Ukulele Arrangements

August is a quiet month for teaching. I’ve been spending the extra time on a new anthology of classical ukulele arrangements. I’d estimate 1 in 500 historical works that I review fit the parameters for being playable on the uke.

However, the research is fascinating. I just found a gem from Amy Beach (1867-1944, American). The Gavotte in her opus 36 Children’s Album translates especially well. Listen to my Sibelius file here:

Another newfound favorite is Haydn’s Minuet and Trio.

And I was so pleased to discover that the beloved Melody from Schumann’s Album for the Young is also ukulele-friendly. 

Vivaldi’s Spring from The Four Seasons

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was a composer, violinist, and priest. He was also a music teacher at an orphanage for girls, for whom he wrote music. (Read more of his biography on this great site)

Here is the poem that inspired Vivaldi to compose the first movement of Spring in his concerto, The Four Seasons:

Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.

Vivaldi’s Spring uses music to tell us a story about springtime, birds, streams and breezes, and thunderstorms. As you listen, can you tell which musical themes represent the different aspects of the story? The order in which different musical ideas happen is called the music’s form.

A great book for ages 6-9 by Anna Harwell Celenza, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, is available through the Cambridge Public Library. For my students, I also have a copy for lending.

Here is a student/teacher ukulele duet of the main theme to Spring:

Ukulele Duet: Spring (sheet music)





My Teachers

This NY Times article about music teachers living on in their students has me reminiscing about my own music teachers, Olga Zlobinsky and Joe Maneri.

Mrs. Zlobinsky is a brilliant educator from Leningrad Conservatory who taught me how to solve musical problems in a myriad of different ways. She instilled in me a love of practicing because her lessons were so dynamic. She especially taught me how to play with thoughtful and precise expression. Because English was not her first language, her technical explanations were miniature works of poetry spoken in a Russian melody. (“Andrea, you play like take dust from the keys with feather! Please make like this!”) Often she would reenact her own technique, playing against the palm of my hand. This kinesthetic interaction was precious to my understanding.

My dear piano teacher taught me how to approach musical growth from a variety of perspectives. In this sense most of all, she is the musical grandmother to all my students.

Joe Maneri, my composition teacher, was legendary, a masterful teacher and an amazing character. His compositions and improvisations were visionary. Our lessons were literally magnifying: each note, rhythm, color deserved minute reflection. Joe divided the octave into 72 pitches, bringing my ear into depths completely radical and refreshingly new to my western ears. I learned how to listen meditatively.

Joe is my students’ grandpa, and a direct musical descendant of Arnold Schoenberg. (I am proud that Schoenberg’s spirit has been passed down to me!) Joe taught me that every intention, every action in life matters and should be presented with love. Words cannot express my gratitude to him for teaching me this ongoing lesson.

Maurice Ravel’s Bolero

I love this rendition of Bolero, retold by Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo and later used as the soundtrack for a short animation.

I love this interpretation too. The cartoon explains the form of the music so well.

And I am sure that Ravel himself would have loved this performance despite its faster-than-written tempo.

The form of this piece is so minimalist that scholars have debated whether Ravel was showing early symptoms of dementia through the composition. When Bolero was written in 1928, a great composition was defined by its antics in the development of melodic and harmonic ideas.

Instead, Ravel completely relied on exploring color and texture. He later explained, “It  is an experiment in a very special and limited direction, and it should not be suspected of aiming at achieving anything different from, or anything more than, it actually does achieve. Before the first performance, I issued a warning to the effect that what I had written was a piece … consisting wholly of orchestral texture without music—of one long, very gradual crescendo … I have done exactly what I have set out to do, and it is for listeners to take it or leave it.”

Personally, I will take it.