The rapidly changing Upper East Side
When I’m on the Upper East Side, I’m surrounded by culture. All of the museums, the park, the old brownstones, it’s no wonder I chose from this neighborhood. Though over the past few years, I’ve started to notice a shift in the establishments in the neighborhood, a tendency toward a more avant-garde styling. Maybe it’s because of the 2nd Avenue subway, or maybe it’s because now the Upper East Side is cheaper than many parts of North Brooklyn, but there’s change in the air, especially with regard to art and music.
It makes sense that the Upper East Side is finally getting an influx of artists. New York is the Paris of the 21st century, slightly past its Golden Age, but still a premier place for bohemians; you could draw the analogy that with such an influx of artists, the Upper East Side is like Montmartre of a hundred years ago.
Piano lessons a hundred years ago
In the 1890s, Erik Satie befriended Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy, two of the greatest Impressionist composers, soon after Satie composed his famous Gymnopedies and Gnossiennes. As you probably know, Impressionism was already an established painting style so that the paintings of Manet and Monet were quickly giving way to the Post-Impressionism of Cezanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh. Music typically follows behind painting and writing in its move toward new movements so it took another twenty years for these composers to incorporate the Impressionistic style into their work.
In the 1910s Satie was enrolled in Vincent d’Indy’s Schola Cantorum de Paris, studying counterpoint in his daily piano lessons. This was not Satie’s last foray into the baroque, either: in 1923, the Beaumont fete, known as the Bal Baroque, used Satie’s music as well as Picasso’s costumes to commemorate the ancien regime and the new restoration of an organ. Satie’s music is also called neoclassicism, for how it draws on order, rhythm and contrapuntal technique. The pared down instrumental forces in this musical style are a reaction against the Romanticism of the 19th century, whose absolute music lacked a musical narrative; while much of the neoclassicists’, such as Stravinsky’s and Satie’s music represented a story.
Although classical music is very different today than it was a hundred years ago, we have not lost our ties to tradition. While certain elements are rejected as stodgy, others are borrowed from older eras for being ahead of their time. The Upper East Side is a great place to feel history as well as the advancement of a new era, and that’s why Upper East Side piano lessons are the best in the city right now.
Our own Alex Clough will be continuing his monthly residency at SOMETHIN’ Jazz Club this coming Monday, September 29th at 9 pm. He and his trio will be welcoming in Autumn with two sets of his music and preferred standards. He’ll offer you some music that will put you in the right mood for the change of season and passage of time that Autumn always brings to mind.
Clough be joined by Danny Weller on bass and Jay Sawyer on the drums. This will be their second performance together as a trio — last time was great so we’re curious and excited to see how the music will shape up this time around!
SOMETHIN’ Jazz Club has a $10 cover, most of which goes to the musicians, and a $10 drink minimum (c’mon, you were gonna buy one anyways!). It is located at 212 E. 52nd Street on the 3rd floor.
Looking forward to seeing those of you who can make it out this Monday!
In the history of the world’s music, perhaps no era was as instrumental and sublime as the baroque. If you’re taking at home violin or piano lessons you probably recognize this based on the difficulty of playing baroque music; it’s a kind of holy grail attainable only through years of practice and a full understanding of how your instrument and music work.
What the baroque has wrought
The baroque saw the creation of tonality, the return to a tonic, or stable note, after playing a variety of notes. It was also when opera, cantata and sonata became major art forms. It started in Florence, the center of the Renaissance, in the late 16th century. Under Count Giovanni de Bardi, a group of intellectuals chose to return to Classical forms of music, namely, Ancient Greek, especially in the monody of a singer accompanied by a single melody. This was the beginning of opera. Harmony became important, too, thanks to counterpoint; and dissonance was employed through tritones, a note three tones higher than the key note of that tone.
While Monteverdi, Purcell, and Handel are all regarded as influential and important figures by those who have ever taken a piano lesson, one man above all is especially revered: Johann Sebastian Bach. Not only does the complexity of Bach’s music far surpass his contemporaries’, but the working passion which Bach made use of during his career, the fact that each of his cantatas is a dedication to the glory of god, and also a lamentation for being unable to reach that heavenly realm, well, it is easy to see why his name is so frequently bandied about whenever we talk about piano lessons or classical music of any kind, really.
The legacy of the baroque
Yes, the baroque, that era of history from 1630 to 1750, ending with the death of Bach, was the greatest era of music the world has ever known. My uncle once pointed out that the 1940s through 80s were a similar era, what with the emergence of blues and rock n’ roll and hip-hop, Elvis and the Beatles, Madonna and Michael Jackson, but it will be difficult to know in our lifetimes, because not enough time will have passed for us to put into perspective just how great it was; after all it took another seventy-five years before Bach went from esteemed composer to the greatest of all time, his work was that far ahead of his era, that while he was respected and famous while alive, he was not as renowned as he is today, and part of this is due to just how sublime his music is; in truly great pieces of music, such as the St. Matthew’s Passion, or any of his cantatas, or his Magnificat, it is hard to understand the import of a work until well after that musician is dead, after the public has forgotten about him and everyone alive during the time he was alive is dead too; only then can we listen to a piece of music as Mendelssohn did Bach and understand that here was one of the world’s greatest geniuses ever to live, and that everyone else should understand the joys and longing he has attempted to define.
Imagine taking piano lessons and not reading music. While guitar tabs work pretty well for guitar lessons, it’s a little different taking instructional piano tutorials without sheet music. On a stringed instrument, you can name the string and where to pluck it, and this is how the earliest musical notation evolved in Sumer, in 2000 BC. But as musical instruments advanced, so did musical notation. By the time of the Byzantine Empire, notation had improved to the point of using a system based on differential, that is, according to the rise or fall of a pitch. But the lack of an absolute system led to the emergence of the modern staff notation we know today.
Modern musical notation
Guido d’Arezzo lived in the early eleventh century in northern Italy. He was a Benedectine monk who recognized how much difficulty singers had remembering Gregorian chants. Around 1025, he created the “ut-re-me-fo-so-la” mnemonic and the four line staff. This led to the standardization of melody, but it took another few hundred years for rhythm to be accounted for through standardized note lengths, and another nearly three centuries for the use of regular measures to come into play.
Reading music to improve your style
Today’s notation includes many different notes about how to play a piece, from tempo to expression and dynamics. These words above the staff can make for large differences in how the same piece can be played if only the notes and rhythm are followed; they allow for a personal touch on each note. Glenn Gould was very well known for playing Bach in a very individualistic style, so much so, that after Gould, it was hard to play certain Bach pieces in any other way. Indeed, Gould claimed that he often studied piano by reading sheet music instead of playing it. It also helped that Gould could memorize on sight, but hey, if he didn’t know how to read music, he might never have become as good as he was!
The worst violin teacher
When I was a kid, I used to take lessons for the the instrument, the violin, where I went to school. Thing was, my teacher was the worst. Her name was Ms. Ruby and she was this little angry woman who wore her hair in a bun with bristly strands sticking up. She’d spent her whole life teaching violin after she tried to make a career out of playing. It still burned her that Juilliard rejected her application. She was a real stickler for dedication to the instrument, since she’d never had enough to make it. So if we ever forgot our instruments she took it as a personal affront and she made us write out the word ‘supercalifragilisticexpealidotious’ throughout the entire period.
One day I forgot my violin and wrote ‘supercalifragilisticexpealidotious’ forty-one times. The next time I forgot my violin I thought about the first time I’d done it and I was dead set on writing ‘supercalifragilisticexpealidotious’ more than forty-one times. I wrote it forty-four times that day.
The next time I forgot my violin Ms. Ruby was in rare form. While I set out to write ‘supercalifragilisticexpealidotious’ forty-five times, Jimmy was acting a fool. Jimmy who was the class clown. He played the flute. He was making obscene gestures with it and Ms. Ruby got so mad, the veins on her neck stood out and we all thought she was going to send Jimmy to the principal to be expelled. Instead she just left the classroom. We didn’t know what to do. It was like we were free, but we weren’t quite sure if we were really free. This girl named Shawna told Jimmy he was really in trouble when she came back. Then Jimmy started to yell at her. And just as pandemonium was set to break out, Ms. Ruby walked back in and it was dead quiet. She said she’d had to leave or else she would’ve strangled Jimmy. She wasn’t joking.
I hated Ms. Ruby, too, of course. By extension I hated taking violin lessons. I didn’t learn anything I wanted to. I always thought of my violin as a burden, as something I had to learn. Until I graduated from fifth grade and I didn’t have to take a musical instrument any more.
Forgiveness after violin lessons
After Ms. Ruby, I could never feel the same way about violin lessons. It wasn’t until recently that I started to play guitar and understood that it wasn’t the violin’s fault; it was Ms. Ruby’s. Having a great teacher makes all the difference in how you practice and get excited about violin lessons.
The Upper East Side is a great place to hang out on an Indian Summer day. Quiet streets, lots of bars and restaurants, Central Park and Museum Mile? With so much to do between guitar lessons, it’s nice to find a quiet cafe to sit in. And while nothing beats pure practice, sometimes reading a book on guitar theory can help you better understand the science of music as well as re-motivate you to get back to playing. Try a cup of coffee from any of these five best Upper East Side cafes before your next strum.
Also known as Downtown Uptown, this coffee shop has a great bean source and friendly baristas that serve tasty sandwiches. Their book-laden shelves and plush old-school furniture offer a great ambience during a round of macchiato and chocolate fondue, or while you sip a beer or glass of wine in the evening and classic guitar solos play on the speakers.
DTUT is located at 1744 2nd Ave between 90th and 91st Streets.
Known for their strong cold brews, Birch on the Upper East Side is a great place to drop in for a quick cup on your way to work or before your next guitar lesson. A few sips of this iced coffee and you will be cruising up and down the fretboard. They’re open every day from 7am to 8pm. You can also find Birch on the Upper West Side, in Flatiron, and on 7th Ave, off 14th Street.
Birch is located at 134 1/2 E62nd st.
East Harlem Cafe
Technically it’s not the Upper East Side, but we felt like this local hot spot deserves a mention. Their coffee, pastries and sandwiches are some of the best in the area, and the work vibe attracts a lot of young people. Bring Fretboard Logic and buckle down for an hour with a hot cup of joe and a red velvet cupcake!
East Harlem Cafe is at 1651 Lexington Ave., at the corner of 104th.
Corrado Bread and Pastry
Corrado is a great place for a respite after a long day of practicing guitar. Their pastries are world-class, perfect accompaniments to a delicious macchiato. Right near Hunter College, this cafe also attracts a very international clientele. Of course, they have baguette sandwiches and a variety of non-caffeinated drinks too.
Corrado is at 960 Lexington Ave. on the corner of 71st St.
This cafe is definitely on this list for tea. With a wide variety of loose leaf green and black teas, that’s not to say that their coffee is anything less than amazing. You can buy any one of their many coffees by the pound and take it home to keep you company during your next round of guitar-picking blues.
Java Girl is located at 348 E66th St., between 1st and 2nd Aves.