The Birds and Bees: Songs of Nature and Naughtiness:
with guest narrator Dr. Ruth Westheimer or Dr. Laura Berman

October 2016

Program Notes

Let’s Do It

 

Cole Porter, arr. David Blackwell

 

* * * * * * *

 

Flight of the Bumblebee

 

N. Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), arr. Ward Swingle                

The Silver Swan

 

Thomas Weelkes

 

* * * * * * *

 

Bugs (in 5 movements)

 

Daniel Pinkham (1923-2006)

Le Chant des Oiseaux (The Birds’ Song)

 

Clément Janequin (c. 1485-1558)

 

* * * * * * *

 

The Blue Bird

 

Charles Villiers Stanford

The Turtle Dove

 

Trad., arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

 

* * * * * * *

 

Tirsi morir volea

 

Luca Marenzio

 

* * * * * * *

 

Something’s Gotta Give

 

Johnny Mercer, arr. Patrick Sinozich

 

INTERMISSION

 

Fever

 

Davenport/Cooley, arr. Deke Sharon

 

* * * * * * *

 

The Nearness of You

 

Carmichael/Washington; arr. Kirby Shaw

 

* * * * * * *

 

I Heard It Through the Grapevine

 

Norman J. Whitfield and Barrett Strong; arr. Sinozich

Naturally

 

Johnny Colla and Huey Lewis, arr. Jonathan Miller

 

* * * * * * *

 

Afternoon Delight

 

Bill Danoff, arr. Chris Rishel

I’ve Got You Under My Skin

 

Cole Porter; arr. Sinozich

 

* * * * * * *

 

My Funny Valentine

 

Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart; arr. Bob Krogstad                                                  

Walkin’ My Baby Back Home                                                   

 

Turk/Ahlert, arr. Deke Sharon

encore:  Honey Pie   Paul McCartney and John Lennon; arr. Paul Hart

FROM THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

The main part of my job with Chicago a cappella consists of finding great music for our ensemble to sing. For much of our early history—almost 15 years—this task fell almost exclusively to me. However, over the past decade, more and more people have been contributing to the programming efforts at Chicago a cappella, with good results. We are an ensemble, after all, and that sense of team is continuing to infuse how we build our programs.


As my wife will tell you, I do have a tendency to act as “lone wolf.” Because I was so accustomed to doing all the programming on my own during that earlier phase of our group’s history, it took bold and persistent colleagues to shake me out of my usual “M.O.” and get me to consider that we could do things differently. Credit for this goes to Kathryn Kamp, our longtime ensemble member (whose own creation, A Night at the Opera, is our spring 2017 program), and our former singer Betsy Grizzell, who,  starting around 2008, poked me in the side enough times to get me to notice—and lovingly enough that I felt safe starting down a more collaborative path. Of course, Matt Greenberg has been part of virtually everything CAC has done, and he was supportive of the venture as well.


Betsy Grizzell told me at that time about an idea she had for a show called “The Birds and the Bees.” The idea – which remains the focus of this show – is that the first half is primarily a celebration of nature as it manifests in birds and flying things (bugs, bees, swans, turtle doves, etc.), while the second half is about “the birds and the bees,” meaning human relationships—and specifically courting and sex. Betsy brought probably 50 pieces to the table, and thus began the usual process of sorting, culling, ordering, re-working, re-cutting, re-imagining, and all of the things that happen when we’re putting together a show like this.


One of our ensemble’s fundamental artistic values in programming is that we like variety. The consequence of this value is that, rather than doing one or two big works on a program, we do about twenty little ones. While this gives us great control, it also makes the programming task intricate and rather intense. Because we tend to skip the long forms of classical music (cantata, symphony, etc.), which have through-composed lyrics and therefore a built-in emotional through-line, we end up having to construct one in more piecemeal fashion, with the building blocks being individual short pieces. We use each song’s lyrics, mood, tempo, and texture to help us build a show, and because I’m a nerd, this mostly lives on a spreadsheet where it’s easy to move stuff around. In the original incarnation of “Birds and Bees,” this is what Betsy and I did for several months, until the show was done, and we produced it in the spring of 2010. It remains one of the strongest ideas we’ve ever worked with—and one of the most fun, playful shows we’ve ever done.


When the time came to plan the current 16-17 season, I went to Matt Greenberg, as I always do, with a first draft of the season’s programs. Together, we envision the various programs and do a rather subtle dance of our own, where I say, “Hey, isn’t this cool?” and Matt replies with (sometimes) “I think so… how will we fill the houses?” We both liked the idea of bringing back “Birds & Bees,” and Matt asked me, “What could we do that is really out of the box?” I immediately thought of bringing Dr. Ruth, and that gave rise to the current collaboration, where we are bringing in two of the world’s leading sex therapists to illuminate the path of the program. Both Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Dr. Laura Berman are charming, playful colleagues who immediately understood what we’re doing with the show and wanted to jump in right away. That sort of response, no pun intended, is gratifying.


For those of you who were at the original “Birds & Bees” six years ago, you may notice a few new songs. These include "The Silver Swan," one of the greatest of all Elizabethan madrigals; Tirsi morir volea, a delicious roll in the hay described by the 16th-century poet G. B. Guarini, with music by Italian Renaissance master Luca Marenzio; and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," Marvin Gaye’s hit from the height of the Motown era. We also have introduced some new spoken material for our celebrity narrators, as we travel together down this path of discovery and playful exploration of our human and sexual natures.


Great thanks to John Trotter, music director for this show, and to all of the librettists, composers, and arrangers for their inspiring materials. Huge thanks also, of course, to our amazing singers, who bring it all to life for you on stage. What a great group of musicians and human beings; we are so fortunate to have such incredible talent and such open hearts on our team.

—Jonathan Miller, Founder and Artistic Director

 

NOTES ON THE MUSIC BY JONATHAN MILLER

Cole Porter, arr. David Blackwell: Let’s Do It

David Blackwell is an editor at Oxford and helped put together the jazz/swing choral anthology, In the Mood, that includes this chart of his own. It’s become a favorite, and we can’t help laughing at the tenor solo about shellfish.

Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, arr. Ward Swingle: Flight of the Bumblebee

Flight of the Bumblebee was performed on the Ed Sullivan show as a piece for violin, accordion, whistle, tuba…you name it. This a cappella arrangement is Sullivan-worthy. The arrangement is by Ward Swingle, creator (back in the 1960s) of the original incarnation of the Swingle Singers. He is the one who came up with the idea of adding a rhythm section to Baroque music, especially that of J. S. Bach, and changing to a swing-style rhythm for many of his arrangements. Part of Swingle’s genius was figuring out just the right syllables for a cappella singers to use when delivering what was originally instrumental material. In this case, you’ll hear a lot of “ne-ve-ne-ve…”, and it totally works.

Thomas Weelkes: The Silver Swan

This luscious composition, one of the last of the great English madrigals to be published, is sometimes said to be a double farewell—not only to the swan in question but also to the entire genre of the Elizabethan madrigal itself.  Swans are said to be silent except at the moment of death, and this achingly beautiful text expresses both tenderness and poignancy. Although we can observe animal behavior, such as an old elephant going to the river or a sick cat curling up in the sun, we do not often hear about the thoughts of animals who know that they are going to die, and that is why this lyric is so evocative: when we enter the swan’s own (imagined) thoughts, the swan seems more like a human, and humans more like the swan. This madrigal is a delight to sing, if you can keep from crying when you sing it.

Daniel Pinkham: Bugs

These short duets are brilliant in their simplicity, wit, humor, and brevity. Chicago a cappella first programmed this cycle on a program about musical texture. Daniel Pinkham wrote his own texts and set them in his typical angular, whimsical style. There are five movements in all.

Clément Janequin:  Le Chant des Oiseaux (The Birds’ Song)

Janequin was one of the masters of the French chanson, typically a 4-voiced secular song that flourished in the first half of the 16th century. He was a court figure and had a wicked sense of humor, setting all sorts of texts. One of his masterstrokes is the “matched pair” of songs, Ode to a beautiful breast and Ode to an ugly breast, with texts by none other than Clément Marot, the same person who translated the Bible into French, for what would become the Genevan Psalter.

Here, Janqeuin takes a lively ode to love and sets in ways that set off the poem’s main qualities. The opening refrain is an exhortation to lovers to wake up, since “the god of love calls you.” At various points in the song, different birds are highlighted, with syllables that mimic the sound of bird calls. (Remember the word “onomatopoeia” from high school? That’s what it’s about.)  Listen and see if you can pick out any birds that you know, or just revel in the glories of nature as they appear in 4-part ensemble singing.


Stanford, Charles Villiers:  The Blue Bird

Reared in upper-crust Dublin and given an impressive immersion in matters musical and intellectual, Stanford was composing by the age of four. In 1870 he entered Queen’s College, Cambridge as a choral scholar and by 1873 had already achieved the post of organist at Trinity College and conductor of two choral societies. Stanford possessed boundless energy and promoted the highest ideals in music, which drew to him offers for top musical posts in England. He was elected professor of music at Cambridge in 1887, when he was only 35. As Frederick Hudson wrote in The New Grove, Stanford “exercised more influence in the teaching of composition than any other musician in Britain throughout his tenure.” Stanford’s students included the next generation’s giants in British classical-music composition: Holst, Charles Wood, Vaughan Williams, Ireland, Frank Bridge, Herbert Howells, and others. Hudson also notes that Stanford’s partsongs “reached near perfection both in melodic invention and in capturing the mood of the poem.” The blue bird is such a partsong, on a poem by Mary Coleridge. The high soprano solos are not exactly “blue notes” in the American sense. Rather, they convey a sense of mind detached somehow from the everyday—a dreamlike state where, as is said in King Lear, “ripeness is all,” much like the effusive headiness of a newly-bloomed peony.

Trad. English folksong, Arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams:  The Turtle Dove

Speaking as we were of Ralph (pronounced “Raiph”) Vaughan Williams, here he is as an arranger. He was active a time when the first major wave of research (led by the tireless Cecil Sharp) was taking place in England, providing volumes of transcriptions of tunes and texts from all over the country. “RVW,” as he is known in brief, gave us some of the greatest church music of his generation, including Five Mystical Songs and the Mass in G minor—all the more intriguing because he was a self-professed agnostic. One of his gifts to posterity is a group of delicious choral arrangements of English folk material. He wrote in a harmonic style that draws on modal counterpoint while keeping an eye on the 20th century. The result is music that has an old and familiar feel and still feels new and fresh. The soaring solo line is given just enough harmonic clothing to propel the motion forward, while still giving us a haunting combination of love and loneliness.

Luca Marenzio: Tirsi morir volea

It would be difficult to come up with a hotter madrigal than this one, giving us, as it does, a delicious sense of foreplay and lovemaking. The verb “to die” (morir in Italian) was a well-known code word in the 16th century, meaning “to make love.” Therefore, just substitute in your mind all of the “dying” in the poem, and you’ll get the steaminess that the poet and composer most surely had in mind.

Johnny Mercer, arr. Patrick Sinozich:  Something’s Gotta Give

Patrick Sinozich’s playfulness comes through in this chart, initially created for one of our spring Gala events.  John Trotter initially led our ensemble in a performance of this song on the first show he directed for us, The A Cappella American Songbook. Listen for the fun vocal percussion, enjoy the lyric (which is sort of a combination of Newtonian physics and matters of the heart), and get swept up in the mood.

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

Davenport/Cooley, arr. Deke Sharon:  Fever

Deke Sharon is top dog in the a cappella world these days. Creator of The Sing-Off, arranger for the Pitch Perfect movies, and all-around champion of the art of arranging pop music for a cappella vocal ensemble, he has done more at his young age than most musicians do in a lifetime. (Sometimes he seems like Mozart reincarnated in 21st-century America.) For his version of "Fever," he does a skillful job here of having voices imitate instruments, especially horn parts (sax, trumpets, and trombones). Listen carefully for a few surprises!

Carmichael/Washington, arr. Kirby Shaw: The Nearness of You

The lyrics to this 1938 hit were written by Ned Washington, and Hoagy Carmichael provided the music. When Billboard published its very first Best Seller chart on July 20, 1940, "The Nearness of You" was listed, and it peaked at #5. Cover versions include one by Norah Jones and a bootleg solo version recorded by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, accompanying himself on piano. Chicago a cappella has sung this tune many times, but this is our first occasion to perform the arrangement by the tireless Kirby Shaw.

Norman J. Whitfield and Barrett Strong, arr. Patrick Sinozich:  I Heard It Through the Grapevine

One of the top hits by the great Marvin Gaye, this is a classic song about betrayal. Our arrangement is by the tireless Patrick Sinozich, Chicago a cappella’s Music Director Emeritus. He first did the opening part of the song in late 2015 as part of a Motown medley for our spring 2016 show, The History of Rock and Soul, which we performed with Terri Hemmert from WXRT radio. It was so good, and so fitting for this place in our current production, that we asked Patrick to flesh it out and do an entire arrangement of just this one title. He immediately agreed. One of Patrick’s gifts is to capture the musical and textural essence of a song—its hooks, its characteristic rhythms, just enough harmony to tell you where it’s going, and so on. That he can do this so adeptly in an arrangement with no instruments is remarkable, and we are so grateful for the way he shares his musical gifts with us.

Huey Lewis, arr. Jonathan Miller:  Naturally

This song was originally the encore to this show, but we liked it so much that we brought into the main act. The lyrics explain to the narrator’s lover (who has left) that all nature is sad at the breakup, and is a perhaps-overly-lighthearted plea for a reunion.

Bill Danoff, arr. Chris Rishel:  Afternoon Delight

If you were listening to Top 40 in the mid-1970s, your ear and funny bone would have been caught by this unusual hit by the Starland Vocal Band, one of many “one-hit wonder” groups in the history of pop music. Many of you may recall your friends saying things like, “I can’t believe they’re singing about rubbing each other on the radio!” It was a more innocent time; we had not yet had Sir Mix-A-Lot and his like giving us a more explicit take on sexual desire. In any event, the Starlands brought a Southern twang and an image of midday desire front and center (full frontal, we might say) for the weeks that the song was on the charts, and it was a fortunate day when we found this a cappella version.

Cole Porter, arr. Patrick Sinozich:  I’ve Got You Under My Skin

Cole Porter was unusually effective at capturing the nature of desire and describing it in language that was evocative, clever, and sophisticated; his understatement is part of his strength. It’s easy to imagine that he was a primarily kinesthetic guy, since he understands so well what it’s like to be inside a body that is in love.

Rodgers & Hart, arr. Bob Krogstad: My Funny Valentine

This song was originally addressed to a hapless and goofy-looking man, Valentine LaMar, in the 1937 show Babes in Arms. It has been covered countless times, and we have made good use of Bob Krogstad’s masterful arrangement, featuring it in two of our most popular productions, The A Cappella American Songbook and Jewish Roots of Broadway.

Roy Turk & Fred Ahlert, arr. Deke Sharon:  Walkin’ My Baby Back Home

The timeless version of this song by Nat “King” Cole is the inspiration for Deke Sharon’s splendid a cappella arrangement. If you are familiar with the horn work in particular, you’ll appreciate how Deke brought it front and center during the break. This is yet another tune where understatement rules the day; a clear picture of courting is painted, always in good taste, even when powder is spilled and hair is mussed.