’tis in my memory lock’d

In early 1990 I wrote the music for Bruce and Doreen, an original (and in retrospect very strange) musical.  It played the Erindale theatre in Canberra for a strictly limited engagement – as people would say nowadays – of 9 performances, and I believe its entire combined audience over that run did not add up to one full house.

I remember starting rehearsals with vocal warm-ups, but at the age of 19 I didn’t know very many.  I hadn’t had many singing lessons, and I’d done only two other amateur musicals since leaving school, so I made some up, and one in particular has really hung around.

1990 was my second year at the Canberra School of Music, where I was studying Jazz, and I’d become a little obsessed with degrees of the scale.  I remember a lecturer mentioning that many singers tended to go flat on the seventh degree of a major scale, so I gave this to the cast:

I’m hesitant about claiming authorship of this one, because it’s now gone on to have some life of its own, but I remember having a few concerns about it when it was new.  I remember worrying about the timing changes that kicked in, especially when you reach the sixth note of the scale.  I remember justifying it to casts as an articulation exercise, as well as a pitching one, but this was just spur of the moment flim-flam.

I remember coming down the scale – 8, 878, 87678 etc. – and trying a chromatic version, with all twelve degrees of the scale, but just on an “ah” sound.  And I remember getting people who were afraid of harmonies to stop on a given number on the way up, making crunchy chords with lots of tones and semitones in them.

I never did it as a round (and my hat’s off to the person who thought of that), and I never did it using solfa syllables, because I was in a Jazz course, and we didn’t go in for that fusty classical stuff.

After I moved to Sydney in 1992, the exercise was introduced to several hundred Brisbane and Sydney school children, in the cast of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and their attendant teachers.  Later adult casts with the STC, the Ensemble Theatre, David Atkins, and Gordon/Frost would have done it too, until I moved back to Canberra in 1998.

I didn’t know people were still doing it until Dusty: Little by Little aired on the ABC in 2006, and there they were, the cast, warming up with “1 121 12321 …”

Alright, memory is unreliable, and this kind of exercise could have been independently created by hundreds of people.  But I really think I thought of it.  I remember coming up with it, and I certainly don’t remember being taught it by anyone else.  If I’m wrong, and if “1 121 12321” has been around since forever, I’d still love to know where it came from, mostly because of what happened last night.

Last night, you see, I was the improvising muso at ACT Impro’s Improvention, and as I went into the dressing room to get a cup of tea, the improvisers were doing focus exercises in a circle.  Out of nowhere they started singing “1 121 12321 …”

I got a little proud glow on the inside, which may be completely misplaced; perhaps, I thought, a tiny, tiny part of Bruce and Doreen lives on?

So can anyone, in the name of historical accuracy, dash my hopes?  Or confirm them?

UPDATE!  This, via facebook, from the lovely Jodie Blackshaw (who was, as fate would have it, studying Composition when I was doing Jazz):

“I have been singing this warm-up in school choirs since the mid-to-early 1980’s. My husband studied conducting and performance (percussion) in West Virginia in 1987-88 and page 1 of the aural textbook they used, that was printed in 1967, was this exercise. So.. sorry Pete, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t you.” 

I did write “Heart and Soul”, though.

January 18, 2003.

It was an odd sort of joy, on the seventh anniversary of Canberra’s 2003 bushfires, to listen for the first time to a recording of a song I wrote about that event, back in 2008. 

The singer is Louise Page, the clarinettist Nicole Canham, and the pianist Susanne Powell.  All of them are wildly overqualified for the music I gave them to play, and I am more than a little honoured to have my song open a new CD entitled ‘Beautiful – Art Song Canberra Favourites’.

The entire CD, featuring other little-known composers such as Brahms, Barber and Fauré can be bought for $25 plus $3 p&h.  Email pagejl@nospampcug.org.au (remove that nospam bit, naturally)

I expect to see the magpie
and the mynah,
but the falcons, the two brown falcons
wheeling in the sky
and their distant cry –
so strange
and so beautiful.

The Black Cockatoo,
the streak of yellow tail,
and there, on the head,
the Gang-Gang’s shock of red –
so unexpected –
and so beautiful.

I hear the Lyre Birds are gone,
but the tiny sparrows,
red-capped, flame-chested, scarlet-bibbed,
flirting with disaster as they dive,
how on earth did they survive?
How on earth did they survive?
So beautiful …

And to think, that awful day
has brought a strange, sad beauty:
the Nankeen Kestrel,
the bright King Parrot.

If only Alison, Peter, Douglas and Dorothy …
Alison, Peter, Douglas and Dorothy
were here to see them.

Happy Hour

I’ve been toying with the idea of joining together the various rhyme challenges on this blog into a humorous free verse poem, the sort of thing that might be read out over a tinkling piano late at night.  I had my chance last night, when I was a guest speaker at the annual dinner for Canberra Repertory.  Man, those Rep veterans can party.  And just as well, because the entrees didn’t arrive until after 9pm, and my talk, scheduled for after the main course, was in danger of being out of date by the time it was delivered. 

I edited the speech as I ate, and removed the poem from its ending; I’m putting it here.

My talk was about those magically creative moments that happen in theatre, that are the reason theatregoers go back to the theatre, and that are never the most expensive moments in a show.  Those moments are, I proposed, every bit as available to an amateur group as they are to any professional body.  Morever, professional shows in Australia, so often a dogged reproduction of something that worked five years earlier on Broadway, can be less surprising and less creative than many shows produced by amateurs.

I planned to wrap up with a recollection in verse of happy hours I attended after Rep shows, back in the late ’80s, usually at Tilley’s Devine Cafe Gallery, where I drank Strongbow cider (erroneously believing that it wasn’t vile), and tried too hard to impress my elders. 

I took some liberties with events, and made myself much wittier than I am.  My excuse is that I was trying to string together all these words that supposedly cannot be rhymed.  Because if they can be rhymed, what other impossibilities are waiting to be demolished?

Happy Hour

Thomas always promises
“There’s no band like Thomas’s!”
His band? He’s just the drummer.
They play that punky foreign jazz,
their singer’s hair as orange as
a mandarin in summer.

The girls sit listening, prim, knees together,
hands on laps.
The boys all smoke like chimneys
and look in vain for gaps.

Simon chats up Kelly, levels of lust ascending
to a dangerous high,
his dreams of justice ending
with her every sigh,
and he says to me, “Might have an early night.
You should too, son.”
I say “Simon, I think it can be done.
Yes, I think it can be done.”

Theven year-old Thally
whoth jutht lotht a tooth
ith futhing, futhing, futhing
over nothing, nothing, nothing.

Her mother, Sharon, says
“Tokyo’s oakey-doakey,
but only for a visit.
The Vatican City’s pretty,
but too itty-bitty.”
And here it comes … “Oh, Paree!”
(where she discovered absinthe, cheroots and potpourri)
“Are you bored?” she asks. “Have you even been abroad?”

and I say, “Three things I gained while overseas:
a mug, a Japanese fan, vermouth.
Three things I lost while overseas:
my luggage, appetite, and youth.”

She’s miffed, and murmurs,
“I try, but I never find it funny when you make fun.”
I say, “I think it can be done.
Try harder, ‘cos I think it can be done.”

Her new man Joe plays the banjo,
sings of farms and woe,
but he went to Dara,
moved to South Yarra,
and he’s a great writer, he says,
or he could be one.

Me, I don’t challenge
a J. D. Salinger,
not even a would-be one.

So, imbibing plonk,
sold as sauvignon blanc,
I find a gent
I know only as Director, Resident,
holding forth
on his play
about Ollie North.

He says, “A hostage Ollie North
would cost a jolly penny in ransom.
They let him go, July 4th
because he’s so damn handsome!
Do you see?”
And the chorus boys chorus, “Mais oui, mais oui!”
He sees me smirk, and announces
“I find it odd
that those who need one most
have no God.”

I
reply
“It was so like Jehovah,
that putting one over.
Trust him to oblige a
man like Elijah
to take up the prophecy trade.

That small voice, I’m thinking,
would set me to drinking.
I’d probably try gin,
a drink as obligin’
as any that man’s ever made.”

He says, “My dear,
I never knew a career
could be ended before it’s begun.”
I say, “Well, it can be done.
Oh, I know it can be done.”

So later, in the kitchen,
Melissa heats a
pizza
in an oven meant
for the victims of Hannibal Lecter,
according to the government inspector.
I steal a slice, and she asks,
“Will a new album ever top
that one by Dylan,
you know, before Blonde on Blonde?”
I say, “What, Highway 61?”

“Yes,” she replies, then smoke gets in our eyes,
and I think, I guess, why not?
If we all took a shot,
I’m not sure how,
but I think it can be done
.

She kisses my neck,
says “Any objections?”
I assure her there are none.

Besides, I think it can be done.
Yes, I think it can be done.