The Double Bass: Big, Bold and Beautiful

By Louise Balkwill

In this blog post, I will be raving about one of the most important, versatile, best loved but least accredited instruments in western music’s modern (and not so modern) history – yes, that’s right, the Double Bass!

The Double Bass (also known as the contrabass, upright bass, standup bass, acoustic bass or just “the bass”) has been an important part of the foundations of the music that we know and love for centuries.

It its the largest, lowest-pitched bow-able string instrument around (apart from the super rare Octobasse – Click here to see what it sounds like!), and as the 19th and 20th centuries saw the rise of many new genres of music, the double bass stuck around and proved itself to be one of the most versatile, too!

When many people think of the double bass, they think of it as a big, cumbersome instrument that plods along at the bottom of an orchestra; This could not be further from the truth! It can give the violin a run for its money as a virtuosic sensation.

If you don’t believe me, just watch Dominic Seldis go!

…Amazing, right?

Another great thing about the Double Bass is that if you love singing, you can do both at the same time!

Watch the fabulous Esperanza Spalding play the timeless jazz standard “On The Sunny Side Of The Street”

If you watched both of these videos, you probably noticed that Dominic and Esperanza play the double bass in very different ways; Dominic sits down, Esperanza stands up, Dominic plays with a bow (this is what string players call “Arco”) and Esperanza plucks the strings (known to us as “pizzicato”)…

The instrument has been an important and inspiring facilitator of change and expression over the past two or more centuries, enabling different cultures and communities of musicians to develop their own styles and techniques of playing while still remaining a cornerstone of the music.

 

Unfortunately, the Double Bass has become an endangered instrument, meaning that there are very few people learning it…

That does, however, mean more gigs for those of us who do!

Inspired?

Give the Double Bass a go with our 4 lessons for £99 offer!

You can try double bass lessons with me (Louise), or if you’d rather try out the sideways version (the bass guitar), why not give lessons with the wonderful Twm or Ronald a spin?

(Email louise@beckydellmusicacademy.co.uk to enquire)

Now, it wouldn’t be a blog about the Double Bass without sharing a tune from the revolutionary Charles Mingus…Enjoy!

Care for Country

We love getting our tutors to write blogs for us about their interests and expertise and so are very excited to share Connor’s thoughts on country music. Connor teaches piano, guitar, singing and songwriting at the London academies.

by Connor Roff

Country on the rise: Americana what?

I never liked Country.

I used to think it was cheesy, basic and all sounded the same.

Recently, after starting a new music project called Little Water with a friend of mine, I’ve been proven wrong. Somehow and completely accidentally, we created a sound with some dulcet country tones and I discovered Country is a broad genre with all sorts of cool complexities and little gems.

Country originated in the southern United States from folk and blues music in the early 1900’s. Working class Americans developed its beginnings and it moved from hillbilly music and barn dances to blue grass, country rock and country pop in the later 1980s.

Chris Carlisle (first generation country): 

Country music is on the rise, especially in the UK. This doesn’t just come down to the popularity of mainstream country style artists such as Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. There’s a lot of genre blending occurring now, hence why the popularity of “Country” is developing more and more traction.

You may have heard the word Americana tossed around a few times recently in the music world. According to americanamusic.org:

“Americana is contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw.”

In other words, a crossover of all sorts of genres, the first being country. Some classic examples of artists fitting into the Americana box include Neil Young, Jonny Cash and Tom Petty.

Some more current examples include Ryan Adams, The War on Drugs, Laura Marling, Ray LaMontagne, The Lumineers and so much more.

Here’s one of my new favourites called Chris Stapleton and his wife performing his song “Traveller” below. Go check out his two solo albums, they’re honest and cool: 

Meanwhile for some more traditional country sounds, check out rising UK duo The Shires and American acts Sam Hunt and Kacey Musgraves.

Kacey Musgraves has pushed conventional country norms talking about same sex relationships and smoking marijuana: 

If you’re like me and you want to start exploring this diverse world more, London has some fantastic events to promote and support country music within the UK coming up.

Grab your cowboy hat and boots and head down to Americana Music Festival in Hackney London from 31st Jan-1st Feb in Hackney London from 31st Jan-1st Feb and C2C (Country to Country) Music Festival at The O2 in March.

I’ll be there with a whiskey in hand.

For more information about Connor’s new band “Little Water” follow them on social media:

Facebook: @littlewatermusic

Instagram: littlewatermusic

100 Years of Jazz: Blues

Blues

Blog by Louise Balkwill

Alongside the evolution of the music from Congo Square in the 19th Century, before the abolition of the slave trade in America, another type of slave music grew in the Southern plantations; Blues.

Blues found its origins in the Mississippi Delta, when slaves would sing about their sorrows while picking cotton and working in the fields. It was initially considered a type of folk music and was popular only among African slaves and their descendants, frowned upon by the middle and upper class Americans of European decent.

Early types of blues music included spirituals (religious songs using vocal harmony) and work songs. Work songs were structured in a call and response fashion and lyrics were largely improvised before any transcribed or recorded compositions arose.

Here is a short documentary on “Slave Songs”, possibly the first published book of work songs and spirituals sung by African Americans in the 1800’s. These songs evolved into what we know as blues, and the book most probably contains the first ever compilation of transcriptions of the genre.

 

As blues and jazz have similar origins, the two genres married perfectly when the aural traditions of both were passed from state to state among musicians and travellers. Jazz musicians all over the world still play what we have come to know as “jazz blues” .

 

The “Blues Scale”

Today, the blues is easily recognisable by its form (usually 12 bars, explained later on in this blog) and “blues notes”, otherwise known as “worried notes” – these are flattened 3rds, 7th and sometimes 5ths that give the music its melancholic, implied minor feel. These can be found in what is known as the blues scale, a scale that can be used as a good starting place to practise improvisation on the blues;

 

12 Bar Blues

The basic blues structure is made up of 12 bars (3 groups of 4 bars), like so: A great example of this is W.C. Handy’s 1915 composition, “Joe Turner Blues” – have a listen!

 

Other Blues Forms

Although most blues that we know today is constructed as above, there is also eight bar blues, sixteen bar blues, minor blues and other variations.

Check out Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s rendition of “Trouble In Mind”, an eight bar blues:

 

Give it a go!

Why not have a go at writing your own? Here are some blues lyrics by one of the 20th century’s best loved jazz singers, Billie Holiday. See how the first two lines are the same, and the last line rhymes with them?

My man don’t love me, treats me awful mean
My man don’t love me, treats me awful mean
He’s the lowest man that I’ve ever seen

Let us know what you come up with! If you need more inspiration, check out this blues composition by one of our amazing pupils, Tilda!

100 Years of Jazz: Ragtime

Ragtime

Blog by Louise Balkwill

In our last blog, we looked at Congo Square and the origins of Jazz music. Now we visit the 1890’s, when Ragtime appeared in its earliest form.

Unlike the earlier music of Congo Square that was passed down aurally from generation to generation, Ragtime music gained popularity through being passed around as sheet music, and is thought to be the first written ‘pop’ music – Blues, in contrast, was thought by the higher classes to be a lower class rural music (although very important in the history of jazz – we will have a listen to some blues in the next blog.)

Named ‘Ragtime’ because of its ragged, syncopated rhythms, the music became very popular for dances and was written mainly by middle class African American musicians who had gained influence from minstrelsy and classical music, as well as the improvised and traditional music of Congo Square. The music was accompanied by a dance called the ‘Cakewalk’ – this made way for endless variations that the kids of the time loved to get their feet into. Ragtime music was also a very popular choice to accompany silent films in its later years. You might well have heard of “The Entertainer” (or even played it for one of your grade exams); this is a Ragtime piece written by Scott Joplin, the celebrated “King of Ragtime” in 1902, 115 years ago!

Ragtime started off as a music witten only for solo piano, but in the early 1900’s, orchestral and ensemble arrangements became popular. The violin then became the main leading instrument in these ragtime ensembles with this popular line-up:

  • Melody: First Violin (or Cornet with second Cornet harmonies)
  • Beats 2 and 4: Second Violin (prior to the banjo)
  • Beats 1 and 3: Bass Viol
  • *Obbligato: Piccolo or Clarinet
  • Bassline: Trombone
  • Percussion: Strict time drumming

*Obbligato, (Italian: “obligatory”), in music, essential but subordinate instrumental part. For example, in an 18th-century aria with trumpet obbligato, the trumpet part, although serving as accompaniment to the voice, may be as brilliant in its writing as that of the voice itself.

Fancy having a go at learning some Ragtime Piano?

Check out this video with on-screen sheet music of the first known rag, written by the first published African American composer, Tom Turpin!

(If you liked that, check out YouTube user RagtimeDorianHenry’s other ragtime videos!)

In the next blog, we’ll be looking at early blues and how it has played a massive part in the evolution of the jazz tradition!

Noteworthy People – Sir Simon Rattle

by Jess

It’s time for our first “Noteworthy People” of the academic year and this half term we have chosen…

Sir Simon Rattle

Sir Simon Rattle is one of Britain’s most renowned and highly regarded conductors. He became recognised as an international artist whilst conducting the CBSO from 1980-98, before taking over as lead conductor of the world famous Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 2002.

Now, the big news…

Simon Rattle is back in the UK!

He has taken over as musical director of the London Symphony Orchestra, Britain’s highest profile orchestra. And music lovers have high hopes for this new collaboration.

Taken from an article written by Erica Jeal for the Guardian:

“Teachers dream that his influence might fix the funding crisis in music education. Managers hope this rare household-name conductor will be a shot of adrenaline for the box office. Audiences want to hear that velvety Berlin Phil tone added to the LSO’s already dazzling palette, and the LSO players themselves know that he is likely to be listened to when he insists on good rehearsal time and conditions for his musicians.”

The LSO have celebrated this new era for the orchestra, as they call it, with a 10 day festival called “This Is Rattle”, consisting of talks, exhibitions, specially commissioned art works and of course, several concerts.

There is even a hastag!

#thisisrattle

Want to catch Rattle in action? He’s back conducting the LSO in December at the Barbican Centre for a concert of Bernstein (16th December) 

And to finish, a bit of light relief…. Some say the LSO/Rattle brand started back in 2012, with a famous fictional character to help….. Thank you Mr Bean!

Have a great week!

Jess

100 Years of Jazz: Part 1 – Congo Square

Blog by Louise Balkwill

2017 is a very special year for music – it marks 100 years since the release of the first ever jazz recording, “Livery Stable Blues” by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band! Since then, popular music has foxtrotted, swung, bopped, rocked and rolled its way into the 21st century, but the rich culture of improvised music from New Orleans is still rife today all over the world.

 

Congo Square, the Birthplace of Jazz

Before we look at the journey that jazz music has taken over the past 100 years, we must ask how it came to be in the first place.

Rewind 100 years further to the year of 1817; 198 years after the first Africans were sold into slavery in America. The mayor of New Orleans city council established “Congo Square” (originally known as Beauregard Square and Congo Plains) as an official site for slave music and dance by restricting any kind of gathering of enslaved Africans anywhere else in the city.

Every Sunday, they would gather in Congo Square and sell goods to raise money to buy their freedom. In the glimpse of free time that this weekly ‘day off’ provided, they would also gather together to sing, dance and create music. Original instruments used included long, narrow African drums that had previously been banned in America, triangles, jawbones and early ancestors of the banjo.

Benjamin Henry Latrobe’s drawing of a bamboula, made at Congo Square on February 16, 1819. (© Maryland Historical Society)

Dances such as “Flat-Footed-Shuffle” and the ”Bamboula” were performed as these rhythms were played. As time went on, the dances and music evolved with new influences and ideas.

Visitors from all over New Orleans began to gather to spectate and dance along to what they then coined “Black music”, and this culture began to spread across America.

African slaves dancing the Bamboula; Illustration by Edward Windsor Kimble at The Historic New Orleans Collection

The square became a mixing pot for a rich diversity of traditional African rhythms passed down through many generations, as well as European music that English-speaking Africans were familiar with.

In 1865, after almost 250 years of slavery in America, the cruel trade was abolished, but the musical traditions that had evolved over the past few decades stuck.

 

In the next post, we’ll be looking at how African American music evolved into the new hip trend of the late 19th century – Ragtime!

The Becky Dell Music Academy – A London Living Wage Organisation

We are delighted to have been awarded the London Living Wage Employer mark by the Living Wage Foundation, a foundation supporting the fair pay of employees across the country.

Although we have only recently received accreditation, we have always strived to provide fair wages for our admin staff and tutors are paid above the Musicians’ Union recommended rate, which makes for a happy team!

Congratulations also to Mycenae House, our biannual concert venue, for being awarded the same mark.

We thought you’d be happy to know that you are supporting the fair pay of employees by choosing to have music lessons with us – a big thank you from the whole team!

The Becky Dell Music Academy – A London Living Wage Organisation

Noteworthy People – Imogen Heap

By Jess

We are bringing back one of our segments called “Noteworthy People” where we focus on an inspirational person and tell you about their work. This time it is…

Imogen Heap

In the music industry we are often told to have several “strings to our bow” – excuse the pun. And no one seems to fit into this more than the lovely Imogen Heap.

On Wikipedia, the first sentence of her biography says Imogen Heap, is an English singer-songwriter, composer, and engineer.”

That’s already three big things!  Sorry, ENGINEER…?! We will come to that later!

You might know her as a singer-songwriter for songs such as Hide and Seek, The Happy Song or Just For Now. She recently appeared in Ariana Grande’s charity concert One Love Manchester as one of Ariana’s role models and icons:  

 Then again you could have heard of her because she composed the music for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

West End composer, nominated for an Olivier award- not bad going!

Becky went to see the production (lucky thing) a couple of weeks ago (the tickets had been pinned above her computer for literally a year!) and was absolutely blown away by the whole production, saying the music really added to the magic.

But what struck me in the Wikipedia description was the word Engineer. So I browsed trusty Google and realised how amazing this woman actually is!

I found a Guardian article titled “Imogen Heap: saviour of the music industry?”  which describes how she’s created a pair of musical gloves that allow her to change and create sound with her hands.

They are called Mi.Mu gloves and they give her the freedom to improvise and use simple movements to sculpt her music. Hence her job title- musical engineer!

She decided she had to embrace the ever changing music industry rather than running to catch up with it. Her innovative invention is a massive step forward for exciting and engaging live performance of electronic music.

As ever with music, it’s better to watch and listen to really understand this concept, so here is her TED talk – grab yourself a coffee and watch how she has the audience (and the music!) in the palm of her hands!

 For more of an overview of her exciting career check out her BBC Music page – we’re big fans here at BDMA! 

Back to the Future for Classical Music

by Jess

Classical Music….

Out dated. Boring. For old people.

I DON’T THINK SO!

Unfortunately, these are however some of the typical stereotypes we often hear when talking about classical music. Those of us that love the music know this not to be true! But how do we convince the non-lovers?

It is a sad fact that the world of classical orchestral concerts is fading away and people don’t go to as many classical concerts as they used to. Which is why the orchestral world needs a rethink – how can we keep this fantastic music living on?

A classical orchestra concert typically consists of an overture, a concerto and then a symphony in the second half. This has been the structure for many years, and yes, it works for the audience that currently watch it. But as we know, that audience is getting smaller and smaller and we want to bring new listeners in.

So I thought I’d have a little delve into some of the ways orchestras have been trying to tackle the problem.

What exciting new concert programmes have they come up with?

Have they collaborated with non-classical artists?

Have they varied their repertoire?

The inspiration for this research started when I played in a concert with the Notting Hill Orchestra the other week, an entire concert dedicated to film music. Not necessarily your standard Classical rep but it was ACCESSIBLE to the audience and brought in a full house. The pieces were relatively short and easy to listen to but what struck me most was HOW the orchestra put on the show.

Yes, I say show because that is truly what it was.

The orchestra were sat traditionally in the middle of a beautiful, high ceilinged church with spot lights surrounding them. Alongside the music, there was a light show that complemented the storylines and action within the music. It made the whole event really exciting and a very visual and successful way of introducing people to an orchestra.

Any die hard Metallica fans would also know that they have used an orchestra. Heavy metal meets classical symphony orchestra?! 7

What?!

Back in 1999 they recorded “Symphony and Metallica” (or S&M) with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. The bassist from the band, Cliff Burton, came up with the idea to “combine heavy metal with epic classical” (I love that classical is described as epic!) and actually a lot of inspiration for Metallica songs before this album he took from the work of Johann Sebastian Bach – who knew?

Back to the year 2017, the BBC Philharmonic orchestra (in Manchester) have been collaborating with Radio 1 Live Lounge to create a series called “Live Lounge Symphony” where they join forces with pop acts, adding the “epic classical” sound (I’m going to keep using epic!) to their famous chart topping songs. Last year it was with Clean Bandit and Jess Glynne!

Something else I’ve spotted in the concert halls recently is symphony orchestras playing film scores alongside the showing of the film. Just a few days ago the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra played John Williams’ score for “Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone” at the Royal Albert Hall. Imagine not only watching the film on a HD, 40-foot screen, but having the full spectacle of an orchestra at the forefront of the stage.

“an unforgettable experience for Harry Potter fans”

…and music fans!

Let’s hope we get more of these!

On the same theme as bringing a film to stage, orchestras have also been collaborating with actors and storytellers to bring famous children’s stories to life with live music. What a great way of heightening the imagination of young people as well as introducing them to the sound of the orchestra and the setting of the concert hall, with stories that they will know so well.

Finally, the one thing we have missing from the above collaborations and concerts is the use of traditional classical music repertoire.  

I’m happy to say that the concert programmers seem to be finding a way of broadening their audience for this too. Flicking through the Hallé Orchestra’s concert programme there are titles such as “Russian Spectacular” with music from Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich and “Never Mind the Weather” with music by Gershwin.

I like the idea of a theme to a concert, with some pieces the audience will recognise and some new ones they will be introduced to. I feel it’s a non-daunting way of getting people to watch and listen to classical music.

Hopefully ideas like these will continue and classical music and symphony orchestras will stay in the concert hall for many years to come.

On tour with the Street Orchestra of London

by Sophie

I recently took part in a really exciting project called the Street Orchestra of London (SOL). I didn’t quite know what to expect before we began but I soon realised how friendly everyone was and that we were all equally excited about the week ahead. This was the second SOL tour so some people had done it before but every single one of them had returned because they had had so much fun the first time around.

Having now completed my first SOL tour I can honestly say it was one of the best weeks of my life.

Here’s why:

The mission statement of the SOL is to bring high quality, live music to everyone, anywhere for free. We aim to reach wider audiences, providing free public performances in a variety of locations. On this tour we played at London Bridge Station, a refugee centre in Dalston, Greenwich Park, the Hackney Showroom for an orchestral club night, the Migration Museum, Brighton Pier, Brighton Pavillion Gardens and most recently at the Sound Unbound festival at the Barbican Centre.

A standard day in the life of a SOL musician would include between 6-8 performances in different locations, some of which may be planned, some of which might be completely spontaneous. It’s all hands on deck and we can go from sitting on a coach to performing in just 10 minutes.

The theme for our tour was ‘migration’ and as such we chose our repertoire to reflect this.

For example, we included Dvorak’s New World Symphony which he wrote after he migrated from the Czech Republic as it now is, to America. Neil Armstrong even took a recording of the piece to the moon on the Apollo 11 mission!  We incorporated music from composers all around the world, such as Bernstein from America, Bach from Germany, Prokofiev from Russia. We also included two world premieres by young composers: Bandstand by Freya Waley-Cohen  and Toranj Aftab Darvishi. I learnt that ‘Toranj’ is the pattern commonly found on Persian rugs! Bandstand also featured members of the orchestra ‘migrating’ into and out of the audience. The repertoire was varied; we played jazz, pop, funk, classical, North African, West African, folk.

I don’t have a favourite as it was all so much fun, but one piece that sticks out particularly is Maghreb Mix which is a medley of North African tunes including some from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. This piece required us to play some quarter tones – often we would consider these notes to sound out of tune as they’re not notes used in most Western classical music, but when used in certain contexts and everyone does it together they can sound really cool.

Each concert featured a different selection of music, and lasted a different length of time. Volunteers from the orchestra put together a new programme for each concert, selected from our tour catalogue of 23 pieces.

Joining us on our tour was a very special man called Jean-Paul Samputu. He’s a Rwandan composer and singer and he wrote and sang a few of the African songs we played on tour. Normally in an orchestra we don’t have to sing, but in his pieces there was also lots of singing for us and we loved it! His pieces, including Simba, which means ‘Lion’, really have a feel good factor to them, and they’re inspiring as he wrote them after a very turbulent time in Rwanda’s history. Jean-Paul is known also as an ambassador for peace and travels the world giving talks on forgiveness –an inspirational man to have the privilege to tour with for a week.

We try to get the audience involved as much as possible and break down the traditional barriers often associated with a concert orchestra. We encourage our audiences to dance along, sing along, and even conduct along.

One of our pieces required a guest conductor aka a volunteer from the audience to lead us. Our first violinist gave them a 10 second masterclass in conducting before embarking on Offenbach’s Can Can and it usually surprised them when they realised just how much power you have when you’re holding a baton. Despite occasional disagreement between the brass and the string sections (brass usually won as they’re louder!), we did our best to follow our guest conductor and usually the audience clapped along, with some brave people even attempting the Can Can dance!

Some of our performances were planned in advance, and some were more spontaneous. Some of the guerrilla gigs included flashmobs in Ikea and B&Q in Croydon, at a market in Lewisham and at Greenwich Park where we joined a busker, much to his surprise! He loved it though: as we played the theme for Ski Sunday whilst wandering around, he joined in and even came to support us at our orchestral club night at the Hackney Showroom later that evening!

One of the best things about SOL is seeing people’s reactions. I will never forget the expression on one homeless man’s face in a refugee centre in Dalston when he heard us play for the first time. I’ve never seen music affect someone visibly so deeply before, and it moved many of us to tears. I feel so privileged to have been able to take part in a project that has moved people to tears and to dance, and affect so many people in such meaningful ways. It’s such a joy to be able to bring a smile to someone else’s face.

It is this that the Street Orchestra of London stands for, and this that we hope to continue doing through the power of music.

The only thing that could have made the tour any better would be if I’d managed to avoid having a seagull poo on my hand while I ate pizza by Brighton Pier…but then they do say that’s meant to be good luck…!

We will be on tour again in July 2017 – look out for us!

#streetorchestra