Director’s News

“Doc Talk”/ Class Lesson 4/21/2020

“DOC TALK”/CLASS LESSON – Tuesday, April 21, 2020


Video Link:



THANK YOU for doing such an outstanding job connecting with me last week!  I thoroughly enjoyed reading about what you have been doing and I appreciate the positive feedback on the video lessons.  Please know that I am doing my best to keep you actively engaged in learning more about MUSIC!



Monday:  Musical Humor—Ricard Strauss’ “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks”


TODAY’S LESSON:  Active Listening vs. Passive Listening—Chopin’s Ballade #1 in g minor, op. 23”


Question:  What “classical composer” was the most ill during his lifetime?


Answer:  Frederick Chopin (1810-49) who suffered from chronic tuberculosis his entire life.  Although he spent most of his life in Paris, he often spent months in the south of France near the Mediterranean Sea because the weather was so much better for his lungs.


Chopin is well known for his piano compositions, most of which are relatively short and distinctive for their “beauty” with regard to the piano.  You cannot imagine the works being played on any other instrument, or even groups of instruments.  (Quite honestly, this is one composer whose music you do not find arranged for different instruments because it just “fits” the piano exclusively.)

During his lifetime, many of his peers were writing music in many genres including orchestra, theatre (opera), string quartets, chorus, etc.  When asked about why he was not writing in these genres, Chopin confessed that he did not feel comfortable with them and greatly preferred to base all of his work around his “home” instrument.   In other words, he remained true to himself!  As a result, he created all kinds of new types of works in the keyboard idiom including nocturnes (night pieces), etudes (study pieces), preludes (very short works which capture a mood completely by themselves), ballades, scherzos, and polish dances such as polonaises and mazurkas.

Today, I’m going to take you through Chopin’s “Ballade No. 1 in g minor, op. 23.”  A ballade is another word for “song,” and Chopin wrote 4 wonderful pieces in this form.  The Ballade No. 1 is about 15 minutes in length and contains all the wonderful qualities that I love about Chopin:


1) beautiful melodies and harmonies

2) the famous “Chopin rubato” where the right hand is not exactly in time with the left hand… the feeling of a melody “lagging” or “pushing ahead” in time

3) the perfect combination of “grit” and “grazioso”

4) the feeling of improvisation, yet every note has a purpose.  Much of his music seems to grow “organically;” meaning that each phrase grows out of ideas that were previously sounded…nothing is forced.  It’s the most natural type of musical development.

5) the comforting feeling of tonality and logical chord progressions, with just enough surprises to maintain your interest

6) a generally melancholy atmosphere…often introspective, yet with moments of fantasy

7) virtuosic piano playing—but always, always musical!

8) the way that Chopin can make the piano sound like an orchestra…you can hear melody, accompaniment and other lines all at the same time!


I’m going to show you HOW I ACTIVELY LISTEN TO MUSIC.  While the music is sounding I am going to talk over it and stop it at times to tell you what I AM HEARING.  I’ve had teachers in college do this with me and it was an amazing exercise!


Listen/Watch the video for this demonstration.



Chopin wrote ABSOLUTE MUSIC, not program music.  The music itself—the interplay of the melodies, harmonies, rhythm and form—is its reason for existence.  There is no extra-musical idea—ever!  It’s the opposite of what we heard in Berlioz and Strauss.  It’s the kind of music that Bach, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven wrote.



Listen to the Ballade No. 1, op. 23 while watching the score and SEE how much more you find!

Check out this video link:

It is the 1970’s pop artist Barry Manilow’s “Could this be Magic.”  He opens and closes this beautiful work with Chopin’s “Prelude No. 20 in c minor, Op. 28.”  Manilow was a classically trained musician who studied at Julliard before becoming one of the most well-known song-writers of the 70’s.  My musicJ

Listen to more Chopin works.  There are simply too many great ones to list at this time…  However, for a start, listen to his Preludes, op. 28…these are relatively short and each one is cast in a different mood—portrays a different feeling…

Next, try some of his Polonaises (stately Polish dances)…maybe number 3 & 6.

His “Revolutionary Etude” is very famous as well…

And then there’s the Nocturnes…sigh!

Finally, select a piece or two each day from any composer and do an “active listening” drill.  Perhaps in a special notebook, write brief statements about what you are hearing.  Note prominent melodies (trying to sing intervals/melodic contours), areas of transition (instability); tonality (major/minor)—try to hum the tonic or key center; tempos and their overall relationships.  After one or two listenings, try to find the score and listen while watching the score and observe what you notice!


Enjoy working your ear; and ENJOY ACTIVELY LISTENING TO MUSIC!


Dr. Jerry Markoch, Director of Bands

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