Last weekend I visited the Prospect Heights Public Library to attend the well-honed and entertaining program “Our Love Is Here to Stay: The Life of George Gershwin” with Chicago Cabaret Professional stalwarts Laura Freeman and Beckie Menzie. I wanted to witness what these very active and talented artists had devised for what they call “unconventional venues.”
Libraries, Community Centers and Retirement Communities exemplify this corner of the cabaret world. Rather than night-clubs or piano bars, these are the venues that I have primarily in mind for my Songs of the Season material.
A review of a composer’s lifework is a standard theme in cabaret. It’s a calling card for lovers of both the composer and the American Songbook. But there are as many other themes to tie together a program as there are artists who choose them.
My concept was chosen because it has resonance for me personally. I have been impressed for a number of years with the Celtic pagan concept of the wheel of the year. It is the framework of Celtic people’s worship calendar. The common meaning of seasonality is fleshed out in these ancient beliefs. For me they are concepts that help anchor me to nature and time. I have always found it refreshing to meditate on the meaning of the ancient ceremonies.
It was through my research on Yule in particular that a deeper understanding of this tradition took root in my thinking. And it occurred to me that it is not only Christmas that retains resonance for most of us as the seasons progress. Another factor which made this focus so felicitous is that the Celtic calendar marks festivities. Celebrations are cause for singing.
Now I’m not saying that Songs for the Season is Celtic per se. In fact the equinoxes and solstices which mark the secular four seasons are not the holiest holidays for Celtic pagans at all. But they mark our modern lives with a similar sense of time and place. It seems to me that it will always be pleasurable to celebrate the things we love about Summer, Spring and Fall as well as Yuletide.
My summer program is progressing. I’m calling it “In the Season of Plenty: Summer Songs” and my main challenge has been to keep it under an hour. I’m choosing pieces that are fun for me to sing and which fulfill the theme: things we love about summer. I’m starting off singing about summer romance and then celebrating vacations and road-trips, then closing with a section extoling youthful energy. Through-out there is strong reference to life-cycles and home-coming.
Here’s what I’m working on:
The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down (Friend and Franklin, 1936), pictures how amusement parks can aid courting.
Me and Marie (Cole Porter, 1935), targets the shore as aphrodisiac.
Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer (Tobias and Carste, 1963), ponders the ways romance thrives in summer.
Down by the Old Mill Stream (Tell Taylor, 1908), opens the heart to enduring love.
In Your Custom Made RV (music by G. Edwards, 1905 – Parody, new lyric), recommends the retirement lifestyle, locally born.
I Want to Go Home (Cole Porter, 1938), extolls home-coming.
The Crawdad Song (Traditional, adapted by Dan Johnson), schemes about living off the land.
The Green Leaves of Summer (Webster and Tiomkin, 1960), asserts summer’s felicity as context for the circle of life.
Plant a Radish (Schmidt, 1960), compares gardening and raising children.
It’s a Boy’s Life (written by Bill Solly, 1975), celebrates youth’s boundless energy.
A Letter from Camp (Allan Sherman, 1963), targets a timid response to new experiences.
Back Home Again in Indiana (McDonald and Hanley, 1938), rhapsodizes local color and yearning for “back when”.