My First Music: “I Have Confidence” from The Sound of Music by Rodgers & Hammerstein and the Day I Moved to NYC, 3 June 1973

And right around the time in history James “Smiling Cobra” Aubrey was turning MGM’s historical music scores into LA landfill and my beloved John Wilson was home in Gateshead falling out of his baby chair in excitement over the brand-new BBC news theme, forty-five years ago today—even down to the day of the week—I fled Minneapolis for New York and took a shared room at Sage House, a genteel women-only boarding house on 49 West 9th Street in Greenwich Village, New York.

With 2 meals a day included it came out to $33 a week. You read that right. A place in Greenwich Village, breakfast and dinner, for thirty-three dollars a week. Try to imagine the mischief I got into with all the money I had left over from my weekly paycheck from my first job as a solfeggist at ASCAP, that it’s summer in NYC, it’s 1973, I’m eighteen, cute as a button and old enough to drink, and gorgeous men are everywhere. And imagine too that I’m singing a song (in my heart and sometimes aloud while bounding down the street) that every American girl of my generation inspired by Julie Andrews sang:

I have confidence in confidence alone
Besides which you see I have con-fi-dence in meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Sage House NYCAbove my old abode: “I Have Confidence” sung by Sierra Boggess backed by John Wilson and His Eponymous Orchestra , 2010.

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Leopold! Leopold!

Here’s Stokowski, international maestro (and, like my beloved John Wilson, a Royal College of Music graduate) in my second favorite Deanna Durbin movie: 100 Men and a Girl. Directed by Henry Koster. Andre Previn‘s great-uncle Charles Previn, musical director, arranger, composer and conductor at Universal, won an Oscar for his score for 100 Men and a Girl. While at Universal, Previn accumulated over 225 films to his credit, including most of Deanna Durbin’s films.

Stokowski, Durbin

100 Men and a Girl is available in its entirety at my YT channel here

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My First Music: Catholics Surrounded by Lutherans and Some Conducting by John Wilson, BBC Proms 2013

On this day, 25 May, 2018—what would have been my dad’s 113th birthday—I’d like to remember one of the few times he and I actually went to the movies together. This time we went to see, first-run, the warrior epic Taras Bulba (United Artists, 1962; screenplay by blacklisted writer Waldo Salt) on the recommendation of my girlfriend Tamara’s mother, who emigrated from Lviv after the war and was a booster for All Things Ukrainian. (A survivor of Axis bombingsshe had that in common with my mom.) Our Minneapolis neighborhood was made up mostly of first- and second-generation Ukrainians, Italians, Guatemalans, Poles, Irish, and of course Filipinos, Catholics all. Of course the Lutherans surrounded us but being mostly Swedes, they had their own heritage too. And at Christmas, all that pepparkakor…num.

As for Franz Waxman’s “Ride of the Cossacks, there’s a rather thrilling ostinato toward the end.

A pretty inspired choice for your Proms, John. It isn’t played too often (there’s more Ben Hur out there than Taras Bulba); my guess is because most conductors just can’t hear the “kinetic” qualities in this piece of music or they interpret it as more “memetic”, and so what comes out when they conduct sounds just awful, artificial… But you, my bonny lad, got it right. I’m starting to recognize your ear more and more, and it’s a wondrous thing.

John Wilson Taras BulbaWishing you two clean and ready handkerchiefs every concert day, John.

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My First Music: How the English Do It—Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto in Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter—David Lean, director; Noel Coward, producer; Cineguild 1945.

Brief EncounterAbove: Rachmaninoff’s entire Piano Concerto No. 2, played by Australian pianist Eileen Joyce in the famous ending of Brief Encounter.

From Jeremy Paxman’s 1998 The English: A Portrait of a People:

Take David Lean’s 1945 tale of forbidden love, Brief Encounter. The couple meet in the tearoom of a railway station, where she is waiting for the steam train home after a day’s shopping. A speck of coal dirt gets caught in her eye and, without a word of introduction, the gallant local doctor steps forward and removes it. The following eighty minutes of this beautifully written movie depict their deepening love and guilt each feels about it. …

As Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto comes and goes in the background, their affair unfolds, measured out in cups of tea in the waiting room of Milford station. … Being English, Celia Johnson feels no animosity towards her husband, whom she considers “kindly and unemotional”. Trevor Howard, equally trapped in a dry marriage, also expresses no hostility towards his wife and children. But the two of them are in the force of a passion they can hardly control. “We must be sensible,” is the constant refrain. “If we control ourselves, there’s still time.” In the end, despite all the protestations of undying devotion, the romance remains unconsummated…

What does this most popular of English films tell us about the English?

The entire film Brief Encounter is available on my YT channel here

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My First Music: “This Could Be the Start of Something Big” by Steve Allen

A popular song by Steve Allen published in 1956, “This Could Be the Start of Something Big“. Originally, the song was written as part of the score of The Bachelor, a 1954 television musical production notable for the early appearances of legendary dancer Carol Haney and Jayne Mansfield (Mariska “SVU” Hargitay’s mom). In 1956 “This Could Be the Start” replaced the original opening theme to Allen’s NBC talk show, Tonight Starring Steve Allen, until Allen left the show in 1957 to be replaced by Jack Paar (and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses“). It became something of a personal theme song for him, being used as the opening to his other talk/variety shows, as well as during the opening of both the CBS and syndicated versions of I’ve Got a Secret during his time as host.

Steve Allen Tonight ShowSteve Lawrence, Steve Allen and Eydie Gorme on The Tonight Show (NBC, 1956-60) in one incredible tracking shot at the Burbank Studios. Available here on my YT channel.

EXTRA! Bobby Darin, a cool cat as ever there was, sings “This Could Be the Start” on his own TV show circa 1973; audio here.

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My First Music: “Donkey Serenade” Sung by Allan Jones in The Firefly (MGM, 1937)

Another MGM musical, pre-Freed Unit. Music by Bob Wright, Chet Forrest and Herbert Stothart (adapted from “Chanson” by Rudolf Friml); lyrics by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest, who would go on to adapt the music of Rimsky-Korsakov for the 1953 Broadway musical Kismet.

Two years earlier Allan Jones made a big splash as Kitty Carlisle‘s tenor squeeze in the Marx Brothers romp A Night At the Opera. Here he is in a clip on my YT channel movie-romancing a reluctant Jeanette MacDonald, who was smack in the middle of a fraught but passionate affair with a baritone with a thrilling voice and a black temper—Nelson Eddy, who, upon learning that Jones was putting the real-life moves on MacDonald, crashed the cast party of Firefly, collared Jones and beat him to a bloody pulp. Now that’s love.

Donkey Serenade.jpegPlayed the violin part in this in my junior high school orchestra. Liked it more than Bach. Above: “Donkey Serenade” by Oscar-winning MGM musical director, Herbert Stothart. Stothart, recently deceased, was paid tribute to by incoming MGM musical director Johnny Green in his 1954 MGM Jubilee Overture, the signature tune of my beloved John Wilson and his Orchestra.

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My First Music: “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen” Cantata 51 by Johann Sebastian Bach

I was 17 and my voice was not going to get me to the Met, but I enjoyed singing to the tiny group that gathered on Friday afternoons in Room 204 of Northrup Auditorium at the U in Minneapolis. The month my boyfriend Jesse got out of the army (May 1972, just before he joined the Black Panthers) my teacher lent me an album of Teresa Stich-Randall and I picked out this number to do. It’s not a hard piece to learn but whoa, that breath control… That I managed to make it to the very end with some grace is due to Bach’s blessing to singers—all that forward motion impels you. But the effort was worth it. What a high!

Johann Sebastian Bach

Bach composed BWV 51 during a period when he composed church cantatas only irregularly, some of them to complete his earlier cycles. Both the soprano part, which covers two octaves and requires a high C, and the solo trumpet part, which at times trades melodic lines with the soprano on an equal basis, are extremely virtuosic. The cantata is one of only four sacred cantatas that Bach wrote for a solo soprano. The first aria, “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen” (“Exult in God in every land”), is in da capo form, with extended coloraturas. The theme, with a beginning in a triad fanfare, is well suited to the trumpet. It is first developed in a ritornello of the orchestra and then constantly worked in the soprano part. At least, that’s what I remember.

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