juilliard School of Music, still today one of the most prestigious performing arts conservatories.

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Written by David

September 2nd, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Education,Music

New National Hymn To Be Sung Here On The Fourth

From July 2, 1911

NEW NATIONAL HYMN TO BE SUNG HERE ON THE FOURTH

NEW NATIONAL HYMN TO BE SUNG HERE ON THE FOURTH: Arthur Farwell, Director of Music in the Parks and Recreation Piers, Has Written and Composed “A Hymn to Liberty.” Chorus of United German Singing Societies Will Sing It at City Hall and People’s Choral Union at the CCNY. (PDF)

For the Fourth of July, Arthur Farwell wrote a new national hymn. He had such high aspirations for it. Instead of being all America-centric, it would celebrate all nations:

“It is a world-hymn rather than a patriotic hymn in the old-fashioned sense.

“I have strictly avoided all the paraphernalia of phraseology of the old sort of narrow and egotistic patriotic hymn, and doubt very much if there will ever be another successful hymn of that kind written.

“The cry to-day is world federation, and the ‘Hymn to Liberty’ is addressed to the nations of the world, especially in its first and third stanzas, in behalf of the idea of liberty for the race, as springing to birth in a new sense with the creating fo the American nation.”

I can’t find a recording of it anywhere. Are any of you musically-minded readers willing to record it?

Update 1: Reader SamECircle made a midi version you can listen to here. Awesome.

Update 2: Reader Daniel Dockery has made his own arrangement which you can hear on his website.

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Written by David

July 1st, 2011 at 11:45 am

Posted in Art,Music

Some Birds Are Composers; Others Sing Popular Songs

From April 16, 1911

SOME BIRDS ARE COMPOSERS; OTHERS SING POPULAR SONGS

SOME BIRDS ARE COMPOSERS; OTHERS SING POPULAR SONGS: Studies of Their Music by a Government Official — Some Birds of a Species Better Musicans Than others — A Lark Which Plagiarized Handel. (PDF)

Just a few weeks earlier, the Sunday Magazine had run an article examining the claim that animal noises are musical. It concluded that they really aren’t. But we’ve all heard birds that imitate what they hear, so it makes a little more sense that they might imitate popular songs.

In recent years, there have been stories of birds imitating other sounds they hear, like car alarms and cell phones. Click through to see a clip of David Attenborough with a wild Lyre Bird that imitates manmade sounds it hears in the forest including cameras, car alarms, and even a chain saw.

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Written by David

April 14th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Music,Nature

Ringing The Chimes Of St. Patrick’s On Easter Day

From April 9, 1911

RINGING THE CHIMES OF ST. PATRICKS ON EASTER DAY

RINGING THE CHIMES OF ST. PATRICK’S ON EASTER DAY (PDF)

100 years ago, the bells of St. Patrick’s Cathedral were played by a man who pulled various levers attached to clappers that rang the bells:

Though their music may be heard miles away, it can scarcely be heard in the Cathedral as far back as the Lady Chapel, while the chimes ringer himself, as he stands on the keyboard platform, 110 feet below the bells, operating the levers, will catch but faint murmurs of the melody as he plays. For play he does, when at his duty, after the manner than a man would play the organ, the difference being that instead of using keys, he presses down upon levers. There is a separate lever for each one o the nineteen bells. The device, which is termed the “tracker action,” is the same as that used in the playing of chimes generally. A wooden rod, 110 feet long, attached to each lever by means of a leather strap, and to the clapper of each bell, is the controlling agent of melodic communication.

I’m not sure if the bells are still rung by hand. The bells underwent a restoration at the end of the 20th Century, and I was able to find one video of the bells chiming in 2008, but it’s unclear if they are manually operated. The Cathedral’s official website barely mentions them, although they have plenty of information about the pipe organ.

My favorite church bells in the city are at Riverside Church on the Upper West Side. Their carillon was a gift of J.D. Rockefeller, Jr. It includes the world’s largest and heaviest cast tuned bell, and is still manually played on Sundays and special events. The current carillonneur is an 80-year old man named Dionisio Lind, who was recently profiled by the Daily News, who put together this video featuring him playing the bells:

When I came to New York, the bell tower was open to the public. It cost just two dollars to ride the elevator up half way, and then you would get out and climb the rest of the way through the tower, past all the bells, past the carillon keyboard (called a baton console), until you reached a platform that offerred a 360-degree view of Manhattan and New Jersey. The few times I ever went, there was nobody else up there. It was one of my favorite New York secrets. Unfortunately, the bell tower was closed to the public in 2001, citing fire safety concerns. I guess you can’t really build a fire escape on a bell tower.

Bonus: If you aren’t yet convinced that Riverside Church is way cooler than Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, I have one word for you: Bjork.

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Written by David

April 8th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Music,Technology

Harmonica Artist Who Toured With Jenny Lind

From April 9, 1911

HARMONICA ARTIST WHO TOURED WITH JENNY LIND

HARMONICA ARTIST WHO TOURED WITH JENNY LIND: Barnum Discovered Him in His Early Days and He Proved to be a Novelty and Made a Hit. (PDF)

This article tells the story of Chris Bathman, who claims to have introduced the harmonica to the professional stage. I can’t find any information about him outside of this article, but here is his story:

“I was born in the town of Thun, canton of Bern, Switzerland,” he said, “in 1846. My parents were manufacturers of cheese, dealers in cattle, etc., and in the near-by town I had an uncle who owned a cheese cellar and exported extensively to England and Germany. I cannot remember when I did not play the harmonica. It seemed to come to me naturally, and when, at the age of about 9, my parents sent me to live with my uncle in town, the natives would keep me playing for their amusement as long as I was able to supply the breath.

“My uncle understood something of the value of the gift as a novelty, and when a man named P. T. Barnum came to our town from America with a small concert company in which was a lady named Jenny Lind, the subject of my unusual musical aptitude on that one instrument was broached. Being so young I was not consulted as to the details of the arrangements that were made between my uncle and Barnum but it resulted in my engaging to travel with the concert company.

“We played in our town for a while, my work on the harmonica being to do solo stunts between acts, and to play with the small orchestra when Jenny Lind sang. My recollection is that the orchestra had four pieces besides my wind instrument. We drew large crowds, and my recollection now is that the performance on the mouth-organ was considered a most wonderful freak of a boy wonder.”

I don’t know if Chris Bathman was really the first professional harmonica player, but there have been several notable players since then.

Back in the 1930s and 1940s there were some famous harmonica orchestras playing vaudeville. My favorite of those (you just knew I had a favorite vaudevillian harmonica orchestra, right?) was Borrah Minevitch and his Harmonica Rascals.

In the 1940s, Warner Brothers produced a 10 minute short featuring Borrah and his Rascals called Borrah Minevitch And His Harmonica School. If you ever get a chance to see the whole thing, I highly recommend it. They do things with harmonicas that you’ve never heard before.

The most I was able to find is this low-quality clip on YouTube which, if memory serves, is the first two minutes of the Warner Brothers short:

Today I think we most often associate harmonica with country or blues. But the harmonica is still played in diverse genres. Few people can match Larry Adler‘s skills in multiple styles in a career which spanned several decades. Here, watch Adler and Itzchak Perlman performing George Gershwin:

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Written by David

April 7th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Entertainment,Music

Noises Of The Animal World Are Really Musical

From March 26, 1911

NOISES OF THE ANIMAL WORLD ARE REALLY MUSICAL

NOISES OF THE ANIMAL WORLD ARE REALLY MUSICAL: Properly Analyzed, the Mooing of a Cow or the Barking of a Dog Accord with the Rules of Composers. (PDF)

In 1955, Don Charles put out a novelty album by The Singing Dogs. You’ve probably heard their still-popular barking rendition of Jingle Bells around the holidays.

But did you know, according to no cited source other than “a musical authority,” that “the mooing of a cow is set to a perfect fifth, octave or tenth; the barking of a dog to a fourth or fifth; the neighing of a horse is a descent on the chromatic scale; while the donkey brays in a perfect octave?”

Apparently, those little factoids were “going the rounds of the exchanges,” which today would probably mean you get an email from your mother with the subject “FW: FW: FW: FW: Kitty’s meow is actually music!!”

Fortunately, other equally unnamed authorities explained to the Times Magazine that while animals are certainly expressive and communicative in their sounds, they don’t follow any particular musical scales: “The mooing of a cow is set to whatever notes suits that particular cow’s fancy and voice.”

Now forward this on to ten friends in the next ten minutes, or you’ll have ten years of bad luck.

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Written by David

March 25th, 2011 at 9:00 am

Posted in Music,Nature

What Is The Difference Between Richard And Johann Strauss?

From March 26, 1911

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RICHARD AND JOHANN STRAUSS?

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RICHARD AND JOHANN STRAUSS? The “Real Richard” and How He Expresses Himself in “Der Rosenkavalier.” (PDF)

This is easy. One of them wrote music famously featured in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The other one, um, also had music prominently used in that movie.

Okay, let me try again. One of them is Austrian, and one of them is… um… German?

Okay, I give up. What does the article say?

If you want to see a hitherto peaceful human face mobilize twenty thousand warlike expressions within one brief and crowded moment of glorious life step up to a man with music in his soul and say:

“Is there any difference between Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss?”

He will either walk away, brutally insult you, or start to explain the difference, in which case he will drain the dictionary in twenty-four minutes and go insane in thirty-five. If you do not believe the above seek out that friend of yours who simply dotes on modern music, hold him firmly by the sleeve so that he can’t walk away, invite him to have a drink so that he can’t insult you, and then pop the question.

If, at the end of twenty minutes’ explanation, his condition (and yours) does not cause you acute concern, why — but it will, don’t you worry, it will.

Alpha and Omega, Zenith and Nadir, north pole and south pole — not one of those combinations suggests to the average man a greater difference between its component parts than does, to the musician, the juxtaposition of Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss. In fact, it is a common thing to see wild-eyed highbrows running round and round the most select musical circles, vainly inquiring by what cosmic freak the constructor of that tempestuous thing, “Elektra,” ever got tagged with the identical name borne by him who gave us “The Blue Danube.”

Discord, violence, horrible shrieks in the night, possible police interference — that’s what Richard Strauss has always meant. Was it not he who gave us “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” which sounds even worse set to music, and “Salome,” beside which the orchestral complications of Richard Wagner sound like those five-finger exercises that mother used to make us do?

Wow, okay, so the difference I guess is that Richard Strauss sucks and Johann Strauss is awesome.

Now would someone please explain to me the difference between Ke$ha and Katy Perry?

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Written by David

March 22nd, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Entertainment,Music

Gives Up Royalties On Great Telephone Invention

From March 5, 1911

GIVES UP ROYALTIES ON GREAT TELEPHONE INVENTION

GIVES UP ROYALTIES ON GREAT TELEPHONE INVENTION: Major G. O. Squier of the Army Turns Over His Patent to the Government — His Multiplex Telephone May Revolutionize Long Distance Talking. (PDF)

Major George Owen Squier gave the world a gift with one invention, and a decade later invented a technology which would become the butt of jokes.

First, he invented the multiplex telephone. That’s the technology which allows several conversations to be carried simultaneously on the same wire without crossover. Instead of profiting from this invention, he gave it to the public domain, saying:

Is it not right that I should give this to te public? I obtained my education through the American people; as an officer of the United States Army my time and all the good that may accrue from the use I make of that time and the education given me belongs morally to them. When a man in the army commences to think of money he commences to forget his moral duty to his country. It is my creed that all that is best in me, all that that best can produce, belongs to my country and my people. Do they not provide for me? I am assured by these people of the United States three square meals a day and comfortable quarters as long as I do my duty. A man with millions cannot ask more; he cannot eat more or dress more comfortably than my countrymen assure me I shall always find my portion as long as I do my duty.

“I have given my life and all that is in it to my country, and I think it only right that whatever of good I may bring forth, especially if that good has its roots in the education they afforded me, should accrue without cost to the benefit of the people. Therefore I have dedicated this invention to their use without reserve, placing it beyond the power not only of any monopoly of capital but even of myself to exercise any control or place any limitation upon its use. It is as free as air to the humblest.”

That is pretty noble.

In 1922, Squier came up with another invention that’s still with us today. He created Wired Radio, a service that piped music to subscribers over wires. It was originally intended as a better alternative to residential wireless radio, which was still working out its kinks. But those issues were quickly resolved, so this service was marketed instead to hotels and restaurants. Squier eventually decided that the service needed a better name than Wired Radio and, inspired by the catchy brand name Kodak invented, Squier changed his company’s name to Muzak.

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Written by David

March 3rd, 2011 at 9:45 am

Modern Woman Getting Nearer The Perfect Figure

From December 4, 1910

MODERN WOMAN GETTING NEARER THE PERFECT FIGURE

MODERN WOMAN GETTING NEARER THE PERFECT FIGURE: Dr. Dudley A. Sargent of Harvard Denies that She Is Getting Masculine, But She Is Getting More Sensible. (PDF)

The woman pictured on the top left is Annette Kellermann, an Austrian professional swimmer. She was so renowned for being a “perfectly proportioned woman” that she eventually wrote a book and health plan so that, as her ad says, “you CAN have a figure as perfect as mine!”

Dr. Dudley Allen Sargent, the focus of this article, agrees that she has just about the most ideal figure he has ever studied.

In all seriousness, the doctor isn’t as nutty in his assessment of the ideal figure as I imagined he would be (although his method of examining thousands of bodies in search of the ideal figure must have raised some eyebrows or snickers). His focus is on health, and his advice makes sense. He explains that corsets, which were all the rage, are unhealthy. And he encourages women to do the same kinds of exercise as men.

I couldn’t decide what to excerpt, so I encourage you give the whole article a read.

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Written by David

December 3rd, 2010 at 9:45 am

How A Man With An Idea Made Millions In Twelve Years

From August 28, 1910

HOW A MAN WITH AN IDEA MADE MILLIONS IN TWELVE YEARS

HOW A MAN WITH AN IDEA MADE MILLIONS IN TWELVE YEARS: A Little One Room Shop Earning Ten Dollars a Week Becomes Fifteen Acres of Industry Earning $30,000,000 a Year. (PDF)

This is the story of Eldredge Reeves Johnson, the man who built the Victor Talking Machine Company, one of the most successful phonograph companies at the time. (The word “phonograph” there links to the wikipedia entry for “gramaphone record” for the young’uns.) The article tells not only the events of Johnson’s success story, but also explains how the phonograph records were made.

The Victor company is the largest buyer of shellac in the world — which is easily believed when one sees the yards and yards of doughy stuff being kneaded in the cauldrons. It is pliant and thick, and is passed over the rollers just exactly as if it were a particularly black sort of dough.

When it has been kneaded enough it is put through a machine which flattens it out and cuts it into squares just large enough to make a record disk. It lies, smoking and cooling, on a big rolling board for all the world like a singularly uninviting kind of cake. In a couple of minutes it has cooled enough to be touched and taken up to the room above.

There stand men before a heated copper table. The black cake is put on the table for a few seconds to get warm and pliant again, (it is as hard as a rock when cold); then it is folded into a mold and put in a hydraulic press, with a pressure of 3,000 pounds to the square inch. In half a minute it is taken out, all ready except for a little trimming of the edges.

We took the little square we had followed, slipped it into a talking machine, and the ugly black thing that five minutes before had been smoking in a cauldron had become “The Spring Song.” It takes about five minutes, not more, to work this modern miracle.

The article goes on to describe how these records are recorded to begin with, which is interesting to read.

Even if you never heard of Victor, you still might know the logo, which is based on a painting called His Master’s Voice. The Victor Talking Machine Company later became RCA Victor and then part of RCA Records, which now belongs to Sony Music Company.

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Written by David

August 27th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Lure of Viennese Waltz Wins Wealth For Composers

From July 24, 1910

LURE OF VIENNESE WALTZ WINS WEALTH FOR COMPOSERS

LURE OF VIENNESE WALTZ WINS WEALTH FOR COMPOSERS: The Vogue of the Music of Lehar, Strauss and Leo Fall Has Made Them Rich (PDF)

An interesting look at the popularity of Viennese waltz in the turn of the last century. As you read, please enjoy Johann Strauss’ 1866 piece An der schönen blauen Donau, known in English as The Blue Danube:

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Written by David

July 23rd, 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in Entertainment,Music

Can You Tell An Ear For Music By Looking At It?

From June 19, 1910

CAN YOU TELL AN EAR FOR MUSIC BY LOOKING AT IT?

CAN YOU TELL AN EAR FOR MUSIC BY LOOKING AT IT? If Dr. J. J. Kinyoun’s Theory Is True the External Ear Dicsloses Whether You Have the Musical Gift or Not (PDF)

For a minute in 2007, the blogosphere was abuzz about a Hungarian plastic surgeon named Dr. Lajos Nagy who claimed that making your ears pointy would allow you to better appreciate music. He said this craze was huge in New York, and would soon be sweeping the globe.

On his website, he explains scientifically why pointed ears are more sensitive to sound:

One of its reasons is rather simple: pointed ears focus sounds in a better way, which, in the case of animals, is supplemented by the fact that they can orientate themselves towards the source of sounds without turning their heads, by moving only their ears.

The other reason is the own frequency of the pinnae, as being solid objects themselves, which changes together with their shape. Pointed ears resonate with sounds at the frequency of around 8 kHz, thus they amplify sharp sounds instead of the intermediate frequencies. This is the reason why, amongst other things, dogs are sensitive to ultrasonic sounds, which are imperceptible for human ears.

Although turning the pinnae still remains impossible for human beings according to its anatomic features, the advantages of pointed ears can be enjoyed once again with the help of a simple, routine operation.

Of course all of this is ridiculous, and it doesn’t take much poking around on his site to realize that it’s a big joke (see this discussion for more information).

If the hoaxter had seen this 1910 article, perhaps his fictional doctor could have marketed his craft differently. This article claims that ear shape determined not your ability to appreciate music, but to be musical yourself. As one doctor quoted in the article says:

“It is commonly thought that persons who have the musical ‘gift’ have a peculiarity of the auditory tract, which distinguishes them from ordinary folk. There seem to be an actual physical quality in the hearing of musicians whereby they differentiate tones with subtlety, and this quality is congenital…

[There is] a peculiar conformation of the external ear in musicians, first observed by Dr. J. J. Kinyoun of Washington, but never published, which is constant and readily perceptible.”

I’d go on to quote the description of the peculiar conformation, but it makes about as much sense as Dr. Nagy’s explanation for his procedure, so I’ll spare you the details. But the conclusions at the end of the article are still worth a look if you want to know how to tell if your own kids are musical by looking at their ears. And if they’re not, I suppose they can always get plastic surgery.

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Written by David

June 18th, 2010 at 9:06 am

Posted in Music,Nature,Science

Where Music Soothes While Lobsters Broil

From April 24, 1910

WHERE MUSIC SOOTHES WHILE LOBSTERS BROIL

WHERE MUSIC SOOTHES WHILE LOBSTERS BROIL: No Restaurant Is Now Complete Without an Orchestra to Serve Wagner, Bach or Chopin to Tempt the Appetite — Noted Musicians Draw Big Crowd (PDF)

Based on this article one could only conclude that in 1910, live classical music in restaurants was as pervasive and annoying as Muzak is today.

You sit down at a table. And all is very peaceful. The waiter silently passes the carte de jour, while he and the others quietly wander to and fro. This looks good to you — it promises an hour of rest and comfort. Good food, a good glass of wine, maybe, and an agreeable during and after luncheon chat with a sympathetic companion. What more does any man desire?

For a few minutes the menu absorbs your attention. Then cocktail and the soup arrive. All is very restful. You glance around. The place is filling up. It is all first class, no bustle and no noise, no clatter of dishes, no loud talking. The gowns over there are chic, the hats the latest modes, the faces underneath them well worth a second glance. Really you are glad you found this place.

You raise your fork to attack the delicious brook trout in the dish before you, and the fork remains poised in the air. Your face grows pale. Your appetite is suddenly put to rout and fear grows strong upon you. What is that awful din? What catastrophe has happened? Oh! no need to be alarmed — it is only the orchestra playing “William Tell,” with an orchestrion arrangement to give the music greater volume. And that haughty deceiving minion has placed you directly underneath the balcony where the musicians sit, so that you cannot escape even the tiniest softest grace note in the score…

When you come to think of it, it is really surprising to what trouble and expense these restaurateurs go to supply this musical fare that you and I don’t want. Perhaps the explanation, not very flattering, is that we, as individuals, don’t amount to much. See how the crowds flock to the rooms where the music may be — MUST BE — heard.

Then admit that you and I are the exceptions to the rule. Of course it must be so, or the bands would go.

A pretty good rant. And I love the illustrations.

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Written by David

April 23rd, 2010 at 9:01 am