Tag Archives: Jay Althouse

Beyond the Music: Fun Facts About Your Favorite Composers

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By Jay Althouse

We sometimes forget that the great composers, whose music we know and love, were living, breathing people who led normal lives beyond their music. Well sometimes, as in the case of Beethoven, not so normal. After all, it’s difficult to be normal when you’re a genius. But just like the rest of us, composers had parents, went to school, grew up, sometimes married, and sometimes had children—Bach had more than 20! Their lives were filled sometimes with joy and sometimes with sorrow. Some, such as Giuseppe Verdi, achieved great financial success musically, while others, such as Charles Ives, rarely heard their music performed during their lifetimes.

For example, did you know that . . .

  • Hector Berlioz studied to become a doctor.
  • Igor Stravinsky, Edward Elgar, and George Frideric Handel studied law.
  • Charles Ives was a very successful insurance agent.
  • Antonio Vivaldi was a Catholic priest.
  • As a teenager, Duke Ellington received a scholarship to study art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
  • Much of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music was largely forgotten until it was revived, in the 1830s, by Felix Mendelssohn.
  • Giocomo Puccini’s hobbies were fast motorboats and faster cars.
  • Felix Mendelssohn was an excellent painter, artist, and author.
  • After the death of Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms fell in love, though never married.
  • After graduating from preparatory school, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky became a clerk in the Russian Ministry of Justice.
  • Richard Wagner authored several books, including an autobiography. He even formed his own fan clubs, which he called “Wagner Societies.” Now that’s an ego!
  • In addition to composing music and directing a band, John Philip Sousa wrote three novels, and autobiography, a music instruction book, and hundreds of magazine articles.

It’s important for students to understand that the great composers were, for the most part, normal people with extraordinary talents. As a teacher, you should take every opportunity to humanize the great composers your students study.

Alfred Music has two fully reproducible publications (One-Page Composer Bios and Accent on Composers) designed to teach your students about the lives of the great composers. Both books feature one-page biographies and are filled with musical and personal facts about the great composers your students should know. They’re excellent classroom resources for any music teacher!

althouse_jayAs a composer of choral music, Jay Althouse has over 600 works in print for choirs of all levels. He is a member of ASCAP and is a recipient of the ASCAP Special Award for his compositions in the area of standard music. Jay has also co-written several songbooks, musicals, and cantatas with his wife, Sally K. Albrecht, and also compiled and arranged a number of highly regarded vocal solo collections.


 

Compiling a Vocal Collection

Jay AlthouseBy Jay Althouse, Composer

In 1993, I compiled my first collection of vocal solos: Folk Songs for Solo Singers, Vol. 1. To be honest, my only motivation, at that time, was to find something to do as a break from writing and arranging choral music. Little did I know that Folk Songs for Solo Singers, Vol. 1 would go on to become Alfred Music’s all-time top selling vocal solo collection, and that I would compile 17 more vocal books over the next 20 years.

Some of the collections I simply compiled and edited, and for others I did all of the arrangements. Some were comprised of folk song arrangements, spirituals, or Christmas carols, and some were collections of arrangements of great American pop standards from the 1920s through the 1950s. One was a duet book and one a collection of sacred solos. And three, the Ready to Sing… series, are specifically designed for young and developing soloists.

As I look back on those 18 vocal solo collections over the past 20 years, I am proud of what we have put together at Alfred Music. I remember, when I was a high school senior, the difficulty my choral director and I had in finding vocal solos appropriate for my college audition. Today, vocal teachers have an abundance of books from Alfred Music to use with their students, not just by me, but also by other writers and arrangers such as Andy Beck, Mark Hayes, and Sally Albrecht.

My most recent collection, Songs of the British Isles for Solo Singers, includes some of the most beautiful and enchanting songs from the great vocal tradition of the British Isles. One of the most difficult things about putting this book together was deciding which songs to include; there are so many great ones.

Included are folk songs from England (“Scarborough Fair”), Wales (“The Ash Grove”), Ireland (“Danny Boy”), and Scotland (“The Water Is Wide”). Many of the titles have wonderful lyrics by fine poets, such as Robert Burns (“Flow Gently, Sweet Afton”) and Robert Louis Stevenson (“Skye Boat Song”). Two songs are appropriate for Christmas: “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” and “The Snow Lay on the Ground.” And a third, “Greensleeves” can be sung at holiday time or year round.

All of the songs in Songs of the British Isles for Solo Singers are what I call “singer’s songs.” That is, they sing beautifully, and almost effortlessly, allowing the vocalist to really make music.

I should say, however, that the final song in the collection, “The Blaydon Races,” is not what I would call beautiful. It’s a rousing, boisterous song, which tells the story of the horse races at Blaydon, a town near Newcastle in England, in 1862. It rained, and there was a horse-drawn bus crash and . . . well, you’ll just have to sing it to find out the rest of the story. “The Blaydon Races” is just plain fun to sing, and I’ve included a glossary of terms and phrases from the lyrics to help you follow the bus on its ride to the race track.

Whether you’re looking for audition material, study repertoire, or music that’s simply a pleasure for students to sing, you’re sure to find it with Alfred Music’s vocal solo collections.

Alfred Music’s Vocal Collections Arranged and/or Edited by Jay Althouse:
American Folk Songs for Solo Singers
Christmas for Solo Singers
Encores for Solo Singers
Folk Songs for Solo Singers, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2
Folk Songs for Two
Great American Songwriters for Solo Singers
International Folk Songs for Solo Singers
Love Songs for Solo Singers
Ready to Sing . . . Christmas
Ready to Sing . . . Folk Songs
Ready to Sing . . . Spirituals
Sacred Solos for All Seasons
Songs of Peace and Patriotism for Solo Singers
Songs of the British Isles for Solo Singers
Spirituals for Solo Singers
Standards for Solo Singers
Ye Shall Have a Song

Composers Are People, Too!

Jay Althouse

By Jay Althouse

We sometimes forget that the great composers, whose music we know and love, were living, breathing people who led normal lives beyond their music. Well sometimes, as in the case of Beethoven, not so normal. After all, it’s difficult to be normal when you’re a genius. But just like the rest of us, composers had parents, went to school, grew up, sometimes married, and sometimes had children. (Bach had more than 20!) Their lives were filled sometimes with joy and sometimes with sorrow. Some, such as Giuseppe Verdi, achieved great financial success musically, while others, such as Charles Ives, rarely heard their music performed during their lifetimes.

For example, did you know that . . .

  • Hector Berlioz studied to become a doctor. Igor Stravinsky and George Frideric Handel studied law.
  • Charles Ives was a very successful insurance agent, and Antonio Vivaldi was a Catholic priest.
  • After studying music in college and in Europe, Aaron Copland worked as a piano player at a resort hotel.
  • As a teenager, Duke Ellington received a scholarship to study art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
  • Franz Liszt was the first to use the word recital to describe a musical performance.
  • Much of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music was largely forgotten until it was revived, in the 1830s, by Felix Mendelssohn.
  • Giocomo Puccini’s hobbies were fast motorboats and faster cars.
  • Gioacchino Rossini virtually abandoned composing at the age of thirty-seven. He wrote only a few pieces for the last forty years of his life. Franz Schubert, on the other hand, spent so much time composing music that he neglected his health, and lived only until the age of thirty-one.
  • Clara Schumann’s father violently opposed her marriage to Robert Schumann, and at one point threatened to kill Robert!
  • Richard Wagner formed his own fan clubs, which he called “Wagner societies.” Now that’s an ego!

It’s important for students to understand that the great composers were, for the most part, normal people with extraordinary talents. As a teacher, you should take every opportunity to humanize the great composers your students study.

Alfred has two fully reproducible publications (One-Page Composer Bios and Accent on Composers) designed to teach your students about the lives of the great composers. Both books feature one-page biographies and are filled with musical and personal facts about the great composers your students should know. They’re excellent classroom resources for any music teacher.

Supporting the Arts

By Sally K. Albrecht

Did you know that many of the works of art included on Alfred vocal covers are hanging on our walls? My husband, Jay Althouse, and I began collecting primarily American and Haitian folk art in the mid-1980s. We feel strongly that artists should support each other, and, as a result, we have a home full of wonderful and colorful artwork that inspires us every day.

The paintings used for both American Folk Songs for Two and American Folk Songs for Solo Singers were created by Debbie “Mama” Criswell, a self-taught artist from Clinton, Tennessee. Debbie is a single mother of two girls and a boy, who has primarily sold her art on eBay since 1999. She was inspired by the rolling hills, tall farm houses, and Amish families she observed while living in a small Missouri town. We discovered her striking, clean, and attractive work in a small gallery in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

We met Zernie Smith during the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, several years ago. He created a trio of pastel paintings especially for us to use in our Ready to Sing . . . Series. We love the all-red traffic light that appears on all three covers (Folk Songs, Spirituals, and Christmas). Zernie’s imagination is amazing. He uses diverse icons of many cultures, presenting them in a rich, bold palette of colors. Check out his website: zerniezart.com

Jay was compiling a vocal collection entitled International Folk Songs for Solo Singers when we found the perfect painting by Massachusetts illustrator and artist Jacob Jaskoviak Knight (1938-1994) at a folk art show in Atlanta. The oil painting Lions Are Wonderful caught our eye, as each of the five gentlemen perched on the lion’s back has a distinctive face plus holds an item of interest, three of them musical instruments.

Barbara Gurwitz’s painting Down by the River inspired the Alfred vocal collection Ye Shall Have a Song. This fabulous painting is the focal point of our dining room. We discovered Barbara’s works during a visit to Scottsdale, Arizona. She paints primarily vibrant, colorful, and expressive landscapes that surround her Arizona home.

On the same trip, Jay fell in love with the woman in Linda Carter Holman’s painting Yellow Rose. He teased me that he’d search for that haunting woman for the rest of his life . . . unless I bought the painting for him (which hangs now just outside his office). Linda’s subject matter is frequently women in colorful, imaginative costumes. We used this lovely image for the Alfred vocal collection Nine Latin American Folk Songs. More of Linda’s art can be viewed at carterholman.com

Both Carols for Solo Singers and Christmas for Solo Singers feature intricate paintings by Sancilius Ismael (1940-2000), a Haitian folk painter known for his refined, meticulously detailed, and colorful works. They are truly magnificent, and often feature intricate painted “frames” along the edges, as our two paintings do.

It’s a joy and an honor to select appropriate artwork for our distinctive vocal covers. And we certainly enjoy having the opportunity to share our art with all of you and your students. We hope it’s an inspiration to you as you teach and perform the wonderful music that’s featured inside!

Alfred Vocal Covers