Mercoledi Musicale

One of the first things I noticed was the tremendous wealth of musical and theatrical talent on the Island.  When Marlee, Evan, and I were putting together a 1920s cabaret for the PEI Symphony Orchestra fundraiser we had a wide array of performers and styles we could approach.  We ended up with an eclectic programme of performers reflecting the diversity of entertainers here in PEI.

Max Keenlyside

The evening began with Ben Aitken at the piano as folks gathered, ordered their Mary Pickfords (a very potent little 1920s cocktail), and perused the auction offerings.  The Cabaret was compèred by Peter Bevan Baker, the leader of the Green Party in our Legislature.  Later on in the evening he multi-tasked and played trumpet in The Little Big Band that provided dance music for the evening.  But first our line up: Katie Kerr – a well-know musical comedy performer, Brendan Howard Roy – a young singer on his way up, Lewis and Peters – a comedy duo on stilts (yes I said stilts!), a talented trio of ladies from the Charlottetown Burlesque (yep we have a Burlesque troupe here on PEI), the Charlottetown Swing dancers, and the young man in the picture to the right  – Max Keenlyside.

Max Keenlyside is a multi-talented performer: ragtime pianist and composer as well a piano restorer.  In this clip he performs the original version of Scott Joplin‘s The Ragtime Dance on a 1927 Mathias Schulz piano which he has recently acquired.  As a surprise during the stop-time section he switches between the Schulz and a 1850s Kirkman upright that he has restored.

Keenlyside also transcribes music – often from audio recordings, old piano rolls, or old manuscripts.  The Silver Swan is the only Scott Joplin piece that was issued on a piano roll rather than in music notation.   Max transcribed it from an original 1914 piano roll and also wrote an historical analysis of this late and until recently disputed Joplin piece.  He plays it on a restored Woodward & Brown square grand piano built in 1851 – a good half century before Joplin composed the piece.   The sheet music shown in the video is another of his projects:  Engraving musical scores in the classic style of old publishing houses.

As I said we have a wealth of talent here on the Island.

On this day in 1971: Having weakened after making landfall in Nicaragua the previous day, Hurricane Irene regains enough strength to be renamed Hurricane Olivia, making it the first known hurricane to cross from the Atlantic Ocean into the Pacific.

Mercoledi Musicale

Barbara Cook and Stephen Douglas in the 1966 revival of Showboat.  The only time I saw her on stage.

It seems that almost weekly I’m reading of the passing of  a performer who helped define my youth and taste in theatre, music, and the arts.  Yesterday it was the remarkable Barbara Cook – one of the greats of musical comedies in the 1950-60s.  After a troubled period fighting depression, obesity, and alcoholism, during which her career waned, she return to the spotlight in a landmark concert at Carnegie Hall 1975 with Wally Harper.  It was the beginning of a partnership that was to last until his death in 2004.  And it also relaunched her as a premier cabaret and concert singer.  She was to continue to perform until into her 80s and made her last Broadway appearance singing the songs of Stephen Sondheim in 2010.

Here she is in one of her most famous role – Marion the Librarian in one of the most delightful musicals in the canon, Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man.

I was fortunate to see her on stage back in 1966 when the Lincoln Center brought it’s magnificent revival of Showboat to the stage of the O’Keefe Centre.  It was one of the largest shows to tour with a full size showboat sailing on to the levee with a dream cast of the time:  Constance Towers, Stephen Douglas, William Warfield, David Wayne, Margaret Hamilton, Rosetta LaNoire, and Barbara Cook.  It was probably one of her last “ingenue” roles, her subsequent appearance in book shows were in more mature roles.

But in her concert career she both twitted and celebrated her years as Broadway’s leading ingenue.  And no where was it more celebrated than in her version of “Ice Cream” from She Loves Me. Here she almost 40 years after she created the role of Amelia and she hits that last high B with the same panache and accuracy as she did back in 1963.

Tonight the lights on Broadway will dim in tribute to her and perhaps, if you believe in that sort of thing, the stars in heaven will gleam a little brighter.

On this day in 1173:  construction of the campanile of the Cathedral of Pisa (now known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa) begins; it will take two centuries to complete.

Mercoledi Musicale

Yesterday I mentioned St Mary’s Indian River, William Critchlow Harris’s gem of a church at Indian River near Malpeque on the North Shore of the Island.  Built by the members of the congregation in 1902 it served the community until it was deconsecrated in 2009.  During the 1970s-80s the church had deteriorated to a sorry state and neither the parish nor the diocese had the funds to make the necessary needed repairs and restoration work.  The possibility of the church being torn down loomed and the thought of losing this historic and architectural treasure spurred Island folk and businesses to create a “Save St Mary’s” campaign in 1987.

Amongst the fund raising efforts was a series of Sunday Summer concerts in the church.  The popularity of these concerts and the management of the programme itself became so enormous that the Indian River Festival Association was formed and incorporated in 1996.  The Association is dedicated to the presentation of fine music at the Indian River Festival and to the upkeep and preservation of St Mary’s.  The church was deconsecrated in 2009  and in 2010 the Association purchased the building and lands from the Diocese.

As well as the charming farmland setting and the beautiful exterior design, the church bears a Harris trademark – exceptional acoustics.  As well as being an architect Harris was a musician – a violinist.  He understood the use of woods and form to produce an interior that serves as the perfect setting for voices and instruments.

This year’s concert season is well under way and on Sunday we made our way up to Indian River to hear a choral and instrumental concert presented by the Festival and the PEI Symphony Orchestra.  The chorus is amateur but under the direction of Kelsea McLean produces a sound that many professional choirs would envy.  I was particularly struck by the men’s section – not always the strength of any amateur choral group.

Their central offering was Frostiana: Seven Country Songs.  A cycle of poems by Robert Frost set by Randall Thompson which premiered October of 1959  in Amherst, Massachusetts where the poet made his home.  Composed to commemorate the bicentennial of the town, Thompson had been urged to set The Gift Outright but found the piece was not appropriate to the occasion.  He asked to be able to choose the texts himself and choose seven poems from Frost’s vast catalogue.  Knowing that the male and female choruses rehearsed separately, he structured the work so that they sang together in only three of the seven movements.  The other four movements are set for either male or female voices alone.  Though perhaps a trifle lengthy for a Mercoledi Musicale I found it an interesting piece that I certainly wanted to hear again and wanted to share.

This performance comes from a concert by Harvard University Choir under the direction of Edward Elwyn Jones with Christian Lane accompanying.  I’ve provided the time each movement begins in the video stream as well links to each of the poems should you wish to read them.

  1. The Road Not Taken (0:00)
  2. The Pasture (5:08)
  3. Come In (7:26)
  4. The Telephone (12:07)
  5. A Girl’s Garden (14:28)
  6. Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening (17:40)
  7. Choose Something Like a Star (22:01)

On this day in 1806: Sixteen German imperial states leave the Holy Roman Empire and form the Confederation of the Rhine.

Mercoledi Musicale


Though we may complain – well Canadian’s don’t really complain we whine and winge – about the CBC even it’s most vocal critics have to admit that our National Broadcaster  has the knack for making  excellent radio documentaries.  Last weekend’s Sunday Edition was devoted to three segments on Canada at 150 years including the final in their series on “Music That Changed My Life”.  Over the past few months host Michael Enright and musicologist and critic Robert Harris have been delving into music that has changed lives and for their final programme they examined the checkered history of what became our Official National Anthem in 1980.

The entire segment can be accessed at: Sunday Edition:  Everything You Didn’t Know But Were Afraid To Ask About “O Canada”.

Edoardo Di Giovanni (Edward Johnson) – from a concert programme at the Princess Theatre, Montréal, November 6, 1930

Amongst the several recordings that Mr Harris played during the full episode was one I had never heard before by the great Canadian tenor Edoardo Di Giovanni.  Edoardo Di Giovanni???  Great Canadian Tenor???  Well Signor Di Giovanni began life as Edward Johnson.  He was born in Guelph, Ontario and established an international career at a time when having an Italian sounding name gave you more street (or stage) creed – so he became Edward Son of John.  He returned to his English name when he sang at the Metropolitan Opera.  After his retirement in 1935 he served as General Manager of the great New York company for fifteen years.  In 1928 he recorded O Canada and included a second verse that I have to admit I have never seen or heard.

I think this has now become one of my favourite versions of our National Anthem.

On this day in 1745:  A New England colonial army captures the French fortifications at Louisbourg.



Mercoledi Musicale

One of the many things I recall from my evening with Josephine Baker was the varied programme she presented.  It wasn’t just the numbers from the glory days of her early career.  We did get “J’ai Deux Amours” and “La Vie en Rose” but they were outnumberd by songs that were of a more recent vintage.

I tried to find a decent version of  Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times” but could only find this very blurry performance from French TV in 1972.  She does play fast and loose with rhythm and melody and my memory may be at fault but I seem to remember her singing it more as a ballad.

In an interview with Elwood Glover – as I recall his Luncheon Date was the only interview she would give – Josephine Baker admitted that she was having some problem with memorizing lyrics and often had to resort to cue cards.  When she sang Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a Changin'” I caught sight from our table of Jean-Claude Baker, her adopted son, standing in the wings with the lyrics copied in very large letters on cardboard.

There is only one known recorded version of her singing Dylan’s anthem to what he saw as the “change of the moment”.  It is from her legendary Carnegie Hall concert on June 5, 1973.  Unfortunately Baker was not in the best of voice that night; again she is a bit shaky on the lyrics and the orchestration is a bit OTT, but the emotion and immediacy cannot be denied.  And believe me in person it had twice the impact.

On this day in 1944:  World War II: The steamer Danae, carrying 350 Cretan Jews and 250 Cretan partisans, is sunk without survivors off the shore of Santorini.