This afternoon, my wife, son, and good family friend Craig took in the performance of The Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge. The annual pageant of music, dance, storytelling, and drama focused this year on the pilgrimage along the Camino de Compostela in the Spanish region of Galicia. As a Celtic culture, the Galicians have their own version of the bagpipe called the gaita which featured prominently. Any piece featuring gaita and drums was a highlight for me. The largest drum resonated throughout the house.
The story of this Revels follows Everyman (portrayed by Jay O’Callahan) on his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella and onwards to the End of the Earth in Finisterre. Elements of Don Quixote are woven into the story as Everyman is knighted and joined on his journey by squire Sancho (Billy Meleady, who starred in last year’s show) and the tavern keeper Angélica (the delightful Angélica Aragón).
Usually the theme of a Revels’ performance is an excuse to tie together song and dance numbers, but this story of a pilgrimage actually maintains a pretty continuous narrative built around set pieces along the Camino, in a tavern, at a monastery, at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and finally at Finisterre. The sets and lighting are really remarkable in adapting the stage for the different places along the journey.
Highlights of the show include:
the talent and hard work of the Revels’ children whose performance more than ever is fully-integrated into the show.
the charming line dance when the pilgrims are greeted by the monks to the tune of “Alborada de Ourense.”
O’Callahan telling the story of “The Singing Sack.”
sing-a-long with choreography to “Fum, Fum, Fum.”
puppetry and lights to enact the Galacian version of the posadas ritual.
an amazing bit of stagecraft where a giant censer is swung like a pendulum over the performers on the stage (based on the Botafumeiro at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
Jaime Jaffe’s solo performance of “Ondas Do Mar De Vigo.”
a mummers play featuring a mustachioed dragon who performed the hammiest death throes.
There were some disappointments. Jay O’Callahan was hard to understand and I’m not sure if he was mumbling or mic’ed improperly. Sitting in balcony center meant it took a long time to get downstairs to participate in “The Lord of the Dance.” It ended just as we reached the lobby. While I would not rank this among my all time favorite Revels’ performances, it was still delightful and I recommend seeing it if you have the chance. There are four more performances before the show closes on December 27th, so get your tickets now!
Bikes Not Bombs is one of my favorite charitable social justice organization because it uses the bicycle as a vehicle for social change. This includes shipping restored bikes to International Programs in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean where sustainable transportation is vital for economic development. Closer to home, Youth Programs in the Boston area teach bicycle safety and mechanical skills to local teens building self-confidence and personal responsibility. Please make a donation to help the world-changing activities of Bikes Not Bombs. Better yet, come join us for the ride and/or for the post-ride festival at Stony Brook.
Spring descended on Jamaica Plain this past weekend with the annual Wake Up the Earth Festival presented by Spontaneous Celebrations. This was the 35th annual festival, an event that grew out of the “highway revolt” of the 1960s & 70s when local activists opposed the construction of highway infrastructure in Jamaica Plain & Roxbury, leading to the creation of the Southwest Corridor as a system of train lines, bike paths, and parks that we enjoy today. Ironically, some people who want to create new prioritized highway infrastructure for cars marched in this year’s parade which I guess shows that this festival takes all kinds. The festival itself was home to many tents of activists of many causes, food, games, and musical performances. My family and I sang a few songs with the intergenerational chorus SingPositive, JP in preparation for our concert on May 19th. We also danced to Maaak Pelletier’s jam band the Mystical Misfits as they played Grateful Dead classics. Finally, the potato sack slide down the hillside was great fun for everyone.
The songs in my head this week, of course, are the songs I’m rehearsing for a concert called Beck’s Song Reader Performed Live. The show is next Thursday, February 28, 2013 at Somerville Theatre in Davis Square (on the Red Line) at 8:00. Beck released his 2012 album Song Reader entirely as sheet music, and 150 of Boston’s best musicians, dancers, and performance artists will be presenting their interpretations of all 20 songs. My choir will perform an arrangement of one song a capella and provide accompaniment to four other songs.
Get your tickets now for $25/seat as this show is sure to sell out!
The choral centerpiece is a song called “The Wolf is on the Hill.” In this video, you may hear us rehearsing a couple of weeks ago. We sound even better now. At the end of this clip you can also hear a small portion of “Title of the Song” which is the grand finale of the concert.
The choir is also accompanying Sarah Ribdau and Peter Moore on their rendition of “Please Leave the Light On When You Go” and Peter Moore’s take of “Heaven’s Ladder”:
The choir is participating on a fifth song as well, “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard” by Molly Zenobia. This may be my favorite of all the songs I’ve heard, but you’ll have to take my word for it and come to the concert to hear it, because there is no demo.
Some other songs you will hear at the concert include:
“Why Did You Make Me Care” by Mary Bichner:
“Now That Your Dollar Bills Have Sprouted Wings” by The Highland Drifters
“Sorry” by Endation
“Old Shanghai” by Mary Bichner
This barely scratches the surface, as there will be a dozen more songs plus choreographed dance performances for each number.
Next week, I will singing in a 50-person kick-ass choir as part of a concert called Beck’s Song Reader Performed Live. The show is next Thursday, February 28, 2013 at Somerville Theatre in Davis Square (on the Red Line) at 8:00. Beck released his 2012 album Song Reader entirely as sheet music, and 150 of Boston’s best musicians, dancers, and performance artists will be presenting their interpretations of all 20 songs. My choir will perform an arrangement of one song a capella and provide accompaniment to four other songs. Get your tickets now for $25/seat as this show is sure to sell out!
It would not be Christmas without the Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge. This year my wife, son and I joined by our friends Abby, Kim, & Sid took in the Winter Solstice performance on the evening of December 21st. The show was delightful as always with the subject being near and dear to my heart, the music of Irish emigrants as they sail the new world.
The show was a more restrained and simple performance than a typical Revels keeping to the theme of the cast being impoverished immigrants aboard a ship and not having much to celebrate with. After the opening number, lines and gangways were removed from the sides of the stage and notably no cast members went down the steps into “the ocean” except during a storytelling sequence. These restraints did nothing to detract from the beauty of the song, dance, and stories performed.
Highlights of the show for me included:
Bill Meleady’s colorful telling of The Soul Cages, the exception to the restraint on the performance where the visuals of the story come to life in vivid detail. I enjoyed the dancing crustaceans especially as well as Steve Barkhimer’s portrayal of the merrow Coomara.
“The Wexford Lullaby” gorgeously performed by Mary Casey along with Jamie Jaffe as a duet and later as a quartet.
The dramatic “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” swelling as the audience joins the chorus.
“The Lord of the Dance” is always a highlight and was cleverly worked into the show as being the English ship crews’ contribution to the shipboard celebration.
The show had several sets of traditional Irish music by The Rattling Brogues and step dance by O’Shea-Chaplin Academy of Irish Dance that livened up the proceedings greatly.
If there was one minor disappointment is that the show ends with the immigrants seeing The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. The show is set aboard the Cunard steamship RMS Carpathia and since Cunard had a western terminus in Boston (there’s still an office building marked “CUNARD” on State Street) it would have been a nice local connection to have the ship dock here instead of New York.
A traditional element of the Revels – “The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance” – was not included in the program but as this was the Winter Solstice, the audience was treated to a special rendition of Abbots Bromley after the curtain call. I’d actually guessed that Abbots Bromley was the surprise we’d been promised before the show, but it was still a thrill when the first haunting notes of the recorder came out and the audience reacted with joy.
This was another great Revels and I believe all the shows were sold out. If you missed this year’s Revels, make sure to get your tickets early for next year’s show which I promise will be just as great.
If you’ll allow a moment of self-publicity, my son & I will be singing with the SingPositive, JP family chorus in our Winter Concert on Sunday, December 16 at 4 pm at St. John’s Episcopal Church (1 Roanoke Av) in Jamaica Plain. If you live in or near Boston, please consider this your invitation to join us of songs of “Hope & Healing” – celebrating optimism and the relationships that pull us through. Tickets are $10/adults and $5/kids ages 2-16.
In the coming months I will be singing thrice weekly with a variety of organizations. It looks like it will be a lot of fun, although maybe a challenge for time commitments as well with rehearsals starting this week.
For the first time, I will be singing with the Mystic Chorale. The fall concert Pastures of Plenty – Woody Guthrie at 100 will take place Saturday, Nov 17, 8:00pm and (my birthday!) Sunday, Nov 18, 3:30pm at Tremont Temple in Boston. I’m looking forward to singing songs written and inspired by one of my all-time favorite persons.
My son and I will also once again be performing with SingPositive, JP. This multi-generational, family chorus will be making our sophomore outing with a concert themed on Optimism in Hard Times on Sunday, December 16th, 4pm at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain. If you are looking for a musical, community experience, I definitely recommend looking into SingPositive which is branching out into other communities in the Boston area.
Finally, my daughter and I will be attending regular classes of Music Together at the Children’s Music Center of Jamaica Plain. There’s no performance with this one but it may be the most fun. I enjoyed singing with my son when he was little and look forward to repeating the experience and introducing my baby girl to music and rhythm.
This post is partially shameless self-promotion to get you to come out to my performances, but I also hope that anyone looking for opportunities to sing and perform music in the Boston area (with or without children) will see this post. I highly recommend all of these organizations and suggest you check them out and get involved if you’re interested. If you know of any good singing and music activities in the Boston area, let me know in the comments.