Peace Be With You: The Life and Times of Mr. Bruce Guthro

Bruce Guthro passed away this week at age 62 from cancer. I am not sure how well known Mr. Guthro was outside of his native Cape Breton Island, but I can assure you that back home, my island is in mourning.

There are many aspects of being a Cape Bretoner that fill me with pride, but one of the best is the rich musical heritage found there. I am so very lucky to have come of age at the same time as the Cape Breton Celtic music scene did in the 1970s and beyond. As a young adult, I was surrounded on all sides by the musicianship and the storytelling of singers such as Matt Minglewood, Rita MacNeil, J.P. Cormier, The Rankin Family, The Barra MacNeils, The Inspirational Singers from Whitney Pier, The glorious Men of the Deeps and Gordie Sampson, along with the extraordinary fiddle playing of Lee Cremo, Winnie Chafe, Buddy and Natalie MacMaster and Ashley MacIsaac and the choral singing of Sister Rita Clare and the Cape Breton Chorale and so much more. The heartbeat of Cape Breton can be felt in the hand claps and foot stomps found in ceilidhs and other impromptu gatherings all over the island. Everyone’s doors were always open, the teapots were always on and a sense of community borne of music and culture and history was always seen and felt and on display. In the middle of it all was a man named Bruce Guthro.

Bruce Guthro was a singer and songwriter. He was a respected peer of everyone mentioned above. He was the winner of multiple East Coast Music Awards for his singing and his songwriting. He performed solo for the entirety of his career. But he also fronted a very successful Scottish Celtic band named Runrig. But just as importantly, Bruce Guthro wove himself into the musical fabric of the island by playing and working with anyone and everyone who wished to make music. One of the things Bruce Guthro was most noted for was a series he developed known affectionately as The Circle. Essentially, the idea behind The Circle was to invite a collection of entertainers, songwriters and musicians to meet together in a room or on a stage and sit in a circle, surrounded on all sides by an audience. In this circle, the invited guests would swap stories and play some tunes to the delight of the crowd in attendance. It was all warm and intimate and friendly and built upon a foundation of storytelling and song. As important a musical figure as Bruce Guthro was, I always regarded him as a father figure to those who performed in the kitchens, legion halls, taverns and concert halls of Cape Breton. It is in this light that I would like to share a personal story with you about how Bruce Guthro played a small role in one of the most memorable moments in my life. Here we go!

I live in Ontario, Canada. That is a long way from Cape Breton Island, which sits atop the east coast province of Nova Scotia. I have lived away, as they say, since 1982, but I go back home to Cape Breton Island every year to visit family and to bathe in the warm glow of what it feels like to be Home. This particular story takes place in 2002 (which was the year my wife and I got married). I met my wife in Ontario. We fell in love instantly and knew we were destined to be married. I assumed that we would follow tradition that states that our wedding would be where the bride’s hometown was. But, to my delight, my wife told me that she didn’t wish for that to be the case and would be happy to be married on Cape Breton Island. So, home we went. In 2001, we traveled home and made all the wedding arrangements. In 2002, we invited a small cadre of our closest friends and family and were married at a restaurant called The Miner’s Village Restaurant on the grounds of The Miner’s Museum which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. We arrived in my hometown of Glace Bay a week before our wedding day, which is when our story takes place.

When we first arrived back home, my mother informed us that there was going to be a special concert happening in town, down by the harbour. Unbeknownst to my wife and I, a local Glace Bay girl named Aselin Debison had written a song and recorded an album and was being promoted as being Canada’s next big thing by the movers and shakers within the Canadian music industry. To help launch Aselin on to a national stage, the CBC was set to film a live concert in Glace Bay. According to my mother, the concert was free and the CBC was recruiting local citizens to sit in as Aselin Debison’s audience. So, the next thing we knew, my bride-to-be, my mother and I were sitting in chairs next to the entrance to Glace Bay Harbour as we waited to be part of a live television broadcast. A concert stage had been set up in front of the wharf next to the water. Behind the stage were several fishing trawlers moored for the day. Lobster traps sat stacked photogenically hither and yon. The fish processing plant hosted a flock of seagulls who eyed us all with curiosity. All in all, Glace Bay Harbour cleaned itself up well for its moment on the national stage and we were delighted to be there to see it all happen.

Bruce Guthro and a very young Aselin Denison and some lobster traps. Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.

One of the greatest things about being from Cape Breton Island is the pride everyone feels when “one of their own” does well. In the case of young Aselin Debison, she carried herself with much charm and humility. In reply, the local community hoisted her up on their collective shoulders and were only too happy to cheer her on as she was given this opportunity. So there we sat, surrounded by hundreds of fellow Cape Bretoners who were all bursting with pride. The waves rolled in. The seagulls squawked. The sea breezes blew. Then the flood lights were struck and the CBC director announced that we were set to begin. But, as the show began, it was not Aselin Debison who strode to the stage, it was a handsome man holding a guitar. His name was Bruce Guthro. As it turned out, Bruce Guthro was friends with Aselin Debison’s parents and had been mentoring the young singer for years. So, it was only natural for him to continue in that role by appearing as her opening act. I know that my wife did not know who this man was but I sure did! Even twenty or so years ago, Bruce Guthro was a big name in the Cape Breton Celtic music scene. As he walked onto the stage, I counted myself as being extremely fortunate to be introducing my wife to Celtic music as performed by such a talented and respected performer. As with all good opening acts, Bruce Guthro ran through a selection of his hits and other popular Cape Breton songs and got the audience suitably warmed up for Aselin Debison’s appearance. When his short set was over, Aselin Debison was called to the stage. All of eleven or twelve years old she was! She walked to the centre of the stage, received a hug from Bruce Guthro and then she began to sing. All the while, Bruce Guthro remained on stage, beaming at her with pride, playing along and helping her to take her star turn on the CBC. Aselin Debison was an absolute sweetheart! She sang her hit song at the time, “Sweet Is The Melody”, and a host of other classic Cape Breton tunes such as “It’s Getting Dark Again” and “Out On The Mira”. She closed with the unofficial anthem of Cape Breton, “We Are An Island”. Everyone sang and clapped and cheered. It was a perfect evening on Cape Breton Island. *You can watch the CBC version of that concert by clicking on the link here.

Flash forward a few years. My wife and I are married and are expecting our first child (who turned out to be a girl). In choosing her name, we decided to make her first name something unique and set apart from any familial connections or history. In that way, she could create her own legacy and have her name turn out to mean whatever she wished it to be. So, we called our daughter Leah. But, for her middle name, we did want there to be some sort of tie to the past. But as we searched through the names of our mothers, aunts, grandmothers and so on, we weren’t satisfied with how any of those names sounded next to “Leah”. Then it hit me! I turned to my wife and brought up the name Aselin. As soon as we said it out loud, Leah Aselin MacInnes became her name. In the end, the tie to the past that we went for was not familial at all but, instead, it was cultural. Our daughter is named after that lovely young singer Aselin Debison, but more importantly, she is named after the music of Cape Breton. Leah was once given a onesie or a t-shirt (I can’t really remember which it was) by a dear friend of mine from back home that read, “My Roots Are In Cape Breton”. No truer words were ever spoken.

And now, with the news of the passing of Bruce Guthro, I am taken back to that evening by the harbour, under the lights and to the songs of Cape Breton that filled the air.

I doubt that Mr. Guthro was ever aware that we were in that audience that night nor what the impact of his efforts were. He only had eyes for Aselin Debison. But like so many others who listened to his music or his stories, we were made better and richer as a result. His death leaves a great void in the cultural landscape of Cape Breton, but his legacy is strong. I have no doubt at all that in the days leading up to his funeral or those immediately after or even those during his funeral, that there will be songs of Cape Breton sung, glasses raised in his honour and a sense of cultural community reinforced once again for all to see and feel. Some people leave their mark on our world by the difference they made in the lives of others, and Bruce Guthro is a prime example. I will not be down for his funeral, but I will acknowledge his passing with a good firm hug of my daughter who has Cape Breton blood in her veins. Perhaps we will play some down home music as well, including a song or two from Mr. Guthro as well as his protegée, Aselin Debison. Thank you for all that you have contributed to life on Cape Breton Island, Mr. Guthro. You have lived well and accomplished much to be proud of. You have earned your rest. Cheers to you. May Peace Be With You now and forever more.

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

The link to the official website for the Scottish band Runrig 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

The Stars of Stage and Screen: Song #39/250: What Was I Made For? by Billie Eilish from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to The Barbie Movie

I went with my family to see The Barbie Movie this summer, and I have to say that I came away from the experience pleasantly surprised at how thoughtful and creative it was. Like many who went in that initial wave of attendees, I assumed that we would be watching a light comedy which would, essentially, end up being a children’s movie. Boy was I in for a surprise! What we ended up watching was a poignant treatise on the promise of feminism and the impact of our perceptions of gender on our society. We laughed a lot. We learned a lot. At the end, many people in the theatre cried a lot, too. As we left the theatre and walked back to our cars, we did so with the mindset that we had just seen a movie about a toy that, daresay, might actually warrant being deemed as important.

While this post is meant to act as a music post, it is difficult to discuss the song “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish without first placing the song in some sort of context. To do so requires a brief account of the film. If you haven’t seen the movie and wish to at a later date then you may wish to stop reading right now because some SPOILER details are soon to come. If you have seen the movie then feel free to enjoy this brief summary, or else skip on ahead to the next paragraph. Here we go.

Growing up, I always took the presence of Barbie dolls for granted. They were just a toy that my sister played with. No different than any other toy that came and went from our home. However, from watching The Barbie Movie I learned that the original Barbie doll was created by a lady named Ruth Handler who worked at Mattel and that the doll was created to act as a feminist alternative to the traditional “baby” dolls that acted as a training tool geared toward motherhood. While there is nothing at all wrong with the idea of motherhood, society at that time (the 1950s) was only just beginning to accept the notion that women could expect to have a future that extended beyond the home. Thus, Barbie dolls were created so that young girls were able to imagine themselves being astronauts, scientists, doctors and even the president of the United States. This is where the movie begins. In Barbieland, all of the various iterations of Barbie over the years live in blissful happiness. Every day is perfect. There is laughter and sunshine all of the time. The Kens exist on the periphery and only play a meaningful role when needed by a Barbie. As the movie opens, Margot Robbie’s character, “Stereotypical Barbie”, dances and hangs out with her other Barbie friends until one day when she gets a weird feeling that manifests itself in thoughts of mortality. She then develops cellulite and flat feet. In a panic she seeks help from “Weird Barbie”, who takes care of all the other Barbie dolls who are misshapen and/or who never fit in. From her, Robbie learns that whoever is playing with her in the “real world” is having issues that need to be addressed. So, Robbie (and Ken…Ryan Gosling…,who hides in her Barbie car) head to the real world to meet this mystery person. Once in the real world, Margot Robbie’s Barbie discovers that the promise of feminism hasn’t quite taken root there. She is ogled and touched without her consent. Meanwhile, Ken is admired for his buff physique and is introduced to a concept known as the Patriarchy. A young teenage girl berates Barbie for having created generations of women who feel badly about their body image because they can’t compete with Barbie’s sexualized figure. Finally, Robbie meets the person who had been playing with her. It was America Ferrera, who plays the mother of the teenage girl who gave Barbie such a scolding. As it turns out, Ferrera’s character had grown tired of trying to find her way in a “man’s world” and had been viewing her daughter’s Barbie doll with a mixture of emotions that were potent enough to have reached Robbie’s Barbie all the way in Barbieland. In the midst of all of this, Mattel executives become aware that Barbie has crossed over into the real world and chase after her so that she can be repackaged and rebranded to their liking. Barbie ends up running for her life through the Mattel headquarters and beyond. In the course of this, she runs into a ghost-like figure played by Rhea Perlman who turns out to be Ruth Handler. As mentioned off of the top, it was a woman named Ruth Handler who created the original Barbie doll. So, when Barbie meets Ruth, it is akin to you or I meeting God. It is at this point that Handler has a motherly talk with a very confused and distraught Barbie. While this talk unfolds, a montage appears on screen of moments between mothers and daughters and between girlfriends and between sisters. Accompanying this ode to Sisterhood and all that is maternal, the song “What Was I Made For?” is played. It is not an exaggeration to say that the sobs emanating from the audience I was a part of were audible and unrestrained. Any critic can say anything they want about The Barbie Movie, but the fact remains that director Greta Gerwig touched the hearts and minds of a great many people with her work on this film.

One of the many things that work well in this movie is the way music is used. The soundtrack to The Barbie Movie is populated with many of today’s hottest stars such as Nicki Minaj, Ice Spice, Dua Lipa, Charli XCX and, of course, Billie Eilish. With her brother Finneas, Billie Eilish wrote “What Was I Made For?” after having been given a sneak peek at the movie by Gerwig before it was released. According to Eilish, she was greatly moved by what she saw onscreen and immediately recognized herself in the character played by Robbie. Eilish understood the impact of being a woman and of body image and how all of that takes away from her work as an artist. Eilish has stated many times that it is one of her most fervent wishes that articles about her focus on her lyrics and her music and not on what clothes she is wearing or the colour of her hair. In the movie, her whispery song delivery is perfectly suited for the reflective nature of the grand talk between Barbie and Ruth Handler. This song resonates with so many who feel unfairly burdened and typecast by gender and appearance and societal expectations and traditions. That we live in judgie times is acknowledged and not shied away from in the movie, which to its credit, does not seek tidy solutions to the plotline of this film. The world is a complicated mess and it is, indeed, difficult to know what one’s purpose is at times. You don’t have to be Barbie to understand that.

Here is something that you can take to the bank. If there happens to be an Academy Awards ceremony this coming year (and, with the screenwriters’ strike ongoing as I type this, that is not a given), I boldly predict that “What Was I Made For?” will win for Best Song in a Motion Picture. It was the absolutely perfect vehicle to pair with the onscreen visuals and dialogue. In any artist’s lifetime, if you can ever create work that touches the hearts and minds of those who encounter it, then you have really realized your own purpose. Billie Eilish and Finneas have done that with “What Was I Made For?”, just as Greta Gerwig has done so with The Barbie Movie. This movie was pretty amazing, and I am better for having seen it.

The link to the video for the official movie trailer for The Barbie Movie can be found here.

The link to the lyrics video for the song “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the movie, The Barbie Movie can be found here.

The link to the official video for the song “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish can be found here. ***NOTE: There is no video released from the actual Barbie Movie that pairs this song with the visuals that are shown when Barbie and Ruth Handler have their chat. The video that accompanies this link shows Billie Eilish and is solely featuring her.

Just for fun, the link to a video from The Barbie Movie called “Just Ken” can be found here. This song is sung by Ryan Gosling who, as Ken, chews scenery left and right in a terrific comedic turn that should earn him Oscar consideration for Best Supporting Actor. In this song, Ken wrestles with his feelings about having no self-identity outside of his association with Barbie. Even though this video comes across as light-hearted, it carries the point that one of the keys to a fulfilling life is being true to yourself, no matter who you are.

***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 #41/250…Blame Brett by The Beaches

A 92 year old lady, her dark-haired son and a ceramic nurse doll sit on a bed in a nursing home room.
My mother and me in her nursing home after she was safely moved in. The doll is named Nurse Joanie and serves as a reminder of her career as an R.N. #MomsAreEverything

NOTE: It has been approximately three months since I last created a post on WordPress. At that time, I had no idea that real life was about to make my music posts seem irrelevant to me, but that is what happened. The full version of this story will be given a proper airing at a future date. But for now, what happened was that I received a phone call out of the blue one Saturday afternoon in May informing me that my 92-year-old mother had fallen and broken her hip. She lives far from where I do. Her fall ended her ability to live independently which meant, among other things, that she could no longer live in her apartment and that she would require constant care from that point forward. That necessitated two different trips down from Ontario. The first was to clear out her apartment and find homes for her possessions. It also meant finding a permanent nursing home for her to live in. The second trip was more to check in on her and see if there were any adjustments needed to her living arrangement in her new location. Fortunately, as you can see from this photo, my Mom is rallying. She has taken to being cared for and has willingly relinquished the burden of looking after herself on her own. Her hip has healed nicely, and she is scooting around the nursing home in her wheelchair as if she was a driver in the Indy 500. All in all, things have stabilized and life is unfolding again as it always had. At least until the next phone call.

For now, that means that I can focus on my writing again and my love of music. So, with that in mind, let’s get back to it, shall we?! Here is today’s latest, greatest Canadian song…”Blame Brett” by The Beaches. Let’s go!!!!!

Like many major cities in the world, Toronto is made up of a patchwork of established neighbourhoods. Each of these neighbourhoods has its own unique history, culture and lifestyle. One of the more idyllic of these in Toronto is an area known as The Beaches. This neighbourhood is home to almost 20,000 residents and sits at the eastern end of the city. The neighbourhood comes by its name honestly. The Beaches community encompasses four different beaches, as well as numerous major parks, shopping districts, restaurants and houses with unique and colourful exteriors. The area is known for its Jazz Festival, the many outdoor patios and cafes that abound, as well as a marked Bohemian attitude that sets it apart from the rest of the city. It should come as no surprise to learn that such an artsy, laid back, geographically beautiful area would give birth to arguably Canada’s hottest rising band, The Beaches. As I type these words, the band The Beaches owns the #1 hit song in Canada with “Blame Brett”. If there was any song worthy of being crowned as the Song of the Summer this year, “Blame Brett” is it.

The members of the band, The Beaches. Four young woman named Eliza Inman-McDaniel, Leandra Earl, Jordan Miller and Kylie Miller.
The Beaches: Eliza Enman-McDaniel, Leandra Earl, Jordan Miller and Kylie Miller.

The Beaches band is an all-girl affair made up of two sisters and two friends. Jordan Miller handles lead vocals, as well as bass guitar. Kylie Miller plays lead guitar. Leandra Earl plays keyboards and rhythm guitar. Finally, Eliza Enman-McDaniel is the band’s drummer. Initially, the Miller sisters, along with Enman-McDaniel, formed a band in 2011 as teenagers called Done With Dolls. Right from their earliest days, these young women set out to make music on their terms. They wrote their own songs and arranged their own music. Even while still in high school, Done With Dolls began making a name for itself in the Toronto music scene and was chosen to write a theme song for a teen TV show called Really Me. Not long after that, Leandra Earl became involved with the band. The group decided to rebrand themselves as The Beaches in honour of the part of Toronto from which they grew up.

The Beaches have had a fair amount of success in the early stages of their career. Their debut album, Late Show, was produced by mentor and role model Emily Haines of the band, Metric (as well as the famous Toronto area musical collective, Broken Social Scene). From this album came two hit singles called “Money” and “T-shirt”. The latter song went all the way to #1 and helped The Beaches to earn their first Juno award for Breakthrough Group of the Year. The following year, The Beaches earned their second Juno award…this time for Rock Album of the Year. In between award shows, the band opened for everyone from The Glorious Sons to the legendary Rolling Stones.Being an all-girl band that plays a brand of pop-rock helps The Beaches to draw easy comparisons to another all-girl band known as The GoGos. You can read all about The GoGos from a previous post here. But, for now, know that The GoGos were the very first all-girl band who wrote and arranged their own songs and managed to have a #1 hit song. Their combination of stage presence, musicianship and determination helped propel Tne GoGos all the way into The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Bands such as The Beaches owe a debt of gratitude to The GoGos for blazing such a trail for them to follow. It wasn’t easy for The GoGos to break into the male-dominated world of rock n’ roll back in the 1980s and it isn’t necessarily any easier today for The Beaches. However, having such strong role models as The GoGos, along with Emily Haines, has allowed The Beaches to find the confidence to write songs about things that matter to them and to perform them with strength and conviction. The song “Blame Brett” is a good example of this.

“Blame Brett” is a breakup song, of sorts. It is about the reaction that some people have to having their heart broken. When such a thing occurs, it is not uncommon for the heartbroken person to lock up their heart to protect it from future pain. Once their heart is secure, relationships become more superficial which often means more sexual. “Blame Brett” is a battlecry that warns all potential suitors what the ground rules are now. As lovely and interesting as any of the band members of The Beaches may be, we are not to make the mistake of falling in love with them because they are not in the mood for love themselves. They have been there and done that and are now on the prowl for pleasures of the flesh. They make no excuses for this attitude and caution against casting aspersions in their direction because, after all, it is all the fault of a guy named Brett who broke one of their hearts. “Blame Brett” is as catchy a Pop-Rock song as I have heard in quite a while. It mines much of the same ground that Taylor Swift regularly writes about but spares us the melodrama in the process. The girls also give a hometown shout-out to the men of the Toronto Raptors with a line that declares that as of now:

“Done being the sad girl

I’m done dating rockstars

From now on only actors

And tall boys from the Raptors…”

I am reasonably confident that “Blame Brett” is going to be the song that propels The Beaches into the mainstream. It is a terrific tune that plays as a feminist anthem. To my mind, it is only a matter of when, not if, this song is featured in a movie or television show and ends up at #1, not just in Canada but around the world as well. The members of The Beaches have done very well for themselves so far and have a very bright future ahead. I applaud their willingness to speak out about matters that are important to them and to do so without calculation and marketing being at the core of it all. The Beaches appear to be a well grounded, very talented band. If this is your first time watching/listening to them sing, then you are in for a treat. They are terrific! I am including two videos for the song “Blame Brett”. The first is the lyrics video (which will help you understand the song and the message it conveys). The second video is the official video release. It will help you get to know the four members of the band. It is also the video which reminds me most of The GoGos. I hope that you enjoy them both.

Thanks for reading. It is good to be back writing for you. As always, I enjoy reading your comments so feel free to reply below with any thoughts you have about this band, the song, The GoGos, all-girl bands or anything else that you may have on your mind. Until then, take care. See you again soon.

The link to the lyrics video for the song “Blame Brett” by The Beaches can be found here.

The link to the official video for the song “Blame Brett” by The Beaches can be found here.

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

The link to the official website for the Toronto neighbourhood known as The Beaches 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 #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 of 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