Headline Music Updates

Two-piano Londonderry Air for World Piano Day 2020

This weekend marks the end of the second week of COVID-19 lockdown in France and end of the first week in the UK. During this time of confinement, Brigitte d’Andrea-Novel, Director of the STMS Laboratory and I have decided to continue making music together. Here is a two-piano piece to celebrate World Piano Day (the 88th day of the year). The piece is Londonderry Air; this arrangement for two pianos four hands is by American composer Elizabeth Gest (1889-1959).

The melody may be better known to some as the ballad, O Danny Boy. The poignant lyrics by Frederick E. Weatherly are thought to refer to a son going off to war or leaving as part of the Irish diaspora. Renée Fleming sang O Danny Boy at the funeral of US Senator John McCain; the same tune, set to words by Howard Arnold Walter, was sung at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. Here are a historic recording of a violin-piano arrangement performed by Fritz Kreisler and Franz Rupp and a jazzy version by pianist Keith Jarrett.

The COVID-19 lockdowns worldwide have spurred musicians to make music over the Internet. Ensemble interaction over distance is constrained by Internet delay, which is limited by the speed of light when transmitting signals over fibre optic cables—things may change when scientists figure out how to harness quantum entanglement for communications. In co-located large ensembles, a conductor coordinates the passage of time; co-located small ensembles (usually without a conductor) depend on careful listening to manage timing and coordination. This sensitive response to timing variations, especially important in classical music performance, is often derailed with moderate or variable network delay.

Our early studies of ensemble interaction over the Internet in the Distributed Immersive Performance project has shown that the effects of network latency can be ameliorated by delaying a player’s signal to themselves. This video (the third in a set of three) of the Tosheff Piano Duo playing with simulated delays demonstrates the principle. The catch is that this is only possible when one has electronic instruments.

In this trans-Atlantic rehearsal of Paul Schoenfield’s Trio between violinist Ning Kam and pianist Elaine Chew in London and clarinetist Eran Egozy in Boston, Eran played the clarinet part whilst listening to Ning and Elaine’s violin-piano parts over the Internet, and muted his microphone so that Ning and Elaine would not hear his (delayed) response.

For the Londonderry Air performance featured here, Elaine recorded the second piano part, which starts first, and marked the beats using Sonic Visualiser as shown above. Brigitte then played along to the audio recording with the beat annotations, which provided a time-varying click track. The two parts were then mixed and balanced to produce the final output.