What’s the spookiest musical instrument for Halloween?

Hi y’all, reposting this from last year since it’s chock full of good info and some of you may have missed it the first time around…

The Theremin!
The who?

Yup, the theremin. The theremin was invented by Russian scientist Léon Theremin, in 1920. It is the world’s very first electronic instrument—what is unique about the theremin is that it’s an instrument you play without touching it; it remains the first and only non-contact instrument.

Léon Theremin, playing one of the first theremins that he invented.

Here’s a pic of the model of theremin I have, the Etherwave model made by Moog, that you can make from a kit:








Today there are virtuoso thereminists, but not too many. (Students! if you learn to play the theremin like Clara, you’ll always have work … but don’t give up the piano!)

Here’s a video of arguably the best virtuoso thereminist who ever lived, Clara Rockmore, playing The Swan by Camille Saint-Saëns. She was Léon’s protégée.

And the inventor himself, playing his own theremin:

And for you fans of the British mystery series, Midsomer Murders, yes, that’s a theremin you hear for the theme music, played by Celia Sheen:

And of course, the classic: The Day the Earth Stood Still, film score composed by the brilliant Bernard Herrmann (theremin enters at 0:42):

And for you true theremin geeks out there, here’s the theremin studio session from that film:

If you want to know all about the theremin and its inventor and history, watch the fantastic documentary Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey. It’s a bit hard to rent now, not on Netflix or Amazon, but usually can be found in libraries and is for purchase new or used on Amazon. I have it (on VHS!) for any of my students interested in watching it! 🙂

*Cool fact: Léon was snatched up by the KGB from New York City, where he lived,  in 1938. The filmmaker of the documentary went to Russia to find him and bring him back to NYC, where he was reunited with Clara Rockmore, after more than 50 years, in 1991.


Here’s a clip of one of my students and me playing a free improvisation for piano and theremin a couple of years ago:




The Genius of Bernard Herrmann

This morning I worked on picking out Halloween music for the kids to play.

While going through score excerpts of Psycho by the brilliant film composer Bernard Herrmann—don’t worry, I don’t tell the kids to watch the movie to appreciate the awesome scary music they can play from it!—I came across this piano solo arrangement of “Scene d’Amour” from Vertigo, also of course by Herrmann.
Yes, I downloaded it immediately!

See below this video for videos of the major themes from Psycho, all absolutely astounding. Happy I found some decent easy versions of them for piano for the kids to play. (Click here for more about Bernard Herrmann.)
And, just an aside: of course it’s difficult to make music written for strings sound at all right on piano (Psycho score is for string orchestra) but these are so luscious who can resist?

Themes from the movie that I found for piano (on musicnotes.com):

The Cellar (absolutely the creepiest):

My personal fav—
The City

This was not on musicnotes.com unfortunately:
Most beautiful, wish this had been there, if anyone has piano score, I’d love it (I do have an excerpt of it here in a book on film music):


Full playlist here:




Free Jazz Concerts and Classes This Week at Shalin Liu

Check it out! Rockport Jazz Camp for kids ages 11 to 18 (two of my students are there!) is taking place all this week at the Rockport schools, a collaboration with Rockport Music Shalin Liu Performance Center.

There are several free performances this week:

Wednesday, 7 pm: Alexa Tarantino Jazz Quintet

Thursday and Friday at 2 pm: Jazz Improvisation Master Classes (I’ll be at one or both of those for sure)

Saturday, 10 am: FIVE PLAY jazz quintet performs a free, family concert.Jazz-Camp-160-alt

Click HERE for info on all the events



And, upcoming on the 27th, and I’m sorry I’ll miss this one, but students will be performing with members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra!

Saturday, August 27, 3 PM

MASTERCLASS: Members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

Location: Shalin Liu Performance Center
Members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will work with Rockport Jazz Camp students on such topics as improvisation, large ensemble performance, and instrument-specific techniques. Later that evening, student musicians from the Jazz Camp will participate in the Rockport Music Gala later that evening by providing musical entertainment as patrons stroll to Millbrook Meadow from the Shalin Liu Performance Center. Free, no tickets required.
Runtime: 1 hour

And…this concert costs money but this band is the quintessential Cajun band, Buckwheat Zydeco, I’ve seen them play and they are awesome:

This Friday, 8 pm: http://rockportmusic.org/buckwheat-zydeco/

Watch them on YouTube here:





Check out the theremin on Google today!

OMG! On Google right now, Clara Rockmore playing the theremin! How totally cool. Check it out!


Wanna know more about the theremin? Go to my previous post and read all about it.


Leon Theremin, inventor of the theremin playing one of the first models that he built.



Music Mondays: J.S. Bach, traditional and non-traditional

This week’s listening for students (and others!) are two pieces by J.S. Bach, first, one of the most beautiful pieces written, “Air on the G String,” performed by a traditional string orchestra (intense rendition):

And for piano:

And here is a non-traditional version of Bach’s “Bourée in E Minor” by Jethro Tull that inspired me back in high school when I played the flute:

And one more spin—more jazzy funk—on Tull’s version by a group I love! Project Trio:


I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas…

Well, substitute “warm” for white and your dream’s comin’ true, at least if you live in the Eastern US. My all-time favorite Christmas video (and one of my fav tunes.)

Happy Holidays to my students and parents! And to my students who are, of course, young at heart. 😉

—Miss Julie

New Year’s resolutions!? But it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.

I’m thinking for New Year’s that one of my goals for students will be for them to listen to more “classical” music. (Why the quotes? The umbrella term “classical music” refers to many stylistic periods of Western music, including the Classical era, 1750–1820, e.g., composers Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven).

This has come about from parents asking for a “playlist” from me of great piano works for my students to listen to—thank you parents for such a great idea—but where to start? There are 100s of pieces!! And at all different levels of difficulty of course. How can I narrow it down? It’ll be fun, picking my favorites, maybe a list of about two dozen. Gonna take til the end of the year, at least.

Meanwhile, for those of my students (and others!) who follow my blog, you get a wonderful head start. Thinking about what should go on the list, I revisited an article published a few years back by Anthony Tommasini, music critic for the New York Times, in which he spent two weeks coming up with a top 10 classical composers list. Now, of course, for anyone, picking only 10 composers of all time for a list of the top 10, or even 20, or more, is tough. But his list is a great place to start:

“The Greatest” by Anthony Tommasini

I agree with most of his choices, especially Beethoven as second, and I’m happy Stravinsky and Bartók made the cut (two personal faves), and I also would’ve put Bach at the top. 🙂

Not to be missed! is the link to all of the videos of Tommasini playing examples of the top 10. Add it to your bookmarks, I just did:

Top Ten Composers Videos – Interactive Feature with Tommasini at the piano.

Unfortunately, the readers’ comments are gone, which were also wonderful to read, since everyone has their own top 10 list; some readers were truly outraged that certain composers didn’t make the cut (for example, Chopin).

Don’t be put off by how gruff and serious they all look (well, Schubert looks somewhat approachable, and Verdi could be your grandpa); their music is profound and beautiful!