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Laura Kaminsky & Leah Maddrie: Right to Life

This week’s Song of the Day is hosted by Jesse Blumberg and Donna Breitzer, the Artistic Director and Executive Director, respectively, of Five Boroughs Music Festival.

Every five years or so, we at 5BMF like to go all out and commission twenty composers to write a new song each about this wild, wonderful, gritty, overwhelming city we call our home. For our Five Borough Songbook, Vol. II we were delighted to have the amazing Laura Kaminsky on the roster, and she decided to work with her friend and fellow Bronx resident, poet Leah Maddrie. It was such a pleasure to get to know Leah, who came to several performances and participated in our Creator Chats as well.

The result of Laura and Leah’s collaboration was “Right to Life”, an intensely thought-provoking glimpse into some of the less glamorous parts of city life. Through Leah’s words and Laura’s setting, we come upon a seemingly mundane scene on a subway platform, but are soon forced to consider how unavailable the ‘American Dream’ is to so many. These women created a truly stirring work here, and we’re so grateful to have this song in our collection.

Coincidentally (or is it??), the baritone featured here is none other than Jorell Williams, who will appear in Laura’s NYFOS Next show on June 11 (got your tickets yet??).  Thomas Bagwell was the pianist, at the Brooklyn Premiere of our Songbook’s Volume II, a couple years back:

John Wallowitch: Bruce

This week’s Song of the Day is hosted by Jesse Blumberg and Donna Breitzer, the Artistic Director and Executive Director, respectively, of Five Boroughs Music Festival.

A drag song!  There had to be one, and Steve B. sure picked a winner.  Much to my regret, I had never heard of John Wallowitch until Steve introduced me to this hilarious and memorable song.  The sharp-witted Wallowitch and his impeccable rhymes make me grin whenever I recall them.  I also have a special appreciation for the eponymous hero, Bruce, which was also my father’s name.  It’s nearly impossible, albeit incredibly amusing, to imagine my dad in any of the scenarios depicted in these lyrics.

Here’s a clip of John Wallowitch performing “Bruce”

As fabulous as this performance is, however, you really haven’t lived until you’ve seen Steve Blier and Matt Boehler do this song.  I’m in stitches the entire time, EVERY time.  Don’t miss Manning the Canon on June 25th!

Song of the Day: December 11

5BMFThis week’s Song of the Day selections come from the founders of Five Boroughs Music Festival Jesse Blumberg and Donna Breitzer. NYFOS is partnering with 5BMF in January to bring our NYFOS@Juilliard program Harry, Hoagy, and Harold to Flushing Town Hall.  Thanks, Jesse & Donna!

We’ve come to our final SOTD post for this week, and what fun it has been to share just a handful of our favorite NYC-themed songs – especially a couple from our own Five Borough Songbook. For our final song, we’ve gone to one of the most beloved and enduring musical tributes to New York City: Harry Warren’s classic “Lullaby of Broadway”, which won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1936.

Written for the film Gold Diggers of 1935 – which is NOT, surprisingly, about rough-and-tumble prospectors in California, but in fact presents a convoluted storyline involving multiple money-grabbing manipulators – the song has remained popular and has been recorded by the likes of The Andrews Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day, Tony Bennett, Bette Midler, and more.

And of course (SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT), Harry Warren just happens to be one of the composers featured in Harry, Hoagy and Harold, the wonderful NYFOS@Juilliard show that we, 5BMF, have the honor of presenting at Flushing Town Hall on January 17! More info here.

Here’s the original clip of the song from Gold Diggers of 1935, with a very minimalistic and slightly spooky single shot of a face slowly coming into view:

Here what has to be the most chill version of the song ever, performed with ultimate hipness by the Mel-Tones (what, you don’t regularly lounge around your living room with friends, casually crooning out jazzy harmonies??)

And because she’s Donna’s favorite, here’s Doris Day:

Thanks again to NYFOS for letting us take over the blog this week! Signing off with all our best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year!
Jesse Blumberg & Donna Breitzer
Five Boroughs Music Festival

Song of the Day: December 10

5BMFThis week’s Song of the Day selections come from the founders of Five Boroughs Music Festival Jesse Blumberg and Donna Breitzer. NYFOS is partnering with 5BMF in January to bring our NYFOS@Juilliard program Harry, Hoagy, and Harold to Flushing Town Hall.  Welcome, Jesse & Donna!

If thinking about NYC Songs reminds us again of our very own Five Borough Songbook, does that make us narcissists??  Well, sorry… we’ll be taking our leave soon, but before we do…

As we said the other day, it’s almost impossible to choose from our 20 commissioned songs, but we thought we’d share this one for two reasons. First, we know that NYFOS audiences are already familiar with, and likely delighted by, the songwriting of Gabriel Kahane, and his uncanny knack for capturing the feel and mood of a place or city. This song, about his neighborhood in Brooklyn, is no exception.  Second, we wanted to give NYFOS fans a glimpse of the beautiful piano and stage at Flushing Town Hall, where (subtle hint alert!) we’ll be presenting Harry, Hoagy, & Harold on January 17th.

Here are pianist Jocelyn Dueck and mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert Levitt, performing at the Queens Premiere of our Five Borough Songbook, back in November 2011…

Coney Island Avenue
words by Gabriel Kahane 

The Chinese laundry, the Puerto Rican fruit stand,
the probably illegal, definitely sketchy,
Hasidic copy shop.  slash passport office.

The agro fortune teller: boy, lemme read your palm.
the ostensible leper, I know, it’s not funny.
Dunkin’ Donuts!  one of five within a six block jaunt,
six blocks that I often haunt.
Don’t tell me you don’t have a soft spot for their iced coffee.

Coney Island Avenue, trusted and dutiful thoroughfare,
busted and beautiful borough where I live.

The ornery rabbi.  Okay, he’s not a rabbi.
he makes copies of my keys.
at the hardware store that’s never open,
with the clerk who comes up to my knees.

the socialist coffeeshop.  with the nasty vegan cupcakes,
and the underwhelming cappuccino.

Coney Island Avenue, trusted and dutiful thoroughfare,
busted and beautiful borough where I live.

The field where the taxis go to sleep.
My love and I eat dinner on our lawn,
and watch the people pass as evening moves on,
they make their way to Coney Island Avenue,
trusted and dutiful thoroughfare,
busted and beautiful borough where I live.

In related news, there’s a rumor going around that there will be a “Five Borough Songbook, version 2.0” in 5BMF’s upcoming 10th Season.  We can neither confirm nor deny…

Song of the Day: December 9

5BMFThis week’s Song of the Day selections come from the founders of Five Boroughs Music Festival Jesse Blumberg and Donna Breitzer. NYFOS is partnering with 5BMF in January to bring our NYFOS@Juilliard program Harry, Hoagy, and Harold to Flushing Town Hall.  Welcome, Jesse & Donna!

Thinking about 5BMF’s Inaugural program the other day got us all nostalgic, and that, coupled with some of the insanities we’re hearing in politics lately, made us think that we could all use a reminder of the words engraved inside New York Harbor’s Statue of Liberty. Emma Lazarus’ 1883 poem The New Colossus was written for the dedication of the monument, and Lee Hoiby chooses the last few lines for his welcoming and stately setting.

There are many renditions of this song on YouTube, but to us, none more satisfying than that by mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy and pianist Jocelyn Dueck. Under their expressive care, this song opened that first 5BMF concert, and the rest is history. We remember fondly how Paula began by reading Lazarus’ lines not set by Hoiby, and here you can hear the full poem as we heard it that night, both spoken and sung.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Song of the Day: December 8

5BMFThis week’s Song of the Day selections come from the founders of Five Boroughs Music Festival Jesse Blumberg and Donna Breitzer. NYFOS is partnering with 5BMF in January to bring our NYFOS@Juilliard program Harry, Hoagy, and Harold to Flushing Town Hall.  Welcome, Jesse & Donna!

Oh! What a Charming City…

New York City has been a muse for poets and songwriters since the town’s earliest days. There are literally thousands of titles on Wikipedia’s List of songs about New York City, the majority of these dating from the 20th and 21st centuries. But of course, people were writing and singing about the Big Apple well before Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Alicia Keys and Jay Z made it cool. For today’s SOTD, we wanted to go back much further in time, to pre-1900’s New York.

Poking around for really old music is best done in the library, of course, but sometimes the internet does offer up a little gem. In doing a little sleuthing for this blog, we came upon the 19th century ditty “Oh! What a Charming City” by John Allison Gairdner, published in 1831. While we didn’t have as much luck finding a recording, the sheet music (and charming cover artwork) can be viewed online courtesy of Baylor University’s collection of digitized sheet music. The poetry, also by Gairdner, is an earnest ode to NYC:

The ardent, romantic,
The charming god of song,
Cross’s lately th’At-lantic
Nor thought the voy’ge long;
He tripp’d along in shoes of cork,
Singing many a ditty,
But he chang’d his song when he reache’d New York,
To what a charming City.

[CHORUS]
New York! New York!
Oh! what a charming City.
New York! New York!
Oh! what a charming City.

2. In Bowery, in Broadway,
He rambl’d up and down,
Took byway, and oddway,
Resolve to see the town;
And on he went, he sung this song,
“Now, is it not a pity,”
I should have stay’d away so long,
From such a charming City.

3. Here Freedom, and duty,
And truth, and taste remain,
Here honour, and beauty,
And love, and valour reign;
Then hither Freedom’s friends resort,
The grave, the gay, the witty,
For here I’ll henceforth keep my court,
In this delightful City.

We at 5BMF happen to have our own history when it comes to New York City as musical inspiration: In 2011 we commissioned the Five Borough Songbook in honor of our fifth season in 2011-2012. Twenty unique composers each contributed a brand-new song inspired by places, themes and poetry of NYC, resulting in a wonderfully diverse and compelling collection of vocal works.<

Choosing just one of these 20 songs to share here today is like trying to choose a favorite flavor of ice cream (impossible), but Scott Wheeler's "At Home in Staten Island" seems to fit well: the poem, by Charles Mackay, was published in the weekly London periodical All The Year Round in 1869. Wheeler’s setting for soprano and violin draws on Victorian parlor song and older English folk song styles. Here is the track from our Five Borough Songbook album (GPR Records, 2012), performed by the wonderful violinist Harumi Rhodes and the luminous soprano Martha Guth:

My true love clasped me by the hand,
And from our garden alley,
Looked o’er the landscape seamed with sea,
And rich with hill and valley.
And said, “We’ve found a pleasant place
As fair as thine and my land,
A calm abode, a flowery home
In sunny Staten Island.

“Behind us lies the teeming town
With lust of gold grown frantic;
Before us glitters o’er the bay,
The peaceable Atlantic.
Here let us rest, a little while —
Not rich enough to buy land,
And pass a summer well content
In bowery Staten Island.”

“A little while,” I made reply
“A little while — one summer:
For, pleasant though the land may be
To any fresh new comer,
I miss the primrose in the dell,
The blue-bell in the wild wood,
And daisy glinting through the grass,
The comrade of my childhood.

“Give me the throstle on the bough,
The blackbird and the linnet,
Or any bird that sings a song
As if its heart were in it.
And not your birds of gaudier plume,
That you can see a mile hence,
And only need, to be admired,
The priceless charm of silence.

“There’s drone, I grant, of wasps and bees,
And sanguinary hornets,
That blow their trumps as loud and shrill
As regimental cornets.
And all night long the bull-frogs croak
With melancholy crooning,
Like large bass-viols out of gear,
And tortured in the tuning.

“And then those nimble poisonous fiends,
The insatiable mosquitoes
That come in armies noon and night,
To plague, if not to eat us.
The devil well deserves his name,
That sent them to the dry land;
Let us away across the sea,
Far, far from Staten Island!”

“Ah, well!” my true love said and smiled,
“There’s shade to every glory;
There’s no true paradise on earth
Except in song or story.
The place is fair, and while thou’rt here,
Thy land shall still be my land,
And all the Eden earth affords
Be ours in Staten Island.”

Song of the Day: December 7

5BMFThis week’s Song of the Day selections come from the founders of Five Boroughs Music Festival Jesse Blumberg and Donna Breitzer. NYFOS is partnering with 5BMF in January to bring our NYFOS@Juilliard program Harry, Hoagy, and Harold to Flushing Town Hall.  Welcome, Jesse & Donna!

Well, first let us say what a treat it is to be guest-curating this week!  While Five Boroughs Music Festival doesn’t present song programs exclusively, they’ve always been a big part of our chamber music diet. And in that sense, NYFOS has always been a shining beacon to us, with its constantly surprising and thoroughly entertaining programming. We were so proud when our Blier-led Manning the Canon show graduated to the NYFOS Mainstage a few years back. And this season boasts another great moment in our relationship, as we bring the beloved NYFOS@Juilliard program “off-campus” to Flushing Town Hall on January 17th!  (Tickets available here!)

Shameless plug completed, now to the music! In November 2007, we kicked off Five Boroughs Music Festival with inaugural performances in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Naturally, our very first program featured a whole mess of ‘NYC Songs,’ including this Rodgers & Hart classic, in a charming performance by tenor Scott Murphree and pianist Jocelyn Dueck. Those of you who are familiar with 5BMF’s modus operandi might find this first entry surprising, considering what an effort we’re always making to combat ‘Manhattan-centricity’ when it comes to live chamber music performances in NYC. But we of course love that two other boroughs are mentioned in the song almost immediately, and other places all around the city soon follow. (Gentle Yonkers-dwellers, we enjoy that you’re mentioned too, even if you’re not technically residents of the Five Boroughs.)

Here’s a wonderfully endearing version from the 1929 Makers of Melody.  We’ll just leave it here:

And now with all the magical vocalism and style of the legendary Ella Fitzgerald:

Stay tuned for more geographically-informed song selections this week!

Jesse Blumberg & Donna Breather
Five Boroughs Music Festival

Blier’s Blog: November 16, 2011

in maryland on tourWe had a beautiful show last night in Maryland. As always, I want to steal that Gildenhorn Hall at University of Maryland; it’s a perfect place to do song and New York unfortunately doesn’t have anything like it. We had a very good house and they seemed utterly fascinated with the program. Pretty good laughers: superlative listeners.

I have such powerful feelings about Manning the Canon and the four guys in the cast. I’ve known each of them for a while now and I feel as if I’ve watched them step into in their adulthood before my very eyes. We all know each other’s strengths and passions, we are gently aware of each other’s fears and vulnerabilities. I really love those guys with all my heart.

My favorite moment—among many—was the big laugh we got in “You’re the Top” on “You’re Camembert!” I took a little stretch in the tempo so Jesse could really lean into Scott’s armpit and ostentatiously demonstrate his ecstasy to the audience. As I mentioned…I invented that bit of ‘ography. (I am good with an armpit.)

I always wonder if Manning the Canon will work its magic on straight people. Wonder no longer, Steve: it did last night. There were a few enclaves of gay guys (and a few gay women) in the audience but we were not preaching to the choir in Maryland. At the end of the show, two elderly ladies made a beeline for me. “We just wanted to say… that…. was…. AMAZING. I’ve never seen your group before….and that was….one of the most AMAZING evenings of song I ever heard.” Two more satisfied customers, and not the ones I was expecting.

Blier’s Blog: November 10, 2011

No sooner is one concert over than all other projects come flooding in. I had about 8 minutes of calm after In the Memory Palace before reality hit me: A Goyishe Christmas to You! (our December show) and Invitation to the Dance (the Juilliard program, due to hit the boards in January) needed to be finished. And Manning the Canon was just about to go into rehearsal—a revival with one new song and one new cast member, and yikes, I haven’t touched the music in a year.

I’ll skip the ulcer-inducing 12-day interval and cut to the golden present: Goyishe and Invitation are pretty much programmed, and Manning the Canon is falling back into place. The gnarly spots in the music that kicked my ass last time are kicking my ass again, only not as hard. And the guys in that show are a collaborator’s dream: beautiful musicians, and men with the kind of spirits that make you think there might be a god after all. I’ve known Jesse Blumberg for a long time, and I’ve always loved the guy. But at our rehearsal the other day—as we worked up our Britten and Tchaikovsky again—I felt that we’d become one musical entity, one expressive being. We even screwed up at the same time.

Matt Boehler is a force of nature, sort of a benign tsunami; Scott Murphree sings Poulenc and Saint-Saëns exactly the way I hear them in my head—an uncannily intimate experience; and Tim McDevitt, the new guy, already knows the moves for the ensemble pieces better than the guys who created what we call the “‘ography.” He is rapidly taking possession of his solo pieces, which are going to fly high. Since Jesse and Scott haven’t rehearsed together yet, I haven’t yet seen my favorite moment—the ‘ography for the lyric “You’re Camembert!” in Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top.” (That bit is mine. Maybe I shouldn’t be admitting this.)

rehearsal photoCole Porter, “You’re the Top”: You’re an O’Neill drama, You’re Whistler’s mama, You’re Camembert!

Friday night we’re doing a workthrough of the whole concert and then cooking dinner together. The Friday cast dinner is by now a tradition with this show. I haven’t told Tim about the hazing ceremonies we have for new cast members. I’m sure he’ll be fine. He’s young.

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