The Abode Home is a unique place where terminally ill patients are embraced and taken care of. It’s not a hospice, says the brochure, “but rather a home with a simple, welcoming, peaceful ambience for guests entering the last three months of life.”

The sprawling house is indeed peaceful, almost serene, as caregivers and volunteers go about their work with dedication and compassion. The reason I am visiting on this particular day is to witness a vigil by music thanatologist Deborah Marshall, the only such professional in the entire state of Texas. Joined by Abode’s director, Martha Jo Atkins, the two of us tiptoe into a room where Carla, a lung cancer patient, is lying in bed in a rather agitated state, with her grieving father watching tenderly over her. Marshall sets up her portable harp, introduces herself to Carla, who is not fully conscious, and after a few quiet moments, starts plucking the strings with a gentle touch. It takes a little while, but Carla eventually relaxes and her nervous movements subside. “It’s magical,” whispers Atkins. The sound of the harp in the darkened room ends up casting a spell over all of us. Continue reading

Music and primate cognition

Music and primate cognition

Yesterday, Koko the gorilla had a visit from her friend Flea, the bassist from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who brought along his Fender bass and Galean Kruger to play some music with the old girl.  After watching him intently for a few moments, she tentatively reached for the instrument and began imitating Flea’s movements.  Its pretty obvious that she’s instinctively entranced by the ability to produce sound with her hands, but how much of this is merely a primate “aping” observed behavior and how much is actual nonverbal communication or cognition? Continue reading

Animaniacs Theme arranged for easy Ukulele

Animaniacs Theme arranged for easy Ukulele

This month, with Netflix releasing the great 90’s animated classic Animaniacs, i’ve had a number of students acquire an interest in the show. Some adults, waxing nostalgic remembering watching the series when it first aired, as well as many younger students watching it for the first time, frequently accompanied by those self-same sentimental grown-ups!

The theme was composed by the great Richard Stone , an American composer who was instrumental (hah) in the revival of animation in the 1990s, composing music and songs for The Simpsons with Danny Elfman, Tiny Toon Adventures, Taz-Mania, The Plucky Duck Show, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Histeria, The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries, and Freakazoid.

Richard Stone also composed for various feature films and television series including the Bruce Campbell western Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, Pumpkinhead, North Shore, and the miniseries In a Child’s Name. Stone worked on John Hughes films including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Sixteen Candles (both scored by Ira Newborn). Stone also composed the music for the William Shatner series, “Rescue 911”. Stone also scored the PBS Documentary “Medal of Honor” along with Mark Watters. He later wrote compositions for various films including, Summers heat, Never on Tuesday, Tripwire, Vietnam Texas, and Victim of love.

Stone has won several Emmy Awards for Outstanding Music Direction and Composition for Animaniacs and Histeria, as well as Outstanding Original Song, shared with lyricist, writer, creator and senior producer Tom Ruegger, for the main titles of Animaniacs and Freakazoid. Stone shared many of his music direction/composing awards with his team of composers, who included Steve Bernstein, Carl Johnson, Julie Bernstein, Gordon Goodwin and Tim Kelly.

According to Animaniacs writer/producer Paul Rugg, crew members fondly referred to Richard as “The Great Stonini,” a sort of musical magician whose compositions and orchestrations often raised the quality of the cartoons to unexpected musical and artistic heights.

I’ve transcribed a simplified version of the Animaniacs theme for one of my young ukulele students, so I thought i’d share for educational purposes. Of course, i’m not the copyright holder, yadda yadda yadda. Enjoy, and HELLO NURSE!
Animaniacs Theme Ukulele

New scientific study confirms the obvious: Freddie Mercury had an unparalleled singing voice

New scientific study confirms the obvious: Freddie Mercury had an unparalleled singing voice

Regardless of what they might think personally about Queen, most rock critics and music fans alike recognize the immense vocal talent that was the great Freddie Mercury. Still, in case there was ever any doubt, new analysis of both Mercury’s singing and speaking voices has shed fresh light on just how special his pipes really were.A group of Austrian, Czech, and Swedish researchers conducted the research, the results of which were published on Friday in Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology (via AlphaGalileo). While they couldn’t confirm the long-held belief that Mercury’s range spanned four full octaves, they did discover some interesting tidbits about the expanse of his voice. For one, despite being known largely as a tenor, he was more likely a baritone. They based this assumption off six interviews they analyzed to find a median speaking fundamental frequency of 117.3 Hz. That, coupled with anecdotal evidence that Mercury once turned down an opera duet because he was afraid fans wouldn’t recognize his baritone voice, led the conclusion that the singer was talented enough to jump out of his base range. Continue reading

Johnny Cash’s “Million Dollar Songwriter Circle”

Johnny Cash’s “Million Dollar Songwriter Circle”




You’ve all heard about the “Million Dollar Quartet”—the recording session at Memphis’s legendary Sun Studios on December 4th, 1956 that compiled the talent of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. Well if there was an equivalent to the Million Dollar Quartet in the songwriting world, it would be the one night in January of 1969 when Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, and Shel Silverstein all spent an evening at Johnny Cash’s home in Hendersonville, TN on the banks of Old Hickory Lake, swapping songs and stories from their respective spheres of the music world. The music that was showcased for the first time ever at the intimate songwriter circle became the soundtrack for a generation, and the gathering would go down in history as one of the most potent assemblages of songs showcased for the first time in one place. Continue reading

Clara Rockmore and the Theremin

Clara Rockmore: Story of the theremin virtuoso who inspired Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones

Clara Rockmore was a pioneer of electronic music and, had she still been alive, would have turned 105 today.

Rockmore was a master of the theremin – the world’s first electronic music instrument and first instrument that could be played without being touched. The theremin inspired the likes of the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and the Beach Boys. And was the instrument that led to the creation of the first synthesizer.

On what would have been her 105th birthday, Rockmore has been commemorated with a Google Doodle. The interactive game teaches you to play the theremin by hovering your mouse over the notes to play a melody. Continue reading

Wayne Shorter & Herbie Hancock Pen an Open Letter to the Next Generation of Artists

Wayne Shorter & Herbie Hancock Pen an Open Letter to the Next Generation of Artists

herbie hancock wayne shorter

Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock have been friends for over forty years. In the pursuit of their art, they’ve shattered boundaries previously believed unbreakable, they’ve revolutionized the concept of innovation, and have chosen to make the endeavor of living compassionately and courageously the center of their lives.

Continue reading

A Year as David Bowie

A Year as David Bowie

Photos: Twitter/PA Images

In an attempt to gain a better understanding of the icon’s mind, cultural studies professor, Will Brooker, is planning to spend a year of his life as David Bowie.

A film and cultural studies expert at Kingston University, Brooker will spend a few months at a time experiencing specific moments of the star’s 40-year career – from Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane to the Thin White Duke.

It’s not just the outfits however. Brooker is adopting Bowie’s eating habits, reading the same books and visiting the same places.

Brooker said: “The idea is to inhabit Bowie’s head space at points in his life and career to understand his work from an original angle, while retaining a critical and objective perspective at the same time – a kind of split persona perhaps”. Continue reading