Category: Uncategorized

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.


Fishing for Singers, Hook, Wine, and Thinker.

It’s September, and in line with our December concerts’ fishing/drinking theme, The Art Mob is trawling for new singers (especially tenors).

You who receive this message: You already know how much fun you’ll have, so come on and join us. And if you know someone else who’d be interested, forward this message, or slip us his or her name and email address, and we’ll be right over with our nets.

The rest of you: visit www.artmob.org and sample our audio clips, read all about us, write to Brent (he really wants to hear from you; see below) and get on board.

Here’s how we describe our unpatented Art Mob process and program: Our song selections, which are made by consensus, are notoriously quirky and eclectic.If you like  gospel, Victoriana, children’s ditties, jazz, and country songs along with who knows what other styles, you’ll feel right at home in The Art Mob. We rehearse every Monday evening. If you want to join in the fun, get in touch with our musical director, Brent Frederick. His email address: brent@brentfrederickmusic.com.


We love our fans!

Thanks to all who attended our Rockin’ the Boat concerts in December.

We had a record crowd for the Friday performance!

On Saturday we got a standing ovation!

We are still feeling the love, and we’re sending it right back to you.

Our next concert series is May 20-22. Watch for more news as those dates approach.


It’s On Record!

The Art Mob has a new CD, called Hope is the Sing with Feathers. That was the theme of our May 15 concert series, and the CD contains all the songs from it.

You can buy HopeFeathersCDone at our next concert series, Rockin’ the Boat, which we will perform at the Tenri Cultural Institute, 43A W. 13th Street in Greenwich Village on the first weekend in December:

  • Friday, Dec. 4, 8 PM
  • Saturday, Dec. 5, 8 PM
  • Sunday, Dec. 6, 3 PM

Rockin’ the Boat, December 4, 5, and 6

RockBoat1The Art Mob will be Rockin’ the Boat in three a cappella concerts at the Tenri Cultural Institute the first weekend in December. Drift along on a sea of musical pleasure, with songs that will bring waves of nostalgia, gales of laughter, and more.

Tenri is at 43A W. 13th Street, New York, NY.

Performance times:

Friday, December 4, 8 PM
Saturday, December 5, 8 PM
Sunday, December 6, 3 PM


The Art Mob Will Be Rockin’ the Boat in December

RockBoat3

 

The theme for The Art Mob’s December 2015 concert series is “Rockin’ the Boat,” and we’ve chosen a raft of wonderful songs about … well, use your imagination.

As usual, we’ve chosen songs from a range of genres and eras for a program that we hope will make you laugh, sigh, maybe shed a tear or two, and yell for an encore.

Rehearsals are underway. Stay tuned for information about when and where the concerts will be.