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Richard Strauss: Beim Schlafengehen

With this final Song of the Day, I want to return to my deepest musical roots, and I have been agonizing about this selection, which could have been of any of the great classical composers. Mozart would have been an obvious choice, since his music has followed me throughout my personal and a musical life. There has not been a season in my career where I have not sung Mozart, and I am happy to get to sing Despina with Pittsburgh Opera this fall, having enjoyed a turn with Fiordiligi earlier this year at Florida Grand.

In the end, it is Richard Strauss’ music which evokes the most vivid memories of my childhood in a bucolic Swabian village, of picnics in the woods and weekend trips hiking in the Alps, of listening to LPs of DAPHNE and FOUR LAST SONGS after dinner. My octogenarian father, still in Germany and still a Strauss fanatic, runs deep through this music for me, and explains the sense of longing and happiness I get upon hearing this music.

Gundula Janowitz sang Strauss with a simplicity and honesty that seems to have been lost in most modern interpretations. I remember listening to this recording while reclining on our textured olive green living room carpet at the age of 6 or 7, and hearing it again now, I realize that while olive carpets go out of style, authentic singing is timeless.

Repost from July 17, 2015

Sarah Vaughan sings “Thanks for the Memory”

Sarah Vaughan’s voice became one of the objects of my jazz obsession in college, where I was spending far more time than was probably good for me singing jazz in an a capella group called Redhot & Blue.  (The arrangements were great. Don’t judge.)  With the high musical standards of this group (no, really!), I learned how to scat, bend a phrase, sit on the back side of a beat and speak my heart on pitch — you know, SING. On occasion, I would lose my words in the middle of “Night in Tunisia” or some other song (English has always been the most difficult language for me to memorize!), so I would be faced with the choice of stumbling or trying to scat my way out of it. This rendition of “Thanks for the Memory” bears witness to the fact that even the greatest of the great can get blocked on the words. (Ironic, given the title of the song.) She restarts the song a few times, and then lets loose at the end in a brilliant and rare Sarah scat, where she mimics Ella and laughs at herself. I think any musician who has to grapple with memorization can sympathize with her struggle and admire her genius.

Repost from July 16, 2015

Manual de Falla: Nana

When a singer welcomes a child into the family, there are many nights of baby-rocking that put to practical use the collection of lullabies learned for the recital stage. De Falla’s “Nana” was a song I had performed only once as a student at Tanglewood Music Center, but it reemerged from my long-term memory early on in the sleep-deprived search for good lullabies for our daughter. Unlike some songs that come and go, “Nana” has stuck around for nine years as a staple of the bedtime routine. My daughter now can sing it to me, with an uber-Spanish flair. De los Angeles floors me with her singing of this simple-sounding but devilishly difficult little song every time.

Repost from July 15, 2015

Stephen Sondheim: Send in the Clowns

After discovering American popular music later in my childhood, my mind was also blown at the discovery of musical theater, which was sort of like the opera I had grown up with in Germany, but just so deliciously American.  As a twelve-year-old, having lost my German accent and gained an American musical sensibility, I enrolled in a musical theater class in Columbus, OH, where my mother and I were living at the time.  My earliest MT addictions were Bernstein and Sondheim, and my West Side Story and Sweeney Todd recordings were worn down to nubs.  One of Sondheim’s most famous songs, “Send in the Clowns” from LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC puzzled me for years — so much so that I passed it off long ago as one of those over-done MT numbers.  It was not until I heard the following rendition by the tremendous actress Dame Judy Dench three years ago, that I suddenly heard the song anew with the understanding of life experience.  Tears sprang to my eyes immediately then, as they still do today, upon hearing her rendition.

Repost from July 14, 2015

Sippie Wallace: Women Be Wise

I arrived in the U.S. at nearly nine years old, speaking very little English and having no idea that there was anything to music beyond the classical composers to whom I had been exposed by my parents.  I had cut my teeth on Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Richard Strauss, and Wagner. Imagine how my mind was blown, hearing American Rock ‘n’ Roll for the first time…jazz…and blues.  I felt an immediate and visceral connection to this new-to-me musical language in a way which rooted me to my American heritage just as my German upbringing connected me to Mozart and Richard Strauss.  My love of this “lesser” music bewildered and frustrated my mother, who to this day prides herself on not knowing a Beatles song if it hit her in the face (and to being the only person on the face of the planet who CAN actually “eat just one” Lays potato chip — but I digress). What irony that I am slated to participate in an exciting and visionary NYFOS program of Schubert and Beatles songs in December!  What’s next, Clara Schumann juxtaposed with Joni Mitchell?  It’s a world gone mad, Mom.

Sippie Wallace was a singer whose work I got to know through her duet of “Women Be Wise” with Bonnie Raitt on a now well-worn CD called “The Bonnie Raitt Collection.”  I still remember the day a college friend (director Alex Lippard) brought the song to my dorm room. My world shifted upon hearing the blues laid down simply, with grace, hurt, and humor, and I have been a fan of both singers ever since.  Wallace was one of Raitt’s mentors early on, so I was tempted to post the duet with Raitt, where an aged Sippie Wallace is still singing up a storm and interjecting on the off-verse with her emphatic “yeah”. I adore Sippie’s knock-out live solo performance too much, however, not to put it as my first selection for the NYFOS Song of the Day. In my mind, she is truly the Queen of the Blues.

Repost from July 13, 2015

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