Category: Concerts

Save those Dates or Pay the Price!

It’s autumn! We’ve been reviewing our faults and our misdeeds, resolving to do better, and gathering songs for our fall concert, “Sin Tax!” (December 13, 14, 15).

Charlton Heston as Moses
Is it repentance time yet?

And how appropriate a theme it always is. For some, fall is atonement season. But why atone for sinning when you can celebrate it in song? Not only are there oodles of songs about sins, an awful lot of them seem to be country songs. So we’ll be sinning—pardon me, I mean singing—“sad-ass songs,” as Dolly put it; love and loss as only Elvis could croon it; gamblin’ and robbin’ via Jimmie Rodgers; prostitution, thanks to Cole Porter (how’d he get in here?). We will not ignore lying, maternal neglect, corporal punishment, and murder, Appalachian-style. And because, as Wynton Marsalis said in the Ken Burns documentary, all country songs are about sin and repentance, we’ll have some repentance songs, too.When we chose the theme for this fall’s concert, I expected to be singing about grammar and sentence structure. But I was surprised at how few really good songs there are in that category, outside of Schoolhouse Rock! No, sin is a far richer vein to mine. (Yes, we’ll also sing about mines.) And we’ll feel free to drop the final g’s from our participles.

10 Commandments + Moses
Unfortunately, we will not be singing “The Ten Commandments” by The Fugs.

A bushel of these songs are arranged and expertly set on us Mobsters by some of us Mobsters (Dean, Connie, and Brent, that is), keeping it in the Family. And making their Mob debut this season are two new members, Tenor Avi and Soprano Raelyn, helping with the chores and beautifully filling out our sound. We’re sure glad to have them.

So mark your calendars to hear our newbies, relish our misdeeds, wallow along with us in regrets, and oh, yes, close with our annual Xmas singalong, and we’ll all feel better.


At 40, a View from the Top

As the spring flowers begin to blossom, the Art Mob’s 40th anniversary concert program begins to take shape. We’ve got the songs and we’ve got the order in which we’ll sing them, and some of them are sounding like music in our Monday night rehearsals.

The Mob is like a shark that must move forward to keep breathing, so we’re not looking to the past for our anniversary program: there is more new material than old, and we can once again guarantee—as always!—that you will hear music you’ve never heard before and may never hear again. We’re willing to bet that the number of living ears that have enjoyed the strains of When George III Was King, Over the Top for Jesus, or I’ll Do It All Over Again, divided by two, times the square root of all the vintage music videos on YouTube, is basically nobody. On the other hand, we’ve salted the program with a few popular favorites like As Time Goes By and You’re the Top, in world-premiere Art Mob exclusive arrangements.

In fact, there are no fewer than thirteen Mob arrangements on the list, some of which are reprises (Connie’s Come Home, Father, Dean’s Ruby), but most of which are brand new for this concert. Bernadette makes her Mob arranging debut, joining our veterans Dean, Connie, and Hannah.

It’s a bit late for us to take on new singers for this season, but we do hope you’ll try out for the next one. Male voices—a risky term to use in the gender-contentious present, but one still current in the world of vocal music—are in particu larly short supply, but that doesn’t mean you should stop reading if you’re an alto or soprano. We’d love to hear from you, and our corps of arrangers would be able to add more divisi to the parts.

Remember: Friday May 17 and Saturday May 18 at 8 pm, and Sunday May 19 at 3 pm. Friday and Sunday are at Ronald Feldman Gallery, 31 Mercer Street; Saturday is at Tenri Cultural Institute, 43A West 13th Street. In both venues you’ll get to see brilliant art while you listen to our enchanting music. Yes, this is a lot to remember. That’s why we wrote it all down for you.


The Art Mob Marches Forth

 

March 4th (get it?), 2019

It’s been a long, strange winter, but today we’re poking our heads up from under the snow and announcing our spring concerts, May 17-18-19.

And they will be the best concerts ever (at our favorite venues, Ronald Feldman Gallery and Tenri Cultural Institute). This entire  year will be the greatest Art Mob year ever, because, folks, it’s our 40th anniversary.

40 years ago, in 1979, the Art Mob was birthed by Marcia Tucker, whose next-best public accomplishment was to found the New Museum here in NYC. Since then, the Art Mob has rescued, revised, rearranged, and relished music of the Victorian era, Tin Pan Alley, shape-note, second-hand music collections, jazz, radio gospel, and much more.

Our theme this spring is “The Art Mob Tops 40.” You’d think the program will feature our greatest hits, our favorites, your favorites, top o’ the charts, something tops … but no.

When our theme was “In Gut We Trust,” we ended up singing not about feelings, but about digestion. In May we’ll be singing, not about aces, peaks and acmes, but about time: time going by; times past; grandfather clocks; time slipping away; do-overs and souvenirs, good years and bad; and, as always, much more. Yes, there will be a few “tops” tunes, and some of these songs about time did top their antique charts. Mostly, we’ll dig up more from that deep obscurity that so delights the Art Mob heart.

So mark all your calendars, please: the Art Mob Tops 40 on May 17, 18, 19.

And happy Spring.


Save Those Dates

Where does the time go?

Just yesterday it was August, hot as blazes. Suddenly it’s harvest moons, Halloween, and long underdrawers.

The Mob has been quiet but busy, gestating new music and more, and preparing for our December concert series: In Gut We Trust!

SAVE THE DATES!

In Gut We Trust! December 14, 15, 16! )

(Honestly, when we came up with the theme last May, this writer thought it would celebrate instinct and feelings, but as it’s turned out, we’re mostly singing about food and eating. And agita.)

By the time we’re ready for the concerts

SAVE THE DATES!

In Gut We Trust! December 14, 15, 16! )

I say, by the time we’re ready, we’ll know our post-election fates and whether eating—make that “stress eating”—will still be worthwhile. Or whether, as one of our songs says, we’ll get pie in the sky, by and by.

The Art Mob archivist has been busy, too. Now you can steep your senses in past recordings of glorious Art Mob tunes, in the bath or whenever convenient for you, on SoundCloud.

In addition to highlights from our latest, “Keep a Lid on It!,” featured albums are: the immortal “The Best Laid Planets”; the timeless “Pigments of Our Imagination”; the ethereal “How Can We Keep from Singing?”; and the unexpected “FlashMob.”  Click those titles, or gosh, just go to our entire trove of albums HERE.  We’ll keep adding to this collection until they demand more money.

Keep an eye out for sneak peeks of our forthcoming program and more treasures from the archives.

And don’t forget to

SAVE THE DATES!

In Gut We Trust! December 14, 15, 16! )


A Herd of Cats and a Hoard of Music

The Things We Sing: “I Had a Dream Just Now, Mother”

Art Mob treasurer, arranger, and bass Dean Rainey tells the story behind this Victorian exemplar:

Our Spring 2018 “Keep a Lid On It” program includes this spooky 1854 lament, representing a genre that dates from a time when infant mortality was far too common.

I Had a Dream sheet music

The original sheet music in Helen’s book.

The popular music industry of the day took advantage of this tragedy as an opportunity to pull on consumers’ heartstrings, which are reliably connected to their purse-strings.

In the case of this song, publisher W. C. Peters & Sons, of Cincinnati, sold a copy to the Thibault family. Helen E. Thibault, perhaps a musical daughter, included it in a bound collection of her sheet music, with her name engraved on the front. You can barely read it now.

Helen's book

Helen’s book

Time passed, and we don’t know exactly what became of Helen E. and the rest of the Thibaults. Her sheet music collection survived, though, and fell into the hands of an eccentric great-uncle of mine. I don’t recall ever meeting him; he lived in Southern California, where he worked, for decades, at a bookstore. A recluse in his later years and apparently a hoarder (he never let anyone into his house, so we have only the word of the people who cleaned it up after he died), he left no heirs, but his will divided his estate among three relatives, including my mother. His many books and his other property—of which there seems to have been very little other than a herd of cats—were sold off and the proceeds doled out as directed.

But there were some things that nobody wanted. Besides Helen’s volume of music, damaged by time, mildew, and cats, there were a hefty stack of loose sheet music, dating from the teens through the thirties; a boxful of Hollywood movie magazines; and miscellaneous movie star photos. All this was shipped to my mother’s address, where I pounced on the music. I have mined the loose sheets for many an Art Mob arrangement, but I always felt most emotionally attached to Helen’s book, since it connects me with a real person: a person who, judging from its contents, sang sentimental duets (“Our Wild Woodland Home,” “Gently Sighs the Breeze”) and played salon pieces for piano four hands (Overture to “Le Cheval de Bronze” by D. F. E Auber) and solo (“Le Carnevale de Venise” by Th. Oesten) when she was not singing about departed children. She also, charmingly, believed in fairies: the Mob sang “Tell Me Where Do Fairies Dwell,” one of several such songs in her book, in 2011 for our “Dwelling On It” program.

Music cover with Jenny Lind

19th-century musical superstars Jenny Lind and Marietta Alboni

I arranged “I Had a Dream Just Now, Mother” in 2010 for the Mob’s “Out of Our Element” concerts. The rationale for reprising it this time is—well, the real reason is that I had been haunted by a desire to sing it again and was looking for any excuse. The fig leaf of legitimacy is the “wreath of golden hair” with which the angel is bedecked. His lid.

I can find no trace of this song on the famously comprehensive Internet. Solon Nourse, the composer, is there, but as a hymnodist. The lyricist, A. J. Shively, has been totally eclipsed by a young Broadway actor of the same name. Helen is gone for good, and the baby left with the angel, but we can make the music come back to life. Come to the concert and enjoy this Art Mob hyper-exclusive.

 

 

 

 

Keep a Lid on It!

Hats and rabbits; sex and secrets; whistles and wails–Shhh!

 

 

 

 

 

 


An Art Mob Secret Revealed!

OUR PROCESS

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.


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!

 


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!


Songs for the End of Daylight Saving Time

The days are short now. It’s getting cold and depressing, but the Art Mob has its seasonal affective disorder under control, with a leafy pile of songs about the season: how it’s dark; how everything’s dying; how the weather portends the scriptural end of days … and makes us happy! Really.

Take the well-named Autumn, penned by Samuel Johnson, no less, in the 18th century. What’s his soothing thought for the season? Listen:

O, what remains, what lingers yet /To cheer me in the darkening hour?

The grape remains, the friend of wit /In love and mirth of mighty power.

Yes, wine will keep his pulse cantering and his girlfriend looking good.   Here’s what else we sing:

I’ve got the wonder where he went and when he’s comin’ back blues…

What care I how time advances, I am drinking ale today!…

The world asks an old question, to which there is no answer…

We’ve got more songs, more music, more proven remedies for the blues.

Come and hear us sing them all: December 15, 16, 17

Hook, Wine, and Thinker! Fall Concerts

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

  We’ll cheer you up.