On the road again

The library’s music collection has been coming in handy lately as I’ve been taking quite a few solo road trips and the music available on the radio has become repetitive when I hear it for hours each week.  I do try to find new stations to listen to as I drive and also rely on CBC for much of my in-car entertainment but some of their content can be a bit ‘unusual’ depending on the time of day. Anna Maria Tremonti can usually be a lock for at least 45 minutes of good listening but recently she was talking to people about the pros and cons of eating human placenta and the producers chose to include audiotape of how it could be prepared on a grill!  I had to turn it off and use my carefully planned WPL road trip music collection instead.

Here is the beauty of using the WPL collection. It contains music for every one of my mercurial moods which can change so quickly depending on the weather – if it is sunny I sometimes feel like a deep dive into the music of my teen years and pull out a wonderful Greatest Hits collection we have from the Cure. If the 401 is rainy then I might feel like singing something a bit less bright but still from the same era and naturally gravitate to Morrissey and the thrill of “What difference does it make” from their self-titled album The Smiths. It’s just lovely stuff for a gloomy day. And I never have a problem with a bit of The Clash. The voice of Mick Jones is not weather dependent. I just grab the jewel case from my pile on the passenger seat, pop it in,  and hit ‘play’.

Our music collection allows me to go back to the ‘80s, stock up on the ‘70s with classics that my oldest brother liked to sing, maybe a bit of Jim Croce’s “Time in a bottle” and “Bad, bad Leroy brown”, or even grab some CDs that remind me of the music my mother talks about when she reminisces about dating our father. She has a great story about going to see Bill Haley and His Comets when they came to play in Hamilton.  I always imagine her wearing a lovely dress with a massive skirt and I know, because she has told me the story a few times, that our father and his friends were wearing their nicest suits and had their hair slicked back.  Talk about a great memory.  So, when I play a CD like Bill Haley’s, you know that it makes the car ride go more quickly and it doesn’t really matter what the weather or the traffic is like.

Another favourite section for me in the music collection is soundtracks because, occasionally, I am coming home from a long day in the later hours and I am not at my best and need a melodious boost. The only thing that can keep me energized on those days is great music and the offerings of CBC later in the evening tend to become fairly sedate and pop radio is absolutely disappointing.  Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran are fabulous in the daylight but cannot help me at all once the sun goes down. I turn to Broadway musicals every time. West Side Story is enjoying it’s 60th anniversary this year and I think this adds an extra snap when I sing my favourite tunes from the driver’s seat of my little car. Or, sometimes I imagine that I am Gordon MacRae just singing my heart out in the middle of the fields of Oklahoma. I’m not really picky about what I sing and sometimes I’ll choose to play a great compilation album that we have on the shelves called Somewhere over the rainbow because it has all of the greatest voices – Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Betty Hutton, Louis Jourdan, Bing Crosby and Jane Powell – and you can just play it on shuffle and never hit a bad song.  morrisseyS’ wonderful.

And, we get new music every week here at the library so, if I am in the mood to play recently released music by the contemporaries of Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift I can take them on the road with me too.  I’m pretty sure that I’ll still prefer Fred & Judy over Ed & Taylor but I’m glad that the WPL music collection gives me the choice.

-Penny M.

An autobiography from the heart

In the Christian community the name Steven Curtis Chapman is a familiar one. A popular musician in the contemporary genre, Steven is particularly known for his songwriting skills. His songs speak from the heart and resonate with his audience in powerful ways. If you’ve ever heard his song, Cinderella, you’ll know what I mean. If not, see it on YouTube before proceeding!

A staple on the concert circuit for many years, Chapman, along with his wife, Mary Beth, have become strong advocates for adoption. Initially urged to consider embracing a non-biological child by their then adolescent daughter Emily, they went on to adopt three girls from China and developed a passion for encouraging others to do the same, even creating an organization called Show Hope to provide financial support.

In the book Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story, Steven shares more of his personal journey. From his humble upbringing in Paducah, Kentucky, to his decision to pursue music as a career, to meeting Mary Beth and beginning a family, to the challenges they have faced as a couple, he holds nothing back. The reader walks with him through his mountaintop experiences, as well as through some of life’s deepest valleys. He admits a tendency to want to “fix” things; describes the challenges of married life; and pours out the anguish of losing a child.

Even if you weren’t a Steven Curtis Chapman fan in 2008, your heart couldn’t help but bleed for the family as news of the accident that killed his adopted daughter came to light. Nine years later, the hole left by five-year-old Maria Sue is still profound, and the family has found healing through their faith and purpose through charitable activities undertaken in her name.

I highly recommend Between Heaven and the Real World for fans of Steven Curtis, as well as for anyone interested in Christian memoir or autobiography. Though he would be the first to acknowledge he is far from perfect, the author’s story is incredibly inspiring and, ultimately, hopeful.

–Susan B.

Other autobiographies I have enjoyed from our collection include:

Choosing to See: a Journey of Struggle and Hope by Mary Beth Chapman (e-book)

marybeth

Grace Will Lead Me Home by Robin Givens

robingivens

It’s All About Him: Finding the Love of My Life by Denise Jackson (wife of country musician Alan Jackson)

denisejackson

This Is Your Captain Speaking: My Fantastic Voyage Through Hollywood, Faith and Life by Gavin MacLeod

gavinmcleod

Against All Odds: My Story by Chuck Norris

chucknorris

Happy Anniversary, Sgt. Pepper

“It was twenty years ago today,

Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play…”

Correction, make that 50 years ago. That’s when, on June 1, 1967, after months in the recording studio the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, perhaps the greatest LP of all time.

Predictably, several re-issue packages are coming out soon – they might be worth a listen. Better yet, I suggest you grab yourself a copy of the original album. Take a good look at that cool, iconic cover. How many of those faces in the crowd can you recognize, or make a guess at?

Now the music. Some of the highlights for me are:

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (the song): I love the rockin’ guitar and horns on this, the opening song of the album. Also, the sound effects (the emcee, the talking/laughter of the crowd) meant to re-create a live band’s performance.

Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!: Love that whirly, swirly sound to invoke the circus.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds: The imagery of the lyrics will blow your socks off – “tangerine trees,” “marmalade skies,” “plasticine porters with looking glass ties.” Just wow.

And the undoubted highlight, A Day in the Life. John Lennon had most of a song (“I read the news today, oh boy…”),  and Paul McCartney had an incomplete one, consisting of just a few lines (“woke up, fell out of bed…”). So they cobbled the two together, joined by that magnificent orchestral piece that starts off at the lowest note and rises to the highest. A masterpiece, pure and simple.

So go ahead and have a listen (or re-listen) to Sgt. Pepper.  A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

–Penny D.

Swept away by La La Land

I am watching La La Land because I simply can’t stop myself.  This movie is just perfection.  It’s like the writer created something that was a magical blend of old movie splendor and modern fun.  I watched musicals whenever I had a chance when I was a kid and spent hours researching my favourite stars.  I knew more about dancers, singers and producers than I did about my schoolwork – why didn’t they want to know about Fred Astaire’s relationship with his choreographer and doppleganger Hermes Pan on any test I wrote?  I just don’t know what was wrong with my teachers…

Directed and written by Damien Chazelle (he also wrote and directed the multiple award-winning movie Whiplash from 2014), with outstanding lyrics by the Broadway darlings Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, La La Land features a romance that will capture your heart.  It begins with a marvelous 150-person dance routine that takes place during a traffic jam on a freeway in Los Angeles and their voices swell to music that includes notes made by car horns.  It’s so clever and the footwork, camera angles, and vibrant costumes work together to make that first number – “Another Day of Sun”- so compelling that I said, as we walked out of the theatre, that there would be no dancing on top of our car.  It’s that kind of movie – you feel swept away by the music and the emotion. Almost as if you might dance on top of your Honda here in Waterloo in the theatre parking lot.

Emma Stone plays the part of an aspiring actress, named Mia, working as a barista on the Warner Brothers backlot when she meets musician Ryan Gosling, playing the part of Sebastian, who is trying to pull together enough cash to open a very specific kind of jazz bar.  It’s boy-meets-girl-with-a-misunderstanding-thrown-in so that their eventual spark means even more.  Their next meeting is just the last word in meet cutes because it happens while poor Mia is in the middle of a horrible conversation with a man at a party and Sebastian is playing in an ’80s cover band.  They are a very well-turned-out cover band (maybe bands in L.A. always look that good?) and play songs that were splendid at that time and they certainly worked for Mia in 2016.  Their romance is charming and the chemistry between the two lead actors is a perfect match for all of the singing and dancing required for this movie, although I have never been sure when singing and dancing might not be required.

Awards and love have poured down on everyone involved with this film and I agree that the acclaim is well deserved.  I have always believed the idea that singing a song makes any activity more fun – Mary Poppins told us this with her spoonful of sugar theory and I never disagree with Mary Poppins.  I think that deciding whether or not La La Land ushers in a new generation of movie musicals deserves some time in your DVD player.  We also have the soundtrack here on the shelves at WPL and it really is going to make your life so much better – you could listen to it and relive your favourite scenes.  It will make everyday chores and driving around town go by much faster because you will be singing while you do it. Just remember that there can be no dancing on the top of cars.

-Penny M.

Hamilton

What we’re listening to in our house right now is actually what we are listening to in our house and in our cars because we listen to the same thing all the time right now – the soundtrack of the Broadway musical Hamilton: An American Musical.

I did this a lot when when I was a kid and would visit the music collection in the Main Library in Hamilton to bring home my favourites to play over and over but I never imagined it would happen to my own family. I know that my father was a little tired of hearing me sing “I Like to be in America” (West Side Story), and disagreed when I sang “It’s the Hard Knock life” (Annie) because it clearly wasn’t, and probably wanted me to find out how I could “solve a problem like Maria” (The Sound of Music) sooner, rather than later.

As for our family getting tired of singing about the scrappy American founding father, Alexander Hamilton, I don’t think I need to rush things. There are soulful ballads, jazz, R&B, a smattering of old fashioned Tin Pan Alley stuff, gorgeous show tunes with the full cast singing with all their heart (like when you sing along in your car at a stoplight and the person next to you tries not to look), and some truly amazing hip-hop. It doesn’t matter which track we play – they are all ‘good ones’.

I really do think that ball of sunshine, Lin Manuel-Miranda, is outstanding. His voice on the soundtrack, which is all we have to go by right now until he is back onstage performing the title role and we are lucky enough to secure tickets, is just superb. From the lightning quick cabinet room rap battles to the poignant lullaby he sings to his newborn son I just don’t feel like it is possible to tire of his voice. He plays the part of Alexander Hamilton to perfection from earnest aide de camp, attractive suitor to Elizabeth Schuyler, uncompromising lawyer and heartbroken father. The first time we listened to the soundtrack from beginning to end I found myself weeping in our kitchen. Twice. I won’t say what caused my outburst because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but even if you know the details of Alexander Hamilton’s death (this isn’t a spoiler as his birth and death dates are well known – 1755-1804) you will be moved by Lin Manuel-Miranda’s voice in the final moments of the musical.

Manuel-Miranda’s writing voice is just as wonderful as his singing voice. We are always talking about the way he is able to make us laugh and think as we enjoy the songs. I have said to our kids that if anyone at our house ever fails an exam which involves this period of American history there will be a severe punishment because by now they should have internalized it all. He lays out the basics of the significant battles, dates and the big names like Washington, Yorktown, King George III, Lafayette, Jefferson and hits the high notes with the writing of the American constitution but it is so clever that every few moments you can’t help but be amazed by the genius of the writing. It’s like he is channeling the lyrical brilliance of Sondheim, Gilbert & Sullivan, Rodgers & Hammerstein with musical influences coming from every genre. It’s magical. It makes you snap your fingers and want to dance along, try to rap as fast as they do (only when my kids aren’t looking).

Alexander Hamilton lived for less than 50 years but his impact on their country was incredible – to say he was an American founding father really isn’t enough – and it was a chance encounter with a book* (!) that Lin Manuel-Miranda read on vacation that led him to start thinking about setting this extraordinary story to music. I’m so glad that he did. I can wash my dishes so much more enthusiastically when I am listening to something like “Guns and Ships” where Aaron Burr says:

How does a ragtag volunteer army in need of a shower
Somehow defeat a global superpower?
How do we emerge victorious from the quagmire?
Leave the battlefield waving Betsy Ross’ flag higher?
Yo. Turns out we have a secret weapon!
An immigrant you know and love who’s unafraid to step in!
He’s constantly confusin’, confoundin’ the British henchmen
Ev’ryone give it up for America’s favourite fighting Frenchman!

And the entire company sings back with an enthusiastic:

Lafayette!

It’s a sensational use of language and each member of the cast does it perfectly. Their enunciation knocks my socks off every time and, when I was a kid I would lift the needle off of the record carefully and place it back to re-listen to try and figure out the lyrics but today you can go online and see endless analysis of each word, find the actors and super-fans on Twitter and Instagram to see minute-by-minute reviews as the cast prepares for performances. It’s a rabbit hole that I find myself enjoying because they seem as enthusiastic about the beauty of the music as the long list of people who have seen their show or are waiting for tickets. In the meantime we have the next best thing right here on the shelves here at WPL. Well, not exactly on the shelf because, well, it will probably be checked out. We’re talking about the music of Hamilton: An American Musical here, you know. It’s a Broadway sensation and you get to keep it for 3 weeks once you sign it out and customers do not bring it back early. They can’t. They are so busy listening to it in their cars and in their kitchens. They are listening to it non-stop.

— Penny M.

* the book that Lin Manuel-Miranda read and was so captivated by was Ron Chernow’s extremely well-reviewed Alexander Hamilton, from 2004, which we also have available here at the Waterloo Public Library.