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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!

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.


Flying to the Temple of the Owl

Posted on: May 31st, 2016 by SDB No Comments

 

It gives me great pleasure to announce that I have joined the distinguished piano faculty of Temple University’s Boyer School of Music and Dance, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In September I will return to the United States, eagerly awaiting my first meeting with the Temple University mascot, Stella the Owl (seen here).

The Canadian chapter of my life has been a richly rewarding one, emotionally and artistically. My spouse Kayoko and I will miss our many dear friends in Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and in nearby Hawai’i which has been a veritable second home as well. But we are excited to return to the indelible history and cosmopolitan culture of the American east coast, where I grew up and spent my formative years. Looking forward to a renewed and vigorous musical presence in the cities of Boston, Providence, New Haven, Hartford, New York, Newark, Trenton, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore, Washington DC, Norfolk and beyond.

I will continue to perform throughout Canada (where I am a Dual Citizen), in addition to my concert activity in the USA, Latin America, Europe and Asia. Trusting that Stella’s sturdy guidance will smooth the trails ahead. Or, as the Temple University alma mater states: “Wisdom, Truth and Virtue / built our Temple great / Perseverance conquers / higher to create.”

Reynaldo Reyes (♰14 February 2016)

Posted on: February 15th, 2016 by SDB No Comments

 

Reynaldo Reyes, the brilliant Filipino virtuoso who taught me the piano in my first ten years, aged 6 to 16 — taking me from C-D-E to Islamey — passed away on the evening of Valentine’s Day. Last year I wrote about Reynaldo at the time of his retirement celebration (“The Cosmo Man”), and here you can read a complete obituary, prepared by his wife and edited by myself.

Donations in Reynaldo’s memory can be made to:
TELESFORO C. REYES SPECIAL NEEDS TRUST
c/o PNC Bank
409 Washington Avenue, Towson MD 21204 (USA)

I was fortunate to be with Reynaldo in his final days, and a family relative took this photograph of our interlocked hands. It will suffice for now, to tell in image what cannot be expressed in words — the depth of a musical bond which can never be broken.

 

The Hour of Parting

Posted on: January 1st, 2016 by SDB 1 Comment

with Dal Richards at the Vancouver Pacific National Exhibition
(September 2011)

The New Year of 2016 begins on the somber note of the passing last evening of bandleader Dal Richards (1918 – 2015), often referred to as “Canada’s King of Swing.”

Dal led one of North America’s foremost swing bands on an unparalleled run of nearly eight decades, playing for many years in the Hotel Vancouver’s Panorama Room (whose broadcasts were heard coast to coast), for 67 summers at the Vancouver Pacific National Exhibition, at innumerable New Year’s celebrations and Christmas parties and weddings, including my own. He was admitted to the Order of Canada and the Order and British Columbia, was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal, and inducted into the British Columbia Entertainment Hall of Fame. Musical joy, personal optimism, infectious good humor, boundless energy and joie de vivre seemed to follow Dal Richards as often as he smiled, which was constantly.

Dal’s obituary on the CBC website can be read here, but it does scant justice to the experience of meeting the man, hearing him sing the great popular classics of the 1930s and 1940s in warm buttery tones, or playing the saxophone in a manner that defined “mellow.” Dal’s way with “Where or When,” “As Time Goes By” and his band’s signature theme “The Hour of Parting,” was peerless. At my own wedding in 2006, I was startled to hear the Dal Richards Orchestra launch into Richard Whiting’s “Japanese Sandman” — one of my favorite dance tunes because of its charmingly naïve invocation of Japanese serenity. After dancing with Kayoko in rapt joy, I asked Dal when he had last played the song. “Oh, I can’t even remember… probably the 1930s,” he chuckled. Regardless, he had the chart and the parts on hand, saved up for just the right occasion. That’s but one small story of a musician who plied his trade at the top level of professionalism.

I once asked Dal if he could recount what might have been his most important appearance. I anticipated his recalling some evening at New York’s Hotel Astor or the Los Angeles Palladium, jamming with Benny Goodman or Bing Crosby. But without a pause, he replied “Why, the gig I’m doing right now.” I’ve stolen that line from Dal, and recount it often to my students, too.

With typically perfect timing, Dal Richards left us just before midnight on New Year’s Eve. No doubt he was called to an important venue for a New Year’s concert we can only imagine. Fortunately Dal has left us a large legacy of recordings to ensure that his music here will never have an Hour of Parting.