Junji Koyama: Virtuoso of Vegetables

Junji Koyama is an elementary school teacher in Japan. But for the last nine or so years, he’s been making a name for himself by demonstrating a special talent on YouTube — making instruments out of vegetables.

You can see how he makes vegetable instruments here. It’s a complicated process!

Earlier this year, Koyama shared a video of himself performing “Amazing Grace” on a cabbage slide whistle:

Other veggie instruments include a carrot slide whistle:

A radish ocarina:

A celery nose flute:

And here’s a carol on a ‘broccolina’:

Hear more of Junji’s creations on his YouTube channel.

Prince’s First Music Teacher

After music legend Prince’s shocking death last week at the age of 57, former Bryant Junior High music teacher Jimmy Hamilton talked to People magazine about having the artist as a student in the early 1970s.

“He was at the band room door at 8 a.m. sharp every day waiting to be let in,” Hamilton told the publication. “He was a seriously smart kid, and he just got music. He really understood it, what music was at the core. Even from that early age.

“He was an easy student, he was so eager to learn and it came naturally to him. He could play any instrument, but the song we worked on the most was ‘Stairway to Heaven’ on the piano. He loved that one!”

But as Hamilton notes, he had no idea that young boy would go on to become a world-renowned musical icon.

“I thought he would achieve success as a local musician, because he was a natural musician, he had the ear,” Hamilton says. “But he was so shy, nothing like the persona he put on while on stage.

“It still baffles me thinking that the smart kid in my class would go on to become the Minnesota king of funk.”

Read the entire article on People’s website.

Related Stories

Minneapolis Guitar Quartet honors Prince

How should Minn. honor Prince? Fund music education

A purple tribute at Los Angeles’ Disney Hall

How should Minn. honor Prince? Fund music education

Minnesota could make purple its official state color to honor the memory of Prince. It could name a new transit line the “purple line.” It could find a street somewhere and call it Prince Street.

Here’s another idea: It could better support music in public schools.

For a generation now, music has been sacrificed at the altar of sports and other activities, even though there’s ample evidence that music education instills a better math ability.

Writing in an op-ed on the Star Tribune today, Derek Otte, of Minneapolis, suggests we reflect on what music means to a community.

Music is powerful. It has the scientifically proven ability to ease pain, reduce stress, relieve symptoms of depression, and elevate mood, and it helps manage stress and anxiety. It can even improve cognitive performance.

In an Atlantic article, “Using Music to Close the Academic Gap,” author Lori Miller Kase discusses many ongoing longitudinal studies with children from lower-income backgrounds that are tracking the academic benefits of music education. Preliminary findings reveal that learning to play an instrument can have a dramatically positive effect on a child’s future academic trajectory.

Learning to make music strengthens an individual’s auditory working memory, which makes it easier to pay attention in class. Strengthening the brain’s encoding of timbre, pitch and timing also strengthens one’s ability to interpret speech. Research also has found that those skilled in rhythm also tend to be better readers.

Increasing a child’s exposure to and participation in music has so many benefits. Sadly, struggling schools are apt to dissolve or cut back their music programs, as the more basic needs of the children overshadow what’s seen as a luxury.

Struggling schools that do offer music programs might not have the resources to effectively engage the children, as they’re spread thin and families may not be able to afford instruments or private lessons. Unfortunately, in these scenarios, the children who would most benefit from music instruction are often denied access.

It’s unlikely Otte’s call will be heeded. The media’s coverage of Prince is moving into its oh-so-predictable tabloid-journalism phase, politicians are quicker to embrace empty symbolism than lasting impacts, and, as Phys.org reported this week, parents are reluctant to support music education because they don’t understand how it enhances a child’s career prospects.

Yesterday, Herbie Hancock joined educators and researchers in Washington to urge officials to integrate music, math, and computer science.

“It goes across language barriers, cultures and achievement barriers and offers the opportunity to engage a very diverse set of students,” Susan Courey, a professor of special education at San Francisco State University, said. In a small study, students who received the music lesson scored 50 percent higher on a fraction test than those who learned with the standard curriculum. “They should be taught together.”

“If a student can clap about a beat based on a time signature, well aren’t they adding and subtracting fractions based on music notation?” Courey said. “We have to think differently.”

As hard as learning to read notes can be, thinking differently is much harder for us.


This piece by Bob Collins, originally published on the NewsCut blog from MPR News.

On The Air This Week

Highlights from April 26 to May 3

Tuesday, 7 a.m. Voices of Spring: Wachet Auf!
9 a.m. Voices of Spring: The Choir Reimagined – Water Songs.
11 a.m. Voices of Spring: Remembering Robert Shaw.
1 p.m. Performance Today.
3 p.m. Voices of Spring: Land of 10,000 Choirs.
5 p.m. Voices of Spring: Opera Choruses.
7 p.m. Light and Gold: The Music of Eric Whitacre, ‘Whitacre and Silvestri’ (rebroadcast).
9 p.m. Voices of Spring: Quiet Voices.
Wednesday, 7 a.m. Voices of Spring: Wachet Auf!
7:30 a.m. & 5:15 p.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
9 a.m. Voices of Spring: The Choir Reimagined – Water Songs.
11 a.m. Voices of Spring: Remembering Robert Shaw.
1 p.m. Performance Today.
3 p.m. Voices of Spring: Land of 10,000 Choirs.
5 p.m. Voices of Spring: Opera Choruses.
7 p.m. Voices of Spring: Masterworks.
9 p.m. Voices of Spring: Quiet Voices.
12 midnight Euro Classics: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Soloists; Beethoven: Serenade for Flute, Violin and Viola — Chamber Music Hall, Philharmonie, Berlin.
Thursday, 7 a.m. Voices of Spring: Wachet Auf!
9 a.m. Voices of Spring: The Choir Reimagined – Water Songs.
11 a.m. Rose Ensemble in studio (Alison Young hosts).
11:30 a.m. Voices of Spring: Remembering Robert Shaw.
1 p.m. Performance Today.
3 p.m. Regional Spotlight: Kremerata Baltica.
3:30 p.m. Voices of Spring: Land of 10,000 Choirs.
5 p.m. Voices of Spring: Opera Choruses.
7 p.m. Voices of Spring: Masterworks.
9 p.m. Voices of Spring: Quiet Voices.
Friday, 7 a.m. Voices of Spring: Wachet Auf!
7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Listeners’ Choice Top 25 Choral Countdown.
7:15 a.m. Moveable Feast with John Birge and Minnesota Monthly‘s Rachel Hutton.
9 a.m. Voices of Spring: The Choir Reimagined – Water Songs.
11 a.m. Voices of Spring: Remembering Robert Shaw.
11 a.m. Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Spotlight: Haydn: Concerto in D for Piano and Orchestra, Hob. XVIII: 11; Jeremy Denk, piano.
1 p.m. Performance Today.
3 p.m. Friday Favorites with Steve Staruch.
7 p.m. Voices of Spring: Masterworks.
9 p.m. Voices of Spring: Quiet Voices.
Saturday, 9 a.m., New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
10 a.m. Saturday Cinema.
12 noon Met Opera: Richard Strauss’s Elektra.
5 p.m. A Prairie Home Companion: hosted by Garrison Keillor; live from the Grand 1894 Opera House, Galveston, Texas.
8 p.m. Euro Classics: RTVE Symphony Orchestra, Carmen Linares, cond.; Falla: El Amor Brujo — recorded at Teatro Monumental, Madrid.
Sunday, 6 a.m. Pipedreams: A Houston Organ Prelude.
12 noon From the Top.
1 p.m. SymphonyCast: Houston Symphony/
Andrés Orozco-Estrada, conductor; Kirill Gerstein, piano.
8 p.m. Sunday Night Cantata, Choral Stream.
Monday, 7:15 a.m. Sing to Inspire with Tesfa Wondemagegnehu and Julie Amacher.
12 noon Learning to Listen with Andrea Blain and Alison Young.
1 p.m. Performance Today.
Tuesday,1 p.m. Performance Today.

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The Question Board

Most teachers have been in this situation: In the middle of some important lesson, a student asks a great, but completely unrelated question. Do you follow the tangent and try to pick up your lesson plan another day? Or do you leave the question unanswered and risk discouraging students from expressing their curiosity?

This seems to happen frequently in my classroom. To manage these questions without derailing lesson plans or discouraging dialogue, we use what we what we call “The Question Board.” Ours is a large dorm room whiteboard that a colleague was giving away. It sits on the floor where all of my elementary students can reach it easily. Students are welcome to add questions to the board as they think of them. Sometimes I’ll ask a student with a question to write it on the board, either because it would take more class time than we have available for questions (e.g. “What made Stravinsky, Hildegard [von Bingen], Rossini, and Chopin want to be a composer and songwriter?”), or because I don’t know the answer (e.g. “How many words are in the longest song?”). Sometimes I’ll address the questions in a future class, but I often simply write an answer for students to read on their own the next day.

I’ve been impressed by the how the question board has increased student learning and engagement in music class. Some of the benefits were intended, but many were pleasant surprises.

• Questions don’t take class time. If I don’t want to discuss the answer to a question in class, I can write an answer after school and the students can read it the next day. No time is taken away from the planned instruction.
• Students can ask questions anonymously. When I was a kid, I was very interested in learning about music, but I was so shy that I never raised my hand to ask questions. The question board is a way to reach some of my quieter students who I’ve noticed writing questions that they wouldn’t ask in front of the class.
• Students can ask any question. The question board allows students to ask questions that are unrelated to the current lesson or unit. Some questions aren’t related to anything we’ve done in class, but probably reflect a musical experience that the question writer had outside of school. Others show students processing content that was learned earlier in the school year.
• Questions reflect the connections that students are making between concepts taught at different points in the school year. My favorite questions are those that tie together topics that they’ve learned about separately. These questions are evidence of students’ deepening understanding of the interconnectedness of music. Or they can provide an opportunity to fill in context (e.g. “Did Stravinsky, Chopin, Rossini, and Hildegard write a song together?”)
• Questions can inspire new teaching ideas. Sometimes my students questions give me ideas for teaching. For example, one question on my board right now is, “Did Chopin like rock and roll?” Maybe I’ll make a lesson exploring hypothetical questions about how well-known composers might react to genres of music that they didn’t write. Would Chopin like rock and roll? If he wrote a rock song, how would it sound?
• Demonstrating how to find answers models research techniques. I believe that it’s important for my students to know that adults aren’t omniscient. It’s not as important to know everything as it is to know how to find the information that’s needed. When I find a relevant question on the board, I sometimes show my students how I find an answer. If they develop good research skills, they can continue learning by finding their own answers when they’re not in class.
• The teacher becomes the learner. My students’ questions ensure that I keep learning more and more about the topics that I teach. In the last month, I learned that the shortest recorded song is “You Suffer” by Napalm Death at 1.316 seconds, and the longest is Thom Yorke’s “Subterranea” at 432 hours. I found out that Chopin wrote his first piece, Polonaise in G minor, when he was only seven years old. I now know that it is estimated that the first known flute is about a hundred times older than the first recorder. And I continually learn about my students’ interests and the depth of their understanding through the questions they ask.
• Have two simultaneous conversations with students. The question board makes it possible to have a dialogue through written questions and answers while we are engaged in the usual oral and musical communication of class. Time is very limited in music class periods, so I seize any opportunity increase communication and connection with my students.

When I started using a question board, I was pleased that it fulfilled its intended purpose of recording questions that I couldn’t answer during class, but it has become much more. The question board is a way for students to connect, engage, and explore their curiosity. One of my second graders has become so interested in the question board that she told me that she wants to be a music researcher, and she has big plans to discover a new kind of note. Anything that inspires that kind of interest is worthwhile. I can’t wait to hear about her findings!


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.

Music and Creativity in Ancient Greece

In our modern world, music plays a role in many aspects of our daily lives. We use it it to tell stories, to celebrate, to exercise, and to work. We can use music to declare our love (and sometimes, our hatred), and we can use it for worship. And of course, perhaps most importantly, we use music to dance.

As educator Tim Hansen points out in the Ted-Ed video, “Music and Creativity in Ancient Greece,” things weren’t much different for the ancient Greeks. Nearly every aspect of Greek life was punctuated by music — from history, to poetry, to theater, to sports, to astronomy.

Watch the video below to learn how music connects ancient Greece to the modern world, and see the entire lesson on TedEd’s website.

On The Air This Week

Highlights from April 19 to 26

Tuesday, 7 a.m. Voices of Spring: Wachet Auf!
9 a.m. Voices of Spring: The Choir Reimagined – folk songs.
11 a.m. Voices of Spring: Remembering Robert Shaw.
1 p.m. Performance Today.
3 p.m. Voices of Spring: Land of 10,000 Choirs.
5 p.m. Voices of Spring: Opera Choruses.
7 p.m. St Paul’s Cathedral Choir (London) perform at the Cathedral of St. Paul, Minn. (rebroadcast).
9 p.m. Voices of Spring: Quiet Voices.
Wednesday, 7 a.m. Voices of Spring: Wachet Auf!
7:30 a.m. & 5:15 p.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
9 a.m. Voices of Spring: The Choir Reimagined – folk songs.
11 a.m. Voices of Spring: Remembering Robert Shaw.
1 p.m. Performance Today.
3 p.m. Voices of Spring: Land of 10,000 Choirs.
5 p.m. Voices of Spring: Opera Choruses.
7 p.m. Voices of Spring: Masterworks.
9 p.m. Voices of Spring: Quiet Voices.
12 midnight Euro Classics: Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Nikolai Alexeev, conductor; Stravinsky: The Fairy’s Kiss Ballet Suite — recorded at Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn.
Thursday, 7 a.m. Voices of Spring: Wachet Auf!
9 a.m. Voices of Spring: The Choir Reimagined – folk songs.
11 a.m. Voices of Spring: Remembering Robert Shaw.
1 p.m. Performance Today.
3 p.m. Regional Spotlight: Kremerata Baltica.
3:30 p.m. Voices of Spring: Land of 10,000 Choirs.
4:15 p.m. Steve Staruch interviews Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphony’s music director Mark Russell Smith and composer Jacob Bancks.
5 p.m. Voices of Spring: Opera Choruses.
7 p.m. Voices of Spring: Masterworks.
9 p.m. Voices of Spring: Quiet Voices.
Friday, 7 a.m. Voices of Spring: Wachet Auf!
7:15 a.m. Moveable Feast with John Birge and Minnesota Monthly‘s Rachel Hutton.
9 a.m. Voices of Spring: The Choir Reimagined – folk songs.
11 a.m. Voices of Spring: Remembering Robert Shaw.
11 a.m. Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Spotlight: Mozart, Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550; Thomas Zehetmair, conductor.
1 p.m. Performance Today.
Friday, 3 p.m. Friday Favorites with Steve Staruch.
7 p.m. Voices of Spring: Masterworks.
9 p.m. Voices of Spring: Quiet Voices.
8 p.m. Minnesota Orchestra: Rilling Conducts A German Requiem; Minnesota Orchestra/Helmuth Rilling, conductor; Letizia Scherrer, soprano; Mathias Hausmann, baritone; Minnesota Chorale; live from Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.
Saturday, 9 a.m., New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
10 a.m. Saturday Cinema.
12 noon Met Opera: Verdi’s Otello.
5 p.m. A Prairie Home Companion: hosted by Garrison Keillor; live from Bass Concert Hall in Austin, Texas.
7 p.m. A Musical Feast for Passover with Itzhak Perlman.
8 p.m. Euro Classics: Edgar Moreau, cello; Julien Quentin, piano; Martinů: Brahms, Cello Sonata No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 38 — recorded at the church in Verbier, Switzerland.
Sunday, 6 a.m. Pipedreams: More Winds from Aeolus.
12 noon From the Top.
1 p.m. SymphonyCast: Montreal Symphony Orchestra; Kent Nagano, conductor; Shunske Sato, violin.
8 p.m. Sunday Night Cantata, Choral Stream.
Monday, 7 a.m. Voices of Spring: Wachet Auf!
7:15 a.m. Sing to Inspire with Tesfa Wondemagegnehu and Julie Amacher.
9 a.m. Voices of Spring: The Choir Reimagined.
11 a.m. Voices of Spring: Remembering Robert Shaw.
12 noon Learning to Listen with Andrea Blain and Alison Young.
1 p.m. Performance Today.
3 p.m. Voices of Spring: Land of 10,000 Choirs.
5 p.m. Voices of Spring: Opera Choruses.
7 p.m. Voices of Spring: Masterworks.
9 p.m. Voices of Spring: Quiet Voices.
Tuesday, 7 a.m. Voices of Spring: Wachet Auf!
9 a.m. Voices of Spring: The Choir Reimagined.
11 a.m. Voices of Spring: Remembering Robert Shaw.
1 p.m. Performance Today.
3 p.m. Voices of Spring: Land of 10,000 Choirs.
5 p.m. Voices of Spring: Opera Choruses.
7 p.m. Voices of Spring: Masterworks.
9 p.m. Voices of Spring: Quiet Voices.

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Get these weekly programming highlights delivered straight to your inbox every Wednesday. Visit this page to subscribe.

McNally Smith students score MSPIFF film

The 35th Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival kicked off on Apr. 7, and one of the festival films includes nine shorts scored by composition students at the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, Minn.

The documentary film is titled My Dream, My Right and it’s the result  of the Za’atari Film Workshop, which provided camera phones and directions to Syrian teens living in the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan.

In an interview about the project from last fall, composition student Mariah Timm told the Pioneer Press, “The stuff this kid has been through, and he’s only maybe 10 years old, it’s just really tragic that something like that has happened to him and his family. But the video isn’t all heavy. It’s just some kids playing around in the sand and flying kites and getting excited about it.”

McNally composition instructor Shon Parker told the Pioneer Press, “Most of our students don’t even know what’s going on in Syria. They’re busy developing their craft. They’re insulated. So, when we first showed them a picture of the camp, you kind of saw their jaws drop.”

My Dream, My Right will be shown Sunday, Apr. 17, at 11 a.m. at the St. Anthony Main Theatre. There will be a question/answer session following the film with the directors, producers and composers. For more information, visit the MSPIFF events page.

[Complete roster of McNally Smith composers includes: Andrew Brassard, Carter Lange, Ethan Elseth, Jeffery Kornfeld, Jemma Heigis, Mariah Timm, Marko Maksimovic, Rahul Shah, Tyler Straka.]


Visit The Current for recommendations on five MSPIFF highlights.

30 ways to play the bass … in only two minutes

So you want to play bass like Victor Wooten?

In a recent video, bassist/YouTube user Davie504 demonstrates 30 bass-playing techniques — in a span of only two minutes. The list includes:

• Palm muting
• 2 fingers
• Hammer-ons
• Pull-offs
• Staccato
• Legato
• Knob tweaking
• Slap
• Strumming Chords
• Double thumb
• Slides
• 2 hands tapping
• 1 hand tapping
• Zero hands tapping
• Natural harmonics
• Tapped harmonics
• Octave playing
• Artificial harmonics
• Using a guitar as a pick
• 3 fingers
• Galloping
• Pick
• Scratching
• Muting
• Pick & slap
• Sweep picking
• Pre-bending
• Bending
• Teeth
• Neck bending

Get a bass tutorial on these techniques from Davie504 in the video below.