Playing a Rubik’s Cube like a piano

How to play a Rubik's cube like a piano (YouTube |Screengrab)
How to play a Rubik’s cube like a piano (YouTube |Screengrab)

Mathematics and music are closely related. And as teacher Michael Staff points out, their common ground could be partially connected with a Rubik’s Cube puzzle.

In a recent TedEd video lesson, “How to play a Rubik’s Cube like a piano,” Staff explains:

“If you were to cover your entire Rubik’s Cube with notes, such that every face of the solved cube is a harmonious chord, you could express the solution as a chord progression that gradually moves from discordance to harmony, and play the Rubik’s cube.”

Watch the entire TedEd video below.

Art installation features 70 guitar-playing birds

70 birds and 14 guitars (Screengrab from YouTube)
70 birds and 14 guitars (YouTube screengrab)

A new exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts features 70 zebra finches — and 14 guitars.

French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot developed the concept which he calls ‘living music’. “Looking through the window, my feeling was that I want to make music from these birds on the wire, and 30 years later I did this,” the artist stated in a recent interview.

The installation takes place in a makeshift aviary, where the only perches available to the birds are the strings of the 14 guitars. The guitars (10 Gibson Les Paul guitars and 4 Gibson Thunderbird basses, to be precise) are plugged into amplifiers stationed around the space, and music is made as the birds land on the strings.

A veterinarian is on hand to give the birds periodic checkups to ensure their health and happiness.

This is the 19th time Boursier-Mougenot has staged the exhibit, but the first time it will take place in Canada. Check out the video below to see a glimpse of last year’s installation at the Barton Gallery of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.

(h/t Charlie McCarron)

On the Air This Week

Highlights from Nov. 24 to Dec. 1

Tuesday, 5 p.m. Music with Minnesotans: Ann Jurewicz.
Wednesday, 7:15 a.m. & 5:15 p.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Wednesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today: Piano Puzzler with Bruce Adolphe.
Wednesday, 12 midnight Euro Classics: Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana/John Axelrod, cond.; Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 1 in G minor, Op. 13 — recorded at the Congress Centre, Lugano, Switzerland.
Thursday, 10 a.m. Giving Thanks: A Celebration of Fall, Food and Gratitute with John Birge.
Thursday, 12 noon Thanksgiving with Cantus.
Thursday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Friday, 7:15 a.m. Moveable Feast with John Birge and Minnesota Monthly‘s Rachel Hutton.
Friday, 11 a.m. Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Spotlight:Mozart: Concerto No. 17 in G for Piano and Orchestra, K. 453.
Friday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Friday, 3 p.m. Friday Favorites with Melissa Ousley (in for Steve Staruch).
Saturday, 9 a.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Saturday, 10 a.m. Saturday Cinema.
Saturday, 5 p.m. A Prairie Home Companion: live from Waterbury, Conn.
Saturday, 8 p.m. Euro Classics: La Ritirata; Brunetti: String Trio in C, Series VI/1 — recorded at the Fundación Juan March in Madrid.
Sunday, 6 a.m. Pipedreams: All American.
Sunday, noon From the Top: Big Sky, Mont.
Sunday, 1 p.m. SymphonyCast: New York Philharmonic/Alan Gilbert, conductor; Joyce Yang, piano.
Sunday, 5 p.m. Advent Voices with Lynne Warfel.
Monday, 7:15 a.m. Sing to Inspire with Tesfa Wondemagegnehu and Julie Amacher.
Monday, 12 noon Learning to Listen with Alison Young and Andrea Blain.
Monday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Tuesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Tuesday, 5 p.m. Music with Minnesotans.
Tuesday, 7 p.m. Advent Voices with Lynne Warfel.

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Help! Concert Preparation Delegation

Students at KMS Elementary School in Murdock, Minn. put on a holiday concert (Zita Hamann)
Students at KMS Elementary School in Murdock, Minn. put on a holiday concert (Zita Hamann)

I’m sure I’m not the only music teacher who is feeling a little overwhelmed by preparations for looming winter concerts. Choosing and rehearsing repertoire is starting to seem like the easy part as I look at my to-do list of logistics to arrange, details to plan, and people to contact in order to make my students’ performance a success. In my rural school district, the winter concert is a huge community event, and it’s easy to feel alone in my planning as the only elementary music teacher in the district. I suspect that concert preparation is just as stressful no matter where you teach. This is the perfect time of year for music teachers to practice the very important skill of delegating.

Classroom Teachers
• Collaborative Teaching: Classroom teachers are often happy to support their students’ concert preparations by connecting concert repertoire to content in their classrooms. Maybe they’re teaching a unit on immigration that connects to your concert theme of holidays around the world. Or maybe they’re reading a story about someone who reached a goal through hard work that can be connected to students working toward their goal of a successful concert. When you are aware of what other teachers are teaching your students, connecting content can benefit teachers and students.
• Extra Practice: Some teachers welcome the opportunity to help students practice their concert music during spare minutes in their day, whether they’re actively rehearsing or playing recordings of concert songs as background music during work time. Not all teachers will be able to incorporate concert music into their classrooms, but it can be worthwhile to make recordings and lyrics sheets available to those who are able to bring the music into their classes. Every little bit of extra practice can help!
• Supervision: Teachers are often required to supervise students during concerts. They might also be willing to help students line up, guide students on and off risers, and monitor student behaviors during the performance.

Specialist Teachers
• Phy. Ed Teacher: Elementary concerts are often held in the school gym, in which case some collaboration with the phy. ed teacher will be necessary. He or she might be willing to help schedule, supervise, and assist during rehearsals and performances.
• Art Teacher: I’ve been lucky to work with some very supportive art teachers who have offered their own or their students’ help with props, set design, costumes, and program design. My school has a tradition of displaying an art show just outside of the gym where the concert is held. A collaborative presentation of student work in music and art can benefit both programs.

Office Staff and Custodians
• Advertising: The office staff at many schools takes responsibility for promoting school events, such as concerts. Find out if concert information can be posted in the student/parent handbook, in a school newsletter, or on a school sign. The office staff might also be willing to contact local newspapers or events websites.
• Copying: Preparing for a concert seems to require a lot of photocopying. The staff in some school offices will copy and distribute notes to be sent home to parents, and print and fold programs. This may not be the protocol in all schools, but because these tasks are so time-consuming, it’s worthwhile to find out what concert tasks the office staff might consider part of their workload.
• Set-Up: New teachers are always advised to make friends with the custodians as soon as possible, and concert season is a time when those good working relationships can make life for a music teacher much easier. Custodians can be hugely helpful with the set-up of risers, bleachers, chairs, and so much more.

Parents
• Decorating, Costumes, and Props: Many parents welcome opportunities to help the music program during concert season. Some might enjoy helping with set-up and decoration of the stage before the concert. Others might be able to provide props or make costumes.
• How to Connect: Connecting with parents can be the biggest challenge. Try sending notes home, emailing, posting on social media, writing a notice in the school newsletter, announcing volunteer opportunities in class, etc.

Students
• Set-Up: Elementary students often really enjoy the responsibility of setting up audience chairs, arranging stage sets, and many other tasks that would be very time-consuming if done alone. Helping out with these behind-the-scenes jobs will give students a broader understanding of the different types of work that are necessary to put on a performance event, and will give them more ownership of their concert.
• Extra Elements: There are a lot of ways to enliven an elementary performance with instruments, additional student-composed verses, and movements. Teachers have a little less to plan themselves and students enjoy creating their own accompaniments, lyrics, and choreography.
• Announcers: Students love being announcers for concerts, giving information about the pieces performed, or explaining the process through which they learned the music. Older elementary students might even be able to research the concert music to write their own scripts.

Preparing for a concert is hard and stressful work, but this lists only some of the people in a school community who might be happy to help. It can be challenging for me to delegate tasks that will affect my students’ big performance, but it’s always worthwhile. Sharing the work doesn’t only reduce a music teacher’s stress, but builds collaborative partnerships, introduces new perspectives and influences into the performance, and creates a true community event. Best of luck this concert season, music teachers!


Maia Hamann currently teaches music at Holdingford Elementary, grades K-5. You can read all of her blog posts here. View our entire portfolio of educational resources on our Music for Learning page.

On the Air This Week

Highlights from Nov. 17 to 24

Tuesday, 5 p.m. Music with Minnesotans: Warren Mack with special guest, cellist Tony Ross.
Wednesday, 7:15 a.m. & 5:15 p.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Wednesday, 12 noon Alison Young features tracks by WindSync.
Wednesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today: Piano Puzzler with Bruce Adolphe.
Wednesday, 12 midnight Asia Classics: Luis Claret, Eun-Sun Hong, cellos; Tae-Hyung Kim, piano; Menotti: Suite for 2 Cellos and Piano — recorded in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Thursday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Thursday, 3 p.m. Regional Spotlight: Rochester Choral Arts Ensemble.
Friday, 7:15 a.m. Moveable Feast with John Birge and Minnesota Monthly‘s Rachel Hutton.
Friday, 11 a.m. Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Spotlight: Avison: Concerto Grosso No. 1 in A (After D. Scarlatti).
Friday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Friday, 3 p.m. Friday Favorites with Steve Staruch.
Friday, 8 p.m. Minnesota Orchestra: Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique, Leiberson’s Neruda Songs: Minnesota Orchestra/Robert Spano, conductor; Kelley O’Connor, mezzo soprano; live from Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.
Saturday, 9 a.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Saturday, 10 a.m. Saturday Cinema.
Saturday, 5 p.m. A Prairie Home Companion: live from Waterbury, Conn.
Saturday, 8 p.m. Euro Classics: Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra; Scriabin: The Poem of Ecstasy — recorded in Berlin.
Sunday, 6 a.m. Pipedreams: On Fire!.
Sunday, noon From the Top: Gunther Schuller Special.
Sunday, 1 p.m. SymphonyCast: Nashville Symphony/Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor; Joyce Yang, piano.
Monday, 7:15 a.m. Sing to Inspire with Tesfa Wondemagegnehu and Julie Amacher.
Monday, 12 noon Learning to Listen with Alison Young and Andrea Blain.
Monday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Tuesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Tuesday, 5 p.m. Music with Minnesotans.

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Hear ‘Smooth Criminal’ on street organ

An encoded score of 'Smooth Criminal', being fed through a street organ (YouTube screengrab)
An encoded score of ‘Smooth Criminal’, being fed through a street organ (YouTube screengrab)

Perhaps no other pop tune has been covered more often, and more creatively, than Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” It seems that every month or so, we discover some new way that the song has been arranged (for example, check out our recent post on a cover of the same tune from a traditional Japanese ensemble).

Not to be outdone, French musician Patrick Mathis has created an arrangement for street (or barrel) organ — an instrument that uses pipes and bellows to create the sound. The notes come from coded paper fed through the machine, which is typically activated by the performer turning a crank.

Check out Mathis in action via the video below.

The benefits of ukulele in the elementary classroom

(Sarah Han|Flickr Creative Commons)
(Sarah Han|Flickr Creative Commons)

According to recently published research from the University of Toronto-Mississauga, music lessons can lead to an increase of positive social behavior in children.

The lessons in this study featured group performances on one particular instrument, primarily due to its child-friendliness and affordability — the ukulele.

The study — led by psychologist E. Glenn Schellenberg — focused on 84 Canadian third- and fourth-graders. About half of the students took part in a 40-minute music class, meeting once a week for an entire school year. The other students attended schools without this music program.

The research team discovered that students who participated in the 10-month music class had “larger increases in sympathy and pro-social behavior” that those who did not.

“Such collaboration may improve children’s social bonds … raising their motivation to provide support for others, and their willingness to receive help from others,” the team noted.

Schellenberg and his colleagues pointed out two possible contributing factors to this outcome. One, the frequent interaction of the children in the music class created an environment in which helping each other was a very natural thing to do. And two, performing in unison has long been linked to an increase in bonding and that the team calls “other-oriented emotions.”

Read more about the study in the online journal, PLoS One.

After Minnesota revision, Glass’s ‘Appomattox’ wins raves

Appomattox Washington National Opera

When Philip Glass’s opera Appomattox, with text by playwright Christopher Hampton, premiered in 2007, critical reaction was muted — to put it kindly.

SF Gate called the opera “ambitious and maddeningly inconsistent.” The New York Times said the opera about the end of the Civil War was “preachy,” “ponderous,” and “prone to melodrama.”

For Glass and Hampton, it was back to the drawing board. First, Hampton revised his text for presentation as a standalone play — without Glass’s music — at the Guthrie Theater in 2012. Hampton completely reimagined the story’s second half, drawing parallels between the Civil War and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.

Personally, I was unimpressed — but Glass was sold. “My God,” said Glass after seeing the new version, “we’ve got to rewrite the opera.”

That rewritten opera, now focusing closely on voting rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 rejection of the central components of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, opened Saturday night at the Washington (D.C.) National Opera. This time, the critics are much happier.

The Washington Post’s Anne Midgette — a critic infamously averse to puffery — wrote that the new opera “sears across the stage like a firework of light and color and rage and pain and beauty.” The New York Times also appreciated the revisions (“This new act is altogether brighter and more confident,” writes Corinna da Fonesca-Wollheim), but still thinks the opera could use “another round of revision.”

Back to Minneapolis?


Production photo: Washington National Opera

Composer Corner: Mendelssohn-Hensel

Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel (Portrait by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim|The Jewish Museum, New York)
Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel (Portrait by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim | The Jewish Museum, New York)

November’s composer of the month is Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel (FAN-ee MEN-dle-szawn HEN-sle).

 

Born: November 14, 1805

Died: May 14, 1847

 

Five facts:

• Fanny was the eldest child of her family, which included younger brother and renowned composer Felix Mendelssohn. By some accounts, she was regarded as the better pianist of the two.
• When she was only 14, Fanny performed 24 preludes from J. S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier for her father — from memory.
• Fanny married a painter named Wilhelm Hensel, and they had one son, which they named after Fanny’s favorite three composers — Sebastian Ludwig Felix Hensel.
• She composed over 460 works —  a number of which were originally published under Felix’s name.
• Fanny’s last major composition — the Piano Trio in D minor Op. 11 — was written for her sister, Rebecka.

 

Three important works:

• Piano Sonata in C minor (1824)
• Das Jahr (1841)
• Piano Trio in D major, Op. 11 (1847)

 

Audio Backpack playlist: Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel

A ‘mobile opera’ takes over Los Angeles

A car scene from Hopscotch (Vimeo screengrab)
A car scene from Hopscotch (Vimeo screengrab)

A Los Angeles-based opera company called The Industry has been in operation for only a few years, but they’re already making waves for their interactive and immersive productions. And their latest undertaking —Hopscotch — is certainly no exception.

It is being billed as ‘a mobile opera in 24 cars’, and involves over 100 different singers, musicians, dancer, and actors. A ticket gets you on one of the three performance routes, each with eight stops where 10-minute scenes are performed.

In a promotional video for the production, Yuval Sharon — Artistic Director for The Industry — explains:

“You’re invited into a car not knowing the destination. The car starts moving, and suddenly you’re drawn into the story with singers and musicians that are in the car with you. As they drive through the city, activity will be happening all around you.

“So at the end of that 10 minutes, you get out of that car, where another car is waiting for you. You get into that car and the next leg of the story continues. And it goes on, and on, and on, throughout the entire city.”

For audience members who would rather not experience the work through a car ride, there will also be a ‘Central Hub’ where spectators go to experience all 24 journeys via a live video stream.

Hopscotch runs on weekends through Nov. 22nd, with scenes happening all over the city of Los Angeles. Listen to NPR’s Michelle Lanz describe her experience with the opera, and see a teaser for the production below.