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Thomas J. West Music

Live webcam private music lessons, music education articles, compositions, clinician services, reviews

Great Performances

Performances that inspire and impress. Enjoy.

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  • Great Performances #2: The U.S. Marine S...
    by ★ Owner on July 23, 2008 at 5:52 AM
    3542 Views - 0 Comments

    You couldn't ask for a much better example of the power of the human mind than the U.S. Marine Silent Drill Platoon. Even though they don't perform "music" per se, they are a great example of an ensemble of people who have learned a skill, rehearsed the skill, and operate as a combined whole that takes on its own life as a performance organism. There are no conductors or external reinforcements of the pulse. The marines march into the performance venue in perfect unison, perform for ten minutes, and march out again. Their precision is so flawless that there is no sense of individuality among any of the men. I had the good fortune to see them perform live back in 1997 at a drum corps show. I followed them out of the stadium gate to see what they did after the performance. A short distance outside the gate, their sargeant called a halt, gave a few other basic commands, and then gave the dismissal. The marines pivoted on their heel in the traditional about face, and it was like watching ice melt or glass shatter. Suddenly the living organism was gone and replaced by 24 individuals. You can literally feel the combination of their intent when you watch them. This performance group is another great example of the power of the mind to build neural connections with such attention and focus that time seems to melt around them. Enjoy.

  • Great Performances #3: Gene Krupa and Bu...
    by ★ Owner on July 23, 2008 at 5:54 AM
    3532 Views - 0 Comments

    Here are two jazz drumming legends on the same stage. Gene Krupa was most well-known as the set player for the Benny Goodman orchestra. Buddy Rich is considered by many to be the world's greatest (and notorious) drummer. I have heard stories from two fellas that toured with Rich for a short time about his amazing ability matched with a "fiery" temper (meaning if you played too many wrong notes, he'd fire you from his band on the spot). Appearing here on the Sammy Davis Show, both men demonstrate mastery of their instrument. Pay attention not only to Krupa's technique, but how his skill is so well-practiced that he has room left over in his mental faculties to show expression on his face as he improvises a performance. With Buddy, just sit back and be amazed by the speed, power, and accuracy. Enjoy.

  • Great Performances - Peter Hollens And L...
    by ★ Owner on April 7, 2012 at 9:43 AM
    3515 Views - 0 Comments

    I have previously featured videos by both a cappella artist Peter Hollens and dubstep violinist Lindsey Sterling. The two have teamed together to produce a YouTube video cover of the theme from 2011 video game of the year Skyrim. It is a remarkable achievement, both in Tom Anderson's 12-part vocal score, Devin Graham's cinematography, Ben Leiberman's editing, and Bill Hare's mixing. These are all artists who are making a living doing what they love without "being chosen" by a major recording label.

    This video has had over 1 million viewers in the first two days since upload - a testament to Peter Hollens' ability to do artistic covers of material that appeals to a wide audience. You know a video is a bona fide YouTube success when fans start overdubbing and remixing it, such as this one - it's really funny.

    This video is a testament to the collaborative power of the internet and to keeping alive musical creativity in the mainstream that is more than a quarter-inch deep. The world needs more artists like these who can appeal to a mass audience and yet still bring well-crafted and aesthetically rich music and video to bear without having to distribute it through the entertainment industry's money machine.

  • Great Performances - Bach Cello Suite No...
    by ★ Owner on September 28, 2011 at 7:53 AM
    3498 Views - 0 Comments

    Everyone in modern Western culture has heard this music before. Bach's cello prelude in G major is consistently used in the background of television commercials and is often the first cello solo that young cellists the world over ask to learn how to play. It's execution and interpretation have been scrutinized by cellists for hundreds of years, and it is pretty much required learning if you consider yourself a cellist.

    This morning, one of my students sent me the link to this clip, which demonstrates beautifully the pervasiveness of Bach's music throughout our culture and transcendent of time. From the Spanish film Die Stille vor Bach (The Silence Before Bach), this scene depicts approximately twenty cellists all playing the prelude while riding a vacant subway car.

    The juxtaposition of this beautiful prelude with the commonality of the subway is a provocative artistic statement, implying that Bach's artistry permeates even the lowest of places. Director Pere Portabella lets the music speak for itself with simple camera work and an emphasis on how this prelude is performed by cellists the world over for the last three centuries.

  • Great Performances - Maynard Ferguson Cr...
    by ★ Owner on March 17, 2011 at 9:06 AM
    3463 Views - 0 Comments

    In honor of St. Patrick's Day 2011, here is the incomparable Maynard O'Ferguson! If you have been around jazz bands at all, you know the soaring high notes and big sound of Maynard Ferguson and his band. Here is his tranquil version of Danny Boy (as tranqil as Maynard gets, at least). One has to appreciate the artful application of his altissimo trumpet playing in this recording.

    Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

  • Great Performances - CPFA Friday Night C...
    by ★ Owner on March 12, 2012 at 9:13 AM
    3404 Views - 0 Comments

    There are many things about working for a unique blended learning school that I really enjoy. One of the benefits are great extra-curricular programs that The Center for Performing and Fine Arts offers to its students and families. Theatre productions, Life After High School Workshops, Dinner and a Movie Nights (classic films of the 50's and earlier), and Friday Night Cafe. Friday Night Cafe features student performances of all kinds - music, skits, comedy routines, dance numbers, all volunteer and screened by our Center's Director.

    This particular Cafe was a special occasion: one of our senior students, as part of her senior project, held a silent art auction featuring artwork by CPFA students and faculty. Auction winners were announced at the end of the evening. The auction proceeds and Cafe ticket income went to Art Feeds, a non-[profit organization prodiving artistic experiences to underprivelidged children. Over $1,300 was raised through this effort.

    This performance of the jazz standard "Song for My Father" features myself on clarinet, senior Kendall Johnson on guitar, and CPFA guitar teacher Sean Townsend. It's an up-tempo take on a classic latin chart. I apologize for the video quality - it was shot on my cell phone.

  • Great Performances: Walk Off The Earth P...
    by ★ Owner on January 14, 2012 at 11:04 AM
    3387 Views - 0 Comments

    This particular performance is not of the caliber I normally include in the Great Performances series, but the novelty of how it is being performed is worth observing. Walk Off The Earth is an Ontario-based independent contemporary band that specializes in inventive covers of popular songs and their own originals, This particular cover of "Somebody I Used to Know" by Goyte was shared with me on Google Plus. All five members of the band play one acoustic guitar, each taking a piece of the composition as their own. It's a very simple song going back and forth between D minor and C major in D dorian.

    Their other material is equally as inventive and interesting, incorporating loop pedals and unconventional instruments. This kind of creativity is sorely needed in contemporary music, and whether or not they are ever signed by a major label is really immaterial. Be sure to visit their YouTube channel and check out the other innovative materials they have posted (fair warning: they have potty mouths).

  • 2008 Elementary School Championship: Mam...
    by ★ Owner on September 3, 2009 at 7:02 AM
    3307 Views - 0 Comments

    From the Japan Wind Orchestra and Ensemble Competition in 2008, this is Mama Elementary performing "Ikaruga." Part of the Championship 2008.

    The cultural differences here are the reason for this astounding display of mastery. I recently listened to a NYC radio program about how the Chinese language is by its nature much more tonal, lending to children developing their sense of pitch naturally. This, coupled with the fact that China, Japan, and other Eastern cultures begin training students who show aptitude in music, althetics, or science from the age of 3 onwards, shows how a performance like this from children so young is possible.

  • e.e. cummings "i thank You God for most ...
    by ★ Owner on June 10, 2010 at 10:17 AM
    3299 Views - 0 Comments

    i thank You God for most this amazing
    day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
    and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
    which is natural which is infinite which is yes

    (i who have died am alive again today,
    and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
    day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
    great happening illimitably earth)

    how should tasting touching hearing seeing
    breathing any--lifted from the no
    of allnothing--human merely being
    doubt unimaginable You?

    (now the ears of my ears awake and
    now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

    Read by the author originally on an LP recording from New York on May 28, 1953

    Listen to Eric Whitacre's setting of this poem for mixed chorus.


  • Great Performances - West Chester Univer...
    by ★ Owner on November 19, 2010 at 8:09 AM
    3248 Views - 0 Comments

    The school I currently teach for is right across the street from the practice field for the "Incomparable" Golden Rams Marching Band of West Chester University. I hear them all the time each fall, and occasionally I stop by after work and watch a bit of rehearsal. Rarely do I actually get to see them in uniform performing. This year, I got to watch their final performance of the season from the press box at Hersheypark Stadium! WCU played in exhibition at the Cavalcade of Bands Championship show on Saturday, November 13th, for which I judged music ensemble for the American Conference A and Open class shows. The show is called "Barber" and is quite a concept. This year marks the 100th birthday of the late American composer Samuel Barber, who is a West Chester, PA native. The show begins with an uptempo version of his most famous work, "Adagio for Strings" followed by strains of his "School for Scandal", a commonly used piece of music for the field. Later in the production, the band performs selections from Rossini's opera "The Barber of Saville". What ties the whole barber theme together is the storyline portrayed by the color guard. Recorded dialogue is amplified, telling the story of a bride and her bridesmaids arriving at a hair salon to get their hair done for the big day, and drama ensues. There's a great moment toward the end where the hairstylist makes the final adjustments with a giant pair of scissors while the trombone section does the classic "head chopper suicide line" on the front hash. Hats off to Todd Marcocci for taking concepts from an old Bugs Bunny "Rabbit of Saville" cartoon and visually weaving it together with Barber's music. Hats off as well to director Andrew Yozviak for writing a great music book and once again putting on a top-notch performance with the band members themselves as the majority of the teaching staff. I admire the fact that WCU's band has always been a "learning lab" for its music education students as well as a crowd-pleasing organization. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that, at 350+ members, the band's musical impacts are astounding! The video does not do justice to the impact of the first hit in "Adagio for Strings" when the band wheels from the backfield and lets you have it! I was in the press box at Hershey, which is a medium-high box, and it sounded and felt like I was standing on the track for just about any other band!

  • Great Performances #4: Van Cliburn Plays...
    by anonymous on August 30, 2008 at 2:55 PM
    3110 Views - 1 Comment

    Here is one of many great recordings to be found online of piano master Van Cliburn performing a portion of Frederic Chopin's masterpiece Polonaise in Ab from his Opus 53. If you don't recognize this music initially, wait for the reprise of the main theme and the thuderous finale. A few technical things to note here: notice the seemingly flawless transition from both hands playing the descending bassline in octaves to only the left hand performing the same thing. Also, note that with his flawless techical execution comes an ability to truly emote and draw forth the intended emotional content of the piece. Van Cliburn, as any great pianist, accomplishes this through complete and utter mastery of every fine motor skill required to execute the music physically and still have enough processing left over to be able to be expressive. As with any accomplished pianist, the piece is memorized in the course of perfecting it. Enjoy the work of one of the greatest concert pianists of all time.

  • Great Performances - Acoustix Sings Star...
    by ★ Owner on May 30, 2011 at 8:51 AM
    3098 Views - 0 Comments

    flag of America

    In honor of U.S. Memorial Day, I share with you today the official march of the United States of America: John Philip Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever." This iconic march is so well-known that many Americans recognize both the intro and first strain melody and the melody from the trio. It also contains the most popular piccolo solo of all time.

    This particular performance, however, is not the traditional military band rendition. This version is sung a cappella by one of the most accomplished barbershop quartets of all time, Acoustix. This track appears on their album Stars and Stripes - a collection of patriotic and popular American music. The lyrics sung are actually Sousa's original lyrics, altered slightly for this arrangement. Happy Memorial Day - may these colors never run.

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