Diana Damrau interview

“Princess Di“:

Her voice drops a bit as she reflects on the life she has chosen. ‘Singing is such a whole experience for body and mind and soul,’ she says. ‘You have to have control over your body, but you must have the artistry to guide you, to go for the beauty. That’s what we want. If you sing the Witch in Hänsel und Gretel, or something like that, you have other goals. But usually, it’s the beauty. We are longing for beauty — and to touch people, and to be able to do this, it can take time. You can be brilliant in technique, and that impresses people. But it’s not the whole thing. It takes a long time to be able to combine these things, and you need time to grow. And’ — she sighs a little — ‘people are not too patient.’

(Via Opera News.)

I have so much respect for this woman’s profound talent and her artistic perspective. As someone who has to create stuff, I find something inspirational in most of her interviews.

If you’re not an opera fan, try out “Forever,” her first album of Broadway and film standards. It’s been in heavy rotation on my phone for the past year and a half.

George Harrison: “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea” (Amazon Advent Calendar 2011 Day 1)

Album Art

Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea

George Harrison

Brainwashed

Genre: Rock

I’ve read epic tales of music hounds who search for rare and “lost” recordings as though these tunes were lost children, or violent criminals, or that one peanut M&M that you remember dropping under the sofa just before you started the movie an hour ago. Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar have written comics on that subject. Crumb was so obsessive about collecting old blues and jazz records that he’d often target a neighborhood of old people down south and go from door to door, asking if they had any 78’s they’d like to get rid of.

(Thus proving that there are elements to Crumb’s weirdness that go beyond looking for women of good, sturdy Eastern European stock and then asking them for piggyback rides.)

You might also think about the lonely but brave preservationists at the Smithsonian and the National Archives, keeping our cultural heritage safe for future generations. Good men and women, every last one of them.

I say this as a sheepish introduction to this track, which was one of my most-played acquisitions of 2011. How did I, Andy Ihnatko, intrepid musicological explorer, discover this wonderful piece of music?

Um…I saw it on that documentary of George Harrison that Martin Scorsese made for HBO.

Yes. I admit it. Often, HBO or some other entertainment conglomerate is responsible for introducing me to music. It doesn’t lend me a whole lot of “we are the 99%!” credibility, I admit. But I got the song and that’s really all that matters, isn’t it?

“Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea” was written in 1931 or thereabouts, which falls somewhere in the final act of the popularity of sheet music as a means of music publishing. It’s hard to imagine this medium playing the exact same role in the 1800’s and early 1900’s as an MP3 download does today. If you grew up with a piano in the house, sheet music was that dusty stuff inside the bench that you’d pull out when it was time to prepare for a lesson. Back in the day, no, that’s how a hit popular song made its way across the country.

I wonder if that’s part of the charm of these tunes. They weren’t going to be just listened to…they were also going to be played. Or, rather, “performed.” The paper was nothing until it was placed on a little ledge at the piano and somebody in the house sat down and plunked through it.

How did those people relate to music? There couldn’t have been anything mystifying about it. To this day, Beatles fans and guitarists continue to debate about exactly what chord George Harrison plays to kick off “A Hard Day’s Night.” In 1900, the music is just an abstraction and every performance redefined it to the ear.

You also must have felt a tremendous sense of investment in the piece, as you trim bits that seem too hard or add little fills as the song becomes more familiar to your fingers and you see opportunities to amuse yourself.

You don’t get that sort of thing today. A slim percentage of tunes become “standards” in every sense of the word. You can go ahead and record “It Might As Well Be Spring” but you do so with the knowledge that you’re settling into a crouch at a starting line next to every great vocalist who ever existed and the listener can’t help but compare.

Otherwise? We don’t click into songs; we identify with performances. And learning how to actually perform a song that you like Just Isn’t Done.

One element in which we’ve come full circle, though: we’re back at the point where we tend to relate to music as individual tracks divorced from any larger context. Purists bemoan the fact that albums were designed not just as this specific group of songs, but as a presentation in a specific order. That somehow, Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” is a different song when it comes up on Shuffle Play than when it comes after you’ve just heard “That Voice Again” and then walked across the room and flipped over to side 2 of “So”.

Want to learn “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea”? No sweat: here are the lyrics and chords, via the wonderful Ukulele Boogaloo site. I’m about a third of the way through it, myself; I’m at the point where I can play the verses and only start muttering “Crap, no, that’s not it…” when I get to the choruses.

George Harrison became a big fan of the ukulele later in life. One has to imagine that it was a much easier and relaxed leap than when he became curious about the sitar. For sure it was easy to travel around with a half-dozen ukuleles in the trunk of his car than it was to travel with a six-pack of sitars. The uke is a highly-social instrument and Harrison was a highly-social musician. The documentary underscores how much of Harrison’s music consisted of him wanting to get together with his friends and play. The documentary has Tom Petty telling the story of George dropping off several ukes at his house, just in case he’s ever over and wants to get another uke jam going.

I’m so glad that this recording made the final cut of Harrison’s final — yes, posthumous — album. It represents a kind of music that’s sorely unrepresented: strictly fun tunes that everybody can get behind. Sure, we need the kind where it sounds as though the Gods are riding down from the heavens on beasts of stone, intent to steal back Fire from humanity. But can’t we also have these lovely little plunka-plunka-plunka ones?

That said: I’d like to hear more about the relationships that Ted Koehler (the lyricist) had with the women in his life.

I don’t want you
But I’d hate to lose you
You’ve got me in between
The devil and the deep blue sea.

This is the sort of man that teary-eyed women used stand up and talk about during a taping of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” no?

Here’s the link to buy/preview “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea” from Amazon. As usual, anything you buy after clicking this link results in a small kickback in the form of Amazon credits, which I promise to spend on foolish and wonderful things.

Amazon Advent Calendar 2011: The Preamble

And so, this is Christmas…and what have you done?

I can only speak for myself. I’ve done a little advance gift shopping. I’ve given a smidgen of thought to making photo cards this year (but if I were to actually follow through on that, I’d be breaking a beloved holiday tradition that I’ve kept up my whole life). Let’s see. I also gave the kitchen a good cleaning, though that was really just something I would have, and should have, been doing anyway.

And I’ve assembled a new iTunes playlist entitled “2011 Advent Calendar Candidates.” This is the time of year when I look through all of the music I bought since last November and think “Holy mother of Great Zarquon! Did I honestly buy nothing but zither music and Tin Pan Alley songs that in one way or another attack every flavor of immigrant known to angry, simple-minded men of the 1910’s and Twenties?”

Which then sends me off to buy some new music. Because although my annual Musical Advent Calendar is unabashedly and unapologetically a showcase of my taste and music and mine alone…well, why pass up an opportunity for a little spin control.

“Look at some of these selections!” one will hopefully marvel. “Such breadth! This Ihnatko fellow has a hunger for discovery and an enthusiasm for all kinds of music…not just the stuff that he liked when he was a kid!”

(Which is a pretty ambitious lie. Whenever I need to create the impression that I have any clue about current popular music, I just download the latest “Weird Al” Yankovic album and check out the source tracks for his latest parodies. Mark my words, children: twenty years from now, Al will still be doing song parodies and you will use that tip.)

Anyway. Yes: Advent Calendar time. Every day between now and Christmas, I’ll be recommending a new track that’s available for download on the Amazon MP3 Store.

Why Amazon MP3? Because at the moment, it’s still — marginally — the best store from which to make purchases. The selection and prices are damned-near identical to what you’ll find in the iTunes Store. With the Amazon MP3 Downloader app installed, your purchases automatically land straight into your iTunes library, just like an iTunes purchases.

And here’s the kicker: iTunes Match doesn’t care where a track comes from. If you’ve subscribed, iTunes simply notes that a copy of The Captain And Tennille’s “Muskrat Love” has appeared in your library, noted to its own shock and horror that this same track is also available via iTunes, and presto, it’s instantly available for play on your iOS devices with no syncing necessary.

Meanwhile, your purchases also appear in Amazon’s cloud locker and you can play ’em through a webapp or an Android app. So you get two additional wins over buying stuff from iTunes.

Oh, yes, and then there’s the fact that all of my recommendations are quietly embroidered with my Amazon Associates ID. Now that you mention it, I suppose that I will get a small kickback from all of your Amazon purchases during that visit. Couldn’t have been further from my mind, honestly.

Mmm…yes, I probably had your indulgence up until the point where I unwisely chose to end that sentence with the word “Honestly.” Please strike that from the record.

Let’s just put that unpleasantness behind us. I should simply say that I sincerely believe two things: first, that Amazon is the best place to buy music from at the moment, for the reasons I’ve already stated; and second, that by the time the holidays are over I’d really, really like to have earned enough credits for an iPad 3.

Onward!

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 06: “A Beautiful Mess”

A Beautiful Mess

Jason Mraz

We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things

Genre: Pop

Amazon MP3: A Beautiful Mess

All across this great nation of ours, men and women return to their homes after a long day at work only to discover that a sniper or somesuch has barricaded themselves behind the front door.

Oh, wait, no: it’s just yet another day’s worth of deliveries. It’s just part of the ongoing aftermath of Black Friday online shopping. So far this week I myself have had to climb over little forts made out of DVDs, hard drives, books, and an HDTV.

Fortunately, this particular annoyance will soon be but a distant memory. First, because with the economy the way it is (current status: “Americathon,” with a 70% chance of widely-scattered “Road Warrior” by Q2 2009) the day of buying things is pretty much over. Except for more ammo, maybe. You can’t have the neighbors coming over and expecting a handout when they smell the Soy Sauce Packet And Used Paper Towel Roll Casserole you’ve got cooking.

Secondly, because now even digital downloads have become part of the overall Black Friday cultural mass-suicide.

I came to own Jason Mraz’ “We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things” when Amazon selected it as one of 50 MP3 albums discounted to five bucks for the holidays. I liked the album art enough to click the link and sample the tracks. Then I shrugged and patted myself on the back for being the sort of financial heavy-hitter that could recklessly throw away $5 on a flutter.

No, I’d never heard of the dude before. And this triggered my usual hesitation. If I were a more evolved lifeform, I could enjoy a song sight-unseen on its own merits, and not worry that later on, I’d learn that this “edgy, agile practictioner of the ‘New Masters’ movement” as I’d described him on Twitter is actually a character in a Disney channel show.

But good, good: he’s the real deal. So what I said there stands. Oh, wait…I did make up the “New Masters” movement thing. Doesn’t matter. Mraz writes highly melodic pieces that exhibit a lot of care. I don’t think there’s anything accidental about how this music is composed and performed. Though the singing reminds me of a young Stevie Wonder in places, and a slide guitar wanders freely in and out just like in a good George Harrison tune, Mraz seems to be doing his own thing.

And the man knows how to write a pretty song, free of treacle and schmaltz. “A Beautiful Mess” comes around on Shuffle Play and your endocrine system obligingly dumps a few micograms of Contentment Juice into your pleasure centers. At the end, you tap the “Prev Track” button, shut out all distractions, and enjoy a rerun.

Hey, cool, it turns out that Amazon’s “$5 Album” deal is still on. This link goes to the track but o’course you can click around and get the whole thing if you’re so inclined.

Amazon MP3: A Beautiful Mess

Oh, and apparently it’s on the iTunes Store as well. 128K bitrate, DRM, etc. Look, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with this organization. But their refusal to give me referral kickbacks that I can apply toward the purchase of camera lenses and other knicknacks…that’s kind of suspicious, wouldn’t you agree? Hmm?