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Irving Berlin: Always

I might have given myself away yesterday with my ringing endorsement of Camelot but in case there’s any mystery at all left to me, let’s blow the lid clear off this puppy, shall we? I’m 27 years in age but my sensibilities and musical tastes are proud AARP card-carrying members. Now that everything’s out there in the open, how’s about we have a Berlin ballad?

I can’t exactly remember when I first had heard this song, or most specifically this arrangement of this song, but it was likely in college while I was busy trying to shape-shift into Kelli O’Hara, as every soprano in a pastel A-line audition dress with nude character shoes is wont to do. That I ended up absolutely falling in love with this simply perfect song was just gravy. 

Berlin had written this as a wedding gift to Roman Catholic socialite, Ellin MacKay, to whom he was married for 62 years until her passing at age 88. Upon learning that his daughter had married a Jewish man, her father reportedly disowned her, leaving them to live an abundant life in love and art, and evermore the champions of one another. For all of the accolades for the Mister, the Missus was also accomplished as a writer and member of Manhattan high society, at one time saying “[m]odern girls are conscious of their identity and they marry whom they choose, satisfied to satisfy themselves”. Yes, it surely could be said that she knew how to pick a guy, but hat tip to this strong female lead!  

Their love, as this song so beautifully shows, was sentimental, profound, and enduring. The interplay between music and lyrics seen here is an artful example of partnership at its finest, with the line, a waltz with gentle, steady movement, never once presuming to upstage the text, which remains, to my mind, some of the most beautiful to be set in this perfect era for the Great American Songbook. A note to any future husband of mine should he ever write a song for me: stick with this standard – you can’t beat perfection. 

A couple of favorite aspects: 1) the bluesy violin voicing in this arrangement is so perfect – you’ve got the metronomic structure of the waltz with a hazier, more lilting character to it. And of course last but most certainly not least, 2) Kelli O’Hara’s vocals are spun gold on this track – so bell-like and delicate, giving a vocally present but nevertheless beautifully intimate life to the text, a bit as if it’s too private to be spoken above a whisper between lover and beloved. Take a look below and swoon away. Happy Berlin Ballad Tuesday and very happy listening to you! Tomorrow will see us away into the future for some Sara Bareilles. Meet you back here then!

Dreams will all come true,
growing old with you,
and time will fly,
caring each day more
than the day before,
till spring rolls by.
Then when the springtime has gone,
Then will my love linger on.

I’ll be loving you, oh Always
With a love that’s true Always.
When the things you’ve planned
Need a helping hand,
I will understand Always.

Always.

Days may not be fair Always,
That’s when I’ll be there Always.
Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year,
But Always.

Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year,
But Always.

New York Festival of Song • One Penn Plaza • #6108 • New York, NY 10119 • 646-230-8380 • info@nyfos.org