Mercoledi Musciale

Yesterday Dame Vera Margaret Lynn celebrated her 102nd birthday. Born in the middle of the First Great War she became the “Forces Sweetheart” in Second World War and continued her performing career until 1995. She has had ships, trains, and streets named after her; she spearheaded a memorial to The Animals of War in Hyde Park; and she has worked for charities dedicated to veterans, disable children and breast cancer. And at 100 she became the oldest artist to release an album that topped the UK charts.

Dame Vera Lynn in 1977 at the Canadian National Exhibition Grandstand. She drew a crowd of 17,00 on the first of her three performances. She was still the “Forces’ Sweetheart”.
Photo: The Toronto Star Archives

To celebrate both her birthday and her remarkable career I’ve picked a song that like her began life during the First World War and became a favourite during the Second conflict of that name. Lili Marlene was a poem written by Hans Leip when he was conscripted into Imperial German Army and sent to the Eastern Front. In 1938 Norbert Schultze set it to music and it was recorded by Lale Anderson the following year. In one of those queer strokes of history it became one of the most popular songs of the period with both Allied and Axis forces.

In Stanley Krammer’s powerful Judgment at Nuremberg Marlene Dietrich and Spencer Tracy are walking through the rubble of the war-torn streets of Nuremberg. As they approach a bar they hear men inside singing Lili Marleen in German. Dietrich begins to sing along with the song, translating a few lyrics for Tracy, referring to the German lyrics as “much darker” than the English.

In one of those queer strokes of irony Lili Marlene/Lili Marleen became one of the most popular songs of the War with both Allied and Axis forces.

Very appropriately for our Island August 7th is Lighthouse Day. We have 63 of them on the Island – 35 are still active and 7 are designated as National Historic Sites.

Mercoledi Musicale

One of the few song from the Broadway musical that made it into the film version – and a good excuse for a picture of one of the great beauties and fine actresses of American film: Ava Gardner

On Sunday I posted my favourite song from a relatively unknown musical with lyrics by poet and humourist Ogden Nash and music by Kurt Weill. One Touch of Venus opened in 1943, played 567 performances, and made a star of Mary Martin. It was made into a film with Ava Gardner but as with so many movie musicals of the time jettisoned most of the Nash-Weill material. It has been revived mostly in concert performances and a recording of the full original score was issued in 2014 starring Broadway star Melissa Errico. It had been in the works for 14 years. There are at least three songs from Weill’s score that have become standards over the years, It’s Him being one and here are the other two.

One of the songs left out of the movie version was I’m A Stranger Here Myself sung here by the remarkable cabaret singer Greta Keller.

The combination of Peggy Lee, Ogden Nash and Kurt Weill is pretty darn hard to beat.

July 24th is one of those days where a multitude of celebrations have been decreed. It is Cousins Day, Tell An Old Joke Day, Tequila Day and Amelia Earhart Day. So grab you Mother’s Brother’s kid, have a few shooters and get flying and find out why the chicken crossed the road!

Mercoledi Musicale

Canadian bass Joseph Rouleau died late last week at the age of 90 after a remarkable career as singer, teacher, mentor and promoter of young musicians. Born in the small town of Matane on the Gaspé Peninsula he studied in Montréal, Milan and New York before making in debut in 1955 in New Orleans. Much of his career was spent at the Royal Opera House in London where he debuted in 1957. He went on to sing 850 performances over almost three decades at the ROH. He was to sing at the Met for several seasons and appeared with the Canadian Opera Company and Opéra de Montréal on various occasions but his career was primarily centred in Europe.

His recording career had an auspicious start – he sang Rochfort on a recording of the final scene from Anna Bolena with Maria Callas. Later he became associated both on stage and in the recording studio with Joan Sutherland, who was a close colleague during those early years at Covent Garden.

Amongst his favourite roles was Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. He sang the blind monk Pimen with the great Bulgarian bass Boris Christoff as Boris but graduated to the role of the tortured Tzar shortly after. While performing the role at the opera house in Kiev he donned the costumes worn by the role’s most famous interpreter, Feodor Chaliapin. In a recent interview he said: Before each performance, I crossed myself, prayed for my father’s support, and said, “Mom, my God, I’ve come a long way from Matane.”

In 1983 Radio Canada recorded the death scene from Boris in the Rimsky-Korsakov realization. At close quarters it may seem a touch OTT but vocally it is a remarkable interpretation. I programmed the clip to begin as Boris feels approaching death and calls for his son Feydor. I am not sure if that feature is working or not so please feel free to fast forward to the 14:46 mark.

May he rest in peace and may light perpetual shine upon him.

July 17th has a plethora of celebrations: World Emoji Day, National Hot Dog Day, National Peach Ice Cream Day, National Tattoo Day, Wrong Way Corrigan Day (!) and Yellow Pig Day (!!). Take your pick.

Mercoledi Musicale

Last evening as we sat having our tea and biscuits after dinner and listening to the radio a piece came on that I immediately recognized but couldn’t for the life of me identify. It was an opera I should know well, it was in German but it just wasn’t registering. I hate when that happens. And quite frankly it worries me a bit. When the announcer identified it as the Quartet Wir ist so wunderbar from Beethoven’s Fidelio I felt even more frustrated – how could I not recognize one of the most sublime moments in all opera?

And a sublime moment it is. The situation is a complicated one: Rocco, the jailor, expresses the hope that his new assistant Fidelio (Lenore in disguise as a man) will become his son-in-law; Marzallina her new found love for her father’s assistant; Jaquino, her former boy friend, his jealousy of his riva; and Leonora (Fidelio) her anguish at the situation. Simple emotions: hope, love, jealousy, anguish; but clothed in one of the most glorious vocal fugues ever written.

Fidelio is an opera I’ve seen six times with some remarkable casts and productions but one of my regrets is not seeing the great Swedish soprano Elizabeth Soderstrom in this Glyndebourne performance. We just couldn’t get tickets for love nor pounds sterling and had to be satisfied with Frederica Von Stade in Monteverdi’s Ulisse. Not a bad seconds, in fact a great one, and I’m just happy that the Fidelio was filmed.

July 10th is Clerihew Day – what’s that you say? What’s a Clerikhew – left click on the link. It’s also Piña Colada Day – so break out the rum, pineapple juice and coconut milk.

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
(chorus)
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!