Tag Archives: Music

Buskers: Edinburgh, Scotland

It was July of 2002 and I had just COS’d* from the Peace Corps when I traveled to the UK for a two-week vacation prior to starting my job with the American University in Bulgaria. When I say “just COS’d” I mean I JUST COS’d. I COS’d on July 5th and flew to London on July 6th.

Part of me just needed a dose of a western culture that I hadn’t had for a couple of years. I wanted to go somewhere where they could make change when I bought something. I wanted to go somewhere where the toilet paper was already provided in the bathrooms, not where I had to pay the equivalent of .10 cents for four squares sold by a lady sitting in the ladies room at a table with a roll of TP and a pair of scissors. And finally, I wanted to go somewhere where I knew that short of mechanical failure, the coaches and trains would actually depart.

These are not bad things, mind you. They’re just quirky. They’re things I learned to live with. For example, I learned to always carry small bills and coins. To this day, I still always carry a pack of kleenex with me – just in case. And finally, I got a lot of reading done on occasions when a driver didn’t feel like driving the 4.5 hour route to Sofia that particular day meaning I had to wait a couple of hours for the next departure. No big deal. (Of course there was that time when our bus caught on fire while heading down the freeway after leaving Plovdiv…that was kind of a big deal.)

Well once I arrived in London I was thrilled. What a great city. And western England, wow. And Wales – gorgeous! And… Well. You get the idea. After about a little over a week or so in England and Wales, I took a coach up to Edinburgh, Scotland. What a beautiful, fun, amazing (Insert positive adjective here) city!

Deacon Brodie's Tavern - Edinburgh

Deacon Brodie’s Tavern on the Royal Mile. Great breakfasts!

I stayed at a hostel on the Royal Mile and met a ton of great people! One day I ended up spending the day with a girl from Australia. We visited the Royal Yacht Britannia and the Edinburgh Castle, but had the most fun with a book we both bought called “What’s Under the Kilt.” It’s about life in Scotland and is absolutely hilarious! It’s along the same line as The Onion, but much funnier! Ahem. Anyway, while walking around the city, we found our friend, Malcolm, playing the bagpipes.

Malcolm - Edinburgh

This is me with Malcolm

He’s a Kiwi who is also part Scottish and is really talented. He was staying at our hostel, too and was a lot of fun. He also earned quite a lot of money playing! So – we stood and watched – all the while urging people on to drop a coin or two in his hat. It worked – plus it was wonderful listening to him. Nice guy!

Holyrood House

Holyrood House – Abbey in Edinburgh, Scotland.

*COS = Close of Service. This is the term used by Peace Corps volunteers when they complete their two-year service as a volunteer after having taught sustainable skills in a developing nation. It can be used both as a noun and a verb. Once you COS, you become an RPCV – Returned Peace Corps volunteer, or a member of the Peace Corps alumni. There are approximately 250,000 of us who have served in the Peace Corps since it was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

Let the Games Begin!

I started writing this during the opening ceremonies on Friday, February 7, but then got caught up in the excitement, so yes – I’m a bit late. Guess I won’t be a medal contender for blog writing, huh? :-)

In the interest of international good will, thanks to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games starting today in Sochi, Russia, I thought I’d share a little bit of music to celebrate. I’ve chosen four pieces of great music from my home country of the USA, from my two adopted countries of France and Bulgaria (i.e. I lived in each of them) and also from the host nation of Russia.  Enjoy and GO TEAM USA!  :-)

USA – Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. We’re talking about sports, people. This is important!

France – Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. Love this!

Bulgaria – Svatba by Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares – a women’s choral group out of Bulgaria. Listen. It’s beautiful.

Russia – Stravinsky – Because they played it during the opening ceremonies, I just HAD to include the Rite of Spring! – complete with dancers!

So this post is my multicultural moment for the week. Think about it. Fanfare for the Common man was written by an American, but performed above in the UK. Bolero was a piece of music commissioned by a Russian but written by a Frenchman about a Spanish dance. Plus, in the above video, it was performed in Denmark. Bulgaria’s all Bulgaria, but it’s a country that maintains close ties with Russia (Look up the Battle of Pleven and you’ll understand why) and Stravinsky is Russian, whose Rite of Spring was premiered in Paris, but is performed above by a ballet company out of Chicago.

The Olympics are meant to bring people together. This is just one way of doing that. Enjoy!

Passport Canada – John Estacio

Bienvenue and welcome to Canada!

Welcome to my second of 24 composers I’ll be profiling throughout 2014. Not having formally studied music, I’m learning a lot about composers I’d never heard of or whose music I barely knew. This month is no exception as we travel to Canada to learn a little bit about composer, John Estacio.

In preparation for this profile, I wanted to at least name other composers from Canada but quickly learned I just didn’t know any. I really didn’t! Knowing I had my work cut out for me, I reached out to my musician friends and look who I met!

My brief mention here doesn’t do them justice, so please click on their names to learn more these composers from up north: Jocelyn Morlock - Composer-in-residence for Vancouver’s concert series, Music-on-Main. As a pianist, she’s automatically cool in my book. There are also contemporary composers Oskar Morawetz (1917-2007) and Jacques Hétu  (1938-2010).

John Estacio

I’ve chosen John Estacio because his music was the first music played of the Masterworks Series of concerts with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. I think that speaks volumes. Sure our Music Director, Maestro Jean-Marie Zeitouni is Canadian himself (as are our Concertmaster, Jean-Sébastien Roy, Principal 2nd Violin, Alicia Hui, and librarian, Jean-Etienne Lederer!), but to start an entire season with the music of living composers is a wonderful idea and sends out the notion that, despite the thoughts of some Slate.com writers, classical music is NOT dead! It’s still being created today!


John Estacio

Hometown: Newmarket, Ontario  Canada

Education: Wilfrid Laurier University, University of British Columbia

My favorite works:  Brio

Popular Canadian composer, John Estacio, has worked as the composer-in-residence at a variety of orchestras including the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and Calgary Opera. He’s won numerous awards – including the national Arts Center Award for Composers – and is often played in concert halls throughout the US, Canada and beyond.

Speaking of concert halls, John Estacio’s piece, Brio, is what started the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks concert season this year. Like many of Mr. Estacio’s works, it makes great use of the wind, brass and percussion instruments in the orchestra. I had the impression that they didn’t just back up the strings, but instead, they joined the strings on stage. It’s a wonderful and exciting piece to listen to – especially in a live setting.

Another well-known piece is known as Frenergy, an orchestral piece that was originally written for something else, but ended up standing alone as a great concert-opener.

The bulk of the musical material found in this piece comes from sketches for my Triple Concerto. These sketches were to be part of the proposed final movement for the concerto, a fast-paced scherzo to bring the piece to a wild close. However, for various reasons, this ending did not make it to the final draft. Not one to waste, I decided to mount this music on its own for orchestra.

 - John Estacio

Mr. Estacio’s music has been performed by every major orchestra in Canada, many in the US and around the world. From his website:

In the last decade he has composed numerous symphonic and operatic works including Filumena for Calgary Opera/Banff Centre and Lillian Alling for the Vancouver Opera/Banff Centre.  Filumena has received several remounts in Canada and was filmed for television and broadcast on PBS.

Mr. Estacio is well-known for his operatic works, something our fellow Ohioans will soon learn in a couple of weeks with a Cincinnati Ballet world premier production of King Arthur’s Camelot. (Which looks to be really good!).

Here’s a video the Cincinnati Ballet shared about the making of this new ballet that they’ll be performing the weekend of Valentine’s Day.


I hope you enjoyed some samples of his music. To learn more about John Estacio and his music, I highly recommend that you listen to Frenergy above, visit his website or delve further into his repertoire on youtube. Like the music of composers Dave Sartor and Michael Torke, about whom I wrote earlier this month, you’ll find his music fun to listen to – not the crazy discordant stuff one might imagine when thinking of living composers. Try it – you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Photo of Mr. Estacio courtesy of www.johnestacio.com. Photographer, Wade Kelly. 

Passport of Composers: This is the second of 24 composer profiles that I’ll be posting throughout the year as part of my Passport of Composers from countries around the world. Combining my love of travel with my love of music, I’ve chosen a composer from each of the countries in which I have either lived or visited. Next month will be France – Jean-Féry Rébel (1666-1747) and Germany – Clara Schumann (1819-1896)

Dobbiamo Parlare Italiano Adesso!

Don’t speak Italian? That’s OK. I don’t really speak it either. But… Did you ever sing in choir? Ever play in the band or orchestra in school? Ever read Angels and Demons or The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown?

If you did, you’ve probably learned some Italian. Even if you only played the recorder in elementary school, I’d venture to say that you probably know at least a few words. (Beyond Pasta, Spaghetti and Prego! And yes – prego means “you’re welcome” in Italian!)

Classical music goes back many years to a variety of countries, but for some reason, the vast majority of musical terms used are all Italian. Here are a handful of examples of some commonly used terms.

CONCERTO - a piece of music for which a soloist is accompanied by an orchestra, such as Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64.

FORTE - strong, loud - like Will Forte…er…something like that. (I really want to see his new movie, Nebraska) 

Will Forte

PASSIONATO - passionate. Just imagine anything sung by the late – and definitely great – Luciano Pavarotti.

STACCATO - detached, articulated – like a woodpecker, only less annoying.

TEMPO - time, the speed of the song. “How fast is this song?” = “What’s the tempo?”

They all get more fun as you go along especially when you hear of a movements such as “allegro con fuoco”  – the 4th movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony.

ALLEGRO - fast

CON FUOCO - with fire

So picture a movement that is quick, animated, with a lot of heat and fire behind it.  In other words, really intense - and in the case of Dvorak - really awesome!

Even this blog is based on an Italian musical term!

GIOCOSO – playful, fun

There are a few possibilities as to why we stick with Italian for our musical terms. Some say that the arts first found their way back into Italy before other European nations for the Renaissance. Others say that Italians just started it and there was no sense in reinventing the wheel.

Whatever the reason, the Italians have certainly made their mark on the musical world with great composers such as Vivaldi, Corelli, Rossini, Respighi, etc. They had great musical notations that we all still use to this day.

Since I have a lot to learn in the world of music – and of the music itself – I’ll endeavor to delve further into some of these terms in future posts. I love music and I love languages, so maybe we’ll all learn a little bit along the way.


So until next time, Ciao!

Buskers: Budapest, Hungary

Halfway through my Peace Corps service, on summer vacation (I taught middle and high school kids so I had a big chunk of my summer off), I traveled up to Budapest, Hungary. What a gorgeous city! While up on the Buda side of the city, we entered the Buda Castle and toured an exhibit they had on display which was 1000 years of music in Hungary. It was a huge exhibit and my friend and I spent a good 3+ hours in there. It was very well done. It had original manuscripts on display, period instruments, information about the composers and listening stations all over. It was so amazing to follow the music on the original manuscript while listening to it in your ear. Wow.

Before we entered though, we happened across these two musicians who were total hams for the camera and very good to boot. We happily left generous tips as we listened to them for a good 15-20 minutes before entering the castle.


Such a beautiful city, Budapest!


My Passport to (Some of) the World’s Composers

I’ve been having fun getting to know musicians who are all new to me. So far, I’ve concentrated on the awesome symphony musicians here in Columbus, Ohio. In 2014, I hope to expand on that. In the meantime, I thought it would be fun this year to also meet some new composers – whether they be living composers or composers who have been dead for centuries.

My challenge? Which composers and how the heck do I choose them?

An idea

I love to travel and have been fortunate enough to have visited many amazing places – whether that be by studying abroad, serving in the Peace Corps or just taking a vacation. So with that in mind, I’ve decided to get to know one composer from each country I’ve ever visited or lived in and then share what I learn here on Giocosity.

Starting January 2014, I’ll profile two composers per month starting with an American composer all the way through a Moroccan composer. The order of presentation is based on the chronological order in which I first visited each of these great nations.

As far as the choosing of the composers, it’s pretty random, but while Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi and Handel are all rather awesome, I am purposely choosing lesser known composers – or well – composers I don’t know nearly as well. It’s all pretty subjective!

Here are the composers. I’m still working on Morocco as that’s proving to be a tad challenging, but I’ll figure it out.

Thanks very much to Scott Chamberlain (St. Catherine University), Julia Rose (Columbus Symphony Orchestra) and my Dad for helping me put this list together!

  1. USA – David P. Sartor (b. 1956)
  2. Canada – John Estacio (b. 1966)
  3. France – Jean-Féry Rébel (1666-1747)
  4. Germany – Clara Schumann (1819-1896)
  5. Switzerland – Heinrich Sutermeister (1910-1995)
  6. Italy – Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736)
  7. Austria – Ignaz Pleyel (1757-1831)
  8. Monaco – Massimiliano Greco (b. 1967)
  9. Mexico – Manuel de Sumaya (1678-1755)
  10. Northern Ireland – Ian Wilson (b. 1964)
  11. Ireland – John Field (1782-1837)
  12. Bulgaria – Pancho Vladigerov (1899-1978)
  13. Egypt – Abu Bakr Khairat (1910-1963)
  14. Turkey - Ahmed Adnan Saygun (1907-1991)
  15. Greece - Nikos Skalkottas (1904-1949)
  16. Romania – George Enescu (1881-1955)
  17. Hungary – Josef Joachim (1831-1907)
  18. England – William Byrd (1540-1623)  
  19. Wales – Morfydd Owen (1891-1918)
  20. Scotland - William Marshall (1748-1833)
  21. Belgium – Gilles Binchois (1400-1460)
  22. Argentina – Carlos Gardel (1890-1935)
  23. Spain – Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908)
  24. Morocco – Pending

I look forward to getting to know these composers. I hope you look forward to learning more about them as well!

Bring on the Horns!

French horn week starts on Monday, so I thought I’d get you ready for what’s to come! Let the sounding of the horns begin!

I couldn’t resist putting that in there, especially since the French horn originally got its start as a hunting horn!

Next week’s going to be a lot of fun because – thanks very much to the gracious help and hospitality of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s horn players – I’m going to share what I’ve learned about their wonderful instruments.

I’m also going to introduce you to the CSO’s French horn players themselves, so you can get to know the real people behind some of the beautiful music we all enjoy at concerts.

Or that you will soon enjoy if you’re working on becoming a CSO first timer!

Here’s the plan for next week: 

We’re going to start by talking about the French horn itself – where it came from, what people think, some trivia and basics about this beautiful instrument. When I asked some friends to tell me what they thought when they heard someone say “French horn”, the first things I heard about were pastries and cocktails, so by all means – I’m including those, too, but the real focus is on the music.

Starting later on Monday morning, we’re going to meet our first – and newest – horn player, Erin Lano. Then on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we’re going to meet the rest of the section: Adam Koch, Julia Rose and Principal, Gene Standley. Finally on Friday, we’re going to get into the more serious side of things and learn their thoughts on leadership and where they hope to see the orchestra in the next few years. Naturally, I’ll include some great music for you to try!


Don’t Look ‘em in the Eyes!: Who said you should never eyeball a horn player? Find out on Monday!

 Erin Lano: Ask her about Chloe!


Adam Koch: Invite him to dinner – as the chef!


Julia Rose: Has a new baby girl!


Gene Standley: Great vinyl collection!


Soul of the Orchestra: Bringing it all together – thoughts on and samples of great music, hopes for the future

Interspersed throughout the week will be comments from conductors, professors and even the next generation of horn players, so I hope you’ll join us next week. I especially hope you’ll let me know what you think by leaving comments and sharing this with your friends as well.

And on a side note, no pun intended…

I don’t work for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra nor do I work in any part of the music industry. I just love music and have been fortunate enough to have gotten a lot of cooperation needed to be able to put all this together. My hope is that you’ll want to get to know these amazing musicians as well as learn a bit more about the music that inspires them to dedicate their lives to creating and communicating to us via this art form. My other hope is that maybe this week’s worth of blog posts will entice some of you to join me for a night at the symphony! If an extra one or two of you decide to try out a concert, then it will have been worth it. If an extra 10-15 of you show up – that’ll be even better!

So in the meantime, have a great weekend!  I’ll see you next week!  :-)

Bring on the Horns! (Preview) – Don’t Look ‘em in the Eyes – Erin Lano – Adam Koch – Julia Rose – Gene StandleySoul of the Orchestra – Thank you! 

Landfill Harmonic

UPDATE 17 NOV 2013: 60 Minutes had a segment this week about the Recycled Orchestra.  Check it out and enjoy!


Recently I wrote about a friend who repurposes musical instruments that are no longer able to be used to make music.  I know some of the folks who read this blog are indeed actual musicians – in symphonies, in schools, in a variety of places.  To you, I specifically ask this:

Imagine if you had no instrument at all.  What would you do?  Would you give up?  Would you try to raise money?   What if raising money for a $3-4,000 French horn or a $5-10,000 bassoon weren’t an option? Would you still try to be a musician, professional or otherwise?

We here in America fight the cutting of arts programs in schools, but what if there were no arts program to begin with?  What if there were no music classes to begin with?

What if there were simply no music?

If you’re hypothetically answering “No.” or “My gosh, I…I really don’t know,” to the original question I posed above, then I invite you to be inspired.  :-)

Recycled Orchestra

What images come to mind when you think of a “Recycled Orchestra?”

In a place where a violin costs more than a house, there’s a group of children living outside of Asunción, Paraguay who have no real access to pre-made instruments, no real access to fundraising, but who are hungry, absolutely hungry to play.  They don’t have access to school instruments, yet they find a way.


Look how excited she is to have that violin!

They literally live on a trash dump, yet they find a way.  Not having instruments is in no way a deterrent to them.  It’s merely something to be overcome.  They find a way.

They don’t have access to Conn or Selmer or Bundy, but they find a way.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

What the people of Asunción throw away has become a source of music for children living in the most difficult of neighborhoods.  Oil cans, bottle caps, old, discarded silverware: to us it may be trash.  To them, it’s a violin or a cello or a clarinet.  Taken from the official website for Landfill Harmonic, a documentary film about these inspirational children and their determined music teacher:

Surrounded by stories of drug-violence, alcoholism and destitution, they make herculean efforts to reaffirm their life and dignity.


This is Mauricio, cellist.

Watch this.  You’ll be convinced – utterly convinced – of the worthiness of music teacher, Favio Chavez’s efforts.  Music is worth this effort. The children are most definitely worth this kind of effort.  Look what he’s done!  I guarantee you’ll be blown away starting about 50 or so seconds in and it’s possibly you might shed real (happy) tears by the time it ends at 3:28.

Landfill Harmonic tells the story of these amazing children and their teacher.  Again, from its website:

A film about a garbage picker, a music teacher and a group of children from a Paraguayan slum who play instruments made entirely of garbage. Landfill Harmonic is a beautiful story about the transformative power of music, which also highlights two vital issues of our times: poverty and waste pollution. The story develops in one of the poorest slums in Latin America. Just outside Asunción, Paraguay; Cateura is the city’s trash dump. It is built on a landfill. Here, people live in a sea of garbage. And they live from garbage.

This may bring “Reduce, reuse and recycle” to a whole new level.  FInd an old pipe?  They’ll make a flute.  Have a bottle cap or a small coin? Find a key?  They’ll make them keys on a clarinet.

sax-detailHave an old fork?  They’ll make it the tailpiece for a violin.

violin1And here’s a man to help his neighborhood children see and create an oasis of beauty in the midst of none.


We talk of losing arts programs and yes – we should expend every last ounce of energy on saving them or bringing them back or making them better.  These children and this amazingly determined music teacher however, have found a way to create music from nothing.  They make it from scratch.

Recycled-Orquestra-CateuraWhat better source of inspiration, for if what they do from literally nothing doesn’t drive us to double our own efforts here at home, what ever will?

I’ve borrowed all these pictures from the Landfill Harmonic website.  There are plenty more, so in addition to be inspired by what I’ve included here, I invite you to check them out for even more.  By the time you’ve watched the video above and seen more pictures, I’ll bet you’ll be cheering on a small group of students from South America.  Just look at them.  Creativity can’t be held back.  They’re a testament to its knowing no limits.

Update to add: WOSU’s on air personality, Boyce Lancaster, just let me know that his fellow on-air personality, Jennifer Hambrick also wrote about this wonderful orchestra.  Click here to read what she wrote!

Star Trek and French Horns

Over the last week or so, I’ve been meeting with the four horn players of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.  They have all been so kind to let me into their homes and discuss their (our) symphony, their backgrounds, their love of music, you name it.  I’m so very grateful for that because in getting to know them, I’ve discovered that not only are they talented musicians, but they’re all very nice people I’m so glad to have met.

They’ve also all been good enough to show a lot of patience with my geekiness. Do you know how much the French horn is featured in Star Trek movie theme music?  Quite a lot, actually and our horn players were such good sports that two of them even played some for me.

Of course, I only got one of them on video and you’ll have to wait for that until French Horn Week (September 23-27), but check these out in the meantime.

This is from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  Listen to the horns about 1:30 in.

From Star Trek: First Contact, they kick in with the main melody around 40-45 seconds in.

From the surprise attack in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, arguably the best of all the Star Trek movies.  The horns really add to the drama on this.  They kick in pretty early on and are heard throughout.  If you want to watch the actual scene, click here.  Ricardo Montalban was excellent in this role!  Update: Had to make some changes since the original link I had was disabled, so you get the whole scene anyway.  Check out those 1982 special effects!  French horns start about 30-40 seconds in but get more fun just before the 2-minute mark.  Enjoy!

And from the most recent movie, and possibly my favorite, Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Star Trek and French horns – such a great combination!  Am I a bit of a geek for putting these together?  Perhaps, but it’s all good.  So what do you think?

Buskers: Paris, France

On our last day in Paris back in 2005, Mom and I were walking around the Left Bank before hopping back over the Seine for one last walk around the Notre Dame.  As we passed Eglise St. Séverin, we heard music – some really fun music!

This is Borsalino, the jazzy band we heard that day in Paris.  They played some fun music with a good beat that made you want to just tap your foot and stick around for a while, so we did.  They reminded me a bit of some of the music played in the movie Chocolat.  After buying one of their albums, A Little Taste of Paris, I understood why: Minor Swing, one of the songs they played and was also included on the film.

DSC00066I found a handful of tourist videos of Borsalino and include a couple here.  It looks like they have a rotation of musicians, but some are still the same.  On a happy note, one of their albums, Metropolitain, is available on iTunes now.  Like everyone else, they’re on Facebook, too.

Here are some pictures of Eglise St. Séverin where we heard them playing.  They were outside on the far corner, just across from the green awning in the lower left. Behind those buildings is the Seine River and then the Ile de la Cité where we were treated to more fun music – of another jazz band – which I’ll save for another day!


France has known no shortage of talented artisans.  Just look at some of the stained glass inside St. Séverin.  Amazing, isn’t it?



It’s been eight years since my last trip to Paris.  I miss it terribly!  I miss the beauty, the history, the culture, the people, the food…and I especially miss the music!

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