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The Beatles: Good Night

From Ellie Gisler Murphy, Caramoor’s Senior Artist Planning Manager:

Every year, we are asked to contribute to the great NYFOS Song of the Day blog, and each time, I am moved by something in my own life. This time around, there’s nothing more prominent in my life than my literal stomach, which is currently housing a child who will make an appearance imminently (baby is due March 7th !). I am incredibly sad to miss this year’s Vocal Rising Stars at Caramoor, which always brings me back to my roots in classical song, but everyone should take comfort in knowing that our sweet little one is being born into a family of musicians and we will sing to her from the moment she is born. This time, I chose two songs that will perhaps always remind me of her and will be sung to her, no matter who she turns out to be.

I grew up in a household full of music. Both my parents are talented amateur musicians and compulsive singers – you have to find yourself taking care to not say any sing-able phrase aloud lest the whole family breaks into song mid conversation – even a cheerful “Good Morning” will either give you Garland and Rooney or, perhaps more often from my flower child mother, “Good Morning Starshine” from Hair. “Goodnight”, on the other hand, is eternally reserved for the Beatles. Written by John Lennon for his five-year-old son Julian and sung by the dear, underrated Ringo Starr (over very simple piano in this early take, though the final version arranged by George Martin was orchestrated per John Lennon’s wishes).

Caramoor’s Senior Artistic Planning Manager, Ellie Gisler Murphy is celebrating five years
working in programming and production in the Artistic department at Caramoor. Ms. Murphy
received her BM in Classical Vocal Performance at the University of Connecticut before
pursuing artistic administration professionally. She worked at the Metropolitan Opera,
Glimmerglass and Castleton Opera Festivals, and Columbia Artists before finding her home at
Caramoor where she enjoys the diversity and innovation of Caramoor’s multi-disciplinary
programming.

John Lennon: Imagine

We have come to Day Three. Hump Day. To get us over the hump, I must offer you John Lennon’s “Imagine”. I sang this, barefoot, at one of my high school talent shows. Friends of my father, who live in the tiny town I’m from, still remember that performance. Or, at least one of them does. We need this song. Let’s all sing it together. But first, click on that youtube link and let’s listen to the master’s footsteps walking through fog with the woman he loves before he sings his song in a way that guts me, Every. Time. “Imagine all the people livin’ life in peace! […] I wonder if you can…”

Imagine
John Lennon (+ Yoko)

Song of the Day: December 1

Paul-Appleby1-PhotoCredit-Frances-Marshall-500x330This week we welcome Schubert/Beatles cast member and longtime friend of NYFOS Paul Appleby to Song of the Day!  You can hear him with NYFOS on Tuesday, December 8th at Merkin Concert Hall (Get tickets here).  And don’t miss his solo recital at Carnegie Hall on March 16, 2016 (tickets here)!

from Paul Appleby:

Of all the Beatles songs on NYFOS’s Schubert and Beatles program, John Lennon’s “Julia” is the one that I was most eager to program and most dubious about working in the context of a song recital.  There is something about the chord progression that I could see working à la Schubert, but I was concerned that the best and only worthy version of the song is John’s haunting solo performance of it on the White Album. Thanks to the genius of Steve Blier and Charles Yang we have come up with my favorite Beatles arrangement of the concert. I was drawn to the aspects of the song that speak to so many (a million Beatles fans can’t be wrong, or something like that) but felt somewhat invasive and larcenous to appropriate such a personal song. But in the end, I feel that the manner in which we will perform it honors Lennon’s song and his voice but also seeks to illustrate the universal and immutably human slipstream that this tune glides along.  

“Julia” has always had a powerful effect on me, but I hadn’t really understood why until I became a parent. The song is dedicated to John Lennon’s mother who was killed by a drunk driver walking home one night when John was 17. This knowledge is especially heartbreaking in the context of their history—I imagine John Lennon had a rare appreciation of his relationship with his mother because, as he said, “I lost her twice.”  The mystical colors of the song’s poetry and atmosphere—simple and concise as they are—go deep into the profound intimacy of the relationship between mother and child. It articulates something about how that relationship affects us children everyday of our lives. But he also gives poetic voice to how we recreate the intimacy we first learn with our parents later in life with our spouses. I know this sounds weird and gross, but it’s our nature, man, and it’s beautiful. Somehow this little song manages to express something mysterious and complex about being a child, a parent, AND a spouse in a few two-line verses and a bridge.

But this is what great songwriters do. They take their own (often traumatic and tortured) lives and craft from their unique personal experience words and music that are specific enough to be authentic and broad enough to resonate with the masses. The Beatles were the songwriters who brought this particular genius—seen previously in the likes of Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, and Cole Porter, etc…if you’re reading this blog you know who I mean—to rock’n’roll and in turn elevated the expressive possibilities of the form beyond its generic limitations.

The Beatles also managed to achieve these artistic heights just as the idea of mass global media was approaching maturity. It was never just about the songs with John, Paul, George, and Ringo, it was about their haircuts and their charm and talent and how they became signifiers of an entire culture in upheaval. It still is about ALL of those things (“as it was in the beginning” and so forth). As a result, we Beatles fans develop something like a personal relationship with them (maybe not bigger than Jesus, but you get the point) and this feeling enriches our experience of their songs.  But I do believe (credo might be a little strong) that it does all start with the songs. The songs draw us in again and again, and because a songwriter like John was brave enough to share a song like “Julia” with the world, the love of the song leads us to learn about John and the story of his mother and of his marriage to Yoko which leads us back to the song—a virtuous song cycle, if you will pardon the word play.

I bother to describe this cycle because I experience Schubert and his songs in the same way. The songs draw me in and their genius and beauty compel me to understand their creator better. We will never know as much about Schubert, biographically speaking, as we do about John Lennon (with him predating global mass media and whatnot), and yet I still find myself seeking and finding a kind of personal relationship with Franz Peter all the same. I end up imagining details of Schubert’s life that are almost certainly inaccurate, and yet feel real enough to me as I spend time with his songs. My next blog post will describe an example of how that works in my mind and how it influences me as a performer. But for now I will leave you with the song in question for today’s post.

I assume you are all exceedingly familiar with the original recording of Julia so I won’t bother posting it here. Instead I am sharing this performance of the song by John and Yoko’s son, Sean Lennon. Sean isn’t much of a singer, but it is nonetheless moving to hear him sing a song written by his father dedicated to his mother and maternal grandmother.  And the montage of images on the screen behind him during the performance is cool too:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHsdvMfvkWY

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