Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Passing of a Musical and Cultural Icon – Van Cliburn

Yesterday marked the passing of an American music icon whose name will eternally be synonymous with the Cold War era.

Harvey Lavan “Van” Cliburn Jr., the Julliard-trained pianist who at age 23 shocked the music world by taking first-place in the 1958 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, died yesterday at the age of 78 following a long battle with bone cancer.

Upon his triumphal return from the Tchaikovsky Competition, Cliburn was honored with a ticker-tape parade through lower Manhattan. He was the first musician ever to be so honored.

During a ceremony at City Hall, Mayor Robert Wagner announced, “With his two hands, Van Cliburn struck a chord which has resounded around the world, raising our prestige with artists and music lovers everywhere.”

Mr. Cliburn was equally adored by his Soviet hosts, including Premier Nikita Khrushchev who later recalled that he “personally approved Cliburn’s victory” and saw it as “a symbol of a new maturity in relations between the two societies.”

His last public appearance was at the Van Cliburn Foundation’s 50th anniversary celebration at Bass Hall in Fort Worth last September.

Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1 performed by Van Cliburn in Moscow, 1962.
Accompanied by Kirill Kondrashin

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Happy Birthday to the “Sophisticated Giant”

At 6’6″ in height, tenor sax player Dexter Gordon cast a long shadow, both physically and figuratively.

The Los Angeles native was born on this date in 1923 and grew up around the music business.  His father was a physician who counted Lionel Hampton and Duke Ellington among his patients. Dexter’s love of jazz music led him to take up the clarinet at the age of 13. At age 15 he took up the alto saxophone, and later the tenor sax, and joined Lionel Hampton’s band in 1940.

Over the course of the next half decade the “Sophisticated Giant”, as he came to be called, played and recorded with such jazz luminaries as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Fletcher Henderson, Louis Armstrong and Herbie Hancock.

His playing style was largely influenced by Lester Young and John Coltrane and he is widely recognized as one of the formative forces behind the bebop musical language.

In the mid-80’s a whole new audience was introduced to his music and acting talent through his portrayal of a self-destructive expatriate jazz musician in the film “Round Midnight.”  He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for the role, and received a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance – Soloist for his work on “The Other Side of Round Midnight” which was produced by Herbie Hancock.

Once asked to describe his sound, Gordon responded, “What I’m doing, I prefer to call that jazz, because it is a beautiful word – I love it.”

Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

NAfME Celebrates Music in Our Schools Month

nafme_stackedMarch is Music In Our Schools Month®. 

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) has named March as Music in our Our Schools Month®.

Schools and communities around the nation will participate in activities and initiatives geared toward heightening awareness of how music empowers and enriches the lives of our children.  The year’s theme is “Music Education – Orchestrating Success.”

The association is currently soliciting stories from students, parents and teachers who have been positively affected by music education in their schools.  The stories will be archived on the association’s advocacy blog and will use them in its efforts to garner Congressional support for its proposed Elementary and Secondary Education Act which is designed to protect and promote music education.

Interested parties may submit their stories here.

Learn more about Music in Our Schools Month.


World Music – The Hang

One of the most amazing things about music is the seemingly limitless ways we find to create it.  Musical instruments come in all shapes and sizes, and are constantly being invented and improved upon. This is especially true of percussion instruments.

The hang is one such, recent evolution. Similar in sound to the steel drum, the hang was invented around the beginning of this century by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer in Bern, Switzerland.

According to Wikipedia, the hang “is a musical instrument in the idiophone class. The instrument is constructed from two half-shells of deep drawn, nitrided steel sheet glued together at the rim leaving the inside hollow and creating a distinct ‘UFO shape’. The top (“Ding”) side has a center ‘note’ hammered into it and seven or eight ‘tone fields’ hammered around the center. The bottom (“Gu”) is a plain surface that has a rolled hole in the center with a tuned note that can be created when the rim is struck.”

If you like percussion music, you’ll enjoy this video. How could you not toss a few dollars into the pot for such a performance?

Learn more about the hang at

Grammy Flashback

Can you name the somewhat unlikely male/female duo who won the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance?

Here’s a hint: Following her untimely death, her legendary singing partner reflected, “She was really the best of all the young artists that I met in the current scene in the last 10 or 15 years.”