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Blind Musicians as Savants

When we think of blind musicians in music, we tend to think of geniuses- Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Moondog, and also modern pianists like Nobuyuki Tsujii, who recently performed in Liverpool earlier this month. But for those of us who struggle to learn new instruments as able bodied individuals, how does having a sight handicap seem to raise one’s natural ability for sound? When you’re a blind pianist, how do you go about learning such a huge piece? And how can you be expected to pick up on gestures from the conductor? For Tsujii, it’s a process governed by extremely careful listening and, as he described it in 2017, “sensing what’s around me.”

Recently, Professor Adam Ockelford, a musician and visiting research fellow at the Institute of Education, London, discovered various evidence supporting this notion that weakness in one sense can birth genius in others. He and his research team surveyed and visited visually impaired children who had been premature babies, at home and at school. Working with around 40 blind children, as well as surveying parents, teachers and music therapists, the study showed that blind children are 4,000 times more likely to have perfect pitch – a traditional marker of exceptional musical ability – than their fully sighted peers.

The research, which also quizzed parents whose children were fully sighted, found that 48% of blind children demonstrate significant interest in everyday sounds compared to 13% of those with full sight. More than two-thirds of the blind and partially sighted children played at least one instrument, compared with 41% of the sighted group.

Parents of the blind children reported that music was particularly important as a source of comfort, helping them to relax and express their emotions.


When we think of blind musicians, we usually think of Ray.

According to Ockelford, the reason is “the obvious one”. He explains: “In young babies, the brain is very mouldable, synapses grow and connections are made all the time. In blind children, the areas of the brain involved in sight are not being used, but others, including those used for hearing, become much more important. The greater focus on auditory input makes the brain develop in a different way.”

And when someone like Tsuji is learning a new piece, he has a team of helpers break the whole piano part down into recorded chunks which he then learns bit by bit. Given the scarcity of Braille translations of musical scores, doing it by ear is usually the best method.


Barcelona Opera House Reopens and Performs for 2,292 plants

There’s a bit of an urban legend that plants actually respond positively to the sound of music. If it’s true, then what genre do they appreciate? Are they more fans of Mozart or Ravel?

This particular rumor that everyone has heard at least once is actually the result of several real-life studies done over the years. And the evidence is quite extraordinary. In 1973, “The Secret Life of Plants” was published by Christopher Bird and Peter Tompkins which was an intense analysis into the relationship between Man and Plants. Bird and Tompkins postulated that music not only helps plants grow, but that they maintain a level of consciousness throughout- and if consciousness exists, so does a sense of taste.

One of the earliest studies of the effect of music on plants was conducted in 1962 by Dr. T. C. Singh, Head of Botany at Annamalia University. He exposed balsam plants to classical music and found that their growth rate increased by 20% compared to a control group, along with a 72% increase in biomass. He then exposed crops to raga music over loudspeakers and found they yielded 25% – 60% more than the national average.

Recently, over two thousands plants were treated to a concert at one of the world’s most prestigious opera houses. After a three-month closure, El Liceu in Barcelona, Spain, held a performance of Puccini’s Crisantemi for 2,292 plants.

The project is the brainchild of Spanish artist Eugenio Ampudia, artistic director at the opera house. According to the artist, the concert looks to tackle whether humans can expand the concept of empathy to include our relationships with other species.

It’s an interesting substitution for live human crowds, which are still slowly returning to the concert halls, but not as quickly as we’d all like. However, until things change, we can all appreciate a few humorous, surreal concerts as a response to these equally surreal times.

Pianist Transposes a Selfie into an Eerie Experimental Composition

There is no current shortage of musicians taking the experimental route within Classical music these days. And since many are still spending more and more time at home practicing to pass the time, some have decided to change things up a bit with certain unconventional methods of composition. John Prevedini, a pianist, had the idea to take a selfie and then proceed with notating it into a musical score. He placed the contours of the notes across three lines of double-staved sheet music and matched the contours of his face to it.

Using a single mode (with no accidentals or key changes), the piece has a wonderful mood of stillness, contemplation and calm. Just like a relaxed weekend front-facing camera pic in your favourite café. Hear it in the video above.

Graphical representations on scores have quite an interesting history. A 14th-century love song, Chanson Belle Bonne Sage was notated in the shape of a heart. In his passions, some have observed J.S. Bach using the shape of notes to form a symbol of the cross. American composer Geoge Crumb and other composers of the 20th century took visual scores to another level entirely.

John seems to partake in lots of other interesting and inventive projects. You can find more on his Facebook page and website. We love the sound of your smile, John!

See the score below:


Selfie, by John Dante Prevedini. Picture: John Dante Prevedini

Lincoln Center Offers Intimate Private Performances for Essential Workers

There haven’t been any live public performances at America’s biggest arts center since mid-March. But New York’s Lincoln Center has been hosting some free mini concerts for healthcare providers, teachers and other essential workers, featuring just one or two volunteer musicians and audiences of about five people. Most of the musicians are volunteers from the New York Philharmonic.

Prior to COVID, Lincoln Center enjoyed hosting various musical performances both in it’s halls and outside in nearby Central Park during summer nights. Now, a violinist performs in the backyard of a working nurse and she is surrounded by a handful of family members. Everyone listens attentively while wearing masks and sitting 6ft apart from one another.

“It was nice that it was so intimate that we could enjoy it, just the two of us and safely, of course,” she says. “Live music is one of our favorite things to do. So it’s definitely a piece of us that’s been missing during this whole pandemic. This was such a treat.”

The meticulous nature of keeping these private performances safe extends into the finale. Once the performance is concluded, staff disinfect each seat before the performance is officially “concluded.”

Madera, a teacher at  the New Design High School, says that it wasn’t just the music she appreciated- it was the act of sitting somewhere new and having experiencing a sense of change- something that has become a lost commodity in a year of monotonous repetition.

“I literally sat here and started crying because I walk through here every day on my way back and forth to work,” he says. “I haven’t been back here since the thirteenth of March. So just being back here is so powerful and then hearing music, it really — I mean, I don’t want to sound clichéd, but it really soothed the soul for a minute.”

Ellis-Lee says that even with everyone masked, he could see the joy on Lu’s face as he played. “I think that’s really what got to me more emotionally,” Ellis-Lee observes, “because I’m thinking about what I want to get back and do, what I’m passionate about — be in front of kids. And I don’t think I’m going to do that in September. That’s the painful reality.”

Speaking after his performance, Lu says he felt like he needed the experience just as much as his listeners — if not more. Like Ellis-Lee, he hadn’t been back to Lincoln Center since March 13th.

“That was magical,” he exclaims. “I knew this was going to be amazing because I haven’t been playing for four months for the general public, so I knew I needed it. Actually, this is more like a therapy for me.”

In the months ahead, Lincoln Center is planning to bring similarly small-scaled concerts to hospitals and other medical facilities.

Free Music Masterclasses Online

In order to prove that you can socially distance and still learn from world-renowned musicians, we’ve compiled a list of free resources to improve your technique and skill in various different instruments. See below for more!

The Benedetti Foundation: Virtual Mini Sessions

Following its Virtual Sessions in May, the Benedetti Foundation is launching the Virtual Mini Sessions, a series of short, focused workshops, throughout July and August.

There will be separate workshops for music students, recent graduates, teachers and adult learners, all delivered by leading musicians including Nicola Benedetti, Elena Urioste and Laura van der Heijden. Although there is an admin fee to participate, there are bursaries available for those who are struggling financially.

For school-age string players, there will be classes and workshops on vibrato, shifting and beginner basics. Adult learners and teachers can learn about embedding healthy practice routines, performance anxiety, building a portfolio career and interpretation. Details of all classes can be found here.


The Pianist Platform

Every evening at 8pm, pianist Yulia Chaplina and Coach House Pianos are hosting interviews with the UK’s top pianists and piano teachers as part of its Piano Bootcamp. Guests featured include heads of keyboard at top UK schools and conservatoires.

The complete programme can be found here.

Virtual Benedetti Sessions

From Monday 11 May, the Benedetti Foundation will provide three weeks of free, regular online music tuition for young musicians, university-level students, teachers, adult learners and amateur musicians.

The sessions will be hosted on YouTube, Zoom and social media platforms and will be led by violinist Nicola Benedetti and tutors from the Foundation. There will be a mix of live and pre-recorded turorials.

The programme will include seminars, activities, presentations and workshops in physical and mental wellbeing. There will also be two live sessions from instrumental teachers each week, a live session for conservatoire and university msuic students with leading artists and two weekly sessions for parents to chat to tutors about how to best help and support their children’s musical education at home.

The final weekend (30-31 May) will run from 10am to 5pm with presentations and tutorials throughout the day.

Sign up here. Registration is free and will be open until Thursday 7 May.

Music lessons from Nicola Benedetti

Every day at 12pm BST, The Benedetti Foundation hosts a lesson or workshop on its Instagram via IGTV and its Facebook page. It will be then be available to watch on Facebook afterwards. Sessions so far include violinist Elena Urioste discussing yoga, meditation and the role of wellbeing in performance; games and songs with cellist David Munn; and a live samba session from percussionist Patrick King.

On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, Nicola Benedetti will go live across all her social media channels to discuss music and share insights.

Lockdown Insanity Prevention: Flute Tutorials

Emily Beynon, principal flute of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, is hosting a series of tutorials on her YouTube channel. The first tutorial is now live, focusing on vibrato technique.

Flautist Sharon Bezaly

Sharon Bezaly is hosting regular virtual masterclasses, which you can apply to take part in via her Facebook page. Passive listeners are also able to join via Zoom link.

Bristol Plays Music Virtual Academy 

The Bristol Music Trust has created a programme of one-on-one music lessons for students. Teachers will run 20-minute sessions for primary school children and half-hour sessions for those in secondary school.

There will be a charge for lessons, but children of key workers or those suffering financially because of the pandemic will be able to apply for free bursary places. Otherwise, tuition is available in blocks of ten lessons, with prices from £100.


Lessonface is a digital platform that connects music teachers with students of all ages.

The platform’s ‘Go Classes’ are interactive group courses with flexible tuition (free spaces are available). Teachers and students are also invited to take part in an Open Mic Night to share the music they’ve been practising. The sessions will be hosted by a Lessonface teacher. You can apply to the next Open Mic Night here.

Learn to play Elgar’s Salut d’amour with Nicola Benedetti

Nicola Benedetti is hosting daily tutorials at 10am BST from 10-19 April on her YouTube channel to teach audiences how to play Elgar’s Salut d’Amour. Participants are then invited to email their performances to or upload on social media using the hashtag #salutnicky by 5pm on Thursday 16 April. A winner will then be picked from those who have entered, followed by a live Q&A with Benedetti.

Click here for more information, downloadable sheet music, videos of Benedetti performing the piece and Petr Limonov performing the piano part for you to play along with, and full details on how to submit your performance.

This series is in conjunction with the release of Nicola Benedetti and Petr Limonov’s performance of Salut d’Amour, which will be released digitally as a single and on Benedetti’s upcoming album, which also features Elgar’s Violin Concerto with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski.

Learn to play Elgar’s Chanson de Nuit with Nicola Benedetti

Following on from the Salut d’Amour challenge (you can listen to the winner here), Nicola Benedetti is now inviting musicians to create a music video inspired by Elgar’s Chanson de Nuit. Listen to the piece here. Send your submissions to or tag your videos on social media with #chansonchallenge by Sunday 3 May.

The Exhale Project

27 April-10 May

Originally planned to be a musicians’ retreat in Switzerland, violinist Gwendolyn Masin’s Exhale Project will now be hosted online. Created for professional musicians and students alike, the course will include a series of masterclasses in yoga, Alexander Technique, psychotherapy and Feldenkrais. A portion of the participation donation will be donated to charity.

The Illustrated Theory of Music

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment has launched a series of short, informal videos to help students learn Grade Five theory, GCSE and A Level Music. It breaks down the questions we think we should know: what does a ‘quaver’ really mean? Why do we use bars?

The videos are hosted by musicians from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. You can watch the videos here.

The Conservatoire in Blackheath

London’s Blackheath Conservatoire is moving all its classes online, with interactive Zoom classes and YouTube ‘boxsets’, which include classes on ukelele for five-year-olds, watercolours and drama for adults.

The classes are intended for parents who are both home-schooling and looking for a creative outlet. There are also many classes available for young children.

There are bursaries available. Every day on social media, a ‘Course of the Day’ offer will be posted on Facebook, free taster lessons for young children on Facebook and YouTube during half term and course discounts for newsletter subscribers.

Taster sessions can be found here.

Piano masterclasses with Leif Ove Andsnes

At 5pm EET on 18 June 2020, Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes will lead an online masterclass with the Riga Jurmala Academy, free to watch online here.

The Riga Jurmala Academy has been holding weekly masterclasses, including lessons with principal musicians from the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, all of which are available to watch here.

Masterclass with baritone Benjamin Appl

Samling Institute for Young Artists has hosted a masterclass with two of its alumni: baritone Benjamin Appl and pianist James Baillieu. The pair held a remote masterclass with 17-year-old Ben Ryan from Darlington, who sang ‘The Foggy, Foggy Dew’. You can watch the masterclass here.

London Philharmonic Orchestra: The Studio

The London Philharmonic Orchestra has launched The Studio, an online resource space for young composers. It is a series of video classes featuring prominent composers including Howard Shore, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Brett Dean and David Arnold.

The series culminates with a new composition brief with a new piece of choreography devised by Monique Jonas. Musicians are invited to submit audio recordings of their compositions to accompany the dance. Selected compositions will be performed by members of the LPO and synced to the choreography. Composer Gavin Higgins has also written a piece to go with the choreography, and the course will feature his tips for composing for the work.

“Alter 3” Becomes the First Robot to Conduct an Orchestra

Alter 3 Conducts

Keiichiru Shibuya is a Japanese composer who recently finished his orchestral piece, “Scary Beauty,” which premiered in the United Arab Emirates last week. However, it wasn’t Mr. Shibuya who was the one to conduct the orchestra, it was Alter 3, a humanoid robot. It was created by roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University and Mixi Corporation and is embedded with an artificial neural network developed by artificial life researchers of the University of Tokyo.

Like other well-known examples of AI and robots developed in the last few years, such as Hanson Robotics’ Sophia the Robot, Alter 3 both looks and moves like a human being. Its face is the most delicately formed body part, resting on a metal, machine-like body where all the technology can be seen working away as it conducts on the podium.

When asked about the composers wishes to have Alter 3 conduct, he said, “This work is a metaphor of the relations between humans and technology. Sometimes the android will get crazy, human orchestras have to follow. But sometimes humans can cooperate very comfortably.”

While Shibuya wrote the music, the android robot was in charge of the tempo and dynamics of the live performance, even adding its own electro-vocals to the mix.

The overall reception to the performance was lukewarm. Many audience members said that although they appreciated the energy of the performance, the overall human touch of Alter 3’s movements were, “lacking.” However, the audience as a whole did applaud with great enthusiasm at the end of the performance.

Android Opera Scary Beauty is part of Sharjah Art Foundation’s Sharjapan exhibition which highlights performance art and sound-based installations from Japan. The aim is to examine the interactions between nature, technology and human life in tandem.

A Piano with No Black Keys

The other day, we reported on a piano with 102 keys, breaking the 88-key norm. Now, we have news that a company in Japan has developed a piano with no black keys whatsoever.

It’s called the “Sinhakken” model- With no black keys fitted, the 52 remaining white keys are all that’s left. With no tail to allow space for black keys over the top, the keys are ‘all head’, so to speak – full oblongs, the same width from top to bottom. At first glance, it looks quite strange and beautiful. But it’s also incredibly disorienting to play.

In the video above, uploaded to YouTube by Japanese software company Micronet Co., Ltd, a pianist plays an arrangement of ‘Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum’ from Children’s Corner Suite by Debussy, which develops everything in C major.

The pianist, who blogged about her find in 2014, says: “I can play almost all songs in C major without a black key.

“But I can’t help but feel that it’s quite different from the original song.”

According to her blog, the instrument has the same number of strings as a normal piano, but with the black key hammer action removed. So, you can literally only play in C major.

With no 24 major and minor keys – let alone so many rich colours – any change in tone can only be achieved by playing the white keys. And with no separation of black and white keys, you must have to relearn all your note references.

Nonetheless, it makes for an interesting and unique instrument.

The Ephrata Codex: A Record of the First Female Classical Composers in America

In the library of Congress, there is a document known as the, “Ephrata Codex”- an 18th century music manuscript created by a group of pioneers in Pennsylvania, at the dawn of colonial America’s birth. They called their commune, “Ephrata” and brought together about 80 individuals from various families to not only build a communal form of life based on the same morals and ideology, but also with a strong emphasis placed on musical composition. Perhaps the most notable fact about the Ephrata Codex is that it contains evidence of America’s first female composers. The contents of the Ephrata Codex appear to be a compendium of the community’s musical output up to 1746. The musical settings correspond to text-only hymnals entitled Zionitischer Weyrauchs Hügel (printed in 1739 by Christoph Sauer), and Das Gesäng der einsamen und verlassenen Turtel-Taube (printed in 1747 by the Ephrata Brotherhood – containing texts written exclusively by Beissel and his followers).


Thanks to the work of digital conservators, the entire Ephrata Codex is now viewable on the Library of Congress website in beautiful high-resolution images. The manuscript was acquired by the Library in Congress in 1927, and it appears that a mistake was made when cataloguing the title of the volume: the title is transcribed as “Die Bittre Gute,” which is translated as “The Bitter Good.” It is much more likely that the title reads “The Bittre Süse,” which translates as “The Bitter Sweet,” thus conforming more to Ephrata theology.

Dr. Christopher Dylan Herbert, an assistant professor of music at William Paterson University, wrote that when he reviewed the Codex in the Library of Congress, that he was the first to notice female names hidden in the corners of certain pieces. These names- Sister Föben, Sister Katura and Sister Hanna give evidence of them being the earliest female classical composers ever recorded. Delving into the music manuscripts even further, he developed the idea to reproduce and record these choral pieces- to be sung for the first time in 300 years in the same acoustic setting they were last performed- the Ephrata Cloister.

The Ephrata Cloister

Rules about worship changed frequently at Ephrata. At times devotees shaved their heads, at other times they slept only three hours a night. Treatises were written about what to eat in order to sing properly, and what to eat in general — no meat, no honey. Herbert speculates that these changes and the emphasis on creativity may have played a role in why those names were listed in the Codex.



“Because of the number of rules, and also this push to create, it created some conflict in the cloister about attribution of work and who gets credit for it,” he says.

With the recording of these early compositions on Voices in the Wilderness, Chris Herbert brings us a step closer toward recognizing the contributions of women in the history of American music.

If you’d like to see more of Chris Herbert’s, “Voices in the Wilnderness,” we encourage you to watch his interview here

Stuart & Sons Create First Ever Piano with 108 Keys

The world’s first 108-key piano has a range of nine full octaves

The first pianos ever made at the beginning of the 18th century were originally only four octaves. Over time, the design evolved into the standard 88 key system that we know today, and which hasn’t been changed since 1880- until now.

Stuart & Sons is the last remaining Australian piano manufacturer which has recently dived into the classical music history books by creating the first ever piano with 108 keys (nine total octaves). They’re a family business which has been making pianos in New South Wales for generations. When asked about the new design, Wayne Stuart, the company’s owner and lead designer said, “”It’s the 21st century, we need new things. We need new horizons… and this is certainly a new horizon.”

Mr. Stuart has been handcrafting pianos for 40 years but this is by far his most ambitious creation. Made with ancient Tasmanian Huon pine, the masterpiece measures 3 meters in length and took 18 painstaking months to build.

Edward Neeman, a concert pianist, said he can feel the difference, even if he is not utilizing the extra octaves the 108 keys offer.

“You don’t even need to play the extra keys to get the effect,” he said.

“You get a really warm and brilliant sound, and the whole bass becomes much richer [and] the resonance is more when there are more keys on the piano.

“This is as big as it gets, it’s pretty much the limits of human hearing, the limits of engineering.”

The 644-kilogram piano has been named The Beleura in honor of its new home — Beleura House and Garden on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.

Beleura House director Anthony Knight commissioned the piano, which had a $300,000 price tag, and said it would be used to nurture Australian musical talent.

To hear this piano in action, click below:

Steve Reich on Composing Music in Self-Isolation

Steve Reich in New York City

In the wake of COVID-19, many have found this period of self-isolation and social distancing to be particularly difficult to cope with. However, many musicians have taken this period of solitude to invest themselves heavily into recording new albums, learning new instruments, or expanding their repertoire. And in the classical music world, that same method thinking is being applied both by amateur musicians and noteworthy composers like Steve Reich.

Stephen Michael Reich is an American composer known for his contribution to the development of minimal music in the mid to late 1960s. Reich’s work is marked by its use of repetitive figures, slow harmonic rhythm, and canons. His compositions include groundbreaking experimental pieces like “4’33”, “The Cave” and, “Clapping Music.” Now, Reich is composing a new work titled, “Travel Prayer” from his home in Los Angeles.

When asked if the pandemic had dramatically affected his writing process, he says, “…This romantic idea that where you are affects what you write, I find that to be completely not the case. And so in this period of time I’ve been working on what I was working on before I got here: a piece called Traveler’s Prayer, which is a piece for four voices, two tenors and two sopranos; eight strings, two string quartets; and one piano and two vibes.

First off, I was having a discussion with someone in Sweden and he told me that he’d recently seen a cartoon, and the first panel drawing said, “Composer at work,” and the second panel said “Composer at work in quarantine.” And the two panels were identical. And I think that’s the truth. [Laughs.] It’s a solitary thing, right?”

Steve Reich’s Traveler’s Prayer will premiere in the fall of 2021. Lincoln Center recently included a video from Reich/Reverberations, its 2016 celebration of Steve Reich, in its Lincoln Center At Home series. You can stream the video on YouTube.

If you would like to learn more about Steve Reich’s oeuvre of music, we encourage you to watch the following interview with the composer: