Moravian Music – Deep Yearning

As ever, the music of Eastern Europe has the power to make one want to jump up and dance….

I have long known the music of various Eastern European countries, but the music of Moravia had somehow slipped past my attention.   So this morning while I was hunting for some music from Albania (as one does!) I noticed a piece of music that said it came from a Moravian film, and was based on the music of the cembalo,  So, as I was sitting peacefully, drinking my morning cup of coffee, I thought “why not check this out?”   So that is what I did, and discovered a whole new sort of music to enjoy and explore.

So to start us off, here is the piece of music that I stumbled upon.   Apparently part of the sound track of a crime film (about which I know nothing), and has that typical sadness that so much music from this general area of eastern Europe seems to have.   Beautiful and sombre music I think you will agree..

Probably best to listen to this music with your back to your computer, so that the totally irrelevant images do not distract you from the lovely and moving music…   Just a suggestion.

So, there you go.   A good sound I hope you will agree.

However, to show that not all music from the eastern edges of Europe is sad and depressing, here is a rather more cheerful bunch of happy musicians singing their little hearts out apparently in the corner of a car park or someone’s garden…

All rather odd, but entertaining nonetheless I find.

But interesting to see how depressed all the people concerned seem to be… I wonder why?   Actually it is a very odd video, but I imagine that if you happen to speak Moravian it is all totally clear and understandable.   But from our point of view, it is the actual music that matters, and for me, it is both charming and curious.   Seems to wander around a lot.  But that choir of little girls… dear God,, what was that about?    Hmmm….

Anyhow, on to other matters now………………..

This is definitely the real thing, a totally Moravian bit of folk music… no small girls swaying about or serious unsmiling village elders here, but delightful music that makes one want to leap to ones feet and start dancing.. great stuff!!

Tomorrow I shall be back again, with some other equally pointless waffle about music, silly videos or who knows what?

Waltzing Matilda – Australian Song With A Great History

The song that sums Australia up for most people

Waltzing Matilda – the song everyone thinks of as soon as the word “Australia” is mentioned.   OK, what does it mean?  Where does it come from? And why is it so important in the Australian psyche?

I am not sure I can answer the last point, but I can have a go at answering the first two and probably a couple more in passing.

But before I start to discuss its history and significance, here is a very standard performance of it by Slim Dusty to give you a taste of what I shall be explaining and playing to you in this post.

This is the version that everyone knows – there are a few other versions as I shall show you in the course of this post.

But where did this song come from, and why is it so popular?   Both good questions, the first I can answer, the second?  No idea why it has become such a popular song, representing Australia both for us here in Australia and for people all over the world when they hear it.

OK, it was written in 1895 by a sort of hedgerow wandering poet and singer Banjo Paterson in the   Queensland town of Winton where he was gently flirting with the daughter of one of the local land owners,  Christina Macpherson.  He wrote the words, and she wrote the music – well actually that isn’t really true, she used an already existing folk tune, the from 1806 dating Scottish tune Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigielea which was well known and much loved in Australia at the time.   Here it is for your pleasure…

It was also derivative of another, even older Scottish folk song apparently, with the wonderful name of…  “When sick is it tea you want?”   which dates from about 1798 apparently.   To be honest I can’t hear Waltzing Matilda in this one, but apparently they are related somehow..

This version is by the Boys of the Lough.

Not surprisingly there are many differing versions of Australia’s national song, which curiously enough has never actually been the official national anthem, which one would imagine it richly deserves to be.  It has been payed by all manner of groups and sung at every conceivable occasion from boozy nights in pubs to highly important national events.  It has also (of course) been satirised in a number of ways, been used by rock singers and so on.. the list of uses is almost endless, and while looking into this post, I was amazed by the weird and wonderful range of versions I came across… some of which I shall shortly post in this article for your entertainment.

The meaning of all those Aussie terms.

First though I thought that perhaps a short glossary might be in order, as not everyone knows the meaning of a lot of the very Australian words in this song, so here goes, a list of what those words mean.

waltzing

derived from the German term auf der Walz, which means to travel while working as a craftsman and learn new techniques from other masters.

Matilda

a romantic term for a swagman’s bundle. See below, “Waltzing Matilda”.

Waltzing Matilda

from the above terms, “to waltz Matilda” is to travel with a swag, that is, with all one’s belongings on one’s back wrapped in a blanket or cloth. The exact origins of the term “Matilda” are disputed; one fanciful derivation states that when swagmen met each other at their gatherings, there were rarely women to dance with. Nonetheless, they enjoyed a dance and so danced with their swags, which was given a woman’s name. However, this appears to be influenced by the word “waltz”, hence the introduction of dancing. It seems more likely that, as a swagman’s only companion, the swag came to be personified as a woman.

The National Library of Australia states:

Matilda is an old Teutonic female name meaning “mighty battle maid”. This may have informed the use of “Matilda” as a slang term to mean a de facto wife who accompanied a wanderer. In the Australian bush a man’s swag was regarded as a sleeping partner, hence his “Matilda”. (Letter to Rt. Hon. Sir Winston Churchill, KG from Harry Hastings Pearce, 19 February 1958. Harry Pearce Papers, NLA Manuscript Collection, MS2765)[23]

swagman

a man who travelled the country looking for work. The swagman’s “swag” was a bed roll that bundled his belongings.

billabong

an oxbow lake (a cut-off river bend) found alongside a meandering river.

coolibah tree

a kind of eucalyptus tree which grows near billabongs.

jumbuck

a sheep

billy

a can for boiling water in, usually 2–3 pints (1–1.5 l)

tucker bag

a bag for carrying food (“tucker”).

troopers

policemen.

squatter

Australian squatters started as early farmers who raised livestock on land which they did not legally have the right to use; in many cases they later gained legal use of the land even though they did not have full possession, and became wealthy thanks to these large land holdings. The squatter’s claim to the land may be as uncertain as the swagman’s claim to the jumbuck.

Funny Versions.

Obviously a song as popular and well known as this one has to have been the victim of a number of satires, so for your pleasure here are a couple to give you a taste of what can happen to such a song.  One an Aussie satire, the other a very, very British one….

Continue reading “Waltzing Matilda – Australian Song With A Great History”

Faux Naif – Women With Kid’s Voices

There are grown women who have made their professional impact by using the singing voices they had when they were still kids.. Very odd.

I recently became very aware of a curious singing style that I had never really given much thought to before, namely grown women who for some reason choose to sing with extremely childlike voices.

Upon looking into this style of singing in some depth, I discovered that it even has an official name, which is, wait for it…. Faux Naif (false childlike) and is both a carefully nurtured way of singing for some singers, and for others, simply because they have never had their voices trained in any fashion.  A good example of this last sort of childish voiced singer is the girl who sang in the French ’60s band, Il Etait Une Fois.  This young woman, Joëlle Mogensen, had a truly childlike voice as you will hear in the following video.

She only joins in in the second chorus, so be patient, it is worth it!

I first heard this song on the car radio as I drove around in France, and for a long time had assumed that it was a kid singing, so I was really surprised many years later when i discovered that it was actually a grown woman.   Shut your eyes, and listen to it again and you will see what I mean.

Anyhow, that is a very good example of the untrained voice type of Faux Naif singing, and whilst it is actually rather forced and ugly I have become very fond of this track over the years – no idea why though.

Blossom Dearie (what a name!) is, or was, a very different type of Faux Naif singer.  This good soul was a piano playing jazz singer.  She also sang in a curiously childlike voice, but in her case it seems to have been as a result of a considered choice, as she sings very well, and obviously has trained her voice and knew how to use it properly, as this video will demonstrate I hope.

Continue reading “Faux Naif – Women With Kid’s Voices”

kuus kuus kallike – Arvo Pärt – Beauty

Quite simply, one of the most beautiful lullabies I know….

The Estonian Composer, Arvo Pärt was asked some years ago to compose a lullaby for a CD that Montserrat Figueras was recording of a whole collection of lullabies, ranging from ones composed way back in the 15th century to totally modern ones – which last obviously included this work of Arvo Pärt.

His contribution to this CD was a little song of quite amazing beauty, with the title of kuus kuus kallike.   These words apparently have no meaning in Estonian or any other language, but are simply soothing sounds to be made by the singer of the song to send a kid to sleep.  Whilst I love this song, I rather doubt if it would actually send any kid to sleep, since just as the kid’s eyes were becoming heavy, and sleep was stealing up on it, the singer suddenly goes into a high and loud section of the song, as you will hear in the several versions of this lovely song I have chosen for this post.

So, without any more ado, here is a superb version of this song to whet your appetite.

See what I mean?  Isn’t it beautiful and soothing?

This version was put together by Goeyvaerts String Trio and the singers Kristien Roels, Kris Matthynssens and Pieter Stas.

Continue reading “kuus kuus kallike – Arvo Pärt – Beauty”

My Encounter With Tiny Tim… Very Odd…

Many years ago, about 1966 or thereabouts, I was asked by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band (who were friends of mine) to do the lighting for their part in a concert that they were going to take part in at the Royal Albert Hall. This was to be a large scale concert, with a […]

Many years ago, about 1966 or thereabouts, I was asked by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band (who were friends of mine) to do the lighting for their part in a concert that they were going to take part in at the Royal Albert Hall.

This was to be a large scale concert, with a load of bands and performers who were popular at the time, such as The Doo Dah Band as mentioned above, also The Small Faces, Joe Cocker and many others, and of course as you will have guessed from the title of this post, the extra-ordinary Tiny Tim.

tiny-tim-original

How Lighting worked at the Albert Hall.

Before I get onto Tiny Tim, I should mention how lighting was handled in the Albert Hall in those far off days before the advent of simple touring lighting control boards and rock tour lighting rigs.   Back then in halls such as the Albert Hall, one had to work with what they had rigged, and the actual control system consisted of huge mechanical dimmers down below in the cellars of the hall.   So “Lighting Directors” such as I had to sit upstairs in a small booth high above the audience with one of the Albert Hall electricians sitting beside me who had an old fashioned telephone to pass on to the guys in the cellar what I wanted to have happen with the lighting…

So for example I would ask for the main lighting to be dimmed to create a bit of atmosphere, this command was duly passed onto the electricians in the cellar, who then dashed around setting up the dimmers, so that on my word of command which would be relayed to them by the electrician sitting next to me, they could crank all those huge mechanical dimmers into their new positions, thus changing the lighting on the stage.

Cumbersome to say the least….

Anyhow, on the day of the concerts there was a general rehearsal of all the performers and their sound and lights people, including me of course.

There was also a small backing orchestra there for any performers who might need a bit of support – which included Cocker, and obviously, Tiny Tim.

Cocker did his rehearsal perfectly, not surprisingly  and in due time it was Tiny Tim’s turn.

He came slowly onto the stage with two “handlers” in suits, one of whom carried his ukulele for him.  They walked one on each side of Tiny Tim, each grasping him by his arms, and led him up to the microphone he would be using, and handed him his ukulele and stood a bit back from him.   The orchestra commenced to play his music, and at the right moment, one of his handlers tapped Tiny Tim on his shoulder, and like a sort of performing robot, Tiny Tim went into his act, which he did impeccably.

Then when he arrived at the end of his act, he simply stopped, and stood there immoveable.   His two handlers took him by his arms again, and started to lead him off-stage.   I was standing nearby as all this was happening, and as Tiny Tim was led of the stage, he asked in a sort of little boy voice  “Where are we going?”  to which one of his handlers replied in a gentle voice “we are going home Tiny, home….”   And off they went.

My overwhelming impression at the time was that he was a very sad and strange creature, and I have had no reason to change this impression since.   When you see interviews with him, and look at his very odd shape and appearance (the original pear shaped man), this feeling is only made stronger.   He was seriously odd, but when he wasn’t singing in that memorable falsetto, he actually had a very pleasing baritone voice, as you can hear of you check out an older post of mine in which I included a video of him singing “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime”  (Link to that post).

So to end this little bit of nostalgia, and to give you a better idea of what a curious and sad man he was, here he is in one of the many TV interviews he did after he ceased to be so famous..

An odd and sad creature.

Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet – Haunting Song

How a simple, yet deeply felt song can effect one – Even if it is sung by an old Tramp

I first heard this haunting small tune over a year ago, but it refuses to leave me alone.  The sound of that man’s quavery voice, even with its shades of Spike Milligan, is captivating in its simplicity and purity.

Before I start to discuss it, I feel that you need to hear it, so you know what it is I am so moved by.  So here is the shortest version of this little song as used by Gavin Bryars.

Do you see what I mean about the power of this simple bit of music?   And yes, it is Tom Waits you hear in this extract from a much longer work.

Here is what the composer Gavin Bryars has to say about the background of his use of this extremely powerful, if simple, song.

In 1971, when I lived in London, I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in the area around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station. In the course of being filmed, some people broke into drunken song – sometimes bits of opera, sometimes sentimental ballads – and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”. This was not ultimately used in the film and I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one.
When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song – 13 bars in length – formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way [in the notes for the 1993 recording on Point, Bryars wrote that while the singer’s pitch was quite accurate, his sense of tempo was irregular]. I took the tape loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping.

Continue reading “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet – Haunting Song”

Árstíðir – Amazing Singing In Station

Árstíðir, an a-cappella singing group from Iceland, who were touring in Germany in 2013, found themselves in the railway station at Wuppertal after a concert, and were so taken with the acoustic quality of the booking hall that they decided to make use of it, and to sing a 13th century Icelandic hymn before catching their […]

Árstíðir, an a-cappella singing group from Iceland, who were touring in Germany in 2013, found themselves in the railway station at Wuppertal after a concert, and were so taken with the acoustic quality of the booking hall that they decided to make use of it, and to sing a 13th century Icelandic hymn before catching their train – as one does..  A sort of impromptu Flash Mob.

I know that this happened in 2013, and that this little video went viral about as soon as it was posted – but I have only just now become aware of it, and I suspect there are lots of other people out there who missed it in 2013, so here it is again for all of us who missed it the first time round.

Isn’t that magnificent?  I can well see why the acoustics of that booking hall moved them to want to sing, and to sing that particular song (an Icelandic hymn “Heyr, himna smiður” the words for which were written by Kolbeinn Tumason in 1208. The music was composed in the 1970s by Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson, who was one of Iceland’s foremost composers).

That fantastic decay (as that sort of sound is known to sound engineers, when it takes an age before the sound dies away) simply demanded to be used for a song such as the one they sang. The depth of the sound, the complexity that the slow decay engendered all combined to make it into a superbly moving performance.

I so envy those travelers who were lucky enough to be present while they sang this song. Can you imagine being there and those fabulous singers simply suddenly bursting into that sublime singing?   An event to remember for your entire life I would think.

By the way, it wasn’t a set up, they really did simply wander into the booking hall, and registered the amazing acoustics there, and decided to sing that song, as they felt that it would sound perfect in that place.  The “performance” was filmed by their manager who was with them, and luckily for us, had his video camera with him, so he was able to film and preserve this performance for the rest of us.

Also notice the way that some of the singers moved about at the start of the song, they were trying to get themselves into the best position acoustically, so that the sound of their singing was optimal in the wonderful echoing booking hall.

In passing, I have a cousin in France who was a choir master before he retired, and whenever I was with him, and we found ourselves driving past a church in some small French village, he would screech to a halt, dash into the church and wander around in it humming loudly, testing the acoustics in case one day he might be asked to perform there with one or other of his choirs.

This was both funny, and somewhat embarrassing as you can perhaps imagine.