Thewhat? (or, my guitar is bigger than yours)

September 20, 2016 at 11:00 am

So there’s this thing called basso continuo.

If you’ve ever seen a “lead sheet“, then you’re already halfway to understanding basso continuo (or BC.) A modern lead sheet displays the melody (and words) of a song, with the chords listed above the melody. The bass, guitar, and keyboard instruments play the printed chords while a voice or melodic instrument plays the melody:


Rewind 250 years. Nearly every composition that wasn’t a solo keyboard work had a basso continuo part. They all read the same piece of a music – a bassline with a series of numbers which indicted the chords to be played:

figuredbassThis part was played by the bass instruments (cello, double bass, bassoon) as well as the instruments capable of playing chords: the harpsichord, organ, lute, and … the Theorbo!

The Theorbo is a guitar on steroids. Put away your six-string – this badboy has 14-19 strings (and unlike the 12-string guitar, each of the 14 strings is tuned to a completely different note – no doubling.) This selection from a dance suite by Robert de Visée (court lutist for Louis XIV) takes the theorbo out of its basso continuo role and lets you hear its dulcet tones in a solo performance.


Philistines and Trolls

May 12, 2016 at 10:30 am

I recently stumbled across a friend’s performance on youtube, and immediately though “wow, this is great – time to put this on the blog!” Any Art Music video (that isn’t designed to be click bait) with over 20,000 views is quite an accomplishment.

Now it’s common knowledge that if you want to lose your faith in humanity, all you need to do is read through the comments on any youtube video, news feed, or basically anything on reddit. Unfortunately, and against my better judgment, I scrolled down and found that many of the comments were complaints about my friend’s facial expressions – not the music. Here was a flawless performance with good sound & video quality, offered for FREE to anyone, anytime – but clearly, this generous offering of beautiful music at no cost isn’t as important as making the right facial expression.

The world is full of Philistines and Trolls. We’re all told to ignore the Philistines and not feed the Trolls, but their words still can hurt – and some of us are unable to forget cruel words, regardless of the circumstances under which they were said or written. So as a public service message to all, please think before you speak or write, and remember that beauty is a thing that needs to be protected and defended. And DON’T FEED THE TROLLS!


A 19th century Guitar-strumming Social Activist

February 23, 2016 at 11:00 am

Sorry, hippies. Somebody beat you to it.

Justin Holland (1819-1887), was a civil-rights activist, moving around the same circles as Frederic Douglass. He worked with whites to free slaves in the Underground Railroad. Oh yeah, and he also played a mean guitar.

He became nationally known for his guitar method books – his approach to teaching was considered very conservative for the time (sorry, hippies; I guess he was a square). And, while not a composer himself, he was famous for arranging famous works of other composers, including this one, which includes some popular tunes from Carl Maria von Weber‘s opera, Oberon.