artphoto by splunge
artphoto by TheophileEscargot
artphoto by Kronos_to_Earth
artphoto by ethylene





Mecha Wiki

Metachat Eye


IRC Channels



Comment Feed:


02 December 2009

~1~ [More:]Welcome to Installment 1 of Miko's Musical Advent Calendar 2009.

As we glide from November to December on this, the first of the month, I thought it would be appropriate to start with a metaphor of motion. From the "What's-that-tune" vault comes today's selection, Prokofiev's Troika. It's one of those songs most of us have heard everywhere and don't remember not knowing, but would be hard pressed to name.

A troika is an open sleigh pulled by three horses.

The song was composed by Prokofiev for a Russian movie made in 1934, Lieutenant Kizhe. The (odd) film is built on a pretty clever satire of government bureaucracy: A scribe makes a mistake when listing Army officers, and the name "Lieutenant Kizhe," a person who never existed, appears on the Army rolls. The nutjob Czar becomes interested in this Kizhe character, and his lackeys, too scared of him to admit that one of them had made a mistake, instead go through a series of ruses to make the Czar believe Kizhe is real. His many adventures include marrying, being banished to Siberia, and attaining the rank of general. You'll enjoy this roughly hour-and-a-half long movie if you like men in tights and eyeliner; the movement now known as "Troika" appears at about 45:45. The burden of the lyrics seems to be "Like a roadside inn is a woman's heart/Where travellers stop and stay/Checking in or checking out/All the night and day."

What does this all have to do with Christmas? Not too much. As scored, the song features sleigh bells (which I learned far too late in life were not just for a joyful jangly sound, but to allow unsuspecting pedestrians a way to hear sleighs approaching as their runners glided silently over the snow and the horses' hoofbeats disappeared into soft powder, preventing the unwary from being trampled to death by horses) and the tune certainly calls to mind a wintery, snowy setting and the sense of speeding over the steppes. It's a good-cheered, rollicking start to the season.
Give me 5 minutes and you can have the radio
posted by The Whelk 02 December | 00:28
Lovely, Miko! You guys are making me feel holiday cheery despite myself. o noes!
posted by taz 02 December | 00:46
What a wonderful way to start off December. I love the idea of a musical advent calendar, and the accompanying trivia!
posted by iconomy 02 December | 00:57
I can't say that I recognize this song at all, but I love it almost as much as I love that the music advent is back! Yay!
posted by rhapsodie 02 December | 02:49
Well, that's today's earworm chosen! My mother's orchestra playing Lieutenant Kije is one of my earliest memories.
posted by altolinguistic 02 December | 03:57
Oh, awesome. I do recognize the tune, but have never heard of the film. Thanks so much, Meeks!
posted by BoringPostcards 02 December | 05:56
I recognized the tune too. I think it was rearranged and used for something famous somewhere, probably on TV. My wife immediately identified it by name & composer.
posted by Obscure Reference 02 December | 07:34
Musical advent calendar, yay!

Sounds vaguely familiar. Didn't know that about sleigh bells, nifty!
posted by deborah 02 December | 15:19
Welcome to Installment 2 of Miko's Musical MeCha Advent Calendar 2009.

Tonight's selection: Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy, by Bing Crosby and David Bowie.

This song is actually one I own on 45, having gone in search of it at record stores at the age of 12 or 13.

I recall my parents finding it to be a pretty odd -- maybe laughably odd -- track. Here was Bing, the swingin' hepcat of my parents' parents generation, but by the 80s an old-school has-been, into collaboration with the pale, cadaverous, androgynous Bowie who was decidedly not a flower power type, and did not yet have a defined New Wave to belong to. It didn't seem to make much sense. Bing - who my younger brother and I mocked endlessly after seeing him interviewed by Baba Wawa: he was asked whether he could tolerate his son's cohabiting with a significant other without benefit of marriage, and said that if he heard such news, it would be "Aloha on the steel guitar" for his offspring by blood...? This fuddy-duddy, singing with David Bowie? David Bowie, the spangliest prancing glam-rock pony?

It turns out that the whole thing came about in 1977, when Bing, a venerable star with nothing more to prove at age 73, was on tour in England at the same time he was scheduled to do a Christmas special. The theme of the show was conveniently determined to be "Christmas in England," and Bing's producers went searching for some English stars to bring into the all-celeb special. Twiggy was available, and so was the 30-year old David Bowie. Producers sent Bowie the idea of singing Little Drummer Boy with Bing; Bowie shot back "I hate this song. Is there something else I could sing??"

The producers decided to split the difference, and within a little more than an hour, wrote an impromptu descant called "Peace on Earth" with an anti-war sentiment that provides a lyrical as well as melodic counterpoint to the martial "drummer boy" burden of the tune. They say Bowie and Bing learned it in a matter of minutes, and laid down a track that, for me at least, rescues what would otherwise be a monotonous and predictable rendition of an old chestnut. The final production is the kind of magical unlikely moment only TV can create, with Bowie confessing that he listens to "older artists" like John Lennon and Harry Nilsson, and managing to negotiate a spotlight for Heroes before the special ends.

After the show, Bing told a reporter that the future Kahn was "a clean cut kid and a real fine asset to the show. He sings well, has a great voice and reads lines well. He could be a good actor if he wanted."

On this day in 2009, when most of the news bandwidth in the US has been taken up with discussions of whether it's right or wrong to stay in Afghanistan or plan an exit from Afghanistan, this song doesn't really seem as cheesy as it did in the 80s, when the memory was too recent and the awkwardness too obvious. The plaintive wish that we could end the stupid interactions demanded by a wartime state has plenty of dignity, as I'm sure it did a couple of short years into the aftermath of Vietnam.

Nothing wrong with hepcats from two generations, now both vulnerable to wearing the "has-been" mantle, saying: I pray my wish will come true/ For my child, and your child too:/ We'll see the day of glory; we'll see the day/ When men of goodwill live in peace/ Live in peace again."
posted by Miko 03 December | 00:05
this song doesn't really seem as cheesy as it did
To be honest (I'm one of the proverbially blunt Dutch after all) it still seems cheesy. But cheesiness comes with the territory of lyrical music. So I'm perfectly fine with that.
It's just that most people need booze to connect with sentimentality in songs. David Bowie is no stranger to sentimentality f.i. Wild is the Wind or Cat People.

So if I remember correctly from my secular upbringing the significance of the advent of advent is that I get the little chocolate from the daily opened little door, right? Where is it? Or did you eat it already? That's so unfair.

Merry mecha advent to you too.
posted by jouke 03 December | 03:05
Welcome back! You've arrived at Day 3 of Miko's Musical MeCha Advent Calendar 2009.

Today's Selection: Christmas Anthem, a brief but robust shape-note carol written in 1844 and performed here by an Alabama group of Sacred Harp singers and collected by Alan Lomax in 1959. The song has a pedigree: it was written by a relative of the Denson Brothers, who became some of the most prominent publishers and circulators of Sacred Harp sheet music. You can still buy Denson editions of shape-note songbooks today.

For those who don't listen to a lot of shape note, the first half of the song is actually a rehearsal. You'll hear the chorus members practicing the tune once through by singing just the syllables for the notes of the melody: fa, sol, la. After everyone has got that down, they launch into the lyrics. Listen to the multilayered, recursive way the lyrics are treated in the arrangement: you almost get an impressionistic lyrical collage, punctuated by the strong rhythm of the carefully aligned syllables.

Oh, how charming
Are the radiant bands of music!
Flying in the air.
The church triumphant gives the tone
While they surround the holy throne,
In glory, with celestial arts,
Angelic armies tune their harps,
And raptured play their parts:
Strike their notes at our Redeemer’s birth.
posted by Miko 03 December | 19:48
Welcome back! IT's Day 4 of Miko's Musical MeCha Advent Calendar 2009.

Tonight's selection is an instrumental version of a tune often known as "Sing We Now of Christmas." It's a haunting melody, a medieval French tune dating back to at least the 1500s, and it turns out to have more than one holiday up its sleeve. When titled "Now the Green Blade Riseth," it can serve as an Easter carol; with these lyrics, it's a Christmas carol. A detailed history here gives even more variants and notes that the song is in Dorian mode, a surefire way to make stuff sound a little spooky.

Here, the song is performed by cellist (and other things) Hans Christian and friends.
posted by Miko 05 December | 00:29
Is there a download link for Day 4 that I'm not seeing?
posted by rhapsodie 05 December | 01:48
What she asked.
posted by Obscure Reference 05 December | 05:13
Oooops! Here is Sing We Now of Christmas.

I'm kind of glad to know people are following the thread! I was going to ask today if I should keep adding to it.
posted by Miko 05 December | 18:05
I've really been enjoying it so far!
posted by BoringPostcards 05 December | 18:21
This is pretty.
posted by flapjax at midnite 05 December | 18:45
Here's the Day 5 selection: The 1936 hit What Will Santy Claus Say (When He Finds Everybody Swingin') by Louis Prima and his orchestra.

Prima, the "King of the Swingers," is not one of the best-remembered Big Band greats (or at least wasn't until David Lee Roth's cover of "Just a Gigolo" helped revive interest in his work), but more people know his voice than they realize: He's the voice (and character model) for King Louie in the Disney film The Jungle Book. Prima did a lot of recording for Disney, including at least two other Christmas novelty songs, but this one is the toe-tappin'est.

Louis Prima was one of the first big stars who was openly Italian-American. Odd as it seems now, before midcentury people of Italian descent were pretty actively discriminated against in many parts of the U.S., for varying reasons that changed with the times but included simple difference in habits, fear of organized crime, fear of socialism or fascism, Sacco and Vanzetti, etc. This article on Italian-Americans in Jazz is really interesting; in fact it says that between 1890 and 1920, Italian-Americans were the target of the most lynchings of white people in the South.
posted by Miko 05 December | 19:01
It's Day 6, and now, for something a little different: The Taj Motel Trio doing Angels We Have Heard on High.
posted by Miko 06 December | 22:59
I'm really enjoying this. Thanks! :)
posted by unsurprising 07 December | 02:35
Ha! I love it!
posted by BoringPostcards 07 December | 06:14
Miko, this is very merry. Thank you.
posted by theora55 07 December | 18:12
This evening for Miko's Musical MeCha Advent Calendar, Day 7, it's a Merry Christmas Baby-off! Who's got the most smooth-mellow, the most soulful-sexy, the most goodtime-party versions of Merry Christmas Baby? Why, these 3:

Otis Redding
Bonnie Raitt & Charles Brown
Bruce Springsteen, recorded live December 29, 1980, at Nassau Coliseum
posted by Miko 07 December | 23:25
So... what happened to the advent? Is Christmas on hold for a bit?
posted by rhapsodie 17 December | 01:43
HAPPY WHUFFLY BIRTHDAY SPECKLET!!!! || Radio One Hit Wonders in just about 15 minutes.