All About the Music|
A closer look at and companion to the music we play on the show, written by the Prairie Home music librarian, Kathryn Slusher.
Winding Down at Wolf Trap
By Kathryn Slusher
May 27, 2004
We're heading to Wolf Trap this Memorial Day weekend, our fifth trip there since 1999. We'll broadcast the show from the stage at the Filene Center, an outdoor amphitheater opened in 1971 and located in the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.
The stage is named in honor of the late Catherine Filene Shouse, who donated 100 acres of her Virginia farmland to the government in 1966 with the intent that the space be dedicated to the performing arts. Its geographical location—just outside of our nation's capital—conjures up echoes of American melodies, folksongs, and joyful patriotic marches intermingling with the beauty and history of classical art music, gospel, and bluegrass, as well as the sound of contemporary jazz, pop, rock, country, and other new music. Wolf Trap is a nature paradise where all music forms live and breathe together.
The near-annual trip to Wolf Trap tends to symbolize the winding-down of the APHC season, and the beginning of summer. This sentiment has come through in some of the music on the show. On the July 3, 1999, broadcast, Robin and Linda Williams were inspired to perform a favorite from their repertoire, "Green Summertime."
On the 2002 show, Mark Thomsen sang a Swedish song, "Tonerna," which is traditionally sung by schoolchildren at the end of the school year.
Peter Ostroushko has been a frequent performer on APHC over the last 25 years, and spent several of those years as our musical director. He has joined us on many of our jaunts to Wolf Trap, where we have showcased his masterful talents on mandolin and fiddle. Peter is also an accomplished and proficient composer, and has premiered many of his new works for the Shoe Band on the stage at the Filene Center. Last year, Peter shared the stage with fellow fiddle and mandolin virtuoso Tim O'Brien, brother of Hopeful Gospel Quartet member Mollie O'Brien. A highlight of the broadcast was their twin fiddle work on one of Peter's own compositions—"Buffalo Wallow."
Classical music is particularly revered at Wolf Trap, and we have included our own moments from the classical genre at Wolf Trap. On July 7, 2001, soprano Maria Jette sang "Deh vieni, non tardar" from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, accompanied by a string quartet we had put together for the occasion.
This delightful aria, translated in English as "Then come, do not delay," is sung near the end of the opera, just before the last finale, by the character Susanna, the chambermaid who is engaged to marry Figaro, the town's barber. In the story, Susanna is taunting Figaro, singing "come here, do not delay" to Count Almaviva, whom Figaro falsely accuses Susanna of having an affair with.
(I don't mean to spoil the ending, but just so you know, despite their paranoia about the non-existent infidelity, Figaro and Susanna end up living happily ever after.)
Almost a year later, tenor Mark Thomsen brought another Mozart aria to the stage at the Filene Center—"Dalla Sua Pace" from Don Giovanni, a beautiful selection to cap off Garrison's News from Lake Wobegon that evening.
"Dalla Sua Pace" is sung by the character Ottavio in Act I. It is set up by a duel between Don Giovanni and the Commendatore, who is Donna Anna's father. Don Giovanni kills the Commendatore, and Donna Anna asks her fiancé, Ottavio, to avenge his death. She leaves, and Ottavio is left alone, reflecting on his love and worry for her, singing "On her peace of mind depends mine too, what pleases her gives life to me, what grieves her wounds me to the heart. If she sighs, I sigh with her; her anger and her sorrow are mine, and joy I cannot know unless she shares it." (Incidentally, the lovers do get their revenge, as Don Giovanni ends up burned alive and dragged off to hell at the end of the opera.)
On our July 3, 1999, show we celebrated Independence Day a little early by inviting renowned concert pianist Garrick Ohlsson to pay tribute to two of our greatest American composers, Aaron Copland and George Gershwin. He performed Gershwin's Preludes I and II.
Listen (Prelude I) | Listen (Prelude II)
And Copland's "Scherzo Humoristique: The Cat and the Mouse."
Copland composed this piece in 1920, when he was living in Paris, studying with Nadia Boulanger. It was actually one of his first published piano works, having been discovered at a student recital. I find it to be charmingly representational—I can actually envision the scampering mouse, as well as the stealthy cat as predator, represented by the dark, stoic chords. Furthermore, I choose to believe that the mouse got away ... at least, that is what I feel is being suggested with the final, flippant, delicate steps at the very end of the piece.
The Filene Center seats 6,800 people, which requires strong voices that can fill the air at Wolf Trap. Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth certainly fits that bill, and she was able to join us the evening of June 6, 2002. She thoroughly charmed the audience over with a song that was written just for her—a love story between Kristin and her Starbucks barista, called "Taylor the Latte Boy."
A shining moment in all of our memories has to be the appearance by famed bluegrass singer Ralph Stanley, on our 2001 broadcast, which closed out the season that year. Ralph Stanley sings in a beautiful, evocative "high, lonesome" voice, and plays banjo in the claw hammer style taught to him and his brother Carter in the 1930s by their mother, as they grew up in the Virginia mountains. He is truly a living legend and has remained steadfast in his mission to bring authentic bluegrass music to the public.
2001 was an interesting time in mainstream music. The music Ralph had always been playing was experiencing a revival of sorts, due to the success of the Coen brothers film Oh Brother Where Art Thou. The soundtrack to that movie, put together by producer T. Bone Burnett, featured traditional roots music, performed by such past APHC guests as Alison Krauss, Dan Tyminski, Norman Blake, and Gillian Welch, among others. Several pivotal moments in the film were underscored by Ralph Stanley's music. As Ralph saw it, he was just singing and playing the songs he had been doing for 55 years, but was grateful for the exposure, and a chance to bring his life's work to new audiences.
Ralph delighted the audience that evening with his renditions of the original versions of two songs from the movie: "Man of Constant Sorrow" and "Angel Band."
Listen ("Man of Constant Sorrow") | Listen ("Angel Band")
This year we'll observe Memorial Day at Wolf Trap, and we'll add harmonica virtuoso Howard Levy to the Shoe Band, as well as our friend Johnny Niemann, to play fiddle. We're bringing along Inga Swearingen, who sang so fantastically last week at our last Fitzgerald show, we just had to hear more from her before the season ended. There is also word about another group stopping by for the occasion, but you'll have to listen this week to find out who that may be!
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Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).