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!

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 Manchester academy is here!

Hello, Jess here and I’m very excited to announce that the Manchester Becky Dell Music Academy has arrived in 2017!

We’re up and running with two tutors at the moment and have already got our first set of students in the Worsley area.

I chose Worsley as the base for the Manchester academy because it’s where I grew up. Having the personal knowledge of the area has really helped with spreading the news of the academy. Worsley has the same feel to me as Blackheath/Greenwich – both picturesque towns a short distance from the heart of exciting musical cities. It’s an absolutely beautiful place to be based and we’re really lucky to be expanding our musical community up here.

We currently have tutors for piano, violin, woodwind and singing. These tutors are myself (Jess!) and Sophie Simpson.

Sophie is our violin and piano tutor and graduated from her masters at the RNCM in the summer. Since then she has been busy with exciting orchestral concerts and projects up and down the country as well as teaching jobs around the North West. She is a keen Historically Informed Performer – this means she studies how music was played hundreds of years ago to try and replicate it.

I am teaching woodwind, piano and singing alongside managing the academy back in my lovely hometown. Since moving from London in the summer, I have been studying my masters at the RNCM whilst exploring what the Manchester music scene has to offer, playing for musicals and in orchestras and playing music on the wards of the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.

 

But we’re not stopping at two tutors!

I’m always on the lookout for new teachers to fit with the demand of lessons. Don’t see your instrument on our list? Let me know as I’m always hiring new and adventurous professional musicians to teach and inspire.

So, how can you help us?

Know someone in the Worsley area? Might they want music lessons? Are you part of a group that can help promote this new venture?

We want our current Blackheath/Greenwich community and all our other friends to spread the word so we can expand this new academy, so talk about the academy and share our facebook page. If you want any more information please email me on jess@beckydellmusicacademy.co.uk

Here’s to exciting times ahead…

Healthy Musicians

Healthy Musicians

by Jess

As a professional musician, I feel that I was told far too late about the importance of injury prevention and good posture. I was only made aware of it once I’d started my Bachelor degree and, as I went for a sports massage this afternoon to help the tension I’d acquired over years of playing, it occurred to me that we really should make our students and their parents aware of the importance of taking care of your body when you play.

When children start learning an instrument they are still growing. We want to make sure that playing an instrument has no effect on the development of the child but also that the child feels no pain as a result of playing.

If everything is at ease, the music will flow much more naturally!

So with this in mind, I want to share some tips for looking after your child’s posture and physical wellbeing whilst playing an instrument, but hopefully some of these ideas can be used throughout all areas of their life. The tips for sitting at the piano can be transferred to the computer and the heavy cases can also apply to heavy school bags!

Sitting at the piano

Sitting comfortably at the piano is so important, especially as the piano is so huge compared to the size of children. Your child should be sitting at a distance from the piano where their hands can reach comfortably. The chair or stool they sit on needs to be at a height where, similarly, the hands don’t stretch to reach the piano (if it’s too high there will be tension in the arms and if it’s too low the shoulders will start to droop.)

What you can do:

  • Make sure that you have a stool that is the correct height for your child. If you have multiple children learning piano then adjustable stools are fantastic. Otherwise think about improvising with cushions or books to get the right height. This also applies to drum kit players!
  • Every now and then check how they are sitting. Especially after school, tiredness can mean that shoulders will droop and necks will tense up – we want to avoid this! If you are aware of these things then you can just remind your child to sit up. Tell them they will be more comfortable!
  • Make sure your wrists don’t drop onto the piano, there should always be space for a mousie/tennis ball (delete as appropriate) to be underneath the hand.
  • Make sure there is a straight line from wrist to elbow and at a 90 degree angle. The elbow should never be higher or lower than the wrist ad there should not be any “chicken wings” – elbows moving up and down like doing a chicken impression!

Holding instruments

With instruments that we hold up, such as violins, woodwind and brass instruments, the main rule is BRING THE INSTRUMENT TO YOU. This means we don’t want to contort our body to fit the instrument but we want to stand in a comfortable position and the instrument fits into this posture.

What you can do:

  • If your child looks uncomfortable during practice, tell them to put the instrument down and “shake away” all the tension (a bit of silliness helps break up practice time too!) Then get them to stand in a comfortable posture and hand them back the instrument, making sure they don’t droop their shoulders or tilt their neck during this process.
  • Standing with both feet flat on the floor about a shoulder width apart will also really help (it’s impressive some of the one legged gymnastic stances I’ve seen!) This applies for singers as well; a good posture means breathing is a lot easier too.

Instrument sizes

I think we forget that some of the instruments are children our playing, are played by fully grown adults, and they often find them heavy! Some instruments have variable sizes which will help make playing easier and the instruments that are standard sizes often have straps that help smaller people to play them.

What you can do:

  • If your child plays a string instrument (violin, cello, guitar etc.) then you are lucky that the instruments come in smaller sizes. It is so important to ask the tutor for advice on what size your child should be playing on. Too big and fingers and arms will stretch unnaturally and too small we will start to get hunched shoulders.
  • Woodwind instruments are normally all standard sizes, so we have to find other alternatives. For flute players, there are flutes that have a bent round head joint to make the flute short and easier to reach the notes. For clarinets, saxes, oboes and bassoons it is important to get a really supportive neck strap. These are often ones that also go round the waist and shoulders so the weight of the instrument gets distributed evenly.
  • For brass players, there is a series of trombones called P-Bones that are made of plastic (and are brightly coloured!) meaning they are lighter for children to hold. These are also available in trumpets and horns. These are only suitable for young beginners, but there are a good starting point for slighter players, where weight of instrument is a problem.

Heavy cases

Lugging around heavy instrument cases is sometimes more detrimental to a working musician than a playing related injury. We fill our cases with mountains of sheet music, balancing the case on an already weak shoulder with a handbag resting on the other arm.

No wonder we get injured!

What you can do:

  • Make sure the case only contains the music needed for that lesson, don’t keep every piece they’ve ever played buried in the case. The grams gradually add up! So try to keep tabs on what books they are working on, check the notebook the tutor keeps for this information.
  • Try to buy a case with two straps if it needs to be carried on their back and that the straps aren’t too low on the child’s back. Low straps might look cool but they put so much unnecessary strain on the back!
  • If they take instruments to school, see if there is a storeroom they can keep their instruments in during the day. Especially for secondary school pupils, there is rarely much space to store things, so if the music teacher is aware they have an instrument to bring in, normally they will find a space to store it.

Hopefully you can apply some of these tips to your child’s practice routine. As ever, if you want to understand more about the instrument your child is learning then our tutors are always happy to answer your questions. We want a community of healthy and happy musicians so please come to us with any concerns or further questions.

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New Year, New MUSIC

by Jess

It’s the third week of January and we’ve all probably heard the phrase “New Year New Me” a fair few times by now. But at the Becky Dell Academy we’ve been thinking, what’s so good about making everything new? Why don’t we just revisit something, a hobby perhaps, that we have lost along the way?

Life becomes very focused on our daily activities. How many times have you heard the phrase:

“I used to <insert hobby here> but I just don’t have time anymore”?!

Well in 2017, we want to MAKE TIME!

What a crazy new year’s resolution that is.

But what we mean is, let’s take a small portion of our day and go back to a hobby that we sadly lost when life just got too hectic.

 

 

Obviously, our suggestion is MUSIC!

 

 

Whilst scrolling through twitter the other day, I came across an article from the BBC about adults picking up a musical instrument that they used to play when they were younger. And that was the inspiration for this blog:

http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140709-never-too-late-to-learn?ocid=ww.social.link.twitter

It may seem a ridiculously scary and daunting prospect sitting down at the piano or picking up your instrument after 20 years of dust has settled. But it’s ok! That’s exactly what the writer of this article talks us through.

I won’t lie and say the technical difficulties have gone when you start learning again as an adult, but a deeper appreciation for the instrument and heightened determination to achieve something means that, actually, adult players learn surprisingly well.  Because you’re starting again out of your own choice, you motivate yourself to practice and push yourself to get to the next piece.

But in 2017, let’s bring back the music you left as a child purely for the JOY it brings! Music is such an emotive language, even if you find 10mins of your week to play, it can express the emotions you have been bottling up. A de-stress if you like!

And we all know that a de-stress once in a while is exactly what we need.

In the BBC article, British actor Samuel  West says,

“As an adult you’re much more knowledgeable about your own moods, so it becomes much more possible to use music as a way to express yourself….If I have a little piece I can play, I can listen to myself better, I can express myself better. That’s entirely a function of being older, and that’s a joy.”

So, the New Year challenge from the Becky Dell Music Academy is to dust down the trumpet, open up the piano lid, and find the sheet music in the bookshelf and PLAY! We are always happy to teach adult students so if you fancy learning as well as your child, or you know a friend who would like to start up playing again, then please contact us.

Happy playing!

Pope’s Percussive Preferences…a guide to your first drum kit.

By Harry Pope, BDMA Drum Tutor.

Hello Hello!
I’m Harry and I’m Becky’s resident maker of noise. Or drummer. Take your pick. This short blog post will be about selecting a drum kit, geared mainly towards the beginner side of things.

Okay, so when looking for a beginner kit for a young child (or a big kid like me) there are a few things to look for.

Firstly, size is a big factor. The drum kit is a physical instrument and despite what is marketed as “beginner” kits, there’s no need for a kid under ten to have a big 22″ rock sized bass drum, and in fact one of my other pupils who is seven runs into a fair amount of difficulty because of that exact problem. I have NO idea why schools keep buying these oversized behemoths of drum kits.
So I’d advise either a bass drum between the sizes of 16″ and 20″. I still use an 18″ on some of my gigs, so don’t worry about growing out of it anytime soon. Trust me, if they start a band and you end up ferrying them to gigs like my dad did then you’ll thank me.


THIS is what I had as my intermediate kit. MISTAKE, no matter what the guy in the drum shop tells you!
Also note the 90’s kid hair. Groovy.
So: smaller kit please.
Also, it’ll take up less space, and it’ll be a bit quieter which is always good for the rest of the family!
There are a few things that you would want to check out for a first kit. The “all in one” starter kits I really wouldn’t recommend, because their main selling point is including everything you need in one package, despite the fact that none of them are really any good. They might look alright in the stock photos, but when you get them out of the box they might end up looking like this…


You have been warned.

 

 

 

All the larger brands of drums have low – mid range kits which are much, much better quality. Also, I really would not rule out second hand kits, as a well kept mid-professional level kit would be ten times better than a new kit at the same price.

You can essentially break the kit down into four parts: the shells, the hardware, the cymbals and the heads.

The shells themselves are pretty straightforward: as long as they’re round and are sanded down properly you’ll be fine. Seems simple, but a lot of the beginner kits can end up a weird oval shape, and then you’re in trouble. If you’re worried, then you can take the heads off and rest them on a tabletop. If they wobble then they’re out of round and that’s a no-no. Avoid like the proverbial plague. Or the actual plague. Whichever is worse.

The hardware (cymbal stands, snare stand, screws to keep the heads on etc) is an important one. With a slightly more expensive kit than the Taiwan/Chinese “beginner” kits, chances are all the hardware is made in the same factory, and won’t be too far off the professional level standard kits, and therefore will survive the energetic onslaught of excitable children for years. I still have some of the hardware from my first kit years ago and it still works fine. I really recommend Yamaha hardware, as it’s made in their motorcycle factory, which for obvious reasons has to have amazing quality control. Even their lightweight hardware can withstand a crazy loud rock drummer laying into their kit with all the subtlety of a small bison. But anyway, enough about my teenage years.

The cymbals are probably the trickiest. What I would say is buy some reasonably cheap ones, e.g. The Solar range by Sabian, or the Zbt range from Zildjian. They’re much less likely to break, and will do for a good few years or even longer. The cymbals included in a cheap beginner set are just cheap brass cutouts (yeah, really), and I’ve seen them snap or turn inside out when hit – they sound awful and break pretty soon. The other option is to buy some better level second-hand cymbals, made in Istanbul. They have a lower price tag than the American ones and always just as good, even better. The holy grail of ride cymbals, the 50’s K Zildjian was made in Turkey, and they sound like a good back massage feels. Mmmmm.

The stock heads you get on a lower level kit are never particularly good, generally cheap plastic. A £300 kit with good heads will sound better than my £3k kit with rubbish heads.

ANYWAY. Basically what I’m trying to say, is that if you spend a little more now, and let me give you a hand with it, then it’ll save you money in a year or two if he or she loves it and keeps it up, and it’ll also hold it’s value a lot better if you ever want to resell it.

POPE OUT.

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Cable and Amps and Mics – oh my!

Amplification of your instrument and/or voice (By Ronald)

Some instruments can’t be heard without an amplifier. An electric guitar, an electric bass guitar, a digital piano or a keyboard: you can’t hear them (very well) unless you plug them in. Acoustic instruments can be played without amplification. Of course they can, that’s why they are called acoustic.Sometimes, however, it won’t be loud enough for the occasion…

Luckily they can be amplified in a few different ways. The easiest and best known solution is a microphone, but in case of an acoustic guitar or other string instrument a pickup can be easier/better. If you are interested in how pickups work and which varieties there are, see here. If you have specific questions about how to amplify your instrument with a pick up, ask your (guitar, cello, violin, double bass) tutor or email me.

In this blog I’ll focus on microphones (mics). Mics come in many shapes and sizes and have differences in sound and compatability. One uses different mics for a drum kit than for a flute or a voice. I don’t expect many of you to want to amplify your drum kit yet, so once you’ve booked your first stadium gig, you can ask Harry (or me on same email as above) about what to use.

Like an electrical guitarist owns an amplifier to make him/herself heard, it is sometimes useful to be able to amplify your voice while singing. At home your voice is easily loud enough. At a venue like the Mycenae House your vocal won’t be strong enough to match up with the grand piano (unless you’re a trained opera singer). Those of you who have sung through a mic there may have found out that it sounds quite different and that singing through a mic comes with a certain technique. Therefore it is very useful to be taught how to hold it and use it. It’s not a bad idea to own your own mic to practice and get used to how it sounds. If you ever get a gig other than the BDMA concerts, it might come in handy that you can bring your own gear. The most used vocal mics for live situations are the Shure SM58 and the Sennheiser e835. There are definitely more options, but with one of these you can be sure of a good sound.

A mic is made to pick up sound, but doesn’t make your voice any louder yet. You’ll need a speaker to let the sound come out. Unfortunately you can’t plug your mic straight into the speaker, because the signal is way too weak (in fact it’s even weaker than a guitar signal, that’s why plugging it into a guitar amp can’t make it really loud either). That is where the amplifier comes in. You can find the amp and speaker nicely built into one box, called a “combo”,  “powered speaker” or “active speaker”. What we call a “vocal amp” is in fact such a combo. You can find a suitable solution for any budget between £100 and £1000. Top notch of portable combos is AER. The sound is great, the box is small and light. They cost around a grand, that is. Luckily there is a range of more affordable combos. The SubZero and the Behringer B205D are good and not too expensive options. If you’ve got the time, I advise you to go to a shop like Eric Lindsey in Catford or one of the many shops in Denmark Street. Here you can hear and compare a few different models. Alternatively you can find many good second hand vocal amps on sites like Ebay and Gumtree.

The important thing is that the input is a mic input. XLR inputs are always meant (or at least compatible) for mics. Jack inputs can be compatible for mics, but you need to check that. If it’s not, you’ll still hear something, but the amplification will be limited. Feel free to email me to ask if a certain amp is suitable for you. Once you’ve chosen and purchased a mic and a vocal amp, you’ll need a lead to connect them.  The output of a mic is always XLR (except for mics from before 1960). If the mic input on your amp is XLR too, you’ll need a standard mic lead. If your amp has a jack mic input, you need a XLR to Jack lead.

mic-amp-speaker

Simple as that!

Disclaimer: I used links from different music shops. You can find all products on many more websites and you can (probably) buy everything together on each of them. Beware of the complete vocal performance packs though, ’cause sometimes they come with quite a mediocre mic. I don’t intend to direct people to a certain shop, so feel free to have a browse. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact me or your tutor.

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Metronomes – Why and Which One?!

By Meg Ella

I’m sure at some point or another we have all been told by our music teachers to practice with a metronome. It may seem tedious at first but there are actually multiple benefits to doing regular practice with our little clicking friends, and here are a few : –

Keeping a Steady Beat

All of us are guilty of straying from the pulse. We slow down in the tricky sections, or when it’s quiet and speed up in those lovely easy passages and when it gets loud and exciting! Practicing with a metronome can help catch us out on those moments when we cheat the beat.

Accuracy

A metronome can be our best friend when figuring out and practicing those tricky rhythmic passages. If you set the metronome to a subdividing click (in quavers for example) you can get your head around more difficult rhythms like triplets, semiquavers or syncopated rhythms in no time. You can even get talking metronomes that say the beats – perfect for checking you are in the right place in the bar!

Efficient Practice

Metronomes can be a great way to focus on those tricky passages that we just don’t want to practice. Setting the tempo at a low bpm and turning it up one notch at a time can be a great way to get hard sections under our fingers – how fast can YOU take it??

Musical Awareness

In the simplest terms, when we practice with a metronome we are forced to focus on something external, not just listen to ourselves and focus on what we are playing. This is the ultimate skill when we get together to play in groups and ensembles, and those musicians who listen the most are often the best – start practicing now!

metronome

Which One??

There are lots of choices for metronomes out there, from classic mechanical ones to phone apps – here are a few of our favourites!

Classic Old Fashioned (look great with acoustic pianos and grands and don’t sound digital!) –

.http://www.musicroom.com/se/id_no/021179/details.html

Contemporary Classic (still no need for batteries!)

http://www.musicroom.com/se/id_no/076357/details.html

Portable and Cheap as Chips (even has a clip to keep it steady on your music stand or piano!)

http://www.musicroom.com/se/id_no/0441628/details.html

Metronome and Tuner Combined (great for guitarists but handy for anyone!)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Korg-TM-50BK-Tuner-Metronome-Detection/dp/B00923H7MA

It’s also always a good idea to download a metronome app on our phones – then we have one wherever we go! Hear is a good one I used all through music college –

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/pro-metronome-tempo-keeping/id477960671?mt=8

Good luck – we hope you find the metronome you are looking for and happy practicing!

Piano Stools – What, where and why?

It may not seem like a big part of playing the piano but you would be surprised how much of a difference a proper piano stool can make.

Firstly, and in the simplest terms, we are all different sizes and the pianos – they are not.

Even the most simple little pieces can be made so much harder when we are too low down at the piano and from the word go you are learning bad technique, through no fault of your own, making everything more frustrating and more difficult – and where is the fun in that?!

Being at the right height at the piano and, crucially with little ones, being able to adjust that height as we grow means we give ourselves the best shot at keeping our technique and our bodies strong and healthy. Our shoulders can stay relaxed, our arms and hands can rest comfortably allowing us to use our natural weight on the keys and we stay altogether happier and more productive!

There are some great adjustable piano stools available, potentially a one time purchase that can span all the way through a students piano education.

Here are some options we have found –

Standard, affordable and most importantly – adjustable!

http://www.musicroom.com/se/id_no/0704054/details.html 

Choose and customise your own colours!

https://www.premierpianostools.co.uk/woodhouse/ms600/solo-adjustable-piano-stool

And with a storage compartment.

http://www.musicroom.com/se/id_no/0704050/details.html

If you don’t have one with storage you can quite easily pop your music in these magazine holders –

http://www.paperchase.co.uk/catalogsearch/result/?q=magazine+rack  – (or the equally good £2 jobs at IKEA!)

For something a little more ornate and mid-market…

https://www.premierpianostools.co.uk/woodhouse/ms701c/solo-adjustable-piano-stool

Or for something truly special, the king of all piano stools…

https://www.coachhousepianos.co.uk/new-europa-queen-concert-adjustable-piano-stool

In fact, we love all the Coach House stools and Becky has one herself and thoroughly recommends them!

https://www.coachhousepianos.co.uk/pianos/accessories/piano-stools

Good luck and happy practice!

The Music Bug

You may or may not be a fan of the bugs in your backyard and perhaps even join the many whom often have a completely irrational fear of all things crawly. However, their is no denying their magnificent make up, as their minuscular proportions present a feat of extraordinary engineering and aesthetic complexity.

As technology has advanced Entomologists have been having a field day studying and understanding the diverse insect populations and their respective relationship with the environment and of course us. Their existence is essential to our own for example, as many of you will be aware of the recent ecological bioscience concerns about the decline and extinctions within Bee species and how this will cause devastating effects on human existence. In short, our bugs are not only beautiful but highly beneficial. To find out more on how to help visit https://bumblebeeconservation.org/about-bees/why-bees-need-help/

 

image2                                                      William Wasden, Jr

 

Insect Inspiration

For centuries the presence of insects has intrigued our human senses cultivating our fond appreciation for the little critters. Our fascination with their forms and behaviours has proved productive as we have learned to exploit the fruits of their labour such as honey, silk, beeswax and Cochineal. Not only that, we have developed a cultural entomology as Charles Hogue defined it, including them in our diet as a vital source of protein in some countries, they also emerge in our language through familiar expressions like ” Busy as a Bee” and “Snug as a bug”. We scientifically monitor their habits which in turn informs and impacts on our own practices, and their symbolism can be found in our politics, technology, recreation, religion, mythology, folklore, literature, poetry, music and art.

Throughout the ages they appear time and again to inspire our creativity. Early Native American wall paintings along with Egyptian Hieroglyphs observe their long standing significance to our specie, while latter day artists studied their incredible constructs and colours in an attempt to paint fabulous depictions of their intricate beauty.

 

image3

A Dragon-fly, Two Moths, a Spider and Some Beetles, With Wild Strawberries. By Jan Van Kessel,17th Century

 

image4

Allegory on Life and Death by Joris and Jacob Hoefnagel, 1598

Insects could be considered as n atures percussion section with their endless mathematical noises and the sonic acoustic relationship between humans and bugs is most commonly found in pest control as researchers record and identify insects by the music of their wings.

A team lead by the University of California,Riverside have honed this technique by tracking the sound of their flight with a microphone along with using a laser light image5sensor to track the movement of an insect’s wing beats. By recording its wing pattern as it  breaks the light, a signal is then converted into an audio file. An insect’s buzz has many musical qualities such as tempo, colour, texture or musicality, these along withother considerations such as circadian cycles are fed to a computer algorithm which untangles the information and specifically identifies the species, even distinguishing between genders.

Interesting fact: Did you know that Bees sing diatonic notes.

Writers such as David Rothenber delve deeply into how insects give us rhythm and noise with books such as Bug Music, whilst amazing compositions burst into life as in the orchestral explosion;

 

 

image7Flight Of The Bumblebee by Nikolia Rimsky-Korsakov.    http://youtu.be/6QV1RGMLUKE

Or the rhythmic vocal ensemble cappella, El Grillo (The Cricket) by renaissance composer Josquin des Prez.   http://youtu.be/ylaSLdwcr7c

 

The musical nature of insects has unquestionably inspired generations of musicians with bands such as The Beatles, Adam Ant, Scorpions, Papa Roach, WASP, Buddy Holly And The Crickets all directly adopting their names from their little Eco friends. Countless songs are inscribed with references to our bug buddies as are the myriad of melodic metaphors that lyrically lament about love, as exquisitely exemplified by The Butterfly Lovers ,written in 1959 by two Chinese composers, He Zhanhao (何占豪, born 1933) and Chen Gang (陈钢, born 1935) which gives a pentatonic portrayal of an ancient Chinese Legend of love and tragedy.

A young woman naimage8med Zhu Ying Tai disguised herself as a man to attend a school in Hangzhou. On her way there, she met a fellow traveller and schoolmate named Liang Shan Bo. They became good friends and swore honorary brothers. For three years, they studied and lived together. Yet, Liang never realized that Zhu was a woman. Before their graduation, Zhu asked Liang to visit her in her hometown and promised to marry her “fictitious” younger sister to him. When Liang arrived, hewas ecstatic to discover her true identity. However, their hope of marriage was soon dashed when Zhu’s parents betrothed Zhu to their schoolmate Ma Wen Cai. Liang died of a broken heart. On Zhu’s wedding day to Ma, she tore off her wedding gown and threw herself against Liang’s tomb, which opened up and enveloped Zhu. Then, from the tomb, a pair of butterflies emerged.

 

The Butterfly Lovers ErHu Concerto (traditional instruments)  https://youtu.be/tu5XohUR3Pg  or The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto https://youtu.be/DK3jRo6aTbQ …

 

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Our interpretations of romance, fear, anxiety, comfort and joy have all been relayed using insect inspired themes. Perhaps we can all compare our creativity to that of the insect world as we each endeavour to explore our patterns and communicate our unique sound and rhythmic expression. In the beauty of bugs we can see ourselves, industrious, fragile, cooperative, cunning, relentless, adaptable and astonishing. Is it any wonder we sing about them and celebrate them for all their tiny greatness.

 

Author Indigo Star © 22nd August 2016

 

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