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Musical Treasures On the Web

Dan Blaufuss | November 2010

    YouTube is frequently used as a dumping ground for anyone with a video camera and some free time, but there are some gems on this site as well. When I have time to kill and am looking for online entertainment, I usually search under three musical topics.
    A cappella groups are usually a good bet, especially the college ensembles. I enjoy creative arrangements of pop tunes and like to sing along with songs I know. The performing groups always look like they’re having a great time, and it makes me wish I had sought such opportunities in college. Two of my favorites are the Scattertones from UCLA and Reverse Osmosis from USC. An interesting subset in this grouping are individuals who sing every part of a tune and then edit each track together. An extreme example is François Macré’s video of himself covering 64 separate parts of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
    When I’m in the mood for musical window shopping, I search the word contrabass to drool over instruments that play in my favorite octave. I am amazed by the number of people online who own contrabass saxophones, and it makes me wonder if there is an underground market for getting such instruments at a fraction of the cost. I’m also curious about the practical use of some of these instruments, such as the contrabass French horn or the gigantic sub-contrabass recorder. I played bass recorder in a quartet in college and found it to be difficult enough to make that size project in an ensemble.
    I also browse for choirs of instruments. A recent (to me) discovery is a group called Trombonanza, and their performance of the theme from “The Magnificent Seven,” long a favorite tune of mine. I am not a trombonist,  but trombone choir is my favorite type of ensemble to listen to. Among the strangest offerings on YouTube are a recorder ensemble playing Ravel’s Bolero, and a ukulele choir covering Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” but I have found some amazing performers there as well, such as the mind-blowing eight minutes of the Cuarteto Trombones de Costa Rica covering Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. The National Sax Choir of Great Britain is another shining example of virtuosity with their arrangement of “Crazy Rag.” – and also a shining example of yet one more person who has a contrabass saxophone.
    I like to show the best ones to friends, who are always impressed by what I find. When I was in high school, a friend from a neighboring town told me he had discovered that his school had five baritone saxophones. He and some friends were going to put a quintet together before they discovered, perhaps unsurprisingly, that three of the instruments were broken. My friend might have never thought of putting a chamber group together had he not been inspired by his discovery. YouTube might be one more tool to get students fired up about chamber music. I’m grateful to all the musicians who post on YouTube. They are usually inspiring and always entertaining.