Schubert Revived

Fierrabras
 composed by franz schubert 
performed at the 2014 salzburg festival In the world of opera today, the standard repertoire is being performed to death, while works of enormous interest from the seventeenth century onward lie moldering in obscurity. Programming unknown compositions . . . . Continue Reading »

The Theology of Patti Smith

Patti Smith is known as the “godmother of punk,” but she always had higher goals than trying to make rock sound dangerous as the hippy era came to an end. I once almost lost a friendship because I suggested that her voice was not strong enough to sustain the passion of her angrier songs. “She’s too frail to be a punk Janis Joplin,” I said. “And too New Jersey.” Maybe that wasn’t fair, especially the part about New Jersey, but I do think she sounds better when, like Bob Dylan, she works with her vocal weaknesses, not against them. She’s sometimes called the female Bob Dylan, but Dylan is a songster whose lyrics are poetic, while Smith is a poet who also sings rock and roll. Because she’s not a natural singer, melancholy fits her tonal range, and when she goes for pretty, without erasing the edginess of her tone, she sounds downright sublime. Continue Reading »

Calvary’s Lost Catholicism

Patrick Cassidy, the composer for the 2014 film Calvary, jokes about the film’s grimness: “It’s not exactly a date movie.” He’s right: The film follows a lonely Irish priest as he shepherds a cold and bitter village. Its harsh realism is profoundly humbling. Heavy as the film is, it is lifted by Cassidy’s classical score. Continue Reading »

Christmas in Harvard Square

Christmas in Harvard Square is the first recording of the St. Paul’s Choir school, the only Catholic boys’ choir school in America. Led by Mr. John Robinson, a former assistant from Canterbury Cathedral, the boys take their music and their faith seriously. Continue Reading »

Grateful Hearts

During the 1970s Paul Williams’s talents as a singer, songwriter, composer and actor were in high demand. His song, “Evergreen”— sung by Barbara Streisand for the film A Star is Born—won an Academy Award and reached number one on the pop charts. He produced similar hits for the Carpenters, Helen Reddy, and David Bowie. He wrote the celebrated score for Bugsy Malone, and appeared in numerous films himself—stealing the show as a wisecracking bootlegger in Smokey and the Bandit. On television, Williams became a ubiquitous presence, co-hosting the Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas shows, and appearing on the Tonight Show an astonishing forty-eight times. In 1979, Williams became even more famous when he wrote The Rainbow Connection, the theme for Jim Henson’s Muppet Movie. Continue Reading »

The Sound of Salvation

Can music save your mortal soul?” Don McLean asked that question in his 1971 classic, “American Pie.” Released when I was ten years old, it was the first rock song that I could sing word for word. I understood none of its historical allusions, but I grooved to its catchy phrases, graphic . . . . Continue Reading »