The mystery of South Africa’s golden harp

The mystery of South Africa’s golden harp

In 1962 Igor Stravinsky, the Russian-born composer and conductor, went to South Africa to conduct the state broadcaster SABC Symphony Orchestra in a series of concerts. It was the height of apartheid – and the regime believed classical music was the domain of white people. The BBC’s Sophie Ribstein takes a walk down memory lane to see if a certain imposing harp was used in the concert.

It was like travelling back in time. The walls were covered with the brown carpet, the architecture was brutalist.

As I walked down the long dark corridors of the headquarters of the SABC – South Africa’s state broadcaster – I could have been stepping into the 1970s, when the apartheid regime occupied the building and the airwaves.

SABC was once the core of the racist state’s propaganda machine.

I then turned a corner, pushed past a metal blue gate, walked into the music library… and everything changed.

I had come to see a relic from that era – a rare, golden concert harp, beautifully sculpted by the famous American harp maker Lyon and Healy.

This exceptional instrument once shone from the grandest stages in the country.

Image caption The harp’s angelic tone was still intact and the higher octaves still crystal clear

The principal harpist of the SABC orchestra would play it at classical music concerts – that, in those days, only white people were allowed to attend.

Now, the majestic harp was standing silent, under a dust cover in the corner of a room that also belonged to the past.

I’m a harp player myself, and I had heard about this instrument from the man who made my own harp back in France.

I delicately unwrapped it, sat down and embraced it to my right shoulder.

My heart was pumping. I started to play and as my fingers danced from one string to another, the sound was so pure and profound, I felt both thrilled and content.

Its angelic tone had survived, the bass notes still resonant, the higher octaves still crystal clear.

When apartheid ended in the early 1990s, the SABC’s “white” orchestra was disbanded, and its remains were left in the library.

Alongside the instruments, were hundreds and thousands of music scores, many of them hand-written, among other relics from that time.

On the wall, I spotted a set of black and white photos… of Igor Stravinsky in South Africa.

Why, I wondered, had this famous Russian composer decided to come here? The year was 1962 and the country was in turmoil because of the repressive segregationist regime.

I later learned that Stravinsky had been invited to conduct the SABC orchestra, but what was remarkable about his tour, is that he had insisted on also performing for a black audience – and the authorities allowed him to, in KwaThema, a township 40km (25 miles) outside Johannesburg.

“I just want to perform for human beings,” the composer had explained.

I wanted to know what Stravinsky’s black audience made of it all. How had they even heard of him, at a time when the government considered classical music the domain of white people only?

Prince Thethe has vivid memories of the concert.

I met the tall, charismatic, 82-year-old choir master in the massive, cold hall in KwaThema where Stravinsky performed.

His warm presence filled the empty space.

“It was the first time I stood close to an orchestra! I could not believe it! As Stravinsky’s hands went up, the audience went berserk,” he told me, almost jumping on stage, imitating the great maestro.

“There was ululating, there was whistling! But as soon as the music started, you could hear a pin drop.” During apartheid, he explained, just entering a sheet-music shop was taboo.

Stravinsky in South Africa: The composer who defied apartheid

I pictured the scene in my head: A thousand people gathered in this hall, listening to each note, watching every move of the musicians and the diminutive Russian conductor.

And right at the back of the orchestra, had the golden harp been there too?

When a BBC colleague found, by chance, the recording of that concert in the SABC archives, we listened carefully to The Fireworks Suite, to extracts of Pulcinella and Petrushka.

The tape had probably not been heard for 55 years. We were overwhelmed. But, there was no sign of the harp on the recording. It was a tantalising, unresolved mystery.

And so, contemplating that history, I sat behind my instrument at home one day and played a very short piece of music: A canon composed by Igor Stravinsky at the end of his trip.

He based it on the notes “S, A, B, C” – S being the equivalent of E flat – to thank the orchestra for inviting him.

The Subversive Power Of Calypso

The Subversive Power Of Calypso

Its bouncy beats and tuneful melodies often serve up serious, even subversive, messages. The music demands more careful listening, writes Benjamin Ramm.

Outside the Caribbean, calypso music is regarded as carefree, light-hearted, even frivolous. Yet calypso is among the most political of all musical traditions – a form that combines joyful cadences with serious and often subtle social commentary. Originating in the struggle for emancipation, the genre is characterised by its witty and imaginative treatment of themes as diverse as racism, the Cold War, and the cost of living.

In 1881 Britain banned percussion in the Caribbean – so steel pan music was born

Misconceptions about calypso stem in part from the commercial success of Harry Belafonte’s 1956 record Calypso, the first LP album to sell over a million copies. The most famous track, Banana Boat (Day-O), is not actually a calypso, and the album is a celebration of Jamaica, even though calypso originates on the other side of the Caribbean, in Trinidad. In one of the first globally broadcast Carnival competitions in 1993, calypsonian the Mighty Chalkdust performed Misconceptions to challenge the “false images” of the island (“we are not part of Jamaica / though we sing reggae, that’s not our culture”) and its music (“so when you hear Belafonte and Mr Poindexter / that is not kaiso [calypso], that is brandy mixed with water”). Continue reading

Tipu’s Tiger

Tipu’s Tiger

Tipu’s Tiger (also Tippoo’s Tiger), c. 1793, Mysore, painted wood with metal fixtures © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Tipu’s Tiger (also Tippoo’s Tiger), c. 1793, Mysore, painted wood with metal fixtures (The Victoria and Albert Museum, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

An extraordinary object

Tipu Sultan’s mechanical, musical tiger has long been one of the most well-known items in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. A large automaton (a machine that can move by itself), the tiger is shown in the act of attacking a European man. When played, the man’s left arm flails and the organ emits the sounds of the roaring cat and the cries of its victim. Perhaps what is most striking about the tiger is its change in ownership and meanings: it was made for an Indian ruler who spent much of his adult life fighting the British, and it later became a tool for imperial propaganda in Britain.

Tipu Sultan and tigers

The Apprehension Engine: An Instrument Designed to Play the Music of Nightmares

The Apprehension Engine: An Instrument Designed to Play the Music of Nightmares

Movie composer Mark Korven wanted to craft the perfect sounds for horror movies, but the instruments he needed didn’t exist, and he was tired of using the same digital samples. To produce the original effects needed for evoking breathtaking moments of suspension, he teamed up with guitar maker Tony Duggan-Smith to craft an original instrument that would better aid in manufacturing fear. The Apprehension Engine is that tool, a mechanism built with several bowed metal rulers, spring reverbs, a few long metal rods, and other attachments that allow for spooky interludes and effects.

“A normal instrument, you are playing it and expecting it to have a sound that is pleasing,” said Korven to Great Big Story, “but with an instrument like this, the goal is to produce sounds, that in this case, are disturbing.”

The Apprehension Engine expresses the emotions that cannot be expressed in other ways, triggering fear with intense sonic methods. You can listen to more music by the machine tuned to provoke horror in the video below. (via Great Big Story)

The True Story Of The Fake Zombies, The Strangest Con In Rock History


The True Story Of The Fake Zombies, The Strangest Con In Rock History

In 1969, the Zombies had a huge hit single, despite having broken up two years earlier. To meet the unexpected demand, one promoter did the only sensible thing: Hire four kids from Texas to tour America pretending to be a defunct British psych-rock band, by

Afgan girls fight extremism with the power of music

Afgan girls fight extremism with the power of music

Zarifa Adiba loves music. In Afghanistan, that makes her a target..
In today’s video we’re going to talk about the cultural differences between Italy and USA when it comes to dating, specifically among young people! Be sure to let me know in the comments if you guys agree with me!
And her last comment should be… thank you USA for making this happen and sacrificing life and treasure so I can play my music….we will fight back from inside so your lives were not given in vane. Etc

The Music Instinct

The Music Instinct

While listening to music, neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, asks the questions “where do goose bumps come from?” and “what’s going on in my brain that allows the goosebumps to happen?” Levitin leads a group of researchers as they investigate music’s fundamental physical structure; its biological, emotional and psychological impact; its brain altering and healing powers and its role in human evolution. The Music Instinct: Science and Song, a fascinating two-hour documentary on the science of music, premieres Wednesday, June 24, 2009 at 9 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings).

The Music Instinct: Science and Song is a production of THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG – one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers.

Researchers and scientists from a variety of fields are using groundbreaking techniques that reveal startling new connections between music and the human mind, the body and the universe. Together with an array of musicians from rock and rap to jazz and classical, they are putting music under the microscope.

“The brain is teaching us about music and music is teaching us about the brain,” says Levitin.” Music allows us to understand better how the brain organizes information in the world. There are a lot of different factors that go into our emotional appreciation of music [like] the memories we have of a particular song that we heard at a particular time in our lives.”

Internationally renowned performers Bobby McFerrin and cellist Yo-Yo Ma describe the way musical intervals are used or combined to create melody and harmony. McFerrin, together with the “World Singers,” sing a cappella to demonstrate that basic elements of music; pitch, tempo, rhythm and melody create specific reactions in our brains. Yo-Yo Ma plays two notes and then five more notes and then plays different combinations that demonstrate the way musical intervals are combined to create a melody or harmony.

Percussionist Evelyn Glennie encounters music in a unique way, as fundamentally a “physical phenomenon.” Profoundly deaf, Glennie “hears” music not through her ears, but by feeling vibrations through the floor and in her body: low frequencies through her legs and feet; high sounds in particular spots on her face, neck and chest.

Rock stars Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley were asked to participate in a new experiment to reveal the difference in the brain when two people perform music together – as opposed to solo. Neuroscientists wonder how two brains interact since music is fundamentally a social activity. Cocker was asked to enter a fMRI machine, while Hawley played his guitar in the room. When the Scan was analyzed it showed a measurable difference in brain activity when Cocker sang alone compared to when he sang with Hawley playing guitar. During the duet, Cocker’s brain was more active in areas for phrasing and coordinating music as well as cognitive and emotional interaction.

Research also shows that music has enormous potential to help explore the complexities of human brain function. For example, there’s a strong connection between the auditory and motor regions of the brain, and music seems to engage the motor system in a way that other modalities do not. People with motor disorders like Parkinson’s disease have improved their ability to walk while listening to a rhythm track, and stroke patients who have trouble with speech show signs of improvement when they receive music therapy. And there’s new evidence that music can actually change the physical structure of the brain – a fact that has critical implications for both education and medicine. One thing is clear, proven and agreed upon; music has a profound capacity to influence and alter the human experience.

Learn to play Bach in six weeks

Learn to play Bach in six weeks

The start of the year is a great time to take on a new challenge. The pianist James Rhodes tells Clemency Burton-Hill how anyone can learn to play Bach in six weeks.

Is it ever too late to learn a musical instrument? According to the leading British concert pianist James Rhodes, the answer is an emphatic ‘no’ – and he has just written the book to prove it. The delightfully straight-talking How To Play the Piano is an elegant little volume that promises – with just 45 minutes’ practice a day, six days a week, for six weeks – to enable anyone with access to a keyboard to play one of JS Bach’s most beloved works, the Prelude no 1 in C major from Book One of The Well-Tempered Clavier. Continue reading

Ancient Irish Musical History Found in Modern India

Ancient Irish Musical History Found in Modern India

An archaeologist studying musical horns from iron-age Ireland has found musical traditions, thought to be long dead, are alive and well in south India.

The realization that modern Indian horns are almost identical to many iron-age European artefacts reveals a rich cultural link between the two regions 2,000 years ago, said PhD student Billy Ó Foghlú, from The Australian National University (ANU).

“Archaeology is usually silent. I was astonished to find what I thought to be dead soundscapes alive and living in Kerala today,” said the ANU College of Asia-Pacific student. Continue reading