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Sara Says - Sara Davis Buechner invites you to share in her reflections on music, matters artistic and non, and the creatively fun things in life. Be a part of the conversation!

Archive for July, 2016

Follow the Dodgers

Posted on: July 25th, 2016 by SDB No Comments



“Follow the Dodgers” – Theme and Variation (à la Chopin)
by Sara Davis Buechner

There is a surprisingly large trove of American baseball music, beginning from the game’s inception in the mid-nineteenth century and continuing to this day. Much of this music is of generic “rah-rah let’s go team” variety, but there are priceless gems as well — for example, Zez Confrey’s 1937 novelty rag “Home Run on the Keys” written in conjunction with Babe Ruth; or the imaginative “Meet the Mets” theme song of 1962 by the team of Ruth Roberts and Bill Katz. After some success with a piano version of the latter on YouTube, I was inspired to continue my historical research and unearthed the almost-lost theme song of the Brooklyn Dodgers (1884 – 1957). It is titled “Follow the Dodgers” and is most certainly the composition of Dodgers team organist Gladys Goodding (1893 – 1963), who played the song when the team took the field for the first inning of play, from the 1940s until the final Brooklyn Dodgers game at Ebbets Field on September 24, 1957.

Ironically, neither Ms. Goodding nor the song itself followed the Dodgers to the splendor of Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles, where the team re-located for the 1958 season. Lyrics referring specifically to “Dem Bums” of the borough of Brooklyn obviously prevented that. Fortunately there is one extant recording of “Follow the Dodgers,” from which I was able to re-contruct the song itself, and also make a classical piano variation (shamelessly pilfered from Frédéric Chopin’s Andante Spianato op. 22). Keen listeners will hear an appropriate musical quotation in the coda, too. As for Chopin, admirer of 19th-century American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s proto-ragtime piano compositions, I am certain that he would have enjoyed hot dogs, beer, and the graceful shortstop play of Pee Wee Reese.

My interest in this song was greatly encouraged by Los Angeles Dodgers team historian Mark Langill, to whom I give my dear thanks. It seems timely as well, to re-present this classic song in the same year that longtime Dodgers announcer Vin Scully — in his 67th year of broadcasting for the team, and the last living link to the old Brooklyn Dodgers — will be retiring. My Chopin-styled arrangement is gratefully dedicated to Mr. Scully, whose dulcet tones are music itself. He is an icon for all baseball fans, particularly in Southern California, but also among older New Yorkers. It was his voice that so jubilantly related Bill Buckner’s bobble in Game Six of the 1986 World Series (Destiny itself for the New York Mets), which I have preserved on VHS for all time, and listened to, oh, only about ten thousand times.

Character

Posted on: July 6th, 2016 by SDB No Comments

 

The great Italian composer-pianist Ferruccio Busoni is reputed to have said often to his students: “Ladies and Gentlemen, play with character” — an order at once simple yet complex to execute, consisting of equal parts technical command, sonic imagination and artistic self-assurance. The work of “playing with character” can be extensive. One small example of such work came to mind this morning, as I practiced the piano part to Edvard Grieg’s Violin Sonata no. 2 in G major op. 13. Above is an excerpt from its first movement (Allegro vivace, measures 26 – 33).

The soprano melody can easily be rendered in rhythmically stolid fashion, because of the obligations of the thumb on every downbeat. It is when singing that melody away from the keyboard, that one finds the delightful contour of Grieg’s characteristic Nordic voice-leading and quirkily vivacious pulse. Freeing the right hand of its lower-voice burdens is one way of enabling the possibility of playing that melody with more coloristic variety.

Of course, smaller hands may be limited to rendering the piano part exactly as written. But most pianists’ left hands are large enough to stretch upward and take the bulk of the tenor voice in the treble clef, as indicated in my “Execution.” With the right hand now enabled to use its natural fluency and fuller range of all fingers, the possibilities of phrasing and shading are more readily apparent. And even if one eventually decides to play the passage in Grieg’s original arrangement, the practice of playing through such a re-fingered version helps the ear to grow. Thinking non-pianistically while executing pianistically is a key I often use, when striving to find appropriate character in the performance of keyboard music.