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Great Performances

Armed Forces Salute

This is an Armed Forces Salute performance by this year's West Virginia University Marching Band, "The Pride of West Virginia." I am a proud alumnus, having marched from 1981-1983, serving as the drum line section leader in '82 and '83, and as a staff member in 1984.

Don't be confused by the Coast Guard set. It is meant to be read from the other side of the field. Enjoy!

Drummer Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers performing the tune Moanin'

Today's Great Performance features drummer Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers performing the tune, Moanin' in a 1958 show in Belgium. Great stuff.

If you are looking for another activity, remember that today is LIFE IN A DAY day! Director Ridley Scott is making a film about what happens around the world in a single day, and he is inviting people to film during the 24 hours of today, July 24 and submit footage for consideration. For more information, go to:

New York Philharmonic performing recently in Pyongyang, North Korea

Today's Great Performance features the New York Philharmonic performing recently in Pyongyang, North Korea. This performances is particularly poignant given the ongoing tensions between our two nations and the fact that the orchestra is performing Arirang, a 600-year-old Korean folk melody and arguably the most beloved song in Korea. Music can indeed transcend geographical, political and social boundaries. Enjoy.

Related activity:

There are a number of performances of Arirang on YouTube that include a wide variety of interpretations and arrangements. My favorite may be one in which a young man of Korean descent returns to visit his grandparents, who sing Arirang as their grandson plays guitar. Search "grandparents" and "arirang" on YouTube and you'll find it. It is by no means a professional performance, but it has its own incredible beauty.


Watch other pieces from the Pyongyang concert, including the orchestra's rendition of North Korea's National Anthem and excerpts from Antonin Dvorak's Symphony for the New World/ Dvorak's work was based on his personal impressions of America, so as you can see, this concert was very carefully programmed to share music from our culture with the North Koreans and to pay respect to their culture and traditions as well. If you want people to listen to what you have to say, you must first listen to what they have to say.

Pablo Casals performing the Bach Cello Suite No. 1

Pablo Casals is considered by many to be the greatest cellist of all time, and was undoubtedly one of the greatest musicians of the 20th-century. Marvel at this footage of the master performing the Bach Cello Suite No. 1 in 1954 at the Abbaye Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa in France. Born in 1876, Casals was 78 at the time of this performance, and died in 1973 at the age of 97. He famously said that "to retire is to begin to die." This is rare, precious film indeed.

Related activity:

Pablo Casals was also one of the world's great conductors and teachers. Carefully consider some of his most famous quotations:

“Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. It is not complicated but it takes courage. It takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act on it.”

“I am perhaps the oldest musician in the world. I am an old man but in many senses a very young man. And this is what I want you to be, young, young all your life, and to say things to the world that are true.”

“I feel the capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance.”

“Let us not forget that the greatest composers were also the greatest thieves. They stole from everyone and everywhere.”

“Man has made many machines, complex and cunning, but which of them indeed rivals the workings of his heart?”

“Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart.”

“Music will save the world.”

“The art of interpretation is not to play what is written.”

“The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like him.”

“The first thing to do in life is to do with purpose what one purposes to do.”

“The heart of the melody can never be put down on paper.”

“The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?”

“The most perfect technique is that which is not noticed at all.”

“To retire is to begin to die.”

“We ought to think that we are one of the leaves of a tree, and the tree is all humanity. We cannot live without the others, without the tree.”

“You must work—we must all work to make the world worthy of its children.”

Wynton Marsalis performing Carnival of Venice with the Boston Pops Orchestra

Today's great performance is of a young Wynton Marsalis performing Carnival of Venice with the Boston Pops Orchestra. The orchestra is conducted here by John Williams, the famous composer for films like the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series, among others. Brass players in particular should pay attention to the incredibly fast double and triple tounging in this piece.

The Carnival of Venice is derived from a folk melody, and this adaptation is meant to capture the spirit of the pre-Lenten carnival season in Venice, Italy. Similar celebrations are held throughout the world. In the states, the most notable version of Carnival is the Mardi Gras (also known as Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday) celebrations in New Orleans, LA.

Eastman Conservatory Wind Ensemble

Today's Great Performance features the Eastman Conservatory Wind Ensemble from Rochester, New York in performance at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic on December 18, 2009. They are performing TUMBAO from Sinfonia No. 3 by Roberto Sierra. The ensemble is conducted by Mark Davis Scatterday:

Related activity:

The tumbao is a rhythm of Afro-Cuban origin over which this wind ensemble piece is composed. Check out this performance in a similar style by Eddie Montalvo and his salsa band, performing at Teatro Miranda (the Miranda Theater) in the South Bronx, NY.


Percussionists, you will love the drumming in this one. Eddie Montalvo on congas with a much smaller ensemble of piano, bass, timbale/cowbell and guiro/bongo:

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Our first great performance for July features the South African a cappella vocal group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. This group was featured prominently on the 1986 Paul Simon album, Graceland, mentioned in recent great performance email, and I had the chance to see this amazing ensemble from the second row of the Weinberg Center in Frederick last year. The term "a cappella" is Italian in origin and means "in the manner of the church." It refers to vocal music without instrumental accompaniment.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo. This piece begins slowly but progresses to an up-tempo section with great dance moves:

Related activities:

See LBM performing with Paul Simon in Zimbabwe, on the PS tune, "Diamonds on the soles her shoes:"


Ladysmith Black Mambazo's dance syle is related to the gumboot dancers of South Africa. Workers in the diamond and gold mines of this country developed this dancing as entertainment and a parody of the officers and guards of the mines The tall rubber boots they wear in the mine's dark, damp atmosphere are referred to as Wellington Boots or "Wellies" in Britain, and as "Gumboots" in southern Africa:

Holy Name Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps performing part one of West Side Story: Conflict and Resolution

Today’s Great Performance features the Holy Name Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps performing part one of West Side Story: Conflict and Resolution, at the 2009 DCI World Championships:

Related activities:

Watch Part 2 of this amazing show on YouTube.


Rent the film version of West Side Story to see and hear one of the greatest of all musicals!

Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas covering “Graceland” by Paul Simon

Today’s Great Performance is by award-winning vocalist and instrumentalist Alison Krauss and the incredible dobro player, Jerry Douglas. This performance is from a tribute to Paul Simon, winner for the inaugural Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The original version of “Graceland” appears on Simon’s grammy-winning 1986 album of the same name, and is of course a reference to Elvis Presley’s home near Memphis, Tennessee. Enjoy!

Related activities:

See Paul Simon performing “Graceland” in South Africa, prior to the fall of apartheid.


Learn more about the Dobro at:

Duke Ellington and his Orchestra performing “Satin Doll,” which was written in 1953 by Ellington and Billy Strayhorn:

Related activity:

Find performances of “Satin Doll” by other artists, like pianists Oscar Peterson or Dave Brubeck, by searching “Satin Doll” on YouTube.


Find other performances by Duke Ellington on YouTube, such as “Caravan” or “It Don’t Mean a Thing.” You may also find interviews and even an appearance by The Duke on the old game show, “What’s My Line?”

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, Movt. 4, Chicago Symphony, Daniel Barenboim conducting:

Today’s link is to an amazing 9-minute performance of the final movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Daniel Barenboim. Try to focus for the full 9 minutes, with your attention on the incredible level of precision, intonation, and musicality. Listen to the tone of the brass instruments (especially the powerful fanfare at 5:45-6:00 followed by the beautiful, soft tone of the horns after 6:15. Woodwinds, watch and listen to the expressive performances of the woodwind players. And everyone, pay attention to the focus and intensity of the strings. This is great stuff!