From the archives. This week's contestant is Ray Lancaster from Columbia Hill, South Carolina. I got the hidden song pretty quickly, and then it becomes very clear. Guessing the composer style came down to being between two composers...and I guessed the wrong one. Actually, it turned out to be someone else entirely, so I was completely wrong, though it was from the same country as my guess -- if that counts for anything, which it really doesn't.
I guess we're going to make this a bit of a Chicago Symphony Day. This evening, Saturday, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will be hosting a free, streaming event, “Sounds of Celebration: An Evening at Home with the CSO.” This is the orchestra’s largest annual fundraising event of the year, proceeds which will benefit the CSO's community programs and other projects that go to the heart of the Orchestra’s mission.
The streaming festivities begin at 7 PM Central time. That's 5 PM out here in Los Angeles -- or 8 PM on the East Coast.
The broadcast is hosted by the CSO's own musicians, and will include appearances from Maestro Ricardo Muti, Yo-Yo Ma, Eric Owens, Missy Mazzoli, Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Mitsuko Uchida, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Hilary Hahn, Anita Rachvelishvili and Rainn Wilson (Dwight Schrute from The Office – and a fellow-alum from my New Trier High School).
Today, we have our next episode of the new InterMISSION podcast from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Thus far, it's been very well-done with fairly interesting stories and wonderful music in the background.
This week's piece is "Risks and Rewards." Several CSO musicians share stories about the musical risks and challenges they face during a concert, and how they are able to resolve those hurdles for the audience. As the host notes, "They reveal a few places in the orchestra’s repertoire that can be troublesome, and how they approach these risky moments to perform at their best."
There's an added feature of the InterMISSION podcast which I particularly love, that takes a very good podcast and makes innto into something special.. They provide a page with a Playlist of all the music you hear during the podcast.
They not only offer a link to snippets of the music, but also the code so that I can embed the Playlist of full movements here.
From the archives. This week's contestant is Brandon Baxter from Hastings, Nebraska, To my surprise, I got the composer style first and pretty quickly -- surprising particularly because it's one of the genres I'm not especially adept at and also there are several composers who overlap for me. I could hear the hidden song, but just couldn't get it...but then about a minute it, I did. What surprised me most of all, though, is not so much that the contestant couldn't get the hidden song, but host Fred Child -- who's usually so good at helping out with that -- not only didn't guess it on the first go-round, but didn't either when Bruce Adolphe played it a second time. Only until Adolphe played it straight through without any composer style getting in the way did Child finally hear it. And the song is a pretty famous standard from The Great American Songbook. There's also a whimsical clue in the hidden song which helped make me sure I was right in my guess.
The second episode of the new InterMISSION @ the CSO podcast from the Chicago Symphony has now been posted, hosted by CSO horn John Hagstrom. As they write, "James Smelser has been a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's horn section since the year 2000. He shares what many years of experience have taught him about playing second horn parts to maintain the high musical expectations of the CSO. He recalls fond memories of playing for 13 years next to the orchestra’s former principal horn, Dale Clevenger, and describes the role he now also occupies as the chairman of the CSO Members Committee."
His stories of working with Dale Clevenger, who was a legendary member of the orchestra, are particularly fun, as he tosses in his best effort at an impersonation.
If you're at all interested in classical music, but even to a lesser degree music in general, these have been very interesting, giving insight into the personal aspect of playing in a symphony orchestra on a very high end, with generally interesting (and sometimes funny) stories and a focus on history -- all with a wonderful musical playing in the background, and to highlight what's being discussed.
Okay, so in the midst of my John Prine trilogy, I've mentioned Iris DeMent a couple of times, embedded a video of her singing a duet with Prine, and noted that if you don't know her, she wrote and sang the heart-wrenching song "Our Town" that played over a deeply-rich, tender montage which ended the series Northern Exposure.
I wrote a long article here about that superb ending (and my odd connection to the series, thanks to my friend Jeff Melvoin, the show's supervising producer, writing my name into the show that became a periodic storyline), and once upon a time there was a video of the montage online, but it has since been taken down. The whole thing together -- montage, song and her evocative vocals -- is so wonderful, so moving, and I'm sorry it isn't available anymore. Happily, the song is great on its own, so I thought it only fitting to have Iris DeMent sing her own song here anyway.
Well, I figure I might as well make it John Prine music three days in a row, but there's a good reason for it because it fits. Not that one needs an excuse to play John Prine music any number of days in a row.
The point here is that yesterday I mentioned that the video I'd posted of Prine talking about working with Johnny Cash had odd snippets of a totally different song he did with Iris DeMent, that he'd written for a movie he was in. So, it only made sense to post that song in full.
The song is "In Spite of Ourselves," which he wrote for the film, Daddy and Them, that was written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton. And as I mentioned, Prine was wonderfully cast as Billy Bob's brother, with Andy Griffith and their dad. I found the movie just okay, though it has some excellent things in it -- including, happily, John Prine who is terrific and has one particularly great scene, wandering around the house where the dysfunctional family has reunited, breaking into rooms and compromising situations to quietly, offhandedly tell each person how they don't understand how much others they're arguing with love and care for them...)
If you didn't see the video I posted yesterday of Prine on the Sessions from West 54th broadcast, it actually starts right after he and Iris DeMent sang the duet, and he tells a story about sending her the song. He says he explained that some of the lyrics might be "questionable" -- and that when he finally spoke to her about it, he let her know that he'd written the song with her in mind. To which she replied, "You probably couldn't get anybody else."
By the way, if you're a fan of Iris DeMent -- or of the series, Northern Exposure" (or remember the article I wrote about the series finale here...), the show ended its run with a gorgeous, tender, heart-wrenching, lovely montage of the characters at night, as the song "Our Town" played over. That song was written and performed by Iris DeMent.
And here she and John Prine are in spite of themselves...
Over the weekend, I posted a concert with John Prine and mentioned that early early in his career, Johnny Cash wanted to record one of his songs, "Sam Stone," but was uncomfortable with one of the lines and asked if he could change it. I noted that Prine later said that he wouldn't let anyone change his words, except for Johnny Cash, and so gave his permission.
I didn't explain what the line was that bothered Cash, or what it got changed to. Better, I thought, to let Prine tell the story himself.
(There's some odd editing in this video, which begins with a snippet of another song and comes back to that other song later. For the record, that's Prine with Iris DeMent singing his "In Spite of Ourselves," which has an interesting story of its own. Prine was in one movie, "Daddy and Them," written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton, who asked Prine in a bit of wonderful casting to play his brother. And their father is played by Andy Griffith. I watched the movie a month or so ago, and while it had some very good things in it, I wasn't crazy about it -- but Prine was absolutely wonderful. And Thornton asked if Prine would write an end-credits song for the film. But that's another matter -- this is Prine about the change for Johnny Cash.)
And it only makes sense, of course, to throw in a bonus video here of Johnny Cash singing "Sam Stone," with his change.
But good as Johnny Cash's vocal interpretation is, we can't go without hearing the song performed properly. As I mentioned the other day, "Sam Stone" is the first song I ever heard from Prine, probably in the early-'70s, and remains one of my two favorites. (The other is probably "Souvenirs.") It was on, of all places, a classical music station, WFMT in Chicago, which once a week had a folk-Broadway-comedy-odds-and-end show every Saturday night, "The Midnight Special," which I listened to as a kid, lying in bed late at night with the lights off. That's where I also heard Steve Goodman for the first time, as well as the third of their Chicago folk triumvirate, Bonnie Koloc. So, here is another bonus with John Prine getting "Sam Stone" right.
And with a little bit of kismet whimsy, before he gets to the song we hear him tell a story about the number he just finished singing -- which was a duet of that very same "In Spite of Ourselves" with Iris DeMent! So, you get to hear a bit more about it...
We have a new Piano Puzzler this week, not posted her yet. This week’s contestant is Chris Freitag from New York City. I think the hidden song should be extremely easy for most people. Right off the bat, and then there is a passage later that removes any doubt. The composer style was more difficult, though it’s based on an actual piece of music, so if you know it you’ll get the composer. I didn’t, though I do like the composer.
From now on, the next time you do something so inexplicable that it makes you slap your head and say, "Oh, my God, what was I thinking???", know that there is now this quote which you can remember and always go back to in order to know there is someone on earth who once did something even more inexplicable.
It was posted about six months ago on YouTube, not long after John Prine had died, and showed up underneath where an intimate concert by John Prine was embedded. The person wrote --
"I’m 60 years old. Lifelong Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Leonard Cohen , Chris Smithers , etc fan. So how, how, oh my god how is it that I never heard of John Prine until yesterday?"
To be clear, I don't think it's even remotely inexplicable that someone hadn't heard of John Prine. But someone who is "60 years old. Lifelong Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Leonard Cohen , Chris Smithers , etc fan" not having heard about John Prine -- a core of music for which Prine has been at the center for half a century -- that is inexplicable. Almost beyond comprehension. If only because lovers of that specific music world know the details of it like family.
An interesting addendum is that after most YouTube comments, when there are replies, usually two or three are made, or maybe on occasion as many as half a dozen, or if it really sets people off, 20. This comment had 102. I was curious to read them, if only to see someone express what I was thinking but didn't want to say in public out of politeness, but in the end passed because I didn't think I could bear reading the scathing responses. After all, the poor fellow admitted the inexplicable error of his ways, so that counts for, well...at least, something.
By the way, the comment is all the more inexplicable and pointed when you know that one of the songs that Prine sings in this concert (and tells a very funny story around) is "Sam Stone," which is the first song I ever heard by him (on "The Midnight Special" radio show on WFMT in Chicago) and remains one of my two favorite of his. The larger point is that it was also famously recorded by...Johnny Cash -- who the fellow put first on his list of those he was a lifelong fan of -- famous because there was one line in the song that Cash felt he couldn't sing and asked Prine if he could change it. And Prine has since said he wouldn't let anyone change his words -- except one person, Johnny Cash, and so it got changed for that one performer only.
This is all worth the telling because it leads to the concert itself, which is wonderful. Thanks to Eric Boardman for the heads-up. It comes from the "House of Strombo," which is a spinoff of sorts from George Stroumboulopoulos's Canadian radio show. The "House of Strombo" are living-room performances in his home.
Though this intimate concert was largely to promote his new and sadly final album, The Tree of Forgiveness, the concert is a mix of old and new. And as wonderful as the songs are, since Prine is Prine his commentary between numbers is as whimsical, charming, self-effacing and sharp and as the music.
But again, always remember the next time you have to slap your head for doing something utterly inexplicable -- "I’m 60 years old. Lifelong Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Leonard Cohen , Chris Smithers , etc fan. So how, how, oh my god how is it that I never heard of John Prine until yesterday?"
And just hope that you can save the moment by following it up with something as good as what the next part of his comment was, that I left out above -- "I will never have time on this earth to adequately grasp and appreciate the depth and beauty of this miraculous artists work. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me."
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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