Song of the Day: April 29

Juilliard castIn anticipation of our final NYFOS After Hours of the season next week, “Harry, Hoagy, and Harold,” we’ve asked our performers, young talents from the Juilliard School, to curate this week’s Song of the Day. Come out to see them at 10pm on Monday, May 2nd at HENRY’s Restaurant! Today’s entry is from tenor Gerard Schneider.

 

Paul McCartney – Junk

The song I have chosen for my submission is Junk from Paul McCartney’s 1970 self-titled album, McCartney. Originally considered for inclusion on the both The White Album and Abbey Road, this short and simple song features a sparse arrangement of acoustic and bass guitar, xylophone, and drums.

Written during Paul’s time with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India, the song relates the loneliness and isolation of relationships, and the pain, memories, and emotions held by the material possessions of those couples – now ‘junk’.

Motor cars, handle bars
Bicycles for two
Broken hearted jubilee

Parachutes, army boots
Sleeping bags for two
Sentimental jamboree

Buy, buy says the sign in the shop window
Why, why says the in junk the yard

Candlesticks, building bricks
Something old and new
Memories for you and me

Buy, buy says the sign in the shop window
Why, why says the in junk in the yard

The melancholy lyrics instantly turn my mind to the now-famous six-word novel often attributed falsely to Ernest Hemingway:

For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Although I find myself struck with a great sense of sadness when listening to this song, I marvel at McCartney’s ability to imbue such human emotion into his depiction of otherwise mundane objects.

Paul McCartney’s great love for the song was such that he chose to include it not once, but twice on McCartney – once in the form discussed above and another on the B side as Singalong Junk. The arrangement of the latter differs greatly from Junk; removing the vocal entirely and replacing it with a piano melody, inserting a line for mellotron and featuring the drums more prominently.  In both cases, Paul said this about the song:

“[I] wonder about why we leave things that were a part of our lives and replace them with others, because at the same time we leave memories attached with those objects, in a real metaphysical way…”

As I age and continue to learn my craft, I recognize that there are facets to this song still left for me to discover. And the most excellent thing about a song you truly love is that it can never be thrown away.

Song of the Day: April 28

Juilliard castIn anticipation of our final NYFOS After Hours of the season next week, “Harry, Hoagy, and Harold,” we’ve asked our performers, young talents from the Juilliard School, to curate this week’s Song of the Day. Come out to see them at 10pm on Monday, May 2nd at HENRY’s Restaurant! Today’s entry is from pianist Christopher Reynolds.

 

Gabriel Kahane – Bradbury (304 Broadway)

Gabriel Kahane is somewhat of an inspiration to me – here we have a genius from a more traditional musical family who has paved a way for himself in a manner that seems to defy any traditional route of either classical or popular music, yet has found massive success in both fields while bridging the gap between the two. He has even written for NYFOS if I am not mistaken. This song cycle/album entitled “The Ambassador” is one of my favorite works of the last century – each of the 10 songs are imagined perspectives from different buildings in Los Angeles, and contain a variety of poetic verse, epic-style narratives, or re-imaginings of traditional material, as is the case in this song. The Bradbury Building is most famously featured in one of my favorite films, Blade Runner. The climax of Blade Runner occurs when (SPOILER ALERT) Roy Batty, the “villain” of the film (as well as an android) delivers one of the most beautiful monologues in the history of western civilization to Harrison Ford’s character. Harrison Ford at this point is clinging to the edge of the building while Batty holds a dove. Neon light surrounds them, and as he concludes his speech “All those memories will be lost in time, like tears…in….rain,” he releases the dove. This song takes this monologue as well as the imagery and plot points of Blade Runner and constructs a static portrait, sensuous in quality, of Kahane’s experience of the film and the building. There is nothing better for a rainy day.

Song of the Day: April 27

Juilliard castIn anticipation of our final NYFOS After Hours of the season next week, “Harry, Hoagy, and Harold,” we’ve asked our performers, young talents from the Juilliard School, to curate this week’s Song of the Day. Come out to see them at 10pm on Monday, May 2nd at HENRY’s Restaurant! Today’s entry is from mezzo-soprano Kelsey Lauritano.

 

More so a performance of the day, rather than a song, “Joe” by the Alabama Shakes is a 3-minute earthquake of music making that I am absolutely honored to share with you all. This band has resonated with me for the past few months, quenching my alternative, bluesy rock thirst for the times when I want to momentarily step away from the classical and musical theatre worlds and seek inspiration elsewhere. Now, the music in and of itself is certainly special, but the thing about this performance that never fails to awaken my spirit is the dynamic lead vocalist, Brittany Howard.

The song begins calmly, with a soothing guitar line, a cool rhythmic tap on of the symbol and drum, an electronic piano harmoniously making itself known. Then you hear her voice. Androgynous in nature, almost in kinship with Nina Simone, her sound packs an incredible, velvety punch. You immediately understand that this woman has something important to say. Using traveling as a metaphor for hopping from bad relationship to bad relationship, Howard tells a classic unrequited love story in which the storyteller wants nothing more than for her love interest, Joe, to be hers and hers alone. She admits that she’s been all over the world and has experienced great success, but finds that without sharing it with Joe, she can’t be truly happy.

The lyrics are enough to pull at one’s heartstrings, but once you witness Howard’s soul bearing performance, you find that your jaw’s hit the floor and your emotions are pouring out onto the stage with her. It’s pretty darn easy to see why she was named Billboard’s 2015 Women in Music “Powerhouse” artist. The intensity she brings to the stage, while simultaneously maintaining finesse and class is my favorite thing about this woman. She can jive, scream, and twirl herself around the stage and then almost immediately lure you in with sweet and tender melodies. Press play and see what I mean! I hope this song gives you the inspiration it’s given me.

Song of the Day: April 25

 

Juilliard castIn anticipation of our final NYFOS After Hours of the season next week, “Harry, Hoagy, and Harold,” we’ve asked our performers, young talents from the Juilliard School, to curate this week’s Song of the Day. Come out to see them at 10pm on Monday, May 2nd at HENRY’s Restaurant! First up is mezzo-soprano Amanda Lynn Bottoms.

 

The Day The World Turned Purple

When an icon passes there is the unavoidable sharing of their creations and outward expressions of nostalgia from fans across borders. In the 21st Century we share in the profound grief that fans face beyond word of mouth and radio broadcast but even more profoundly through social media, sources that allow us to recall or experience for the first time the insurmountable joy fans received from an artist’s work. As I scrolled through Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and every other site this week I was faced with post after post of the gut wrenching truth that the world lost yet another an icon, one who’s influence went far beyond the boundaries of their craft and challenged preconceived notions about not only music, but style, race, and sexuality: this irreplaceable genius was Prince.

I had already written about a Shubert piece but after hearing Purple Rain pipe through my headphones for the tenth time as I lie in the middle of Central Park staring at the clouds I knew I had to change my course. If this is your first of fiftieth time hearing this song let it wash over you with open hearts and minds as the man who made this emblematic piece no longer exists with us but his art endures on.

A combination of rock, gospel and orchestral music, Purple Rain was a staple of Prince’s concert repertoire. A lone guitar starts the piece and is joined by drumming and an organ to set us in a gospel church mood. As the pared down musical summary of the same named film, this track follows the story of “The Kid” and his quest for reconciliation with three characters in his life.  The first verse is dedicated to his father, then his ex-girlfriend (Apollonia), and then his band mates.

For decades fans have pondered the true meaning of Purple Rain and why Prince would embark upon such a radical, evocative song style. Prince himself said “When there’s blood in the sky, red and blue equals purple. Purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/god guide you through the purple rain.” Band mate Lisa Coleman said the song symbolizes “a new beginning. Purple, the sky at dawn; rain, the cleansing factor.”

Whether it was supposed to signal the end or beginning of an era, Purple Rain undoubtedly was a dramatic change for pop music and a definitive moment in Prince’s career. Re-translate “Purple Rain” as “Purple Reign,” and Prince’s royal connotations with the color purple throughout his career come to the forefront and further the belief that he was, and remains, an uncontested member of musical royalty. Allow yourself to journey through the entire Purple Rain album, venture on to Sign o’ The Times and then Dirty Mind. Recapture the powerful hopes and emotions that his music and performances stirred up from within us in our youth and now today as adults. Remember our incomparable Prince.

Song of the Day: April 22

San Francisco Opera Singer Headshots | Anna Wu PhotographyThis week, soprano María Valdés curates Song of the Day. She will perform with NYFOS next Tuesday, April 26th, in Compositora: Songs by Latin American Women, alongside baritone Efraín Solís. She is a recent alumna of the Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera where she sang and covered several roles. Her performance with NYFOS will mark her New York recital debut.

 

Stravinsky – No Word From Tom – Laura Claycomb

In order to end this week on a high note, I bring you Laura Claycomb singing “No Word from Tom” from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. This is one of my favorite arias to sung by one of my favorite sopranos. There are so many things that make this piece wonderful, but my favorite is the orchestration. I was privileged enough to perform this with the San Francisco Opera orchestra during my time as an Adler Fellow.  It always amazes me how singing with an orchestra changes my experience of a piece. I feel completely surrounded and supported by sound. And each melody has a character and personality of its own. My favorite in this piece is the bassoon. Its haunting timbre really sets the night scene. The brightness of the staccato strings illustrate Anne’s nervous energy. This except is from the Robert LePage production at Théâtre de la Monnaie in 2007. l love it most because of its perspective. It creates so much depth on the stage, making Anne seem far away from the house as she anxiously decides to go after her true love, Tom Rakewell. Laura Claycomb masters the technical hurdles this piece presents. She shows Anne’s conflicting emotions in her interpretation of the contrasting segments of the aria—something that is difficult to pull off!

It’s been a great pleasure to share some of my favorite music with you this week. Now onto NYC to begin rehearsals for “Compositora.” If you’re in the area, please join me at Merkin Hall on April 26th at 8 pm.

Song of the Day: April 21

San Francisco Opera Singer Headshots | Anna Wu PhotographyThis week, soprano María Valdés curates Song of the Day. She will perform with NYFOS next Tuesday, April 26th, in Compositora: Songs by Latin American Women, alongside baritone Efraín Solís. She is a recent alumna of the Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera where she sang and covered several roles. Her performance with NYFOS will mark her New York recital debut.

 

Mozart – Et incarnatus est- Barbara Bonney

Mozart’s C Minor Mass was my first professional job. I was very excited (and nervous) to perform this piece at the Bellingham Festival of Music in Washington. Unfortunately, before the gig I came down with a killer case of pneumonia and wasn’t able to sing for a month. With only a couple weeks left until rehearsals began, I slowly attempted to get back into shape. During my first coaching—this is hilarious now but mortifying at the time—I was singing this and half way through collapsed onto the piano. My lungs just couldn’t expand enough to prepare for the long phrases. Luckily for me, I recovered soon after and had a successful performance in the end!

Now, this aria is difficult on its own, but it comes at the very end of a LONG sing. I remembered having a sense of impending doom when the orchestra began. I’m sure many of my singer friends can relate when I say that the maestro inevitably took the slowest possible tempo. I thought to myself, how can I ever do justice to this exquisite composition? How will I make it through? But when the strings swelled before my entrance it was smooth sailing from there. That’s because this piece has a way of making time stand still. It kind of feels like being wrapped in a soft blanket and being placed on top of a cloud. Mmmmm.

Barbara Bonney definitely takes us to that place in her interpretation. There is nothing showy about her delivery, even as she effortlessly glides through the technical challenges this piece presents. Her voice becomes an instrument and the instruments become voices, culminating with a call and response duet between the soprano and oboe.

I hope you all enjoy this idyllic setting of “Et incarnatus est.”

Song of the Day: April 20

San Francisco Opera Singer Headshots | Anna Wu PhotographyThis week, soprano María Valdés curates Song of the Day. She will perform with NYFOS next Tuesday, April 26th, in Compositora: Songs by Latin American Women, alongside baritone Efraín Solís. She is a recent alumna of the Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera where she sang and covered several roles. Her performance with NYFOS will mark her New York recital debut.

 

Devil Got My Woman- Skip James

When I was about 20, I became very interested in early American music after being introduced to Alan Lomax. Lomax was an American folklorist and ethnomusicologist. He collected thousands of field recordings for The Archive of American Folk song at the Library of Congress. Without the work of Lomax and and his contemporaries, much of the popular music we have today would not have developed.

I would spend hours listening to his discography. There was something so refreshing about hearing music that wasn’t produced in a studio. Lomax would just go into someone’s home and ask them to play a couple of songs. There were mistakes and there was laughing and talking. Sometimes it was 45 minutes of intolerable wailing when, suddenly, you’d stumble upon something breathtaking. One such breathtaking discovery was Skip James.

Mr. James takes us back to 1931 to give us today’s song, “Devil Got my Woman.” It’s one of those songs that sticks to your soul. ‘Been tryin’ to shake it for years and it just won’t quit!

P.S. Listen for how different the guitar accompaniment is from the vocal line. How does he do that???