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  • Fri, May 31, 2024 3:41 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    Interested in learning more about Percy Grainger and his concept of Free Music?  For those unable to have attended our exhibition or the related tours and events, many resources have been archived and are available through the Percy Grainger Society website.

    This past March, Teresa Balough’s engaging and in-depth presentation explored the concepts and wider implications of Grainger's Free Music. Speaking from the first floor of the Percy Grainger Home and Studio and expanding on the (now closed) Free Music exhibition, Balough discussed the origin and Grainger’s concept of Free Music, his compositional work, his collaboration with his wife Ella and the scientist Burnett Cross, and how he used the house in White Plains to work on his Free Music machines.  

    As a young man Grainger gained the courage to risk his reputation as a pianist and popular composer to write daring harmonies with complex irregular rhythms. In middle age he took up the cause of lesser-known composers and encouraged the appreciation of music from other cultures and eras. And as the years advanced, he devoted himself more and more to the development of his ‘Free Music’ ideals and their implementation in the physical world through the development of the Cross-Grainger Free Music Machines.

    Teresa' Balough's presentation, The Wider Implications of Percy Grainger’s ‘Free Music’,  was recorded and is now available through this link.

    Grainger scholar Teresa Balough has been studying the life and work of Percy Grainger for many years. She is the author of The Life and Work of Percy Aldridge Grainger: Till Life Become Fire (2023), co-editor of Distant Dreams: the Free Music Correspondence of Burnett Cross and Percy Grainger 1944–1960 (2020) and has published other books, essays, articles and monographs on Grainger.  

  • Thu, April 04, 2024 10:51 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    Did you know that in 1897, the American inventor Thadeus Cahill patented an electronic instrument designed to transmit music around New York via telegraph wires?  His Mkll Telharmonium weighed 200 tons and broadcast concerts from the Telharmonic Hall in New York City between 1906 and 1910. Between 1902-1904, Grainger worked on plans for a Beatless-Notation Machine and Beatless Music Typer, devises designed to capture the performance of non-metrical rhythms and translate them to graphic notation.

    Explore the Free Music Timeline to discover other key moments in the history of electronic music in relation to Percy Grainger’s work as a composer and inventor of Free Music machines.

    Our exhibition, Tone Rhythm Pitch: Exploring Percy Grainger’s Free Music, closed last month, but information on Grainger’s work in experimental music continues to be available on our website.  Explore past blog posts on Free Music and 7 Crowell as a Workshop, the GLOSS website, or our the digital exhibition brochure.

  • Thu, February 08, 2024 5:16 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    One focus of our current exhibit, Tone, Rhythm, Pitch: Exploring Percy Grainger’s Free Music, was to show how the Grainger’s home in White Plains was very much a studio and workshop, a space continuously changed to accommodate their creativity. Multiple areas of the house were given over to projects and experiments. Period photographs show Ella using the living room as a painting studio and Percy seated working on compositions, the front porch with Burnett Cross and Percy testing and adjusting an experiment, and Percy using the kitchen floor as a large flat space to draw, cut and glue large templates. Free Music Machines spanned floor to ceiling in the living room. Tools and supplies were stored nearby in the butler’s pantry.

    Free Music machines and experiments were all over the house, including the second floor. Shown here are a few of the images documenting the period in the 1950s when Percy Grainger, along with Ella Grainger and Burnett Cross, worked together to design and build machines to produce free music.

  • Fri, December 15, 2023 9:51 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    Among the many items Percy and Ella saved are letters, cards, and other correspondence. Bundles of holiday cards, wrapped up by year and placed in a white whicker hamper, were stored on the upper floor of their home in White Plains, NY.  The greeting cards came from friends, musicians and organizations.  Following is a selection of cards dating from 1936 to 1949.

  • Thu, June 01, 2023 11:23 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    For Percy Grainger communal singing was the most direct and expressive form of musical expression. Grainger composed startlingly original choral music throughout his life, often based on his love of the literature of Kipling, Whitman, Swinburne, and others. His folk-song collecting activities in England and Denmark also informed his approach to choral composition, and form the basis of some of his best-known works for choirs. For the 2023 program year, the Percy Grainger Society organized two presentations: Grainger for Choirs, held on February 24, and Performing Grainger’s Choral Music which will take place on Friday June 30th.

    Grainger for Choirs, presented by Paul Jackson, was the first of two discussions in the series and included an overview of Grainger's music for choirs, beginning with his early large-scale experiments in the setting of irregular rhythms, through his many and varied folk-song settings, to his lifetime's work on the Jungle Book Cycle. Illustrated with sound clips of selected works, the presentation looked at the influence of language and dialect on Grainger's approach to both the composition and performance of choral music, together with the many ways in which his ideas of Free Music, music without pitch division or standard meter, also found their way into his choral writing.

    Performing Grainger’s Choral Music, to be presented by Dr. Brent Wells, Associate Professor of Choral Conducting and Ensembles at Brigham Young University, will explore the reality of performing Grainger's complicated choral works from unaccompanied choruses, that fall into a more "standard" performance model, to those requiring more robust—and at times, unusual—performing forces. Grainger's concept of "elastic scoring" will be discussed as well as practical ways to perform an all-Grainger choral concert, or a set of Grainger pieces within a more typical concert program featuring several composers and styles. The presentation will focus particularly on Grainger's folk-based choral works and will conclude with an open Q&A and discussion. 

    Please register and join us on Friday June 30 at noon (US Eastern time)! 

    Performing Grainger’s Choral Music is free to members and $10 for all other guests.

  • Fri, April 28, 2023 8:23 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    Percy Grainger Home & Studio’s new initiative, “Third Sundays”, offers tours that are part education, part interpretation, and a fun, informative alternative to the traditional historic house tour. While a room-by-room tour is included, the focus is on one idea, with the collection providing the backdrop to illustrate and explore that idea. Led by volunteers, the outreach initiative will continue on select Sundays throughout the year.

    These themed tours offer a unique lens with which to “read” the Percy Grainger Home & Studio. Presenters, taking into account their own interests and knowledge, are given the freedom to explore new connections between items in the collection, the historic house and the Grainger’s lives. If you are looking for inspiration, awe, and a slice of Grainger’s views, be sure to register for an upcoming tour.

    Historic houses are a living time capsule that provide a unique opportunity to learn about the past. They offer us insight into the lives of those who lived in them and the history of their time. From architecture and design to furniture, art and artifacts, these sites can tell us a lot about how people lived in different eras. By exploring historic homes, we can gain an understanding of our past and how it has shaped our present. Additionally, we can also learn valuable lessons looking at how people used to live, and applying that knowledge to our own lives today.

    Upcoming Third Sunday tours include Grainger and Fennell, led by Rebecca Weissman and scheduled for Sunday July 16, and Percy Grainger’s Free Music Machines, to be presented by Dr. Paul Jackson on September 17.  Please join us! Third Sunday tours are offered free of charge: registration is required. Visit our events page for more information. 

  • Thu, March 16, 2023 10:16 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    By Maci Bianco. On Saturday, January 21 I attended a volunteer orientation at the Percy Grainger Home & Studio. Part of my introduction, as a new volunteer, was to tour the entire house. I was invited to walk through each room, with the other volunteers, and to choose several things in each room to learn more about. This would provide a focus in for my tours (thereby building my confidence) and I would be able to explain why certain objects were important to the Grainger’s in order to tell their story.

    In the dining room, the first thing I noticed was the large cabinet filled with record albums. The record collection is extensive. I was told that Percy himself had set up the storage unit, covering it with the same wallpaper as in the room, to make it fit in. Since Grainger’s death in 1961, the collection in this cabinet has changed--additional albums have been added and others removed. I decided to choose a few samples and see what I could learn.

    The recordings I was most curious about include: The Historic Percy Grainger Piano Roll (1919), Grieg: Concerto in A Minor with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra; Vaughn Williams’ A Pastoral Symphony in the Fen Country; and The Orchestral Works of Percy Grainger Vol. 1.

    The Historic Percy Grainger Piano Roll (1919) Grieg: Concerto in A Minor with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was the first album that caught my attention. It was released in 1978. The album is an interesting compilation of Grainger’s compositions, as well as reproducing some of his piano rolls. The player piano reached its height around the 1920s. Grainger made recordings with the Aeolian Company: the US manufacturers of the Duo-Art reproducing pianos.

    This album also features the recording of Grainger playing the Grieg “Piano Concerto in A Minor”.  There is a photo of Grieg in the music room at 7 Cromwell, and it was fascinating to learn why the relationship was important to both men. When the Grainger visited Grieg at the composer's home at Troldhaugen, Norway (the visit captured in the photo), Grieg was impressed with Grainger’s musicianship and later stated:

    "I had to become sixty-four years old to hear Norwegian piano music interpreted so understandingly and brilliantly. He breaks new ground for himself, for me, and for Norway. And then this enchanting, profound, serious, and childlike naturalness! What a joy to gain a young friend with such qualities!"

    As a pianist, Percy Grainger gave hundreds of performances of a dozen of Grieg’s works, most notably the “Piano Concerto” which he performed regularly during the year of 1960. He made gramophone and piano-rolls of popular Grieg works such as “To the Spring”, “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen” and “Norwegian Bridal Procession”, in addition to Grieg’s “Piano Concerto”. Grainger also recorded many of Grieg’s lesser-known piano pieces.


    My second choice from the cabinet was Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral Symphony in the Fen Country. Ralph Vaughan Williams and Percy Grainger were among the first to write for wind band in the twentieth century. There were also both folk song collectors. 

    Vaughan Williams’ initial inspiration to write this symphony came during World War I, after hearing a bugler practicing and accidentally playing an interval of a seventh instead of an octave. This ultimately led to the trumpet cadenza in the second movement. This piece has gained the reputation of being a subtly beautiful elegy for the dead of World War I and a meditation on the sounds of peace.

    It is interesting to think of this piece in relationship to Grainger’s “The Warriors: Music to an Imaginary Ballet”. Composed between 1913 and 1916, and dedicated to Frederick Delius, the piece is considered a tribute to pacifism. “The Warriors” was first performed at the Hollywood Bowl, the same location where he and Ella married in 1928.



    The Orchestral Works of Percy Grainger, Vol. I was my third choice. It was compiled by Richard Hickox, a British Conductor, and since it is volume one, I wondered how many additional CD volumes were produced. I am new to Grainger’s work and I thought that this particular recording would be a good introduction. I look forward to checking to see how many of Grainger’s orchestra works were compiled by Chandos.

    As with learning any new subject, each bit of information leads to further questions. It is certainly this way with my first choice of albums from the cabinet. I will listen to each selection as I begin to learn about the life and music of Percy Grainger.   

  • Fri, January 06, 2023 3:29 PM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    The Percy Grainger Society is often contacted by people with questions or requests for information such as where to find specific music scores. Additionally, individuals contact us offering to donate items such as signed photographs and scores. The objects often come with a story, a personal connection. They add insight to the interpretation of the Grainger’s’ lives and enriches the impact of the donation. Following is a little background on our most recent acquisition.

    In May of 1949, Percy arrived in Portland, Maine prior to his performance with the Portland Symphony Orchestra. He came down with a cold and sinus infection, apparently bought on from his exposure to the pouring rain as he walked between the train station and music hall, and he was brought to see the specialist, Dr. John Colby Myer. They became fast friends. Dr. Myer was also a musician/composer who played double bass with the symphony.  Percy sent him multiple scores, essays that he had published, and photographs. In return, Dr. Myer sent Percy his own compositions, which Percy would critique and send back.  John Colby Myer held onto these items together with a scrapbook he created with relevant news clippings, images, and programs from Grainger performances.

    The family of John Colby Myer has generously donated this collection to the Percy Grainger Society. We are excited to add these items to our collection and treasure the insight from the stories that come with it.

  • Fri, December 02, 2022 9:41 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    With the conservation and installation of Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders, the Percy Grainger Society fabricated 2 information panels which are now on display together with the free music machine in the dining room of the Percy Grainger Home and Studio.  What follows here is the text of the second panel as written by Dr. Paul Jackson, PGS Board President.

    The Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders machine was constructed in February 1950. It is the only Free Music machine that remains intact in the Percy Grainger Home and Studio, the others either dismantled, lost, or transferred by the composer to the Grainger Museum in Melbourne, Australia. The only other complete machine in existence is the Kangaroo-Pouch machine, now in the collection of the Grainger Museum. As with many of the machines, the title on the original identification display cards was prefaced by the term ‘Cross-Grainger Experiments’ in recognition of the pivotal role that Burnett Cross played in the design of the machines.

    ‘It seems to me absurd to live in an age of flying and yet not be able to execute tonal glides and curves.’

    In common with all of the Free Music machines, it incorporates a two-part design, a control mechanism and a sound producing element. Grainger drew on his early experiences as a recording artist with player pianos in the design of many of the machines, using paper rolls with slits and holes cut into them to play the various instruments. These comprised organ pipes, harmonium reeds, simple electronic oscillators, and, in the case of this machine, two recorders, and a slide, or swanee whistle. The recorders and whistle would have been connected to a vacuum cleaner or hair dryer by means of rubber tubes, which provided the necessary amount of air to produce a continuous sound. As the paper rolls passed over the holes of the recorders, emulating the fingers of a human player, different notes would have been produced. This made possible an approximation of a pitch glide as the recorders may have been tuned to realize fractional tones, smaller than the standard musical semitone. The slide whistle, the only part of the machine able to produce continuously gliding sounds, may have simply been controlled by hand by pulling and pushing the metal control lever.

    ‘Free Music demands a non-human performance. Like most true music, it is an emotional, not a cerebral, product and should pass direct from the imagination of the composer to the ear of the listener by way of delicately controlled musical machines.’

    Prior to conservation, the machine was stowed away in the upper floors of the house, with many of the sound-producing elements removed. Through close examination of the three period photographs from the 1950s, and with clues drawn for Percy's day-books where he made short notes of his experiments, it was possible to identify the missing components. A rolling pin, visually matching the one in the period photograph, was found in the kitchen. The recorders were identified as those made by Arnold Dolmetsch, the noted English instrument maker with whom Grainger collaborated in the editing of a number of early music compositions in the 1930s and 1940s. The curious circular object at the side of the machine was also identified as a Blow-a-Tune, a child’s toy made by the American toy manufacturer Kenner in 1949. These instruments have been re-introduced into the machine to allow correct routing of the paper rolls and to complete the impression of how the machine may have operated.

    It is unlikely that the Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders machine was particularly successful, as the tension required to ensure that the paper rolls stayed sufficiently close to the body of the recorders would have meant that the paper was liable to tearing and uneven flow, problems that Grainger experienced in many of the machines. But it remains a fascinating testament to Grainger’s dogged pursuit of his vision of Free Music, encapsulating his multi-faceted character as visionary composer, performer, artist, designer and inventor.

    The conservation of Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders was supported through the NYSCA/GHHN Conservation Treatment Grant Program administered by Greater Hudson Heritage Network. This program is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.

  • Thu, October 20, 2022 10:11 AM | Anne Ocone (Administrator)

    With the conservation and installation of Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders, the Percy Grainger Society fabricated 2 information panels which are now on display together with the free music machine in the dining room of the Percy Grainger Home and Studio.  What follows here is the text of the first panel, "Percy Grainger and Free Music", as written by Dr. Paul Jackson, PGS Board President.

    For Percy Grainger, Free Music drew its inspiration from the sounds of nature and was music free from the constraints of conventional rhythm and individual pitch. From an early age, he imagined music that would glide continuously across the pitch spectrum, without the need for metrical rhythms and, ultimately, without the need for a performer; the composers’ ideas would be translated directly into sound.

    ‘I have heard free music in my head since I was a boy of eleven or twelve … it is my only important contribution to music.’ 

    Elements of Free Music can be found in much of Grainger’s instrumental and vocal compositions, where the use of sliding notes and irregular rhythms often feature. Between 1935 and 1937, Grainger wrote three short pieces – Free Music No. 1, Free Music No. 2 and Beatless Music – which further demonstrated his ideas in practice. Following a meeting with the Russian inventor Leon Theremin in 1932, Grainger composed the pieces for theremins, instruments able to produce continuously gliding tones without direct contact from the player. The works also called for a new method of musical notation, Grainger devising a system that used graph paper to indicate pitch contours and changes in volume. These pieces are among the earliest examples of pitchless music.

    Grainger regarded all of his music up to this point as merely a stepping-stone to the full development of Free Music, and he was to increasingly devote his time to this from the late 1940s onwards as his activities as a concert pianist began to decline. Using his White Plains home as a studio, he worked alongside his wife, Ella, and in close collaboration with a young physicist, William Burnett Cross. Together they designed and built machines that were able to produce Free Music without the involvement of a human performer. Grainger and Cross made audio recordings of their experiments and documented their work with a number of evocative photographs. Grainger, a talented artist, also produced color drawings of several of the machines, including explanations of their working methods.

    ‘Free Music … is the goal that all music is clearly heading for now and has been heading for through the centuries. It seems to me the only music logically suitable to a scientific age.’

    Most of the machines, which were given typically Graingeresque names such as the Hills & Dales Air-Blown Tone-Tools, the Side-Ridge Clothes-Line-&-Scotch-Tape-Tin Oscillator-Player, and the Kangaroo-Pouch Method of Synchronising & Playing 8 Oscillators, were constructed from wood, paper, cardboard, string, and other found objects scavenged from the house, local hardware stores and the immediate locale. The machines were in a constant state of flux and were often dismantled or repurposed as soon as sounds were recorded. The final machine, the Electric Eye, remained unfinished at the time of Grainger’s death, but was the most sophisticated and was able to produce seamless electronic pitch glides by ‘reading’ graphic notation painted on clear film. It is this machine that places Grainger’s experiments in electronic music squarely alongside other composers whose work in these areas has historically gained more attention.

    The conservation of Gliding Tones on Whistle, Notes on Recorders was supported through the NYSCA/GHHN Conservation Treatment Grant Program administered by Greater Hudson Heritage Network. This program is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.

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