There’s a song by the comedy band Tripod with a line that goes: “I always get into stuff/ Just as it’s finishing being cool...”, and embarrassingly this often applies to me. A couple of years ago I listened to the first song of the (Alexander) Hamilton musical and thought it was good, but it didn’t blow me away. I figured I’d try it again another time.
A few weeks ago I put it on as something to listen to while cleaning the house, and this time I stuck with it; halfway through listening to “Satisfied” I was a firm fan. I kept cleaning just so that I could finish the musical (which never happens, believe me). The house was spotless by the time the last refrains of “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” faded out, and I may have cried a few times while folding the washing. How did a story about another country’s history affect me (and millions of others) so deeply?
For a start it’s incredibly well written; it’s a musical but it’s sung-through, so you can hear the entire story by listening to the cast recording. While many of the songs are incredibly catchy the story is what compels you to continue listening to Alexander Hamilton as he drags himself up from nothing to something; he’s not always likeable, but you have to admire his incredible work ethic, and he was clearly charismatic to many.
Articulate, intelligent leaders are always interesting to read about, and he surrounded himself with articulate, intelligent men and women, including my favourite character — his sister-in-law, Angelica Schuyler — who sings my favourite song. Hamilton isn’t a musical that shies away from shades of grey, portraying both Hamilton and his frenemy Aaron Burr as complex rivals with a fundamental difference in character. Lin-Manuel Miranda manages to pack all this complexity into two and a bit hours by using rapid-fire delivery and lyrics that seem throw-away on the surface but unpack to give multiple meanings and allusions to hip hop masters, Shakespeare, and historical events.
There is a lot more I could say on the topic, from how I love that it’s bringing verse back to stage performance as a great tool for compelling exposition, how it’s performing America then by America now with a diverse and talented cast, how I’ve managed to have seven different songs stuck in my head at once — and yes, if you listened to this back in 2015, you already know all this stuff. But for anyone else who’s heard about it but hasn’t quite gotten around to it yet, or who loved the Kate Shepard musical (That Bloody Woman) last year, borrow the Hamilton cast recording today and give it a listen. If nothing else you’ll get a clean house out of it.
It was one of those moments when you hear your crazy calling and decide in a split second to just indulge it. Your favourite singer was performing 3 nights in a row on the same island as you … why not go to all three gigs?
Sure it meant driving more than the entire length of said island in less than 3 days, while going to three concerts, booking motels, concert tickets, taking a half day off work, but life is for living and following your passions, and everyone knows I’m passionate about the glorious Tami Neilson.
Luckily for me my husband is a fan boy of almost equal proportions (competitive moi?), so he was all up for the adventure.
The first night of the adventure was a Thursday night, and Tami was performing at Charles Luney Auditorium here in Christchurch. It was sold out and it was a very refined, well behaved audience… well except for the devotees like us, who of course know the words of her songs and cheer and whoop enthusiastically.
Friday lunchtime, we leave work at 12, rush home, throw some clothes and snacks in the car and head nonstop for Dunedin. Another awesome concert – a different crowd and venue gives a different vibe, more intimate and grateful. You get the sense so many more people here actually know her music.
Next morning, and we’re heading to Queenstown, through parts of the country we haven’t seen in decades, if ever.There’s a little snow around, hardly any traffic, and the rolling hills through the Rock and Pillar range are truly breathtaking. Road trips in New Zealand are just wondrous.
It’s a weird little crowd at this last gig. They’ve got a definite country pub thing going on, a lot of them have been drinking for quite a while, so are behaving rather boorishly and in the end, Tami, after trying her darnedest to engage with them, gives them what they want, music to dance to – she even sings Happy birthday.
We get back home that night wishing we didn’t have work in the morning, but the memories and the music are buzzing in our brains, and does so for days after.
If you have a passion for music, check out the wealth of music and learning to be had within Christchurch City Libraries’ databases, like American Song which offers rich pickings in many genres, Gospel being among them.
So, moral of this long tale? Take a chance, if you say, “no, that’s crazy I shouldn’t” then I strongly recommend that you do. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
I was so saddened to hear of Glen Campbell‘s passing today at the age of 81. He is right up there in my list of favourite musicians whose voice and songs could hit me like an emotional kick in the guts – but in the best of ways. He was one of those artists who some see a coiffed country cliche, in fact the “Rhinestone Cowboy”, but if you listen to his music and understand the influence and contribution of his life’s work to many other artists and hits, you begin to understand his importance in popular and country music.
He was one of 12 children born to a sharecropping Arkansas family. As a boy he was obsessed with the guitar playing of Jazz great Django Reinhardt and he became a stunning guitarist in his own right. He lent his talent to many hits as part of the Los Angeles based Wrecking Crew, the unsung heroes of hits for big stars such as Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, The Monkees, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and many of Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound’ productions. In 1963 alone, he appeared on 586 cuts and countless more throughout the decade, including The Byrd’s Mr Tambourine Man, Elvis Presley’s Viva Las Vegas, and the Righteous Brother’s You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling.
He was a touring member of the Beach Boys when Brian Wilson stopped touring in 1964, and in the late sixties, began winning Grammys and hosted his own TV show. His big hits, Wichita Lineman, Galveston, Where’s the Playground Susie and By the Time I get to Phoenix were all taking off around this late sixties period.
I can never decide whether Wichita Lineman or By the Time I Get to Phoenix is my favourite, I can never get through either without a tear in my eye. It’s writer Jimmy Webb’s words sure, but it’s Glenn’s soaring plaintive voice and his wondrous guitar solos that also add so much to the sadness and longing in both songs.
Burning Bridges by Debbie Campbell is a biography by his daughter, who toured with him for years, and is an account of not only the good times, but also the drugs and drinking and family struggles that seem to so often come with a musician’s fame and life on the road.
The documentary “Glen Campbell: I’ll be me”, released in 2014, is well worth hunting out, following him on what was to be his last tour, as his his battle with Alzheimer’s began to affect his ability to play and perform. (late edit: Prime TV have announced they will screen this at 8:30pm on Thursday, 10 August).
His last song, “I’m not Going to Miss You”, won a Grammy this year for best country song.
Glen Campbell is survived by eight children and was married four times.
The idea of venturing into a cave leaves me with clammy hands, thankfully I can now enjoy the beauty and danger of caving without having to get my feet wet.
This book takes readers on a journey into New Zealand’s longest and deepest caves, through one of the world’s most dangerous cave dives, and prospecting for a totally new kind of cave on a South Island glacier
If you love pink and love food then you will love this book! Any food that is not naturally pink — i.e. chocolate — is bound to be decorated with a pink flower, at the very least.
Australian Caroline Khoo, of Nectar and Stone, has a large Instagram following. She recently posted a photo after coming home to a birthday cake made for her by her husband (only his 2nd cake ever) using this cookbook.
A Lounge of Lizards, a Parliament of Owls, A Gaze of Raccoons…we may well have heard of these collective nouns before but Matt Sewell’s beautifully rendered drawings bring the animals and their nouns alive. The author is an avid ornithologist and best-selling author so his words add a richness to the pictures. This is a book that would also work well with animal loving children.
The book that chronicles an exhibition at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco that in turn chronicles the 1960s counterculture. Summer of Love covers all aspects of this heady time in a beautifully exuberant book, full of colour, fashion, politics, music and psychedelia. Not just for children of the 60s, this will appeal to a wide range of ages and interests.
Joel Sartore had worked for 25 years as a photographer for National Geographic, leaving home for months at a time and becoming increasingly aware of the plight of species around the world. When his wife became ill he knew he had to stay closer to home, yet his desire to photograph and somehow make a difference to these endangered animals compelled him to seek out animals in captivity, starting at his local zoo.
His goal is to document every one of the world’s 12,000 plus captive species. All the animals have been photographed in front of a black or white background. The images are beautiful, uncluttered and affecting. The story behind the project and the people involved is fascinating and I look forward to hearing more from this author.
Opening night at the beautifully restored Isaac Theatre Royal. The talk of the excited crowd dies down to murmurs as the lights dim. Light glitters from gilded panels. The open stage begins to fill with the cast, who stare heroically at the audience, then walk off to leave the lead character exposed.
Carmen, by Georges Bizet, is an Opera in four acts. It’s a passionate story, centred around Gypsy Siren come Revolutionary, Carmen. Her wily seduction of the Soldier Don Jose and the love triangle created when she spurns him for the compelling Toreador, Escamillo, raises passions that run out of control.
Directed by Opera Queensland’s Artistic Director Lindy Hume, (Lucia di Lammermoor, Rigoletto and Lacenerentola), the themes of immorality and the murder of the main character broke new ground in theatre, making the Opera controversial after its release in 1875.
The cast of Carmen are incredible. Relaxed and natural in their roles, they deliver a heartfelt and convincing performance. Don Jose (Tom Randle) has a powerful voice with which to express his pain (like a knife in the heart). His duets with Michaela (Emma Pearson) are exquisite.
Micaela (Emma Pearson)’s pleas with Don Jose to save his life from ruin are delivered with such feeling that I was moved by her performance. Her voice brought the role to life with powerful strength.
And Carmen (Nina Surguladze). Wow. She gave an incredible performance. Her voice filled the theatre, as did her personality. Nina has performed on the most famous stages in the world. Her Carmen was cheeky, strong heroic; her movements around the stage as graceful as her control over her voice, teasing us with soft notes, and inflaming us with her passionate mezzo soprano.
The supporting cast must not be forgotten. All great actors, their wonderful voices swelled the theatre with rousing performances of Amour and Toreador. Special mention to Kiwis Amelia Perry (Frasquita) and Kristin Darragh (Mercedes), Carmen’s companions. I loved their voices, and they brought more character to the stage.
Production Designer Dan Potra’s staging is clever and innovative. Moving panels create or take away space, ultimately leaving the lead characters, Carmen and Don Jose trapped.
The chorus and Escamillo take performances beyond the stage, singing shadowed behind the stage wall. Lights appear in a strangely jagged wall to create a mountain hillside, clever lighting (Matthew Marshall) creates swirling clouds from dry ice.
Lastly a hat’s off to the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Francesco Pasqualletti and Oliver von Dohnanyi. and It was thrilling to hear Toreador played live. Great job.
Favourite scenes? The whole cast singing ‘L’amour est un oiseau rebelle‘ in Act I. The dancing scene in Act II: Carmen is completely in control; the women creating a whirlwind around the circle of sheepish, lustful men.
And the Death Scene. Best Death Ever! The crowd gasped as Don Jose fired his gun (filled with very loud blanks), then gasped again as Carmen slid down the wall, leaving a trail of blood. Especially entertaining as we all knew it was coming.
Footnote: My library colleague Rose O’Neill asked one of the Isaac’s friendly staff about The Ghost. It was thought that he had gone after the Quakes. Then after restoration he was seen behind the stage…
NZ Opera’s production of Carmen, Bizet’s tale of love and betrayal, gypsies and bullfighters, opens at the Isaac Theatre Royal this week and amongst the cast is a chorus of ten Christchurch schoolboys.
So what’s it like to be 12 years old and in a professional production of one of the world’s most popular operas? I asked twin brothers Archie and Jack MacDonald about how they got into singing, choirs, and their advice for other youngsters who might want to sing on stage.
How did you both get into singing and performing? Is that something you’ve been doing for a long time?
Archie: Well, we got into our first 2 big choirs [Christchurch Schools Music Festival special choir and the Christchurch Boys’ Choir] in year 5 but we’ve just been in heaps of school choirs and have always loved playing guitar and singing with our big sister, and it’s just sort of been a passion that we’ve always had all of our life.
Is singing something that you’ve always done together?
Jack: Yeah, I don’t think we’ve ever been in a choir that the other one hasn’t been in. And we busk together too. Either in the Riccarton Bush Market or the Re:Start Mall.
How much practising and rehearsing do you have to do for Carmen?
Archie: There’s quite a lot, particularly in our own time at home. We’ve been given a [music] file just to rehearse and get it all sorted… We’d do some at least every day for the last 2 weeks.
And for Carmen you’re singing in French. Is that a thing that you’ve done before?
Jack: We’ve sung in different languages before but not as much as in Carmen, so it took a few hours just to figure out the pronunciation and write it down in our music, and then there’s the notes and you have to put them all together and that’s hard but we’ve got the adult chorus to help us… when you’re acting as well, you’ve got to know what you’re singing about so that you can have facial expressions and act how you would if you were saying it in English.
And what’s it been like being part of an opera production?
Jack: It’s been fun. Last year we were in Evita with Showbiz but this is like another step up. We’ve got different costumes from everyone else and we’re running around [the stage] teasing soldiers, running up stairs and things – it’s been full on but fun.
Is it good to have other kids around (in the children’s chorus)?
Archie: Yeah, it sort of takes a little bit of the pressure off. Definitely a solo act is a bit trickier and a bit harder but everyone’s really supportive and it’s just great, ya know? But it’s a bit more fun with more boys.
It must be very nerve-wracking going in for an audition.
Archie: Yeah, you can never really take that away from an audition. You always want to get in and have heaps of time with whatever you’re auditioning for.
Jack: Yep, just being by yourself in front of someone and singing is quite hard… but then you feel good coming out of it.
So what’s the most fun thing about singing?
Archie: Definitely performances.
Jack: Yeah, performances in front of a crowd.
Is it more fun with an audience? What’s that like?
Archie: When the lights go up you’ll just see a crowd sitting in front of you and you’re just like “I’ve gotta do this. I can’t really muck up.” So yeah, it sort of boosts you a wee bit more and you’re really wanting to work hard.
Jack: Well, you feel nervous but then when you go off the stage and you’re done you’ll feel happy, like after an audition and you’ll think that you’ve done your job well. As long as you give it everything and work hard.
Is music something you’d like to do for a job one day?
Archie: I’ve always thought it would be a lot of fun to be involved in music but I’ve never really seen it as necessarily something to base everything around, as in, have as my job but it would be heaps of fun to just stay involved. I’ve really got a taste for how much fun it really is and I’d love to keep that going for as long as I can, really.
Jack: Yeah, I really like cricket but then getting into a good team as a job, that’s gonna be hard so I have to have something else to work on… I’m sort of still thinking about it.
Do you have any advice for other kids who want to be on the stage performing and singing?
Jack: Give it everything and enjoy it. And just work hard.
Archie: I’d probably say don’t hold back, just go for everything that sounds fun. Never think “there’ll be some people who are better at this role than me”, because it’s great to have an experience of just an audition. It sort of gets you a bit more used to things and less nervous for later on in life. The more you do things, the more you get to enjoy it, the more hobbies you get to have when you’re older. So just really get into it. Take every opportunity. Absolutely anything really. Go for anything and everything you like the sounds of.
Being in choirs seems to have been a big part of it for you.
Archie: [Christchurch Boys’ Choir] has taken us from having not too many musical opportunities to just singing with so many amazing groups and heaps of cool opportunities coming up.
Jack: It was only Boys’ Choir that was in Evita. We sang at the Crusaders vs Lions game (we sang Conquest of Paradise) and now Carmen. And they’re after boys to audition for Sister Act. Whenever we’re backstage we’re always singing and stuff because we’ve all got decent voices we can pick out a harmony while we’re sitting there… I really recommend the Boys Choir as a really top thing that will get you into heaps of things like this, end of year concerts, concerts in between, or maybe one thing a year like performances with Showbiz.
Archie: (about end of year Battle of the Bands at intermediate school) It was pretty cool because with the Boys’ Choir we’ve got audiences much bigger than a school of 500 people and we’re a bit more confident with that sort of thing. If we weren’t in the choir or involved with any productions or anything that’d sort of be massive and our hearts would be pounding. It would be crazy, you know, really nervous. It’s quite cool just to know, we were very confident going into that and it’s because we’ve just sung in front of so many people…
Kids (and adults) love the Lemony Snicket books A Series of Unfortunate Events, and the new TV series starring Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf is getting even more people hooked. The musical murder mystery The Composer is Dead full of that distinctive Snicket wit and black comedy, and it also introduces kids to the instruments in an orchestra:
The composer is dead? Who killed him? The clever Inspector interviews and interrogates each section of the orchestra. What were the violins doing? Where were the woodwinds? And why does the brass section sound particularly brassy tonight?
Christchurch thespian Michael Bayly narrates the tale, and David Kay conducts the orchestra.
Music featured includes John Williams’ Suite from Harry Potter, Ravel’s Bolero and Ginastera’s Malambo, and a brand new work Schismata by Christchurch composer Hamish Oliver.