Thursday, July 30, 2009

It's the Smart Place to Be!

When a musician is completely engrossed in a piece everything around them disappears. You lose yourself in the music. It's a lot like reading a good book. You forget your surroundings and join a world that, while only words, is completely real in your mind. For this reason I have always loved reading. I also love libraries. (And librarians... I married one!) The library has always been one of my favorite places because you can walk out with a stack of books, a few CD's and a movie or two, peruse them at your leisure in the comfort of your home and then go back and repeat the procedure all for FREE.

The Knox County Public Library system is great. First of all, it's huge: in addition to the main library downtown there are 17 branches all over Knoxville. If the branch in your part of town doesn't have the materials you want, it's not a problem. You can reserve them and have them delivered to your chosen branch. If you need a book that the KCPL doesn't own they will try to get it for you from a different library system.

The library offers many programs from story time for children (including musical story time with members of the KSO!), to family game night, to computer workshops for adults. There is something going on every day at the library and the variety of programs is so wide there is something for everyone.

I am a veteran library user, but until very recently my experience with KCPL's website was limited to reserving books and checking the due dates on my books. Boy was I missing out.

The library's media collection is called Sights and Sounds. They have a sub-page online called The Music Room. It has all sorts of databases you can access online from the comfort of your home with your library card. There is a source for classical music scores, African American Song, a classical music library with audio you can listen to right at your computer, the Smithsonian Global Sound for libraries, and several others. There is a link to their collection of CD's by local artists, local music venues (including the KSO!), and a list of upcoming events by AC Entertainment. The Sights and Sounds web pages are a great way to stay on top of the Knoxville music scene.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Music of Nature

The Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell University collects animal sounds from all over the world to study animal communication as well as monitor the health of certain populations. They boast the world's largest archive of animal sounds and they have made them available on their website. You can hear recordings of the American Toad, Harbor Seals, and even a yellow-tailed wooly monkey from Peru.

Happy browsing!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Getting to Know Carol Zinavage

This is the second of a series of interviews with the musicians and staff of the Knoxville Symphony. My aim for this series is to go beyond the usual of where we've played and with whom we've studied to talk about who we are outside the concert hall.

Carol Zinavage is the principal keyboard player for the KSO.

KG: Did you choose the piano or did someone "help" you make that decision? I know from your cameo at last year's July 4th concert that you also play the flute / piccolo. Which came first? Any other instruments?
CZ: My mother was a pianist. My heroes when I was a baby were Hopalong Cassidy and Liberace. I liked the piano, but my mother looms large in my legend (ha.) I started flute in the 6th grade, and shortly after that, became a Certified Band Geek. Later, in my 20's, I joined a professional rock band on electric bass, which I taught myself. I can also play Suzuki Book One on violin.

KG: Playing keyboard for the symphony can involve some waiting around while the group rehearses a piece you don't play. Usually I see you passing the time with a crossword puzzle or a book. How did you get into doing crossword puzzles? Do you like other puzzles?
CZ: I love reading and I love words. I love the gestalt of The New York Times crossword puzzle - there's a certain way of thinking about language there that I feel very in tune with. Everyone asks me if I do Sudoku, too, but I have no patience for Sudoku and numbers - I'm too interested in words.

KG: What are you reading right now? What is the best book you've read lately (or ever...)?
CZ: I am reading a ghost story called The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters, whose writing reminds me of Daphne du Maurier, one of my favorite writers. I just finished The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein and it is definitely one of the best books I've ever read.

KG: What is your favorite KSO memory / performance?
CZ: I was in awe of Henry Mancini. We shared the piano - meaning I would play and he would conduct the orchestra, and then he'd move to the piano and I would sit elsewhere, out of the way, while he performed. The orchestra played a not-so-well-known piece of his and I was one of the only ones who recognized it - there was a piano solo for me and I think he was pleased that I knew the tune and made the most of the solo, because he gave me a bow. He was rather crusty at the time, late in life, but I will always remember him smiling at me from the podium and saying, "C'mon, take a bow." Also, backing up The Moody Blues was practically a religious experience for me. My favorite classical moments have been on big Stravinsky pieces, or Bartok's "Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste," which just slays me.

KG: Do you have a favorite composer?
CZ: Beethoven, if I had to choose just one, largely for his sonorities. There's just no one else that makes an orchestra or piano sound like that. Others are Britten, Stravinsky, Bartok, Prokofiev - I really like 20th-century.

KG: I can't imagine having to play on different violas all the time, yet that is the plight of the pianist since you can't take your instrument with you. Is it difficult adjusting to different pianos? How long does it take you to get comfortable with a new instrument?
CZ: I've always taken a "well, this is what it is, and by golly, it's gonna sound good anyway" approach. Positive thinking can cover a lot of ills. The worst piano I ever played was at a private party. The person who hired me went on and on about how the party-giver was so proud of his "Civil War-era piano," which made me groan inwardly - pianos always get worse, never better. It was indeed a disaster - the pedals fell off while I was playing and half the keys didn't work, and that's no exaggeration.

People are always asking me about technical aspects of the workings of the piano, and about electric pianos. I have no idea. My favorite story about that is the time someone ran into Sir Paul McCartney in a music store and asked him what kind of guitar/bass strings he used. He replied, "Uh - long, shiny, silver things?" I can so relate to that.

KG: What concert or piece are you looking forward to the most this upcoming season?
CZ: PETRUSHKA!!! (KG: Me too!)

KG: Do you have any summer plans you'd be willing to share?
CZ: I'm running away to Florida next week to visit my old college roomie, and freeload off of her and her husband for as long as they'll tolerate me. When I get back, I'm taking my dog and my best friend and heading for a cabin in NC, where we plan to do nothing but float in the river with a book and eat lots of stuff that is bad for us. There will probably be some hiking, too, but mainly water/books/food.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Classical Movies

I'm not a big movie watcher, but somehow the middle of summer always seems like a good time to curl up with a few good films. Maybe it's the heat? Anyhow, here is a list of movies and documentaries that center around classical music. It is by no means a comprehensive list, and if you know of a movie / documentary I missed feel free to leave a comment and I will add it to the list.


Hilary and Jackie (cellist Jaqueline DuPre)
Immortal Beloved (Beethoven)
Amadeus (Mozart)
Shine (pianist David Helfgott)
The Piano
The Pianist (pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman)
The Red Violin
Impromptu (Chopin)
Copying Beethoven (Beethoven)
Tchaikovsky (a BBC mini series about, well, Tchaikovsky)


Solti: Orchestra! This was first aired in the US on PBS. It is an introduction to all the different sections of the orchestra, narrated by Sir Georg Solti and Dudley Moore. I saw it for the first time when I was starting to get serious about studying music and it was a huge influence on me. I highly recommend this for anyone who would like to better understand the inner workings of an orchestra.

Music From the Inside Out is a film that follows members of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Through stories and interviews they try to explain why they play and what music means to them.

Keeping Score: MTT on Music. This film follows Michael Tilson Thomas (aka MTT), music director of the San Fransisco Symphony and the symphony members through the rehearsal and performance process of a Tchaikovsky symphony.

Of course, there are hundreds of operas, ballets, and symphony concerts available on DVD. I recently saw Doctor Atomic and have Wagner's Ring Cycle on my must-see list. Nothing beats the heat quite like a Wagner marathon.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

KSO on the Radio

Last Thursday evening I was in the car and, as usual, switched on WUOT. The piece that was playing was Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F. There was something very familiar about the performance and I finally realized that it was the broadcast of the KSO's first Masterworks concert of the 2008-2009 season. Hearing a recording of yourself playing, either solo or as part of a larger group, is a lot like hearing a recording of your own voice. It's very different. You hear a much different blend of sound sitting in the orchestra than you do as an audience member. I enjoyed listening to our performance from a different perspective.

WUOT broadcasts a Knoxville Symphony concert from the previous season Thursday evenings at 8pm. This weeks concert is an all Tchaikovsky program featuring cellist Reynard Rott playing the Rococo Variations. If you are out of the broadcast area for WUOT, you can stream it on the web.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


I finally discovered Pandora. I expect I'm one of the final hold-outs who haven't tried this free online radio program. I'll tell you about it anyway because if you haven't tried it, you should. It's really neat. I've only been using it for a day or so and am already hooked.

The goal of Pandora is "to play only music you'll love." It is part of the music genome project where music theorists are constantly analyzing pieces and songs for hundreds of different elements. How the station works is that you enter a song or piece or composer that you like and the site creates a radio station just for you. It plays pieces by different composers / artists that have similar characteristics to the one you originally chose. If you dislike a piece it plays you can tell it and it eliminates the piece from your station.

You can also create a station with multiple artists. Just to see what would happen, I created a station by typing in John Philip Sousa and Brahms. It did exactly what it said it would, playing rousing marches by various composers with some Brahms and Tchaikovsky thrown it. It was a jarring mix of styles (as expected!) but this feature is quite handy for situations where more than one person is listening. My brother-in-law is a chemistry professor who uses Pandora in his lab. He has each student type one artist into the station for a mix that everyone can agree on.

The best thing about Pandora is that it exposes you to music you have never heard before that you will most likely enjoy. It doesn't lump entire genres together, assuming, say, that if you like Vivaldi's Spring that you will also love Bach's St. Matthew Passion. The music genome project looks at so many elements that they are able to categorize pieces more narrowly than simply Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th Century. I created a station using Stravinsky's Petroushka, which is one of my all-time favorite pieces. I listened for about an hour while Pandora played piece after piece that I had never heard before. I probably wouldn't have picked Michael Tippett's Second Symphony to listen to on my own, but I enjoyed the part I heard on Pandora so much that now I plan to seek out the CD.

For some festive music this weekend, I highly recommend attending the KSO's performance in World's Fair Park. If you can't make it there, or to any live performance this 4th of July, typing John Philip Sousa into Pandora will give you a great mix of music perfect for Independence Day.