Monday, July 22, 2013

Guide to getting into classical music (if you don’t know where to start)

Guide to getting into classical music (if you don’t know where to start)

Everyone loves classical music but not everyone knows where to start. This is the first of three articles designed to show you how to get into classical music and gain a deeper appreciation for it. There are six different periods of classical music, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Twentieth Century. We will be focusing on the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras. In today’s blog, we will delve into the Baroque era and provide you with samples of music from the period.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Water-stained violin proven to be the one that played Nearer my God to Thee by Wallace Hartley as the Titanic sank is found

Water-stained violin proven to be the one that played Nearer my God to Thee by Wallace Hartley as the Titanic sank is found

It is the instrument that he played as the ship went down in the Atlantic, and that he later used as a buoyancy aid once Titanic went down.

The violin was discovered only by chance when the son of an amateur musician found it in his attic. It was given to his mother by her violin teacher and was left gathering dust.

The discovery was almost too good to be true, prompting experts to have the relic forensically examined by some of the most revered scientific bodies in Britain.

Now, after seven years of testing at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds, the water-stained violin has been proven to be the one played by Hartley on the night of the tragedy.

These pictures show how incredibly well-preserved the rose wood violin is despite its age and it being exposed to the sea for 10 days after the sinking.

There are two long cracks on its body that are said to have been opened up by moisture damage.

The photos also show the corroded engraved silver plate screwed onto the base of the fiddle that provided scientists with they key proof of its authenticity.

The historic violin, said to be worth a six figure sum, will go on public display at the Belfast City Hall, where Titanic was built, at the end of March.

Negotiations are also under way to exhibit it in museums around the world including America. It is likely to be auctioned off in the future.

Titanic experts have described it as the most important artefact associated with the infamous liner to have come to light.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Zen and the Violin: Ten Tips for the Journey

Zen and the Violin: Ten Tips for the Journey
by Terez Rose

So, I’m a meditator, and that’s a good thing to be in today’s world. I’m pretty lame at setting time aside to meditate on a daily basis, however, which is why I head out a few times a year to go on private, silent retreats. Last May’s retreat was particularly effective, for whatever reason, and I returned with greater clarity that has served me well since. I recently compiled an article for the dance community, comparing Zen precepts and my meditation practice to my ballet practice. There are a surprising number of similarities: staying focused on what’s unfolding right there and then; not being distracted by nagging thoughts; remaining wholly present physically and mentally. Then there are the not-so-Zen facets of ballet. It’s all about beauty, grace, the illusion of perfection. It’s competitive. There is an image in your mind you’re doggedly striving for, that you can’t seem to ever reach. Ego, desire, dissatisfaction all have a field day in the ballet studio.
Violinists are not ballet dancers, but they are both still part of the performing arts world. I wondered if some of the same precepts could apply to the violin world. Taking my little list, I revised it for a violin-based readership. Tell me if you agree with any of these.

Gentle tips to help you on your the journey

1) Wherever you are in life, at this very moment, and in your violin practice, is precisely where you’re supposed to be. Even if, at this moment, something feels like a mistake, a mess, a problem that needs to be fixed.

2) Don’t be afraid to fail. You learn far more through failing than you do through succeeding.

3) Strive to remain in the present daily, hourly, in your lesson, your practice time, your life. Try to observe, without judgment, the way your attachments and aversions often dictate your moods, your choices, and consequently limit you.

4) It’s good to improve on a regular basis, set goals for yourself, but don’t withhold satisfaction with the way things are right now. Don’t live your life waiting for the day things will be easier, or better. The reality is, that day in the future when things are “better,” you will find a new “better” dangled before you like a carrot. It’s all an illusion to pull you from your life in the present.

5) It’s all about the journey, the process of learning. Once we stop the learning, we stop living. The destination, believe it or not, is largely irrelevant.

6) Practicing and/or playing the violin is hard, and can be oh, so discouraging. Same goes for life. But it's the hard stuff, these forays outside your comfort zone, the scary (to you) risk taken, that make it so rich and worth living.

7) Observe everything and everyone, including those against whom you compete, with gentle compassion. We are all on this journey, on parallel roads. Each has its bumps and smooth spells. We all made choices in life that put us where we are now. We deserve to be cherished, and respected. Particularly by ourselves.

8) Some days it all comes together. You’ll have moments of startling insight, power, clarity, perfect intonation and musicality. You’ll play like Heifetz/Oistrakh/Milstein/insert-your-favorite-violin-master-here, and it will feel like You Have Arrived.

9) The next day, poof, it’s all gone. “From God to clod,” as my teacher wryly puts it. You decide you haven’t sounded this pedestrian and amateurish in years. Worse, you stay in this less refined space for days, even weeks. None of this should not be construed as failure. It is simply another facet of the learning process.

10) Pain hurts, both the physical and emotional kind. Don’t judge your own pain, even if it stems from competitiveness or disappointment. If it is there, burning, whether or not it is noble, have compassion. Compassion of the self is where it all begins, and is the greatest gift you can give yourself. Harsh self-judgment is nothing more than pain on top of pain.

Most of all, make sure you enjoy the journey. Make it full of music, inside your heart and out.

© 2013 Terez Rose

Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Healthy Foundation

A Healthy Foundation
by Claire Allen

Syllabification: (foun·da·tion)
Pronunciation: /foun'daSH?n/noun
*(often foundations) the lowest load-bearing part of a building, typically below ground level.
*a body or ground on which other parts rest or are overlaid
*an underlying basis or principle for something
Creating a healthy foundation is one of the most important and crucial aspects of learning to play the violin. In the first years of violin teaching, my goal is to build fundamental musical skills as my students learn how to listen to music critically and to discern what makes a good sound and to build fundamental technical skills, which means that I focus a lot on how to hold the instrument and bow.

Playing the violin doesn't involve motions that are inherently natural or easy for the human body. It's not symmetrical at all, which means that we have to do different things with the right and left sides of our bodies. It takes years to feel completely natural with the violin, and that's why a student's first lesson with me, regardless of their level of playing, will almost always include some changes to their basic setup. Even as students grow and develop, I'm always keeping an eye on those basic technique things, seeking to refine their skills to an ever-higher playing level and finding easier and more efficient ways for them to play.

Without a healthy foundation for their playing, a student will inevitably run into problems. It might be immediately, if they are struggling to make a sound or reach a certain note on the violin. Sometimes it will take years for it to catch up to them, but it does. Even a mostly healthy foundation with just a few cracks can be cause for a visit back to basic technique. The simplest problem a student will run into as they advance is that they'll hit a piece they can't play with their current setup. A student may not be able to play in all parts of the bow because of their bowhold, or they'll struggle to play fast enough with their fingers because of an incorrect angle in their left hand.

If a student plays and practices for years with an inefficient setup, they can develop tendonitis, repetitive strain syndrome, or carpal tunnel syndrome. Too much strain and tension on the wrong muscles can cause these injuries, which are physically and emotionally painful and and can require hours of physical therapy to recover from.

The positive benefits of having a healthy playing foundation are many! They include but are not limited to: feeling physically free when playing, not having to worry about how to create a certain sound, having a natural, ringing, and free sound, and being able to solely focus on the creative process of bringing their music to life.

Friday, July 12, 2013

How To Protect Your Instruments At Music Festivals, While Camping, or Traveling

How To Protect Your Instruments At Music Festivals, While Camping, or Traveling
by Adam R Sweet

The Summer is a wonderful time for music!  What with music festivals, outdoor concerts and events, plus vacationing with the family and camping with the kids, there's always the opportunity to get out the mandolin, fiddle or guitar and pick a few tunes, sing some songs.

So how do you protect your instrument from the inevitable weather/sun/movement damage?

It's not easy!  But here are some tips:
  1. Find a shady spot in the tent/car/camper - seems simple enough, but the darker the better.  
  2. Keep the instrument or case wrapped in a space blanket - you can get them from any good camping store, or on
  3. If backpacking or camping with your instrument, make sure you keep it in its case, then cover that in a space blanket and/or poncho.  Most cases are almost air-tight these days.  If yours is not, you might want to upgrade to one that is.  It will keep moisture out and protect the instrument from extreme heat and humidity.
  4. When traveling, make sure your case is down on the floor behind your seat, not on the seat and NEVER in the space behind the window!  That area is the hottest in the car, a sure way of killing your instrument!  The reason for keeping it on the floor is so that it doesn't fall off the seat if you have to stop quickly.  Immobilize it by packing other items around it, or by putting pillows or blankets around it.
Have fun, be safe and don't forget to bring your instrument with you!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Daily Practice - A Reminder, Checklist

Daily Practice - A Reminder, Checklist
by Adam R Sweet

It's absolutely critical that you practice at least something every day!  What you practice is also critical.  Just playing a few tunes, or jamming with friends is only one part of daily practice (the fun part!).

Divide your practice time into three "chunks" of equal length.  That means, if you practice 30 minutes a day, each chunk will be 10 minutes.

First Chunk: A Daily Scale "Set"

  • each day play a different scale set from the circle of fifths (if you're practicing bluegrass music), otherwise a different tonic set using the 7 church modes
  • practice 2 octaves, use 4th fingers always
  • remember where to shift when playing in 3rd and 4th positions
  • fiddlers: practice the 4 bowing patterns with each scale
  • mandolinists: practice the 5 picking patterns with each scale
  • circle of fifths: practice the major AND the relative minor with each set
  • modes: practice all 7 modes
  • practice the arpeggios for each scale (1,3,5,8)
Second Chunk: New Material
  • Sight read assigned new material
  • Practice first measure, slowly, without ornamentation or bowing until you have the notes down, then go on to 2nd, 3rd, 4th measures
  • After you have the measures well established, add any ornamentation and bowings as indicated in the sheet music or by your instructor
  • Don't try to learn the whole piece in one "chunk".  It's better to master one 4 bar phrase than to play the whole piece poorly
Third Chunk: Review & Sight Reading
  • Jam with friends/family
  • Review old material, work on the hard parts
  • Sight Read out of the Fiddler's Fakebook or any other book as assigned by your instructor

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Old Time Fiddle Tunes

Old Time Fiddle Tunes

Western Mass Bluegrass!

Western Massachusetts has always been a great place for bluegrass music.  In the 1970s, there were the first bluegrass festivals: Berkshire Mountain Bluegrass Festival, Pickin In The Pines and Falcon Ridge.  Later, in the 1980s, the Iron Horse became a destination spot for bluegrass musicians that were touring through the area.  And all through the 1990s and early 2000s, bluegrass bands and fans have been keeping it real and live in the Pioneer Valley!

And we're doing our part!  Come to the Third Sunday Bluegrass Jam and Potluck Dinner!

Held the third Sunday of every month at the home of Emily and Adam R Sweet in South Hadley, MA.

It meets the Third Sunday of every month at 5pm. If the weather is nice, we are outside in back (either on the porch or on the grass under the trees). If the weather is not so nice, we are upstairs in the studio. Take the stairs to the left of the garage and go in the door at the top. There's limited space, so first come first served and all that!

It's an open jam, which means anyone can come, regardless of age and ability. If you just want to sit in back and listen, you are welcome also.

Please bring an entree or a salad. We'll provide dessert and beverages. BYOB and clean up your bottles after please.

To RSVP and get directions, visit Adam's website: and use the form on the contact page, or just email any time!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

DNA shows Irish people have more complex origins than previously thought

(by Marie McKeown)

The red-hair gene is most common in Irish blood.

The blood in Irish veins is Celtic, right? Well, not exactly. Although the history many Irish people were taught at school is the history of the Irish as a Celtic race, the truth is much more complicated, and much more interesting than that ...

Research done into the DNA of Irish males has shown that the old Anthropological attempts to define 'Irish' have been misguided. As late as the 1950s researchers were busy collecting data among Irish people such as hair colour and height, in order to categorise them as a 'race' and define them as different to the British. In fact British and Irish people are closely related in their ancestry.

Research into Irish DNA and ancestry has revealed close links with Scotland stretching back to before the Ulster Plantation of the early 1600s. But the closest relatives to the Irish in DNA terms are actually from somewhere else entirely!
Medieval map of Ireland, showing Irish tribes.
Irish origin myths confirmed by modern
scientific evidence 

The earliest settlers came to Ireland around 10,000 years ago, in Stone Age times. There are still remnants of their presence scatter across the island. Mountsandel in Coleraine in the North of Ireland is the oldest known site of settlement in Ireland - remains of woven huts, stone tools and food such as berries and hazelnuts were discovered at the site in 1972.

But where did the early Irish come from? For a long time the myth of Irish history has been that the Irish are Celts. Many people still refer to Irish, Scottish and Welsh as Celtic culture - and the assumtion has been that they were Celts who migrated from central Europe around 500BCE. Keltoi was the name given by the Ancient Greeks to a 'barbaric' (in their eyes) people who lived to the north of them in central Europe. While early Irish art shows some similarities of style to central European art of the Keltoi, historians have also recognised many significant differences between the two cultures.

Irish Blood: origins of DNA 

The latest research into Irish DNA has confirmed that the early inhabitants of Ireland were not directly descended from the Keltoi of central Europe. In fact the closest genetic relatives of the Irish in Europe are to be found in the north of Spain in the region known as the Basque Country. These same ancestors are shared to an extent with the people of Britain - especially the Scottish.

DNA testing through the male Y chromosome has shown that Irish males have the highest incidence of the haplogroup 1 gene in Europe. While other parts of Europe have integrated continuous waves of new settlers from Asia, Ireland's remote geographical position has meant that the Irish gene-pool has been less susceptible to change. The same genes have been passed down from parents to children for thousands of years.

This is mirrored in genetic studies which have compared DNA analysis with Irish surnames. Many surnames in Irish are Gaelic surnames, suggesting that the holder of the surname is a descendant of people who lived in Ireland long before the English conquests of the Middle Ages. Men with Gaelic surnames, showed the highest incidences of Haplogroup 1 (or Rb1) gene. This means that those Irish whose ancestors pre-date English conquest of the island are direct descendants of early stone age settlers who migrated from Spain.

The Kingdom of Dalriada c 500 AD is marked in green.
Pictish areas marked yellow.  

Irish origin myths confirmed by modern scientific evidence 

One of the oldest texts composed in Ireland is the Leabhar Gabhla, the Book of Invasions. It tells a semi-mythical history of the waves of people who settled in Ireland in earliest time. It says the first settlers to arrive in Ireland were a small dark race called the Fir Bolg, followed by a magical super-race called the Tuatha de Danaan (the people of the goddess Dana).

Most interestingly, the book says that the group which then came to Ireland and fully established itself as rulers of the island were the Milesians - the sons of Mil, the soldier from Spain. Modern DNA research has actually confirmed that the Irish are close genetic relatives of the people of northern Spain.

While it might seem strange that Ireland was populated from Spain rather than Britain or France, it is worth remembering that in ancient times the sea was one of the fastest and easiest ways to travel. When the land was covered in thick forest, coastal settlements were common and people travelled around the seaboard of Europe quite freely.

I live in Northern Ireland and in this small country the differences between the Irish and the British can still seem very important. Blood has been spilt over the question of national identity.

However, the lastest research into both British and Irish DNA suggests that people on the two islands have much genetically in common. Males in both islands have a strong predominance of Haplogroup 1 gene, meaning that most of us in the British Isles are descended from the same Spanish stone age settlers.

The main difference is the degree to which later migrations of people to the islands affected the population's DNA. Parts of Ireland (most notably the western seaboard) have been almost untouched by outside genetic influence since hunter-gatherer times. Men there with traditional Irish surnames have the highest incidence of the Haplogroup 1 gene - over 99%.

At the same time London, for example, has been a mutli-ethnic city for hundreds of years. Furthermore, England has seen more arrivals of new people from Europe - Anglo-Saxons and Normans - than Ireland. Therefore while the earliest English ancestors were very similar in DNA and culture to the tribes of Ireland, later arrivals to England have created more diversity between the two groups.

Irish and Scottish people share very similar DNA. The obvious similarities of culture, pale skin, tendancy to red hair have historically been prescribed to the two people's sharing a common celtic ancestry. Actually it now seems much more likely that the similarity results from the movement of people from the north of Ireland into Scotland in the centuries 400 - 800 AD. At this time the kingdom of Dalriada, based near Ballymoney in County Antrim extended far into Scotland. The Irish invaders brought Gaelic language and culture, and they also brought their genes.

Irish Characteristics and DNA 

The MC1R gene has been identified by researchers as the gene responsible for red hair as well as the accompanying fair skin and tendency towards freckles. According to recent research, genes for red hair first appeared in human beings about 40,000 to 50,000 years ago.

These genes were then brought to the British Isles by the original settlers, men and women who would have been relatively tall, with little body fat, athletic, fair-skinned and who would have had red hair. So red-heads may well be descended from the earliest ancestors of the Irish and British.

A spoof (and very funny) exploration into the characteristics of all Irish-blooded males can be read at this link: Identified genes include IMG or the Irish Mother Gene and the GK (MF) S Gene Kelly-Michael-Flately-Syndrome which explains the inability of the Irish man to move his hips while dancing!

Marie McKeown lives in Ireland where she works on community projects, teaching arts workshops and conflict resolution skills. She also teach workshops on self-care and personal development. She has many interests including health, creative writing, travel, history, and my native Ireland. She graduated with a degree in Spanish and Medieval History and has lived in Spain and East Asia and Latin America.

Summer at the Studio: The New Sweet Music Studio is finished!

The New Sweet Music Studio is finished!

Today was the last day the contractors were here.  They put in the last few pieces of siding, cleaned up and made a final inspection.

We are very pleased with the professionalism of Kashima Builders.  Toshi Kashima, owner, has been a joy to work with!  Dedicated, great at communication, and came in under budget for the total project.  He did a lot of little extra side projects while he was here, coming up with interesting solutions for challenges.  We're very pleased and can recommend him for just about any construction project without reservation!

The New Studio will be used for private and group lessons in the evenings, and for demonstrating musical instruments, supplies and accessories to customers during the day.

We ask that customers please remove their shoes when entering so as not to scuff the new flooring!

Also, since there is no waiting area, Students, please wait in your cars until the time of your lesson.  We will be mindful of the time and end promptly so as not to keep you waiting!

 The Sweet Music Studio was founded in 1986 on the premise that all people, regardless of age or ability to afford lessons should have the right to learn a musical instrument.

  • We offer stringed music lessons in both a private and group setting.  We offer three recitals a year and other playing opportunities.
  • We teach all ages, and are experts in teaching adults.  
  • We teach all styles, and are experts in the secular dance music of Europe that influenced the development of American roots music
  • We rent all of the instruments we teach.  We carry accessories and supplies too!  Please visit the Sweet Music Shop page for details

My name is Adam R. Sweet.  I live in western central MA.  I live in a town called South Hadley.  I am a musician, recording artist and composer.  I have performed all over the world and taught literally hundreds of people how to play the violin, mandolin and guitar.  I graduated with a BA in Music in 1985.  I opened the Sweet Music Studio in 1986 and have been offering private and group lessons on violin (and fiddle), mandolin and guitar since.

Lessons are taught online using Skype or G+ Hangouts, or here in the studio.  There are three recitals each year, which are not mandatory, but highly recommended.  Recitals are included in both Group and Private Lessons and do not cost extra!

I feel that all people, regardless of age or ability to afford lessons, should have the right to learn a musical instrument.  And, since the downturn of the economy in 2008, many of my friends and colleagues and I have turned to barter in exchange for lessons.  If you cannot afford lessons, arrangements can be made to barter items or services in exchange for lessons.  Never hesitate to ask!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Musicians Shouldn't Be Desperate For Booking Agents. There's An Easier Way

I've been booking gigs for bands since I opened my Talent Agency in 1998.  Every time I open my mouth about what I do, bands and musicians fall all over themselves in an attempt to get me to book them gigs.  But here's the problem the way I see it.  Most bands know themselves and their capabilities very well.  But they are not good at identifying and articulating themselves, they don't know how to build their own brand.  The successful bands do.

Musicians!  You shouldn't be desperate to find a booking agent.  There's an easier way!  All you need to do is identify yourself, to "create your brand", then package your brand by identifying a few easy to remember points about it.  Once you have done that, it's easy to sell yourself!

Let me give you an example:

Jim had a jazz trio consisting of bass, piano and drums.  They loved to get together on Friday nights and play tunes out of the Real Book: "Misty", "Autumn Leaves", "Donna Lee".  They built up quite a repertoire of tunes they knew and could play well together.  After a while, neighbors and friends started asking Jim if the trio could play for this or that function or party, maybe a wedding or two.  So they started building a word of mouth reputation.  Jim knew a guy who had a bar and he asked if the trio could play there on the slow days, and so, Tuesday nights became the Jazz night at Jim's buddy's bar.  This went on for about 7 years.  Eventually they thought they were good enough to hire a booking agent and get some real, paying, gigs. So they contacted me.

"I don't book jazz bands," I said.  "Please help us.  We don't know what we're doing," they said.

The first thing I asked for was a paragraph description of the band.  They had nothing put together.  They hadn't considered it.  "We're just a jazz trio," Jim said.  That's not good enough.  I told him he needed to write up a one paragraph bio about the band.  It took them forever, but they finally wrote something up.

Next I asked for 3 recordings in mp3 format for the demo.  He asked "What are they?"  I said they are recordings of the trio that you think best represents the range of material you are capable of.  Wow that was a broad statement.  It through them to a tizzy.  I didn't hear back from them for several weeks and thought they'd given up.  But about six weeks later, I got a CD in the mail with several tunes on it.  I emailed Jim back and asked him which 3 he wanted me to use.  He said - use them all!  It's our first album.  You'll love it.  I said it's for a DEMO.  Clients don't want to listen to an hour's worth of music.  They want at maximum 3 minutes - they'll listen to the first minute of each tune and judge from that.  I said, it's good you now have an album.  You'll be able to sell it at gigs, if you get them.  Because most bookers won't touch a new band that doesn't have a "local following".  That's right.  If nobody knows you, chances are they won't turn out to hear you unless they have some incentive.

Finally, I asked about how many people they could "draw" to a local gig.  "What does draw mean?" Jim asked.  It means how many people you can guarantee the club you'll bring in to either buy tickets or drinks or food.  "I have no idea," Jim said.  Well, then you have to start building up a mailing list.  I suggested he send out an email to all of his friends and bring a signup list to the Tuesday night Jazz concerts at the bar and get people to sign up there.  He'll need to be able to guarantee a minimum number of people who will turn out to see the band specifically.  Otherwise, he will need to be able to offer something unique to the club that will guarantee a draw - something really cool or special.  "What are some examples," Jim said.  A pianist that climbs on the piano and plays backwards?  A bassist that twirls his bass?  A drummer that sings in falsetto?  A belly dancer?  The band gives away free drinks during the show?  Something exciting and unique.  "But we're a jazz band, not a circus," Jim said.  If you don't have a draw, or if you can't guarantee a draw, then you'll need to give the club incentive to hire you.

That's it.  If you can put together a good description, 3 good tunes (in mp3 format), and guarantee a draw or have a unique offer/experience, you can start booking your own gigs.

And how you do that?  You get a list of clubs that play your kind of music (from the internet), you call them up, ask who the booker is, get their number or email address, email the description, tunes and guarantee offer; follow up with a phone call or email within 24-48 hours.  Keep on top of them.  And get the gig!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Further Irish History Discussion

Once the Vikings began to raid in 795, Ireland was permanently occupied, wholly or partly, by foreigners.

The Danes were followed by the Anglo-Normans in the twefth century. During the sixteenth century the English imperial grip tightened, and relations were further embittered by the Reformation.

Protestant England kept Catholic Ireland under subjection, sometimes incredibly brutal, until after the First World War.

Les Poules huppées

CRESTED HENS, THE (Les Poules huppées). French, Bourrée à 3 temps (3/8 time). E Dorian. Standard tuning (fiddle). Composed in 1983 by French...