Month: May 2013

Good to be back

This is my fourth attempt at writing something about getting back into music with The Lexington Singers. If this doesn’t work, I’m going to have to take a Viagra.

Prolonging adolescence beyond all previous limits - WINNING!

Yes, we are grown adults dressed in green outfits pretending to be visitors in the Merry Olde Land of Oz. What of it? — Photo by Sally Horowitz

Friends, I am having trouble saying how much it has meant to me to start making music with you again. Maybe it’s just enough to say that I was worried that I wasn’t going to be good enough, or as good as I once was, but through the magical process of associating with people who are better than me at it, I somehow elevated myself.

I really do cherish the friends I have made through music, old and new, those still with us and those who have gone to the hereafter. It’s wonderful when you can pick up where you left off with people, as if no time had passed at all.

And — I can’t emphasize this enough — it’s a lot of fun to be silly with other grown adults.

This was going to be a lot longer, but I cut out probably 70 percent of what I had originally written. It was mostly autobiographical and wholly self-serving. For those of you who are interested, here are a few pieces from the cutting room floor.

  • My first love affair was with music (except for an imaginary one with Princess Leia), and it started when I first heard my mother play her upright piano. I remember a lot of piano reductions of Strauss waltzes.
  • If you forget, for a moment, that I have made less than $300 in my lifetime for performing music, it has been the longest career I’ve ever had.
  • The hardest pieces of music I’ve ever performed have been (wind ensemble) two pieces by Frank Zappa, of which I can’t remember the titles and (choral) Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, and newly arrived on that list Britten’s War Requiem.
  • No bassoonist ever complained about contracting a social disease.

So, it’s been real. And it’s been fun. And it’s been real fun. Can’t wait for next semester.

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American Idolatry

Years ago as a music major in college, I used to make bassoon reeds  listening to Harry Connick Jr.’s “25” album. There were many great tunes on that record, but the one that stood out the most was “Stardust.” It was very true to the original and it didn’t ruin it for me when I heard other, older versions. That’s the way our American standards should be treated.

I should not have been as surprised that Connick, in defense of the Great American Songbook, had the guts to speak truth to power during his stint as a guest mentor on a recent episode of “American Idol.”

I do not like “American Idol.” I won’t watch it. I was sucked in by “The Voice” last season watching because I had high hopes for a guy – Nicholas David — who sang with more soul than any of the parade of wannabe pop divas or pretty boys that usually populate those kinds of shows. Nicholas was beat out by a young woman who had the technical facility to fit the mold of “pop star.” It was yet another case of style winning over substance. I also used to watch “America’s Got Talent,” but slowly became turned off to that show after a nine-year-old kid went on there and sang like a mature opera singer, and no one treated it as though it was, perhaps, child abuse manifesting itself on a national stage. Thankfully, Jackie Evancho did not win that season, but it didn’t dim the fact that here was a nine-year-old little girl who had not paid her dues, whose parents had chosen to forgo the years of practice necessary to attain that kind of voice, and whose teacher had clearly turned a blind eye to any principle of musical instruction. Some folks even called this girl “a miracle of God,” which made me want to retch. It’s not a miracle when parents throw money at a teacher and plays a recording of Sarah Brightman and says “we want our daughter to sound like this…tomorrow.”

But I digress.

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Louis Prima, for those of you who think that David Lee Roth was the first guy to sing “Just a Gigolo.”

I won’t listen to much modern music. Mine is a small list of artists. I enjoy the playfulness of Barenaked Ladies. If they wrote opera, I suspect it would be a 21st century version of Gilbert and Sullivan. Norah Jones is a songstress in the tradition of Billie Holliday. Michael Buble comes close to Connick, but not quite. I can stomach Adele.

If anyone wants to get me excited about modern music, good luck. Like Phil Hartman’s rendition of Frank Sinatra said once, “it’s all pops and buzzes here.”

We suffer artistically today because we have no Rat Pack. We have no pairing of Louis Prima and Keely Smith. We have no Rosemary Clooney. We have no Lena Horne, and that is probably the biggest shame of all. I had a crush on her from the first time I saw her on Sesame Street (tell me public television doesn’t positively influence young minds).

We suffer even more because we have very few singers with the artistic capability of recreating that spirit of American music that existed once upon a time.