The Old Record Shelf
Not long ago, I was browsing through our dusty collection of vinyl (and shellac, as they used to call the 78 rpm records my parents grew up with). In addition to a few classical albums, there’s a lot of Russian music of all sorts — no surprise, since Tanya is of Russian descent and we were both Russian teachers at one time. Then there’s the oddball stuff: Allan Sherman, Mrs. Miller, Tom Lehrer, “Sentimental Songs of the Mid-19th Century,” etc.
Near the end of the shelf, I pulled out an old friend: “Elite Syncopations,” the LP album made by the LA Glee Club (as the chorus was then called) and a cappella groups in the spring of 1977, at a time when choral music at LA was on the rebound after a few lean years. The album hit the streets 40 years ago this fall, at the start of what would be my last year as choral director.
The album’s title was borrowed from a piano rag of the same name* by Scott Joplin, and the sheet music cover became the basis for the record jacket’s design. Before the days of radio and TV, sheet music was the main marketing tool for new popular songs. Elaborate and colorful covers were designed to catch a customer’s eye. You’d walk into a music store, pick out a song, and give it to the resident piano player to run through it for you — sort of a 1910 predecessor to today’s 30-second preview clips on iTunes. Then you’d buy the music for a nickel or a dime, or perhaps the phonograph record if you had a Victrola and could afford the 75¢.
Making our recording took about half the 1976 – ’77 school year. The main reason it took so long was simply the busy-ness of school life: we had to find times when everyone, or almost everyone, could be there. We did it in the pre-RMPAC Ginsburg Auditorium, with the singers standing among the seats, facing the stage. Our new Realistic stereo cassette recorder with Dolby noise reduction was strategically placed near the front of the hall, with two pretty good mics on tall stands a few feet in front of the chorus. Reverb, stereo balance, etc., were controlled by the strategic moving around of bodies and microphones.
The glee club that year wasn’t quite the best one we’d ever had — we’d lost much of our first string to graduation in 1976 — but the small groups were in their prime. The Close Shaves, in the second year of their existence, loved singing, to put it mildly. Several mornings each week, we’d (Yes, I said “we” — I was much younger then,) meet in the old music room in the Ferguson Building for half an hour before assembly, which in those days started at 7:45, to rehearse. Every few weeks, they would brighten up a boring morning meeting with a couple of new tunes, always to thunderous applause.
The girls’ group, the Jazzbelles, were newcomers to the LA music scene. Sadly, they were only around for a year or two, but their short career was brilliant. From the get-go, they did much of it on their own, good friends who loved singing barbershop. Zuellen Marshall, a faculty colleague, provided a bit of musical direction, but mostly they took a page from Frank Sinatra’s songbook and did it their way. Two wonderful solos by the very talented Juan Patrick ’78, round out the recording. She had a gorgeous voice and a tremendous range; she thrilled many an LA audience with her own interpretations of the American Songbook. On the record jacket, we called her “LA’s own Ella Fitzgerald.”
Below you’ll find a link to the best of “Elite Syncopations” with a list of the selections. May it bring back fond memories for many of you; for the young’uns, I hope you’ll enjoy listening to a bit of Lawrence Academy’s music as it was forty years ago. It seems like last week.
Sing’t Dem Herr’n (a round in five parts) M. Praetorius
Since First I Saw Your Face Ford
Lawrence, Here’s to Thee! arr. JSS
The Madrigal Singers:
Mon Coeur Se Recommande à Vous O. diLasso
The Way We Were Bergman-Hamlisch
The Curse of an Aching Heart Piantadosi-Fink arr. Sweet Adelines
Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy Prince-Raye
The Close Shaves:
Crazy Rhythm Caesar, Mayer et al., arr. JSS Sr.
A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening McHugh-Adamson, arr. JSS Sr.
Mavourneen Traditional, arr. Yale Song Book
Toot, Toot, Tootsie Kahn, Erdman et al., arr. JSS Sr.
Good Night Close Shaves
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*https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sE7x05LJj4w (There are several other versions on YouTube.)