21 February 2011

A laughing song for the smiling father and son

(Top: Ronne in my arm, 2010/ bottom: Wei in Grandpa's arm, 1975)

Fanne nags at me all the time for keeping a stiff upper lip too often but seldom wearing a smile, so much so that I almost believe I had been born with an attitude of determined endurance in the face of adversity, and was therefore unemotional.

Of course not true. I was able to smile, or even laugh, although I don't smile a lot today.

When searching for old photos, I also found one taken in 1975 when I was about four months old. I was smiling, with a plastic film canister in my mouth, in Grandpa's arm. The image brings to mind a picture I took for my son when he was about four months old as well. The father and son were both smiling, weren't they?

However, I have to say that Ronne smiles and laughs much more often than I did and do. He does, and therefore at the end of this blog entry, let me play a record of laughing song.

(Listen to 'The Laughing Policeman' by Charles Penrose, 1926)

This song was performed by Charles Penrose, a British music hall singer and radio comedian, who was probably best known and is still remembered today for this laughing song. In addition to the one we are listening to here, Charles had also made several recordings for this piece, of which the first was released in 1922 under Regal (G7816) and two more were Regal (G9391) in 1929 and Columbia (FB1184) in 1934.

Although, on the paper label as shown above, the song was written by Billie Grey, the pseudonym of Charles's wife, it was actually adapted from 'The Laughing Song' by George W. Johnson, who had also recorded the song for many times, of which one can be heard on this YouTube clip. George's tune inspired Charles to compose the new lyrics about the funny policeman.

Below is what Charles sings:

I know a fat old policeman
He's always on our street.
A fat and jolly red-faced man
He really is a treat.
He's too kind for a policeman
He's never known to frown.
And everybody says
He is the happiest man in town!.
(Ha ha ha ha ha ha)

He laughs upon point duty
He laughs upon his beat.
He laughs at everybody
When he's walking in the street.
He never can stop laughing
He says he's never tried.
But once he did arrest a man
And laughed until he cried!
(Ha ha ha ha ha ha)

His jolly face is wrinkled
And then he shut his eyes.
He opened his great big mouth
It was a wonderous size!
He said "I must arrest you!"
He didn't know what for.
And then he started laughing
Until he cracked his fat old jaw.
(Ha ha ha ha ha ha)

So if you chance to meet him
While walking 'round the town.
Shake him by his fat old hand
And give him half a crown.
His eyes will beam and sparkle
He'll gurgle with delight.
And then you'll start him laughing
With all his blessed might!
(Ha ha ha ha ha ha)

18 February 2011

Digging out old family photos on the lantern festival

(The Chens, Taichung 1979 and Taipei 2001)

(Listen to 'Home! Sweet Home!' by Deanna Durbin for First Love on Brunswick, 1939, especially played for these two photos. May time fly and our faces change with age, the familial ties remain steadfast.)

Yesterday was the lantern festival, which is generally regarded as the last day of the Chinese New Year and after which all lunar new year celebrations conclude. Therefore, Fanne and I, together with my son Ronne, went to dine with my parents.

I spent some time delving into an iron cabinet in my parents bedroom in search for some old photos taken in my primary school days. Tonnes of photos turned up, including those taken on my parents wedding day.

I didn't start the quest for the past out of nowhere. It all began with a primary school reunion event organised through FaceBook, which took place when I was in the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka working with other colleagues on a discography of historical recordings made in Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period.

After the event, which unfortunately I missed out, some classmates managed to locate most members of the class through FB and Google (what an era of cyber manhunt!) and are uploading old photos to our facebook group page. Therefore, I started looking for some photos taken at primary school and happened to find some more taken when I was even younger.

When a photo (above left) shot in my grandparents' garden in 1979 appeared, another one (above right) shot in 2002 came to my mind, together with melody of 'Home! Sweet Home!' composed by the Englishman Sir Henry Bishop.

08 February 2011

Armstrong's smile at an unhurried pace

(Listen to 'When You're Smiling' by Louis Armstrong on Okeh, 1929)

I heard Louis Armstrong's rich and sonorous voice in an iPhone 4 advert launched on the 7th of June last year—'When you're smiling, when you're smiling...' Somehow, I became besotted with the tune and it has lingered in my mind since.

During the Chinese new year, I stumbled upon a 78s record of 'When You're Smiling' made by Armstrong and his orchestra in 1929 on eBay. I won the bid with an unflinching determination to procure it at all costs. Interestingly, it is faster than what I heard in the advert; it's a different version.

As I'm sure the record is played correctly at 78 rpm and the 1929 version is the first one he had recorded for this piece, apparently, he slows down when recording again at a later stage.

Well, the elderly slow down both mentally and physically, partly because of the accumulation of biological changes over time and partly, I believe, owing to the way in which they view the world. The latter may apply to the interpretation of a musical work by a musician in the later stage of life.

Here is another example.

In 1955 the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould launched his career, as well as made his everlasting name over the classical world, by recording his debut album of J S Bach's Goldberg Variations (BWV 988). In 1981, the year before closed his piano lid permanently, he made another recording of this keyboard work.

Whereas in the debut album Gould plays at an unbelievable extreme tempo, in the valedictory recording he slows down, a lot.

Just like Gould, Armstrong slows down as well in the later version. I suppose both the pianist and the trumpeter held back to see a different world in music.

As I don't have the later version of Armstrong's 'When You Smile', watch the video clip of the iPhone 4 advert, where you can hear how the celebrated jazz maestro smiled at an unhurried pace.

Which one do you prefer?

03 February 2011

Paris, Stay The Same

(Listen to 'Paris, Stay The Same' from The Love Parade, by Maurice Chevalier on HMV, 1930)

I would say it's an utmost pleasure to receive an item won on eBay just in time before the new year holiday, during which the post service is not available.

I won one more bid on eBay several days ago for a gramophone record of a French actor, singer and popular vaudeville entertainer, Maurice Chevalier, singing 'Paris, Stay The Same' from the film The Love Parade. It arrived the day before the Chinese New Year's Eve.

Maurice was captivated in the front during national service as a POW for two years in the prison camp in Germany, where he studied English. With his enormous charm and charisma, Maurice made himself a star with American audiences after he arrived in Hollywood.

It's our impression that the French can't be asked to speak English (no offence to French readers, but it's true); however, there was once a great French stage artist who developed a successful career in Hollywood and even was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, for his roles in the film The Love Parade.

I once lived in Scotland for five years, where I sang in the Church of the Holy Rude Choir, Stirling City Choira and Stirling and Bridge of Allan Operatic Society, and therefore I understand, as a non-native speaker, it is quite a back-breaking and mind-grinding task to elbow one’s way on the crowded stage in a foreign land.

I truly adore Maurice Chevalier.

This bilingual song was one of the most captivating and enduring tunes from The Love Parade. Below are the lyrics for those who would like to know what the song is about.

You'll never miss me when I'm gone, Paris
But I know that I'll miss you.
You took a lot of pains in teaching me,
Why must we say "Adieu"?

I've seen your mild days,
And some of your wild days,
Down where the Seine flows,
And where the Champagne flows,
You taught me all that a kiss could be
Paris, your ladies were good enough for me,

I've met brunettes, here,
And little brisettes, here
I've lost my station,
And my reputation,
If I've been happy then you're to blame...
Oh, Paris--please stay the same!

Paris je t'aime,
je t'aime, je t'aime
Avec ivresse,
Comme une maîtresse !
Tu m'oublieras bien vite et pourtant
Mon cœur est tout chaviré en te quittant !

Je peux te dire
qu'avec ton sourire
Tu m'as pris l'âme
Ainsi qu'une femme
Tout en moi est à toi pour toujours
Paris, je t'aime et comment ! - d'amour !

01 February 2011

Writing my own Chinese New Year couplet

I don't think I'm good at Chinese calligraphy at all but I write my own new year couplet (春聯 chunlian) with a Chinese writing brush every year. I usually prepare two pairs of couplets, one to be hung outside beside the main door of my flat and the other of my office at National Taiwan University.

Since I regard myself as a musicologist, the couplet must have something to do with music. This year I compose a pair of lines which may be translated roughly as
"Southern school and northern style win a standing ovation (南音北管滿堂彩);
Court music and secular ditties be praised throughout seasons (雅樂俗謠四季紅)."
The handwritting may not be perfect, but I hope the couplet bring me some good luck in the year of the rabbit—the year of my zodiac sign.