The Kazoo: More than Just an Annoying Party Favor

Kazoo exhibit from January 2-30, 2013, at UC San Diego’s Geisel Library (a very Seuss-ian thing to do.)
and a live event at the exhibit on National Kazoo Day! (Jan. 28 at noon—hear new chamber works for kazoo!)

Free exhibit; free event; free kazoo!

“The Kazoo: More than Just an Annoying Party Favor”
This exhibit will showcase the kazoo’s African and African-American roots, plot its place in Americana, reveal its role in the early jazz age, catalog its classical repertoire, and peek at its popular music successes. A collection of intriguing kazoos will be on display.

Some surprising kazoo facts will be explored further at the exhibit:
Speech therapists have had considerable success using the kazoo as a therapy tool.
Richard Wagner, Arnold Schoenberg, Charles Ives, Paul McCartney, and other musical luminaries have used the kazoo in composition, performance, and recording. An exhibit bonus: the physics behind how the kazoo works will be revealed!

Exhibit runs January 2 through January 30, 2013 on the lower level, West wing of Geisel Library at UC San Diego. For more information: or (858) 822-5758

AND ON Monday, January 28, 2013 at 12:00 noon we’ll have a NATIONAL KAZOO DAY EVENT!
All library visitors on National Kazoo Day will get a free kazoo! We’ll survey the kazoo’s greatest hits and premiere some new chamber works for kazoo. Hosted by Scott Paulson, outreach coordinator of the Arts Library at UC San Diego.

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Tanglewood’s Archival Magic Still Casts a Spell

From the NYT Online

THE magic of Tanglewood, the summer festival in western Massachusetts, has many parts. There is the music of course, this being the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. There is the beauty of the surroundings, both on the meticulously maintained campus in the quaint town of Lenox and all around in the Berkshire Hills.

There is a spirit that has evolved over three-quarters of a century, stemming from the festival’s founder, Serge Koussevitzky, the music director of the Boston Symphony from 1924 to 1949; nurtured under music directors like Charles Munch and Erich Leinsdorf, and influential guests like Leonard Bernstein and Lukas Foss; and now combining the youthful energy of students at the Tanglewood Music Center with a unity of purpose across generations. That spirit splintered briefly some 15 years ago, when Seiji Ozawa, the orchestra’s music director at the time, crossed swords with longtime faculty members, but it seemed to come back stronger than ever under James Levine, the music director from 2004 to 2011.

There is even a tinge of pride — a slight sense of indomitability, perhaps — shared by performers and audiences alike, born of their having repeatedly weathered terrifying flash storms and survived the annual plague of mosquitoes. Mud is part of the creation myth, as witnessed in the photograph of well dressed patrons tiptoeing over the newly soaked grounds at a Wagner concert in 1937 — in the festival’s first season, before the concert shed was built — often printed in the Tanglewood program.

Alas, this disparate yet potent mix of elements cannot be bottled. But happily the music can be, to some extent, and has been, in the form of archival recordings now being made available in quantity.

Read more…

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R.I.P. Don Cornelius

Sad news. (via NPR)












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Alan Lomax ‘Global Jukebox’ Goes Digital

One of the greatest ethnomusicologists ever is getting a wider audience.












From the NYT Online:

A decade after his death technology has finally caught up to Lomax’s imagination. Just as he dreamed, his vast archive — some 5,000 hours of sound recordings, 400,000 feet of film, 3,000 videotapes, 5,000 photographs and piles of manuscripts, much of it tucked away in forgotten or inaccessible corners — is being digitized so that the collection can be accessed online. About 17,000 music tracks will be available for free streaming by the end of February, and later some of that music may be for sale as CDs or digital downloads.

On Tuesday, to commemorate what would have been Lomax’s 97th birthday, the Global Jukebox label is releasing “The Alan Lomax Collection From the American Folklife Center,” a digital download sampler of 16 field recordings from different locales and stages of Lomax’s career.


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National Kazoo Day!

You missed it! (That’s okay, I did too.) But the Arts Library didn’t!

From the Huffington Post Online:

Jan. 28 is celebrated as National Kazoo Day,a day when, according to organizers, Americans are supposed to take time to recognize the kazoo, that musical instrument that takes only a minute to master for a lifetime to annoy.

But while the kazoo can be irritating when played by a hyperactive 5-year-old, it is a legitimate musical instrument, according to Scott Paulson, who uses kazoos to help provide soundtracks at silent movie screenings.

“It can be annoying, but it can be a delightful instrument,” Paulson told HuffPost Weird News. “It’s known mostly as a child’s toy, but it has a history of being a ritual instrument in Africa.”

Paulson says those early kazoos were used in rituals where the natives would disguise their voices using an animal horn and the membrane from spider eggs.

“It’s basically a mask of the voice,” he said.

Legend has it that the modern kazoo was invented in 1850 by former slave Alabama Vest of Macon, Ga., who devised the plans and than had it built by clockmaker Thaddeus von Clegg, a German immigrant. It was introduced two years later at the 1852 Georgia State Fair, but the familiar sub shape wasn’t created until 1902.

Click here for more video and to read the entire article!!

11th Annual Toy Piano Festival!

at UCSD Geisel Library, in the Seuss Room
Live performances on September 3 at 2:00 p.m. and September 6 at noon.

At these two free events (Sept 3 at 2:00 p.m. and Sept 6 at noon) you’ll hear new works for toy piano. Come early or else you’ll have to sit on the floor (the performers have to sit on the floor, so you’ll be in good company!). The Toy Piano Collection at Geisel Library consists of actual instruments, audio recordings, extant literature, and commissioned works. In May of 2001, the Library of Congress issued a subject heading and call number for toy piano scores because of the activities of the Toy Piano Collection at Geisel Library. The call number is: M 175 T69

For more information, contact Scott Paulson at (858) 822-5758 or

We had no idea!

The Smithsonian has an online streaming radio station. Amazing, right?

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Roger Reynold’s PING

The UCSD Libraries are pleased to collaborate with Professor Roger Reynolds and MFA student Ross Karre for sound and image restoration services for Reynold’s Ping. Some of these digitized materials will be used for a performance of Ping on Friday, May 27th, 2011, 8:00 pm, at the Conrad Prebys Music Center Recital Hall (free!) The performers are Rachel Beetz (flute), Paul Hembree (live electronics), Ross Karre (percussion and video), and Roger Reynolds (piano).  The concert will include a screening of “Ping Migration,” a documentary short by Ross Karre.

The Arts Library is also hosting a “Ping Migration” exhibit through June 10th,  presenting images and artifacts related to Ping’s creation and UCSD premiere in 1968, while using an audio/visual component to contrast them to the new performance technologies.

The Ping digitization project involves excerpts and creative materials such as compositional sketches and diagrams, as well as interviews with Reynolds and photographs from both the 1968 and 2011 UCSD performances.  These digitized images will be part of the Libraries’ collection and made available to the public online.

Nice Write-up On Music Faculty

Lei Liang—Taking Sound to the Extreme
By Molly Sheridan
Published: October 27, 2010

“It’s a burden to be an Asian-American composer these days,” Lei Liang says, good naturedly joking about the weight of expectation that goes hand-in-hand with being a part of such a high-profile cultural group within classical music. Following in the footsteps of composers such as Tan Dun, Chen Yi, Bright Sheng, and Chou Wen-chung, Liang was able to learn a great deal through their example, but he has also felt a particular need to find his own way and develop a voice uniquely his own.

He also has had to be cautious. “Although it’s a privilege to be able to inherit certain traditions from Asia,” he acknowledges that “it’s also a danger because for Asian composers, Asian traditions can be a prison. At the same time, as much as I love traditional, contemporary Western music, it can be a prison as well. In my case, I try to use my Asian background to liberate myself from a Western prison, and use my Western training to liberate myself from certain habits I have.”

It’s a method that he has relied upon as he has created an extensive catalog of chamber, orchestral, and choral works as well as music for stage and film.

Born in China in 1972, Liang grew up in Beijing, where he drew attention for his piano playing and compositional skill at an early age. He emigrated to the U.S. when he was just 17 years old, spurred by his experiences as a participant in the Tiananmen Square protests. Once in the States, he earned degrees at the New England Conservatory and Harvard University.

Coming of age after the Cultural Revolution, he says it was only after arriving in America that he was able to truly discover China’s history and construct a fuller picture of his cultural heritage for himself. He also remembers being shocked to discover the diversity of global musical culture. He says, “That’s something that I never had exposure to before, and it really opened my mind. It’s almost as important as new music for me. When you hear music that can be made out of all these things, you hear that music is such an endless world. There is so much possibility in making expressive things out of sound.”

In his own work, Liang began exploring what that variety of sound had to offer. There were the timbres and folk songs tied to his personal cultural heritage, which he continued to study through his interest in the preservation of traditional Asian music. But he was also sonically inspired by personal interactions with the sounds of the natural world that immediately surrounded him in Boston. He was comfortable exploring noise, and also fascinated by the power of silence.

These days, those points of inspiration continue to direct him. He has also found that he likes to work inside certain set limitations. “This is also something I learned from Asian music,” he explains. “Oftentimes an artist’s creativity is evaluated not by how many new things they can create but rather by how much power they have in transforming something preexisting. I limit myself to just a few pitches, for example. On the one hand, there’s a unifying force that brings all these things together, like a very tiny seed—one note, or just three notes. But on the other hand, I try to counterbalance that with a lot of different surfaces and explore the potential for such limited material to generate many different possible manifestations.”

These self-constructed puzzles artfully play out in many ways across his compositions, from the one-note polyphony of works such as Brush-Stroke for small orchestra to the unusual emphasis on breathing and the framing of silences in pieces such as Memories of Xiaoxiang for alto saxophone and 4-track tape. He explains, “I like extremely fast, extremely slow. I also like extremely varied surfaces and extremely limited materials. For me, only extreme things can be interesting.”

A bit of Liang’s professional restraint seems to melt away for a moment with this confession. “I like to see how far I can go,” he admits.

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R.I.P. Joan Sutherland, Stupenda.

From The Washington Post:

Dame Joan Sutherland, one of the greatest operatic sopranos of our time, died peacefully last night at her home in Switzerland after a long illness, according to a statement issued by her family.

She was 83 years old.

Called “La Stupenda,” she combined the heft of a Wagnerian singer with the agility and upper register of a coloratura soprano, leading to powerful interpretations of great bel canto roles that had lain dormant for decades — following in the wake of Maria Callas, who had spearheaded their initial revival.

Sutherland takes a bow after her performance in the operetta “The Merry Widow” in Dallas in 1989. (AP)
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