Music

Courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh

In all of the U.S., there are only a few dozen sets of instruments that qualify as gamelan ensembles – the collections of gongs and other tuned percussion instruments needed to play this form of music indigenous to Indonesia.

One such gamelan resides at the University of Pittsburgh, whose University Gamelan group marks its 20th anniversary this week with a pair of concerts. Guest performers include composer Ismet Ruchimat, vocalist Masyuning, and musician Idra Ridwan.

Courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh

These days, jazz studies programs are common at American universities and colleges. In 1969, there were only two at major universities. That’s the year Dr. Nathan Davis arrived at the University of Pittsburgh to establish its program.

A respected saxophonist, the Kansas City native had spent most of the 1960s living in Paris where he was an integral part of that city’s particularly vibrant jazz scene performing and recording with world renowned artists. That background influenced his approach to running Pitt’s jazz program, according to drummer Thomas Wendt.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

In the basement of the Keystone Church of Hazelwood, a group of high school students practiced a hip hop dance performance, counting aloud the steps in the routine in rhythm with a backing music track.

Allegra Battle / 90.5 WESA

How does Pittsburgh’s music scene need to change? That’s one critical question a new project involving local organizations aims to understand and address.

The project, called the Pittsburgh Music Ecosystem Project, was launched in October and is made up of 91.3 WYEP, the City of Pittsburgh Office of Nighttime Economy and Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. Leaders from these organizations will look at the regulatory environment, ways to build more opportunities and other aspects of Pittsburgh’s music scene.

David Bachman Photography

Pittsburgh Opera’s new world-premiere performance, Douglas J. Cuomo’s Ashes & Snow, might be an edgy, contemporary work, but it was inspired by a classic piece of music: Franz Schubert’s Winterreise, meaning "winter journey."

Schubert wrote this song cycle in the 1820s, as a musical setting for a series of 24 poems by German poet Wilhelm Muller. The poems tell the story of a jilted lover wandering a rural landscape in winter.

“I am finished with all my dreams. Why should I linger among the sleepers?” runs one line of the English translation.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

Nicole Steele, clad in a face mask and thin plastic protective cover over her shirt, strung a ukulele while 14-year-old Yaheim Young played alongside her. The two had a jam session on the ninth floor of the UPMC Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville. 

Keith Srakocic / AP

*Updated on Monday, Jan. 29 at 3:30 p.m.

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra picked up two Grammys at Sunday night's awards ceremony. 

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Renowned composer Kathryn Bostic first worked with Pittsburgh-born playwright August Wilson in 2003, scoring the Broadway production of “Gem of the Ocean.”

“Being a part of that process and being in rehearsals and hearing his words, the cadence in his words and his writing is to me are very musical and symphonic,” said Bostic, who lives and works in Los Angeles. “That’s when I began to first get this idea to try to create a symphonic piece.”

90.5 WESA

Jimmy Beaumont, then an 18 year old from Pittsburgh’s Knoxville neighborhood, took some lyrics written by his friend Joe Rock, and set them to music in 1958. He had no idea that what he was creating would become to many music historians the iconic ballad of that era. 

"I really hadn’t gone through any heartbreak at that time, but it was Joe’s lyrics that brought it out," Beaumont told 90.5 WESA's Essential Pittsburgh in 2016.

Bruno Mars Meets His Namesake: Bruno Sammartino

Aug 23, 2017
Shaun Hoffman / AP

Bruno Mars has met the man he's nicknamed after: former pro wrestling champion Bruno Sammartino.

The two met Tuesday night when the pop singing sensation's 24K Magic World Tour stopped in Pittsburgh.

Sammartino heard through friends that Mars, born Peter Gene Hernandez, was nicknamed "Bruno" by his father because he was a "chunky" baby. The wrestling legend — now 81 — was about 275 pounds in his prime and the favorite wrestler of Mars' father.

Cannon Designs / YMCA Facebook

A lot of kids have big dreams of stardom, but not everybody can be a singer, rapper or performer. Still, there are aspects of the music and entertainment industry outside of those specialties.

The Community College of Allegheny County’s new partnership with the Homewood-Brushton YMCA aims to inspire young creators with a free, one-semester introductory course on music technology for students ages 16 to 24.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

After 42 years selling used vinyl records, Jerry Weber will walk away from his namesake record store in Squirrel Hill for the last time this Sunday.

PNME

Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble performs works that are hard to describe, like an amalgam of Mozart and Frank Zappa.

And at City Theater, on the South Side, the group is pairing its music with an art gallery showcasing large colorful canvases and sculptures carefully chosen to be displayed on stage during this summer’s performances.

It’s a multi-sensory experience. After one recent concert, Harry Hockheiser, of Squirrel Hill, explained how he enjoyed the combination of mediums.

Heiko DeWees

Andrew Carnegie had a personal bagpipe player on his payroll and the university that bears his name shows its Scottish roots through its signature green and red tartan plaid and mascot, Scotty

Those are not the only ways Carnegie Mellon University upholds its Scottish heritage. Tucked deep in the halls of CMU’s University Center is a small room packed with bagpipes and drums. It’s where Andrew Carlisle has had his office for the last seven years.

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Jane Lynch is, perhaps, best known for her role as the mouthy coach Sue Sylvester on the television show Glee. Now she is going live - performing a new show that, so far, has only been heard once. 

Philadelphia's Music Legacy Is Vast But Hard To Find

May 30, 2017
Matt Rourke / AP

Detroit has the Motown Museum. Mississippi has a blues trail. Memphis has Graceland, Sun Studio and the Stax Museum of American Soul.

But in Philadelphia — birthplace of the lush acoustic style known as The Sound of Philadelphia and the hometown of "American Bandstand" and Chubby Checker's "Twist" — there's no major place of pilgrimage for music fans.

"Tourists come here expecting and hoping to experience our music legacy, and we leave them wanting," said Patty Wilson Aden, president of The African American Museum.

A diverse musical legacy

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

90.5 WESA’s sister station WYEP held a competition for the worst song ever this week.

Listeners submitted their least favorite tunes, which the station pared down to 20 finalist.  90.5 WESA’s Sarah Kovash talked to WYEP’s Director of Content and Programming, Mike Sauter, about what makes a bad song and the five most hated tunes.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

SARAH KOVASH: Now, were you surprised by some of these submissions?

the Afro American Music Institute

On a recent Saturday afternoon, Howard Alexander instructed a group of young musicians at the Afro American Music Institute in Homewood.

As a Xylophone gently clinked in the background, one of the center’s founders, James Johnson, touted some of the accomplishments of former students.  

“The young lady on piano just got a scholarship to go to Duquesne,” he said. “We’ve sent them to Berkeley, the University of Pittsburgh, and they do well.”

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

Two part-time workers stood on either side of a T-shaped conveyer belt as 61-year-old Joe Spaniol moved down its twin trunks, trading full boxes with empty ones when its contents started to overflow.

Virginia Alvino Young / 90.5 WESA

Albert and Jen Wolf love the sound of their daughters practicing their instruments at home, but that wasn’t always the case.

“When they first begin, it’s a lot of very unusual sounds and you’re not sure what’s coming out of that instrument,” Jen Wolf said. 

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

The musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra ended their strike Wednesday.

After months of tense negotiations, musicians and management agreed to a new five-year contract, which calls for a 10.5 percent salary cut in the first year. 

Classical music observers say we're living in a golden age of string quartets. It's hard to disagree when you hear the vibrant young players in New York's Attacca Quartet.

I wasn't alone in patiently waiting for new music from John Paul White. His singing and songwriting as half of The Civil Wars was heartfelt and beautiful. This summer, a new album finally came, and Beulah was a quietly understated gem. This is tender Southern music without drawl or pretense, and I love it.

Adam Torres' voice makes Pearls To Swine a constant listen for me. It's high and lonesome, but more frail than the voices of the bluegrass pioneers who defined that sound, like Ralph Stanley. Besides, Torres isn't a country singer or a folksinger so much as an atmospheric storyteller.

Ta-ku & Wafia: Tiny Desk Concert

Nov 7, 2016

The chemistry between Australian singer-producer Ta-ku and his fellow Aussie singer-songwriter Wafia becomes apparent the instant you hear their voices intertwined in song. On their first collaborative EP, (m)edian, they draw on their individual experiences to touch on subjects like compromise in relationships as they trade verses and harmonize over hollow melodies.

Calling themselves "an accidental brass quartet," the members of The Westerlies, like the prevailing winds, blew east to New York from their hometown of Seattle, where they were childhood friends.

My first experience seeing Joseph was in 2014 as an opening act in New York City. It was just the twins Meegan and Allison Closner and their older sister, Natalie Closner, and it was clear then they had something special. Over these two years, Joseph's sound has grown beyond the Closners' harmonies. Now, you're likely to see them with a band or hear songs from their latest record, which is filled with sounds far beyond voice and acoustic guitar.

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