The Swan, inspired by Florence Foster Jenkins

I recently saw the beautiful movie, Florence Foster Jenkins starring  Meryl Streep as Florence, Hugh Grant as her husband, and Simon Helberg as the brilliant pianist and gentle soul, Cosmé McMoon. This stylish movie, based on the real life FFJ,  celebrates music, complex relationships,  and the human spirit.  Despite  a sold out performance at Carnegie Hall, Florence is lacking in the musical ability.  However, her spirit,enthusiasm, courage, and love for music are contagious. I laughed and cried my way through the film.

There are many touching scenes with the pianist Cosmé and Florence including Cosmé performing an audition  for Florence with The Swan from Saint Saens.  The Swan, originally for cello and two pianos, is from Carnival of the Animals.  Here is an arrangement for piano I recorded this morning.

The Swan, Saint Saen played by Laura Dean Wav

The Swan, Saint Saen, played by Laura Dean   MP4

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Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944)

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Cosmé McMoon (1901-1980)

Mount st. Helens

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Boom!  Summer is here and the living is busy! My recording blog is on a temporary  hiatus  as I’ve been very busy with the Seattle Opera in Schools (teaching in summer school), my private students, and preparing for my Cuba concert in the fall.  I participated in an amazing piano master class in Portland over the weekend with the inspiring  Dr. Jill Timmons, my mentor. What a thrill and humbling experience to play a concert hall sized  Bosendorfer, valued at $300,000.00 (that’s a whole other story).  Joe and I made a weekend of it and spent the next day  at Mount st. Helens.

 After an overnight at a Super 8 along I5, we headed toward Mount St. Helens. In all, we spent about 4 hours at Johnston’s Ridge, the highest visitor’s center. We took  in the exhibits, lectures, and movies  and also took a short hike on a very pleasant trail with great views. There were two really interesting films about the eruption and the geology of the mountain which is still, by the way, active!   The rangers also do a great job with their talks. It wasn’t an entirely clear day, but it was still spectacular. What a bonus, that the area was alive with wild flowers at their peak bloom!  You can see  by the pictures, the side  of the mountain blown out with the landslide still looks quite barren.
The eruption was in May of 1980, 57 people died, you can see the memorial below. The explosion could be heard as far away as Missoula, Montana. I still remember waking up to an ash covered Choteau, Montana when I was about 10 years old, everything was covered with the grey dust including cars, steps, sidewalks, etc.
On our way down from the mountain, we stopped at an adorable road side cafe overlooking the Toutle River- picture of Joe drinking coffee.
Here’s an article looking back at the eruption  from the Helena’s KRTV: http://www.krtv.com/story/29095907/helena-remembers-mount-st-helens-eruption-35-years-later

How Can I Keep from Singing, Yellow House Salon #17

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The last few weeks, in addition to teaching my private students,  I’ve been working as a teaching artist for the Seattle Opera in their Opera in Schools Program. The opera work includes composing  mini operas with 3rd graders.  I’ve also been teaching general music at Wedgwood Montessori Preschool.  I am inspired, energized and humbled by the fearlessness and creativity of children in the schools and in my private studio.

How Can I Keep From Singing is an American song dating as far back as the mid 1800’s, possibly written by Robert Lawry. The melody is sweet and simple while  the text is  beautiful and timeless.

My life goes on in endless song  above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I’m clinging.
It sounds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?

 

 

Romances Sans Paroles, Yellow House Salon #16

 

 

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Silly Laura and her mom, Gail Dean at Rancho la Puerta

Romances Sans Paroles translates to Songs Without Words.  Below I play #3 by Gabriel Fauré (played on my digital keyboard and mixed on my Macbook as a harp/guitar duo). What a perfect piece for Mother’s Day. No words can describe how grateful I am for my mother, Gail Dean. She’s a woman of steel  who raised two kids on her own with courage and grace after losing  my dad in a highway accident when we were all very young.

Thanks, Mom, for all of the hours of music lessons, for driving across the state of Montana for camps and concerts, for sewing all of those costumes and dresses, for giving me a great education, and for giving me the courage, independence, and grit to pursue a life in music. I owe it all to you!

To all of the Mamas our there!  You know who you are and I know how hard you work to make it all look easy! Here’s to our Moms and here’s to us, the Mamas!

 

Raspberry Beret, Yellow House Salon #14

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Raspberry Beret music and lyrics by Prince, piano solo by Laura

Growing up in beautiful Choteau, Montana (population 1800), we had one movie theatre, the Roxy, open only on the weekends. To my delight, in 1984, the Roxy showed Purple Rain, starring Prince.  As a young high school desperate to explore places and faces outside of my hometown, I was mesmerized by the music, the story, and of course, the romantic vision of Prince cruising  down the open road  on his motor bike! Vroom!

Today, and homage to Prince, an amazing talent and unique artist!    Oh how I long to be as cool as the  elusive girl in Raspberry Beret.

That’s when I saw her,

Ow I saw her, she walked in through the out door. 

She wore a raspberry beret, 

of the kind you find in a second hand store.

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and if it was warm, she wouldn’t wear much more.  

by Prince

 

 

Spring Mozart, Yellow House Salon #13

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Mozart Sonata K. 545, Andante, photo taken by Laura in the Ravenna neighborhood of Seattle.

An overcast spring Seattle day calls for a break from the Cuban pieces I’ve been working on. Time for some classic Mozart.  A Mozart sonata with its clear sonata form, lyric melody, and clean accompaniment, is always fresh and elegant.  It’s something like a trusty little black dress, a Timex watch, a pair of faded Levi’s, or a cup of good brewed coffee. This andante movement of the 545 sonata reminds me of the cat in this photo- unsentimental, refined, classic, and cool.

Lágrimas Negras, Yellow House Salon #12

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MP4  

MP3

Still dreaming of adventures in Cuba.  Today, a post featuring Lágrimas Negras (black tears), a traditional Cuban Bolero written by Miguel Matamoros. My group learned this piece under the instruction of a wonderful voice teacher at the havana music school.

The bolero, in two parts, opens with a slow lament. The singer has been abandoned and suffers immense pain. She sobs black tears over her lover’s  transgressions. The second half picks up as she decides to suffer no more.  Above, my recording, a piano arrangement of Lágrimas Negras.

 

Don’t miss these three different takes on Lágrima Negras:

Cuban Singer/Guitarist with Cuban footage

American Cuban Songstress, Celia Cruz

Cuban piano master Bebo Valdés and  flamenco cantador, Dieguito El Cigala

Please visit Weeks 9, 10, and 11  for more on my Cuban adventures.

Obini Bata, (Yellow House Salon #11)

 

IMG_0573Obini Bata is a government sponsored bata drumming and performance group. In fact, this is the first group of women in Cuba to play Yoruba drums professionally, a role typically reserved for men. Bata drums are hourglass-shaped drums played in a group of three.

Yoruban music has African origins, Nigerian, to be exact.  This music and dance were originally used in religious ceremonies. The leader of Obini Bata, a former principal ballarina, tells us the group strives to portray Yoruban music and dance as a cultural art without religious implications.

The group has performed all over Cuba and Nigeria. The performers rehearse 4-8  hours every day in their bare bones studio in a crumbling building in the Central District of Havana. Our visit includes a powerful private performance of singing, drumming, and dancing. The women also conduct a workshop for my  group where we try our hand at Yoruba drumming (much harder than it looks), sing a  Yoruban song, and dance in long white skirts.

For more about my adventures in Cuba, please visit week #9 and week#10 of the Yellow House Salon.

 performance and documentary  footage of Obini Bata  (en español)

Rumba! (Yellow House Salon #10)

Today’s recording is a video of Rumba dancers and musicians taken at El Gran Palenque. (Havana, Cuba)

 

Rumba! Locals are packed in at El Gran Palenque in the Vedado district of Havana, Cuba.  It’s a rumba fiesta and all generations are represented in this lively party under the hot Havana sun.

Rumba is a Cuban dance accompanied by a live band. The musicians (rumberos), include a lead  singer and percussion. There are three sizes of drums (trumbadoras) and smaller percussion instruments including claves (two hollow sticks struck together),  a  catá (a small hollow trunk mounted on a stand and struck with two sticks), and sometimes a type of gourd shaker (a gourd covered with a netting of beads).

There are different styles of Rumba including  the guaguancó, the columbia, and the yambú.  The guanguancó is danced by couples and has a courting element where the man pretends to kick the woman between the legs and the woman quickly covers herself to avoid  his advances. The  Columbia is a solo dance for males while the  yambú is for older people, often accompanied by a cajón, or box drum.

Like a Sunflower

Mammoth Sunflower in Laura's Garden

Mammoth Sunflower in Laura’s Garden.         Photo by Joe Sweeney

After a glorious Seattle summer full of hiking, swimming, time with friends and family, gardening, weekend trips, a week long music residency in Fife, a speaking engagement in Eastern Washington, home improvements and relaxing, it’s time to settle into the rhythm of the fall.

The fall rhythm includes balancing family and home responsibilities with a full teaching schedule (32 private students), daily practice, booking concerts and residencies for 2015 and beyond, and mapping out goals for the year. I’ve got performance trips to Mexico and Alaska on the books for 2015, and am working on completing my second recording, Women With a Past, before the end of this year.

Like this glorious, gigantic sunflower in my front garden, which started from a tiny seed, I’m planning on aiming high and encouraging my students to do the same!

 

Visit Joe Sweeney at: http://sweeneyfit.wordpress.com