We asked some of our staff what music they’ve been drawn to during COVID-19 times. Take a read and have a listen!
Stephen Smith, pianist for the VBC Adult Choir
“My selections for the VBC COVID playlist are two versions of Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn’s 1930 classic, “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” as performed by Nina Simone. One of the last live performances I was involved with before the quarantine shut everything down was the Vancouver Men’s Chorus’s annual fundraiser, “Singing Can Be A Drag,” where I had the pleasure of accompanying one of the performers in the first version of this song.
This first version Simone recorded in 1957 for her debut album, “Little Girl Blue.”
Simone sings and accompanies herself on the piano, discreetly reinforced by bass and drums. Vocally, the style is very understated; and at first the accompaniment is rather blasé, with a dogged walking bass and four accented, swung offbeats in every bar — though this sameness turns out to be just a foil for some delightful outbursts and unexpected silences! But the real treat is a 32-bar piano solo, clearly inspired by Bach. It begins extremely simply — almost minimalistically — but gradually the texture thickens, and the solo culminates in a barrage of rapid fortissimo chords. Then suddenly, it’s all as demure as can be again to the end, with only a restrained hint of what could have been a “big finish” — as if the performer is saying, teasingly, “That’s all you’re getting for now!”
The second clip is film of a live performance, thirty years later.
By this time, Simone’s 1957 version of “My Baby…” had been re-released and had become a top-10 hit in the UK, after being used in a TV ad for Chanel No. 5! Simone is playing the Montreux Jazz Festival; it’s the end of her set, and everyone is expecting to hear a live rendition of her delightful and now-familiar treatment of the old tune. But does she merely recreate the version she laid down 30 years earlier? Hardly! This time, there’s no bass and no drums — just Simone at a Bösendorfer Imperial — so she’s completely free to do anything she wants. She begins with a dainty little piano riff in 12/8 which loops around on itself a few times as she thinks about what she’s going to do next. She appears almost lost in thought, yet she’s nonchalant enough that, as a TV camera swings into view, her left hand leaves the keyboard for a moment to scratch her nose! By the half-minute mark, the lilting 12/8 riff has spun off into a string of running eighth-notes, initiating a perpetual motion in the piano that is going to be almost unremitting for the next six minutes! It’s another half-minute before she utters the first line of the song, and as the verse continues, the accompaniment figuration never lets up. Indeed, as the first verse ends, the running eighth-notes become driving repeated notes, and the energy and excitement keep growing. By this time it’s evident that, as one YouTube viewer commented, Simone is thoroughly “entertaining herself” and we’re simply allowed to “come along for the ride.” And a wild ride it is, as shades of Bach turn into flashes of Beethoven, and finally give way to a passage of thunderous chords in full-on Rachmaninoff mode. At the end, clearly satisfied with what she has done, she gives us the “big finish” that she had hinted at 30 years earlier — adding a long bass rumble for good measure, as the crowd roars and leaps to its feet.
If the current choral season had continued as planned, the Men’s Chorus would now have been putting the finishing touches to their spring show, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” a tribute to female artists whose music has helped to bring about social change. One of the numbers it fell to me to arrange for the show — which I was working on as the quarantine began — was another song made famous by Nina Simone, “Feeling Good.” For inspiration I kept returning to the Montreux video. It amazed and thrilled me every time I listened to it — and two isolated months later, it still does!
Catherine Campolin – conductor of Piccolo and Partita Choirs
I spend sooooo much time with music that I tend to listen to music that is different from what I would normally perform.
I will often turn to older jazz artists; here are a some of my favourites.
Ella Fitzgerald singing “The Cole Porter Songbook”. I was introduced to Ella Fitzgerald in my late teens by a family for whom I babysat. I never tire of her voice. There are soo many wonderful songs; but I have often sung “Do I love you” to my loving husband. Other good ones, “Every Time we say Goodbye”, “When they begin the Beguine”.
Another favourite is the Jacques Loussier Trio. They take famous works and put their own spin on it. Two of my favourites; Prelude No. 1 in C major by J. S. Bach (I love it because it is one of the only pieces I can play on the piano):-P. The other that comes to mind is their “Clair de lune” by Debussy. I am very fond of French music from the turn of last century and the Jacques Loussier Trio arrangement of this is just beautiful.
Cathrie Yuen – Assistant Conductor, VBC
Here are my picks.
1. Prayers of Kierkegaard by Knut Nystedt
I came across this piece in a conducting competition last summer and I fell in love with it. Now this piece becomes my prayer of hope to the current situation. I love the way the piece unfolds in the beginning and the colourful harmonies. The 3rd movement is my favourite.
2. Beatus vir by Claudio Monteverdi
This piece is one of my favourite motets. The video in this link was recorded this mid-April in Prague. Therefore, all the performers are wearing masks, and with social distance. I hope this video reminds you that nothing can stop us from making music (in a safe way). All we need is a little creativity.
Leslie Dala – music director, VBC
Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of piano works. Stewart Goodyear’s new recording of the Beethoven Piano Concertos has some beautiful playing on it. I’ve also been working on the Philip Glass Piano Études as a personal project and discovering new recordings of these pieces. And Keith Jarret’s synthesis of jazz and classical traditions is always compelling.
Christina Cichos – Operations Coordinator
So my choices have been TV/Film scores for the last little while. I generally tend to sway towards music that I feel tells a story, and I very much enjoy moody, atmospheric, sometimes even spooky music.
When the social distancing started, I was listening to the Carnival Row (Nathan Barr, composer) soundtrack on repeat for a while. I’ve also been listening to James Newton Howard’s score for the movie The Village a lot – it has absolutely gorgeous violin lines, and has a lot of moving, atmospheric music. It lets my imagination go, and I find that the busy-ness of the music helps relieve the busy-ness of my brain.
Honorable mention – Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary at Royal Albert Hall – Phantom has always been like a musical stuffed animal for me, so I often turn to it when I want comfort.
Shane Raman – Youth Choir and Sarabande Conductor
Ive been listening to an artist named Morgan Kibby who calls herself White Sea as a solo artist. She’s a soprano and composer, and she mostly writes music for film. Her album “In Cold Blood” is phenomenal. Equal parts synth pop, orchestral blasts, raw lyrics, power house soprano and a contemporary aesthetic, White Sea creates interesting soundscapes within the indie pop genre. My favourite track on the album is “Future Husbands Past Lives” A maximalist at heart, I love this symphonic neo 90’s synth pop song with soprano, orchestra and band. Love the high notes especially the E6 at 3:25.
In the world of 90’s nostalgia, I have really turned to Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame soundtrack. Actually, not the soundtrack from the original movie, but the reimagined stage musical mounted in 2017. The music from the original move marries traditional choral music to Disney’s own genre of music and was one of the most beautiful scores I ever heard as a teenager. This new musical uses the original material and expands and arranges the music to tell more of Hugo’s original story. The cartoon aspect of the original movie is stripped away and the musical is narrated by the stone saints and gargoyles of Notre Dame. This reimagined score is as inspiring and cinematic as I could ever want. The singing is beautiful, choosing the best of the original score. I would love to just sing in the chorus! Fav tracks are Someday, Hellfire, In a Place of Miracles and of course, God Help the Outcasts. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Studio Cast Recording)
Kin Ming Wong – pianist for Toccatas, Chorales and Chorus
Since the pandemic began, I have found myself wanting to listen to and play Classical music more than ever! The album I keep coming back to is the “Chopin: Complete Edition” produced by Deutsche Grammophon. It features various artists such as my all-time favorite Martha Argerich, Krystian Zimerman and Maurizio Pollini to name a few. I’ve been particularly drawn to the Nocturnes which on this album are performed by the great Portuguese-Swiss pianist, Maria Joao Pires.
My two favorites are the first two in the collection, Op. 9 no. 1 and no. 2. As a piano teacher, I’ve taught them over the years to my students, however, as a performer, I never actually had or took the time to learn them on my own. However since the pandemic began, I’ve had the opportunity to do so. Working on them has brought inspiration, comfort and joy to my soul and also are a nice way to get me in the right mindset to start my day. As for listening to them, I like to turn on the Nocturnes to help me wind down for the day and get me ready to sleep!