Emmylou Harris: For No One

So after writing up the Paul McCartney – Loma Mar Quartet connection the other day, there he was on the tube last night, as part of the WGBH “Beatle Month” of programming.  Last night was a re-airing of the 2010 Gershwin Prize Concert for McCartney, held at the East Room of the White House in 2010 – with an additional concert at the famed (and tiny) Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress, which administers the prize on behalf of the Gershwin estate.  (That’s where the footage of “Yesterday” was shot.)

A dizzying (and somewhat baffling) array of special guests sang and played Macca tunes before the honoree and the First Family, including Stevie Wonder, the Jonas Brothers, Faith Hill, Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl (an uncanny ability to channel McCartney’s high tenor in “Band on the Run”), and even pianist Lang Lang.

But my hands-down favorite interpretation of the night came from Emmylou Harris, who managed to turn “For No One” into a convincing Appalachian ballad:

Farewell to Mr. Mac

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“It kind of feels like we’ll be getting up in the morning and Mount Monadnock is not there.”

Much has been made of how Bridgegate was broken in the local New Jersey press, long before MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal and other national outlets got ahold of the story.

That thought came to mind when this week the Boston Globe finally got around to reporting the passing of a national treasure: New Hampshire’s own Bob McQuillen, awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the NEA in 2002 for “having a central position in the New England traditional dance music scene for more than fifty years.”

The obit was nice enough for the man my generation knew as “Mr. Mac” – the larger-than-life personality who made each and every member of the usual stratified high-school society – e.g., the jocks, the greasers, the music nerds, the honors students, the theatre types, and most especially those who were failing at the fringes – feel special, valued, and unique.

But I think the true essence of the man – and why he meant so much to so many in both the school corridors and music halls – is better captured in a terrific remembrance written by Dave Anderson of the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.  Great slideshow to boot.

Sample grab:

McQuillen, who had moved with his family to Dublin, was hired to teach industrial arts at Peterborough High School after graduating from Keene State. He founded a weightlifting group at the school and quickly became one of the most popular teachers.

“He had such a positive attitude,” said [Butch] Walker, his former student. “He never missed our games. He encouraged us all, both honor students and kids like me who’d screwed up.”

Walker said McQuillen was the one person who kept him in school.

“He was the guy who sat me down and said “You’re staying here,’” Walker recalled. “By senior year, I’d made the honor roll. He hunted me down and just hugged me. Now he’s been my best friend for 60 years.”

Jill Lawler of Peterborough got to know McQuillen when she started teaching at Peterborough High School in the late 1960s.

“He was a bigger-than-life personality, this ex-Marine with tattoos before they were fashionable,” Lawler said. “He had this trademark yell to get people’s attention in the cafeteria or the hall. He was the only person I’ve ever seen who could quiet a gym before a basketball game and talk about sportsmanship. And the kids would listen to him.”

Amen to that.  There was also the time that Mac – shop teacher by day, contradance composer by night – co-taught a Music Theory class Richard Sanders, the school’s beloved music teacher.  As Dick Sanders told me, “McQuillen would come up with a dance tune on the spot – which was this remarkable gift he had – and I would fill in the harmonies and explain them.  We joked about it probably being the only instance of a shop teacher and a music teacher teaming up to teach theory.”

And now, decades later, here I am at WGBH, I amazed and pleased to see this 1974 clip from the old kids’s TV show Zoom that’s been making the rounds among Mac’s admirers, featuring his young protoge -and future pennywhistle virtuoso – Sarah Bauhan:

And can’t let this post go without hearing Mac’s most famous tune, “Amelia,” played by Zoë Madonna.

The torch has been passed.

A Rain of Tears – Anderson & Roe

As January snows give way to February rain, and as I start to think about an upcoming Concert Preview I’m doing at the La Jolla Music Society before a two-piano extravaganza with members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, time to feature my favorite piano duo: Greg Anderson and my “distant Korean cousin” Elizabeth Joy Roe.   Three stars in this video…you can also check out the stunning backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean that is part and parcel of every performance of the Shalin Liu Performance Center at Rockport Music. Enjoy!

 

PS – there’s also a great Fraser Performance Studio session with Anderson & Roe hosted by WCRB’s Cathy Fuller.   Check it out here.

 

For Pete’s Sake

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I’ve been thinking for several days now about what I could say about Pete Seeger that hasn’t already been said, seen, or heard. Certainly it is impossible to overstate his influence on my generation. “How to Play the Five String Banjo” – both the tattered red music book and ten-inch LP  from 1954- were as ubiquitous in the households of my youth as the Glenn Gould Goldbergs, the Ormandy “Messiah” recording with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and Kind of Blue, if not more so.  His was the first concert I ever attended in my life…in the glorious trappings of a school gymnasium in Acton, (or was it Maynard? or Harvard?) Mass. in 1963. As part of the concert Pete led a singalong of “Froggy Went a Courting” just for us wee ones, and I remember it to this day.  (And was totally tickled when Springsteen chose it for his tribute album The Seeger Sessions.)

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I’m certain it was the first time I had ever been invited to sing in my life. And decades later I joined the decidedly nonexclusive club of folks who have produced programs about Pete’s remarkable life.

But none of that is particularly new, unique nor noteworthy. What might be, however, is the saga of Pete Seeger the public television host: Before finally being “readmitted” to commercial television in the late ’60s, Pete made 39 episodes of a quirky, wonderful, and decidedly low-production-value program called “Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest.” Take a look at Episode 1, with Pete talking about his “distrust of this little magic box,” and then going on to teach us all at home how to play along, and join the chorus…

Happy Birthday, Amadeus!

Happy Birthday, Mozart! Check out this compendium of audio, video, and even a few downloads from WCRB Classical New England….

 

‘Course, my vote for favorite video is this one, featuring Mozart’s own instruments, that we brought into our Fraser Performance Studio at WGBH last summer…Wonderful performance by violinist Dan Stepner and violist Anne Black…

 

The entire performance is available too:
Mozart Comes to America

November Numerology: JFK and the meaning of 11/22

Think piece I wrote for WCRB Classical New England for this rather remarkable day on the calendar…\

November Numerology: JFK and the Musical Meaning of 11/22

The Mozdzer Motor

Fascinating visit with the remarkable Polish jazz pianist Leszek Mozdzer on the Spoleto Festival, as we recorded an interview between him and Jennifer Foster in the Cato Center.  Here’s the link to the program:
Spoleto Today 2010 June 1

Great dissection of how he channels Chopin into “the Mozdzer Motor” – and his John Cage-like habit of putting drinking glasses, combs, and even his own CDs on the piano strings to combat boredom.  Oh, and along the way we revealed to Mozdzer his unwitting hand in creating the Spoleto Today theme song!

We even had the chance to shoot a little video:

And here are more “Chopin Impressions” from Mozdzer: