Archive for May, 2020

The boy who ran away to play guitar.

It’s a hot summer day in Eastern Spain. The scent of figs fills the air, cicadas buzz. Somewhere a church bell clangs. A few plucked guitar notes can be heard drifting from a shady plaça corner.

Let’s consider the interesting twists and turns in the life of Francisco Tárrega. Perhaps it’s more legend than truth, but the “father of classical guitar” seemed to have followed a fated path in his pursuit of his chosen instrument.

Paul Sieffert The guitar player, 1925 oil on canvas

Even from a young age, Francisco Tárrega knew what he wanted. And more than anything, it was to play the guitar. Let’s imagine him as a small boy, sneaking in to play on his fathers treasured instrument while dad worked as a watchman at the local convent. Or listening avidly while his father played Flamenco. His ear tuned to the chords and notes. It was clear that he had an aptitude for the stringed instrument right from the beginning.

Growing up during the Romantic era, the young Francisco began his adventurous life running away from home. This independent streak resulted in a series of incidents which were to influence his whole life!

Little did he know on that hot summer day as he escaped the clutches of his nanny, what was to follow. Indeed as he ran, the cicadas calling, dust puffing up from his feet, he chanced to look back (at her maybe), and fell into an irrigation canal. His flight to boyhood freedom stalled. Through luck or fate, his future path was cemented.

Tárregas eyes were injured so badly in the fall that his father decided that Francisco was to become a musician. A career in which you didn’t need your eyes. And it was settled. The entire family was uprooted from Tárregas birth town of  Villarreal, schlepped across the river Mijares to Castellón de la Plana, so that he could attend music classes.

Indeed the first two of his music professors were themselves blind. A life’s journey was set in motion. Francisco Tárrega began to learn the piano and guitar.

When he was ten years old, the famous Spanish concert guitarist Julián Arcas heard Tárrega play and recognising his talent, begged his father to allow him to accompany him to Barcelona, so that he could tutor the boy. His father reluctantly agreed.

In Barcelona, Francisco was set to continue his study of both the piano and the guitar, but it wasn’t long before the unwatched youngster had run away a second time. Loose on the streets of Barcelona. He was soon found playing his little guitar in coffee houses and restaurants, and taken back under the wing of his father.

Despite his father’s great sacrifices to set him straight and on the path of formal piano playing, Francisco’s fingers itched to play the guitar, and three years later, ran away for a third time at the mere age of thirteen, joining a group of Gypsies in Valencia where he improved his flamenco skills and perhaps his life skills too.

“Gypsies” Josep Benlliure Gil Canyamelar, Valencia, 1855 –1937

Nevertheless his dogged old Dad came to find him and dragged him home, only for Tárrega to run a fourth and last time! All for the love of guitar! Back to Valencia where by this time his playing had become proficient enough for him to start earning. For a time, he played with other musicians at local engagements to earn money, but eventually he returned home to help his family, who had found themselves in dire financial straits.

Perhaps Tárrega was feeling responsible for his family, or maybe just finally grown up. Whatever the case, he was able to repay his family’s dedication and worked hard playing the piano and guitar in various villages to aid them. By 1874 and at 22 years of age, his luck changed again.

Francisco entered the Madrid conservatory under the sponsorship of a wealthy merchant named Antonio Canesa who had happened upon his playing by chance at a rural casino in the village of Burriano. He brought along with him a recently purchased guitar, made in Seville by Antonio de Torres. Oddly enough it was the self same guitarist Julián Arcas who had encouraged Torres to pursue making guitars as his full time profession. It seems that the guitar was so well made, and it’s sound so suited Tárrega that he rarely played on any other type. This guitar both inspired his music and influenced his style.



At the conservatory, Tárrega studied composition under Emilio Arrieta who convinced him to focus on guitar and abandon the idea of a career with the piano. Despite the current views (and those of his father) that the guitar was only an instrument to accompany singers, and the piano was most popular throughout Europe, Tárrega did not take much convincing. Playing the guitar was something that he had loved since he had been a small child.

Francisco Tárrega

By the late 1870s Tárrega was set up as a professional music teacher and musician and taught (most famous amongst them) Emilio PujolMiguel Llobet, and Daniel Fortea, thus passing on his knowledge and all the while fine tuning his work through rigorous study and practice. Soon he was composing his own music and touring the country, giving regular performances. Even transcribing important piano works into pieces for guitar.

His frequent concerts resulted in the meeting of his future wife as well as one of his most famous compositions, “Lagrima” or The Teardrop, which was written when he was touring in London, miserable and homesick for Spain. Upon returning to his homeland in 1880, he was married and eventually settled in Barcelona, not too far from where he had grown up.

Under the patronage of wealthy widow, Conxa Martinez, Tárrega mellowed. No longer running to pursue his dreams, he relaxed into perfecting his art. His patronage allowed him and his family use of a house in Barcelona rumoured to be somewhere on c/ Gignas, where he would write the bulk of his most popular works. Later Conxa Martinez took him to Granada, where the guitarist conceived the theme for Recuerdos de la Alhambra. Tárrega continued to perform live, but he preferred to stay in his native country.

A few years before his untimely death, Tárrega made an important change in his playing. He cut his nails. To a classical guitarist playing on gut strings, the use of ones nails to pluck out the notes was all important. Used similarly to a plectrum on steel strings, the nails are used to play on Spanish or Classical nylon stringed guitars. No-one is quite sure of the reason for Tárregas choice and there appear to be various opinions, but the fact remains that this changed the style and more importantly, the sound of his playing forever. Callouses built up on his fingertips and with these he continued to play. Tárrega loved this new sound so much that he enforced nail trimming among all his students.

Sadly despite the earliest recordings of guitar documented in the 1900s, there are no recordings of Francisco Tárrega himself playing. His compositions have survived and indeed his genius continues to live on in the fingertips of guitarists the world over. The great Spanish guitarist is fondly remembered by contemporaries and students alike and his work has earned him tremendous acclaim not only in his homeland but also around the world as one of the most formidable musical champions of all time.

 You can find out more about this great guitarist on the following websites:

A last odd but interesting fact: An excerpt of one of Tarregas pieces has been used as part of a Nokia ringtone. Do you recognise it?

Are you interested in learning some of the pieces composed by Tárrega? Take an online guitar lesson with one of our fantastic and talented Spanish guitar teachers! Follow in Tárrega’s footsteps!

20 Bizarre and Interesting Musical Facts

1. In 2016, Mozart sold More CDs than Beyoncé. In October of the same year, the Universal Music Group released a box set commemorating the 225th anniversary of Mozart’s death. Every box set held 200 CDs.   The box has been extremely popular. A New Complete Edition, presenting Mozart’s entire work including every last fragment, in the most authoritative edition ever created. The Edition presents over 240 hours of music, 600 solo performers and ensembles including 60 orchestras and every significant Mozart interpreter of the past 30 years. You can still buy the set on amazon. 2. ‘Mozartkugeln’ are the most popular chocolate brands in Austria. A Mozartkugel in English known as a Mozart ball, is a small, round sweet made of pistachio marzipan and nougat which is then dipped in  dark chocolate. Created in 1890 by Salzburg confectioner Paul Fürst (1856–1941) and named after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. They are still hand-made to this day! 3. Rod Stewart played in the largest free rock concert  According to Guinness World Records, Rod Stewart’s 1993 New Year’s Eve concert on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is the most-attended free concert ever. Around 4.2 million people came down to the beach to see him perform and watch the fireworks at midnight. 4. Finland Has the Most Metal Bands Per Capita Finland, apparently, is home to the most metal bands, with about 53.5 metal bands per 100,000 people. Other Nordic nations Sweden, Norway and Iceland follow closely behind. Even though heavy metal music originated in the United States and the United Kingdom, the genre has taken off in the northern climes. There is even a Finnish Children’s metal group – Hevisaurus, of heavy metal dinosaurs with more than 7 albums under their belt!
5. An Astronaut Released an Album with All Songs the Recorded in Space. A Canadian astronaut named Chris Hadfield released his first album in 2015, which was recorded while he was orbiting space. He became the first Canadian to walk in space, but his cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” also went viral! Hadfield spent 144 days at the International Space Station recording his 11 original songs for his appropriately-titled album, Space Sessions: Songs for a Tin Can.
6. Yuri Gagarin sang from space. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin also apparently famously sang a Shostakovich song, ‘My Homeland Hears’, from space but it was not recorded. This make it the first song in space!
7. Music Helps Plants Grow Faster. According to a study by scientists from South Korea, plants grow at a faster pace when they are played classical music. Using 14 different pieces of music, the scientists played music to a rice field and studied the results.  Findings were that the music helped the crops grow and even suggested evidence that plants could “hear”.  We suggest practicing your instrument in your veggie garden!
8. None of The Beatles Could Write or Read Music. Paul McCartney finally admitted  that neither he nor any of his Beatles bandmates were able to read or write music during a 2018 interview. McCartney said that the music just came to him and his bandmates John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison, and it was never written down. We can only  “imagine” what they may have written if they had had some musical training!
9. The Most Expensive Musical Instrument Sold for $15.9 Million. In 2011, the “Lady Blunt” Stradivarius violin sold for $15.9 million, making a world record. In fact the value of violins jumps every year, so hold onto your vintage instrument, it could become your retirement plan!
10. A single violin is made from over 70 individual pieces of wood. The violin, sometimes known as a fiddle, is a wooden string instrument in the violin family. Most violins have a hollow wooden body, and are mostly glued together. To this day, instruments from the so-called Golden Age of violin making, especially those made by Stradivari (like the one mentioned above), Guarneri del Gesù and Montagnana are the most sought-after instruments by both collectors and performers. Perhaps you would like to try and build your own? 
11. Musical Education Leads to Better Exam Scores. Studying music is an actual workout for your brain. Learning an instrument has been proven to help students in myriad ways from mastery of memorisation, pattern recognition and emotional development. Students who have experience with music performance or taking music appreciation courses score higher on the SAT(Scholastic Aptitude Test). A report indicated that they score, on average, 63 points higher on verbal and 44 points higher on math. You can start your musical journey with us!
12. Michael Jackson once tried to Buy Marvel Comics. MJ was a huge Spider-Man fan and wanted to play the role in a movie.  He attempted to buy Marvel Comics—the company that created the character and owns the rights to Spider-Man—so he could make it happenStan Lee, Marvel’s chairman up until his death in 2018, has recalled this story in an interview. Lee said that he thought Jackson would’ve made a good Spider-Man but felt that Jackson was not a very good businessman, and Marvel may not have been as successful under his helm.
13. The World’s Longest Running Performance Will End in the 27th Century.639-year performance based on eccentric composer John Cage’s “As Slow as Possible” (ASLSP) started in September 2001 and is still playing at St. Buchard Church in Germany. The performance by an automated organ plays so slowly that visitors have to wait months for a chord change, and is scheduled to end in 2640. The performance is so slow that the organ it’s played on was not even completed before the concert began. Additional pipes were added before the notes and chords changed. A generation of musicians will need to keep the organ going!
14. Prince Played 27 Instruments on His Debut Album. Prince’s first album For You was released when he was just 20 years old. Included in the album’s notes, he’s listed as the musician behind all vocals, as well as (get ready!) electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, bass synth, singing bass, Fuzz bass, electric piano, acoustic piano, mini-Moog, poly-Moog, Arp string ensemble, Arp Pro Soloist, Oberheim four-voice, clavinet, drums, syndrums, water drums, slapsticks, bongos, congas, finger cymbals, wind chimes, orchestral bells, woodblocks, brush trap, tree bell, hand claps, and finger snaps. Prince is said to have played every single instrument: 27 in all.
15. Haydn has two skulls! There are two skulls in the musician Haydn’s tomb. One real and one fake! His head was stolen by phrenologists and a replacement skull was put in his tomb. In 1954, the real skull was restored but the substitute was also left behind! Two heads are better than one! 16. Risotto inspired Rossini. The composer wrote the aria ‘Di tanti palpiti’ while waiting for some risotto to cook in Venice. Besides this Rossini wrote many pieces inspired by gastronomy, and has had many dishes named after him including Cannelloni which is popular in Barcelona. Apparently he had a thing for “truffles”. 17. Titanic almost sank with the London Symphony Orchestra. The London Symphony Orchestra was booked to travel on the Titanic’s maiden voyage, but they changed boats at the last minute. The band of Titanic is one of the most mysterious and legendary tales that comes from the ill-fated ocean liner. Titanic’s eight-member band was led by Wallace Hartley, and upon panic of the passengers during Titanic’s sinking, assembled in the first-class lounge to play in an effort to keep everyone calm. 18. Dogfish skin was often used in the 18th century to sand violins.  Dogfish are a family of sharks. Dogfish sharks make up the second largest order of sharks at 119 species. They have two dorsal fins, and their skin is generally rough to the touch, hence being used to sand the wood of violins. They are found in coastal waters and classified in the IUCN Red List of threatened species as Vulnerable globally and Critically endangered in the Northeast Atlantic, meaning stocks around Europe have decreased by at least 95%! 19. Renaissance composer Orlando de Lassus was kidnapped many times as a boy because of his beautiful singing voice. Orlando de Lassus was a composer of the late Renaissance, chief representative of the polyphonic style of the Franco-Flemish school, and considered to be one of the three most famous and influential musicians in Europe at the end of the 16th century. Legend has it that he also sang really well! 20. Domenico Scarlatti composed his ‘cat fugue’ after his cat, Pulcinella, walked across his keyboard. Sources: https://bestlifeonline.com/music-facts/ https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/latest/incredible-facts/haydns-skull/

Introduction to Banjo

The banjo, a musical instrument of 4, 5, 6 or even 10 strings, is made up of a wooden ring about 35cm in diameter and covered by a patch that can be made of plastic (in its modern style) or leather (in its traditional version) ). Its sound is one of the most unmistakable and characteristic that exists.

The banjo was developed in the United States during the 19th century. Reminiscent of various instruments from Africa, the banjo developed into what we recognise today in the plantations of the American south and across the Caribbean, and even become an emblematic symbol of slavery. Although it was the African-American musicians who explored and played all its rhythmic possibilities, the banjo was created in a blended culture and it quickly became a characteristic instrument of American music.

During the 1800s and the booming plantation era of the Antebellum South, the instrument slowly filtered through the population. It became a widely used instrument in rural America. Grotesque representations of African culture sprang up during what has been labeled the “minstrel” era, where skits and songs performed by white musicians in “black face” popularised banjo playing.  So much so that there was even a “banjo craze” during the 1860s. Many of the white performers creating the minstrels shows were Irish and in turn this is how the banjo also became a characteristic instrument of Irish music. After some time, the banjo lost its “raunchy” associations with the minstrel shows, and the style of playing changed somewhat too.

The banjo has a fascinating history in America, you can read more about it on Wikipedia or online.

In many parts of Africa there are very similar instruments, from their construction to their sound.

The original, or first, version of the banjo has an opening at the rear (openback). In the 20th century, the design of the instrument was renewed with a wooden resonator that serves as a closure. The latter was called the bluegrass banjo, with greater volume and resonance than its first version.

A beautiful traditional banjo musician is Doc Watson playing “The Cuckoo bird”:

Currently, both types are still in force and choosing one or the other depends on the musical style being performed. Also today we can find a great variety of different instruments that were created from the original banjo, varying the length of the neck, the number of strings, and combining it with other instruments.

In 1890 the banjo became the leading musical instrument in traditional American music. In both country music and jazz, the banjo is the characteristic instrument. Even the Charleston and the Foxtrot use this instrument in some special variants.

The modern banjo has a variety of shapes in four or five string versions (also a six-string version, tuned and played just like a guitar!). The banjo is usually played with a quick strum, however it is also possible to find many styles.

If you are interested in how the modern banjo is played and sounds, don’t miss this video of The Dead South doing “In Hell I’ll be in good company”:

Its tuning is with friction pins or gears. Its strings are currently usually metallic creating those typical twanging notes, while those who prefer more melodious or traditional sounds choose nylon or leather strings.

Bill Keith, a five-string banjo player, made one of the greatest contributions to the stylistic development of the instrument. By varying other styles, he created what would later become known as the melodic or Keith style.

Here is a video of Bill Keith playing “Caravan”:

If you are interested in learning to play the banjo you can take classes with excellent teachers.
You can contact us to coordinate a first free trial class!

And if you have some tools at home, you can be encouraged to create your own banjo and experience its sound for yourself.

Here we leave you a link that guides you step by step to do it:
https://es.wikihow.com/hacer-un-banjo

 

A conversation with Cesar Munera

César Munera teaches Flamenco, Classical, and Contemporary Guitar (covering both Jazz and Blues, Rock, and Pop) at the Shine School of Music. We asked him some questions:

What was the first thing that sparked your interest in music?

Since I was little I used to watch my Father play the guitar and I started from there.

Who inspired you to make music?

My inspiration began with The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Michael Jackson, Queen, and Pink Floyd.

How would you describe the music you normally play?

Well, I have been fortunate to study various styles, Classical, Flamenco, Blues and now what I play the most is Fingerstyle or fingerpicking which covers many genres, especially Ragtime, Country and Jazz.

What is your creative process like?

My creative process begins with listening to a lot of music, in addition to choosing the musical pieces that I like and from there I start to create, it also depends a lot on the environment I am in.

If you could choose to collaborate with any musician, who would it be with?

Well I would like to collaborate with many musicians.

If you could choose to open the show of any musician, whose would it be?

With my band it would be great to open for Radiohead and as a soloist I would like to open for Tommy Emmanuel.

Do you sing in the shower? What songs?

I hardly ever sing in the shower

Which of your concerts have you enjoyed the most and why?

When I played the Aranjuez concert, because it was amazing to experience the orchestra, I felt like I was on another planet.

Where would you like to do a concert?

At the Liceu and in one of the great theaters in New York.

What famous musicians do you admire?

Tommy Emmanuel, Robben Ford, Buddy Guy, John Mayer, Gary Clark jr, Joe Robinson, and I could go on …

What has been the best advice you have been given?

Hmm, I’ve received a lot of good advice, I think the one I like the most is to not compare myself to anyone and express what I have.

How do you think the internet has impacted the music industry?

Internet is a good tool, the sad thing is that almost nobody buys the discs anymore, they download everything or listen to it over the Internet.

If you could change something about the industry what would it be?

I don’t want to answer this question, because maybe I would say a lot of ugly things hahaha …

What would you be doing right now if we weren’t in confinement?

I would be planning a trip for this weekend which is my birthday 😁

Take a class with Cesar online and be sure to follow him on Instagram, where he often shares his music and videos.

Sound Experiments for kids

Exploring the science of sound with kids is both interesting and fun! So what is sound?

Sound is a vibration that grows as an acoustic wave, through a medium like gas, liquid or solid. We interpret these vibrations and waves via our ears and brains. Only acoustic waves that have frequencies lying between about 20 Hz and 20 kHz can be heard by humans. Sound waves above 20 kHz are known as ultrasound and are not audible to humans. Sound waves below 20 Hz are known as infrasound. Different animal species have varying hearing ranges.

Sound waves travel into our ear canals until they reach the eardrum. The eardrum passes the acoustic vibrations through the middle ear bones and into the inner ear. The inner ear is shaped like a tiny snail and called the cochlea. Inside the cochlea, there are thousands of tiny cells that look like little hairs. These cells change the vibrations into electrical signals that are sent into our brains through the hearing nerve. The brain tells you that you are hearing a sound and what that sound is.(source)

With the following fun experiments you can demonstrate sound and experiment with music!

Xylophone Water Glasses

Musical instruments are so much fun to make! We made a few in an older post which you can find here.

This sound activity shows how different amounts of water in containers change the pitch of the sound created.

Supplies Needed:

  • 4 empty glasses
  • Water
  • Wooden spoon

What to Do:

1. Fill each glass with varying amounts of water.

2. Add a few drops of food coloring to each glass to give it a fun twist.

3. Using the spoon,  tap the outside or top of each glass. What sounds are being made? Which glasses have the highest or lowest pitch?

Play around with the water levels in each glass and experiment with pitch! You can even add more glasses and try to create your own songs. Try simple songs like “Twinkle, twinkle little star.”

Listen to Sounds Travel Underwater

Sound travels well through air, but it travels even better through water! This easy sound experiment is best outside on a terrace or balcony, or even perhaps in the bath. The best of course is if you can do it underwater in a pool or a beach.

Supplies Needed:

  • A bucket filled with water
  • A large plastic water or soda bottle
  • At least 2 kitchen knives/spoons
  • Scissors or sharp knife to cut the bottle

What to Do:

1. After filling the bucket with water, take a sharp knife or kitchen scissors and cut off the bottom of the plastic water bottle. Take the cap is off of the bottle.

2. Instruct your child to place the bottle in the water so that the cut bottom is in the water. Your child will then put his or her ear to the top of the bottle to listen.

3. Using the kitchen knives, clang them together to make a sound, but do this in the bucket of water as your child is listening. What does your child hear?

Your child has probably noticed that the sound of the clanging is loud and clear. Sound travels faster through water than in the air, and animals that live underwater are able to hear sound clearly. Whales and dolphins are well known to make sounds and communicate underwater. In fact you can hear whale sounds several kilometers away.

Whales can also emit low frequency sound waves which we cannot hear. These sound waves can travel very far in water without losing energy. Researchers believe that some of these low frequency sounds can travel more than 16,000 km in some levels of the ocean! Imagine being able to hear noises coming from that far away!

If you go to the beach this summer or are in a pool, try diving under the water and having someone make noise underwater. It’s interesting to use your sense of hearing in this way.

In some spas, they even play relaxing music in the pool water using underwater microphones. You can float with your ears submerged and listen to the music.

Paper Cup Classic

Supplies Needed:

  • 2 paper cups
  • Long string, like fishing line, kite string
  • A sharp pencil or needle to poke holes in the cups
  • Scissors

What to Do:

1. Start by cutting a long piece of string of at least 10 meters.

2. Poke a small hole at the bottom of each cup.

3. Using each end of the string, thread it through the bottoms of the cups, tying a large knot so that the string does not fall out of the cup. If you make the holes too large, use a washer or paper clip to hold the string in place so that it does not pull out of the cup.

4. Now stand further enough apart so that the string stretches taught between you. Be sure that the string does not touch any other object and that it remains suspended in air as you complete the experiment.

5. Taking turns, talk into the cup, while the other person listens by putting the cup to their ear. Tell your child to repeat what he or she hears after you have spoken and do the same in return!

After the experiment, explain to your child what is happening: sound waves created by talking through the cup travel through the line to the other end, converting back to sound on the opposite side!

source for the experiments, find more here: https://www.kidsacademy.mobi/storytime/sound-science-experiments/

Ernst Florens Friedrich Chladni was a German physicist and musician. Labeled the father of acoustics, he is renowned for his research on vibrating plates and the calculation of the speed of sound for different gases. (wikipedia)

Chladni used metal plate covered in sand which he vibrated with a violin bow, and saw how the sand created various patterns depending on the kind of vibration.

Make your own Chladni Vibration Plate!

Supplies Needed:

  • A bowl or tub
  • plastic wrap or wax paper
  • an elastic band or sticky tape
  • salt
  • a mini portable bluetooth or wireless speaker

What to Do:

  1. Turn your speaker on and place it inside the bowl. Your bowl needs to be big enough that the speaker sits inside.
  2. Cover the top of the bowl with your plastic wrap or wax paper, making sure that it is taught and stretched evenly across without any wrinkles. Hold it in place with the elastic band or some pieces of sticking tape.
  3. Sprinkle some salt onto the top.
  4. Choose a song with a lot of bass or use the following video to play on the speaker in the bowl.

Watch to see what happens! Your child should be delighted at the way the salt dances on top of the bowl when the bass vibrates the plastic or wax covering.

Don’t forget, we rent instruments and offer online music lessons! Contact us!