Holiday Music

The holiday season is upon us, and I’m looking forward to all the traditions that go along with this time of year. The scent of fresh pine is in the air, and suddenly a completely different iTunes collection of mine is getting regular play time.

There are certain classic songs I love and somehow never tire of, but every year there are a couple of new additions to my list. I grew up listening to Johnny Mathis during the holidays. My parents had other Christmas albums, but that was my favorite for many years.

After college, I discovered Nat King Cole’s Christmas album and became hooked on that too. I’ve added several favorites to my list over the years, including a really cool Klezmer Hanukkah medley and a Kwanzaa tune too this year.

I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite holiday songs below. My top choice is the first in each category, while the “runner-up” choices are links listed below. Be sure and add your favorites too in the comments section at the end!

The Classics

For unto us a child is born, from Handel’s Messiah

[youtube width=”400″ height=”300″ video_id=”MS3vpAWW2Zc”]


The Christmas song, by Nat King Cole

I’ll Be Home for Christmas, by Johnny Mathis

Waltz of the Snowflakes, from the Nutcracker


Chanukah Music, by Northwood High School Philharmonic Orchestra

[youtube width=”400″ height=”300″ video_id=”KEZSX8ZKKio”]


Chanukah Klezmer Medley, Robin Seletsky clarinet

The ones that make me feel wistful

Christmas time is here, from A Charlie Brown Christmas, by Vince Guaraldi Trio. This song was used to good effect in the film The Royal Tannenbaums too.

[youtube width=”400″ height=”300″ video_id=”GPG3zSgm_Qo”]


Gabriel’s Message, by Sting

[youtube width=”400″ height=”300″ video_id=”GF2BzUDeTkY”]


The ones that fill me with awe

Once in Royal David’s City, by King’s College Cambridge 2010

[youtube width=”400″ height=”300″ video_id=”NMGMV-fujUY”]


Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, by Celtic Woman

Silent Night, by Jackie Evancho


The ones that I love to sing along to

Tu scendi dalle stelle, by Luciano Pavarotti

[youtube width=”400″ height=”300″ video_id=”AfZkXntKY8k”]


Fairytale of New York, by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, by Bruce Springsteen


The ones that make me want to dance

The Kwanzaa Umoja song

[youtube width=”400″ height=”300″ video_id=”HMt1I09epGY”]


Christmas Wrapping, by The Waitresses


The ones that make me laugh

Santa Baby, by Eartha Kitt with Friends

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Christmas in Hollis, by Run DMC

Chanuka (Hanukka) Song, by Adam Sandler

Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah, by Erran Baron Cohen, Featuring Jules Brookes


Image by clairity


Giuliana is a writer and social media strategist who lives in Jersey City with her husband and adorable Maltese puppy, Bianca. Connect with Giuliana on Google+


Early Western Music Notation

This is the third post in a series on the History of Sheet Music. You can read about the history of sheet music and early notational systems in two previous posts. This post looks at the evolution of western music notation.

The image above is an example of plainchant, also called plain song. It is a type of medieval church singing without any instrumental accompaniment. Plainchant notation dates from the 9th century on, and is widely recognized as the very first type of notation on which today’s western notational systems are based on.

Plainchant used “neume” signs, which are the foundation for today’s notational systems.

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines neume as

…a sign for one or a group of successive musical pitches, predecessor of modern musical notes. Neumes have been used in Christian (e.g., Gregorian, Byzantine) liturgical chant as well as in the earliest medieval polyphony (music in several voices, or parts) and some secular monophony (music consisting of a single melodic line).

Neumes purposely did not represent exact pitches or rhythms, but rather were used as way to remember songs that had already been learned. Neumatic notation was open to a wide variety of interpretations.

Plainchant is also an example of monophony, usually described as a single melodic line without harmonizing accompaniment.

The addition of instrumental accompaniment to plainchant resulted in a more complex notation system.

Homophony is a melodic line including a harmonizing accompaniment, such as a voice singing with piano accompaniment, while polyphony includes two or more melodic lines.

By the 13th century, square notation was in use. The image below illustrates a piece from the Graduale Aboense (14th-15th century):










Information about rhythm, or mensural notation, began to be incorporated from C1260-1500. An example of polyphonic mensural notation including information about rhythm is shown in the image of the Agnus Dei of the Barcelona Mass below (late 14th century):











Notation continued to evolve, eventually including time signatures and tempo indications after the 17th century. Metronome indications were used by Beethoven in the early 19th century, and in the 20th century Bartók was specifying the duration of his compositions in minutes and seconds.



Giuliana is a writer and social media strategist who lives in Jersey City with her husband and adorable Maltese puppy, Bianca. Connect with Giuliana on Google+


1)    Notation | Oxford Music Online | Grove Music Online |

2)    Espie Estrella |

3)    All images in the Public Domain




Interview with SYBARITE5

Comprised of Sami Merdinian and Sarah Whitney, violins; Angela Pickett, viola; Laura Metcalf, cello; and Louis Levitt, bass, SYBARITE5 has taken audiences around the US by storm. From Radiohead to Mozart, this group of talented, diverse musicians has changed the perception of chamber music performance. SYBARITE5 has recently appeared at the Library of Congress, on the CBS Early show, for his Holiness the Dalai Lama, and numerous times at the Aspen Music Festival. In New York City they have performed at Lincoln Center, Time Warner Center, Galapagos Artspace, the Museum of Sex, Bohemian National Hall, Rockerfeller and maintain a residency at the cell. SYBARITE5’s latest CD “Disturb The Silence” made the Billboard Top 10, and the group is one of three winners of the Concert Artists Guild competition.

The Melody Book recently spoke with Louis Levitt of SYBARITE5:

Q: How did you come up with the name SYBARITE5? Is it an homage to Xian Hawkins (The Sybarite) in any way?

A:  I wasn’t aware of Xian Hawkins. The name “Sybarite” comes from Greek mythology, from a town called Sybaris. Sybarites would charm their enemies by playing music.

Q: The SYBARITE5  musical style is diverse, ranging from Radiohead to Mozart. How do you choose the pieces you perform? Have you gotten any feedback from the bands you cover, such as Radiohead?

A:  We have a pretty simple rule. We just play the music that we like to listen to and music that we want to play. That’s pretty much how we approach all our work, and we have to agree as a group on that. We haven’t gotten any feedback from Radiohead that I know of. I think it would be really cool if someone from Radiohead contacted us and say “Hey, we find this really interesting”, or “We really hate what you’re doing.” I think it would be very interesting to get that kind of feedback, but I don’t think that would really affect what we’re doing either way. Obviously it would be nice to know if there are bands that we are covering who enjoy our version of the songs they created, but I think that’s really icing on the cake. We love and respect their music so much that we, as classical musicians want to play it ourselves. It was something we wanted to explore, so we did.

Q: How do you compose the pieces in your repertoire? Since you are a very diverse group, how do you maintain the SYBARITE5 musical style without spreading too much and losing focus?

A: I’m not exactly sure if we actively try to do that. I guess the answer is that we don’t maintain a style. We just play what we really want to play, and the music that we’re really passionate about. A lot of classical musicians have to play required pieces; in an orchestra you don’t get a lot of say in what you have to play. Or if you play in a string quartet, you would be playing Bartok and Mozart, and pieces like that. We’re very lucky in that we don’t have to maintain a certain requirement. The horrible thing is, there isn’t a lot of music written for a string quintet, but the great thing is, there’s no music written for a string quintet! So we get to do whatever we want to do, and whatever music we feel compelled to play, we get to perform. And we’re not very shy about commissioning composers, or people to write music for us.

Q: Who are your favorite classical and contemporary musicians? Who inspires and influences you?

A:  This may sound weird, but my influences are Bach, Mahler, Edgar Meyer, Radiohead, and Led Zeppelin. I was a teenager of the ’90s, so I’m sure there’s some grunge in there, and a predilection for Pearl Jam. These are all composers and bands that I enjoy listening to, they are all on my iPod.

Q: What advice do you have for young musicians today?

A:  Don’t stop. Especially if you’re talking to classical musicians, you know, it’s very competitive. I went to a conservatory, and it’s very competitive and a very tough education to get. The people I see that are successful are the people that have the most amount of drive. You can be talented, and get very far, but the ones that really get the most out of life and their careers, and the most out of being a musician are the people that just work hard and keep going. No matter what happens, you can’t really be afraid to fail, because failure is a really important part of that. If you don’t fail you’re never going to realize what you need to do to be successful.


SYBARITE5’s latest CD is available on iTunes, cdbaby, and bandcamp. For more information on SYBARITE5’s upcoming concerts and performances, check their Facebook page or website.


Giuliana is a writer and social media strategist who lives in Jersey City with her husband and adorable Maltese puppy, Bianca. Connect with Giuliana on Google+


Interview with Naama Liany

Mezzo Soprano Naama Liany is one of today’s most promising young singers. She has toured Europe, Japan and the United States since her teen years as a soloist with the prestigious Moran Choir of Israel. Naama has also performed on the prestigious stages of Carnegie Hall and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The Melody Book caught up with her recently and conducted the interview below.


Q:  You recently participated in the Menuhin Festival Vocal Academy in Gstaad, taught by famous mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli and her mother – Mrs. Silvana Bazzoni Bartoli. What was the experience like?

A:  The experience I had this summer was one of the strongest, intensive and meaningful ones I have had in my life. It was every day for 8 hours, listening to other professional singers and listening to great advice from Mrs. Bazzoni and Ms Bartoli. Cecilia Bartoli has been one of my idols since I was 14 years old; it was a dream of mine for many years to meet her and learn from her. The atmosphere and isolation in the mountains of the Gstaad area intensified this learning experience.

Q:  Do you see training as a continual process for singers? Who do you study with on a regular basis?

A:  I think that musical learning never ends; even the best singers still confess that they don’t know everything, so of course ongoing training is a big part of my life. Practicing daily, attending master-classes, listening to other performers at all levels and auditioning for roles are all essential to the process. Another big part of studying is learning the operatic repertoire and learning the necessary foreign languages.

Q:  What recitals and performances do you have lined up for 2011-2012?

A:  I’m going to perform this December 27th at the Felicja Blumenthal Music Center in Tel-Aviv. I’ll be performing a program of 18th and 19th Century French music and operatic arias by Mozart, Offenbach & Rossini.

Q:  What are your top 3 favorite arias to sing? Do you specialize in singing works by any specific composers?

A:  My 3 favorite pieces to sing are:

1.            Una voce poco fa (from The Barber of Seville / Rossini)
2.            Tarentelle (Bizet)
3.            Giusto Ciel, In tal periglio (Maometto II / Rossini)

Q:  What advice do you have for other young singers starting out today?

A:  I’d advise any beginning singer to listen to as many singers possible, always keep practicing and to focus on their own career rather than what other people are doing.


Lastly, I would like to thank the Ronen Foundation which has consistently supported me throughout my studies.


You can listen to Naama sing on this video compilation of sound clips from June 24th 2011 recital at the Felicja Blumental Music Center, Tel Aviv.


Giuliana is a writer and social media strategist who lives in Jersey City with her husband and adorable Maltese puppy, Bianca. Connect with Giuliana on Google+


The Schubert Club Museum

The photo’s subject (above) is one of several outdoor sculptures of Peanuts characters in and around St. Paul’s Rice Park. Schroeder is most likely playing Beethoven, while Lucy adoringly looks on with rapt attention. On a recent visit to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, I was charmed by this and other outdoor sculptures of Charles Schultz’s famous Peanuts characters. I also happily stumbled upon The Schubert Club Museum, located in one of the historical buildings that flank Rice Park.

The entrance of The Schubert Club Museum contains a remarkable sculpture made up of dozens of instruments.



















The museum showcases several keyboard instruments, including a Streicher 1869 Grand Piano:














Below is a closeup of the keyboard of the first grand piano, Broadwood 1795.













The Schubert Club’s Museum website includes a section which compares the sound of various keyboards playing Mozart’s “Twinkle, Twinkle.” The range of sounds is astonishing.

The museum’s collection houses the Gilman Ordway Manuscript Collection, which contains manuscripts and letters by Debussy, Liszt, Milhaud, Mozart, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Haydn, Mahler, Brahms, Puccini and Schumann.

This all got me thinking about music clubs, and how they originated in this country. I started looking into it and there are several music clubs throughout the U.S., which have adopted the names of various famous composers. For example, there is the Beethoven Music Club in Memphis, established in 1888 and still in existence today. There is also the more recently established Mainly Mozart Amadeus Club in San Diego. No doubt several of these music clubs and societies have now become defunct, such as the Liederkreis in New York, which had an orchestra, and whose members played and sang mostly German classical music. Nevertheless, there does exist a governing body that oversees music clubs in the U.S. called The National Federation of Music Clubs.

Beyond music clubs, there are also academic societies, such as the American Institute for Verdi studies.

In Europe, there is Vienna’s prestigious Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, which translates to Society of Music Friends, also known as the Musikverein, or Music Association.

Schubert was prolific, died young, and according to the UK’s Schubert Institute, was initially denied membership to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde when he applied in 1818.  Three years later, Schubert was finally accepted as a member of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde.

It’s tempting to think that the Schubert Music Society’s primary goal was to help preserve his name and legacy, but one of the museum’s guides shared with me that the Schubert music club associated themselves with Schubert probably because other music clubs in the U.S. had already adopted the names of other famous composers!

From all the descriptions I’ve read, it seems that most music clubs came into being to organize the common interest of a group of music lovers. Some of the members performed music, but they also devoted time and energy inviting singers and musicians of note to perform at their clubs, and to the promotion and support of music education.

Have you unexpectedly stumbled upon a cultural gem during your travels? Tell us about it in the comments section below!


Giuliana is a writer and social media strategist who lives in Jersey City with her husband and adorable Maltese puppy, Bianca. Connect with Giuliana on Google+


Ten Years Later

Earlier this week, NY1 published the results of a poll on how New Yorkers will spend the 10th anniversary of September 11:

37 percent will keep their daily routine, 25 percent will quietly reflect upon the day at work or at home, 23 percent will follow media coverage of the memorial services, 10 percent will attend a religious ceremony at a place of worship and 6 percent will attend a formal ceremony honoring the victims of the attacks.

I’m pretty sure I will be doing a combination of the first three, as I’ve done every year at this time for the last ten years.

On that fateful day, I walked out of our Battery Park City apartment and walked to work on Water Street as usual. It was beautiful and sunny, which added to the surreal feeling that permeated the day and weeks that followed. Without delving too deeply into my experience on that day, I will say that I felt a need to connect with others who experienced the same things in an effort to understand what had happened to us. Seth Godin’s excellent blog post on human nature adds the need to take action, to do something when we are in the face of uncertainty. He wrote about the recent earthquake on the East Coast, but his observations apply to the events of 9/11 just as they do to Hurricane Irene.

This need to take action has manifested itself in many ways. Plays and songs have been written to commemorate the day, and art exhibitions abound. MoMAPS1 is taking a retrospective look at how art has changed and been affected by 9/11.

New York Magazine printed an extensive section this week about 9/11 including an encyclopedia and a mind map graphic of selected works from artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers and others. One section of the graphic on page 53 lists “The Sublime”. Two of the music pieces included are WTC 9/11, by Steve Reich and On the Transmigration of Souls, by John Adams.

I love that word, sublime, and I love New York Magazine’s use of the word in this context. It alludes to the powerful belief that we can, and have, risen from the ashes by taking the action of creating.



Giuliana is a writer and social media strategist who lives in Jersey City with her husband and adorable Maltese puppy, Bianca. Connect with Giuliana on Google+


Creative Commons image, by Kevin Whelan


Sheet Music History – Early Notation Systems

The image below is part of a Tibetan musical score from the 19th century. While it might look very foreign to Western eyes, it is a great example of the variations that exist in musical notation systems throughout the world. The visual aspects hint at a system that seems unfathomable to untrained eyes.






As mentioned in our previous post, musical notation developed alongside cuneiform script from ancient Mesopotamia. As languages evolved, notational systems likewise took shape in various ways throughout the world. As cataloged in the article “Notation”, these systems can use letters of the alphabet, syllables, vowels, words, numbers, graphic signs or hybrid systems that combine two or more of these elements.











Ancient Greek musical notation used letters of the alphabet, and also: “…was capable of representing pitch, note duration and, to a limited extent, harmony. It consisted of symbols placed above text syllables…”(2)

By contrast, Japanese, Chinese, Balinese and South Asian notational systems use syllables. The image below is of the complex Chinese gongche notation for the guqin (string instrument), which consists of ten characters, or ideograms. Each ideogram stands for a syllable, which in turn represents a note:














The image below illustrates early 20th century Indian music that also uses syllables:

Western music notation uses words, but “almost never on the staff…above or below it, or in the margin”(1), as shown in Chopin’s score below:

This Chopin score also illustrates the use of numbers in Western notation to specify meter and to show time signatures (3:4, in this case). Another complex Chinese notation system, the ancient jianzi pu for the Qin (lute or string instrument) also uses numbers.

Graphic signs in Western notation include dots, empty or filled noteheads, stems, and the apostrophe, used to signify a breath, or pause. Braille notation for the blind is another example of graphical notation.

Hybrid notations include the Japanese karifu and Korean notation for the zither. Western staff notation encompasses all notation systems: letters of the alphabet, syllables, vowel acoustics, words, numbers and graphic signs.


You can read the first post in our series on Sheet Music History here, and watch for our upcoming post on Western notation.


Giuliana is a writer and social media strategist who lives in Jersey City with her husband and adorable Maltese puppy, Bianca. Connect with Giuliana on Google+



1. Notation | Oxford Music Online | Grove Music Online |

2. The Early History of Sheet Music in Western Civilization | by Victor Epand |

3. The History of Sheet Music | by Christina Hamlett |

All images in the Public Domain



How to use the melody search feature

Do you have a certain classical melody in mind, but cannot remember the name of the tune? Well, the melody feature is here to help!

Here’s how it works:

1. Transpose the main theme of the melody you are trying to name to the key of C major or C minor.

2. Enter first few notes of the theme in the key of C major or C minor using the two octave keyboard. (Listen and make sure the theme sounds correct).
3. To narrow the search results, click on the relative major or minor button on the top left.
Open melody search

Play keys

4. Click on search; your desired tune should come up. Click on it to display the sheet music.

Click on name

Display music

Here’s an example of how to use the melody search:

I’m looking for the piano piece, Fur Elise, by Beethoven (of course, if I knew the name of the piece, I wouldn’t need to use this feature…but for the sake of this explanation, let’s pretend).

1. The first 6 notes of this specific piece are the most memorable (this isn’t the case in every tune). These notes in their original key, A minor, are: E Eb E Eb E B

Our first step is to transpose the theme into C minor, which gives us the notes: G Gb G Gb G D
NOTE: it doesn’t matter whether Gb or F# is entered (and so forth). The melody search engine will recognize both as the same note.

2. Next, we enter the transposed notes with the use of the keyboard.
3. To get the best results, click the minor button on the top left of the screen, since Fur Elise is written in a minor key.
play notes

select minor

4. Click the search button to get the result. Then, click on the name of the tune to bring up the Fur Elise sheet music.

Display sheet music

Remember, the melody search works well with catchy and melodic themes. We are constantly expanding our sheet music archive. If you cannot find a certain musical piece, please contact us about it at [email protected] and let us know.


The History of Sheet Music

The human need to communicate, connect and to be understood has evolved throughout history, from emitting sounds to drawings on cave walls and the development of languages, including music. From a scientific perspective, a 2007 Georgetown University Medical Center study found that the same brain systems process music and language. Science Daily summarized the study’s findings thus: “One brain system, based in the temporal lobes, helps humans memorize information in both language and music— for example, words and meanings in language and familiar melodies in music. The other system, based in the frontal lobes, helps us unconsciously learn and use the rules that underlie both language and music, such as the rules of syntax in sentences, and the rules of harmony in music.” In the same article, Michael Ullman, Ph.D. and professor of neuroscience, psychology, neurology and linguistics, is quoted as saying “…both language and music crucially require the memorization of arbitrary information, such as words and melodies.”

In other words, music, like language, is a form of communication and a way to preserve history. It’s not surprising, then, that music is called the universal language. It is a natural extension of our need to express ourselves.

The earliest form of writing has been attributed to cultures in the Middle East, including Mesopotamia’s cuneiform system that used wedge shaped characters. Musical notation developed alongside cuneiform script from ancient Mesopotamia. The first visual representations of musical sounds are believed to have survived in connection with ancient Egypt’s hieroglyphic writings. Below is a diagram of the evolution of cuneiform script. It’s easy to see how starting with evolution #4, the shapes began to lend themselves to musical notation.

The article “Notation” in Oxford Music Online states that

Written notation is a phenomenon of literate social classes. In all societies, it has developed only after the formation of a script for language, and has generally used elements of that script.

The article adds that China, Korea, Japan and Europe have “a large number of notational systems”, while the “Middle East (except Turkey), South and Southeast Asia have developed very few.”

So which came first, vocal or instrumental notation? According to Oxford Music Online, vocal music notation was developed first in Western Europe, while instrumental notation was developed first in Greece, Mesopotamia and Pharaonic Egypt. Sight reading is predominantly a Western concept.

Musical notation, or sheet music, serves many functions. Composers use notation during their creation process to try out musical ideas. Notation helps conductors, performers and musicians remember pieces and it is a useful tool for the study and analysis of music.

You can read more about early notational systems here, and watch for our upcoming post on Western notation.


Giuliana is a writer and social media strategist who lives in Jersey City with her husband and adorable Maltese puppy, Bianca. Connect with Giuliana on Google+



Notation | Oxford Music Online | Grove Music Online |

“Music and Language are Processed by the Same Brain Systems” | |  09.27.2007 | |

Image credits: Wikipedia, via


“Music and Language are Processed by the Same Brain Systems”

Musician’s Beat: How to organize and focus practice sessions

All musicians know that practice is essential for improving and mastering their instrument. Practice is our time to perfect playing without any distractions. When we finally do sit down to practice though, how do we utilize our time? What constitutes a “good” practice session? What do we work on and for how long?

These are all questions that musicians should ask themselves. It is true that the more you play your instrument, the better you will become. However, it is also true that focused and organized practicing will yield better results in less time.

As a professionaI musician, I try to differentiate between playing and practicing. When I play, I try to serve the musical situation as much as I can, doing what I feel is right for the music. Often, while I’m playing in a rehearsal or show, I’ll stumble upon a certain phrase or rhythm and make a mental note of it as something I need to practice. When I practice, I focus on what I can’t do. What’s the use of spending practice time on things we know well already?

We all have a tendency to play things that we know well. If we measured the time we spend noodling on phrases that we’ve already internalized years ago, it would add up to hours and hours of lost practice time.

One way to make practice time more meaningful is to keep a log of the ideas you are working on. At the end of each practice session, quickly write down what you have worked on and what needs to be practiced next. If you spend time on a certain tune, write it down. If you worked on a specific pattern, write it down along with the metronome speed you worked with. The only one reading this log is you, so write just enough to remember what you were working on. The end of a practice session is the best time to fill out the log, since your thoughts will be fresh and current. With an updated log, you can see exactly what needs to be done before starting your next practice routine, leading to a focused and efficient session.

Another way to improve your practice routine is to devote a certain amount of time to each exercise. It is easy to drift off and practice a certain tune or exercise extensively, leaving little or no time for other subjects. Before you begin each exercise, give yourself a certain deadline, at which time you will stop and move on to the next musical subject. Our body takes time to internalize musical ideas and patterns. Muscle memory is built only through repetition. It is much more efficient to work on 4 to 5 different ideas during each practice, rather than practicing one idea during an entire session.

Being a working musician is a very demanding job. On top of rehearsals, performances, recordings, teaching, composing and auditioning, we must find time to expand our musicianship and improve our mastery of our instruments. This makes time a valuable commodity.

I hope you found these practice tips useful, and that they help you to further achieve your musical goals. What system do you use to make your practice sessions more efficient? If you have additional tips, please share and comment below.


Daniel Ori



Stay tuned for upcoming Musician’s Beat posts from professional musicians. If you are interested in writing a feature post contact us at [email protected]