Friday, July 19, 2013

45 fun sounds to open the mind

You don't even scrape the surface of how many instruments are used in the Western world with this list. I make 2 bets: 1) there is an instrument in this list that you never paid attention to, but your going to love the sound of it. 2) There is a song you're going to like and listen to again. I chose on purpose music written before your generation, because I want you to be surprised by something new to you. Have you ever wondered how come we understand music so well, all of us? How come we know it is sad or joyous?

A as in ACCORDION This has become an almost outdated instrument, along with the harmonica. Jazz and rock killed it, I guess. Observe how the two hands are far apart, push different buttons, and it is not like a piano: you cannot see what you are doing. Yes, there are still jazz musicians who play the accordion, and sometimes they play in a big orchestra like this but in number they dwindle. I used to see them in train stations and in bars, sometimes at the street corner, I have not seen one in decades. Do you like it or does it sound old to you?

B as in BACH

What fascinates people when they listen to Bach classic music? The architecture, the construction of it.
This can be visualized here:
If we simplify the world of music lovers, they can be divided in two main categories of listeners: some are fascinated by the architecture, the harmony. They love Bach, Mozart, but they often also like modern architecture as written by Stravinsky, Carl Orff or Britten
By contrast, some listeners prefer the expression of feelings: they like the opera, Verdi, the romantic music of Beethoven, Wagner and more modern musicians like Mahler and Shostakovich. You want to hear something very romantic? Here comes Perhaps love from John Denver
What is it to you? Are you more tuned to romantic music or very constructed music? The difference is there even in pop music. I never met anybody who liked equally the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Do you prefer mostly rhythm or does the melody make you feel good?



A balalaika is a Russian musical instrument with three strings. It plays a major role in the movie Dr Zhivago (rated PG-13), a romantic story during the Russian Revolution. You can read the main story line on Wikipedia. The film music was composed by Maurice Jarre. Listen to a balalaika, the sound is very different from a guitar.

B as in BANJO Steve Martin, the comic actor is very good at it. You can check that it does not seem to be any easier to learn than guitar. The banjo, like the accordion, has lost some ground. But you can almost smell the wood fire and the barbecue when you listen to it.

B as in BASSOON Do you recognize music instruments? I am not too old to enjoy Peter and the Wolf, see if you can hear the bassoon in the orchestra. I think it is a fun instrument. A nice group of girls playing the bassoon.

C as in CELLO

Classic cellist Yo-Yo Ma in a great group interpretation of Hush little Baby What beautiful smiles! Don't you wish you had a voice like this?

C as in CLARINET This is the most amazing thing. The transformation of a carrot into a musical instrument. You could also make an ocarina.
If you subscribe to his site you can see more extraordinary feast, such as this: or a man playing music with a small bonsai, music with autoparts, wonders and more wonders.
Now do you know if there is sound in Space? Check it out. What is sound anyways?


You would think it is easy, until you see Neil Pearl

F as in FLUTE

G as in Marvin GAYE


George Gershwin (1898-1937) died young from a brain tumor. He could write music in any style or for any mood, and it still had the Gershwin's print.
Or Rhapsody in Blue
observe that orchestras all over the world enjoy playing this.
And do you know Our love is here to stay?
If you ever buy the DVD of an old movie, it should be An American in Paris

G as in GUITAR

Are you too young to know Hotel California?
Would you try the Memories of the Alhambra? The Alhambra is the most celebrated cathedral of Spain, in the town of Grenada.
Musician Django Reinhardt (1910-1953) influenced the way guitar is played today.


If you are not impressed, I don't know what to do.


H as in HARP


The song that made of Elvis Presley (1935 -1977) a singer that changed America. You can find the 1956 recording on YouTube: I get so lonely I could die.


A peace song by British composer John Lennon (1940-1980) created in 1971, at the heart of the Cold war and the Vietnam war. “You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. ” The song has marked a generation, Like all well known pacifists, Jaures, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Lennon was assassinated.


Maybe everybody got suddenly tired of the inherent sadness of rap music; in 1996 this song totally unpretentious but full of good rhythm and good mood went around the world. You can listen to it by the original creators, Los Del Rio.
Latin America is a constant strong influence in the USA and in Europe, but this type of success is unique.
Seize the day and check if you can find Caetano Veloso, the best Brazilian composer. It is an opportunity to learn some Portuguese (you just go on YouTube and type “Veloso translation” or “Veloso English subtitles”.)

M as in MOZART

In the movie The Shawshank Redemption, a prisoner plays Mozart for the whole camp to the great rage of the director. This scene is here:
Listen to this beautiful aria: this is the complaint of a young man discovering love (usually sung by a woman):
All the charm of Mozart's operas disguises some pointed political statements. For instance, the marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni are satires of the aristocracy.

O as in OBOE


I am partial to Offenbach. He lived in France and wrote light music and witty comic pieces. He mocked everything: the aristocrats, eternal love, the military, the Greek Gods in operettas such as Orpheus in the Underworld, The Beautiful Helen, Parisian Life, The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein, La PĂ©richole.
When he got older, Offenbach started working on a beautiful tragedy called The Tales of Hoffmann This is song saying "beautiful night, night of love", it has an irresistible sadness about it.

O as in ORFF

Carl Orff (1895-1982) is the grandfather of rock music. He was a German musician, not the most compassionate or responsible guy you could meet, but his musical ideas were fine. I once met a woman in France who worked for classic records. I mentioned that I had noticed a campaign promoting Orff as a modern rock group. She smiled: she had done that, and it worked well: sales had soared. You might enjoy looking at this video, the contrast between the stiff setting and the rhythm is amusing

P as in Charlie PARKER

In his short life, American saxophonist Charlie Parker (1920-1955) succeeded in changing the history of jazz. You should read the excellent article of Wikipedia on him and listen to him on YouTube,
If you like the sound of saxophone, check also John Coltrane (1926-1967) and Stan Getz (1927-1991). Find out why Getz was called the sound. Listen to his interpretation of a well known song by Kosma: Autumn leaves. It is out of this world.

L as in Leon PARKER


In classic ballet, it is a duet.

P as in PIANO

A very romantic piece played by Krystian Zimerman

P as in PROMS

In Great Britain, proms stand for promenade concerts, a series of classic concerts at low price or free organized every summer. Here is a typical one to enjoy.

Q as in QUEEN

An old British band, very influential. You probably know this tune.

R as in RHYTM

It makes sense, doesn't it, that music started with the rhythm of a beating heart?
Here is Gershwin, one of the greatest American composers, playing I got rhythm.
and watch this extraordinary performance of Halle Berry


M as in MALONE

Gareth Malone is a British choirmaster who goes in unknown towns and derelict suburbs to create fantastic choirs. He makes great choirs with military wives or with prisoners.
He can recruit people in the street and get astonishing results as here
Watch this passage where you can see the emotion of singers listening to themselves for the first time; for some, it is the first feeling of pride they ever had. Look at the people who cry and imagine their lives.


Novelist Joyce Carol Oates said about Bob Dylan's voice that it was “as if sandpaper could sing.”
One of his most famous songs is Like a rolling stone. The lyrics are unpleasant, mocking a middle class lady for falling into misery. But it is not what the listeners remember of the song, they saw themselves rolling into life's uncertainty: With no direction home/ Like a complete unknown/ Like a rolling stone.

S as in SAX

Chris Potter, this thing called love.


S as in SINGLE

Single ladies: A dance song from American mezzo-soprano Beyonce from 2008. You can listen to it on Youtube. It has the same atmosphere, but not the same rhythm as Macarena.

S as in SOLDIER'S tale

A soldier comes back home with a small violin. He meets the devil. The devil wants the small violin but he needs lessons. The soldier accepts; he believes that he will stay with the devil 3 days, but it lasts 3 years. When he goes home, his girlfriend is married and his neighbors don't recognize him. The devil has made him rich.... but there is more trouble ahead.
This is a folk story that inspired Igor Stravinsly to write this delightful orchestral suite with actors, dancers and a small orchestra on the scene.
Look at it on YouTube. There is a short introduction, then a pretty good representation.

S as in SONG

What does your favorite song talk about? Who is talking in the song (a person of faith? A person in love? A patriot?) What is the subject of the song?
Here is a very easy song, and I bet you will have a hard time finding the subject. It is called Swinging on a star and was composed by J. Van Heusen and Johnny Burke. So, what does it talk about?
It is a standard sung by many artists, but my favorite interpretation is from Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello who sing it in the film Hudson Hawk. They use the song to time themselves while committing a robbery. It is a great scene.
So tell me what is the subject of the song?
What a song really says is a good game to play with friends.

S as in prince of SOUL

Who was the prince of soul? Marvin Gaye.


There are plenty of wonderful soundtracks, but three composers who did beat the odds.
1) The forgotten HONEGGER (1892-1955). Listen to Pacific 231, it is fun.
2) The French composer Maurice JARRE (1924-2009) who created brilliant music for the theater before composing for movies such as Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and A Passage to India.
3) John WILLIAMS (b. 1932) who composed for many many films from Jaws to Star Wars and Lincoln.

S as in STORMY weather

Ever heard of the Cotton Club? It was a center for jazz music in Harlem, N.Y. between 1920 and 1940. You can close your eyes, and listen to Stormy Weather, a success of the 1940s, sung by Lena Horne (1917-2010), a good singer, an activist and a beautiful woman.

S as in SWING

T as in TUBA


"Up there with the Gods", as Eric Clapton once said, Wynton Marsalis, here in a very brilliant talk about jazz:
To pass the exams in France, the players used to be hidden behind a screen, to avoid the temptation for the judges to favor their own students. It was said the sound of Maurice André was so special that everybody knew it was him. Here he is in Summertime

V as in VIOLIN

Each artist has a favorite instrument. Look at this discussion about "the best" instrument.
Do you hear the difference? If you don't, check on YouTube Stradivari, Guarneri: there are other examples.

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