Thursday, November 18, 2004

And on every street corner you hear...

The quartet auditioned tonight for a slot on the local chorus's Christmas show. We've been working hard to get a couple of Christmas tunes up to speed just for this occasion. For the audition, we performed both songs in front of the chorus and our coach, who helped with the evaluations.

I felt we did a decent job. We're still really learning the two songs, and we had a few minor rough spots here and there in the music. But the performance was solid most of the way through, and we added a good bit in terms of engaging visual presentation. Evidently we did all right, because we got the gig.

In case you're curious, our two holiday numbers are "The Secret of Christmas" and "Silver Bells," the latter of which has a great anecdote connected to it.

"Silver Bells" was written by the legendary songwriting team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, who wrote music together for some 60 years, and scored more than 80 motion pictures. Among their better-known classics were three Academy Award-winning songs: "Buttons and Bows" (from the 1948 Bob Hope comedy The Paleface); "Mona Lisa" (from the now-mostly-forgotten 1950 World War II epic Captain Carey, USA); and "Que Sera Sera" (introduced by Doris Day in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much — more specifically, in the 1956 version of that Hitchcock thriller; Hitchcock made the original The Man Who Knew Too Much 22 years earlier). The Christmas song "Silver Bells" itself came from a movie — yet another Bob Hope film, 1951's The Lemon Drop Kid.

When the duo was working on the song, they were far from enthusiastic about the project. They reasoned that the music people want to hear at Yuletide are the old standard carols, not unfamiliar new songs. But the film called for a Christmas song, so Livingston and Evans finally wrote one they liked, one which lyricist Livingston entitled "Tinkle Bells."

When he came home from the studio and performed the tune at the piano for his wife, Mrs. Livingston was appalled. "Jay," she reportedly said, with hands on cheeks in a posture later made famous by Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, "you can't put that in a movie. Don't you know what 'tinkle' means?"

Obviously, he didn't. But Livingston quickly rewrote the lyric to the less controversial "Silver Bells."

In later years, Livingston and Evans referred to "Silver Bells" as "the annuity." Their most frequently recorded song (and the most frequently recorded modern Christmas carol written to date), its royalties alone kept the two composers in the chips the rest of their lives.

Think of all the money they'd have missed out on had Livingston's wife not reacted as she did to the original lyric.

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