“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) in When the Boat Comes In (all episodes here) 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 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 BBC conductor 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 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. Above Jean: 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: “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 gran’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 Van Camp found her is anybody’s guess.



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My First Music: “Padanggo Sa Ilaw”, Another Tricky Filipino Dance

I’m not going to talk about the Tinikling here as it brings back unpleasant memories of having my ankles banged with bamboo poles, but I will mention the Pandanggo (from the Spanish word “fandango”). This is very elegant dance where dancers wear not the formal Maria Clara, which is hard to get around in, but the patadyong, which is a simple cotton dress with butterfly sleeves. My aunt Wilhelmina looked very nice doing this dance, with the candles on the backs of her hands and the candle on her head. You try balancing that. I almost started a fire.

Pandanggo Sa Ilaw (Marty McCorkle, 2016)Above “Pandanggo Sa Ilaw” by Visayan resident Marty McCorkle (2016) the title dance to this posting, performed by Juan Silos Jr and his orchestra.

Pandanggo traditionally is danced to rondalla music, which is a sort of serenade played by an ensemble of guitars and mandolins and other stringed instruments. It originated in Spain during the Middle Ages. You can also hear the rondalla sound in Mexican and Central and South American music, which should show that Filipinos are more cultural kin to the Hispanic world than the mainland Asian. But we claim both.


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John Wilson Conducts Oklahoma at the 2017 BBC Proms, Rouben Mamoulian Howls In Protest from His Grave, 2

John my bonny, if we ever sit down someday and have a natter like two old friends I’d tell you how much in common you have with The Old Man, which you’d better take as a compliment, because Rouben Mamoulian was a genius. I didn’t think so when I worked for him, but then I was only 23 and he was 81, and the only movie I knew of his—besides The Mark of Zorro with Basil Rathbone and Tyrone Power, which I remember from TV as a kid—was Queen Christina, the result of cinema art-house hopping in New York in the mid-70s, and which had a special place in my half-lesbian heart on account of The Divine Garbo.

CXG Oklahoma

The most subtle reference ever to Agnes De Mille that was clearly about Agnes De Mille without having to mention her name was on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, season 4 episode 2: “So now they’re randomly doing ballet?” “I guess so, it’s hard to follow.” (Hip-hop follows.) “That’s not even the correct dance language for this piece.” Bay Area-born Vincent Rodriguez III is the hunk in the red neckerchief who plays Josh Chan, heroine Rebecca Bunch’s pinoy love interest. Above: The 2019 Broadway revival version of Oklahoma! re-orchestrated by the estimable Daniel Kluger; vocal coach was Barbara Maier Gustern.


But like I said earlier, I was already familiar with the fact that Mamoulian had directed Carousel and Oklahoma! on Broadway. So when he finally started to chat me up more familiarly, after a few weeks of my just coming in every weekday morning and answering his phone, opening his mail—unpaid bills, media people from all over wanting interviews, a few lines from old friends like Armina Marshall…Paul Horgan…Pamela Mason…Ray Bradbury—balancing his checkbook, reassuring Zayde on the intercom over and over that Henry their handyman hadn’t gone home yet etc etc, and basically fooling around during the many dull spots in the day (which is how I ended up playing the Waltz from Carousel to myself on the actual legendary Richard Rodgers piano), it was easy to follow The Old Man’s train of thought because I already knew a lot about the original production of Oklahoma!

“You know, Agnes…” he started right off the bat one day, and we both immediately understood who he was referring to: Agnes De Mille, the choreographer for the original 1943 production.

I sat up attentively, pen in hand, ready to take dictation. My main duty for Mamoulian was supposed to have been as amanuensis for his memoirs, after all. At least that’s what the temp agency had told me. Although they didn’t say amanuensis.

“No, put your pen down and listen!” he ordered. He was, in the weeks and months to come, going to say that a lot.

So I did. [more later]

Part 1 “The Rodgers Piano” here.
Part 2 “The Eugene O’Neill Story” here.


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My First Music: “Magtanim Ay Di Biro” (“Planting Rice”) Sung by The Dawn

The first song ever taught to me I think when I was five. My mother sang it to me in English, just once, and I pretty much got it. Here’s the Mabuhay Singers doing the somewhat tedious all-English version I remember growing up, and below is the fantastic Filipino post-punk rock group The Dawn doing it in Tagalog.

Amorsolo Planting Rice.jpgFernando Amorsolo y Cueto (1892 – 1972) was a portraitist and painter of rural Philippine landscapes. This is one of his many, many depictions of rice planting and it’s the one I think hung in our house when I was little, next to the shield of bolo knives, the oversized mahogany fork and spoon set, and the pictures of Pope John XXIII and John F Kennedy. If you’re an American-born pinoy, you’ll know what I mean.


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The MGM Jubilee Overture Arranged by Johnny Green, Reconstructed and Conducted by John Wilson, and Played by The John Wilson Orchestra

MGM’s best-known music director arranged this piece in 1954 in commemoration of the studio’s 30th birthday. And since 2004, when my beloved John Wilson and his eponymous orchestra first played this reconstituted medley at the 2,900-seat Royal Festival Hall, it has gone on to become sort of their signature piece, which they’ve played all over the world from Sydney to Berlin. I can’t imagine how John was able to reconstruct the score directly from hearing this lusterless film short, but my darling has the gift of patience and commitment.

John Wilson, the Francois Villon of the PodiumThe MGM Jubilee Overture above John Wilson, the Francois Villon of the podium. Added attraction: Here’s one of those rare moments when John conducted without his baton, which fell out of his grasp but was retrieved seconds later by an alert string player. Berlin, 2016.


Now….right. Because this is turning out to be the second most clicked-on post on my blog (the first most clicked-on being the one about Noli Me Tangere, the Filipino opera based on Jose Rizal’s classic novel) I’ve decided finally to take a few minutes to come back to this posting and add the names of the composers and lyricists as I promised—and bear in mind, I’m doing this pretty much from memory. (I was the night solfeggist at ASCAP, remember?): “Singin’ In the Rain” / Nacio Herb Brown; “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” / Cole Porter; “Broadway Rhythm” / Nacio Herb Brown; “The Last Time I Saw Paris” / Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II; “Temptation” (shades of Tony Martin!) / Nacio Herb Brown, Arthur Freed; “Be My Love” (shades of Mario Lanza!) Nicholas Brodzsky / Sammy Cahn; “The Trolley Song” (with the Judy sound) / Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane; “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” (more Judy sound) / Harry Warren, Johnny Mercer; “Donkey Serenade” / Herbert Stothart, based on Rudolph Friml; and “Over the Rainbow” (the Judy sound of all Judy sounds) / Harold Arlen, EY Harburg.

The last two numbers “Donkey” and “Rainbow” were obvious tributes to Green’s late predecessor as music director, Oscar winner (for The Wizard of Oz score, which John reconstructed by ear), Herbert Stothart.

Deleted: 2 bars plus “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” / Frank Loesser and John, I’d really enjoy a little chat with you regarding, among other things, your fellow musical reconstructor Philip Lane’s comments one of these days…


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Lea Salonga Sings “In One Indescribable Instant” from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend by Rachel Bloom, Jack Dolgen and Adam Schlesinger

Why yes, I am a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fan, and thank you for asking.

Lea Salonga Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.jpeg

Season 1, episode 18, 2016. Lea Salonga, as heroine Rebecca Bunch’s object of romantic desire Josh Chan’s singing-star aunt, sings a lovely but so over the top Disney Princess Song. This is before all hell breaks loose in seasons 2 and 3.


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My 2012 Memoir, A Poet from Hollywood: Love, Insanity, Stephen Gyllenhaal, and the Creative Process

Reprint, originally published 2012. Available free, permanently, for download here from PINY Press; and for online reading at Academia, Issuu, or Scribd.

A Poet from Hollywood small

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Pinoy Alert: The Gold at Olympics 2021 + A Film Trailer You as a Filipino Have Got to See

The Philippines have never won the gold in 97 years until now—consequently, we get to hear The Philippine National Anthem (Julián Felipe-José Palma, 1899; lyrics below) played at the Olympics for the very first time. So I went over to YT to find a good version of the national anthem (which I once used to be able to sing not only in English but Tagalog learned phonetically) and I found THIS on YT and it’s—it’s—well, it’ll make you want to swell with pride if you’re a true Pinoy. Really. It’ll knock your socks off. For all you others: This is a very tuneful, very singable national anthem entitled “Lupang Hinirang” and it’s placed very dramatically and effectively in this short produced by the big broadcast company in the PI.

Lapu-Lapu Beheads MagellanYes, that’s Lapu-Lapu beheading Magellan. You have to understand, we are a romantic but fierce people. Seriously.
[Here’s the audio of the short above]

Bayang magiliw
Perlas ng silanganan
Alab ng puso
Sa dibdib mo’y buhay

Lupang Hinirang
Duyan ka nang magiting
Sa manlulupig
Di ka pasisiil

Sa Dagat at bundok sa simoy
At sa langit mo’y bughaw
May dilag ang tula
At awit sa paglayang minamahal
Ang kislap ng watawat mo’y tagumpay na nagniningning
Ang bituin at araw niya’y kailanpama’y di magdidilim

Lupa ng araw ng luwalhati’t pagsinta
Buhay ay langit sa piling mo
Aming ligaya nang pag
May mang-aapi

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Cantara, 1973

New York. Me at nearly 19, around the time I started booking gigs as a topless dancer to pay for my extra singing lessons. Polaroid shot by boyfriend while he was taking a break putting together my bookcase in my new apartment. That’s a still from Casablanca on the wall. Here’s the famous nude pinup that got me in trouble on FB, the one of Lyle Waggoner, which just came out the previous summer; it’s a little off-screen to the left.)

Cantara Waiting for Bookcase


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“The Sweetest Sounds”, Words and Music by Richard Rodgers, Sung by Paolo Montalban and Brandy, Interpolated Into ABC-TV’s Version of Cinderella, 1997

The sweetest sounds I’ll ever hear
Are still inside my head
The kindest words I’ll ever know
Are waiting to be said

Not my favorite version of all the R&H Cinderellas (this is my favorite version—I mean come on, it’s Julie Andrews) but this one boasts, as I mentioned, the gorgeous pinoy Paolo Montalban singing “The Sweetest Sounds” from No Strings as well as the Queen of Broadway, Bernadette Peters, singing great another interpolated Rodgers song, “Falling in Love with Love“. Nifty score arrangement by Doug Besterman.

Cinderrella 1997

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Antoni Mendezona Sings “Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa” from the Opera Noli Me Tangere

Music by Felipe de Leon, libretto by Guillermo Tolentino. Noli Me Tangere is based on Dr. Jose Rizal’s 1887 classic novel of the same name. It follows the story of Juan Crisóstomo Ibarra y Magsalin, who returns home to the Philippines after pursuing scholarly studies in Europe. He plans to open a school and marry his sweetheart, Maria Clara (where we get the name of the dress I’d love to make and wear again), but Padre Damaso, arch-enemy of the Ibarras, sets out to thwart Crisostomo’s plans, creating the dramatic—and very operatic—storyline of forbidden love, betrayal, and revenge. “Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa” is one of the great soprano mad scenes in opera.

Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa from Noli Me Tangere (Felipe De Leon)

From the 2011 University of the Philippines production. Info on Cebuana coloratura Mendezona can be found at her website here.


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Evelyn Mandac Sings Gustav Mahler’s 2nd “Resurrection” Symphony in C Minor with Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy Conducts, 1970

Mahler’s “Resurrection” was voted the fifth-greatest symphony of all time in a survey of conductors carried out by BBC Music Magazine. (Addendum 31 Jan 2019: I wonder if my beloved conductor John Wilson got to vote.)

evelynmandacAbove Cebuana New York-based soprano Evelyn Mandac (b 1945), who remains one of my role models (listen to her float over the fifth movement), the only Filipino singer ever to play the Met: Mahler’s entire glorious second symphony.

Although now lauded as monuments of vision and creativity, in their time Mahler’s symphonies were occasionally reviled but more often dismissed as a conductor’s egotistical indulgence. A critic of the time called his work “one hour or more of the most painful musical torture” (and that assault was directed toward his lovely pastoral Symphony no. 4!). As late as 1952, a detractor still moaned that “an hour of masochistic aural flagellation, with all of its elephantine forms, fatuous mysticism and screaming hysteria … adds up to a sublimely ridiculous minus-zero.”

The problem wasn’t so much a matter of grasping Mahler’s musical style. As the culmination of the long line of Viennese symphonists, his ideas were firmly rooted in the conservative structures of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Bruckner. Rather, the challenge lay in its emotional premises. As critic Herbert Reid later posited, “Mahler sensed the imminent upheavals that were to shatter the rationality and optimism that had driven Western civilization up to World War I. His symphonies are spiritual quests that reflect a wholly modern ambivalence of joy and pain, faith and doubt, transcendence and perdition. Mahler was way ahead of his time. Only by the 1960s did his private anxieties at last become our own.”

The Resurrection was Mahler’s favorite symphony, which he led on many auspicious occasions, and it had the longest gestation of any of his works. The opening was completed in 1888 as “Totenfeier” (“Funeral Rites”), a stormy symphonic poem to bear the hero of Mahler’s recently-completed First Symphony to his grave, amid torment over the meaning of his life. The middle movements awaited Mahler’s summer vacation of 1893 and reflected his fascination with the same medieval folk poetry which provided the texts for most of his songs.

The first movement is hugely dramatic; according to Mahler’s own program notes it aims to convey nothing less than a search for the meaning of life. The second, representing long-forgotten pleasure, is a gentle, old-fashioned dance of lilting grace, yet challenged by creeping shadows. The third is a grotesque and wickedly sarcastic waltz, shot through with anguished outcries. The fourth is a child’s song, naïve and wistfully introspective.

And then comes the vast finale, which depicts the full terror and glory of a pagan last judgment and resurrection. It begins with a huge crash and progresses through episodes of hushed expectancy, quivering tension, funeral dirges, hopeful fanfares and fevered misgiving, culminating in a triumphant apocalyptic chorale, one of the most glorious and powerful climaxes in all of music. Mahler adds to the awesome wonder with extraordinary instrumental effects, including offstage brass, a massive battery of percussion and ultimately the sheer visceral excitement of the potent sound produced by hundreds of singers and players. ~ Peter Gutmann, Classical Notes


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