Shine on Harvest Moon

"Shine on Harvest Moon" was first published in 1908 by performers Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth; although, apparently there is some controversy as to the actual composers. This song is one of many moon-themed songs of the era.

The song has enjoyed long-term popularity. In addition to being featured in many films, there are at least two movies with the same title as the song; a 1938 western starring Roy Rogers, and a 1944 bio pic about Bayes and Norworth. It has been recorded by many performers throughout the 20th century and continues to be a popular choice more than a century later.

I'm using sheet music from 1918 that includes chords for uke in D. Since I'm playing a soprano ukulele tuned in C and singing it in the original key, I'm ignoring the chord shapes and just reading the chord names. As with many songs of the tin-pan-alley era, the chorus is more well known than the verses, but I've decided to sing the first verse as well.

Here it is in honor of this week's harvest moon, and the autumnal equinox. Enjoy!

Let Me Call You Sweetheart (I'm in Love with You)

In honor of Valentine's day, here's a little love song. "Let Me Call You Sweetheart (I'm in Love with You)" is a popular tune from 1910 with music by Leo Friedman and words by Beth Slater Whitson. I'm playing from the 1912 sheet music, which includes ukulele chords along with the piano accompaniment. I made a few minor adjustments, but I'm basically playing and singing as written. You may have heard this song in a recent episode of Downton Abbey (series 3, episode 2).

At the Mid Hour of Night

I'm finally back to making music after the holidays, so here's a new song for my public domain project. "At the Mid Hour of Night" is an Irish folk song from the 5th volume of Moore's Irish Melodies. The poet, Thomas Moore, and arranger, John Stevenson, selected old Irish tunes and wrote new words and piano accompaniments for them. They began publishing these in about 1807 and the volume with this song was first published in 1813. I used the 1882 edition available at the Petrucci Music Library.

Many classical singers know this song from the collection of folksong arrangements by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), which is where I first learned of it. The melody is slightly different from Britten's arrangement, which used the melody "O Molly, dear!" collected by Edward Bunting from a harper in 1800. Petrucci Music Library has the Bunting Ancient Music of Ireland collection available, as well. Instead of using Stevenson's accompaniment – it seems a bit too reliant on tonic and dominant chords for this tune – I've made my own simple arrangement for baritone ukulele to highlight the haunting melody.

One Horse Open Sleigh (Jingle Bells)

Here's one more Christmas tune. This one will be very familiar to most people since Jingle Bells is perhaps the most performed secular Christmas tune (although it was apparently first intended as a Thanksgiving song). I arranged this version for voice and ukulele from James Lord Pierpont's 1857 publication, which you can view via the Library of Congress. The melody is a bit different from the one usually heard, and the chord progression is a little more interesting. Merry Christmas!

What Child Is This

It's been a while since I've posted a video in my public domain project. This one has double public domain credits. The original tune is a traditional English 16th-century melody called "Greensleeves." It was popular enough in Elizabethan England to be referenced in multiple Shakespeare plays. In 1865 William Dix wrote the poem that we use for the lyrics of the popular carol, "What Child Is This."

This is one of my favorite carols. The melody is what captures me -- it feels old and pagan -- perfect for a long, dark winter night.

After You've Gone

"After You've Gone" was written in 1918 by Creamer and Layton. The 1918 recording by Marion Harris was a hit. It has become a jazz standard performed by many others including Ella Fitzgerald and Fats Waller. I've decided to include the first verse and the refrain (which often stands on its own). I'm also trying out a new mic. I think the sound is much better, but I'm sure I'll find ways to tweak it as I use it more.

Give My Regards to Broadway

Here's another tin pan alley tune for my public domain project. This one is perhaps the most famous of those I've recorded so far. George M. Cohan wrote this tune for his musical Little Johnny Jones in 1904; wherein he sang this song in the title role. It has been performed by many, including Billy Murray in a 1904 recording, James Cagney for the 1942 movie Yankee Doodle Dandy, and Judy Garland in 1966 for the Sammy Davis, Jr. Show.

All By Myself

It's been a whole week since I've posted! I'm working on several posts, but none are ready quite yet. Here's my latest video to tide you over.

This song is a gem by Irving Berlin from 1921. Early recordings of "All By Myself" were by Aileen Stanley and Earnest Hare, but it's been recorded by many others including Ella Fitzgerald. It had a resurgence in popularity in the late 1940s when Bing Crosby sang it in the film Blue Skies.

French Airs: L'aimable Iris est de retour

This post combines two projects - my public domain project and my French airs project. I've realized the figured bass for "L'aimable Iris est de retour" by Joseph Chabanceau de la Barre. It would have originally been accompanied by theorbo, lute or harpsichord, but I've arranged it for piano which is much more common in a modern voice studio. I'm singing just the first verse; the second verse (called a double) is highly ornamented. Performance of just the first verse was standard practice for voice students in mid-seventeenth-century French airs and makes the piece very useful for lessons today. This way students can work on the French language while singing simpler vocal lines and they can also master the small ornaments that are expected on repetitions. As they master the language and technical skills required they can begin to work on the double.

Here's an idiomatic translation:

The lovely Iris has returned, but she has not changed. She is as indifferent as always, Just as I am enamored as always.

French Airs Project

Amadis by Lully

I've been working on and off for years on a project of french airs. It started as one of my DMA projects but needs refining and polishing. I'm hoping these pieces will be useful as pedagogical tools.

So often, singers avoid standard French art song repertoire until they reach the sophomore or junior year of college because much of it is difficult. Not only does it require an understanding of advanced music theory, but with a few exceptions they are quite difficult technically.

The pieces I'm working on are from the 17th and 18th century and use a musical language similar (though highly adjusted to the French language) to those in the standard Italian arias singers are so familiar with (the 24 Italian Songs and Arias; and the newer 26 Italian Songs and Arias).

There are some challenges with this repertoire. First, French as it was spoken at that time was not the same as modern French. This is hardly surprising since 17th and 18th century English is quite different from today's English, but since I'm not a native speaker it's harder for me to adjust. Luckily, I found a highly useful online tool, the ARTFL Project at the University of Chicago. It includes several dictionaries from the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Second, these pieces are only available in the U.S. as facsimile reproductions. Some are available digitally (see the Lully score above), but others are only in hardcopy form at a few libraries. I was fortunate to visit Oberlin College & Conservatory in the summer of 2008 where the Conservatory Library is full of excellent facsimiles.

Lastly, most of the scores include only a figured bass and vocal line or are for full orchestra and voice. The pieces must be arranged so that those who are not specialists in early music can accompany the singer.

This is the part I'm working on refining now. Although I made arrangements for a recital I gave in December 2008, that performance showed me that they still needed improvement. My goal is to have accompaniments that an intermediate pianist can perform, this way it will be more useful for high school level students who often don't have access to excellent pianists. It will also give more teachers the option of playing for their students.

I'll try to post more information as I continue the project, perhaps including a performance and/or a score.