Friday 25 April 2008

A Place To Stand

What do we do? Up there, on a daïs or a bandshell, in step behind the flags. what is our purpose? Yeah, I'm in a philosophical mood, but bear with me just a bit.

We know a concert band provides a soundtrack music to real life. Unlike a bar-band or a dance-band, we're not about people paying us to make their customers spend more on beer, we're out there, nearly invisible, out in among the everyday. We illuminate sermons, we set the flow in VIP visitations and set the frame of the public moment in a parade or to cheer the hometeam in a ballpark or as the orchestra to the ballet of a fireworks display. We deal out sound-emotion, binding waves of co-compassion, and that leads me to a topic of patriotic anthems and iconic tunes like Dolores Claman's "A Place To Stand".

This song was originally commissioned to illuminate a film by the same name shown at the Ontario Pavillion at Expo-67 in Montreal. Everyone here remembers it, not necessarily enough to sing along, but it gets instant recognition. The song is iconic.

And it also is, well, kinda ... quaint; we have band members who cringe when it bubbles up in the playlist and it's for fixing that sentiment that I wanted to post about this tune.

You see, it's simple and plain, but not at all a boring song; it's only kitch or cliché if we play it as such. But we aren't required to kitch it up: If we get inside any tune, when we get inside the head of the composer and discover their intent, when we find the meaning and purpose of the work, the band can re-invent it, and reinvigorate the spirit of the thing. Far from boring, patriotic icons can become a rich vehicle for expression because of the cliché.

Like this tune. On the surface, a government commission, yes, by a jingle-writer true, and for a blatent tourism commercial yes, but ...
  • This was one of the most popular displays at Expo-67, with huge line-ups and many repeat visitors

  • The film was an Academy Award winning short film

  • It's innovative technique of the multi-panel live action montage won the praise of Norman Jewison (who subsequently used the method in the Thomas Crown Affair) and blew the socks off Steve McQueen; there's even homage to this film today in every episode of 24!

That's pretty cool, really. That's something of A Place To Stand in itself: This short tourism flick and the chart-topping jingle were crowning moments that Ontario film-art on The Map! The song and film actually lived their kitchy message!

The song has since been covered by Jim Carey and the Barenaked Ladies yes, that's something of itself, and it must have hit a nerve because was a hit: it sold 50,000 copies and still makes the news.

But here's something else to ponder in our play. Think about the set and setting of this work: This was 1967, a very different and very optimistic time, Lester Pearson and the days of Penny Lane and Happy Together, and here, drawing us a sound portrait of those times, we have the same composer who later writes our National alter-anthem, the ubiquitous theme to Hockey Night In Canada

Rising prices, global warming ... Dolores Claman has left us a flashback time machine to snap us back to those innocent times, and all you and I need do is power it up!