Songs of location and history: Charlie on the MTA

Songs about location and history evoke nostalgia to those who have travelled or lived in these places. Long-time Boston residents know the song “Charlie on the MTA” but newcomers are curious:

  • Who was Charlie?
  • What does MTA stand for?
  • Why couldn’t Charlie get off the train?
  • Why didn’t his wife give him the money to get off the train rather than throw him a sandwich?
  • Is that why the subway card is known as a Charlie Card? Unlike the Oyster Card in London and the OV Chip Card in the Netherlands, you only need to swipe the Charlie Card when you enter the bus, trolley (tram), metro, or commuter rail (i.e. not needed when you exit).
  • Is Charlie related to the River Charles that divides Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts?

Continue reading “Songs of location and history: Charlie on the MTA”

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99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall and counting

There seems to be an inverse correlation between construction and longevity. The longer lasting the song, the simpler you can expect the harmonic and melodic structures to be.

A song I sang as a teenager on long and winding road trips was a riddle in counting backwards from 99 to one. The idea is that the more you drink, the harder it is to count backwards in a group. [Note: Back then, there was no such thing as drinking age, especially on the island of Okinawa!] Add another dimension of modulating it through the major triads based on the twelve notes in a chromatic scale and you will be sure to stay sober!

Continue reading “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall and counting”

Case Study: adapting music for amateur choir

A trained soprano approached me recently about adapting a famous Buddhist song, arranged for four-part voice, for a 45-person amateur choir, pianist, cello, and saxophone. Continue reading “Case Study: adapting music for amateur choir”

Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival poem and song: dan yuan ren chang jiu

There are many kinds of sheet music for the popular Chinese song Dan Yuan Ren Chang Jiu sung at Mid-Autumn Festival.

When I asked my mom to select songs made popular by the late Teresa Teng besides my favorite Ni Ze Me Shuo, she mentioned Dan Yuan Ren Chang Jiu. On the night of the super blood moon and lunar eclipse, I learned of its significance. The lyrics come from a famous poem by Su Shi, also known as Su Dong Po. The song is associated with the Mid Autumn Festival, which is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. For 2015, it’s Sunday September 27th.

Continue reading “Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival poem and song: dan yuan ren chang jiu”

The flower of sanshin: san shin no hana 三線の花

A love song played over loud speakers at the 2015 annual Maui Okinawan Festival brought back memories of growing up on Okinawa.

At the annual Maui Okinawan Festival, I heard three youngsters announce the songs they would be dancing to. When one of them added “and this one is my favorite,” I took out my iPhone to record it and began my journey of discovering this famous song about the Okinawan instrument. Continue reading “The flower of sanshin: san shin no hana 三線の花”

Holiday greetings: the gift of music

Another kind of holiday greeting is the gift of music. Denver-based singer and composer Melissa Axel and tuba player James Jacoby share their original tune “Sleigh Ride in Bora Bora” with the world. Download any of the 3 versions for free and pass it around. Support their fund raising campaign for their forthcoming debut album.

Here is an original Christmas tune written and performed by the multi-talented singer/songwriter Melissa Axel and her partner, James Jacoby, tuba player and augmented by their back-up band of vocals, violin, percussion, and more. There’s also an instrumental version and a karaoke version with lyrics.

Bora Bora is a tropical island in the South Pacific. I had googled it when I first moved to the small Dutch village of Bussum in January 2004. It was a symbol of escape from the short and dark winter days that lay ahead. The idea of flying to Tahiti  — somewhere on the other side of the world — occupied my mind and fueled my daydreams.

For Denver-based composer Melissa Axel and her team, perhaps the idea of Bora Bora, such a contrast from the snow-capped Rocky Mountains and below-freezing weather conditions, also keeps them dreaming of the warmer days to come. Certainly, Robert and I are living their dream in Hawaii.

How does a sleigh operate without snow? Well, here’s the clue:

we’ll still find a way to have our Christmas
stringing leis on palm trees by the sea
tie this rope around the sleigh, help me hitch it to the boat
we don’t need no reindeer, and we sure don’t need no snow
we’ll turn this Bali Hai into a Bali Ho-Ho-Ho
it’s a sleigh ride in Bora Bora

Listening to this song put a smile to my face. Here we are — not quite in Bora Bora — but in the tropics nevertheless. Maui is the second largest of the Hawaiian islands. It’s not a white Christmas but a blue one with perfect surfing conditions.

Axel and Jacoby’s gift of music is a free for all. Download it. Pass it on to your friends. Share it on facebook.

If you like their music, check out their fundraising campaign for their debut album.