3/23/18: Springtime and snowstorms and saxophones

I wrote this two days ago during the snowstorm, and didn’t have a chance to post it until now.

It’s snowing out, which turns out to have been the phrase of the month up here in the Northeast. We’re on our fourth nor’easter of March, a time when crocuses and daffodils and little baby ducks usually show up and dot the landscape with color and love.

And that is happening, between snowstorms. I saw some crocuses the other day, as well as some petunias and daffodil shoots. The little baby ducks probably won’t show for a few weeks anyway, and all of this will probably be gone in a couple of days.

And until then, the snow really is lovely.

So in honor of things that are not what they were designed to be, but that are beautiful anyway, here are a couple of Vivaldi tunes performed on other instruments. First up, it’s L’ ensemble de saxophones de Strasbourg with the first movement of “Winter.”

Hearing a piece of music performed on an instrument it was not written for can be really enlightening. It often brings the piece to a whole new place that not even the composer dreamed of.

To me, this version does that. The performances are wonderful, and hearing this familiar music played by wind instruments brought out counter-melodies and rhythms I hadn’t paid attention to before.


And here’s the first movement of “Spring,” performed on 4 pianos by Yuja Wang, Emanuel Ax, Nelson Goerner and Julien Quentin.

Likewise, this cover version brings out aspects of the piece that I really hadn’t thought about previously. Again, a lot of that involves rhythms. Harmonies and counter-melodies really pop out in this version. It’s an enjoyable listen, but I think there’s a warmth to the original string version that is missing when the piece is performed on keyboards.



Image by Elizabeth Walsh


Golden Oldies

Have you read the book “Jane Eyre?” It’s one of my all-time favorites. I think I read it for the first time in junior high school, and even now I go back to it every few years. I do it because it’s a great story, and because I get something new out of it every time. As I grow older and change, I notice different things about the story and view the characters and events in a different light.

Music is like that, too. We all know about those musical numbers that have been played so often, you can’t stand them any more. Like “Stairway to Heaven.” Or “Born in the U.S.A.” Or “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

As I may have mentioned one or two or a hundred times on this blog, I’m a big Rolling Stones fan. I can listen to songs like “Honky Tonk Woman” or “Shattered” over and over again, but I realize that for a lot of people that would be torture. The Stones’ hits have been played so often, in so many environments from radio to stadium events, that we all know them backwards and forwards.

But I argue that it’s worth revisiting these old chestnuts from time to time. I think that if you can get beyond having heard them so often, you’ll always discover something new.

I have a Bach channel on Pandora, and it frequently plays something from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” Now music from this piece has appeared in movies and TV ads and it’s on classical radio all the time; it’s kind of the “Stairway to Heaven” of classical music. But still.

Yesterday I was listening to “Fall,” and the Adagio movement came on. I literally stopped in my tracks to listen. It’s just so beautiful. It feeds your soul.



It’s always great to discover new music; that’s one of the reasons I started this blog. But the old classics can continue to give joy, whether it’s the first or fiftieth time you hear them.

4/23/17: Rain and Sun and Led Zeppelin IV

Up here in the Northeast, April can feel like November. But not as bad.

The difference is what’s coming next. Flowers are already out now, and the trees are blooming. Springtime and sunshine and all that happy stuff are on their way, and nothing can stop it. No even a gloomy cold thundercloud day.

We just had one of those days; rainy and cold and grey and Novembery. So I made tuna casserole with my super-secret ingredient* and put on Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. And I heard this, the second movement of the first Brandenburg (as opposed to the first movement of the second )


And I thought, what a great piece of music for a gloomy cold rainy night in any month.


April being what it is, the next morning was sunny and warm and perfect. And this came on my iPod Shuffle and I thought, what a great piece of music for a perfect spring day:

The universe is providing me with a soundtrack.




Image by Elizabeth Walsh (copyright 2013)

12/16/16: Sharing feelings with Beethoven

It’s Beethoven’s birthday – Ludwig Van was born on December 16, 1770.

Honestly, if you’re going to listen to this, which is the last movement of Beethoven’s 9th (and last) symphony, let’s do it right. Slap on some headphones, crank up the sound, and listen to the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. If they give you trouble at work, just tell them the lady in the blog said you could.

In terms of Western classical music, there is before Beethoven and after Beethoven. And those are very different things.

Beforehand, in the Classical era, there were very specific formulas to how a particular piece of music should be written. Mozart worked within these formulas to create sublime works. Beethoven expanded these formulas and reinterpreted them to foreshadow a more modern, free expression of music.

After Beethoven, as you move into the Romantic era, you hear composers take much more liberty with music forms. Check out Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique,” for example. Or anything Schumann wrote.

To me, Beethoven seems to have the ability to express a wide rage of emotions musically, more so than many other composers. He can harness the delicacy of a couple of flutes as well as the big macho power of a full concert orchestra.

I’m more of a fan of chamber music in general, and Beethoven’s string quartets are fantastic.

Again, he is an expert at expressing emotion musically. And not the simple emotions like joy or sadness; I hear regret, yearning, hope, all the complicated ones.


Even laughter through tears.

10/24/16: Monday Funday Dance Party!

I sometimes work as a dance class accompanist, and have spent a certain amount of time hanging around ballerinas.

First of all, I want to point out how much respect I have gained for dancers through this job. Dance requires the strength and coordination of an athlete, extraordinary self-control, and dedication to the craft. If you don’t believe me, go take a class. You will be lying on the floor weeping in pain within the first eight minutes. I know I would.

It also appear that everyone who studies western classical dance for a while will have to learn some version of “Four Little Swans,” from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.”


I was goofing around on the piano one day between classes, and began to play the music to this. Immediately, a row of dance teachers came through the door in perfect formation. I laughed so hard I had to stop playing.

Ballet Fun Fact: The technical term for four people dancing together is “pas de quatre.” 

Here’s an interesting interpretation of the piece. The swans have become frogs, and the choreography reflects that. It’s a lot of fun.


Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Brahms Festival 2016

I adore Brahms, and if I had the cash I’d be on a plane out to Detroit right now!

Thanks to Rich Brown of Good Music Speaks for turning us on to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s ongoing celebration of Brahm’s life & works. They’re doing all four symphonies, a Berio arrangement of Brahm’s Sonata for Clarinet and Orchestra (I had no idea that existed!), and even a beard contest. But trust me – that’ll be a tough one.

There’s even a beard competition, but trust me – it’s gonna be a tough one.

Here’s more info:

Source: Brahms Festival 2016

Photo courtesy of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (UK), via Creative Commons.

October 30, 2015

I don’t usually listen to Franz Liszt (liszten?), but the other day I went ahead and decided what the heck.

There’s just something about piano music of this era, around the mid-nineteenth century. People like Liszt and Chopin were taking piano to entirely new realms. Tonalities began to blur, Debussy would soon be exploring Asian musical scales, and a young Schoenberg was a few decades away from introducing the radical new concept of serialism (or as some call it, Ruining It for Everyone).

Here’s another one. It’s like listening to diamonds.

Apparently, he was a big hit with the ladies, during his day job as a concert pianist. Here’s an entirely correct historical re-enactment of one of his many triumphant concerts.

Chopin was less the rock star, but in my opinion the more interesting composer.He can do those big sweeping runs Liszt does, but adds rhythmic and melodic interest. They both do fantastic things with harmonic structure.

I used to play this one in high school.

Playing it always put me in a beautiful, elegant, peaceful space. Maybe time to get the music out again?

August 8, 2015

Mornings are tough, no matter what.

I only work part-time, and I don’t have to be there until 10:00 AM. But I still have to get up at 7:15 so I have enough time to painfully peel my eyes open with coffee and scandalous news stories.

For almost seven years, I had a job that required me to get up at 4:15. AM. Oh my god, it was awful. I loved the job, but that morning alarm was a dreadful thing.

I had three alarms set: my cell phone, a regular old radio/alarm clock, and a travel alarm that ran on batteries, in case there was a blackout (which there was, in 2003).

Along with the coffee and the cold showers, music’s a big help for me in the early early mornings, no matter what time that turns out to be.

Fugazi: “Five Corporations”

I love Fugazi. They have stayed consistently interesting throughout so many albums. Listening to them is always time well spent.

Staple Singers: “We’ve Got to Get Ourselves Together”

This song is just so inspiring, whatever time of day it is. So is the Fugazi track. These are both pretty idealistic songs, and the idea that I’m doing this daily routine for a larger purpose can often motivate me to brush those teeth and get out the door.

And for those mornings when only the smell of napalm will do:

Richard Wagner: “Flight of the Valkyries”

July 28, 2015

This was playing in the drugstore today.

Back when I was learning to play guitar, “House at Pooh Corner” was one of the first songs I learned.

This is Loggins and Messina, but the song was originally done by the Nitty Gritty Dirt band back in 1970. It was okay to be earnest and sincere back then.

Speaking of acoustic guitar music, sincere or not, I love it. One of my favorites is Leo Kottke:

This is from the album “6-And 12-String Guitar.” I used to have it on cassette.

Eliot Fisk isn’t so bad either:

This music was actually originally written for violin, but Fisk’s guitar version is just amazing. Damn, I wish I could play like that.