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One Track Forward, Two Tracks Back:
Old Music, New Musicking

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What did music of the past sound like? Can you imagine ancient Egyptians singing in their palaces or Greeks in the agora? Are we able to reconstruct forgotten music from a forgotten civilization? These are some of the introductory questions for this WSC section. Stay tuned. 

The Greeks took part in inventing many things that are important to our lives today, including the shower. Well, showers have been around ever since man first stood under a waterfall. In ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, wealthy people had servants that helped them bathe. Then the Greeks came along and invented aqueducts (waterways) that transported water to wealthy homes, and people began to enjoy showers. Subsequently, bathhouses became popular. One of the early cities to adopt showering as a common practice was Pergamon, an ancient Greek city, which was located in the Greek city-state of Aeolis. So, did the Greeks sing in the shower?

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Music is an important part of Greek culture, we know this because of the songs and poems of Homer and Sappho and also, we know of Greek instruments such as the lyre and the aulos (double reed pipes like two powerful oboes). Yet, nobody has heard of Greek songs before - they are an ancient enigma.  

Most historians have not been able to make heads or tails out of ancient Greek notations of music and thus, cannot reproduce the music; whatever they tried to create has sounded strange and unpleasant. Several factors have led to some discoveries or progress: 1) well preserved auloi have been reconstructed by expert technicians  2) discoveries of small fragments of music (a lot was lost because most of it was written on papyrus). After much analysis and interpretation, Greek music was finally performed by a choir and aulos player in 2017. What historians conclude is that Greek music is the root of European music.


This famous classical piano piece is Rimsky-Korsakov's most recognizable piece due to its popularity in other cultural works. Intended as an incidental piece in the opera, the piece was composed in 1899-1990 for the opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan, and evokes a chaotic feeling such as a swam of bumblebees. Over time, it has become a classic piece that has been copied by many musicians, using different instruments to showcase their skills. Personally, I love the version by Yujia Wang, check it out.

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Bob Dylan made an acoustic guitar version of the classic in 1967 during The Basement Taping Sessions, in which Dylan was trying to recover from a motocycle accident. The song has an uneasy feel as if trying to escape the 'buzz' of the bumblebees.  It has the same chaotic feel without the super-fast rhythm. 

Legendary jazz trumpeter Al Hirt lent his talent to an exciting and furiously fast version of "The Flight of the Bumblebees" for the theme song of The Green Hornet titled "The Horn Meets the Hornet". Judging by the cover photo, it is from the original Green Hornet starring Bruce Lee. The music is fun, wild, and full of energy like the action film but also includes tones of jazz, which shows him incorporating his own style into the song.

This fun clip shows a music battle between Western and Chinese instruments playing "The Flight of the Bumblebees" with strings. It's violin, cello, bass, flute, piano, and trumpet versus Chinese erhu, pipa and Chinese flute, Chinese trumpet and Chinese harpsichord. It just shows how a classic piece can inspire young musician from all the world to do their own take on it.  In this version, it seems the Chinese won!

This is definitely one of the pieces that almost all pianist have experimented with on their own. Canon in D is by Baroque composer Johann Pachelbel and was composed around 1680 to 1706, originally for three violin and basso continua. Like his other works, it was forgotten for centuries until one French conductor Jean-François Paillard, recorded it with his chamber orchestra in 1968. It was the beginning of a huge revival.  It gained popularity in the 1970s with its chords being used in pop songs, such as Greek Band Aphrodite's Child for their #1 hit "Rain and Tears". In the 1970s, a classic radio station in San Francisco played it and was flooded with requests. By the 1980s, it became popular at weddings and funeral ceremonies. It became a musical inspiration for many popular bands, including Oasis's "Don't Look Back in Anger" and Maroon 5 for is 2019 hit "Memories". 

Vitamin C's 2000 remake of this classic includes the traditional string ensemble with drumbeats and rapping. It just shows that classical melodies continue to influence young musicians of every genre. It's very catchy and fun to listen to, yet it has a nostalgic vibe. Why? Perhaps the school theme and the trigger words "won't be coming back." Therefore, using Canon in D a retro song was a perfect choice.

Canon or no canon? Which one would make the world more creative? I think having it makes the world more creative. Many musicians have created their own versions of it using their own style from their unique eras. It's popularity is a testament to how music can connect people and bring in new listeners.  

"Because" was released in The Beatles album Abbey Road in 1969, and it was written by Lennon and McCartney. It features Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" in reverse. This is a clever take on a classic. The story that inspired it goes like this, "[Yoko] trained as a classical musician. I didn't know that until this morning. In college she majored in classical composition. Now we stimulate each other like crazy. This morning I wrote this song called "Because." Yoko was playing some classical bit, and I said "Play that backwards," and we had a tune." Therefore, it was not simply taking Beethoven and playing it backward but adding pop culture elements to create a new masterpiece. Either way, we do feel that it is great that artists credit or reference classical pieces in their work. It should not be a must, but doing so passing along music tradition and brings awareness to study musical history.


Where do you imagine modern composers launching their music for today's audience? Not in traditional concert halls. Contemporary composers are taking over TikTok by storm.  Ludovico Einaudi is one of the most prominent composers on social media (TikTok and 


 YouTube), and his 2013 track Experience  has 15.6 billion TikTok views and 6.8 million TikTok creations. Created nearly 10 years ago, it has inspired many TikTokers to synchronize their videos to his music.  It shows that classical music still has a huge audience worldwide and that young musicians and music lovers are still able to connect to it in new and interesting ways.  

I think classical composers would be glad to see their music hit new platforms and relived through new musicians and their art. Through transformation and sharing, melodies of the past remain relevant and create new stories. 

Repurposing does alter the new works meaning, but as long as it does not disrespect the creativity of the original artist, it should be encouraged as a new way to interpret the piece. Sometimes, it can be completely different and be a new piece, at which point, the new artist gets more credit for the new production.

This sultry and vivacious jazz piece is one of the most popular and famous works by George Gershwin and was released in 1924 for solo piano and jazz band. It premiered in a concert titled "An Experiment in Modern Music". Although the music critics gave it mixed reviews when it was first released, the audience loved it and it became a sensation over the years and an icon for the New York Jazz Age.  You might remember hearing the mesmerizing clarinet glissando in many popular modern works and famous events. It was played at the 1984 Olympic opening ceremony and Disney's film "Fantasia" in 2000.  Have a listen yourself and see if you fall in love with it too.


The Pomp and Circumstance Marches (full title Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches) or Opus 39 are the best known works of composer Edward Elgar. The title is taken from Scene III of Shakespeare's Othello. You probably know "Land of Hope and Glory" from March No.1 as the graduation march (click here).  It was first played in 1905 at the graduation of Yale University in which Sir Edward was in attendance to receive an honorary doctorate of music.


It seems for a classic song to remain relevant, it must become a staple at signature events: wedding, anniversary, graduation or funerals. I think Elgar probably never anticipated his song would become a graduation song, but glad that it remains heard instead of forgotten.  

"Ode to Joy" was poem composed by German poet and playwright Friedrich Schiller in the summer of 1785.  Later it become the famous song we all know through the composition of Beethoven in his well-known Symphony No. 9. Over the years, it has become a protest song and a celebration of music - Chile citizens in protest to Pinochet's regime & after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Even though its classic tune stays the same, the sense of unity and celebration that it instills is refreshing.  Here is a cool flashmob performed to Ode to Joy. Frankly, I think Beethoven would be proud that his piece is being kept alive in such an inspirational way. 

The classics are cool again, especially among the youths! " A survey published in December 2022 by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) found that 74% of UK residents aged under 25 were likely to be tuning into just that at Christmas-time, compared with a mere 46% of people aged 55 or more." There are many reasons for this.

1) streaming platform making it easier to discover new artists

2) comforting music during the pandemic

3) the rise of classic music in pop culture hits, such as Squid Game

4) young musicians finding ways to share their talent

5) new ways of modernizing and preforming the classic

Many young musicians share about their new found popularity and fame on social media.  French violinist Esther Abrami, "I started posting a few things, and was stunned by the reaction that I got. Suddenly you have people from around the world listening to you and telling you it brightens their day to watch you playing the violin."  Nigerian-US baritone and

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Late in production, the director of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick, discarded all the music that his chosen composer, Alex North, had written for it—a move almost unheard of in Hollywood. (It would be like changing the theme at the last minute.) He replaced the entire soundtrack with classical pieces. Most memorably, he laid Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra over a scene that literally
reconstructs the beginnings of human civilization. Listen to the part of the original soundtrack meant for that same sequence, then discuss with your team: did Kubrick make a good choice? Should more movies and television shows rely on classical music instead of fresh compositions? Would it make them more generic—or more timeless?

This is one of the most iconic music tracks in science fiction films and fans will remember it from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and Wall-E among others. It was composed in 1896 by Strauss and inspired by philosopher Nietzsch's novel  Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It's linkage with space began when 

Alex North is perhaps one of the most prestigious composers for film scores in such famous films as A Streetcar Called Desire, Spartacus, Cleopatra, Unchained featuring the iconic "Unchained Melody". He was commissioned to create the film score for Stanley Kubrick's 2001: a space odyssey which premiered in 1968. North did not know of the abandonment of the score until after he saw the film's premiere screening. The world did not know of his music for the film until 1993, when his good friend Jerry Goldsmith re-recorded and released an album titled "Hollywood's Greatest Hits". Kubrick said in an interview, "However good our best film composers may be, they are not a Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music available from the past and from our own time?" 

Personally, I think new and classic music should both be used for film scoring. The classics need to be revamped for today's audiences and new contemporary composers need platforms to showcase their works. Imagine The Titanic without "My Heart Will Go On".  James Cameron the director had intended it to be only a classical instrumental piece, but changed his mind after listening to Celine Dion's performance. 

The 19th century saw the rise of a new kind of professional musician: the conductor, whose job it is to oversee, in rehearsal and then in real time, the performance of a piece. Orchestras vie for the services of the most famous conductors—the Lionel Messis of the music world. But different conductors have different approaches.

Italian Toscanini was one of the most acclaimed conductors of the 19th and 20th century, as the musical director of La Scala in Milan, New York Philharmonic and later the NBC Symphony Orchestra. He was renowned for his intensity, perfectionism, attention to detail and photographic memory.  He began as a celloist and turned to conducting by chance at age 19 to replace a conductor that singers rebelled against, but it turned out to be a total success. 


Throughout his career he was idolized by critics in Italy and America. He became a well-known amongst the American public for his radio and also TV performances. Perhaps the only criticism of him was that he preferred the old European masters instead of contemporary repertoire. 

The concept of 'textual fidelity' means that the conductor sticks to the musical score instructions as closely as possible. Mr. Toscanini is literally a slave to the composer," one critic wrote. But in Linda Fairtile's research paper 'Toscanini and the Myth of Textual Fidelity' she noted that Toscanini himself on multiple occasion adds his own interpretation based on his understanding of the composer's intent. His changes were to uphold the artistic integrity of the music and not because of his ego, and once music critics realize this, they can appreciate his achievements all that more. 


I believe each conductor needs to add his or her own personal interpretation to the original music and lead the orchestra to break new grounds.  There should be some respect to the original music to ensure it is an authentic and genuine performance, however, music is an evolving taste and robots or AI can never take the place of the complex dialogue and communications between people. 

In 2020, in Japan a robot was filmed conducting a human orchestra for the opera titled Scary Beauty. Well, most social media fans disliked the idea as the robot won't be able to "feel the music". According to the great US maestro Leonard Bernstein, “If I don’t become Brahms or Tchaikovsky or Stravinsky when I’m conducting their works, then it won’t be a great performance.” Therefore, although robots can conduct and play music 


 perfectly, they are probably only a gimmick, and  music lovers will not pay to see their 'cold' performance. Even if AI could reconstruct Toscanini, real fans will miss the interaction between the maestro and the orchestra and deem the experience "hollow".


Wilhelm Furtwängler was perhaps the most important and influential conductor of his era, and 50 years after his death, critics are backing up that claim. Throughout his life, the German conductor was often overshadowed by his Italian contemporary Toscanini. One of the reasons for that might be because he was German during a time when Germany in early 1900s was not popular with the rest of the world. His reputation suffered when he played for Hitler, even though he never joined the Nazis. Music critic Neville Cardus said, "Furtwängler conducted in a manner exactly opposed to the Toscanini objectivity. He did not regard the printed notes of the score as a final statement, but rather as so many symbols of an imaginative conception, ever changing and always to be felt and realized subjectively . . . Not since Nikisch, of whom he was a disciple, has a greater personal interpreter of orchestral and opera music than Furtwängler been heard." It was only after the 1960s did his achievements become well-recognized again. Since 1967, the Wilhelm Furtwängler Society has been publishing tapes of his performances with the Berlin Philharmonic and amongst his works, perhaps the most famous is Beethoven's Ninth, which he gave 103 performances throughout his life.  

WSC asks us to listen to a recording of the two legendary maestros and decide which version is better. To our untrained ears, it seems that Furtwängler's version was more passionate and exciting. A New 

Yorker article siad, "In recent decades, however, Toscanini’s musical reputation has faded badly. Some of his old fans have shifted their loyalty to the work of other conductors—to Furtwängler, say, whose soulful expressiveness and spontaneity have been held up as musically and emotionally superior to Toscanini’s fiery propulsiveness." Either way, both maestros are legends; both took classical music to new heights with their own mastery.

Composer and conductor John Williams is the guru behind the iconic title song for Star Wars. If we are talking about authenticity, Williams's performance of the piece is probably as close as we'll ever get to the real intention of the composer.  But, how does his version compare to performances of other professional conductors? I think the difference would be not in the music, but his skills and synergy with the orchestra. Personally, Williams did not seem very animated and intense. Was the orchestra able to deliver Williams's vision 100%? 

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Performed by the Moniuszko School of Music Symphony Orchestra of Poland, this version is played by young musicians and does a good job at interpreting this iconic music. Conductor Kucybata was very passionate and carried the entire orchestra very well, giving the music an air of mystery and excitement. 


Simon Thacker is Scottish guitarist who is taking the world by storm with his own compositions and solo recordings and ensembles featuring  music from many different cultures. Most prominently, his music features Indian cultural traditions and he has several albums and toured extensively in India. He is a part of a generation of musicians who are recreating a "global sound" that captures the diversity and interconnectedness of our generation. I believe music needs to be an expression of society's changes and reflections. Instead of staying in the past, music needs to evolve and reinvent itself boldly to serve a modern audience. There was never just one sound or song and each person add their own artistry and passes it along. Bravo!

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