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April 21, 2011 / GG54

Sound Ideas Finale: What's the most beautiful piece of music in the world?

For its final voyage, Sound Ideas is presenting a glitzy (and fake) classical music awards show. Like any good award show, you can expect awkward speeches, irrelevant tributes, a slick voiceover reading the nominees and (hopefully no) wardrobe malfunctions.

The categories:

Listeners’ Choice:

I need your help. Please submit your nominee for MOST BEAUTIFUL PIECE OF MUSIC IN THE WORLD (along with a reason, if you’d like) by posting below or emailing This is important.

Listen at 101.9fm in Kingston or on Friday, April 29 at 10:06am for everything from the red-carpet coverage to the show itself.

April 7, 2011 / GG54

Beethoven Symphony No. 9: Alle Menschen werden Brüder

“This music speaks a universality of thought, of human brotherhood, freedom and love. This music conveys a spirit of sublimity, in the freest and least doctrinaire way. It has a purity and directness of communication which never becomes banal. It’s accessible without being ordinary. This is the magic that no amount of talk can explain. Perhaps, there was in Beethoven, a child inside that never grew up. Until the end of his life remained a creature of grace, innocence and trust, even in his moments of greatest despair. That innocent spirit speaks to us of hope, future and immortality. This is why we love his music now more than ever before.

In this time of world agony, hopelessness and helplessness, we love and need his music. As despairing as we may be, we cannot listen to this ninth symphony without emerging from it enriched and encouraged.” (Leonard Bernstein)

There couldn’t be a better time to listen to a complete performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. It’s been a tragic year at Queen’s University and the optimism and hope contained in this music has never been more relevant. This week’s program has a complete, uninterrupted performance from Daniel Barenboim and the Berliner Staatskapelle of Beethoven Symphony No. 9. But first, Kerry Candaele, producer of Following the Ninth, a documentary about Beethoven’s Ninth joins me to contextualize the piece.

Here’s a taste of the interview:

Interview: Kerry Candaele

March 24, 2011 / GG54

Best Tweet in the House: Social Media and the Concert Hall

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting at a concert and the lovely lady in front of you takes the entire slow movement to open a candy. Or, your seat is right behind the Guinness record-holding largest man in the world, whose giraffe-like neck restricts your view to merely the corner of the bass section.

So what do you do? You can grin and bear it. You can bring your problem to an usher. OR, you can send out a tweet.

A few weeks ago, when seated by a man with an overactive-hearing aid, I sent out this (albeit a tad snarky) tweet:


Within just a few minutes, I got a reply from a helpful usher offering to help me change seats.

It raises an important question: what role can social media play in the concert hall?

The most obvious and well-used is concert promotion. In today’s arts world, the hardest task can be simply getting your event known. But remember that Twitter, like any good communication, is a two-way street. I’ve recently unfollowed a number of well-intentioned arts organizations who over-promote their own events without providing any other content or interaction.

People follow your arts organization for more than just an events listing. They follow because they are interested in what you do. This interest is satisfied by posting related links to articles, videos, news stories etc. If this is original content, even better. More interesting the content means more RTs, more followers and, ultimately, more success in your organization.

Calls for interaction give an organization a friendly face. This could be soliciting concert reviews, linking to other local organizations or contests and giveaways. You are in the business of building communities of likeminded people. What better way to do that?

There have been some recent examples of interaction on a larger scale that have been quite successful. First, #AskAcomposer linked Twitterers with composers who answered questions about their craft. There were 150 participants and nearly 1500 tweets worldwide. On the lighter side, #BudgetClassical invited Twitter users to have some fun with renaming popular classics. Highlights included Grieg’s In the Closet of the Mountain King and Adams’ Nixon in Chinatown.

What I’m not suggesting is that we encourage mobile devices to be used during the concert itself. A sea of lit screens is surely as distracting as possible for the musicians and audience. We’ll save the cell phone waving for rock ballads, not slow movements.

Social media is not a fad, it’s here to stay. Arts organizations of the past would be so jealous of the ability for constant contact and immediate response from an audience. Art is a conversation, and that suddenly just got easier.

Here are some arts organizations with great content:

@NaxosUSA: They may be a record label, but have a keen eye for engaging classical news stories and tweet with an incredible personality.

@SymphonyNS: Achieves a great balance between listing events and providing content. Also, deep down, I wish I was a Nova Scotian.

@KingstonSymph: Always has a lot of diverse content about their concerts: PDFs of program notes, blogs and, uh, the podcast I do for them.

@CMCnational: I’ve been pointed in the direction of so much great music thanks to these fine folks. They do a notable job at giving Canadian composers the attention they deserve.

@Kickassical: This is the go-to place to identify classical music in pop culture. Exceptional puns too.

March 11, 2011 / GG54

Sound Ideas Interviews: Tom Allen

Tom AllenThrough my years of elementary and high school, my radio would wake me up each morning with this next guest on the other side of the microphone. Like thousands of Canadians, I learned a great deal about classical music from Tom Allen and his CBC morning show Music and Company. Today, he can be heard hosting Shift on CBC Radio Two.

Tom has his own unique way of speaking about classical music. It’s never about the year a composer was born or whether the exposition is binary or not. Tom has a wealth of stories about the composers and musicians that he uses to contextualize the music. This Saturday, he is bringing these stories to Kingston, to present his Classical Good Times show with the Kingston Symphony.

I spoke with Tom about what composers he tires of, whether classical music will return to public consciousness and more.

Interview: Tom Allen

February 10, 2011 / GG54

So You Want to Write a Fugue (on CFRC 101.9)?

To celebrate the 2011 CFRC Funding Drive, Sound Ideas has commissioned a piece from Montreal Sound Ideas correspondent Mark McDonald. Mark pulled all the stops (as you’d expect from an organist) and wrote a fugue on CFRC and 101.9!

Wondering how he did it? Over to you, Mark…

“In order to incorporate “CFRC” into this fugue subject, I used the same method which Maurice Duruflé used to create his fugue on ALAIN. In this method, the letters A through H (H being B-flat in German notation) correspond to the notes of the keyboard, while the letters which fol- low are assigned the notes of the keyboard alphabetically. For example, where the letter A is A, C is C and G is G, so the letter I is A, K is C and O is G. This means that R would then be as- signed the note B making my fugue subject on CFRC “C, F, B, C”.

However, it doesn’t end there. Since I still needed to write a countersubject, I decided to turn to the post-tonal theory of the 20th century to write my countersubject on the numbers 101.9 (the FM frequency on which CFRC broadcasts). Since post-tonal theorists regard the chromatic notes of the keyboard as numbers from 0 to 11 (C being 0, C-sharp being 1, etc. etc.), my coun- tersubject would have to include the notes C-sharp, C, C-sharp and G-sharp. In order to get a- round this, I employed a simple technique used by post-tonal composers which involved trans- posing my so-call “pitch-class-set” down a tritone to a more comfortable G, F-sharp G, D. This theme is then heard almost every time the subject enters.

There you have it; a fugue on CFRC, 101.9 FM!

Mark McDonald
11 February, 2011
Montréal, Québec

To play it yourself and impress your friends, you can download the PDF here. Thanks Mark!

February 7, 2011 / GG54

If it wasn't for shaving cream commercials, classical music would be dead

My composition teacher said that to me years ago. There is some sad truth to it.

Yesterday afternoon, millions of people across Canada and the States crammed around their HDTVs and stuffed their faces with guacamole to watch the something-er-other bowl. What they didn’t realize as they were prepping their salsa bowls is that they were about to get classical’d.

This year, classical music was used to sell you soft drinks, electronics, cars and movies. But why do marketers choose classical music? Do they perceive a sophistication that will make products fall of the shelves?

I think that whether people have a background in classical music or not, they all recognize its power of being dramatic. Whether it’s the heart-string-pulling Barber Adagio for Strings or pure optimism of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, people have the ability to understand the emotion of a piece, even without any musical training. There is something inherently universal about it. We can’t say the same thing about Shakespearian English or George Bush’s English.

With my sincerest thanks to the always knowledgeable @kickassical, here are the eight classical cameos during Super Bowl commercials:

VW Passat: John Williams ‘Imperial March’

Pepsi: Boccherini ‘Minuet’

Just Go With It (Movie): Beethoven ‘Symphony No. 9’

Doritos: Verdi ‘Requiem: Dies Irae’ Rimsky-Korsakov ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’

Coca-Cola: Tchaikovsky ‘1812 Overture’

Coca-Cola: Handel ‘Sarabande’

Best Buy: Rossini ‘Barber of Seville: Overture’

It may be brief, but classical music creators can rest assured knowing that millions of people were exposed to the art this weekend. We’ll take what we can get.

January 19, 2011 / GG54

Stravinsky the Criminal?

We all know that Stravinsky broke many rules. His orchestration was daring, his tonality was innovative and his textures were unheard-of.

But that’s not why you are looking at this mug shot of him.

Back in April 1940, Stravinsky was premiering a new arrangement he had done of the Star Spangled Banner. He did it as a homage and tip-of-the-hat to the American people and spirit.

What he didn’t know, was that Massachusetts had a law against the ‘tampering’ of national property. After the premier, the police were waiting out back and arrested him. He was released after explaining his good intentions.

You can hear Stravinsky’s Scherzo a la Russe this week on Sound Ideas. Check out the playlist for more.

Update: This site suggests that while this incident did occur, it occurred in 1944 and the photo actually has to do with Stravinsky applying for an increase on his visa.