We can be kind of secretive about our setlists, I know.
Part of that is to maintain some surprises for our audience, part of it is ... we're not sure what we're singing yet!
But, just in case you're wondering, here are some songs we WON'T be singing on stage on December 11:
So... that leaves a lot of songs to choose from.
But maybe there are clues here for you...?
Here are a number of apps and software programs for your phone, tablet or computer that can help train your singing and ear development. This is from our musical director Chris Eastburn and are not paid ads, simply programs Chris recommends.
For more from Chris, check out his website http://www.eastburnmusic.com/
Singing training on an i-pad or I-phone (includes visual feedback)
Erol Singers’s Studio-
Most people, when trained, can learn to sing really well. To be one of them, you need two things: 1. vocal training, 2. a good sense of pitch. This app gives you not only lessons to develop your voice, but also instant visual feedback on your pitch during the lessons.
Available for iPad and iPhone.
Pitch Graph- is a versatile tool for musicians to practice intonation. A similar idea to the visual feedback in the Singer’s Studio however rather than working with in specific lessons it’s simple open ended visual pitch for use it when practicing instruments or singing any song. It has detection sensitivity up to 1/1000 of a cent.
Available for iPad and iPhone.
Amazing Slowdowner- a simple, brilliantly useful app for all musicians.
It’s capable of slowing down any piece of music to help you learn it, or play it or sing it. As well as altering the speed of the music (without changing the pitch), you can change the key. It’s capable of raising or lowering the pitch by an octave, as well as everything in between.
Available on IOS, Android, Mac and PC
Singing training on CD
The Deva Method Vocal Warm-ups (great for use in car or when doing other activities, focuses on warming up voice, builds stamina and resonance)
Available as MP3s
Roger Love Book and CD (also great for use in car, excellent for vocal range development - including being able to more easily sing high notes)
Ear training program for use on computer
Become a better musician through ear training and sight singing for all skill levels
As the Newton Family Singers prepare for a set of songs written and performed by Johnny Cash and his in-laws, the Carter Family, I read two graphic novel biographies to learn more about these personalities.
Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness by Reinhard Kleist follows Cash through his early years, as a youngster and through his drug problems, meeting June Carter and performing the Folsom Prison concert before jumping ahead to a sort of epilogue where he is recording the American sessions with Rick Rubin and looking back. The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song begins with Alvin Pleasant Carter showing musical interest as a toddler, and then collecting songs and performing with his wife Sara and her cousin (and his brother’s wife) Maybelle on record and radio. AP and Sara’s daughter Janette sings with them, too, and the book ends when the original configuration basically retires and Maybelle’s daughters -- Helen, June and Anita -- form the Carter Sisters.
Both books are entertaining and informative and they shape their narrative in different ways. Johnny Cash tells a fairly straightforward story known to anyone who has a basic understanding of Cash’s life (i.e. anyone who saw the Cash biopic “Walk the Line”) but intercuts the biographical story with vignettes of story based on Cash’s best known songs, like “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” The story of Billy taking his guns to town, and Sue searching for his father, are also told. Because some of the songs Cash wrote were inspired by his own life (the flood of “Five Feet High and Rising,” for example) and others were invented, some of these vignettes can be confusing for anyone not familiar with the Cash catalog. Did he actually kill a man in Reno?! (No.)
Kleist’s art for Johnny Cash is full of hard slashing blacks against white, stylistically capturing the tortured, hotel trashing, pill popping Cash. (As a side note, while reading Methland I made the connection that Cash’s Benzedrine (“Bennies”) pills were an early prescribed form of methamphetamine. Johnny Cash was on meth!) For the most part, the characters, especially Johnny, June and Bob Dylan -- famous people for whom there are lots of references -- are drawn to be easily recognized.
Frank Young and David Lasky’s Carter Family takes a different tack with their narrative. Their story is told almost like a serialized comic. Many “chapters” are 1-4 pages long, detailing a particular event -- Maybelle marrying AP’s brother Eck, or AP asking his publisher to give songwriting credit to a fellow song collector. Being less familiar with the Carter Family’s story, some of these events suggested portent (Janette saving up for her own autoharp and AP buying chickens with the money instead) or highlights that I didn’t recognize (the dates for the first recordings of particular songs, for example).
Like Johnny Cash, The Carter Family does not shy away from character flaws and bad choices. AP walks around with his head in the clouds, leaving for long stretches to find new songs; meanwhile, Sara meets her second husband, Coy Bays. In contrast, Eck and Maybelle are shown to have a happy marriage, investing in new technologies like a washing machine while AP and Sara always seem on the brink of bankruptcy. At one point, AP cuts down Sara’s favorite tree to make a cabinet out of the wood and her reaction shows the marriage is doomed.
Young and Lasky’s story is told in color except for a section where the vignettes are shortened to a B/W four panel strip format for ten pages. The art is not particularly stylish or bold and the characters can sometimes be hard to distinguish, although the dialogue clears that up. The Carter Family also comes with a cd of radio recordings from 1939.
In sum, both Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness and The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song are good introductions to the story of these performers but those familiar with their musical catalogs will undoubtedly get more out of them.
Are you a Beatles fan?
It's sort of a ridiculous question about a band, and a trio of songwriters, who in many ways invented pop songwriting, establishing its DNA in R&B, folk, music-hall tunes and experimental art music, and pointed the way towards the contemporary singer-songwriter, heavy metal, double-A side singles, concept albums, and more.
In other words, isn't everyone a Beatles fan?
Well, I am and here are some of my personal favorite Beatles-related media. Be warned: this is a potential black hole of procrastination!
Across the Universe (film)
The soundtrack to this movie is good, but the film is a continuous burst of creativity. Director Julie Taymor is known for her Broadway staging of Disney's Lion King and the film "Frida" but here she collaborates with her husband, Elliot Goldenthal, a film composer, to basically make a jukebox musical from the Beatles catalog. The actors are all excellent singers and full of youth and energy -- it reminds you that the Beatles were a young band -- George Harrison was only 27 when they broke up. You may find some of the choices odd, but they are never boring. I was prepared to maybe hate this film, but I ended up loving it. Plus, Salma Hayek in a nurse's costume... Rawr...
I Am Sam (soundtrack)
I have not seen the film "I Am Sam", but I love the soundtrack. All songs Beatles cover tunes by contemporary masters of songwriting like Aimee Mann, Paul Westerberg, Rufus Wainwright... Eddie Vedder's cover of "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" gets some radio play, but there are lots of gems here. The beauty of great covers is that it affirms that the songwriting is excellent and though the Beatles had great arranging from George Martin and excellent guitar tones... it all comes back to the melodies and the words.
The Beatles Complete on Ukulele
This is for the text. The uke cover versions of every Beatles tune are amusing, sometimes very good, but I love this site for the essays about the songs. They are meticulous about who the main songwriter was and then there is often a story about the recording session, or arguments they were having at the time... To be honest, I couldn't say how accurate these stories are, but they are the stories I wish are true.
The Songs the Beatles Gave Away
Slate.com has been "blogging the Beatles" with articles that reflect where the Beatles were 50 years ago. Many of their articles are worth reading but my favorite is about songs they gave away. Lennon and McCartney wanted to be Rogers and Hammerstein or Lieber and Stoller and they wrote songs -- hit songs -- for friends and labelmates. These are mostly early, 2 minute pop songs, but they are worth a listen.
"Love" soundtrack to Cirque du Soleil
Again, I've not seen the Cirque du Soleil show set to Beatles music, but I find the soundtrack fascinating. In this case, it's not so much about the songwriting as the production. George Martin, the original producer of the Beatles catalog, and his son Giles, got permission to remix the songs, taking elements from one track and putting it behind vocals from another track. Apparently there was no change to individual tracks, in other words, the Martins found riffs in the right key and time signature to mash up with other songs. Listening to the songs is like hearing an audio treasure hunt, as you recognize snippets from various recordings.
And now, in writing this post, I've discovered a site that has collected every Beatles interview ever, here: http://www.beatlesinterviews.org/ I may never sleep.
Here, for the first time in public, some highlights of our first Newton Family Singers concert from 2010. The venue was Mason Rice Elementary School in Newton Center. Our choral director was Joel Sindelar who now leads a similar group in Jamaica Plain called Sing Positive.
Some things to think about as you watch:
How many people can you name?
How the heck did the kids get so big since then?
Why do the women look the same while the men have aged?
How thankful are you that we now have consumer grade HD digital videography?
We've had a lot of fun together over the years, haven't we?
A post from Lauren Paul:
For those who don’t know Kahlil Gibran’s iconic 1923 poem “On Children,” hearing the words put to music might seem an attack on today’s helicopter-parent culture, albeit with catchy tune by Ysaye M. Barnwell in four-part a cappella harmony. “On Children” is the Newton Family Singers’ women’s selection for our fall concert this year. It is super-fun to sing.
The words, though, are a bit of a slap in the face to today’s parents, full of reminders – no, that’s too weak, more like harsh declarations -- of the essential separateness between parents and their offspring. “They come through you but they are not from you and though they are with you, they belong not to you.”
For anyone whose children are still in the full bloom of baby/toddlerhood, this is anathema. Who, then, do these lovable, lovely dependent creatures belong to, if not their parents and families? Can’t they belong to us? For just for a little while? For just a little more? Please??
Even more galling to the uninitiated: “You can give them your love but not your thoughts. They have their own thoughts.” Well, sure, parents should not “give” kids their thoughts by brainwashing them or being intolerant to differing opinions. But what about “giving” in the sense of “sharing” thoughts? How barren the experiences of both raising a child and being a child would be if no one ever talked about anything.
As young children begin to grow up, it becomes increasingly obvious Gibran (who himself never had children) was right. “You can house their bodies but not their souls.” By the time the child is a teenager, it is all too clear how desperate to be liberated that soul really is, even while parental maintenance of that body is still a necessity.
“You can strive to be like them, but you cannot make them just like you. Strive to be like them but you cannot make them just like you.” There it is again – that jarring admonition that parents’ best role is to watch and adopt, rather than mold and shape. None of this is very 21st-century parenting.
To me, the message of “On Children” is that children are autonomous, self-actualized beings, and childhood is fleeting. Also, parents don’t mean as much as we think we do. That is a hard message to swallow, but also comforting in its way. We do not need to be perfect parents in order to turn out full-blown humans. For the most part, these “sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself” create themselves. Getting out of their way, watching and admiring as they flourish – that is our task.
Our concert on November 16, 2014 is a celebration for the Newton Family Singers. The performance will be our 10th and mark our fifth year together as a musical group.
To celebrate, we're revisiting some of our (and, we hope, your) favorite songs from past concerts. Here's a partial list:
"Old Time Religion" was sung at our very first concert. There are serious versions if this song and ... not so serious versions. A genre of parody called "Filk" songs has its origins in the Science Fiction and Fantasy fan community and writes new lyrics to songs. Old Time Religion has many, MANY alternate lyrics, most of which can be found here.
Our first three concerts all featured songs by Cat Stevens: "Morning Has Broken," "Peace Train" and "Moonshadow."
Our performance of "Seven Bridges Road" in the spring of 2011 was a highlight for many of our singers. I think we love the power of creating the a capella chords that begin and end the song. In one of the first blog posts I wrote for Newton Family Singers, I traced the evolution of "Seven Bridges Road" from Steve Young's solo singer-songwriter version to the popular version by the Eagles. And of course, when tracing evolution, we often find a Monkee involved.
Somehow "Dead Skunk" was included in our 2011 Sun Moon Stars program ('cause it stinks to "high heaven"?). It's a fun song and Chris has written a new arrangement that shows off how our children have learned to sing in harmony.
In 2012, we did a concert of Pete Seeger songs. Seeger's influence is so broad that it really was a sing-a-long and we included lyrics in the program. I had made an alternate program for Seeger, though, using quotes I thought were relevant about particular songs. This page has quotes from Pete Seeger about the songs he wrote or popularized like "If I Had a Hammer," "Old Time Religion" and "Wimoweh." Here's a page about the Seeger Family Tree -- the range and influence is quite broad.
In the fall of 2012, we did a concert of Carole King and Joni Mitchell songs. One highlight was the Carole King song "Beautiful." A Broadway show based on the life and music of Carole King was staged in 2014; the producers used this song as the title, Beautiful.
One of the joys of every concert this when Andy Rogovin writes an original composition for us to sing. Pete and Woody, a tribute to Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, is one of his best. The lyrics really capture what many less love about folk music: the timeless themes and the emotional power of the songs. The arrangement by Chris Eastburn includes allusions to a few songs Seeger wrote or popularized, how many can you name?
Our own Andy Rogovin wrote another beautiful song, this one about parenting children with special needs.
The entire group loves this song and as part of our charity efforts to raise money for the Asperger’s Association of New England, and the Autism Alliance of MetroWest, we've found donors who will contribute a dollar to these charities for each "Like" we get on YouTube. That's a pretty easy way to give to charity. Thanks to Hinckley Allen and NESCA (Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children and Adolescents) for offering to give up to $4,000 to match those "Likes."
The video is embedded below, but to get more information on the charity efforts and to "Like" it, you need to go to the YouTube page here. Thanks!
I'm embarrassed to admit that a month ago, I had no idea who Phoebe Snow was.
After listening to Paul Simon's "Gone At Last," I was curious to learn more about his duet partner on that song (from the album Still Crazy After All These Years). She also sang back up on "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" from the same album.
The second episode of Saturday Night Live (the second ever, in their first season), featured Paul Simon singing solo, reuniting with Art Garfunkel for a few songs and presenting Phoebe Snow for a song.
The video and audio aren't great here (someone filmed their television) but here's Phoebe Snow, 7 months pregnant, introduced by Paul Simon on Saturday Night Live, October 18, 1975.
The always amusing AV Club section of The Onion actually reviewed this episode. Classic sentence:
"The episode opens with Simon, in his porn-mustache and the haircut of a man who doesn’t yet understand that letting his hair grow wild in those areas where it will still grow at all doesn’t make him look any less balding, alone onstage, singing the title song from his then-brand new album, Still Crazy After All These Years."
So who was Phoebe Snow? She was born Phoebe Ann Laub and took her stage name from a fictional character from an advertising campaign for a railway line.
Phoebe Snow is best-known for her song "Poetry Man" which got to #5 on Billboard's Top 100 and #1 on their adult contemporary chart:
From an interview with listen.com (via Songfacts):
"That was the second song I ever wrote in my whole life.... 'Poetry Man,' came about because I was really getting the hang of guitar picking and I had these open chords, not open tuning, open chords. And I was having a relationship with somebody. From the words you can probably deduce that the guy was married. It was a bad thing to do. But I got a lovely romantic sonnet out of it. As it turns out, he was not a particularly great guy either. I turned it into this ode to romance. It's funny looking back on it - I sat there and hunched over the guitar and said 'I'm gonna finish this.' I was in the throes of young romance."
For the record, although Jackson Browne was the rumored subject of this song -- she was 22 and opened for Browne to support her debut album -- Snow categorically denied the speculation.
So it's the mid-1970s and Paul Simon needs a duet partner for a song he wrote, "Gone At Last," so he and his producer, Phil Ramone, call to request -- and get -- the premier female singer in New York City: Bette Midler.
It didn't work out. Midler and Simon officially declared that they did not agree on the arrangement of the song, but a clash of personalities may have been involved. (As much as I admire Simon as a songwriter, I didn't have to delve deep into Paul Simon research to find people who hate him for various reasons; see: "Little" Steven Van Zandt, Steve Berlin of Los Lobos.)
In any case, Midler was out and Ramone and Simon then chose Snow to sing on the track.
Here's Paul Simon with Phoebe Snow performing "Gone At Last" on Late Night with David Letterman ("You're gonna hurt someone with that voice," Dave tells Snow at the end of the song).
Would the song have been a top 25 hit with Midler instead of Snow? Well, I have no documentation, but YouTube comments suggest that this demo has Bette's vocals on it:
The arrangement is very different --a lot of percussion and no piano, as well as overly busy backing vocals towards the end -- but this vocal certainly lacks the passion of Snow's recorded track.
As the song says, Phoebe Snow had some bad luck. In 1975 she gave birth to a daughter, Valerie. Valerie suffered from severe brain damage, a result of hydrocephalus and, according to Snow, medical malpractice. Doctors did not expect her to live long and told her mother not to take her home from the hospital; they told her to put Valerie in an institution for a life that would be measured in months. "Never," Snow declared.
Phoebe chose to care for Valerie at home and, after divorcing Valerie's father, by herself. This meant stepping away from her musical career. Phoebe did such a good job caring for her daughter that Valerie confounded doctors by living for 31 years.
Phoebe's eulogy for her daughter is the only content on her website, phoebesnow.com.
Having chosen not to tour, Snow continued to support herself and Valerie by singing. She sang on numerous commercial jingles in the 1990s; I remember almost all of these commercials but had never realized it was the same voice on every one of them.
She sang, for instance, "Cotton, the fabric of our lives" although I couldn't find a copy on YouTube. (The song was so popular that Big Cotton remakes the commercial with new young singers and they have clogged up the search engines, but I did find a twenty year old version featuring Aaron Neville.)
Here are some more Phoebe snow jingle classics.
Phoebe Snow from a Stouffers Commercial (1995) "Nothing comes closer to home":
General Foods International Coffee, "Celebrate the moments of your life":
"Safeguard the ones you love":
Snow developed a cerebral hemorrhage in 2010 and died in 2011. CBS Sunday Morning ran a story about her in 2009, which functions well as a video obituary:
A bit more profane (yes with some 4 letter words so totally NSFW for people who actually work in the presence of others), but very sweet, is this radio remembrance from Howard Stern. Along with his stories of her, he also plays some tracks she recorded for his radio show. Snow was friends with Howard, sang at his wedding, and displays a great sense of humor. If you think of Howard as just a nasty mouth on the radio, or Snow as just a sainted mother, listening to this will show another side of both of these people.
And now she's gone.
Here's Snow performing Etta James' signature song "At Last" with Donald Fagen's New York Rock and Roll Revue:
Here's cleaner audio of Snow's take on "Piece of My Heart":
I can't believe I've only gotten to know Phoebe Snow. I certainly won't forget her, the example she set with her life, or her music.
Do you have a favorite Snow performance, or know of a jingle she sang on? Let us know in the comments.