Exploring Instrumentation

I’m Nathan Zhou, and I’m exploring the concept of instrumentation.

Across the world, there is no shortage of unique musical instruments for people to enjoy. As a result, composers have a vast array of options to choose from when selecting instruments for their compositions.

Fundamentally, instruments are distinguishable from each other because of their timbre (pronounced “tam-br”). Timbre is defined as the tone color characteristic of an instrument or voice, which depends on the waveform of produced sound waves. The timbre of an instrument can be described as reedy, brassy, harsh, rich, bright, etc.

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What Makes Christmas Music Sound Like Christmas?

I’m Ella Tran, and I will be analyzing the qualities of Christmas music that give Christmas music its special holiday feel.

It’s around that time of the year where stores stock up on Christmas decorations and blast Christmas tunes that many people know by heart. When passing by such stores, hearing these familiar tunes usually evokes a sense of nostalgia for the holidays. 

What makes these tunes so special and fitting for Christmas? There are the more obvious reasons, such as word choice and repetition. Christmas songs often utilize terms like “home,” “Santa,” and “snow.” “White Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” have been played year after year during the holiday season; these songs have become a ritual. However, there can also be technical aspects in these tunes that sweep us into the holiday spirit.

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Season 36: Concert 2 Review

I’m Audrey Lee, and I will be reviewing the second concert of CMI’s 36th season. 

CMI’s second concert of the season on November 29, 2021 featured four renowned artists: violinist Cho-Liang Lin, violinist/violist Yura Lee (who played the viola for this concert), cellist Clive Greensmith, and pianist Jon Kimura Parker. The concert was held in person at St. Barnabas Presbyterian Church in Richardson, Texas. 

The first piece performed was the Divertimento for String Trio in E-flat Major, K. 563, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The first movement began with a light and cheerful melody that danced happily between all three players. Then, the trio framed a series of ascending phrases with slow chords, surprising the audience with a short, fierce section that calmed to begin the introductory melody anew. 

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Clef Exploration

I’m Audrey Lee, and I will be exploring clefs, how they came to be, and how they have changed over the course of music history.

Of the fifteen possible clefs and the nine distinct clefs on the musical staff, four are most commonly used today: treble clef, bass clef, alto clef, and tenor clef.

Treble clef is used for instruments and voices in the higher registers. It is represented by a fancy swirl that curls around the fourth line down the staff. That line is established as G4, or the G that is a fifth above middle C. 

Bass clef is used for instruments and voices in the lower registers. It is represented by a curl with two dots bisected by the second line down the staff. This line is established as F3, the F that is a fifth below middle C. 

Alto clef is mostly exclusively used by the viola and the alto trombone. Tenor clef is often used when low-register instruments play in their upper registers (cellos, bassoon, and trombone for example). Both are represented by the same symbol: two vertical lines followed by what looks almost like a fancy 3. The line that goes through the center of the symbol is established as middle C. Alto clef places the center of its symbol on the third line of the staff, and tenor clef places it on the second line down of the staff. 

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Shifting the Spotlight: James Lee III

Spotlight is a CMIYA blog series that seeks to highlight influential composers beyond the traditional canon of classical music.

“I want to compose to reach to the inner soul of the listener that elevates them regardless of race and religious affiliation.” This quote was expressed by the composer, James Lee III.

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Season 36: Concert 1 Review

I’m Nathan Zhou and I’m reviewing the first concert of CMI’s 36th season.

CMI opened the season on October 14, 2021 with a wonderful performance from the Iwasaki trio of violinist Jun Iwasaki, cellist Ko Iwasaki, and pianist Yurie Iwasaki. The concert was held in person at St. Barnabas Presbyterian Church in Richardson, Texas, and it was live-streamed as well.

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Traditional Concert Black Attire — To Be Kept or Changed?

I’m exploring the upcoming ideas that are being presented in the new day and age of classical music.

The standard for classical music attire has always been formal: Men in tailcoats and bow ties, and women in elegant black dresses. As time has passed, musicians have come to question these norms: Why wear clothes that are uncomfortable to play in? Why wear dull outfits that prevent us from expressing ourselves? Musicians have begun to experiment and restyle their performance attire; however, even in a world that is diverse and continually changing, deviating from the standard performance dress code usually elicits a negative response.

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Shifting the Spotlight: Yan Pang

Shifting the Spotlight is a CMIYA blog series that seeks to highlight influential composers beyond the traditional canon of classical music.

Imagine a world where modern music created by classical instruments and contemporary choreography meet. This junction is precisely where Yan Pang’s works reside. Her musical goals, talents, and education continue to emphasize her uniqueness among people today. 

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Beyond: CMIYA Seniors

Beyond is an interview series that explores other classical and chamber music communities around the world through the perspectives of fellow student musicians.

To wrap up this year, we interviewed a few of our graduating seniors about their experience at CMI as a Youth Ambassador.

Sonya Shah: What is your favorite CMIYA memory?

Ethan Yang: Getting to meet everyone and put together everyone’s amazing performances has been so much fun!

Matthew Ho: Throughout my time at CMIYA, I have had so many great experiences, so I can’t really decide on just one specific favorite memory.  I remember volunteering as a stage manager at several pre-COVID CMI concerts.  Learning about how the stage crew worked behind the scenes was very interesting and insightful.  At those concerts, I was also so lucky to have had the opportunity to meet renown artists and take pictures with them.  

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Season 35: Concert 2 Review

I’m Sonya Shah and I’m reflecting this European tour themed concert.

On February 27, 2021, CMI hosted its second live streamed concert this year. After a season of concerts suspended, this was an exciting event for all. A beautiful variety of pieces by Beethoven, Ravel, and Fauré were performed by four diverse artists.

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Shifting the Spotlight: Elizabeth Gyring

Shifting the Spotlight is a CMIYA blog series that seeks to highlight influential composers beyond the traditional canon of classical music.

Elizabeth Gyring was born in Vienna, the “City of Music” and later moved on to become an accomplished composer in America. Gyring lived during a difficult time in history, World War II, which affected and defined her music. 

Gyring came from a deep musical background. Her father was a musician and conductor of one of the most prestigious orchestras of Europe, and she graduated with distinction from the State Academy of Music in Vienna. She also had the support and encouragement of one of Vienna’s most renowned musicians, the composer Alban Berg. 

Despite all the support she had, her life was not easy. The prime of her life was marred with  escaping Nazi racial and political persecution. She emigrated to America with her husband, Otto Geiringer, without knowing any English or having any money. Gyring herself, unfortunately, faced gender discriminationas a female composer, which did not make her path to success any easier. However, she worked hard through these obstacles and eventually asserted a name for herself as an American artist. 

Her music had a Late Romantic style to it. She has over 160 works, with pieces in nearly every traditional instrumentation, including a full-length opera, 2 symphonies, a few string quartets, and multiple chamber works for different ensembles, just to name a couple of examples. Her music was featured well throughout New York and Philadelphia and included many public and radio performances. One of her greatest accomplishments was her concert premieres performed by renowned musicians of the Viennaand Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras. But other than these few years of fame, her compositions were, for the most part, neglected. 

By the end of her life in 1970, Gyring was a productive American composer. She faced many tough experiences throughout her life but with hard work and dedication, reached impressive levels of success. With the recent rediscoveries of many historical female composers, her music will hopefully soon receive the recognition it deserves.

Shifting the Spotlight: Joseph de Bologne

Shifting the Spotlight is a CMIYA blog series that seeks to highlight influential composers beyond the traditional canon of classical music.

Joseph de Bologne, Chevalier de St. Georges (1745-1793)

A masterful fencer. A heroic French Revolution Colonel. A conductor of the finest orchestra in Europe. A violinist praised by presidents and queens. A composer so ingenious Mozart himself was jealous. Lauded as the first African composer of classical music, Joseph Bologne overcame racial barriers in 18th century France with a remarkable musical career. 

Joseph Bologne was born on the island of Guadeloupe to an African slave, Nanon, and George de Bologne de St. Georges, a French plantation owner. At age eight, Bologne began his education in France; at seventeen, he became an officer of the king’s guard, titled Le Chevalier de Bologne. Before his composing career, Bologne was known as the best fencer in all of France, even Europe, and his nickname became “the god of arms.” As well as fencing, Joseph was an avid athlete, excelling in swimming, skating, shooting, riding, running, and dancing. 

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Shifting the Spotlight: Margaret Bonds

Shifting the Spotlight is a CMIYA blog series that seeks to highlight influential composers beyond the traditional canon of classical music.

Margaret Bonds (1913-1972)

Margaret Bonds was a highly inspirational musician and composer whose story deserves to be told. Although she lived in a time where racial discrimination was widely accepted in society, she didn’t let being a woman of color stop her from reaching incredible levels of success. 

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Beyond: Masked Music with Sarah Goldberg

Beyond is an interview series that explores other classical and chamber music communities around the world through the perspectives of fellow student musicians.

Today, I’ll be talking to Sarah Goldberg, a 17-year-old trombonist from Dallas, Texas currently studying at the Interlochen Arts Academy. Having recently finished her last season in the Greater Dallas and National youth orchestras, Sarah runs an Instagram account where she posts daily practice videos, which has accumulated over 20,000 followers in less than two years. She is a passionate trombone teacher and advocate for gender equality in the music community.

Jessica Liang: As a trombone player, how has COVID-19 impacted your musical education and performance opportunities?

Sarah Goldberg: The pandemic has DRASTICALLY changed my playing in many ways. Although virtual music-making has its positives, such as being able to take lessons and attend masterclasses with people around the world at the click of a button, there are negatives too, like the audio technology learning curve (which I personally had a ton of trouble with). However, I was still able to have sectionals through my school’s wind ensemble and have weekly private lessons. In terms of performance opportunities, my original plan was to have a junior recital with one of my closest friends, perform at the Meyerson Center with the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra, and play at the New World Center and Carnegie Hall with NYO2, so seeing those opportunities taken away one by one was certainly a big letdown. 

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Beyond: Pandemic Performance with Sarah Tindall

Beyond is an interview series that explores other classical and chamber music communities around the world through the perspectives of fellow student musicians.

Today, I’ll be talking to cellist Sarah Tindall from Harleysville, Pennsylvania. A freshman at New England Conservatory and a recent graduate of Juilliard’s Pre-College Division, she recently co-founded Project Practice Notes, an online community that is supporting musicians in the practice room during this pandemic.

Chloe Yang: In your opinion, why is classical music impactful in today’s world? 

Sarah Tindall: People today are good at putting on masks. Like on social media—we only broadcast good things. But music is like a megaphone of our innermost heart. The best performers, who reach the most people, are those who are completely vulnerable in front of an audience. Because of this mask, people often forget their real selves, so as musicians, we’re almost allowing them to take a step back and see who they really are and the feelings they really have.

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Debachle: The Debate Over Bach

Ahead of our Bach-themed virtual concert premiering tomorrow, I’m exploring the debate over different Bach interpretations.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

During the baroque period (1600-1750), art was characterized by structure and contrast rather than the artist’s personal emotions. Baroque composers focused on writing pleasant pieces for the church instead of a specific person or audience. The most famous of these composers, Johann Sebastian Bach, is now considered one of the greatest of all time. However, he only began gaining popularity in the 19th century, which means that many of his original manuscripts are lost to history; this has led to mistakes, disagreements, and misrepresentations among modern musicians over how to interpret his music. 

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Shifting the Spotlight: Amy Beach

Shifting the Spotlight is a CMIYA blog series that seeks to highlight influential composers beyond the traditional canon of classical music.

Amy Beach (1867-1944)

Many musicians have never heard of Amy Beach, the spearhead of American female composers and the first of which to have a symphony published and performed by a well-known orchestra. Though her music reached critical acclaim in Europe, Amy Beach was the first successful American composer who did not study there. Her legacy traces through the suffrage movement to today, and paved the way for women in classical composition. 

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Q&A with Nikki Naghavi

Joining me for today’s Q&A session is violinist Nikki Naghavi, a 19-year-old currently attending the New England Conservatory of Music.

Steven Lu: It’s amazing to be able to focus some time today to talk to you about your career and how you’ve been adapting to these unprecedented circumstances. Could you begin by telling us a little bit about how you got started with the violin?

Nikki Naghavi: I’m so glad to be here! I started when I was 4 years old. My parents always wanted me to play some kind of instrument… they’re not musicians themselves, but they’re big music lovers. I think it was actually when I saw my older cousins playing string instruments in a GDYO concert that I decided I wanted to play the violin!

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Beyond: Giving Bach with Raunak Kumar

Beyond is an interview series that explores other classical and chamber music communities around the world through the perspectives of fellow student musicians.

Today I’m interviewing Raunak Kumar, a seventeen-year-old violinist studying at the New England Conservatory Preparatory School. An avid chamber musician, he has studied with members of the Ying, Parker, and Vega Quartets; most recently, he founded Give Bach, a “concert series for change”.

Chloe Yang: The coronavirus pandemic has forced the classical music community to adopt unprecedented ways of “doing” music. You recently founded Give Bach, which brings music to the world in an age of COVID-19. How did you come up with this idea?

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Welcome to Our Blog!

Welcome to the CMIYA blog! We’re excited to share our writing with you.

Our goal is to take a look at chamber music -and the greater classical music community- by presenting diverse perspectives that expand beyond time zones and time periods. Some of our posts in the near future will include a series on underrepresented composers, CMI concert reviews, and Beyond, an interview series that will explore different music communities through the lenses of our peers around the world.

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