A great artist and a great American left us today. Pete Seeger, America’s most beloved folk singer, and the father of today’s vibrant folk music scene, died today in New York City. He was 94. He left his stamp on American music with songs such as “If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “Turn, Turn, Turn.”
“Hammer” will forever be associated with resistance to Joseph McCarthy’s witchhunts, and “Flowers” was the anthem of the anti-Vietnam war movement. For Seeger, there was no distinction between art and politics. Music, he believed was a force meant to help change people’s lives. He supported the labor, civil rights, and anti-war movements of the last century, and during his final years was vocal about the dangers of climate change. Bruce Springsteen called Seeger’s career “a testament of the power of song and culture to nudge history along.”
Seeger stood fearlessly for his convictions. He faced racist mobs with Paul Robeson, and at a time when Americans were denouncing each other to save their careers, he refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committtee, knowing he could well be sent to prison. He famously said, “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.”
Recording’s of Seeger’s music are available throughout the network. Here at Somerville we have an acclaimed documentary about Seeger’s life and work, Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, that includes archival footage of some of his most performances and interviews with Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie. For more about the musical scene Seeger helped create, check out the documentary, Greenwich Village: Music that Defined a Generation.
I leave you with a recording of Seeger singing at Carnegie Hall in 1963:
Somerville is a community of makers. It’s home to the Artisan’s Asylum, a community and school for hobbyists, inventors and tinkerers. It’s a place where imaginative historical markers can spring up overnight and robots will soon roam the streets. So today’s post is a nod to that Übermaker, Leonardo da Vinci. Among the many inventions Leonardo envisioned was the “viola organista:” a piano combined with a cello. No one has ever made, let alone played, a viola organista.
Slawomir Zubrzycki, a Polish concert pianist and accomplished maker in his own right, took da Vinci’s sketch and notes from the Codex Atlanticus and built the very first viola organista.
It looks like a piano, but works nothing like one. Instead of hammered dulcimers, it has wheels wrapped in horse-tail hair. The Sydney Morning Herald has a description of how it works here. Here is a clip of the first performance of the viola organista, at the International Royal Cracow Piano Festival:
We’re very happy to announce the band Too Human will be performing at the Central Library this Sunday, Sept. 8 at 2 p.m. They’ve performed all along the East Coast and their jazzy, upbeat music has been described as “incredible” and “full of energy” and as “some of the best darned songs you’ve ever heard.” You can see a brief video from their concert at the Wilmington Public Library below:
We hope you’ll join us. Interestingly, the members of the band have also had a long and varied as composers for television and film. You can listen to samples of that work here.
Last weekend a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time stopped me on the street and asked me what the library was doing to commemorate the 200th birth year of Richard Wagner. The library has too many programs for me to keep track of, so I said, “I’ll get back to you on that.”
There is no question that Wagner is a towering figure in Western culture. He influenced later composers such as Claude Debussy, Hector Berlioz and Gustav Mahler. And his cultural impact extended beyond music: the works of the illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and writers ranging from Charles Baudelaire to D.H. Lawrence all owe something to Wagner.
But Wagner’s a controversial figure, to put it mildly. Like many Europeans of his day, Wagner was anti-semitic. And the Nazis loved him, seeing in his musical explorations of pagan myth the expression of a pure Germanic ethos. Some critics even argue that anti-semitic motifs are present in his operas, and Wagner’s own grandson thinks his music should be banned. Nevertheless his operas are among the high points of Western classical music. SPL has many of his operas on DVD, including Tristan und Isolde (one of the great love stories of Arthurian legend) and the incomparable Ring des Nibelungen: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung. You can also read about Wagner and his family in the critically acclaimed Wagner Clan: The Saga of Germany’s Most Illustrious and Infamous Family.
But however much Wagner’s operas are performed around the world, however much works such as The Waste Land or Ulysses have been influenced by the maestro, the real proof of the profundity of Wagner’s stamp on our culture is in what animators and critics agree is one of the best cartoons of all time. The team that created Bugs Bunny manages to riff on Tannhäuser, the Ring operas and The Flying Dutchman all in seven short minutes:
Introducing our latest database, Freegal! Freegal is a downloadable music service that offers access to about 3 million songs from over 10,000 labels with music that originates in over 60 countries. There is no software to download, and there are no digital rights management (DRM) restrictions. All you need is your library card number and PIN!
You can search by keyword, artist, or album or use the advanced search page. You can also browse artists A to Z, see genre lists in dozens of categories, and listen to sample clips before you download.
Somerville residents are entitled to download three free tracks per week. Downloads are all in the MP3 format and will work with any MP3 player, including iPod, and can be loaded into iTunes. There are also mobile apps available for iOS and Android devices. Check it out!
Join us for a three-part film series showcasing the use of classical music in war movies. The series kicks off at the Central Library this Saturday at 10:00 a.m. with Gallipoli. Live musical accompaniment for some scenes will be provided by members of the Cambridge Symphony Chamber Players for all three films.
1981; Starring Mel Gibson, Mark Lee, Bill Kerr, Harold Hopkins, Charles Yunipingli, & Ron Graham; Rated PG; 1 hour 52 minutes
Amazon.com says, “An outstanding drama, Gallipoli resonates with sadness long after you have seen it. Set during World War I, this brutally honest antiwar movie was cowritten by director Peter Weir. Mark Lee and a sinfully handsome Mel Gibson are young, idealistic best friends who put aside their hopes and dreams when they join the war effort. This character study follows them as they enlist and are sent to Gallipoli to fight the Turks. The first half of the film is devoted to their lives and their strong friendship. The second half details the doomed war efforts of the Aussies, who are no match for the powerful and aggressive Turkish army. Because the script pulls us into their lives and forces us to care for these young men, we are devastated by their fate.”
The next two movies in this series are:
Scent of a Woman, on Saturday, November 17th at 10:00 a.m.
1998; Starring Al Pacino and Chris O’Donnell; Rated R; 157 minutes
Amazon.com says, “Hoo-ah! After seven Oscar nominations for his outstanding work in films such as The Godfather, Serpico, and Dog Day Afternoon, it’s ironic that Al Pacino finally won the Oscar for his grandstanding lead performance in this 1992 crowd pleaser. As the blind, blunt, and ultimately benevolent retired Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade, Pacino is both hammy and compelling, simultaneously subtle and grandly over-the-top when defending his new assistant and prep school student Charlie (Chris O’Donnell) at a disciplinary hearing. While the subplot involving Charlie’s prep-school crisis plays like a sequel to Dead Poets Society, Pacino’s adventurous escapades in New York City provide comic relief, rich character development, and a memorable supporting role for Gabrielle Anwar as the young woman who accepts the colonel’s invitation to dance the tango. Scent of a Woman is a remake of the 1972 Italian film Profumo di donna. In addition to Pacino’s award, the picture garnered Oscar nominations for director Martin Brest and for screenwriter Bo Goldman.”
Platoon, on Saturday, December 1st at 10:00 a.m.
1986; Starring Charlie Sheen, Forest Whitaker, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, and Johnny Depp; Rated R; 120 minutes
Amazon.com says, “Platoon put writer-turned-director Oliver Stone on the Hollywood map; it is still his most acclaimed and effective film, probably because it is based on Stone’s firsthand experience as an American soldier in Vietnam. Chris (Charlie Sheen) is an infantryman whose loyalty is tested by two superior officers: Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe), a former hippie humanist who really cares about his men (this was a few years before he played Jesus in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ), and Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger), a moody, macho soldier who may have gone over to the dark side. The personalities of the two sergeants correspond to their combat drugs of choice–pot for Elias and booze for Barnes. Stone has become known for his sledgehammer visual style, but in this film it seems perfectly appropriate. His violent and disorienting images have a terrifying immediacy, a you-are-there quality that gives you a sense of how things may have felt to an infantryman in the jungles of Vietnam. Platoon won Oscars for best picture and director.”
The Cambridge Symphony Orchestra has worked with organizations that honor American veterans over 2012. The CSO has chosen these three war-themed films, and through an introduction with live chamber music, will spotlight how familiar classical music underscores the theme of war and its aftermath for veterans.
These programs are free and all are welcome. We hope you can join us!
Join us this Saturday, September 8th at 3:00 p.m. as we welcome Too Human for a concert of jazz standards from the Great American Songbook. The concert will be held outdoors if the weather permits, otherwise, we’ll be in the auditorium.
Too Human is an acoustic music act with vocals, guitar, percussion and upright bass. They perform jazz standards as well as their own originals. The program will include some of the great feeling songs from the American Songbook of the 20s, 30s and 40s such as Pennies From Heaven, It Had To Be You, Nice Work If You Can Get It, All of Me, Sentimental Journey, and others.
Too Human performs all over the East Coast at festivals and fairs, libraries, museums and galleries, civic events and summer concerts, vineyards and wine tastings, clubs, arts councils, schools, coffeehouses, private parties, and restaurants. They’ve written songs for Cher, Pat Benatar, Anne Murray, Nancy Wilson, Teddy Pendergrass and many others. You can see and hear them perform by clicking here, here, here, here, and here.
An Evening of Words and Music with Yani Batteau & Judah Leblang (June 13, 2012)
Our guest blogger Sarah Wolf has written about Wednesday’s lovely event. Yani and Judah were great!
I turn you over to Sarah,
On Wednesday, June 13, 2012, local artists Yani Batteau and Judah Leblang joined musical and storytelling forces for an evening of poignant laughter and sing-a-longs. Dividing their program into two sets – the first devoted to being in (and out) of love, the second about life outside of romance – they shared the stage in an often lighthearted back-and-forth between Yani and her banjo and Judah and his personal essays.
On the topic of love, Yani strummed out solo banjo versions of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” (a song about falling in love), Kitty Well’s “Honky Tonk Angels” (a song about cheating men), and the traditional American song “Frankie and Johnny” (a song about jealousy and murder). In between each song, Judah shared a personal anecdote from his life, starting with “Voices in My Head,” a self-examination that pits his inner-Clevelander with his current day Bostonian self, comparing the two cities sports teams as a metaphor for clinging to mediocrity (the Indians) instead of aligning himself with world champions (the Red Sox). His next piece, called “A Fine Line” discussed what Judah called “the heartbreak of hair loss,” an examination of the emphasis on personal appearance in dating. The first set ended with Judah’s piece “Dating and Middle Age,” a very humorous account of finding his place in the gay community and the difficulties of meeting a potential mate – the biggest laugh coming when he confessed his own profile appeared on random searches on Match.com … and revealed he was only an 83% match for himself!
After a brief intermission, this dynamic duo returned for Part 2. Yani started it off with an original tune called “Riding My Bicycle” (about her daily commute) and did a soulful rendition of “Summertime” from the Gershwin classic Porgy and Bess, then rounding out her portion of the act with a rousing sing-a-long version of the classic Malcolm McLaren tune “Buffalo Girls.” Judah read from an essay called “Jingle Bells” about participating in Medford’s World Record contest to have the most people continuously singing Christmas carols and also from one entitled “The Pierogi Eating Contest,” a tale of a visit back home to Cleveland. His last piece was a touching recollection of his grandfather’s pharmacy called “Papa’s Place,” truly a love song to “the old neighborhood.” The evening ended with Judah and Yani singing a duet called “I Don’t Like You Anymore,” something Judah described as a “heartwarming song.” And it was – as were the two of them.
Yani Batteau is the front woman for the band Yani Batteau and the Styles and an award-winning visual artist. Judah Leblang is a Medford-based writer and storyteller, a columnist for Bay Windows newspaper, and a radio commentator. His book Finding My Place: One Man’s Journey from Cleveland to Boston and Beyond is available from Lake Effect Press.
This Saturday, April 21! Join us as Somerville celebrates its third “one city, one book” campaign, Somerville Reads 2012, a project that promotes literacy and community engagement by encouraging people all over the City to read and discuss books on the same theme. This year’s theme is food—local, sustainable, and delicious! We’ve chosen two books for discussion: Farm City: the Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter and Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. Copies of both books are available for check out at all Somerville Public Library locations.