Happy Birthday, Bach!

It’s J. S. Bach’s 330th birthday today! In honour of his–wait a minute. Doesn’t this sound a bit familiar?

Bach’s birthday technically can fall on two different dates, depending on how you look at it. At the time of his birth, Europe was in the middle of making a switch from one way of marking the years (the Julian calendar, put into place by Julius Caesar) to another, more accurate one (the Gregorian calendar, put into place by Pope Gregory XIII). Though the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582, it took a long time for it to be adopted throughout the world. In fact, the last country to make the switch was Turkey, in 1927!

So, if you go by the Julian calendar, Bach’s birthday is on March 21. If you go by the Gregorian calendar, his birthday is today, March 31. Pretty lucky of him to have two birthdays, eh?

As for music to honour his birthday (again!), here’s the final movement of Bach’s Sonata in B minor for flute or recorder and harpsichord, Presto. This version uses flute, but there are also recorder versions available on Youtube for anyone who’s curious.


Musical Birds and Beasts!

I’m lucky enough to share my apartment and studio with my cat, Callie:


Here’s Callie hanging out in my old studio on PEI.

Callie is a big fan of the piano and will often jump up on the bench to listen to me (and my cat fan students) play. She’s less fond of the flute–she meows when I play too high–and she doesn’t like the recorder. If I’m sitting down while practicing, she’ll jump into my lap and nip at my hands to try to get me to stop!

She’s not the only musical creature around, though: A while back I found a video of a young violinist and her bird friend. Playing the violin is challenging enough–performing while making sure to keep your bow steady enough so your friend doesn’t fall off takes real skill!

Clara Schumann

History Hunt: Clara Josephine Schumann

Those of you who have studied music history might be saying to yourselves at this point, “Hey, wait a minute! Lots of classical musicians have heard of Clara Schumann! Why are you talking about her in your History Hunt series?”

That’s an excellent question, and you’re right. Out of the many female composers of history, Clara Schumann is one of the lucky ones who isn’t forgotten or ignored. But the way she’s talked about…now that’s a problem.

The image at the top of the post is from a poster of Classical and Romantic-era composers that a very well-meaning friend gave to me a few years ago. The poster features twelve composers: eleven men and one woman. All of the composers are white (though there remains some debate about Beethoven’s origins). What’s written about Clara Schumann is below:

Clara Wieck Schumann
A talented concert pianist and composer

Performed piano music by her husband, Robert, their friend Johannes Brahms, Chopin, and others

What’s wrong with this picture (and many of her biographies)? It doesn’t talk about her! It talks about the music other people–all men–wrote, not her own compositions! It doesn’t say anything about her bravery in putting on concerts when many people tried to discourage women from playing outside their homes! And so that’s why Clara Schumann is getting her own History Hunt post today.

Clara Josephine Schumann was born Clara Wieck on September 13, 1819 in Germany. Both her parents were musicians–her mother was a famous singer and her father was a respected piano teacher.


Germany: Birthplace of Clara Schumann

Her first piano teacher was her father. She began lessons when she was five, and by the time she was eleven, she was considered a prodigy like Maria Anna Mozart had been 70 years earlier. She travelled throughout Germany and Austria and to Paris, giving concerts and impressing many. By the time she was eighteen, she had received high praise from Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt, and Henri Herz, had a poem written in honour of her performance of Beethoven’s Appassionata, received an autographed copy of a composition by famous composer Franz Schubert, and was given the highest honour available to Austrian visitors, receiving the title Königliche und Kaiserliche Kammervirtuosin (“Royal and Imperial Chamber Virtuoso”). Now that’s a lot of accomplishment in a short period of time!

Not only was she a brilliant performer, but Schumann also changed forever the way other performers played the piano. She was one of the first pianists to perform by memory, starting when she was thirteen–in her days, most performers, even adults, brought their music onstage. She also changed what was expected at a typical piano recital, from difficult technical pieces arranged from operas to pieces from famous composers.

On top of her performing, Schumann was also a respected piano teacher. According to The Famous People, “she made immense contribution towards the improvement of modern piano playing technique.” Her ideas about teaching were carried not only to England but to the famous Julliard School, one of the best music schools in the world.

And, last but definitely not least, Schumann was a composer! She began writing music when she was young; she started writing her Piano Concerto in A Minor when she was fourteen and performed it when she was sixteen. Unfortunately, while Schumann loved composing, women of her time period were not “supposed” to be composers. Eventually, she all but stopped. Without any way to hear about the long history of brilliant composing women, she came to believe what she had been told–that women were no good at composing. If she had lived in a different time, with better access to examples from history, I can only imagine how many more great works she would have created.

That said, nothing could discourage Schumann from performing. She gave her last public performance when she was 71. At the 50th anniversary of Schumann’s performing career, held at the site of her first solo concert, the concert hall was decorated oak leaves and wreaths of green and gold. When she stepped onstage, the audience threw flowers at her feet. That’s exactly the sort of recognition she–and other brilliant female performers and composers–deserved.

To listen to the first movement of her Piano Concerto in A Minor (Op. 7), check out the video below:

If you’re enjoying the History Hunt series, why not drop me a tip or subscribe to me at Patreon? History Hunt will always be free–this is just an option for my readers to show their appreciation.

To Learn More (sources):
Clara Schumann at Music Academy Online
Clara Wieck Schumann at The Famous People
Clara Schumann on Wikipedia
Music of the Classical and Romantic Periods (my poster!)

A Different Kind of Birdsong

Today in “Music Can Be Found In Many Places,” I bring you…musical birds!

Given this “staff” has six lines instead of the usual five, I think a few liberties with the notes were taken. But when the result is such a catchy and creative tune, I’m hardly about to complain!

Next time I’m out on a walk, I should really take my camera and see what kind of bird music I can find…!

Happy Birthday, Bach!

It’s J. S. Bach’s 330th birthday today! In honour of his birthday, I thought I’d share the first movement of his Partita in A minor (BWV 1013). This is one of the pieces I performed when I was doing my Bachelor of Music Education.

I remember enjoying the piece as I learned it except for one thing: it seemed to me at the time that Bach didn’t know flute players need to breathe!

If you’d like to hear the full work, you can listen to all four movements in one video below:

Happy Saturday, everyone!

Tony Jackson

History Hunt: Tony Jackson

For this week’s History Hunt, I’m featuring another brilliant African-American musician and composer from the early 1900s: Tony Jackson!

Antonio Junius Jackson was born on October 25, 1882 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He loved music right from the beginning of his life, but unfortunately, his family was too poor to afford a piano. So what did he do? He built a harpsichord (a relative of the piano) out of junk he found lying around when he was only ten years old! It wasn’t pretty, but it was in tune, and once he finished it, he started playing the hymns he heard at church. As soon as his neighbours found out about this incredible feat, they offered him use of their pianos and organs, and from there, Jackson was on his way to being a star.

He started working as a musician at age thirteen; by the time he was fifteen, he was considered one of the best pianists in New Orleans. When he got a little older still, he was then considered the best. He also sang beautifully and could even dance while playing the piano! It was considered impossible to make a request for a song that Jackson didn’t know, whether it was for pop or blues or classical music.

One of my all-time favourite quotes about music is actually about Tony Jackson. Whenever he walked into a room while someone else was playing the piano, apparently people would say “Get up from that piano. You hurting its feelings. Let Tony play.” High praise for Jackson indeed (although not that nice for whoever was playing the piano before him)!

However, in spite of his tremendous success, Jackson didn’t stay in New Orleans. He was gay, and though it was not a safe time to be anything but straight, he refused to hide who he was. Later in his life, he moved to Chicago, where people were more willing to look the other way, even if there was still serious prejudice.

Unfortunately, there are no recordings of Jackson playing the piano or singing, so all we can do is imagine his genius. But his compositions still survive, including “Pretty Baby,” which was a hit in 1916. And in 2011, he was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, being recognised for his influence as a performer, a composer, and a mentor to important figures in jazz history.

To listen to “Pretty Baby” as sung by Billy Murray (in an original 1916 recording!), check out the video below.

If you’re enjoying the History Hunt series, why not drop me a tip or subscribe to me at Patreon? History Hunt will always be free–this is just an option for my readers to show their appreciation.

To Learn More (sources):
Tony Jackson at All About Jazz
Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya: The Story of Jazz as Told by the Men who Made it by Nat Shapiro on Google Books (Note: References to mature content are made in the excerpt. Outdated and offensive language for the Romani people is also used.)
“2011 Chicago G/L Hall of Fame to induct 11 people, 4 groups” on Windy City Media Group
Tony Jackson (pianist) at Wikipedia

Maria Ramey playing a double contrabass flute

A Flute of Epic Proportions

Hearing about a really awesome upcoming flute concert via the Canadian Flute Association when I was looking after my studio’s Facebook page reminded me that today I wanted to share a bit about a very different sort of flute. The double contrabass flute (pictured above) is the most massive member of the flute family–it stands eight feet tall and uses just over eighteen feet of tubing! So much for flutes being portable!

Listen to the double contrabass flute (and the slightly smaller subcontrabass flute) being played in the video below.

Do you know the song she demonstrates on the double contrabass flute? Tell me the answer in the comments!