William Grant Still: A Man Of Many Firsts

William Grant Still Portrait

 

When it comes to classical music, William Grant Still isn’t exactly a household name and that’s quite unfortunate because his music is truly captivating. I vividly remember the first time I heard his works. I had turned on CPR Classical one night a few years ago so my oldest daughter and I could play and listen to some good music.

Although I intended it to be in the background, I found myself really listening and wondering who wrote this amazing stuff. I could place the era – 20th century with some interesting jazz rhythms and influences – but I just couldn’t put my finger on the composer.

One check of the CPR site gave me the answer – Still.

And after further reading, I discovered there is much more to William Grant Still. He is much more than just a 20th century composer. He is also a man of many firsts who broke barriers.

  • He was the first African American to conduct a major American orchestra – the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1936.
  • He conducted the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra in 1955 becoming the first African American to conduct a major orchestra in the deep south.
  • His Symphony No. 1 “Afro-American” was the first symphony written by an African American for a leading US orchestra. It was first performed by the Rochester Philharmonic in 1931. Hear the PSO perform it in February.
  • His opera Troubled Island was the first by an African American that was performed by a major company – the New York City Opera
  • He was the first African American to have an opera performed on national US Television. His A Bayou Legend premiered on PBS in 1981.

Still was prolific, writing 8 operas and numerous symphonies and ballets. He worked as an arranger for W.C. Handy’s band and later as an arranger of music for radio and film including movies like Pennies from Heaven and Lost Horizon. When looking at his body of work, it’s not hard to see how he earned the nickname “Dean of Afro-American Composers”.

Despite the fact that he is not as well known as say Beethoven, his works live on in performances by everyone from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra to the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. The Parker Symphony Orchestra will be performing his 1st Symphony on February 25. Purchase tickets here.

 

Fun Christmas Music Facts & Hanukkah Song Trivia

Parker Symphony Holiday Concert

The Parker Symphony Orchestra is currently rehearsing music for the upcoming A Classic Parker Holiday concerts including pieces we’ll perform with the Parker Chorale. So it’s only appropriate and timely that we share some cool Christmas music trivia and Hanukkah music facts. From the “Chanukah Song” to “Winter Wonderland”, we think you’ll agree that these are interesting tidbits that may just make for great conversation starters this holiday season.

1. “Jingle Bells” is actually a Thanksgiving song. It was written by James Lord Pierpont, an organist at a Unitarian church, and performed during a Thanksgiving concert at the church. It was originally titled “The One Horse Open Sleigh” but re-published later with the title we all know today. “Jingle Bells” is also the first song that was broadcast from space.

2. Many Christmas songs were written by Jewish songwriters. These include “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Johnny Marks, “Let It Snow” by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, and “Winter Wonderland” by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith.

3. “The Christmas Song” was written during summer. While many Christmas carols sound like they were written during the perfect snowfall or holiday get-together, “The Christmas Song” was penned during a heat wave. In the summer of 1944, Mel Tormé was inspired by a few lines he saw jotted down by his friend and lyricist Bob Wells. They wrote the song as a way to distract themselves from the heat, but since it only took 45 minutes to complete the song, the relief didn’t last long.

4. The English version of “I Have a Little Dreidel” is slightly different than the Yiddish version. The title in Yiddish is “Ikh Bin A Kleyner Dreydl” or literally “I am a little dreidel”. In English, the singer sings about the dreidel, whereas in the Yiddish version, the singer is the dreidel. In the Yiddish lyrics, the dreidel is made out of “blay” or lead. in English, it is clay.

5. The best-selling single of all time is Bing Crosby’s performance of “White Christmas”. While there are no reliable sales figures that date back to when it was recorded, researchers from the Guinness book of records estimate that this version has sold no less than 50 million copies.

6. “Do You Hear What I Hear” is an anti-war song. The word “peace” often makes its appearance in carols including “Silent Night” and the slightly lesser known “Let There Be Peace On Earth”, but “Do You Hear What I Hear” was specifically written as a call for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was written by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne when America was on the brink of nuclear war. It is said Shayne was inspired by the sight of mothers pushing baby carriages on a city street.

7. The Christian hymn “Rock of Ages” came from a Hanukkah song. “Ma’oz Tzur” is typically sung after lighting the festival lights at Hanukkah. The hymn’s name comes from its Hebrew incipit (the first few words of the text) which means “Stronghold of the Rock”. A loose English translation of the hymn was written that many know as “Rock of Ages”.

8. Tony the Tiger sang a Christmas song. If you’re a real Christmas music buff, you’ll recognize the name Thurl Ravenscroft. He is the singer behind “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch”. The narrator of the Dr. Seuss classic, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was Boris Karloff, but he couldn’t sing. So the production team brought in Ravenscroft. Ravenscroft’s other claim to fame is his voiceover work. He is the voice of “Tony the Tiger” and is best known for his “they’re grrrrrrreat!” line.

9. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” may be one of the oldest, if the not the oldest, of all Christmas songs. It gained popularity in the 18th century, but it was written in Latin around the 9th century. Researchers believe that Gregorian monks first composed the song, but this is just a good guess. It has been associated with Christmas for almost 1200 years and was translated into English in 1851.

10. “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” was sung by a veterinarian. It was written in 1978 to be more of a joke than anything. Certainly it’s not a serious holiday hymn to say the least and it often makes lists of least favorite Christmas songs (although it’s sold more than 40 million copies). It was written by Randy Brooks, but he asked husband-and-wife duo Elmo and Patsy to perform it. Elmo, whose real name is Elmo Shropshire, is actually a licensed veterinarian.

11. Mendelssohn composed the music for “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” to celebrate the inventor Johann Gutenberg. Charles Wesley wrote the original words with the opening, “Hark! how all the welkin rings / Glory to the King of Kings”. The opening was changed to the one we sing today by George Whitefield and was set to Mendelssohn’s music to create the carol we all know. Mendelssohn’s composition was actually a cantata to commemorate Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press.

12. The uncut version of “The Chanukah song” is the one you hear on the radio. There are actually 4 versions or 4 parts to this non-traditional Hanukkah song written by Adam Sandler and SNL writers Lewis Morton and Ian Maxton-Graham. The part you typically hear on the radio at this time of year is Part 1, but did you know this is the uncensored version? The final verse sung on SNL and on an edited recording includes the line “Drink your gin and tonic-ah, but don’t smoke marijuan-icah.” The line you hear on the uncut album, the version that receives the most radio airplay, is actually, “Drink your gin and tonic-ah, and smoke your marijuan-icah.”

 

What is Ballot Issue 4B? What is SCFD?

 

Vote Yes on Colorado 4B and SCFD If you’re like me and you read about 4B in the Analysis of the 2016 Ballot Proposals booklet, you’re now totally confused about what it is and what SCFD does. You may have seen the Yes on 4B yard signs – the ones with the polar bear. You may even have seen Popsicle the SCFD polar bear mascot walking around town.

But all of that doesn’t mean much if you can’t translate the legal jargon from the booklet. So here’s a quick rundown of what SCFD and Colorado 4B really are and why they are so critical this election. In other words, why you should absolutely vote YES on 4B.

What is SCFD?

SCFD stands for Scientific & Cultural Facilities District. It is funded by a sales tax of one cent on every $10. It is currently in its 28th year.

Where does the money go?

SCFD supports museums like the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the Children’s Museum, the Denver Zoo, orchestras like the Parker Symphony Orchestra, the Colorado Ballet, and other educational, scientific, and visual and performing arts programs throughout Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas, and Jefferson counties. If you’ve been to any of these, you’ve benefited from SCFD. Attended an orchestra concert or an opera performance? That was funded at least in part by SCFD. Took the family to a Free Day at Four Mile Historic Park or the Denver Art Museum? That was made possible by SCFD. And all for only 1 penny of every $10 you spend!

Counties served by SCFD

What is 4B?

The sales tax of 1 cent on every $10 to fund SCFD is set to expire in 2018. A vote of YES on ballot issue 4B will reauthorize the funds until 2030 and residents of the 7 counties can continue to experience amazing programs and events for years to come – sometimes for free. A vote of Yes will be a vote to continue to bring culture to all.

Why is Yes on SCFD so important?

SCFD helps organizations in the Denver metro area continue to provide educational and cultural programs to everyone. From Free Days to field trips to special events and exhibits, organizations large and small, SCFD brings culture to all.

It has helped the Parker Symphony purchase instruments, rent and purchase sheet music for concerts like our Music of John Williams performance, and bring in special soloists and performers.

SCFD also generates $1.8 billion annually in economic activity and $520 million in tourism and creates 10,731 jobs. It has served 4.5 million students and 14 million guests.

It has elevated the Denver metro area to a world‐class cultural center with 95% growth in attendance since the district began.

Please vote YES on 4B on November 8 and help us keep the music playing! Learn more at Yes on SCFD.

Rene Conducting the Parker Symphony Orchestra

 

Top 7 Pirate Classical Music Pieces

 

Happy Talk Like A Pirate Day! In honor of the day, we’ve compiled a list of classical music related to the pirate life. From famous soundtracks to swashbuckling operas to rousing overtures, we’ve got your definitive playlist for the day.

1. Gilbert & Sullivan – The Pirates of Penzance

Probably the best known on our list is the fifth Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration. This comic opera brought us the much-parodied “Major General’s Song“. However, “I am a Pirate King” is a more appropriate selection for today. Watch this rousing pirate selection below.

2. Leroy Anderson – Pirate Dance

A light and exuberant piece, Anderson’s “Pirate Dance” has melodies you can certainly associate with pirate life. In fact, at one point, you can almost imagine it leading into the Disney “A Pirate’s Life For Me”, but it never quite gets there. Still, it’s a nice lighthearted selection for International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

3. Vincenzo Bellini – Il Pirata

Another opera on our list, Bellini’s “The Pirate” is based on a three-act melodrama called “Bertram, or The Pirate”. It was an immediate success upon its premiere in October 1827. Recent notable recordings have included such famous names as Maria Callas and Renée Fleming in the cast. Hear the opening below.

4. Walter Leigh – Jolly Roger

A rousing overture for sure, this lively piece will have you thinking adventure in no time. Leigh was an English composer in the early 20th century. Like “Pirates of Penzance”, “Jolly Roger” was a comic opera. Hear the overture below.

5. Klaus Badelt – Pirates of the Caribbean

You have to be marooned on an island not to know (or guess) that the music from the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean” has a distinctly swashbuckling sound. Hear it performed live below.

6. Erich Wolfgang Korngold – The Sea Hawk

Another piece written for the movies, Korngold’s soundtrack for “The Sea Hawk” is an exciting and romantic score you wouldn’t guess was composed in the 1940’s. The movie itself starred Errol Flynn as an English privateer who defends his nation against the Spanish Armada. Hear the overture from the film score below.

7. John Williams – Hook

To round out the list, we couldn’t help but include John Williams’ Hook soundtrack. Of course a score for a film about Peter Pan and Captain Hook would have a distinctly adventurous sound. Watch the “Flight to Neverland” from Hook conducted by the composer himself.

 

Star Trek Musical Instruments

Spock Lyre

Image courtesy of realart.blogspot.com

50 years ago today, the first episode of Star Trek aired. Of course, it has become a classic with fans worldwide and numerous sequels and spinoffs. While alien worlds and beings, futuristic technology, timeless themes like love and conflict, and social commentary were at the center of episodes from Star Trek The Original Series to Star Trek The Next Generation and beyond, music also periodically made its appearance.

Ressikan Flute

Image courtesy of memory-alpha.wikia.com

Spock was often seen playing the Vulcan lute (pictured above), especially in episodes like “Charlie X”, “The Way To Eden”, and “Amok Time”. It was a 12-stringed instrument played on Vulcan and tuned on a diatonic scale. It was known for its soothing sound. Uhura was also able to play it and sang while playing during “The Conscience of the King”.

On Star Trek The Next Generation, Jean-Luc Picard played a Ressikan flute. He considered it one of his most prized possessions. He acquired it in an episode that dealt with the village of Ressik on the extinct plent of Kataan. He had been implanted with the memories of a man through a probe from the planet and among those memories was the ability to play the flute.

Other notable instruments and their players are listed below:

Violin: Data on Star Trek TNG
Cello: O’Brien on Star Trek TNG
Harpsichord: The Squire of Gothos (Star Trek TOS)
Clarinet: Harry Kim on Star Trek Voyager
Trombone: Riker on Star Trek TNG
Bagpipes: Scotty in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Piano: Sisko on Star Trek DS9, Spock in one episode of Star Trek TOS (“Requiem For Methuselah”)

 

Finlandia: The Secret Protest Piece

Helsinki

Helsinki, Finland – courtesy of Fodors


Finlandia, one of Sibelius’ most famous compositions, is often referred to as a tone poem. A tone poem is a piece of orchestral music with only one movement that evokes a poem, story, painting, or other non-musical source. In the case of Finlandia, it was one of seven pieces that served as an accompaniment to a tableau that depicted episodes from Finnish history. It premiered July 2, 1900 in Helsinki.

But it was much more than just a historical tribute. It was secretly a protest against censorship from the Russian Empire. Prior to 1917, the Grand Duchy of Finland belonged to the Russian Empire. Most of the piece features rousing music that is meant to evoke the national struggle of the Finnish people. After that, a serene melody can be heard. Named the Finlandia Hymn, this section is Sibelius’ own creation that was arranged later for solo performance. The hymn has become one of Finland’s most important national songs with words written for is in 1941.

To avoid Russian censorship while protesting it, Finlandia was performed under alternative names. Some of these include Happy Feelings at the awakening of Finnish Spring and A Scandinavian Choral March.

Finlandia can be heard prominently in the film score for Die Hard 2: Die Harder.

It will also be performed by the Parker Symphony Orchestra on October 29. Purchase tickets here.

 

10 Facts About Dvorak That You May Not Know

 

Dvorak Portrait You may know Antonín Dvořák as the composer of the much-loved and often-played Symphony No.9 ‘From the New World’ (aka the New World Symphony), but there is more to the man than just his most famous work. Although his time in America is well-known thanks to the aforementioned symphony, he was actually born in a small village north of Prague and was very passionate about his homeland and its music, infusing the sounds in pieces like his Slavonic Dances.

Here are 10 others things you may not know about Dvořák.

1. He Apprenticed As a Butcher: Dvořák was the oldest of 14 children (8 who survived infancy). His father was a zither player, an innkeeper, and also a butcher. A young Antonin not only joined his father in the local band, but also in his business as an apprentice butcher. At the age of 13, he was inducted into the Butcher’s Guild of Zlonice.

2. His Grandmother Had a Pet Name For Him: Dvořák’s grandmother called him, “my little toothy” because he apparently had good teeth.

3. His First Compositions Went Unnoticed: Dvořák’s first compositions received no critical reception and no public performance. In fact, it wasn’t until Johannes Brahms’ efforts to boost his career that any of his music began to attract interest. It is said that Dvořák was so critical of himself that he burned his early works.

4. Sheet Music For The First Slavonic Dances Sold Out: In 1874, Brahms sat on a jury to award financial support to talented composers in need. It is then that he encountered Dvořák and was “visibly overcome” by his “mastery and talent”. Brahms recommended that his publisher, Simrock, publish a set of Slavonic Dances for piano duet. The sheet music for the 8 dances sold out in one day.

5. Dvořák Loved Trains: The composer was known to spend hours at the Franz Josef railway station in Prague, watching trains. He knew the timetable by heart and even asked his students to describe train journeys they had made. Later, when he visited America, he also took up pigeon raising and watching steamboats.

6. He Stole Pencils: In an effort to help calm Czech speakers in Austria who were upset over the banning of their language, Dvořák was appointed a member of the Austrian Senate. He came the first day in 1901, accepted the honor, stole all of the pencils at his desk because they were perfect for composing, and never showed up again.

7. He Was An Early Riser: Dvořák and his wife got up very early in the morning. When they stayed in Cambridge with composer and organist Charles Villiers Stanford, the host was surprised to find couple sitting under a tree in the garden at 6 AM.

8. A Ship Is Named For Dvořák: In 1943, an American Liberty ship in the U.S. Navy was named the USNS Antonín Dvořák in the composer’s honor.

9. There Is A Mural In His Honor In Iowa: Dvořák spent a few weeks living in Spillville, IA. It was a town of mostly Czech speaking immigrants at the time. It is there that he wrote his “American” String Quartet. Today, a mural is there in his honor.

10. He Is The Second Czech Composer To Achieve Worldwide Recognition: Dvořák is not the only Czech composer of note. Bedřich Smetana, of Má vlast and its The Moldau movement fame, first established a nationalist example during the 1848 Prague uprising.

 

Be sure to join us for Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Other Romantic Selections at the PACE Center in Parker, CO on Saturday October 29 at 7:30 PM to hear Dvořák’s most famous symphony.

 

Parker Symphony Orchestra Announces 2016-2017 Season

Wide shot of Parker Symphony Orchestra

PARKER, CO (August 1, 2016) – The Parker Symphony Orchestra has announced its 2016-2017 season presented by Parker Arts. The first concert in the fall is titled “Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Other Romantic Selections” and will be held on Oct. 29 at 7:30 PM at the PACE Center, 20000 Pikes Peak Ave., Parker.

The program includes Dvorak’s much-loved Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” better known as the New World Symphony. Along with this audience favorite, the orchestra will perform Grieg’s “Peer Gynt Suite” and Sibelius’ “Finlandia” – both of which feature familiar melodies.

Tickets are available now at the PACE Center online box office (https://parkerarts.ticketforce.com/), by phone at 303-805-6800 or in person at the PACE Center. Ticket prices range from $22-$27 per ticket.

The Parker Symphony typically plays four programs per year. The fall concert opens the season on October 29. There are 3 performances of the holiday concert “A Classic Parker Holiday with the Parker Chorale” on December 2, 3, and 4. On Februray 25, the PSO will present a themed performance titled “Celebrating Black Composers Throughout the Centuries”. Finally, the orchestra will take audiences on a journey with “Notes from Nature – A Journey of Sights and Sounds” on May 5.

The mission of the PSO is to perform orchestral music that will educate, entertain, and inspire the people of Parker, Colorado and the surrounding communities. Under the direction of René Knetsch, the community orchestra includes amateur musicians and music professionals such as private and classroom music teachers. They frequently invite professional guest musicians to join them for key parts and concerto performances and often collaborate with local high school musicians, community choirs, and children’s choirs and orchestras. They also present outreach performances for the elderly.

For additional information about the Parker Symphony Orchestra, visit them online at parkersymphony.org.

 

Why Community Orchestras Are Important

Parker Symphony Orchestra - Parker, CO Local Community Orchestra

Many major cities, including Denver, have a thriving music scene that includes a symphony orchestra. In fact, there are over 1,800 orchestras in the US alone. However, only about 20% have professional musicians (source: League of American Orchestras). The other 80% are volunteer, or community, orchestras made up of musicians who gladly donate their time and efforts to entertain, educate, and inspire their local community.

Even though many of us live near one of the professional organizations, we probably live even closer to a community orchestra that performs great music right in our backyard. If you haven’t checked yours out, especially if you are in the Parker area and haven’t heard the Parker Symphony Orchestra yet, here are 8 reasons why you really should attend a concert and support or even join your local community orchestra.

 

1. Community Orchestra Concerts Are a Great Value

There’s nothing quite like the experience of getting all dressed up to see the Symphony downtown in the big city. But there’s also nothing quite like the ticket prices either. If you would like to experience live classical music performances on a regular basis but can’t afford to do so at the big venues, community orchestra concerts are for you. Single concert tickets or even season tickets are quite reasonable and you hear many of the same works including famous symphonies like Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” and pop culture favorites like the Music of John Williams.

 

2. Community Orchestra Concerts Are Wonderful for New and Young Fans

So you don’t have a tuxedo or evening gown or you don’t know much about classical music? Maybe you want to introduce your kids to the genre? Community orchestra concerts are a great place to hear wonderful music that you may or may not be familiar with and tend to have a more relaxed atmosphere. While people still dress nicely, most of tuxedos, if not all, are worn by the male performers in the orchestra. The music is often very listenable and the audience is full of people of all ages and music knowledge levels. Community orchestras also sometimes offer children’s concerts to introduce very young kids to classical music and the various musical instruments.

 

3. A Local Symphony Orchestra Is Good for Business.

Businesses that want to attract capable and smart employees often choose a location based on local cultural opportunities. The thought is that an area with lots of cultural events is likely to attract a diverse, dynamic, intelligent, and talented group of people. A community orchestra not only provides residents a way enjoy the arts locally, but it also offers an opportunity for local musicians to perform.

 

4. Community Orchestras Support Emerging and Local Musicians

From youth choirs to local soloists to upcoming virtuosos, you can often hear the newest and brightest talent perform with community orchestras. Many are very supportive of the local schools, sometimes inviting students to play with the organization either as part of a section or as a soloist. Community orchestras are more than just groups of local performers – they are really ambassadors for music in the area.

 

5. Volunteer Orchestras Offer the Chance for Non-Professionals to Play

Volunteer orchestras certainly have their fair-share of musicians who are professionals in other groups, music teachers, and more. But if your day job isn’t in music, that doesn’t mean you can’t still play your instrument. If you’ve got the talent, a community orchestra may have a place for you too. In fact, the Parker Symphony Orchestra is always looking for good, local musicians to join us. Playing music has been shown to have long-term positive effects on the brain as outlined in this Ted-Ed Video.

 

6. Community Orchestras Have Members Who Can Connect You

Need a musician for your next event? Are you looking for a music teacher? Chances are an orchestra member can help or connect you with people who can. Getting to know the members of your local orchestra can connect you to the greater music scene in your area. You can get recommendations about music, classes, other events, instruments, repair shops, and more.

 

7. Local Orchestras Can Help Celebrate Holidays, Events, and Milestones

Music is an essential part of almost every event. While live bands are often the go-to for entertainment, local orchestras, too, can help celebrate the moment. A community orchestra can provide the perfect backdrop for a city anniversary celebration, a night under the stars, and more. Orchestral holiday music, like that at the Parker Symphony Orchestra holiday concerts, is a family-friendly way to ring in the season.

 

8. Support for a Volunteer Orchestra Is Often Tax Deductible

Many community orchestras are actually non-profits, relying solely on public and private support. For example, the Parker Symphony is a registered 501(c)3 organization so all donations are tax-deductible. Giving to a local symphony is a wonderful way to give back to your local community and help keep the music playing.