Archives for category: The Signature Series

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Music has always been used to help us tell stories. Think of incidental music in plays, the music in songs, musicals and operas; and soundtracks to movies and video games.

But music also tells its own stories. 

Each instrument has such a distinctive voice – and I figure, if you mix together the most famous melodies that have been written for a particular instrument, you’ll find a fantastical character emerges – a character with a magical story to tell.

Starting this weekend on CBC Music and on In Concert, the show I host on CBC Radio 2, the instruments of the orchestra come to life on Orchestral Tales, a brand new season of The Signature Series. I’m pretty excited to share this – I’ve been working hard on this along with Denise Ball, the executive producer of In Concert.

On the previous seasons of the Signature Series, you met personalities based on the major and minor key signatures.

On Orchestral Tales, you’ll meet vivid characters inspired by the instruments of the orchestra.

Follow along here – new tales will be published every Friday for the next ten weeks, starting on Friday, January 6th.

A gallery featuring images from 20 of the 24 keys personified in the Signature Series.  Graphics designed by Ben Didier of CBC Music.

The Prix Italia is one of the most coveted awards in broadcasting in the world. It’s an incredible honour for me and for my co-producer Denise Ball to announce that the Signature Series has won a 2013 Prix Italia in the category “Work on Music”.

Here is the citation from the Prix Italia jury:

“In a series of 5 minute programmes the listener is invited to discover how particular musical key signatures have been used by composers over the centuries to define certain specific human characteristics. The jury found that this was an innovative and simple format that was extremely effective in helping to bring new listeners to classical music.

By personalising each key signature – B minor: the dark romantic, A minor: the faded beauty – each programme takes the listener through a broad range of classical music genres and others, all very skilfully edited together, to form a specific character. This is continued online in the programme’s ingenious website which invites the listener to identify with a particular key signature, and share it with others.

This programme genuinely breaks new ground.”

Read the official CBC Music announcement here. Music critic John Terauds had this to say. (Thanks, John!)

I feel thrilled and very lucky that this the 2nd time one of my programs has been awarded a Prix Italia. The first was for my series The Wire: the Impact of Electricity on Music, co-produced with Chris Brookes and Jowi Taylor for CBC Radio 1.

Another instalment in The Signature Series:

B minor: The Dark Romantic

Also known as:
The Gloomy Gus.
The Pessimist.

B minors you might know:
Werther from Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther.
Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby.
Cliff Barnes from Dallas.

The notes: B – C♯ – D – E – F♯ – G – A♯ – B.

Number of sharps: two.

Relative major: D major.

What they said about B minor in the 18th and 19th centuries:
“Banished from music of good taste.” – Francesco Galeazzi, 1796

“Bitter, gloomy lamentation, on account of hard suffering … in these tones the shocked soul looks around exhausted and almost without hope.” – J. A. Schrader, 1827

More G minor listening:
The Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre by Richard Wagner.

Cello Concerto by Antonín Dvořák.

The Canadian connection:
“Robots” by Dan Mangan.

Note: Historical quotes and translations from A History of Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early 19th Centuriesby Rita Steblin, UMI Research Press (1983).

 

Another instalment in The Signature Series:

D major: Miss Congeniality

Also known as:
The Workaholic.
The Homecoming Queen.

D majors you might know:
The Goddess Athena from Greek mythology.
Oprah Winfrey.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The notes: D – E – F♯ – G – A – B – C♯ – D.

Number of sharps: two.

Relative minor: B minor.

What they said about D major in the 18th century:
“The key of triumph, of Hallelujahs, of war-cries, of victory-rejoicing.” – Christian Schubart, 1784

“Enflames the heart. The spirit … is roused to impudent, joyful, even to somewhat boisterous songs of praise. Even the god of thunder has a claim to this key.” – Georg Joseph Vogler, 1779

More D major listening:
The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss, Jr.

Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky.

The Canadian connection:
“Past in Present” by Feist.

Note: Historical quotes and translations from A History of Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries, by Rita Steblin, UMI Research Press (1983).

For the next little while, I’m excited to be sharing a project I’ve been working on called The Signature Series.

Here’s how it works:

1. Select a musical key.
2. Gather together the most famous melodies composed in that key.
3. Mash up.
4. Meet the person behind the key.

To get to know G minor, click on the orange play button. Follow along with the pop-up comments to find out what composition is playing.

G minor: The Contrarian

Also known as:
The Moody Teenager.
The Complicated Man.

G minors you might know:
Captain Ahab from Moby Dick.
Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye.
Pete Campbell from Mad Men.

The notes: G – A – B♭ – C – D – E♭ – F♯ – G.

Number of flats: two.

Relative major: B-flat major.

What they said about G minor in the 18th century:
“Discontent, uneasiness, worry about a failed scheme; bad-tempered gnashing of teeth; in a word: resentment and dislike.” – Christian Schubart, 1784

“It is suited to frenzy, despair, agitation.” – Francesco Galeazzi, 1796

More G minor listening:
Dido’s Lament from Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell.

Der Erlkönig by Franz Schubert.

The Canadian connection:
“Your Rocky Spine” by Great Lake Swimmers.

Note: Historical quotes and translations from A History of Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries, by Rita Steblin, UMI Research Press (1983).

 

When I was a kid, like many kids, I took piano lessons. I remember in my imagination all the different notes had their own personalities. I don’t know why, but I felt particularly sympathetic towards C-sharp. I felt sorry for him, for some reason. I wasn’t overly fond of F-sharp, and E always seemed cheerful.

Who knows what prompted these childlike musings. Perhaps the monotony of practicing scales (at which I was never very good – neither the monotony, nor the scales.)

Lately I’ve had a chance to revisit the idea of each note having its own characteristics with a new series I’ve been working on for CBC Radio called The Signature Series. If A Major were a person, who would she be?

Here’s how it works:

1. Select a musical key.

2. Gather the most famous melodies composed in that key.

3. Mash them up.

4. Meet the person behind the key.