Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Ed Sullivan

Music History Monday: The Colonel

Let us contemplate the word “colonel.” No, we’re not talking about a discreet unit of corn, “k-e-r-n-a-l”; rather, we’re talking about the military rank and honorific of “colonel”: “c-o-l-o-n-e-l.” The word itself is of Italian origin; its root is the word colonna, which means “column”; in this case, as in a “column of soldiers”. By the sixteenth century, the word “colonello” was employed as a high military rank – someone who commanded a “column of soldiers” – in the various armies of the Italian city-states. Just as the French adapted Italian cuisine to create their own (that was thanks to the Florentine Princess Caterina Maria Romola di Lorenzo de’ Medici, who as Queen of France from 1547 until 1559 and Queen Mother from 1559 to 1589 brought her cooks and the fork to France, giving birth to French cuisine); yes, just as the French made Italian cuisine their own, so they borrowed the Italian word “colonello” and made it their own, spelling (and pronouncing) it “coronel” – “c-o-r-o-n-e-l”. By the seventeenth century, the English military had adopted the word as well, employing the French pronunciation – coronel – but the Italian spelling: colonel. The rank of colonel in the United […]

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Music History Monday: Microphones

On April 30th, 1977 – 41 years ago today – the English rock band Led Zeppelin set a new attendance record for a single-act, non-festival ticketed concert, when it played to an audience of 77,229 in Pontiac, Michigan at the Pontiac Silverdome, the capacity of which was a bit over 82,000. That information got me to thinking about the impact of amplification on the performance of music, particularly the amplification of music performed by the human voice. While the first microphones were developed independently by David Edward Hughes, Emile Berliner, and Thomas Edison in the 1870s, they were not employed in ballrooms and theaters to actually amplify a human voice performing live music until the very early 1930s. Up to that time, the largest possible performance venue for a trained singer was an opera house, and for most pop singers, spaces considerably smaller. Microphones and amplification rendered venue size moot; miked and amplified, anyone could be heard anywhere. Microphones and amplification also had a tremendous impact on voice type as well. You see, until the advent of amplification, the primary male voice type in popular music was the tenor voice. With its natural intensity and relatively high tessitura (vocal range), […]

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