The Treble Makers

I’ve always been particularly drawn to excellent student performances, like this one from The Treble Makers (later called Kaleidoscope):

When expectations for a student concert necessarily start lower than for a professional performer, it’s all the more impressive to see a group so entirely excel. I also like Mr. Sandman by the same quartet. I sang in my high school’s choir, and I’m absolutely certain I never attained anywhere near this level of musicality.

Orchestral Comedy

FAILblog this week brought us film of the Upper Austrian Youth Orchestra performing a bit titled Cyber Conductor:

It’s a cute concept, and I suspect is even more demanding on the musicians than it appears. The musical performance is ultimately what’s interesting. I’m reminded of the (even better) Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra, a full hour performance:

Bailey is at once entertaining and legitimately informative about music, and the whole thing is worth seeing. (Give the first few minutes a try; you’ll get hooked.)

The Four Quarters (reprise)

After discovering The Four Quarters earlier this year, I’ve checked in periodically to find new videos on their YouTube channel from time to time. The Canadian a cappella group just recently out of high school covers a delightful and spectacular mix of doo-wop tunes and Broadway favorites, all in four part harmony.

Their new CD, A Pocket Full of Change, became available through Crystal Ball Records just three days ago, and they’ve posted a new (and entirely perfect) arrangement of Mr. Sandman:

I suggest you immediately buy the new CD. For $17.45, how can you not?

Pops Scores!

The Harvard Pops gave a delightful baseball-themed concert tonight, including Boston’s own baseball favorites like Shipping Up to Boston and Sweet Caroline.  “Sporchestra” commentators narrated the event, providing (for example) play-by-play analysis of Beethoven’s 5th symphony:

The brass section has the theme… and now the basses have it… and now nobody has the theme!  The audience can’t find the theme!  Wait… what’s this… he’s introduced a new theme!

Mengruo Yang performed a mesmerizing and technically impressive solo on flute in Fantasie Brillante from Carmen (performed here, perhaps even more impressively, by 7 year-old “Emma“).

Megan Savage narrated the poem Casey at the Bat as Adam Lathram brought it to life.  The Boston Pops had included this poem in their own baseball-themed concert last year, but I honestly liked conductor Allen Feinstein’s original music from tonight’s performance better.

My favorite line of the evening came when Adam Lathram was about to start a rigorous training routine for his upcoming bullfight in a montage set to the music of Rocky:

You’d better get a move on.  You only have 163 measures.

All this begs the question: where were you while all this was going on?

The Four Quarters

I stumbled upon The Four Quarters on YouTube this morning and immediately had to play every video they’ve made.  Among my favorites: Downtown, Lullaby of Broadway, and the “Teenager in Love, Lollipop, Earth Angel, Sh-Boom” medley.

Don’t be surprised when you open the “National Anthem” video and hear an off-key “Oh” at first.  It’s actually on key, it’s just followed by “Canada” instead of “say can you see.”  (That was a discouraging little realization of some intrinsic assumptions I apparently make about the universe.)

Rich Girl

Pop singers really need to stop remixing Broadway music into pop songs.  I woke up yesterday to hear someone — Gwen Stefani, it turned out — singing these lyrics to the tune of If I Were a Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof:

If I was a rich girl — na na na na na na na na na na na na na na
See, I’d have all the money in the world
If I was a wealthy girl

This overly excited departure from Zero Mostel’s impoverished and weary Tevye was already disorienting to hear first thing in the morning.  It reminded me immediately of 1998, when rapper Jay Z remixed Hard Knock Life into a hip hop tune, thus taking me entirely by surprise when my rap-loving coworkers of the day loved the song without having any idea of its origin.

Irked by this latest Broadway reuse, I took the time to read the rest of Stefani’s lyrics online.  I wish I hadn’t.

In Fiddler on the Roof, the song is Tevye’s lament that, while it’s no shame being poor, he wouldn’t mind too terribly having some money.  Though he dreams first of an impractically ostentatious house with “one long staircase just going up, and one even longer coming down,” he reveals by the end what he would really do with his hypothetical fortune:

If I were rich I’d have the time that I lack
To sit in the synagogue and pray
And maybe have a seat by the eastern wall.
And I’d discuss the holy books with the learned men,
Several hours every day.
That would be the sweetest thing of all.

All he really wants is the luxury to sit quietly, studying and praying.  What, by contrast, does Ms. Stefani (who, incidentally, has sold 40 million records) want?

No man could test me
Impress me
My cash flow would never ever end
Cause I’d have all the money in the world
If I was a wealthy girl

Moving.

Shakerleg

I wanted to write a simple post, inspired by the article about Craigslist I just mentioned, with a simple link to a film trailer.  It’s called The Girlfriend Experience, and tells the story of a high-priced call girl.  The trailer is vague, but intriguing.

However, I accidentally searched “Girlfriend Experience” on Google instead of Hulu.  Oops.  Some results were… let’s just say “not about the movie.”  Others were, though, and I opened a blurb Lane Brown wrote for New York magazine about the same trailer.  It quips:

Be aware… her apartment appears to be located near a popular hangout for street drummers.

Funny.  Then I read the first comment (by a first-time commenter):

Holy Mackerel! The drummer is Shakerleg! He drums entirely with his hands. He’s incredible. Google him.

Let’s follow that advice (after admiring the complete sentences and punctuation) and Google the man.

You can start by watching him on YouTube.  It’s quite good.  You can even buy his CD from iTunes or CD Baby.  You evidently cannot read about him on Wikipedia.  Even the Internet has its limits.

Pops Sells its Soul

Last night’s Harvard Pops concert, Pops Sells its Soul, was a triumph musically, comically, creatively, and (in classic Pops style) cinematically, over even November’s Pops Risks it All or the ultimate measuring stick, 2006’s Pops Gets Cursed.

In this episode, the Devil (“Err… Mr. Cifer — call me Lou”) buys the Pops’ soul, which turns out to be masestro Allen Feinstein.  “Come on.  Your kazoo, accordion, bagpipe, and viola orchestra is waiting.”

The concert arced from Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld to Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, with stops at Devil Went Down to Georgia, Danse Macabre, a certain AC/DC song appropriate to the theme, and even a hilarious and unexpected (despite being plainly listed in the program) rendition of Limbo Rock.

Violinists Nora Ali, Anne Michael Langguth, and Martin Ye (collectively portraying the three-headed dog Cerberus guarding the gates of Hades), competed cooperatively over a single challenging solo part in Zigeunerweisen (there in a Vienna Philharmonic Women’s Orchestra performance); Nicholas Ward brought out the electric cello at one point; Tom Compton sang an absolutely hilarious number titled I’m Wearing the Pants; and before the night was over Rebecca Gruskin played a solo on a garden hose with a funnel attached in a composition Mr. Feinstein titled cleverly Hoseanna.

And they somehow managed to conceal until the last moments of the concert what should have been a painfully obvious play on words: the Devil hopes to sneak through the gates of heaven because he knows Faust — you know, Harvard president Dr. Drew G. Faust.  Blinding, isn’t it?

The only question, really, is why you haven’t given them money yet.

I Can See Clearly Now

The Boston Pops (and the Boston Symphony Orchestra) launched a completely new ticketing system on their website last year, for which they deserve major praise.  Among many subtle and useful features is the one obvious feature virtually all online ticketing applications have always lacked: the ability to see a seating chart and select specific (available) seats from it.

Boston Pops Ticketing

Buy tickets by selecting the seats you want

I’ve already found the perfect seats in Symphony Hall after extensive trial and error, so before this new application arrived I had to coax the old software into giving me the seats I wanted.  Now I can see quickly which shows have my ideal seats, add them to my cart, and buy them.  I completely approve of this new site.

On the other hand, it wouldn’t accept my donation.  The checkout page offers a section to donate to the Pops, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood, or “Education Programs.”  Since I’m spending less on the Pops this year than I budgeted, I added a small donation.  By the time I got to the “preview” screen, there was no trace of it.  Unfortunately for the Pops, the $5.50 per ticket service fee was then added to my total, making me disinclined to try again.

Now that my tickets are safely in hand (or, at least, in the mail), I don’t mind mentioning that Linda Eder will be singing with the Pops this year on June 9th and 10th.  This alone has had me jumping out of my chair with excitement since I first learned of it in January.  You should immediately buy tickets for yourself.

It’s a Small World After All

I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite musicians is Kayla Ringelheim — who, by the way, has two new songs you should first hear on her site and then buy on iTunes (total cost: $2.00; total value: priceless).

I’ve also mentioned before that one of my favorite poets is Sarah Kay — who, by the way, has a new (to me) poem called Peacocks you should watch online.

I occasionally search YouTube and Google for new performances from some of my favorite artists (including these two), and I do often find new content there.  I’m wholeheartedly in favor of paying for the work any artist labors to create, but I’ve also learned that new music from local artists (in particular) tends to appear on YouTube long before it’s available to purchase anywhere.

In the process, I also occasionally find sites that mention a performer’s name in some other context, without offering any glimpse into recent or upcoming performances.  For example, a search for Ms. Ringelheim some months ago found a page at Brown University describing some group where she was a member.  That’s interesting to people at Brown, but when looking for new music (as opposed to… what’s that word… “stalking”) it’s not especially helpful.

Then I searched for Ms. Kay this evening and the very same page turned up.  This got my attention.

It turns out to belong to an a cappella group called The Higher Keys.  First of all, they admitted two of my all-time favorite performers as members, so I’m impressed with their standards.  Second, the samples from the group’s 2005 CD (the most recent recording listed) includes an a cappella version of Friend Like Me from the Disney movie Aladdin.  I’m now really tempted to see if I can still buy a copy just for that.

Let’s all take a moment to be impressed at the coincidences implicit in all these events.