Anatomy of a Song (1976) is a half hour documentary (part two here) about Stephen Sondheim's song Someone in a Tree, from the musical Pacific Overtures. Sondheim talks about the challenges and thought processes behind what he calls his favourite of his own songs. See the original 1976 show in full here. Also see this earlier post on the same song.
As he sings, the walls of the apartment begin to move off, and the city walls surrounding them begin to close in on them. Then the apartment it self goes, and the two lovers begin to run, battering against the walls of the city, beginning to break through as chaotic figures of the gangs, of violence, fail around them. But they do break through, and suddenly-they are in a world of space and air and sun. They stop, looking at it, pleased, startled, as boys and girls both sides come on. And they, too, stop and stare, happy, pleased. Their clothes are soft and pastel versions of what they have worn before. They begin to dance, to play: no sides, no hostility now; join, making a world that Tony and Maria want to be in, belong to, share their love with. As they go into the steps of a gentle love dance, a voice is heard singing. [more inside]
Nants ingonyama bagithi baba! It's been nearly two decades since that glorious savanna sunrise, and once again The Lion King is at the top of the box office. It's a good chance to revisit what made the original the capstone of the Disney Renaissance, starting with the music. Not the gaudy show tunes or the Elton John ballads, but the soaring, elegiac score by Hans Zimmer which, despite winning an Oscar, never saw a full release outside of an unofficial bootleg. Luckily, it's unabridged and high-quality, allowing one to lay Zimmer's haunting, pulse-pounding, joyful tracks alongside the original video (part 2, 3, 4), revealing the subtle leitmotifs and careful matching of music and action. In addition, South African collaborator Lebo M wove traditional Zulu chorals into the score, providing veiled commentary on scenes like this; his work was later expanded into a full album, the Broadway stage show, and projects closer to his heart. Speaking of expanded works, there were inevitable sequels -- all of which you can experience with The Lion King: Full Circle (download guide), a fan-made, three-hour supercut of the original film and its two follow-ups. Want more? Look... harder... [more inside]
From Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, and Robert Lopez, of Avenue Q, comes the new Broadway show "The Book of Mormon." The show "tells the story of two young Mormon missionaries sent off to spread the word in a dangerous part of Uganda" while gently (and no so gently) lampooning organized religion and traditional musical theatre. The entire show is now streaming on NPR. Songs are extremely Not Safe For Work.
Songs that clearly and directly address or reference economic hardships and injustice in America, not to mention that do so in a bitter, regretful tone, don't often become enormous hits. Matter of fact, it's such a rare phenomenon that you could count such songs on... um, one finger? Yes, Yip Harburg and Jay Gorney's iconic Brother Can You Spare a Dime is that song. Covered by a surprisingly wide range of singers through the years, the song still resonates. [more inside]
I'm a Jewish Yankee Doodle Dandy and other Yiddish sheet music on topics ranging from the Dreyfus affair to interreligious romance. How Broadway evolved from Yiddish theater.
You can keep your Simon, Randy and Paula, I'll take Barbara Cook any day. Here is the Broadway legend's two hour master class (it's a REALTIME video from The New York Public Library) and it'll teach you more about singing, phrasing and music than every moment of American Idol combined. At least watch the first 20 minutes, you'll be amazed.
Buying Rare Race Records in the South. Music That Americans Loved 100 Years Ago. The Cheney Talking Machine. Just three among dozens of amazing articles about early recording machines and American popular music at the astonishingly detailed site of Tim Gracyk, author of Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925. Scroll down for bios of forgotten stars, including Nora Bayes - who performed in the Follies of 1907, before Flo Ziegfeld's name became part of the title, George W. Johnson - "the most important African-American recording artist of the 1890s," and piano player Zez Confrey, whose sheet music for the 1921 hit "Kitten on the Keys" sold over a million copies and became "the third most-frequently recorded rag in history."
A couple years ago, they did SILENCE! the musical version of Silence of the lambs, now they're working on "RoboCop The Musical" with this track uploaded as a preview entitled "Murphy, It's You" performed by RoboCop and Anne Lewis.
The Brill Building, located at 1619 Broadway in the heart of New York's music district, is a name synonymous with an approach to songwriting that changed the course of music. Housing legendary songwriters like Carole King, Jerry Leiber, Neil Sedaka, and Burt Bacharach, the Brill Building created some of the greatest hits of the rock'n'roll era. [more inside]