Mercoledi Musicale

I think it is pretty obvious from posts over the past three years that this is a musical Island. I’m not just talking the almost nightly Ceilidhs at various clubs, pubs, and venues though that is a large part of it. Music here goes well beyond Irish/Scott/Maritime traditional. We have jazz clubs, blues clubs, punk bands, retro-rock bands, big bands, folk singers, pop singers, choral ensembles, wind, brass and string ensembles et al. Often the same double bass player you see thumping away at a jazz club also plays in the Mahler #3; one friend is an accomplished jazz saxophonist, a member of a professional women’s vocal ensemble and a classical vocal ensemble. The line between genres is often a very vague one even within the same group.

Last Sunday was the final concert of the season for the Atlantic String Machine a group of musicians who perhaps best represent the meshing (and mashing) of musical styles on the Island. As their name suggests they are a string ensemble comprised of Violin I, Violin II, Viola, Cello and Double Bass. Their composition may be traditional but the compositions can vary anywhere from Monteverdi to Metallica in arrangements by members of the ensemble. All the musicians – Sean Kemp, Karen Graves, Jeffrey Bazzet-Jones, Natalie Williams Calhoun and Adam Hill – have classical training and experience with major international orchestras and ensembles. But they also have the chameleon ability to change shape and colour in their approach to other genres as well as the classical repertoire.

And more often than not a new work will be thrown into the mix. Earlier this season they teamed up with baritone Philippe Sly to present the North American premiere of Jonathan Dove’s song cycle Who Wrote the Book of Love. That same evening they premiered Approaching Winter by Kathy Campbell, a music composition major at UPEI. At Sunday’s concert we heard a new piece by double bassist Adam Hill.

A summer concert at the Indian River Festival at historic St Mary’s Church.
Photo by Darrell Therialt.

They have also provided back up and arrangements for well-known Canadian artists both in concert and on disc. Sunday singer/songwriter Nathan Wiley made a guest appearance to do two numbers that I believe he has record with the ASM for their upcoming album. I’ve always loved Wiley’s Home but in Karen Graves’ arrangement I found a new poignancy. Here it is in a video recorded at the Trailside Music Cafe and Inn back in 2016.

When I was a boy, I had everything
I had silver and gold
I sailed ships with the cowboys
And I'd never grow old
And my father was strong
And my mother was young
Fell asleep in the backseat
'Till we got home
Pick me up take me back where I belong
'Cause I don't know, anymore
I want to go home
And the sea was my country
And the fields were my den
And I'd sail a thousand ships
To get back again
Tell me when did I grow old
Tell me where can I go
To run in the tall grass
And lay in the snow
(repeat chorus)
Where are the railroad tracks
Where are the summers I used to know
When I was a boy, I had everything
I had silver and gold

Nathan Wiley

Somehow this video says so much to me about music on our Island.

May 22 is Buy A Musical Instrument Day – now talk about your serendipity!

Mercoledi Musicale

Fortunately for the big Hollywood studios of the mid-1900s the previous half-century had produced a plethora of troubled Broadway and Night Club divas in America. Their struggles were the fodder of biofakes biopics which often combined unrequited love, struggles with the bottle/drugs, the heights of fame, and the depths of decline with snappy song and dance numbers. There were not be confused with the Tin Pan Alley composers biopics which often combined inspirational love, struggles with that illusive song, the heights of fame, seldom the depths of decline, with snappy song and dance numbers. [Perhaps the silliest of them was Night and Day starring Cary Grant (!) as Cole Porter (!!)] In most cases they were highly sanitized and often totally fictionalized but they had names in the titles and above the titles as well as those snappy song and dance numbers.

Two films do stand out as exceptions. Last week I mentioned I’ll Cry Tomorrow that starred Susan Hayward as Lillian Roth. As biopics of the period go it stuck fairly close to the truth or at least the truth as told by Miss Roth in her book. And Love Me Or Leave Me the story of Ruth Etting and her turbulent relationship with Moe the Gimp Synder stuck pretty much to the facts. Etting, Synder and Meryl Alderman, the third member of the triangle and Etting’s second husband, all sold away the rights to their stories. A few changes were made to keep the folks over at the Motion Picture Production Code office happy. Etting expressed regret that “the real highlight” of her life, her thirty year marriage to Alderman, was omitted from her story.

MGM offered Spencer Tracy the role of Synder but when he turned it down it went to Jimmy Cagney. Though Ava Gardner and Jane Russell both were vying for the lead role Cagney insisted on Doris Day as his co-star. Until then she had been known primarily as a musical comedy performer, Love Me Or Leave Me was proof of her abilities as a dramatic actress. Cagney admired her “ability to project the simple, direct statement of a simple, direct idea without cluttering it”. Day herself always felt it was her best film performance. Etting found Day’s performance “too tough” and thought that Jane Powell should have played her. But a viewing of the film and listening to the soundtrack suggests that the gang at MGM, and Doris Day knew what they were doing.

This post started as a tribute to Doris Day and as with many posts wandered a bit. I remember those delicious comedies that she made in the late 50s-early 60s and my all time favourite The Pajama Game. And I recall when Que Sera Que Sera was the #1 hit for something like 10 weeks running. Wally Crowther played it on his morning radio show every weekend of that 10 weeks and I ate my breakfast cereal to her reassurance that “what will be be, will be!” It wasn’t a bad way to start a morning.

May 15th is Chocolate Chip Day. According to the legend, the creation of the chips was an accident – out of chocolate powder while making cookies for guests, Ruth Wakefield at the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts chopped up some chocolate and added it to the cookie dough. She found that the chocolate did not melt as she had expected, and the chocolate chip and the chocolate chip cookie was born.

Mercoledi Musicale

Lillian Roth is hoisted in the air by Elliot Gould as newcomber Barbra Streisand looks on in I Can Get It For You Wholesale back in 1962. Roth was the star above the title.

Last week as I watched the 1957 episode of What’s My Line with that slightly surreal appearance by Salvador Dalí I had assumed that he was the “celebrity guest”. However apparently he wasn’t enough of a “celeb” and later in the show Lillian Roth made an appearance. At that time Roth’s career as a club and film entertainer was on it’s second wind. In 1954 she had released her autobiography I’ll Cry Tomorrow which was a brutally honest account of her struggle with alcoholism. It was one of the first books to deal so openly with addiction and alcoholism as a disease. It is reputed to have sold over 20 million copies and gave impetuous to a second career that lasted until her death in 1980.

A child performer with a stage mother in the good old, bad old tradition she has first appeared in film in 1916 and stage work followed shortly after. She had hit recordings, appeared in Broadway revues and performed on film in both acting and singing roles. One of her big hits was an song appropriate for early spring:

Within a year of her book being published Roth saw her story filmed and Susan Hayward nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Lillian’s struggles with the bottle. Roth was disappointed that they did not use her voice for the vocals; though the studio had hired Sandy Ellis to sing for Susan Hayward but when they heard her rehearsal tracks they to use her own singing voice. Hayward’s vocals were issued on a Soundtrack recording that sold well.

In 1962 Lillian Roth was still a big enough draw that after it opened David Merrick put her name over the title of Harold Rome’s musical I Can Get It For You Wholesale. The show also stared Elliot Gould, Harold Lang, Marilyn Cooper, Bambi Lin, Sheree North and Broadway debutante Barbra Streisand. Roth continued performing in musicals and clubs almost until her death in 1980.

May 8th is Root Canal Appreciation Day. Not sure how we are suppose to commemorate that one but I’ll check with the dentists downstairs.

Mercoledi Musicale

To mark International Workers’ Day or May Day I thought I’d post an old Woody Guthrie song. In 1940 he was asked to write a union song from a “woman’s point of view”. Guthrie used the tune of Red Wing a popular song from 1907 by Kerry Mills. Mills had adapted his melody from a piano setting by Robert Schumann of a European folk song.

And because May 1st has also been traditionally a folk celebration in Europe of the arrival of spring perhaps the Schumann piece is not altogether inappropriate.

May 1st, as well as being International Workers Day/May Day/Labour Day/Labor Day/St Joseph the Worker Day, is also Batman and Mother Goose Day.

Mercoledi Musicale

A piece for Holy Week that I found quite by accident.

A 19-year-old Gabriel Fauré wrote this piece as an entry in a competition when he was a student at École Nidermeyer de Paris. He won first prize!

Verbe égal au Très-Haut, notre unique espérance,
Jour éternel de la terre et des cieux;
De la paisible nuit nous rompons le silence,
Divin Sauveur, jette sur nous les yeux!

Répands sur nous le feu de ta grâce puissante,
Que tout l’enfer fuie au son de ta voix;
Dissipe le sommeil d’une âme languissante,
Qui la conduit à l’oubli de tes lois!

O Christ, sois favorable à ce peuple fidèle
Pour te bénir maintenant rassemblé.
Reçois les chants qu’il offre à ta gloire immortelle,
Et de tes dons qu’il retourne comblé!

Word, equal to the Most High, our only hope,
Eternal day of the earth and the heavens,
We break the silence of the peaceful night.
Divine Savior, cast your eyes upon us!

Spread upon us the fire of your powerful grace,
That all hell might flee at the sound of your voice;
Dispel the languishing soul’s torpor
Which has caused it to forget your laws!

Oh Christ, show favour to this faithful people
Now gathered to bless you.
Receive the songs it offers to your immortal glory,
And may it return filled with your gifts!

The words are a paraphrased translation by the great French playwright Jean Racine of an Ambrosian hymn for the Office of Matins. Fauré chose the French text because he found it more “elegant and, perhaps, more florid” than the Latin. And his setting has the elegance and beauty that was to mark his later works.

Unfortunately I have no information on the performers who perform this piece so beautifully. If anyone recognizes conductor, orchestra or chorus please let me know.

April 17th has a plethora of celebrations including Blah, Blah, Blah Day, Herbalists Day, National Cheeseball Day and Pet Owners Independence Day(???). But since I have a fondness for the little critters I’m going to honour Bat Appreciation Day in celebration of our family of bats who kept our terrace in Rome insect free!