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Thomas J. West Music

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Great Performances

Performances that inspire and impress. Enjoy.

 
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  • Great Performances: Geoff Gallante Perfo...
    by ★ Owner on February 25, 2015 at 2:15 PM
    1038 Views - 0 Comments

    I am surprised that it took me this long to hear about trumpet prodigy Geoff Gallante. Close your eyes and listen to the playing of a professional trumpet player who is most likely in his 20's or 30's. Open your eyes and see an 11-year-old boy. This performance from 2012 is impressive, to say the least. Geoff picked up his brother's trumpet at age 4 and has gone on to perform all over the country with pops orchestras, military bands, and jazz ensembles of all kinds. Definitely a name that will be in public prominence in years to come.


    What amazes me about Gallante is not so much his mature sound or his musicianship, but the fact that he has already developed the breath control and muscular flexibility and strength of an adult player. It just goes to show that aptitude married with opportunity can yield amazing results if nurtured early in a child's development.


     

     


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  • Great Performances: Ole Edvard Antonsen ...
    by ★ Owner on February 16, 2015 at 10:22 AM
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    image: www.oleedvardantonsen.com


    Ole Edvard Antonsen is a Finnish trumpet virtuoso who has performed with some of the world's most renown orchestras and jazz artists with equal aplomb. His performances go beyond virtuosity into that rare realm where the player is such a master of their craft that they communicate emotionally with apparently effortless ease. Far more than just flawless technique, Antonsen keeps his audiences hanging on his every move.


    In this performance, Antonsen not only delivers a superbly clean performance of one of classical music's most popular cornet solos, he makes a show of it with seemingly "casual" valve work accompanied by smiling eyes and a sense of whimsy. If you think the introduction is impressive, be sure to hang in there for the 1:40 mark.

     

     



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  • Great Performances: Gustavo Dudamel & Th...
    by ★ Owner on January 25, 2015 at 3:31 PM
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    Gustavo Dudamel

    This particular recording has been floating around the internet for two years, but it continues to demonstrate Gustavo Dudamel's committment to making classical music more accessible to people of all walks of life. The Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra is the top performing ensemble in the Venezuela Youth Orchestra System. "El Sistema" has gained much traction in America's inner cities as a way to revitalize and empower underprivilidged youth to connect and fall in love with quality music performance. Gustavo Dudamel himself is a product of El Sistema and has gone on to a career as an internationally renown conductor. 


    This performance thumbs its nose at the stuffy, formal traditions of orchestral music and makes Leonard Bernstein's score for "Mambo" from the legendary Broadway show West Side Story come to life in all of its intended youthful vigor. This orchestral transcription remains very faithful to Bernstein's show score, which I have had the pleasure of performing as part of the pit orchestra for a production of the show by the Penn State Thespians many moons ago.




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  • Great Performances: Hong Kong True Strin...
    by ★ Owner on January 17, 2015 at 11:01 AM
    1026 Views - 0 Comments

    I often seek out genre-appropriate videos of "Happy Birthday" to post to the Facebook walls of my musician friends. I typically find some very entertaining ones, but this one really stands out because of its skill and artistry as well as its entertainment value. The Hong Kong Pure Strings desecribe themselves as "Possessing the passion towards string music and fanatics in performance," The Hong Kong Pure Strings are a collection of professionals whose mission is to bring contemporary string composition to a wider audience by performing easily-accessible yet virtuosic music. 

    Their "Happy Birthday Variation 1" contains several small vignettes written in the style of some of classical music and grand opera's most recognizable settings. See if you can place them. And by all means, share this video on a musician's Facebook wall for their birthday, with many happy returns!



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  • Great Performances: Kevin Spacey And Fri...
    by ★ Owner on January 12, 2015 at 7:00 PM
    967 Views - 0 Comments

    Image: Carolyn Kaster / AP

    Billy Joel is someone I consider to be a musical idol of mine. He is the only popular music artist that I've seen at a live concert more than once. His music permeated my youth and continues to inspire and entertain in adulthood. He recently was honored as the sixth recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. He joins the likes of Paul Simon, Burt Bacharach, Carole King, Paul McCartney, and Stevie Wonder.


    This video is of the grand finale performance with a number of the performers returning to the stage to sing Billy's seminal closing number "Piano Man". Kevin Spacey takes center stage, playing the harmonica solo with aplomb, while fellow performers Boyz II Men, Natalie Maines, Josh Groban, Gavin DeGraw, Tony Bennett, LeAnn Rimes and Michael Feinstein trade stanzas with Billy Joel as he plays piano.


    Kevin Spacey yet again proves that he is not only a consummate performer, but also a gracious and down-to-earth person. The performance, while a bit raw around the edges, is filled with a spirit of sharing. Cuts to audience members singing along and the entire crowd swaying together demonstrate what anyone who has ever been to a Billy Joel has experienced, a legacy of song that invites each of us to share in the story.


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  • Great Performances: University of North ...
    by ★ Owner on August 18, 2014 at 8:19 PM
    1027 Views - 0 Comments


    Many people in the music education world are familiar with hybrid shows such as Stomp and Blast, combining traditional band, drum corps, and percussion performance with theatrics. Similarly to Stomp, this performance by members of the University of North Texas Percussion Ensemble utilizes an array of coffee cups, lids, stirrers, and cardboard sleeves to create an entertianing, yet musically intricate display. It is safe to say that they have fully explored the sonic capabilities of a common coffee cup. I recommend listening to this with either speakers or headphones with a full spectrum response so that you can fully appreciate the timbural differences they explore throughout.


    This video was introduced to me this past weekend as part of a pre-season judges clinic for the Cavalcade of Bands Association. We used it and other videos to talk about the elements of adjudication, including musical, visual, and effect concepts. In the world of adjudication, where ranking and rating is what we do, we gave this performance a second place ranking. I will share the first place ranking in another post.


     

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  • Great Performances: John Williams Conduc...
    by ★ Owner on July 5, 2014 at 12:18 PM
    1073 Views - 0 Comments


    I have shared two other versions of The Star-Spangled Banner on my blog before by the combined Academy Choirs from the four branches of the U.S. Armed Services along with the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, and the stirring rendition by pop singer Whitney Houston.


    This new version is equally as stirring, yet faithful to the original. It was arranged and conducted by legendary film composer John Williams yesterday, July 4th, 2014 at the National Independence Day Celebration in Washington, D.C. Williams also incorporated service choirs and the herald trumpets for his arrangement, but his harmonic embellishments and dramatic portrayal are practically trademark Williams.


    It is my hope that this performance stays on YouTube, but if it is pulled down, I hope to find another performance of it soon, as I'm sure it will find its place among great versions of our National Anthem.

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  • Great Performances: Simon Fitzpatrick Pe...
    by ★ Owner on June 24, 2014 at 8:34 PM
    1082 Views - 0 Comments

    http://www.simon-fitzpatrick.com


    As a full time musician, I find myself enjoying and appreciating music by artists in all different types of musical genres. There's something to like in every genre (yes, even hip hop) and even if I cannot perform or write for those genres myself, I find myself drawn to the excellence and artistry that many performers put out there.


    Solo guitar performance is a particular favorite of mine. I do not have the deterity to ever achieve much on a guitar myself, but I find myself drawn in by outstanding solo guitar players. The first time I heard a Kaki King solo, I was mezmerized. I felt similarly listening to Tommy Emmanuel, Preston Reed, and even Jake Shiamburuko on ukulele. Here is another to add to that list, only this time on the 6-string electric bass.


    Simon Fitzpatrick is an up-and-coming bassist from England whose solo bass performances have been making the rounds on YouTube. This particular solo is his rendition of the Yes classic "Roundabout", which involves a little use of a looping pedal for some of the ostinati and a whole lot of amazing solo playing. Keep watching to the end - there's an applause break around the 2:45 mark. Such smooth execution - he makes it all look so easy.


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  • Great Performances: Low Brass Version Of...
    by ★ Owner on June 16, 2014 at 12:35 PM
    913 Views - 0 Comments

    Contrabass trombone

    I actually started reading George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series before the HBO series based on his books became widely popular. I read them until the infamous "Red Wedding" scene in book 3, then put them down. I took issue with Martin's knack of spending thousands of pages to get you invested in characters only to kill them quite unceremoniously. It's a bit too realistic for my taste - not something I want to feel when reading or watching fantasy.


    I watched season 1 of HBO's Game of Thrones shortly after season 2 aired, and I saw as much as I needed to.


    This, however, is a really fun and well-done version of the title theme from the series done by all low brass instruments, including six players on the elusive contrabass trombone. Unless you have  a great speaker system on your computer with a sub-woofer, I recommend watching this using headphones with good bass response.


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  • Great Performances: Pentatonix Run To Yo...
    by ★ Owner on January 30, 2014 at 4:38 PM
    1658 Views - 0 Comments

    As an contemporary a cappella enthusiast and part-time professional, I have been closely following the career of mainstream a cappella artists Pentatonix. It has been a pleasure to get to know many of the people behind the scenes who have helped PTX catapult into the limelight. I have gotten to see them perform live once and unfortunately could not stick around to chat with them. I really enjoy everything about their sound - they are pretty much the "perfect storm" of five voices - each person's contribution to the sound is indispensable, yet unique.


    I waited anxiously for PTX Volume II to drop, hoping that it would be the album that sealed the deal for them in mainstream pop culture. It did not disappoint. With the exception of one track, the album is really a tour-de-force of a cappella music, showing how amazing and versitile the human voice is while putting the arranging and performing skills of the quintet on prominent display on both cover songs and original compositions.


    As a professional music educator and self-confessed "chord junkie", there are few things that grab my attention more strongly than lush chords and equally lavish lyrics. Pentatonix, along with producer Ben Bram, wrote "Run to You" for PTX Volume II, and it was immediately one of my most favorite a cappella recordings of all time. Weaned on barbershop quartet music, my early a cappella favorites were the Singers Unlimited and Take 6. "Run to You" has just enough dissonance to make the point of the lyrics, and just enough emotional contouring to drive the sentiments home.


    Now, Pentatonix has released another amazing video of this song in conjunction with FifGen Films, who gave us the record-breaking video for PTX's Daft Punk Medley and many of the videos distributed on YouTube by a cappella solo artist Peter Hollens. What I love about the video is that is doesn't get in the way of the music, yet manages to make an artistic impression of its own. I spent part of the video wondering how they could have worked in the reverse footage of the snowfall while the group members sang the song. I was impressed all over again when I disovered that the group had to practice lip syncing to playback in reverse in order to make the effect. Astounding, and a tribute to true creativity at work.


    I have enjoyed watching Pentatonix grow from their formative days on Season 3 of The Sing-Off to YouTube paragons and globe-trotters. Most of the musical artists that I enjoy began their careers before I was old enough to follow them. My favorite pop artist will always be Billy Joel, with singer/songwriters like Paul Simon, Sting, and Phil Collins ranking high on my list. It is a different experience to watch a close-harmony singing group begin to take hold at what hopefully is the beginning of a long career and watch them affect popular culture.



    This article (c) 2014 Thomas J. West. All content on ThomasJWestMusic dot com is licensed under a Creative Contributions Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. Please contact the author before publishing on or off-line.

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  • Great Performances - US Marine Band Perf...
    by ★ Owner on November 22, 2013 at 12:48 PM
    1145 Views - 0 Comments

    John F. Kennedy, White House color photo portrait

    Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assasination of United States President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. While I am too young to have experienced this event in person, I understand the gravitas that events like this have on the consciousness of a culture. My first experience with such an event was when the space shuttle Challenger exploded during takeoff. I remember where I was when the mass school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado occurred. And of course, I remember vividly the events of September 11, 2001 when the World Trade towers fell.


    To commemorate the day, The United States Marine Band posted this recording of their performance of Robert LoPresti's most well-known work "Elegy for a Young American". It is a piece written to express the composer's own grief upon hearing the news that the President had been killed, and it encapsulates much of the sentiment of the country in the days following this tragic event.


    I myself played the third clarinet part to this piece as a member of the PMEA District 1 Honors Band at Duquesne University in the winter of 1990 under the baton of the Hartt School's Stanley DeRusha (now at Butler University). This piece, along with many others that concert, shaped my musical life in very important ways.


    On this somber occasion, music often expresses what words cannot. Allow the excellence of the Marine Band to speak of that tragic day, that we might not see another like it.


    This article (c) 2013 Thomas J. West. All content on ThomasJWestMusic dot com is licensed under a Creative Contributions Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. Please contact the author before publishing on or off-line.

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  • Great Performances: Symphony of Science ...
    by ★ Owner on August 29, 2013 at 9:19 PM
    1125 Views - 0 Comments


    John D. Boswell is one of my favorite 21st Century music artists. He specializes in taking recorded speech and turning into singing using pitch correction software, then building musical accompaniments around the melodies he has created. His work for PBS has garnered much attention, creating songs featuring public television icons Fred RogersBob Ross, Julia Childs, and LeVar Burton.


    My favorite work of his, however, is his ongoing series entitled Symphony of Science. Boswell takes presesntations by notes quantum physicists and astronomers such as Stephen Hawking. The result is a song exploring the mystery and grandeur of our universe. His newest release is a song depicting the awesome mystery and power of black holes. Enjoy.

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