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July 1, 2010

Another dose of the Swingle Singers for good measure

The other day, while ranting about the need for an American version of the "1812 Overture" to perform on the Fourth of July, I appended the ultimate interpretation of the Tchaikovsky original -- by the Swingle Singers, the incomparable ensemble that has been exploring the possibilities of tight harmony for decades.

I've been on a Swingle kick since belatedly plunging into Season One of "Glee" (bless you, Netflix), and hearing that group's unmistakable style on the soundtrack. I only wish the Glee-kids would try something that sophisticated. I mean, enough with the Beyonce and that ilk already. Let's have some Bach, at least Swingle-style Bach.

Not that I expect any such thing on the show, which I'm enjoying greatly for a variety of reasons, but it sure would be cool if the Glee-fuls could slip in a little something sort of classical, or even a great jazz number, just to broaden their tender horizons. (Hey, I'm only about halfway through the season; maybe surprises await -- if so, don't spoil them for me.)

Anyway, like I said, I've been thinking about the Swingles, and, since some of you really liked that wild version of "1812," I thought I'd drop a fun morsel of Swingle-ized Bach, along with a great clip of an interview with Ward Swingle from Baltimore filmmaker Mike Lawrence's uplifting new documentary "Bach and Friends."

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:23 AM | | Comments (3)


I suppose we can next expect selections from Mary Schnieder's "Yodeling the Classics"?

Why do we need any version of Tchikovsky at all? Is there something wrong with AMERICAN music such as:

Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever";

Ives Holiday Symphony (the 3rd Movement is titled "4th of July"), though perhaps not accomodating for cannon fire.
(Now that we are in the 21st century, perhaps we can tolerate a bit of dissonance?)

William Schuman's "New England Triptych" based on music of William Billings, the Third Movement based on Chester, one of the most popular songs of the revolutionary period. (Schuman also orchestred Ive's organ piece "Variations on America", premiered July 4, 1891).

Or, though moving far from Tchaikovsky's model, perhaps it is time for a rousing performance of "America independent, or, The temple of Minerva" by Francis Hopkinson, signer of the Declaration of Independence and commonly credited as the designer of the first American flag.

Or perhaps it is time for a completely new work, incorporating music of OUR revolutionary period? By an American composer, perhaps?

Hey, I'm all for American music and new American music, too. But somewhere along the way, Americans got hooked on that damn Russian work for Independence Day, and I don't think tastes will change anytime soon. In a moment of frivolity and fantasy, I wondered if the music could be tweaked in an American way. And the "1812" part of title gave me the idea of making it a Baltimore-based thing, since this area had such an important role that fateful year. TIM

What role did Baltimore play in the Russsian Defeat of Napoleon - which is what the 1812 Overture commemorates? Were the cannons packed with Old Bay? We need an American composer to write a piece incorporating 16 cannon shots, get a cereal company to use it as a jingle (or are you too young to remember "It's the cereal that's shot from guns"?) and send the 1812 back to "Russian Pops Night"! Happy 4th! Time for me to go look for my CD of Robert Merrill singing great patriotic songs! Or, maybe if I'm lucky, I'll find my old LP of "The Temple of Minerva"!

Gee, can't anyone enjoy a little levity around here? Besides, in my fantasy, there wouldn't be much left of the tunes (patriotic or religious) that Tchaikovsky's used, only the basic structure and noise of the score. And, hey, Baltimore does have a connection to Napoleon -- his younger brother married a Baltimore woman right here in our fair city and only nine years before the War of 1812. That ought to count for something. TIM

Sorry, Tim; you exhausted your allowance of levity for the YEAR with the Brahms 1st on the vuvuzela last week! May the god of music have mercy on your soul! LOL

I wouldn't push too hard on that theory that bringing a Baltimorean into the family led to Napoleon's defeat and the collapse of the French Empire. LOL

Happy 4th!

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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