Monday, August 22, 2011

Read any good books lately?

The summer languorously ambles toward its demise. I'm not a big fan of hot weather so I am vigorously preparing for its departure by cleaning the den. This is strenuous labor which requires heavy lifting, not to mention the willingness to part with years of accumulated junk. Our exclamations are pretty standard stuff by now: "Why did we ever keep THIS?", predictably followed by "Oh look: here's a picture of Aunt Mabel dated 1942, Narragansett Pier".

In 1942, I was five years old, but even at that tender age, I was a big fan of the movies. "Bambi" was released that year and though the seat upon which my baby bum sat has long since vanished, it once contained DNA evidence of my over-wrought reaction as I wept uncontrollably. My father whispered "It's only a movie", but I was beyond consolation.

The Hollywood of 1942 produced some of my all-time favorite films, including (but not in any particular order): "Pride Of The Yankees", "Mrs. Miniver", "Madame Curie", "Random Harvest" (wasn't Greer Garson a busy lady!), "King's Row", "Holiday Inn", "The Man Who Came To Dinner" and of course the best of all, "Casablanca".

The fact that I was so young and couldn't possibly have understood complex story lines made no difference. Explicit sex and/or violence were unknown factors in these films. (For example, in today's cinema would we ever see Humphrey Bogart remaining immaculate in his white tux jacket even after Ilsa has just confessed: "If you knew how much I loved you ... how much I still love you", followed by that passionate kiss? Fade ... Next, he's turning from the window, holding a cigarette in his hand and without the slightest crease in his formal attire, delivers the memorable line: "And then?" as she explains why she was a no-show at the train station.)

The Community Theater in our town and others around the country provided great incentives to entice my mother and other devoted movie fans to fork over the 50-cent admission: A complete set of china, one dish at a time, service for six. Or a book. Not just any book either: Ibsen, Conan Doyle, Shakespeare, Whitman, the Brontes. I read them all eventually. As if being handed a free book wasn't enough, I forced my mother to take me to the small corner variety store where the latest Nancy Drew Mysteries were on sale. They cost more than the movie but my mother nurtured my love of reading and always bought the treasured tome for me.

I realize "Read any good books lately?" is an old-fashioned line, and shares its somewhat dated message with "Mind your own business", "How dare you?" and "Do you know the way to San Jose?" All the same, if you share my enthusiasm for black and white films of the 1930's and 1940's, send your list along. At the very least, I will have a better idea of the average age of my readers. Just click "Comments" below.
[Disclaimer: I was born in 1937 ]

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Singers and Congressmen

The Aging Singers topic continues to generate thoughtful comments, and once again, I thank you for sharing. If you would like to read them for yourself, simply scroll to the original post titled "Going, Going ... Gone?" below and click on Comments which now indicate 7 responses. And by all means, join the discussion if you like.

SloaneView does not express a political point of view. However, it cannot be denied that this summer of 2011 is the most difficult our country has known for a very long time, and not just because of the political fracas in Washington confronting us with a daily dose of stress, bewilderment, fear, anger, frustration and bitterness on a scale not unprecedented but most certainly monumental.

Like you, we hope and pray that a bill will in fact manage to scrape through both Houses of Congress, but it will look pretty worn out with those hundreds of cut&paste paragraphs of scribbled demands and proposed compromise language written with such furor as to tear the page. In the end, not one politician will emerge unscathed. All will be bruised, battered and exhausted, just like all the rest of us.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Your thoughtful comments ...

Thank you all for sharing your opinions regarding aging singers. I hope others of you will take the time to tell me how you feel.

Surely, the singer alone must decide whether to continue or not. If the voice has deteriorated but his or her name alone can fill the venue, then the audience arrives to pay tribute to the years of listening pleasure fans enjoyed over the decades. For myself, I find it so uncomfortable to hear a colleague struggling, I simply refrain from attending the performance. Often, highly influential, professional critics will make every effort to praise the singer's mature and sensitive reading of a lyric, i.e., " ... Can't hold a note, but even a sing/speak treatment is so effective, reflecting as it does the artist's optimistic vigor in spite of the odds." I myself cringe and squirm, sigh and weep.

Regarding Ella Fitzgerald, I experienced the great privilege of travelling with her on two of her late 1970's European tours, a period when her lower register exhibited the first signs of a widening vibrato. Once she came off stage with the sound of the audience howling for yet another encore (which would have counted six in all), glistening with damp proof of exertion and beaming in triumph. I told her I heard a lot of Ben Webster in her low notes. She grinned, said "Really?", and gave me a hug.

I believe Ella lived for those moments. She was so admired and adored, not only for her remarkable skills as a jazz singer, but her humility and gentle demeanor entranced us as well. For Ella, I can only imagine how happy she was to scan her next itinerary when her manager's office had finalized all details for yet another long concert tour. I like to think her stage wardrobe was in a perpetual stage of readiness, that her passport was packed, her music library was arranged, and her musicians were as eager as she to go on the road again.

With Ole Blue Eyes, I'm sure he too loved the pure physical act of singing, with the accompanying thunderous wave of love and adoration bestowed unconditionally. I never saw him in person, and I'm glad I didn't having read various accounts of his stutter-step performances and reliance on tele-prompters during the late years. That would have devastated me. (Aside: My all-time favorite Sinatra album is "The Wee Small Hours". What's yours?)

Scroll down, click "Comments" below and tell me what you think.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Going, Going .... Gone?

A knowledgeable online group to which I belong called SONGBIRDS* recently discussed the subject of aging voices and whether or not singers with diminished ability should continue as if they were still on top of their game, or slip quietly into retirement. Of course, the deterioration of vocal prowess demonstrated by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald in the latter stages of their illustrious careers were two spectacular examples of a sort of "show must go on" tenacity, but many expressed their dismay upon hearing ragged technique where once there had been flawless, thrilling musicality.

An internationally-famous cabaret singer has admitted to some loss of flexibility saying her voice has remained strong and supple, if a wee bit less confident in her upper register. She states that "with age, one tends to lose a little bit on top and you must therefore invest in your bottom, which stays strong."

This delicately worded description about how one might adjust to the vagaries of aging vocal chords aptly applies to my own experience. I have a substantial investment in my bottom, and have gone so far as to widen various other portions of my anatomy to accomodate the disparities.

I think my own voice has retained its fluidity, but it's been over a year since the tiniest of notes has passed over my larynx so I can't really say with any authority whether my humble skill as a vocalist still exists. My sister will be my most welcome house guest in a few weeks and we like to sing while driving to the grocery store. I'll soon discover if my top is in tact or if my bottom controls the sound.

Speaking of bottoms, you may know that in England, when friends meet in a bar, one might be heard to ask another: "May I top you up?", meaning "Would you like a refill?". My husband loved the phrase when first he heard it, but he startled friends with whom we were sharing dinner one night by asking: "Honey ... May I cover your bottom?"

I'd like to hear how you feel about aging voices. Just click "Comments" below, right there next to the time stamp.


*The detailed description of the Songbirds group is lovingly set forth by one of our most respected senior members, Mr. Tom Pierce. Every word he writes is true.