Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘music’

25 MARCH, 2011

East Meets West: From Mao to Mozart

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What Chairman Mao has to do with The Academy Awards and extracting passion from the cello.

It’s been a big week for music here at Brain Pickings. We started with 7 must-read books about music, emotion and the brain, then bowed before the deeply inspiring YouTube Symphony Orchestra, which brought together 101 of the world’s most talented amateur classical musicians in one remarkable performance, followed by a fascinating look at how musicians experience emotion. Today, we turn to a powerful testament to the cross-cultural power of music and a bridge-builder and heart-opener.

In 1979, shortly after the death of Chairman Mao, China reopened its doors to the West and the Chinese government invited iconic American violin virtuoso Isaac Stern to visit for a recital. But his visit soon turned into a full-blown goodwill tour, as Stern ended up playing a formal concert, touring two cities and, driven by his overwhelming love of music, teaching a number of classes to Chinese musicians, many of whom children. From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China tells the amazing story of Stern’s journey with beauty and tenderness as these two cultures collide and caress, from the inspirational encounter with a gifted adolescent cellist to the heartbreaking portrait of violinmaker imprisoned for over a year for the crime of crafting Western instruments. Interwoven with the musical story is a fascinating parallel narrative and rare glimpse of the Chinese countryside, culture and people at a pivotal moment in history after the final dismantling of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

Stern’s style — passionate, empathic, lived to the bone — comes in stark contrast with the meticulously technical approach of the Chinese, but the warmth of their transformative exchange and the way in which the music brings them together bespeak a universal human language that transcends geography, politics and credo.

Their approach to Western classical music was somewhat limited. They were not accustomed to playing with passion and variety of color. They had an old-fashioned technical approach towards the manner in which they played their instruments, but with an almost instant understanding and reaction to a given musical stimulus, once they were shown what might be done.” ~ Isaac Stern

The film, which won the 1981 Academy Award for best documentary, is now available online in its entirety and we couldn’t recommend it more as your weekend viewing.

The DVD also features a wonderful postcript, Musical Encounters, chronicling Stern’s return to Beijing two decades later as he catches up with Wang, the young cellist, who by that point had made a name for himself as a successful international recording artist.

For a related cross-cultural bridge via classical music, don’t miss Herbie Hancock and Lang Lang’s incredible collaborative performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue, which took place exactly two decades after Stern’s visit to China.

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24 MARCH, 2011

How Musicians Experience and Communicate Emotion

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The interplay between music and emotion, which we explored on Monday with 7 must-read books on the subject, is undeniable. But if most of us ordinary people are so powerfully affected by music, we can only imagine what that experience must be like for professional musicians. That’s exactly what behavioral neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, author of the excellent This Is Your Brain on Music, explores in It’s All In The Timing — a fascinating series of psychology experiments that measure how musicians experience and communicate emotion.

I think this is an important first step in using real music and bringing it into the laboratory, combining rigorous scientific methods with the more expressive aspects, the more artistic aspects, of music.” ~ Daniel Levitin

via Open Culture

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23 MARCH, 2011

YouTube Symphony Orchestra 2011

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What 101 classical musicians have to do with honoring the past while appreciating the present.

Nearly two years ago, Google initiated the world’s first online collaborative orchestra, which we featured as one of three fantastic examples of orchestra innovation. They invited the world’s best amateur classical musicians to audition for 90 spots on the YouTube Symphony Orchestra.

Last year, the YouTube community, with the help of leading orchestras around the world, selected 101 musicians from 33 countries to perform in an extraordinary concert at Sydney Opera House, streamed live on YouTube. The complete concert, running close to three glorious hours, is now available online and is an absolute force of collaborative magnificence.

On the project page, you can explore the global winners by instrument and location, and play with Experiment — an innovative augmented-reality musical instrument. (Get the marker here.)

Combined with Eric Whitacre’s virtual choir, the YouTube Symphony bespeaks the incredible potential of technology-enabled collaborative creation, one of those things that make us thrilled to live in the era we’re living in.

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