“Treasure Chest” Find!

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One unexpected outcome resulting from our self-isolation these past months, is that while looking through some boxes at home, I found a “treasure chest” Honestly! Let’s open it together and see what’s inside… And I’ll tell you what: Watch all the way through and you can have some of the treasure we find 🙂

Before Sunday, Jan 17th at 8pm

The Speed of a Sleigh Ride

Although audiences seem to love it, many performers question why I like to conduct Leroy Anderson’s holiday piece “Sleigh Ride” so darn quickly.

Here’s why:

Audiences love it.

Well, actually, there’s more to it than that.

Horse-drawn sleigh rides walk or canter - they struggle at a trot.
Horse-drawn sleigh rides walk or canter – they struggle at a trot.

Usually, when I get to select my own holiday music programs, I often use Sleigh Ride as an encore piece. After all, we all want our audiences to leave a concert full of upbeat energy, wanting more, talking to each other about the wonderful time they just had, and telling others to attend next time.

But I’ve also done my research.

I have yet to meet a performer in an ensemble I work with who has actually been on a horse-drawn sleigh ride. I haven’t, either. Horses, yes. Horse-drawn carriages in both cities and the countryside, yes. But not in a sleigh. On snow.

Turns out Leroy Anderson never rode on a horse-drawn sleigh, either.

So, basically, very few performers actually know what it’s like and at what speed these sleighs travel.

The closest musical tribute to a horse-drawn sleigh is actually the song One Horse Open Sleigh by James Pierpont for his brother’s Thanksgiving church service. The song never really became popular until 1890, when the teenagers of the time were looking for more sleigh songs (the equivalent of the 20th century’s fast car/ pretty girl sort of pop song) for their Christmas parties. By that time Pierpont’s publishers had changed the name to Jingle Bells.

Now, most of us know the first couple of verses of the song, but we don’t know the remaining three verses. The last verse includes the lines:

Just get a bobtailed bay
Two-forty as his speed
Hitch him to an open sleigh
And crack! you’ll take the lead.

Daven Hiskey, Today I Found Out, 2010, accessed November 2020

That line “Two-forty as his speed” indicates that the horse is covering one mile in two minutes and forty seconds. Converting that into miles per hour, we get 22.5mph, a “horse speed” of 0.595.

(By the way, Anderson wrote Sleigh Ride as an instrumental in 1948. Mitchell Parish added his own lyrics to the tune a couple of years later, by which time horse-drawn sleighs were no longer in common use.)

According to Goose Wing Ranch, horses have four “gaits” or types of speed – I’m sure they are all familiar terms: walk, trot, canter, and gallop.

  • A horse’s walk averages 4mph*
  • Trots average about 8mph
  • Canters about 14mph, and
  • Gallops average 28mph
  • (Race horses go much faster)

(*a human’s average walking speed is 3.27 mph.)

Clearly, then, Pierpont refers to his horse-drawn sleigh at a canter.

Next, I found various ways to convert a horse’s speed into beats per minute, but eventually settled on Dr. Lesley Young’s “Ask the Experts” Q&A on Equinity Intelligent Training for guidance.

Now, as we all know, music – being the language of emotions – is very much dependent on “tempo”, the Italian term for speed. As a general universal rule, musicians use “beats per minute” as a standard measure for speed (Yes, this stems from heartbeats per minute. It’s why the speed of music can affect us physically as well, when we let it). So, how many “beats per minute” does Dr. Young expect to see at a canter?

  • Gallop: 185 – 240 bpm
  • Canter: 120 – 185 bpm
  • Trot: 70 – 120 bpm
  • Walk: 50 – 70 bpm

So… if we are to gain the fullest benefits of Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, shouldn’t we try to match the real-life experience of a horse-drawn sleigh with the effect that music has on us?

The publisher’s (not the composer’s) recommended tempo of 108 beats per minute is way too leisurely a pace for any poor horse to cope with while pulling a sleigh. Indeed, they are likely to puff-out and come to a grinding halt if we limit them to trotting!

Therefore, I am quite happy squeezing as much juice out of live music by connecting it to real life through its true pace. That means, for Sleigh Ride, at least, ignoring performers’ comfort zones and traditional expectations, and taking it at a more realistic pace of 120-185 bpm.

At least it’s not a gallop:

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Music is…

I am truly honored to have spent my life studying and sharing music by and in so many different cultures, and leading so many diverse groups of people in their own explorations of it.

Here’s hoping you are as grateful as I am that we have so many opportunities to put aside our differences in favor of making our world a better place for all through music.

Music is apolitical. Music is areligious. Some lyrics are not. We are not. Music is.
Maestro Stephen P Brown win Best Classical Musician

The Courage to Grow

Part 4 of a 4-part series beginning here.

The last thing that I want to mention about confidence is that, as it spreads, it actually gives you the courage to grow. 

Growing is such an important element of human existence. We want to grow, we want to improve. We want to get better at what we do. If we stay stagnant, life just falls apart, and we end up in our own little cocoons or bubbles, doing our own things. And what a waste of life that is; what a waste of experiences of heart, mind and emotion. So take the courage to grow, and learn and experience new things, even if you stay within your established frame of reference. For example, if you’re a music performer, you can continue playing your own instrument of choice or singing in your own voice part or style. But even within that, there are still so many new things out there that you can experience that can help you grow, not just as a musician or a performer, but as a person.

And if you’re an audience member, if you enjoy attending live concerts, it’s the same thing. You can stay within the genre that you like and continue attending shows of concert band, opera, orchestral repertoire, ballet, pop groups, rock groups, or even jazz or salsa. That’s terrific, but there are still always new things that you can do, too. 

Here in Tampa Bay, we have a radio station called New Country. When I tuned in I always thought they were saying, “this is your new country music radio station,” but they don’t actually mean that the station is new. The genre of music the station plays is New Country because it’s still country, but it’s not traditional. It’s considered “New” because there is a contemporary twist to it.  I’m not really into it personally, but that’s what I learned.  I came across this because I like to experience new things. I had the courage to see what’s out there and what other people are listening to, and to grow enough to experience it myself. 

Some of it I like, and some of it I don’t, and that’s okay. 

Every day a little better… closer… wiser

There are three aspects I see when it comes to growing as a person, or having the “courage to grow”; the first thing is to get a little better every day. Whatever you have the courage to do, make sure you do it a little bit better every single day. This applies whether you are playing an instrument or singing, whether exploring music online or attending a musical event in person, talking to others, or sharing your unique experiences. Just take a few seconds every single day, and make your practice, attendance, or personal interactions a little bit better than they were before. 

Every day you want to move a little bit closer to being the best version of you that you can be, get a little bit closer to growing, to becoming more than you are now. I hope you’re feeling inspired and motivated, because this is exciting. This is what music does for us. It gives us the opportunity to grow. It gives us the confidence that we need in life and that we can help spread. It gives us the courage to do and to share things. So you want to move a little bit closer to the best person you can be, every single day. 

And then also every single day, all this will make you a little bit wiser.  You’ll be able to make better decisions about life, the universe and everything based on the fact that you took the courage to do things, share things, and actually grow. This is the fundamental building block and the principles on which the Dunedin Music Society is built. This is why I share these things with you. It’s because there is so much more to music than just the music itself. 

This was the last part of a four-part series, including

  1. Life starts when the game is over

2. The courage to “do”

3. The courage to share