Christmas Music: What’s on Your List?

One word —Christmas — and I start humming.

All illustrations Norman Rockwell

All illustrations Norman Rockwell

In my internal cinema, I’m sitting cross-legged on my grandparents’ moss green velvet carpet, my back sweating against a snapping fire while watching Grandma Belle with her lavenderish silver halo of curls list from side to side on the embroidered cushion atop the walnut piano bench.

Belle’s back is to us. I watch her fingers romp and caper up and down the keyboard while she cranes her head back to us —cousins in plaid, uncles in red vests, aunts in flouncy blouses— and while she lips the lyrics, coaxing from youngest to oldest more volume than you’d expect from a couple of dozen full-bellied folks. But no one —not the stiff uncle with a starched hair piece or the sullen fourteen-year-old with an extreme Toni permanent (me) slacks off or slips from the rhythm.

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At some point, we’re all shouting, “You better watch out/You better not cry!” and then we’re pa rum-pa-pa-pumming (even the teenagers) in unison. We’ll all be hoarse by the time the candles on the mantelpiece have wax pooling at their bases. Belle turns “Good King Wenceslas” into rag time, chords hopping and slapping in the left hand and embellishments tinkling like tinsel in the right. Her legs are jigging beneath the keyboard. She switches gears and makes “I’m Dreaming Of a White Christmas” into a tearjerker with the longest cadenza known to man. No one, not even Bing Crosby himself or my trained operatic soprano mother can sustain Belle’s last note, that over-the-top “whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiite.”

Belle played like that every Christmas Eve until well into her 90s.

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It’s Grandma Belle I recall every Christmas. Belle, and all the pianists, organists, choirs and soloists, instrumentalists, quartets, trios, orchestras, street accordion players or subway pan flute artists— all the music makers who, over my half-century of Christmases, have made my holidays ring.

Now you understand why, although I don’t really get into accumulating stuff, I do collect Christmas music. I have to. I listen to it (in secret) all year long.  (Officially, only from Thanksgiving until January 1st.)

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And that’s why I want to share with you my CD titles.

A word about this list: it’s alphabetized (not in any order of preference); it’s incomplete (I haven’t included my dozens of digital files, and I note with a gasp!! that I don’t have enough jazz and what’s this? No rap, country or reggae?); and it’s eclectic (From Thurl Bailey, a hoopstar-turned-crooner to Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.)

So I need your input. Can you post your musical treasures in the comment thread? Titles, please, of single songs or whole albums, and maybe include a bit of background as to why. Why this recording? Why this version, this instrument, this language, this key, this style?

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  • Amy Grant: Home for Christmas
  • Andy Williams: We Need a Little Christmas
  • Anonymous Four: Wolcum; Celtic and British Songs and Carols
  • Barbara Hendricks: Chante Noël
  • Barbra Streisand: A Christmas Album
  • Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (von Karajan): A Christmas Concert
  • Burl Ives: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  • Canadian Brass: The Christmas Album
  • Celine Dion: These Are Special Times
  • Choral Arts Northwest: A Scandinavian Christmas
  • Christmas Music: Christmas Peace; Piano, Guitar, Angels
  • Concord Jazz: A Concord Jazz Christmas
  • Curnow Music: Holiday Favorites
  • Dave Brubeck: A Dave Brubeck Christmas
  • David Archuleta: Christmas from the Heart
  • David Tolk: Christmas
  • Diana Krall: Christmas Songs
  • Die Wiener Sängerknaben: Ihre Schönsten Weihnachtslieder
  • English Heritage: Spirit of Christmas
  • European Jazz Trio: Silent Night
  • Frank Sinatra: The Christmas Album
  • Garrison Keillor: A Prairie Home Christmas
  • Garrison Keillor: Now it is Christmas Again
  • Harry Connick Jr.: Harry for the Holidays
  • Harry Connick Jr.: When My Heart Finds Christmas
  • Helene Fischer: Weihnachten
  • Ingolf Jentszch (festliche Weihnachtsmusik): Es ist ein Ros Entsprungen
  • James Taylor: At Christmas
  • James Wilson: Holiday Favorites on Guitar
  • Jim Brickman: Peace
  • Jim Brickman: The Gift
  • Johnny Mathis: Merry Christmas
  • Johnny Mathis: The Christmas Music of Johnny Mathis
  • José Feliciano: Feliz Navidad
  • Kathleen Battle: A Christmas Celebration
  • Kelly Clark Parkinson: Romantic Christmas
  • Kenny G: Faith; A Holiday Album
  • Kurt Bestor: Christmas
  • Kurt Bestor: Christmas Volume One
  • Kurt Bestor: One Silent Night
  • La Chorale de Saint-Pierre: Les Plus Beaux Cantiques de Noël
  • London Symphony Orchestra: Tschaikovsky Nutcracker
  • Mannheim Steamroller: Christmas Extraordinaire
  • Mel Tormé: Christmas Songs
  • Meryl Streep: The Night Before Christmas (Rabbit Ears Series)
  • Moore Light: Christmas with Bach
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir (and the Canadian Brass): A Christmas Gloria
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Christmas
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Hallelujah! Great Choral Classics
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Handel’s Messiah
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Noël
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Once Upon a Christmas
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Rejoice and be Merry
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Ring Christmas Bells
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Spirit of the Season
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: The Great Messiah Choruses
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: The Wonder of Christmas
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: The Wonder of Christmas
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: This is Christmas
  • Nat King Cole: The Christmas Song
  • Now That’s Music: Now That’s What I Call Christmas!
  • Osmonds: Christmas Album
  • Patricia Carlson: Christmas; A Creative Harp Collection
  • Reader’s Digest: Merry Christmas Songbook
  • Robert Shaw: Handel’s Messiah; Favorite Choruses and Arias
  • Sissel Kyrkjebø: Glade Jul
  • Sissel Kyrkjebø: Norsdisk Vinternatt
  • Skruk: Stille Natt
  • Sony Music: The Best of Christmas Vol. 1-4
  • Steven Sharp Nelson: Christmas Cello
  • The American Boy Choir: On Christmas Day
  • The Boston Camerata: Noël, Noël! (Noël Français)
  • The Cambridge Singers: Christmas with the Cambridge Singers
  • The Choir of Christ Church, Oxford: A Tudor Christmas
  • The King’s Singers: Deck the Hall; Songs of Christmas
  • The New Christy Minstrels: We Need a Little Christmas
  • The Piano Guys: A Family Christmas
  • The Roches: We Three Kings
  • Thomanerchor Leipzig, Dresden Kreuzchor: Silent Night
  • Thurl Bailey: The Gift of Christmas
  • Tim Slover: The Christmas Chronicles (Radio Drama)
  • Time-Life: Treasury of Christmas
  • Tölzer Knabenchor: Bergweihnacht
  • Tölzer Knabenchor: Europäische Weihnacht
  • Trans-Siberian Orchestra: Christmas Eve and Other Stories
  • Vanessa Williams: Silver and Gold
  • Vienna Boys’ Choir: Christmas Joy
  • Windham Hill Christmas: The Night Before Christmas
  • Wynton Marsalis, Kathleen Battle, Frederica von Stade: A Carnegie Hall Christmas

And to everyone, I wish you a blessed and harmonious holiday season.

Swiss Christmas

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From Christmas in the Serengeti. . .

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. . .To Christmas in the Swiss Alps.

 

They say that strong contrasts make for strong writing. But I say that if nothing else, they make for heavily textured living.

So may I begin writing about this, our First Swiss Christmas, by taking you back to a contrasting one, to a Last Christmas? Not our last Christmas chronologically, the one spent in Africa, the one about which you’ve just read.  But the last one we spent in Paris, our last Parisian Christmas.  We’ll always refer to it as that.  At the time, though, we didn’t know it would be the last we’d spend there, as we were still leaning toward staying in Paris from where Randall would commute back and forth for his new postion in Munich.

Despite those details, we did know we’d  be sending Parker off to college in June.  So it was a “Last Christmas”. Of sorts. Our last Christmas with all of us together like this. So I’d run my self a bit ragged with holiday preparations, writing and directing and performing in the church Christmas program, writing and printing out and folding and addressing and sending by snail mail our 95 annual Christmas missives, decorating and baking and scurrying and visiting and hosting and getting into the holiday spirit.

At least euphemistically so.

That Christmas Eve I hit a wall, and the collision landed me in a mental state I’m not so proud to write about.  For lack of a more incriminating description, I’d holed myself up. While holed up, the universe didn’t bother to tap me on the shoulder and whisper into my heart, warning me that this would be The Last Christmas, the very last we would ever share with our firstborn son. We weren’t given the luxury of preparing ourselves for devastation.  Usually, if devastation is coming, the universe is preoccupied preparing you in other, extremely subtle ways (besides shoulder-tapping and coded whispers). I suppose we’re all being trained in one way or another for whatever devastation will surely be ours.

But something did tap on my shoulder that December evening.  And something did whisper.  And something did warn me it would be the Last Christmas with Parker.

And that something was Parker himself.

**

The Last Noël

A true Christmas story

For Unto Us A Child Is Born

For Unto Us A Child Is Born

“Mom?”

Her son, whose voice normally had the resonance of a foghorn, was whispering from behind her, kneeling next to her bed.  She was on her side, knees curled up a bit, a dark purple woolen comforter dragged up over her curves and tucked into her hands, which she held against her sternum.  Her eyes she kept firmly closed.

Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth. . .

Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth. . .

She faced away from the voice, away from the faint glow of the one night table lamp, away from the door, which she’d closed a couple of hours earlier, barricading herself into silence and as far as possible from the everyday, holiday noises that emerged from the end of the hall.

The holly bears the crown. . .

The holly bears a berry as red as any blood. . .

Kitchen sounds.  A swirling, tinkling holiday CD. Conversations between teenagers, the low word or two from the Dad, the swish-swish-swish up and down the hallway of two younger children in houseslippers.

The silent stars go by. . .

The silent stars go by. . .

A spike of laughter here. A name said with a question mark there.  Noises she simply wanted to escape.

How silently, how silently. . .

How silently, how silently. . .

She was doing it, that thing she sometimes did.  She was retreating into silence.  She was sending a loud signal.

“Mom? Look. . . Listen, Mom.” He was leaning his weight on the edge of her bed, now.  “Please, don’t do this.  Not again. Not tonight.” The weight of his hand on the mattress next to her hip was enough to make her flinch and consider scooting away. But she couldn’t muster the effort. Tired.  So bone-deep tired.

And sad.

The hopes and fears of all the years. . .

The hopes and fears of all the years. . .

He sighed, her oldest child, and then readjusted himself on the floor with a groan. She could tell from the sounds that he was wearing jeans. And wasn’t he also in a turtleneck? Probably his maroon one.

Let loving hearts enthrone him. . .

Let loving hearts enthrone him. . .

Should she just turn around, face him, turn around and face the family? Just roll over and brush back the matted hair a bit soggy, now, with old tears, just roll over and swing her legs out and plant her feet on the floor, shake some oom-pah-pah into her limbs, just turn it all around like that, switch directions as slickly as a Brio train track, switch gears, flip some switch, just head back out? Smiling? Humming Bing Crosby?

Let loving hearts enthrone Him. . .

We traverse afar. . .

She remained silent and still, hoping he’d think she was sleeping deeply.

Sleep in heavenly peace. . .

Sleep in heavenly peace. . .

This is when he tapped her right shoulder.  And then he left his hand there.  The heat traveled all the way through her, into the mattress, as she envisioned its course, and to the floor.  How she wanted to respond. But her jaws were clenched and held in all the loving feelings her heart held in its pulse.

For unto us a child is born

Oh come, Oh come, Emmanuel. . .

“Why don’t you say something, Mom?  What have I done? Okay, so I should have cleaned up the dishes first.  But c’mon, they’re done now. Just. . .just come out there. Come see.”

She had lodged herself too deeply in the silence to creep out so easily now. Tired of speaking, giving orders, answering to everyone. Tired and worn out.  Another year: Gone, wrung out like I feel, squeezed dry to its very last particle.  

Ring out wild bells and let him die. . .

Ring out wild bells and let him die. . .

Here we are again. Christmas. And stymied.

For mighty dread had seized their troubled mind. . .

For mighty dread had seized their troubled mind. . .

Then she heard the lightest tap-tap on the door, and the sound of its edge shuuuuushing over carpet. The smell of her husband’s cologne.  And she pulled the purple up over her head.

Sing, all ye citizens of heav'n above. . .

Sing, all ye citizens of heav’n above. . .

“Hey.”

“Hey.” The son’s voice was deeper, even, than his Dad’s.  And heavier.

“Honey. We’d love you to come out, just eat a little dinner, kay?  And then watch the movie with us. Maybe? No big production. Just be with us.”

And still their heavenly music floats o'er all the busy world. . .

And still their heavenly music floats o’er all the busy world. . .

So, so tired. And so emptied clean out.  All this pressure to be happy. Please. If you could let me be alone.

The oldest son made a sudden move.  His voice came from above her, now. “Alright. I’m just. . . I’m going to change things here.” There was ballast in that voice now, a clip on each consonant. “Mom. Mom. Get. Up. And. Turn. Around.”

Rise up shepherd and follow. . .

Rise up shepherd and follow. . .

She pulled the purple from her face. She rolled over, opened her eyes, and was looking right into the knees of two men in jeans.

Then the son knelt.  His eyes were at her eye level and he looked right into her. She’d never seen this look, at least not from him. The earnestness and resolve. The deliberateness.

Fall on your knees, oh hear the angel voices. . .

Fall on your knees, oh hear the angel voices. . .

“Kay, I’m not going to add to the drama here, but you know, um, this is my last Christmas with you all.  This is it.” He pounded a fist into the carpet and shook his head.

Was he trembling? What was the stiffness in his lower lip? In his chin?

Their watch of wondering love. . .

Their watch of wondering love. . .

“And so I want us to celebrate and have the Spirit.”

Let every heart prepare him room. . .

Let every heart prepare him room. . .

“So will you please come out and be with us? Now? Mom?”

God and sinner reconciled. . .

God and sinners reconciled. . .

He took her hand, which gesture was a bit odd, but not too odd right then, and she let him take it. She felt each of his callouses from dribbling balls and pummeling drums.

And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there. . .

And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there. . .

“Come on, ” now he was whispering so low she could hardly hear him. “Come in here with me.”

Close by me forever and love me I pray. . .

Close by me forever and love me, I pray. . .

The gesture, a tug, unlocked something in her bones and she moved, almost effortlessly, letting the purple wrap crumple to the floor as she trailed her son and her husband down the hall, into the light, the noise, the company of her family.  The other three children looked at her, stopped tinkering, quibbling, and went quiet.  A suppressed grin and, “Hi. . . Mom!” came from the youngest, who wriggled his nose under the round little red frames of his glasses.

Round yon virgin, mother and child. . .

Round yon virgin, mother and child. . .

“Okay. Everyone?” The son holding his mother’s hand announced in the middle of the room, “We need to have a prayer.  We’re going to turn things around here.  So. . . we need the Spirit. Right now. So come on. We’ve got to kneel.”

In the dark streets shineth. . .

In the dark streets shineth. . .

It was the prayer of a full grown man, and his mother – no, everyone – felt its weight settle on their shoulders.  They knelt for a moment in silence.  But not that resistant, withholding kind of silence.

Risen with healing in his wings. . .

Sweet little Jesus boy, we didn’t know who you was. . .

This was the silence of soft awe, and like the invisible bending of the arc of a rainbow, it did indeed turn things. The mother spoke, but her words opened up a whole swamp of apologies, to which all the children and the husband now countered, wading in with their own apologies. Then they embraced, got off their knees. . .

Risen with healing in his wings. . .

Risen with healing in his wings. . .

. . .And embraced again.

And so it continued both day and night. . .

And so it continued both day and night. . .

Later that evening, the mother and her oldest son sat next to each other, legs stretched out, on the overstuffed sofa.

Where meek souls seek him the enters in

Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in. . .

He, between spoonfuls of ice cream straight from the container, lip-synced Jimmy Stewart. . .

Heaven and nature sing. . .

Heaven and nature sing. . .

. . .And she knew all the lines for Donna Reed. . .

Tender and mild. . .

Tender and mild. . .

And the whole family sat together and watched, like they had every Christmas Eve for as long as they could remember, “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

And it truly is.

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**

“Temporary separation at death and the other difficulties that attend us as we all move toward that end are part of the price we pay for. . .birth and family ties and the fun of Christmas together. . .These are God’s gifts to us – birth and life and death and salavtion, the whole divine experience in all its richness and complexity.” — Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

Paysage Intime

Today, another walk.  Tonight, a different poem.

Paysage Intime

Melissa Dalton-Bradford

 

Reckless fecundity this spherical here

with its fugal loop of falling and fruiting

and its persimmon tree’s jeweled danglings of rubbery flame

and its pregnanted soil so upholsterously greening

the moss tresses draping over

worn gutters racing into

ancient creeks gushing for the

spongéd earth’s guzzling.

 

The whole scene a blister, haute pression

its elastice the very verge of burst.

The whole seen by eyelidded roofs of shingled browns

like these horses whose manes streak and rust with the spill of rain

neighing, newing

and the succulent heifers astroll on the bosky ooze,

stepping, steeping

silvered nostrilling through this plein-air mysterium.

 

And here, I must stop before the resilient silence of pliant

row after row after row of crucified pommiers

who grow to yield, seed to cede, stretch to droop,

leaking their burden.

Heavy drops of red eversoak our distended-unquenchable canon.





Global Mom: Farm Wedding

Østfold lies southeast by an hour from Oslo’s talk show and television commercial studios.  In the middle of that county is the village of Ski, and in the middle of Ski is a tiny white stucco chapel.

credit: woophy

There, on one of those brilliantly blue-skied late spring days, Sigrid, the daughter of a prominent local farmer, is getting married, and I’ve been drafted to serenade the day-long traditional farm wedding. What will unfold before me, the only non-Norwegian on hand, is like a movie so enchanting I start to feel I’m unfit as the soundtrack.

I arrive early by car, ready to review the program one last time with the church organist who skids into the gravel parking place on his road bike, and who, with no more ceremony than the nod of his head (which he keeps wiping as he continues to sweat) launches us into a break-neck dash through our program, tearing through four Norwegian love songs at the same speed with which he arrived on his bike. “Well now,” he says, slapping the organ bench, “I think that’ll about do it,” and he’s running over a hill to squirt off at a nearby farm. I’m still catching my breath, leaning against a pillar in the choir loft, when I peer down to see a procession.

A thick, inching sea of rich bunad colors seeps into the chapel’s all-white interior. Figure upon figure, couple upon couple, family upon family file in gracefully, cautiously, as if someone had told them the floor was made of the thinnest sheet of glass.

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There are mostly heavy black wool skirts that swish almost to the floor, barely exposing the occasional edge of white stocking, which meets the black shoes. On the front of the shoes, ornate, pilgrim-like silver buckles.

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In some of the many regional versions of bunad, the skirt fronts, as the bodices, are gathered into the waistline with the smallest pleats—dozens of pin-tucked pleats—that make architecture out of wool. They’re encrusted with clusters of embroidered flowers, the sheen of which looks like jewels in the early afternoon light coming in through the high windows.

Everywhere there are balloons of starched white linen sleeves tapering to lace-trimmed cuffs and, on some women, wrist wreaths of silver coins which tinkle and glint, the sunlight flitting on their surface. There are brooches, some larger than your palm, clasped at the top of the bodice near the collar. Some women wear small hats, wool and embroidered too, without brims and close to the shape of the head and in the same color as their dress, tied under the chin with ample satin bows.

And there are small handbags made of matching wool with iridescent embroidery, affixed to a silver chain draped at the waistline.

There are dresses, a dozen among hundred, maybe, that aren’t black or deep red, but are bright cornflower blue.

The men look like they’ve arrived on the last commuter train from Brigadoon: velvet knickers, embroidered vests, white linen shirts, black leprechaun shoes. Some children, just a handful, are there, too.

One mom indiscreetly yanks her Karl-Andreas or Anders-Håvard to attention, and directs him into the pew next to her as she tugs down the bottom of his red vest and re-tucks the bunched hem of his starched shirt.  He’s sullen. Thirteen. Has spent the morning bailing hay or milking his own goat, I fantasize.  Or skateboarding, my inner realist corrects me.

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Here is old Norway, but again contemporary, now-a-day Norway, History and The Present, in all its splendid finery and well-mannered neighborliness waiting reverently for a høy tid.

My organist has traded in smelly lycra bike shorts for full bunad regalia himself, and ashamed that I’m just in my best cream silk suit and heels, I slip behind a marble pillar.  At the same moment, the organ opens up all pipes announcing Sigrid’s arrival.  The groom, vigorous-looking with muscles everywhere, (even in his jaw, which he’s clenching, like his fists), waits at the altar.

Sigrid, also blonde, is fresh and freckled, poised in a simply-cut white satin gown.  She proceeds up the aisle: a cool, tall glass of milk. I’m staring at her while I take a deep breath and begin singing: “Kjaerlighet, varmeste ord på jord. . .”  Love, the warmest word on earth.

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When the ceremony ends, the new couple clambers up into a handsome horse-drawn carriage which, trailed by other horse-drawn carriages carrying parts of their bunad entourage, clops over the rolling hills of Østfold toward Sigrid’s family estate.  The parents who’ve invited me to sing, Solvor and Lars, lean down from their carriage to give me road directions, complicated automobile ones, I’m told. It’s much more direct over the fields.  I’m in a tailored suit with stiletto pumps, driving a motor vehicle with a CD player and automatic windows.  I’ve obviously missed a road sign and driven into the middle of the wrong century.

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This family farm’s got to have its own zip code. Lars escorts me up to a crest beyond the limits of the groomed property that radiates outward from the central manor house, and there points to a place on the horizon that I’m sure must be Sweden.

“It’s just the easternmost edge of the property,” he smiles softly.  Then he swings his arm in a full arc in the other direction and, those specks over there?  Those prominent mountains several kilometers away?  “Also the edge of the family domain.” It’s deep green the entire expanse of it, abruptly tree-rich in spots, deliciously farmable in general. Lars seems too soft-spoken to own a whole county.

credit: woophy

“It’s my husband’s family’s soil, too, you know,” I tell Lars. “Aamodt, Haakon. Thorkildsen, Christian. Farmers going way, way back. Do you know the names?”

“Then,” Lars reaches down and pokes his finger into the earth, drilling it softly, pinching and rolling its brownness in his fingertips like he’s testing its character, “Somewhere not more than a century or so ago, we were family, your husband and I.”

Back at the manor house people are starting to arrive, leaping down from buggies, off of single horses or out of Volvos. Solvor wants me to see the house, and doesn’t hesitate to escort me, room by room, through its every antique corner.  The place is a fortress with massive oak staircases flanked by oak banisters so big you’d need two hands to grab the circumference, leaded-pane windows dating back 300 years, lustrous floors of wide, worn planks bulleted in place by chocolate-colored dowels, hand-tufted carpets brought from Sweden and hand-woven linens from Denmark.  Huge family portraits with their oily sheen on pallid, stern visages line the walls above a stone fireplace that cuts a garage-sized hole in the front salon.  Everywhere I turn there are signs of The Hunt, and rounding a bend a bit too frivolously, I nearly lose an eye on a low-hanging reindeer antler.

creidt:papafrezzo

The men look ready for a barn raising, but tonight they’re only reinforcing the orchestra pavilion in the courtyard, and moving into rows the long, decorated banquette tables where wine, breads and dried meats are already being laid by a troop of diligent women. I’m handed a pewter platter of cured venison and a wooden trough of sculpted pickles and radishes to put on a table somewhere and make myself inconspicuous (in my twentieth century silk suit and patent leather stilettos) by being industrious like every last body around me.

Suddenly, the farm’s cutting loose. There’s the metallic commotion of cow bell ringing and wild whooping, everyone around me chanting something in unison, something that’s accelerating, something that has us all stamping our feet and clapping our hands at once.  I dive in full-throttle, although I end up almost falling over when I jab all 4-inches of my  stilettos into black-brown farm soil.

The bride and groom have arrived.

A large woman, Inger, red-headed and white-toothed, clinches her fleshy arm around my shoulder and shoves a glass of wine in my hand, hollering and stamping still.  Since I don’t drink, I wrap my arm around the shoulder of the next guy, Ingemar, white-haired and red-cheeked, do a little holler and a light stamp, and shove the glass into his hand.  He downs it in one hearty swig like water, establishing the drinking blueprint for the rest of the night.

People stay primarily sober for at least the first two hours of the four-hour dinner for two-hundred guests, a spread of gelled vegetable aspic, smoked salmon with scrambled eggs and sour cream with dill, crab and coriander salad, cucumber salad in a light vinaigrette, lamb, and tender little new potatoes, all served in a grand hall downstairs in the central house. I sit on the middle table, not far from Lars and Solvor, who are poised under an enormous stuffed black bear head that looks like it’s belting a high note.

credit: US Gen Web

After dinner and under a sky of polished cobalt, we all dance and sing like barefoot children.  Really like barefoot children, because somewhere between the hired band’s Johann Strauss and Bee Gees, I’ve kicked off my shoes like everyone one else.  Has grass ever felt so cool?  Has the moon ever been so close? Have I ever not lived here, not loved these people, not wanted to sing at every single one of their weddings?

Around four in the morning I watch the delicate, black shadows of horse-drawn carriages tiptoe over the far ridges, disappearing in a rising sun: spiders crawling into a flame.  Motors cough and hum, the trumpet player Hermann is packing it in, the lead singer Nils drops another empty Aquavit bottle onto a pile of many other empty Aquavit bottles.  Its “cli-shink” makes the mottled cat dart under a cleared banquette table.  Solvor comes at me from behind and, putting one arm around my waist, strokes my hair, and draws my head to her shoulder.  A mother’s touch. A new sisters’ pact.

credit: woophy

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Global Mom: An Ambassador

There would be many other singing engagements over the two years that would remain in Norway. There were months when I was learning new music every week, my children wandering in and around the piano or sometimes around other vocalists or orchestra members. I was recruited to sing at all sorts of functions; the library’s opening social, a 50th birthday gathering, the kindergarten’s closing social, the local book club, a corporate mid-year social, a neighboring town’s Late Winter Song Evening, another town’s Early Spring Poetry Reading, a high school’s mid-spring chamber concert, and the frequent American Broadway potpourri.
Breech after flagrant breach of the sisters’ pact.

When invited with three other American musicians to give a private concert at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence, I took along nine-year-old Parker. He sat primly in his navy suit and bow tie, his hair parted on the left side and slicked flat like a confederate soldier.

“You have to sit right in that seat, honey,” I told him, pointing to an upholstered chair in the front row, “Because in one song, I’m going to give you the signal like this,” I nodded just once and discreetly, “and then I’ll come get you with my hand just like this,” I took his fingers in mine, “and then I’ll bring you uon front of the audience. Then I’ll sing right to you. Right into your eyes. Kneeling in front of you. Got it?”

“Got it. I don’t have to sing, too, do I?”

“No, you only have to listen. And you also have to help me not mess up, buddy. Can you do that?”
It was “Not While I’m Around,” a lyrical, haunting piece from Stephen Sondheim’s dark musical, “Sweeney Todd.” When I pulled the young boy with a bow tie and confederate hair to my side and knelt on the stage and sang right into his eyes, I nearly abandoned all efforts at composure. I nearly forgot about the respectable audience, the professional distance, I almost forgot about Mr. and Mrs. Ambassador sitting right over my shoulder in a gown and suit. I nearly let emotion seep into my vocal chords, a perilous thing. But I was composed and tried not to feel the moistness of his palms as I held his two hands, tried not to sense a quiver climbing up my sternum. I just kept singing the tender tune a bit baldly, I think; “Nothing can harm you,” I sang to my child, “Not while I’m around.”

And I finished, as I remember, with a smile so totally incongruous with the broader context from which that song is taken – a smile, now that I think about it, like that of a weather channel person waiting for the camera to blink on – I ended smiling with my head tilted, squeezing his skinny suited shoulders, giving him a peck on the cheek and dismissing him with a tap on his rump, clapping the fingertips of one my right hand on the palm of my left,  nodding to him and then to the audience, “Too cute, isn’t he?”

(Some minutes in life you revisit to reinhabit their sweetness. Others you revisit to reinhabit their sweetness and to mentally redo them altogether.)

After a performance with fellow artists. The Great Dane favored us with a solo.  It was in Danish, of course.  And great.

 

 

I didn’t take the children to all of my performances. One such, I described in my Journal:

Flå is a small arts community tucked deep in the folds of Hallingdal. Flå had invited an “American Broadway Singer,” to appear at their annual Arts Days celebration.

I stood in a glitzy American gown on an outdoor stage with microphone in hand and sang three hours of show tunes and big band standards flanked by twenty-five somewhat rigid but nevertheless hearty and well-amplified members of Hallingdal’s civic “Big Band.” The locals, robust and impossibly well-scrubbed, wielding sausages and wearing boiled wool knickers, stomped patterns across the pavilion’s dance floor till all the Aquavit ran dry and the moon peered over the rough ridges of Hallingdal’s towering walls. I went through everything the band had in its repertoire; Benny Goodman, the Andrews Sisters, Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller, even Neil Diamond.  Which was a good fun even though I felt strangely like a disco ball rented for a country picnic.

But then there was this last number, a traditional Norwegian Saeter tune I’d prepared just for this event. When it was announced, five band members, rosy-cheeked, woolen knickered, flannel plaid, stood to join me.  Against the evening chill I slipped the bass player’s boiled wool jacket around my shoulders.  Three of us sang tight harmony first with Ole on the accordion, then all six of us sang in a capella harmony, arms wrapped around one another’s waists or shoulders.  We howled like mountain sheep herders under the moon’s perfect spotlight. And on the way home, driving alone down that ancient black canyon, I decided things don’t get much better than this.

**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Global Mom: Holmenkollen Kapell and T.V.

On another night, it snowed heavily over Oslo, but I was toasty inside. I stood in the fully restored Holmenkollen kappell, a stave church high overlooking the Oslofjord, an important historic landmark built entirely of wood and lit with candles that night so it glowed like a jewel box.

The chapel was packed to SRO capacity. From where I stood at the microphone on stage, who did I see seated front and center? My family. And behind them, Bente, Jan Åke, Børre, Pia, and a whole pod of friends from church and from our island of Nesøya and from Randall’s work. Family, too.

There, as soloist with Norway’s beloved Big Chief Jazz Band, we did a program of American spirituals – When the Saints Go Marching In, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, All Night All Day – and then American holiday favorites – Chestnuts, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, I’ll Be Home For Christmas. We got the whole audience swaying and singing along.

 

The founder of Big Chief became my agent and as a means of launching what he hoped would be a concert tour of Norway and Sweden, he got us a spot on the Sunday evening talk and talent show called “Wesenstund.”  That morning at church, our congregation was patting me on the back, wishing me the best.

“Make us proud,” Stein Håvard nodded at me.

“Don’t wear pearls. No jazz in them,” advised Trond.

Lykke til!” Karin said, smiling, her thumbs up for “good luck.”

Ah, those miniscule 15 minutes of fame. I had a total blast singing my heart out with Big Chief, kept a tape of the broadcast, and have watched it exactly once with my parents, who looked both amused and proud.  My great-great grandchildren, if I’m so lucky, will one day find the whole recording an inconceivable, riotous hoot.

There was a moment that evening right before show time when I was alone waiting in my tiny dressing room at the NRK studios, after makeup and hair and tech people had done their preliminary rounds and all the members of Big Chief had patted “lykke til” on my back and gone out a side door for one last smoke.  I sat on a black naugahyde adjustable bar stool in front of one of those mirrors with white bulbs all around, sat there watching my backstage television prompter up in the corner, waiting for Gru to knock on my door with a two-minute signal, watching myself mouthing the texts for two songs we’d only decided on two hours earlier when we’d done light and mike checks.

It was there and all at once that I was oddly in another far-away dressing room. It was that other New York dressing room where there was a big band overture signaling a second act. I was in a green robe and body mike and had just gotten off an odd backstage phone call with Randall when he’d told me that the offer to move to Oslo was real, and it was imminent. I was pulling on my platinum ‘40’s wig and shoving my feet into my heels, trembling a little bit, but not for stage fright.   And though I should have been mouthing texts and mentally going through choreography, in that moment I was mouthing to myself in a low, dreading mumble, “Norway?”

“To minutter igjen,” Gru chirped, leaning into the door.  She smiled from behind her rectangular violet-rimmed glasses, giving me the two-minute signal.

And now my whole chest cramped with such a vice grip of gratitude I was out of breath when I stood up in my blue suede heels, stroking flat the wrinkled blue velvet on my thighs, shaking my shoulders under my red slik blouse to loosen things up, humming up and down the scale to warm my chords.  I walked through that shadowy, curtainy darkness every stage person knows so well, thinking the whole time of my little family, my my kind husband and our three beautiful children all  lined up in front of the television on their knees and in their jammies, watching impatiently through the first parts of this Norwegian talk show – Norwegian they now actually understood word for word. Giggling. Shuushing. Eyes wide. Chubby faces. Somehow slightly reverent. Waiting to see their Mamma sing.

**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Global Mom: Song of Norway, Händel

The following few posts are from our final couple of Norway years, and from the chapter in Global Mom entitled “Song of Norway.”  It took time, work, and lots of support from family and gifted musician friends, but building a musical career in Norway was getting some serious traction. Slippery traction at times. But a grip, nonetheless.

From Global Mom: A Memoir

**

“Wouldja listen to me? Whatever you do, do not do weddings.”

The brunette soprano in fishnets and a body microphone was schooling me, wagging her polished pointer finger my direction.  We were in our dressing room between the acts of the Tuesday matinée at the Westchester Broadway Theater, a bunch of the cast half in costume, half in costume change, chatting about agents, 8×10 headshots and all the details of musical theater careers.

“No fun’rals, eethah,” piped in the fiery belter with a red wig and a killer Bronx accent. “Soon’s ya go Equity, mine as well stay outta churches altagethah.”

Translated, that meant that as soon as you were a member of Actor’s Equity, the union for professional stage actors, all that kind of work – funerals, weddings, bar mitzvahs, clam bakes – was beneath you, even illegal, a breech of your Equity contract. When you got your union membership card, my theater friends agreed, you do the Big Time, nothing else but.  This was our solemn sister’s pact.

Now what could I do with this fancy schmancy Equity card of mine? The one right there, tucked in the pocket of my fleece-lined anorak? I’d left that fledgling theater trajectory to follow my husband’s career and, I’d hoped, to offer a big world to our little family. But now I was frozen in my tracks, literally and professionally.  My identity was in crisis. Last thing I’d heard, though, there weren’t any Big Times coming any time soon to my tiny island.

No funerals. No weddings. No clam bakes. No gigs underneath a hyacinth trellis with a Latvian accordion player doing Lionel Ritchie. And like the Bronx gal had said, I had to stay out of churches altogether.

So what did I do? I started singing in every last church in sight.

**

. . .What did I sing, with whom and where? Let’s just say the range was eclectic.  Among the most memorable holiday gigs was Händel’s “Messiah”, staged in a dilapidated barn hidden deep in the mountains. A glacial manger.  The small baroque choir and we the soloists stamped boots in brittle straw covering the upper loft of this barn where we crowded together, trying to generate some heat without utterly desecrating Händel.  Our vibratos were like machine guns. Our faces were tinged with smoke and our hair almost ignited by the small live torches we were given for heat as much as for light, since there was no electrical source but for the shizzing generator into which a Yamaha keyboard, our only accompaniment, was plugged.

I was so jittery, a sympathetic audience member, an older gentleman with a beard to his belt, lent me his floor-length, fur-lined World War II army coat. Then he tossed me his hat. The costume kept me from getting whiplash or chipping my incisors from all the chattering, although strangely, I did expect every one to salute me when I finished.

Talk about atmosphere. All that candle light and singed hair, that residual laryngitis and my walking pneumonia until April.  Still, I smile when I recall how the legs of the keyboard began shaking then slowly folding in on themselves, and neither the pianist, still pounding away, nor the vocalists, still singing, missed a beat. The keyboard sank to the floor, the conductor crouched following his fingers, the closest baritone scrambled to his knees to recover the conductor’s sheet music flying all over the place, our voices mounted higher as we neared the dramatic end of the chorus, until everything, keyboard, conductor, sheet music, reached the floor with a thud. And just as we landed on that last, sustained, triumphant “Ha-leeehhh-lu-jaaah”, this conductor shouted at the top of his lungs, “You’re never going to forget this!”

And I haven’t.

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Bottled Fruit

My mother inspired a poem that I wrote. Actually, she has inspired a number of poems I’ve written, either directly or indirectly.   Come to think about it, she’s actually inspired everything I’ve written, indeed all my writing comes from her.

Because I do.

She is not a writer herself, my Mom.  Instead, she’s a soprano, (an operatic leading lady), a vocal coach, a former member (for 16 years) of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and an international lecturer on the arts, specifically where lyrics and music intersect.

(You’re right: I grew up hearing The Three Tenors from the kitchen radio.  And hiding my Three Dog Night LP albums under my bed.)

Besides being a gifted musician and stage performer, my Mom is also a skilled driver.  She shuttled four children to ballet-piano-cello-viloin-viola lessons.  In between, she ran for a local political office, taught elementary school, quilted, did calligraphy, was artistic director for a number of operas, weeded our flower beds, battled a career-shortening and life-threatening case of scoliosis, cared for her aging mother-in-law until that grandmother of mine passed away, and she bottled fruit.  Some of it she even grew in our own backyard.

Sadly, I didn’t inherit any of her goods, I don’t think.  Except, maybe, a fraction of her musicianship. I did, though, inherit her insatiable love for words.

But I don’t know the first thing about bottling fruit.

Every year on my birthday, I like to thank my parents for giving me the gift of life and other gifts that make that life rich and satisfying.  I did just this a couple of years ago by writing a poem dedicated to my Mom, Donna, and the next year that piece ended up anthologized in a noteworthy volume entitled, Fire in the Pasture: 21st Century Mormon Poets. 

So this year I am posting that piece here to thank her — thank them, Mom and Dad — for showing how to harvest, savor,  and bottle life.

Credit, both photos: Flickr

Bottled Fruit

 For Donna Charlene Glazier Dalton

(and T.S. Eliot and Langston Hughes )

 

There are museums alive under my mother’s house, quiet

life-giving mausoleums, loden and loaded with their chilled secrets,

cement-walled vaults with jugs of holy jewels,

amber pendants round as halos lining the walls.

Crystal caskets crowded with dense-fleshed

soldiers, salute!

Cheek-to-topaz-cheek they nearly breathe

in their neat ranks, awaiting orders.

No withered raisins in the sun here, no, but

muscled suns afire in blackness: promising,

pulsing practically,

still half alive,

still life.

 

Let us go then, you and I, to visit those cellars

of all my mothers and their mothers and mothers,

who considered shelf life over self life, who

frankly shelved their life to bear and bind themselves with

that fleshy, sinewy fruit of the womb.

 

Let us see them at the kitchen sink which heaves with sultry harvest,

let us watch them ply their mothers’ genes, cradling fruit

like a bronze planet in each palm, slicing its dense flesh at equator,

making two hemispheres with silk-slick skin

taut against engorged roundness.

Plump little breasts.

These, they slip two-and-two down the throats of jars

until they cannot fit a single other,

and baptize them en masse:

a ladle of sweet, pectiny waters.

 

In such rooms the women come and go, talking of Mason jars, Ball and Kerr

and none dares eat a peach. But to satisfy her hunger, postpones it,

puts up for the eventual quelling of a someday craving,

saves, replants the pit, stocks this immediate abundance,

preserving it, holding on to life.

Man, with his wristwatch, might claim there will be time,

there will be time, indeed there will be time

for all the works and days of hands, time to know and gather enough

the tender seasonal berries of our fragile human yield.

But the mothers are unconvinced.

They weep and fast and weep and pray

against the measured minutes left together

while all the late afternoon long they hear the voices dying and the

music from a farther room.

 

Gone too soon from their slippery hold, these dazzling passion fruits

with their every pungent plushness and immediate délice,

these pears with their translucent skin the color of liquid bone

and veins of laced filigree.

Firmest fruit like buffed and bottled riverstones: these are their proving rocks

touchstone testaments of existence,

their innermost fruits

which fill deepest chambers against the time

when they might nourish—or might outlive—the mothers.

**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

Cold-Coping-Play-Haven

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

Melissa Dalton-Bradford (MDB):  Dalton, Luc, it’s post-show, the flash and buzz have dimmed a bit, you’re both already deep into a new school year.

But before we get too far away from it all, I want to be sure to nail down your feelings about Coldplay and their concert. I hope I got some good shots and I know Dad got some great iPhone footage.  So, how about we sit and chat about how you two felt about the Coldplay concert. Sound good?

Dalton Haakon Bradford (DHB) and Luc William Bradford (LWB) : (In unison) For the blog, right?

MDB: Well, uh-huh, for the blog, yeah. But for me.  And for you, too. We call this “processing,” sons.

DHB: Okay, fire away.  Process. (He settles into his red beanbag chair, clears his throat, tucks his hands between his knees and stares at me. Intently.)

LWB: (Looking at brother, flops on bed, twiddles a dozen neon-colored rubber wrist band in his fingers.) Go for it.

MDB: Luc, what was your favorite moment of our trip to Copenhagen?

LWB: You mean favorite moment of the last year, maybe, or yeeeeearsss? ‘Cause it was the Coldplay concert, of coursssse. Nothing better than thaaat.

MDB: Dalton, you agree?

DWB: (Eyebrows raised, head cocked forward, hands open with palms flat toward the heavens like, “You serious?”)

MDB: Right. So, can you answer the question, Dalton, Why Coldplay? What’s their magic formula?

DHB: I think that to see a band grow so big that originally — they started way back in 1998, I think — that at first was very meek and intimate-sounding, that’s part of the formula.  You know, the formula isn’t that complex or anything. It’s not a big band, it’s got just these four everyday kinda guys, not a whole team of back up dancers and ten different wardrobe changes in a single concert.

LWB: (Still lying flat on his back on the bed. Arms spread wide and spindly over the edge. Oversized feet making a 90˚ angle out of his profile.) Except they changed out of their sweaty T-shirts a couple of times.

MDB: And thank goodness, is what I’m saying.

DHB: Yeah, but no flashy stuff, right? No synchronized dancers and lip-synching and dresses—

LWB: (He whips his head toward his brother.) They wear dresses?

DHB: I mean, what I was gonna say was no dresses out of raw meat. For instance.

LWB: You getting all this, Mom?

MDB: (Clickety-clickety-clickety. . .) Dalton, continue.

DHB: If you see Coldplay now, as a band — as a unit — they haven’t changed so very much from the start. Maybe Chris Martin has evolved some with a stronger voice and a greater focus in lyric writing. But as a whole they’ve perfected their talents and brought out what they can do best. They’re still with that original one-plus-one-equals-two formula, but they are arguably the biggest, most famous band in the world right now.

LWB: And we went to their coooncert! (Arms flopping all directions, Luc imitates an eighty-five-pound caterpillar being turned on a spit.)

DHB: Luc, seriously. We doin’ bidniss here.

(Just one of the thirteen-thousand random quotes our family seems to interject into every conversation.)

MDB: Dal-ton. Con-tin-ue.

DHB: The Coldplay formula is by and large nothing short of pure raw natural talent.

MDB: Okay, so no raw meat, just raw talent.  And talent for. . .?

DHB: They can play each other’s instruments, for starters, but they still do their own roles really, really well. Will Champion, the drummer, also plays like every last instrument on the planet—

MDB: Lute? Harpischord?

DHB: Mom. Rockband. So once, there’s this concert when Chris Martin [the lead singer with steal blue eyes and an irrepressibly affable persona and a wife named Gwyneth Paltrow and children named Apple and Moses] says at one point, OK, this is the moment we show you how good our bland really could have been. And so right then, Will Champion takes Jonny’s [Jonny Buckland, their lead guitarist] guitar and he sings a song he wrote.  And it’s really good. He can really sing. Really play.

LWB: You serious? (He’s raised his head.)

DHB: Serious.

LWB: (Groans and flops face first into the pillow.  From the depths of mattress, he mumbles.) Okay, like I only play some piano, some drums and the clarinet.

DHB: Kinda.

LWB: Mom?!!  (Meerkat springs up at full attention, eyeballs protruding like billiard balls, that behold-how-I-have-absorbed-the-villan’s-cosmic-affront look quivering from every muscle.)

MDB: Guys.  The blog. Dalton, what do we say?

DHB: Kay. Sorry.  But kinda.  And still better than me.

MDB: Better than I.

DHB: Mom. The blog.

MDB: Coldplay’s formula, men. How does it work?

DHB: There’s no unnecessary pizzazz, no wacky costumes that fashion designers have thought up to capitalize on this “artist’s” career, kind of like parasites, you know, making their designer career bigger on the back of someone else’s music career. Like Coldplay, think about it, what did they wear?

LWB: Homemade T-shirts.  No logos, even. Mom would have even let us wear that. And they wore baseball caps. Which Mom wouldn’t have let us wear. (Preteen evil eye.)

DHB: Like the band members could have been the audience members themselves, you know?

MDB: Hmm . . . so . . .  do you think that’s a gimmick? A strategy? Trying to stay right on the level of your audience? Play the Jedermann?

LWB: I don’t even think Will Champion plays that one.

MDB: No, that means Everyman. Trying to be your Joe Schmoe off the street.  I mean, these guys are multi-millionares now. Ultrafamous. Scary big. They could wear flashy jumpsuits like Elvis.  They could be Elton John.  Or Lady Gaga.

DHB: Gross. Never.

LWB: Gag!  Gaga. (Writhes and squirms, gripping throat with both hands.)

MDB: Actually, let’s go with this: Why a Coldplay concert over a Lady Gaga concert, guys? She was on all those posters in the middle of Copenhagen. Should we have gotten tickets to her thing instead?

LWB: No way! Coldplay all the way!  (Up on his knees on the bed, now, pounding fists into his thighs with every syllable.) Lady Gaga’s concerts are strange, vulgar, yicky.  They don’t make sense, and all in the wrong way, and she says everywhere that she’s just being unique, but she’s just being a . . . a . . . spectacle.

DHB: Good word, Luc.

MDB: Nice compliment, Dalton.

LWB: But Coldplay has meaning we can relate to.  (Standing on bed, posing oddly and speaking in a girl’s voice), “I’m just so different, so born this way.”  First of all, (one finger extended) no one’s born with horns implanted in their head. Second of all, (two fingers for emphasis), I think she’s just copying Madonna—well, going beyond her.  For some people who are really way, way out there and forgotten by the world, that might feel comforting. I dunno.  Horns and meat dresses, you know. But you can always, always relate to Coldplay.  This music is smart. Lady Gaga’s just . . .not.

MDB: Luc William Bradford, you willing to go on record with that statement?

LWB: Print it, Melissa Dalton-Bradford.

Back row, stage right, Luc’s concert dinner metabolizes into a halo

MDB: Because, well, I think Lady Gaga’s pretty darn smart. She’s sure got something figured out to become a person whose reputation has spread as far as a small village in Switzerland where we who don’t really like her or her music that much, are talking about her.  So she’s unquestionably smart about something. Right? At least about marketing.  You think?

DHB: Then why are we even talking about her?

MDB: Moving on.

DHB: Still can’t beat Will Champion for musical instruments, though.

MDB: Yeah, not going to be seeing any lutes or harpsichords in Lady Gaga’s act soon, either. Bummer.

LWB: (Eyes half closed, pointer finger in warning position like a grandpa hoisting himself out of the sunken marks of his old living room LazyBoy recliner) Ah, but you might. (He releases the pose then flops back down.)

DHB: But see, you could [have lutes and harpsichords] with Coldplay, and it would make sense.  But it wouldn’t be for spectacle.

MDB: Got a point there, genius.

DHB: It would be for the sake of musical inventiveness and to support the lyric.  Because they don’t need spectacle.  Their show augments what is already excellent, excellent within its genre.  Doesn’t depend on the spangley stuff or pyrotechnics.

MDB: Pretty darned good spectacle at this concert, though, I’d have to say. I mean, we were at the same stadium, weren’t we?  Or am I the only one who remembers fireworks, tons of butterfly confetti. . .

. . . Huge helium-inflated glow-in-the-dark orbs being tossed around the audience?. . .

. . . The titanic-sized hot pink graffiti-drenched hearts?. . .

. . . No spectacle? Really?

DHB: Of course there was.  But not to mask weak music or to compensate for mediocre talent.

MDB: Ooooo. Touché! Way to take a stand, Monsieur. Um, speaking of lyrics, what about Coldplay’s?

LWB: I like that they never swear in their songs, I like that a lot.  Most other bands these days do, even if just here and there. Bands that people these day are huge fans of, obviously parents are probably just saying that the swearing’s okay ‘cause their kids’ll hear worse stuff at school, and maybe they think the kids aren’t listening to the words, they’re just there for the beat.  Which isn’t true. You get the language. But Coldplay, you can enjoy without all those swear words.

MDB: But I’ve heard some of today’s music. It’s not just the crass language, but the dumbness. Like ding-dong emptiness — that’s a concern. But what’s worse is the violence and the suggestiveness. Well, not even suggestiveness.  Just pornographic.  And so soul-draining.

DHB:  Coldplay’s completely clean. And intelligent.  Their lyrics aren’t only curse-word-free.  The most suggestive lyric I’ve ever heard is, “Its not easy when she turns you on.” That’s it. Not steamy, They aren’t trying to be controversial. They aren’t trying to prove themselves. They’re doing what they do best.

LWB: And, can I just say, I like “Charlie Brown.”

MDB: Who can not like him? Or that song? You know, they do some tricky things with time signatures in that song, did you notice?

DHB: Really?

MDB: Oh, yeah, shifting back and forth all over the place.  Not simple stuff.

LWB: Personally, I loved the way the wristbands blinked with the exact rhythm of the music . . .

. . . How the animated walking man appeared on screens.  I just felt so incredibly happy in that moment.

. . . Like, okay I’ll say it. Did anyone else feel like they could have cried? Sorta?

DHB: OK, ‘cause I thought you just like “Charlie Brown” because of the lyrics: (Dalton sings):

When they smashed my heart into smithereens

I be a bright red rose come bursting the concrete  (Luc joins him):

Be the cartoon heart, light a fire, light a spark

Light a fire, a flame in my heart.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBGI8-4puV4&feature=related

MDB: And what’s the “deepest” one of their lyrics, do you think?

LWB: “Fix You.”

DHB: “Fix You.”

DMB, MDB, LWB: (We sing it together. Because we have before):

When the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can’t replace
When you love someone but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home

And ignite your bones

And I will try to fix you.

MDB: Luc,  what does that one say to you?

LWB: It’s a hard topic everyone can relate to at some point, maybe, I think. About losing something, someone, and wishing so hard you could get that thing or person back, then having someone else try to fix that for you in some way. Or maybe the someone you lose is the one trying to fix you.  With lights.  Maybe they are the lights.  Guiding you home.

DHB: But my favorite song is “Paradise.” Just this morning on the bus ride to school, I was listening to it, and had to conclude right then that it undoubtedly will be one of the greatest songs of the decade.

(Here, Dalton sings a riff.  Then beats a drum phrase on his thigh. Then compares it all to a Beatle’s riff.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGzbeEOWYgc&feature=related

DHB: If you didn’t have the bass riff in “Paradise” for instance, it would be empty.  Unsupported.  You have the full use of strings, synths, right? (He acts out strings and synths.) Then this impossibly huge explosion (he explodes) and this strong, I’d call it forceful melody. (And he launches into full air guitar version of the forceful “Paradise” melody.)

MDB: (Resumes typing.) What do you think of Alex Boyé’s and the Piano Guys’ version of it?

LWB: Ahhhhhwesome!

DHB: They took a great tune and added another dimension to it. All the lyrics are in Swahili. “Pepo-pepo-peponi.” (He begins singing the chorus.  He moves like Boyé. On a mountain top.  Luc starts fake playing a piano from the bed.  I add the cello. )

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cgovv8jWETM

MDB: But someone, your grandparents, for instance—

LWB: Omi and Opa?

MDB: Omi and Opa might argue that these lyrics are repetitive. Mundane.

DHB: Strong, language, young lady.

MDB: Well?

DHB: Look. You need repetition so the whole stadium of 50,000-plus spectators can sing along. Remember how that was? How incredible?

MDB:  Well, no kidding.  Of course I do.  You bet! Hey, you don’t need to convince me. It’s Omi and Opa — the opera singer  and the music professor, remember ? You have to convince them.

DHB: Right.  See, there are other popular lyrics like “Bay-by, bay-by, bay-by, ooooo”, which are  repetitive,  you could even say “universal”.  But who wants to chant about wanting a Baby, Baby, Baby over wanting Paradise? Case closed.  I’d say there’s a difference.

MDB: Point well taken.  Luc William, your favorite moment in the concert, sir?

LWB: The second our wristbands went on the first time.  WOW.  And when the wristbands blinked in time to Charlie Brown. Then those confetti butterflies.

I don’t know, the whole thing was just an all over big human experience of happiness and togetherness.

MDB: And Dalton Haakon? Favorite moment?

DHB: OK, Hard question. Maybe it was “Warning Sign”, which is not so well known, and Chris Martin even said once he thought it was too boring and “internal” to be marketable.  But that he himself liked it.  They played it at the concert without percussion, pretty naked, musically.  To tell you the truth, it’s the song that won me over first:

Come on in
I’ve gotta tell you what a state I’m in
I’ve gotta tell you in my loudest tones
That I started looking for a warning sign

When the truth is, I miss you
Yeah the truth is, that I miss you so

A warning sign
It came back to haunt me, and I realised
That you were an island and I passed you by
And you were an island to discover

And I’m tired, I should not have let you go
Oooooooo

So I crawl back into your open arms
Yes I crawl back into your open arms
And I crawl back into your open arms
Yes I crawl back into your open arms.

LWB: And what was your favorite part, Mom?

MDB: You interview me now, is that it? Good enough.  I’d say everything you two have just said, but there’s something that’s way above all the rest.  You don’t know this, but I have a kind of particular connection to “Viva la Vida”, and so when they finally came to it in their program, I don’t know, I just wanted to fly out of my seat and run through all the rows, hugging every single last stranger in that whole loud stadium.

LWB: We are so glad you didn’t.

DHB: Yeah, good thing we were packed in in that top row up there, right, Luc?

MDB: And when Chris Martin collapsed, remember that? Hello, this is a difficult yoga move, I wanna point that out.

. . . And we had to keep singing the chorus over and over and over to get him off the floor? Remember?

DHB: ‘Course.

LWB: Yuh.

MDB: I really got that moment. I think I might have had — I know I did  have — tears in my eyes, guys . . . So . . . anyway . . . Anything you might not have liked so much about the concert? Anything?

LWB: Ah, well, there was a bit of beer and cigarettes a few rows from us. That’s not so great. But I kept clear of the smoke.

MDB: Did it make you feel uncomfortable, though? You know I’m not a big fan. At all.

DHB: Since Copenhagen is the Carlsberg beer capital of the world, I sort of expected some drinking at a big concert like this.  How do you avoid being around it?  I’m just glad you never get that at Music and the Spoken Word.

LWB: I just focused on the music and all the people around me who weren’t drinking and were still having a great time, singing together and smiling for real and being part of a fantastic, incredible, awesome experience.

MDB: You mean the worst part wasn’t walking home afterwards?  Walking for two hours all the way across town? Without toilets? Without food? Getting home at 2:00 a.m.?

DHB: That was “savor” time. Didn’t mind it. I was in another world the whole way, really.

MDB: And last question, gents: If you were somehow magically granted back stage passes and could talk to Chris Martin and his crew face-to-face, what would you want to tell them?

LWB: I’d say, “Brilliant, it was the best concert I could have imagined—even better than that — and I’m thankful I was one of the people who got to be there. You made me so happy that night.”

DHB: Backstage passes?!! That would be the most surreal scenario.  But if you’re thinking up some plan for the next time you spring a big move on us, then I’d go with it. Seriously, I would want to talk to all the band members at once, by myself, face-to-face, no interruptions, quietly. Like that, alone and private, I’d tell them that my big brother Parker knew them before they released “Viva la Vida” in 2008. And that song came out the year after he passed away. I would say to them, “My big brother loved your music. Before you were ever huge.  Thank you for making such good music so that I could love it, too.  And be right here.”