Blog Caroling

After listening to my daughter’s selections of favorite Christmas carols as her responses to footnoteMaven’s tradition of Blog Caroling, I obviously had to participate and, like my daughter, no way could I just pick one. I have always loved choral music as well as solo music with incredibly beautiful melodic lines. One of my early favorites was always O Holy Night because of its beautiful melody. When I decided to use a Christmas song in a novel I am writing with a setting of 1899, I was pleased and surprised to find that it had been written by Adolphe Adam in 1847 so was a perfect choice.Though I’m a soprano and the range and vocal line are well fitted for my voice, I’ve chosen the version done by Il Divo just because I like them.

The next carol to become a favorite is also one on my daughter’s Blog Caroling post – Carol of the Bells. This has to be a favorite of any choral singer because the movement of the voices is satisfying both melodically and harmonically. I loved it from the first choral run through. As a singer, you are blessed indeed if you are fortunate enough to sing this song in a choir with singers who are capable of singing with parts intermingled versus only getting to sing next to someone singing your same part.

Over the past few Christmases, I’ve sung with choirs who’ve sung two songs written by Michael W. Smith and they’ve both become favorites, not just for Christmas, but just favorites. One is No Eye Had Seen.

The second is All is Well. I love the way this song expresses both the message of joy of the arrival of God’s salvation and the sense of peaceful calm that joyful message brings. It was both those aspects that led me to choose this song to be played at my mother’s funeral service. Both these songs are on Michael W. Smith’s “Christmas” album.

A few years ago I found a Christmas album I really enjoy. It’s called Black Christmas: Spirituals in the African-American Tradition. Though I didn’t choose any of these as favorite carols, still as a classically-trained singer, I love the voices and interpretations on this album and the more I listen to it the more I enjoy it.

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My All-Time Favorite Song – Un bel di

Randy Seaver of Geneamusings suggests a blog topic each  Saturday night – typically on a genealogy subject; this week his suggestion is to write about your all-time favorite song, why it’s at the top of the list or any story about it. He admitted it may be difficult to narrow down our favorites to just one – that is ridiculously true.

Because my Mother loved music and either listened to it or sang it constantly, I was raised in a home where music was always present. Then, when I was in junior high, I discovered the joys of choral music through church and school choirs, plus I watched many of the fabulous movie musicals of the 1940’s and 1950’s, and the predictable result was that music became a central feature of who I am. I did a degree in opera performance and sang with a local opera company for twenty years.

The aspect of music that draws me most is melody. I know many people are drawn to harmony or the beat or the story, but for me melody is key and every other aspect of music is to support the melody. One of the first songs I remember being irrisistably drawn to was Cio-Cio San’s aria, ‘Un bel di,’ from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. I was a student at Capitol Hill Junior High when the students were shown a film version of Madame Butterfly; when I heard that aria I was immediately overwhelmed by its beauty and it sounded in my heart and mind for years. I’ve attached a YouTube video of a performance by Dorothy Kirsten that, if not what I heard and saw, is at least very similar to my recollection of it.

It was the strongest desire of my heart that I would have a voice that was capable of singing that song beautifully. When I enrolled at Oklahoma State University as a voice major, the first question I asked my voice teacher was if I would ever be able to sing that song. She assured me, though it was a little advanced for a freshman voice student, that I would someday be able to sing it.

I had to wait until my senior recital to finally perform my ideal song – and due to moving around a lot, that didn’t happen until I was 46. By that time I had added other Puccini songs to my list of favorites and so also included the ending song from Madame Butterfly, which depicts her death by suicide, as well as the soprano aria from Turandot, “In questa reggia,” which had by that time taken over as my favorite Puccini aria [for the soprano voice – the tenor aria “Nessun Dorma” (also from Turandot) is probably my favorite Puccini aria to listen to].

Yes, there are many songs I love, but there will always be a special place in my heart for “Un bel di” because it was the aria and the story that introduced me to the beauty of opera – a lifelong journey.

Week #13 – Sharing My Expertise

In response to the Week #13 Blogging Prompt, I decided to write a little about researching and using music in fleshing out the lives and characters of our ancestors. Though it’s never been my day job, my education/avocation has been music, and specifically vocal music. For most people, enough information can be gained from relatively brief Internet searches. In the past couple of years I’ve noticed movies and books where music of a wrong time period has been used and, for me, that indicated a lack of research diligence or even a “who cares” attitude. A movie illustration was a John Wayne cavalry-type picture that had the military guys marching while singing a ditty that wasn’t written until a later war.

A book illustration is Rilla Askew’s Fire in Beulah, about the 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma race riots. This is a very well researched and written fictional account of that ugly time – except for this one little musical misstep. In describing a worship gathering in a small black church, Ms. Askew said they were singing Victory in Jesus. Having been raised as an Oklahoma Southern Baptist and a musician, I knew this had been written by Eugene M. Bartlett, Sr. and, though I was unsure, I strongly suspected 1921 was a too early time frame. A minuscule Internet search by song title revealed it had been written in 1939. Obviously, Ms. Askew assumed the song had been around longer than it had.

After my daughter and I began to put together some basic information about my grandparents, I began to fill out their lives with my own imaginings and it wasn’t long before I started writing a fictional story based on the facts we’d been accumulating. We had heard from my Mother that my grandmother, Eva Keithley, and her sister, Violet, had sung duets. When I arranged, in my fictional account, for my grandparents to meet, it was natural for me to utilize singing as a part of the story. Because they must have met sometime in late 1899, that entailed doing some music research to find an appropriate song for Eva and Violet to sing.

One of the first websites I found was Oremus, which has a number of hymnals available. The one that included 1899 includes the hymnal song texts and midi files. There is also the cyber hymnal, which has a searchable listing of hymns with brief composer notes and dates as well as lyrics and midi files.

Because I wanted to know how my grandmother might have obtained music for performance purposes in 1899, I had to do a little background research. For popular music, one of the sites I used was History Matters. Here’s a quote from that site that gave me a background on the transmission of music in the era in which my grandmother lived: “American song in the second half of the nineteenth century underwent a tremendous commercial expansion, which extended into the twentieth century and indeed has not abated today. Initially, sheet music and pocket songsters were the primary means of circulating songs, since many Americans played and sang music in their own homes. The music publishing industry was increasingly concentrated in New York City’s famous ‘Tin Pan Alley’ by the 1880s. After that point, however, songs also came to be bought, sold, and preserved in a succession of new media: sound recordings and player pianos in the 1890s; radio in the 1920s, movie sound tracks in the late 1920s…”

A fun website for finding music in the public domain (meaning you can use the lyrics and melody without permission) is Public Domain Music. Though searchability is limited at this site, you can find music by some specific American composers or examples of types of music as well as examples by time period.

YouTube can also be a fun source for inserting performances into your blogs. In a tribute to my Mother, I found and inserted a video clip from a 1929 movie she had seen and then, by her own account, performed the music at her grade school.

By utilizing the websites above in selecting music for my grandmother and her sister to sing in church, I was a little surprised to discover a Christmas song I particularly like, O Holy Night, had been composed by the mid-19th century (both the lyricist and composer had died by that time) and was therefore an appropriate choice to use for my fictional account. Utilizing the lyrics as well as vocal characteristics allowed me to flesh out the characters of both my grandmother and grandfather.

For those of you who would like to see an illustration of adding music to a fictional account, I’ve added a page to my blog site of the chapter where I’ve used O Holy Night as a part of the development of my grandparents’ characters. Much of the thought processes in my grandfather’s mind was based on letters he wrote to his brother, Leander Lineberry, from 1895 until his death in 1915. Those letters can be viewed at my daughter’s genealogy website, My Tree House.