A Minute with Miles

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How did the piano get its name? Why can’t you “reach” a crescendo? Who invented opera—and why—and how do you pronounce “Handel”? These and countless other classical music questions are answered on South Carolina Public Radio’s A Minute with Miles. Hosted by longtime NPR commentator Miles Hoffman, the segments inform and entertain as they provide illuminating 60-second flights through the world of classical music. 

Barab's Birthday

Jan 9, 2015

The American composer Seymour Barab started out as a pianist and organist, but as a teenager he took up the cello, and as a cellist he became a highly successful orchestra musician, founder of important string quartets, top commercial free-lance player, champion of new music, and later, after mastering the viola da gamba, champion of old music.

The French Horn

Jan 5, 2015

The French horn is only called the French horn… in English.  In French, it’s just called the horn, le cor – c-o-r.  In German it’s Horn, das Horn, in Italian it’s corno, and… well how about… Bulgarian… in Bulgarian, it’s Roq.  No French connections anywhere to be found.

The Harp

Jan 1, 2015

Here’s a little secret: harpists don’t use their pinkies. Since it’s the weakest finger, and since on the harp it provides no reach advantage—the ring finger stretches farther—the pinkie is just along for the ride. 

Flutist or flautist?

Dec 26, 2014

You say potato, I say potahto, you say flutist, I say flautist.  Well, actually I don’t say flautist, and neither do any of the flute players I know.  The Italian word for flute is flauto, and for flutist, flautista, and that’s where “flautist” comes from – although “flutist” is in fact an older term.

Handel's Messiah

Dec 23, 2014

Well, it’s that time of year again.  Choral groups all over the country are gearing up for performances of Handel’s Messiah. Or is it “Haen-del’s” Messiah?  Maybe we should clear this up.

Musical Notation 2

Dec 19, 2014

For a system of musical notation to be precise, it must be able to represent both the pitch and the rhythm of musical sounds.  Up until about the 13th century, no such system had ever existed.

Musical Notation 1

Dec 18, 2014

Do you read music?  Not an unusual question at all, is it? And yet think of the implications. We take it for granted that music can be written down, not just played; read, not just heard.

What goes on in a performer’s mind during a performance?  Well, lots of things, from the sublime to the salacious.  From thoughts and feelings whose only expression is in soaring flights of melody to very real concerns about whether or not Vinnie’s Pizza delivers after 10:30.

Beethoven's Birthday

Dec 16, 2014

It’s Beethoven’s birthday today.  He was born in Bonn, Germany, on December 16, 1770.  Now many people know that at a certain point Beethoven became deaf.  It’s a common misconception, however, that it was somehow miraculous that Beethoven was able to continue composing.


Dec 15, 2014

The minuet represents one of the longest-lasting dance crazes in history.  It most likely started out as a French country dance, but the minuet’s real success began in the 1650's when it was introduced in finer clothing, and with music by Jean-Baptiste Lully, at the court of King Louis XIV of France.

The Rondo

Dec 12, 2014

The Rondo is a musical form often used by Hayden, Mozart, Beethoven, and their contemporaries for the last movements of their pieces.  A Rondo almost always starts with a lively or cheerful tune.

The Trombone

Dec 11, 2014

The trombone is an instrument that has remained largely unchanged for over five centuries.  In the 1400's, instrument makers created the trombone as a bigger, lower-pitched version of the slide trumpet, and indeed trombone is Italian for “big trumpet.”

Opera Voices

Dec 5, 2014

There are three basic categories of operatic singing voices: high, medium, and low. For women, these categories, starting from the top, are soprano, mezzo-soprano, and contralto. (Mezzo means “middle,” in Italian.) For men, they’re tenor, baritone, and bass.

Opera's Popularity

Dec 4, 2014

Another word today about opera.  Over the centuries, opera has often been criticized, and justly, for any number of reasons: silly or unrealistic plots, bad acting, extravagant productions, outrageous ticket prices and an air of social exclusivity, and characters who should be at least a little out of breath on account of their dying of consumption or having just been stabbed in the heart but who nonetheless manage to sing lengthy arias at the top of their lungs.

There’s no such thing as a “short history of opera.”  Well… there is a famous college textbook called A Short History of Opera… but it’s 800 pages long.  I will tell you this historical note about opera, though:  it was invented – that’s right, invented – in the late 1500's in Florence, Italy.