The Musical Food Groups

October 2005

Program Notes

 Blessing: The Psalme of Food

pseudo-Tallis (16th century)

 Chili con carne

Anders Edenroth

 In Praise of Coffee

 Java Jive

Milton Drake/Ben Oakland, arr. Kirby Shaw

 Bagel-Shop Quartet

Robert Cohen

 Black Coffee

Webster/Burke, arr. Miller

 We Make Food, We Are Food


 from Fragments from his dish:

Bob Chilcott

    The Pie


    Harvest in my Croft


 from Bugs:

Daniel Pinkham

    I. Bee  III. Mosquito  V. Caterpillar


 When Food Is Love


 Tea for Two

Irving Caesar/Vincent Youmans, arr. Gritton


Paul Crabtree

 Little Potato

Malcolm Dalglish, arr. Carol Barnett

* * * * * * *       

 Say, good master Bacchus

attrib. Henry Purcell

 Witches’ Blues

Robert Applebaum


 Raisin Pie

 Robert Applebaum

* * * * * * *   

 Play With Your Food!

Paul Carey

  Summer’s Bounty


  Mashed Potato/Love Poem


  Vending Machine


  After the Muffin





* * * * * * *   


 Lyle Lovett, arr. Miller

encore:  Quick! We Have But a Second

Charles Villiers Stanford



Welcome to The Musical Food Groups. Food is so much fun that this is our third concert about food in thirteen seasons. The first two were called Tastes of Paradise, inspired by the book of the same title, tracing the history of certain special foods throughout the ages.

Tonight’s concert looks at food more broadly. Apart from birth, death, and sleeping, there is no greater experience common to all humanity than that of eating and drinking. With this performance, we are connecting food to love, to tenderness, to excitement and manic intensity (as in Witches’ Blues).

I like to think of our passion for food as a lens through which to view our wide human family, in all its quirkiness and majesty. Our feelings for food are sometimes remarkably like those we have for other people. Black Coffee is a masterpiece of feeling, sparse in its bleakness and dejection; Tea for two evokes domestic comforts and the Brits’ love of tea. Bagel-Shop Quartet is in a class by itself.

Paul Carey’s cycle, Play With Your Food!, is the centerpiece of the second half. This is a hilarious, tender, poignant set of five songs. (Make sure that you catch the last words of “Mashed Potato/Love Poem.”) Speaking of potatoes, we have a total of three songs tonight that involve potatoes, that staple of nourishment. For those of you who attended our spring Gala at the Union League Club, I hope you’ll fondly recall the mashed potatoes served in martini glasses. For some people, that food table was almost as memorable as our singing!

We all do it, this eating thing—some too much, many not enough. The recent events of Hurricane Katrina point up how vulnerable even the world’s most prosperous nation is when it comes to providing food and shelter for millions of displaced people. May our celebration of food and drink be tempered with our thoughts and concerns for those who are much less fortunate, and for those indeed whose lives will never recover.

Happy eating,

Jonathan Miller

Recommended reading:
Schivelbusch, Wolfgang. Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Intoxicants, and Stimulants. Vintage Books, 1993 (paperback).


pseudo-Tallis: The Psalme of Food
This piece was discovered only recently, in an astounding stroke of good luck. The eminent musicologist and gourmet, Sir Hamish Smithfield “Ham” Cuisinart, found it written on the back of a fish-and-chips wrapper while hiking near Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. The music, clearly an exemplar of post-Reformation performance practice, follows the traditional formulas of Anglican chant. The biggest unsolved mystery about the text is its set of references to present-day commercial activities.

Anders Edenroth: Chili con carne
Don’t forget the Mexican spices! This piece has been one of our biggest hits since we introduced it to our audiences in 1998. The whimsical recipe finds perfect dressing in a salsa-like arrangement by the high male voice and driving force behind The Real Group, Sweden’s blockbuster vocal quintet.

Oakland/Drake, arr. Kirby Shaw: Java Jive
The connection with coffee may not have been foremost in their minds, but during their early years, as the Ink Spots were trying out different names for their group, they existed for a while as the “Percolating Puppies”! Huge songwriting talent went into this tune’s success. The lyricist, Milton Drake, is also known for “Mairzy Doats” and “Hotta Chocolotta.” Ben Oakland, the composer, had a big film-music career and was nominated for an Oscar for “Mist over the Moon” (lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II) from The Lady Objects. Kirby Shaw’s light-hearted arrangement keeps the swing moving.

Robert Cohen: Bagel-Shop Quartet
This endearing tune comes from Suburb, The Musical, which ran nationally and won the 2000 Richard Rodgers Development Award for both lyricist David Javerbaum and composer Robert Cohen. Bob was also co-author of the musical In My Life, for which he obtained the exclusive theatrical rights to the Lennon/McCartney song catalogue. In this song—a Chicago a cappella favorite for years—bagel flavors become terms of endearment.

Webster/Burke, arr. Jonathan Miller: Black Coffee
One of the most distinctive of all torch songs, Black Coffee has been covered by swing-era singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Peggy Lee (not to mention Bobby Darin). The song’s more recent champions include k.d. lang and even Sinead O’Connor. Our custom arrangement was created for Chicago a cappella, specifically for these performances.

Bob Chilcott: The Pie and Harvest In My Croft
In 1998, Chicago a cappella gave the U.S. premiere of a remarkable cycle of songs about food, Fragments from his dish, by former King’s Singer Bob Chilcott. We shared the cycle with our Chicago-area audiences again in 2002 and recorded the entire cycle on our Eclectric CD. “The Pie” sets an 18th-century newspaper article, while “Harvest In My Croft” uses a medieval epic poem, much-loved by the English. Together, the songs provide a long view on humans’ need for, and indulgence of, food.

Daniel Pinkham: Three movements from Bugs
Born in 1923, Daniel Pinkham has had a distinguished career as a composer, choral conductor, scholar, and teacher. He is senior professor in the Musicology Department at the New England of Conservatory of Music. Pinkham’s music always displays fierce intelligence and often, as in the case of Bugs, endearing humor. Pinkham wrote these short texts himself and set them for a two-part vocal ensemble. Chicago a cappella first performed these in 1997 on our program about musical texture, as rose petals open.

Irving Caesar/Vincent Youmans, arr. Gritton: Tea for two
Peter Gritton is a rising star on Britain’s choral-arranging scene. This a cappella chart comes in a collection from Oxford University Press. The charming setting captures both the innocence of the tune and, at the instrumental “break,” the desire for something slightly more than mere innocence.

Paul Crabtree: Marge
A composer with a giant-size sense of humor, Paul Crabtree put himself in the headlines (and on the Chicago and San Francisco affiliates of Fox television) with his composition, Five Romantic Miniatures from “The Simpsons.” While all five songs carry tender, loving sentiments—not exactly the first emotion that springs to mind when one thinks of Matt Groening’s cartoon show—this is the most charming among the set.

Malcolm Dalglish, arr. Carol Barnett: Little Potato
A hammer-dulcimer virtuoso and singer, trained at the American Boychoir school, and now a prolific choral-music composer in his own idiosyncratic folk-based idiom, Malcolm Dalglish first released this song with the folk trio Metamora, penned upon his becoming a father. The Minneapolis-based composer Carol Barnett put it into an all-vocal form, cleverly adapting hammer-dulcimer lines into sung harmony.

Attributed to Henry Purcell: Say, good master Bacchus
Ah, for an ode to wine! Few things open the heart and induce men to song like a good glass of the fermented grape. This is a “catch,” a part-song written for men’s voices to be sung in a round, made popular in men’s clubs in England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Paul Hillier, the renowned choral conductor and scholar, has assembled more than a hundred of them in his publication The Catch Book, among which this is one of the best.

Robert Applebaum: Witches’ Blues
Following a career teaching chemistry and physics at New Trier High School, Bob Applebaum has emerged as a new force in American choral music. Often based on jazz, in which he is well versed as a pianist, his choral settings draw on carefully-chosen poetry; like Pinkham’s work, Applebaum’s carries an infectious rhythmic drive. The text for Witches’ Blues comes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in the famous scene where the witches are brewing their charm in a cauldron with manic, evil intent. Applebaum composed this piece for our all-Shakespeare concerts in 2003, and an energetic rendition appears on our new Shakespeare CD.


Robert Applebaum: Raisin Pie(world premiere)
This poem is by Edgar Guest, a Detroit newspaperman whose longevity in writing columns about everyday life rivals that of Lou Gehrig in baseball.

Paul Carey: Play with your food!
Trained at Yale, Paul Carey has a broad background as a pianist, choral conductor, and composer. His music, published by Oxford and Boosey & Hawkes, has gained wide appeal and recognition; he received an ASCAP special award in 2004 and is active with commissions nationwide. Play with your food! is a five-movement cycle, moving from the driving rhythms of “Summer’s Bounty” to the hilariously overwrought narrative voices of “Mashed Potato/Love Poem” and “After the Muffin” to the multi-layered “Fred.” The movement titled “Vending Machine” perfectly captures the whimsy of a child, absorbed in his own world. The composer writes: “This whole group of songs started out with my setting of ‘Summer’s Bounty,’ which was read through by the Princeton Singers at the Oxford Institute in 2003. Even with what I thought were attempts at being subtle, the read-through produced many guffaws and chortles from the chorus and the piece gained a certain quirky notoriety amongst those in attendance.”

Lyle Lovett, arr. Jonathan Miller: Church

The one-of-a-kind R&B singer Lyle Lovett released this song as the first cut on his album Joshua Judges Ruth. It's a gospel-infused story about an endless church service, where the preacher threatens to preach all day and his parishioners are fainting in the pews for lack of food. Jonathan Miller arranged the music, which originally had piano, bass, and drums, for Chicago a cappella's voices. As absurd as Bob Chilcott's The Pie in its own way, Lovett's tune (listen carefully to the lyrics!) packs high energy and wry humor into a deceptively simple package.