My First Music: “My Mother Bids Me Bind My Hair” by Joseph Haydn, Sung by Joan Sutherland with Richard Bonynge at the Piano, 1970

Smile as you will at this mincing little ditty but it got me a medal at the Tri-State Vocal Competition of 1969 when I was fourteen. Go Minnesota!

Joan Sutherland Richard Bonynge.jpgAustralian-born conductor Richard Bonynge and soprano Joan Sutherland; they married in 1962.


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My First Music: Geraldo Among the Filipinos, 1963

God, Danny Sibolboro was such a weenie. Taken December 1963 at one of the many, many dances of the Moveable Filipino Club, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Geraldo was playing. Filipinos love Geraldo.

Cantara Dancing with Danny Sibolboro

Hit the Road to Dreamland
Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer (1943)
Shall We Dance?
Big Band Arrangements of Geraldo
John Wilson Orchestra
John Wilson, conductor
Vocalion, 2002



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My First Music: Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem for My Brilliant English Conductor John Wilson on His 49th Birthday

25 May No sharing the spotlight with my dad for your coincidental birthdays this year, John mi vida. And as promised in my posting three weeks ago, “A Sexy NYC Memory to Celebrate the 3rd Anniversary of Falling in Love with Conductor John Wilson; Plus the BBCSO Doing Elgar’s Bach Fantasia; and Theatre of Blood (United Artists, 1973) Complete”, here’s that Britten piece.

War RequiemEd Lyon tenor, Benjamin Appl baritone, and Susanne Bernhard soprano are the soloists. The Choir of Hanover and the Liverpool Cathedral Choir round out the voices. Orchestra is the NDR Radiophilharmonie, Andrew Manze is the conductor. 2018. Above: War Requiem, written in 1962 by Benjamin Britten.


I sang in the chorus of War Requiem around the time you were going on 1. It was the last concert of the Minnesota Orchestra’s ’72-73 season in Minneapolis; guest conductor was Kurt Adler of the Metropolitan Opera. (Don’t remember the soloists.) It was the greatest musical experience of my life. I know the Decca recording is out there somewhere, but the broadcast above from Radio Hanover is the closest I’ve found to the feeling I got being in the middle of all that gorgeous sound…

Which brings me to address yet another one of those sundry feelings I have about you, and have had about you, lo these several years: besides tenderness, gratitude, annoyance, and raging lust, just a trace of envy that you ascend to such an exquisite sonic plane so often…

But the envy goes when you bring it on home to us, which you always do. And then I’m filled with the pure joy of loving you.


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25 May, 2020—Two Birthdays: My Dad’s 115th and My Beloved English Conductor John Wilson’s 48th

My father, who would be 115 years old in 3 days, went to the movies with me only a couple of times. The first was for Taras Bulba (United Artists, 1962). I remember him getting a particular kick out of the ride of the Cossacks scene, thrilling Franz Waxman music and all.

The second time was for Tora! Tora! Tora! (20th Century Fox, 1970). The movie house in Columbia Heights, just over the city line from Northeast Minneapolis, was within walking distance, I walked it all the time, and could still get in for 50 cents because at 15 I still looked 12. For some reason my father ended up not only driving me the few blocks, but after I’d found my seat and the lights went down I was astonished to notice him come in and sit down beside me.

“Dad, what are you doing here?” I whispered loudly. “You know, the Japs win in this.”

“Not for long,” he answered cheerfully, which is about as close as anyone in our family got to talking about the 7 December 1941 attacks and the general brutality my mother, then a teenager in Bangar in the province of La Union, had to face in an occupied country.

Bangar in those days was rather like Nouvion in ‘Allo ‘Allo—a little town situated a ways from the capital but near the sea, a hotbed of resistance. When you read about Bangar here, just remember: that kid who escaped, which resulted in occupying troops burning down the place, was one of my cousins. When the guards marched him to town to be executed, his family, through looks and gestures from a distance, pretty much gave him the word that they expected him to “take one for the team” i.e. let himself be shot; but at the last moment, as family legend goes, he grabbed the officer’s sword and in the confusion was able to get away into the forest. And so as feared came the reprisals.

A shadow still hangs over the de la Peña family.

Fil-Am 1941Taken at a banquet of an old Filipino-American association my dad was part of (that’s him under the picture on the right; keep forgetting he still had hair before I was born), one of about a hundred around at the time. Note the date: only a couple of weeks before Pearl Harbor. Note also the Philippine flag on the wall. The Philippines wasn’t yet a sovereign nation but a Commonwealth and didn’t achieve independence till 1946.

Meanwhile in California my dad, who had come to the States a young man in 1927, was engaged to a woman from St Louis he eventually COULD NOT MARRY because—are you ahead of me on this?—HE WASN’T WHITE!!! Yes! The MISCENEGATION LAW of the State of California—which by the way was NOT REPEALED UNTIL 1962—prohibited them and God knows how many other California couples from legally joining, forcing them to travel to other states where they could. Recently read this happened to that fine actor Dean Jagger (here seen with Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby in White Christmas, 1954 Paramount) and his Chinese-American fiancee in the early 50s and I’m curious to hear other people’s stories.

How my dad, residing at last in Minneapolis, eventually found and married my mother in Manila is another story, and it’s a doozy. I’ll tell it on their 70th wedding anniversary next year.

Now to my beloved John Wilson, who was born the day of my father’s final birthday, in 1972. John, I’m not saying we’re psychically linked, but about a month ago in the middle of defrosting the refrigerator I think I got a weird emotional flash from you where you were being right annoyed over some flap over a booking… I got the impression it might’ve been for The John Wilson Orchestra. [UPDATE: It wasn’t, it was the Sinfonia of London. 4 September 2021.] You were waiting for some kind of answer re your orchestra, whichever one it was, and not getting it, and I actually felt your annoyance… As I say, it was weird, like listening in on a party line…

That’s all I could make of it. But it’s enough to make me want to give you something special for your birthday. So…I’ve tried this only once, with an old boyfriend, and I think because I was really, really into him it worked. On the actual day of your birthday, John, I’m going to try to send you an energy shot. [UPDATE: Just did it. Think I got through. 25 May 2020 2AM UK time.] Until then, Happy Birthday, light of my life, fire of my loins. And if you and I ever meet up, tell me if it worked.


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My First Music: On Conductor John Wilson and His Thing About Percussion, Plus Emmanuel Chabrier’s “España” (1883), John’s New Recording from Chandos

I thought it was important to put in this posting’s title the date in which the self-taught French composer Emmanuel Chabrier wrote this enduringly scrumptious piece, the orchestration sounding more like something post-WWI. Yet it was composed during the height of La Belle Epoque. This was the last piece (a reduction, of course) I ever played on the violin in my junior high school orchestra, before switching a couple years later, at 16, to Voice at the University of Minnesota.

As for my beloved John’s own especial sensitivity to percussion: Listening to and viewing John conduct the RAM student orchestra last Friday in Tchaikovsky’s 6th—in particular watching John’s very visible reaction to the cymbals in the third movement—gave me some insight into his musical values, which never fail to impress me. I understood the kind of sound he was trying to bring out from that young cymbalist and, had it worked, would indeed have sounded sooo nifty, it would have been John Wilson Orchestra nifty, but alas…

(The sound aspired to, incidentally, was that “snap” I heard the JWO achieve in Beyond the Sea about 16 years ago.)

Lastly, a word about the strings in the fourth movement. Yup, there was that “John Wilson Orchestra shimmer”, that famous wrist vibrato anyone who’s ever picked up a fiddle recognizes and has to have come to terms with fairly early in training. We used to wonder if it made our playing actually sound better, and it depends. The Russians and Mittel Europeans used it a lot a hundred years ago. Some call this type of playing now “period playing”. My old boss, Rouben Mamoulian, called this style of playing “crying violins”. He claimed it was his idea to use it in the musical Love Me Tonight, in the “Isn’t It Romantic” sequence.

John Wilson Royal Academy 2020 3NOTES for Escales (Chandos, 2020) can be found here.


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My First Music: Al Bowlly Sings Ray Noble’s “Goodnight, Sweetheart” in “City on the Edge of Forever” on the Original TV Show Star Trek (NBC, 1967)

The traditional closing number for any formal dance (the orchestra played this at every Rizal Day dance I ever attended in Minneapolis as a girl), the tender song “Goodnight, Sweetheart” was written in 1931 by the English composing team of Ray Noble, Jimmy Campbell and Reg Connelly. In the recording used in Star Trek it was played by the Ray Noble Orchestra and sung by Al Bowlly, that darkly good-looking singer who, at the height of WWII, was found in the rubble of his London flat after a blitz attack, dead, but without a mark on his handsome face.

City on the Edge of Forever
Above Joan Collins and William Shatner in this memorable final episode of the first season, 1967: “Goodnight, Sweetheart” sung by Al Bowlly.


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Bradley Creswick, Leader of the Royal Northern Sinfonia, Discusses Vaughan Williams’s “The Lark Ascending”

This is the group my beloved John Wilson wished a happy birthday to, and it’s a truly worthwhile one: The Royal Northern Sinfonia has an outstanding record in community outreach in the northeast of England. Plus they play from an exquisitely good repertoire. It’s pleasing to think of my John with musical memories like these. I hope he gets as much pleasure from them as I do remembering the Minnesota Orchestra when I was a teenager in Minneapolis during the Vietnam War era.

Royal Northern Sinfonia Leader Bradley CreswickBradley Creswick at the upstairs hall at The Sage, the Royal Northern Sinfonia’s permanent home in Gateshead, on the south side of the river from Newcastle. That’s the Tyne and the Tyne Bridge out the window.

Royal Northern Sinfonia is a British chamber orchestra, founded in Newcastle upon Tyne and currently based in Gateshead. For the first 46 years of its history, the orchestra gave the bulk of its concerts at the Newcastle City Hall. Since 2004, the orchestra has been resident at The Sage, Gateshead. In June 2013 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the title “Royal” on the orchestra, formally naming it the Royal Northern Sinfonia.

The vid here (screenshot above) doesn’t have the entire Vaughan Williams, so here’s my Tyneside lad conducting this exquisite piece:

The Lark Ascending”
Made in Britain, album
Ralph Vaughan Williams, composer
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
John Wilson, conductor
bit.ly/smallwritingAvie Records, 2011


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My First Music: In Praise of My First Record Stash—6 Great American Songbook Songs Co-written by Billy Rose (1899-1966)

I got my first record collection when I was 3 1/2. We had just moved into a little bungalow in Northeast Minneapolis and the previous owners had left a stack of old, old 45s and 78s—Patti Page, Rosemary Clooney, Nelson Eddy, Rudy Vallee etc etc which my mother, heaven bless her, let me keep for myself to play on my kiddie phonograph. This, friends, was my first true introduction to The Great American Songbook. But wasn’t until I started working at ASCAP (at 18) where I had to learn the names of the melody and lyric writers the name “Billy Rose” came popping up (year is date of recording):

Rudy Vallee Would You Like to Take a WalkAbove: Would You Like to Take a Walk? by Harry Warren, Mort Dixon, and Billy Rose, sung by Rudy Vallee.


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Directed by My Old Boss, Rouben Mamoulian: Greta Garbo and Elizabeth Young in Queen Christina (Paramount, 1933) Share a Birthday Kiss Just for My Dear Roanne

5 August 2018. See you soon, my angel.

Garbo Kisses Ebba


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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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