Classical Music

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

I always enjoy telling the story of how the piano got its name. Piano means “soft,” in Italian, and it seems a little strange that an instrument that can weigh almost a thousand pounds and compete in volume with a symphony orchestra should be called a “soft.” Well we have to start with the piano’s predecessor, the harpsichord, or gravicembalo, in Italian. The strings of a harpsichord are plucked, not struck, and no matter how hard, or how softly, you press the keys, the sound volume stays the same.

Music Teachers

Aug 22, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

It was George Bernard Shaw who famously wrote, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” What Shaw forgot is that teaching is doing. And if you’re looking for a group of people whose unlimited dedication is matched only by their extraordinary skills, I suggest you look no farther than public school music teachers. To me, these teachers are heroes.

Listening to Music

Aug 21, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Different people listen to music in different ways and for different reasons. And the same people listen to music in different ways and for different reasons, depending on when they’re listening. Some people have music on in their homes during meals, some while they’re relaxing, some in the background while they’re working, and some all the time. And some people absolutely can’t work if there’s music on in the background, and only want to hear music when they can pay close attention, whether it’s at home or in a concert hall. The truth is, there’s no single right way to listen to music.

Good Music Lasts

Aug 20, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

These days, with convenient hindsight we take it for granted that good music lasts, that pieces that are well known now will remain well known for years -- perhaps even for centuries to come. But I often wonder what was in the minds of the great composers of centuries past whose music we still love. Composers such as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven knew very well how good they were, and where they stood compared to other composers. They were too good not to have known.

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

That snippet of Bach that you always hear at the beginning of A Minute with Miles is played by violinist Joanna Maurer. Joanna plays in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and for almost twenty years she’s been my colleague in the American Chamber Players. She’s a remarkable musician, and for all these years I’ve been inspired both by her beautiful violin playing and by what I might call her musical wisdom: her interpretive insights and her mastery of the craft of chamber music.

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Professional opera singers often have to sing in languages with which they’re completely unfamiliar. And yet they’re expected to pronounce all the words correctly. How do they do it? Well, they certainly can, and do, work with coaches who are native speakers, but most often they start by studying the foreign words with something called the International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA, for short.

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

I attended a concert recently that featured a performance of the Schubert Fantasy in F Minor for piano four-hands. The Schubert Fantasy is a piece I’ve known and loved for decades, and I’d been looking forward to the performance. As it turned out, though, I didn’t enjoy the performance, or the music, because I didn’t like the interpretation. I simply couldn’t free myself from my conception of how the music should go, not to mention how it shouldn’t go.

"Classical Music"

Aug 14, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Somehow it remains a struggle to define the term “classical music.” Some people call it “concert music,” which seems a little too broad, or “art music,” a little too exclusive, or “serious music,” which is an insult to every other kind of music. It’s often easier to say what classical music is not: it’s not any one of the countless different styles of music that fall in the general category of “pop” music.

Brass Quintet

Aug 13, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

A “brass quintet” consists of two trumpets, French horn, trombone, and tuba. I attended a concert by a brass quintet the other day, and I was struck by a big difference, visually, between a brass quintet concert and, say, a string quartet concert. When you watch a string quartet, you see lots of movement – arms, hands, fingers, instruments. But at a brass quintet concert the only thing you see moving much at all is the slide of the trombone. And the reason is that most of what brass players do is done with the lips, and it’s invisible to us.

Bad Chairs

Aug 12, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Imagine you’re a professional basketball player, about to take a foul shot. You’ve practiced this thousands of times, and you know exactly how you need to set your feet and orient your body in order to get the best results. But then you notice that the floor is uneven, or slippery, or has a big depression right at the foul line, or has a board sticking up under your foot. It’s going to be much harder to make the shot. Well, this doesn’t actually happen on professional basketball courts.

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

Why should somebody else—anybody else, whether it’s a program annotator or a radio announcer—tell me that a piece of music is “sad,” or happy, or light, or charming, or profound, when no two people ever have precisely the same reaction to the same piece? One person’s “sad” may be another’s “noble,” and one person’s intense and penetrating may be another’s pretentious and annoying. 

A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

A while back I spent a minute offering a few suggestions of what to say after a concert when the concert was really pretty bad, but the performer is someone you know and you have to say something. In the unfortunate event that you’ve already used up your store of useful phrases, I thought I’d suggest a few more.

The easiest thing to say is a always a simple “Bravo.” But of course it’s a little too easy – and whenever someone has only said “bravo” to me after one of my concerts I’ve always been suspicious.

The Bad Old Days

Aug 7, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

In the bad old days of symphony orchestras in this country, music directors were absolute dictators, and orchestra musicians had few protections. If a music director woke up in a bad mood and decided to fire an orchestra musician on the spot, he could… never mind that it might instantly deprive that musician of his livelihood. And some of the most famous conductors, unfortunately, were egotistical tyrants who inspired as much fear as admiration in the members of their orchestras. 

Taste vs. Judgement

Aug 6, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

We tend to be reluctant these days to say that one piece of music is better than another or that one composer is better than another. Often this reluctance is a good idea, especially if the ranking serves no useful purpose, and because “better” is sometimes hard to define. But sometimes the reluctance is a mistake, and it’s a mistake based on confusing taste with judgment

Phillipe Gaubert

Aug 5, 2019
A Minute with Miles
SC Public Radio/Mary Noble Ours

If you’re a flutist, you almost certainly know the name “Philippe Gaubert.” But if you’re not a flutist, you probably don’t. And yet Philippe Gaubert was one of the most famous and important French musicians of the first half of the twentieth century. As a teenager in the 1890s, Gaubert studied the flute at the Paris Conservatory with the great French flutist Paul Taffanel, and eventually the signature style of the legendary teacher and his brilliant pupil became known as “the French method.” 

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