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Bob Michel

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  1. Thanks again for encouraging words, Rod. I suspect that restoring the integrity of the old songs has been the rule rather than the exception in recent performances; I have no illusions about being a trendsetter. Though it's true that I haven't seen too many revivalists wielding concertinas. I'm a bit of an opera buff (strictly as a spectator, mind), and have always appreciated how much better a famous aria often sounds in its original musical and dramatic setting than when it's sung out of context as a showpiece. This is a bit like that, I think. Bob Michel Near Philly
  2. No, they can't have been in this case (as with "Tipperary"), since the war was still years off. But the song (chorus, not verses) was a wartime favorite, and I daresay that's been true in subsequent wars as well. My earliest specific memory of it involves soldiers singing on a tropical island--think "South Pacific"--in a WWII sketch on a TV variety show when I was a kid. They didn't sing the verses, either. Bob Michel Near Philly
  3. Entry #8 is surely one of the most familiar in the series. http://youtu.be/bvnoFF_-r3E "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now" (music by Joseph E. Howard and Harold Orlob; lyrics by Will M. Hough and Frank R. Adams), dating to 1909, was an oldie by the time the Archduke's driver took that fatal wrong turn in Sarajevo. But like "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," the song resonated in a new way with the troops. That is, the chorus did. I know of no other song from the period that's transformed more completely when the forgotten verses are restored. Sung alone, the refrain is conventionally fond and sentimental, perhaps a bit saccharine (apart from that edgy line "I wonder who's teaching her how"--which in the earliest recordings is usually sung "...teaching her now," as if to mitigate the implied affront to female innocence). But the verses are pretty thoroughly disillusioned, not to say cynical. Maybe too cynical for a wartime song? After all, Tin Pan Alley in its patriotic mode mainly had the True Blue Girl Back Home praying, flying a service flag and knitting socks, not checking out other options. There are of course any number of popular songs from that distant era that have survived only as fragments, but I do wonder whether the dismemberment of this one didn't have have something to do with the need for idealism and a less nuanced sort of nostalgia. Irony doesn't tend to play well against a backdrop of orchestrated enthusiasm. In any case, it's a terrific old song, one worth reviving in its uncensored form. I'd uploaded another version to YouTube earlier this year, accompanied on ukulele and whatnot. But this one deserves its own 'tina-centric setting. Bob Michel Near Philly
  4. John-- Thanks for the link, and for the encouraging words. It sounds as if we've had similar epiphanies about the suitability of this repertoire to our chosen instruments. The titles you mention are among the best known WWI songs on this side of the pond as well, and they're essential to any recreation of that era's music (which is why I kicked off the project with videos of "Tipperary" and "Home Fires"). But I confess that I feel especially drawn to the more obscure numbers. Most of the songs on my ever-growing list are as unfamiliar in the contemporary U.S. as I imagine they are in the U.K. My pleasure in exploring them has everything to do with reclaiming something long lost. And restoring the forgotten verses is a big part of that pleasure. In the introduction to his classic blues anthology (first published in the '20s), W.C. Handy pleaded with performers not to let the verses go--they often contain the best music, he said--and I've taken his advice to heart. More often than not an entirely different song emerges; even "Tipperary" profits (to my ear) from the resurrection of Paddy and Molly (stereotypes though they may be). By the way, I don't feel the least bit proprietary about any of this, and would be delighted if you (and others) joined in. I expect I'll retain my Tin Pan Alley focus, given that there's so much material to retrieve, and that it's a stylistic comfort zone for me. But the more perspectives, traditions and voices the better! Bob Michel Near Philly
  5. It's a major vice of mine, actually. Though nobody's going to mistake me for Irving Berlin any time soon. Bob Michel Near Philly
  6. Yes, that's a keeper, Pete; thanks. Great site altogether, in fact. Bob Michel Near Philly
  7. Yes, well said, Wolf. The obviously gifted children aren't after all more important than the others. Or even necessarily more gifted. Bob Michel Near Philly
  8. Thanks, Don. Another Irving Berlin, another Charlie Chaplin, another Nikolai Tesla, another Arshile Gorky, another Albert Einstein... Bob Michel Near Philly
  9. Seven songs into the project, it's high time we met Irving Berlin. http://youtu.be/bu2ykWcNMdc In 1919 Berlin was barely into his thirties, just out of the U.S. Army himself, and already the most famous and influential songwriter in America. He had nearly half a century to go. If it ever comes to handing out medals, Arlen had a more finely tuned ear, Gershwin was more innovative and fearless, Kern was the subtler artist, Porter was wittier, Carmichael had a livelier sense of the absurd. But Berlin had a hefty endowment of all these qualities, and if you reliably finish second in every event you're probably going to win the decathlon. Plus he had that extraordinary staying power: his career fills all the space between George M. Cohan and Bob Dylan. Thank you, Nicholas II, you murderous bastard, for sending us his family (and the families of so many of the others). Many of my favorite Berlin songs, including this evil little number about a rich boy's revenge, come from his early period, but I like nearly all his work. Ironically the two exceptions are probably his best known compositions, "White Christmas" and "God Bless America." The former has simply been played to death; the latter, to my ear, is just windy. I have nothing against a good patriotic song, but anthem-writing is a particular skill, one of the few Mr. Berlin, the great miniaturist, seems not to have possessed. But even here he struck gold: "God Bless America" so infuriated Woody Guthrie that he fired off a response song which he called "God Blessed America For Me." Dissatisfied with that tag line, he changed it in short order to "This land was made for you and me," and birthed as thoughtful and stirring a patriotic song as I've heard in any language. Woody, now, knew how to write an anthem. Bob Michel Near Philly
  10. Thanks, Rod; I could hardly have avoided including this song, even if I'd wanted to. As for the various take-offs on the song, not all were mean-spirited. I love a good parody, and some of these were very clever: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:I_did_not_raise_my_girl_to_be_a_voter.jpg Bob Michel Near Philadelphia
  11. Entry #6 in the WWI series is one of the best-known antiwar songs in American history, Al Piantadosi and Alfred Bryan's "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier" (1915). http://youtu.be/Zfl7QBVDmNs Al Piantadosi was one of the period's most prolific tunesmiths, and lent his talents as readily to the prowar cause a couple of years later (see "Send Me Away with a Smile," above). But in 1915 the country's mood was still anti-interventionist; Woodrow Wilson's famous (and effective) campaign slogan in the following year's Presidential election was "He Kept Us Out Of War." "I Didn't Raise My Boy..." was a major hit, generated considerable controversy, and inspired numerous parodies. Ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, foaming at the mouth by 1915 to get himself back into power and the U.S.A. into any armed conflict available, memorably opined that the place for women who opposed war was "in China--or by preference in a harem--and not in the United States." Always a class act, was Teddy. Emphatic and stentorian in the pre-electric amplification style, and quaint to modern ears, it's still a terrific song, and an icon of pacifist (and feminist) sentiment. I can't claim to do it justice, but this, to my way of thinking, is one of the great ones. Bob Michel Near Philly
  12. I have a ton of music apps that I downloaded early on and eventually deleted for lack of use. Probably a normal experience, and one that taught me a lot. They cost next to nothing, and of course I could always reinstall any of them if the need arose. But I use Auria daily for recording and am very happy with it. It's native to iOS and takes advantage of the iPad's strengths in all kinds of clever ways. If it's more than you want or need, MultiTrack DAW is also pretty impressive. In the recording department I also rely pretty heavily on AudioShare and Final Touch. A (free) DropBox account is very useful for moving sound files around, particularly if you want to have access to them on a PC as well. Tunebook and forScore are both worth having for written music, and Symphony Pro is handy when I have to put something in standard notation myself. Bob Michel Near Philly
  13. For the next entry in the project I had two contenders, which we might characterize respectively as Pathos and Levity. Which to choose? Well, that's not too hard. To paraphrase Stephen Sondheim, "Pathos tomorrow; Levity tonight." http://youtu.be/R2PI49aTa_4 "Would You Rather Be a Colonel with an Eagle on Your Shoulder or a Private with a Chicken on Your Knee?" wins the prize (so far) for Longest Title in my repertoire of WWI songs. It was written by Sidney D. Mitchell (music) and Archie Gottler (lyrics) in 1918, but didn't peak commercially until the next year, in a hit recording by "Eugene Buckley" (a pseudonym for Arthur Fields). So you could argue that it's really a postwar number. But that's true of many American war-themed songs of the period. Though it can't have seemed that way to the doughboys, U.S. participation in the conflict was relatively brief, and inevitably there was a lag. I have songs from 1919 in my little collection with specific references that made them obsolete by the time they were published. No matter; the mill grinds on. This one has been recorded a few times in the years since, and it turns up in anthologies of period songs, but it's not terribly well known a century later (I found no other contemporary renditions on YouTube). Which is a pity, since it's one of my favorite treatments of a major Tin Pan Alley preoccupation of the era: the conundrum, in a prickly young democracy, of military rank. Not to mention the ornithology. "Wee Marie" had her own wry perspective on all this, no doubt. But there were language barriers and whatnot. Bob Michel Near Philly
  14. Well done! The harmonies are quite lovely. Must be those lush low reeds on the G/D that produce the soporific effect. Bob Michel Near Philly
  15. There are good reasons to avoid chopping, particularly when one is learning. Think of hunt-and-peck vs. touch typing (if that analogy doesn't date me too badly). You'll play more confidently, and with more subtle and fluid phrasing, if you explore all sorts of alternative fingerings, and if you use all your fingers with something approaching equal ease. But (to invoke a different analogy) it's a matter of discipline, not of dogma. Chopping your way through a passage isn't an approach you'd use often, but at times it can work well. For years I avoided it assiduously; I made it a point of honor never to use the same finger consecutively on different buttons, and I think it was a good regimen. But over time I realized that once in a rare while the particular flavor of staccato I got from chopping was exactly what I wanted. In the end it's all about the sound you want. Bob Michel Near Philly
  16. One last O'Carolan tune (from me) to see August out. Here's "Mervyn Pratt" [sic], which I'd never come across until this month: http://youtu.be/RvVUzrT_LtQ It's been a pleasure revisiting some old favorites and learning a few unfamiliar ones. Bob Michel Near Philly
  17. Thanks, Rod. I'm pleased to know that I'm not the only one with a soft spot for that song. Among the countless "Dear Old Dixie" numbers from those years--most of which, frankly, have aged very badly indeed--it's a real standout. Bob Michel Near Philly
  18. Tin Pan Alley took up the cause of the War in a big way in 1917, but of course they weren't all war songs. Here's one of that year's big nonmartial hits, one with enough staying power that its chorus (with a later boost from the movies) is still pretty familiar. On the other hand the verses, as usual, didn't make the Cultural Literacy cut, and it's fun to restore them. http://youtu.be/FyKE2N7EQVg The canonical version is probably the one by Judy Garland and Gene Kelly in the eponymous 1942 film, but the recording that plays in my head when I think of the song is the late-career one Cliff Edwards made in the same year. In fact I largely blame Cliff Edwards (a.k.a. "Ukulele Ike," best known as the original voice of Jiminy Cricket) for steering me in the direction of this repertoire. But that's a story for another day. It is unrecorded whether the unnamed Gal of the title was presently instructed by her new husband to Send Him Away With A Smile. Bob Michel Near Philly
  19. The phrasing is subtle and requires many, many hours of listening, watching videos and, if possible, playing with others. It's like learning to speak a foreign language with an authentic accent. It doesn't happen easily or quickly. In very general terms what you're after is the right *mix* of legato, one-direction phrases and choppier phrases involving quick bellows reversal. This often involves learning multiple fingerings for a single passage. Some players largely avoid chords; others use them all the time, but almost never in the insistent patterns associated with English styles. Chording can seem perversely random until you grasp that it's used not to lay down a rhythm, but as an accent (as are octave notes), in much the same way that an uilleann piper uses the regulators. In fact, listening to lots of Irish piping can be a great help in developing a lively sense of phrasing. (Sean-nós singing, too.) And your sense of what sounds right is bound to change over time as you delve deeper into the music (mine certainly has). I find some well-known players to be much more helpful guides than others. Noel Hill is a distinguished virtuoso, and by all accounts an inspiring teacher, but one could go mad trying to figure out the complexities of his style from recordings. On the other hand, Mary MacNamara's CDs are worth their weight in gold; what she's doing sounds so simple until you try it. (Constant shifts of emphasis, in fact, and plenty of pauses, but oh, so understated and sly!) Ditto for Jacqueline McCarthy. Chris Droney. Jack Talty and Cormac Begley. But you'll make your own list; these are just some starting points. Above all, be patient with it. Wherever you are on your learning trajectory, it's a good place where you can make attractive music that others will want to share. And you're always on your way to still better places. Bob Michel Near Philly
  20. Speaking for myself, I don't think I really began to grasp the possibilities of bellows control until I started applying myself to the single-row accordion/melodeon. I thought I understood the analogy between the button box player's left hand and the fiddler's bowing hand, but with a two-row box (never mind a concertina) there's so much else going on that I was always just a bit distracted. The melodeon (in the Irish sense) changed that. Apart from tapping out a rudimentary I/V bass accompaniment (if that), my left hand has nothing to do but phrase the tune, finding new rhythmic variations along the way. The tune's heartbeat asserts itself with a new immediacy, and lays down the law about which ornaments are of the essence and which are just showing off. Obviously the division of labor between one's two hands is very different on a concertina, but I've found that the lessons carry over. It's been a huge help, and I think it's made me a better player. Bob Michel Near Philly
  21. Gm is a lovely key on a 30-key C/G Anglo. This chart is worth bookmarking, if you don't already know it: http://www.concertina.info/tina.faq/images/finger3.htm One way to approach this key would be to start from the G major scale (entirely playable on the G row) and think about which notes you need to change to make it minor. If you're practicing the natural minor scale, that means substituting a Bb (on the accidental row) for B, an Eb (on the accidental row) for E, and an F (on the C row) for F#. The pattern this gives you almost certainly won't be the optimal one (there will be better alternative fingerings that involve crossing rows), but it's a reasonable starting point. Note that all these altered notes can be played only on the draw. Playing in Gm requires some forethought about grabbing air when you can, on the push notes. This is particularly true if you're playing chords. The six most essential chords in Gm (Gm, Cm and Dm, along with their relative majors Bb, Eb and F) all contain notes which can be played only on the draw. So even though you can form all these chords on a 30-button box, in practice it's pretty difficult to play a full chordal accompaniment smoothly in Gm. Instead, you need to rely some of the time on partial chords that dispense with the draw-only notes. This isn't bad stylistic advice, by the way: in many contexts partial chords sound better anyway, particularly if you're singing. The best way to wrap your head around Gm, I think, would be to learn two or three tunes in that key very thoroughly. Try the jig "Crabs in the Skillet": https://thesession.org/tunes/1082 ...or the reel "Eileen Curran": https://thesession.org/tunes/132 (The latter is also sometimes notated as G Dorian.) Hope this helps! Bob Michel Near Philly
  22. Susan-- If you're talking about the first measure of the tune, why not pull the LH e, per Noel Hill's preference, then press the A on the accidental row, followed by a pressed G on the C row and another pressed A on the accidental row? The bellows reversal right after the first note gives the opening phrase a nice pop, I think. Bob Michel Near Philly
  23. A wonderful story, Rod! I'm afraid Pershing's actual performance didn't quite fulfill the messianic expectations that clung to him. In his tactics he was the quintessential general "fighting the last war," and one shudders to think of the casualty lists he could have racked up given a few more months' opportunity. He was lucky the conflict ended soon enough to let him emerge with his credit more or less intact. Bob Michel Near Philly
  24. For the first Tin Pan Alley song in the project, I've chosen the sentimental off-to-war number "Send Me Away with a Smile" (1917): http://youtu.be/VJEi_QLAyS4 It was memorably recorded (as what wasn't, around then?) by John McCormack, whose vocal stylings are so far beyond my wildest dreams that I experience no anxiety of influence whatsoever. In fact I learned the piece directly from the sheet music, and only heard the McCormack version later. It's a soldier's farewell much in the vein of "Goodbye Dolly Gray" and the like, but full (it must be said) of the clueless optimism that infects a lot of American war songs from 1917: General Pershing was going to go over there and lead a couple of cavalry charges, and that would be that. Well, that's the sort of bravado one expects at the start. But it must have sounded mighty strange in Europe, after three years of hell. The ubiquitous Al Piantadosi, from whom we'll hear again, had a hand in this one, though he's better known for having coauthored "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier" in 1915. It's possible that Al (like many others) had a change of heart about military conflict in those years. More likely he simply didn't let his personal convictions, whatever they were, stand between him and his craft (or his income). The song's jauntiness (not to mention its gender politics) can set one's teeth on edge a little, but I think it's a nice piece of work. At any rate I haven't been able to get it out of my head for the last few days. Bob Michel Near Philly
  25. Excellent! I'll have a look at that as well. Thanks, Don. Bob Michel Near Philly
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