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 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

Sing The Rainbow…

Sing A Rainbow

By Indigo Star 9th March 2017

The Colour of Sound

Colour appears in music it time and time again, a perfect example can be found in the popular children’s classic ‘Sing A Rainbow’, we even have a whole genre of music called the Blues that often laments on the woeful human condition of sadness and emotional disarray. We use colour in language to describe strong feelings with terms such as ‘seeing red’ to denote anger, or ‘green with envy’ as the hue of jealousy.

Have you ever considered what sound and music might look like? Did you know that each sound has a corresponding colour and through mathematical science we can calculate the colour of sound and connect the plethora of frequencies visually and audibly perceivable to us.

So how does it work? I hear you ask. Well first you have to understand the fundamental nature of vibration that sound and colour share. Frequency is a measure we use for both and is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit in time. The sounds we hear are much lower frequency than the light we see and therefore sound and light vibrations are very different.

In the 17th century it was Isaac Newton that made the pioneering discovery that white light shone through a prism dispersed, separating into different wavelengths which produced the seven colours of the rainbow.

Light (colour) is formed of electromagnetic waves which are synchronised oscillations of electric and magnetic fields that radiate at the speed of light through a vacuum. This extensive range of continuous frequencies is known as the Electromagnetic Spectrum of which only a narrow band of wavelengths between 1014 & 1015 Hertz are actually visible to the human eye. Though light is a very fast moving wavelength, slow it down enough and it stops being visible and becomes audible.

Sound on the other hand causes air molecules to vibrate in moving compression waves which involves the two simple elements of pressure and time. These fundamental elements can be used to describe absolutely every sound we hear.

Some people are born with a rare condition called Synesthesia, found roughly in 1-4 percent of people. This trait causes them to experience a mixing of the senses which means they involuntarily see colour when look at particular letters, numbers and other symbols or in connection to the sounds that they hear. Many research studies have revealed how we might perceive sound as colour, such as the work of one of Russia’s most innovative and controversial early modern composers, Alexander Scriabin (1871-1915) who developed a substantially atonal music system to which he associated colours with the various harmonic tones of his atonal scale based on his own experience of synesthesia.

He developed a mapping system called “clavier à lumieères” (literally “keyboard with lights”) depicting sound pitch and colour correlation.

      Alexander Scriabins’ musical colour map   

Take a look at the link below to see a fine example of this when Ali Nikrang for Mozarteum Kultur GmbH wrote a program to visualizes a piano performance in realtime using the “colour theory” by Alexander Scriabin.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ES4rQQdnHrQ

The Sound of Colour

In more recent times the colour blind artist and musician Neil Harbisson has overcome his colour blindness by working alongside technologists including Peter Kese, a software developer from Kranj, Slovenia and more recently, Matias Lizana, a computer engineering student at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Barcelona. Together they have utilised modern technologies to create ‘The Eyeborg’ which used a webcam to detect light and a sound conversion computer program along with headphones to transmit the sound to his ears which was further developed to transmit the sound directly to his skull bone. Though this work Harbisson is now able to perceive a greater spectrum of colours and in turn paint what he hears by using the device as a source of inspiration which informs his painting.

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Sacred Sound

It’s not only in art and music that we find the colour sound combination to be of intrigue and usefulness. Therapists across many cultures have understood the power of sound in conjunction with colour because we are made up of electromagnetic vibrations and frequencies also. Even ancient civilisations used colour and sound as a form of healing practice through chanting to invoke colourful vibration to re-tune the body into balance which is still practised by many today. Often based around the perception of an energy point system within the body called Chakras, each correlating to one of the seven colours of the rainbow and a corresponding sound frequency. Our ancestors developed techniques such as chanting and mantras which would create resonance within the body believing it to have beneficial and restorative effects. Why not try it yourself?

Take a look at the diagram below, get comfortable and sit quietly for a few moments then take a deep and calming breath in and out, notice how you feel. Then begin to sing each of the notes in the corresponding vowel sound whilst visualising its given colour. How does it feel inside when you make each sound wave and imagine it in colour? When finished take notice of how you feel, is it a different when you began? You could write it down and try it a few times to see if you get different results each time.

   

What colour are you most attracted to right now?

Here are suggested qualities associated with the 7 colours of the chakra rainbow. If you would like to enhance those qualities within yourself, your life and your creativity, introduce them into your day through diet by eating coloured food, dressing in colour, singing the vowel while focussing on the corresponding chakra and colour.

Paint With Music

The exciting times we live in present myriad opportunities to access a wealth of information and resources which are becoming increasingly available to us.

Our ability to express ourselves freely and creatively expands in all directions as we continue to find new ways in which to perceive the world in which we live.

As we marvel at the world and express our perceptions, an inevitably fusion of multi mediums, beliefs, creative ideas, technologies and talent occurs in a perpetual spiral of discovery. One such artist who did exactly that is music composer Ólafur Arnalds with his composition Ljósið. Olafur collaborated with video artists to create an eloquently stunning and colourful visual representation of his music. Perhaps you could work with other artists too?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYIfiQlfaas

Explore for yourself by perhaps creating your own unique piece of musical art, this could be done by painting whilst listening to a particular song that inspires you, or perhaps write a piece of music based upon the colour sound charts below. Have fun creating your own new painting with music technique.

Good luck and enjoy the wonderful world of colour, light and sound!

Big Ben’s Bells are Taking a Little Break…

This blog is all about Bells. Big beautiful bonging bells! Both the Big Ben bell and the place it was created, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in East London.

Any keen listener of BBC Radio 4 will probably know of the impending bong deficit. This is because the Clock Tower at Westminster (the home of Big Ben and the other bells) is having a major three year refurbishment plan.

Of course, when you rely on the Bongs of Big Ben to start your live Radio show or TV programme, what do you do instead?

There was the story of the young girl who had very kindly offered to step in and do the bongs, and whilst we wait for the Bells to stop chiming (they are unsure when exactly within the three year restoration programme the bells will stop exactly, but they estimate the bongs will be out of action for a few months), here are some suggestions. This is a three minute audio clip on the subject from BBC Radio 4.

Photo from the BBC Archive.

Here are some facts about Big Ben, taken from www.bigbenfacts.co.uk

Who named Big Ben?

Londoners did. SUPPOSEDLY, the bell was going to be named Victoria after Queen Victoria, but Londoners started calling the bell “Big Ben” and the name stuck. (Giving nicknames is still a London custom – just think about “the Gherkin”!)

Where and when was Big Ben made?

Big Ben was cast at Whitechapel Bell Foundry, in East London, on 10th April 1858. It took him two weeks to cool, and once he was ready, they transported him to Westminster on a horse drawn carriage. Londoners lined the route and cheered as the bell went past.

How much does Big Ben weigh?

He weighs about 13 and a half tons, about the same as a small elephant.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry is a great company with centuries of tradition, sadly struggling to survive in a modern world.

As a result of this, the company is closing May 2017. The site is being sold for flats (sigh) but they are still hopeful that the business might survive. So if you know anyone that might want a bell making business, tell them to get in touch with the current owners. I’ve been to visit Kathryn and Alan Hughes at the Bell Foundry and they are great people. I hope they find suitable buyers and keep one of the oldest businesses (it’s been going for 446 years) in the UK going…

Songs of Praise – BBC Junior Choir Of The Year

Huge congratulations to Blackheath Prep Choir who made it into the semi-finals of the BBC Choir Of The year 2016.

We have 5 students at the academy who sing in the choir; Amity, Evie, Matthew, Harriet and Amber and you can watch their glorious faces singing here on BBC iPlayer!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b076tp8j/songs-of-praise-school-choir-of-the-year-2016-1-junior-semifinal

 

If you liked “Let It Go” from Frozen, read this!

If you’re a Disney fan, there’s no doubt you love their new animation film, “Frozen” – we certainly do. We’re big fans of New York born actress and singer Idina Menzel, the voice of princess Elsa in the film. If you like the songs “Let It Go” and “For The First Time In Forever”, who not check out her other stuff?

Not only does she portray the beautiful blonde animated Elsa, but can be seen on stage as the eerily green skinned yet gold-hearted witch Elphaba in the Broadway hit musical “Wicked”, for which she won the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical in 2004 – Becky and Louise both independently went to see her in it and loved every second. “Defying Gravity” brought us to tears!

Glee fans will also be delighted to hear that she plays Rachel’s mother, Shelby. Why not have a listen to their duet version of Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face”?

It doesn’t stop there – she starred in the original Broadway cast of “Rent” as Maureen and has just opened a new show on Broadway, “If/Then”. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed and hope that it comes over to the West End some time soon! There has also been talk of “Frozen: The Musical”, which we are very excited to hear more about. If you’re into musical theatre then she’s definitely one to watch and to draw inspiration from. Who knows, one day you might be up on stage with her!

iReal Pro – a great jazz chords app

iReal Pro is an app for iPhone, iPad, Android and OS X that is jam packed full of useful functions for musicians. Not only can you use it to store and view chord progressions, but you can also play them back at any tempo, key and feel. Even more amazingly, you can type in your own chord progressions and play them back too, which means that it’s a brilliant device for composers! The app simulates a real-sounding band, so it’s a great tool for singers who want to practise with a band but don’t have one to hand. One of my favourite functions is iReal Pro’s ability to store playlists, so you can make set lists for gigs, repertoire lists and lists of your favourite tunes and store them all in one place. There is also an inbuilt mixer, so if you want to turn up or down the guitar, piano, bass or drums then you can with easy sliding bars. You can also replace the drums with a click track if you so wish.

iReal Pro is brilliant for jazz musicians who want to go and join in at jams as thousands of tunes are easily downloadable from an online forum completely free. I recommend iReal Pro to anyone who teaches, too, as practising playing along with a band is not only beneficial but is great fun!

Like what you read? This amazing app can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play for around £5 – an absolute bargain for what has come to be recognised as one of the very best practise tools around. Why not download it and give it a go?

To download 1300 jazz standards for free, (yes really) click on the “Forums” button, choose “Jazz” and then click on “Jazz 1300 standards”. There should be a link that you can click which downloads all of the tunes instantly! (It’s split into four links for Android).

2014-03-11 14.37.04

How to get the most out of your practise session!

Practise. As you may remember, we posted a blog recently about how long to practise for, but how can we make that practise time fun and effective? Here are a few ideas.

Setting up an instrument can take up quite a bit of time and can often be the barrier between a young musician and beginning a practise session – that double bass case is heavy and probably taller than you! How about helping to motivate your young children to practise by setting up their instrument for them? You could get the music stand out, put the music on the stand, put the rosin on the bow, assemble the clarinet etc. Do whatever is needed so they don’t have to do the annoying and frustrating setting up bit and can go straight to the practice. That way they can put all their energy into the practise.

Focussing for long periods of time can be pretty tricky, especially after a long day at school! BDMA tutor Phillipa Thomas has a great suggestion,  why not merge practise time with chill out time by practising scales in the TV breaks of your favourite show? All those five minute breaks add up – four telly breaks worth of practise could equal 15 – 20 minutes of mastering those tricky technical exercises.

Fitting in practise around school and homework can be a bit of a bother, right? Well, maybe not – why not try practising for 5 minutes before school every day or just before dinner? Becky used to wake up half an hour early every morning to start the day with a spot of morning practise and Louise worked up an appetite by practising every day before dinner. Finding a set time to practice in helps it become part of a routine and therefore a lot easier to do.

Practising the same things every day can make you quickly lose interest. Why not try mixing it up a bit? Practise scales one day, pieces the next day and liven everything up by practising your favourite pieces between those tricky technical exercises.

Becky recently had to do some tv work which needed to be done with a metronome for precision filming (oh er) and it reminded her how useful it is to practice with a metronome and how much it improves one’s practice. Why not give it a go? Here are some metronomes that we recommend:

Here’s a great analogue one:

http://www.alangregory.co.uk/music/Wittner_Taktell_Piccolo_Ruby_Red_Metronome.html?gclid=CKXmjtbA57wCFWoOwwodclgAAg

You can also get many free app versions. We use this one:

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/metronome/id287965434?mt=8

Rockschool also did their 5 best here:

http://www.rockschool.co.uk/news/newsarticles/newsarticle.aspx?NA=123

You should practise because you want to get better, not because your teacher is telling you – practising should be fun, not a chore! We hope that using these tips you can tailor your practise sessions to make them fun, exciting and effective. Happy practising!

If you practise really hard then you could end up playing at the Royal Albert Hall like one of Becky’s previous students, shown here on the left on the big screen!

Mabel - Royal Albert Hall