Why You Should Admire Composers

If you listen to any pop or other popular music in this day and age, you might admire the singer who writes their own lyrics, but the creativity usually stops there. I admire the people who create a memorable tune or even put a creative spin on an old one. I admire the composers and arrangers.

I have arranged a couple of pieces of music, and it sometimes feels very daunting. However, just like any skill, it takes many hours of practice to feel comfortable and knowledgeable about that skill. At least with arranging, the tune is already there, with composing, you have to try to create something original, fresh, unique. So, to do my best to break it down, here are three reasons why composers should be admired.

1. Familiarity
Nearly every developed skill has theories or a set of rules to follow. It is no different with writing music. There are many rules that have withheld the test of time and are used in popular music today. An example of this, is many popular songs using the same chord progression as Pachebel’s Canon in D, which was written over three-hundred years ago. One reason for this, is most humans are hard-wired to play it safe, or be surrounded by the “familiar.” That’s why a song you may have not liked at first, grows on you after hearing it a hundred times on the radio.

2. Uniqueness
When following the rules that breed familiarity, it becomes more and more difficult to come up with something that sounds new, yet aesthetically pleasing. That’s one reason I admire composers, not only do they know their theory, but can still create something new using that theory. On the other hand, I also have admiration for the innovators. These are iconic composers, such as Cage, Stravinsky, and Beethoven who broke much of the rules of music theory during their time. These composers’ music may have been accepted or ridiculed then, but they created iconic pieces that are still performed and listened to today.

3. Subtle Engagement Strategies
A final acclaim, is the subtle changes made during a piece. In a pop song, this could be a singer singing solo and then the bass dropping in. But, it could also be a change of instruments, an increase of speed like William’s Jaws theme, or dynamics like in Haydn’s Surprise Symphony, or adding decorative notes to a theme like Mozart’s 12 Variations of “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman,” (aka. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star). All these techniques and more, keeps the music from going stagnate and in turn, keeps the audience engaged.

All in all, great composers are talented writers of music. They are much like great authors, but conveying a story of emotions, feelings, and more without the need of words. They write unique, innovative works that breed familiarity to the listening ear; and engage us through subtle, yet dynamic changes, that can tug at your emotions. Therefore, composers are much to be admired.

 

10+ Facts about Holiday Songs

As we go through the holidays, I thought I would share some facts about ten songs that are performed this time of year. I know most are Christmas songs, but I hope everyone can enjoy these interesting facts.

1. Jingle Bells
This song was not originally written for Christmas, but for the United States’ Thanksgiving. It was also the first song performed in space. Another Christmas song that was intended for another holiday was “Joy to the World.”

2. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
This cut, lovable song about a unique little character was written by Johnny Marks, who was Jewish. He also wrote, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” and “Run, Rudolph, Run.”

3. Silent Night
“Silent Night” is a song originally written in German in 1816. It was translated into English two years later. During World War I, there was a truce on Christmas where French, English, and German troops sang the song.

4. I Have a Little Driedal
In the original Yiddish version of this song, the Driedal is made of bley, which means lead. It was translated to clay.

5. Silver Bells
This song was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. However, they originally called it “Tinkle Bells.” It was quickly changed after Livingston told his wife about the song. She mentioned how tinkle was also a synonym for, uh…something else.

6. Let it Snow!
“Let it Snow!” Despite it never mentioning the holiday, was made into the Christmas canon of songs. It was written by Jewish songwriters Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn. It was written in 1945 during a heatwave in California.

7. O Holy Night
In 1906, “O Holy Night” became the second song to ever be broadcast on radio.

8. The Dance of the Sugr Plum Fairy
This song from The Nutcracker, was written in 1891 for the celesta, the gentle, metallic sounding instrument you hear during this song. The instrument was invented only five years earlier.

9. It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
This Christmas song mentions that “there’ll be scary ghost stories” which is an activity I have never experienced during this season. It was actually a tradition in Victorian England that has since died out.

10. White Christmas
“White Christmas” is the highest selling Christmas song of all time. The top selling version? Bing Crosby. The song was written by Irving Berlin a Russian Jewish immigrant who also wrote “God Bless America.”

If you enjoyed these facts, feel free to give a like or comment in the section below. You can check out more fun holiday facts at Buzzfeed, Mental Floss, and Newsday.

December Disclosure

It is that time of year where the holiday cheer brings chaos, joy, and happiness. With that, here are a few things that are planned for Kayla Smith Music this December:

1. Blogging
I have come to realize that I enjoy blogging. I try to go through a cycle of the following categories: Opinions, Music Trivia, Reviews, Informational, and the beginning month news. If you are curious about anything that would fit in any of these categories, feel free to leave a message or comment.

2. Ah Tempos
Ah Tempos flute choir is performing December 16th, 1:00pm at Molbak’s, which you can get directions here. So, if you’re in the area, feel free to stop by for a listen while doing some holiday shopping.

3. Music Video
I am finding that making a music video is very challenging. Especially because I have never done anything like this before and I’m doing it by myself. It does not help that I’m a bit of a perfectionist, but I will have to let some things go. I pretty much have the arrangement done. Now I need to record, film, and edit quickly if I am to get this out before the 25th. I am excited, yet really nervous.

Thanks for your support. Feel free to give a like and comment below.

Classic FM Article Review

I love Classic FM (classicfm.com). This website allows me and others to read all sorts of posts about classical music. However, an article I read recently was geared toward today’s classical musicians, versus the usual music appreciators. The article is “6 Things Musicians Should Be Doing on Social Media in 2018.” I thought I review what they had to say.

The first thing was to “be yourself.” They do a great job clarifying that being yourself is easier said then done. Many artists are influenced by other highly successful artists who became successful because of social media. But when you are not yourself, it is harder to convey your message or emotions.

The second thing was “talk to your audience.” I agree that social media followers love to watch music videos and interact with the musician. I like the idea of opening the intimate world music to audience members, but they seem to miss the idea of why followers love interacting. It gives them affirmation that you are real, you are human.

The third thing was “be patient.” This section was very short, but very good. Being in a world of instant gratification, it can be easy to get discouraged. But becoming a known musician on social media takes time, just like the training it takes to become a great musician. My favorite quote from the article is from Drew Alexander Forde, “It takes 30 years to be considered an ’emerging artist.’ Be patient and simply strive to become 1% better every day.”

The fourth? “Post content that makes you happy.” Basically, if you are not motivated, than your followers won’t be and lose interest. Happiness and joy are contagious.

The fifth one is probably the most difficult for me. “Don’t be afraid to post ‘imperfect’ content.” Posting a live performance is one thing; you’ve already been working awhile on your content. But posting your practice sessions is what truly scares me. To see me when I am most vulnerable as a musician. However, what is intimidating to me, may be inspiring to others. I might consider giving it a try.

The final thing Classic FM stated was “Dare to be different.” Basically, go with what you are passionate about. Go with your intuition or gut feeling. If you want to do a classical rendition of an Eminem song, do it!

All in all, it was a well researched, thought provoking article. I found that about half of this article I intuitively knew and the other half was truly inspiring. If you want to read the original post from Classic FM, you can check it out here. Please feel free to give a like and leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

5 Steps to Making a Sound on Flute

This post is the predecessor to the “5 Tips to Improve Sound Quality on Flute” post that was published in July. These tips are ones that I have developed after working with students who are first starting to play flute. So here are my top five tips to get a sound on flute:

1. Learning How to Breathe
The first thing I do with new flutists is have them practice breathing while standing against a wall or lying on the floor (the latter is the better option). This is so the student can feel how their stomach moves out and in while their shoulders stay in place; many realize that they’ve been subconsciously chest breathing, which causes the shoulders to lift when trying to take a full breath.

2. Breathing Exercises
The next step is to have them practice controlling their breath (I do this the first two years of their playing at every lesson). Have them practice breathing in for four counts and out for eight, then in for two and out for eight, then out for ten and then twelve, then I have them repeat the process but only breathing in one count. This builds their lungs and breath control.

3. Embouchure or “The Pout”/And Tonguing
The next step is the embouchure. Flutists have probably the most relaxed embouchure or mouth shape of all the wind instruments, which can make it easy or difficult to play. I start by having them with their resting face or “the pout,” and say “two” while in that pout. Then I have them add their index finger to their chin with their lower lip resting on the finger; switch from vocalizing “two,” to blowing a “tu” with your air touching part of your index finger. The next step is plastic bottles.

4. Plastic Bottles
Yes, you read that right. Plastic bottles. I try to start students off on an empty 2-liter soda bottle. I have them take what they learned from blowing across their finger to the bottle (sometimes I lead by example). Usually, a sound comes out almost right away, but sometimes the student might need to experiment where they’re aiming their airstream. Once they get a strong sound, I add a little water. This not only raises the pitch, but adds a little resistance for them to build their embouchure. Keep adding water to at least half way, you can expand on this exercise by adding more water or switching to a regular plastic water bottle.

5. Headjoint and Putting it All Together
We finally get to touch the flute. I first have them start with the headjoint, the piece with hole you blow into. I usually lead by example, but I do sometimes tell them to rest their lip on the fat part of the lip plate surrounding the tone hole, or the hole they blow into. Then, have them blow the same way they did with the plastic bottles. When they get a sound, have them tongue a few times with the “tu” blowing they had practiced. You can add some fun by covering and uncovering the hole at the end of the headjoint. Finally, add the rest of the flute and get started with their first note.

I hope you enjoyed these tips that I use for new flutists. Please feel free to give a like and leave your thoughts in the comments.

Top 5 Favorite Versions of the U.S. National Anthem

The Star-Spangled Banner is an anthem that encompasses hope, pride, love, and devotion given to the land that fought for freedom. The country known as The United States of America. While it is truly difficult to pick my favorite versions of this national anthem, in honor of those who fought for mine and others freedom, here are my current top arrangements of the U.S. National anthem:

5. Arrangement by Jack Stamp
This band arrangement seems to capture the inspiration that Francis Scott Key saw when he witnessed the sun rise and the U.S. flag waved at the top of the fort during the U.S. victory. It starts soft with the hollow sound of clarinets and slowly builds to a triumphant chorus of the whole band.

4. Epic Star-Spangled Banner
Yes, that is the title of this YouTube video. It was hard to decide whether to even have this in my top 5 list because of the sound effects and wierd videography at times. But putting that aside, I believe this is a great arrangement that starts with the innocent voice of a young girl, which builds into an orchestra and choir that captures the struggles and perseverance people went through for our country. Finally, it climaxes to a triumphant point by using the full diversity of the orchestra, choir, and pipe organ.

3. CWU Marching Band
While I might be partial to this arrangement because it is the same college band I participated in, I never played this Lewis Norfleet arrangement. It is a prideful rendition with powerful brass chords, awesome passing of melody with quick added flutters, and ridiculously high screaming trumpets. It brings tears to my eyes how beautifully bold and powerful this arrangement is.

2. 500 high school students sing the national anthem in a hotel
When I first saw this video I nearly started crying. This hauntingly beautiful performance almost made me start crying. With this powerhouse of a group singing beautifully and on key, in a venue with a lot of reverberation, it almost sounds sacred. To me, this performance captures the feeling of rememberance. Rememberance of those who fought for us, those who will, and the rememberance that we all should come together and treat each other as free people.

Honorable Mention: Malea Emma
It was hard not to include this talented 7-year old in the top five list. The reason I didn’t include her was because some of the growling she did took away from her performance; also that technique, as well as the vibrato she uses at such an early age will probably ruin her vocal chords at an earlier point in her life compared to others (I’m not a vocal expert though). However, Malea Emma has a truly amazing voice, Very powerful for such a young age; and talk about that range: do we have another Mariah Carey in our midst? What is also amazing, is the fact that she sang in pitch, accapella the entire time.

1. Whitney Houston
Many would claim Whitney Houston as one of the greatest singers of all time. Another tear jerking performance, her 1991 Super Bowl performance does a great job of encompassing Whitney’s beautifully powerful and gentle voice with the wonderful Florida Symphony. You also can’t help but feel the spirit of America, it’s land, and it’s people poring out of this soulful performance.

If you are interested in listening to any of these performances, you may find them on YouTube. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section.

November News

These past few weeks have been busy with my school job. When they told me that their veteran’s day assembly was a huge deal, they weren’t kidding. That has not stopped me from working on my studio projects though. So, here is the update:

1. Blogging
Blogging will continue to be uploaded weekly. I know that most successful blogs post daily, but I don’t have that kind of time.

2. Website
Some might have noticed that the background coloring on my website, particularly the homepage, has a new color. I haven’t decided whether I like this blue color or a grayish purple color. Feel free to let me know your thoughts.

3. Ah Tempo’s
Ah Tempo’s flute choir has decided to postpone any recording for the time being. On the other hand, the group has decided to experiment with having conductors for our holiday performances in December. I and one other member will be the conductors.

4. Music Video
I have been working on a holiday music video. Right now I have been working on the arranging part of it. It has proven difficult because I do not have much arranging experience and virtually none for a solo instrument. However, I haven’t given up yet. I hope to have a video ready before the end of the holiday season.

Thank you for keeping up to date with my studio progress.

10 Facts About Medieval Music

Many people might disregard medieval music for being old and outdated. However, the adaptions made during the period may have shaped the West-European music we know today. So, here are 10 facts about medieval music.

1. Singers Were Imported
Back during a time when music was not written down, when churches were interested in a new song they would import a singer from another part of Europe that was familiar with the tune.

2. The Growth of Feasts
Beginning in the 9th century, more feasts were being added to liturgical calendar. With that, new texts and/or melodies were adapted for each service.

3. Liturgical Drama’s
Around the year 980, liturgical dramas were starting to emerge. They would later expand to lengthy plays with scenery and costumes, singing and later dialogue.

4. Polyphony
Church music began as plainchants, which were songs with one sung melody, no other parts or instrumentation. Polyphony, which is known as two or more melodies at once, would come later and start as an elaboration of the plainchant and evolve into its own entity.

5. First Signs of Rhythm in Europe
Notre Dame’s school contributed to replacing even, unmeasured polyphony and plainchants with recurrent patterns of short and long notes, known as rhythmic modes. However, the rhythmic notations we are familiar with would take longer to develop.

6. Earliest Signs of Secular Music
Monks during the medieval period did most of the documenting during the time. This is the speculated reason why the first traces of secular music (non sacred music) is not seen until the 11th century when there was a surge in development and preservation of secular music.

7. Troubadour Music
The first troubadour was William IX of Aquitaine, but troubadour music became most popular during the 2nd half of the 12th century. Today, 2600 poems by more than 450 authors survive. Of those, about 275 melodies by 42 troubadours survive.

8. Instrument Participation
Literary and pictorial evidence shows instrument participation in troubadour and trouvère songs. They do not depict how much instrument participation there was, but scholars believe that the instrument participation could be: strings playing unison with voice, playing opening or ending phrases, playing during interludes, or playing drones (a long held note).

9. The Lack Of Instrumental Music
While there are references of instrumental music for nearly every social situation, not much medieval instrumental music survives. This is likely because people like peasants and Jongleurs probably had a repertory of both song and dance music that was passed by oral tradition. It was also like because much medieval music was passed through poems instead of music notation.

10. Content of Secular Music
Musicians such as Minstrels, Troubadours, Trouvères, and Jougleurs performed music that often depicted a story. Whether this was a love story, a mythilacal story, or a story depicting the news they have heard during their travels.

All in all, there are aspects from our modern music that we can also see in medieval music, such as storytelling, dramas (musicals), styles, and even the use of instruments supporting the voice. There are also aspects that would have not been possible if not for the innovations during the Middle Ages, such as rhythmic notation, and the expansion of styles such as polyphony. Yet, we should also remember the aspects of medieval music that made it unique to its own period.

Sources: Hoppin’s “Medieval Music.” 1978. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

New Headphones Review

My past experiences with headphones are ones that were either given to me or came with some electronic device. However, as a musician who is trying to establish herself, and may be doing her own recording, I thought that I would buy a pair of quality headphones.

I’m no electronics expert, but after doing a lot of research, I bought a pair of Audio-Technica’s, the M50x model. They are a closed back headphone that has been reviewed as a good headphone for recording and editing. To me, I was blown away the first time I heard music come out of them. The M50x’s have a crisp, clean sound with a lot of depth. You can clearly hear the treble, bass, and all the parts in between. In other words, you can hear each part distinctly, but they still mesh together well. It is like listening to music on a good stereo system, that is designed for your ears alone. My cheap headphones sound dull in comparison.

Aside from the sound, the Audio-Technical M50x’s have other great features. They are probably the most comfortable headphones I have owned. My other headphones would make my ears hurt after awhile from resting on or in my ears, but with the padded headband and ear cups, the Audio-Technica’s are super comfortable. They also cancel a lot of the surrounding sounds out, allowing you to be fully emersed in the crystal clear music. The M50x’s also come with three interchangeable jacks, making it convenient to the musician who needs multiple types of plugins.

My final thoughts are that the Audio-Technical M50x’s are aesthetically pleasing to look at, as well as on the more affordable side for anyone on a budget. All in all, I would say that these comfortable, quality sounding headphones are well worth their price.

If you have had a similar experience with quality headphones or are intrigued by this model, feel free to give your likes and comments below.

How to Have An Entertaining Performance: Beyond the Music

Have you ever noticed the difference between a compelling performance and an inhibited one? Putting on a performance can be exciting and very intimidating, but these three subtle things should help make a captivating performance:

1. Presentation

How you present yourself is more than how you dress, it is how you walk, talk, stand, bow, even hold your instrument. There is another word for this, confidence. Your presence begins from the moment you walk on stage; if you shuffle on stage with your head down, maybe arms crossed, and no eye contact with the audience, you show that your either not confident in your playing ability or what you are wearing or you don’t want to be here performing for the people that came to watch you. When you walk on stage with a strong stride, your head held up, feet planted on the ground you show that your confident and excited for your performance, and when you glance at the audience, that makes them feel included in the excitement. Keep your feet planted while performing, but allow your body to move with the music. It looks unnatural when you’re stiff as a statue, and putting all your weight on one foot could imply unsteadiness. Finally, make a nice bow with your face and torso parallel to the floor, then exit the same way you came in. The thing to remember is that “the whole performance is an act, and when you act confident, the audience feels confident in your ability.”

2. Engagement

Engaging in the music, ensemble members, and the audience makes a performance that much more entertaining. It can be as simple as eye contact. Now, some people get extremely nervous when they see the faces of audience members, but if you come out on stage and just look in the audiences direction (let’s say the back wall), it makes them feel included in this event. Also, taking a little time before the last piece to tell the audience how much you appreciate them being there gives them a positive experience for taking the time to see you perform. Also, when you move your body to the music you’re playing, you show that you are engaged with the music you are playing. Finally, when you engage with your accompanist or other ensemble members through eye contact, it not only shows that you’re engaged with the music, but making sure your on the same page and acknowledging their participation in the performance.

3. Have fun!

It is perfectly normal to be at least a little nervous for a performance. Just make sure that you are having fun. Some of my best performances were when I got so into the music and playing with my friends and colleagues, that it almost seemed like the audience was not even there. I’m not saying that you should ignore the audience, but when you are having fun, it eliminates some of your anxiety and manifests a happy, engaging, and entertaining performance that captivates everyone in the room. You worked hard, so have fun with it!

So just remember to present yourself confidently the whole time you are on stage, engage with the music and everyone in the hall, and have fun with the music you worked so hard on. This will spawn an entertaining performance.

This is what I have observed, feel free to leave your comments below.