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.
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.
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.
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.
There are so many stories about the great Sir Thomas Beecham – some apocryphal I’m sure – and one of my favourites is about a recording session for his unsurpassed La Boheme. By happenstance Victoria de los Angles, Jussi Björling, Robert Merrill, Giorgio Tozzi, and Beecham were all in New York in the spring of 1956. In a spur of the moment decision EMI asked their American partner RCA to record the opera with Beecham conducting. The New York rehearsal and recording sessions were tightly scheduled over nine days. When it came time to record the poignant opening of Act 4 Beecham had Björling and Merrill repeat the scene several times. He didn’t suggest any changes or give any notes on their performances, he just requested that they do it again. After the fourth (perfect) take the recording engineer, knowing that time was running short, approached Sir Thomas and asked what he wanted done differently. He reportedly, smiled seraphically and said: Not a thing. I just love hearing those two sing together.
Sir Thomas was seldom wrong on things musical and on this one he hit the LP on the spindle. Rodolfo (Björling) and Marcello (Merrill) have parted from Mimi and Musetta and try to joke, unsuccessfully, over their heartbreak but the music tells us a different story. I honestly can’t think of another performance where the singing, playing and conducting capture so beautifully the bitter-sweetness of the moment.
Björling and Merrill often sang together on the stage at the old Met and in 1951 recorded a series of duets on 78s under conductor Renato Cellini. Included in the set is one of the most played and treasured souvenirs of operatic singing not just of the 20th century but of any time. The two singers reached heights that have never been surpassed in “Au fond du temple saint” from Georges Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles.
On this day in 1669: Citing poor eyesight, Samuel Pepys records the last event in his diary.
Laurent has often said that everything is a Broadway song cue for me – a statement I take exception to vehemently. Not everything is a Broadway song cue – just most things.
Take for example a recent posting my blog buddy JP over at My Husband and I where the eponymous “I” lays in bed with his husband Guido and muses on life. Or I am assuming he was in bed as that seems to be JP’s favourite place for amusing and musing. But I digress – back to the song cue: his musings on life, french toast, their new business venture, and their relationship cued a song in the vast catalogue of Broadway songs stored in the Dewey decimal system that I call my mind: Life Is! It’s the introduction to Zorba, an 1968 Kander and Ebb musical version of the Nikos Kazantzakis novel and Michael Cacoyannis film.
There was a time when hit (and not so hit) Broadway shows toured often with, if not the original stars, stars of equal renowned. When they showed up at the Royal Alexandra or the O’Keefe Centre in Toronto my friend Charlie and I would head down to see them – in the case of Juliet Prowse in Sweet Charity at least twice as I recall. And I have a feeling we may have seen Zorba more than once. When we liked a show we liked a show.
Though when it premiered the show had been referred to more than once as “the poor man’s Fiddler on the Roof” it was reworked and recast for the road – John Raitt was the Zorba and the great Chita Rivera sang and danced the Chorus Leader. Some of the darkness of the original had been erased but the wry acceptance of events good and bad remained in many of the songs. Particularly in Life Is!
The show opens in a taverna where a group of people are drinking, playing music, dancing, and talking. Someone suggests they tell a story – another suggests the story of Zorba. When ask what it’s about the Chorus Leader (Lorraine Serabian of the original cast) says that it’s about that passage from birth to death – LIFE!
So here’s to JP, Guido, the old cafe, the new cafe, french toast in bed, and LIFE.
Telling the stories of the history of the port of Charlottetown and the marine heritage of Northumberland Strait on Canada's East Coast. Winner of the Heritage Award from the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation and a Heritage Preservation Award from the City of Charlottetown