Posts Tagged ‘Piano’

Add Hollywood Style Sophistication to Your Ceremony or Cocktail Hour with Boccherini’s Minuet

Portrait of Luigi Boccherini

The Composer and Cellist Luigi Boccherini believed to have been painted around 1768. Courtesy of Dr Gerhard Christmann, Budenheim, Germany

There is one melody that is often used by Hollywood to emphasize a sophisticated atmosphere. That tune is the Minuetto from String Quintet in E, Op. 11 by Luigi Boccherini. Harmonious Music also includes the piece, often times referred to as Boccherini’s Minuet, regularly for both wedding ceremony and cocktail hour performances.

This Rococo hit is typically used as background music to depict high society durring the late nineteenth century in period films. It is actually a very fitting use of the music because the song was written while Boccherini was employed by King Carlos III’s brother the infante don Luis de Borbón in Madrid, Spain. In this post Boccherini was paid a handsome stipend of 30,000 reales as a cellist and composer.

The Minuet was written in 1771 as part of Boccherini’s second series of quintets under don Luis’s patronage. Boccherini’s quintets are unique from many other composers because he wrote for two violins, one viola and two cellos. Most other composer’s string quintets utilize two violins, two violas, and one cello. Boccherini’s preference certainly results from the fact that he was a virtuoso cello player in his own right. It is said that he was capable of performing the violin parts of string quartets in their original pitch on cello when musicians fell ill and a substitute was needed.

Luigi’s aptitude on cello was only one motivation for his unique quintet compositions. He had also befriended a family of string players by the name of Font who were also employed by don Luis. This highly esteemed quartet presented the opportunity for Luigi Boccherini to perform his own compositions with a skilled string ensemble on a regular basis.

Although Boccherini was Italian by birth and training, he is considered a Spanish composer. As a result many critics note a Spanish influence in Boccherini’s Minuet. This is especially evident in the original rendition written for string quintet, which utilizes pizzicato and syncopation between the various voices resulting in a guitar like effect. The following recording is a Piano and Violin reduction, which is performed regularly by Harmonious Music.

There is some misinformation floating around the internet indicating that Boccherini was dismissed by don Luis for refusing to change a passage of music. This assertion, however, is erroneous. Boccherini remained in don Luis’ patronage until the Infante’s death in 1785. Tragically in the same year Luigi Boccherini’s first wife Clementina also passed away after suffering a stroke.

The loss of his employer and his wife left Luigi Boccherini in a difficult position because he had suddenly become an unemployed single father of six young children. Fortunately, Luigi Boccerini was offered a pension from three sources, The Real Capilla (Royal Chapel), the Countess-Dukes of Benavente-Osuna and most significantly the appointment of composer to King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II’s court. Shortyly after the death of three of his daughters and his second wife, Boccherini passed away most likely from Tuberculosis in Madrid, Spain during 1805.

Although, the end of Luigi Boccherini’s life was wrought with tragedy, it does not change the fact that most of his earlier works are airy and uplifting. This is particularly true in the case of Minuetto from String Quintet in E, Op. 11. This fine composition properly earns its place as a staple in the films of Hollywood as well as Harmonious Music’s repertoire for wedding ceremonies and cocktail hours. It certainly is suitable for any event in New York’s Hudson Valley where an atmosphere of sophistication is required.

Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major is Perfect for a Wedding Prelude Selection

J.S. Bach Air on a G String

Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D. Major, Commonly referred to as Air on a G String, makes a great wedding prelude selection.


If you are looking to create a sophisticated wedding or special event there is no better way than by treating your guests to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach is currently attributed to writing at least 1,127 works in his lifetime. Many of these melodies are even recognized by audiences that are not very familiar with classical music. One such tune is the Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D. Major.

Bach’s Air was written sometime between 1717-1723 while he worked as Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen’s Kapellmeister. It is interesting to note that Bach’s new position in the Prince’s court did not come easily. When his previous employer Duke William Ernest of Saxe-Weimar learned of J.S. Bach’s intention of accepting the Kapellmeister position, Bach was imprisoned for not following correct procedures in requesting release from his post.

The years that Bach spent working for Prince Leopold were clearly some of his most prolific and innovative. Aside from the famous Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3, Bach also wrote perhaps his most popular works the six Brandenburg Concertos while in the service of the Prince. This is perhaps because the Prince’s Court position allowed Bach creative latitude, which varied greatly from the stringent requirements of church. The fact that Prince Leopold was a violinist himself and an appreciative patron of the arts also certainly contributed to the innovative work that J.S. Bach produced during this part of his career.

The Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 is often referred to as Air on the G String due to an arrangement for Violin and piano composed in 1871 by the German violinist August Wilhelmj. Wilhelmj transposed the original key of the piece from D Major to C Major and also dropped the pitch down one octave so that it could be performed entirely on the G String of a violin.

This arrangement of the Air is very fitting for prelude music in wedding ceremonies because it is traditionally performed by a duet of piano and violin, which is suitable for almost any sized hall or wedding venue. The melody itself is also very appropriate for a wedding setting due to its slow and graceful tempo and haunting counterpoint. The soulful melodic interplay between the violin and piano creates a great deal of musical tension. This is especially prevalent between the walking bass line of the piano part and the slow sweeping melody maintained by the violin.

For those familiar with the intricacies of early music it is interesting to note the similarities between the counterpoint of this Baroque era work and the rhythmic polyphonies of Italian Renaissance music. No doubt this stems from Bach’s studies of the Italian Masters such as Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, pushing his innovations to new musical heights.

So there is no need to endlessly ponder what music should be performed during your wedding or special event in New York’s Hudson Valley. A great and appropriate choice is Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D. Major, or in other words, Air on a G String.

Rise Up Shepherd and Follow Blues on Piano and Violin

 

 

Rise up Shepherds and Follow also known as There’s a Star in the East is a popular American Negro Spiritual Christmas Carol. It first appeared in print in the 1867 publication Slave Songs of the United States under the title of A Christmas Plantation Song. The tune most likely originated in plantations on islands off the coast of Georgia and North Carolina. The songs from this region were usually sung as a call and response with plenty of handclapping and foot patting to hold down the rhythm.

The American Spirituals lend themselves very well to jazz and blues arrangements. This, of course, is largely because both The Blues and Jazz originated, in part, from the southern spiritual music. The version performed in the above video features piano and violin in a blues style without vocals. However, the original performers of this song probably would not have used any instrumentation at all as they sang the lyrics:

There’s a star in the East on Christmas morn,
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.
It will lead to the place where the Christ was born,
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.

Refrain

Follow, follow, rise up, shepherd, and follow.
Follow the Star of Bethlehem,
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.

If you take good heed to the angel’s words,
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.
You’ll forget your flocks, you’ll forget your herds,
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.

Refrain

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!

Norwich Sculpture Commemorates Elizabethan Performer Will Kemp

Kemp's Sculpture in Chapelfield Gardens

Sculpture of Will Kemp's famous Morris Dance between London and Norwich in Chapelfield Gardens, Norwich, England Photo: Eric Ortner

Norwich, England is a wonderful city filled with history dating back to the Roman Empire and before. There are glimpses of it everywhere, including remnants of ancient walls and even an intact Norman style keep. One reminder is this carved log, which stands near the bandstand that Glenn Miller performed on in Chapelfield Gardens. The relief wooden sculpture was carved by Mark Goldsworthy and was dedicated in 2000.

The sculpture is reminiscent of a Maypole, with Morris Dancers being led by a Pipe and Tabor player. Pipe and Tabor was a favorite folk dancing instrument during the medieval and early renaissance periods and would have been an important part of a peasant class wedding celebration.

It turns out, though, that the sculpture commemorates Will Kemp an actor, Morris Dancer and personal friend of William Shakespeare. There is conjecture that several of Shakespeare’s works had parts written specifically for Kemp.  Will Kemp was especially renowned for dancing all the way from London to Norwich in 1600 which was towards the end of his life. The 125 mile trip only took him nine days, which means he would have danced for roughly 14 miles a day. He must have had sore feet by the end of that gig.

Will Kemp also was famous for his Jigs. In the Elizabethan Era, a Jig was a comic song and dance routine that was often performed between the acts of a dramatic performance. One Jig performed by Will Kemp has survived to this day and is named, fittingly, Kemp’s Jig. The following recording of Kemp’s Jig by Harmonious Music is based on an arrangement by Tom Wills. This version includes both violin and piano parts with a nice improvisation added.

A visit to Norwich should not be completed without a stroll through Chapelfield Gardens. The public space is a testament to music history and the human spirit.

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.

Violinist + Trumpeter = A Rare and Affordable Combination

A Violin and Trumpet Nestle Together on a Bed of Sheet Music. How Romantic! Photo Eric Ortner

A Violin and Trumpet Nestle Together on a Bed of Sheet Music. How Romantic! Photo Eric Ortner

One of the things that sets Harmonious Music apart from other wedding ceremony and cocktail acts in the New York Metropolitan Area is the violinist’s ability to also play trumpet. This added skill comes in particularly useful during wedding ceremonies.

Imagine this scenario: Your guests are being seated during the ceremonies prelude to the elegant sounds of a classical violin and piano duet. Soon the groom and wedding parties enter to the gentle sounds of Pachelbel’s Canon in D. The energy level among the congregation increases as each bridesmaid walks down the aisle. Suddenly, the sound of a trumpet fanfare rings through the air announcing the arrival of the bride. The change in instrument from violin to trumpet has further heightened the grandeur of the Bride’s entrance and signifies the importance of the event

Historically trumpets have always been used to announce the arrival of royalty. So on your big  day why not get the royal treatment and stroll the aisle to the sounds of Trumpet Voluntary or Wagner’s Bridal Chorus performed on trumpet and Piano or Organ.

Once You Get On Stage Anything Can Happen

Violin, Piano Saxophone and flowers

Violin, Piano Saxophone and Flowers — Montage by Eric Ortner

Experienced Musicians learn quickly that you really never know what to expect when you step into the spotlight. You simply must be able to role with the punches and be confident enough to play no matter what happens around you. We had a case in point while performing for Jessica and Jeffery’s cocktail hour on October 17th at Villa Barone in Mahopac in Westchester County, NY.

The caterers had just finished setting the tables and were opening the doors for guests when a tall man with a saxophone walked up to us and said, “Um, are you guys playing here, because I was told that I was supposed to be here at 7 to play the cocktail hour with a keyboardist.”

Self-doubt set in for a fleeting instant, but we had already spoken with Barbara, the bride’s mother and we knew we were in the correct hall. I had a signed contract that stated we were to play the cocktail hour and we’d even been paid in full prior to the performance. He introduced himself as Mark and that he lived in Ossining, NY. He went on to explain that he was brought in by the DJ. We told him he was probably in the wrong room, because Villa Barone is a large establishment. Mark commented that he was sure he was in the correct location and described Barbara in order to verify it. He ran out to find his boss the DJ who was setting up for the reception in another room to figure out what he should do.

By this point the Bride and Groom’s guests were beginning to file in so we opened our set. We usually start out our performances with a few short easier pieces to warm up before moving into the more taxing compositions. As we began the third song Mark came back in with a plate of food and watched us work. As we finished up the tune Blessed Spirits, Mark put his food down and walked over to us with his Saxophone informing that, “I don’t know where he is, he must be running around somewhere. I’m being paid to play here, so do you mind if I sit in.”

I assessed the situation and noticed that the hall was quite full now. I could see Barbara was across the room, but I decided it was best not to stir up any drama with her or Mark.  I thought to myself, well I suppose Dave Mathews Band arranges with Sax and Violin, if this guy is any good it probably won’t sound awful. So I said, “Sure. Can you read music?”

Mark looked down at the music, which was Vivaldi’s Spring from The Four Seasons at this point in our set and asked, “I suppose this stuff is all written in C, huh?” I momentarily forgot that Saxophones are tuned to B flat and said, “Oh you want something in C, O.K. We should probably start playing something easier anyway to make sure this is going to work out first.”

I flipped through the pages of my binder looking for something less complicated in C and found an early American composition by the name of Elegance and Simplicity. I put the bow to violin and began to count it off.  To my amazement Mark blew through that tune sight reading, and didn’t miss a single note. I commented, “Wow, way to go! I guess we can try something harder.”

Mark replied, “Yea, it’s not really the site reading that’s hard for me. It’s just a little tough because I have to transpose everything from B Flat.”

We went back to Spring and performed it. We really lucked out in this situation because Mark was a phenomenal saxophonist. He proceeded to play through Spring and Autumn of the Four Seasons, with about 95% accuracy sight reading the music while transposing every note.

The next song in the set following The Four Seasons was a composition entitled Allegro from Pièces de Clavecin Op. 1 by Joseph-Hector Fiocco. I looked down at the page and saw that it was blackened with 16th notes and remembered that this tune just flies by as you run through it. Moreover one stumble on any section and it was next to impossible to get back on track. So I looked over at him and said, “You better sit this one out.” He agreed and said, “I’m going to go find the DJ.”

We were on the last page of the Fiocco when Mark walked back in. He listened patiently and applauded as we finished up the tune. He then grabbed his sax and stand and said, “Well I spoke with DJ and he told me he just wanted me to play a few songs with you guys, so I guess I’ll see you later.“

I don’t think the guests really had any clue what had just transpired before them. It’s not every day that you hear classical tunes performed in an arrangement of Sax, Violin and Piano and especially not one that had never been rehearsed. As far as I’m concerned, they just received a once in a lifetime amazing and impromptu performance by three accomplished musicians who know that you’re never really sure what to expect in show business.