From December 2 to 31, Park Square Theatre will feature The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer. It includes many Gershwin tunes that became part of the Great American Songbook, such as “Summertime,” “I Got Rhythm” and “Embraceable You,” to name just a few.
What’s the Great American Songbook? It’s not an actual book of songs but the American classics or standards considered to be the most popular and of lasting value from 1920 to 1950’s Broadway shows, musical theatre and Hollywood musical film.
I wondered, though, what people would choose to be in the Great American Songbook today. In asking a slew of individuals from age 19 and up, I received choices that went beyond theatre and film. Here are some of their answers:
Anything by Sondheim. Definitely “Send in the Clowns” from his musical A Little Night Music.
Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” I just like the lyrics. According to Cohen, the song “explains that many kinds of hallelujahs do exist, and all the perfect and broken hallelujahs have equal value.”
“Steal Away,” a spiritual.
“Jingle Bells.” It is a very beloved and fun Winter/Christmas song that can be sung enthusiastically by any age person without involving religion. It can be sung in rounds, can easily be acted out and even danced to! There is a nostalgic history to it from a time when horses and sleighs were necessary for winter travel, which is often reenacted for enjoyment today.
“I’ve Been Working On The Railroad.” Another fun song to sing for young and old alike. It has the cadence and rhythm of a work song for the railroad workers to keep a uniform pace to work together but also helps make the drudgery and toil of railroad building somewhat enjoyable. The song also gives memory to the important place railroads have in our history of connecting the lands and peoples of earlier times.
Last Saturday night the symphony put on a Frank Sinatra concert with one Steve Lippia singing. Steve is based in Las Vegas where his show is a regular at one of the casinos, and he sounds very much like Frank Sinatra. At the concert, Steve did not limit himself to Frank’s songs but did a wide variety of the Big Band-style songs. To pick out a favorite song from that group is, of course, nigh unto impossible but, nonetheless, “Last Night When We Were Young” would be my choice. It would be my choice because, as time goes by, its probably my generation who will still relate to that style of music and, in this case, the nostalgia that is the essence of the song. Notice the phrase “as time goes by.” As I recall, it is a title of another song. I might mention that playing the concert was very fulfilling because the music is so rich in harmonies, melodies, rhythms and the interplay between those elements. Today’s popular music seems so shallow by comparison.
First song that popped into my head: “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen. You hear those first pulsing beats…it’s iconic!
Whether it’s Gershwin or Springsteen, truly great music is made to last. This December, don’t miss hearing the music from one of the greats: George Gershwin.