Joshua Bell: A Classical Rock Star

joshuabell-1000x330What more can I say? After enjoying a wonderful concert with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, with accompanying guest classical superstar violinist Joshua Bell, I left inspired and starstruck!

Getting Pumped for the Concert

Getting Pumped for the Concert

I am not a music critic, but I am an avid music fan. Those that know me are aware that I am a 70s rock ‘n roller and an collector of cover songs. But, I grew up listening to classical music, I’ve married a classical violinist and I have classical music in my life and I enjoy it as well, and do include it in my collections.

Pre-concert photo with my sweetheart as we waited to be let in to the auditorium

Pre-concert photo with my sweetheart as we waited to be let in to the auditorium

Though not a critic, this is my review of the concert from April 3 based upon my experience with music.

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

The UKSO opened with two luscious pieces. The first piece was a very delightful, indeed festive offering by Dmitri Shostakovich. Entitled “Festive Overture“, it is filled with catchy melodies and straightforward harmonies, perhaps a reflection of the Socialist regime’s push for simplicity in the 1950s. The piece started with with a grand brass fanfare, a perfect opening for a concert. Soon the tempo abruptly changed into high gear for the main theme, which included a bubbly clarinet tune. From there the pace of the music was breakneck and whimsical. I loved this opening piece and was only disappointed in its brevity.

Igor Stravinsky (1881-1972)

Igor Stravinsky (1881-1972)

I had not heard Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite in many years. I recall an old album my Dad had in the 1960s, conducted by Leopold Stokowski. I was not too endeared to it back in the 1960s.  In terms of classical I was more prone to listen to my Dad’s Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms albums. As I grew older and listened to it again in the 1970s, I enjoyed it more as I was able to understand the story that the music elicited about an evil king, a prince and a Firebird that saved the day. The UKSO performance, conducted by John Nardolillo, was moving.

UKSO Conductor John Nardilillo (photo from Lexington Herald Leader)

UKSO Conductor John Nardilillo (photo from Lexington Herald Leader)

Outside the rain was pouring buckets and, from my third row seat in the Singletary Center, I could hear it flowing down the side of the building.  This background “music” of the flowing water added to the mysteriously flowing stanzas of the seven movements.  After so many years of not listening to it, I was enthralled by all of the musical movement coming from the various sections.  But, I also had a great angle to catch a profile of Dr. Nardolillo and could see his amazing expressiveness. It was almost as if he were yelling out to the orchestra. It was obvious that he put his entire self into the music and not just his arms. Throughout the entire performance my eyes were glued on him as the music filled my ears. Indeed, it was an enjoyable piece and it was actually the first time I ever heard it performed live and I was grateful I had the opportunity.

Sitting in Row B at the Singletary Center...3rd Row and awesome place to sit

Sitting in Row B at the Singletary Center…3rd Row and awesome place to sit

After intermission, the highlight of the night was having the rare opportunity to see a world-class violinist perform. What made it even more fascinating and rare was knowing that Joshua Bell was performing with his 300 year old Gibson Stradivarius violin (named after one of its early owners, the English violinist George Alfred Gibson), which is valued at over $4 million. This antique violin was fabricated by Antonio Stradivari of Cremona in 1713.. The Gibson, while owned by Bronisław Huberman, was stolen twice. Read the complete story here.

Joshua Bell performs with UKSO (Photo by Andrew Brinkerhorst, UK Singletary Center)

Joshua Bell performs with UKSO (Photo by Andrew Brinkerhorst, UK Singletary Center)

Joshua Bell opened with Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, which was written in 1866. This concerto, according to some, is one of the finest concertos in the violin repertoire. It is also considered to be the German composer’s finest score. Ironically, this was the same piece that Joshua Bell performed in his Carnegie Hall debut in 1985, when he was only 17. The flowing water coupled with the rumbling timpani and the smooth sounds of the woodwinds backing the soloist was an absolute delight.

Max Bruch (1838-1920)

Max Bruch (1838-1920)

And of course, Bell did not fail to impress.  He had passion written all over him in the amazing Bruch concerto. Once again, from my angle and close proximity I could see every facial crease, every smile of joy in his face and the look of contentment with this youthful college orchestra, which stepped up their game to match the intensity of the word renowned Joshua Bell. He was both colorful and provided all with a chance to hear the tones of his 300 year old violin.

Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell

The performance closed with a fantastic rendering of Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A minor by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, which he wrote in 1863. This performance mixed excitement with the exotic.  The tune was colorful and lyrical and made me want to get up and dance gleefully (which I can’t imagine trying to do!!).  Bell’s fingers just rolled down the strings.

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)

Overall it was an amazing evening of music, despite the torrential weather outside.  Ny the time the concert had ended, so had the rains.  It was a cool and refreshing walk back to the parking lot as my wife’s dreams were fulfilled in seeing Joshua Bell and my soul was filled with delight from the whimsical and mysterious music that filled the Singletary Center for the Arts.

 

The Impact of Earworms: The iPod in My Head

ipod head

iPod Stuck in my head

Lately it seems that my nights (and sometimes afternoons) are being interrupted by earworms….

Earworm1An earworm, a term derived from the German “ohrwurm,” is defined as  “the inability to dislodge a song and prevent it from repeating itself in one’s head.” Apparently this phenomenon has recently become a burgeoning area of neurological study.  These earworms are like parasites – – they get lodged in your head and cause a sort of “cognitive itch” or “brain itch” — a need for the brain to fill in the gaps in a song’s rhythm.

EarwormThese are not an uncommon phenomena….indeed, some have even made a business out of them. See THIS Cafe Press Store.

earworm-1According to some research at Dartmouth University (yes indeed, there is a research arm on this subject at BOTH Dartmouth and at the University of Cincinnati) When we listen to a song, it triggers a part of the brain called the auditory cortex. “The researchers at Dartmouth University found that when they played part of a familiar song to research subjects, the participants’ auditory cortex automatically filled in the rest — in other words, their brains kept “singing” long after the song had ended. The only way to “scratch” brain itch is to repeat the song over and over in your mind. Unfortunately, like with mosquito bites, the more you scratch the more you itch, and so on until you’re stuck in an unending song cycle.” (If you really are into SCIENTIFIC STUDIES, check this out. They even a website called earwormery.com)

The Earwormery at earwormery.com

The Earwormery at earwormery.com

Dr. James Kellaris -- aka Dr. Earworm

Dr. James Kellaris — aka Dr. Earworm

A professor at the University of Cincinnati named James Kellaris has been dubbed Dr. Earworm due to his studies on the subject. His research indicates that 98% of us are affected by earworms, and while men and women are affected equally, they tend to last longer for women. The average length is between 15 and 30 seconds.

In a 2009 study by the British Psychological Society (BPS), it was found that people who judge music to be important are more likely to get a song stuck in their head–but having musical expertise does not make getting an earworm more likely. They also found that, contrary to popular belief, earworms aren’t always unwanted; only about a third of the earworms were described by study participants as unpleasant or undesired.

Hmmm…funny. According to a survey conducted by Dr. Earworm a few years ago, the following are apparently the “Top 10 most common earworm songs.”  Mine are definitely in the “Other” category.

Other (meaning, everyone has a particular song that they can’t get out of their head)
Chili’s (Baby Back Ribs)
Who Let the Dogs Out?
We Will Rock You
Kit-Kat bar jingle
Mission Impossible Theme
YMCA
Whoomp, There It Is!
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
It’s a Small World After All

MusicFor me, these earworms are like an iPod on shuffle in my head.  Songs just pop in at random at all times of the day, but more at night when I am asleep and my mind is on idle. I will wake up at odd hours and these random songs are already playing.  They don’t go away until I wake up the next time with an entirely different song in my head…..perhaps I am just a living iPod….