Music Notes

TotenbergThirty-five years ago the renowned violinist Roman Totenberg was greeting guests after a concert when someone stole the Stradivarius violin that he had lovingly played for 38 years. Totenberg suspected a man named Philip Johnson who Totenberg had seen near the room where the violin was laying in its case. He told the police that he suspected Johnson, but was informed that there was not enough evidence to get a search warrant of Johnson’s apartment.

One day recently, Johnson’s ex-wife took a violin to an expert to have it appraised, and the expert recognized the poorly maintained instrument as Roman Totenberg’s stolen Stradivarius. He contacted the FBI, and they determined that the woman had no idea that the violin was stolen. Obviously Johnson, who was dead had never enjoyed his stolen treasure because he could neither play the violin in public nor have it maintained properly. The violin was too well known, and he was too poor to legitimately own such an instrument.

Totenberg died at the age of 101 about three years ago but his three daughters, including NPR’s legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, are still alive and were delighted to learn of the instrument’s recovery. Totenberg talks about her father and the violin in a story for NPR, and CBS News did a story on the subject as well.

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The Metropolitan Opera has a channel on SiriusXM satellite radio, shows some of its operas in movie theaters, allows you to watch or listen to its operas via the internet, and now it has formed a partnership with Roku that allows you to pull up its operas on your computer and send them to a TV that is equipped with Roku. Roku, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a device that you plug into your TV. It receives data (audio and video) from your computer through a wifi network and treats it like any other incoming TV signal. An article on the WQXR radio site tells you more.

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Organ Grinder Long ago in large cities a man would walk around with a box that would play music when he turned a crank handle. The instrument was called a street piano or barrel organ, and the man was called an organ grinder. The NPR History Dept. has an article about those usually welcome musical instruments. Why “usually”? The article explains why.

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Billie Holiday made a song famous that would be inappropriate for the Sunday morning program “Music on the Sunny Side” that I do jointly with Dr. Fritz McCameron on WBRH here in Baton Rouge. There was nothing “sunny” about “Strange Fruit,” because the “Fruit” hanging from the trees were the bodies of black men who had been lynched. The Pop History Dig has the story of the poem that Holiday turned into an unforgettable protest song. You will find both the lyrics and Holiday’s version of the song at the website.

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How do you gauge how popular a song is? See where it stands on the Billboard charts. Last year that venerable organization produced a list of the 50 top movie songs of all time. You can see the list (which counts down from number 50 to number 1) here.

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Singer, songwriter, and actress Dolly Parton has teamed up with NBC to produce a movie about Parton’s childhood. The movie, based on her song “Coat of Many Colors,” should be complete for the Christmas holidays. The Post-Bulletin has the details.

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As we move toward the election of a new President, feelings are running high for and against certain candidates. For that reason I hope you will consider the consequences of openly displaying your feelings about politics. For example, consider the tale related in this 1966 song by Johnny Cash.  By the way, it debuted on the Billboard charts on February 26, 1966, stayed on the charts for 6 weeks, and peaked at number 46.

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