Friday, October 30, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Grocery Store Musical

Obviously, I am an Improv Everywhere junkie. I loved their original food court musical, and the new grocery store musical is just as hilarious. I love the reactions from the "audience" at the end.

For more outtakes, behind the scenes info, and reaction shots, visit Improv Everywhere. What fun!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Etta James: Swing Low Sweet Chariot

I had a blast at yesterday's Songs of the Civil War Era concert, despite the fire alarm that went off about 7 minutes into the program (no joke!) We stood outside, shivered, and got to know each other for about 20 minutes and then everyone kindly filed back in to finish the show.

There was a fabulously full, responsive audience of Bowdoin College students, Longfellow Elementary School fifth graders, and members of the local community. They all did a great job singing the popular spiritual "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" in call and response style! There was also a reporter from MPBN there, so I'll keep you posted if all those lovely voices end up on the radio. :)

In thanks to everyone who came and participated (and waited around in the cold), here is a great version of "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" by the imperially soulful Etta James. Enjoy!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Concert Tomorrow: Songs of the Civil War Era

Tomorrow, I'll be giving a lecture/concert at Bowdoin College on Songs of the Civil War Era. (Tues, Oct. 27th at 11:30 in Studzinski Auditorium)

I'll talk about the new "American music" that began to take shape during the Civil War Era and how this music reflected and informed attitudes toward African Americans. I'll sing some songs and spirituals from the battlefield, the home front, the cotton fields, and the Underground Railroad.

In preparation for this talk, I found Irwin Silber's book Songs of the Civil War very useful for its take on songs sung on the battlefield. Silber not only includes the original versions of popular songs like "Bonnie Blue Flag" or "Battle Hymn of the Republic," but also many of the lyrics of popular parodies and spin-offs that were created during the war.

To the tune of "Bonnie Blue Flag," for instance, there were a dozen popular Civil War songs. Of the most interesting, there was a Northern version "The Stripes and Stars," a prisoners-of-war version "Bonnie White Flag," and a version called "The Southern Girl with the Homespun Dress," which praises the simplicity and goodness of the Southern Girl, and then calls soldiers to arms...because good Southern Girls only love boys who fight in the Confederate army. I wonder how many recruits they got out of that one?

And now, young man, a word to you;
If you would win the fair,
Go to the field where honor calls,
And win your lady there.
Remember that our brightest smiles
Are for the true and brave,
And that our tears are all for those
Who fill a soldier's grave.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: The Best Tip I Ever Got From Watching Rachel Ray

Are you ready for it? Seriously, it's even better than it sounds. Just try it a couple times. You'll see.

As we know, I'm not the most eager chef. I rarely used fresh ginger until I learned this tip because it was such a pain in the neck to peel it, and chop it up (I tried grating it once and that was a disaster), and we always had to buy a whole big ginger root which is way more than we needed for one recipe... Now I use fresh ginger all the time! (Don't I sound like an infomercial?)

The next time you buy fresh ginger from the store:
  1. Peel it
  2. Chop it into one-inch cubes
  3. Put the cubes into a plastic bag and store them in the freezer
Then, when you need fresh ginger in a recipe (Chicken Soba Noodles, anyone?), just take out a frozen cube and grate it with a zester. Ta da! It takes about ten seconds to grate. No clean up. No waste. And if you don't have a zester, it's worth picking one up, just for this. Let me tell you, fresh ginger is *way* more delicious than the dried stuff.

Rachel Ray (or whichever staff member worked round-the-clock to come up with this little gem) is a genius.

(Photo by FotoosVanRobin)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Eric Carle Museum: Winnie the Pooh!

If you are anywhere in the New England area, I feel obligated to inform you that there are only THREE weeks left to catch the Eric Carle Museum's current exhibition The World of Pooh: Selections from the Penguin Young Readers Group Collection.

Selections from E. H. Shepard's original drawings of Winnie the Pooh and friends will be on display until November 8th. Of course, I've put this off until the last minute, but Kevin and I are going to head down at the end of the month, with just days to spare. I can't wait!

There's also a Tomie dePaola 75th birthday exhibition we're going to catch while we're there (again just under the ends Nov. 1). I'm excited to see all that spaghetti stretched out in person. :)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Who Let the Dogs Out?

Here's the latest caper from those brilliant people over at Improv Everywhere. This time, they came up with 2000 invisible dogs and unleashed them on the city. It *almost* makes me wish I lived in New York. :)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Harry Nilsson: Think About Your Troubles

I've posted this clip from The Point before, but when I was a kid and having a bad day, this is the song I would think about. I've since been told that this scene creeped my siblings out. Not me. I'd think about that whale decomposing on the bottom of the ocean and the tiny teardrop flowing back to the sea. The basic elements. The whole big, circular picture. And my own little teardrop would seem just a bit more endurable.

Even as an adult, when things get too busy, when I get one too many rejections on that novel I've been working so hard on, when the car won't start, when winter comes too soon...I get this song in my head, and I imagine that little teardrop heading for the sea. In the whole scheme of things, it's really such a small little thing. Kind of makes you think about your troubles in a whole new way. Thanks, Harry. :)

Harry Nilsson: Think About Your Troubles

Sit beside the breakfast table
Think about your troubles
Pour yourself a cup of tea
Then think about the bubbles
You can take your teardrops
And drop 'em in a teacup
Take them down to the riverside

And throw them over the side
To be swept up by a current
Then taken to the ocean
To be eaten by some fishes
Who were eaten by some fishes
And swallowed by a whale
Who grew so old
He decomposed, doo, doo, doo

He died and left his body
To the bottom of the ocean
Now everybody knows
That when a body decomposes
The basic elements
Are given back to the ocean
And the sea does what it oughta

And soon there's salty water
Not too good for drinking
'Cause it tastes just like a teardrop
So they run it through a filter
And it comes out from a faucet
And it pours into a teapot
Which is just about to bubble
Now think about your troubles, now

Monday, October 12, 2009

John Keats: Ode to Autumn

(Photo note: This is the view from the fire tower near my childhood home. Not so bad, huh?)

Fall is my favorite time of year. The leaves here in Maine have turned to fiery reds and yellows and they've begun to fall just enough so you can kick through them with a nice shush-shush-shush as you walk. The sun is still warm enough to bask in, but there's a nice crisp to the air. I've been baking crisps from the apples we picked last week, and savoring cups of hot chai.

In honor of the season, my friend Susan (via Leah) reminded me of this lovely Keats poem, written in 1819:

Ode to Autumn
by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease;
For Summer has o'erbrimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river-sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Garth Fagan & Romare Bearden

The Family, 1975
, etching and aquatint, Edition 175, 21x26" (image) 22x30" (paper). From Bowdoin College's Art of Romare Bearden exhibit.

I just have to report a little on the dance performance I saw last week because it was phenomenal. Garth Fagan Dance came to campus as part of Bowdoin College's celebration of the Art of Romare Bearden. They performed sections from a piece called "CollageforRomie" that Garth Fagan choreographed based on Romare Bearden's collage work.

I'll admit, I don't know a lot about art and I'd never heard of Romare Bearden before, but this dance piece was such an exquisite tribute that I can't wait to go see the exhibit.

I've been thinking all week about how "CollageforRomie" was such a fascinating reflection on creative work: where an artist gets material, how that material is pieced together, the joy of creation, the complex emotions that are the heart of a project. It was also a brilliant example of how art is informed by art. This dance piece wouldn't be the same without the music it is set to or the paintings that inspired it.

The first section of was called "Matter and Material." Before the performance, Fagan talked about how Romare Bearden's home was filled with matter and material for his collages. Bits and pieces of fabric and paper, scraps that didn't have a specific purpose yet, but might be useful someday. Like a collage artist, dancers have pieces of raw material, bits of choreography, small half-formed ideas that are just waiting to be put to use. So "Matter and Material" was a dance collage, a combination of all these small movements and ideas just hanging around, waiting for the perfect project to come along. It was lovely.

The second section was a riveting duet based on a Bearden painting called "Detail: Down Home Also." The dancers in this piece had such a beautiful felt that they were intimately linked even when they were across the stage from each other. Before the piece began, Fagan showed us an image of the Bearden painting: a man and a woman lying together in a field, the man's arm outstretched, the woman's elbow tilted in. At the end of the duet, the dancers positioned themselves in an exact, live replica of the Bearden painting. It was stunning.

"Conjur Man" was the third and final section, an upbeat romp set to Jelly Roll Morton's "Jungle Blues." I loved this piece. Bits and pieces of movement from the previous sections came together in unexpected ways. The dancers were full of life and energy. It was pure joy.

And of course I have to mention the extra surprise of the evening. Before the show, as we were settling into our seats and perusing the program, Kevin gave me an enthusiastic punch in the arm. One of the newest members of Garth Fagan Dancers was none other than Vitolio...from season five of So You Think You Can Dance! How cool is that?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Harold Arlen: Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Back in March, I was asked to sing with the Bowdoin College Concert Band for an evening of standards and Gershwin Tunes. I just got some of the mp3 files from the concert and thought it might be fun to post one. (You can listen by clicking on the player at the bottom of this post.)

Harold Arlen is one of my songwriting heroes, with over 500 songs under his belt (including one of my all-time favorites, Stormy Weather). When he teamed up with lyricist Johnny Mercer in the 1940's, the results were pure magic: One for My Baby, Come Rain or Come Shine, That Old Black Magic, Ac-cen-tu-ate the Positive. In that old music-on-a-desert-island game, Harold Arlen would be my man.

But of course, his most famous song of all is "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," written for The Wizard of Oz and sung unforgettably by Judy Garland. Get this, though (from IMDB):
"Over the Rainbow" was nearly cut from the film; MGM felt that it made the Kansas sequence too long, as well as being too far over the heads of the children for whom it was intended. The studio also thought that it was degrading for Judy Garland to sing in a barnyard.
Oh, studio suits. Really? Truly?

Anyway, here's me singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow with the Bowdoin College Concert Band. Hope you enjoy...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Make Something! Amy Schimler Fabric Benefit

How sweet are these fabrics? You may have guessed that they're so terrific because they were designed by illustrator extraordinaire Amy Schimler.

All October and November, profits from sales in Amy's etsy shop will go to benefit her close friend who lost her house in a recent flood. So if you have any decorating or holiday gift projects coming up, please do stop by and pick up a yard or two. You'll not only get to make something whimsical and fun, you'll also make someone's disaster just a little bit easier to bear.

And while you're at it, don't forget to check out Amy's newest book: What Do You See?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Garth Fagan

Tonight, I'm going to see a lecture and performance by dancer and choreographer Garth Fagan. Most famously, Fagan won a Tony Award in 1998 for his work on the theatrical version of The Lion King.

I haven't seen The Lion King musical (have you?), but I thought this little piece was interesting. My students and I are always talking about how collaboration can bring you to places you never would have arrived at on your own. Here, Garth Fagan talks about collaborating with musicians and costume designers, and the challenges of creating choreography for dancers who will be wearing elaborate costumes that change their whole shape and balance (I think he uses the word "impossible").

Seriously, check out the animals these dancers are wearing. Of course choreography would be difficult, but can you imagine how hard it must be to dance with an entire antelope on your head?