Archive for the ‘Personal Memoir’ Category

The Grateful Dead, Scarlet Begonias and Grosvenor Square

Wedding party in front of September 11th Memorial

Wedding portraits are taken in front of the September 11 Memorial in Grosvenor Square. An inscription on the memorial reads, "Grief is the price we pay for love."

The lyrics of the Grateful Dead are often ambiguous and open to interpretation. However, Robert Hunter’s poetry in the song Scarlet Begonias is fairly easy to interpret. The songs first stanza begins with “As I was walking ‘Round Grosvenor Square, Not a chill to the wind but a nip to the air.” I had always wondered just where exactly Grosvenor Square was. I always imagined it to be somewhere in San Francisco or some other United States Location. By Saint of Circumstance I discovered its geographic location while traveling from The Handel House to Hyde Park in London, England.

After a long day on our feet we decided that a rest was in order. So we looked for a public park to take a break. Low and behold, the closest park just so happened to be Grosvenor Square. Upon our arrival, much to our disbelief, we discovered Grosvenor Square is actually a hot spot for wedding photography.

Bike Rider on FDR sculpture in Grosvenors Square

A freestyle bike rider performs stunts at the base of a statue of former Hyde Park, New York, resident Franklin Delano Roosevelt in London's Grosvenor Square

Those suffering from the U.S. Blues will find themselves right at home in Grosevenor Square. The park has been the site of The United States’ military headquarters and Embassy since World War II. As a result there are monuments to Franklin D. Roosevelt,  and Dwight D. Eisenhower along with a memorial to the September 11th attacks on New York.

Dwight D. Eisenhower Sculpture infront of U.S. Embassy

Sculpture of West Point Graduate, Dwight D. Eisenhower in front of the U.S. Embassy in London's Grosvenor Square

Robert Hunter, The Grateful Dead’s lyricist, most likely became familiar with Grosvenors Square on the Europe ’72 tour. The Dead finished their famous tour with performances at The Strand Lyceum Theatre on May 23-26. The Strand Lyceum is actually remarkably close to Grosvenor Square. The two sites are only about a 30 minute walk from each other. Therefore, it is a safe assumption that hunter probably relaxed himself in the exclusive May Fair neighborhood park. One can only imagine that hunter actually did meet someone, with rings on her fingers and bells on her shoes, with scarlet begonias tucked into her curls.

The music of The Grateful dead is always a great Deal of fun to perform. The following arrangement of Scarlet Begonias performed on piano and violin can make for some great entertainment during cocktail hours or dinner parties.

So if you Need a Miracle because you want both a hi-class event and some good chilling vibes at the same time, relax, Harmonious Music has The Grateful Dead covered.

From Our Hudson House to The Handel House

Front of the Handel House

The Front of the Handel House Museum located at 23 and 25 Brook Street in London England. The white building on the left is #23 where Jimi Hendrix lived and the gray building on the right is #25 where George Frideric Handel Lived from 1723 - 1759 Photo: Eric Ortner

When brides request specific music for their wedding ceremony in the Hudson Valley they often choose the compositions of George Frideric Handel. So when Harmonious Music decided to take a trip to London it was thought that the voyage would not be complete without a visit to the Handel House Museum at 25 Brook Street. Anyone with an interest in music history should make a concerted effort to visit this wonderful treasure.

G. F. Handel moved into the home in 1723 shortly after his appointment as Composer to The Chapel Royal. Prior to  this he had lived as a guest in the homes of some prominent Londoners after immigrating to England in 1712. The Chapel Royal Appointment and its hefty salary of  £400 must have certainly made Handel feel secure enough to find a place of his own.

Handel’s Chapel Royal appointment and overall success in London was largely a result of England’s cultural inferiority complex. At the time many well to do Englishmen went on “Grand Tours” of continental Europe. They brought back artwork and an appreciation of contemporary music along with the belief that England’s artists did not compare to those from abroad. As a result foreign musicians and artisans were given access to greater opportunities in London than they could find on the mainland.

Handel moved into 25 Brook Street soon after it was built. It was constructed by George Barnes along with five other units. The Brook Street neighborhood near Hanover Square was a new hot spot for a growing upper middle class elite. Surprisingly, Handel did not purchase the home outright. Instead he opted to lease the property. This is likely because musicians and composers of the 18th century often needed to remain mobile so that they could move from opera house to opera house.

Visitors to the Handel House Museum are first ushered up to the third floor where they are treated to an informative film over-viewing Handel’s life and achievements. They are then free to wander the painstakingly restored residence starting with a wonderful hearth room, the museum calls the “London Room.” Handel would have used The London Room as a dressing room. You quickly notice the amazing wide plank flooring that appears as if Handel himself certainly must have traversed.

Visitors then meander into Handel’s bedroom complete with a period canopy bed. Although, none of the Handel’s original furniture remains, the Handel House Trust exhaustively researched the records of Handel’s estate to recreate the original appearance as closely as possible.

Nearby visitors find an exhibition room complete with a beautiful reproduction harpsichord. Signs indicate that visitors are forbidden to use it. But it certainly beckoned to our resident keyboard expert. The exhibition room also contained some original manuscripts behind glass. One of which was in the hand of Wolfgang Amedeus Mozart. A sign nearby explained that one of Mozart’s best clients, Baron Gottfried van Swietenwas, an admirer of Handel and requested that Mozart perform his work regularly. Mozart wrote of Handel:

Handel Knows best what produces effect. Where he wants it he strikes like a thunderbolt.

The Handel House Museum clearly made a great effort to make the exhibit interesting for children. There is a computer setup with a keyboard for guests to compose their own music. There are also period costumes sized for children of all ages to adorn. There are also “fun trails” throughout the museum and quizzes to help keep the kids interested in the museum.

Sarah poses next to a reproduction harpsichord in the Handel House Museum

Sarah Lawlor poses in period fashion near a reproduction harpsichord in the Handel House Museum.

Treading down the stairs from the third floor to the second, one quickly notices the amazing wood railings and paneling. The Handel House trust pealed back 28 layers of paint to determine the original appearance of the Georgian era home. A great deal of effort was needed in restoration in part due to the arrogance of CJ Charles who was an art dealer. He chose to turn the residence into a shop and greatly altered the former homes appearance including the removal of the Façade on the first and second floors. The Handel House Trust also holds a lease for neighboring 23 Brook Street, which was the residence of the 20th century musical genius Jimi Hendrix. 23 Brook Street managed to maintain its integrity from the Georgian Era and as a result was used as a model for the restoration of #25.

Because Handel never married and remained celibate for most of his life it is safe to say that the first floor of the home is where the action took place. It was here that Hadel received guests, held closed door rehearsals, and composed his masterpieces. He also used the first floor of his house to sell subscriptions  to his performances and he also sold some of his published music there. Today the area is still used for modern performances of Handel’s Music on another reproduction harpsichord. However, the real treasures of the first floor are the authentic harpsichord from the period of Handel’s lifetime, along with a wonderful painting of Handel.

Handel was actually a serious art collector in his own right as were most of the elite from the Georgian Era. His estate listed hundreds of pieces and it is, believed that his walls would have been covered in artwork. Handel’s collection was auctioned off in 1760, but the contents of the auction sale catalog weren’t published until 1985. His art collection contained 64 engravings, which were reproductions of topographical views, landscapes and famous paintings.  Another 87 pieces of Handel’s collection were paintings. Of those, almost half were landscapes. The rest of his art collection encompassed genre paintings, history paintings, erotica, and biblical histories. There were very few portraits documented in the auction, which leads authorities to believe that the collection may have been incomplete at the time of auction. This is due to the fact that portraits were the most popular form of painting during the Hanoverian period. Unfortunately we only know what happened to a handful of works from Handel’s collection because he did not label it in anyway. Because of this the Handel House Trust has adorned 25 Brook Street’s walls with portraits of Handel’s associates as well as prints that depict the major influences in Handel’s works.

The first floor of 25 Brook street is where Handel composed many of his masterpieces including the three operas Giulio Cesare, Tamerlano and Rodelinda. He also worked in the study to write Music for the Coronation of King George II including Zadok the Priest, which has been performed at every British Royal’s Coronation henceforth. Other manuscripts that poured out of 25 Brook Street’s study included Music for the Royal Fireworks and a slew of Oratorios. Handel is largely credited as being the original master of English Oratorio or in other words  instrumental music with vocals set to religious text. Perhaps Handel’s most famous work written in 25 Brook Street’s study was the Oratorio Messiah.

Harmonious Music regularly performs portions of Water Music at weddings in The Hudson Valley. While wandering the halls of Handel’s personal study we could not shake the sense that Handel’s spirit was emanating from the walls around us and that this visit to his private residence would carry through in our performance of his work back in the United States. The following is a recording of Handel’s Hornpipe from Water Music arranged by Harmonious Music for Piano and Violin.

Handel actually wrote Water Music prior to his tenure on Brook Street. Yet the piece was certainly partly responsible for his ability to naturalize in England in 1727 along with his appointment to the Chapel Royal. King George I was so pleased with the inaugural performance of Water Music that he requested it be performed a second time in its entirety.

When Handel first immigrated to England he was largely known for his mastery of Italian Opera. The first floor of the Museum described in detail Handel’s sometimes turbulent relationships with his male Castrate tenors and the original Prima Donna performers. These star’s prominence did not diminish, even as London’s taste for Italian Opera began to move towards English Oratorio following John Gay’s masterpiece The Beggar’s Opera.

Handel is sometimes remembered for his fiery temperament. However, in order for him to maintain a leadership role with talent such as the diva sopranos Francesa Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni he would have needed a strong explosive will himself. A visit to the Handel House Museum enlightens the patron that many of Handel’s vocal pieces were written for specific performers, and that he needed to take the star performer’s vocal range into account during a work’s initial composition.

Towards the end of his life Handel began to lose his eyesight and thus became dependent on his copyist John C. Smith’s assistance in composition. To correct the problem with his vision Handel sought the expertise of oculist John Taylor. Interestingly Taylor was the same doctor who conducted eye surgery on J.S. Bach. The doctor’s hand left both composers completely blind. Handel survived for eight years following his botched surgery, but Bach was not so lucky.

Due to John Smith’s devotion to Handel in the composer’s twilight years he was bestowed over 100 volumes of Handel’s manuscripts. Smith in turn presented them to King George III and as a result they are still maintained by the British Library. King George III was one of Handel’s biggest fans, and it is safe to say that Handel’s continued popularity can be partially attributed to the King’s musical appreciation.

George Frideric Handel passed away on April 14, 1759. The lease of 25 Brook street was given to Handel’s servant John Du Burk. Records indicate that Du Burk subsequently turned the residence into a boarding house.

Saint Georges Hanover Square

Saint Georges Hanover Square Church in England was the parish that Handel attended regularly. Handel actually helped to fund the installation of the original organ in this church and it is likely that he played it on ocasion. The organ and church are both currently being restored. Photo: Eric Ortner

While at the Handel House we learned that the chapel that Handel attended regularly was located near by. So we decided to stroll over to Saint George’s Hanover Square and see the pipe organ that Handel likely performed on and perhaps even helped fund the creation of. Unfortunately the chapel was closed when we arrived. However a sign made it clear that the structure and organ inside were being extensively renovated. So it has been decided that a return trip to both the Handel House Museum and St. George’s Hanover Square is required.

The museum is well worth a visit for anyone with an appreciation of Baroque music or British history in general. As a musician who routinely performs the work of Handel in New York’s Hudson Valley, I can’t help but believe that I am more inspired to perform a heartfelt rendition of his works now that I’ve visited the master composer’s home.

Sources

Handel House Museum Companion
Jacqueline Riding

Early Music:
Handel as art collector: art, connoisseurshipand taste in Hanoverian Britain

Thomas McGeary

Bach And Handel (Their Influence On Future Composers)
Jeffrey Langlois

Musician’s and Music Lovers
William Foster Apthorp

Classical Sheet Music Store in Norwich England

Elkin Music Storefront Norwich

Sign above Elkin Music's storefront at 31 Exchange Street in Norwich England

The English weather has arrived and it is time to move the electronic equipment indoors. Miraculously a music store appears on the horizon. Elkin Music, located at 31 Exchange Street in Norwich, England, is a wonderful surprise.

The music store is of special interest to classically trained musicians because it offers a wide selection of sheet music. They also carry some instruments in their storefront location.

It turns out that the Elkin family has been in the music business for more than a century. Robert Elkin founded Elkin & Co. Ltd. in London originally as a music publishing company. However, it was sold in the 1960s. William Elkin then opened a music distribution business shortly after, hence their amazing selection of classical sheet music.

Some of Elkin Music’s inventory has since become part of Harmonious Music’s repertoire. Particularly a Baroque book nicely arranged for Violin and Piano. The volume is comprised of 12 wonderful short classical dance songs composed by, Telemann, Purcell, Marchand, Bach, Hasse, Rameau, Tartini, Handel, and Lully. We’ve especially enjoy performing this quaint minuet by Johann Sebastion Bach.

Elkin Music was such a joy to be in, that this violinist created a bit of a ruckus. After thumbing through a large fakebook and replacing it on the rack too heavily a substantial vibration was created.  The resulting aftershock lead to a Ukulele falling helplessly on its side near by.

Cue Exit!

Bandstand in Norwich England is a Tribute to Swing Era Great

Monkey Puzzle Tree and Bandstand

Monkey Puzzle Tree and Victorian Bandstand in Norwich, England where Glenn Miller performed on August 18, 1944. Photo: Eric Ortner

Recently, we had the opportunity to attend a wedding near Norwich, England. While there we stumbled upon a very interesting park called Chapelfield Gardens. In the center of this quant park stands a nicely appointed Victorian era bandstand.

At the time, I was primarily captivated by a young Monkey Puzzle tree growing near the pavilion. Later, I discovered that the bandstand behind it was of great interest to those with an appreciation for Big Band and Swing Music. You see it was there on Friday, August 18, 1944 that Glenn Miller and members of his band put on what seems to be an impromptu performance for the residents of Norwich.

Official U.S. Military records indicate that the set took place sometime after 9 p.m. Glenn Miller and the American Band of the AEF were the entertainment at a 100th mission celebration in a B-24 base in Attlebridge until 9 p.m.  They then made the short ten mile trip to the bandstand in the center of Norwich. It seems following the performance in Chapelfield Gardens, they moved onto play a set at Samson and Hercules Ballroom downtown.  Samson and Hercules was a popular haunt for enlisted men during World War II and the building it was in still stands today. The band then returned to Attlebridge where they stayed the night due to inclement weather.

These performances in Norwich were only two sets out of six that took place on August 18th. It is also interesting to note that Miller received the promotion to Major the day prior. Apparently the band gave Major Miller a promotion party and they stayed up late as a result. Therefore, they must have been pretty exhausted by the end of their set at Samson and Hercules.

Glenn Miller played around 800 sets in England between July 8th and his disappearance on December 15th 1944. It was common for this group to work grueling 18 hour days. It’s very difficult to fathom modern American pop-stars maintaining a schedule that packed.

Although the Norwich bandstand performance took place more than sixty-five years ago, Glenn Miller’s sophisticated sounds seem to be enduring the test of time. Glenn Miller Orchestra’s songs are still performed routinely today by events musicians. Songs like In the Mood, Moonlight Serenade, Tuxedo Junction, String of Pearls, Pensylvania 6-5000, and American Patrol can make for great atmosphere at any formal event. This is especially true for cocktail hours and wedding receptions. The next time you hear them, be sure to remember that the composer/bandleader was a dedicated patriot in addition to a talented performance artist.

Source

The Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band
Sustineo Alas / I Sustain the Wind

Volume One by Edward F. Polic 1989

Serendipitous Player Piano

A Player Piano, or more accurately an Orchestrion, tucked away in a corner in Shartlesville, PA

A Player Piano, or more accurately an Orchestrion, tucked away in a corner in Shartlesville, PA

Sometimes you find enthralling historic music in the most unexpected places. Take for example this player piano made by the Western Electric Piano Company.

We were traveling back to the New York City area from a performance at Utz Terrace in Hanover, PA when we decided to make an unscheduled stop. At the time, we were traveling down Interstate 78 and saw a sign for Roadside America promoting a miniature village and railroad in Shartlesville, PA. We were actually ahead of schedule and a little bored with the drive so we said, “Let’s check it out.”

Having grown up near Niagara Falls, I’ve seen a great many disappointing tourist traps so I wasn’t expecting much. I figured it would be mildly entertaining at best. The miniature village itself was surprisingly cool and we actually spent a good deal of time there. However, after wandering around the gift shop we were astonished to find what we deemed to be the most amazing looking machine ever made. It was a working player piano complete with a percussion section hidden away in a corner near the restrooms.

A little white sign read, “50 cents 1 Play Quarters Only.” I dug through my pockets and found two quarters then proceeded to drop them in an old coin slot. Immediately following the drop of the first quarter the machine began to whirr and shortly there after, the music started. It was like stepping back into time as the mechanized sounds started to loft out of the vintage wood and glass.

This machine was way more than just your standard mechanized piano. Its rhythm section was complete with a bass drum, snare drum, cymbal, triangle, tambourine, 12 bells and a xylophone. These cool features earn the player piano a more accurate title of  Orchestrion. The piano strings seemed to have two sounds. Those being the standard pianoforte sound and what I’ll call a saloon piano sound for lack of a better term.

Western Electric

Western Electric

Upon a closer inspection of the piano we noticed a maker’s mark saying Western Electric Piano Co., Chicago Ill. Some quick research uncovered the Western Electric Piano Co. as being secretly owned by the J.P. Seeburg Piano Co. The Western Electric Piano Co. name was really a marketing ploy to inspire competition between retailers. Surprisingly Seeburg actually went so far as to patent some of the mechanisms in these models to keep retailers and the public from realizing that they were really being produced by the same company.

The Western Electric pianos were only produced from 1924 until 1928 and were generally considered to be of good quality. The most popular models produced by the company were a cabinet style, which did not feature a functioning keyboard. The orchestrion models like the one we saw were not as widely purchased, and most likely cost prohibitive.

Most of Western Electric’s models used the standard “A” sized piano rolls, which featured ten songs. We only listened to two of the tunes on the mechanical masterpiece, and both were unfamiliar to us. The Orchestrion at Miniature Village had been retrofitted to accept quarters. In the instrument’s heyday it would have only cost 1 nickel per play. Player pianos actually are often times called nickelodeons due to the association of their cost. The popularity of nickelodeons started to falter in the 1920s as a result of the emergence of broadcast radio. Suddenly people weren’t required to pay for their entertainment and as a result the player piano’s weren’t really needed anymore.

It’s interesting to consider the parallels between the advent of the radio and the current evolution of the internet. Today the music industry is once again struggling to remain viable as MP3 files are being freely traded online. Technology may come and go while tastes and styles change, but the importance of trained, adaptable and soulful live musicians has remained a constant since the first caveman kept a beat by banging two  stones together.

Making a Joyful Noise

Reading Eric’s previous entry, I started recalling my own earliest memories of music. I thought I’d share some with you so you can get a window into why we feel so strongly connected to music.

I was raised by a single mom who always had music as a part of her life, and subsequently, our household. Besides being a church organist at The Warwick United Methodist Church since she was, oh, 15, mom would consistently be playing the piano for weddings, funerals, school and community musicals and concerts. She even accompanied various youth auditioning for All-County Choruses and NYSSMA.

Some of my earliest memories of music are tied deeply to my mother. I always think of her being the happiest in this setting: a young mother, sitting cross-legged in the church narthex strumming the guitar while scores of Vacation Bible School children learn such standards as “Father Abraham,” “The Wise Man Built His House Upon a Rock,” and, yes, “Kum Ba Yah.” I thought she was so beautiful when she was playing music, and I was so proud she was my mommy. (Still do and am!)

Well, mom never forced music on me (or my siblings), but she did work hard to make sure we could always have it in our lives if we wanted. I started taking piano lessons, which led to voice lessons, which led to learning the guitar and pipe organ. I decided that music was something I wanted to continue with in college and beyond. It has never left me and it has always guaranteed me a refuge from the stresses of daily living. Music soothes. Music centers. Music is like entering another world.

I received a book of poetry when I was a child entitled “Joyful Noise.” It is a selection of poems to be read aloud by two people, all about nature. It strikes me how I have carried that connection with me all these years, still enjoying poetry, nature and music as “joyful noises” in our sometimes dreary world.

Who would you credit for your appreciation and expression of music?

Exuberant Announcements

It is with great exuberance that I am writing my first blog on our new website http://www.HarmoniousMusic.com.

Music has always been a huge part of my life. Some of my earliest memories have involved music. One such recollection is of joyfully laying on my parents old golden cigarette, burned wall-to-wall rug listening to The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel at 33rpm.

That excitement still remains today, whether I’m listening to Charles Mingus driving down the road, performing at CD release parties to intimate groups of 50 or playing to crowds of 1,000s over an open field. It’s truly amazing, now I can even broadcast my own recordings over the internet and share them with others all for free.

So it’s with a high level of jubilation that I post my first blog out to cyberspace all while writing about one of my favorite subject matters music.

Think back, what exuberance has music brought into your life? Please share some of your personal memories about music whether it be the song that was played on your wedding day or just a new song you heard on the radio driving to work this morning.