A couple of new videos that I’ve been watching this week:
The first is Sarah Slean’s latest, “The Devil and the Dove”. It was shot in the Newfoundland town where Sarah composed some of the songs from her most recent double album. It’s got great visuals, thanks to director Scott Cudmore’s treatment of the song.
The screen-cap above is from a really fun video that summarizes series 5 and 6 of Doctor Who, but in a format that would be more at home in 1990s video gaming. This should tide me over until the new season begins this fall.
Much More’s Top 100 Big Tunes of the 90s (list and videos start with this page)
I missed the first 25 or so, but at least Much More (I like to think of it as the Canadian equivalent of VH1, but even that might be outdated) saved me the work and posted links to all the videos in the top 100 countdown. Do you remember Spin Doctors (#99)? PM Dawn (#78)? Mark Morrison (#70)? The music I listened to in the 1990s is (mostly) there.
One observation is that this countdown avoided repeating artists, and that for some artists, I would have chosen a far better video/song to represent that artist. One example: Boyz II Men (#56) – I would have selected “End of the Road” instead of “Motownphilly”. Or Soundgarden (#54): “Black Hole Sun” would have been a better choice than “Spoonman”. And where’s Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”? “Say It Ain’t So” was in the countdown at #32.
My sister noted that there was a heavy emphasis on hip-hop tunes, which is pretty clear when I went through the bottom of the list that I didn’t get to watch on TV. Before we watched the last episode featuring the top eight, my sister and I put in guesses as to who would be among those eight. Our selections from the pop spectrum (the obviously big soundtrack tunes from Whitney Houston and Celine Dion) did not make the list. At all. The staples of my high-school years (most of it listening to Z95.3) have been ignored in this countdown. It probably has to do more with the state of music today and the demographic of Much More’s audience than with the successes those unrepresented artists have garnered during the 1990s.
Any “best of” or “top x” list is bound to generate discussion, and here’s my bit on one such list. What do you think of this top 100 of the 1990s? Were there any omissions? Do you have any personal favourites you feel should be included?
Just a few days late for Doctor Who‘s 48th birthday, but it’s still fun to watch nevertheless.
Earlier this fall, a video has been released featuring the cast and crew of The End of Time, David Tennant’s final serial, singing along to the Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”. Such joy to watch! And look at the freeze-frame that was used: Timothy Dalton, David Tennant, and John Simm, in costume, dancing and singing. You can’t get any better than that! (Watch out for a surprise appearance by the Proclaimers themselves.)
But Who fans being Who fans, we don’t want to be left out of the fun. The video below is a collaboration of fans from all over the world, also singing along to “500 Miles”. This is an impressive feat, considering the editor had to go through many submissions to make the final version. I’m also impressed by the countries represented by Doctor Who fans; we are everywhere! Particular props go to the gentleman who dressed as the 1st Doctor.
But as great as the song and both videos are, I’m wondering why this song, with the lyrics “I would walk 500 miles”, was chosen. Doctor Who is all about running! But I guess that’s just a runner’s biased opinion.
This September is almost like Christmas for me in that three of my favourite artists are releasing new music this month.
- Emm Gryner, Northern Gospel: Emm turns to Stuart Brawley, with whom she worked on 1996′s The Original Leap Year, to produce her latest outing. Northern Gospel continues to bring together Emm’s power-pop stylings with some introspective lyrics to provide a satisfying sound. In this interview to MSN, Emm admits that Northern Gospel is a more “Canadian”-sounding record than usual. After a few listens to it, I would agree with her.
- Sarah Slean, Land & Sea: This new one from my favourite running singer is an epic two-disc set. The Land half is singing Sarah, while Sea is tilted toward Sarah’s classical compositions. This album has been pre-ordered, and I can’t wait! Until then, there is a video for the first single, “Set It Free”:
- St Vincent, Strange Mercy: Annie Clark’s third album completes the September trifecta. After listening to most of the tracks in a preview provided by NPR, this album emphasizes her guitar work, as evidenced in her video for “Cruel”, below.
I was about to leave for work one morning when I caught the last bits of a Sarah Slean interview on CBC Radio 2. She was talking to the host about the joys of crossing the finish line. I vaguely remembered reading something about Sarah finishing a half marathon, but to hear her describe it was such a surprise to me that I was instantly disappointed that I didn’t hear her for the whole hour she was there.
Luckily, it was archived, and so I got to hear the whole thing. Before she came on, the host played Springsteen’s “Born to Run” and Sarah’s own “So Many Miles”, both of which are in my running playlist. I may not use that playlist during a run, but I do use it as motivation beforehand, like with the First Half a few days ago. I was glad to hear Sarah say that she herself does not run with music, but rather prefers to be with her thoughts; many songs have been developed from Sarah’s running.
Sarah talked about how she got started in running, how she squeezed in runs while on tour, and how the writing process for Day One was influenced by her self-imposed exile in the wilderness and the running she did while there. She’s definitely committed, as evidenced when she talked about how she gradually increased her running time until she completed the Scotiabank Toronto Half Marathon last year. She also definitely sounded keen on completing a marathon (“a little bit of gutsy and a little bit of crazy”), but wants to run a couple more halfs to be really sure.
I absolutely adore Sarah and her music, but hearing how she’s also a runner, how she’s described it all, puts my appreciation of her on another level. I never thought that one of my posts from 2008, in which I quoted lyrics from “So Many Miles,” and thus converged the worlds of Sarah Slean and running, would come around again and reinforce my love for both.
(photo credit: ProdigyBoy @ flickr)
I’ve finished my first week at a temp job. As part of my blogging policy not to blog about work, I won’t reveal any other details but just note that in the area where I work, one person has a radio at her desk, and it’s locked to the adult-contemporary/”soft-rock” station. I’ll admit that most of the selection is actually decent; i.e., there are songs that won’t have me flinging the radio in disdain. Still, the songs I do like are but a small fraction of what I listen to.
In my previous jobs, I have brought my iPod/iPhone and listened to it intermittently, and with only one earbud on (my work machine did not have speakers). The nature of my work doesn’t allow me to be chained at my desk all the time, so that’s all I could do. I feel that it’s not necessary to have something playing in the background while I work, but I don’t mind when it does, provided the music is something I can enjoy.
Below is my first attempt at a poll. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and what, if any, arrangement you have at your workplace with regards to amplified music, particularly if you and your colleagues have very different tastes.
It turns out that Ingrid Michaelson and I were born on the exact same date. Like most people, I first heard of her with the song “The Way I Am.” It was much later did I find out we’re really long-lost twins.
Yes, that means it is my birthday today. And yes, it is a great day. But I’m also slightly saddened that I’ve now been unemployed for exactly eight months. It has been demoralizing sometimes, but I have to stay positive. And I’ve actually had something positive today: a phone interview. I’m crossing my fingers for that one.
Turning the age I am now (I’ll let you figure that out), I feel that I could have done more things with my life if I had different circumstances. But hindsight is 20/20, after all, so I’d rather not dwell on that. I just want to focus on finding a job, then hopefully everything else falls into place.
If you are reading this, you can help: my Linkedin profile has a summary of my experience. I am looking for an accounting position suitable for a newly-designated CGA. Please spread the word. Thanks!
First of all, her name doesn’t sound like Lily Allen. The last name is pronounced closer to Ahh-Ling. At least that cleared that up for me.
As epic an opera as it gets, from Brooklyn to the wilds of British Columbia in the late 1920s, Lillian Alling is actually told in flashback, as Irene in the early 1980s recalls to her son the circumstances of Lillian’s quest to find the elusive Jozef, who always seemed to be one step ahead of Lillian. The fact that there is very little we know of the historical Lillian Alling makes her a great subject for an opera; the result is a story that reaches legendary proportions.
Librettist John Murrell and composer John Estacio team up to fill in the gaps in the established story of Lillian Alling. Estacio’s music matches the scope quite well. Two examples include the expansive swells to match Lillian’s musings of the vast land she’s traversing, as well as the brief big-band stylings of the Brooklyn boys.
I’m not sure if it’s the Queen Elizabeth Theatre’s acoustics, or the overpowering orchestra, but I had some trouble hearing individual singers do their parts. (Or maybe I’m just going deaf?) But don’t get me wrong: the singing was top-notch, and when the chorus got in there (such as the ending to Act 1), it gave me chills.
Overall, I think Lillian Alling is a great opera, and I applaud Vancouver Opera for taking the leap and using their stage to showcase contemporary opera and give it the local connection (through the defunct Oakalla prison and the Telegraph Trail). If you don’t get a chance to see it this Saturday night, it might appear on CBC Radio 2 on a future Saturday afternoon.
In some ways, Vancouver Opera’s production of Nixon in China was following the historical plot, but it went far, far beyond that.
Having read Margaret MacMillan’s history on “The Week That Changed the World” in the weeks before Tuesday’s performance, I had an idea of who the main players were and why they were integral to the opera. But an opera based on the official histories probably wouldn’t work so well, which is why I appreciated the liberties composer John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman took in giving the main characters, especially Richard Nixon and Mao Tse-tung. As MacMillan herself put it during her opera-sponsored conversation, Nixon and Mao were given mythical status in the opera.
I think there is a complexity in the characters of Nixon in China that lends credence to an additional human element that actually makes some of them likable, even Nixon himself. One example: one scene had Richard and Pat Nixon doing the twist, which soon had Mao and Chiang Ch’ing trying to outdo them. And there’s the innuendoes surrounding Henry Kissinger, whether it’s Nixon dropping hints about his prowess, or his participation in that play-within-an-opera involving whips. (Yeah, I can’t get that image out of my head either.)
This being an opera, there should certainly be something said about the music. A note in the program, and from what I’ve learned in the very informative pre-show talk, mentioned the various musical influences of John Adams in the sounds of Nixon in China. At different points in the opera, there are hints of big-band sounds, film noir, and even synthesized 1980s pop (keep in mind the opera premiered in 1987 in that cultural mecca known as Houston). The way the music drives the plot, from the soaring introduction as Nixon’s plane makes its way to China, all the way to the subdued conclusion and Chou En-lai’s solitary rumination on the future, shows how Adams works the appropriate emotion into the opera.
Similarly, Alice Goodman’s libretto is just as instrumental in how well Nixon in China expresses itself on stage. Goodman’s poetry background is evident here, with many lines in rhyming couplets. There are also good examples used by Goodman of the contrasts between Nixon and Mao in their momentous meeting, and particularly of Mao’s cryptic responses to Nixon and Kissinger. One of these is of Nixon upholding the utmost respect to history, only to be countered by Mao’s assertion that history is a “dirty old sow”.
Nixon in China was definitely great fun to watch and listen. It gave interesting insights into that historic visit, but more than that, it was a chance to see six intriguing character studies, and the impact on each of them as they experience a whirlwind week.
It might have been because it was part of the Cultural Olympiad. It might have been amplified when I decided to read up on the subject by reading Margaret Macmillan’s recent history on “The Week That Changed the World”. But getting my ticket for one of the performances at Vancouver Opera’s staging (and Canadian premiere) of American composer John Adams’ Nixon in China sealed the deal, and based on some reviews from opening night, I will probably not be disappointed.
Even though I’ve always been interested in 20th-century American history, I’ve never had the chance to examine Nixon’s ground-breaking visit to China in February 1972. Reading Macmillan’s Nixon in China (2006) gave me the chance to see the multiple layers that this visit entailed, and why it proved opportunistic for both the USA and China. In addition to the Tuesday performance of the opera, I’m also attending a conversation with Margaret Macmillan the following night. It should be interesting to see what additional insights she can provide.
As for the opera, this will only be the 2nd performance of VO I’ll be watching. The first one was Magic Flute in 2007. It was CBC Radio Two’s 2006 live broadcast of the Ring Cycle that got me interested in opera. While I do have bits and pieces of the popular ones in my music library, I hadn’t experienced a complete live performance until I decided to go to the Magic Flute. Granted, Nixon in China should be a different beast, given the minimalist style and the English-language libretto, but it will still be worth watching.
(Illustration by Edel Rodriguez for Vancouver Opera)