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this week's feature (July 1, 2022):

The newly formed Argentinian folk/jazz fusion ensemble Tierradentro played its first gig at Pittsburgh's "City of Asylum" on Tuesday June 28th. Below is an embedded video of the event (hint: more events from City of Asylum are available on their website or by clicking below). Singer Raquel Winnica-Young is joined by oboist Lenny Young, Bassist Tracy Mortimore, percussionist Jeff Berman, and myself on piano (Michael Hammer).

The event actually begins at 4:15 and consists of a dozen or so pieces of music, some poetry and occasional commentary. If you have places to go right now, there are two piano solos by Argentinian giant Alberto Ginastera which start at 1:00:40 (commentary on the pieces at 57:55). You can pick up the rest later.

Argentinian Raquel dreamed up this ensemble a few months ago and invited the rest of us gringos to join her, and the result is this new experiment in the fusion of styles and cultures that we are still figuring out, but has already been a lot of fun. And the journey is only beginning! Enjoy.

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classic blog: from June 18, 2014

piano vs. organ, round two

First, the obvious. We know that an organ can easily out-shout a piano, so if sheer volume is your thing the organ is the clear winner--at least if your particular model has any size on it. The one at Faith church can hold its own with a 40 piece brass band and even a dozen bagpipes (frankly, I could have blown either of them away if I'd pulled out all the stops, although I'll admit the bagpipes did give me some pause!)

The organ can, under other circumstances, whisper as well, though the organ at Faith finds this a challenge, one which is exacerbated by the fact that the softest string stop is not complete--if you want access to the lowest octave you have to use the louder of the two string stops on the Great manual--not a thunderstorm, exactly, but less of a zephyr than otherwise.

However, the piano purrs in a way that the organ does not, and, having been raised as a pianist, I still admit to preferring the basic tone of the piano. I will state frankly that I think most congregants do as well, for better and worse. There is a lot one can do with it; it dies as it speaks, it varies ever so slightly with each note, it is intimate and friendly (and familiar--there used to be one in every home). By contrast many people find the basic organ sound disagreeable. A pity, especially with so many fascinating sounds to choose from--an organist is basically commanding the sound of an orchestra. But it is an orchestra that is missing a piano.

The piano is also the better instrument if you have an inferiority complex. 

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The pipe organ is a fascinating instrument with a very long history. Today, a very thumb-nail sketch of the history of the organ as used in the church.

Organs have been around since the 3rd century B. C. when a Roman named Ctesibius attached a set of pipes to a box with some keys (note: not a remotely professional description of an organ) and, behold! The one-rank wonder was born.

Ctesibius's invention involved using water power to move the air through the pipes (a "hydraulis"); later on, pumping bellows was found to work better. Apparently, rich Romans liked the invention enough to play it at home, a specimen of which is pictured below:

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Guilt by Association


Keep it simple?


I know what you're thinking. He's writing about salad dressing again?!?

The commercial in question was for some salad dressing which is supposed to contain only natural ingredients. Now imagine you are the advertising agency and you want people not to snooze through your commercial. Do you tell people that it is better for them to consume natural ingredients because natural ingredients are less likely to corrode their stomach lining and cause you to glow like Three Mile Island on a very bad day? Wrong! Try again. Do you tell them that natural ingredients tend to actually biodegrade in landfills sooner than the middle of 2085 and are more likely to allow some life to continue to exist on planet earth past next Tuesday afternoon? Bzzz! Boy, you don't get humans at all. Try this: it's simple that way.

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