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Monthly Archives: October 2016

Merengue Music Dance:History and Characteristics

Fast Fact
The first meringue song was supposedly written in 1844, which also marked the foundation of the Dominican Republic. It is a war song that makes sarcastic remarks about a soldier called Thomas Torres, who abandoned a battle and ran away from his fellow soldiers.
Merengue music as well as dance first originated in the 19th century, and has a typical Latin American flavor to it. This art form also has an African influence, and is the national dance of the Dominican Republic. Merengue was further popularized by the dictator of this nation, called Rafael Trujillo. In the early- to mid-twentieth century, he extensively promoted this music, which later on spread to other parts of Central America and also to the USA, where it was first introduced in New York city.

There always has been a controversy regarding the derivation of the name ‘merengue’. Some say that it has been derived from the French dessert confectionery called ‘meringue’, which is made up of sugar and egg-whites. This recipe has a ‘light and bubbly feel’ to it, which was compared to the same feature of merengue music-short, simple, and cyclic rhythm patterns. It is very similar to other Latin American music and dance forms, like salsa and bachata.

History and Origin
There are several theories that explain the origin of merengue, but none of them have yet been confirmed. Some say that this style evolved equivalently with African, European, and Central American elements and features. It developed as a type of rural music in the Caribbean region, and also is the cultural identity and national symbol of the Dominican Republic. The music though is a bit different from the one that is played in Haiti; the latter has a slower tempo and mainly depends on string instruments such as the acoustic guitar and ukelele.

According to one version, merengue originated from the slaves who were tied together with one leg, while leaving the other free. They had to move and drag their free single legs while cutting sugarcane in the background of loud drum beats. This led to the idea of using only a single leg while dancing, in respect of the slaves who suffered. A second story tells of a war hero who returned home to his village after being victorious in many battles. Such wars were a part of the revolution that took place in the nation of the Dominican Republic in the 19th century. This soldier was limping as he was injured on one leg, and hence, to celebrate his patriotism towards his country, all the village people started limping and dancing to honor him, specifically on a 4/4 to 2/4 beat. This probably lead to the birth of merengue.

Merengue Music Characteristics
The music is played mostly with a 2/4 beat, and modern musical versions or songs are often on a 4/4 rhythm. This style of music is very famous in restaurants and cafes in the Caribbean region, and also in parts of South America.

Instruments Used
Merengue was mainly played during its early days on string instruments. The music is present in an even time signature, and mainly consists of three sections: paseo, merengue, and jaleo. Commonly-used instruments are guitar (preferably acoustic), drums, bongo, djembe, piano, accordion, saxophone, etc. The accordion was used first in the early 19th century, when it was brought over to the Republic by the European merchants and traders.
In case of the modern version of merengue, instruments such as the tambora (two-sided drum), electric bass guitar, guira, saxophone, and accordion are utilized extensively. The guira is a percussion instrument which is shaped like a cylinder, whereas, the tambora is used in synchronization with any other percussion instrument.

Merengue Dance Characteristics
A major feature of this dance style is that often, the body weight is concentrated more on one leg, and leg movements are swift, graceful, and clear in appearance. Apart from the Dominican Republic, this dance is also quite famous in the Caribbean, Haiti, and other Central American regions.
Meringue consists of a combination of two dance types: the French and African minuet styles, which were developed in the 18th and 19th century, respectively. The slaves probably derived the percussion beats from these types, and developed their own dance based on it. In its early days, merengue was performed with many people standing in a circle, and men and woman faced each other at opposite points.
Hands were held at a distance, and the dance consisted mainly of simple moves. Movement of the hips was absent, and many steps consisted of shoulder-shaking. The couple style evolved gradually in the 20th century, and with it developed more sensuous moves, along with hip-shaking.

Merengue Music and Dance Types
Traditionally speaking, merengue is subdivided into three types: merengue tipico, merengue de orquesta, and merengue de guitarra. All three categories are the original ones, and in today’s world, a combination of these types is present, along with the respective dance moves. Merengue de orquesta is the orchestral form of this music style, and requires numerous kinds of instruments to be played. Merengue de guitarra is a modern style, which relies on the presence of guitars, both acoustic and electric. Merengue tipico is the oldest style, and is mostly played using traditional instruments. In merengue tipico, both the music and dance sections start off with a slow pace, and gather pace as the music progresses. In the last portion, the two-by-four beat is very common, and a lot of leg movement is to be done. The main instruments used are the accordion and saxophone. In case of ballroom merengue, the limping feature (mentioned in the history part) is prominently present, and the beat or percussion time signatures do not vary much. This dance type is more sensual with slow and well-coordinated body movements. The last type is called club merengue, which consists of fast-paced music, and a large variety of hip movements can be done while dancing. It is more famous among the youngsters, and is mainly seen in the cafes and bars of the Dominican Republic.

If the current scenario is taken in account, meringue is as famous as the salsa dance style, and in some regions, is the most popular Latin American dance type, along with salsa and bachata. The popular artists who are/were into this style of music are Juan Luis Guerra, Luis Díaz, Toño Rosario, Elvis Crespo, etc. Merengue (both music and dance) is now professionally taught at many dance institutions across the world.

History of the Soulful Gospel Music

While most hymns sung in churches around the world are based on canticles taken straight out of the Bible, gospel music is more personal and appeals to a majority of the crowd. It is soulful and has the ability to plunge you into an abyss of thought. Gospel itself means “Good News”, and gospel music is nothing but spreading this good news through soul-stirring music.

Gospel music is relatively easier to grasp and is filled with feeling and emotions that one can easily relate to. The theme for all gospel songs is the same, they resound the relationship with God. Talking from personal experience, gospel music has always managed to calm my tensed nerves, all because it comes from the depths of the human heart.

Gospel music doesn’t restrict itself to a particular genre of music, thus, it can be expressed in any of the music styles, including blues, jazz, reggae, and even rumba.

Roots of Gospel Music

Tracing back the roots of gospel music, it seems to fore-date the African tradition of oral communication. How is this remotely connected? Well, most African music was centered around daily activities including agriculture, hunting and war. Singing, automatically became a means to achieve harmony both with nature and the cosmos.
As we know, majority of the African tribes were enslaved and forced to attend worship services. These slaves eventually learned the traditional hymns sung at these worship services, and sang them while working on the fields. Over a period of time, their understanding of the Christian doctrine grew, and the slaves began to draw strength from the biblical passages and compose their own songs. The technique of call and response stayed, and it is what gave birth to gospel music.

These African-Americans sought to singing verses and songs as a means to seek solace in their troubled times. The Church thus, became a medium for venting out their repression. The songs inspired from the Bible became a symbol of redemption, a sign of hope and freedom. The birth of gospel music became synonymous with the blacks living in South America. By the late 1800’s, this form of expression reached the rest of America through traveling minstrels.

Prior to 1870, gospel music took the role of work songs, jubilees and social gospel. The fight for civil rights and equality gave birth to a whole new genre of gospel music. This music incorporated widely accepted social messages into songs that were sung both in church and outside.
Post the success of black music in the 1960s, gospel music became more performance-aware and equally, socially and spiritually engaging. The 70’s and 80’s saw the marriage of funk and disco into the essential gospel music. The 90’s blended an upbeat explosion with the introduction of R’n’B that scored big. Seeing the increasing popularity, the British boosted their existing gospel groups.
Due credit to Thomas Andrew Dorsey popularly called the ‘Father of Black Gospel Music’, who combined the rhythms of jazz and blues into Christian praise songs. Songs like Precious Lord and Peace in the Valley have played a major role in delivering words of assurance even today. Another noteworthy mention is that of Mahalia Jackson, also called the ‘Queen of Gospel Music’, who through her melodious voice caused a regeneration. Such was the power of her singing that people felt encouraged to wholeheartedly participate in the singing.

Following the footsteps of Mahalia was Mrs. Albertina Walker, who stirred, rekindled and inspired the people to become God-fearing. She was named the ‘Queen of Gospel Music’ after the death of Mahalia Jackson in 1972.
The 80’s and the 90’s saw a rise of artists like V. Michael McKay, The Winans, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, and Thomas Whitfield who continue to give us hope in dark, sin-filled days. Artists like Yolanda Adams, Lecresia Campbell, Kirk Franklin have left their mark on gospel music, leaving the listener with hope for a better tomorrow.

Modern-day artists like Kirk Carr, William Murphy, Israel Houghton are there to enhance the entire music experience.

Timeline of Gospel Music
♪ 1619 – First Africans are brought to the British colony of Jamestown
♪ 1730 – The Great Awakening, first major effort to Christianize enslaved Africans
♪ 1777 – First African Baptist Church established
♪ 1780 – John Wesley’s A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodist published
♪ 1787 – First independent African-American Christian denomination is created
♪ 1800’s – Lined-hymns, anthems, shouts and spirituals distinguished as African-American innovation in sacred music
♪ 1865 – Constitution of United States passes the Thirteenth Amendment banishing slavery
♪ 1871 – Fisk Jubilee Singers begin their inaugural tour, bringing the sacred African-American music to the world
♪ 1874 – Gospel Songs. A Choice Collection of Hymns and Tunes released by Philip Bliss
♪ 1901 – Charles Albert Tindley publishes songs in Philadelphia
♪ 1906 – Religious pioneer William Seymour, begins the Azusa Street Revival, giving rise to modern-day Pentecostalism and a boost for the development of gospel music
♪ 1920s’ – Production of ‘race records’, also known as gospel blues and the holy blues begin.
♪ 1921 – Gospel Pearls, the first hymnal is published
♪ 1931 – First gospel chorus is created by Theodore Frye and Thomas A Dorsey
♪ 1938 – Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s, This Train hits a record, million sales
♪ 1945-65 – Known as the Golden Age of Gospel, thanks to the contribution of Mahalia Jackson, Swan Silvertones among others
♪ 1951 – Mrs. Albertina Walker formed the group called The Caravans
♪ 1967 – Edwin Hawkins Singers’ record Oh Happy Day
♪ 1972 – Elvis Presley takes home the Grammy for his album, He Touched Me.
Undoubtedly, gospel songs, even with their melancholy undertones have helped strengthen and boost a whole lot of people. You would say, intense suffering, grief, and stories of separation would put you down and under, but these very subtle songs were the basis of a strong foundation on which faith has slowly been resurrected. It is undoubtedly the highest form of praising and rendering thanks to the Almighty. On this note, it is indeed right to praise the Lord with songs that fiddle with the strings of your heart.

Learn How to Play Piano Music

The piano is one good instrument for music lovers who may want to enter into the music industry professionally. It is believed that learning to play the piano is a good option for getting to know music throughout. Piano lessons most importantly focus on the basics of music such as staff notations, traditional tunes, and other techniques. And once a person is well acquainted with the fundamentals of piano music, he can possibly learn to play any kind of instrument. There are many methods to go by if you want to learn how to play the piano fast. The Internet has also made way for new learning techniques.

Learn How to Play Piano Music

Piano Tutor
Getting piano lessons is the most conventional method of learning to play the musical instrument. You can get in touch with a piano tutor in your neighbor and join classes. Just make sure you do a research with the tutor’s previous students regarding the quality of his lessons. This method is quite good if you want to learn the basics and that too by professional means.

Online Instructional Videos
The best part of online instructional videos is that you can learn almost every skill which is available. Unlike a tutor, you can avail piano lessons by various musicians beyond geographical boundaries. There are some good websites that have these instructional video lessons uploaded, one of which is YouTube. By using online instructional videos, you can even learn what is being taught by well-known pianists in another country.

Instructional DVDs
Apart from online video lessons, you can even purchase instructional DVDs by reputed artists in the music industry. You can get such DVDs in any of the musical instrument stores, bookstores, or music shops. Here again, you get quality video tutorials, as per the level of your skill. In addition, you also get lessons about unique techniques certain professionals use in their playing.

Piano Playing Guides
Another way of learning to play the piano is referring to guides. Normally, these piano books are sorted out according to the level of skill such as beginner, intermediate, and professional. They are good sources of basic information such as notes, scales, chords, certain musical pieces and sets, technical aspects, etc. Some guides may even come with general instructional DVDs.

Being with Pianists and Keyboardists
If you want to learn to play piano fast, remember that being with pianists and other music enthusiasts is the most effective method. Discussing and sharing about piano music is an informal, yet very helpful way to obtain good lessons about the skill. You can teach others what you know, and learn from them what you are not aware of. Remember that jamming with other musicians would surely help you in knowing how to play in a band.

Listening to Songs, Thinking, and Practicing
It is a proven fact that if you think about the music you want to learn, you tend to develop more interest in the field. The same is applicable when it comes to learning to play the piano. The more you listen to songs, the more you are exposed to new techniques, tunes, and skills. You can try to play and imitate skills and tunes which you have heard. This will no doubt make you a good pianist.

If you want to learn how to the play piano online, you can even refer to some popular blogs regarding your subject of interest. For playing the instrument acceptably, you can use some or all the above mentioned methods. The more techniques you learn and practice, the more proficient you will become in the skill.

Different Types of Pianos

The first piano was invented in 1700 by an Italian harpsichord manufacturer named Bartolomeo Cristofori in 1700. Since then, the varieties and quality of pianos has increased by leaps and bounds, and although the basic design has remained the same, one can find pianos in many categories, which suit the purpose of the performer, depending on whether the player is using the instrument for personal entertainment at home or for a large audience at a concert.

Today, only two primary types of acoustic pianos are available, i.e., vertical and grand. Electric/digital pianos belong to a completely different category. The major difference between vertical and grand pianos is that, the actions and strings in the former are vertical, while in the latter they are horizontal, due to which the mechanics differ by a large margin, and feel different during play. Another significant difference is that vertical pianos do not possess a double escapement mechanism which permits the player to use various keys in rapid succession. Any key of a vertical piano has to return to the starting position before another key is played. Let us look at the various types of pianos in the vertical and grand categories, and see how each of them differs from the others.

Types and Sizes of Pianos

Vertical Pianos
Vertical pianos come in 4 types, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Although these look very similar, they can largely be differentiated by their size and sound quality. These pianos are largely designed for use in apartments, schools, and churches, where great sound quality is not a very high priority. They can cost around USD 2,000 for smaller vertical pianos, and up to USD 50,000 for those in the top-end range.

Spinet: This is the smallest type of vertical piano. Spinet piano sets are great when space is a major constraint. However, due to the small size of its strings, it has less power and accuracy, and consequently the quality of its sound is relatively poor. The height of these pianos is usually around 36 – 40 inches (91 -102 cm), with a width of around 58 inches.

Console: Console pianos are a little larger than spinets, with heights of 40 – 44 inches (102 – 112 cm), and a width of around 58 inches. These are made with varied styles and finishes. Therefore, console piano sets can be bought to suit the look of a room. The slight increase in size gives better sound quality. However, the major difference between the spinet and console is the direction of the action. While a spinet’s action mechanism is kept below the keys, a console’s action mechanism is above the keys. This change enables a clearer range of tones.

Studio: This is a popular type of vertical piano found in music studios or schools, and while its height of 43 – 47 inches (109 – 119 cm) is larger than spinets and consoles, it is compensated by a good quality sound that is almost as good as a baby grand piano. The longer stings and bigger soundboard benefits from having a direct blow action mechanism, which rests behind the keys, which make it more durable.

Upright: The largest variety of vertical pianos is the upright one, with a height of 47 – 60 inches (119 – 152 cm). In earlier times, this was a very popular variety, which gave very good sound quality. However, with toughening economic times in the 1930s, people started living in smaller homes, which took the player away from uprights and towards consoles or spinets.

Grand Pianos
These kinds of pianos are largely used for public performances, and are much larger in size as compared to vertical pianos, with the biggest varieties going over 9 feet in length. They give a good tone in all ranges, which makes it important for full orchestra performances. Similar to vertical pianos, grand pianos can also be differentiated by size and sound quality. Smaller versions, such as the petite grand, can cost around USD 6,000, and the price increases with size, with the best concert grand pianos costing around USD 200,000.

Petite Grand: This is the smallest variety of horizontal pianos, with a length up to 4 feet 10 inches (150 cm). Despite its size, it is capable of playing strong notes.

Baby Grand: This is a very popular type of piano for apartments. It is slightly larger than petite grands, with lengths of up to 5 feet 6 inches (170 cm). These come with very good finishes, have excellent sound quality, and are affordable too as compared to the bigger grand pianos.

Medium Grand: Larger than baby grands, these pianos are specifically suited for larger rooms, where the acoustics suit the range of the piano. The length is usually 5 feet 6 inches – 6 feet 6 inches (170 – 200 cm). They can also be moved from one room to another with little effort.

Living Room/Parlor Grand: The next size come in lengths of 7 feet – 7 feet 6 inches (214 – 225 cm). These pianos are fairly expensive, although they are still not in the range of concert pianos. They are best used in large and spacious rooms, which require a piano for higher range of notes and acoustics. These are not movable very easily, and need some planning to avoid damage during transportation.

Ballroom/Semiconcert Grand: These pianos are approximately 7 feet long, and are good for large events, such as dances or a private performance. The sound quality is exceptionally good, and the price is also quite high due to the high quality of materials and construction.

Concert Grand: The biggest and the best, with lengths of 9 feet (280 cm) and above, concert pianos are preferred by professional pianists who regularly perform in large concert halls. They are made with the best materials and skilled manufacturers, and consequently are extremely expensive to buy and maintain. Also, the large size makes it very heavy and difficult to move from one place to another, and large amount of manpower and extensive planning is required to shift this piano safely around.

Electric Pianos
While vertical and grand pianos use mechanical means to produce sounds by vibrating strings and exciting soundboards, electric pianos use electric pickup transducers to sense the vibrations of the strings. These vibrations are then magnified by an amplifier. Alternatively, digital pianos do not have metal strings. Instead, they use sample notes which correspond to their keys and are played out through speakers. These pianos have keys which are weighed down to give the feel of playing an authentic piano. These pianos are often used for jazz, rock, or modern pop music, and have the advantage of not needing to be re-tuned after each move, which makes it a good choice for musicians who move around a lot.

Now that we have learned about the different kinds of pianos available in the market, it should be easier for you to make a good choice for yourself, depending on your requirements and budget. Best of luck!