Beatlemania

Spring 2015

Program Notes

PROGRAM: Beatlemania (April 2015)

Come Together

 

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Paris Rutherford and Gary Eckert

Blackbird

 

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Daryl Runswick

Drive My Car

 

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Simon Lesley

Can’t Buy Me Love

 

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Keith Abbs

Honey Pie

 

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Paul Hart

Eleanor Rigby

 

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Mark Grizzard

Taxman

 

George Harrison, arr. Jim Hale

The Fool on the Hill

 

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Jonathan Rathbone

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

 

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Bill Ives

In My Life

 

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Steve Zegree

Here Comes the Sun

 

George Harrison, arr. Kirby Shaw

 

INTERMISSION

 

I Feel Fine

 

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Bob Chilcott

Within You Without You

 

George Harrison, arr. Eric Freeman

Lady Madonna

 

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Carol Canning

The Long and Winding Road

 

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Paul Langford

Penny Lane

 

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Jonathan Rathbone

When I’m 64

 

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Ward Swingle

Ticket to Ride

 

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Alexander L’Estrange

Good Night

 

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Mark Williams

Got to Get You Into My Life

 

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Paul Crabtree

encore: Let it Be   Lennon/McCartney, arr. Deke Sharon

FROM THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

Chicago a cappella’s love affair with the Beatles began eleven seasons ago, when I created a program called Baroque and Beatles. In that show, premiered in October 2004, my idea was to sing songs in pairs, matching a Beatles song with a Baroque piece that conveyed the same emotional tone. That show was popular enough that we repeated it in 2009 and have taken it on tour, as far as New Hampshire. We also recently (2012) devoted one of our annual Galas to music of the Beatles, with a program of about ten songs, called Come Together.

The Beatles created so much material that you would think it would be easy to find enough a cappella repertoire for an entire show. Back in 2004, however, this was not so easy. I wrote back then that “first-class a cappella arrangements of Beatles tunes are rare.” It’s a testament to the strength of the ever-exploding a cappella world that we now have more than enough music to bring you a splendid all-Beatles show. In addition to superb recent arrangements, several of which are new to Chicago a cappella, we are pleased to bring you two brand-new, never-before-performed charts for you by Paul Langford and Mark Grizzard.

Paul Langford is serving also as our Guest Music Director for Beatlemania. In addition to being a sought-after musician of the first rank, Paul is a truly splendid human being and colleague. I’m grateful to finally have the opportunity to work with him and to share his talents with all of you who come to hear us.

* * * * * *

Some people say that Rodgers and Hammerstein were the most important songwriting duo of the 20th century. I love their work, but I didn’t grow up on it the way I did the Beatles. Speaking from a completely biased and personal viewpoint, I give Lennon and McCartney my vote.

Along with George and Ringo, they transcended culture, time, geography and even language.  The Beatles captured the spirit of the 1960s—its longing, its turbulence, its playfulness, its demand for justice and freedom—in a remarkable combination of directness and lyricism. The power of “She’s Leaving Home,” just to take one example, comes as much from its simplicity and lack of judgment as from anything else; a rip in the fabric of a family is presented with no platitudes and no judgment, simply as it is, with music that perfectly amplifies the lyrics, and that’s why we respond it to it as strongly as we do.

A quote, attributed to Pete Townshend of the Who, says that “… the success of any truly great rock song is related to the fact that people who couldn’t communicate in normal ways can quite easily communicate through the mutual enjoyment of rock music.”  The Beatles’ music seems to be a shining example of what Townshend is describing. We all bumble and stumble our way through life, trying to make sense of things that make little or no sense, and every now and then someone comes along, often an artist, and shows us a perspective that allows us to feel that someone understands our confusion and gives us a way to take a deep breath somehow, to feel that we are not alone, to connect to something wider than our own circumstances. That is the gift of all art, and it is certainly the gift of the Beatles.

Because volumes have been written about the people that have been influenced by the Beatles, there’s no need to add much to them here. I prefer to give a few notes below on individual songs, otherwise letting the music speak for itself, as it does so well to our hearts. Thank you so much for supporting live music—what we do best of all—and enjoy the show.

—Jonathan Miller
Founder and Artistic Director

 

FROM THE GUEST MUSIC DIRECTOR

I didn't grow up on the Beatles, really.  I missed them, somehow.  Probably a factor of age, generation and just the particular music my older brothers were buying when they came of age to bring home record albums.  I do remember, however, liking a lot of cover versions of Beatles tunes by other artists, and this is how I was introduced to their music.  I think of Lenny White's "Lady Madonna", Earth Wind and Fire's "Got To Get You Into My Life", George Benson's "The Long and Winding Road", and the Singers Unlimited doing "Yesterday", "Fool On The Hill", "Michelle" and many others.   It goes without saying that their music has completely permeated modern culture and pop music of all kinds.  What a treat to revisit their discography in the unique vehicle of CAC!

Thank you:

Jonathan Miller - for the invitation, the opportunity, the friendship and being an exemplary, inspirational colleague
Chicago a cappella - for the privilege of collaborating with such tremendous professionals
Matt Greenberg and all the staff at CAC - for so much help with communication, details and logistics
Jennifer Langford - for a list of support, help and love too lengthy to be contained here!

               

NOTES ON THE MUSIC BY JONATHAN MILLER

All songs originally by Lennon and McCartney unless noted otherwise.

arr. Paris Rutherford and Gary Eckert:  Come Together
Paris Rutherford is a well-known jazz arranger, and he and Gary Eckert provide a slightly extra-funky take on the opening track of the Abbey Road album.

arr. Daryl Runswick: Blackbird
One of the best-loved Beatles songs, Blackbird comes from the White Album (officially called The Beatles), released in November 1968. At the Coachella music festival in Indio, California in the spring of 2009, Paul McCartney reminded the crowd that he had written this song in response to the civil-rights movement of the 1960s. 

arr. Simon Lesley: Drive My Car
On the British version of the Rubber Soul album, this song was the first track on the first side. Even though Capitol Records in the USA robbed the tune of its leading position by moving the tracks around, it still jumps off the album, announcing that these young songwriters are a little more worldly than in She Loves You or even Can’t Buy Me Love. The arrangement by Simon Lesley highlights three things of note. First, Lesley adds a car-noise introduction, hinting through these rumblings of excitement that there is more to come. He then puts Ringo’s terrific drum fills into the intense baritone part. Finally, Lesley takes the line “and maybe I love you” and gives it to the women in four parts, in a seductive texture reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters. Music critic Tim Riley comments that the Beatles’ original “has the smooth bravado of a Jack Nicholson performance, grinning on the surface with wheels spinning like mad underneath.” This a cappella chart encourages us to remember our beloved cars—powerful symbols of American culture in the 1960s—and all that they do, and don’t, accomplish for us.

arr. Keith Abbs: Can’t Buy Me Love
In January 1964, the Beatles were under pressure to follow up on Can’t Buy Me Love, which had just hit #1 in the USA. They had a piano moved into their suite at the swanky George V hotel in Paris so that they wouldn’t have to stop writing new music. Unusually for Beatles songs, the structure is 12-bar blues. Suffice it to say that the style of our a cappella version is not what you would probably expect, especially given the song’s origin.

arr. Paul Hart:  Honey Pie
Longtime ensemble member Betsy Grizzell put this tune on her brilliant program, The Birds and the Bees. It’s playful and sweet, just what you might imagine a British bloke saying to a Hollywood starlet on the verge of their first meeting. Listen for the cute vocal percussion effects.

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Mark Grizzard: Eleanor Rigby
The Beatles stopped touring in 1966 after their concert in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. With the Revolver album, including this tune, they made the decisive turn to thinking of themselves primarily as recording artists. New combinations of instruments in the studio made a piece like this possible, which featured a string octet in its original form.

This setting was originally created for the men’s ensemble Chapter 6, and revoiced by its arranger, Mark Grizzard, for the mixed-voice forces of Chicago a cappella. Grizzard deftly opens up the original soundscape, stretching a few of the notes in time, adding some tasteful jazz tone-clusters, and creating a vocal percussion track to pulse through the song. The result is a stirring combination that, despite the added forward motion, gives the sense that one is lost, almost trapped, in the timeless moment created by the lyrics. 

George Harrison, arr. Jim Hale: Taxman
The opening cut on the Revolver album (August 1966), this song contained some of the Beatles’ most sneering social commentary to date. It’s a brilliant, edgy tune, one of George Harrison’s best. The relentless bass line (a lick which George doubled on guitar) gives the sense that taxation is never-ending and ruthless. The song’s F-chords contain both A-flat and A-natural, so it’s hard to tell if the piece is major or minor, and it’s mostly just disturbing. This arrangement was created in 2003 by Jim Hale for the Pacific Mozart Ensemble, an East Bay-area chorus. Of particular note are a few added luxury items to tax, as well as the mention of some political figures relevant to fiscal policy.

arr. Jonathan Rathbone:  The Fool on the Hill
From the same Swingle collection as Lady Madonna, Drive My Car, Ticket to Ride, and Penny Lane comes this atmospheric treatment of The Fool on the Hill, which first appeared on the EP and album Magical Mystery Tour and was featured in the film of the same name. The arrangement is by Jonathan Rathbone, who sang with the current edition of the Swingle Singers for many years and has retired from the road-warrior’s life to concentrate on composing and arranging. The chords are lush and dense; the vocal repetition of the words “round and round” intensifies the sense of the endlessness of the world’s turning.

arr. Bill Ives: Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da
We first performed this tune on another of Betsy Grizzell’s programs, All About The Women. She wrote:  “This appears on the 1968 album, The Beatles, a/k/a The White Album. Beatles history is full of rumor, myth, and hearsay. Supposedly Paul actually wrote the song and John hated it. Reportedly, ‘ob-la-di ob-la-da, bra’ is a saying used by a Jamaican acquaintance of Paul’s and means ‘life goes on, brother.’ Apparently, Paul messed up the words during the recording session, but kept the botched take. Arranger Bill Ives (of the King’s Singers) uses a marimba accompaniment. Hours of rehearsal were spent mastering the technique.”

arr. Steve Zegree:  In My Life
Rolling Stone has given this song the #23 slot on its “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” It appeared on the Rubber Soul album (1965).  The song’s original lyrics evidently consisted of a list of stops on Lennon’s Liverpool bus route.  Lennon found that “ridiculous” and so he reworked the words to capture more of an overall meditation on his earlier life. The bridge was written by producer George Martin, with the request from Lennon to make “something Baroque-sounding.” The Bach-like piece was intricate enough that Martin couldn’t actually play it at the tempo of the song that the Beatles had already laid down, so he recorded it at half speed on a piano and dropped it into the song at double-speed, which both transposed the piano up an octave and made it sound more like a harpsichord.

Our a cappella arrangement is by the superb arranger and vocal-jazz specialist Steve Zegree, who died just last month from pancreatic cancer.  At the time of his death, he was on the faculty at Indiana University; prior to his appointment there, he led the vocal-jazz program at Western Michigan University, where, in his “unrelenting, joyous and demanding” manner, he led the group Gold Company to almost 50 Outstanding Performance awards from DownBeat magazine, which in 2012 had inducted him into its Jazz Education hall of Fame.

George Harrison, arr. Kirby Shaw:  Here Comes The Sun
Back to the Abbey Road album, for the opening track of Side Two. George Harrison’s life-affirming song has almost taken on the status of an anthem. Here it gets a vocal-jazz treatment from veteran arranger Kirby Shaw.

I N T E R M I S S I O N

arr. Bob Chilcott:  I Feel Fine
There are not too many a cappella arrangements of what we might call “early Beatles,” the infectiously danceable tunes with which the Beatles gained their original fame. This is one of the good ones, created by longtime King’s Singer Bob Chilcott, who has become in recent years a tireless and prolific advocate for children’s choirs, writing countless new compositions for young voices and serving as a clinician and mentor for choirs around the world.

George Harrison, arr. Eric Freeman: Within You Without You
Based in Berkeley, California, the Pacific Edge Voices (formerly known as the Pacific Mozart Ensemble) put on a pops concert every spring. That show has been the occasion for its gifted troupe of arrangers to unveil brand-new arrangements of songs by the Beatles. The original tune here comes from the Sgt. Pepper album, which incorporated in significant ways George Harrison’s devotion to the rhythms, instruments, and philosophies of India. The original version by the Beatles included sitar in the scoring, replaced here by “drones” in the voices which create their own version of overtone harmonics, as well as tabla, imitated here by vocal percussion.

arr. Carol Canning:  Lady Madonna
If you combined Lady Madonna with I Am The Walrus and Strawberry Fields Forever, you might end up with something like Carol Canning’s unusual setting. Originally created for the new incarnation of the Swingle Singers, this arrangement does a couple of nifty things. First, it opens with a spare texture that makes you wonder where it’s going. Next, it brings out a solo line that feels more like Roberta Flack than the Beatles. Finally, it breaks into a heavily percussive, atmospheric section, with high voices floating above the main action. It’s brilliant and a little disturbing, perhaps to illustrate—perhaps more deliberately than in the original Beatles version—the quandary in which Lady Madonna finds herself. 

arr. Paul Langford:  The Long and Winding Road
If you remember the Let It Be album, your memory probably conjures up the lush string accompaniments and production values that Phil Spector brought to the recording. Whatever you might think of that overall soundscape (the flap over Spector’s additions was part of what led to the Beatles’ breakup, according to some sources), it’s hard to deny the power that it lends to this song, which Paul McCartney wrote at his farm in Scotland. Although the song is essentially a love ballad, there is a tremendous sense of sadness in this song, a world-weariness that pervades the whole track. McCartney himself said, in a 1994 interview, “It’s rather a sad song. I like writing sad songs… you can actually acknowledge some deeper feelings of your own and put them in it.” Paul Langford’s new a cappella version, created for us, leans a little more on the optimistic and hopeful side, especially with a lovely and unexpected harmonic turn that comes as a nice surprise, like a beam of sunlight that breaks through the clouds.

arr. Jonathan Rathbone: Penny Lane
Jonathan Rathbone was a member of the Swingle Singers for many years and was a key figure in their Bach Hits Back album. Here he steps out with a Beatles cover. The chart completely immerses itself in the cool, controlled world that Paul McCartney created in his reminiscence of Penny Lane. Rathbone substitutes a horn-section scat for the final verse, completely omitting the words “And though she feels as if she’s in a play/She is anyway.” It seems that he is counting on each of us to keep the original tune “Penny Lane” in our ears and in our eyes, as we hear the original words while hearing a new texture and harmony.

arr. Ward Swingle:  When I’m 64
This completely charming arrangement captures the playful sweetness of the Sgt. Pepper song. For some reason, the a cappella version evokes, even more than the original, the anticipation of some of the benefits of growing older.

arr. Alexander L’Estrange: Ticket to Ride
Music critic Tim Riley calls Ringo’s lopsided, somewhat agitated drum beat—almost a triplet, but not quite—the defining feature of Ticket to Ride. In Alexander L'Estrange's version, the mood is less agitated and more wistful, taking its cue from the opening words, "I think I'm gonna be sad." He softens that lopsided rhythm, breaking up the original guitar licks into the four women's voice parts, where they become gently rolled chords. The arranger also extends some of the phrase lengths, making the song's sense of yearning especially pronounced.

arr. Mark Williams: Good Night
John Lennon originally wrote this as a lullaby for his son, Julian, who was five years old at the time. Ringo Starr was the only Beatle who sang on the track. In an interesting bit of vocal-ensemble history, the backing vocals for Good Night (orchestrated by George Martin) were done by The Mike Sammes Singers, who were primarily a soundtrack-and-jingle studio group, having done work such as the Lionel Bart stage production of Oliver! The Mike Sammes Singers also were the backup choir for the Let It Be album and, to their credit, had gone way out of their comfort zone to provide backing vocals for I Am The Walrus

arr. Paul Crabtree: Got to get you into my life
From Revolver, this tune combines the best genres that had influenced the Beatles up to that point: R&B, Motown, and straight-ahead pop. Paul Crabtree created this arrangement for Chicago a cappella. He perfectly captures the song’s urgency and its pulsing, tight brass chords.