Christmas Music, Part 25 – Hallelujah Chorus

hallelujah

 

Messiah (HWV 56) is an English-language oratorio composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel, with a scriptural text compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible, and from the Psalms. It was first performed in Dublin on 13 April 1742, and received its London premiere nearly a year later. After an initially modest public reception, the oratorio gained in popularity, eventually becoming one of the best-known and most frequently performed choral works in Western music.

Hallelujah Chorus

Part II of the Messiah covers the Passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and the later spreading of the Gospel, concluded by the “Hallelujah Chorus”.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings the classical and beloved Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

And also on Nov.13 2010 unsuspecting shoppers got a big surprise while enjoying their lunch. Over 100 participants in this awesome Christmas Flash Mob.

Christmas Music, Part 24 – O Holy Night

o-holy-night

“O Holy Night” (“Cantique de Noël”) is a well-known Christmas carol composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem “Minuit, chrétiens” (Midnight, Christians) by Placide Cappeau (1808–1877).

Cappeau, a wine merchant and poet, had been asked by a parish priest to write a Christmas poem. Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight, editor of Dwight’s Journal of Music, created a singing edition based on Cappeau’s French text in 1855.

In both the French original and in the two familiar English versions of the carol, the text reflects on the birth of Jesus and of mankind’s redemption.
O Holy Night

O Holy Night sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the King’s Singers

December 24 ~ Today in Music History

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OCMS Fairfax County Student Holiday

Christmas Music, Part 24 – O Holy Night

• 1719 ~ Johann Christoph Altnikol, German organist, bass singer, and composer. He was a son-in-law and copyist of Johann Sebastian Bach

• 1818 ~ Franz Gruber of Oberndorf, Germany, composed the music for “Silent Night” to words written by Josef Mohr. The traditional song was sung for the first time during Midnight Mass on this night.

• 1824 ~ Peter Cornelius, German composer and writer

• 1871 ~ Opera-goers in Cairo, Egypt were treated to Verdi’s Aida in its world premiere. The composer was commissioned to write the opera for festivities celebrating the opening of the Suez Canal

• 1887 ~ Lucrezia Bori, Spanish lyric composer

• 1893 ~ Harry Warren (Salvatore Guaragna), Composer, Song Writer’s Hall of Famer: Best Song Oscar

• 1906 ~ Professor Reginald A. Fessenden sent his first radio broadcast from Brant Rock, MA. The program included a little verse, some violin and a speech.

• 1918 ~ Zara Nelsova, Canadian-born American cellist

• 1914 ~ Ralph Marterie, ‘Caruso of the trumpet’: musician, bandleader

• 1924 ~ Carol Haney, Dancer, member of Jack Cole dance company, worked with Bob Fosse, in films

• 1928 ~ The first broadcast of The Voice of Firestone was heard. The program aired each Monday evening at 8:00. The Voice of Firestone became a hallmark in radio broadcasting. It kept its same night, time (in 1931 the start time changed to 8:30) and sponsor for its entire run. Beginning on September 5, 1949, the program of classical and semiclassical music was also seen on television.

• 1930 ~ Robert Joffrey (Khan), Choreographer with The Joffrey Ballet; died in 1988

• 1931 ~ Ray Bryant, Pianist, composer

• 1944 ~ Mike Curb, Music executive, producer, Oscar-winner

• 1944 ~ The Andrews Sisters starred in the debut of The Andrews Sisters’ Eight-To- The-Bar-Ranch on ABC radio. Patti, Maxine and LaVerne ran a fictional dude ranch. George ‘Gabby’ Hayes was a regular guest along with Vic Schoen’s orchestra. The ranch stayed in operation until 1946.

• 1945 ~ Lemmy (Ian Kilmister), Bass, singer with Motorhead

• 1946 ~ Jan Akkerman, Guitar, lute with bands: Friendship Sextet, Johnny and the Cellar Rockers

• 1951 ~ Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors”, the first opera composed for television, made its debut on NBC-TV. Amal and the Night Visitors became a Christmas classic.

• 1955 ~ The lovely Lennon Sisters debuted as featured vocalists on The Lawrence Welk Show on ABC-TV. They became regulars with Welk within a month and stayed on the show until 1968.

• 1957 ~ Ian Burden, Keyboards with Human League

• 1977 ~ The Bee Gees spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve at the top of the music charts. How Deep is Your Love became #1 this day and stayed that way for three weeks.

• 2000 ~ Felix Popper, a conductor and music administrator at the New York City Opera, died at the age of 92. Popper joined the New York City Opera in 1949 as an assistant conductor and vocal coach. By 1958 he was named music administrator, and he played an important role in guiding the opera through a period in which the house truly established itself. During this time, the company is credited with discovering important American singers such as Johanna Meier, Tatiana Troyanos, Gianna Rolandi, Faith Esham and Jane Shaulis. Popper retired from the opera in 1980 but continued to work as a consultant and vocal coach.

• 2000 ~ Longtime Detroit blues radio personality and promoter Famous Coachman died of an apparent heart attack. He was 75. Coachman was host of the weekend blues and gospel show on Detroit’s WDET for 21 years until 1997 and remained busy in the city’s music world until his death. “Everybody knew Coachman,” said JoAnn Korczynska, blues music director for WHFR at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn. “He really did know B.B. King and John Lee Hooker. When I met John Lee Hooker, one of the first things he said to me was `How is Coachman doing?'” Coachman said he was named “Famous” because “my mother knew I would be.”

• 2000 ~ Nick Massi, an original member of the Four Seasons who handled bass vocals and vocal arrangements throughout the band’s glory days, died of cancer at the age of 73. Massi was born in Newark as Nicholas Macioci. The longtime West Orange resident performed with several bands before joining Frankie Valli in a group called the Four Lovers. By 1961, the group had evolved into the Four Seasons. Massi remained with the group until 1965, when he grew tired of touring, Valli said. Massi performed on hits such as Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry,Walk Like a Man and Rag Doll, which friends said was his favorite. During his tenure, the group made the Billboard Top 40 chart 17 times and toured throughout the United States and overseas, melding doo-wop vocals with a contemporary beat. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Valli’s falsetto was the band’s trademark, but he said Massi was his musical mentor. “He could do four-part modern harmonies that would amaze musicians who had studied for years. And he did it all in his head without writing it down,” Valli said.

 

December 23 ~ Today in Music History

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Christmas Music, Part 23 ~ Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker

OCMS Fairfax County Student Holiday

OCMS Michael’s Birthday 🙂 OCMS

• 1689 ~ Joseph Bodin De Boismortier, French baroque composer of instrumental music, cantatas, opéra-ballets, and vocal music.

• 1907 ~ Don McNeill, Radio host

OCMS 1918 ~ José Greco, Italian flamenco dancer
More information about José Greco

• 1929 ~ Chet Baker, American jazz trumpeter and singer

• 1934 ~ Claudio Scimone, Italian conductor and musicologist

• 1935 ~ ‘Little’ Esther Phillips (Esther Mae Jones), Pianist, singer, Grammy nomination for Best female R & B vocalist in 1973. Aretha Franklin won but she gave the award to Esther

• 1939 ~ Johnny Kidd (Frederick Heath), Singer, songwriter with Johnny Kidd & The Pirates

• 1940 ~ Tim Hardin, Singer, composer

• 1940 ~ Jorma Kaukonen, Guitarist with Jefferson Airplane and also Hot Tuna

• 1940 ~ Eugene Record, Singer with Chi-Lites

• 1942 ~ Bob Hope agreed to entertain U.S. airmen in Alaska. It was the first of his many famous Christmas shows for American armed forces around the world. The tradition continued for more than three decades.

• 1943 ~ The first complete opera to be televised was aired on WRBG in Schenectady, NY. (WRGB was named after GE engineer Dr. W.R.G. Baker. It was not named, as many have thought over the years, for red, blue and green, the three primary colors of a TV picture tube.) Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” was the opera presented.

• 1945 ~ Ron Bushy, Drummer with Iron Butterfly

• 1951 ~ Johnny Contardo, Singer with Sha-Na-Na, formerly Eddie and The Evergreens

• 1964 ~ Eddie Vedder (Mueller), Songwriter, singer with Pearl Jam

• 1964 ~ Rock ’n’ roll radio,in the guise of Pirate Radio, went to the U.K. Radio London began its regular broadcasts. It was joined, at sea, by other pirates like Radio Caroline and Radio Luxembourg. It was a gallant effort to broadcast commercial radio, which was illegal in Great Britain. On England’s mainland, one had to listen to ‘Auntie Beeb’ (the BBC) or nothing at all. It was generally like a battle. Government agents would attempt to board a floating radio station, take it over, and shut it down. Many times the ships would broadcast from different locales to foil the governmental crackdown on the high seas. Later, the BBC split into four different radio networks, Radio 1, 2, 3 and 4, to stem the tide of the pirates who gained huge audiences by playing popular music. Eventually, limited commercial broadcasting came to Great Britain.

• 1969 ~ B.J. Thomas received a gold record for the single, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head from the motion picture, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Raindrops hit number one on the pop charts on January 3, 1970 and stayed there for 4 weeks.

• 1969 ~ Elton John met with arranger Paul Buckmaster, writer Bernie Taupin and producer Gus Dudgeon. The collaboration marked the start of one of the most successful milestones of music in the 1970s. Together, they created Your Song, Friends, Levon, Tiny Dancer, Rocket Man and many more.

• 2000 ~ Pianist Victor Borge, died in his sleep.

• 2001 ~ Anthony Charles Chavis, Zydeco musician and son of the late Zydeco pioneer Boozoo Chavis, died after suffering a heart attack He was 45. His death came just eight months after his father’s. Charles Chavis, in addition to playing the washboard, was lead vocalist on numerous recordings with Boozoo, including his 1996 hit What You Gonna Do? After Boozoo Chavis’ death, his sons had agreed to continue the Magic Sounds Band. It was not clear how Charles Chavis’s death would affect the group. In addition to his music, Charles Chavis had worked with his father as a jockey and trainer at Chavis stables.

 

Christmas Music, Part 23 ~ Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker

nutcracker

We also recently went to see Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker

From http://www.nycballet.com/Ballets/N/George-Balanchine-s-The-Nutcracker.aspx

During the holiday period, the entire Company is immersed in activities surrounding George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. All 90 dancers, 62 musicians, 32 stagehands and two casts of 50 young students each from the School of American Ballet join forces to make each performance as magical as possible. Children of all ages from New York City and the nation fill the David H. Koch Theater to be captivated by the lure of Tschaikovsky’s music, Balanchine’s choreography, Karinska’s sumptuous costumes, and Rouben Ter-Arutunian’s magical sets. George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, based on the Alexandre Dumas pere version of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (1816), demands a full-scale production.

The elaborate stage elements and intricate lighting unleash the viewers’ imagination by providing visual effects that are extraordinarily grand. The most famous example is the one-ton Christmas tree that grows from a height of 12 feet to 40 feet, evoking audible gasps of disbelief from the audience at each performance. Other notable feats include the comic figure of Mother Ginger — 85 pounds and nine feet wide, the costume requires handling by three people once it is lowered by pulley over the dancer’s head — as well as the continuous flutter of the purest, crystal-shaped snowflakes (which are swept up and conserved after each performance for reuse).

While these technical achievements are wonderful fun, it is Balanchine’s choreography that sustains the ballet through two acts. Act I introduces the characters — the Stahlbaum children, Marie and Fritz, Herr Drosselmeier and his Nephew — and also begins the transition from reality into fantasy with the concluding Snowflake Waltz. Act II offers the complete transformation. We have entered the “Kingdom of the Sugarplum Fairy” and there is no turning back.

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™ is one of the most complex theatrical, staged ballets in the Company’s active repertory. The popularity of the ballet is immense and it provides an unforgettable spark to everyone’s holiday season.

Although the original production was not a success, the 20-minute suite that Tchaikovsky extracted from the ballet was. However, the complete Nutcracker has enjoyed enormous popularity since the late 1960s and is now performed by countless ballet companies, primarily during the Christmas season, especially in North America. Major American ballet companies generate around 40 percent of their annual ticket revenues from performances of The Nutcracker.

Tchaikovsky’s score has become one of his most famous compositions, in particular the pieces featured in the suite.

 

Bargemusic

Another small break from Christmas music since we went to Bargemusic last week:

is a classical music venue and cultural icon founded in 1977,  housed on a converted coffee barge moored at Fulton Ferry Landing on the East River near the Brooklyn Bridge.  I took this picture of the NY skyline and Steinway piano from the second row seating.

bargemusic

On Saturday afternoons at 4, Bargemusic is free!  Such a deal.  The nighttime performances cost a bit but still reasonable.

Founder and director, Olga Bloom was interviewed about the floating concert hall under the Brooklyn Bridge she converted from an old coffee barge. The video includes excerpts from one of the chamber music concerts typical of the Bargemusic programs, and features classical music artists, Ida Levin, violin, Anton Nel, piano, Thomas Hill, clarinet, Ronald Thomas, cello. A Greenpoint Video Project production. Supported through a grant from NYCEF, New York State Council on the Arts.

One of our performers was Mark Peskanov, Bargemusic President, Executive & Artistic Director.  He talked a little about the program, about Bargemusic in general, and introduced the pianist and cellist for today.  Each played a Bach solo and the 3 played  Piano Trio No.4, Op.90 by Antonín Dvořák.  Here, it’s played by another trio:

 

December 22 ~ Today in Music History

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Christmas Music, Parts 19-22 – Johnny Marks

• 1723 ~ Carl Friedrich Abel, German composer of the Classical era. He was a renowned player of the viola da gamba, and composed important music for that instrument.

• 1821 ~ Giovanni Bottesini, Italian Romantic composer, conductor, and a double bass virtuoso

• 1853 ~ Maria Teresa Carreno, Venezuelan pianist, singer, composer, and conductor.

OCMS 1858 ~ Giacomo Puccini, Italian opera composer
More information about Puccini

OCMS 1883 ~ Edgard Varèse, French-born American avant-garde composer
More information about Varèse

• 1874 ~ Franz Schmidt, Austrian composer, cellist and pianist.

• 1885 ~ (Joseph) Deems Taylor, American opera composer and writer, music critic for New York World from 1921 until 1925, New York American from 1931 to 1932, intermission commentator for Sunday radio broadcasts of NY Philharmonic (1936 to 1943), president of ASCAP, married to poet and playwright Mary Kennedy

• 1901 ~ André Kostelanetz, Russian-born American conductor and arranger of Broadway show tunes

• 1939 ~ Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey passed away

• 1941 ~ Jimmy Lunceford and his orchestra recorded Blues in the Night on Decca. The song became one of Lunceford’s biggest hits. Between 1934 and 1946 Jimmy Lunceford had more hits (22) than any other black jazz band (except Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway).

• 1944 ~ Barry Jenkins, Drummer with Nashville Teens and also the Animals

• 1946 ~ Rick Nielsen, Guitarist, singer with Cheap Trick

• 1949 ~ Maurice Gibb, Bass, songwriter with the Bee Gees, married to singer Lulu, twin of Robin Gibb
More about Maurice Gibb and the Bee Gees

• 1949 ~ Robin Gibb, Songwriter for Bee Gees, twin of Maurice Gibb
More about the Bee Gees

• 1958 ~ The Chipmunks were at the #1 position on the music charts on this day in 1958 as Alvin, Simon, and Theodore sang with David Seville. The Chipmunk Song, the novelty tune that topped the charts for a month, is still a Christmas favorite today…

Christmas, Christmas time is near
Time for toys and time for cheer
We’ve been good, but we can’t last
Hurry Christmas, hurry fast

Want a plane that loops the loop
Me, I want a hula hoop
We can hardly stand the wait
Please Christmas, don’t be late.

• 1972 ~ Folk singer Joni Mitchell received a gold record for the album, For the Roses. The album included the song, You Turn Me on, I’m a Radio.

• 1981 ~ London was the scene of a rock ’n’ roll auction where buyers paid $2,000 for a letter of introduction from Buddy Holly to Decca Records. Cynthia and John Lennon’s marriage certificate was worth $850 and an autographed program from the world premiere of the Beatles film Help! brought $2,100.

• 1984 ~ CBS Records announced plans for the release of Mick Jagger’s first solo album, set for February,

• 1985 ~ The Rolling Stones went solo after a 20-year career with the self- proclaimed “greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world.” The album: She’s the Boss.

• 2002 ~ Joe Strummer (John Mellors), who brought punk attitude and politics to one of the most significant bands in rock ‘n’ roll history, the Clash, died of a heart attack at his home in Somerset, England. He was 50. Strummer, a singer, guitarist, songwriter, activist and actor, had been touring with his band the Mescaleros since the release of their second album “Global a- Go-Go” in July 2001; the latest leg of the tour ended in November in Liverpool. The Clash, which formed in 1976, released its first album in ’77 and broke up for good in 1986, will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March. The original lineup of Strummer, Mick Jones, Terry Chimes and Paul Simonon was expected to re-form for the induction ceremony and play the band’s first single, “White Riot,” at the ceremony. Although it was written as an advertising tagline, the Clash successfully lived up to its slogan as “the only band that matters.” The son of a diplomat, Strummer was born John Graham Mellor on Aug. 21, 1952, in Ankara, Turkey. He attended boarding schools in London, and as a teenager grew infatuated with reggae, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll. He formed a pub band, the 101ers, in 1974, which he gave up to form the Clash with Jones, Chimes and Keith Levene. The band was playing standard rock ‘n’ roll prior to Strummer’s arrival. He added reggae to the mix and upped the ante in politics and intensity. He took a Jones tune, for example, that was a complaint about a girlfriend and turned it into one of the band’s early anthems, “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.” “Within the Clash, Joe was the political engine of the band,” British troubadour Billy Bragg said. “Without Joe there’s no political Clash, and without the Clash the whole political edge of punk would have been severely dulled.” Jones and Strummer penned all of the tunes on their debut and often worked as a team, though later albums would have songs attributed solely to Strummer and, for their final two efforts, have all songs attributed to the band.

December 21 ~ Today in Music History

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Christmas Music, Parts 19-22 – Johnny Marks

• 1810 ~ Ludwig Schuncke, German pianist and composer, and close friend of Robert Schumann.

• 1850 ~ Zdenek Fibich, Czech composer of classical music

• 1913 ~ Andor Foldes, Pianist who played with Budapest Philharmonic at eight years of age

• 1921 ~ Alicia Alonso (Martinez Hoyo), Dancer

• 1933 ~ Freddie Hart, Country singer

• 1940 ~ Frank Zappa, American rock guitarist, composer, arranger and songwriter, with Mothers of Invention, father of Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa

OCMS 1944 ~ Michael Tilson Thomas, American conductor and pianist, jazz band conductor, led the London Symphony Orchestra and Los Angeles Philharmonic
More information about Tilson Thomas

• 1946 ~ Carl Wilson, Guitarist with The Beach Boys, brother of Brian and Dennis, his original group was Carl and the Passions

• 1953 ~ Andras Schiff, Hungarian pianist

• 1966 ~ The Beach Boys received a gold record for the single, Good Vibrations.

• 1985 ~ Springsteen’s album, Born in the USA, passed Michael Jackson’s Thriller to become the second longest-lasting LP in the top 10. It stayed there for 79 weeks. Only The Sound of Music, with Julie Andrews, lasted longer at 109 weeks.

Circus Music

A small break from Christmas music since we were at the Big Apple Circus last week.

big-apple

Back on the subway to the Lincoln Center for the Big Apple Circus.  We’d seen them a couple times here but Michael had never seen them.  On the grounds of the Lincoln Center, everything is under the tents where here, much is outside.

We found that Michael had bought tickets in the VIP Seating & Lounge.  This included:

  • The best seats in the tent! First row, center ringside
  • Private Concierge
  • Complimentary Circus Meal – includes hot dog, soda and choice of popcorn or cotton candy
  • Cheese, vegetable and fruit crudite
  • Juice, water, wine, and beer
  • Dessert
  • Souvenir Book (We didn’t get this!)
  • Private restrooms (They called this the Golden Restroom)
  • Coat rack
  • Photo opps as you try on our circus costumes and hats
  • Close-up magician who did card tricks with us

THE GRAND TOUR is a circus extravaganza set in the 1920s and featuring acts from the four corners of the globe. Ships, trains, automobiles, and airplanes will serve as the backdrop for breathtaking acts of wonder, accompanied by the seven-piece Big Apple Circus Band playing live at each of more than 100 performances. Acts will include clowns, jugglers, acrobats, and aerialists, from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America, as well as domestic and rescue animals, all creating performances that will leave audiences smiling and cheering. The show runs 1 hour and 50 minutes including a 20-minute intermission.

I was glad to see the ringmaster, John Kennedy Kane, was back.  The last time we went here at home, there had been a female ringmaster.

There were so many neat acts and we were right there, front and center, to see them.  Some of the acts seemed like they would land in our laps.

This is one of the clown acts:

A sample of some of the other acts.  I loved the Wheel of Wonder, about 1:20:

And, a short TV interview:

This video is so cool – “Our performers give a bird’s eye view of what it’s like to perform under the Big Top! Get your tickets today and see the joy and wonder of this season’s show for yourself!

WINDJAMMERS

Circus marches are called “screamers” because they are traditionally so high, loud & fast!! Circus Band members are often called “windjammers” because they jam so much wind into their instruments in the process of playing these screamers. Playing the circus requires incredible endurance & skills on your instrument. The windjammers play almost none stop and much of the music is really difficult!

The greatest circus bands were about 100 years ago in the heyday of the circus. At that time the big top band could be 25 or so, plus there were often sideshow musicians as well. Cowboy bands, women’s bands and bands of Blacks were often part of the sideshows.

Contemporary circuses are much smaller all the way around, and some don’t use live musicians at all, just “canned” music (recordings). Others carry 3 musicians, a drummer, a trumpet player and a keyboard (synthesizer) player. A few, like the Big Apple Circus, still have bands. The Big Apple Circus has 8 musicians on its band stand: a conductor/trumpet, a person who plays alto sax and clarinet, one who plays tenor sax and flute, a violin, a trombone, a bass player, a keyboard player and a drummer.

In the “old days,” being a circus musician was one of the most strenuous jobs a musician could have. In the days before musicians’ unions, the windjammer would be expected to play for the circus parade, play a pre-show free concert for the townspeople, ballyhoo around the grounds before the big top show, play the show itself (nonstop for two or three hours!), play post show concerts on the grounds or play sideshows. Then after everyone left, they helped take down the tents or do other chores around the grounds. It was a busy day and the pay was not very good, but it was an exciting life with lots of great music, and many musicians loved it!

THE MUSIC

Entry of the Gladiators (Thunder and Blazes) was written in 1897 by, the Czechoslovakian composer, Julius Fucik (1872-1916). This march is a classic circus march & one that just about everyone will think, “Ah, circus!” when they hear it. Thunder and Blazes (as it is most frequently called) and Fucik’s Florentiner March are probably his most well known marches.

Most circus marches follow the standard American military march form, but often abbreviated (no repeats in the second half):

  • Introduction (a bit longer than military marches)
  • First strain (repeated)
  • Second strain (repeated)
  • Trio (more mellow and the key changes)
  • Breakup strain (often called the dogfight in military marches)
  • Last strain

In a circus march, the last strain is often the same as the trio, but louder, and often the trio, breakup strain and last strain are not repeated like they are in a military march (in military marches, the trio and breakup strain are often reversed & the way they repeat may vary).

The music sets the scene for the performer’s act. Different music is needed for different kinds of acts: the bareback riders galloping around the hippodrome need a lively tune, the trapeze artists want something more peaceful, and of course the clowns need music that sounds humorous (like trombone smears!).

In the early days of the circus, the band masters would take some of the European classical music and arrange it for the circus band. “The most obvious example would be the beautiful, flowing waltz music that is essential to the trapeze artists (‘flyers’ and ‘catchers’). The bandmaster and musicians must be precise in coordinating the music and the timing of the artists, requiring rehearsal with the artists and the musicians.  Similarly, it may be interesting to note that the bareback riders perform in a smaller ring because of the gait of the horses. The centrifugal effect requires a ring of a certain diameter for timing. Thus, the conductor must follow the gait of the horses, whereas the aerialists depend on the tempo of the music for timing their act.”

Modern circuses also play a lot of popular tunes, jazz and other songs that people will recognize. You will likely hear fewer of the standard circus marches at a circus today.

The drummer has a particularly challenging and important role in the circus music. He/she must “play the tricks.” Usually the drummer is situated so that he can see the ring because it is his job to accent and intensify what is happening in the ring. This was true 100 years ago, and it is true today. If the act is getting tense, the drummer will get intense. If someone slides down a rope or vaults off the trampoline, there will be a cymbal crash or drum hit when the performer reaches the floor. Sometimes the cues come from the conductor or from the ring master, but sometimes it is the drummer who is really in charge!

Circus bands occasionally play a John Philip Sousa composition during the traditional Center Ring Concert, but his melodic marches are not the right structure for most circus acts.

Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever is never part of the regular program. It is reserved for emergency use – sometimes called the “Disaster March”. If a major problems happens — an animal gets loose, a high wind threatens the tent, or a fire breaks out — the band plays the march as warning signal to every worker on the circus lot that something is wrong.

(Click here for information on the Hartford fire of 1944)

For lesser problems, the 12th Street Rag was played to alert the clowns to come out and divert attention during the more common mishaps.

Edward F. Shevlin describes what goes on in the cirus band as follows:

“Our music is usually by Karl King,  Alexander, Fred Jewell, C. E. Duble and other old time circus bandmasters and musicians.  Much of the music by these circus musician-composers is amenable to quick cut-offs and tempo changes as necessary to fit particular acts. Hence, Windjammers usually play two musicians to a stand so that when the conductor cuts to a new piece and tempo, one musician can quickly move the music to expose the next piece while the other continues without skipping a beat! We might quickly go from a march to a Samba or rhumba or galop; or from a waltz to an up-tempo march or galop for the “come down” when the aerialists quickly descend into the net or slide down a rope at the conclusion of their act . . .followed by that ubiquitous B-flat chord! The old circus bands would play anything from Ragtime to a Polonaise or a tone poem!”

*Information from an email from Edward F. Shevlin, a Windjammer who happened upon this page! Many thanks, Mr. Shevlin!

THE BANDWAGON

ParadeWagon

When the circus came to town, there was always a circus parade — the parade served to get the wagons filled with people, equipment, baggage, tents and animals to the location of the circus, but it also provided some free advertisement. The wagons were very elaborate & were intended to get people interested in the circus so they would come and see the acts. The band road on top of a bandwagon and inside the band wagon was luggage, tents and other necessities.

Hey, have you ever heard the term, “jump on the bandwagon”? Here’s the story. In 1848, when Zachary Taylor won the Whig party nomination for president, Dan Rice, a famous clown whose attire inspired the image of Uncle Sam, invited Mr. Taylor to ride on the bandwagon that Dan Rice had. When the bandwagon arrived at the center of town, Dan Rice stopped his parade and made a very emotional speech supporting Zachary Taylor’s candidacy. Someone noted that Dan Rice was on Mr. Taylor’s bandwagon and the term stuck, so that to jump on the bandwagon means to get involved with whatever the issue is. “He jumped on the ecology bandwagon.” “She is definitely on the civil rights bandwagon.”

Below you will find some links to pictures of bandwagons.

PT Barnum’s Bandwagon http://www.vintageviews.org/vv-3/t_land/pages/trl02_002.html

Windjammers in a Bandwagon http://www.circusparade.com/album/albmusic.htm

Pawnee Bill Bandwagon No. 80 http://www.circusparade.com/wagons/w_pawnee.htm

The Columbia Bandwagon– purchased by James Bailey for the Barnum & Bailey Circus — and see this wagon hitched to FORTY horses!!! The picture including the wagon & the band is at the bottom of the page.

The Mirror Bandwagon http://www.circusmodelbuilders.org/twohemis.htm

A clown marching band (Baraboo, WI High School) http://www.circusparade.com/album/albpic22.htm

THE CALLIOPE

Most people pronounce this instrument “cal eye’ o pee”. Circus people pronounce it “cal’ ee ope” (last syllable like “rope”). What is a calliope?? It is a huge instrument made of whistles with a steam engine that blows steam through the whistles when you press the key. Most calliopes are played with a keyboard like a piano keyboard & each key controls one whistle. It is LOUD!!!! Some can be heard up to 3 – 5 miles! Don’t stand too close to one!

The calliope traditionally brought up the rear in a circus parade.

Here is a picture of an early calliope – this one is not on wheels like a circus instrument would be. http://mmd.foxtail.com/Calliope/index.html

Go to this site to see an instrument built recently and see how it works. http://mmd.foxtail.com/Calliope/davis.html

 

SUPERSTITIONS!

Most performing entities have some superstitions. One of the superstition in circus bands is that you can not play Franz von Suppe’s Light Cavalry March. Quoting from Mr. Beal’s book:

“To play it on the circus lot means disaster and sudden death.”You may not believe this but most circus folks do, at least those who know the facts. Played once in Oklahoma, a train wreck followed and sixteen were killed. Played again, this time while [Merle] Evans was on tour with Miller Bros. 101 Ranch Wild West, a blowdown followed and 38 fatalities resulted. [A blow down is a wind that destroys all or part of the tents.]

“And the last time Merle played it a cornet player died immediately after the performance. That was enough for Evans. He collected the parts, tied them up in a neat bundle, and dropped them over the nearest bridge…

“From that day to this the music of Suppe’s Light Cavalry march is taboo. Even its presence in the music trunk would be considered a serious menace to the life and safety of the circus musicians.”

A second superstition about the music played, is that the only time you can play Home Sweet Home is during the very last performance of the season, the very last song. Otherwise it could mean the immediate closing of the show.

Information from:
Beal, George Brinton. Through the Back Door of the Circus with George Brinton Beal. Springfield, Massachusetts: McLoughlin Bros., Inc., 1938. p. 1-20.

Some important Windjammers and composers of circus music

Links to other Circus Band Websites

Definitions & ExplanationsScreamers – Circus marches are called screamers because they are so loud, fast & often very high!

Windjammers – Circus musicians are often called windjammers because they jam so much wind into their instruments in the process of playing these screamers.

Ballyhooing – The dictionary defines the verb “ballyhoo” as a vigorous attempt to win customers. When not playing, the musicians went around the grounds & the town shouting about the circus & trying to get people to come see it. Ex: “Come to the circus tonight! See flying trapeze artists and the ….”

Hippodrome – The hippodrome is the track around the inside of the ring where the horses were run.

Trombone Smears – Smear refers both to a trombone technique and to a type of music. The technique (officially called a glissando) where the trombonist pulls the slide in or out without tonguing and you get a smearing sound as the notes move up or down, rather than a distinct set of individual notes. Smear also refers a type of music that includes and features these smear techniques. These pieces are often used as clown music. Henry Fillmore wrote many trombone smears and they had an African-American minstrel sound to them.

Adapted from http://bandnotes.info/tidbits/circus.htm