100 Years of Jazz: Microphone Singers

Microphone Singers

by Louise Balkwill

Until the 1920′, singing was a very different art.

There were no microphones suitable for singing, so if you wanted to be a singer you had to be able to project your voice in a way that made it audible over a whole band.

This was not a problem for Opera singers, but as jazz music presented an opportunity for young people to establish their own music and culture, the operatic style of singing that had been popular before was no longer suitable.

Bessie Smith is a classic example of a jazz singer who had established herself in an age before vocal microphones.

Listen to her brash, wailing tone, which she kept well into the “microphone singer” age.

Between 1921 and 1923, Kellogg, RCA and Western Electric (three competitive American businesses) each developed carbon and condenser microphones to improve radio broadcasting.

By 1925, these had been introduced into recording studios and stage shows, which marked the end of an era of acoustic recording.

The invention of these microphones made way for a new style of singing, known as “microphone singing”.

Microphone singers performed and record their music using this new technology, and it stuck…

…you will struggle to find a pop singer in the modern day who would perform without amplification!

The new technology opened up a whole new world of opportunities for singers – they could perform with subtleties that would have gone completely amiss without amplification, and this has changed the way that singers approach technique and performance ever since.

They were now able to perform with larger ensembles, and were welcomed by the great instrumentalists to join them in their bands, thus beginning the reign of the jazz singer.

Listen to Billie Holiday, only two years before her tragic death, gently and emotively singing her blues “Fine and Mellow” with an ensemble of some of the world’s most renowned jazz musicians;

In the age before microphones, such a tender performance would have not been possible.

This is not to say that Billie didn’t have a powerful voice (she certainly did!), but the freedom to perform sensitively with such a large ensemble was a new luxury that has since become an expectation for great singers ever since.

Don’t miss the next 100 Years of Jazz Blog, in which we will be looking at the great Big Bands of the Golden Era of Swing!

Inspired?

Why not try your hand at jazz singing with one of our creative and inspirational tutors with our 4 lessons for £99 (London) and 4 lessons for £79 (Manchester) offer?

Send an email to louise@beckydellmusicacademy.co.uk to enquire

What we offer at BDMA

by Becky

We want to take this opportunity to let you know what we offer alongside your practical music lessons, because actually, it’s quite a lot!

So, what else does BDMA offer?

Scholarship Audition Prep

We know a lot of our students want to use music to achieve scholarships when starting at new schools. We are happy to help with this preparation with extra lessons to cover the requirements for the audition and to go through good audition technique.

Aural and Musical Knowledge

When preparing for an exam, there are so many different aspects that make up the whole thing. It’s not just about knowing the pieces but the aural and musical knowledge that needs learning too. We offer extra lessons to cover these areas in more detail.

Theory

Similarly, understanding theory is really important, not just to progress to higher exams (you need to pass Grade 5 theory to move to a Grade 6 practical exam) but to have a broader musical knowledge. We have many tutors that are happy to teach your child theory alongside their practical lessons. Especially when moving into higher grades, we offer tuition to prepare for the Grade 5 theory exam.

GCSE/A Level Support Lessons

Sometimes moving up to GCSE or A Level music can feel like quite a big step. Suddenly students have to start studying music in more detail, begin composing and performing more difficult pieces. We can provide extra lessons that can support the work done in schools so students feel more confident with their progression.

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These lessons are at the standard rates for London and Manchester. All of the above lessons can be bought as one off lessons or in blocks of 5 lessons, invoiced separately to your regular standing order. We are also happy to teach in small groups, so you can team up with a friend!

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Band Coaching 

This is now offered in both London AND Manchester. All the details for this are on the band coaching section of our website. Click here for more details.

Songwriting Courses (Manchester only)

We have just launched a brand new Songwriting course in Manchester – write a song in just four lessons with one of our rock star tutors! We are running this as an offer of 4 lessons for £79. Contact Jess for more info: 07840 243 478

The Rig, The Planets and Professor Brian Cox!

by Becky

Possibly one of the stranger blog titles we’ve had, but it will all make sense we assure you!

A little bit of Rig news for you…

As many of you know, I have been a part of The Rig for 6 years now and from September 2018 I’m going to be taking a step back from co-running The Rig and leaving it in Amy’s very capable and dexterous hands.

It turns out that despite me mainlining caffeine like its going out of fashion, there are in fact, only a finite number of hours in the day and definitely not enough to do all the madcap projects that I dream up!

Amy and I met 18 years ago at Trinity College of Music in London and I can honestly say every single one of those years knowing and working alongside her have been entertaining, and a fun-filled adventure! Amy is an incredibly hard-working and creative artist and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

Whilst I’m sad to be taking a step back from the Rig, I will continue to be its biggest fan and supporter and I couldn’t wish to be leaving it in a safer pair of hands.

I will be spending more of my time with you lovely lot in the academy and my refugee and friends choir (Citizens of the World Choir) and I’m sure I’ll bump into The Riggers out there in a field with a teapot and spoons in the future!

The pictures are from the recent Chilled in a Field Festival which was our last gig together, all the more poignant as Chilled was where we very first started The Rig, six summers ago, awww, what a blast it’s been!!! Go Team Rig.

Now you’re thinking – what on earth is that title for?

Well, it is 100 years since Gustav Holst wrote the infamous Planets, and quite fittingly, The Rig have done a video about Mars from the Planets…. This was from one of our BBC Ten Pieces projects last year…

With the centenary celebration coming up on 29th September, there are lots of events happening to mark the occasion. We wanted to draw your attention to a particularly interesting one…

Since Holst wrote the Planets, we have learnt much more about our solar system. The Planets he based his music on have been understood much more and explored in greater detail, so now the music is not as representative as he once thought.

Cue Professor Brian Cox!

With the help of Brian Cox, the Planets will be reworked during an event at the Barbican on 29th September, so the music represents the Planets as we know them today.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/classical-music/planets-professor-brian-cox-give-holsts-masterpiece-scientific/ 

Sounds like a really interesting way of marking this iconic piece of music.

There are only a few tickets left, get yours here. 

Becky xxx

and the rest of the BDMA team

Noteworthy People: Claude Debussy

by Jess

The year 2018 marks 100 years since the death of one of the most prominent composers of Impressionist music – Claude Debussy.

A French composer, Debussy was in fact the first Impressionist composer, the musical style running alongside the art form Impressionism.

The art form started as the practice of painting out of doors and spontaneously ‘on the spot’, many of the paintings being of landscapes and scenes of the everyday. The paintings captured the “moments” of light and movement due to being painted there and then, rather than in a studio.

Claude Monet was one of the founders of this movement…

Looking at the art style and listening to the music simultaneously gives a much better understanding of the sort of music Debussy was writing.

Impressionist music is centred around creating atmosphere and exploring the emotions and moods created from a subject. Many of Debussy’s most famous works do exactly this, Clair de Lune being a perfect example, something that Becky has been learning herself recently for the BDMA concerts!

Another famous work for Debussy, one that kick started his career, is Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune – an orchestral work with a hauntingly beautiful (and infamous!) flute solo to open. Listen out for the harp in this piece, and the ebb and flow of tempo and dynamics, perfect for the tranquil mood. Personally though, it’s the clarinet solo in the middle of this piece that I love the most, but I am biased (being a clarinet player!)

Here is a version conducted by the infamous Leonard Bernstein…

The classical world has spent 2018 celebrating the life and achievements of Claude Debussy, marking the centenary with concerts and conferences to remember his most loved music.

So we thought we’d do our bit to mark the occasion and share some of his music with you!

Enjoy!

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” (Girls, take heed – although it’s big, the double bass isn’t a “man’s instrument” as many people seem to think; all of my double bass pupils are actually female!)

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!

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!

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!