The talking piano.

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My cousin Raminta.

I have wonderful childhood memories of visits from my cousin Raminta, who is an accomplished pianist. Her late father, my Uncle Jurgis, was choir director at a Lithuanian church in Chicago. She, along with my late grandfather Vladas, sang in that choir, which would record several albums of traditional Lithuanian folk songs. I think it’s safe to say she came from a musical family.

During one of her visits to Florida, Raminta brought along some of her friends who were musicians themselves. There was Michael, her boyfriend who played violin, Patras the flautist and Dirk the singer. One night they gave a concert in my parents’ living room with my neighbors in attendance. It was a magical evening indeed.

There is one moment from this visit that I will always remember. I myself was taking piano lessons and was practicing “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin one afternoon when Michael came along and played the same piece on his violin. I’d never heard “The Entertainer” on violin before and was impressed with how easily Michael was able to play it.

The only problem we had was deciding where everyone would sleep. Our house had three bedrooms and eight people, so my parents had to make modifications as to who slept where. I slept in my sister’s bedroom while some of the visitors slept in mine. After they all left, I was about to fall asleep in my own bed for the first night in days when suddenly I saw something glowing on my nightstand. My heart was racing as I reached for the light, and after the light filled the room, I saw some glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth left behind by one of the visitors.

The last I heard from Raminta was years ago when sent us a copy of her album featuring her piano music accompanied by a singer. There is also some instrumental music for violin and organ respectively. A little bit of everything. I really enjoyed hearing the album and consider it a quality production of the highest order. I still love listening to it.

I see Raminta has her own web site and from reading her list of accomplishments, it looks like she’s been very busy performing and teaching her craft. I’ll have to get in touch with her again and relive those fond memories I now possess.

The iTunes Top 25.

I have decided to discontinue my weekly feature listing my top 10 most played songs. I don’t think there was ever enough interest in keeping this feature going, so there’s no need to make this blog any more boring than it already is.

I was also having problems with the scrobbling software from Last.fm that was supposed to pass along songs played on my iPod to my Last.fm profile page, but it wasn’t working as it should, not even after my attempts to troubleshoot and resolve the problem. So I ended up uninstalling the scrobbling software and won’t go near Last.fm again.

I do would like to present you with one more top song list, this one from iTunes. I’ve been using it as my main music player for years and it’s been quietly keeping track of which songs I listen to the most. In fact, there’s a separate playlist for my 25 most played songs of all time, which is presented here. This is truly a definitive list of some of my all time favorite songs, presented one last time at the risk of making this blog dreadfully boring.

1. Spirit In The Sky – Norman Greenbaum
2. Love Me Tender – Elvis Presley
3. Dancing in the Moonlight – King Harvest
4. Soul Man – The Blues Brothers
5. Starsong – Rick Miller
6. Java Jive – The Ink Spots
7. Dialogues for Piano and Two Loudspeakers – Wendy Carlos
8. Autobahn – Kraftwerk
9. Les Étoiles Filantes – Les Cowboys Fringants
10. Kometenmelodie 1 – Kraftwerk
11. Kometenmelodie 2 – Kraftwerk
12. Mitternacht – Kraftwerk
13. Morgenspaziergang – Kraftwerk
14. You Can’t Always Get What You Want – The Rolling Stones
15. Kodachrome – Paul Simon
16. Bush – Elwood
17. 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover – Paul Simon
18. The Sound Of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel
19. Riders In The Sky – The Blues Brothers
20. It’s The Falling In Love – Michael Jackson
21. Geiger Counter – Kraftwerk
22. Looking For A Fox – The Blues Brothers
23. Yellow Submarine – The Beatles
24. Dream Weaver – Gary Wright
25. Like A Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan

That’s it. You may rest assured there will be no posts like this again.

My Top 10 songs of the week.

Here are my most-played songs for this week, as reported by Last.fm:

1. Norman Greenbaum — Spirit in the Sky
2. Bob Dylan — Like a Rolling Stone
3. The Rolling Stones — You Can’t Always Get What You Want
4. The Blues Brothers — Soul Man
5. John Lennon — Imagine
6. Janis Joplin — Me and Bobby McGee
7. Carl Craig — Televised Green Smoke
8. Janis Joplin — Piece of My Heart
9. Janis Joplin — Mercedes Benz
10. Portishead — Mysterons

Old songs rule.

Dream Weaver.

Have you ever heard a song that had such an impact on you that you still remember where you were when you heard it for the first time?

My family had just moved to Oklahoma, where my father was transferred on assignment. One day I was in my room standing in front of my stereo, tuning around the radio while looking for music to record. When I tuned to KATT, a rock station from Oklahoma City, “Boys Of Summer” by Don Henley was playing. I liked that song, so I pressed the record button to capture its last few minutes before the next song began playing. This next song was unlike anything I ever heard before and I instantly fell in love with it. I kept playing it over and over. It would be years later, long after moving back to Florida, when I would finally learn that the name of that magical song was “Dream Weaver” and I bought the CD at Sam Goody not long afterwards. Goody got it indeed.

My Top 10 songs of the week.

I have an account on Last.fm that I use to keep track of what music I like to hear. During the week I listen to my music on my iPod and if there’s a song I really like, I will play that song more than once. When I’m done listening, I synchronize the iPod with iTunes, which in turn reports the data to Last.fm.

Here are my most-played songs for this week.

1. Gary Wright — Dream Weaver
2. King Harvest — Dancing In The Moonlight
3. “Weird Al” Yankovic — Lasagna
4. The Chipmunks — Alvin For President
5. The Chipmunks — Alvin’s Harmonica
6. The Chipmunks — America The Beautiful
7. Bobby McFerrin — Don’t Worry, Be Happy
8. ZZ Top — Rough Boy
9. ZZ Top — Sharp Dressed Man
10. Rodrigo y Gabriela — Tamacun

Yes, I listen to the Chipmunks and no, I am not ashamed.

If there’s enough interest I’ll make this a weekly feature on my blog. If not, then this will be the last time you will ever know what songs keep me sane. EVER.

Wendy Carlos by request.

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When I was growing up during the 1970’s, I enjoyed listening to records on my father’s stereo. I especially enjoyed listening to albums of early electronic music from artists like Kraftwerk and Wendy Carlos.

One of my favorite Wendy Carlos albums is By Request in which she performs familiar tunes on a Moog synthesizer. This album was released in 1975 and hasn’t stopped enchanting me since.

Here’s a breakdown on the tracks on offer:

1. Three Dances From “Nutcracker Suite” – The album starts with the Russian Dance before taking us to the Dance Of The Sugar-Plum Fairy and concluding the set with Dance Of The Reed-Pipes, all of them delightfully performed.

2. Dialogues For Piano And Two Loudspeakers – Basically a heated argument between piano and synthesizer. My father hated this track because of the electronic noises but I found it especially haunting. It painted vivid images in my mind, such as flying saucers, eagles falling from the sky and Sesame Street’s Mr. Hooper in distress. In fact, when I listen to this same track today, those same images come to mind.

3. Episodes For Piano And Electronic Sound – This picks up from where the previous track left off. The piano playing here is more heartfelt but the electronic sounds always find a sneaky way in with chaotic results.

4. Geodesic Dance (Electronic Etude) – After the piano and synthesizer call it a draw, it’s back to the music. Here Ms. Carlos manages to weave various musical tones and textures into a single tapestry she can call her own while still staying faithful to the familiar melodies.

5. Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 In F Major (1st Movement) – One of Bach’s more recognizable tunes, electronically realized. The variety of tones here is amazing.

6. “Little” Fugue In G Minor – Playing a fugue has got to be tricky but Ms. Carlos makes it sound easy. Again a good wealth of various tones integrated into one masterful track.

7. What’s New, Pussycat? – This is one of my favorite tracks on the album. The classic Tom Jones song benefits nicely from its electronic makeover and the playful music captures the mood of cats running amok in the recording studio.

8. Eleanor Rigby – I heard this version years before I heard the original song from the Beatles. Another favorite track.

9. Wedding March – A short and sweet track I really should’ve used at my own wedding.

10. Pompous Circumstances (Variations & Fantasy On A Theme By Elgar) – Ms. Carlos saved the best for last. This epic, 12-minute track is a mashup of familiar classical tunes mixed with variations on the Pompous Circumstances theme. This is beyond ingenious.

This is a fantastic album that’s worth a listen. It just may be the best music you’ve never heard.