* Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? — every, every minute?

According to Aaron Copland, a successful film score should be “secondary in importance to the story being told on the screen” without diverting the viewer’s attention from the action.  Yet it should add to the movie’s dramatic and emotional content. And that’s why today’s selection, both inspirational and soothing, is such a splendid piece to write and work by.

Although such classics as “Rodeo”, “Appalachian Spring” and “Fanfare for the Common Man” were yet to come, the future “Dean of American Composers,” was already well-respected when he arrived in Hollywood in 1937, having written admirable pieces for Broadway, for national radio and (motivated by the poverty faced by many children during the Depression) for young audiences.  Aged 37, he felt the film industry would help to provide a broader audience for the more mature works he was in the process of writing.

Unfortunately the studios had their own way of doing things and were well entrenched in the habit of leaving the best parts of a purposely written score on the cutting room floor. It took a full two years before he finally met a director who agreed not to interfere with his orchestration. The resulting 1939 score was for Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” directed by Lewis Milestone and Copland received two Academy Award nominations (“Best Score” and “Original Score”).

In addition to a burnished reputation and a wider audience, the recognition from that first effort enabled Copland to become one of the highest paid film composers in Hollywood (earning him upwards of $15,000 a film, a tidy sum in those days).  “I thought if I was to sell myself to the movies, I ought to sell myself good,” he later said, well remembering the near hand-to-mouth existence of helping countless cash-strapped productions throughout the early ‘30s.

It also allowed Copland the freedom to greatly enhance the way a movie score was used, by utilizing it to illustrate a character’s thoughts, set the atmosphere, provide continuity and shape emotion, none of which had been done with silent and early talking film scores. His influence is heard onscreen to this day.

Yet another Academy Award for Best Score nominee, today’s selection was written for the 1940 cinematic version of Thornton Wilder’s wonderful play “Our Town”.  Set in a small New Hampshire town in the early 20th Century, the film was faithful to the original production except for two noteworthy changes.  First, as you’ll see from this somewhat muddy YouTube clip of the enchanting opening scene, it used scenery, whereas the stage production deliberately did not.

Secondly, the film’s producer worked closely with Wilder to create a far happier (“Hollywood”) ending, by altering the poignant third act (entitled “Death and Eternity”). This was a legitimate consideration, as was borne out a few years later when the stage production was famously banned in East Berlin on the grounds that it was so upsetting that it might inspire a wave of suicides (!)

* Note: The title quote above was plaintively spoken by Emily, one of the two main characters and a young mother who died giving birth. She has come back to earth for a day to spend time with those she loves, although they don’t know she’s there.

Part of the “Copland Conducts Copland” Collection with the London Symphony Orchestra, this 1967 recording features the main theme to Aaron Copland’s “Our Town”.  Now get to work.

 LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Sunday 12 August

…screaming, let me out

Today’s selection comes at the request of a friend who asked for something by this group, whose albums have spent more time on the UK record charts than any other musical act in history and whose flamboyant lead singer (with a four octave vocal range) was “Britain’s first Asian rock star.”

Born in Zanzibar (then a British protectorate, now part of Tanzania) in 1946, to parents who were Parsi, Farrokh Bulsara, spent much of his childhood in India where he learned to play the piano at seven and later attended boarding school.  When Zanzibar descended into bloody revolution resulting in the deaths of thousands of its Arab and Indian residents, the then 17 year old’s family fled to suburban London.

Recognized there as a British Subject, Farrokh, who now went by the name of Freddie, studied art and design at Ealing Art College, where he became friends with the members of a band named Smile. In 1970, after some line-up changes, he was encouraged to join the group although the others were hesitant about his prevailing suggestion that they change their name.

As he later explained, “I thought up the name Queen. It’s just a name, but it’s very regal obviously, and it sounds splendid. It’s a strong name, very universal and immediate. It had a lot of visual potential and was open to all sorts of interpretations. I was certainly aware of gay connotations, but that was just one facet of it.”

Freddie also decided to adopt a new stage name, choosing “Mercury” from a line in one of his own songs, “My Fairy King” which went, “Mother Mercury, look what they’ve done to me.”

In 1971 the band settled on a permanent bass player (John Deacon) and played their first show, at a local college, with the “classic” line-up of Mercury, Deacon, Brian May and Roger Taylor.

Queen, of course went on to become one of the biggest stadium rock bands in the world, releasing a total of 18 Number One albums, selling upwards of 300 million of them, with 18 Number One singles and ten Number One DVDs. Fronted by Freddie Mercury, their performance at the 1985 Live Aid concert is regarded as one of the greatest in rock history.

“…. Apart from the audiences at the transatlantic events (72,000 at Wembley Stadium in London; 99,000 at the John F Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia), it was estimated that another two billion people in 60 countries watched it on television…Competition was fierce: the “global jukebox” charity event, to raise funds to help victims of a devastating Ethiopian famine, also featured U2, Sting, Mick Jagger, Dire Straits, David Bowie, The Who, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan.

And, for once, it was a gig that Queen had practically no control over. They would be using the same sets, lights, backdrops and sound system as all the other artists. However, they seized on the day as a chance to show that they were about more than just pyrotechnics, timing their rehearsals down to the last second.

“Our opportunity to show that it’s the music first and foremost,” as guitarist Brian May put it. Queen wanted to do Live Aid because of the cause, but also because they relished the chance to pitch themselves against other bands: “Everyone will be trying to outdo each other, which will cause a bit of friction. It makes me personally proud to be a part of it,” said lead singer Freddie Mercury.

The band did not ask to open or close the show. Instead, they cannily requested a 6pm slot – prime time in the UK and, five hours behind, perfect for the US audience before there was any danger of viewers lapsing into big-band fatigue. Their set squeezed six of their best-known hits into 20 minutes, shortening some of the songs until it became almost a seamless medley. “Bohemian Rhapsody” preceded “Radio Ga Ga”, “Hammer to Fall”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”.

Reaction to Queen’s performance was extraordinary. In the stadium, the crowd was floored, as were the other acts: Elton John rushed into their dressing room afterwards, screaming that they had stolen the show. Their back catalogue suddenly took off again across the world….” ~Adapted from “40 Years of Queen” by Harry Doherty~

Although he had no formal vocal training, Mercury (who would sadly succumb to AIDS In 1991) had a voice, according to his biographer that would escalate “within a few bars from a deep, throaty rock-growl to tender, vibrant tenor, then on to a high-pitched, perfect coloratura, pure and crystalline in the upper reaches”.

Timid and reserved in private, especially when around those he didn’t know, Mercury was quite the opposite onstage, as was notoriously noted in the suicide note of a great admirer, Kurt Cobain “…when we’re backstage and the lights go out and the roar of the crowd begins, it doesn’t affect me the way in which it did for Freddie Mercury, who seemed to love and relish the love and adoration of the crowd.”

Primarily written by Mercury and released in 1986 on the album/DVD “Live at Wembley Stadium”, today’s selection was first recorded by Queen and David Bowie and featured on Queen’s album “Hot Space” in 1982 when it reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart.

With a bassline that would be memorably “sampled” by Vanilla Ice for his single “Ice Ice Baby”, bassist John Deacon had apparently played the riff over and over throughout the recording sessions.  However when the band returned from dinner and it was actually time to utilize it Deacon was suddenly stymied. Fortunately drummer, Rodger Taylor remembered it well and was able to alleviate some of the pressure there in the studio.

 LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Saturday 11 August

Under Pressure

 Pressure pushing down on me

Pressing down on you no man ask for

Under pressure that burns a building down

Splits a family in two

Puts people on streets

 It’s the terror of knowing

What this world is about

Watching some good friends

Screaming let me out

Tomorrow gets me higher

Pressure on people – people on streets

Chippin’ around, kick my brains across the floor

These are the days, when it rains it pours

People on streets – people on streets

It’s the terror of knowing

What this world is about

Watching some good friends

Screaming let me out

Tomorrow gets me higher, higher, higher…

Pressure on people – people on streets

Turned away from it all like a blind man

Sat on a fence but it don’t work

Keep coming up with love but it’s so slashed and torn

Why, why, why?

Love

Insanity laughs under pressure we’re cracking

Can’t we give ourselves one more chance?

Why can’t we give love that one more chance?

Why can’t we give love, give love, give love..?

‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word

and love dares you to care for

The people on the edge of the night

And love dares you to change our way of

Caring about ourselves

This is our last dance

This is our last dance

This is ourselves

Under pressure

Under pressure

Pressure

…every year’s a souvenir, that slowly fades away

We saw him back in 2002 during one of his fabulous “Face to Face” performances with Elton John, a touring partnership that, beginning in 1994 and sporadically continuing to this day, has proven to be the most successful and longest running concert tandem in pop music history. Mind you, like Elton, he’s had plenty of practice. Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the release of his first album, “Cold Spring Harbor” in 1971.

Born in the Bronx in 1949, the son of an accomplished classical pianist, William Martin Joel reluctantly began piano lessons at an early age at the insistence of his mother. As his musical interest grew, but not so much his interest in sports, he began to be bullied and took up boxing as a result, eventually competing successfully on the Golden Gloves circuit where he won 22 matches.  Joel hung up his gloves soon after the 24th bout however, having walked away with a broken nose.

By then he and his divorced mother had long since moved to Hicksville on Long Island where he dropped out of high school and managed to land a job at a piano bar to help make ends meet.  As he later recounted, “I told them, ‘to hell with it if I’m not going to Columbia University, I’m going to Columbia Records and you don’t need a high school diploma over there’.”

In 1992 Billy Joel, who had (by then) achieved 33 Top 40 hits, all self-written, was awarded his diploma at Hicksville High’s annual graduation ceremony, 25 years after he had left, having submitted the requisite essays to the Hicksville School Board.  Today’s selection, not one of those hits, was featured on his third studio album…on Columbia Records, “Streetlight Serenade” in 1974.

LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Friday 10 August

Souvenir

A picture postcard

A folded stub

A program of the play

File away your photographs

Of your holiday

 And your mementos

Will turn to dust

But that’s the price you pay

For every year’s a souvenir

That slowly fades away

Every year’s a souvenir

That slowly fades away

How the Coliseum Got its Name

Erected by decree of Emperor Nero between AD 64 and 68 and standing over 100 feet tall, the bronze athletic statue, Colossus of Neronis was relocated by Emperor Hadrian (with the use of 24 elephants) in AD 128 from its original location to make way for the Temple of Venus and Rome (the ruins to the left) and next to the Flavian Amphitheatre (the rightmost ruins).  In time the Colossus lent its name to the 80+ acre amphitheatre, which is now known to the world as the Coliseum.

Lasting into the Middle Ages between the Arch of Constantine, here in the foreground and the Coliseum, it was once said, “As long as the Colossus stands, Rome will stand, when the Colossus falls, Rome will also fall.”  It is believed the great statue was hauled down during the Sack of Rome in AD 410 and its copper scavenged.