Musical Instruments: The Percussion Family

Bodhran
The traditional Irish drum, the bodhran, is a frequent accompaniment in Irish folk music.

The name ‘percussion’ comes from the Latin ‘percussio/percussus’, indicating beating or striking an object. Percussion instruments have been around longer than any other musical instrument, and are found in pretty much every culture. They can be ‘unpitched’, meaning that they produce a single sound which doesn’t sound like a particular musical note, and ‘pitched’, meaning that they produce notes with an identifiable musical pitch. Continue reading “Musical Instruments: The Percussion Family”

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Local Culture: A Festival of Russian Ballet

Russian Ballet 1.jpg

Recently my Dad gave me a real treat: he took me out to see The Imperial Russian Ballet’s ‘Festival of Russian Ballet’ at the Whanganui Opera House. With the tag-line ‘if you only see one ballet in a lifetime, make it ‘A Festival of Russian Ballet’, they were certainly confident in what they had to offer, and over the course of the three-hour performance they delivered. Continue reading “Local Culture: A Festival of Russian Ballet”

Musical Instruments: The Brass Family

saxophone
The saxophone. Not technically a brass instrument.

Seated up the back right as you look at an orchestra is the brass family. In typical classical fashion, not all instruments in the brass family are made of brass, and not all instruments made of brass are members of the brass family: the term actually refers to instruments which produce sound through the ‘sympathetic vibration’ of the player’s lips against the mouth-piece of a tubular resonator. Thus the digeridoo, which is made of wood, is technically a ‘brass’ instrument, but the saxophone, which produces sound by means of a reed in the mouth-piece, is not a ‘brass’ instrument. Continue reading “Musical Instruments: The Brass Family”

Local Culture: A Whanganui Opera Homecoming featuring Bianca Andrew and David Kelly

Bianca Andrew.jpgThe more time I spend exploring the cultural offerings of Whanganui the more I realise just how much is out there and just how proud our community is of what we have to offer. That pride was in evidence a couple of weeks ago at a fundraising concert for Bianca Andrew, an alumna of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama who originally hails from Wellington and was, during her undergraduate studies in New Zealand, a well-loved part of Whanganui’s annual Opera Week.

Continue reading “Local Culture: A Whanganui Opera Homecoming featuring Bianca Andrew and David Kelly”

Composer Profile: Gilbert and Sullivan

Modern Major General.jpgSo closely linked are the names of William (W. S.) Gilbert (1836-1911) and Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) in the minds of most that I figured there was no point in discussing them separately. But although their professional partnership was incredibly fruitful the two men, who had very different personalities, were never personally close. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Gilbert and Sullivan”

Local Culture: Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Iolanthe’

Iolanthe 1

If Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and 1980s BBC political comedy ‘Yes, Minister’ had a baby, the result might well be something like Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Iolanthe’ (Eye-oh-LAN-thee). It’s a comic opera with a plot which is cheerfully ridiculous and punctuated by musical numbers. Continue reading “Local Culture: Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Iolanthe’”

Ballet on the Sofa: Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’

Rite of Spring 2
The premiere of The Rite of Spring made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Most famous as the ballet that started a riot at its premiere, ‘The Rite of Spring’ features music composed by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) and an original choreography by the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky (1890-1950). It represented a radical departure from both Stravinsky’s previous work and the ‘traditional’ ballet of pirouettes and tutus. In other words, it’s a Modernist work produced slightly too early – it premiered in 1913, at the very end of La Belle Époque – hence the riots. Continue reading “Ballet on the Sofa: Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’”

Treasure Trove: ‘Aslan’s Theme’ by Geoffrey Burgon

This short piece was the theme music for the BBC’s ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ back in the 1980s. I loved the series, and consider it to be superior to the more recent movies because it was far truer to the books and therefore did a far better job of conveying the deeper meaning of Lewis’ works, rather than focussing on the visual appeal of special effects.

Characters from the BBC's The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, 1988
Characters from the BBC’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, 1988

Geoffrey Burgon (1941-2010) was a composer of television and film scores whose best-known works include the scores for Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ and ITVs ‘Brideshead Revisited’. He won BAFTAs for his themes for ‘Longitude’ and the remake of ‘The Forsyte Saga’. He was also a jazz trumpeter, and this was his original intended career. He eschewed the various musical trends of the 20th century in favour of more traditional styles and medieval influences. As a result he was dismissed by critics as ‘commercial’ – and popular with mainstream audiences like eight-year-old me who understood nothing of classical music but liked the pretty, hummable tune which heralded the latest instalment of a favourite show.

Local Culture: The Palmerston North Choral Society performance of Requiems by Mozart and Fauré

20170708_184032Recently the Significant Other treated me to an evening out in Palmerston North where we attended performances of Mozart’s and Fauré’s requiems. In classical music requiem, or more properly Requiem Mass, is a musical setting of the Catholic religious service offered for the souls of the deceased. Originally performed most often in the context of a funeral, the beauty of the music written for these services is such that requiems are often performed, as they were on this occasion, for their artistic value alone. Continue reading “Local Culture: The Palmerston North Choral Society performance of Requiems by Mozart and Fauré”

Musical Instruments: The Woodwind Family

recorder
Was I born in England? Yes I was. In the 1980s? Yes I was. Am I a girl? Yes I am. Therefore I can play the recorder. Am I exaggerating? Only slightly.

The woodwind family is part of a vast and ancient family of wind instruments, all of which are played by blowing air across a hollow pipe or pipes of varying length. The air stream is concentrated in some way, either by being blown at an angle or by having a narrowing or a ‘reed’ positioned inside or just below the mouthpiece. As the name would suggest, once upon a time all the woodwinds were made of wood, although these days many are made of metal or plastic. The only instrument I can play with any degree of competency is a woodwind – the recorder. Continue reading “Musical Instruments: The Woodwind Family”