Monday, August 20, 2018

Music Cincinnati: Music in the Museum

90.9 WGUC looks forward to presenting the next broadcast in its Music Cincinnati series, this month spotlighting the Music in the Museum Organ Concert Series, which is held inside the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal. You can tune into 90.9 on August 26 at 8pm for this special, listen online at, via the WGUC app, or your smart speaker.

Union Terminal opened in 1933 and is considered an icon in the transportation industry, being one of the last great train stations ever built. It is designed in the beautiful art deco style and decorated with mosaics that depict various aspects of the industrial age. Union Terminal currently houses the Cincinnati Museum Center and was home to the famous 1929 E.M. Skinner Concert Organ prior to an extensive renovation, which began in 2016. This magnificent instrument contains nearly 5,000 pipes and draws many of the world’s leading organists. The organ series will return to the museum’s rotunda in 2019 after the completion of extensive renovations and repairs.

WGUC’s next Music Cincinnati program features highlights from this organ series’ 2014 and 2015 seasons, including performances by Isabelle Demers, Thomas Murray, Benjamin Sheen, and Jean-Baptiste Robin. They perform works ranging from J.S. Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor, all the way to the music from John Williams’ famous Harry Potter score. If you are an organist, enjoy the sounds of this king of all instruments, or are simply interested in learning more about this powerful instrument, be sure to tune to 90.9 on August 26 at 8pm. If you aren’t available then, you can also access WGUC’s Music Cincinnati series archived at

Monday, August 13, 2018

A Tribute to Ralph Vaughan Williams

August 26, 2018 marks the 60th anniversary of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ death. To celebrate his life and work, let’s take a look at some of his lesser-known compositions including his Serenade to Music, Flos Campi, and Five Tudor Portraits. This post was written by WGUC intern, Connor Annable.

Did you know that Vaughan Williams wrote his Serenade to Music for sixteen of the most well-known British singers of his era? He wrote is as a tribute to English conductor Henry Wood, who at the time was celebrating the 50th anniversary of his conducting debut. Serenade to Music uses text from Act V of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, which evokes the power of music and the music of the spheres.

Flos Campi was composed a little over 15 years before Serenade to Music. It is a work that is sometimes described as a celebration of love (Flos Campi is translated most often in the context of the Hebrew Bible as “Flower of the Field,” evoking the Rose of Sharon as described in the Song of Solomon). Premiered on October 10, 1925, it is cast in six interconnected sections, each using a Latin quote from the Song of Solomon. It is dedicated to the eminent English violist Lionel Tertis. This dedication seems fitting, since the viola has a prominent solo part against a backdrop of wordless chorus and small orchestra. As a result, it could be considered a choral-orchestral work, but the chorus and orchestra are not necessarily on equal footing.

A work that marks a complete contrast from pure Romanticism for Vaughan Williams is the ‘choral suite’ Five Tudor Portraits, composed in 1935 and premiered at the Norwich Festival on September 25, 1936. Scored for solo alto (or mezzo-soprano), baritone, chorus and orchestra, it sets five poems by the 15th-16th century poet John Skelton, who served as tutor to the young Henry VIII and poet laureate for Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

It is interesting to examine lesser-known music by Ralph Vaughan Williams in order to more fully appreciate him as a composer. He seems to maintain a feeling of immense pride for his home country by incorporating musical and textual sources which are unmistakably English. Because of this and other factors, Ralph Vaughan Williams may be regarded as an undisputed master of English choral-orchestral writing, writing which demands as much attention now as it did when these works premiered over 80-90 years ago.

Serenade to Music:
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Peter Oundjian, conductor; Elmer Iseler Singers
 Chandos CHSA5201

London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult, conductor; vocal soloists 
EMI Classics 007777640253

Flos Campi:
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Peter Oundjian, conductor; Teng Li, solo viola; Elmer Iseler Singers  
Chandos CHSA5201

Bournemouth Sinfonietta & Choir/Norman Del Mar, conductor; Frederick Rittle, viola  
Chandos CHAN8374

Five Tudor Portraits:
London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Richard Hickox, conductor; Jean Rigby, alto; John Shirley-Quirk, baritone
Chandos CHAN9593

Friday, August 3, 2018

Happy Birthday, Lenny!

It’s finally here – Leonard Bernstein’s birthday month! August 25th marks this legendary musician’s centennial and WGUC has been counting down since May with a daily spotlight on a performance he either composed, conducted, or performed. We have some special things in store this month and I don’t want you to miss a thing so below, there’s a listing of what’s to come in the next few weeks. Also, check out this Spotify playlist whenever you want a little extra Bernstein in your day.

August 5, 8pm
CSO in Concert Encore (Concert Date: February 23–24)
Juraj Valčuha, conductor; Simone Lamsma, violin
R. STRAUSS: Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks
BERNSTEIN: Serenade, after Plato’s Symposium
KORNGOLD: Suite from Much Ado About Nothing
STRAUSS: Suite from Der Rosenkavalier

August 12, 8pm
CSO in Concert Encore (Concert Date: April 20–21)
Cristian Măcelaru, conductor; Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano
BERNSTEIN: Three Dance Episodes from On the Town
GERSHWIN: Piano Concerto
IVES: Three Places in New England
BERNSTEIN: Divertimento

August 19, 8pm
Leonard Bernstein: A Legacy
90.9 WGUC presents a special broadcast celebrating the centennial of one of America’s greatest musicians. Interviews with musicians who knew Bernstein including Dick Waller, Mark Gibson, and Carmon DeLeone, along with commentary from historians such as Dr. bruce mcclung, Mark Horowitz, and Rick Pender – plus a variety of music including works Bernstein composed, conducted, and performed at the piano. Hosted by Brian O’Donnell.

August 24, 7pm
Leonard Bernstein: America’s Music Teacher: Celebrate Leonard Bernstein's centennial with an exploration of his teaching style. Hosted by Andrea Blain, this new, music-filled two-hour special celebrates Bernstein's devotion to music education, through his Young Person's Concerts with the New York Philharmonic, his Harvard lectures, his CBS Omnibus Television specials, and his many writings about music.    

Monday, July 23, 2018

Leonard Bernstein's Jewish Heritage

We’re celebrating Leonard Bernstein’s centennial year this summer on Clef Notes. Bernstein is remembered for his work as a composer, conductor, pianist, educator, and so much more. Today, let’s focus our attention on Bernstein as a composer – specifically how his heritage impacted many of his works. This post was written by WGUC intern, Connor Annable. 

Leonard Bernstein was born in 1918 to Jewish immigrants from Ukraine. This heritage would later impact his compositions. We first see an example this in his Symphony #1, written not long after Bernstein graduated from Harvard. He called it “Jeremiah” because it drew from a Hebrew setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah in the Bible, which is sung in the symphony’s final movement by a solo mezzo-soprano. What do you think of this work? Bernstein began work on this piece in the late 1930s, during a time when tensions were rising in Europe under Hitler. Do you think these tensions are reflected in this piece?

It was not until 1965 that Bernstein allowed his Jewish heritage to fully come through in his music. In that year, he composed the Chichester Psalms on a commission from Walter Hussey for performance at that year’s Southern Cathedrals Festival in Chichester, England. The work is a setting of selected texts from the Psalms in Hebrew. Bernstein’s musical structures are firmly rooted in tonality while also being rhythmically adventurous.  Interestingly enough, Bernstein’s melodic roots in Chichester Psalms appear to be centered in American popular music, since most of its themes are based on recycled material from West Side Story.

At roughly the same time, Bernstein had completed his Symphony No. 3 “Kaddish,” composed to honor the memory of John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated in 1963. This work sets the traditional Kaddish prayer for the dead, juxtaposed against an English text written by Bernstein himself and read by a solo speaker. Bernstein manages to retain some of his distinctly American flare by writing mainly tonal harmonies with frequent use of mixed meters.

One of Bernstein’s lesser-known works is a “nocturne” for flute and orchestra titled Halil. This work is a prominent example from the later part of Bernstein’s career showing his Jewish heritage. Bernstein dedicated Halil to the memory of an Israeli flute student named Yadin Tannenbaum who was killed fighting in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

Because 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, it is important to understand how much of an impact his music has had on audiences today, while never underestimating the importance of religious themes or overtones.


Symphony No. 1:
Israel Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, conductor; Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano Deutsche Grammophon 00028945775722

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop, conductor; Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano 
Naxos  8.559790

Chichester Psalms:
Israel Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, conductor; Wiener Jeunesse Chor; Soloist from Wiener Sängerknaben 
Deutsche Grammophon  00028945775722

Symphony No. 3:
New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, conductor; Jennie Tourel, soprano; Felicia Montealegre, narrator; Camerata Singers; Columbus Boychoir 
Sony Classical  074646059524

Israel Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, conductor; Montserrat Caballé, soprano; Michael Wager, narrator; Wiener Jeunesse Chor; Wiener Sängerknaben
Deutsche Grammophon 00028944795424 or 00028946982921

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop, conductor; Kelly Nassief, soprano; Claire Bloom, narrator; Washington Chorus; Maryland State Boychoir 
Naxos  8.559742
Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra/John Neschling, conductor; Sharon Bezaly, flute
BIS  BIS-CD-1650

Israel Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, conductor; Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute
Deutsche Grammophon 00028946982921

Monday, July 16, 2018

What's coming up on Music Cincinnati?

Coming up this Sunday, July 22 at 8pm, 90.9 WGUC presents its Music Cincinnati series, this month spotlighting Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble. Just what exactly is the VAE and what can listeners expect to hear on this special from 90.9?

Since they were founded in 1979, the Vocal Arts Ensemble has sought to present passionate performances for diverse audiences. The chamber choir is currently led by Grammy Award-winning conductor Craig Hella Johnson, who is recognized as one of the nation’s leading choral conductors. Through a variety of innovative performances, the VAE seeks to increase the public’s appreciation of choral music. They often collaborate with other local ensembles in repertoire ranging from the classics to world premieres.

What can you expect to hear this Sunday? The Music Cincinnati broadcast will feature the VAE performing alongside the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and the Cincinnati Children’s Choir. The concert was recorded November 12, 2017 inside Memorial Hall in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine community. This concert celebrated the VAE making the newly-restored Memorial Hall their new home. Three works appear on the program – two classics and one world premiere written specifically for this concert. Craig Hella Johnson commissioned Dominick Di’Orio’s A World Aglow for the occasion. The piece takes its text from Amy Lowell’s The Congressional Library and revolves around themes of inclusivity and equality. Haven’t heard of Dominick Di’Orio? He is an award-winning young composer and conductor whose music is widely performed and recorded. At the age of 31, he became the youngest-ever tenured conducting professor at Indiana University.

What else is on the program? For those who love the classics, you’ll be happy to know that both J.S. Bach and Mozart appear on the program. Bach’s Ascension Oratorio rounds out the first half with Mozart’s Requiem following a brief intermission.

Like what you hear? This program is available on air, online at, and through our free mobile app July 22nd at 8pm! If you aren’t available when it airs, you can also access WGUC’s Music Cincinnati series archived at

Monday, July 9, 2018

A New Album from Simone Dinnerstein

Orange Mountain Music recently released a new album from pianist Simone Dinnerstein. The disc includes the familiar Keyboard Concerto #7 in G minor, BWV 1058 by Johann Sebastian Bach along with a new work written specifically for Dinnerstein by one of today’s top composer’s, Philip Glass. Dinnerstein performs both the Bach concerto and the Third Piano Concerto from Glass in collaboration with the Boston-based chamber orchestra A Far Cry. WGUC had the opportunity to chat with Simone Dinnerstein about her latest album. Here’s what she had to say about first meeting Philip Glass, which eventually led to him writing a concerto for her:


She’s collaborated with A Far Cry Before:


Dinnerstein was overwhelmed upon receiving the score to Glass’s Third Piano Concerto:


The Piano Concerto #3 is iconic Philip Glass and certainly one that minimalism fans will want to check out. This new album provides a solid performance from Simone Dinnerstein and A Far Cry, connecting two prolific composers from opposite ends of history.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Music for the 4th!

Happy Independence Day from 90.9 WGUC! In honor of the holiday, enjoy this playlist created by WGUC intern Connor Annable.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Leonard Bernstein: A Celebrated Teacher

August 25th of this year marks the centennial of a great American. Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990) is remembered for his work as a composer, conductor, pianist, educator, and so much more. To celebrate his legacy, WGUC is in the middle of 100 Days of Bernstein during which at least one piece he either composed, conducted, or performed will be aired each day for the 100 days leading up to his birth. The celebration will culminate in August with Bernstein being featured as the Classics for Kids composer of the month, two special encore broadcasts from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra featuring Bernstein’s music, and a special radio program from WGUC. Clef Notes is also taking part in the festivities by including a Bernstein-related post once a month now thru August.

Last month we looked at Bernstein’s life as a conductor and the famous story about how he got his start. Today let’s focus on the area of his life for which Bernstein was most proud – his life as an educator.

Bernstein had a passion for learning and devoted much of his life to absorbing knowledge on all subjects he found fascinating, including music. He would then take his acquired knowledge and share it with others. One of the ways he did this was thru television, which had recently become popular. During the early 1950s, Bernstein created several music segments for the educational show Omnibus, hosted by Alistair Cooke. Eventually, he convinced CBS to carry his Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic. These concerts aimed to teach children about music-related topics in a fun and relatable way. Bernstein created over 50 programs that aired between 1958 and 1972. These concerts are what sparked many children of the mid-twentieth century to become today’s leading musicians. Mark Gibson is Director of Orchestral Studies at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He studied with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood but before that, attended a Young People’s Concert in New York City when he was just a boy. Listen to Gibson describe the impact Bernstein’s teaching had on him at this concert:

Hear more from Mark Gibson and others who were impacted by Bernstein on an upcoming special from WGUC that will air August 19 at 8pm – Leonard Bernstein: A Legacy.

Did you ever see Leonard Bernstein on television? What program did you see and what did he teach you about music? Let me know in the comments below and check back next month as we explore how Bernstein’s Jewish heritage impacted his life as a composer.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Music Cincinnati: Linton Chamber Music Series

Coming up this Sunday, June 24 at 8pm, 90.9 WGUC presents its Music Cincinnati series, this month spotlighting the Linton Chamber Music Series. Just what exactly is Linton and what can listeners expect to hear on this special from 90.9?

Linton Chamber Music Series was founded nearly 40 years ago by former Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Principal Clarinetist Dick Waller, who once described his vision for the series to create a format for “music-making among friends.” Under the artistic leadership of Sharon Robinson and Jaime Laredo, Linton promotes community interest in chamber music, bringing Cincinnati world-class musicians to perform in intimate settings. The series takes place Sunday afternoons at the First Unitarian Church on Linton Street (the series’ namesake) and then an encore performance on Mondays at Congregation Beth Adam in Loveland. The series often highlights musicians from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in a chamber music setting, as well as world-renown artists including the Ehnes Quartet and Peter Serkin – both featured on this month’s Music Cincinnati program.

What can you expect to hear this Sunday? The Music Cincinnati broadcast will feature three works that appeared during Linton’s 2017-2018 season. Mozart’s Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A Major is performed by the Ehnes Quartet with Stephen Williamson of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on clarinet from their concert on October 30, 2017. Following that, it’s Three Romances by Clara Schumann, some of her last compositions ever written! These are performed by up-and-coming artists Elena Urioste and Tom Poster who made their Linton debut February 11, 2018. Finally, it’s the Quintet for Piano and Strings in F minor by Johannes Brahms. This was featured on Linton’s 2017 season opener and featured legendary pianist Peter Serkin, along with Linton Artistic Directors Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson. Audience favorite Bella Hristova returns for this concert along with New York Philharmonic violist Cynthia Phelps.

Like what you hear? You can access WGUC’s Music Cincinnati series archived hereAlso be sure to check out Linton’s 2018-2019 series, which celebrates their 40th anniversary! 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Charles Gounod Turns 200!

June 17, 2018 marks 200 years since Charles Gounod’s birth. Many associate Gounod with one of his more famous works, the Funeral March of a Marionette or perhaps his setting of Ave Maria. Want to hear more from Gounod? Check out this Spotify playlist assembled by WGUC intern Connor Annable and help us celebrate this composer’s birthday!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Sibelius' Kullervo

Clef Notes would like to welcome its newest contributor! Xavier University music student and WGUC intern Connor Annable shares his thoughts on Kullervo by Jean Sibelius this week:

The “choral symphony” Kullervo, completed in 1892, was the first major orchestral work Jean Sibelius composed following the end of his formal music studies in his native Finland and with Albert Becker in Vienna. Scored for solo baritone and mezzo-soprano, male chorus and an orchestra of Romantic-era proportions (including a percussion section that is not unduly large, with cymbals and triangle complementing timpani), it is based on the character Kullervo from the Kalevala, widely recognized as the national epic of Finland. 

Although typically described as a symphony, Kullervo is actually a series of five interconnected tone poems which serve as musical guides to the story of the title character, the only one considered tragic in all of Finnish mythology. Interestingly enough, the work was very positively received when it was premiered on April 28, 1892 in Helsinki. After this personal triumph, however, Sibelius essentially disowned what he had written, rescinding its planned publication and instead forming a plan to revise the score which never came to fruition. As a result, Kullervo was not performed again in its complete form until 1958, only 1 year after Sibelius’s death in 1957. A performance edition of the complete work, consequently, was not published until 1961. The entire work will typically take around 70-80 minutes to perform, making Kullervo on the same level as a Mahler symphony, although not quite as sweeping and Romantic-sounding.

The first movement introduces the brooding and dark landscape in which Kullervo will eventually find himself. Kullervo’s Youth is considered by some scholars as an extension of the first movement, or perhaps a lullaby of some sort. But I would take this as an exploration of how Kullervo’s personality developed even before he was born. The clan or tribe in which he had been raised, excluding his mother, has all been murdered by his uncle Untamo. Kullervo’s desire for revenge initially leads to him being sold as a slave, then as a herdsman to the smith Ilmarinen. After he is implicated in the death of Ilmarinen’s wife, Kullervo flees and reunites with his mother.

The third movement, Kullervo and His Sister, introduces the chorus and vocal soloists for the first time in the piece. The male chorus serves a similar function to a Greek chorus, mainly commenting on the metaphysical actions which are unfolding on stage. They also sing primarily in unison, only rarely splitting into four-part harmony (this applies to the 5th movement as well). This is also the symphony’s longest movement, clocking in at about 25 minutes long. At this point in the story, Kullervo is delivering taxes and comes across two women who swiftly reject his advances. The third young girl he comes across and supposedly engages with on a physical level is later discovered to be his long-lost sister. Upon discovering this, the sister proceeds to kill herself by drowning in a nearby stream. Kullervo is represented by a solo baritone, while the sister is represented by a solo mezzo-soprano (some recordings use a solo soprano in place of a mezzo). In the fourth movement, Kullervo Goes to War, a constant march-like tempo represents Kullervo fighting against his uncle with a new sword given him by Ukko, the chief of the gods. With it, he kills Untamo’s entire tribe. Sibelius seems to augment this sense of triumph and heroism musically through the repeated use of percussion and trumpet fanfares against full chords in the rest of the orchestra, while also appearing to suggest the wind-swept Nordic landscape Kullervo finds himself fighting in. In the final movement, Kullervo’s Death, the chorus returns to describe how Kullervo returned to the place where he seduced his sister in the forest, and how feelings of guilt compel him to die by falling on his own sword. In short, Jean Sibelius’s Kullervo is the finest example of how his stylistic trappings came to be set in stone through the ensuing decades of composing. It is also a tragically underrated masterpiece of choral-orchestral music that deserves to be played and recorded more often than it has.

Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänska, conductor; Lili Passikivvi, mezzo-soprano; Raimo Laukka, baritone; YL Male Voice Choir; BIS  BIS-1215
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam, conductor; Soile Isokoski, soprano; Tommi Hakala, baritone; YL Male Voice Choir; Ondine    ODE1122-5
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Paavo Järvi, conductor; Peter Mattei, baritone; Randi Stene, mezzo-soprano; Estonian National Male Choir; Virgin Classics (reissued on Erato through Warner Classics); VC 5  45292 2 

Like what Connor has to share? Stay tuned for more from Connor in coming weeks!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Bernstein's Mass

Deutsche Grammophon recently released their first-ever recording of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass - an appropriate choice marking the composer’s centennial year. While many music lovers may be quick to recognize Bernstein hits such as themes from West Side Story or the overture to Candide, not everyone is acquainted with Mass. I myself have never seen the piece performed, and am thrilled that Cincinnati’s May Festival Chorus will perform it as part of their 2018 Festival on May 19. WGUC will also broadcast this performance on October 14 at 8pm.

Bernstein’s Mass was commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for the inauguration of the Kennedy Center in 1971. In it, the composer fuses together religious and secular elements. Don’t be fooled by its title – Mass is certainly not traditional. Bernstein uses a rock band, marching band, several choirs, and more making it quite the spectacle. This album features a performance from Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra and is an essential addition to the library of any true Bernstein devotee.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Leonard Bernstein: The Beginning

August 25th of this year marks the centennial of a great American. Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990) is remembered for his work as a composer, conductor, pianist, educator, and so much more. To celebrate his legacy, WGUC is embarking on a 100 Days of Bernstein during which at least one piece he either composed, conducted, or performed will be aired each day for the 100 days leading up to his birth. The celebration will culminate in August with Bernstein being featured as the Classics for Kids composer of the month, two special encore broadcasts from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra featuring Bernstein’s music, a special radio program from WGUC, and even a birthday party we are throwing (learn more about how you can attend our party coming up during our spring fund drive!) Clef Notes is also taking part in the festivities by including a Bernstein-related post once a month now thru August.

Leonard Bernstein was quite talented and the number of topics we could address related to his life seems endless so I’ve chosen just a few areas to highlight in the coming months. First, let’s look at his life as a conductor and the famous story about how he got his start.

On November 14, 1943, Leonard Bernstein became a sensation overnight when he was called upon last minute to step in for Bruno Walter and conduct the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. At the time, twenty-five-year-old Bernstein was Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic. This particular concert was broadcast nationally on the radio and resulted in immediate fame for Bernstein, who began receiving requests to guest conduct other major orchestras. In 1945, he became Music Director of the New York City Symphony Orchestra, and then later worked in the conducting arena at Tanglewood. Below is a picture of Bernstein during his time at Tanglewood. He’s pictured jamming with Dick Waller, former principal clarinet with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Bernstein was appointed Music Director of the New York Philharmonic in 1958 and later received the lifetime title of Laureate Conductor. He frequently recorded with the New York Philharmonic, and also is remembered for leading them in his famous Young People’s Concerts (more about that next month!)

Leonard Bernstein was not only respected in America, but across the globe. He frequently collaborated with the world’s best ensembles, including the Vienna Philharmonic. He championed the work of American composers, but also was praised for his interpretations of Gustav Mahler.

Bernstein wasn’t just an accomplished conductor, but also a pianist, composer, and educator. Next time, we’ll learn more about his role as an educator.

Friday, May 4, 2018

May the Fourth Be With You

For all the Star Wars fans of the world, May 4th is an unofficial holiday. To honor Star Wars composer John Williams, I’ve put together a playlist with some of my top picks from his film scores.

Most people’s minds automatically go to John Williams when asked to name a film-music composer. Williams’ output of cinematic scores is outstanding with major blockbuster hits including Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, and Saving Private Ryan.

What is your favorite film that uses a John Williams score? If it’s not on my playlist, let me know in the comments below and I’ll add it to our list.

May the fourth be with you!

Monday, April 16, 2018

An Interview with Jesus Lopez Cobos

On March 2 of this year, the world lost a great conductor and Cincinnati lost a friend. Maestro Jesús López Cobos served as Music Director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1986–2001, bringing the orchestra into the world’s view as a top-tier group of musicians. In memory of Maestro López Cobos, I’ve pulled selections from an interview he gave with WGUC back in April of 2001, just before completing his tenure as Music Director here in Cincinnati. 

 Segment 1: Thoughts on leaving Cincinnati and the CSO

 Segment 2: How orchestra members feel about his departure

 Segment 3: Memories from his 15-year tenure

Monday, April 9, 2018

Paddle to the Sea from Third Coast Percussion

One of 2018’s top classical releases thus far is Paddle to the Sea from Third Coast Percussion. Cedille released the album in February from the Grammy Award-winning, Chicago-based percussion ensemble. This dynamic quartet of Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, and David Skidmore is one that those seeking a good “beat” must get to know. Their use of a wide array of pitched and non-pitched percussion and ability to seamlessly blend with one another is superb, not to mention they are a blast to watch perform if you ever have the opportunity!

Paddle to the Sea gets its name from the album’s centerpiece, which is based off the 1941 children’s book of the same name by Holling C. Holling. The story tells of a small wooden figure in a canoe that travels through the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, highlighting its encounters along the way. Third Coast Percussion wrote a piece to perform with the 1966 film adaptation of the book. The remainder of the album shares the water theme, containing music by others who have influenced the quartet over the years.

Personally, I find the four selections from Philip Glass’s Aguas da Amazonia to be a stand out. These pieces are named after four rivers and come from a group of twelve that Glass originally wrote for piano and then was adapted for custom built instruments by the Brazilian group, Uakti. Third Coast Percussion makes the music their own by arranging it for their ensemble. The four pieces are Madeira River, Xingu River, Amazon River, and Japura River (check out the video of Third Coast Percussion performing Japura River in that last link – you can’t help but move as you watch them work those wine bottles!)

Like what you hear? You’re in luck. 90.9 WGUC is offering this incredible album as a way to thank YOU for your donation during our spring fund drive in May. Make your donation online at and ask about how you can add this new release from Third Coast Percussion to your library.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Music for Rocking a Baby to Sleep

I recently had a baby – my husband and my first – and have already begun to introduce him to the world of classical music. You can never begin your journey to discovering good music too soon, so I am sure to have 90.9 WGUC playing in our home and in the car so that Hudson can listen. I find it calms him down and helps him to relax during nap time each day. That got me thinking – what music best works to help rock a baby to sleep? Whether you are like me and trying to sooth your youngster to sleep or are trying to catch a few extra Z’s yourself, perhaps this Spotify playlist will offer some suggestions on where to begin.

Babies are unpredictable as I’ve learned in recent months. The truth is, my sweet boy prefers this when falling asleep to any of the calming music in the above playlist. That’s what makes being a parent so special – you never know just how your child will put a smile on your face.

What are some of your favorite pieces for falling asleep? Let me know and I can add them to our playlist!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

What do you think?

What do you think? This month we walked through ways music appears in various video games. Do you think this is an adequate area of study in musicology? Why or why not? I would love to hear your opinion whether you enjoyed this month’s topic or not!

If you are a fan of video games and the music, what is your favorite type of music usage within a particular game?

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Video Game Music Research

As I mentioned earlier this month, video game music scholarship has taken off within the last decade. Now an accepted area of research amongst musicologists, it also exists as a very accessible topic for many people. One video game music scholar, Will Cheng, has an excellent book with more information on the topics I highlighted this month. If you find this topic interesting and would like more information, you can go to the following website and check out his book. 

One other area of music and gaming research worthy of note comes from scholar Karen Collins who studies music and gambling. Did you know that often times, the music used at casinos is intentionally written in such a way as to cause the player to believe they are doing better than the reality of their situation? Next time you consider gambling, you should be mindful of the music!

With the idea of video game soundtracks becoming so popular, the London Philharmonic Orchestra released a Greatest Video Game Music album in 2011 followed by a second volume in 2012.

 Zelda even has a traveling symphony that many of you may have seen when they performed at Cincinnati’s Music Hall a few years ago. 

Join me next time as we wrap up our month of video game music!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Music in Modern Gaming

Like many things in today’s modernized world, anything goes when creating a new video game. The types of music you may hear and how it’s used in newly-released games varies greatly. Today, let’s just look at a few uses of music in various modern-age games.

Today it is more common to have an actual composer write a soundtrack for a game rather than using a programmer to create background mechanical sounds. Some people relate video game scores to film scores when they are actually quite different to create. Many film composers know exactly what to expect with the film and have the clean and neat task of putting music to an already-set plotline. With video games, however, the story or progression is unpredictable since each individual player determines which direction the plot might turn. Many composers approach this difficult task by creating a score with flaps containing different ways the music may turn as well as different layers of instruments, adding more during intense moments.

Darren Korb, composer for games such as Bastion and Transistor is known for his excellent soundtracks and use of experimental music.

While some games use the old chip tunes, nostalgically choosing to pull sounds from the 80s, others use beautiful soundtracks (many people think of Halo when they want to hear a great video game soundtrack). One of my favorite soundtracks comes from Journey in which the main character is represented by a solo cello.

Do you dislike the soundtrack you hear in one of your games? Xbox players can plug their iPod into the console and create their own soundtrack!

Do you remember when we looked at diegetic and non-diegetic music during our film music months? Well, these terms also apply to video games! As a reminder, diegetic music is music that the characters onscreen can hear (there is a musical source onscreen) while non-diegetic is simply background music. Bioshock Infinite shows a record player inside a house while Grand Theft Auto allows players to choose their own radio station inside the car, both diegetic examples.

Hopefully the expansive examples touched on above show you that music can be used in many different ways within modern-day video games. Do you enjoy the range of options currently on the market or do you prefer the traditional games of the 80s and early 90s?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Rhythm Games

Have any of my readers ever played games such as Guitar Hero, Rock Band, or Dance Dance Revolution? Last week we looked at several examples of games in which players can control music. Today, let’s talk about games with the purpose of creating music.

During the late 1990s, Dance Dance Revolution entered the arcade scene introducing the idea of a “rhythm game.” A physically interactive game, consumers are given a “dance stage” on which they can step on various sensors as they follow a list of step patterns on the screen. Console versions were also made available for people’s use in their own living rooms.

This idea of a “rhythm game” sparked the makers of Guitar Hero to develop a similar gaming idea in 2005 in which players can “play” guitar on a guitar-shaped controller as they follow “notes” that scroll by on the screen in time to the music. An expansion of this idea came with Rock Band in 2007, which also included drums and vocals. These “rhythm games” provide a new type of video game in which the music itself is the game.

Games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band provide an avenue for players to do something that they may be incapable of in real life. These games allow people to feel like skilled rock stars even if they may be tone deaf. It’s interesting that these games have created tension amongst many “real” musicians who cannot understand why people spend their time mastering a toy-version of an instrument rather than practicing the real thing. What are your thoughts on this?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Making Music in a Game

Continuing our look at video game music this month, today let’s focus on the idea of making music in video games. Has anyone played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, released for Nintendo 64 in 1998? This particular game features an ocarina that gamers must play in order to beat the game. The ocarina is an instrument that you receive during the game and it can be played by using button presses and bending the pitch with the analogue stick. As players progress, they learn various songs they can then play on the ocarina.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is an example of a game balanced between ludo and narrative. If you are like me and unfamiliar with gaming terminology, you may be wondering what this means. Primarily, ludic games emphasize game play, like Angry Birds, Pong, and Tetris. Narrative-heavy games emphasize story elements, as Heavy Rain and The Last of Us do. Many games, like Ocarina of Time, are a balance of both elements. By making music using the ocarina, players further the plot and solve puzzles.

Ocarina of Time is one of many games that involve making music as part of the game. Other examples include Twilight Princess (players use a whistle to call a horse), Skyward Sword (players can strum a harp), and Wind Waker (players can direct patterns with a conductor’s baton).

Have you ever played a video game in which you could make music? Which one?

Join me next time as we continue looking at making music in video games by examining Guitar Hero and Rock Band!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Role of Music in Gaming

It is video game music month on Clef Notes and I would love to hear any fun anecdotes from game enthusiasts out there! Last week, we touched on arcade games as well as early consoles. Today, I would like to expand our NES discussion to include the Super NES that came on the market in Japan in 1990 and the U.S. in 1991.

With the development of the new and improved NES in the early 90s came the use of a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) system in which programmers had the option to use different instrument sounds within a game. The Super NES also contained eight stereo channels (16 channels total) which was certainly a jump from its predecessor.

With the Super NES came the use of music in various roles within gaming. While games continued to contain soundtracks that served to accompany onscreen action, several also incorporated music into the game’s plot. One example of this is Final Fantasy VI during which an actual opera takes place. This opera was composed by Nobuo Uematsu for the game. Uematsu also uses leitmotifs throughout the game (a constantly recurring musical theme that usually represents an object or character). In the video clip here you can see the opera scene from the original Super NES version of Final Fantasy VI. Notice that at this point in time, technology did not allow for the usage of a human voice so we still experience chip tune music accompanying on-screen lyrics.

Join me next time as we take a look at making music in video games, specifically The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Video Game Music History!

Do you enjoy video games and their soundtracks? Then join me this month as I explore a brief history of video game music. Last time, I began by discussing the first known coin-operated game with sound, invented in 1897, and went on to talk about arcade games of the 20th-century. Today, let’s move on to look at early consoles that people could actually take home and play.

Many of you first-generation gamers remember the Atari Corporation that began in the 1970s. Did you know, however, that their failed attempt to create an intriguing E.T. game following the release of the major motion picture caused consumers to second-guess whether purchasing consoles was even a good idea? This major videogame bust led to Atari burying over one million copies of the E.T. game in the desert!

Due to this video game crash, sales drastically decreased between 1983 and 1985, right around the time the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) came on the market. Hoping to improve the gaming industry following the crash, NES marketed their product as entertainment rather than a video game system. They also promised to buy back their systems from any consumer or retailer who lacked satisfaction.

With the invention of the NES came a huge leap forward in gaming technology. This new system contained five sound channels, enabling it to accommodate more complex music than what we saw with Space Invaders during my last post. Below, you can watch wave visualization videos from the NES containing the theme from Super MarioBrothers and The Legend of Zelda, both by Koji Kondo.

The music you hear in the clips above became a stylistic trend that people today can immediately relate with video game music. In fact, many modern-day games purposely use what composers call “chip tune music” in order to evoke the sounds of the early 80s. It is now an artistic choice, however, rather than a technical restraint.

Wrapping up today’s post, I wanted to mention a fun video game music fact discovered by a scholar at Ohio State University, Dana Plank-Blasko. During the early video game industry, developers rarely hired composers, so oftentimes, the music you hear was actually created by a programmer rather than a musician. Because classical music is not under a copyright, many programmers pulled from historical composers to accompany their games. One such example is the Captain Comic game released by NES in 1988. Using Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in d minor, the programmer forgot to include the key signature and accidentals (sharps and flats) in the music, causing Bach’s beautiful work to sound completely butchered! You can hear a good example of this if you skip to 8:35 in the clip here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Video Games and Music

Do I have any video game fanatics out there? Did you know that video game music is actually an area of musicological study that emerged within the last decade? This month I would like to step away from the highbrow topics in music history and look at something that any modern-day gamer can appreciate: video game music. We will briefly look at how the use of music in gaming has evolved from the first coin-operated games all the way to present day entertainment systems.

I must admit that I am not an expert when it comes to video games. That’s why when this topic idea came to me I immediately contacted longtime friend, musicologist, and video game music specialist, Sarah Pozderac-Chenevey. She kindly provided much of the information you will read in the coming weeks.

Did you know that the earliest known coin-operated game with sound was developed in 1897? Invented during a gambling prohibition, this game was marketed as a music machine. Though the sounds it created were more mechanical rather than musical, this new music machine allowed avid gamblers a means to satisfy their addiction while avoiding breaking the law.

Into the 20th century, arcade games became the avenue by which people could experience this early form of “gaming.” It wasn’t until the 1970s that we see the first game with continuous sound: Space Invaders. Because they were limited on space, programmers could not do much with the Space Invader soundtrack and stuck to using a lamenting tetra chord. What they did not realize when developing the game, however, was that the game sped up during gameplay as fewer items remained on the screen. As the game sped up, so did the music. Coincidentally, this added tension and suspense to the game. Watch here

Have you ever played the Space Invader arcade game? Though an early form of music in gaming, do you find the accidental increased music tempo an effective way to build suspense in the game?

Join me next time as we look at Atari and NES!