Keepin’ It Classy: Composition #36/50: Flight of the Bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

I hope that this post finds you well wherever you happen to be reading it. In Cobourg, Ontario, where I am, the sun is shining, the grass is greening up, the birds are singing and the temperatures are starting to become warmer. I have opened all of the windows in our house. It is a wonderful time to take my keyboard in hand and write this post to all of you. While I can report that our gardens are coming alive with the first sprouts of tulips and daffodils, I have not seen the first appearance of our important friends, the bumblebees. A lot of what we do in our yard, with regard to planting, is so that there will be pollinating plants for the bees to visit, along with milkweed and other varieties of plants essential for the health and well-being of butterflies. My wife and I are by no means experts in creating insect-friendly garden spaces but we try our best. Our reward comes in the form of the flitting of Monarch butterfly wings and the buzzing of the bees all around our home throughout the warmer months of the year.

That’s not a bumblebee! It’s a Prince!

Bumblebees are one of the most important living creatures on our planet. Their role as pollinators is critical to the growth of many plants that we, as humans, need to survive. However, despite the important role that they play, bumblebees are also the clown princes of the insect world, too. The reason for this is the design of their bodies. Bumblebees have large, strong stocky bodies, yet their wings are relatively short. There have been many engineering experts who have studied the design of a bumblebee’s body and have declared that, mathematically-speaking, a bumblebee should not be able to fly at all. Those short wings do not possess enough length to compensate for the girth of their bodies, which means that they can’t use their wings in the same way that most flying creatures can to create lift. It has been discovered that bumblebees are able to fly because they use their wings in a motion that resembles a human swimmer doing the breaststroke. The bee’s wings go forward and backwards instead of up and down. But even with this swimming-like motion, a bumblebee can barely lift its own weight, and thus it must work furiously to merely buzz about gardens such as mine. This manic effort, combined with the aerodynamic challenges inherent in a bumblebee’s design, often cause a bumblebee’s flight pattern to be erratic. If you have ever watched a bee flying in your garden, you will be aware that they rarely go from flower to flower in a straight, economical line. Instead, they buzz about in stops and starts, looping about each flower as if they are attempting to land in a windstorm. It is no wonder that bumblebees bathe themselves in golden pollen once inside a flower. It must be such a feeling of relief to simply not be flying anymore and be still.

Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

The chaotic nature of how bumblebees fly is not only of interest to those who ponder food chains and the survival of our planet. It also served as inspiration for one of classical music’s most famous and well-known compositions, “The Flight of the Bumblebee”, by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Rimsky-Korsakov was a very important and influential Russian composer who practiced his craft in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s. He wrote many symphonies but was best known for his operas, many of which drew from Russian folklore. Consequently, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov is regarded as one of the major composers of nationalistic music (which is more commonly referred to as the Russian sound). In 1899, Rimsky-Korsakov wrote an opera called The Tale of Tsar Saltan. In this opera, the Tsar goes to sea just as he is about to become a father. While at sea, he gets word that his child has turned out to be a monster of some sort. Meanwhile, a coup has taken place at home that, among other things, has seen the Tsarina and her new baby boy sealed into a barrel and cast into the middle of the ocean. One thing leads to another, and the boy grows up to be a prince on a small island that he and his mother had washed up upon. One day, the Tsar sails by this island totally unaware that his wife and son now reside there. A magic swan appears and grants the boy the ability to change into the shape of a bumblebee. In this form, the boy is able to fly across the water and, in a modern day drone-like fashion, watch the man who he has come to suspect is his real father. As the opera unfolds, the boy changes into the form of a bumblebee several times. Each time that he does, the music of “The Flight of the Bumblebee” plays. Used in this way, “The Flight of the Bumblebee” is considered to be a piece of music called an Interlude. An interlude is a short piece of music that acts as a bridge between scenes. In this specific case, the interlude known as “The Flight of the Bumblebee” plays during the act of the boy flying to be near his father’s ship.

Each yellow dash equals one note. This image shows five seconds worth of notes. That’s a lot of notes in a very short time!

There have been several examples of incidental interludes actually becoming famous stand-alone pieces of music that end up outshining the original symphony or opera in which they were found. Edvard Grieg’s “Morning Mood” is one such example that you can read about here. In the case of “The Flight of the Bumblebee”, even though it is a short composition, it has gained fame due to the incredibly difficult skill level required to play it properly. Rimsky-Korsakov paid attention to detail. This can be seen in the fact that he constructed the notes of “The Flight of the Bumblebee” to be played at a rate that mimicked the speed with which an actual bumblebee has to use its wings in order to be able to fly. As we know, a real bumblebee has to move its wings incredibly fast, and even then, it still has difficulty moving about in an orderly fashion. Rimsky-Korsakov attempted to replicate this rapidity of movement by having the notes played as quickly as humanly possible. Not only that, but the way in which the notes appear in this piece requires the pianist to not only play with great speed but also with dexterity and extreme precision. For this reason, “The Flight of the Bumblebee” is generally considered to be one of the most difficult compositions for piano that has ever been written. It is often used as one of the examination pieces that students at conservatories of music are required to master before being granted certification. For proof of how difficult this short piece of music is to play, I ask you to click on the link at the end of this description and watch a video of this piece being played in a digitized fashion. The video shows the musical notes as coloured dashes that fall toward a piano keyboard at the bottom of the screen. As the notes fall, the pianist must hit the corresponding keys in time and in sequence in order for the video to continue. It resembles a video game on hyper drive. It seems to my untrained eyes that it is impossible to keep up the pace and accuracy necessary in order to play “The Flight of the Bumblebee” properly, but yet, many pianists manage to pull it off and real bumblebees can actually fly, so who am I to argue? You can watch this video by clicking here.

The Diner scene from Shine. Geoffrey Rush plays The Flight of the Bumblebee in a diner.

I will close by stating that “The Flight of the Bumblebee” has become a piece of music that has taken on a life of its own. It has been used in countless movies and animated television shows. In many of those cases, the music is played during chase scenes. There is one notable exception to this rule. In the 1996 movie Shine, actor Geoffrey Rush won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of pianist David Helfgott. In real life, Helfgott was a classically trained pianist who was raised in a very strict and demanding household in Australia. Eventually he moved to London and began to achieve a measure of fame for his playing skills on the piano. However, with fame came pressure that, in turn, came to manifest itself in the form of mental illness, eventual breakdown and hospitalization. In the movie scene that I will include in the links below, Geoffrey Rush (as Helfgott) stumbles into a restaurant that has a piano off to the side of the dining room. He is dressed haphazardly. As he enters the restaurant, his appearance attracts the attention of those dining inside. As the restaurant owners contemplate how they are going to handle this seemingly mentally unstable man, Rush sits down at the piano, drops his sheet music all over the floor, leaves it there and then launches into “The Flight of the Bumblebee”. For the brief moments that this composition lasts, Rush is able to demonstrate Helfgott’s prodigious talent and allow him to shine for all to see. It is a remarkable cinematic moment; one that went a long way toward helping Rush win the Best Actor Oscar.

The time for me to end this post is at hand. The time for me to head outside into the sunshine is at hand as well. I do not anticipate seeing a bumblebee in my yard on this day. It is still slightly too cool. But when I see them again, I will welcome their arrival. There will be no handshakes, hugs or high-fives between us. Instead, I will smile while keeping my distance. That bumblebee will be working hard just to stay aloft and say hello. I will leave it alone and allow it to stagger about, grateful that in doing so, it is saving the world. Bumblebees are truly one of Nature’s greatest miracles.

The link to the video for the composition “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov can be found here. ***Honestly, the pianist is moving her hands so quickly they are nothing but a blur in this video. Unbelievable.

The link to the video for the “Flight of the Bumblebee” scene from the movie Shine can be found here.

The link to the official website of a museum dedicated to the life of composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov can be found here.

***NOTE: On a personal note, I wish to inform my faithful readers that this will be my last music post for the foreseeable future. My 92 year old mother has landed in hospital in Nova Scotia. At this time I do not wish to speculate on the outcome of her stay. But, needless to say, I will be heading down to be with her in the days to come. Hopefully, I won’t need to be away long but in cases such as this, one never knows. So, hug the ones you love. I will see you all again sometime down the road. Bye for now.

***All original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Reader’s Choice: Song #31/250…Working Class Hero by John Lennon

As written in a previous post that you can read here, John Lennon’s view of the world around him became more cynical and jaded as his career and life unfolded. In the early days of The Beatles, it was all laughter and smiles, fun and games, light and airy Pop tunes. However, after the 1960s passed their midpoint, it all began to change for Lennon. Beatles manager Brian Epstein died, leaving the members of the band to manage their own affairs, which proved burdensome and divisive. John saw the birth of his son, Julian, his divorce from his first wife, Cynthia, and the start of his new relationship with Yoko Ono. As a band, The Beatles experienced their disastrous US tour (which included Lennon’s controversial comment about the band being bigger than Jesus). This caused The Beatles to give up touring and playing live for the remaining days as a band. It was also as The Beatles were trying to record the songs that ended up being on the albums Abbey Road and Let It Be that John started coming under the influence of nefarious characters such as manager Allan Klein and record producer Phil Spector. (You can read posts about Klein and Spector here, here and here).

While all of these changes were happening in Lennon’s musical world, the outside world around Lennon was changing, too. The sunny optimism of The Summer of Love had begun to give way to the anger and cynicism felt by many toward governments because of the Vietnam War and other assorted scandals and events. There were protests in many western countries. As often happens during times like these, citizens looked to artists and poets and writers and musicians to use their skills to shine a light on the way forward. While still in The Beatles, Lennon felt that pressure to say something about the events of the day. He responded with the song “Revolution”. As detailed in the previous post linked above, “Revolution” was met with a storm of criticism from the authorities for having said too much and from protestors who claimed Lennon hadn’t said enough. Stung by this negative response, Lennon’s next political move was to hold his famous/infamous Bed-in for Peace in Montreal. The track he recorded at this time, which was co-credited to him and to Yoko Ono, was called “Give Peace a Chance”. (You can read more about that song here). Again, John Lennon’s earnest intentions were met with criticisms that it was all just a publicity stunt by a man who had it all with The Beatles and was simply trying to maintain his place in the public eye.

Yoko Ono and John Lennon in NYC,

Around this time in the early 1970s, he and Yoko Ono officially moved to New York City and moved into the famous Dakota Apartments adjacent to Central Park on the Upper West Side of the city. In a final, last-ditch effort to make a political statement that would be respected and have the type of socially-positive impact that Lennon sought, he released an album of stridently political songs called Some Time in New York City. He followed up that album with the release of today’s song, “Working Class Hero”. This song completed a four-phase cycle of attempts by John Lennon to make his politics known to the world and effect some change in a world that seemed to be losing direction. “Working Class Hero” is a song that was inspired by a much older song known as “Nottamun Town”. Essentially, the theme of both songs is that of being a victim of class struggles and the toll that it takes on one’s soul. Lennon had hoped that his acoustic ballad about the struggles of the working class would be revolutionary in nature and would help form part of the soundtrack to a worker’s rebellion. As you may be aware, John Lennon came from working class roots. He never had much in the way of material possessions or opportunities growing up in Liverpool, England. He lived with a variety of relatives during his youth, and as you may recall, he waxed poetic about spending his teenage days sneaking into Strawberry Fields orphanage for tea and snacks. (You can read about that song here). However, living now, as he did, in one of New York City’s most famous and exclusive apartment buildings, complete with a Central Park view, was not the usual lot of a common working class bloke. Even though “Working Class Hero” was a song that was true to his family’s heritage and experiences, it rang hollow coming from a rich man’s mouth in the 1970s. Over time, “Working Class Hero” has gone on to become one of John Lennon’s most respected solo recordings. It has been covered by a roster of music stars (such as Ozzy Osbourne, Green Day, Marianne Faithful, as well as country singer Alan Jackson) who were drawn to its gritty lyrics and its respect for those who toil and labour to make ends meet.

John, Sean and Yoko relaxing away from it all in their NYC apartment.

It was around this time in John Lennon’s personal, as well as his professional life that he made a very sensible decision. He and Yoko Ono had a child together that they named Sean. With the birth of his son, John Lennon shifted his focus in life and decided to retire from active performing. He dedicated himself to being the best father he could be to Sean and became a stay-at-home dad. He recorded no new songs during the first five years of Sean’s life. He gave no public performances, either. Instead, he donned his cap, wound a scarf around his neck and pushed a stroller around Central Park, blending in with the thousands of other parents milling about each day in America’s biggest, busiest city. But fate was to intercede in a most unexpected way and draw Lennon back to the recording studio. In Athens, Georgia, a new band called The B52s was gaining attention for their music. In particular, they had a hit song on the radio called “Rock Lobster”. As part of the song’s musical structure, one of the female vocalists, Kate Pierson, makes sounds that mimic a dolphin. (You can read about this song here). As John and Yoko listened to this catchy song, they both noticed that Pierson’s dolphin squeals sounded a lot like the sort of experimental music that Yoko Ono was making with the Plastic Ono Band. The notion that this up-and-coming band would give such an obvious shout-out to John and Yoko sent a jolt of electricity coursing through John’s body and soul. Believing that, perhaps, he was still a relevant voice in the music scene, John Lennon began writing new material. The songs he was inspired to write became the music on an album called Double Fantasy. And just like that, John Lennon’s music was being played on the radio again. His songs about his love for Yoko Ono and his happiness about his family life stood in stark contrast to the unhappy political music that marked his transition from The Beatles to being a solo artist. He was back in the spotlight with a message that better reflected who he actually was at that time in his life. For the very first time in a long time, John Lennon was content.

The John Lennon memorial located in Central Park just across the street from where he lived and died at The Dakota Apartments.

I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I found out that John Lennon had been killed. Like many, I was watching Monday Night Football and heard the news from sportscaster Howard Cosell that John Lennon had been shot five times (Cosell says it was twice) outside of his Dakota Apartment building and had been pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. (You can watch that clip here). It was a surreal experience to learn of Lennon’s death under those circumstances, because the fans in the football stadium were unaware. To them, the game was all that mattered, so they continued to cheer and roar accordingly. The ABC TV network, which was airing the game, stayed with the match instead of breaking away for live coverage, so the game commentary continued as if nothing had happened. And yet, everything had changed, and the game didn’t matter anymore to any of us who were watching on our televisions. The “Working Class Hero” who had finally found some happiness in his life was dead. He was shot a total of five times, four of which were in his back. He died on the sidewalk in front of an archway that led to an interior courtyard at the Dakota Apartments. From that sidewalk, it is just a short walk to his beloved Central Park. If you are ever in New York City, you can go to Central Park and discover a special place dedicated to his memory. It is a circular mosaic area with the word Imagine in the centre of it. The memorial is surrounded by shade trees and park benches. It is the perfect place to sit for a while and get away from the hustle and bustle of New York City life. Not surprisingly, this spot has been named Strawberry Fields.

Julian Lennon and Sean Ono Lennon today.

It has been over forty years since John Lennon was killed by an assassin’s bullets. In that time, Yoko Ono has continued to live and perform and to act as an advocate for peace and the environment and, of course, the Arts. Ono makes frequent guest appearances at B52 concerts and delights audiences with her own aquatic utterances. However, despite the passing of time, she remains a polarizing figure who has never fully escaped the criticism that she was the person most responsible for the break up of the best band the world had ever seen. As for Lennon’s sons, they both have lived their lives never fully being able to be their own person. They are always and forever referred to as John Lennon’s sons. The Lennon surname weighs on their shoulders like a colossus. Both dabble in music, but neither has had the career that their father had. Consequently, both Sean and Julian Lennon seem like disappointments, which is an entirely unfair label to put on either man. For now anyway, there will be no inspirational song from the Lennon siblings to lead us forward out of our latest collective malaise. Because of that, we turn our eyes back to John and to songs like “Working Class Hero”.

As soon as you’re born, they make you feel small

By giving you no time instead of it all.

‘Til the pain is so big you feel nothing at all

A working class hero is something to be.

A working class hero is something to be.

A legacy can be a complicated thing. John Lennon is no different in that regard. He is viewed by many as being one of the most notable people of our modern times because of his role in popularizing Rock n’ Roll. As a public figure, John Lennon could be as charming as anyone, which has led all of us to continue to view him in a respected and honourable light. We readily overlook the role his shady financial dealings with the likes of Allan Klein contributed to the loss of The Beatles. We tend to view his work with The Beatles as being, in many ways, superior to his solo work, and yet he was a solo artist for longer than he was a Beatle. For me, I admire John Lennon because I view the trajectory of his life to be similar to that of many of us in the real world. He had a joyous and happy start to his adult life, only to discover that the world is not all sunshine and roses as he matured into his twenties and on to his thirties. Like me, John Lennon found his greatest source of happiness and contentment from being a husband and father. The saddest part of it all was that it was taken from him just as he seemed to be figuring out what truly mattered most in life. His family seem to be the ones left to bear the largest impact of Lennon’s legacy. I wish them all well. I bear them no grudge. If I were ever lucky enough to meet Yoko Ono, I would hope to be able to give her a hug. As for John Lennon, may you rest in peace. The next time I am in NYC, I will be sure to drop by to pay my respects. Until then, I will listen to great songs like “Working Class Hero” and I will remember you.

The link to the video for the song “Working Class Hero” by John Lennon can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the official website for John Lennon can be found here.

The link to the official website for Yoko Ono can be found here.

The links to the official websites for Julian and Sean Lennon can be found here and here.

***All original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Today’s/Tomorrow’s Top 40: Artist profile…Billie Eilish

This is what a recorded audio track looks like using Soundcloud. When I recorded my students reading, all of the pauses, tongue clicks, etc. would all be visible. It was a very helpful analytical tool for me in the classroom.

About a decade or so ago when I was still a classroom teacher, I used to record my students reading aloud once a term. Early in my career, I recorded their voices using an old-fashioned tape recorder. Once recorded, I could analyze each child’s reading tendencies in greater detail. I could share these insights with parents and develop strategies for improvement that could be worked on at school and at home. As my career rolled along technology changed. Toward the end of my time in the classroom everything became digitized. To record my students as they read I started using an app called Soundcloud. For my purposes, Soundcloud was a glorified computerized tape recorder. I clicked on the record button, my students read aloud and then I pressed the stop button. I also used Soundcloud to read simple stories online for my students so that they could access them at home or at school, holding the storybook in their own hands and following along to my words as they listened. At the time, I thought I was engaging in some cutting edge technological wizardry. Truth be told, my use of the Soundcloud app was as basic and rudimentary as it comes. Soundcloud was invented to allow anyone who wanted the ability to record sounds to do so and then release them for the world to hear. This meant that poets could share their poems and sound effect artists could record and share those noises for others to hear and/or use. But the biggest market for Soundcloud users turned out to be aspiring singers. Not everyone has access to a full-blown recording studio. But almost anyone can access a computer (desktop, laptop, phone) with a built-in microphone and use soundcloud’s mixing features to record multi-track songs and instrumental music. With the introduction of social media, every regular joe can now share their thoughts, feelings and ideas with the world. We live in an age of empowerment. Our homes manifest themselves into town squares with the power of our devices. Anyone can be a viral social media star these days because of technology. One who has become famous this way is today’s featured guest, Billie Eilish.

Billie Eilish

When Billie Eilish was only eleven years old, she started singing her own songs using the Soundcloud app. At the time, she and her older brother, Finneas, were being homeschooled by their parents who thought that Soundcloud was a useful tool to capture the creative expressions of their children. Finneas had his own band then and had already started creating his own music by the time his little sister Billie showed interest in doing the same. In order to help her out, Finneas began setting aside songs that he felt were better suited for her voice than for his. Consequently, when Billie Eilish was a mere thirteen years old, she released her very first professional song via Soundcloud called “Ocean Eyes”. The song soon became popular on the app and an instant audience for Billie Eilish’s music was created numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Such success caught the eye of Apple Music. Billie Eilish was signed to a development contract. In no time at all, she was the centre of a multi-tiered online marketing campaign. The teenage singer recorded a few other songs with her brother Finneas. One of these new songs was inspired by the literary character Sherlock Holmes and was called “You Should See Me In A Crown”. These songs were then taken by Apple Music and were remixed and re-recorded by other artists from their roster. These remixes were released in a coordinated campaign aimed at creating the sense that her music had gone viral and was being sung everywhere by everyone. In addition to her actual songs, Billie Eilish collaborated with graphic designers and animators to create Animé-style illustrations to accompany her music. So, not only were there multiple mixes of each song, there were multiple music videos online as well. By the time Billie Eilish turned seventeen, she released her first major album called When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? From that album came her first hit single called “Bad Guy”. This song went all the way to #1 on the charts, making her the first singer born in the 2000s to reach the top of the charts. Her album also went to #1, selling millions of copies in the process. At the Grammy Awards that took place later that year, Billie Eilish won six Grammys, including Song of the Year, Best New Artist, Album of the Year and Record of the Year. As if that much success wasn’t enough, Billie Eilish followed that up by being signed to sing the latest James Bond movie theme song called “No Time To Die”. For that song, she won additional Grammys the following year, as well as the Academy Award for Best Song from a Movie. As she and her brother Finneas sang on that Oscar stage, Billie Eilish had yet to turn twenty.

Seeing as how it has only been the past few years that Billie Eilish has been on the music scene, there is still much that we are all getting to know about her. For starters, her last name is not Eilish. I always thought so. But, in reality, her legal name is Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell. One of the things that first caught the attention of the public (besides her singing skills) was her appearance. Billie Eilish burst onto the scene with multi-coloured hair and bright baggy outfits. Initially, she stated that she wanted people to think she was weird because that made her slightly intimidating and gave her a sense of power in her personal relationships, especially with the media. But, as it turns out, the real reason she wore what she did was because she didn’t want to submit herself to the media scrutiny about her body and her appearance. Far too many young women find themselves packaged in a sexual way before they ever get a chance to be judged on their artistic merit. Once she won her Grammys and her Oscar and was noted for her music first, then she allowed herself to be seen in public in dresses and on red carpets the world over. Billie Eilish has managed that rare feat of seemingly being in control of her public image and has done so at a very young age. Finally, to complement her music and the physical image she presents to the world, Billie Eilish has championed several causes such as climate change, animal welfare and women’s rights. She has started using her public platform in ways that help to shine a light on these issues. This marriage of musical talent with intelligent, worldly thoughts makes Billie Eilish seem like a very well-rounded human being indeed.

Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas with some of the Grammys that adorn the bookshelves of their family home.

As I write these words, Billie Eilish is appearing more often in public as part of a duo with her brother. The pair go by Billie Eilish and Finneas. While Finneas may be her older brother, they are both still only in their early twenties. Both have accomplished much in these young lives of theirs. They appear to have their feet firmly planted on the ground and have so far managed to avoid many of the usual temptations that have tripped up so many other folks for whom fame and fortune arrived too soon. In the links below, I will take you through some of her discography. You can see how she (and Finneas) have evolved over time these past few years. Don’t worry if you are not overly familiar with her name because she is so new on the music scene. But make no mistake, Billie Eilish and Finneas are rapidly rising stars who, hopefully, have many productive and successful years ahead of them yet. Without further delay, here are Billie Eilish and her talented brother, Finneas. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “You Should See Me In A Crown” by Billie Eilish can be found here. ***The lyrics version (which is also the anime-style version) can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “No Time To Die” from the James Bond movie of the same name can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the official website for Billie Eilish can be found here.

The link to the official website for Soundcloud can be found here.

***All original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged,copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

The Stars of Stage and Screen…Song #38/250: This Is Berk from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, How To Train Your Dragon

If I was to ever write an advice book for expectant parents, one of the first things that I would say to them would be to make time to read with your children from the moment they are born. I could easily spend the remainder of this post discussing language development and literacy, in general. But, as important as that is, I would also stress to new parents the equally important aspect of the bonding that takes place between parent and child when you hold your newly born baby close to your beating heart and share stories together. If you are lucky, the act of sharing stories and songs will inspire your child to develop a love of language and or reading and of personal discovery. My wife and I feel very fortunate that both of our daughters have grown into literate, knowledgeable young women who are critical consumers of information and who also simply enjoy a good read when time allows.

The original How To Train Your Dragon book.

Some of my fondest memories as a father to date stem from reading with my girls when they were younger. Because of the way my wife and I divided up our parental responsibilities, I ended up reading mostly with my eldest daughter, Leah. My wife spent the bedtime ritual mostly with our youngest daughter, Sophie. For Leah and I, reading together was a very special part of our day. We started out with picture books but Leah’s ability to attend for longer periods of time rapidly grew, which meant that our reading material soon transitioned over into chapter books. If a book she liked happened to be part of a series, then Leah liked to read the whole series. We started out with easier chapter book series such as Magic Tree House and the Rainbow Magic fairy books. Before long, we were into the Harry Potter books, The Chronicles of Narnia, Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables and so on. Along the way, Leah discovered some interesting newer books that ended up becoming a series in their own right. One of the best of these started with a book called How To Train Your Dragon by British author Cressida Cowell. What started out as one book grew to become a series of twelve. Leah and I read them all. Three feature-length movies have been released, too. Leah and I have seen those, too. In time, Leah grew up and asked that she be allowed to read on her own at bedtime because she could read books faster to herself than I could read aloud. She also wanted to start exploring books that involved more grown up themes that were better suited to the actual events of her teenage life. So, our bedtime reading ritual came to an end…sort of. What has happened is that we have transitioned to reading together at bedtime to reading together online. Leah is one of the most faithful readers of my blog. I appreciate her comments and the questions that she asks about what I write. In turn, she has her own book-related blog (which you can check out here). She always asks me to proofread her posts before she hits the publish button. I enjoy reading what she writes, too. She is a pretty amazing writer.

How To Train Your Dragon: the movie.

Getting back to How To Train Your Dragon, on the surface, the series involves a community of Vikings who live on the rugged, rocky Island of Berk. As the series begins, these Vikings feel threatened by a wide assortment of dragons who steal their sheep and burn their homes with regularity. One of rites of passage for young Vikings is that they have to capture and train a wild dragon, taming it for a life of servitude under Viking rule. Like many book series, the main characters are younger. In How To Train Your Dragon, we get to follow a young Viking named Hiccup Horrendous the Third and his friends as they grow up together in this dangerous world of Vikings and dragons. But again, like most series of this type, what you see on the surface is not the real message of the books. As Hiccup and his friends grow up, they soon discover that dragons are not their enemies and should not be viewed as an enslaved workforce waiting to be captured and subdued into obedience. Instead, Hiccup and his friends come to respect dragons as being sentient beings in their own right and discover that it is possible to establish relationships with them based upon mutual respect and tolerance. Taken to the next level, it seems obvious that the lessons meted out in these twelve books could easily be adapted to the real world. Instead of Vikings and dragons, we could have capitalists vs communists, white nationalists vs immigrants, heterosexuals vs anyone who chooses to love differently, men vs women, the super rich vs the rest of us and so on it goes.

How To Train Your Dragon musical composer John Powell.

The musical score of the movie How To Train Your Dragon was created by a composer named John Powell. Mr. Powell is famous for creating the scores for animated feature-length films and has worked on many popular movies such as Happy Feet, Chicken Run, Rio, Shrek, Horton Hears a Who and many more. Powell trained under the mentorship of film scorer extraordinaire Hans Zimmer. Like Zimmer, John Powell has been nominated for multiple Grammy awards and, as well, for an Academy Award for Best Score for today’s film, How To Train Your Dragon. The soundtrack for this movie is almost all orchestral/instrumental. In order to best illustrate the difference a great score can make, I am going to share three videos of the opening composition entitled “This Is Berk”. In the first video, I shall share with you the opening scene as it appears in the film (complete with dialogue and special effects sounds, too). In the second video, I will share the same scene, except this time it will only have the orchestral music present. Finally, I will share with you a live performance by an actual orchestra that took place as part of the international animation awards. In this video, you can watch the orchestra play live against the backdrop of a huge screen that is showing the opening of the movie. Taken together, all three videos give you a glimpse behind the scenes at how a film score works in conjunction with dialogue and special effects. Specifically, in the case of How To Train Your Dragon, you will get to see how this saga of tolerance and empathy begins on an isolated island teeming with fear and ignorance. You will also be introduced to Hiccup, who is one of the great characters in modern children’s literature (a worthy peer to the likes of Harry Potter, Laura Ingalls, Anne with an “e”, Jack and Annie, Prince Caspian and so many more).

On a more personal note for my area readers, there is going to be a special screening of the original How To Train Your Dragon movie on Saturday, April 22 here in Cobourg. The screening will be held at the Rainbow Cinemas and is a fundraiser for the fantastic local charity The Rose Quest. (You can visit the official Rose Quest website here for more information). So, if you want to see a sweeping, epic animated story on the big screen, with its Academy Award winning score and wonderful message of tolerance and understanding, all the while supporting a great cause, then you know where to go and what to do.

Happy birthday to this beauty! Thanks for a lifetime of wonderful memories…including introducing me to How To Train Your Dragon.

For now, I will end this post as it began. The Arts have a unique ability to touch the hearts of those who experience them. Reading with my children enriched my life and helped my heart grow. Because of books and stories, we got to discuss all manner of subject matter, visit museums as a follow up, listen to music, watch movies together and much, much more. The most important part of that last sentence is that we got to share these experiences together. Spending time with those you love is the ultimate luxury. I wouldn’t have traded a single second of anything that I did with my girls. Life is truly a gift. I will conclude with a simple birthday wish for Leah (whose birthday is today): may your days ahead continue to be filled with opportunities to experience the world in the company of those you love, whether that be with your mother and I, your sister, your extended family, your friends or with your life partner who is out there waiting to meet you right now! Your company has always been like a treasure to all who are lucky enough to know you. May you feel that in your heart always and forever. Thanks for being you. Happy birthday.

The link to the video for the song “This Is Berk” (the complete opening scene) from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film How To Train Your Dragon can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “This Is Berk” (the opening scene with music only) from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film How To Train Your Dragon can be found here.

The link to the video of a live performance of “This Is Berk” from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film How To Train Your Dragon can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the film How To Train Your Dragon can be found here.

The link to an article written about the books Leah and I ended up reading together can be found here. (It was a guest post I wrote for a friend who runs the fabulous website Happy Hooligans. This website is all about children learning through play. It has scores of activities, craft and cooking ideas and so on. As websites for children go, Happy Hooligans is the gold standard in my opinion).

***All original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song #40/50: Knocking At The Door by The Arkells

The last time I saw a live music concert was just prior to the start of the COVID Pandemic in 2019. The band I saw that night in Oshawa, Ontario was The Arkells. What a fabulous show! They opened with their current hit at the time, “Knocking At The Door” and never took their foot off the gas for the next two hours. The Arkells are listed as a rock band but they are as much a soul band as anything else. When you listen to any Arkells song, you are apt to hear rock influences, Motown influences, gospel influences and sometimes, a little country, too.

The Arkells

The members of the band include lead singer Max Kerman, keyboardist Anthony Carone, bassist Nick Dika, guitarist Mike DeAngelis and drummer Tim Oxford. The five guys all hail from Hamilton, Ontario, and all grew up on or near to Arkell Street, which is where the band got their name. The Arkells have been awarded the Group of the Year Award at the Junos four times in the past decade. Their albums have gone four times platinum to date. They tour relentlessly. And when they couldn’t tour because of the pandemic, The Arkells were one of the best bands at using social media to maintain their connection to their fans. I have said this before and I will say it again, if any band is ever to fill the musical shoes of The Tragically Hip in this country, it will be The Arkells.

A tweet aimed at No. 45

Many of the songs that The Arkells have released have to do with growing up in a blue collar city like Hamilton. As many of you may be aware, Hamilton is known for making steel that is exported across Canada and the world. Its reputation as a hotbed of the Labour Movement is well earned. Consequently, the members of The Arkells grew up in an environment where being a steelworker was a respected career path. Even though all of the band members attended university at McMaster and could have pursued professional careers had music not called instead, the band has always embraced the working class world in which each member lived as kids. This sense of hometown pride reflects itself in songs that namedrop various neighbourhoods and local landmarks in the city. Their lyrics also contain political themes that tend to reflect the party line of the Labour Movement. A few examples include songs like “People’s Champ” (which rapped the knuckles of former U.S. President Trump while he was still in office), “Champagne Socialist” (which is about wealthy people…usually politicians…who pretend to care about working class people and the struggle they face to make ends meet each week), “Whistleblower” (which is all about the state of journalism today and the need to hold elected officials and large corporations to account) and finally, “Knocking At The Door” (which was written as an act of solidarity with those who were organizing the large “Women’s Marches” that took place in the U.S. a few years ago.

In a bit of an editorial note: I have had many readers of my blog comment about the artists and bands that they say “I promote”. I just want to be perfectly clear that I don’t always like the artists/bands that appear on my blog, as people or as musicians. The reason that I profile them is because I feel that there is a story there worth sharing with all of you. It may be about the way the song was made or about what the subject matter is or about how it affected the artist or how it affected us, as listeners. My ego is not so big, that even if I present artists, bands or genres of music that aren’t to my taste, I can still find positive things to say about them. Having said that, if I am endorsing someone or some band in one of my posts I will definitely let you all know. Just so we can all practice this, let’s give it a try. I really like The Arkells. I think they are an amazing live band. Their concert in 2019 helped get me through those quiet pandemic years. I would happily see them again in concert. By the time they are finished as a band or else I am too old to be going out on my own, there stands a good chance that The Arkells will be the answer to the trivia question: which band have you seen live the most times? Presently the answer to that question remains The Tragically Hip.

The Arkells at Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton

I hope that you enjoy the song, “Knocking At The Door” that I have chosen for this post. This particular song was filmed in Hamilton at a football stadium that used to be known as Ivor Wynne Stadium and is now Tim Hortons Field. The way they opened the show in their hometown is the exact same way they opened the show that I saw in Oshawa a few days earlier. These guys are awesome. If you think so too, then by all means, check them out further by watching some of their other videos on YouTube. For now, I leave you with “Knocking At The Door” by The Arkells. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song “Knocking At The Door” by The Arkells can be found here. ***There is no lyrics version of this song. Sorry.

The link to the official website for The Arkells can be found here.

The link to the official website for the city of Hamilton, Ontario, can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shal be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Today’s/Tomorrow’s Top 40: Featured Artist: P!nk

P!nk was born in 1979 as Alecia Moore. In her teens she was a member of an all-girl band named Choice that recorded one professional album. Like so many new bands, pressure was applied to make P!nk the star of the band, with her friends being placed in subordinate backing roles. Instead of agreeing to this, the band fell on their musical swords and broke up. P!nk was signed to a solo contract shortly thereafter. This happened at a time when singers such as Britney Spears were being marketed as the next big thing in Pop music. Initially P!nk was marketed by her record label in the same manner. She was an attractive young woman who was asked to wear revealing clothing and sing certain songs that packaged her for public consumption as a sex symbol. It was at this time in her life that the real Alecia Moore stood up and made herself known.

P!nk was never content to allow herself to be marketed by men. She wanted to be in charge of her public image and of the music she released under her name. Growing up, her idol was Madonna. In interviews, P!nk has stated that it was Madonna who inspired her to believe that women could blaze a trail in the music business on their own terms. With that in mind, P!nk recorded a new album of music that she wrote herself. That album ended up going four times platinum. That was quickly followed up by her participation in the song “Lady Marmalade” with Mya, Lil’ Kim and Christina Aguilera for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. That song went to #1, making it the first of many P!nk songs to do so. Over the course of her career, she has sold over 60 million albums, 75 million singles, 18 million digital downloads and her songs have been streamed almost one billion times online. P!nk has won multiple Grammy Awards, has been named the Female Artist of the Decade (for the 2000-2010s) and is currently the top female artist in the world as far as the number of times her songs have been played on the radio.

P!nk with Dallas Green (of City and Colour). They called their act You + Me.

While her numbers are impressive, P!nk is well respected by critics, fans and peers alike because of the strength of her character above all else. P!nk seems devoid of ego. She performs as a solo artist but is more than willing to appear in collaborations with other artists. Two recent examples are of her partnership with the lead singer of the Canadian band City and Colour (Dallas Green) for an album entitled You + Me. One of my favourite videos to listen to/watch is of them singing a duet of the City and Colour song “What Makes a Man?” (which you can watch here). P!nk also gave of her time to help singer Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters put on two benefit concerts in memory of the late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins. (You can watch Dave and P!nk rocking out here). P!nk writes her own music, but she also writes songs for other performers to record.

Alecia Moore aka P!nk.

Like David Bowie, P!nk is known for her appearance. Specifically, she is known for changing her image to suit her mood. Sometimes she shaves her head. At other times she wears her hair spiked up and colours it every colour of the rainbow imaginable. She dresses in whatever she wants, which ranges from jeans and t-shirts, to formal dresses, to work out attire. The point is that P!nk, like Bowie before her, uses control of her public image as a flex in a world in which many women do not have that form of control over their lives. While P!nk sometimes lets her actions speak for her (as in the example above), she is also unafraid to support causes that are near and dear to her heart. Consequently, P!nk has been a vocal supporter of causes devoted to women’s rights, animal rights and causes such as the recent drive to have people get the vaccines available to fight COVID-19.

P!nk live! What a strong powerful voice she has!

But what is most impressive about P!nk is the simple fact that she can really sing. P!nk possesses a strong, powerful singing voice and has been dubbed the voice of her generation by her peers. Her singing style, her artistry as a songwriter, her physical strength and the principles which she lives her life by have all acted as an inspiration for many young girls who aspired to become singers in her wake. Adele has stated that seeing P!nk perform in England as a teenager was the single most transformative moment of her life. She described the power of P!nk’s voices as being akin to experiencing a wind tunnel. Kelly Clarkson has stated that the independence that P!nk has shown throughout her career helped to give her the confidence to stand up for herself when record executives attempted to steer her in directions in which she was uncomfortable. In general, P!nk has done much to allow younger women to be themselves when it comes to developing a career in the music industry. It still is not easy to be a woman in an industry that remains predominantly male. However, performers such as P!nk are doing their part to create a better balance of power within the industry.

P!nk has a new album out called Trustfall and is embarking on a world wide tour in support of it. From that album comes today’s song which is tongue-twistingly entitled “Never Gonna Not Dance Again”. The song’s message is about remaining strong in the face of adversity. P!nk was aiming her message squarely at everyone who, like her and her family, found themselves dealing with a world restricted by the COVID pandemic. “Never Gonna Not Dance Again” is about not giving up when the times are tough and about finding the wherewithal to get back on your feet again and begin living once again. If you have $400-500.00 to spend on a ticket, I am certain that she would put on a good show and would be exciting to see live. In any case, P!nk is worth listening to whether it is live in concert or via video or on radio in your car. If you have a favourite P!nk song, feel free to let me know in the comment box below.

Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read these words. I appreciate having you be part of my world…in words.

The link to the video for P!nk’s latest song, “Never Gonna Not Dance Again”, can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the official website for P!nk can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Good Lovelies can be found here.

***All original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Peace Be With You: The Life and Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto

Ryuichi Sakamoto passed away this week. He was 71 years old. He died after a valiant fight against throat cancer. There has been an outpouring of sadness from around the globe at the news that we have lost one of the world’s great keyboardists and film scorers. Ryuichi Sakamoto was never an artist who sought the spotlight. Fame and fortune were not factors that motivated him to pursue excellence in his music or in his art, yet the impactful nature of his life’s work helped change the way we view music today. Here is a brief overview of his life and his accomplishments.

Yellow Magic Orchestra: Haruomi Hosono, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi.

Ryuichi Sakamoto first came to the attention of the music world in the 1970s as a member of the important Japanese band Yellow Magic Orchestra. Yellow Magic Orchestra was a trio made up of Ryuichi Sakamoto (on keyboards), Yukihiro Takahashi (drums) and Haruomi Hosono (guitar and lead singer). Yellow Magic Orchestra is a prime example of the notion that music is a universal language. In the 1970s they were part of a global musical movement that introduced synthesizers into mainstream use. At the same time as prog rock bands such as Genesis and Yes were creating their twenty-minute epic masterpieces and Alternative bands such as Depeche Mode, The Cure and Yazoo were using synthesizers to create music that was lighter and bouncier, Yellow Magic Orchestra was doing the exact same thing in Japan. (You can listen to the song called “Rydeen” here).To say that Ryuichi Sakamoto was the Japanese Vince Clarke of his time would be an appropriate comparison to make. But to characterize Sakamoto as simply being a keyboardist in a Pop band would be wrong. He was so much more than that.

Ryuichi Sakamoto’s interest in music extended beyond the production of hit songs. It went much deeper to the actual way that individual sounds could be manipulated. Sakamoto was on the leading edge of those artists around the world who recognized the potential that digitizing music had in terms of its ability to allow composers to manipulate sounds in ways that would be more difficult if attempted while playing live. As a result, Yellow Magic Orchestra became one of the first bands in the world to employ digital technology, along with their synthesizers. If you listened to the sample track of theirs from the link above, you will have heard how familiar it sounded to music you are used to hearing from North America and Europe during the early 80s.. The fact is that digital technology had an impact on the world of music that was global in nature. One of the leading voices behind this global movement was Ryuichi Sakamoto from Japan.

David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto as seen in the movie Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.

In the 1980s, Ryuichi Sakamoto left Yellow Magic Orchestra and began releasing solo albums, as well as collaborations with musicians from all over the world. In addition to that, he decided that the poetry of the cinema spoke to him so he began creating musical scores for big budget movies. The first film that he scored was the 1983 movie Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. (You can watch the trailer here). That movie starred Tom Conti and David Bowie as British POWs in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II. Ryuichi Sakamoto also acted in the film. His musical score won the award for Best Score at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts ceremony that year. A few years later, he provided much of the musical score for the Academy Award winning movie The Last Emperor. (You can watch the trailer here). That movie swept the Academy Awards the year it was nominated. As part of the awards sweep, Ryuichi Sakamoto won the Academy Award for Best Score, making him the first composer from an Asian country to be so honoured.

Sakamoto with his Oscar for Best Score for the movie The Last Emperor.

Ryuichi Sakamoto was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. Despite the ravages of the disease and the treatments to combat it, Mr. Sakamoto continued creating and performing right up until the final months of his life. In the video link here, you can watch Ryuichi Sakamoto giving the final piano recital of his life. In the video he plays the theme to the movie Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. The music is lovely. It is all the more so when you watch him play and realize that he is in pain and only months away from death. He was a very special man, indeed. The world was made richer because of his musical contributions to it. We are the poorer for him being gone. Peace be with you, Ryuichi Sakamoto. Thank you for a life lived in pursuit of Art and beauty and sound. You have earned your rest.

In 2018, a documentary about Ryuichi Sakamoto was released. It was called Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda. You can watch the trailer here. It looks amazing.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song #39/250: Feeling Good by Michael Buble

Michael Bublé is one of the most unique and interesting artists I have yet profiled. He is a singer who has sold over seventy-five million albums worldwide yet has never had a #1 hit song. He is listed as the third most successful Canadian artist of all time behind Celine Dion and Shania Twain, yet he is most known for covering the classic songs of American singers from half a century ago. His most popular album was a collection of Christmas standards. He only ever got into singing when he ran out of chances to develop into a national hockey league player. He actually paid to have his first album released all by himself. On and on the stories go. Michael Bublé has been betting on himself and going against conventional wisdom his whole life. In the end, it has brought him nothing but success. Here is the story of Michael Bublé.

Michael B. as a young man who harboured dreams of a career in the NHL

Michael Bublé was born in Burnaby, British Columbia. He grew up with a love for hockey and was a big fan of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team. At the time, they had a Czech-born player on their team named Juri Bubla who became Bublé’s favourite player to follow and emulate. As a teenager, Bublé’s dream of becoming a professional hockey player came to an end as his enthusiasm for the game outstripped his skill level. For most of his late teenage years, he worked on his father’s fishing boat. The experience of being out at sea for months at a time was physically demanding. He was a boy among men during these outings. But the fact that he was able to hold his own in such a setting and play a productive part filled Bublé with a form of confidence that allowed him to eventually succeed in music. While on land during these same teenage years, Bublé started to attract attention at family events and other local gatherings in his community because of his singing ability. His maternal grandfather believed that his grandson had a gift and paid for music lessons himself. Sometimes, his grandfather, who was a plumber by trade, would offer his professional services in exchange for studio time for his grandson. It was during this time that the musical foundation upon which Michael Bublé would build his career truly began.

Michael Bible making a guest spot on CTV’s Vicki Gabereau Show in Vancouver.

Once Michael Bublé began to gain some experience on stage at talent shows and the like, he decided that a career in the entertainment industry might just be the ticket for him. Once he made that decision, Bublé showed an uncanny ability to market himself, making a series of fortuitous connections with influential people who helped him launch his career. In the beginning, his first break came when he won a local talent show and was disqualified for being underage. Normally this wouldn’t qualify as being a good break, but in Bublé’s case, the organizer of the show believed that he had the talent to be the winner and only disqualified him on the age technicality. That talent show organizer ended up becoming Bublé’s first manager. Bublé offered to work anywhere and everywhere and, as a result, sang on cruise ships, at local clubs, in shopping malls, at business conventions…basically anywhere that there was a microphone and an audience. One of the places he managed to get an invitation to perform was on the Vicki Gabereau talk show on CTV that was filmed in Vancouver. Bublé became a fill-in guest. That meant that he remained at her disposal on an on-call basis, filling in whenever a scheduled guest had to cancel at the last minute. This exposure allowed him to polish his skills as an entertainer and as a live interview guest. From his work with Vicki Gabereau, he scored a job singing at the wedding of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s daughter. It was because of the success he had singing classic tunes such as “Mack the Knife” at the wedding of Caroline Mulroney that Bublé was seen by producer extraordinaire David Foster. This changed everything for Michael Bublé.

David Foster and Michael Buble.

At the time that Michael Bublé met David Foster, Bublé was essentially nothing more than a wedding or lounge singer. He had one album to his credit at this point. But that album was paid for by Bublé on his own dime and was not the result of any record company investing in his potential. On the other hand, David Foster was one of the top music producers in the world, having had success with Celine Dion and many other big name acts. Bublé approached Foster and asked him if he thought he was talented enough that Foster might act as producer for his next album. Foster was lukewarm in his reaction. Eventually, he agreed to produce Bublé, but only if he could raise half of the production budget on his own. In this way, Foster was testing Bublé’s level of commitment and drive. Michael Bublé was not to be denied. He managed to raise over half a million dollars on his own. When he came back to David Foster, cash in hand, Foster agreed to give Bublé a try. This collaboration resulted in an album simply called Michael Bublé, which instantly went multiple times platinum and helped make Michael Bublé a star on the rise in Canada and around the world.

While Michael Bublé has had some success with songs that he has written, such as “Home”, “Haven’t Met You Yet” and “It’s a Beautiful Day”, it is his work singing the classic songs of the American Songbook that has brought him lasting fame. Ever since he was a teenage boy singing at family functions in Burnaby, B.C., Michael Bublé has been at his best when employing a singing style similar to those used by crooners such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Perry Como and Mel Tormé. Because of his skill at turning back the hands of time for an entire generation of listeners who loved The Rat Pack era music, Michael Bublé’s albums often feature songs that are mostly cover versions of these classic hits. For this reason, he has been able to have a career with album sales cresting over the 75 million mark without having to do so by releasing hit singles of original work. It is an amazing accomplishment in many ways and makes him unique among all performers that I have ever profiled on this blog.

Of the many classic tunes that Bublé has covered, his rendition of “Feeling Good” is the one that has been most enthusiastically received by critics and fans. This song was written in the 1960s for a musical entitled The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd. The song became popular when it was first covered by singer Nina Simone in 1965. However, it really gained momentum for her in the 1990s when it was used in a car commercial and came to the attention of an entirely new generation of listeners. A decade later, Michael Bublé covered “Feeling Good” for his fourth album called It’s Time. That album was Bublé’s second with David Foster and the first to reach #1 on the album charts. “Feeling Good” was the lead track. It is a song about confidence and has come to symbolize Bublé’s vision for himself and his career.

A professional photo of Michael with his grandfather.

It is not by fluke that Michael Bublé has become as successful as he has. He has a beautiful singing voice that is perfectly suited for the niche market of crooning the classics. He has an engaging personality and a winning smile that allow him to effortlessly charm audiences wherever he goes. One of his most important attributes is his work ethic. You don’t get to climb the ladder of success without drive and determination. Bublé’s willingness to pay his dues in all manner of events and locations during the early days of his career allowed others to come to trust him to always show up ready to give his best performance. Finally, perhaps the most important thing that Michael Bublé has going for him is his belief in himself and the backing and support he has from his family. It is hard to go wrong when you head out into the world armed with the courage of your convictions and the love of those who care about you the most. All in all, it is a recipe for success. Here’s hoping that Michael Bublé continues to enjoy a most amazing career. For now, let’s listen to one of the songs that really started him off. Here is his cover of the classic Nina Simone song “Feeling Good” Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song “Feeling Good” by Michael Bublé can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the official website for Michael Bublé can be found here.

The link to the official website for the town of Burnaby, British Columbia can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. © 2023

Keepin’ It Classy: Composition #35/50…Glenn Gould: The Goldberg Variations

If there is one lesson that I can take after 30 years of being an elementary school teacher it is the fact that there is no one carved-in-stone method of teaching children that works for everyone. The learning styles possessed by the children who inhabited the classrooms I worked in were as varied as their hair colours, their favourite hobbies or the content of their lunches each day. They truly each are their own person. Yet, there is this seemingly endless desire to streamline and standardize education. Without going off on a huge tangent about it, just let me say that today’s post begins and ends with a story about how children learn. It involves one of the craziest things I was ever involved with as an educator. It is also the story of one of the world’s great modern pianists, Glenn Gould, and the music he would popularize and become famous for. This is the story of The Goldberg Variations. Let us begin.

About halfway through my career as a teacher I found myself working at a brand new elementary school in Bowmanville, Ontario. At the time that this story takes place, the school had been open for about five years. We had a student population of 800 or so from kindergarten to grade 8. The school drew its students from a community that most would consider to be solidly middle class. Many of the students played in sports leagues, took ballet, went on annual vacations, spent time at cottages and so on. All in all, the school community was wonderful to work with and I enjoyed my time there. As a staff we got along fairly well. We enjoyed being part of this new school community. So, imagine how we felt when we were told at a staff meeting one day that we had been chosen to participate in a pilot project about improving student success. The basis of this project was our school’s standardized test score results. In Ontario, grade 3 and 6 students write a series of standardized tests in the spring of each year. Without debating the merits of standardized test scores and the ability to draw any meaningful conclusions from them, our scores had been deemed to be stagnant. They were neither good nor worrisome. Our scores were average and had stayed basically the same. The powers that be wanted to conduct an experiment to see if there was a way to boost test scores, so they did something revolutionary…they asked for our input as educators. Now I must be honest and state up front that I have absolutely no faith in standardized test scores as a measure of anything of value. I could not have cared less about our school’s test scores. I cared about my students and their families. I cared about my fellow staff members. I cared about my profession. But I did not care about twisting myself in knots with worry about standardized test scores. But, they asked for a wish list of things we thought would help our students, so away we wished. What we didn’t realize at the time was that the wish list we created at the staff meeting that day basically became the terms of the pilot project we operated under for the next year or two. We asked for time to meet as teaching teams. That wish was granted. We asked for opportunities to visit other schools where test scores were consistently strong. That wish was granted. We asked for more classroom resources to use with our own students. That wish was granted, too. In fact, a couple of staff meetings later, we were told that all teachers in the Primary Division (grades K-3) were being given $2000.00 each to spend on books for our classroom. The books we were tasked with buying were ones deemed to be rich literature. This included biographies, books about science and the arts and so on. I can honestly say that in all my years as a classroom teacher, I have never had the opportunity to go shopping on the taxpayer’s dime. It was an unprecedented opportunity and we were all excited to go and shop for our classrooms.

***I feel it is important to stop for a moment and reiterate how completely bizarre a situation this was. Never before and never afterwards have I ever had access to such a large amount of money to use for classroom resources. In all other years the more common experience was to beg and plead for $50 here or $100 there to buy new classroom supplies. In most cases, that money came from fundraising conducted from school councils. So, to be given thousands to spend on books for the classroom boggles my mind to this very day.

Many thanks to the taxpayers of Ontario for allowing me to share this book with my students.

Off we went as a staff to a book repository in Toronto. There were ten of us who got to go on this shopping trip. The repository was run by the Ministry of Education, I believe. We entered a warehouse sized room that was filled with book shelves, all lined with shiny new books. We were given shopping carts and told to fill the carts up with whatever we felt would benefit the students we had that year in our classrooms. For hours we walked up and down the rows of shelves. As someone who loves children’s literature, it was an intoxicating experience. After three or four hours, my cart was finally full. We proceeded toward check out stations where our purchases would be tabulated and our books packed for shipping back to our school. I remember feeling light headed when it was all said and done. To this day, I cannot say whether or not that pilot project made any impact on the test scores of that school ( and I couldn’t care less, to be honest). But what I do know is that all of our students benefited from the injection of so many pieces of quality literature that we acquired that day. Many of these books were ones that I may not have purchased on my own due to their price tag or subject matter (which I may have viewed as being more of a want than a need). But I got to share these books with my students regardless and that was the important thing that came out of this exercise. One of the books that I acquired that day was called The Goldberg Variations by Anna Harwell Celenza. It came with an audio CD of the actual Goldberg Variations that I was able to play in class and discuss with the kids. I guess this is what they meant by the term rich literature.

Johann Gottlieb Goldberg

The Goldberg Variations was a suite of music composed by famed composer Johann Sebastian Bach. The story of their creation is that Johann Sebastian Bach was a composer, but he was also a teacher. Like many composers of his time, he earned much of his income as a result of offering instruction in music to students who were sponsored by members of the aristocracy. One such patron was a man named Count Keyserlingk. Whenever he happened to be passing through Leipzig (where Bach lived), Count Keyserlingk would bring along a student named Johann Gottlieb Goldberg for lessons. At one such session, Count Keyserlingk confessed to Bach that he was suffering from insomnia and that the only thing bringing him peace was having young Goldberg (who was in the Count’s employ) play for him on the harpsichord in the wee hours of the morning. Count Keyserlingk commissioned from Bach a piece of music that Goldberg might play for him at home. Bach agreed and ended up creating a composition that was based upon contrapunctual variations. Because these variations were created with the skill set of young Goldberg in mind, they became known as Goldberg’s Variations or, as they are known today, The Goldberg Variations. Without going into great technical detail, the key thing to know about this composition is that Johann Sebastian Bach was keenly interested in sounds. In a previous post (which you can read here), I wrote about his seminal work The Well-Tempered Clavier. That series of compositions was aimed at helping keyboardists acquire perfect sound quality from their instruments regardless of where they were playing. With that in mind, The Goldberg Variations was a suite of compositions that also dealt with sounds played on a piano. This piece requires great skill and dexterity by whoever is sitting at the keyboard, and as a result is viewed as being a difficult performance composition that should only be attempted by those possessing great talent.

This brings us to Glenn Gould.

A young Glenn Gould plays the piano under the watchful eye of his music teacher Alberto Guerrero.

Glenn Gould was the greatest classical pianist Canada has ever produced. The only child of parents who were also musicians, Gould was raised in an environment that was filled with opportunities to explore the world of music and of sounds. By the age of three, Gould was displaying an understanding of perfect pitch. By the age of six, he was creating his own original compositions and playing them in public at his local church. By the age of ten, Gould was enrolled in the Toronto Conservatory of Music (now, the Royal Conservatory of Music) and was receiving instruction in piano that was to shape his approach to music for the rest of his life. While his parents had always believed their son possessed prodigious talent, his teacher at the Conservatory confirmed it. Gould’s time spent with teacher Alberto Guerrero instilled in him ideas and techniques that would help Gould to become famous the world over. Techniques such as pulling down on the piano keys from below (as opposed to pushing from the top) and pre-tapping the entire composition with his fingers (so as to develop a form of muscle memory which would aid in speed and dexterity while playing) were just some of the skills handed down from Guerrero to Gould. What is most important to note is that Guerrero did what all good teachers do: he tailored Gould’s learning experiences specifically in ways that best suited his student’s learning style. Glenn Gould was a child prodigy when it came to the piano. He was an eccentric personality when it came to his social interactions. Guerrero knew upon first meeting Gould that a standardized approach would not be appropriate for this student. Because of his teacher’s efforts, Glenn Gould would develop the technical skills and the personal self-confidence necessary to take on one of the greatest challenges a classical pianist can accept…The Goldberg Variations.

Behold! The best selling classical music album of all time!

When Gould was first signed to a recording contract at age 22, he was taken to New York City to record the album. Record company executives expected Gould to choose relatively simple compositions to record because he was so young and so inexperienced at performing in public. When Gould told them that he was preparing to play The Goldberg Variations for his debut album, they were aghast and attempted to dissuade him. However, Glenn Gould was determined. The record was completed in only four days. Executives at Columbia Records were stunned. Glenn Gould: The Goldberg Variations has gone on to sell over five million copies worldwide, making it the best selling classical music album in history. To support this new album, Glenn Gould toured the world. However, the experience of performing to large audiences on the world’s biggest stages caused Gould to sour on the idea of performing in public. He felt that the need to “put on a show” detracted from his ability to delve into the deepest reaches of each composition. Consequently, after less than a decade of playing in public, Glenn Gould retired and spent the remainder of his days as a studio-only musician. What is noteworthy about this decision is that it placed Gould in a position that Johann Sebastian Bach would have envied. As it turned out, Glenn Gould was as enamoured of sounds as Bach was. By eliminating extraneous distractions such as performing in public, Gould was able to focus his mind on the nature of sounds in a controlled studio environment. In the 1950s, long before The Beatles and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys changed the nature of Rock n’ Roll by retreating to the studio and altering how sounds were used in their music, Glenn Gould was doing the same thing in his studio in Toronto. By splicing segments of audio tape together from various recordings, Gould was one of the first people to isolate tracks during recording sessions and reassemble them into a multi-layered soundscape. In fact, just before his death at age fifty, Gould re-recorded the entire length of his Glenn Gould: The Goldberg Variations album, slowing it down and giving it a depth and breadth of sound that was unprecedented in classical music history.

The iconic Glenn Gould bronze bench sculpture in front of the CBC building in Toronto.

Glenn Gould didn’t fit any mold. He was as unique as it was possible to be. Genius is like that. After his death, Gould was immortalized in bronze in a statue created by sculptor Ruth Abernethy that sits in front of the CBC broadcasting building in Toronto. In that sculpture, Gould is bundled up in a coat and hat as if he was anticipating it to be a blustery winter’s day. The truth was that Gould was always cold. He wore that same coat and hat when he performed once in Florida. At that performance, Gould was almost arrested for vagrancy by police because he looked so out of place, bundled up as he was in the Florida sunshine. Genius is like that, too. One of the warmest memories about him that was shared at the time of his death was how he would show up each morning between 2:00-3:00 at an all-day diner named Fran’s and eat scrambled eggs. Gould always came alone. He always sat in the same booth. He always ate the same meal. Genius is like that, too, I suppose.

In many ways, Glenn Gould shared much in common with his hero Johann Sebastian Bach. His fascination with all aspects of sound being the most obvious. I don’t believe that it was by fluke that Gould was drawn to The Goldberg Variations as a young man. It is almost as if Bach was speaking to Gould from beyond the grave with this composition. With its emphasis on sound creation and its origin as something to be experienced in the wee hours of the morning, The Goldberg Variations was the composition that helped connect Bach to the modern world. The only difference was that the instrument of this connection was not a young man named Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, it was a young Canadian named Glenn Gould. Perhaps if Count Keyserlingk had enjoyed some scrambled eggs during his late night concerts, he would have found the peace he was looking for. All that I know is that the most important aspect of being a teacher is coming to truly know the students under your care. The second most important aspect of being a teacher is acting upon that information and creating a learning space best suited for them to thrive. That was always my goal throughout my career. That was Mr. Guerrero’s goal with a young Glenn Gould. It was Bach’s goal with a young Goldberg. Unlike many works which, if I was being honest, are just music to me, I find that The Goldberg Variations reaches into the very core of my being. While I didn’t really need that educational shopping spree which brought The Goldberg Variations book into my possession, I am extremely glad I did get to go. That story says everything to me about being a teacher and about helping my students become the best version of themselves that they were meant to be. What an honour to have been able to do that for someone for all those years. For much of my life I have felt like I was the right person in the right place at the right time. Sometimes that is the result of luck. Sometimes it is something more. Even though it is not the middle of the night, I suddenly have a craving for scrambled eggs.

The link to the video for the composition “The Goldberg Variations” as performed by Glen Gould can be found here.

The link to the official website for Glenn Gould can be found here.

The link to my hometown classical music station…Classical 103.1…streaming from Cobourg, Ontario, Canada to the world can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Reader’s Choice: Song #30/250…Teenage Dirtbag by Wheatus

If I were to say the name Amityville to you, what would your initial reaction be? If, like me, you are of a certain vintage then your first reaction would probably be to associate the name of that Long Island, New York village with the grisly murder that happened there in 1974. The main reason that any of us know of this small place at all is because of the book written by Jay Anson called The Amityville Horror. This book was turned into a movie of the same name that gave audiences the impression that the murders committed there were done in the name of Satan. Furthermore, both the book and the movie claimed that the house in which the murders took place remained haunted or, more specifically, under demonic possession. In the decade leading up to the release of the Amityville Horror movie in 1979, America was well-versed in the phenomenon of Satanism due to movies such as Rosemary’s Baby in 1968, The Exorcist in 1973, The Omen in 1976 and literally dozens and dozens of other films possessing varying degrees of cinematic merit. In this environment, the threat of falling prey to satanic cults was made to seem very real. It was also at this time that many people who may have been predisposed to joining satanic cults began viewing the Amityville house where the murders took place as a sacred spot worthy of a pilgrimage. One such person who made the trek to Amityville was a teenage boy named Ricky Kasso Jr.

Ricky Kasso Jr. on the day of his arrest for murder. Note the AC/DC shirt he is sporting.

Ricky Kasso Jr. was a teenage boy who grew up in Northport, New York. All through his childhood, Kasso exhibited behaviour that his parents viewed as being psychotic. Several times they begged the authorities to place their son in psychiatric hospitals for his own safety. Because the process associated with involuntarily incarcerating someone in jail or in a psychiatric hospital is a long and involved one, Ricky Kasso Jr. was left to freely roam around his community. Kasso ended up becoming addicted to drugs and was known around Northport as The Acid King. Soon Kasso began having fantasies about being in contact with Satan. In such a state of mind, he and his friends traveled thirty minutes to the west and visited the Amityville Horror house where they engaged in some rituals that the authorities were later to declare as being satanic. Not long after his visit to Amityville, Ricky Kasso Jr. violently murdered one of his teenage drug-using friends in a wooded area on the edge of Northport. Two weeks later, when police were informed of the murder via an anonymous tip, Ricky Kasso Jr. was arrested. In news photos of the arrest, Kasso was photographed wearing an AC/DC t-shirt. This is noteworthy because it sparked a wave of public hysteria that linked Heavy Metal music with satanic cult activity. In an instant, all Heavy Metal music was viewed as harbouring hidden messages, and Heavy Metal rockers were charged with leading the satanic trend in America. Those fans who happened to innocently enjoy Heavy Metal music and who wore band-related clothing also came under suspicion of being in league with the Devil.

Brendan B. Brown wrote the song “Teenage Dirtbag” about his experiences in high school at the height of the Heavy Metal = Satanism hysteria. He felt falsely judged because he was a fan of the band Iron Maiden.

At the time that the Kasso Jr. killing took place, Brendan B. Brown was ten years old. He lived in Northport, too. In fact, his home was not far from where the murder victim had been found. Brendan B. Brown came from a stable home and was as far removed from being considered satanic as one could be. What he mostly felt like was the biggest nerd in the world. More than that, he felt socially invisible. Brendan B. Brown was like so many teen and pre-teen children in that he never felt like he fit in at school. He wasn’t a jock or a fighter or a cool kid or even a class clown. He was just a quiet kid who blended in and disappeared and who also happened to be a fan of the Heavy Metal band Iron Maiden. Up until the Ricky Kasso Jr. murder, Brendan B. Brown had been able to publicly show his support for his favourite band by wearing Iron Maiden t-shirts to school. But once the murder became front page news, he and all other t-shirt wearing Metal fans became guilty by association.

As Brown left his teenage years and entered his twenties, he formed a band of his own with his brother and a few friends. They called themselves Wheatus. For one of the tracks on their self-titled debut album, Brown wrote a song about his experiences in high school in Northport. The name of this song was “Teenage Dirtbag”. In a world where one-hit wonders abound, “Teenage Dirtbag” has gone on to become one of the biggest-selling singles in history with sales of over five million worldwide. It is a super cute-sounding song that tells the universal story of what it felt like to be a social outsider in school. All that Brown’s song character wants is to be noticed by a girl he likes and to be able to display his love of Iron Maiden in public. The arc of the story told in this song is such that a welcome yet surprising conclusion occurs at the end. Many critics compare “Teenage Dirtbag” with classic tunes such as “Lola” by The Kinks, “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen and even “Love Story” by Taylor Swift. The title “Teenage Dirtbag” comes from a derisive phrase that was used to describe the killer Ricky Kasso Jr., as well as those who dressed like him, even if they hadn’t the slightest violent intention in the world.

Fighting against political opportunism, singers such as Frank Zappa, Dee Snider (from Twisted Sister) and John Denver rallied public opinion against attempts to mandate censorship of music content.

In the years that followed the uproar over the Kasso Jr. murder, the topic of music censorship became a political football. It was quite common to see legislative hearings in Washington where the topic of the need to censor the lyrical content of music was fiercely debated along political lines. One of the consequences of these hearings was the implementation of a sticker system that would be overseen by the music industry. In this system, any album or CD that contained lyrics that possessed profanity or suggestive lyrical content in any manner would have a warning sticker attached to the front so that parents could monitor what their children were buying at a glance. For what it is worth, my view has always been that censorship is a very slippery slope to start down. I have no wish to live in a country, province or town where I have to submit my views for approval before I can air them in public. If anything I say on my blog becomes so threatening or inflammatory that I break an existing law, then by all means contact the authorities and we will see what comes of it. For now, I will always stand on the side of freedom of expression. It is easy to ruin the reputations of individuals and communities simply because of how others rush to judgment without having a full grasp of the facts. Brendan B. Brown felt judged by others as being a teenage dirtbag simply because he wore an Iron Maiden t-shirt. I would like to think that Amityville, New York is actually a beautiful little place in reality. However, it will be forever linked with a grisly multiple murder and rumours of satanic activity. Far too frequently we allow ourselves to tar others with accusations that are as damaging to their reputation as they are inaccurate in the first place..

This was the Netflix documentary that Sophie and I watched. 1D do a killer cover of “Teenage Dirtbag” during this doc.

I will end this post with a version of this story that is told from an entirely different perspective. Just the other day my youngest daughter came into the living room and turned on the TV. Having finished her homework, she was looking for something to do. She ended up tuning into Netflix and selected a documentary about the band One Direction. My daughter is a huge Harry Styles fan, so watching a documentary about how he got his start in the music business was right up her alley. I remained in the living room with her and together we watched the documentary unfold. From what I saw on screen, Harry Styles and the rest of members of the boy band One Direction all seem like nice young men. Everyone was clean cut and polite. The five guys all seemed to get along for the most part. All in all, it was a very family-friendly documentary. The format that the documentary used was to follow the band during one of their tours. As a result, there were segments of behind-the-scenes shenanigans interspersed with one-on-one interviews, as well as segments showing the band in concert. All of a sudden about two-thirds of the way through the documentary, the band was shown on stage as they began to sing a song that I recognized but had trouble placing for a moment because it wasn’t a One Direction song. The song they were covering was “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus. I have to admit that this boy band did a fabulous job with the song. In interviews after the song segment ended, there were conversations about how hard it was for them to fit in when they were all so musically and artistically inclined. As it turned out, even superstars in the making like Harry Styles had moments as a teenager when he felt like an outsider. The universal appeal of a song like “Teenage Dirtbag” covers all manner of people in all manner of places. For my daughter, her introduction to “Teenage Dirtbag” couldn’t have been more wholesome and positive. She is lucky.

The link to the video for the song “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Teenage Dirtbag” as sung by One Direction can be found here.

The link to a video for the song “Teenage Dirtbag” as performed by buskers on a sidewalk in Dublin can be found here.

The link to the official website for Wheatus can be found here.

The link to the trailer to the movie The Amityville Horror can be found here.

The link to the video about the background of the song “Teenage Dirtbag” (which includes information of the Ricky Kasso Jr. murder and subsequent political fallout against Heavy Metal music) can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023