Classical Fireworks

Fourth Of July Fireworks

A sure sign of summer is the boom and the burst of a fireworks show. Colors streaming through the sky. Trails of smoke drifting in all directions. The oohs and ahs of the crowd with each shell shooting upwards. The anticipation of the final big bursts that signal the impending conclusion as rockets are fired in quicker succession.  A cacophony of sound and color overwhelming the senses in a massive display of power before your eyes. When it is over you almost feel a sense of literal electricity in the air amid the smell of wafting smoke.

Despite having to inevitably calm terrified pets or curse at amateurs setting them off late at night for some reason, I love watching a good fireworks show. Though the reasons for shooting them off might be vastly different around the world, fireworks are recognized as being part of a celebration of some sorts, be it Chinese New Year, July 4th or many other holidays. I have seen firework shows after graduations, concerts, sports events and weddings even. No matter where you are, when you see or hear fireworks, you know that good times are present.

One such occasion even prompted music by my favorite classical composer-George Friderich Handel. In 1749 he composed his Music For The Royal Fireworks. It was actually commissioned by King George II to celebrate the Treaty Of Aix-la-Chapelle and the end of the Austrian War Of Succession. I have always found Handel’s music to be utterly majestic. I think that is why his music resonates for so many people who aren’t normally classical music fans. Most people can correctly name (and hum a few notes) of Beethoven’s Fifth, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Pachelbel’s Canon or Handel’s Messiah.  As one classical musician I spoke to once said-there is a lot to remember with this music. Thousands of composers with countless works of music, each with multiple movements and arrangements. The fact that casual listeners can remember both the composers name and the work among so many options is telling. It speaks to how wonderful those compositions really are.

I think the reason Music For The Royal Fireworks, just like Handel’s other key works The Messiah and Water Music resonate so deeply is that the music  just…feels so right. It grabs you deep inside. You feel the music. I’m not sure if this was his plan, but Handel seemed to go right for the ‘hook’ at the start. No subtle string section buildup here.  Fireworks Music begins on a grand scale, with massed woodwinds and percussion. Apparently at the original performance there was a bit of a disagreement between Handel and the person providing the fireworks over Handel’s desire to have strings added to the orchestra. Not long after the original performance Handel re-scored it for a full orchestra, which is how most people are familiar with it today.

At the bottom of this post is a clip of the entire performance, but for a shorter example of why this is such a wonderful work one only has to listen to the section called La Rejouissance. The progression of notes, the interplay of instruments is so fitting for a celebration. When one describes joyful or exuberant music, pieces like this truly fit. I think King George II picked the right person for the job! Perhaps because conditions are usually best for fireworks in warmer weather, this piece also feels like a great match for spring and summer. When I hear it, I envision crowds of people on a warm evening, spread out on a blanket with food and wine waiting for darkness to come and the start of a fireworks show.

Regarding the photo above, though of course here in New York we have one of the largest fireworks shows around on the 4th Of July, it was actually taken at a smaller display in Astoria Park, Queens last year. For years I have attempted to take a good photo of fireworks, but it is not easy. Luckily last year I was in good position and was able to steady the camera to catch the streaks of light. I fired off several shots of which the one here is my favorite.  Perhaps this year if I go back to watch them in the same park, I’ll just put Handel’s Music For The Royal Fireworks on the headphones and imagine being in the audience at the original performance!

Now a bit of an announcement. As I mentioned in another post recently, I seem to be having a hard time lately writing my music posts. I have absolutely no intention of stopping this, rest assured. But I feel like I may take a short break from having to  feel like I ‘must write a new music post’. I’d rather it happen organically, and fill my notebook with ideas inspired by music and my own photographs. I will continue with Monochrome Mondays every week though, so I will still very much be around. And I still will be writing because (Second Announcement!) I have been working on a book! Yes, you read that right. My number one bucket list desire has always been to write one, and I have been slowly and steadily been working on it. So that is something to look forward to!

Music For The Royal Fireworks-Composed By George Friedrich Handel

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50 Years Of Fairport Convention

Me with SImon Nicol of Fairport Convention

In just a few hours from now, a band will take the stage at a concert hall in London. One more show yet again from a band in the middle of yet another tour. While that may sound terribly routine, it is in fact anything but. For tonight marks 50 years to the day that Fairport Convention performed for the first time at another London concert hall way back in 1967. At this point I have written about Fairport Convention and many of its former members here several times, so I will not repeat myself, but I wanted to do my small part in celebrating this very special occasion. It certainly is not everyday that a band has a milestone such as this, but here we are.

It bears repeating though that tonight’s concert is by a group that have never had a number one hit. In fact they have never really been commercially successful. Band members have come and gone. They started off as an American sounding rock group but became the standard bearers for British Folk Rock. They have suffered the loss of band members over the years. After essentially disbanding in 1979 they realized at a reunion show the following year that more people had actually come than had to their ‘farewell’ gig. They used this idea to start and run their own very successful festival every year in the quiet little village of Cropredy which continues to this day.

Not resting on their laurels, this year saw the release of the album 50:50@50, a combination of live and studio recordings, old and new. It includes guest performances by longtime friends of the band Robert Plant and Jacqui McShee. The band also continues to tour steadily.  Bass player Dave Pegg recently quipped that though other bands might be older, they probably have not played as many gigs as Fairport has in  their lifetime. And he’s probably right about that!

So Happy Birthday Fairport Convention! Thank you for your music. Thank you for continuing on purely for the love of music and performing. In my 30 years of being a fan you have given me incalculable hours of joy. Fairport are just the type of band one stays loyal to. The type of band that the audience sings Happy Birthday to spontaneously. The type of band who appreciates their fans, always willing to pose for a photo or sign a program. The type of band who give a lot of time and support to a multitude of social causes. A band with a great sense of humor.  They are just very special to me. Congratulations to all who have been a part of it! Here’s a song about the band written by their good friend Steve Tilston. It looks back to Fairport’s history while reminding us that good things can still come ‘over the next hill.’ Cheers! Pints will be raised tonight in your honor!

Dedicated to the memory of Martin Lamble, Sandy Denny, Trevor Lucas, Bruce Rowland, Roger Hill and Dave Swarbrick.

 

Over The Next Hill-Written By Steve Tilston

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Terra Firma

Terra Firma

There are moments when you reach for your camera that you can envision the exact result you are looking for. A quick and fleeting thought you may not even necessarily be able to explain in the moment, but something deeper down you know you recognize. A reminder of a time or place in your past, or something embedded deep in your psyche, to be released only when the time is right. Within seconds, the camera is switched on, lens cap removed. Ideally you have time to compose it using the standard tricks-ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed. There are other times when you know you only have a moment or two to record what you are seeing due to variables such as light and weather. It’s Now Or Never as a famous singer once sang and you hope that wisp of an idea becomes a reality once the shutter has been released.

Those of you who have been following me for awhile know that once we moved to a place where we could easily view the shifting clouds and colors of the sky that it has became a common theme to my photography. The other night it happened again, but instead of the varying colors of sunset featured here before, what I saw instead was blue. A contrast of rich, deep blue together with billowy clouds that I had not quite seen before. Instantly, one of those sudden ideas popped into my head. I knew what it reminded me of. I knew I wanted to capture it, and I fired off a few shots in the hope that one of them would express that idea successfully once I saw it on my computer screen. I made just a few minor adjustments to the camera settings. The end result is what you see here, with no manipulation to color or texture from the way I saw it.

What I was thinking is that the pattern reminded me of those topographical maps you will often find in an atlas. You know the ones- where they take away all the place names and borders and instead just show the terrain of the earth from above. Snow capped mountain ranges and dry deserts. Deep oceans and winding rivers. Just our earth as it looks from a distance…as another famous singer once sang. I recognized that the clouds set against this particular shade of blue looked similar to the way cartographers draw terrain, making the two dimensional three dimensional. As I looked at them on my computer I imagined the same things-the blue colors delineating the oceans that make our planet so unique.  The cloud patterns-swirls of white contrasted with darker specks reminded me of mountain ranges and deserts or the polar regions.

As I have gotten further into writing these posts, I seem to be finding deeper inspirations and connections than when I first started out. When I posted one of these photos from the other night on Instagram, I somehow felt the need to simply call it ‘Earth’. I knew fully well that it was nothing more than another cloud photo, or cloud porn as some people call it, but it felt more substantial to me. There are a lot of times here where I stumble on something I want to write about. A basic idea built around a song, and defined to my own logic by my photos. But they usually happen with a lot of thought and ideas that become connected.  Seldom have I taken a new photograph and felt the need to immediately write about it, but this was one of those times.

I think I wanted to call the photo ‘Earth’ because I seem to be increasingly concerned about the fragility of our planet. Concerns about global warming, violence,  hunger, fear, pollution and endangered species have been present for awhile of course. But those problems seem more urgent now and not so easily reasoned away internally by saying future generations will have to worry about it, not us. The problems seem more timely and pressing now. They also seem to be worse because we are ignoring the warnings by the real experts in favor of people more concerned with their wallets.

Years ago I used to play the computer game Civilization by Sid Meier. As anyone who has ever played it knows, there were different paths to victory, but no matter what path you chose, you had to finish by the year 2100 or thereabouts. The reason being that in the game, humanity had overstayed its welcome on a now ravaged planet Earth and those that remained would start civilization new again on the planet Alpha Centauri. The idea of having to vacate an entire planet seems like a bit of science fiction on the one hand, but on the other can we honestly say that in our real world we are not already on a path where it might become a conceivable reality?

It is precisely in moments of realization such as this that I inevitably seek solace in music, art and science. None of them provide the answers, but at least the heart is in the right place in recognizing the severity of the problems. One such artist is the British Indian musician, composer, arranger, and producer Nitin Sawhney. I came across some of his work years ago. His albums combine electronica with a multitude of other sounds from India to South Africa and beyond and explore a number of themes.

When I was taking the photos the other night though, a few bars of the instrumental Breathing Light from his album Prophesy popped into my head simultaneously. Some might call this chill out music but for me there is something more profound to it. The underlying piano notes are ethereal, while the flutes and other electronic sounds weave around the melody making it feel like a musical journey. Or maybe just a journey through the clouds and out above the atmosphere, where names, places and people become secondary to the wonders that make our planet so unique.  I realized that the photos reminded me of this way of looking at our world.  It would be nice to keep it that way I think.

Breathing Light-Written By Nitin Sawhney

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Under The Sun, Moon And Stars

‘Let happiness run under the sun, moon and stars’

There seems to be something universal about the symbolism of the above line. Despite all the distractions of life we inevitably suffer through, the imagery of being connected to those celestial objects is compelling. It does not matter where you live, or what year it is, the lure of the energy they provide has a strengthening  power. Whether it is waiting for a day off to ‘catch some rays’, or to get out of the city to more easily see the moon and stars, these ancient forces are a part of our life. They tend to bring us happiness, and for some people they even provide healing powers.

I suppose I am no different in that regard. After the darkness of winter the longer days go a long way towards re-energizing my soul. And boy have I needed that lately. I have not been writing as much as I want to here lately, and my music related posts seem to be scarcer. The cause has not been for a lack of musical inspiration on my part. Over the last few months I have acquired lots of new music I hope will make its way on to these pages soon. It also has not been because I am uninspired with my photography. A new camera and lenses have given me lots of toys to happily play with.

This blog has always being about making a connection between music and my own photography, but I have not been able to pull that off too much recently. Like the last time it happened though, instead of feeling pressured, I just waited until I felt I had something to write. And like some of the best moments I have had since I started writing, it was when a song hit me at precisely the right time.

While enjoying a day off from work yesterday I sat on our balcony reading and relaxing. I had some reggae music on by one of my favorites- the sublime Jimmy Cliff. A year or so ago I wrote about his classic song Many Rivers To Cross here. It is hard for me to adequately express how much his music means to me. He sings of Jamaica.  Of hardship and happiness.  Peace and poverty. Love and hate. No matter the subject it always comes from a place of love. Live he frequently ends his songs with the words ‘Give Thanks.’ A reminder of what is really important to him and his music.

One perception of reggae music is that it is all about chilling out on a beach with a beer and Bob Marley singing Buffalo Soldier, or Jammin’. I have certainly been guilty of that offense myself. It is easy to get lured by that beat and groove to a state of relaxation. So often though, when you read the lyrics to songwriters like Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff the truth really comes out. The songs are quite often very powerful political statements.

Take the Bob Marley songs I mentioned for example. In Buffalo Soldier- ‘Stolen from Africa, brought to America, Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival.’ Or Jammin’- ‘No bullet can stop us now, we neither beg nor we won’t bow.’ When you really learn about the music and the atmosphere it was created under, those good time beach vibes don’t quite feel the same. So while I was sitting yesterday, I realized that the words to Jimmy Cliff’s song Under The Sun, Moon And Stars are no different.

The music might have that relaxed vibe, but the song is actually a bit of a plea and a statement about not living life the way his forefathers did and not accepting it either-

‘My forparents worked, from sun-up, ’til sun-down
Peace could not be found now they’re under the ground

I’ve heard them complain and cried out in pain
Seeking peaceful gain under the sun, moon and stars

Won’t happen to me, I’m not blind, you see
I’ve got to be free, I want it right here on earth
Got to have some fun, ‘for my life is done
Let happiness run under the sun, moon and stars’

This idea that I started off with, of a universal symbolism to the sun, moon and stars comes perhaps from my own (mostly) happy life. Once I really listened to the song, I realized that even though we all live under those same elements, our worlds can be vastly different with people not so happy or fortunate. Just like so many other reggae songs, the message comes in an uplifting way however. When Jimmy Cliff sings, even though he sings of hardship and poverty he reminds us we all live under the same sun, moon and stars. No matter who we are, no matter where we come from, no matter what our situation is. We all need to remember that. Give Thanks.

*A note about the photograph. Moon photography is something I have always wanted to try my hand at, but to really do it justice, you need a lot of patience, and some special equipment generally speaking. But one morning a month or two ago, as the sun was coming up, the moon was still in clear view, and the contrast of the dawn colors and the bright moon was too tempting not to take a photo. I’m happy I did! Now how about ‘one more’ from Jimmy Cliff?

Under The Sun, Moon And Stars-Written By Jimmy Cliff

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Light Study

Water Tower #36

For a photographer there is nothing more important than light. Everything about photography relies on it. Too much and a photo can become overexposed. Too little and it is underexposed. Composition, structure, texture all rely on light. Tricks of the trade such as aperture and shutter speed can manipulate that light. Freezing motion in place or utilizing shadows only works well with an understanding of light. It is the one aspect of photography that I continue to learn about every time I pick my camera up. After all  light is never exactly the same on any given day or situation so it is a constant learning process.

Consider too the masters of paintings who created their own light studies by painting a series of still lifes. Usually by way of a bowl of fruit, a vase of flowers or in the case of Claude Monet, with a  haystack.  Painters have  long used these types of studies to hone their craft. When I studied art in college we learned why this sort of simple subject matter was so important.  Along with shape and form, the subtle difference between light and shadow may drastically change the overall effect depending on time of day. Experimenting with the same subject matter reveals new textures and nuance.

Lets use the example of Monet’s haystacks for instance . A simple cluster of hay stacked in a field is by no means a particularly exciting subject. But in capturing the different looks to the haystacks throughout the day Monet made it intrinsically more interesting. Playing with the light such as that comes with careful observation and analysis. Is the light more pleasing at noon, or does it give off more of a glow at sunset? Does the halo of light over the entire field look best at sunrise, or at mid-afternoon? Is a summer sunset more vibrant than one in fall?

I was thinking recently about how important light can be to our mood.  The occasional dreary rainy day at home sipping tea or a glass of wine  gazing out the window can be very enjoyable.  Too many of those sorts of days in a row start to weigh on me however and I find myself eventually craving light.  That might be the first hints of sun in the morning, with golden light rising and reflecting over the buildings of my neighborhood or the clear blues of a bright and sunny day.  Or the soothing tones of sunset-red, pink, purple and orange immersed in the clouds. Even the glow of the city at night or the light from the stars can be pleasing.

I don’t know about other people but I have favorite times of the day. Times when I feel most at ease and happy. For some that might be morning, for others it might be quitting time from work. Thinking about this further, I came to the conclusion that the real reason we have a favorite time might just be about the light one expects to see. We feel energized when we get a warming sunrise or a calming sunset. As if the very qualities of color variations that occur on a single day make us feel connected to that light. I started to wonder if that was why painters and photographers are so drawn to capturing the shifting of light. Perhaps artists feel the need to study light as a way of seeing our response to those shifts.

In deciding to do my own light study, I wanted something that I could take a photograph of on a regular basis, at several different times of day over a period of time. I chose a water tower perched above my favorite old brick building in our neighborhood. I liked the contrast between the brick of the building and the wood of the water tower.

I was not methodical about this. I did not take a photo at 6:47 every day to compare. Instead I tried to hit key times of day. Sunrise, midday, late afternoon, sunset, night time.  I tried to take it more or less from the same position each time. I experimented with the tools at my disposal-shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. I made adjustments each time. Some I deemed right away to be unacceptable. Others I put in the maybe category.  In the end I probably took about 50 photos of this water tower and only sat down to write these words when I felt satisfied with my final choice to feature. *

Thinking of how to fit music into this equation I gradually came to realize an artist works on variations of a theme in a light study and tweaks them by altering the approach and final look as desired.  So too does a musician go into a recording studio with a song, and adjusts it. You start with the song. Perhaps it was written with the idea of  being a fast paced rocker. Or maybe it was written solo on a piano. Maybe it was meant to have only one singer. Yet so many times the song, the instrumentation, the tempo, the vocals change when the approach to the song gets altered. That rocker becomes a ballad instead. That solo piano becomes an electric guitar riff. Or the song intended to have only one singer now has a 20 piece Gospel choir and a horn section.

At their peak, REM were arguably doing all of this sort of experimentation, and quite successfully too. The early albums especially were rife with this sort of tinkering around, such as the song Time After Time (Annelise) from their second full length album- Reckoning. It may be dark and a little bleak, yet it is quite captivating precisely for that darkness. The recording of Reckoning apparently happened quickly, but choices and decisions still had to be made for each song, much like the moment a painter commits brush to canvas, or a photographer makes adjustments before clicking the shutter release.

The end result may not be satisfying to everyone. An artist or musician might consider it their best work while the general public rejects it outright. Some may consider it a step back while the artist considers it a step forward. In R.E.M.’s case Time After Time is viewed both with a mixture of  regard and disdain among fans. Regardless of how it ultimately plays out, artists experiment in the hope that it will push their work further. I realized in doing this light study that this was the common thread running in art and music-the desire to continually challenge oneself and find new ways to express ideas. For musicians it comes in the studio, recording a song several times and making adjustments. For me it comes from being patient and really thinking about what I ultimately want to present. In taking a series of photos of the same exact thing I learned what works and does not work for me aesthetically.

*In the gallery below are some of the shots I liked, but did not quite satisfy me in the end. The photo at the top of this post however is my favorite of the series. I took it as the sun was rising one morning. Ironically 15 minutes later the day turned out to be cloudy and overcast, but for that brief moment, the sky had contrast and the rays of sun shone vibrantly on the water tower and the building.

Time After Time (Annelise)-Written By Bill Berry, Mike Mills, Peter Buck & Michael Stipe

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Photo Shuffle-The Street Where You Live

I love accordions. There I said it. In all honesty though, I have never understood why the instrument has been subject to such hostility from some corners. It is an extremely versatile instrument, and a key ingredient to a range of styles, from folk music across Europe and Latin America, and right here in the U.S. with Cajun and Zydeco music especially. Be it a piano accordion or some degree of button style it can do so much as an instrument and I have always enjoyed what it brings. It is a good solo instrument capable of subtle nuances, makes great dance music, and can really rock when it wants to. Yes, I said that too. Accordions rock.

I love accordions so much I could make you a long list of my favorite players, mostly from English and Celtic music, with others from Cajun and Zydeco. But it would also include a fabulous musician and singer I am happy popped up today here on Photo Shuffle. Her name is Ginny Mac, from Fort Worth, Texas. I first became aware of her a few years ago,  watching her perform with the band Brave Combo at a festival. They were a band I had been familiar with for years but never managed to see. A great party band with an astonishing repertoire of music from around the world. You have never heard the Hokey Pokey until you have heard their version! Much as I was enjoying Brave Combo’s set, when Ginny stepped up to the microphone to sing I realized she definitely had something special going on.

So I did the usual social media thing and began following her musical activities since leaving the group not too long after, as well as backtracking to her older material. Ginny is just an incredible talent. Versatile in both voice and her playing on both accordion and piano. Capable of rocking out to a Chuck Berry song, or singing the Cajun standard Jole Blon, followed by a Patsy Cline number for good measure. I absolutely admire musicians who are versed in so many styles. A big part of that for Ginny I suspect is the versatility of the accordion and what it can actually do. Make sure you watch the clip at the bottom of the post with Ginny explaining that herself far better than I can.

Much as I thoroughly enjoy all those styles, I found myself particularly drawn to Ginny’s interpretations of some of the old standards. Take ‘On The Street Where You Live’ for example. Originally from the musical My Fair Lady, it was covered by the likes of Dean Martin, Vic Damone, Nat King Cole and dozens more. It is not really a type of song  that I normally listen to, but I realized something awhile back. Where once I used to automatically dismiss much of this style, probably a result of some of it being ‘inflicted’ on me as a youngster, I can now appreciate the songs themselves more. So while I do not see rushing out to buy the complete works of Vic Damone in the near future, I can at least acknowledge that a good song is a good song.  Groups like Hot Club Of Cowtown and singers such as Ginny Mac have made me realize that with their interpretations.

‘On The Street Where You Live’ is actually a great example of this. I have been familiar with this song of course, almost certainly because of My Fair Lady which my parents had the soundtrack for. Listening to Ginny’s cover of it though, the dreamy words really come through. Though the street where I live (seen in the photo above) is not so dreamy, and definitely not filled with larks and lilac trees or enchantment pouring out of every door, it is home. Where my beautiful wife and I live with our two cats.  I realized that I missed all this imagery in the more schmaltzy versions of the song, Ginny Mac’s accordion driven re-working really fits the song. But that accordion being  such a versatile instrument, somehow also captures the feel of those versions with a full on orchestra.  Which makes me thankful for such talented musicians as Ginny Mac constantly thinking and working on their music. Finding ways to reinterpret music and going back to basics. And using an accordion to do it is icing on the cake! Please check out her website and social media for more clips-http://www.ginnymac.com/

On The Street Where You Live-Music By Frederick Loewe, Lyrics By Alan Jay Lerner

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*Photo Shuffle is a short slice of my regular blogs based on setting my Ipod on shuffle and matching up one of my photographs to whatever comes up.

Ginny Mac

Musical Laughs

 

Half Hearted Hand Shake

Half Hearted Hand Shake

I have to come right out and say that I have been off my game with writing so far this year. It isn’t that I have run out of things to say, or music to listen to, or photographs to take. I just…have not been myself lately and feel a lack of focus or desire to sit down and write. But awhile back I had an idea that I have decided to pursue in this post, and while fresh air, exercise, or a good night’s sleep are all good cures for getting yourself out of a funk, there is one other key-laughter. I am aware that this blog might sometimes come off a little heavy handed as I recount the emotional lure that photography and music have for me. But laughter does too, so I wanted to write something that shared my bent over in stitches, shrieking with laughter side as well.

Comedy is a subjective thing of course. There are many types and styles to choose from. Everyone from the ancient Greeks to Shakespeare incorporated comical elements in their stories to loosen the audience up and maybe add a few seats to the arena. Writers like P.G. Wodehouse mastered the art of comic stories with the lovable but bumbling Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves. The early days of cinema were comedy heavy with the greats of silent film like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.  Television got in on the act almost immediately and some of the most successful early TV shows were comedies such as I Love Lucy. Later it became even more absurdist with Monty Python’s Flying Circus and other shows of pure silliness. At some point  stand up comedy became both ground breaking and lucrative for the best performers.  In the last 30 years or so, animated shows like The Simpsons exploded in popularity. With all of the above you can certainly find something to match your style-everything from slapstick to raunchy humor and everything else in between.

One aspect of comedy I have always enjoyed and appreciate however are sketches that combine music and comedy. Though there are countless plays and musicals that accomplish this, I especially enjoy the more modern form.  I could cite dozens of examples,  but the videos here represent some of my favorites. I wanted to focus on some moments of pure humor. Perhaps I should say humour because I have long had a particular devotion to British humour. Here are just a few of my musical favorites to watch.

First up is an absolute classic from Monty Python-The Lumberjack Song. What I came to realize over the years watching the original series is an admiration for how ridiculous the sketches must have been when conceived and discussed before filming. How on earth do you come up with ideas like the Fish Slapping Dance, or mountaineers scaling the sidewalks of a city street? How does one sell the idea of The Ministry Of Silly Walks, Dead Parrots, ‘No one expects the Spanish Inquisition’ or men named Raymond Luxury Yacht (pronounced Throatwobbler Mangrove), to name but a few memorable sketches to TV executives? The same holds true for the Lumberjack Song, as you sing…Sing…SING……

Next up is a classic from the sketch show A Bit Of Fry & Laurie with Stephen Laurie and Hugh Fry. No wait…Fry Stephen and Laurie Hugh. Blast it…I mean of course, Stephen Fry, and Hugh Laurie. When you get annoyed with life just remember to kick some ass!

Now we go to a scene from the show Black Books. Credit to my wife for turning me on to this show with the worst shop keeper (with the best bookstore!) ever-Bernard Black. This scene features Bill Bailey as the much maligned and overworked assistant Manny, figuring out that despite being forbidden to learn piano as a child he has long hidden talents on the instrument (showcasing the very real talent Bill Bailey has on the instrument).

Next is a clip from the wonderful Lenny Henry, featuring some very real tasty guitar work by Jeff Beck. There is a huge body of Lenny’s work I have not seen, but you don’t need to see much to know that he is both a gifted comedian and not too bad of a singer either.  His role as the master of the verbal put down Gareth Blackstock in the series Chef! (who you must never, ever ask for salt on one of his dishes, or worse still, incur his wrath which might lead to a request to see your blood outside the body) will probably always be my favorite. Lenny fully takes on the persona of the characters in his sketches. Just like he does so convincingly here as a blues singer, replete with a ‘great’ harmonica solo.

Finally, having just seen the recent David Brent-Life On The Road mockumentary, I  had to include the classic song Free Love Freeway, first performed on one of my favorite shows ever-The Office. The show has many cringe worthy moments between the employees of the office, but none more so than Ricky Gervais’ portrayal as David Brent.

The thing I realized in putting this post together is that the best musical comedy songs make one laugh at their ridiculousness, while still conveying a sense of being a real song. This is actually the crucial element. The Lumberjack song would not work without the Canadian Mounties choir. The Fry & Laurie sketch would not have the same impact if Hugh Laurie had not decked himself out in shades and slicked back hair. The Black Books scene is so great because Bill Bailey is actually a really gifted musician, while the Lenny Henry sketch had much greater impact with the talent of Jeff Beck. Lastly, Ricky Gervais shows how difficult a skill all of this really is.  He had to believe in the song, and pull it off as David Brent performing it, not as Ricky Gervais the actor. Not at all easy to do when you really think about it.

I’d love to hear some of your favorite comedy moments of all time-be it from a TV show, stand up, or movies in the comments below.

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle