Shostakovich’s Symphony No 1 and the Japanese Attack, 7 December 1941

Serge Koussevitsky, Leonard Bernstein’s mentor, was on the podium conducting the first symphony by the “new young Soviet composer” Dmitri Shostakovich in the CBS radio Sunday afternoon broadcast of the New York Philharmonic when, in the middle of the first movement, none other than famed NY correspondent John Charles Daly broke in with the news of Pearl Harbor. The Japs bombed the naval base at Pearl twice that morning, first at 8am Hawaii time, then again at 9:30am…then went on that same day to bomb the fuck out of Singapore, Hong Kong, Burma, Guam…

Dmitri Shostakovich.jpg

Then about 6pm they finally got around to Clark Air Base and the RCA transmitter on the outskirts of Manila

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Silly Sexy Love Songs: “Goodness Gracious Me” Sung by Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren (1960)

Sophia Loren is so incredibly sexy just singing this bouncy love duet she sexes up whoever she sings it with. Even blogy old Sellers…

No idea what musical category to put this under, maybe I’ll make up a new one.

Boom puddy-boom puddy-boom puddy-boom
Puddy-boom puddy-boom puddy boom-boom-boom

Goodness Gracious Me 3Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren in The Millionairess (20th Century Fox, 1960) available here in its entirety. By the way, as an Asian-American, I have no problem with Peter Sellers playing a Muslim Indian doctor—or Anthony Quinn playing a Filipino war hero, for that matter. (If you’re looking for the BBC-TV show Goodness Gracious Me, here’s the pub sketch to start you off…)

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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 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
Joan Collins and William Shatner in this memorable final episode of the first season, 1967.

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“We Can’t Let Those Hands Go Down a Pit”: Jean Heywood (1921 – 2019) in When the Boat Comes In, Episode 7, BBC 1976

Of course it’s not Bella Seaton (Jean Heywood) speaking that line, it’s her daughter, schoolteacher Jessie, pleading the case of an artistic young pupil doomed to work down the coal pit in Gallowshields, a post-WWI fictional town—a composite, I believe, of all the little towns along the River Tyne in the north near Newcastle (you know, that place in the phrase “Selling coals to Newcastle is like selling ice to Eskimos”) including the town where my beloved John Wilson was born and bred, Gateshead*.  Bella is the strong-willed matriarch, as we Yanks would say, of the Seaton family, so she gets a lot of scenes, which is great because I pick up the Geordie accent from Northumberland-born Heywood more easily than from anyone else in the show.

As I might have mentioned a few postings ago I did three of my flicks speaking in a foreign accent: one in French, one in Cuban, and one in Malaysian, which I actually did in Filipino but no one could tell the difference. I like to practice the Geordie accent during off moments, you know, because it reminds me of John, and so it gives me pleasure.

Jean Heywood When the Boat Comes In.jpgAmerican audiences will probably better remember Jean Heywood, who died in September at the age of 98, as the grandmother in another classic story about artistic aspirations in the north, Billy Elliot. There’s neighborhood lad Alex Glasgow singing the show’s theme song “When the Boat Comes In” with the backing of the (now Royal) Northern Sinfonia.

*Low Fell, to be precise.

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My First Music: The Pure Joy of St Trinian’s and The Inn of the Sixth Happiness by Malcolm Arnold

There must be something in the English character that enables the better artists among them to depict situations of unassuming, steady bravery with superior deftness, which is probably why their World War II pictures are better than ours. One of them, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (20th Century Fox, 1958), doesn’t technically qualify either as a UK picture—Fox produced it; or as a WWII picture—it’s set during the Sino-Japanese War of 1938; but it does have unarmed peasantry scattering to the hills under Japanese gunfire, which is a theme that ran through my mother’s life starting with Pearl Harbor and ending in March, 1945 when American troops marched through the rubble-strewn streets of Manila, hunky victorious good guys. My mother’s first teenage romance was with a private in the 1st Cavalry Division named Kelly, come to think of it.

Now, when I refer to better artists of English character I don’t mean the film’s producer, director, writer (American, American, American), or stars (Swedish, Austrian). But it’s because of: one, the true-life heroine the story was based on; two, the location shooting; three, the non-lead casting; and four and most importantly, the music, that I think of Sixth Happiness as an English film. The true-life heroine of the story was English-born, not to mention the film has Snowdonia standing in for the daunting terrain around Yangcheng and pretty near the entire Chinese heritage population of Liverpool standing in for Chinese nationals, with supporting roles portrayed by stalwarts of UK stage and screen. This is the first thing I ever saw Burt Kwouk in.

But to the music. This is not Malcolm Arnold’s finest score—Bridge On the River Kwai (Columbia, 1957) really is a superior composition—but it rates higher with me becauuuse, you guessed it, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness has a gorgeous Love Theme, which you can hear below as the Royal Academy of Music performed the suite back in 2014. You’ll also hear the bright, high fanfare brass that Arnold used in a few other of his movies, River Kwai and the one below, for examples. Also, I’m starting to develop a theory to satisfy myself that certain intervals, played with conviction, are the real sinews of English music: they make for that sound of “rightness”, which you can take one way or another, depending on the mood—or your mood, for that matter. Sixth Happiness has plenty of those.

Inn of the 6th Happiness.jpg

Besides the satisfying fanfare brass, Sixth Happiness shares with the satirical The Belles of St Trinian’s (British Lion, 1954) a bit in the score where there’s a song meant to be sung by children—in Sixth Happiness it’s “This Old Man”; in St Trinian’s it’s the school’s hilarious “Battle Cry”. I’m not posting the lyrics here, so click on the link in red to listen to those cheerfully bloodthirsty oaths. But can you imagine what a liberating tonic this ferocious roar from the depths of The Untamed Female Soul was to a little girl in the Catholic part of Minneapolis, watching this on Saturday matinee TV (a tonic, incidentally, I would not imbibe again till I heard Bernadine Dorhn mouth off a few years later)—?

Here’s the BBCCO doing the St Trinian’s suite at the Proms (Timothy West, narrator) bringing back almost all the familiar, funny-music leitmotifs to smile at, like George Cole’s character’s “Flash Harry”, a loping, rattling kind of tune (although lamentably there’s no sign of Joyce Grenfell’s scurrying “Ruby Gates”) before returning to that ghoulish school pageant march, lyrics I believe provided by Arnold himself.

In contrast, “This Old Man” is meant to be a “found” song, purportedly a children’s counting song, heard on the playground since the 19th century, and in a way that’s right, as the first time I heard “This Old Man” was on the playground—but only because it had become a hit on US radio first in 1959. It’s still impossible for me not to hear “This Old Man” and not think of the climactic scene in Sixth Happiness: the hundred children crossing the Yellow River into safe territory, ragged and exhausted but alive, marching into the unoccupied city to cheering crowds, loudly singing this song. Invariably it brings tears to my eyes, immigrant daughter that I am, and I remember the first time I watched—and heard—this film on TV with my mother, my mind nearly forming the question I never asked her, not then, not ever: “What happened to you in the war, mom?” Because the music was so ravishing, the love story was so satisfying, and my mother just wanted to enjoy an Ingrid Bergman film.

~ for Stephen Tobolowsky

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My First Music: “Dahil Sa Iyo” and My Sentimental Devotion to Bonny John Wilson, Conductor

If you could, my bonny John Wilson, imagine me wearing a Maria Clara (like great-grandmother Aberin below) and you wearing a barong, I’d be singing you this song:

Verse: Sa buhay ko’y labis
Ang hirap at pasakit, ng pusong umiibig
Mandi’y wala ng langit
At ng lumigaya, hinango mo sa dusa
Tanging ikaw sinta, ang aking pag-asa.

Refrain: Dahil sa iyo, nais kong mabuhay
Dahil sa iyo, hanggang mamatay
Dapat mong tantuin, wala ng ibang giliw
Puso ko’y tanungin, ikaw at ikaw rin

Dahil sa iyo, ako’y lumigaya
Pagmamahal, ay alayan ka
Kung tunay man ako, ay alipinin mo
Ang lahat sa buhay ko, dahil sa iyo

Dahil Sa Iyo”
Mike Velarde Jr music (1938), Tom Spinoza, lyrics
Cora and Santos Beloy, vocalists
Tri-World Records (1964)

Great-Grandmother Aberin 1.jpgMy mother’s lola, my great-grandmother, the spitting image of my mother the way Georgiana Drew is the spitting image of Drew Barrymore. I have no documentation for my assertion—my family’s house and possessions were completely destroyed during the Japanese Occupation. But whenever we came across this picture in the media—in an article in Time, for example—my mom would always point her out and tell me the story of how my great-grandfather came over from Ireland and, upon discovering he was meeting fellow Catholics in a sea of Asians, stayed, changed his name from O’Brien to Aberin, and married the local beauty. How the Dutch photographer found her is anybody’s guess.

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