Arts

Arts and culture

It was 1964 when the young Philip Glass found himself in Paris. He was on a Fulbright scholarship to study with the revered pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. It was a career move carefully planned. Glass wanted to be a composer and he knew Boulanger's rigorous lessons in traditional Western harmony and counterpoint would sharpen his skills.

The vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth consists of eight classically trained singers incorporating Tuvan throat singing, Appalachian yodeling, operatic trills, rhythmic exhalations and whispered speech into music written by some of the most exciting young composers of the 21st century.

Life changed a lot after that day in 1877 when Thomas Edison spoke "Mary had a little lamb" into a contraption he called a phonograph and discovered he could reproduce sound. Back then, tinfoil cylinders captured just a few flickering moments. Today Wagner's entire Ring cycle fits on a 16GB flash drive.

Metropolitan Opera Chorus Master Donald Palumbo knows voices, and how to instruct singers to protect them.

Palumbo says that all singers have to monitor their voices while rehearsing during the day. The goal, he says, is to insure singers are at their "freshest" and "most solid" for the evening performance.

Now that the weather, at least in much of the country, has turned from polar to pollen vortex, it's time to start mapping out musical road trips. This year bodes well for exploring contemporary work. There are new-music meccas like California's Cabrillo, where all the music is current. At other festivals, like New York's Mostly Mozart, the classics mingle with the contemporary — this year spotlights 55-year-old British composer George Benjamin. And still others, like the Bard Festival, offer rare glimpses into forward-thinking composers from the mid-20th century.

Julia Wolfe, a composer associated with the New York music collective Bang on a Can, has won the Pulitzer Prize for music for Anthracite Fields.

Carl Nelson / WNIJ

Next Thursday evening, April 24, the NIU School of Music hosts a program featuring the berimbau.  An original cycle of music for the Afro-Brazilian instrument ranging from solos to sextets will be performed.

Greg Beyer is the director of the NIU Percussion program. Beyer is also director the ensemble Projeto Arcomusical.  The group's six members all play the berimbau, which resembles a long bow with a round gourd in the middle.  

Percussionists back in Beethoven's day could be forgiven for feeling a little bored, waiting for the infrequent roll of the kettledrum or the occasional cymbal crash. But as orchestras grew bigger, percussionists got busier — even more so after World War I, when a new generation of composers began writing specifically for percussion.

NIU Steel Band Legends Keep On Inspiring

Apr 13, 2015
Katie Finlon / WNIJ

Cliff Alexis -- co-director of the Northern Illinois University Steel Band -- is considered a living legend within the steel pan world. Before that, he was a six-year-old aspiring pannist in a world that stigmatized pan players as violent gangsters.  

"I fell in love with it from an early age,” Alexis said. “The problem was, we were forbidden to go near those guys, because those guys were considered, you know, bad boys in the neighborhood."  

The Salón Los Angeles is the oldest dance hall in Mexico City. The classic 1930s ballroom is located in a working-class neighborhood near downtown, and every week, it sees dozens of well-dressed couples of all ages moving to an orchestra of saxophones, trumpets, trombones, clarinets and percussion instruments.

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