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21 Jun 2013

The Secret of Paganini

Niccolo PaganiniThere are things that are affected by neither twists nor turns of history nor the constant changes in the public opinion. One of such phenomena is the human mentality and a way of thinking which is usually described as ‘genius’. This amazing gift can be observed in different spheres of human activity.

In the world of classical music, the most widespread benchmark for music genius and a high level of professionalism when comparing this or that musician is the great violinist of the past – Nicolo Paganini. The name of the outstanding Italian virtuoso has already become a common noun. Today, even those who are not professionally connected with music use “Paganini” for an extremely gifted musician.

One of the important features of the genius is considered uniqueness. Was Paganini a real man of genius? “Undoubtedly!” – his contemporaries would say. Moreover, people used to ascribe to him supernatural, even demonic abilities. Many music works by Paganini, especially his famous Caprices and Violin Concertos, remain a certain mastery standard for modern composers and an ‘internal Mount Everest’ to conquer if you want to become an exceptional violinist. But on the other hand, even the most advanced pieces by Paganini can be heard today performed by musicians at various concerts, which reduces the ‘uniqueness’ factor to nothing. Does this mean that Paganini’s reputation is wildly exaggerated?

It goes without saying that for his time Paganini really was a unique musician – the first one able to perform the technically difficult passages that his violin pieces almost burst of. There are a number of research works dedicated to the so-called “Secret of Paganini” – the phenomenon that allowed him to achieve such a success at his time. There is a hypothesis according to which Nicolo Paganini was suffering from a disease that influenced his exceptional abilities. But we prefer the attempts based on the discoveries in the modern neurophysiology.

According to this hypothesis, the “Secret of Paganini” is in the human mental ability to store and extract information, in other words, in the mechanisms of ‘coding’ the remembered information. In our brain, data is processed, compressed and then placed in various sections of our memory. To recollect something – or to extract the saved information – we need a ‘code of access’, an associative element that can be compared to the end of a thread: you pull it, you roll open the memory. For a musician, the difficulty of performing technically complicated elements lies, first of all, in the speed at which he/she has to extract from the memory the necessary material and to coordinate the movements of both hands. All that is done unconsciously, of course. At such a moment, one could compare the musician’s state with that of a juggler who has to play with a few fragile items simultaneously.

Complex educational systems have been created to help any-level musicians develop a brilliant performing technique – to master the “Secret of Paganini”. Some methods are, for example, based on the step-by-step transformation of the conscious movements into automatized ones, on the gradual enlargement of the piece’s structure in a musician’s mind, etc. However, to develop such skills is still one of the most challenging tasks for a musician.

Perhaps Paganini managed to form a knowledge system that allowed him to effectively organize the process of compressing and extracting the information and to develop an ability to “slow down the time”. These discoveries gave him an opportunity to increase significantly the speed of movements and, as a result, to develop an unusual performing technique unknown before. Certain facts can serve as proof for this hypothesis: Paganini could go without practicing for a long time; instead, he preferred practicing during trips using only his left hand, which means that the real work on a music piece was performed in his brain.

The genius of a great violinist is in the discovery of the mental patterns, which let Paganini be ahead of time and raise the performing mastery to a level not yet reachable for his contemporaries. Still, this theory is just an attempt to find a rational explanation for the human’s uniqueness. The true answer to the question “What is the Secret of Paganini?” will most probably remain out of your reach of understanding.

VIDEO: N. Paganini. Violin Caprices No.11 and No.24 performed by the laureate of the international competitions Artem Shishkov.

16 May 2013

New charitable project "Maestro-in-the-Making"

If we wish to create a lasting peace we must begin with the children.
Mahatma Gandhi

New charitable project Maestro-in-the-MakingMusicaNeo is launching a new project “Maestro-in-the-Making” aimed at supporting children’s music education worldwide. Within the project a contest among contemporary composers will be hold – its main aim is creating unique music pieces for the beginning musicians. We hope that the project will encourage modern composers for writing new interesting works developing kids’ music abilities and favoring their creative communication with the peers (more details about the contest will be published in the further blog posts). In case of successful fund-raising, the best works of the competition will be published and sent out for free to music schools all over the world. Music pieces created within the project will become available at MusicaNeo.

Important: Everyone can make a contribution in support of this project at the site At the project’s page you will find the details about the awards for the composers’ contest winners and read about the perks for project’s supporters.

Food for Thought

Many MusicaNeo users work in music schools and would agree that modern music is rarely heard at the school concerts. The reasons for it are no secret. Teachers complain that many pieces by contemporary composers are too difficult for children’s understanding. One can’t ignore the fact that music schools experience a constant shortage of up-to-date educational literature. Without receiving a good idea of the new music in the childhood, a human can’t perceive the ‘alien’ language of modern art later on in life. Should it be surprising that too often concerts of classical music are played to half-empty halls?

But let’s leave aside the contemporary music and talk about the concerts of classical music where the famous favorite music works sound. Have you thought about the reasons why children are so rarely met among these concerts’ audience? Is it possible to find a more harmonic combination than music, creativity and a child’s soul? Nevertheless, from year to year it becomes more evident that the new generation is a ‘computer era generation’ – people for whom the world is narrowed to a computer screen and whose communicative circle is replaced by “friends” in the social networks. Why should we think about it, it seems? First of all, because at this restless time it is especially important to pay attention to what your children are doing in their spare time: do they spend hours sitting at their computers, are they wandering in the streets in a questionable company or are they involved in a creative activity developing their abilities?

MusicaNeo for children

One of MusicaNeo’s main missions is favoring the development of music education in different countries. If we want to save our children from the drug abuse and the negative influence of the street, we have to do the utmost to provide them with an opportunity for self-actualization by practicing music in a creative environment of their peers. Considering the fact that over a thousand modern authors publish their music scores at the platform, MusicaNeo is launching a new project “Maestro-in-the-Making” aimed at kindling children’s love for practicing music. We are convinced that contemporary composers have a lot to offer to the beginning musicians and we expect that our call will draw authors attracted by the idea of creating unusual music pieces that would get the kids interested and encourage them to think and create.

We are appealing to all members of the musicians’ community who are not indifferent as to what kind of world our children will live in: Please support our initiative and take part in the project. Only with your help will we be able to fulfill the mission. Share the news about the project with friends, in blogs, forums, social networks – so that as many talented authors as possible could participate in the process of creation of new music for children. We are already accepting applications from music schools to receive the sheet music book with the best works of the contest “Maestro-in-the-Making”.

We are inviting you to join and make your own contribution into modern art and education. Together we can change a lot!

18 Apr 2013

The Remarkable Leonard Cohen: 10 Rare Facts

Time has come to spotlight another successful and influential persona in the world music community – today let it be Leonard Cohen.

During his almost-80-years Leonard Cohen no doubt earned a reputation as an outstanding song-writer, musician and poet. But besides having exceptional music and poetic talents, Leonard is also a very enigmatic and eccentric person with an original worldview. This post will gather some of the rare things concerning this outstanding man. Here are some of the pretty curious facts.

Leonard Cohen
  1. Leonard Cohen has received a couple of sad unofficial ‘labels’ like "the grocer of despair", "the poet laureate of pessimism", "the godfather of gloom". That was mostly because of the seemingly endless depression he was suffering from. That was reflected in his music too. However, at the same time Cohen was full of witty jokes and sarcastic gags, being able to make millions of people laugh heartily.
  2. He decided to switch from poetry to music pretty late thinking it will get him a better pay. Agents addressed him carefully wondering whether he was not too old for such a switch. He wasn’t. And he started singing.
  3. Leonard has always been popular among women, had many romances during his life and has now two children. However, he never got married admitting that he was too frightened to do it.
  4. Cohen likes nature. Long ago he bought a Greek island called Hydra for $1500. He used to earn money and come there to spend for a whole year of swimming and sailing. Then he would go back to Canada and earn more money to afford himself return to the island for another year.
  5. He sang “Suzanne” to Judy Collins over the phone and played a couple of songs to John Hammond in a hotel room. Both immediately agreed to record them. Since then, “Suzanne” and “Hallelujah” have been best-selling songs.
  6. Cohen has suffered from various health issues. To fight depression he used various types of drugs, became a vegetarian and took up yoga.
  7. Leonard’s daughter, Lorca, was named after musician’s ‘hero’ - Federico García Lorca, a Spanish poet and dramatist.
  8. Leonard Cohen has tried on various personae and roles in his lifetime: he used to be a writer, a folk singer, a rock star and even a monk in the 90-ies. He joined Buddhists and received the name of Jikan, which meant ‘a silent one’.
  9. Unlike many stars who meet aging with denial and plastic surgery, Cohen finds charm in every age and faces it calmly. On September 21, 2014 Leonard is celebrating his 80th birthday.
  10. Cohen had somehow special connection with ‘the French’: he was widely admired in France in the 60s, he was a favorite of the French president Georges Pompidou; and his son Adam, who is a song-writer, too, released an album in French.

Honorable member of various Halls of Fame, winner of numerous awards, owner of Canada’s highest civilian honor (Order of Canada) and simply a talented man with a strong character – Leonard Cohen keeps fascinating the audience.

09 Apr 2013

A Proper Concertgoer: How to Avoid Embarrassment?


In January 2012 tweeters and blogs of New Yorkers were bursting with indignant messages about the improper behavior of an elderly gentleman who brought the performance of the New York Philharmonic to a halt. At the end of the last climax of Mahler’s “haunting” Ninth Symphony when silence and music became almost indistinguishable a disturbing ringing of a cell phone went off from the front row. Alan Gilbert, the conductor with years of experience under his belt, fell in stupor shocked by such an outrageous act. He dropped the hands indicating the no-less-stunned musicians to stop playing, and the great hall was silenced, except the persistent ringing sounds of the mobile device. “Are you finished?” – Alan addressed the man. No reply followed. “Fine, we’ll wait.”

So what are those obligatory rules concertgoers should diligently follow when going to a classical music concert not to find themselves in an extremely embarrassing and rude situation? It will do no harm to both experienced and inexperienced concertgoers to go through these general rules again.

Should I prepare beforehand? There is no strict necessity to study in detail the music pieces before the concert, unless you feel strong interest in it. But normally one should at least go through the program notes and study what the concert will be like: a continuous performance or a few movements, a 90 or 120 minutes act, single composer show or various authors’ works. Also, do not forget to arrive at least 20 min earlier to absorb the ambiance, settle comfortably and study the notes. As concerts start dead on time, in case of being at least a minute late you might end up listening the first part on the other side of the door – the usher will let you in only when your entrance does not bother the audience.

Any dress code? Unless it’s a fancy gala concert when the dress code is indicated in the invitation, no official dress code exists. However, there is an unspoken tradition to dress up for a classical concert making it a more festive occasion and retain from sport clothing and colorful loud sneakers.

When’s clapping appropriate? It is of course normal to greet the conductor and musicians with cheering clapping before the beginning and to shout ‘bravo!’s after the performance’s over. But you should also remember about the long-ish tricky silence pauses that normally occur between the score movements and can be mistaken for the final giving you the urge to clap. Unlike pop or jazz concerts when applauding is heard during the music, at classical concerts it might distract the musicians. So watch the conductor closely – he doesn’t drop the hands between movements but freezes them tensely in the air instead. That’s a good clue to contain the applause. The preliminary program notes’ study will help you get better oriented, too.

How to deal with the cough? That’s natural to feel the urge to cough sometimes. But during the most silent moments of the concert your cough might go off like thunder. What do we do about it? The funny thing is that the less we worry about it, the less likely we’ll cough. Drink some water before the performance and take a few coughing pills (sometimes they are even served for free in the lobby). If you feel the coughing fit is too strong and you can’t wait till the intermission, it’s quite acceptable to silently leave the hall – the listeners will only appreciate your concern.

“I need my gadgets!” You have to understand that a classical music concert is a very specific experience; it’s a different world that you have to fully immerse in if you want to live this experience. Therefore, make sure all of your electronic devices are switched off – not ‘silenced’ but switched OFF completely. Cameras are distractors too, so pictures can be taken only in the lobby, not during the concert. If you are on call duty, you can hand in your phone/pager to the usher and in case of emergency they will find a way to summon you.

Are kids allowed? A standard classical concert is quite hard for a youngster to ‘survive’ without moving: the long attention span is too complicated for them to maintain. That’s why small children are usually not allowed (it can be checked before buying the tickets). But if you want to acquaint your kid with classical music, start with something simple like classical CDs playing around the house, attending special daytime concerts for children at the weekend, and only then, when the child grows up a bit, bring him/her to a standard concert.

All that highlighted, the remaining thing to say is “Enjoy yourself!” and take the most out of your every single visit to the concert. And remember, in case you are not sure how to behave properly at a certain moment – watch the experienced concertgoers around you and follow their example. Good luck!