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Martin Guitars 180th anniversary

On November 6th, 180 years ago, C.F. Martin set up his own guitar shop in New York City. The rest is history. In honor of today, here is the foreword of Inventing the American Guitar, by Peter Szego and Robert Shaw. 

Christian Friedrich Martin was one of eight million Germans who emigrated to the United States between 1820 and World War I. Martin came to New York, a major center of industry, finance, and entertainment, to pursue success. Looking for freedom from the restrictive economic model of his native Germany’s guild system, Martin realized that there was a growing market for musical instruments in New York. The city also offered him a global trade network that made it easy for him to obtain raw materials, to import musical items for resale, and to ship finished guitars around the globe. Yet, the cultural landscape of the city was far different from what residents and visitors experienced even a generation or two after Martin. Although New York already had a bustling music scene, many of the city’s most venerable music institutions and venues would not be established for some time. The New York Philharmonic, the nation’s oldest symphony orchestra, was founded in 1842, three years after Martin moved to Pennsylvania. The Metropolitan Opera was not organized until 1880, Carnegie Hall would not open until 1891, and Juilliard would not begin educating young musicians until 1905. C. F. Martin arrived even before Henry Steinway, the music manufacturer perhaps most closely associated with the city, who came to New York City from Braunschweig, Germany, in 1850 to build pianos.

When Martin arrived, the city was in the midst of an economic boom that was the result of the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. Although New York had been the largest city in the United States since the first census was taken in 1790, its growth accelerated tremendously in the early nineteenth century, topping one hundred thousand residents in 1810 and doubling to more than two hundred thousand inhabitants by 1830. Although the area of the city was confined to the southern tip of the island of Manhattan, with most of the island consisting of estates and farmland, the population would grow to more than half a million citizens by 1850.

As a German immigrant, Martin used his connections within the German community to establish himself in New York. The population of German immigrants and German-Americans was already more than 24,000 in 1840. That population exploded over the next two decades; by 1855, New York City boasted the third largest population of German-speakers in the world, behind only Berlin and Vienna. When the Martin family relocated to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, they again chose a place with a large German population that made the transition easier.

Martin opened his music store and lived in the same building at 196 Hudson Street, in an area of New York City that is now known as Tribeca, near the entrance of the present day Holland tunnel. During Martin’s time in New York, this was a growing residential and commercial neighborhood built on land that had been farmland owned by Trinity Church. The 1830s, when Martin was establishing his business, were tumultuous times in New York. In July of 1834, the city erupted in anti-abolitionist riots, and the nearby Laight Street Presbyterian church and the home of its pastor Samuel Hanon Cox were targeted and vandalized during several days of rioting. The church was a mere two blocks from the Martin shop. In December 1835, the Great Fire of New York City destroyed seventeen city blocks, and perhaps as many as 700 buildings. As a result, many New Yorkers looked to move their homes and businesses farther uptown, and many flocked to the area around Martin’s workshop. Then, in May 1837, a financial panic hit, throwing the city and the nation into a years-long recession that contributed to the Martin family’s decision to leave New York.

However, New York City remained an integral part of the Martin story even after the family moved to Pennsylvania. The city remained the most important market for Martin instruments, and it was necessary to maintain the business connections he built while living in the city. New York was so important for Martin that the city name continued to be stamped on his guitars long after his death.

C. F. Martin was similar to many other immigrants who came to New York City in the nineteenth century, embodying many of the ideals of the time.

He was a highly skilled immigrant who sought a freer economic system; an entrepreneur who tried several business models; a successful businessman who built a manufacturing company; and an innovative craftsman who combined his own knowledge with ideas that he encountered in the United States.

 Jayson Kerr Dobney

Associate Curator

Department of Musical Instruments

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Inventing the American Guitar is the first book to describe the early history of American guitar design in detail. It tells the story of how a European instrument was transformed into one with all of the design and construction features that define the iconic American flat-top guitar. This transformation happened within a mere 20 years, a remarkably brief period.

The person who dominates this history is C. F. Martin Sr., America’s first major guitar maker and the founder of the Martin Guitar Company, which continues to produce outstanding flat-top guitars today. After emigrating from his native Saxony to New York in 1833, Martin quickly established a guitar making business, producing instruments modeled after those of his mentor, Johann Stauffer of Vienna. By the time he moved his family and business to rural Pennsylvania in 1839, Martin had absorbed and integrated the influence of Spanish guitars he had seen and heard in New York. In Pennsylvania, he evolved further, inventing a uniquely American guitar that was fully developed before the outbreak of the Civil War.

Inventing the American Guitar traces Martin’s evolution as a craftsman and entrepreneur and explores the influences and experiments that led to his creation of the American guitar that is recognized and played around the world today.


Golden Age of Violinists Part II

Janet Horvath_019#2 4x5Guest Blogger: Janet Horvath is the author of Playing Less HurtBelow is a post she did on Interlude.

Milstein and Heifetz are but two violinists comprising the golden age of violinists. A discussion would not be complete without including David Oistrakh, Fritz Kreisler, Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern.

Heifetz and his teacher Leopold Auer were viewed as traitors by their home country for immigrating to the United States. David Oistrakh, on the other hand, who stayed in the Soviet Union, was seen as a patriot. Born in 1908, Oistrakh played with virtually every major orchestra in Europe, in Russia and in the U.S. Numerous works are dedicated to him including the two Shostakovich concertos, the Khachaturian concerto and he premiered Prokofiev’s two violin sonatas.

When the Nazi army invaded the Soviet Union during World War II, Oistrakh traveled to the front lines. Oistrakh courageously performed the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto during the battle of Stalingrad in 1942 while the city was brutally bombed.

Oistrakh’s rich tone is memorable to anyone who was lucky enough to hear him live as I was. Austrian violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler was born in 1875. He studied in Vienna and Paris and had the benefit of illustrious teachers such as composers Anton Bruckner, Léo Delibes, and Jules Massenet. After his American debut in New York in 1888, he made an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the Vienna Philharmonic. Overcome by disappointment, he decided to abandon his career in music to try his hand at medicine. Lucky for us, Kreisler returned to the violin in 1899, performing with the Berlin Philharmonic. His U.S. tours of 1901-1903 finally lead to acclaim as a virtuoso soloist. Sir Edward Elgar’s Violin Concerto was commissioned and premiered by Kreisler.

Keep reading this article on Interlude.

Playing Less Hurt

Making music at any level is a powerful gift. While musicians have endless resources for learning the basics of their instruments and the theory of music, few books have explored the other subtleties and complexities that musicians face in their quest to play with ease and skill. The demands of solitary practice, hectic rehearsal schedules, challenging repertoire, performance pressures, awkward postures, and other physical strains have left a trail of injured, hearing-impaired, and frustrated musicians who have had few resources to guide them.

Playing Less Hurt addresses this need with specific tools to avoid and alleviate injury. Impressively researched, the book is invaluable not only to musicians, but also to the coaches and medical professionals who work with them. Everyone from dentists to orthopedists, audiologists to neurologists, massage therapists and trainers will benefit from Janet Horvath’s coherent account of the physiology and psyche of a practicing musician. Writing with knowledge, sympathetic insight, humor, and aplomb, Horvath has created an essential resource for all musicians who want to play better and feel better.

13 in Your Classroom

Jason Robert Brown is the songwriter and lyricist for 13: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway MusicalBelow is an excerpt from the libretto’s introduction, as seen on

From the age of eleven until I turned eighteen, I spent my summers at a music and theater camp called French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts, a pretentious and ridiculous name that perfectly suited the pretentious and ridiculous upper-middle-class teenagers who went there (and still do). French Woods promised its campers an immersive experience in the arts; what mattered most to me as an aspiring thespian were the thirty or so plays and musicals that were produced there every summer.

I know it can’t be true that the version of Nine I saw at French Woods in 1986 was superior to Tommy Tune’s Tony Award-winning original production, but as far as my memory is concerned, there’s no contest. I am convinced that when I was in Merrily We Roll Along that same summer, we made that show work in ways it never did before or since. And it doesn’t matter what Neil Simon says—the definitive Eugene Morris Jerome in Brighton Beach Memoirs is Doug Shapiro of Miller Place, Long Island, even though he only did the show in a two-hundred-seat un-air-conditioned theater in upstate New York filled with restless suburban drama nerds, and even though the girl who played his mother was fifteen. There is a certain strange comfort in not attempting to reconcile these memories with the more likely reality that we looked exactly like the bunch of gawky, goofy amateurs playing dress-up that we were. It doesn’t matter. We felt the current crackling through the theater, and we knew we got it right.

Some of us campers did end up making a life in the theater, but for those summers, all of us were making a life from the theater. We were nurtured and sustained and given meaning not just by the words and songs and dances that inhabited our bodies but by the communion of sharing the stage with our friends, our mentors, and our audience. Once I became a “professional,” once I joined the ragtag army of artists who count on the theater to pay their bills and provide a long and consistent career, that communion became ever more elusive. It is simply true that in spite of anyone’s best intentions, professional artists are not “all in this together.” We are climbing and fighting and pushing for a life that at least occasionally resembles the thing that we all fell in love with in the first place, and for the vast majority of us, that thing remains tantalizingly in the distance.

Keep reading this post on

13: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway Musical

One of the most frequently produced new musicals of the last decade, 13 is a rollicking musical comedy featuring a cast exclusively made up of teenagers. Thirteen 13-year-olds, as a matter of fact.

Evan Goldman is two months from turning 13 years old, living happily in New York City, the greatest city on Earth, when his world is blown apart by his parents’ divorce, and he is dragged away from home to live with his mother in a small town in the Midwest. Facing a new life in a new place where the customs and culture are utterly alien to him, and with his bar mitzvah getting closer every day, Evan has to navigate who he wants to be versus who he really is, and see if he can make it through the fall without losing the best friends he’ll ever have.

December 8, 1980 The Day John Lennon Died

Keith Elliot Greenberg is the author of December 8, 1980. Below is an excerpt for an article he wrote on the blog Joe Johnson’s beatle brunch.

The sign in front of the Dakota reads, “AUTHORIZED PERSONS ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT.” I study it, read it over, walk a few paces down the block, double back and scrutinize it again.

Had the rule been enforced in 1980, Mark David Chapman would never have had the opportunity to lurk in the shadows of the archway leading to the entrance of the historic building, and fire five hollow point bullets at the back of his onetime idol, John Lennon.

Chapman, I’m convinced, was mentally ill. For whatever reason, he blamed his various shortcomings on Lennon, and had made at least one prior trip to New York to slay the former Beatle. He was also a proponent of Herostratic fame – named for Herostratus, the arsonist who torched the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, in 356 BC – or infamy at any cost.

Sadly, with this one act of violence, he succeeded. As a result, when I was doing interviews related to the hardcover release of my book, December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died two years ago, a number of radio stations asked that I refrain from mentioning the killer’s name; he was already infamous enough, and listeners preferred to hear about John.

Obviously, if it weren’t for Chapman, there never would have been a sign restricting the movements of the curious in front of the Dakota. On a chilly October afternoon, as regular New Yorkers patiently wait for the M-72 bus a few feet away, a dozen or so tourists line up to photograph the wrought iron gate leading to the building’s reception area – the spot where Lennon collapsed following the attack.

The doorman and I make eye contact, and joke about the fact that, in this modern age, his face appears in hundreds, if not thousands, of social media photos. The most common question he hears: “Where did it happen?”

For more please visit Joe Johnson’s beatles brunch.

December 8, 1980

December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died follows the events leading to the horrible moment when Mark David Chapman – the paunchy, mentally ill Beatles fan – calmly fired his Charter Arms .38 Special into the rock icon, realizing his perverse fantasy of attaining perennial notoriety.

New York Times-best-selling author Keith Elliot Greenberg takes us back to New York City and the world John Lennon woke up to, and we follow the other Beatles, Lennon’s family, the shooter, fans, and New York City officials through the day. Once the fatal shots are fired, the pace only becomes more breathless.

The epilogue examines the aftermath of the killing – the moment when 100,000 New Yorkers stood in silence in Central Park; the posthumous reunion of the Beatles in the studio, with George, Paul, and Ringo accompanying recordings of their old friend – and the undying legacy that persists to this day.

AXS Denied

Guest Blogger: Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ. Below is an excerpt from his blog Neil Young FAQ.

For those of you who missed it — and for those of you who had the misfortune of trying to watch via the AXS-TV cable coverage, you missed quite a bit — Saturday’s Neil Young & Crazy Horse set from the Global Citizen Festival free concert in New York’s Central Park, was a barn-burner.

Following spirited sets from The Black Keys and Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters (who may or may not have announced they are breaking up), Neil Young & Crazy Horse took to the stage with a feedback drenched fifteen minute version of “Love & Only Love” from the classic Ragged Glory album.

From there, they went right into “Powderfinger” from Rust Never Sleeps. Next up was a pair of lengthy jams from the upcoming Psychedelic Pill — “Born In Ontario” and “Walk Like A Giant,” the latter ending with a torrent of noisy, thunderous feedback.

It was classic, trademark Crazy Horse.

The show closed with Neil Young & Crazy Horse joined by Grohl, the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, and the rest of the performers for a raucous version of “Rockin’ In The Free World.”

Keep reading at Glen Boyd’s Neil Young FAQ blog….

Neil Young FAQ

Neil Young has had one of the most remarkable careers in the history of music. He hasn’t just outlived many of his contemporaries – some of whom were great inspirations for him (“From Hank to Hendrix,” as one of his own songs says); his artistry lives on through those he has inspired (Pearl Jam, Radiohead), and he remains relevant and vital well into his fifth decade of making music.

Young also continues to crank out records at a rate that would kill most artists half his age. Between his solo and live albums, and his work with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, his remarkable career has spanned well over 50 albums.

Audience Antics

Guest Blogger: Janet Horvath is the author of Playing Less Hurt. Here is a piece from her blog on Interlude.

Musicians love audiences. The more of them there are, the merrier. Little do they know that they are as visible to us as we are to them. Audiences think that musicians are so immersed in their playing that we don’t notice their idiosyncratic behavior.

Audiences have personalities. In Minnesota perhaps in contrast to the harsh winters, audiences are nice. “Minnesota Nice” we call it. They applaud politely and unfailingly offer us an affable and self-conscious standing ovation. New York audiences are discerning but brusque. They listen with critical acumen; applaud with haste and then they dash out of the hall – a standing evacuation.

Audiences have their quirks. I recall a concert in the days when the cello section sat on the edge of the stage. The audience was to my left. I was playing principal cello. Right in front of me stood the conductor. We were playing the lovely but not often performed Elgar Symphony No. #1. Sitting right under the nose of the conductor, one has to concentrate very hard to watch both the conductor, the music and to relate closely with one’s colleagues. This is of course doubly important in a work that is relatively unfamiliar to the orchestra. The maestro could hear every note I played all the time!

The symphony opens very softly. Soon I could hear an irritating clicking to my left especially in the softest spots in the music. What could this sound be? It was certainly distracting. The first movement gains momentum very quickly, as the tempo and volume increase. Then there is an exposed cello section solo. I really couldn’t take my eyes off the music for a second so I had no opportunity to look over my left shoulder for what seemed an interminable number of minutes. Then finally, there were six and a half bars of rest. I glanced out of the corner of my eye. The first thing I noticed was a large wicker basket open on the floor between the first row and the edge of the stage. There, comfortably curled up in the first row, was a woman wielding knitting needles.

For more please visit Interlude.

Playing Less Hurt

Playing Less Hurt addresses this need with specific tools to avoid and alleviate injury. Impressively researched, the book is invaluable not only to musicians, but also to the coaches and medical professionals who work with them. Everyone from dentists to orthopedists, audiologists to neurologists, massage therapists and trainers will benefit from Janet Horvath’s coherent account of the physiology and psyche of a practicing musician. Writing with knowledge, sympathetic insight, humor, and aplomb, Horvath has created an essential resource for all musicians who want to play better and feel better.