Popular music enlivens Lyceum series

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

The April 11 presentation by ASU's faculty and selected students was entitled "From Operetta to Broadway!" The evening was replete with selections from five of the 15 delightful, fun-poking operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, the tune-filled musicals of Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, to the more modern day Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals by a plethora of imaginative songsters.

As Mimi Noda sat at the piano, mezzo soprano Deanna Weber and tenor Shawn Puller took turns singing these songs. In the Cole Porter group, they invited student musicians led by faculty flutist Michael Decuir to join Noda in instrumental assistance. Anthony Newsome, digital piano; Roy Eaddy, drums; Trent Lumpkin, bass, and Russell Brown, banjo, formed an accomplished quintet to do the honors here.

Cole Porter wrote so many songs (about 200) expressing so many moods that an "industry" of singers were inspired to explore this treasure trove. It's easy to mention at least two of the best known ones: "Easy to Love," and "In the Still of the Night." These songs and many others inspired singers like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, the Ellington band's blind Al Hibbler with a strong tinge of the "Duke's" jazz style. Speaking of style, many of these song lent themselves well to various stylizations by unique singers. Beside Sinatra, Perry Como comes to mind, as does bluesy, tragic Billie Holliday, Californian Etta James, Sarah Vaughn -- called "Miz Jesus" by some fans -- and many more a-blooming into the present.

The singers continued with four selections from the modernistic imagination of Stephen Sondheim.

For their closing group the singers chose six songs, one each from what they dubbed Modern Day Musical Theatre. One might wonder: Well, aside from Gilbert and Sullivan, and Porter, how do these and the Sondheim songs differ? We suggest an answer. They're different in style and expression. The perception is aural, flowing from the conceptual -- not to put to heavy a spin on it. Titles here may be of some help. Note the absence of affection in favor of suggestion: "Not While I'm Around, "Children Will Listen," "The song that Goes like this," "Grateful," "Stars and Moon," "Therapy," "Will You?" "What is it About Her?"

This trio of musicians certainly gave us something different to hear. One might wonder: Popular music in a college setting? The answer: Certainly. It is still fine music and belongs in any venue where fine music is appreciated. And this music, finely sung and played fits the bill quite well.

James Marquis is a composer and emeritus professor of music, retired, at Albany State University.