Hurrah for summer on planet earth.
1) I can again ride my bike to and from Music Together classes.
2) The mulberry trees in Arlington have been particularly generous with their berries this season, and there are many days that my tongue has been colored purple as a result…
3) My sweetheart and I recently visited family in upstate NY, where we were fed currants and bok choy and eggs — all of which were grown on my sister’s farm.
4) And jazz pianist Joe Reid and I continue to perform our hour-long programs of songs written or co-written by Harold Arlen, the Gershwin Brothers, Jule Styne, Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter at retirement communities, coffee houses, and libraries around the greater Boston area.
After a recent show, I was speaking with one of the audience members about how — before the arrival of amplified sound in theaters — a song had to be crafted so that it could be sung by a performer and heard way up in the highest balcony seat.
Vowels and consonants and words and notes and melodies and ideas all had to travel from one person’s vocal tract to another person’s ear without the aid of electricity.
As far as I can tell from reading dozens of biographies about songwriters over the past couple of years, there were many factors which allowed this to happen.
a) Theaters were designed with great sensitivity to acoustics.
b) Songs were orchestrated to leave some sonic space for human voices to cut through the overall blend of musical vibrations and be heard.
c) The audience was accustomed to leaning forward and LISTENING carefully — compared with today, when I take earplugs with me in order comfortably to withstand the blast of amplified sound that is the norm in today’s pop music and even in today’s musical theater.
d) The singers — Ethel Merman being one of the most famous examples — knew how to generate potent streams of sound.
e) The songwriters knew how to craft songs with vowels and consonants and rhymes in all the right places while telling a story and advancing the plot.
One of my favorite examples of this craftsmanship is the song “Do I Love You, Do I?” which was written by Cole Porter for his musical DuBarry Was a Lady.
It is extremely fun to sing — especially near the end when the melody of the final “Do I love you, do I?” rises to a big, high note with total ease due to the extremely functional (from a singing point of view) vowel sequence of the two words “do” and “I.”
You can listen to this — and sing along if the spirit moves you — by clicking the song bar at the top of this blog entry. It is a recording I made a while back with the great pianist and songwriter Steve Sweeting when he lived in Brighton, MA.
Steve and I have recently finished recording a nine-sing CD of HIS extremely well-crafted original songs which I will very likely be writing about in future blog posts.
May there be lots of music in your life today and every day!
And thank you, as always, for reading and listening.