The Language of Music Revealed

There are millions of self-taught musicians in this world. Some can\’t read a stitch of music and can only play by ear. If this describes you and you want to learn how to read and write music in a …

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Bonn’s Beethoven Bombs

Below is the review of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony by Hoffmann (famous writer of the time), 1 ½ years after a less than successful premier (concert was over 4 hours long, one rehearsal, and very cold concert hall):

“Radiant beams shoot through this region’s deep night, and we become aware of gigantic shadows which, rocking back and forth, close in on us and destroy everything within us except the pain of endless longing—a longing in which every pleasure that rose up in jubilant tones sinks and succumbs, and only through this pain, which, while consuming but not destroying love, hope, and joy, tries to burst our breasts with full-voiced harmonies of all the passions, we live on and are captivated beholders of the spirits.

How this wonderful composition, in a climax that climbs on and on, leads the listener imperiously forward into the spirit world of the infinite!…No doubt the whole rushes like an ingenious rhapsody past many a man, but the soul of each thoughtful listener is assuredly stirred, deeply and intimately, by a feeling that is none other than that unutterable portentous longing, and until the final chord—indeed, even in the moments that follow it—he will be powerless to step out of that wondrous spirit realm where grief and joy embrace him in the form of sound.”

About 70 years after the dismal premiere, Johannes Brahms published his Symphony No. 1. In studying the score, it becomes painfully obvious that the old master Beethoven had a profound influence on Brahms. The fact that Brahms was in his 40’s showed a reticence on his part to create a symphonic work. Beethoven’s innovations in motivic development and his ripping apart the anointed sonata form so prevalent and revered in the 18th Century created a problem for Brahms, he himself a towering figure of the latter 19th Century. Was he so intimidated by the greatness of Beethoven that he feared a work of his own would show no or little creativity? Brahms, a great melodist of the highest rank, did dabbled symphonically on a smaller scale with his two long but beautiful Serenades.

Finally, in 1877 Brahms’ first symphony for orchestra was published. It is a work of beauty, of grace, and of intensity. Nearly an hour long, it is far less concentrated than Beethoven’s famed highly motivic Fifth Symphony. Nevertheless, it is difficult to ignore the parallel similarities between these two great symphonies. Both symphonies begin in c minor and end triumphantly in C Major. In Beethoven’s opus, the third movement act as a long almost free falling transition for the glorious fully orchestrated last movement, enhanced for the first time with piccolo, contrabassoon, and trombones. Before the recapitulation if the opening, Beethoven quotes the third movement and once again we go on a roller coaster ride to the final movement ending in 29 measures of C Major to counterweight the previous dense and profound music in c minor.

Brahms sketches a similar plot. He uses contrabassoon but at the start of the work but saves the trombones for movement 4. His last movement starts dark enough in c minor and slowly unfolds to the horn call announcing C Major with shimmering strings underneath; perhaps a nod to Beethoven’s brass opening of his final movement. But in Brahms’ case the first theme is heard somewhat later, introduced first by the strings in a deep vibrant register and still in C Major. But in his recapitulation, Brahms waits until after the reiteration of the opening theme to bring back the horn call, performed usually at a slower tempo. This is followed by Theme II staying in C major. A quick coda which includes a brass chorale heard quietly originally in the first movement but now triumphant. Brahms hints at the Theme I with a third trombone solo, an unusual but brilliant stroke of orchestration.

So is this Brahms vain attempt at being another Beethoven; the third “B”? History tells us Brahms was very self-conscious and didn’t publish anything until it was incubated properly. No, Brahms Symphony No. 1 is a great work written in memory of great passing composer. It is his testament to a great master. But what is really occurring is that the baton is being passed to the next great symphonist. Brahms was himself a transitional figure but proved in his own right his gift of melody, of form, of balance, of orchestration, and of beauty. His work stands alone as a great masterpiece and for others to take note. It was the 19th Century Brahms that ushered in a new era of beauty and grace but never forgetting how he got there.

FEATURE REVIEW by Jorge Variego: El Lenguaje De La Música: Al Descubierto


El Lenguaje De La Música: Al Descubierto

clip_image006EL LENGUAJE DE LA MUSICA, AL DESCUBIERTO: Un Método Tan Fácil Que Cualquier Persona Es Capaz De Aprender A Leer Y Escribir Música. By Barry Araújo Kolman. Trans. by Maria Eugenia Melerio. Editorial Seleer, 2013, 294 pp. Paperback: $21.95

The overabundance of books, articles, and writings about the fundamentals of music theory makes the information available to every curious human being, musician or not. Payne-Kostka, Benward, and music are only a handful of examples of the most popular materials that—in most cases—make noticeable terminological stretches in order to differentiate themselves from each other. This fact considerably narrows the amount of freedom for a writer who wants to make a contribution in the realm of music theory. Rivers of ink have been invested in this topic, pages and pages that tackle the same subject have changed the focus of readers that do not expect to find any revelation within the pages. Instead, such readers seek a useful tool for classroom and self-teaching that is engaging and practical while offering an original perspective on the subject. Barry Aráujo Kolman decided to face all those challenges with El Lenguaje de la Musica, Al Descubierto. This review covers the Spanish language version of the book. This book is also available in English, titled THE LANGUAGE OF MUSIC REVEALED: A Real Easy Way for Anyone to Learn to Read and Write Music. The English language book is also reviewed in this issue.

The overall organization of the book does not differ much from its predecessors. It is divided into two main sections (basics and “more advanced” stuff) plus a series of appendices that provide an introduction to four-part chorale writing, scales, and an answer key. The organization of each section promotes clarity and ease of understanding. The first section is dedicated to “the basics” and starts with the fundamentals of music theory: melody, rhythm, and harmony. The presentation of these subjects renders them accessible to self-taught musicians, and a useful aid to teachers introducing students to music theory. The chapters provide a general introduction, which is then developed thoroughly. At the end of each chapter, the book offers an evaluation point with exercises and a general review of the newly acquired vocabulary. This structure recalls the checkpoint quizzes in Tonal Harmony by Payne-Kostka, only to reaffirm their effectiveness. The quizzes’ keys are provided in the last appendix, so, if you are a patient student, you can easily double-check your performance during the self-assessments (all that in the same book, which is important).

Plenty of musical excerpts are used to illustrate the different topics, especially in the more advanced section that deals with concepts of harmony. Despite the value of seeing the actual music scores, I believe that there is an intrinsic need for listening to those fragments. A music student—self-taught or not—should be able to link the visual element of music with its parallel aural component. A former music theory teacher of mine always returned to a vital concept: “Do not try to explain in your analysis things that you do not perceive aurally.” Occasionally, the book becomes too visual (without any use of color codes!), and seems to demand prerecorded examples. That could perhaps simply be an addendum to this first edition, maybe a companion CD with the examples? Or an online archive with the fifth appendix?

Written in a friendly way, El Lenguaje de la Musica, Al Descubierto presents a thorough introduction to music theory that does not overlook any of the fundamental topics. This book could be a useful tool for the music enthusiast who is curious to probe certain concepts and a handy resource for the classroom music teacher. Jorge Variego

FEATURE REVIEW by Arthur Lintgen: STEINER Treasure of Sierra Madre: Suite. The Charge of the Light Brigade: Suite • Barry Kolman, conductor


clip_image002 STEINER Treasure of Sierra Madre: Suite. The Charge of the Light Brigade: Suite Barry Kolman, cond; Slovak St PO CENTAUR 2367 (66:01)

Film Scores
Audio CD

At the time of the original release of this CD in 1998, the only worthwhile substantial music available from these two major Max Steiner scores was a less than eight minute Suite from The Treasure of Sierra Madre in the RCA Classic Film Score Series. That concise arrangement has great sound and amazing conducting by Charles Gerhardt, but there was clearly room for more of these lengthy orchestral scores. Subsequently, excellent complete versions of The Treasure of Sierra Madre and The Charge of the Light Brigade appeared on Marco Polo and Tribute Film Classics respectively conducted by William Stromberg. All of this recording activity attests to the quality and popularity of two of Steiner’s most famous action scores

These are both extended suites containing over 30 minutes of music. They are obviously longer than Gerhardt’s short Suite, but contain less than half of the complete scores. Conductor Barry Kolman is described in the program notes as the principal editor of the two arrangements, and he has done a good job. All of the most important music is included. Kolman conducts Steiner’s relentless action underscore with plenty of fire. He has the trumpet fanfares, massed brass, and percussion under control but on the edge in “The Charge” sequence from The Charge of the Light Brigade. The Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra is adequate, but is clearly not in the same class as Stromberg’s Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Gerhardt’s National Philharmonic Orchestra. Those latter two orchestras also capture Steiner’s personal sound better. The brass here is leaner and somewhat generic in its tone. With Gerhardt and Stromberg, there can be no mistake that it is Steiner. The sound probably contributes to this. There is good analytic clarity in the orchestral maelstrom on Centaur, but not as much harmonic richness as with Gerhardt and Stromberg.

There is definitely a place in the catalog for this well conducted and produced recording. Gerhard’s short Suite certainly does not give a complete picture of The Treasure of Sierra Madre, and the complete scores may well be too much of a good thing for some listeners. These two suites occupy a perfect place in the middle for selected Steiner fans. Arthur Lintgen

This article originally appeared in Issue 37:4 (Mar/Apr 2014) of Fanfare Magazine

FEATURE REVIEW by Maria Nockin The Language of Music Revealed: A Real Easy Way for Anyone to Learn to Read and Write Music


Buy The Language of Music Revealed: A Real Easy Way for Anyone to Learn to Read and Write Music From Amazon
The Language of Music Revealed: A Real Easy Way for Anyone to Learn to Read and Write Music

THE LANGUAGE OF MUSIC REVEALED: A Real Easy Way for Anyone to Learn to Read and Write Music. By Barry A. Kolman. Boca Raton: Universal Publishers, 2012. 291 pp. Paperback. $49.95

Barry Kolman describes his useful, well-written book as: “a real easy way for anyone to learn to read and write music.” While I don’t agree that those skills are easy to attain, this book is a good text that makes the subject anything but dry. Part I, which begins with the staff, the clefs, and the names of the notes, goes on to more difficult matters in a sequential manner. There are a few exercises and tests for each chapter, but any student would need a great deal more practice to become proficient at the skills involved. It would be good if there was an accompanying workbook. Since there is none, it is up to the teacher to augment the work supplied for skill building. Most of the important facets of music theory are covered here, and this book does allow the beginner to get an understanding of music theory from which he or she can progress to mastery. When the second chapter introduces sharps and flats, it uses the theme from the movie Jaws as an illustration and tells the reader that the intervals in that tune are half steps. That kind of thinking helps maintain the learner’s interest. For each topic there is a cartoon-styled guide that explains the aspect of music theory with which that particular chapter deals. Each chapter also has a section called “Fab Vocab” that singles out the new words that each student needs to memorize. After explaining sharps and flats, Kolman goes on to deal with major and minor scales, but the learner will only be ready to absorb it after having fully mastered the accidentals.   

Part II is devoted to the discussion of rhythm and its notation. It explains and illustrates every aspect of the duration of notes, from tied whole notes to the intricate tails of swiftly passing 64th notes. The reader also learns the meaning of time signatures. Part III introduces the study of harmony with a rock singer as a guide. The rocker plays chords and tells us that they are special triads consisting of the root, the third, and the fifth. Since they can be visualized as resting on top of each other, the following dialogue is attributed to them: Fifth: “Wow! I can see Kansas from up here.” Third: “Will you kindly get your elbow out of my eye?” Root: “Call Weight Watchers … you’re breakin’ my back!” Kolman’s inventive writing keeps the material interesting. Chords and chord progressions bring up the finale along with an explanation of cadences, but that really isn’t the end. There are all sorts of helpful appendices in this book. They explain musical form, major scales, and the relative minor for each. There is also a fully fleshed-out version of the “Fab Vocab.” The last appendix contains numerous exercises and their answers with the usual remonstrations about the honor system. I find this book to be useful for adult beginners and suggest that music teachers keep it on hand. Even advanced students sometimes need a few pointers and exercises on music theory.

This review covers the English language version of the book. This book is also available in Spanish, titled EL LENGUAJE DE LA MUSICA, AL DESCUBIERTO: Un Método Tan Fácil Que Cualquier Persona Es Capaz De Aprender A Leer Y Escribir Música. The Spanish language book is also reviewed in this issue. Maria Nockin

This article originally appeared in Issue 37:4 (Mar/Apr 2014) of Fanfare Magazine.

Clarinets, Classrooms, and Conducting: A Conversation with Barry Kolman

Feature Article by Alan Swanson


Buy The Language of Music Revealed: A Real Easy Way for Anyone to Learn to Read and Write Music From Amazon
The Language of Music Revealed: A Real Easy Way for Anyone to Learn to Read and Write Music

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El Lenguaje De La Música: Al Descubierto

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Unlike many who are interviewed in these pages, the conductor Barry Kolman does not claim to come from a long line of musicians. His sister once brought home a violin from school and after a few minutes of scratches and screeches, his father said to her, “Either the violin goes or you go.” Fortunately, it was the violin that went, ending his sister’s brief musical career. Despite this unpromising introduction to the art of making music, keeping time to the music on the record player became an automatic response.

Kolman continues,

I started playing the clarinet in elementary school and found a group of kids like myself who would get together on the weekends and play any type of music we could find. In high school, we formed a “bar mitzvah” band and played out of “fake books” as well as making our own arrangements. We played a bunch of gigs and even had an audition with an agent who booked bands for the Catskills resorts in upstate New York.

I always loved music. But it was when I was introduced to my first real professional star musician, David Weber, principal clarinetist with the New York City Ballet, that I decided that music was going to be my career. That was the easy part. Now to convince my father that I wanted to be a musician, that was the hard part. Dad was a businessman and he had his plans for me: major in math and go into business with him. It took me a year of being a Math/Computer Science major to finally get the nerve to break the bad news; I wanted to go to music school.

It was the first Thanksgiving of my first year in college. I came home with my elephant bell bottoms and shoulder-length hair (after all it was the 1960s) and sat down in the living room. I just blurted it out, “I’m thinking of joining the Peace Corps after college.” Where did that come from? My father stared at me with his steely eyes and then I confessed my secret love for music. He said nothing; I only heard the crash of massive disappointment. Other than that, it was the loudest silence I have ever experienced. It was not until I earned my doctorate that I felt my father was convinced I could make a living as a musician. My mother has told me in recent years that, in fact, my father was extremely proud of his son all along.

Kolman earned his first degree, in music education, from the Crane School of Music at SUNY in Potsdam, New York. After a stint teaching in public schools, he did a master’s degree in performance at Illinois State and took his doctorate in conducting from the University of Northern Colorado, where he was awarded the Graduate Dean’s Citation for Excellence and where he graduated with High Honors. He has also taken part in master classes by Zubin Mehta and Frederick Fennell. The road from studying music to performing it, however, was not so direct, as it happened.

What I wanted to do as a musician changed often, from symphony orchestra clarinet player to high school band director to college professor to symphony orchestra conductor. I never quite found that hook I was looking for until the conducting bug hit me. I did take a host of clarinet auditions. At one audition, very anonymously and behind a screen, I played the opening bars of the Mozart Concerto, the staple of all auditions. Suddenly a small little head popped out from behind the screen and said to the others, “No, it’s not him.” This was my first foray in the politics of auditioning. I didn’t stay long enough to find out who the “audition board” really wanted. It was then I thought it was time to rethink this option.

Yet, in spite of rationality and reality, I continued to audition. There was an audition for the New Orleans Philharmonic for second clarinet. We all (by then we all knew each other; the same bunch of sad sacks going from audition to audition and all ending up eventually at the airport bar) dragged ourselves to the City Center for the beheading. Our guide at the door led the way.

As I was walking, it was hard not to notice that there were tigers, lions, and elephants in cages. “Is this where the losers end up?” Answer: The circus was in town, and we were the clowns! Finally to the second floor, and the guide disappeared. Where to warm up, where to go? I had about six different types of clarinets with me. I ended up warming up in the ladies room. I knew this was going to end badly. It did! Yes, definitely time to rethink this option! By the way, this vacancy in New Orleans occurred because the present second clarinetist was too ill to play anymore. After he saw that about 300 players were after his job, a miracle occurred! He got better and the search was called off.

My epiphany happened during one orchestra rehearsal at the time I was doing my master’s in performance. We all were in our places, waiting impatiently for our tardy conductor. After about 15 minutes, students were starting to pack up to leave. As a grad student with a false sense of clout, I stood up and said, “Nobody leaves. We ARE rehearsing!” “But we have no conductor,” whined most of the players already half out the door. “I’ll conduct!” Geesh, what have I done … conduct what? I did some conducting as a public school teacher but never with a full symphony orchestra. As if I knew what I was doing or going to do, I proceeded to the podium with a certain air of arrogance (more like extreme fear). I grabbed a first violin part (no score was available), raised my arms, and magically, they all raised their instruments. WOW! Absolute power DOES indeed corrupt absolutely! With renewed confidence, I threw them the most vigorous of downbeats and Beethoven and I had a thrill ride. I stopped; they stopped. I would make a comment; they would take a pencil and write it down!

And then, I felt responsible for these musicians. What I told them couldn’t be from a capricious wise-guy; it had to be right and to make sense. It was at that moment I fell in love with music again, but this time it was different from listening to those old 78-rpm recordings. That little conducting exercise taught me how little I really knew and how much I needed to know. It taught me that I indeed have an opinion about music that other musicians respected. It was the beginning of a long journey of learning not just about music but about people.

Thank goodness for all those undergraduate conducting courses I took. After I graduated from Crane with a degree in Music Education, I was armed to teach public school. I taught for a while in New York at a middle school. I had terrific kids. We put on some wonderful concerts and my students and their parents really loved it all. Though I did move on, I never did forget about my music education roots.

Music teachers today have it tough. There has always been competition with sports and clubs and even among music ensembles for student participants. But today, schedules are “blocked” and budgets are cut; though we rarely see athletic budgets cut. With all these obstacles, there is still music in our schools, and I am very thankful because it was a lifesaver for my daughter.

My daughter has autism and my wife, a Jungian therapist, and I were trying to figure out something that would give her some solace after being bullied in school. In an article, I tell how I taught my daughter the clarinet and how it changed her life and mine (Watch out, bullies: She’s got the band behind her: I always knew music was powerful, but after working with her, I was awestruck. She was proud to be a member of a select group of students; her world changed because of music. As a musician you often get lost in your own little world, whether you are a pianist, conductor, or composer. But to witness such a profound change in someone you love pushes you out of that cubicle and confirms that what you are doing is a good thing, and that you can change people’s lives with this intangible thing we call music.

From such a special experience, it would seem that teaching and learning are central to how you think about making music.

My classroom is and will always be the orchestra. And guest conducting throughout the world, under many unusual conditions, meeting people from diverse countries, and recording CDs under a time limit; all those were my teachers. All the master classes I took and all the instructions that were given do not prepare you for the outside world.

For you, it seems, much of the “outside world” has meant conducting abroad. What is that like?

I have been lucky enough to conduct in Russia and Eastern Europe, with a few stints in Western Europe. I guess I was drawn to that part of the world because of my ancestry; my family may have been from Russia and Hungary. I do remember one orchestra in Yekaterinburg, Russia; the coldest place I have ever visited, and I’ve lived in Minnesota! As cold as it was outside, the warmth of the musicians showed me was incredible. After a long rehearsal in a room that had more than enough heat, I was literally dripping wet. I muttered to myself, in English, “Boy, I can really go for a beer now.” The next morning, a full case of Russian beer was on my podium. I looked up and there was a smiling percussionist nodding to me. He came up to me and tried so hard in English to invite me to his brother’s birthday party that evening, after the concert.

We played the same concert out of town to a packed house. Our encore was Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever, piccolos standing, brass blasting; the musicians loved it. It was my final night and I was invited to say a few words. My translator was nearby. I stood up and looked at all these overworked, barely paid, musicians. “We in the United States, we have everything. We have more than we need. But all of you have even more; something that we Americans sometimes lack. You have heart. You have so little, but you have given me so much.” I couldn’t finish. The women of the orchestra already had their tissues out and those big burly Russian men were quickly flicking away their tears. It was one experience I will always remember clearly.

Everyone always recalls such powerful experiences, of course, but you also call the orchestra a “classroom.” Does that mean for you, as well as for the players?

Certainly! Maybe it started to make sense when I conducted two performances of Carmina Burana; packed houses both nights, score memorized, 350-plus people onstage in front of me, and about 650 behind me. But it felt like we were all taking part in the performance in one capacity or another. We were all active performers, even the audience. It was an exceptional experience that made all the sacrifices I had made to become a musician so worthwhile.

I also spent some weeks in Changsha in China. It was an odd experience. Everyone was very polite. I have one important rule when I travel to a foreign country; don’t forget that you’re a guest in someone else’s house; always be polite, learn how to say “thank you,” “good morning,” “please,” and, most importantly, “break!” In China, as long as the conversation didn’t go onto the political, you were fine. Every night during my stay, I was invited to the home of a musician for dinner. The family invariably had at least one child who played piano or violin, so I was treated to a musical performance with each dinner. The freshly-cooked, homemade food was delicious, right from the market outside.

We were to perform Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The concert hall was packed with over 1,000 people. There were many photos with the local officials, and then the concert. As we rounded the turn of last movement of Beethoven’s incredible Finale, pounding out C-Major chord after C-Major chord, suddenly, about 30 seconds or so from the end … the lights went out. But did we stop? No way! The orchestra continued in pitch blackness to the final cadence. The audience leapt to its feet, and we were all heroes.

It is now, at this point, after conducting so many concerts and so many pieces, including some works that I have conducted dozens of time, I finally get it. I finally really understand the music. I understand why Beethoven wrote that particular symphony; why that theme is heard at that particular time; why that emotion is created at that moment. It’s like taking apart a car for the first time. Sure, one rides in a car for decades, but have you ever taken one apart? Now when I conduct Beethoven or Tchaikovsky, I hear, perhaps I even feel, the composer speaking to me through his music. Conducting is a more powerful experience, a more powerful learning experience as you get older.

You have conducted around the world and have led the Shenandoah Symphony for 25 years; what’s on your list of things to do?

What’s on my bucket list? Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Tosca, Mahler’s Second, teach graduate conducting students … and, most importantly, to conduct in my hometown of New York City for my Mom to see.

THE LANGUAGE OF MUSIC REVEALED: A Real Easy Way for Anyone to Learn to Read and Write Music. By Barry A. Kolman. Boca Raton: Universal Publishers, 2012. 291 pp. Paperback. $49.95

EL LENGUAJE DE LA MUSICA, AL DESCUBIERTO: Un Método Tan Fácil Que Cualquier Persona Es Capaz De Aprender A Leer Y Escribir Música. By Barry Araújo Kolman. Trans. by Maria Eugenia Melerio. Editorial Seleer, 2013, 294 pp. Paperback: $21.95

STEINER Treasure of Sierra Madre: Suite. The Charge of the Light Brigade: Suite • Barry Kolman, cond; Slovak St PO • CENTAUR 2367 (66:01)

This article originally appeared in Issue 37:4 (Mar/Apr 2014) of Fanfare Magazine.