More Composers You Should Know!

This month we are continuing our exploration of composers you should know, but with a twist! We'll explore music by three fascinating composers (Scott Joplin, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Joseph Bologne), and each week you'll hear music performed on unusual instruments: strange pianos or keyboards that are long-lost relatives of the piano!

Week 1

Part 1

Scott Joplin

Considered the "King of Ragtime," Joplin was one of the most famous composers and pianists of his day. He helped create the style of music known as ragtime.

Have you ever thought about how we listen to music? You're probably listening to this piece on a computer, phone, or tablet. Just 20 years ago it would have been hard to listen to much music on one of these devices! We used to listen to music on CDs, cassette tapes, and, going farther back in time, on records.

The sound from this piece was actually created by Scott Joplin in 1916, but not in the way that we're used to. Back then, pianists could "record" performances on paper "piano rolls" that could then be played again by a player piano! Want to see how that works? Check out the next video!

Part 2

Here's another piece by Scott Joplin, and again this is a performance that the composer created in 1916. Watch how the player piano operates. The person has to pump special pedals to keep to mechanisms running at the right speed, but the paper roll and the special machine inside the piano do all the work!

Week 2

Part 1

Let's hear something very different now, but on another fascinating relative of the piano; the Clavichord.

The composer of this music is another composer you should know: Johann Sebastian Bach. He is one of the most famous composers of all time!

The clavichord was a popular instrument for people to play at home about 300-400 years ago. It is not very loud, so it wasn't performed on at large concerts (people wouldn't be able to hear it!). What do you think of the Clavichord?

Part 2

Here's another famous piece of music by Bach performed on an instrument that Bach would not have imagined! But Bach was a master of keyboard instruments (such as the organ and harpsichord), so he might have appreciated his music being performed on this other instrument that features a keyboard: the accordion! Have you ever heard an accordion before? They are quite often used in folk music, but it is unusual to hear them perform Bach!

Week 3

This week, let's learn a little about the composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Joseph Bologne was born on an island in the Caribbean in 1745. His father was a white French nobleman and his mother was a young African slave. He eventually moved to France where he was not only known as a great musician, but also as a military leader and a champion fencer! (Check out his Wikipedia page for more information about his fascinating life!)

This first performance of his music features the harpsichord. The harpsichord was the most important ancestor of the piano, and it was the most popular keyboard instrument until quite a while after the piano was invented.

Part 2

Now let's hear another composition by Joseph Bologne on instrument that he surely would not have imagined using! This music was originally written for two violins, but this creative musician is performing it as a video duet (with himself) on marimba. The marimba looks a lot like a giant piano keyboard and it is performed by striking the keys with mallets.

Week 4

Part 1

We're going back to Bach this week to explore yet another unusual keyboard instrument. Have you ever heard bells being rung from a tall tower? These sets of bells are called carillons, and they are operated like giant keyboards that you play with your fists!

If you are wanting to hear a carillon in real life, there are several in Seattle! The Sacred Heart church next to the Pacific Science Center plays their carillon every Sunday Morning. There are three sets of bells on the University of Washington campus, too! Denny Hall, Gerberding Hall, and Kane Hall all have various kinds of bells (the bells on Kane Hall are visible from UW's iconic Red Square!).

Part 2

Here's another extremely famous piece by Bach, originally for orchestra and violin or harpsichord soloists, but here performed by the melodica! A melodica is a keyboard instrument that is powered by blowing into a tube, and the musician changes the notes by playing a miniature keyboard, just like on the piano!

I hope you enjoyed hearing some strange keyboard instruments, and I hope you enjoyed the music of these three composers!