Hear the largest musical instrument in the world

Organist Otto Pebworth performing on the Great Stalacpipe Organ (YouTube screengrab)
Organist Otto Pebworth performing on the Great Stalacpipe Organ (YouTube screengrab)

Have you ever wondered what the largest instrument in the world is?

Well, you can find it deep in the Luray Caverns, located in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. In 1954, mathematician and scientist Leland Sprinkle built a gigantic pipe organ there — The Great Stalacpipe Organ.

While it first appears to be a standard pipe organ, it actually uses the cavern’s stalactites to deliver the sounds instead of pipes.

In a recent episode of “Great Big Story,” organist Otto Pebworth demonstrates the instrument and explains how it works:

“When I press a key, it sends an electrical pulse up to a rubber-tipped mallet, which strikes the stalactite, causing it to vibrate and produce an incredibly beautiful, musical tone.”

The stalactites chosen to make sound cover a range of more than 3.5 acres, making it the largest musical instrument in the world.

Hear the organ in action in the video below, as Pebworth performs a bit of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”

Engaging, Empowering, and Educational In-Class Performances

Girl at the piano (Pixabay | Public Domain)
Girl at the piano (Pixabay | Public Domain)

I recently had one of those delightful teacher moments when my third grade students suddenly seemed to be running the class by themselves and doing a better job of it than when I’m the one “in charge.” Every day, students arriving at music class ask me if they can do performances. Sometimes they’re students who are in piano lessons and want to practice a recital piece for an audience, but more often, they’re kids who don’t get lessons and don’t have instruments at home who just want to explore and have the experience of performing. On this particular day, we had two long, improvised performances on piano. After both were finished and the audience had applauded, the students started a discussion that compared and contrasted the musical elements they had heard, emotions they had felt, imagery and stories they had imagined in the music, and more. They talked to the performers to compare what was intended and what was communicated. With just a little training in performer and audience etiquette and some guided listening experience, my students have shown me that they are capable of taking ownership of their own learning, and empowering each other to be creative performers and thoughtful and respectfully opinionated audience members.

Performer Preparation

Some general guidelines can help students to feel comfortable and have a positive experience while performing in the classroom. We talk in class about the difference between music that’s learned before a performance and music that’s improvised. Students are welcome to do either type of performance, opening the opportunity to those who don’t have training in music outside of school.

Especially when improvising, students need to have an understanding of what is appropriate for the setting. Banging on drums as loud as possible might be expressive, but it could damage instruments and disrupt neighboring classes. A ten minute exploration on the piano can bring out some interesting musical ideas, but it’s not considerate to take up so much of a twenty-five minute class period when there is a lesson planned and others who want a turn to perform. Learning to manage performance time is thoughtful and good musicianship.

Students can also be taught performer behaviors, such as waiting for everyone’s attention before beginning, introducing the piece they will be playing or singing, and bowing during the applause. It’s important for students to understand why they do these behaviors. Waiting for attention ensures that everyone will be able to enjoy the performance, and shows the performer’s pride in what he or she is about to do. Introducing the piece provides the audience with information that can help them to follow and enjoy the performance. And bowing during applause is the performer’s way of saying thank you to the audience for their kindness and attention.

Audience Preparation

In order for a performance to be a performance, it needs an audience. In-class performances are opportunities for students to practice good etiquette in both roles. Just as with performer behaviors, students should have an understanding of why certain behaviors are expected of audience members. Quietly listening while facing the performer helps audience members get the most enjoyment out of the performance, is polite to others who are listening, and shows respect and support to the performer. Reacting to the music is natural and encouraging to the performer, but students can learn to react in a way that won’t distract the player.

Young students can have a lot of fun learning respectful audience behavior. Invite students to demonstrate both the right and the wrong ways to behave, practice behaviors during student performances, or take students to a concert outside of school. My students particularly enjoy the Class Notes video “What To Do at a Concert.”

Guided Listening

Providing young students with guiding questions will help focus their listening skills. Prepare students to listen for general elements, such as how an instrument is used, and what feelings the music evokes. After a performance, ask more specific questions about what was just heard. Ask about techniques, musical elements, how the music made the students feel, what it made them think about, if it reminds them of any other music they have heard, etc. As students come to expect these kinds of questions, their listening becomes more focused and their answers become deeper. And when they do their own improvisations, their performances become more focused and musical because they know what their audience is listening for.

Dialogue with Performers

Creating a dialogue between performers and audience gives students an understanding of communicative purpose of music. When students in the audience offer an idea of a story they heard in the music, we can ask the performer if he or she had a story in mind while playing, and if it aligns with what members of the audience were thinking about. If it’s the same kind of story, we praise the performer for communicating it well; if it’s different, we celebrate how amazing it is that music can have different meanings for different people. We talk about specific elements of the performance that made up different parts of the story. Slow, smooth, high notes could sound like someone sleeping. Short, quiet notes could sound like a robber tiptoeing into a house. Students can come up with incredibly creative ideas whether listening to Mozart or an untrained first grader’s improvisation.

 

Elementary students are at a pivotal stage of development as musicians. Before they reach the stage when inhibitions could scare them away from trying out performing for an audience, give students in-class performance opportunities to bolster their confidence and the value they place on their own and others’ musical ideas.


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.

Chicago music school partners with five tech startups

Screengrab from SoundSlice
Screengrab from interactive notation program, SoundSlice

Founded in 1976, The People’s Music School serves Chicago area children by giving them access to free, quality music education. They recently announced partnerships with five tech startups that will augment their classes and lessons with technology — a progressive approach to improving music education.

In an interview with Karis Hustad of the online publication, ChicagoInno, school president/artistic director Jennifer Kim Matsuzawa says, “There is so much tech that is related to music, everything from Guitar Hero to sound engineering equipment. Some of the most advanced tech is music related … But nothing has been applied at a broad scale in a school setting.”

The school is partnering with these five startups:

Youtopia — a classroom management program designed to help teachers track behavior, academics, practice habits, and extracurricular achievements.

Soundslice — an advanced music education program that helps students learn music through interactive sheet music (teachers can also create an account and upload their own notation/tabs).

Cadenza — using AI, this application creates a type of ‘give-and-take’ conversation between a soloist and a virtual orchestra, listening to the performer, matching the tempo, and playing along with you.

JoyTunes — a “Guitar Hero”-type tablet app which tests accuracy of piano students, making it easier for teachers to track progress of their students.

Music Prodigy — a platform used to facilitate the creation of digital music tests (which provide instant feedback to help the students learn faster), as well as to easily monitor student performance.

Read the full article on ChicagoInno’s website.

 

 

On The Air This Week

Highlights from Feb. 23 to March 1

Tuesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Tuesday, 8 p.m. Choral Stream: The Phoenix Chorale’s and Kansas City Chorale’s Grammy-winning recording: Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vespers.
Wednesday, 7:15 a.m. & 5:15 p.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Wednesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Wednesday, 12 midnight Euro Classics: Dover Quartet; Dvořák: String Quartet No. 11 in C — recorded at the Schwetzingen Festival in Germany.
Thursday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Thursday, 3 p.m. Regional Spotlight: National Lutheran Choir; Benjamin Britten: Te Deum.
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: Mendelssohn, Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Opus 11.
Friday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Friday, 3 p.m. Friday Favorites with Steve Staruch.
Friday, 8 p.m. Minnesota Orchestra: Jon Kimura Parker Plays Mozart; Minnesota Orchestra/Gilbert Varga, conductor; Jon Kimura Parker, piano and harpsichord; Greg Milliren, flute; Julie Gramolini Williams, oboe; Gregory T. Williams, clarinet; Mark Kelley, bassoon; Michael Gast, horn; Manny Laureano, trumpet; R. Douglas Wright, trombone; live from Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.
Saturday, 9 a.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Saturday, 10 a.m. Saturday Cinema.
Saturday, 12 noon Met Opera: Lulu.
Saturday, 5 p.m. A Prairie Home Companion: hosted by Garrison Keillor; live from the Fitzgerald Theater.
Saturday, 8 p.m. Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, live broadcast: David Fray, piano; Andrew Norman, “Light Screens”; Aaron Copland, Suite from Appalachian Spring; Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 24.
Sunday, 6 a.m. Pipedreams: Music in the Museum.
Sunday, 12 noon From the Top: Kentucky Center for the Arts.
Sunday, 1 p.m. SymphonyCast: Los Angeles Philharmonic; Ludovic Morlot, conductor; Sergey Khachatryan, violin.
Monday, 7:15 a.m. Sing to Inspire with Tesfa Wondemagegnehu and Julie Amacher.
Monday, 12 noon Learning to Listen with Andrea Blain and Alison Young.
Monday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Tuesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.

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VIDEO: Minnesota Orchestra, Sibelius Symphony No. 1

Today, Nicollet Avenue; tomorrow, Broadway.

Thursday to Saturday, Feb. 18 to 20, the Minnesota Orchestra, led by Osmo Vänskä, perform Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 1 and Symphony No. 3, as well as Sibelius’s Violin Concerto (for which the orchestra will be joined by guest soloist Hilary Hahn). Classical MPR will broadcast Friday’s live concert, starting at 8 p.m.

The weekend’s concerts at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis are a preview of the same concert the Minnesota Orchestra and Hahn will perform at Carnegie Hall in New York on March 3.

To get a sense of what will air on Classical MPR on Friday, Feb. 19 (and what will be heard at Carnegie Hall on March 3), watch this video from Thursday night’s concert in Minneapolis. In this clip, we see Vänskä leading the orchestra in the first minutes of Sibelius’s Symphony No. 1. The emotion of the music and the passion of the performers leaps from the screen:

As this video suggests, listeners in Minnesota are in for a treat this weekend … as New Yorkers will be on March 3.

Tracing rhythm using the ‘wheel method’

A different way to visualize rhythm (YouTube screengrab)
A different way to visualize rhythm (YouTube screengrab)

Rhythm is all around us. We most often associate it with music, but we can hear it everywhere — from ocean tides, to heartbeats, to the ticking of a clock.

As John Varney points out in a recent TedEd video, “A different way to visualize rhythm,” the flow of rhythm can be followed in a similar manner to the way we watch the round face of a clock and trace the passage of time. Varney calls this the ‘wheel method’, and claims it to be a more intuitive way to visualize rhythm than following in a linear musical score.

The wheel is marked with different colored dots representing beats. In this case, green dots are used for main beats, orange dots for off beats, and white dots for secondary beats.

In the video, Varney uses the wheel method to take us on a rhythmic journey around the world, tracing styles like quechua, bomba, choro, tango, and cumbia — just to name a few.

Watch the video on below and see the entire lesson on TedEd’s website.

Composer Corner: Mendelssohn

February’s composer of the month is Felix Mendelssohn.

 

Born: February 3, 1809

Died: November 4, 1847

 

Five facts:

• The composer’s full name is Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy.
• Mendelssohn is often considered to be the greatest child prodigy after Mozart. He composed around 50 pieces by age 12, his first published work was written by age 13, and his first symphony at 15.
• The composer was a friend of Queen Victoria. The Queen chose Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” for her daughter’s wedding.
• Felix’s sister, Fanny, was also a composer. In fact, some believe that there are pieces attributed to Felix that were actually written by Fanny.
• Mendelssohn played a vital role in reviving the music of J.S. Bach in Europe.

 

Three important works:

• String Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20 (1825)
• Symphony No. 4, Op. 90 “Italian” (1833)
• Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 (1844)

 

Audio Backpack playlist: Felix Mendelssohn

Collaboration between Mozart and Salieri discovered

Mozart and Salieri
Mozart and Salieri

Milos Forman’s Academy Award-winning film Amadeus (based on the Peter Schaffer play) depicts Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri as fierce rivals. It even suggests that Salieri may have played a role in Mozart’s early death at 35.

Scholars have long dismissed stories of the two composers being archenemies — and the discovery of a long-lost 1785 composition demonstrates that they even collaborated.

“We all know the picture drawn by the movie, Amadeus. It is false,” said Ulrich Leisinger of the Mozarteum Foundation Salzburg. “Salieri did not poison Mozart, but they both worked in Vienna and were competitors.”

The work was discovered in November by German composer and musicologist Timo Jouko Herrmann, who found it in the catalog of the Czech Museum of Music while searching for pieces by Salieri’s students. It’s titled Per la Ricuperata Salute di Ofelia (For the recovered health of Ophelia), and celebrates English soprano Nancy Storace, who performed works by both composers.

“Here we have a short, not great, piece by Mozart, but at least something that really sheds new light on his daily life as an opera composer in Vienna,” Leisinger said.

It was performed earlier today at the museum, and it’s unclear whether or not the piece has ever been performed publicly.

“To hear a joint piece by Mozart and Salieri … lost for more than 200 years, is an amazing experience,” Czech National Museum director, Michal Lukes, said.


The video below is edited from the film, Amadeus:

Former SPCO cellist caught with 113 pounds of marijuana

Oregon cellist marijuana

Recreational marijuana use is legal in Oregon — but it’s not this legal.

David Huckaby, a Juilliard-trained cellist who played with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra from 2009 to 2014, was arrested on Friday near Bly, Ore. — where he remains jailed.

After stopping the 33-year-old cellist for speeding, authorities found Huckaby in possession of 113 pounds of marijuana — an amount estimated to be worth over $200,000.

A native of Georgia, Huckaby trained at both the New England Conservatory and the Juilliard School. In 2009, he visited MPR’s studios along with his fellow SPCO newcomer Sunmi Chang. Hear their performance, and conversation with John Birge, from that visit.

This is the second recent example of a former Minnesota professional musician caught up in dramatic circumstances in the Beaver State. David Wright, a violinist who formerly played with the Minnesota Orchestra, lost all his possessions in a car fire last month in Portland.

Wright now tells Norman Lebrecht that he has “no interest in more orchestral work: 30 years of the privilege performing in the back of an ensemble as fine as the Minnesota Orchestra left me tired of the relative mediocrity of my own sound. I am now a writer, singer, and traveller, and continue to enjoy my life, very thankful to have escaped the fire just in time. I don’t need anyone’s help.”


Photo: Oregon State Police

On The Air This Week

Highlights from Feb. 16 to 23

Tuesday, 8:45 a.m. A performance by the Morehouse College Glee Club Quartet.
Tuesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Wednesday, 7:15 a.m. & 5:15 p.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Wednesday, 10:30 a.m. Live broadcast from the Schubert Club in St. Paul, Minn., featuring pianist Igor Levit. Elena See hosts.
Wednesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Wednesday, 12 midnight Euro Classics: Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra; Vahan Mardirossian, conductor; Stravinsky: The Firebird Suite — recorded at Smetana Hall, Municipal House, Prague.
Thursday 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Thursday, 3 p.m. Regional Spotlight: Pianist Nelson Goerner performs Bach’s Keyboard Partita No. 6.
Thursday, 4:30 p.m. Rose Ensemble in studio.
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: Symphony No. 29 in A, K. 201.
Friday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Friday, 3 p.m. Friday Favorites with Steve Staruch.
Friday, 4:30 p.m. Jorja Fleezanis talks about J.S. Bach.
Friday, 8 p.m. Minnesota Orchestra: Hilary Hahn plays Sibelius; Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä, conductor; Hilary Hahn, violin; live from Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.
Saturday, 9 a.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Saturday, 10 a.m. Saturday Cinema.
Saturday, 12 noon Met Opera: Maria Stuarda.
Saturday, 5 p.m. A Prairie Home Companion: Live from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minn.
Saturday, 8 p.m. Euro Classics: Ex Aequo Trio; Fanny Mendelssohn: Piano Trio in D, Op. 11 — recorded at the Fundación Juan March in Madrid.
Sunday, 6 a.m. Pipedreams: Pipedreams Live! at Broadway Baptist.
Sunday, 12 noon From the Top: House Concert in Boston
Sunday, 1 p.m. SymphonyCast: Los Angeles Philharmonic; Semyon Bychkov, conductor; Renaud Capuçon, violin.
Monday, 7:15 a.m. Sing to Inspire with Tesfa Wondemagegnehu and Julie Amacher.
Monday, 12 noon Learning to Listen with Andrea Blain and Alison Young.
Monday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Tuesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.

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