Bird_pianoToday, I watched an adorable video of  a guy playfully using his cat as a mute for his euphonium. As a musician and an animal lover, I’m a sucker for videos like these. It inspired me to search for even more videos of animals enjoying and making music. Here are the nine best videos I found. I hope you enjoy!

1. Cat Mute for Euphonium

This is the video which sparked my search. I love how the cat pokes his head into the bell of the instrument, trying to figure out where the sound is coming from.

2. Cute Cockatiel Sings My Neighbor Totoro

A cheerful cockatiel sings the theme song from an animated movie, My Neighbor Totoro, with an assist from a keyboardist. He sings with pretty decent intonation and rhythm, for a bird.

3 & 4. Shreddy Cat Fight and Nerdy Love Song with Added Kitten Bonus!

Some cats just have to get in on the action when their owners are playing guitar. In the first video, Tony Martinez shreds while his cat (around 1:19) fights with his guitar hand. In the second video, comedian DeAnne Smith plays a “Nerdy Love Song” while a kitten persistently bats at her guitar.

5. Jazz for Cows

The New Orleans-style jazz band The New Hot 5 attracted a surprisingly attentive herd of cows as the band performed in a field in Autrans, France. These cows are better behaved than some human audiences I’ve seen.

6 & 7. Mariachi Band and Bagpiper Serenade Beluga Whales

The beluga whales at the Mystic Aquarium in Stonington, Connecticut have had the opportunity to enjoy a few different musical performances over the past few years. In 2011, the Mariachi Connecticut band serenaded Juno the whale with the tune, “Yellow Bird”, as the whale danced along with the music. Later, in 2014, bagpiper Tom Leigh played for Juno and her friends Naluark and Kela. There wasn’t any dancing going on, but the whales hovered near Mr. Leigh and eyed him with great interest.

8. 12 Bar Blues – Piano Duet with Peter the Elephant – Thailand

Pianist Paul Barton visited an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, where he performed for a receptive audience of elephants. An elephant named Peter bobbed his head in time with the beat and hit a some cluster chords with his trunk on the keyboard, while another elephant wiggled his booty in the foreground. The video below is the first of a series of 23 “Music for Elephants” videos which feature elephants and pianos.

9. CATcerto. Mindaugas Piecaitis, Nora the Piano Cat

Nora The Piano Cat became a viral sensation in 2007 when her owners uploaded a video of the cat crafting a tune on an upright piano. Since then, the feline has been featured on a multitude of TV shows including the Today Show, MSNBC’s Caught on Camera, and Animal Planet’s Wild about Animals. The Lithuanian conductor/composer Mindaugas Piecatis took Nora’s stylings to the next level by writing a CATcerto to accompany the kitty’s music. The world premiere took place on June 5, 2009 with the Klaipeda Chamber Orchestra in Klaipeda’s Concert Hall. It’s actually quite beautiful. You can check it out below.

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2Cellos (Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser) has just released a cover of Mumford and Sons’ “I Will Wait”. The duo filmed the video on a bridge in front of some spectacular waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia. Check out the gorgeous music and breathtaking scenery below.

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flyingbach1When you think of J.S. Bach, you probably wouldn’t imagine a troupe of breakdancers dancing to his music. But that unlikely combination is exactly what audiences got to witness at the Red Bull Flying Bach performances this past weekend at the Civic Opera House. Contrapuntist and I attended the Sunday, June 22 performance, and  the bombastic blend of breakdancing and Baroque music exceeded our expectations.

The unusual collaboration began in 2009 when German pianist and opera director Christoph Hagel saw a performance by the award-winning Flying Steps breakdancing troupe. After meeting them, Hagel learned that the Flying Steps had been thinking of creating a show featuring classical music. Hagel studied their moves and determined that Bach’s The Well Tempered Clavier would be the perfect counterpoint for the dancers’ virtuosity, sharp style.

Hagel went on to collaborate with the Flying Steps’ lead choreographer and founder, German-Lebanese b-boy Vartan Bassil. The ensemble carefully studied the music and created dance moves that represented every voice of the counterpoint. Hagel and Bassil also brought in the classically trained dancer Yui Kawaguchi to choreograph a part for a ballet-trained female dancer to form a bridge between the disparate styles of music and dance.

The result is a 70-minute production about an ensemble of breakdancers and the mysterious ballet dancer (played by the Swedish dancer Anna Holmstrom) who sneaks in to watch and eventually tries to join their rehearsal.  After an initial culture clash, a hint of romance, and a generous sprinkling of humor, the female dancer and the b-boys join together in a unique style of urban dance.

I have to admit that I entered this show as a skeptic. I’ve been to other performances that blended urban dance with classical music, and the results have been decidedly mixed. But as soon as the Flying Steps hit the stage, my skepticism evaporated. Their movements brought a whole new dimension to the kinetic energy and melodic nuances of the music. I was particularly impressed by the rapid cascading sequences send during which a guy would spin on his head, thrust his fists, and pump his legs in the air for what seemed like an impossible length of time.

Beyond the fantastic choreography, I was also blown away by the breakdancers’ talent. There’s a reason that they’re called the Flying Steps. When they spin on their wrists, bounce onto their backs, and perform movements upside down on their heads that most people wouldn’t be able to do right side up, the dancers really do appear to fly in the face of gravity.

As for Anna Holmstrom, her ability to switch between classical style and urban moves allowed her to stand out against her seven breakdancing companions.

The live musical accompaniment alternates between a pianist on one side of the stage and a harpsichordist on the other. Christoph Hagel performed the piano portion flawlessly. The harpsichordist – the program listed two names, so I wasn’t sure who was performing that afternoon – had a few clunkers. The live music was interspersed with electronic dance arrangements of Bach’s music. I wouldn’t necessarily listen to this music on its own, but it fit well with the performance.

I’d highly recommend attending one of this show’s three remaining performances at the Civic Opera House on June 27 at 7:30 p.m., June 28 at 7:30 p.m., and June 29 at 2:00 p.m. Complete information and tickets are available here.

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Violinists Zachary De Pue and Nicolas Kendall of the ensemble Time for Three recently made headlines when US Airways denied them access to the plane because the musicians refused to stow their violins in the hold at the request of the staff.  De Pue and Kendall fought back with a video which to date has received more than 290,000 views on YouTube. But it’s no wonder that the two violinists refused to stow their fragile fiddles. The airline industry has a long record of damaging musical instruments and treating musicians poorly. Here are the five worst airline fails against musicians.

1. United Airlines breaks Dave Carroll’s guitar

Dave Carroll’s Taylor guitar was destroyed in 2009 by United Airline’s baggage handlers. After United repeatedly refused to reimburse him for the damage, he wrote a viral hit song ridiculing their customer service and their brand.

2. Lynn Harrell’s cello destroys America

Delta  may not have damaged Lynn Harrell’s instrument, but they did break his trust. For 11 years, the renowned cellist had bought full-fare tickets for two seats on Delta Airlines – one for himself and one for his cello’s seat beside him – earning half a million SkyMiles. All of a sudden, Delta up and wrote a letter to Harrell telling him that all of his frequent-flyer miles were being confiscated, and he and his cello would no longer be permitted to collect miles. Stephen Colbert picked up the issue and did a hilarious story on the Colbert Report on how Harrell and his cello are corrupting America. The end result was a PR nightmare for Delta.

3. US Airways attendant breaks a $50,000 Chinese instrument

Wu Man, a world-renowned master of a Chinese lute called a pipa, was unable to fit her instrument in the overhead flight compartment on her US Airways flight in June of 2013. Her request to strap the instrument into the empty seat next to her was denied. Instead, a flight attendant offered to put the pipa in a coat closet in the front of the plane. The attendant accidentally dropped the instrument, causing its neck to snap. Ms. Wu’s instrument was valued at approximately $50,000, but was uninsured. Fortunately, she was able to reach a settlement with US Airways which covered the full cost of the instrument. wu_man_broken_pipa

4. Delta causes almost $2,000 of damage to a vintage Gibson guitar

Dave Schneider of the LeeVees expected to be able to carry his $10,000 1965 Gibson ES-335 guitar onto the plane for his Delta flight from Buffalo to Detroit. He’d never had a problem before, even on a flight that he had taken earlier that day. Despite a policy on Delta’s website which said that guitars and other musical instruments of similar size are acceptable carry-on items, the airline required him to gate-check the guitar. Schneider complied. After landing in Detroit, he waited at the gate for his instrument to be returned. And then, he heard a screech from the elevator. The guitar case had become caught between the elevator and a rail on the loading dock. The result was more $1,980 of damage. Delta initially offered a mere $1,000 but after a multitude of negative media coverage, the airline finally agreed to pay for the repairs.

5. EasyJet baggage handler drives over a $2,700 Fender Guitar

Nick Hawryliw of the Scottish rock band Red Hot Chili Pipers was burning up with anger when his crushed guitar case showed up on the baggage belt in Milan. The band had taken an EasyJet flight from Edinburg and was getting ready to headline a show a Celtic music festival in just six hours. It turns out an Edinburg baggage handler had caused the damage when he had driven over the case after it had fallen off of a baggage cart and onto the runway. The incident caused over $800 of damage to the $2,700 Fender Telecaster guitar. Fortunately, EasyJet eventually apologized to the band and fully compensated Hawryliw for the damage. chilli_piper_broken Photo credits: Wu Man and scotsman.com

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Bernard Holcomb (Harlequin) and David Govertsen (Death) in The Emperor of Atlantis. Credit : Liz Lauren

All authentic fairytales balance the fantastic with the grotesque. Chicago Opera Theater‘s current double-bill of German one-act operas, Victor Ullman’s The Emperor of Atlantis and Carl Orff’s The Clever One, are no exception. Both works, written in 1943, satirize oppression and dictatorship from vastly different points of view. Ullman wrote Emperor during his imprisonment at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, while Orff composed Clever One for the Frankfurt Opera in Germany. Contrapuntist and I had the opportunity to see COT’s opening-night production of these operas on May 31 at the Merle Ruskin Theatre of Depaul University.

The evening began with The Emperor of Atlantis.  This work’s satiric portrayal of fascism is what ultimately sent Ullman to his death.  After overhearing the final rehearsal in 1944, SS officers were so incensed that they shut down production. All of the people involved in the opera, including their families, were shipped to Auschwitz to perish in the gas chambers.

The opera takes place in the fantastical country of Atlantis, in which commedia dell’arte characters are transposed against a grotesque realm reminiscent of a German cabaret. Emperor Overall advocates war amongst everyone, with no survivors. Death retires from his duties in protest, leaving the sick and injured unable to die.

The cast’s solid singing transcended the perplexing storyline, which labors heavily under symbolism due to the circumstances under which it was written. Paul Corona and Neil Edwards were both outgoing and creepy as the Loudspeakers, who serve as ringmasters and narrators. Bernard Holcomb easily swung back and forth between manic and depressive emotions as Harlequin. David Govertson emitted sinister power in his role as Death. Cassidy Smith, playing the Drummer, personified the seductiveness of war in a leather bustier, garters, and thigh highs. Andrew Willkowske embodied distant authoritarianism as Emperor Overall and did a good job of working his puppet (more on that later). William Dwyer and Emily Birsan sang sweetly as a soldier and the girl Bubikopf from the opposite enemy camp who begin to fall in love.

Conductor Francesco Milioto and the COT Orchestra did a wonderful job of navigating the jazzy, dissonant, and sparsely orchestrated score.

Andrew Wilkowske (Emperor Overall) in The Emperor of Atlantis with his unusual puppet.

One element which left me scratching my head was the puppet that Wilkowske used in his role as the Emperor. In one hand, he held a gray, googly-eyed head which looked like a cross between Gollum from Lord of the Rings and Squidward from SpongeBob Squarepants. His other hand had a matching gray fist and leather sleeve. Perhaps it was meant to represent a puppet government, or the Emperor as the human behind the “dictator”. Whatever the case, the puppet head was more distracting and goofy than anything else.

The Clever One brought a refreshing sense of levity from after the gravity of the first half. This opera comes from a Brothers Grimm fairytale about a foolish king bested by a shrewd peasant woman. Like Atlantis, this opera also satirizes a dictator. But whereas Atlantis exists mostly in a dictator’s dark world with occasional flashes of brightness, Clever lives in a fantastic realm where Technicolor slapstick characters mask a sinister undercurrent of despotism.

The casting for The Clever One created some interesting parallels with Atlantis. Andrew Wilkowske, previously the Emperor, is now the King; Emily Birsan, previously a soldier’s love interest, becomes the Clever One who marries the King; Paul Corona, one of the Loudspeakers, is now one of three Vagabonds who comment on the story and plot against the Donkeyman. Bernard Holcomb has traded in the manic Harlequin to become the clownish Donkeyman. The remaining characters, who do not necessarily echo those in Atlantis include David Govertson as the Peasant, Neil Edwards as the Jailer, William Dwyer and Matthan Ring Black as the two other Vagabonds, and Christopher Remmel as the Muleman.

Vocally, Birsan was the highlight of this opera. She sang with unerring pitch and presented a layered portrayal of a woman with the demeanor of a porcelain doll and the brain of Machiavelli. Another bright spot was Govertson, who rattled off some impressive patter during his aria. Corona, Dwyer, and Ring Black adeptly presented fine singing and physical comedy all at once.

Andrew Wilkowske (King), the three vagabonds William Dwyer, Matthan Black and Paul                                    Corona, and Emily Birsan, (Clever One) in The Clever One

The unsung hero of this opera was the clever animation and puppetry by award-winning designer Sean T. Cawelti. Animated graphics were projected on the three large scrolls of paper which served as scenery. The simple  design and bright colors gave the impression that the characters were living inside a child’s drawing of a fairytale. But the scrolls weren’t there just for appearances. The singers interacted with the paper in multiple ways such as cutting a square to create a window in a jailhouse through which the Peasant could poke his head, and writing on the paper with spray paint. Later, a change in lighting transformed the papers into screens behind which the three Vagabonds performed shadow puppetry. After a scene, the scrolls would roll back and present a fresh surface for the next design.

I would definitely recommend attending COT’s The Emperor of Atlantis and The Clever One. The delicate balance of the fantastic and the grotesque provide thought-provoking insights into the mindset of those who could only protest through music. The remaining performances take place on June 4, 6, and 8 at The Merle Reskin Theatre, 60 East Balbo. Tickets range from$35-$125 and may be purchased at chicagooperatheater.org.

Photos from top: Bernard Holcomb (Harlequin) and David Govertsen (Death) in The Emperor of Atlantis; Andrew Wilkowske (Emperor Overall) in The Emperor of Atlantis;  Andrew Wilkowske (King), the three vagabonds William Dwyer, Matthan Black and Paul Corona, and Emily Birsan, (Clever One) in The Clever One.  Credit: Liz Lauren

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Raining Blood: Awesome Slayer Cover On Banjo

June 1, 2014

A little Sunday dose of “unmetal” for thy pleasure. I can honestly say, I never imagined hearing Slayer’s “Raining Blood” played on a banjo, but this is pretty awesome. Via Metal Injection

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The Secret about ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’ Cellist

May 21, 2014

Want to know a secret about Amy Acker‘s performance as the cellist Audrey in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D episode “The Only Light in the Darkness”? Composer Bear McCreary revealed that he wrote the music specifically to match Acker’s hand and arm motions. Amy Acker wasn’t actually playing the music in this episode, of course. She’s […]

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Has Pittsburgh’s Symphony Gone to the Dogs?

May 16, 2014

A recent Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra audition went to the dogs, as canines and their handlers vied for roles in an upcoming performance of Leopold Mozart’s Hunting Horn Symphony. “I think [the Hunting Horn Symphony] is a tongue in cheek representation of the sport,” said Bob Lauver, second hornist in the PSO. “It’s actually scored for […]

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CSO’s Musical Chairs-Two New Violists in, Principal Bassoon out

May 15, 2014

There has been a bit of  musical chairs taking place at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra recently. Wei-Ting Kuo and Danny Lai have become the two newest members of the viola section, while principal bassoon David McGill has resigned the position that he has held for 17 years. Kuo and Lai will officially become members of the […]

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Jason Derulo’s ‘Talk Dirty’ Transformed into Cool Klezmer Cover

May 6, 2014

Pardon me while I duck and run for cover, but I can’t stand Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty”. From the moment I first heard it during a movie theater preview of Devious Maids (which I also can’t stand), I wanted to rip my own ears off. But Postmodern Jukebox, the same folks who brought us the […]

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