Category: About Art Mob

An Art Mob Secret Revealed!


We’re continually pestered with questions about how we compose our program for each season’s concert (one person asked), so we’ve decided to open our kimono.  Our Process is a delicate, multi-step affair that takes weeks of extreme effort aided by alcoholic beverages, internet databases, and a trash can. Here’s how we start:

Music falling into trash can.

It’s happening …

At the end of every concert weekend we gather for a potluck dinner. After all are sufficiently relaxed, we determine the theme for the next season’s concert. Past concert themes have included The Best Laid Planets; Blood, Sweat, and Cheers; and Hook, Wine, and Thinker. (Eventually we tired of puns, so our current season’s theme is Keep a Lid on It!) Being highly collaborative, collective, cooperative, democratic, and fair, we all contribute themes and then vote on them. Our decisions are always unanimous.

Now comes the hard work. We all (but some more than others) go hunting for songs that somehow fill the bill. For example, we may include songs about hats this season. In fact, we will include songs about hats. What else can we keep a lid on? How about Egyptian sarcophagi? Alcohol consumption? Rabbit reproduction? Secrets? Extreme emotions? All that and more.

But back to the Process: At rehearsals, we gather our sheet music. We arrange ourselves in a circle around a ritual trash can. (The circle is very important. Perhaps we should have said a ritual circle, instead of a ritual trash can. When no can is available, the floor does almost as well.) We sing a selection, sometimes two or three times. We subject it to a evaluative rubric:

Does it fit the theme? (i.e., is there even one single word in the lyrics that could be interpreted as the theme?)

Has it been sung by the Art Mob in the past (x) years? (this variable can be from 5-10 years.)

Full trash can of rejects.

The Process is almost completed!

Is it too new, or to put it another way, not old enough? (This variable keeps creeping further into the 20th century—or is it us, creeping inexorably into the 21st century?)

Does it sound too much like something else we like better? (This happens a lot with shape-note music.)

Will Brent threaten to cut his throat if he has to direct it? (This happens a lot with shape-note music.)

After every aspect of the piece has been thoroughly checked, we vote on adding it to the program. Over the weeks, many pieces are voted down.

The defeated music sheets (we call them “losers”) are flung into the ritual trash can in the center of the ritual circle. When the can is full, a Mobster is chosen to ritually stomp them down, for good measure.

Art Mob Process: Stomping the losers.

Lauren delivers the coup de grâce.


When we reach the Magic Number (20+) we are done. We ritually welcome our season’s music selections (aka “winners”) by arranging them in alphabetical order. Then it’s snack time.

Hear the results of our Process when we present Keep a Lid on It! on May 18, 19, and 20. Times and locations are here.


The Things We Sing: We’re Nutty about Tutty!

Old King Tut sheet music

In Old King Tutty’s Day– Hip Hooray!

Such Tut Fun!
The year 1923 was a big one for all things Egyptian—not because Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered—that happened in 1922—but because no fewer than five hit songs came out of Tin Pan Alley to celebrate those fun, fun feelings we all get when we think of Old King Tut.

OK, he wasn’t old. (He died at age 19.) And he probably didn’t cut a rug. (He had a clubfoot and scoliosis, and used a cane.) But Tutankhamen inspired our singing, dancing grandparents with tunes like this:

Now Old King Tut was just a nut as you can see
Still proud was Tut about his nutty ancestry
His daddy was a Pharoah too
His mom an Ashkenazi Jew
In old King Tut Tut Tut Tut Tut Tut—King Tut-ty’s day!

and many others. We’ll be giving it our best, tutting away and doing that two-dimensional dance, in “Keep a Lid on It,” our May concert series.

Why the Art Mob Skipped Giving Tuesday

please donate“The Art Mob is, without a doubt, one of the least corporate corporations ever. The Mob existed for nearly 20 years before incorporating, and then only because nobody wanted to keep our money in their personal bank account. To get a bank account you have to have a tax ID, and to get a tax ID you have to become an entity of some kind. In our case, the entity was a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation.

We were a reluctant corporation, but we’ve been a very responsible one. All our IRS and New York State Attorney General filings are up to date. We keep our money in a genuine bank, not under somebody’s mattress, and we pay our bills on time. We even own something: This fall, the Art Mob acquired, on the cheap, a used electronic keyboard, which we use for rehearsals because Cheryl left the group and we can’t use hers any longer. Next year, the corporate jet.

We are now approaching our 40th anniversary, and we want there to be a 140th. We hope you do, too. If you think it’s worth supporting a musical group that offers a real communal music-making experience, that resurrects strange and obscure old songs you won’t hear anywhere else, that puts its whole heart into every live performance, and that is (until now) too cool to ask you for money, please consider donating to the Art Mob.

Our status gives us the right to solicit tax-deductible donations from the public (contingent on whatever monstrous injustices arise from the new federal tax bill), but we have not exercised that right. Our style has been to keep expenses down and mind our own business.

This is a pose we are going to have to drop. Times have changed, and we’d better adapt or end up as a statistic in the Great Extinction. The thing is, we have to pay for a lot more stuff now than we did in the old days. When Marcia Tucker was in the group, and Soho was teeming with struggling art galleries, it just took a phone call to get us into any one of her many friends’ resonant, tin-ceilinged spaces, for nothing. Usually they even had chairs. But those days are over.

Donate to the Art Mob

Keep the Art Mob on Its toes!

Even a small donation is a big help. — Click the button to donate via Paypal.

You can also support us through Amazon Smile every time you buy online:

Go to, then select Art Mob Inc as the group you are supporting.

We do have the incredible luxury of free rehearsal space, courtesy of St. John’s Lutheran on Christopher Street (thank you, Reverend Mark!), but when it comes to performing there are no more free venues. We also have to send out those postcards and print those programs. And it would be nice if we could give Brent, our long-suffering director, a raise. Right now our only funding source—other than whatever you drop in the basket at the concert, which is deeply appreciated and woefully inadequate to our needs—is we singers. Since musical ability is a known risk factor for poverty, this only works up to a certain point. We especially can’t afford to price our younger members out of the group, as that threatens our long-term prospects.

Yes, we want the Art Mob to go on. We are now approaching our 40th anniversary, and we want there to be a 140th. (Although we personally might be dead by then. Possibly.) We hope you do, too. If you think it’s worth supporting a musical group that offers a real communal music-making experience, that resurrects strange and obscure old songs you won’t hear anywhere else, that puts its whole heart into every live performance, and that is (until now) too cool to ask you for money, please consider donating to the Art Mob.”

—Dean Rainey, Mobster, Arranger, Treasurer

Click the button above to donate via Paypal. You can also support us through Amazon Smile every time you buy online:, select Art Mob Inc as the group you are supporting.

Remember, for a group of our size, even a small donation is a big help. Thanks for being a fan, and thanks for your donation.


Message from the Memory Palace, or, Kringled Memes, Anyone?

If we were computers, this would be so much easier...

If we were computers, this would be so much easier…

“If he nabs you, jabs you, NO! If he nabs you, grabs you, jabs you!  He will bring you, fling you, NO! He will bring you, sting you, fling you…”

My neighbors probably heard something like this coming through our party wall this week. The singing, the reciting, the cursing, the repeating. . . They may have seen me on the sidewalk, silently mouthing some words, then slapping my head, shuffling index cards, then mouthing and slapping some more  It’s all part of Art Mob Cram School, a semi-annual event undertaken alone or in small groups.

Got. To. Memorize.

Everyone has their own methods. For the music, some of us listen to recordings of rehearsals, look at the sheet music, and ta-da! they’ve got it. I need to set an audio track of just my part on infinite repeat, and drill it into my brain.  This sometimes works.

Then there’s writing out the lyrics; typing out the lyrics; highlighting, underlining, coloring in, and creating mnemonic devices. (The three difficult entrances in “Crawdad” can be boiled down to OY, OY, WasIt?)

And there’s the Memory Palace, where you construct a mansion of many rooms, furnishing it with visual representations of whatever you need to remember. But tell me, where should I put the “dying worms”? (Shape-note lyrics have the most memorable images, but you still have to sing them in order. The great white throne sits in front of the crystal sea, and please do not rearrange the heavenly furniture.)

The Jukebox of My Mind

I wake up to “Ragtime Goblin Man” playing inside my head; by bedtime, I’m on “Enjoy Yourself, It’s Later Than You Think” (and it usually is), and round and round I go. I’ll be unplugging that particular jukebox on December 18…I hope.

Kringled Memes!

There are dangerous patches on the memory highway, though.  Like black ice, we can encounter inverted and mispronounced words, not to mention hysterically funny bloopers, at any moment.  And boy, do they stick; they move right in like field mice in autumn. Why, just the other day, Brent said “kringled meme” when he meant “mingled cream.” He probably doesn’t remember, but unfortunately I’ll never forget. Will I be blurting it out while we sing “Lines on Ale”? Come to the concerts this weekend and find out.

Hook, Wine, and Thinker! Concerts

Bad puns, low humor, sweet spiritualism, all in one evening!


The Special Quality of Art Mob

XXV Laulupidu

We’re a theater of words and music.

XXV Laulupidu [By ToBreatheAsOne (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]

XXV Laulupidu, the Estonian song celebration: 30,000 singers, 80,000 listeners! There are only 15 of us.

Every season the Art Mob presents a program of around 22 songs, a cappella and “hands-free,” meaning we memorize the words and music for all the pieces. WHY do we do it? It’s hard work, and sometimes we need a pep talk to fortify us for the task. Connie, our Assistant Music Director and Sous-Chef, delivered this one to us just the other week:

“I know that many groups do not think it is a big deal to be “on book “— that the music is the most important thing. With large choruses and orchestras, I reluctantly agree.

However, the experience of the Art Mob audience is, to me, closer to that of theater because the content (the words, the stories they tell, even those silly ones like “Ragtime Goblin Man”) is really important, and it is more effective if it is internalized within us before being sent out to the audience. (Imagine if you came to see a play and everyone had little books they very skillfully scattered around the stage and to which they would refer.)

It is not so much that the stories themselves are such high-quality poetry (with the exception, maybe, of Poe and one or two of the shape-note authors) but precisely *because* they are prosaic, and we turn them into something that makes “prosaicness” very human and profound. That is the special quality of Art Mob.”

Here are short bits of Victoriana, Tin Pan Alley, and more. Give a listen.

Art Mob Aural Snippet 1 Art Mob Aural Snippet 2 Art Mob Aural Snippet 3 Art Mob Aural Snippet 4

Hook, Wine, and Thinker! Fall Concerts

bad puns, low humor, sweet spiritualism, all in one evening!

Where Did You Find That Song?

The Art Mob has a particular fondness for overlooked or forgotten (sometimes justly), music of past eras. These rescued gems aren’t usually just lying around; we have to hunt for them. Here’s how Dean found one of our favorite entries for the December 2017 concert, “Hook, Wine, and Thinker”:

Yard Sale Treasure

Dean’s yard sale treasure

“Yard sales are a huge source of material for the Art Mob. That’s where several of us have gotten old songbooks that we mine for our obscure repertoire. The usual scenario is that a family is selling off an aged or deceased ancestor’s personal stuff, and that not infrequently includes sheet music. A couple of generations ago, it was as common for a family to own a piano and have at least one person who could play it as it is now for us to subscribe to a music streaming service. (I almost wrote, “to own a CD player,” but those are being dumped in the yard sale pile now, too.)

In 2014 I found, at such a sale in Rhinebeck, NY, a little book called “Jewish Folk Songs for the Young Pianist.” As the title suggests, it’s pitched to keyboard beginners, and the arrangements are very spare, just a melody and one or two notes in the left hand. All the songs have words, in Yiddish with a brief translation. And there are some great songs: the book has so far yielded up “Amol Is Geven a Mayse” (“Once Upon a Time”), which we sang in our “For Better or Voice” concerts, and now “Di Alte Kashe” (“The Old Question”) on our upcoming “Hook, Wine, and Thinker” program.

The melodies are hauntingly beautiful, and the minimal piano parts give the vocal arranger (me) maximum freedom. Besides, the songs are a healthy antidote to the overload of explicitly Christian pieces that end up in our repertoire simply because they are so common in the literature.”

Come hear us sing “Di Alte Kashe” in December and find out what the old question is that the world keeps asking us, but we can’t answer.

Hook, Wine, and Thinker! Fall Concerts

Bad puns, low humor, sweet spiritualism, all in one evening!