No Song is Safe From Us

No Song Is Safe From Us - The NYFOS Blog
 |  Michael Barrett

It’s really summer now. When August first rolls around, the end of summer is in sight. But, we still have a delicious month left before the kids (and many of the grown ups) go back to school, and back to their quotidian routines. But since we have a month, this week will be devoted to my personal musical associations with summer. I have lots, so this will be a wide ranging selection of songs.




 |  Paul Gruber

Soon after Samuel Barber was commissioned by soprano Eleanor Steber to compose a work for her, he stumbled upon a long prose poem by James Agee, published in The Partisan Review. “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” was a deceptively simple piece that, as its author later said, expressed “a child’s feeling of loneliness, wonder, and lack of identity in that marginal world between twilight and sleep.”




 |  Paul Gruber

Lena Horne developed into one of America’s most unique singers, but she didn’t start out that way. From her Cotton Club debut (at the age of 16) through her galley years as one of MGM’s first black stars, Horne was required to be glamorous and unexpressive, a sort of cocoa Dinah Shore. A tough childhood and unrelenting racism also contributed to her desire to repress her feelings in performance, and her refusal to play either servants or prostitutes shortened her Hollywood career. With the help of her second husband, the arranger Lenny Hayton, she eventually developed a kind of toughness in her performances, which became another way to protect her from her emotions and isolate her from her audiences.




 |  Paul Gruber

Shortly after the 1940 Nazi invasion of France, Francis Poulenc was asked to write incidental music for a light drama by Jean Anouilh, Léocadia. It starred the celebrated French actress and singer Yvonne Printemps, and Poulenc took advantage of her presence in the cast to add to his instrumental score a “valse chantée”, called “Les Chemins de l’Amour.”




 |  Paul Gruber

When Mary Martin died in 1990, the headline of her New York Times obituary called her “the first lady of musicals.” Probably now unknown by anyone younger than 40, Martin was, in her time, one of the most famous performers in the United States, and the creator of two classic Broadway musical roles (Nellie in “South Pacific” and Maria in “The Sound of Music”). But her fame was enhanced by her characterization of Peter Pan, in a musical version that she performed on Broadway in 1954, before televising it a number of times. It’s safe to say that nearly every American child of the 1950s and 60s knew that Peter Pan flew, crowed, and was played by an exuberant lady who, like her character, never grew old.




 |  Paul Gruber

Ella Fitzgerald sang the way the rest of us breathe. Her vocal production, phrasing, diction and interpretive choices were so natural and effortless that it’s easy to take her work for granted. A natural talent who had little if any formal musical training, she was blessed with a seamless voice of great beauty, and an instinctive ability to get to the core of both the music and the lyrics of every song she sang.




 |  Amy Burton

Henry Purcell’s Evening Hymn has always moved me to tears, even though I am more of a “this world” person in my own spirituality. Perhaps because of that, or in spite of it, this song touches me deeply, as it takes us through the last thoughts of a person who is closing the door on a life well-lived. What I find so extraordinary is the dramatic arc of this song, and how Purcell manages to build it atop the repetitive structure of a ground bass line.




 |  Amy Burton

I’m one lucky singer to be married to such a gifted song composer as John Musto, so I hope you’ll indulge me as I include one of his songs for this blog.  Choosing one Musto song out of so many feels a bit like Sophie’s choice.  I love them all. But…there is one song that […]




 |  Amy Burton

Having escaped the Nazi takeover of the German government, Kurt Weill found himself in Paris in 1933, trying to get a foothold in a new artistic landscape. His reputation there was solid, though based mostly on the 1930 French film and stage versions of The Threepenny Opera (L’Opéra de quat’sou), which had been popular. Still, at thirty-four, Kurt Weill was essentially starting over. “[Weill] arrived in Paris with very little beyond his good name” says Brecht and Weill scholar Pamela Katz, author of The Partnership. Luckily, he met cabaret and film star Lys Gauty, who commissioned two songs from him: Complainte de la Seine, and this one.