Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived for only 35 years, creating I some of the most incredible music during his short stay on this planet. Amy Winehouse lived for only 27 years, also creating a wealth of music, albeit quite different. In 1984, the movie Amadeus offered the public a fictionalized account of Mozart’s life based on information known to musicologists and historians. Recently, a documentary on the life of Amy Winehouse was released, simply called Amy, which, due to the availability of a large volume of videos and recordings, showed us an in-depth and personal look at her life.
I was struck by the many similarities between these two musical greats. My background is mostly in classical western music and I have a very limited relationship with pop music. I was quite familiar with the music of Mozart but only knew of Amy Winehouse from her duet recording with Tony Bennett. Tony compared her talents to those of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Besides being a fantastic jazz-pop singer, Amy was a prolific songwriter. She has six Grammy Awards, while Mozart’s music has brought in even more. Mozart and Amy Winehouse were both fairly short: Mozart was 5’4″ while Amy was 5’3″ tall. They both had fathers who pushed them hard to become successful. They both had spouses who, it seems, took advantage of their special talents. They both drank heavily, which ultimately killed them. They had their ups and downs with public opinion. Mozart was buried in a communal plot without any fanfare. Amy was the brunt of many jokes at the end of her life as a result of her often bizarre behavior. They certainly didn’t look alike and I doubt that Mozart had any tattoos or body piercings. However, they both had a huge effect on the world within their short lifespans. One can only imagine what they could’ve accomplished had they lived longer. I have always been a big fan of Mozart’s and now I can add Amy Winehouse to my list of admired artists. Oh, and yes, they both enjoyed flamboyant hairstyles.
When I founded Woodstock Chimes® in 1979, my idea was to make beautiful, musically-tuned windchimes, and I’m happy to still be doing that all these years later. But every now and then, a different kind of product comes along that is irresistible, and . . . well . . . we just can’t resist adding it to our line. Handmade ducks in colorful spotted rain boots from The Dcuk Company in the UK are just such a product. We fell head over wellies for these guys and had a feeling our customers would, too.
With their quizzical faces and endearing poses, they exude personality, so it was only natural that we pick a group of them to become the “Webb family.” Larry and Loretta Webb with their little ones Fiona and L.J. (Larry, Jr.) even have their own Facebook page! I wanted the father’s name to be Jack Webb, but I was told that only people my age would get that. Turns out they love to travel, and they’re ready for adventure at the drop of a duck feather. A good time was had by all on their trip to Hawaii last month, with L.J. getting up to his usual shenanigans and Larry buying a Hawaiian shirt to match his wellies. Here are a couple of snapshots from the trip.
Fiona and L.J. try out a trampoline on the beach
L.J. and Fiona learn to scuba dive
We ran a contest, asking our Facebook fans to let us know where they’d like the ducks to travel next and got a lot of great ideas, so I think the Webb gang will be on the go a lot this summer!
The names of the people who responded were put into a Lucky Ducky – Win a Ducky bucket for a random drawing. As you can see, the Webbs gathered around with eager anticipation to watch me announce the name of the winning contestant. I think they approved! A cousin of L.J.’s will soon be flying off to the lucky winner.
At Woodstock Chimes, we’ve always been about music, but we’re also about spreading joy and having fun. These guys bring out the kid in everyone, and I think that’s just ducky!
P.S., If you don’t want to miss a thing that the Webbs are up to and want to find out how to win your own duck in the next Lucky Ducky contest, just click “like” on the Meet the Duck Family Facebook page!
Every now and then I have the pleasure of working with young students and it happened recently when I was invited to give workshops and a concert at the Wilbraham Monson Academy in central Massachusetts. The students there were wonderfully receptive to the concepts and ideas that I presented relating to instrument building, tuning, business and the music that I presented of Steve Reich. I met with the students involved in a music program, a business class a group of eighth graders, and the day ended with a presentation to the entire student body and faculty of 200.
Having attended a private boarding school for my high school years, I was happy to see some traditions are still alive. First of all, everybody was very cordial and they were great listeners. They also dressed up for this day of activities with their signature blue blazers. I’m not a stickler for dress codes but remember well that uniforms at the boarding school I attended made for an equal playing ground among the wide range of economic backgrounds the students came from.
I was invited to the school by an old colleague, Thad Wheeler. Thad and I have been performing with Steve Reich for the last 25 years. The all-school assembly started off with a performance of Steve’s Clapping Music for which Francesca Vanasco–Wheeler joined us, turning this duet into a trio. Francesca is a fantastic cellist and now she can add virtuosic clapper to her resume. After Clapping Music, I demonstrated my harmonic tube instrument, the Vistaphone. This instrument has 32 tubes and rods ranging from 7 inches long to 9 feet long. It produces a sound that you cannot hear on any other instrument, namely the frequencies of what is known as the harmonic overtone series. I explained how that works and why it was unique. We ended the mini concert with a performance of Mallet Phase, an arrangement I made of Steve’s Piano Phase. Thad and I perform this work on a set of instruments I built specifically to realize this composition in an ancient tuning system known as just intonation.
I am happy to say the students seemed mesmerized by Steve’s music. While this is not an Academy of musical arts, the students have a wonderful sensitivity to the creative process there. I am happy to report there’s hope for the future!
April is National Autism Awareness Month and April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day. I am very proud of the initiative that we took a year ago in developing the Woodstock Chimes for Autism, which was inspired by 8-year-old Tyler Doi, who has high-functioning autism and an extraordinary musical acuity that enables him to identify which Woodstock Chime is playing when he hears it ring. If you haven’t seen the video we helped produce, check it out at http://www.chimes.com/autism. He is certain to inspire you as well. Just recently, we found out that the group who made the video for us, Kala Project, submitted this short to the Sprout Film Festival, which focuses exclusively on films that celebrate the diverse lives and creativity of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The film was accepted and will be part of the festival, which is located in New York City and runs from May 30-31. Our Woodstock Chimes for Autism has generated significant donations to organizations working in the field of research and treatment of the autism spectrum, since we give 100% of the after-tax profits of this chime to these groups. Tuned to the opening notes of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, this chime’s happy, calming song is made even more appealing because of the significant cause it supports, autism awareness. One aspect of autism is hyper-sensitivity to sound. This chime is designed with a specially sized clapper so its soothing tones play more gently in the wind. Some think Mozart was autistic. Everyone has a creative side which sometimes is locked up inside waiting for the right time to emerge.
Drum circles in the broadest sense have been around since the first caveman started beating on a log. There is something about drumming that is both primal and cathartic. Unlike most other instruments, it is possible for anyone – including non-musicians – to play rhythms on a drum (or any percussion instrument) immediately and join others in a music-making experience. Of course, there’s also no limit to the level of musical expertise one can achieve as a percussionist.
About ten years ago, I had a friend come to our company to facilitate a drum circle for our employees. The friend is Arthur Hull, who many consider the “father of the modern drum circle”. Arthur has a wonderful way of getting the shyest people to come out of their shell and join the fun. I saw the results of his event immediately which included lots of smiles. The lasting effect is a renewed spirit of community and teamwork among participants.
From time to time, I have the opportunity to conduct drum circles myself, primarily for non-musicians who are connected with my company. The most recent was at our company headquarters here in the Hudson Valley.
While the temperature outside was in single digits, indoors things began to heat up as the drumming commenced. There were forty of us with hundreds of instruments available in my percussion studio. The drum circle included a short review of “rules” such as “no wearing rings” if you are playing drums and to remember to listen to each other. Then we did a few exercises to get comfortable with playing such as how to get a good sound out of the bells, shakers, blocks, xylophone and drums. We tried different rhythmic patterns at different volumes from soft to loud and practiced “call and response”. We ended by “performing” an improvisation with many of these elements. The result was fun, interactive and a nice break from our daily routine. Here are a few video excerpts of that session.
Last year, I was challenged to facilitate a very large drum circle in Atlanta. The group consisted of people who sell Woodstock Chimes throughout the US and other manufacturers within the gift industry. I say challenging because “conducting” a group of that magnitude (150 participants) who are playing drums is like herding cats. Imagine that many people playing instruments which are capable of producing serious levels of sound in a somewhat small indoor conference room. The results were incredible though. Everyone participated and left the event fully charged to conquer the world and put Woodstock Chimes in every home!
When I was growing up everything was pretty black and white. You drove a Ford or a Chevy. You drank a Coke or a Pepsi. You had a choice of NBC, CBS, ABC and (eventually) PBS on TV. We now live in an interesting time where you have a zillion choices. We are offered dozens of types of latte coffees (different sizes, types of milk-like products, wet or dry…), hundreds of different Woodstock Chimes (all of which are awesome, of course), thousands of channels on cable (only a few of which are of interest to anyone) and millions of websites. It can create all sorts of confusion and frustration. Thanksgiving dinner used to consist of Turkey, Stuffing with Gravy, Cranberry Sauce and some kind of Potato. That’s ancient history.
Here is an excerpt from a NY Times Article: “…seeking the perfect choice, even in big decisions like colleges, is a recipe for misery…when looking [on-line]…for a new camera or a hotel…limit yourself to three Web sites…It is not clear that more choice gives you more freedom. It could decrease our freedom if we spend so much time trying to make choices.”
The first three Woodstock Chime products, the Chimes of Olympos, Chimes of Lun and Chimes of Partch were offered in the early days of Woodstock Chimes because someone told us three is a magical number in retail. Just one choice is boring, two creates an either / or situation, but with three, people always chose a favorite (three points create a plane). It seemed to work. I still personally love the Chimes of Olympos, our first baby! Long live freedom of choice.