Category: Other

#281 FLAMENCO GUITAR A SHORT SURVEY

#281

FLAMENCO GUITAR
A SHORT SURVEY

GIPSY KINGS – BAMBOLEO
BEN WOODS—BARCELONA NIGHTS
RAFAEL CORTES – DON CORTES MAYA
TOMATITO—SOY FLAMENCO
SABICAS – GRANADINAS
PACO DE LUCIA – ENTRE DOS AGUAS

PACO DE LUCIA, AL DI MEOLA, JOHN /MCLAUGHLIN – MEDITERRANEAN SUN

I cannot remember the first time I heard flamenco guitar. I am only guessing that it was in some television show or movie in which flamenco dancing was also taking place—perhaps by a beautiful, black-haired girl with a white top, red swirling skirt and black boots. I just don’t remember.

But I know that I’ve always been attracted to flamenco music. Every person who picks up a guitar for the first time has to play the three parallel major chords that (they presume) typify much flamenco music: E Major/F Major/G Major/F Major/E Major—the playing of which gives one a momentary feeling of connection with the instrument—and with flamenco. I think that when I was a kid, I had an idea, because of these three simple chords, that flamenco as a musical style was probably simple.

I could not have been more wrong in thinking that. Flamenco has a history at least 250 years old, is written many styles, and although it is a part of western music, it is also nevertheless considerably different from everything traditional.

Addressing flamenco music adequately is beyond the limited scope of a single post. But what I would like to do today is just list a few generalities about flamenco and then offer a few really impressive links.

• So, there are essentially five forms that comprise flamenco:

Toque — instrumental (guitar)
Cante—singing
Baile—dancing
Palmas—hand-clapping
Pitos—finger-snapping

• Flamenco is presumed, historically, to be an amalgamation of different kinds in indigenous music that were occurring at the same time in southern Spain in the 1700’s—and most of all, in Andalusia. Although flamenco music is often associated with the Gypsy ethnicity, it is much more a mix of native Andalusian, Muslim, Castilian, Jewish, and Gypsy music. Flamenco music in Spain actually pre-dates the arrival of Gypsies there, and it was only the Gypsies of Andalusia—not elsewhere across Europe—who played flamenco music. Flamenco is more about southern Spain along the Mediterranean than it is about the Gypsies.

• Of all the explanations that have been proffered regarding the origin of the word “flamenco,” the one that seems to make the most sense to me is that it is derived from the Spanish word “flama”—flame, or fire. “Flamenco” could have thus been associated with the tempestuous music of the Andalusian gypsies.

• A PALO is a flamenco style. There are over fifty palos, ranging from the very serious—cante grande—to the very frivolous—cante chico.

• Flamenco music uses a particular MODAL SCALE, a version of the ancient Phrygian mode. That scale would be, from bottom to top: E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E. Note that is NOT our major scale: E-F sharp-G sharp-A-B-C sharp-D sharp-E—nor is it our minor scale: E-F sharp-G-A-B-C-D sharp-E. It is also interesting—and essential—to note that flamenco music relies on microtonal writing, particularly for singers, in which successive sounds are frequently smaller than a traditional half-step. I don’t want to get too technical here, but this is important: as all string players know, “enharmonic” notes—notes that, on the keyboard, which are identical, such as F-sharp and G-flat, and represent exactly the same sound—enharmonic notes are different pitches for string players, with the F-sharp being lower than the G-flat. For flamenco guitarists, this is standard and routine. The long and short of this—of this paragraph—is that flamenco music has a particular sound that is more flexible, that has more “bend” than our western ears are used to.

• Finally, the importance of rhythm—COMPAS—to flamenco cannot be understated. If there is no guitarist around to make the rhythm apparent, then hand-clapping and finger-snapping must be employed. A strong rhythm is essential.

Flamencos are written in three rhythms: what we know as traditional 2 beats per measure (as in tangos); 3 beats per measure (as in fandangos); and—very important for flamenco—the use of 12-beat patterns which do not correspond to anything in classical music, and in which the strong beat that we would call the “downbeat”—the first beat of a measure—is not stressed. Rather, a typical 12-beat pattern would have its accents heard in the following way (I’m sorry that the typographical limitations of Facebook make me have to write it for you this way):

one-two-THREE-four-five-SIX-seven-EIGHT-nine-TEN-eleven-TWELVE—with the capitalized beats being accented. As an example of this in music that you may already know, Leonard Bernstein uses 12-beat patterns in his “America” from West Side Story.
________________________________________________

Even this little flamenco information may be more than you need or want. But it may also give you something to think about as you listen to these excellent examples.

I happened to become interested enough in flamenco to start learning about it after hearing the Gipsy Kings about twenty years ago. I think my older son Jason had recommended them to me. The Gipsy Kings (their spelling) are a group of musicians from southern France who perform Andalusian Spanish music. All the members’ parents were in fact Spanish gypsies. The worldwide popularity of the group took off in 1989 when their third album, “Gipsy Kings,” took off in the U.S.—particularly the song “Bamboleo.”

The Gipsy Kings have been criticized for not being flamenco purists, but that has not diminished their audiences’ enthusiasm for their music. And there is no question that flamenco is their original source of inspiration.

GIPSY KINGS – BAMBOLEO

__________

Ben Woods is a sensational guitarist who plays all over the world and who has become best known for his blending of Flamenco and Metal—a strange combination, for sure, but he makes it work. Anything he plays, whether it is straight flamenco or a blend of flamenco and other influences, is incredibly impressive. He has impressive fingers.

BEN WOODS – BARCELONA NIGHTS

__________

Rafael Cortes (b. 1973) and Jose Fernandez Torres (who is known as “Tomatito”—b. 1958), both native Spaniards, are the most prominent flamenco players of our current time.

RAFAEL CORTES – DON CORTES MAYA

TOMATITO—SOY FLAMENCO

__________

Sabicas (1912-1990) was a flamenco guitarist of gypsy origin. He was one of flamenco’s greatest players and composers. His technique was considered to be the best in the world. A grand old master, as you can see in this older video.

SABICAS – GRANADINAS

__________

And finally, there is Paco de Lucia (1947-2014), who was not only a virtuoso player and composer, but an innovator as well. By the 1960’s, flamenco as a beloved tradition was losing its traditional popularity in Spain. De Lucia sought to keep the tradition alive by infusing flamenco with salsa, with jazz, and with bossa nova—old wine in new skins. It was a huge loss to the music world and to his many fans when de Lucia—who had a 2-pack a day smoking habit—collapsed and died on a Mexican beach a few years ago. This video was de Lucia in his prime, as a young man, with his group in the late 1970’s.

PACO DE LUCIA – ENTRE DOS AGUAS

 

Comment

#269 NURAY HAFIFTAS TURKISH ARABESQUE MUSIC

#269

NURAY HAFIFTAS, SINGER

TURKISH ARABESQUE MUSIC

I think I may have mentioned in a previous post my hobby, back in the 1980’s, of listening to shortwave radio—radio broadcasts aimed at North America from countries all over the world. Shortwave radio was, for nearly 70 years, THE medium for international communication. With the advent of the internet and streaming music, it has permanently lost its luster and usefulness. But it was thrilling to me back then to listen to music from other countries, and especially—late at night, with my headphones on—from Turkey. I was really attracted to all Turkish music, and in particular, to arabesque music.

Wikiwand defines arabesque music as follows:

“Arabesque is a term created by Turkish musicologists for an Arabic style of music created in Turkey. As with Arabic music itself, its aesthetics have evolved over the decades. Although melodies and rhythms are predominantly Byzantine and Arabic influenced, it also draws ideas from other aspects of Balkan and Middle Eastern music, including bağlama music and Ottoman forms of oriental music. Arabesque music are mostly in a minor key, typically in the Phrygian mode, and themes tend to focus on longing, melancholy, strife and love issues.

A very small percentage of Arabesk is exclusively instrumental. For the great majority of it, a singer lies at the center of the music. Male singers dominated the genre in its early years, but female singers probably predominated during its peak years of popularity. A common theme in Arabesque songs is the highly embellished and agonizing depiction of love and yearning, along with unrequited love, grief and pain. This theme had undertones of class differences in early 1960-70s, during which most of the genre’s followers -mostly working class to lower middle class – identified themselves with. Turkish composer (and, I am adding, conductor and world-class pianist) Fazıl Say has repeatedly condemned and criticized Arabesque genre, equating the practice of listening to Arabesque tantamount to treason.”

Fortunately for me, I am not a Turk by birth, so my attraction to arabesque music cannot be considered treasonous.

There are political and cultural reasons, as well as musical, for why arabesque music is frowned upon by some—Fazil Say is hardly alone. In the early years of the Turkish republic, arabesque music was seen as regressive—a cultural, “eastern” holdover from a previous era, embodying everything the newly westernized nation of Turkey (in the 1920’s and 30’s) was seeking to abolish. Arabesque music’s resurgence into what it is today is largely a result of a huge seismic shift that has occurred here in Turkey over the past few decades involving millions of rural migrants moving from eastern Turkey to Istanbul, previously the most westernized city in Turkey. For this and other reasons, Turkey’s overall political climate has shifted far to the right. As a consequence, arabesque music is associated with the less educated, conservative segment of Turkish society—which is sizable.

But, as I’ve said many times before, music is about sound that expresses emotion. Where it has come from—its particular etymology—may be interesting, but is not germane to appreciating it. The notion, mentioned above, of unrequited love, grief and pain, is something that one picks up on easily while listening to arabesque music, even without knowing the language.

I am not qualified to comment on what aspect of the Turkish experience this represents—and how, musically, such music sprang from the collective soul of a people—all I know it is there it is to hear. For many years, this characteristic was present in many Turkish movies as well, all meant for popular consumption. A stock movie plot had the heroine committing suicide—or some other tragedy occurring—at the movie’s conclusion.

So, to get to today’s post: during one of my first stays in Turkey—when TV was received through an external antenna—no cable—it was hard to avoid seeing, on the few channels available, videos of arabesque singers. One that particularly caught my attention was Nuray Hafiftas. As I was to learn, in the hierarchy of arabesque singers, she was nowhere near the top. There was, though, something about her that I intuitively felt was archetypal about arabesque music.

Although I had been planning a Nuray Hafiftas post for a long time, what really prompted me into doing so this morning is learning just yesterday that Nuray Hafiftas had recently died of cancer. She was only 53. I was surprised, when hearing this, how piercing it was to me to learn this. So, as a small remembrance of her, I will offer a few of her songs.

I don’t think arabesque music is an acquired taste—I think you’ll know within 30 seconds whether you’ll ever like—or love—it.

SEN KUCUKSUN

EYYAH GONUL

BIZIM ELLER

Comment

#257 FUSUN ONAL YILDONUMU

#257

FUSUN ONAL

YILDONUMU

[Everyone – I’ll be out of town for the birth of our first grandchild tomorrow, so I am posting now what I would be posting tomorrow.]

Tiraje and I were married, in Istanbul, in the late summer of 1977. A mode of transportation around the huge city, then and now, is the dolmus. A dolmus is a taxi that transports many people from one point to another, continually stopping to pick up and let off passengers. The name “dolmus” comes from the word “dolma”, which is a stuffed vegetable dish popular all over the middle east and central asia—typically, grape leaves or peppers are stuffed with rice, eggplant, tomatoes, and garlic.

The dolmus, then, in an allusion to the dolma, would be a stuffed-to-over-capacity taxi, with passengers all sweating it out until their stop is reached and with the driver obeying only the traffic laws that exist in his own mind.

The dolmus has become more comfortable in the 21st century, most of them now being vans with four of five rows of seats. But in 1977, nearly every dolmus in Istanbul was an American car from the 1940’s or 50’s—huge, sprawling Dodges, Chevrolets, Fords, and Buicks that could easily hold as many as fifteen people. A dolmus could tally hundreds of thousands of mile in endless service, in which parts were continuously cobbled together to keep them running.

Why all this dolmus talk? That summer was my first in Istanbul. Tiraje and I had to visit an endless number of municipal and governmental offices to get the approval for our marriage. A Turkish girl marrying an American seemed to be a real obstacle course. So we spent a lot of time in dolmuses, going from this office to that. And, since there are literally thousands of years of history to observe in Istanbul—all of which I was dying to see—we spent even more time in dolmuses.

As it happened, the most popular song on the radio that summer was “Yildonumu” sung by Fusun Onal. Every dolmus driver had his handy transistor radio on his elaborately laid-out dashboard, and everywhere we turned, there was this song! I loved it from the first time I heard it. It is an indelible imprint in my mind.

It is a really upbeat song, and it is so easy to discern that the song has a 1920’s Charleston flavor to it. Every time I heard it, I had to stop talking with Tiraje and listen closely, trying to hear it above the roar of traffic and the half-dozen conversations going on inside the dolmus. Tiraje told me that the singer—Fusun Onal—was a personal friend of hers who was now a big pop music and TV celebrity.

I am embarrassed to admit that my knowledge of the Turkish language is as meager today as it was back then—so my attraction to this song clearly has nothing to do with the lyrics, it is only the music.

Yildonumu means “anniversary.” The song was written by the song-writing team (and real-life lovers) Melih Kibar and Cigdem Talu. They wrote the song in 1977, celebrating one year of being a song-writing team. The lyrics in English (thanks to Tiraje…) are:

I remember when we first met one year ago
I remember our happiness
Promise me, even if years go by
That it will always be like this
Will it not?

This friendship, this trust, this joy
Will remain even after years, will it not?

I still have the same feeling, same hope, same hope and joy
How wonderful to be alive…

Fusun Onal has been a part of the Turkish entertainment scene for her entire life. She grew up in Ankara, playing classical piano, mandolin, and accordion. It was in her college years at the TED Ankara College while studying philology that she began to sing and attract a lot of positive attention. Upon moving to Istanbul, her singing career took off.

Onal hosted the Turkish version of the Newly Wed Game—Evcilik Oyunu—which was custom-made for her vibrant personality. She is also an accomplished actress, having performed major theatrical roles all over Turkey. She records for Sony, Odeon, CBS, and Discotur, and has thus far released 12 highly-acclaimed albums. Truly a Renaissance woman, Onal is also a well-known artistic photographer and a writer of some 20 books.

This energetic video from 1978 is reminiscent of 1960’s American TV—Laugh-in, in particular, for those who might remember. This is a happy song, and I am self-indulgently sharing this memory with everyone…

Comment

#220 NATALIA LAFOURCADE

#220

NATALIA LAFOURCADE

LOS MACARINOS, GUITAR DUO

Impressive Mexican folk artistry…

EN EL 2000
U SI SABES QUERERME
SOLEDAD Y EL MAR
QUE HE SACADO CON QUERERTE
MI TIERRA VERACRUZANA

As a recent review in The Nation puts it: “…no contemporary artist has delivered evocative traditional sounds as elegantly and tenderly as Natalia Lafourcade. She handles each song she covers as gently as gossamer, ensuring that her treatments don’t alter the original melodies too forcefully.”

If Natalia Lafourcade’s artistry is new to you, I think she may be a pleasant surprise.

Natalia Lafourcade (born 1984) is a Mexican folk singer. Before reading reviews of her, her name was completely unfamiliar to me—which I now know was my big loss. For 15 years, she has been one of the biggest names in the Latin American pop/rock/folk scene. Although Lafourcade grew up in Mexico city, her parentage is Chilean—both of her parents, Gaston Lafourcade and Maria del Carmen Silva Contreras, are well-known pianists. She had a classical piano adolescence, and was reluctantly persuaded by Italian record producer Loris Ceroni to record a vocal album in 2003. Her debut album, “Natalia Lafourcade” was nominated that year for a Latin Grammy, and her song from that album, “En El 2000” propelled her to fame and an additional Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.

I think it is the innocence of Lafourcade’s voice—quite unlike Gloria Estefan or Jennifer Lopez in their early years in both its timbre and modest projection quality—which is a key to her popularity. There is a natural, real and unassuming quality to her voice.

Her growth as a changing artist can be seen, I think, between the style of her earliest hit, “En El 2000”, meant to appeal to a teenage audience—she was only 19 herself when “En El 2000” was released–and her much more mature work in the two albums Musas I (2017) and Musas II (2018). I am providing English lyrics for all.

___________

EN EL 2000
(IN THE YEAR 2000)

The needle-dropping-to-an-LP sound at the outset is intentional…The “Gael Garcia” she mentions here is Gael Garcia Bernal, the Emmy-winning Mexican actor from Mozart in the Jungle.)

In the 2000 I look for men of Paris,
a smart brain that doesn’t get drunk on Fridays,
neither a crazy fool that is a lovestruck,
not an animal instict who gets crazy for sex.

In the 2000 women wear gray,
transparent braces, but after opening the mind
it drives us crazy and a bit stupid,
if they see Ricky Martin in magazines, they cut it.

But the planet spins, spins to the right
and everytime the night is warmer, without love it gets colder.
I have no man nor Gael Garcia, I feel so empty
let’s see, let’s see, what happens next day…

In the 2000 Martha is a sworm
that doesn’t stop looking, and criticizing everyone,
dividing it, being racist,
there are strawberries, rich, poors, mexicans and panists

In the 2000 my sister will give birth
a growing cell of a hot relationship
and depressed, also burnt,
she will hate that human who left her and gone.

But the planet spins, spins to the right
and everytime the night is warmer, without love it gets colder.
I have no man nor Gael Garcia, I feel so empty
let’s see, let’s see, what happens if I say…

I am not anymore
the childish creature, the innocence is over (eh eh eh)
I am not anymore
the one with strange body, now the heart feels
I am not anymore
the childish creature, the innocence is over (is over)
I am not anymore
the one with strange body, now the heart feels
Let’s see, what happens next day
what happens next day

I am not anymore
the childish creature, the innocence is over (the innocence is over)
I am not anymore
the one with strange body, now the heart feels
Let’s see, what happens next day
I am not anymore
the childish creature, the innocence is over (is over)
I am not anymore
the one with strange body, now the heart feels
Let’s see, what happens next day
what happens next day

In the years between “En El 2000” and 2018, Lafourcade had great success with her band which was called Natalia y La Forquetina. Their album Casa, with a title song of the same name, won the Latin Grammy for Best Rock Album by a Group. Also in this interim, she also became a Grammy-winning producer for other Latin artists.

It is her work in Musas I, and the follow-up album, Musas II, that shows an artist maturing into a wonderful singer/storyteller, truly a singer of the people. Included in the musicians who accompany here are the guitar duo Los Macarinos—who have played together for fifty years, and with Natalia for ten. They bring to Lafourcade’s music an air of authenticity and a connection to Latin musical idioms of the past.

To me, all the tracks on these two albums are attractive. I would recommend these four songs as a good introduction to the Natalia Lafourcade.
__________

TU SI SABES QUERERME
(YOU KNOW HOW TO LOVE ME)

So much time has passed
Finally, I discovered your kisses
You tangled me in your look
You hugged me with all of my defects
You know how to love me
You know how to adore me
My love, don’t go
Stay forever, forever,
forever love yourself

Heart, you know how
To love me like I like it
I am the flower that gives color
to the garden of your life
Heart, you know how
To love me like I like it
Please, don’t leave me
How brave I am to correspond to you

So much time has passed
Finally, I know that I am ready
It is so hard to find a love
That stays here with my open wounds
I do not care what others think
Here forever, for ever
Forever we love each other
Heart, you know how
To love me like I like it
I am the flower that gives color
to the garden of your life
Heart, you know how
To love me like I like it
Please, don’t leave me
How brave I am to correspond to you

Heart, you know how
To love me like I like it
I am the flower that gives color
to the garden of your life
Heart, you know how
To love me like I like it
Please, don’t leave me
How brave I am to correspond to you

Heart, heart you know how
(To love me like I like it)
Heart, you know how to love me, my love
(To love me like I like it)
Ay, don’t go
Stay forever
(To love me like I like it)
I am brave to correspond to you, my love
(To love me like I like it)

__________

SOLEDAD Y EL MAR
(SOLITUDE AND THE SEA)

In the song of the waves
I found a rumour of light
Through a song of seagulls
I knew that you were there

Letting go of everything that’s happened lately
Today I greet my present with this sweet goodbye

I’m going to sail in your blue port
I’d like to know where you come from
Let us let time stop
See our memories in the seas
And this loneliness is so deep

That in the song of the waves i would like to submerge myself
Getting drunk on its aroma something new that I’ve discovered

I’m going to sail in your blue port
I’d like to know where you come from
Let us let time stop
See our memories in the seas
And this loneliness is so deep

Let the sea sing to me
A bolero of loneliness
Let the sea sing to me
I’ve been feeling alone with loneliness

Let the sea sing to me
A bolero of loneliness
Let the sea sing to me
I’ve been feeling alone with loneliness

__________

QUE HE SACADO CON QUERERTE
(WHAT HAVE I GAINED FROM LOVING YOU)

What good has been the moon
We both look together?
What good have been the names
We carved on the wall?
The way calendar pages change
Is the way everything in this world changes
Ay, ay, ay, ay!

What good has been the lily
That we planted in the yard?
It was not a person planting,
It was two lovers.
Gardener, your plants
Have not changed with time.
Ay, ay, ay, ay!

What good has been the shade
Of the “aromo” as witness,
And the four foot-prints
By the side of the road?
What good has been loving you,
Little carnation in bloom?
Ay, ay, ay, ay!

Here is the very moon,
And the white lily in the yard,
The two names on the wall,
And the trail of your face on the road.
Yet you, ungrateful dove,
No longer shall coo in my nest.
Ay, ay, ay, ay!

__________

And finally, such a feel-good number:

MI TIERRA VERACRUZANA
(VERA CRUZ, MY HOMELAND)
A loving and longing tribute to the city on Mexico’s eastern coast.

In my homeland of Veracruz
I’d just like to drink coffee
A bit of sugar and cane
To start dancing, moving my feet

I’m so, so in love
With your green-brown skin
With the main rib of a banana tree
I just want to see you again

To see you again
To see you again
Veracruz, my homeland, I want to see you
To see you again

To see you again
Veracruz, my homeland, I want to see you

In my homeland of Veracruz
I only want to embrace the sea
At night I want to weave a hammock
In the morning I only want to sing

I want to let my legs get buried in the earth of the field
I just want to dance upon the sand
On the ship I want to give away my dreams
I want to home so I can laze around

To see you again
To see you again
Veracruz, my homeland, I want to see you
To see you again
To see you again
Veracruz, my homeland, I want to see you

Not a day goes by without my thinking of you
This distance makes me miss you
Not a day goes by without my thinking of you
I paint melodies with your landscapes
With your lemon-green landscapes,
A guava-rose to symbolize love,
A flower the color of a yellow-red pitahaya,
The blue of the gulf, and passionate red

To see you again,
To see you again,
I want to love you,
To see you again,
To see you again

Coffee and bread (x4)

In my homeland of Veracruz
I’d just like to drink coffee
A bit of sugar and cane
To start dancing, moving my feet

I’m so, so in love
With your green-brown skin
With the main rib of a banana tree
I just want to see you again

To see you again
To see you again
Veracruz, my homeland, I want to see you
To see you again
To see you again
Veracruz, my homeland, I want to love you

To see you again
To see you again
To see you again
Veracruz, my homeland, I want to see you

To see you again
To see you again
To see you again
Veracruz, my homeland,
I want to love you

Comment

#208 TEO PEI SHAN (1998-2016)

#208

TEO PEI SHAN (1998-2016)

Heart-breaking and heart-warming inspiration…

I would not be surprised if you have seen this video, which is simultaneously heart-breaking and heart-warming. It is a collage of Teo Pei Shan’s piano playing, the Singaporean girl who had a rare congenital disease that kept her locked inside the body of a baby. The affliction is called Sanfilippo disease, and is technically known as Mucopolysaccharidosis Type III. It is extremely rare, affecting—and limiting—the growth of bones, organs and the central nervous system.

As can easily be imagined, the life of this young woman—she died two years ago, just short of her eighteenth birthday—was simply an unending succession of illness and operations. She could not walk, she could not breathe on her own, and as you will see in this video, her physical growth stopped when she was less than three years old. Her death was a release for her and for her brave parents.

Teo Pei Shan was a little girl, afflicted with a torturous disease that could have only one outcome, and yet she felt COMPELLED, in her brief life, to answer the call of music. Her parents relate that she had always had an affinity for music, and she wanted to learn to play piano. One can only wonder how many hours it took for her to learn her Moonlight Sonata at 5:58. And—it is very clear—at the Elgar duet (11:12) that hers was a musical mind at work.

I have had this video clip in my Music I Love blog possibilities folder for months, debating whether or not to post it. I really should not have delayed. It is an important video to see. The story is one of the most inspiring I have seen—a testimony both to the perseverance of the human spirit and to the power that music has over us.

I guess I’ll just leave it at that, and let everyone react in their own way to Teo Pei Shan. I’ll be back tomorrow with some 20th century music.

Comment

#205 SECOND CHAPTER OF ACTS

#205

SECOND CHAPTER OF ACTS

ALL CREATURES OF OUR GOD AND KING
THE EASTER SONG

If you were living, in the early 1970s, in New York City—where the people you see on the streets are always in a state of constant change, always part of the cauldron of humanity—it would have been impossible not to see the presence of the Jesus people—at subway station exits, in Times Square, in alcoved entrances to businesses along Broadway, anywhere large numbers of people would be walking. Jesus people were, in their appearance, young people in their teens or twenties who were indistinguishable from just plain hippies—long-hair, facial hair, floral and paisley shirts, lots of worn suede, torn bell-bottom jeans, oversize jewelry (often crosses) and sandals. What would have set them apart from “regular” hippies was their joyful behavior, their lack of cigarettes, and their proselytizing for Christianity—which was why they were on the street in the first place.

I imagine the presence of Jesus people was even more pronounced in Los Angeles and along the west coast in general because that is where this movement—an amalgamation of the Woodstock generation with fundamentalist Christianity—took root. They had their own music, and that is where it started—on the west coast, specifically in Costa Mesa and Hollywood—and from where it spread. Former hippies who converted to Christianity continued to play the music they loved and which they were adept at, which was mostly folk and folk-rock music, only now infused with Christian lyrics. Perhaps spearheaded by the recent popular success of Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth—which in its many revised versions has been forecasting the “end times” for half a century now—there was always an apocalyptic tinge to the Jesus music message.

Artists and groups from the early part of the Jesus movement included Barry McQuire, Love Song, Chuck Girard, Phil Keaggy, Keith Green, Andrae Crouch, The Way, and Petra—and quite a number of others. Predictably, at the outset and then over time, these artists’ actual music (minus lyrics) was derivative from the common currency of what was already popular—folk, soft rock, hard rock, country, and—eventually—metal.

As the Jesus movement spread, and its music began to split into many streams, it became branded “contemporary Christian music”—CCM. By the late 1970’s, the term “Jesus music” was no longer being used.

I first heard the music of Second Chapter of Acts around 1974. If I hadn’t been going through my own spiritual metamorphosis at the time, I would never have heard them at all. I can say—with no derision, it’s just the way it is with all music—that most of what I heard as “Christian” music was instantly forgettable. [As great as all of the music that we love is—regardless of its genre—it inevitably only reflects the best of whatever it is. The worst gets discarded into the dustbin of musical history…] So, when I heard the first track on their first album, With Footnotes—The Easter Song—I was intrigued. The surprising irregularity of the rhythm, the simplicity of the piano intro, the sudden bursts of harmony, its creative use of electronica, the capability of whoever was playing bass—these all took me by surprise.

Second Chapter of Acts was one of these early Jesus movement groups. It was comprised of siblings—Annie, Nellie, and Matthew Ward—three of nine Nebraska-raised children. Annie was the oldest—28 at the time of their initial fame, while Nellie was 18 and Matt just 15. [Annie was actually married to record producer Buck Herring at this time, so her fans know her only by her married name.] Annie was the catalyst of the group and wrote much of their material.

The group took its name from the second chapter of Acts in the Christian New Testament, which relates in a vivid and picturesque way the coming of the Holy Spirit into the lives of the early Christians. Second Chapter sang in coffee houses for a brief time before being discovered. Barry McQuire, whose “Eve of Destruction” had been so popular a few years earlier, had recently become a Christian and was being produced by Buck Herring. McQuire, together with entertainer Pat Boone put Second Chapter of Acts on a road to success. Since Annie was the only one of the three siblings to play an instrument (piano), studio musicians—extremely good ones, at that—did the backup for their albums and professional appearances.

I still love the Easter Song. I am definitely not alone—the song is unquestionably the most recognizable in all of contemporary Christian music. CCM Magazine—the movement quickly developed its own publication—calls it (today, 2018) the #4 Christian song of all time. I think you’ll find Easter Song appealing.

I grew up in the Methodist church. Even as a child, it seemed obvious that whatever experience I was going to have there, spiritual or otherwise, was going to be diluted and shadowy. And that extended to the music which was, by and large, limited to hymn-singing—none of which left any impression at all on a musically impressionable young boy. But, there was a particular annual musical event that I attended from an early age, a music competition in Columbus, which included an afternoon concert and always started with a hymn, “All Creatures of Our God and King.” Wow, I thought, hymns can actually sound great! I would look forward to these few minutes each year.

Of course, at that age, I could not separate the music from its message. Peeling music away from its accompanying text was something that wouldn’t occur for me until later. All I knew was that this was music I could really connect with.

“All Creatures of Our God and King” will be a hundred years old next year. It was written by William Draper, an English pastor and musician, in 1919, and uses a text from St. Francis of Assisi. It is, according to the source of all knowledge Wikipedia, in use around the world in 179 different hymnals. Clearly, it has had staying power. So you may very well be familiar with the music. If so, this mid-1980s version may or may not appeal to you. I happen to find it quite appealing. The way Second Chapter connects, by not breathing, certain phrases—the way they subtly drop back, dynamically, on “alleluia”–the accuracy of their three-part harmony—their creative modulation at 1:51—this song has long been in my “best of best” Ipod folder.

Obviously, one need not relate to Christian (or any other) lyrics to appreciate the underlying music. The lyrics for either one of these songs no longer reflect where I personally am, but the music is definitely a part of me. This version of “All Creatures” is certainly a pleasant case of old wine in new bottles.

Comment

#204 THE HARVEST OF SORROW

#204

THE HARVEST OF SORROW

RACHMANINOFF DOCUMENTARY

I could have added this to the end of my Rachmaninoff Second Concerto post, but I feel it warrants its own posting.

I think I have mentioned that my wife Tiraje and I perform as a two-piano team. In preparing my remarks for the “media” part of one of our Sinclair concerts some years ago which featured the music of Rachmaninoff, I ran across a video documentary about Rachmaninoff called A Harvest of Sorrow. It is, I feel, a wonderful introduction to the life and music of Rachmaninoff. It is full of footage from early in the 20th century, and is replete with much great Rachmaninoff music.

A description from Kulturvideo, who made the video, gives all the necessary information:

“This insightful documentary film, shot in Russia, Switzerland and America, is made with the full participation of the composer’s grandson, Alexander Rachmaninoff. Featuring soloists Mikhail Pletnev (with the Berlin philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado, and his own Russian National Orchestra), Dmitri Hvorostovsky and young stars Valentina Igoshina, Peter Jablonski and Nikolai Putilin, the music is specially recorded with the great conductor Valery Gergieve and the Orchestra and Chorus of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, with which Rachmanioff was intimately associated. Tony Palmer’s film is a unique and loving insight into a world long gone, but definitely not forgotten.”

The film is an hour and forty minutes long. I did not want to just add it as an afterthought to another post because I really feel it will be worth your while to see it. In the days and weeks after the concert in which Tiraje and I included portions of this film, I received many requests as to how to purchase it. It is, of course, commercially available, but the best price is free—which is what it is on YouTube.

I think you find it to be a moving and insightful presentation.

 

Comment

#193 SHREDS

#193

SHREDS

A little levity…

I have a good friend, whose songs I featured here a few months ago (Music I Love #97), Ted Ganger. Ted’s songs are truly first-rate—a mix, I said at the time, of Cole Porter, Billy Joel, and Gilbert and Sullivan. He is a pianist, a conductor and a composer; he seems to have worked with every “name” conductor one can think of, in his position as keyboardist for the Munich Philharmonic. He is also an intellectual, a great conversationalist about many things. Ted is a world-traveler and has an excellent sense of protocol in any situation. And, he is multi-lingual to boot.

Why am I heaping praise on my friend? Well, because on a visit to Ohio a couple years ago, Ted asked me if I knew what shreds were. No, I said, I don’t. And we proceeded to listen to shred after shred, laughing harder and harder with each one. I thought, for today’s post—especially on the heels of three very serious posts—Gorecki, Penderecki, and Mahler—that I would lighten up a bit. Shreds are meant to be funny, but if you find anything you hear here offensive—if I have crossed a line with you—it is all Ted’s fault, not mine. If on the other hand, you enjoy some of these shreds, that is completely to my credit.

What is a shred? A shred is a doctored video of a famous musician, group, or ensemble in which sound has been superimposed upon the original to make it seem as though the world-famous performers you are hearing are rank amateurs. Creating shreds requires great skill, much more than you might initially think. Whatever music is pasted on top of the original has to synchronize perfectly with the performers’ actual physical movements. And—as you might imagine—it takes considerable skill to play or sing knowingly bad—doing a shred means finding performers (perhaps oneself) to do the playing or singing.

Needless to say, shreds are BEST appreciated if you already know the music and/or the performer(s) of the original. Whether one takes “shreds” as being sacrilege or just good humor, it is obvious that those who put shreds together go to a lot of work in terms of creating them.

So, without any further ado, I’ll start off with one of my favorites, Lang Lang playing Traumerei from Schumann’s Kinderscenen. This was originally an encore in a Carnegie Hall recital.

Handel – Zadok the Priest:

Handel – Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah:

Itzhak Perlman playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons:

Richard Strauss – Also Sprach Zarathustra:

Horowitz playing Chopin Polonaise in Moscow:

Michelangeli playing Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cakewalk:

Martha Argerich playing Tchaikovsky Concerto (beginning only, sorry):

AND, a few pop music shreds:

ABBA – Mamma Mia:

Celine Dion – My Heart Will Go On:

A-ha – Take On Me:

Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’:

Katy Perry – Rise:

If you have an interest in hearing more shreds, YouTube is well stocked. Some are better than others…

I will return to my sedate, nerdy self tomorrow.

Not that posting shreds takes one’s nerdiness away…

Comment

#180 TURKISH/OTTOMAN MUSIC POST #1

#180

TURKISH/OTTOMAN MUSIC POST #1

TATYOS EFENDI
DEDE EFENDI
DMITRI CANTEMI
USKADARA GILDERKEN
HASRET
QANUN TAKSIMI

I imagine this post may have limited appeal. Nevertheless, this is definitely music that I love—or, perhaps I should more accurately say, sounds that I love—and so I am including it, and a few others to follow here.

A little background. My wife Tiraje is Turkish, and we were married in Istanbul in 1977. In 1978, the year our older son was born, I acquired a shortwave radio. I had had an interest in radio—the electronics of it, but also—and primarily—the communicative power of it—since elementary school. I had heard my first shortwave radio when I was twelve—an enormous World War II vintage radio—and was utterly fascinated with the idea—and actuality—of hearing radio broadcasts from other countries. Here I was in 1978, buying a shortwave radio, which turned out to be the first of many, as I fell into this unique hobby.

My main interest was (and still is) in hearing the music from other cultures. Music, from my perspective, represents the REAL personality, the real characteristics of a people. More directly, more accurately, and more intimately than anything else—more than the written word, more than art.

So, in the fall of 1978, I am listening to my first broadcasts from the Voice of Turkey, down in the basement, headphones on, late at night. Upon first hearing what turned out to be music from the Ottoman period, I had the strangest sensation of ALREADY KNOWING this music, a gut-level identification with the modes (scales) and patterns in which the music was written, and a oneness with the actual instruments being played.

I am not a believer in reincarnation. But nevertheless, this was one of the most pleasant sensations I had ever had—that something so far removed from my actual life experience, both in time and in culture, should sound and feel so natural to me. The connection I felt was almost physical, as though I am attached to the earth itself through these sounds. Does that sound strange?

I am including five examples here, to give a general feel for this music. I will, at a later time, self-indulgently delve into the sound of certain instruments that I love—the ney and the oud—and the characteristics of Turkish singing, vocally so unlike anything in the west—but for now I only want to give a general feel for what this music—with its roots in the fifteenth and sixteenth century Ottoman Empire—and who knows how many centuries, and from what locales, before that—would have sounded like.

Comment

#176 BARBERSHOP QUARTETS

#176

BARBERSHOP QUARTETS

MASTERPIECE
PRESTIGE
THE FOUR REPS

[I will return to art music tomorrow. It seems like I have gotten sidetracked with other kinds of music lately. This will be just one more of those. I am anxious to return to Bach Cantatas, Mozart Concertos, and Beethoven Sonatas.]

When I was in sixth grade in elementary school, our beloved music teacher, Kay Riordan—tall, ever-smiling, full-of-life, “always on”, immaculately dressed with scarves and heels as she pushed an upright piano from room to room—determined that four of us kids—myself, Rob Stofer, Tim Norris, and Rick Thomas (may he now rest in peace)—were to sing a barbershop quartet—“Goodbye My Coney Island Baby.”

We were good! Each one of us really enjoyed it. Rob and I already played piano, Tim was first chair trumpet, Rick first chair clarinet—so we all had a little musical background, and we were competitive with each other to see who could add the most to our barbershop sound. Mrs. Riordan had us sing Coney Island Baby, Meet Me In St. Louis, and Shine On, Harvest Moon at every possible school function and contest. Through that experience, I gained an early and strong love for “barbershop harmony.”

Barbershop harmony involves four men or four women singing a capella harmony–no instrumental accompaniment. Most often, a melody is sung in one part and is supported by the other three—“homophonic” music. This would be easy to visualize if we represent each vocal part with a number:

1 sings harmony above 2
2 sings the main melody
3 sings harmony below 2
4 provides harmonic foundation by singing the low notes

The actual origins of barbershop music are not that clear. It seems to have originally been an African-American music development in the 1880’s, eventually morphing into music with multi-racial roots and participation in the early 1900’s. It was, in fact, actually sung in barbershops where men would get together socially. But it was also sung in all kinds of community events nationwide, particularly after the invention of the phonograph. Writing music for 4-part quartets was also a very convenient way for writers of music in Tin Pan Alley—the street in New York City where just about all popular music in America was composed up through the 1920’s—to popularize their music.

The 1930’s and 40’s were the galvanizing decades for the spread of, and popularity of, barbershop music. And since that time, societies have mushroomed to accommodate the love of this music. The Society for the Preservation and Propagation of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in the United States—SPEBSQSA—still going strong—was started in the late 1930’s to promote male quartets; Sweet Adelines International—also still going very strong—was started in the mid 1940’s promoting female quartet singing.

Friendly—but SERIOUS—competitions among the many thousands of barbershop singers occur on an annual basis. The mother who lived next door to me when I was growing up in the 1960’s was a Sweet Adeline, and VERY serious about her participation in the Sweet Adelines. I have a friend (hello, Leila!) who is a member of a national champion Adeline group out in Arizona. These competitions, for both men and women, keep the bar of accomplishment very high.

One other musical thing to note about barbershop harmony is this (and this may get a little technical):

The scientific qualities of music are part of nature. In nature, regarding the physics of sound, there is a phenomenon called the harmonic series, or “overtone” series. If, for instance, I play or sing a certain low pitch—say, C—then I know that the C which is an octave above that, and the G above that, and the C above that, and the E above that will ALL vibrate at the same time, even though I am only playing or singing the one low note. C-C-G-C-E would be the first five pitches to sound above my lowest note. Their sound would certainly not be overbearing—they would only be barely perceptible. As the overtone series of pitches keeps going higher and higher, these really high pitches are only audible to animals.

One phenomenon of barbershop music having to do with this overtone series is that when four voices are singing full out on a certain group of notes, their voices will produce a note—an overtone—that, although they are not singing it, will be clearly heard. It reinforces their sound, and is a delightful experience for both singers and audience.

Sorry to get sidetracked in that, but I think it might be interesting…

Here are a few examples of barbership singing.

Oh, SUSANNA – MASTERPIECE

 

SWANEE – PRESTIGE – listen to the lead singer’s hold at 3:14, pretty impressive!

GOODBYE MY CONEY ISLAND BABY – THE FOUR REPS – these kids were probably about the same age as my elementary school quartet was back in the day – sorry this is audio only

Comment