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The Four Seasons of Music

One of my favorite classical works of all time, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons has been an inspiration for Uptown Violins for years. The Italian baroque composer wrote this masterpiece around 1716, and it still thrills audiences today. I still remember performing the fast section of the “Spring” with Sherèe in high school as dueling violins. The music also serves as a motif in my current literary work in progress.

A few years ago, Brittany arranged a stunning version of the “Winter” with a surprise contemporary twist halfway through, which we performed for our Alma Mater’s 50th anniversary concert. You can literally hear teeth chattering from the cold!

The Four Seasons of Music Camp has been a hit with students in Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, and this year it made its Texas debut. We began each day by reading part of the adorable children’s book The Story of the Orchestra in order to listen to excerpts from the four concertos. My own daughter loves the story, and it really helps her identify the different movements.

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We decorated for a different season for each of the four days of camp, beginning with autum. Dressed in Halloween costumes, the students arrived ready to learn more about Vivaldi and other festive works, including the 1940s jazz hit “Autumn Leaves.” Originally written in French as “Les Feuilles Mortes” with lyrics by the famous poet Jacques Prevert, it was translated into English in 1947 by Johnny Mercer.

The second day, we celebrated Christmas in July. The students drank “cold cocoa” (chocolate milk with marshmallows) and played Christmas carols. (Who doesn’t love Christmas music at anytime of the year?) They also played the sweet, slow movement of “Winter.”

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Learning the iconic “Spring” was the highlight of the third day. The programmatic music features chirping birds, a flowing stream, and a violent thunderstorm, followed by the return of the birds. Many of the students recognized the work and enjoyed having the chance to play it themselves. They also composed their own songs!

We concluded the week in summer attire, which was much needed in the Texas heat. The students played a cumulative musical rendition of the game Volcano Island, their favorite part of the week. In addition to Vivaldi’s “Summer,” we also studied Gershwin’s 1935 folk opera Porgy and Bess which highlights the classic ballad “Summertime,” celebrating “when the livin is easy.”

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To conclude the camp the students gave a beautiful concert for their parents that featured music from all four seasons. For refreshments, they served sugar cookies they had decorated themselves with musical notation.

A few weeks ago, the entire Uptown Violins group enjoyed some “easy livin’ at our favorite vacation spot, Table Rock Lake. We cherish the moments we can all spend together. This month we have a Kansas reunion to celebrate the birthdays of three Uptown Violins next generation members. We certainly love summer!

Stay tuned for our upcoming events this fall!

Under the Sea

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Next week Uptown Violins is excited to host Vacation Music School in Illinois! Our theme this year, Under the Sea, has been a favorite in previous years in both Kansas and Texas. Each day, we will learn about various sea creatures and some of the most beloved ocean-themed music.

On Monday, we will go for a deep dive into the abyssal zone of the ocean — over 3,000 feet below the surface! Home to dragon fish and occasionally the elusive giant squid, the creatures of this region live in perpetual darkness. Students will listen to Saint-Saens’ “Aquarium”— movement seven of The Carnival of the Animals, composed in 1886. This particular movement is made up of string quartet, two pianos, flute, and glass harmonica. Disney continued to promote its popularity, as film composer Alan Irwin Menken drew inspiration from it for the Prologue to Beauty and the Beast. He also wrote the music to The Little Mermaid whose song “Under the Sea” will be our theme music for the week.

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Another beloved water-themed work is Handel’s Water Music. Composed in 1717, it is a wonderful example of the Baroque era. This large orchestral work is made up of three suites, including minuets (dances played with three beats per measure), hornpipes (fanfares) and bourrées (dances). King George I commissioned it for a performance on London’s iconic River Thames, festive with fireworks.

Tuesday we will travel to the twilight zone (middle layer) of the ocean, where we will discover whales and sharks. Students will encounter John Williams’ villainous two-note motif from the 1975 horror film Jaws. The music provides the perfect opportunity for young musicians to learn how to ramp up musical tension by beginning slowly, and gradually speeding up the tempo with an accelerando to the shark attack. Williams’ theme sounds similar to Dvorak’s fourth movement of his New World Symphony, composed in 1893 at the National Conservatory of Music of America. And who can teach shark day without singing the now epic Baby Shark, which has been made even more epic by James Cordon and even covered by Céline Dion.

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On a less ominous note (no pun intended!), we will listen to the beautiful impressionistic sounds of Debussy’s La Mer. The French composer wrote the work between 1903-1905 in three movements. The first depicts dawn to midday on the sea, the second represents ocean waves, and the third shows the communication between wind and sea. Debussy drew his inspiration from the ocean itself, as well as paintings of the sea.

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Wednesday we will explore the sunlight zone at the surface of the water, home to a vast majority of marine life, including dolphins. We at Uptown Violins love the popular jazz song “Beyond the Sea,” originally composed by Charles Trenet with French lyrics in 1946, in which Trenet depicted the beauty of la mer. Jack Lawrence adapted it for English-speaking audiences the same year, and Bobby Darin immortalized it in his 1959 version of the song.

Vacation Music School will wrap up on Thursday with a virtual trip to the beach where we will learn about turtles, alligators, and seagulls. Of course our study of the beach wouldn’t be complete without a tribute to the sixties’ band “The Beach Boys.” Our twenty-first century students will listen to the classics “Surfin Safari” and “Surfin U.S.A.”

We can’t wait until next week to begin our musical adventure Under the Sea!