Women Composers You Should Know About: Part Two

This Women’s History Month, we honor women of the past and present and acknowledge not only their accomplishments but also their struggles and hard work to attain sometimes the barest recognition from society.
The vast sheet music collection of Johnson String Instrument includes music by countless other past and present women composers, all available for purchase.

Credit: Kuandi Photos

CHEN YI 陳怡 (b. April 4, 1953) is an award-winning Chinese composer and violinist. As a young musician, Chen’s European-influenced education was cut short by the Cultural Revolution. She practiced in secret, before being sent to perform hard labor at a commune, where she became exposed to Chinese folk culture. When she returned to her hometown of Guangzhou at 17, she became concertmaster of the Beijing Opera Troupe. She became the first woman to receive a M.A. in composition from Beijing’s Central Conservatory for the Arts. Her music has been played by such artists as Yo-Yo Ma, Yehudi Menuhin, and Evelyn Glennie. As in Memory for Solo Cello, Chen blends Western classical elements with Chinese folksong.

AUGUSTA READ THOMAS (b. April 24, 1964) is a prominent American composer. Her music has been performed by Mstislav Rostropovich and played under the baton of Pierre Boulez. She has held teaching positions at the Eastman School of Music, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago. Though her music is thoroughly notated, it has been characterized as organic and free, and described in her own words as “captured improvisation”. Her work Silent Moon for Violin and Viola embodies this style, with numerous passages containing rubato, cadenzas, and advanced rhythms.

Hear Augusta Read Thomas discuss her work in a May 2018 interview with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
Photo © Bernie Mindich

JOAN TOWER (b. September 6, 1938) is one of the most successful American composers today. Her music developed in the serialist tradition started by Schoenberg, before branching out into a more impressionist sound. She became the first woman to win the prestigious Grawemeyer  Award for her work Silver Ladders, and has won three Grammy Awards for her album “Made in America”. She is perhaps most renowned for her set of Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman. Her solo violin work Second String Force is an advanced work with visceral energy and technical challenges.

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Copyright © 2019 · All Rights Reserved · Nate Faro

Women Composers You Should Know About: Part One

This Women’s History Month, we honor women of the past and present by acknowledging their accomplishments, struggles and hard work to attain sometimes the barest recognition from society. Women composers are particularly absent from the spotlight; however, they have gained increased visibility in recent years. New Hampshire-born Amy Beach is perhaps the most prominent female composer in American history. She enjoyed a fair amount of recognition by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in her lifetime.

Our sheet music collection at Johnson String Instrument includes music by countless other past and present women composers. Below is our first installment exploring these pioneering women and their exciting compositions.

Rebecca Clarke

REBECCA CLARKE (August 27, 1886 – October 13, 1979) was an English composer and violist. Forced on to the streets by her father at age 20, Clarke supported herself as a performer and became one of the first female professional violists, in chamber and orchestral settings alike. Her compositions are known for their lyricism, lush harmonies, and intense emotion. She faced numerous difficulties as a female composer, and her work was largely forgotten at the end of her life. Today, interest in her music has soared. The Viola Sonata from 1919 is her best-known work and a gem of the viola repertoire, its bold opening melody instantly recognizable.

Adriana Figueroa Mañas

ADRIANA FIGUEROA MAÑAS (b. October 19, 1966) has enjoyed performances of works on four continents. She is a member of the International Alliance of Women in Music, as well as the Argentinian Foundation of Woman Composers. She also plays flute and is the saxophonist in the West Jazz Band of Mendoza. Her colorful compositions, such as Tres Piezas en Clave de Tango, evoke the music of her native Argentina.

Grazyna Bacewicz

GRAZYNA BACEWICZ (February 5, 1909 – January 17, 1969) was a prominent Polish composer and violinist. As a student in Paris, she studied composition with Nadia Boulanger and violin with Carl Flesch. She became the concertmaster of the Polish Radio Orchestra in 1936. During World War II, she lived in Warsaw, where she gave secret underground concerts featuring her music. Her violin-centric works display interest in folksong and show the modernist influence of Bartók. Her Concertino for Violin and Piano is a fantastic student-level work of intermediate difficulty.

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Copyright © 2019 · All Rights Reserved · Nate Faro

Cordoba Guitars: A Brief History, Instruments, and Popular Models

You likely have heard the name Cordoba Guitars being synonymous with high-quality nylon strung acoustic guitars. We’d love to share a bit more detail about the company and which models and instruments to consider when you are ready to purchase your next guitar or ukulele.

A Brief History of Cordoba Guitars

Based in Santa Monica, California, Cordoba Guitars was founded by Tim Miklaucic with the vision of bringing the nylon string guitar to as many people as possible.  One of the ways they achieve this mission is by offering expressive and beautiful hand made instruments at affordable prices for students and professionals alike.  With models designed by such master builders as Kenny Hill, Edmond Blöchinger, and Pepe Romero Jr., Cordoba instruments are made with a high level of detail and quality of tone. Cordoba Guitars also offers instruments for players not studying traditional classical guitar such as their Thinbody, Crossover, and Flamenco models, as well as instruments with pickups and a full range of high-quality ukuleles.

Popular Models

Some popular Cordoba classical guitar models are the Cordoba C5 and Cordoba C7.  These two models excel with fantastic tone, traditional Spanish aesthetic, and a great price.  With solid tops for quality tone and laminate back and sides for durability and value, the C5 and C7 are great instruments to consider whether you are entering the world of classical guitars for the first time or are looking for an upgrade to your current student level instrument. 

The Master Series

Other popular models include the California-made Master Series.  These are modern reproductions of famous instruments throughout history, featuring instruments by Antonio de Torres, Miguel Rodriguez, and Hermann Hauser.  These models are made individually by Cordoba’s luthiers in Oxnard, California. They feature the best quality tonewoods to achieve a sound quality that is authentic to their predecessor.  The Guitar Shop of Johnson String Instrument proudly works closely with the builders of the Master Series to create one of a kind instruments built to our exacting design specifications.

Buying a Cordoba Guitar

The Guitar Shop of Johnson String Instrument offers the full line of Cordoba classical guitars and ukuleles.  Please contact us with any questions or if you would like to learn more about how we can work with their luthiers to build you your dream guitar. 

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Copyright © 2019 · All Rights Reserved · Justin Davis

Adult Beginners: How to Set Yourself Up For Success

Adult Beginners: How to Set Yourself Up For Success

People say it all the time, but you really are never too old to start learning an instrument! Like any skill, learning to play an instrument as an adult is a process and not an immediate pay-off. However, if we do say so ourselves, it’s one well worth the time and the process. Whether you played as a child and want to start up again or are starting from scratch, we have some practical advice to help set adult beginners up for success.

Finding an Instrument

No matter which one you choose to learn, starting with the right instrument is key. Regardless of whether you decide to rent or buy, you want to make sure that you’re getting an instrument that’s in good condition. Work within your budget, but don’t fall prey to getting the cheapest instrument you can find. Cheap instruments are usually made incorrectly with poor quality materials. These instruments are difficult to play, which will hinder your progress and enjoyment. Playing an instrument should be fun! We can help with instrument rentals and purchasing an outfit.

Enlisting Help

There are ways to teach yourself, but we highly recommend finding a teacher. Learning an instrument is a specialized skill, and doing so alone can be frustrating. Using a teacher can help speed up your progress and reinforce good habits. They can be your cheerleader, mentor, and someone to hold you accountable. They are also a great resource for general questions and playing opportunities.

The Mental Game

It’s easy for adult beginners to fall into the mental trap of embarrassment or self-doubt. Remember: you ARE a beginner, and that’s great! Everyone starts somewhere. Make sure you practice daily – yes, daily – to build up muscle memory and reinforce the skills you are learning. Also keep in mind that simple skills or pieces are not bad. You don’t learn to drive by being put on a highway your first day, and you don’t learn to play a concerto right away either. There are many other foundational skills that come before that.

If you’re coming back to playing after a lengthy hiatus, be patient with yourself. You have a memory of what things felt and sounded like when you were actively playing, and that won’t be what you immediately hear or feel. Going back to basics is difficult but rewarding, so keep at it!

Final Tips for Adult Beginners

  • Did we mention practice? Go practice! Lunch breaks can be a great opportunity depending on where you work.
  • Play with people. Find other musicians, groups or organizations to play with. You can also consider making your next vacation a musical retreat or program; they’re not just for kids!
  • Most importantly, HAVE FUN! Make it joyful work.