Jane Ellen

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JMT 1.07 Lady Mary, a dulcimer journey

 

The most intriguing and unusual instruments seem to be found either in the avant garde or in folk music traditions from around the world. My favourite folk instrument from the United States is a descendant of the European lap zither called the Appalachian or mountain dulcimer. Award-winning dulcimer artist Irma Reeder recently released a phenomenal CD entitled Lady Mary: a Musical Journey of Wood, Strings, and Voice that I cannot wait to share with you. In the interest of full disclosure, I will freely admit that I've known Irma for longer than either one of us cares to admit, but friendship aside, this is still an amazing album. Let's find out why.

JMT 1.06 Life, Space, Tranquility Base

 

Have you ever wondered where music fits into your life? Is it a passion or a distraction? Something you take for granted or something you can't live without? From store muzak to soundtracks to satellite radio to car horns, there's little escape in today’s world. And even if there were, you would find nature intruding upon the silence: birds, insects, animals, the changing pitch of wind and wave, the rhythm of leaves rustling in the trees, even your own heartbeat.

I certainly understand the place of useful music, the sound tapestry which enhances our chosen media consumption, and I also understand the need to write or listen to music that expresses our inner feelings. To be honest, we could be having this discussion about great literature or artistic masterpieces. But I still wonder why so many of us are driven to relate the story of events, people, the changing of the seasons, or even night into day - with music. I want to share one of my favourite commemorative pieces with you: the beautifully evocative song by Eric Brace called 'Tranquility Base'.

JMT 1.05 Dave Brubeck Takes 5

 

Learning to count is a basic childhood skill acquired through games, songs, and patterns; as we grow up it's not all about the maths. Counting is used in endless ways from keeping score in a sports match, to teaching a marching band or parade group to walk on the same foot at the same time, to figuring out if there are enough slices of pizza to go around. Counting is an important part of dance and gymnastics routines, and it's also an important part of music.

JMT 1.04 Side Dish: The Lighthouse's Tale

 

Rather than looking at an artist, an instrument, or even a style, today's musical takeaway is a side dish that goes behind the scenes to figure out what makes a song amazing. Is it the band? the arrangement? the lead vocal, the guitar solo, or the jam? the writers or the producers? Certainly all of those elements come into play, but let's examine 'The Lighthouse's Tale' by Adam McKenzie and Chris Thile, recorded by Nickel Creek, and try to figure out what makes it tick. Some of you will undoubtedly know this song, but even if you don't, I hope you'll join me in this brief exploration.

JMT 1.03 The Theremin: Ether Music

 

You've probably heard it many times, but with the advent of more sophisticated synthesizers and complex electronic instruments, the sound of the Theremin is no longer as noticeable as it was when it was first invented in the 1920s - or even in the 1940s-50s when it became ubiquitous with Hollywood soundtracks for mystery, thriller, and sci-fi films. (see also Meet the Theremin)

The first thing you need to know is that you play the instrument by waving your hands. Literally. No keys, valves, or pistons; no strings, bows, slides, or reeds; no pesky buttons - sounds amazingly easy, right? Actually, it's amazingly difficult - but don't let that stop you. Learning to play an instrument is always half the fun, so long as you don't expect to become a concert artist overnight. 

JMT 1.02 Israel Kamakawiwo'ole: the voice of Hawai'i

 

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, (learn to pronounce it here, or you can simply call him Iz), was born three months before Hawai'i became the 50th state of the United States. His tragic death at the age of 38 cut short the life of a legend whose beautiful, crystal clear voice spread songs of peace, love, unity, and the beauty of his native islands around the world. (Full bio here)

JMT 1.01 Pianist Extraordinaire Tiffany Poon

 

Tiffany Poon was accepted into the Juilliard School Pre-College Division on a full scholarship at the tender age of 8; she continued studying with Emanuel Ax and Joseph Kalichstein through the Columbia-Juilliard Exchange Program, and in 2018 she graduated Columbia University with a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy. Now 22, she is mid-way through her first year of studies towards a Master of Music degree at the Yale School of Music under Dean Robert Blocker. (Full bio here)

Evening in Paris

 
The first instrument I chose for myself was the accordion. When I was perhaps 2 years old I was given a toy xylophone which I played incessantly, and I was always keen to get my hands on any other sort of percussion instrument, generally remnants from long discarded music education rhythm bands lying unguarded at the various primary schools I attended.
 

 

Curious and curiouser ...

 

I am only beginning to realise that I grew up hearing terms that were ever so slightly inaccurate. As soon as darkness fell, it was automatically "night". I don't remember ever hearing the word "evening" used by any adult in my sphere. I found it strange that night seemed to shift and appear at different times, especially when we were living abroad and it was rarely night time before I had to go to bed. But I cannot ever remember the use of the word evening outside of literature.

Another example that dates to my youth is that no matter where anyone lived, it was in a "house" and never in an "apartment" unless you were specifically stating that you lived in a row of apartments on such and such street. Even today, sharing a flat, I find myself saying "I have got to clean house" or "Come over to my house and we'll work on it."

If, as a child, I heard the sentence "The Blue family are coming over to our house tonight", that meant the Blues were coming over to the apartment at some unspecified point after darkness fell. No wonder I was a confused child!

My BFF has noticed over the years (admittedly, with some delight) that I sit "in" the floor and never "on" the floor. She once asked precisely how I was accomplishing that feat, and I had absolutely no answer. Even now I tend to say "She is sitting in the floor playing with the cat." Maybe I can get away with saying that is some sort of non-Euclidean geometrical reference to the H P Lovecraft ‘verse? Doesn’t quite work for house and evening, though . . .

I've found these minor distinctions to be an annoyance, and I'm trying (albeit somewhat unsuccessfully) to eradicate them from my vocabulary. I've chosen arbitrary points, as well: evening means 6pm or later, and night doesn't begin until 10pm. Nevertheless, I still find it very easy to say "I'm attending a concert tonight at 7pm" - instead of using the word evening. The word simply doesn't appear to be in the syntax of my brain.

I think I'll go sit in the floor and ponder a bit more . . .

New Mexico Breezes and Candy Floss

 

Today a bank of clouds settled across the mountain tops like layer upon layer of candy floss. A cool, almost chilly breeze blew down from the mountains as the sun drifted behind lazy strips of near transparent clouds.

Although I have never acclimated, nor completely understood people's attraction to the area, it's times such as these that remind me what I would miss should I leave this place. Of course that is still my pre-eminent desire, as the altitude and dry climate extract a painful toll from me each day. However much I wanted my home to be in Northern climes, I realise that is no longer possible. As much as I long for New York City or the north of England or Paris, France, my body yearns for a climate that is warm and moist.

Naturally I shall cope with whatever curveball life bowls my way; ultimately that's our only choice. But my mind continues to wanders to warmer climes and gentle ocean breezes . . .

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