25 November 2010

'The Sabre Dance': a close harmony pop trio version

(Listen to the vocal 'Sabre Dance'!)

'The Sabre Dance' is actually a movement in the final act of Gayane, a ballet in 4 acts with music written in 1942 by the Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian, in which male dancers display perform a war dance with sabres in their hands.

I suppose most people would be able to recognise this piece by the chromatic and gliding notes in the melody, as well as the stirring rhythmic pulsation, even though they cannot really name it.

This orchestral work later become a popular concert piece in its own right. However, no until recently, after discovering a 78s record from eBay, have I realised that there are actually a series of adaptations by various pop singers and rockers.

I finally won the bid for that record—a vocal version of 'The Sabre Dance' by The Andrews Sisters, a renowned close harmony trio active from the swing up to the 1960s, to the accompaniment of three harmonicas by The Harmonica Gentlemen.

(The Andrews Sisters, image from their official website)

Having been bidding for 78s records on eBay since September, I not only found some software for the hardware, my HMV 101 and 103, but also lead myself to a world of the sounds which have long faded into oblivion.

20 November 2010

Laluna Park: a Hebrew waltz

('Abale Bo Laluna Park', by Israel Yitzhaki, 1950s)

I've definitely fallen for gramophone records and will keep searching for more—either something I have already known but just want to hear in the warm pure analogue format, or something people have forgotten long before and not available on CDs or over the internet.

Last night, just one minute before shut down my laptop, that is two minutes before I crawled into my four-poster, I discovered a rare, rare, rare record on the eBay: Israel Yitzhaki's 'Abale Bo Laluna Park' (אבאל'ה בוא ללונה פארק Daddy come to the amusement park), a Hebrew waltz song.

I cannot remember how I came to know this waltz, but this is a example I usually give in class when introducing popular music of Israel in the modern times. 'Abale Bo Laluna Park' is really a cute piece, both musically and lyrically, about a child's request for a carousel ride in the amusement park.

For those who are interested in what the song is actually about, please refer to the transliterated lyrics and translation, quoted from hebrewsong.com.

Im tikach otti la’luna park
If you take me to Luna Park

Tir'eh eich ani e’yeh yeld tov
You’ll see what a good boy I’ll be

Mehayom letova estaneh
As of today I will change for the better

Ve’ehdal lehagid lo rotzeh
And stop saying 'I don’t want to'

Abbaleh bo la’luna park
Daddy, lets go to Luna Park

Nirkav al hasus halavan
We’ll ride on the white horse

Abbaleh bo la’luna park
Daddy, lets go to Luna Park

Tihyeh gam atta chevreman
Come on be a sport

Abbaleh bo la’luna park
Daddy, lets go to Luna Park

Sham nechmad, aliz ve’niflah
It nice there, cheerful and wonderful

Abba’e bo la’luna park
Daddy, lets go to Luna Park

Nit’nad’ned al hanad’nedah
We’ll sway on the swing

Nissa nistovev bagal’gal ha’anak
We’ll circle riding the Ferris wheel

Yihye ko yaffe’ shneinu nitzhak
It will be so beautiful, we’ll both be laughing

Lema’la lematta, yamina u’smol
Up and down, right and left

Al tifchad, ani lo epol
Don’t worry, I won’t fall down

Abbaleh bo la’luna park
Daddy, lets go to Luna Park

Nirkav al hasus halavan
We’ll ride on the white horse

Abbaleh bo la’luna park
Daddy, lets go to Luna Park

Tihyeh gam atta chevreman
Come on be a sport

18 November 2010

A celebratory Hebrew song for a Taiwanese funeral

('Hava Nagila', Hebrew song performed by Israeli singer Rika Zaraï, ca 1966)

'Hava Nagila' (Let us rejoice, lieterally), almost a standard dance number for Jewish weddings, as well as Bar and Bat Mitzvoth, is a Hebrew song, of which the tune was actually adapted from a niggun (a wordless humming tune) of a Hassidic branch of Judaism in Ukraine with the text written in 1918 by Abraham Zevi Idelsohn, the father of Jewish musicology.

It was originally written for a concert in celebration of British victory over the Turks in Palestine in WWI, together with the Balfour Declaration, which stated the British government's stance in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. By setting simple Hebrew lyrics to the Ukrainian Hassidic tune, Idelsohn wrote 'Hava Nagila' as a cheerful concluding song for the concert organised by himself.

In terms of melodic structure, the song can be divided into three sections, the text set to which can roughly translate as
Let's rejoice and be happy!
Let's sing and be happy!
Awake, brothers, with a happy heart!
Indeed, it is a cheery, jaunty song.

This song has recently been quoted in Seven Days In Heaven, a Taiwanese film presenting the seven days of the Taoist mourning ritual in succession before the funeral after a father's decease and its impacts on his children.

I wonder whether the two collaborating directors of this film, Yu-Lin Wang and Essay Liu, have no knowledge of the celebratory idea behind 'Hava Nagila' but simply take it as a sonic background in the film, or their intention is to employ 'Hava Nagila' right away in the title sequence to deliver the message that a funeral may be a celebration of life as well.

14 November 2010

Listen to Bach's haunting and astonishing organ music

(Father and son listening to organ music on HMV 103)

J S Bach's 'Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (BWV 565)' is regarded as one of the most famous works in the organ repertoire; it's magnificent.

Listen to Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (BWV 565), played by the Italian organist Fernando Germani at Westminster Cathedral in 1948, and see if there is any unusual acoustic effect, different from that from modern digital recordings, that may redefine any listening experience.

Just as the initial distinctive four-note 'short-short-short-long' motif of Beethoven's 'Symphony No. 5 in C minor (Op 67)' usually come to mind when thinking of Western classical symphonic works, so would the astounding single-voice flourish at the very start of this 'Toccata and Fugue in D Minor' resound in people's head when talking about organ music.

However, I suppose this keyboard piece is more associated with scenes in horror films, in which it is frequently quoted, than the image of a dedicated maestro in the church organ loft.

As mentioned in the previous post, Ronne sometimes listens to music played on my gramophones so I just want to let him feel how haunting, as well as astonishing, this piece can be when delivered from the antique machine.

08 November 2010

A must for the family, or for myself?

(My new toy—HMV 103 table top, ca. 1925)

According to the built-in New Oxford American Dictionary provided by the Apple operation system Mac OS X 10.4, a toy can be
1) an object for a child to play with, typically a model or miniature replica of something, or
2) an object, especially a gadget or machine, regarded as providing amusement for an adult.
In a recent case of myself, definition 2) applies.

After buying myself an HMV 101 portable in early September, I was induced by Davide Lin to believe that a table top gramophone is also a must for every family (this sounds like words in advertising!), apart from a portable one. As a result, I bid again on eBay and won another 'toy'—an HMV 103 table top.

After my son Ronne was born, both my wife and I reserve Sundays for the family and, except for housework, we don't work, so we can he can play with us (or actually he can play us!). However, now I also reserve Sundays as gramophone days and Ronne has to sit beside me watching the funny black stuff turning round and round, and listening to the sound delivered from the magic wooden box.

In this society, where at the one end people would expend millions seeking hi-end Hi-Fi stereo system, and at the other people would listen to poor-quality downloaded illegal audio files, it may be a good idea to take my son back to the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, when advanced digital recording and playback technology were not available, but humanity and musicality were most important when making sound productions.