Celebrating Rodgers and Hammerstein

TEVUSA2011-07-28-choironight my chorus, Essential Voices USA, performs a concert celebrating the work of Rodgers and Hammerstein at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops and soloists Sierra Boggess and Julian Ovenden. In anticipation of the concert, I posted on Facebook every day this week about one Hammerstein lyric or Rodgers melody or whole song from the concert that I love and why. Here are the entries:

Today’s entry is from “I Whistle a Happy Tune” from The King and I. The line:

“Make believe you’re brave and the trick will take you far.
You may be as brave as you make believe you are.”

One element I love about Hammerstein’s lyrics is their simplicity, even when conveying complex ideas, and I think this line is a perfect example. In two lines he is able to convey two levels of bravery–when you tell yourself to be brave even when you think you aren’t, and when you truly are being brave–and question where the line between these two levels actually is. He’s also doing that with a little turn of the phrase “make believe” and the simple rhyme of “far” and “are.” Add to that line Rodgers’s tune, which makes the lines particularly fun to sing–and I have been singing it over and over.

Today’s entry is from Carousel, the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, specifically the lines:

“When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high,
And don’t be afraid of the dark.”

Before we even get to what comes after the storm (a golden sky and the song of a lark) or what it’s going to be like to walk through the storm (windy, rainy, your dreams blowing every which way) or how you should feel (hopeful), and before we get to the song’s hook (that you’ll never be walking through this storm alone) there are two simple directives, instructions on how to walk through any storm. These lines are both a lullaby and a pep talk, and the simple melody has the chord changes point to the important words: “Head”, “Don’t,” “Afraid,” and “Dark.” I find so much strength in these two little lines. They go somewhere deep in me, and probably many others. These lines are this song, to me.


Today’s entry is from The Sound of Music: the popular song, “Do-Re-Mi.”

To many, this is a song for children, and not the most interesting or beautiful in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s oeuvre, and I think that’s all true, but it is thrillingly fun to sing, and of all the songs we’re singing on Friday night, I’m most looking forward to performing this one. There’s such an energy to it, as though everything wonderful about childhood were bubbling up and bursting out. The day after we sang it at Carnegie Hall three years ago, I watched the film on the couch with my babysitting charges. When I sing this song, I feel that breadth and reach–from childhood through adulthood, from Salzburg to New York City, from the thrill on the grandest of stages to the intimacy of small living rooms.


Today’s entry is from “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma, which a soloist is singing, not us, but I love this lyric so I’m going to include it, specifically the first two repeated lines of each verse.

The song begins with “There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow,” purely descriptive, setting you in the place. The verse continues about the corn. The second repeated line, “all the cattle are standing like statues” is also descriptive, and continues about the cattle. But then in the third verse, we get the beautiful line, “all the sounds of the earth are like music” which takes us from the corn and cattle to another place entirely. You could be anywhere with that line, and it surprises and delights me every time. It brings the farmland into the ethereal. And each of these lines is repeated, with the first musical line going up and the second going down, so it feels like he’s breathing it all in–breathe it in, breathe it out. Because everything–the corn, the cattle, the music–is just breathtaking.

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