January 10: On This Day in Music

today

. 1904 ~ Ray Bolger (Raymond Wallace Bulcao), Dancer, actor in The Wizard of Oz

. 1910 ~ Galina Ulanova, Russian-born ballerina with the Bolshoi Ballet from 1944 to 1962

. 1917 ~ Jerry Wexler, Record producer, Atlantic Records

. 1925 ~ Max Roach, Jazz musician/drummer, composer: Freedom Now Suite; educator: taught at Lennox, MA School of Jazz and Yale; Professor of Music at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst  Note: This is my Alma Mater, Tom’s and Michael’s as well.

. 1927 ~ Gisele MacKenzie (LaFleche), Singer

. 1927 ~ Johnnie Ray, Singer

. 1932 ~ “Mickey Mouse” and “Silly Symphony” comics were syndicated

. 1935 ~ Sherrill Milnes, American baritone

. 1939 ~ Sal Mineo (Salvatore Mineo, Jr.), Singer, actor in The Gene Krupa Story

. 1943 ~ Jim Croce, Singer, songwriter

. 1944 ~ Frank Sinatra, Jr., Singer, bandleader

. 1945 ~ Ronny Light, Songwriter, Nashville studio musician

. 1945 ~ Rod Stewart, British rock singer

. 1945 ~ Erskine Hawkins waxed a classic for Victor Records. The tune, with the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra, was titled Tippin’ In.

. 1946 ~ Bob Lang, Bass with Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders

. 1947 ~ “Finian’s Rainbow” opened on the Great White Way in New York City. The musical played for 725 performances. Years later, Petula Clark would star and sing in the movie version.

. 1948 ~ Donald Fagen, Keyboard with Steely Dan

. 1948 ~ Cyril Neville, Percussion, singer with The Neville Brothers

. 1949 ~ The Radio Corporation of America, sometimes known as RCA, announced a new 7-inch, 45 rpm phonograph record. Soon, the 45, the record with the big hole in the middle, would change the pop music business. RCA even manufactured a record player that played only 45s – with a fat spindle that made “stacking wax” real simple and automatic.

. 1953 ~ Theo Mackeben, German pianist/composer (Golden Cage), died at the age of 56

. 1953 ~ Pat Benatar, Grammy award-winning singer

. 1956 ~ Elvis Presley recorded his first tunes as an RCA Victor artist. Recording in Nashville, Elvis sang Heartbreak Hotel, I Was the One, I’m Counting On You, I Got a Woman and Money Honey. Heartbreak Hotel was #1 by April 11, 1956 and stayed there for eight weeks. It was #1 on the pop and rhythm and blues charts and number five on the country music list.

. 1960 ~ Marty Robbins’ hit tune, El Paso, held the record for the longest #1 song to that time. The song ran 5 minutes and 19 seconds, giving many radio station Program Directors fits; because the average record length at that time was around 2 minutes, and formats didn’t allow for records much longer than that, (e.g., 2-minute record, 3 minutes for commercials, 60 seconds for promo, 2-minute record, etc.). DJs got used to the longer length quickly, however, realizing it gave them time, before the record ended, to actually think of something to say next.

. 1969 ~ Elvis Presley’s single, Don’t Cry Daddy, entered the Top 10 on the pop charts this day. If you listened to this song carefully, you’d hear a vocal duet with country artist Ronnie Milsap.

. 1976 ~ Howlin’ Wolf passed away.  Chester Arthur Burnett, known as Howlin’ Wolf, was an African-American Chicago blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player, from Mississippi. With a booming voice and looming physical presence, he is one of the best-known Chicago blues artists.

. 1984 ~ Cyndi Lauper became the first female recording artist since Bobbie Gentry in 1967 to be nominated for five Grammy Awards: Album of the Year, Best New Artist, Best Pop Vocal Performance (Female), Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

. 1986 ~ The uncut version of Jerome Kern’s musical, “Showboat”, opened at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. It marked the first time in almost 60 years that the four-hour version of the classic production had played before a mostly awake audience.

. 1991 ~ It was announced that jazz would become a regular part of New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts repertoire.

. 2000 ~ Gospel singer Willie Neal “The Country Boy” Johnson died of a stroke at the age of 65. Johnson was a longtime member of the Gospel Keynotes, which produced more than 20 albums, including Ain’t No Stopping Us Now, and signature song That’s My Son. Ain’t No Stopping Us Now received a Grammy nomination in 1981. The group signed with Malaco Records in 1985 and changed its name to Willie Neal Johnson and the New Keynotes. The group received a Stellar Award for Lord Take Us Through, The Country Boy Goes Home and a Stellar nomination for The Country Boy Goes Home II. Johnson’s group was inducted into The American Gospel Quartet Hall of Fame in Birmingham, Ala., and The Gospel Music Hall of Fame in Detroit in 1999.

. 2002 ~ Moe Foner, a labor official who brought art, theater and music to the largest health care workers union in New York City, died at the age of 86. As an executive secretary for New York’s Health and Human Service Union, Foner worked as a lobbyist, strategist and slogan writer for the city’s hospital workers for several decades. Foner was also the founder of Bread and Roses, a cultural program which organized art exhibitions and performances for union members, often during workers’ lunch hours. Under his direction, Bread and Roses recruited performers from folksingers Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie to the ventriloquist Shari Lewis. He hired rising stars like Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier to put on annual shows about civil rights for hospital workers. Foner also installed the only art gallery at a union headquarters. Born in Brooklyn, Foner graduated from Brooklyn College in 1936 and was employed by several other unions, including the now-defunct Department Store Local 1250, before going to work for the health care workers union.

.  2016 ~ David Bowie died after a courageous 18 month battle with cancer.  Bowie was an English singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, arranger, painter, and actor.

. 2017 ~ Buddy Greco, American jazz singer (Away We Go, Broadway Open House), died at the age of 90

What You Need to Know about Piano Pedals

piano-pedal-diagram

These are some examples of pedal marks in piano music:

piano-pedal-music

An older style of pedaling. The symbols can be between or below the staves.

 

piano-pedal-music2

This type of pedaling is more commonly used today.

 

piano-pedal-music3

Another type of pedaling

Pedals on a grand piano:

piano-pedal

There are two standard foot pedals on the piano: on the left side is the una corda pedal and on the right side is the sustain (damper) pedal.

The middle sostenuto pedal is only standard on the American grand piano, and is very rarely used.

With pedals, the pianist can add resonance and color to the music and thereby bring out its inherent emotion. At the same time, over-pedaling or improper pedaling can drown the listener and the performer in a miasma of overlapping sounds.

Anton Rubinstein, renowned pianist of the late nineteenth century, said that the rightmost pedal is the very soul of the instrument.  His book, The Art of Piano Pedaling: Two Classic Guides, is still in print.

This pedal has various names. It is sometimes called the damper pedal (because it lifts all the dampers inside the piano), or the forte pedal (because the result of lifting all the dampers is a fuller sound), or the tre corde pedal (because it allows the three strings of each key to vibrate), or the sustaining pedal (because when you depress it the note will continue to sound even if you take your fingers off the keys).

Damper Pedaling Guidelines

Here are some guidelines pedaling. As with everything in art, they can be ignored under certain circumstances.

  1. Avoid pedaling notes that move in a stepwise or scalar pattern. Adjacent notes are dissonant, and when pedaled, they sound smudged.
  2. Do pedal notes that skip and form a nice harmony.
  3. Change your pedal (i.e., lift it up and put it down again) at each change of harmony.
  4. Avoid pedaling through rests (i.e., silence), at ends of phrases (at which point we would need to breathe and that split second of silence takes care of that), or staccato notes—although this is commonly ignored, because we actually can hear the disconnection through the pedal. This is why we do not depend on the pedal to achieve a beautiful legato.
  5. Keep your heel planted firmly on the floor, and pedal with either toes or the ball of foot, depending on your shoe size.

There are several manipulations possible with the damper pedal, each affecting the sound slightly differently.

Syncopated Pedaling

For the cleanest sound, the syncopated (or legato) pedal will give you the most control.  This is an action where the foot is put down immediately after the note is played. This may take some getting used to, but you can practice it by playing a C scale.

  1. Play C, and then lower the damper pedal.
  2. Hold the pedal down until you are just about ready to play the D.
  3. As the D’s finger goes down, the foot goes up, and then down again immediately after the D is struck.

The sound is clean. Continue up the scale the same way.

As an experiment, try putting the pedal down as you play a note, and notice the difference in the sound. Since the damper pedal lifts all the dampers, when you strike the D, not only are the three strings of that note free to vibrate but so do all the other strings vibrate sympathetically. You have a sound that is full of overtones.

There are times when you will want that effect and so will keep your foot down until the accumulated sound needs to breathe.

You can practice the syncopated pedal away from the piano by sitting on the bench or a chair and lifting your right knee at exactly the same time as your right hand goes down to tap the rising knee. This is the same action at the keyboard. The foot goes up when the hand goes down and then returns to the pedal.

Partial Pedals

There are half and quarter pedals too, which are used when you don’t want full vibrato. Rather than depressing the pedal all the way down, you lower your foot halfway so that the dampers are lifted only slightly off the strings, without allowing them to vibrate fully.

The quarter pedal gives even just a hint of pedal. It will take a while to feel these various distances on your piano. Also, you will find that each piano has its own pedal feel, which you must get used to before attempting to perform on that instrument.

Flutter Pedal

Then there are times, usually in scale passages, where touches of pedal can be very appealing and then the foot goes up and down rapidly and shallowly, and that is called the “flutter” pedal.

Choosing the Pedaling

The different types of damper pedaling techniques are for you, the pianist, to decide. But what determines which choice you will make?

Two things will control that: your very important ear, and your understanding of the music—the composer and the era in which the music was composed.

Your pedaling approach following the composer’s style depends on your knowledge of what instruments were available during the composer’s lifetime and how the pedal or lack of pedals would have made the music sound. This way, your interpretation will have authenticity.


Position of the Sustain Pedal:

Right pedal

The Sustain Pedal is Played With:

Right foot

Also Called:

Damper pedal, forte pedal, loud pedal

Effects of the Sustain Pedal:

The sustain pedal allows all of the notes on the piano to resonate after the keys have been lifted, for as long as the pedal is depressed. It creates a legato effect, forcing all of the notes to echo and overlap.

History of the Sustain Pedal:

The sustain pedal was originally operated by hand, and an assistant was required to operate it until the knee lever was created. The creators of the sustain foot pedal are unknown, but it is believed to have been invented around the mid-1700s.

Use of the sustain was uncommon until the Romantic Period, but is now the most commonly used piano pedal.

How the Sustain Pedal Works:

The sustain pedal lifts the dampers off of the strings, allowing them to vibrate until the pedal is released.

Sustain Pedal Marks:

In piano notation, use of the sustain pedal begins with Ped., and ends with a large asterisk.

Variable pedal marks, seen as __/_/__, are placed under notes, and define the precise pattern in which the sustain pedal is depressed and released.

    • Horizontal lines show when the sustain pedal is depressed.
  • Diagonal lines indicate a quick, temporary release of the sustain pedal.

 


Position of the Una Corda Pedal:

Left pedal

The Una Corda is Played With:

Left foot

Also Called:

Soft pedal, “piano” pedal

Effects of the Una Corda Pedal:

The una corda pedal is used to enhance the timbre of softly played notes, and exaggerate a low volume. The soft pedal should be used with notes that are already played softly, and will not produce the desired effect on louder notes.

History of the Una Corda Pedal:

The una corda was the first mechanism to modify the piano’s sound, and was originally operated by hand. It was invented in 1722 by Bartolomeo Cristofori, and quickly became a standard addition to the piano.

How the Una Corda Pedal Works:

Most treble keys are attached to two or three strings. The una corda shifts the strings so that the hammers only strike one or two of them, creating a softened sound.

Some bass keys are only attached to one string. In this case, the pedal creates a shift so that the hammer strikes on a lesser-used portion of the string.

Una Corda Pedal Marks:

In piano notation, use of the soft pedal begins with the words una corda (meaning “one string”), and is released by the words tre corde (meaning “three strings”).

Interesting Facts About the Una Corda Pedal:

  • Most upright pianos use a “piano” pedal instead of a true una corda pedal. The piano pedal moves the hammers closer to the strings, preventing them from striking with full force

 


Position of the Sostenuto Pedal:

Usually the middle pedal, but is often omitted.

The Sostenuto is Played With:

Right foot

Originally Called:

Tone-sustaining pedal

Effects of the Sostenuto Pedal:

The sostenuto pedal allows certain notes to be sustained while other notes on the keyboard are unaffected. It is used by hitting the desired notes, then depressing the pedal. The selected notes will resonate until the pedal is released. This way, sustained notes can be heard alongside notes played with a staccato effect.

History of the Sostenuto Pedal:

The sostenuto pedal was the last addition to the modern piano. Boisselot & Sons first showcased it in 1844, but the pedal didn’t gain popularity until Steinway patented it in 1874. Today, it’s primarily found on American grand pianos, but is not considered a standard addition since it is very rarely used.

How the Sostenuto Pedal Works:

When the sostenuto pedal is depressed, it keeps the dampers off the selected strings, allowing them to resonate while the rest of the keys’ dampers remain down.

Sostenuto Pedal Marks:

In piano music, use of the sostenuto pedal begins with Sost. Ped., and ends with a large asterisk. Notes meant to be sustained are sometimes marked by hollow, diamond-shaped notes, but there are no strict rules for this pedal since it is hardly ever used.

Interesting Facts About the Sostenuto Pedal:

    • Sostenuto is Italian for “sustaining,” although this incorrectly describes the pedal’s function.
    • On some pianos, the sostenuto pedal only affects the bass notes.
    • The middle pedal is sometimes built as a “practice rail” pedal instead of a sostenuto. A practice rail muffles notes with felt dampers, allowing for quiet play.
  • Sostenuto pedal markings are rarely seen in sheet music, but can be found in the works of Claude Debussy.