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Bill McGalughlin with George Hanson, Tucson Desert Song Festival Director

Exploring Music Interviews @ Tucson Desert Song Festival

Tucson Desert Song Festival Director , George Hanson
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Bill McGlaughlin with Jubilant Sykes

Exploring Music Interviews @ Tucson Desert Song Festival

Baritone Jubilant Sykes talks about his role as Celebrant in Bernstein's "Mass."
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Bill McGlaughlin with Jeannette Segel and Jack Forsythe

Exploring Music Interviews @ Tucson Desert Song Festival

Tucson Desert Song Festival:
Jeannette Segel, President of the Board of Directors
John G. (Jack) Forsythe, President Emeritus

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Bill McGalughlin with José Luis Gomez

Exploring Music Interviews @ Tucson Desert Song Festival


 Here Bill McGlaughlin interviews the Venezuelan-born, Spanish conductor José Luis Gomez, the Music Director of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra.

This week Exploring Music is celebrating the Leonard Bernstein centennial, featuring highlights from "The 2018 Tucson Desert Song Festival", including performances of works such as Candide, Symphony No. 3 “Kaddish”, On the Town, and Trouble in Tahiti. Leading Arizona ensembles participating in Tucson Desert Song Festival are True Concord Voices & Orchestra, Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus, Arizona Opera and the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

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Bill McGlaughlin with Eric Holtan and Jubilant Sykes

Exploring Music Interviews @ Tucson Desert Song Festival

Eric Holtan, Jubilant Skyes, and Bill McGlaughlin


Sitting Together

During a break in rehearsing Bernstein's MASS at the 2018 Tucson Desert Song Festival, Bill sat with Eric Holtan, Music Director of True Concord Voices & Orchestra, and baritone Jubilant Sykes, the Celebrant.
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Tucson Festival Pictures, Part 1

Bill McGlaughlin @ The 6th Annual Tucson Desert Song Festival

Part 1

Bill McGlaughlin and Bill Siegmund in Tucson


Bill heading down the trail


Natural Tucson wildlife


More natural beauty


Natural Arizona landscape


Long day on the hike


Check out Part 2

The Exploring Music team would like to thank the Tucson Desert Song Festival and Central Sound at Arizona PBS for their support and coordination in making this special presentation possible. Additional thanks to the Tucson Desert Song Festival participating artists and ensembles for their performances and cooperation with this collaborative project.
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Tucson Festival Pictures, Part 2

Bill McGlaughlin @ The 6th Annual Tucson Desert Song Festival

Part 2

Bill back on the hike


Beautiful view of the valley


San Xavier Mission, Tucson, AZ


San Xavier Mission, Tucson, AZ


View on top of church


The rolling hills and landscape of the Tucson area

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Bill McGlaughlin with Dan Buckley, Part 1

Exploring Music Interviews @ Tucson Desert Song Festival

Part 2


And be sure to check out Dan's website The Mariachi Miracle
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Bill McGlaughlin with Dr. Bruce Chamberlain

Exploring Music Interviews @ Tucson Desert Song Festival

Part 4

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Bill McGlaughlin with Dan Buckley, Part 2

Exploring Music Interviews @ Tucson Desert Song Festival

Part 3


And be sure to check out Dan's website The Mariachi Miracle
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Bill McGlaughlin with Katherine Webber, Aaron C. Finley, and Tamar Greene

Exploring Music Interviews @ Tucson Desert Song Festival

Part 1

Performers of Leonard Bernstein's Mass at Tucson Desert Song Festival and in collaboration with the True Concord Voices and Orchestra and conducted by Eric Holtan.
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Architecture and Music

“Everywhere in the world, music enhances a hall, with one exception. Carnegie Hall enhances the music” - Isaac Stern.

Music and architecture have always had a close relationship. From the principles of harmony and repetition to the concepts of texture and proportion, there are many correlations that relate these two art forms. They have encouraged growth in one another, developing in unison to create the performance experiences we have today.

From sacred echo chambers to great halls, one understands the quality of a space through the context of hearing. Daniel Libeskind says:  “sound and space communicate to the soul, not just the mind. It is also communicating with the soul, as architecture is based on balance. However, balance is in the inner ear, not in the eye.” Balance within a space is appreciated when we hear the venue hold an echo, the final note of a chamber performance, or a pin drop, as one can experience in none other than New York City’s Carnegie Hall.

The building’s architect was William B. Tuthill. He had been a practicing architect for 11 years, but he had never built a hall before. Carnegie could have had his choice of any architect, and yet he chose Tuthill. Why—for his understanding of music, as a gifted cellist. He was the secretary of the Oratorio Society, which was started by Leopold Damrosch in 1873. Leopold was succeeded by his son, Walter, who became the conductor for the Symphony Society and birthed the idea of a new concert hall in New York to Andrew Carnegie himself.

Tuthill’s knowledge of principles in both music and architecture made him an exceptional candidate for the job, and his understanding of reverberation helped create one of the most unique performance spaces in the world. From the Palais du Trocadéro to the Bapistry in Pisa, he explored classical European architecture to understand the movement of sound through a space long before acoustics were studied, says the Hall’s archivist, Gino Francesconi. He would demonstrate his theories on how sound travels using billiard tables and applied his theories to his most advantageous job yet—the building of Carnegie Hall.

The design of Carnegie is simple. “No frescos, no chandeliers, no curtains–the detailing inside of the main hall is what you would find in the ‘three for a dollar bin’ at the home depot of the day” (Francesconi). The hall itself was built to be home to all types of performances. It was not designed specifically to house a ballet, orchestra or opera—as most halls were at the time. The main hall is a stage built intentionally to accommodate all. Through its lifetime, Carnegie Hall has housed everything from the New York Philharmonic to political rallies and war protests. Andrew Carnegie stated in the marking of the hall’s cornerstone, “all causes find a home here." William Tuthill followed Carnegie’s philosophy in his design—and time has proven his success in doing so.

Tuthill also had the keen sensibility to create a concert hall where everyone was there to be seen. “All of the levels are tapered back some, there are no barriers between the boxes,[…]so no matter where you were sitting, you were a part of the show… seventy-five percent of the audience could see [the other] seventy-percent of the audience” (Francesconi). While the seating design was socially strategic, it was also sonically ingenious.

The hall’s ceiling is divided into five sections, as are the seats of five cascading tiers, all tapered at the edges, which allows sound paths to spread with near equal velocity; the notes that are carried to Row Q are heard bouncing from the bell of the stage in unison (Francesconi). The unprecedented height of the ceiling allowed for extreme dynamics, allowing even the smallest noises to be heard throughout the main hall..  “Take La Scala [Opera House]. People in the audience, they used to eat, drink, gossip, and yell out… when they liked a piece and would want the encore immediately… That’s what going to a show meant back then” said David Byrne from the Ted Stage.  The sounds of the audience were forced to change as the architecture developed to hold sounds in new and exciting ways.

According to Alex Ross of The New Yorker, audience behavior shifted just before the 20th century, as aristocracy was declining and the middle classes were rising.  “[They] took control of how the concerts should unfold” and what music could be played. “When Beethoven began his Ninth Symphony with ten bars of otherworldly pianissimo, he was defying the norms of his time… imagining a new world in which the audience would await the music in an expectant hush.” (Ross). On opening night at Carnegie Hall, the audience was witness to what a hall of its magnitude could do for music.

On May 5th, 1891, the evening’s program began with Old Hundred—a doxology also known as Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow. The Organ blared as the hall reverberated from the multitude of octaves. Next came America, played by the Symphony Society under the direction of conductor, Walter Damrosch. Following was the Beethoven overture Leonore No. III. After, Marche Solennelle written and directed by Tchaikovsky himself. The evening ended with The Te Deum by Berlioz. Carnegie Hall was built for pieces like this. You could hear the quietest diminuendos, breathe with the credscendos, and feel your heart sing with the tremolos. This night marked a program filled with awe, curiosity, and new beginnings.

But the mystery still remains about Carnegie Hall- how could a space not built for a ballet, not built for an opera, not built for an orchestra—become one of the most prestigious concert halls in the world? “Its uniqueness”, says Gino Francesconi. The music and architecture of Carnegie Hall coalesce in a profound way, leaving the audience stunned by the final notes and echoes for over 127 years.

-Anna Jean Williams
Exploring Music intern
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Part II – Bill McGlaughlin interviews Carnegie Hall’s Archivist, Gino Francesconi

The second part of Bill McGlaughlin’s interview with the Director of Carnegie Hall’s Archives and Rose Museum, Gino Francesconi. This audio interview takes listeners backstage for an intimate view of the hall, its history, and the legendary performers who have appeared there.

Watercolors of Bill McGlaughlin and Gino Francesconi by Abigail Edmonds.


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Thank You To All

Here we are at the end of Exploring Music’s two weeks at Carnegie Hall. We couldn’t have done it without you! Thanks to our Carnegie team- the Archive department, Carnegie’s Associate Public Relations Director Mari Beth Bittan, and of course, Gino Francesconi. Additional thanks to our team at WFMT- Production Assistants Erik Opland and Becky Nystedt , interns Karina Kucking, Abigail Edmonds, Josh Davidoff, and Aj Williams. Lastly, a special thank you to our listeners. Without your support, none of this would be possible!

-Bill, Bill, and Cydne

Please enjoy more photos of Exploring Music at Carnegie Hall featured below.

 Featured left to right are Bill McGlaughlin, Gino Francesconi, Kathryn Gronsbell,
Kathleen Sabogal, Rob Hudson, Cydne Gillard, and Bill Siegmund.

Producer Cydne Gillard on the roof of Carnegie Hall.

Producer Bill Siegmund and Bill McGlaughlin on the rooftop of Carnegie Hall.

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Batons of Carnegie Hall

Carnegie Hall is fortunate to have a plethora of recorded history about the famous musicians who conducted on its main stage. Held in Carnegie Hall’s Rose Museum, 25 batons of these batons used to conduct world-renowned orchestras are now considered archival treasures. Follow the photos below, as Carnegie Hall Archivist Gino Francesconi and Bill McGlaughlin go behind the glass. Featured in the photos (in order) are the batons of Georg Solti, Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein, and Arturo Toscanini.

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Exploring Music Interview Amy Rhodes

Bill McGlaughlin sits down with Amy Rhodes, Director of  Ensemble Connect. Ensemble Connect is a two-year fellowship program for the finest young professional classical musicians in the United States that prepares them for careers that combine musical excellence with teaching, community engagement, advocacy, entrepreneurship, and leadership. It offers top-quality performance opportunities, intensive professional development, and the opportunity to partner with a New York City public school throughout the fellowship.

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Exploring Music Interview with Sarah Johnson

Bill McGlaughlin, Bill Siegmund, and Sarah Johnson (right to left)




This week on the behind the scenes interviews, Bill McGlaughlin interviews the wonderful Sarah Johnson. Ms. Johnson is the Chief Education Officer & Director of the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall, or WMI


The Weill Music Institute

Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute (WMI) produces an extraordinary range of music education and social impact programs each season that extend far outside the physical walls of our concert halls. These programs will reach over half a million people in New York City, across the US, and around the globe during the 2018-2019 season.

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Black America on Stage at Carnegie Hall

Throughout its history as one of the world’s most distinguished music venues, Carnegie Hall has frequently positioned itself at the forefront of advocacy for performers of diverse backgrounds. This beautiful Google Culture exhibit, entitled “Black History at Carnegie Hall”, draws from the hall’s own extensive archives to illuminate the rich heritage of courage and activism it has demonstrated within arts presenting.

According to the archives, the story of performers of color at Carnegie begins with Madame Sissirietta Jones, known as the Black Patti—a sobriquet referencing Adelina Patti, a popular Italian soprano of the time. In February of 1893, Sissirietta performed a selection of operatic favorites in Carnegie’s main hall, concluding with Charles Gounod’s classic, Bach-flavored setting of the Ave Maria. She was joined by several other soloists of color, as well as the Fisk Jubilee Singers, an a cappella choir that remains active today at Fisk University. Here’s a 1909 recording and a 2016 recording for comparison.

Roland Hayes, a Fisk graduate and the first classical singer of color to record on a major label, performed at Carnegie Hall twice in 1924. In addition to a solo recital in February of that year, he sang Berlioz’s L’Enfance du Christ with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Serge Koussevitsky. Hayes’ tenor garnered superb reviews and, in short order, began to fill concert halls up and down the East Coast. He performed at Carnegie nearly 40 times over the course of his career. Baritone Paul Robeson would also become a Carnegie fixture and appeared there for the first time shortly after Hayes, in 1929. His farewell concert, in 1958, was recorded and released on the Vanguard label. Listen to a selection from that record here, J.S. Bach’s Christ lag in Todesbanden.

Though many associate the first jazz at Carnegie Hall with clarinetist Benny Goodman’s sensational feature appearance there in 1938, earlier iterations of swing had already made it to that stage. As early as 1912, James Reese Europe and his Europe Clef Club Orchestra presented “A Concert of Negro Music” which included only selections by black composers, including Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Harry T. Burleigh. Violinist and composer Will Marion Cook played with the Clef Club group, but it wasn’t his first time at Carnegie Hall—he gave a solo recital there in 1895 while he was still studying with Antonin Dvorak at the National Conservatory.

W.C. Handy, widely labeled the “Father of the Blues”—really, the father of collecting and notating the formerly oral tradition of the blues—also preceded Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall. His Orchestra and huge cadre of Jubilee Singers performed there in April of 1928, featuring Fats Waller on organ. That momentous concert was recreated in its entirety near its 50th anniversary in 1978, featuring W.C.’s 78-year old daughter Katherine Handy, who sang her father’s famous “St. Louis Blues” on both the original program and its semicentennial version.

By the time Benny Goodman led his big band and quintet in “The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert”, black music was no stranger to that hallowed stage. The concert, by all accounts, was a huge success—during “Sing, Sing, Sing” alone, that iconic tune’s first ever performance, famous solos by drummer Gene Krupa (timestamp 3:01), trumpeter Harry James (5:30), Goodman (7:30), and pianist Jess Stacy (9:28) all demonstrate prodigious musicality and a remarkable rapport with the seated audience.

However, the troubled history of the improvised swing music of the ‘30s is mirrored by Goodman’s role, as a white bandleader, in bringing it to the concert hall. Though vibraphonist Lionel Hampton’s appearance with Goodman’s quintet marks likely the first mixed-race ensemble appearance at Carnegie Hall, the way in which critics described this historic cameo is telling. The Saturday Evening Post reported that “Benny found an unknown Negro musician, brought him across the color line into the big time. Lionel Hampton went on to the top, but he’s never forgotten his debt.” Benny Goodman was positioned as the white champion of a music that should have been the domain of black musicians, like Hampton, to present and benefit from. Understandably impartial to such thorny issues of cultural appropriation, it was still a bold cultural step for Carnegie Hall, home of serious music, to host Goodman’s popular dance hall ensembles that night.

Carnegie Hall’s pioneering legacy of advocacy reinforces its reputation as both a concert stage and a public forum. None other than Frederick Douglass, the distinguished abolitionist, gave the introduction for Sissirietta Jones and the Fisk Singers’ engagement. Another post-Reconstruction orator, Booker T. Washington, spoke at the hall no fewer than 17 times around the turn of the 20th century. Marcus Garvey also made several appearances in the early 1920s.

In short, the venue whose Google Maps directions should just read “Practice!” has honored that edict across the board for more than a century, prioritizing discipline and verve among performers and speakers alike above issues of petty discrimination and intolerance.

Tuskegee Institute faculty with Andrew Carnegie, Tuskegee, Alabama Shown from left to right, seated in front row: R.C. Ogden; Mrs. Booker T. Washington (Margaret James Murray Washington); Booker T. Washington; Andrew Carnegie; and an unidentified person.  1906 Frances Benjamin Johnston- Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a10455.

Josh Davidoff, 2017 media intern at WFMT, and senior at Wesleyan University.

Please visit our Carnegie Hall features again, there are more posts to come!

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Exploring Music at Carnegie Hall photo tour

Bill McGlaughlin and Exploring Music Producers were taken through the ins and outs of Carnegie Hall by none other than the Hall’s Director of Archives, Gino Francesconi.
Below are featured photos of Exploring Music’s backstage pass to Carnegie Hall.


Gino Francesconi shows Bill McGlaughlin the bedrock of Manhattan Schist on which Carnegie Hall was built on.


Gino Francesconi shows Bill McGlaughlin artifacts of Carnegie Hall's past in the Rose Museum (located within the Hall).


Bill McGlaughlin, Gino Francesconi, Producer Bill Siegmund and Producer Cydne Gillard marvel at a featured wall within the Rose Museum that displays an abundance of record albums recorded at Carnegie Hall.


Bill McGlaughlin, Gino Francesconi and Associate Director or Public Relations Mari Beth Bittan tour the hallways of Carnegie Hall.


Bill McGlaughlin, Gino Francesconi and Producer Bill Siegmund tour the stage of Carnegie's main hall, Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage.


Bill McGlaughlin, Gino Francesconi and Producer Bill Siegmund tour the balcony of Carnegie's main hall, Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage.


Bill McGlaughlin, Gino Francesconi and Producer Bill Siegmund tour Weill Recital Hall.


Bill McGlaughlin, Gino Francesconi and Producer Bill Siegmund go behind the walls of Carnegie Hall.


Bill McGlaughlin, Gino Francesconi and Producer Bill Siegmund clap their hands to test the reverberation of Zankel Hall.


Bill McGlaughlin and Gino Francesconi tour the main room of the Carnegie Hall archives.


Bill McGlaughlin, Karrin Allyson and Gino Francesconi gaze up at the city from the roof of Carnegie Hall.


The view of Resnick Education Wing, on the top of Carnegie Hall.


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Bill McGlaughlin interviews Carnegie Hall’s Executive & Artistic Director, Sir Clive Gillinson

Bill McGlaughlin (left) and Sir Clive Gillinson.

Hello and welcome to our second blog post of Exploring Music at Carnegie Hall-

Today we share with you an interview between Bill McGlaughlin and Sir Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Hall’s Executive and Artistic Director. This interview was recorded during our visit to the hall this last December.  Mr. Gillinson, hailing from across the pond, first came to Carnegie Hall many years ago as a cellist in the London Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of André Previn. In 1984, he was asked by the LSO’s Board of Directors to become their Managing Director - a position that pushed him to create a compelling vision of the role that an orchestra can play in the community that it serves. Since becoming Carnegie Hall’s Executive and Artistic Director in 2005, he has worked with organizations throughout New York City to establish programs and festivals that focus on uplifting the quality, creativity, and diversity of the cultural community that we live in. Sir Gillinson has developed artistic concepts for all three of Carnegie’s halls- Zenkel Hall, Weill Recital Hall, and Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage (all toured by Bill McGlauglin and Gino Francesconi). Please enjoy this interview, as it covers all this and more on Sir Clive Gillinson’s perspective and future visions of Carnegie Hall.

- Aj Williams, Exporing Music Intern 

With the help of Exploring Music Producer Bill Siegmund (middle), Bill McGlaughlin interviews Sir Clive Gillinson (left), Carnegie Hall's Executive and Artistic Director.


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Exploring Carnegie Hall with Bill McGlaughlin


Carnegie Hall, Abigail Edmonds

Hello and welcome to Exploring Music at Carnegie Hall-

For over 127 years, Carnegie Hall has inspired and housed musical and social movements in the United States. Performances on Carnegie’s stage reach far beyond the chairs in the house: Carnegie's audience is global. Case in point: In April of 1961 four million people heard Judy Garland’s concert in a hall with 3,165 in attendance.

Since its founding in 1891, Carnegie Hall has become more than just a collection of concert halls—it’s become one of our Nation’s foremost art institutions and a symbol of “making-it” as an artist and musician. How did Andrew Carnegie’s Concert Hall transform into the hallowed hall we know today?

Join Exploring Music on a journey through America’s most famous music venue, from its rooftop gardens all the way down to the bedrock it was built on, as we explore the myths, legends, and music of Carnegie Hall.

Our guides throughout this series are Bill McGlaughlin and Gino Francesconi, both cultural institutions in their own right. Francesconi has been part of the Hall’s history for over thirty years. He began working as a Carnegie Hall usher, and returned later as the Hall’s first archivist—a job created specifically for him. Since 1986, Francesconi has been growing and documenting the history of Carnegie Hall.

Listen as Gino leads Bill through over a century of history that has played out on stage and behind the scenes. This is a front row center seat and backstage pass to Carnegie Hall.


-Tony Macaluso, WFMT Radio Network


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Music in All its Shades

By Karina Kücking, Exploring Music intern and student from Germany

What would it be like to delve into the peerless interplay between articulating patterns and melodic instruments – such as the nāy (flute) or the ʿūd (short-necked lute) – in Middle Eastern music, right amidst the triangle of the Arabic-, Turkish-, and Persian-speaking worlds? Or the fascinating journey that both Hindustani and Carnatic music have made during the history of Indian classical music? Or a shona mbira performance in Zimbabwe as part of the musical traditions in Sub-Saharan Africa?

Music is a cultural phenomenon which, if one tries to break it down just into its major parts, has at least ten areas or blocks: The music of India, the Middle East, China, Japan, Indonesia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, Latin America, Native American music and the music of ethnic North America. This gives us a diversity and uniqueness which is a research area, but at the same time is an assignment for an insatiable willingness to constantly present something new – even if it’s music that is hundreds of years old. Arts organizations are, without any doubt, positioned to be places of introduction, engagement and first and foremost the celebration of diverse cultures.

At this year’s APAP (Association of Performing Arts Professionals) conference in New York City, a session was solely dedicated to this purpose: The Why and How of Presenting Diverse Cultures. Imagining culture as the center of a triangle, the talk brought together speakers from all three angles: Tanya Gertz, College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, talking from the perspective of a university professor; Martha Redbone, singer-songwriter and community activist, talking from the perspective of an artist; and Jill Sternheimer, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, talking from the perspective of a programming director.


(Heena Patel, moderator (left), with Martha Redbone, Tanya Gertz, and Jill Sternheimer.
Photo: © Adam Kissick)

“I’m excited about these times, culturally. Theater is a great way of presenting various aspects. Tell stories – share individual stories. My mission, my hope is to share cultural pieces which are particular for Native American music”, says Redbone in her opening statement. “I have this great sense,” says Gertz. “When people have a sense that they want more – the joviality of culture. […] I should do that instead of I can’t do that. The opportunity of awareness. Our cultures are more multi-dimensional than we think when we create things by believing in the possibility of them.” Sternheimer then states, “My own philosophy is: Instead of pigeonholing, be mindful. Once, we had a Patti Smith concert (Editor’s note: Lincoln Center Out of Doors, A Night of Words and Music on July 20, 2016) and so we were thinking, ‘Who can we pair her up with?’ And because of her Mexican influence, she was introduced by a Mexican group: It made no sense and it made total sense.”

Bringing in unknown music and topics is risk-taking, there is no question about it. But in order to reflect the world’s musical diversity, one has to see all pieces of the puzzle: “Find something that connects – a flame or just a spark,” Redbone suggests, “the more you do it, you will start paying attention to your community differently. Try different things to raise people’s awareness and take people to experiences they never had before. Raise comfort by setting knowledge.” Speaking about how various musical cultures relate to each other, just think about the contact between the Arab world and Western Europe during the Middle Ages, in the Crusader States, the Iberian Peninsula, or Sicily. And this is only one reason why we should listen to music not only as a sensation on its own, but also with one question in the back of our heads: ‘What explains the nature of this musical piece?’

Whether you are an arts presenter yourself or a music enthusiast wanting to breathe in the cultural zeitgeist in all its aspects, “practice your own openness,” Gertz says, “no one really knows everything about everyone – it’s learning for everybody. (...) So, see as much as you can  and do something out of your comfort zone.” At the end of the session, Sternheimer holds the last piece of the puzzle in her hands when saying, “it’s all up to us.”

How about starting right now, with this Iraqi maqam performance, featuring a lead vocalist (qari), a four-string fiddle (jawzah), a low-pitched hand-drum (dumbak) and a small tambourine (daff).

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Bartok: A Piano Student’s Guide

Bartok: A Piano Student’s Guide

By Isabella Andries, Exploring Music Intern and student at Lawrence Conservatory

This lesson plan will provide an approach to the study of Bartok’s works from the early twentieth century. It includes background on these pieces’ historical context and reception in the music industry. It also describes Bartok’s intention and inspiration for these works. I will explain suggested approaches to learning the pieces and my approach to practicing and performing them as a piano student.

Late nineteenth-century Hungary was a time when class divisions were prominent. While the upper classes were enamored by works of composers to the west, from Italy, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, those in the middle and working classes were exposed to the music of local gypsy bands and “popular art songs.” These were the tunes that Bartok grew up enjoying. Before he could speak, he could recognize the folk songs he heard in his hometown, and often requested that his mother play them on the piano. By the time he was four years of age, he could play forty of them from memory with one finger on the piano. This early love for the native music of Hungary set the stage for a voyage he would take in his twenties that shaped his career as a composer.

In the early twentieth century, many of the traditional folksongs were in danger of cultural extinction. “Pseudofolksongs” made popular by traveling theatre groups and gypsy bands cross-pollinated, so to speak, with those that had been passed down through generations, those that Bartok intended to preserve. He and fellow composer Zoltan Kodaly appealed to the public and the government for support of their plans to travel and collect the traditional songs. They did not receive this support. However, undeterred, they set out on their mission. They traveled through Transylvania, Romania, and later to Africa. They asked locals to sing or play into a phonograph and then transcribed these tunes in their notebooks. Bartok is quoted as having said, “I shall pursue one objective all my life, in every sphere and in every way: the good of Hungary and the Hungarian nation” (Erdely 27).

In 1911 Bartok wrote an original piano work that, while adopting certain elements characteristic of these folksongs, was also inspired by the structures of classical music. Here, I’ll be examining the first of the Two Rumanian Dances, Op. 8a, and explain how a piano student could approach these pieces, with special regard for Bartok’s intentions.

The structure of the first of the Two Rumanian Dances can best be compared to the Magyar ballroom dance, in a sequence along with the Allemandes, Francaises, Polonaises, and Anglaises
of the early 1800s. The Magyar is “a slow dance with a gradual increase of tempo without ever changing its serious, stately nature, thus fitting the dignity of the noble men who danced it” (Erdely 24). The beginning section of the first Rumanian Dance, while not explicitly slow, has a dark and serious tone. Over the course of the piece, the crescendos build until it reaches a booming climax and reflects its tempo markings of “allegro vivace,” or “quick and lively.” There is no evident key signature, implying that the focus of the work lies in other musical elements. Bartok himself said that the piano’s percussive nature should be recognized in musical expression. Emo Balogh, one of his former piano students, recalled that “he was most meticulous about rhythmical proportion, accent and the variety of touch”. (Fischer 93).

Below is a chart included in Bartok’s 1916 edition of the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, with notes on articulation markings:

In observing the score for Rumanian Dance Op. 8a No. 1, one can find that Bartok notates weaker accentuations for softer sections of the piece and stronger ones for more bombastic ones. The shifts of energy in this piece, whether sharp or subtle, can be expressed by careful thought, but it is far easier to come up with imagery or narrative to illuminate the character of the work.

The story that I envisioned for Op. 8a No. 1 is that of a mythical witch burning in the colonial town of Salem, Massachusetts. Contrary to popular belief, stoning and drowning were the more common practices of the time, so this scenario has little historical basis. The foreboding nature of the first thirty-four measures paints the landscape of Salem, a town of serious character and muted hues. A gradual crescendo suggests a rise in tension-- something is amiss in the village. It could also portray something approaching from over a hill, coming closer to the listener. Measures 35-44 are swift and light, the pianist’s fingers leaping nimbly across the keys, marked as “leggiero”. It sounds like morning bustle, children playing around a well, tiny feet weaving around the white feathers of squawking chickens, the clickety-clack of wagon wheels against cobblestone roads. In these sections, the performer should keep her fingers loose, rotating the wrist in the direction of the three-note slurs. In early practice, one should be allowed to take breaths between each three-note slur to ensure accuracy. Measures 45-50 fall in a downward motion, perhaps a child’s pigskin ball falling from the top of a hill down to a muddy bank. It hits the murky water, and briefly, the mood shifts-- Bartok writes “poco pesante” at measure 51, or “a little heavier.” A sequential repetition of measures 45-50 follow, and this same downward motion could be attributed to a single black feather of a crow falling from a windowsill. At the repeated “pesante” section, the soft feather falls into the despotic hands of the magistrate. His icy blue eye shoots daggers into the window-glass. He recognizes it as the chamber of the village witch.

A downpour suddenly drenches the thatched roofs in salty rainwater, the drops like tiny bullets falling through the air. The melody at measures 64-67 is the howl of the wind, the rumble of thunder, various voices shouting to be heard through the sonic storm. One can imagine the whir of left-hand notes as the sound the rain makes when it strikes the piano. The performer should feel it hit her skin, shower her forehead, soak her clothes, and bask in its glory. Gradually, the storm weakens and the sun peeks through the clouds, creating a rainbow at measures 67-71. This is the first sprinkle of color anyone in the Puritan town has seen in years. All faces lift toward the heavens.

Then comes the calm after the storm, measures 71-75. The warm air wraps around your arms like a blanket, the green moss dense on the trees, the sun a hazy glow across the dewy grass. The sparse melody and the thick, blocked chords create a peaceful atmosphere.

The staccato theme returns at measure 76, and the magistrate is ready to secure the witch’s fate. Various flourishes in the next section illustrate the villagers as they prepare for the burning-- the tenuto notes at measures 80-83 ring like church bells and the town criers call out in grace notes at measures 87 and 88. A grand crescendo leads to the climax of the piece at measures 97-109: the witch burning. In a lively folk chant characterized by repeated motifs, common among many of the songs Bartok collected, the townspeople shout insults and bang against metal pots and pans, dancing violently around the poor “demonic” maiden.

The sheer number of sudden leaps in this work makes it necessary to devise an efficient practice method. One method is to group phrases in rhythmic chunks, grouping certain notes together and then stringing measures together. The phrases below are marked by vertical lines.

This technique can be applied to almost anywhere between measures 85 and and 109, the section requiring the most stamina. Another way to think about this technique is to imagine taking breaths between phrases. Starting with longer phrases and gradually shortening them will reduce arm strain. At measures 97-109, the summit of the piece, where the melody is played in octaves,“fingers separate” practice is useful. For those with smaller hands, the thumb and pinkie should be practiced separately in order to ensure these octaves sound clean and the melody is brought forth.

Bartok is an idiosyncratic personality in the classical music world. He was unafraid to blend the melodies of common people and those from other cultures into his concert works. He revolutionized the use of the piano, harnessing its strengths as a percussive instrument. Beyond that, his pieces have a raw yet meticulously expressed intensity that draws me in as contemporary listener. For instrumentalists, seeking out works by composers whose music speaks to them is vital in study. Not only does this spur the student’s creative interpretation, it allows her to build her artistic voice, by finding what appeals to her. As an aspiring composer, I find deep value in examining works I enjoy to understand why I enjoy them, and hope to apply some of their principles in my own compositions. Studying Bartok is one step in my journey, and I hope that my perspective sheds light on some of his piano pieces for other students as well.


The Exploring Music Bela Bartok program will be free for the next several weeks.


Works Cited

Bartók, Béla. Piano music of Bela Bartok: series I. Dover Pub., 1981.

Bónis, Ferenc. Béla Bartók, his life in pictures and documents. Corvina Kiadó, 1982.

Chalmers, Kenneth. Béla Bartók. Phaidon, 2008.

Erdely, Stephen, and Victoria Fischer. The Cambridge Companion to Bartok. Edited by Amanda

Bayley, Cambridge University Press, 2001.


Bartok performing Two Rumanian Dances Op. 8a No. 1


Performance by Janos Palojtay 1:03:59 to 1:07:54


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Turn Up the Music: Exploring Music in Schools

At Exploring Music, we are constantly thinking about ways we can make our program more accessible – especially for schools. For a long time, we’ve been given scholarships to our website for schools and educators: More than 215 five-hour 'weeks' that focus on composers, countries, genres, and  music that stands under the banner of historical periods.

From the emails we receive, we know that a lot of teachers are already using Exploring Music in their classrooms. The questions we still ask ourselves are: How is Exploring Music being used in the classroom? What are the resources that are most useful for students, and how can we help in connecting Exploring Music to the school curriculum?

These are questions we cannot answer all by ourselves. So, four weeks ago, we invited music teachers from all around Chicago to our ‘Exploring Music Event’, a casual gathering on the set of our sister station WTTW’s show Chicago Tonight – joined by Exploring Music host Bill McGlaughlin who just flew in from New York.

We had a group of around twenty people. After a welcome from Tony Macaluso, Director of WFMT Radio Network Marketing & Syndication, Bill showcased the weeks on “Portraits in Black, Brown, & Beige” in person. Exploring Music Live – definitely something we don’t get every day!

Then we opened the discussion to the educators. All ideas of how Exploring Music can serve as a resource, how the shows might need to be reshaped in order to tie them into lessons, and especially, how the website needs to be improved and adjusted – these suggestions gave us a much better understanding about the integration of Exploring Music into education – and something to work toward.

-Karina Kücking

Images: 1. Tony Macaluso | Bill McGlaughlin, 2. Dr. Greta Pope | Jim A. Konsbruck (Both: Chicago High School for the Arts) —Photography: Devvora Papatheodorou Schreier
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A Most Original Piece of Music

It’s not always easy to find words to describe the things that surround us. That especially is true for music, a form of art that often gets along without any words at all. A few weeks ago, a listener asked us a question that challenges the terminological fuzziness that we satisfy ourselves with way too often.

142 years ago, the op. 21 by Edouard Lalo entered the stage for the first time. At the age of 52, the composer hadn’t had a real success with one of his pieces yet. That would change very suddenly when the audience in Paris heard his new piece: Crisp, sparkling melodies along with a tragic, emotional passacaglia — all framed by a Spanish timbre.

The most obvious question might be: Why did the audience in France react so enthusiastically when they heard a piece which contains national traits even in its title, Symphonie espagnole? Well, Spanish culture was fashionable in France at that time. In the same year when Lalo’s op. 21 premiered, Bizet’s Carmen also had its first performance.

The Symphonie espagnole became a continuing success, as a showpiece for the violinists that performed it. Considering its title, why of all things is it a showpiece for the violin? For a start, Lalo dedicated his piece to a great violin virtuoso of his time, which undoubtedly has its reflection in the complex violin part in the score. Vadim Repin once said: “It’s emotional music, sometimes it might even be entertaining — but it demands enormous preparation from the violinist. In view of the amount of notes, the piece surely is in first place.”

The question we are facing at this point is the one our listener was asking: Is the Symphonie espagnole by Edouard Lalo a symphony, or is it a concerto for the violin?

-Karina Kücking
Here is how our Exploring Music host Bill McGlaughlin answered it:

Dear Alan,

Good question. To begin with, I love the piece which is filled with color and life and seems a particularly good vehicle for younger violinists for whom the Beethoven and Brahms concerti may present challenges better taken on in maturity. I have a fond memory of hearing Joshua Bell making his Carnegie Hall debut with the Lalo. Even further back I can recall Perlman’s mastery of the piece at an early age.

Coming back to your question, is it a symphony or a concerto, I’m inclined to say both. To begin with, Lalo must have thought it was a symphony, giving the piece its title. But few symphonies have five movements and concerti mostly have three. I think the piece is definitely a symphony in at least a metaphorical sense. In certain ways, Symphonie espagnole recalls Berlioz’s Harold en Italie, which was written as a commission for Paganini. Paganini didn’t think the piece was a concerto and turned down the chance to give the premiere performance. “Not enough solo writing for the viola,” he told Berlioz. “But I like the piece very much.” He must have, as he let Berlioz keep the commissioning fee.

From all accounts Lalo was a brilliant violinist, and his Symphonie espagnole is a wonderful display piece for the solo violinist, so that might argue for thinking of it as a concerto. When Tchaikovsky heard the piece, he loved it and said it was Lalo who inspired him to write his own concerto. Tchaikovsky wrote of his enthusiasm for the Symphonie espagnole: “It has a lot of freshness, lightness of piquant rhythms, of beautiful and excellently harmonized melodies. [...] He [Lalo], in the same way as Léo Delibes and Bizet, does not strive after profundity, but he carefully avoids routine, seeks out new forms, and thinks more about musical beauty than about observing established traditions, as do the Germans.”

I have decided to think of the piece as a blend of concerto and tone poem invoking Spain. There is no debate about the Spanish influence: Lalo is an old Spanish name, even if his ancestors had come to Flanders and northern France in the 16th century. The piece is filled with Spanish rhythms and turns of phrase — no wonder: Lalo composed it for Pablo de Sarasate, who gave the premiere.

So, if Lalo wanted to title his piece ‘Symphonie’, I say bravo, Maestro, you’re the boss. Thanks for listening, Alan, and thanks for taking the time to write.

-Bill McGlaughlin

Here is the Symphonie espagnole, op. 21, by Edouard Lalo. Our performers are Joshua Bell and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, conducted by Charles Dutoit.


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