Throwback Thursday: “Exsultate, Jubilate,” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

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Vacation is now synonymous with lake swimming, small-batch gin, board games, reading in Adirondack chairs and by the fire, and sitting on the dock at sunset listening to the loons.  To paraphrase my father, who paraphrases a hymn: hearts are brave again and arms are strong.  It is now exceptionally strange to be back in D.C.  Not a bad strange, just a, “oh…right.  This.” kind of strange.  I didn’t get much mail while I was gone, I cleaned my apartment before I left so I don’t have a mess to come home to, so really, everything is as I left it.  Except, I myself am not the same person who locked her front door and headed for the plane.  It’s sort of what I might expect someone to feel after coming back from being in space for a year, except in my case, it was the midwest, and it was only a week.    It’s hard to believe such an innocuous place could spark such a feeling of change, and I’m not sure whether that’s because it’s been a year since I’ve taken a proper vacation, or that the company was so delightful.  Maybe both.  Regardless, “there has arisen an unexpected calm.”  Allelujah indeed.

Exsultate, jubilate,

O vos animae beatae

exsultate, jubilate,

dulcia cantica canendo;

cantui vestro respondendo

psallant aethera cum me.

Fulget amica dies,

jam fugere et nubila et procellae;

exortus est justis inexspectata quies

Undique obscura regnabat nox,

surgite tandem laeti qui  timuistis adhuc,

et jucundi aurorae fortunatae.

frondes dextera plena et lilia date. 

Tu virginum corona,

tu nobis pacem dona,

tu consolare affectus,

unde suspirat cor.

Alleluja.

Rejoice, be glad,

O you blessed souls,

Rejoice, be glad,

Singing sweet songs;

In response to your singing

Let the heavens sing forth with me.

The friendly day shines forth,

both clouds and storms have fled now;

for the righteous there has arisen an unexpected calm.

Dark night reigned everywhere [before];

you who feared till now,

and joyful for this lucky dawn

give garlands and lilies with full right hand.

You, o crown of virgins,

grant us peace,

console our feelings,

from which our hearts sigh.

Alleluja

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DAD WEEK! Termagant Tuesday: “Dr. Jazz,” George Lewis

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You’re 24 years old and recently back from the Western Front. There’s a stable life waiting for you at dad’s dry good’s store in Peoria. But you can’t help thinking about your weekend furlough that summer in Paris. And you’ve heard that Chicago is where things are, how shall I put this, happening.

A guy you meet at a Cubs game points out Al Capone sitting in his box near 3rd base and then invites you to join you at a “speakeasy” that serves beer and even liquor. There will be women Single, unmarried women! You knock on an unmarked door, say a random password, and a guy lets you in. You enter a dark room filled with dancing, drinking, flirting, dice, and Lord knows what else. On a small stage George Lewis and his group are playing Dr. Jazz. A girl walks over and asks you to buy her a drink. This is clearly no place for a small-town boy. And (to borrow from Mark Twain) you don’t remain one for long.

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At least until Elvis, jazz is what 20 century urban America sounded like. The unquestioned authority of melody (the lead) over harmony (back-up) in the hymns and barbershop quartets that echoed the hierarchy of pastoral America yielded to the exuberance and spontaneity that mirrored the unscripted cacophony of urban life. (Elvis, Dylan, The Ramones, and their offspring redefined urban music, even as jazz retreated to “listening clubs” and outdoor jazz “festivals.”

In George Lewis’s hands, the clarinet and trumpet, the two loudest instruments, push the piano (that staple of hymn sings) and even melody itself to the side and toss melodic fragments back and forth to each other. This is the music of chance encounters and deals quickly made, of pedestrians dodging streetcars, of guys and dolls.

I especially love how the intensity ratchets up after George Lewis sings the chorus: with a few blasts, the trumpet impatiently reasserts itself beforethe downbeat, the clarinet responds by hitting its highest note possible and “pouring out its soul in such an ecstasy” (sorry, Keats/Nightingale; I can’t myself), and the drummer seems to want to know how hard he can bang away without having to buy a replacement drum set.

Eventually of course, the lights go back on, people file out (to greet the dawn?), and our young friend heads home. Probably alone. But he’ll be back, and next time he’ll know the password.

DAD WEEK! Modernism Monday: “Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit,” Darius Milhaut

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Ok. So this piece is goofy sounding. But the same instruments and the same symphony orchestra that first performed it might have played Mahler the next night. So what’s modern about it exactly?As the Yankette’s very cultivated readers well know, World War I is the event that delineates the 19th from the 20th century. Before the Somme: empires, confidence, letters, sonatas, and cavalry charges. Since the Somme: multi-nationals, irony, tweets, jazz, and Hiroshima.

Of course art never offers a starkly clear break: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring premiered in 1913, the year of the New York’s famous Armory art show. And George M. Cohan’s urged America to join the War with his stirring backward-looking Over There in 1917.

But I think concert-goers who heard Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde or Symphony number 9 in 1910 would have been surprised to hear, a few short years later, Darius Milhaut’s remarkable The Bull (or Ox) on the Roof.

To my ears this piece represents as much does Stravinsky the sound of the reassessment of Western cultural tradition. Sure, more austere Schoenberg reinvented the tonal system on which all Western music since Bach depended. But the many false starts, sudden stops, and scales leading nowhere is no less “modern.” This piece sounds to me what surrealism and even some of Dada looks like.

In addition, just as the 20th century gave rise to a one-world, global culture, here is piece written by a French composer drawing on Brazilian tunes, commissioned for a movie by Charlie Chaplin, a Brit making a name for himself in California. A world-wide web of artistic creation.
A sidebar: Dave Brubeck, one of the masters of mid-century jazz, the sound track of the “American Century,” learned composition from none other than Darius Milhaut. Imagine the jazz Brubeck might have conjured up after a year of study with Gustav Mahler. [Editor’s note: Good God, must I?]  The mind boggles.  [Editor’s note – again: That’s one way to put it.]

And what better condition of mind bring to this oddly compelling and strikingly modern piece.

DAD WEEK! Sacred Sunday: “Hide Not Thou Thy Face From Us, O Lord,” Richard Farrant

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Nothing better clarifies how we see God than the content of our prayers. At least since St. Augustine’s famous “Lord! Give me patience, but not yet,” we Westerners have felt free to alternate requests for mercy (“forgive me”) with requests for favors (“help me drop five pounds. Actually, better make it ten”). “Confusing” these messages is a neat trick we play not on God, of course, but on ourselves: many of our supplications must amuse Her as much as Augustine tickles us.

Still, we persist. Consider this brief Anglican prayer:

 

Hide not thou thy face from us O Lord

And cast not thou Thy servants in Thy displeasure.

For we confess our sins unto Thee

And hide not our unrighteousness.

For Thy mercies sake

Deliver us from all our sins.

 

Humble supplication? A to-do list? A bit of both? Let’s spend a moment decoding this message.

 

Lines 1-4: We we know we messed up. We see that now. We’re not hiding anything (although we could) and we’re sorry. No really; we are. We encourage you not to, you know, “cast” us into…well, let’s not think about it. And anyway, bottom line: you’re call.

 

Lines 5-6 seem (to this writer, anyway) to drift from exhortation toward instruction. In case God, who’s pretty busy, doesn’t get what we’re after here, we lay it out: “Deliver us.” And “from all our sins.”

 

Ok. This is a blog about music, not prayer. But what luck: the Elizabethan composer Richard Farrant set this prayer to music. So how does Farrant highlight in brief and fairly simple musical expression its possibly shifting meanings? Let’s walk through it.

 

Step One: Confession and Exhortation

 

0:11-0:19: The music accompanying the opening line “Hide not thou Thy face from us O Lord” is flat and unemotional. This is plain music that delivers a plain musical message: “just hear us out: we really are sorry to have caused so much trouble.”

 

0:20-0:30: A slightly more elaborate melody accompanies “for we confess our sins.” And note how Farrant highlights the word “our” by making the sopranos reach for it. And how the melody rises at “and hide not our unrighteousness.” Our heads may be bowed in contrition, but Farrant allows the basses in particular a quick glance upward at the words ‘our unrighteousness’ to see if confessing “our transgression” is softening up our audience, as we intend.

 

With these preliminaries out of the way, and noting that God has not already “cast us out,” our confidence grows. We think this difficult situation, properly handled, may turn out okay after all. Which leads to

 

Step two: Instruction

 

The music does not change dramatically (Farrant was an Elizabethan composer, not Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock). But listen for the following shifts in tone and presentation, conveyed through Farrant’s musical decisions, starting at 0:52:

 

1. Farrant highlights the shift from “our sins” to “for Thy mercy’s sake” by repeating this short passage, and at a higher pitch.

2. The music grows a bit louder and more insistent. We’ve in full instructional mood now.

3. The verb “deliver,” (which of course is the message we’re trying to get across here) is belted out by the sopranos. It’s the highest note in the piece, the better to get God’s full attention.

4. And does the word “all” at 1:06 sound just a bit, well, strange? Like someone accidentally sang the wrong note? That’s the altos singing a g sharp instead of the g natural our ears expect. Farrant’s setting of “all” is is the emotional and musical climax of the whole piece–his way of making sure God doesn’t miss how much we would appreciate His delivering us from all our sins–past, present, and (sure, let’s go for it) future.

5. Finally–and this will should definitely close the deal–at 1:16 Farrant invites the singers to repeat the whole “For Thy mercies sake” passage again–in case God was distracted and didn’t get what we were after the first time.

The presumption of instructing God is delightfully and stupidly human. Is that what Richard Farrant was up to here? God alone knows. But no choral anthem more perfectly captures the sly and useless equivocation of, let’s face it, many and even most of our prayers. Or does so more beautifully.

DAD WEEK! Salubrious Saturday: “What D’ye Mean You Lost Yer Dog,” Albert White and his Gaslight Orchestra

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As the Greater Yankette Community knows, Salubrious Saturday is the go-to place for music that soothes, encourages, ennobles, or inspires. To borrow from the Anglican hymnal, an aptly salubrious selection will leave one feeling that hearts are brave again and arms are strong.

As you will hear, “What D’Ye Mean You Lost Yer Dog” is just such a song. But so is “Surfin’ Bird” and for that matter “Onward Christian Soldiers.” So what is it exactly makes this song so salubrious?

First, good Lord: just listen to it. Now do you get it?

Second, it’s a polka. Unless you live in Milwaukee, you simply cannot have too many polkas.

In addition, this performance, hits the sweet spot that a lot of novelty songs miss: there’s no mugging on display here, and no sloppiness. Each instrumentalist plays with the same precision and polish and care that they would bring to a performance of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. The snare drum crackles; the slide whistle is crisp; the whistling and dog voicing is spot on.

This piece was the theme of Steve Cannon’s legendary afternoon drive-time radio show on WCCO Radio in Minneapolis. That show and this piece were particular favorites of my sainted father. Dad never missed a performance of the Minneapolis Symphony. He sat through long evenings of Sibelius and Mahler, God help him, with real appreciation. But he loved this song too. He would have turned 100 this year, and my goal this year is to introduce “What D’Ye Mean You Lost Yer Dog” to no fewer than 100 people in his honor. Starting with you.

[Editor’s note: Seriously, Tune-Up fans – forward this to your friends.  Let’s make this happen.  My grandfather was an outstanding member of the human race.  Post this on Facebook, Twitter, email it to your bridge club and your softball league.  Share the love.]

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Lyrics
I’ve got a dog named Rover.
“Here Rover. come Rover.”
He roams around all over;
just home three time a day.

I bet he hears my whistling,
See the neighbors are list’ning
“What d’ye mean you lost your dog?”
I hear the people say.

[Whistle]
Has anybody here seen Rover
[Whistle]
I’m looking for him now all over.
He’s a hunter’s dog all right,
He keeps my hunting day and night.
This is what I worry over:
Say who put the “rove” in Rover.
[Whistle}
My whistle’s getting dry.
It seems as if I hear that mongrel whine:
“woof…woof…woof woof’
I should worry like a tree
And have somebody trimming me.
Where’s that dog-gone, dog gone dog of mine?

DAD WEEK! Funk Friday: “Que Sera Sera,” Sly and the Family Stone

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So I’m sitting in the den watching Winona Rider and Christian Slater finding innovative new ways to navigate through high school in Heathers. The credits start to roll and a band I thought had surely, well, disbanded, starts to sing an vaguely familiar song. After a long intro it turns into the greatest American cover ever of an American standard.

If you couldn’t join us on Wednesday, here’s the original Doris Day version. Check it out. The rest of us will wait.

This original version is a wonderful song of its type: innocent, upbeat, confident, everything middle America assumed in 1956 the indefinite future held for them. When you hear people say “I want my America back,” this is the America they mean. Hard to blame them.

But take a moment to consider what this version suggests about those Americans who didn’t, or don’t hear Doris Day singing to them. I’ll let you decide the meaning of whatever Sly & co. added to it, including the fact that his version is at least twice as long as the original.

It’s astonishing when an artist can take a song nearly everyone knows–and probably likes more or less as it is–and find a way to so thoroughly reinvent it. Any dope can sing Like a Rolling Stone like Dylan or Yesterday like Paul McCartney. A song that fits Doris Day AND Sly Stone (and Hermes House Band: see Worldly Wednesday) is a great song. But the person who caused it to fit is a great artist. And whoever chose it to wrap up Heathers is a genius.

Enjoy.