A Melody Played In A Penny Arcade…

A Melody Played In A Penny Arcade…

amusement-park-1045212_1280As longtime readers of my blog probably recall, when I was laid off from my day job as assistant director of the Cambridge Center for Adult Education seven years ago, I decided to devote my life to making music.

And writing songs.

And leading Music Together classes.

A few months after my lay-off, a Boston-area jazz pianist named Joe Reid reached out to see if I might like to do a gig at the retirement community where his dad lives.

I had met Joe several years earlier — when HE was in the midst of a life transition from working full-time as a lawyer to working full-time as a musician — and promptly said, “Yes!”

We needed to prepare an hour of music, and I mentioned that I had long loved many songs co-written by composer Harold Arlen — a list which includes “My  Shining Hour,” “I’ve Got The World On A String,” “Accentuate The Positive,” “Anyplace I Hang My Hat Is Home,” “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “Blues In The Night,”  “That Old Black Magic,” “If I Only Had A Brain,”  “Over The Rainbow,” “Happiness is Just A Thing Called Joe,” “Let’s Fall In Love,” “Get Happy,” and “It’s Only A Paper Moon.”

Harold Arlen

I had sung a few of these songs in a program of music featuring the lyrics of Johnny Mercer with singer Bobbi Carrey and pianist Doug Hammer — because one of Mr. Arlen’s many collaborators was Mr. Mercer.

And I was familiar with others due to the movie version of The Wizard Of Oz, for which Mr. Arlen composed the music and Yip Harburg wrote lyrics (and a lot of uncredited dialogue  —  a topic I will explore in a future blog post dedicated to Yip).

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I biked over to Joe’s house — in the town next to mine — with a bunch of sheet music.

We spent about 90 minutes running through thirteen songs — picking comfortable keys and exploring tempos/feels for each of them.

And that was it for rehearsing with Joe.

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Joe (on the left) is very much a “let’s-trust-in-the-moment” kind of musician who welcomes improvisation and spontaneity.

I, too, value spontaneity — and I also appreciate structure.

So I booked time with pianist Doug Hammer at his studio north of Boston.

We recorded all of the Arlen songs once or twice so that I could have a set of piano-only tracks to play on my iPod as I walked around Arlington memorizing lyrics.

And some of the versions we recorded — such as the version of “It’s Only A Paper Moon” included in the player at the beginning of this blog post — came out surprisingly well.

“It’s Only A Paper Moon” was written for a 1932 play (not a musical) called The Great Magoo set in Coney Island which was not a big success.

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It is credited to Arlen, Harburg, and impresario Billy Rose — who was somewhat infamous for adding his name to the songwriting credits of other people’s work after having contributed an idea or two during the creative process.

You may recognize Rose’s name because he was married for many years to the great performer Fanny Brice, and his character appears in the movie Funny Lady starring Barbra Streisand as Brice.

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Somehow this Coney Island hot dog made me think of him…

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Luckily the song was rescued from The Great Magoo and included in a movie called Take A Chance the next year — which led to successful recordings by a wide range of musicians over the past 70+ years.

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I love the metaphors and imagery used in the song — all things one might encounter at an amusement park like Coney Island.

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I also love the sentiment of the song — that if someone believes in and loves another person, their belief and love can be transformative.

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And looking at these photos, I am struck by the way an amusement park transforms from day to night…

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Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and I would like to dedicate Doug’s and my version of “It’s Only A Paper Moon” to all of the folks who have at one time or another believed in me — including friends and acquaintances in the WordPress blog-o-sphere.

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Your positive feedback regarding my music and my blog continues to touch and inspire me every day.

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Thank you to Pixabay for the great color photographs of Coney Island and other amusement parks around the world.

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Thank you to Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg and Billy Rose for writing this wonderful song.

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And to Joe Reid for asking me to do a gig with him seven years ago.

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Since then Joe and I have done hundreds of gigs together and created twenty five different one-hour musical programs.

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Thank you to Doug Hammer for his engineering excellence and his playful virtuosity at the keyboard.

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And THANK YOU for reading and listening — and even leaving a comment or two from time to time.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

 

I Heard The Bells…

I Heard The Bells…

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Jazz pianist Joe Reid (left) and I (right) have put together a bunch of one-hour programs of music during the past six years.

You can click here for a list of our musical programs if you are curious.

We share them at public libraries, retirement communities, memory cafes, and coffee houses.

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Our latest program features songs written for — and/or made famous by — Bing Crosby.

I had known very little about Mr. Crosby before requesting several biographies about him via our local inter-library network (which includes the terrific Robbins library pictured above in a photo by Jinny Sagorin).

Mostly I remembered him for singing an incongruous but lovely duet with David Bowie on a Christmas TV special.

Bing Crosby and David Bowie

I also knew that he loved golfing and had sung “White Christmas” — which became one of the highest selling recordings ever made.

And I was aware that at least one of his children had written about how challenging it was to have him as a father.

After reading several books about him, my perspective on Mr. Crosby has become much more complicated and fascinating and human…

To begin with, I hadn’t understood how HUGE a star Bing was.

His weekly radio programs reached millions of listeners for decades.

He was in the top ten of Hollywood box office money-makers for decades.

His recordings regularly topped the charts for decades.

He was definitely one of America’s first “superstars.”

He was also a devoted Catholic, following the spiritual path of his mother (who had requested that Bing’s father convert to Catholicism before they were married).

He sang an extraordinarily wide range of songs — from cowboy to Irish to jazz to pop to show tunes to hymns to Americana.

Although a Republican, he had a huge hit during the early years of the Great Depression with Yip Harburg and Jay Gorney’s empathetic lament for the common man, “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” — which hit the airwaves right before FDR was elected to his first term as president.

And he was one of the first recording artists to release an album of Christmas holiday songs.

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One of the many Christmas songs Bing recorded — “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” — has become a new favorite of mine.

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Bing recorded it on October 3, 1956, and it soon became a holiday classic.

I recorded it earlier this month with pianist Doug Hammer at his studio in Lynn, MA (and our version is included in the player at the beginning of this blog post).

I discovered on Wikipedia that the lyrics were written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day, 1863 while the USA was in the middle of our astoundingly horrible and bloody Civil War.

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He lived in Cambridge, MA — a couple of miles away from where I now live — and one of his sons had left home to fight in the Union Army.

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You can click here to learn more about Longfellow’s poem on Wikipedia if you are curious.

He experienced many deep losses during his lifetime — his first wife died after a miscarriage and his second wife died from burn wounds after her dress accidentally caught on fire — and perhaps as a result, he developed very empathetic heart.

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Many different composers have been moved to set this particular poem to music over the years.

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In 1956 Johnny Marks — a Jewish songwriter whose creative output also includes “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” “Run, Rudolph, Run,” “Silver and Gold,” “A Holly, Jolly Christmas,” and all of the other songs from the Rudolph holiday TV show — devised a lovely tune for a few stanzas from Longfellow’s poem.

I’m not sure why this song touches me so deeply…

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Perhaps it is an echo of Longfellow’s broken-heartedness and faith reverberating from the depths of America’s civil war to our present moment of cultural unrest…

I am grateful to be reminded of the gentle power of words and music during this season of short days and long nights.

I am grateful to Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons and Stephen Fischer and Jinny Sagorin for the images in this blog post.

And I am grateful to YOU for reading and listening to this blog post.

May we experience more peace and empathy in the new year!

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The Look of Love!

The Look of Love!

 

My last few posts have been a bit grim.

So here’s a post filled with joy and happiness.

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Last fall my niece married her boyfriend at a beautiful place called the Treman Center in upstate NY not far from the farm where she spent most of her childhood and teen years — and where her mother still lives.

Here she is with her father, husband, mother, brother, and dog.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

My niece recently gave me access to a huge cache of their wedding photos, which I plan to feature in two separate blog posts.

Today’s theme is “The Look Of Love…”

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

The Treman Center is itself a labor of love by a wife and husband team — full of all kinds of beauty. The husband is a tremendous stone mason. The wife is a terrific host who — among her many gifts — is also an extraordinary makes-things-beautiful person.

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Beauty can be found everywhere at the Treman Center — as well as whimsy, such as this rubber ducky floating in their reflecting pool…

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My niece’s husband’s family also lives in the area, and we have loved becoming friends with them over the past six years.

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At first I did not understand why my niece and her (then) boyfriend wanted to have a fancy wedding.

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But as soon as I arrived at the Treman Center, I got it.

They wanted to create and share a weekend of love and beauty with a small tribe of their nearest and dearest.

Weddings can be a transformative event not only for the bride and groom, but also for the community of family, friends, and beloved pets whom they invite to surround them, bear witness to their vows, and celebrate with them.

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This wedding proved to be a wonderful mix of hands-on work by family and friends + catered deliciousness which wove everyone together in new ways.

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For example, the wedding cake was made by the groom’s mother.

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It featured custom-made replicas of the groom and the bride plus their beloved dog.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

All of the flower arrangements — except for the bouquets and boutonnieres of the bridal party — were grown and harvested and assembled by local family members who spent most of Friday focused on this exquisite undertaking.

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Here is some of their — and mother nature’s — handiwork…

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All of the wedding favors for guests were also grown, harvested, and preserved by members of our family.

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My other sister (the bride’s aunt) is — among many other things — a terrific chef, and she took leadership of a pre-wedding pickling marathon.

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Yum!!!

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My sisters also canned a lot of peach-raspberry jam…

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

And my sisters’ neighbors keep bees; so some guests took home jars of local honey, too.

Many friends and family members also pitched in to make pies.

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A lot of pies…

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They were served from a Ferris Wheel Of Pie — which was something I had never seen before.

And very delicious.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

Friday night was the rehearsal dinner, and somehow the caterers were running late.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

So everyone — except the bride and groom — pitched in to set up tables, plates, glasses, silverware on the second floor of the elegantly converted barn that is the heart of the Treman Center.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

Working together like this is one of my favorite ways to spend time with other human beings — and a tried-and-true way to jumpstart a sense of shared purpose and community.

After dinner the father of the bride — who is a professional trumpeter — and I and a dear friend of the bride and groom who happens to be a great pianist (and who had driven all the way from Norfolk, VA, with his fiancee to be part of the celebration) sang jazz standards at a funky old Steinway which graces the Treman Center.

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My niece wore a beautiful and very red dress.

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She had a terrific group of friends as bridesmaids, and the spirit throughout the weekend was often quite playful.

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The groomsmen were also full of fun and creativity.

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I love this photo of the groom and his parents.

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The bride’s quietly extraordinary  younger brother (my older nephew) was part of the bridal party, and pitched in to help at every conceivable opportunity.

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Their mother is a hardworking farmer and photographer who like many hardworking farmers — and photographers — also has a day job.

Currently she works at Cornell University’s department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design — which meant that she was able to have a gown created for her by an up-and-coming clothing designer.

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One of the unexpected pleasures of this wedding was seeing friends and family members whom I usually see in shorts and swim suits — or in the case of my sister, a one-piece jumpsuit which she wears when she takes care of the chickens and sheep and gardens on her farm — wearing somewhat fancier clothing.

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Everyone cleaned up very nicely!

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My younger nephew and some of my younger cousins looked very sharp when they were given permission to drive a golf cart around the venue.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

The wedding ceremony was held in a stone courtyard which had all sorts of fruit trees growing in huge planters.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

While everyone was assembling on Saturday afternoon before the ceremony began, the pianist friend and I shared more standards while the bride’s father rocked his trumpet.

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He has toured with Wynton Marsalis, Maynard Ferguson, and Harry Connick, Jr. among others…

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I will share lots of photos from the actual wedding ceremony in my second (future) post.

Here are a few observations:

The groom is very tall.

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He has a wonderful family.

And he and my niece are very fond of each other.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

If I am remembering correctly, they originally met when he was an assistant coach for her crew team.

They both went to the same college — although they didn’t overlap as undergraduates because he is a few years older — and their romance began when they both worked on the island of Elba in the Mediterranean one summer.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

She was the cook and he was the gardener on the estate of a college professor.

She wrote a wonderful blog which documented many of her adventures on Elba — culinary and otherwise. You can click here to get a taste of her blog if you are curious…

One of the highlights of the ceremony on Saturday was the ring-bearer — their beloved dog companion named Dozer.

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The ceremony was not-too-long and very sweet — culminating, of course, with a lovely kiss.

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After this was dinner.

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And an extraordinary sunset.

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The proactive and very congenial wedding photographers grabbed the bride and groom for a sunset portrait…

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

Then we all danced for several hours in varying states of abandon to a great live band.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

Dancing was interspersed with a few wedding games.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

And the cutting of the cake…

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

One of the unplanned highlights of the night was when the band started playing the song “Uptown Funk” — which my younger nephew had previously memorized to perform in a talent show at his school.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

One of the singers in the band gave my nephew a mic so that he could lead us in what became a Dionysian explosion of energy on the dance floor.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

If you got tired of dancing, there was also a wall for Polaroid photos + written thoughts…

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

And lots of bittersweet ice cream…

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

I will devote a future blog post to the wedding ceremony itself — which included its own spontaneous surprise from their beloved ringbearer, Dozer.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

Thank you to my niece and nephew-in-law for letting me blog about their wonderful wedding.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

Thank you to everyone who pitched in to help make this such a loving and delicious and memorable wedding celebration.

Beautiful Wedding at the Treman Center, Shot by Couple of Dudes

Thank you to Julian Huarte with Couple of Dudes Photography, to Mary Bloom (a longtime family friend and professional photographer), and to everyone else whose photos of the wedding I have included in this blog post.

Thank you to Nina Vansuch, Michael Ricca, and Brian Patton for recording the two-song medley (included at the beginning of this post) with me many years ago. You can click here to hear more of our music at CD Baby.

And thank YOU for reading all the way to the end of this post!

The Wind Beneath My Wings

The Wind Beneath My Wings

 

This afternoon I saw an airplane rising in the sky above Boston.

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As usual, I was amazed that such a huge and complicated chunk of metal could become airborne.

Apparently it has something to do with the Bernoulli Effect.

In online article by Matthew Reeve I learned that “Daniel Bernoulli was an eighteenth-century Swiss scientist who discovered that as the velocity of a fluid increases its pressure decreases.

This can be demonstrated when a constant flow of fluid or gas is passed through a tube, and a section of the tube is constricted.

At the point of constriction, the flow will speed up and there will be a drop in pressure against the walls of the tube.

This principle has become widely known as the Bernoulli Effect.”

The Bernoulli Effect explains why planes fly AND why we are able to produce sound with our vocal cords.

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Matthew Reeve continues,

“The two results of the Bernoulli Effect can be explained with two examples.

Flow increase: When you place your thumb over the end of a running hose, the flow of water speeds up and travels further across the garden. At the point of constriction velocity increases.

Air pressure drop: An airplane’s wing is shaped so that the bottom is flat and the top is curved. When air flows across the top of a plane’s wing, it travels faster and the lower pressure creates lift.”

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This keeps the plane aloft.

Astounding!

I first heard about the Bernoulli Effect in a voice lesson with Professor Eugene Rabine.

He was attempting to explain to me how our vocal cords — which are more accurately called vocal folds — vibrate to produce sound.

When we make a sound using our voice (also know as phonation), our vocal folds are pulled together by a team of small, strong, sophisticated muscles.

During phonation, the stream of air coming up from our lungs through our wind pipe/trachea is momentarily stopped by our vocal folds.

At this point pressure begins to build up below the vocal folds.

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Back to Matthew Reeve’s article…

“When the pressure is high enough, the vocal folds are forced to separate and the airstream is allowed to flow through the vocal folds.

The airstream through the vocal folds then accelerates causing a drop in pressure.

This drop in pressure then sucks the vocal folds back together.

Air pressure under our vocal folds then builds up again and the process continues.”

This cycle of our vocal folds opening and closing — hundreds of times per second — creates the waves of air pressure that we recognize as sound.

Reading about the Bernoulli Effect reminded me of a recording of “The Wind Beneath My Wings” that pianist Doug Hammer and I made during a rehearsal for a memorial service a few years ago.

It combines the act of singing with the imagery of flying.

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Thank you to Nicki Nichols Gamble for asking me and Bobbi Carrey to sing at her husband’s memorial service — and for requesting this particular song.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for his terrific piano playing and for his engineering expertise.

Thank you to David Gay, Eugene Rabine, Roland Seiler, Craig Wich, Mary Klimek, and all of the other human beings who have taught me about healthy vocal function.

Thank you to Pixabay for some lovely photographs and to the internet for some useful graphics

Thank YOU for reading and listening to another blog post — and thank you to everyone who continues to offer me positive feedback and enthusiastic support for my music-making.

You are indeed the wind beneath my wings.

And — echoing the final lyrics of the song — I also give thanks for the Bernoulli Effect, which allow planes to fly and human beings to sing!

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