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From Jane Siberry
Snowing, honking, dark-at-rush-hour. Jump into a cab with an armful of clothes, papers, potatoes, and head to Soho. Head jammed with lyrics, arrangements. Wondering if a set list exists that will string these widely different songs together to make a joyful sound. Soon as the door slams, the world slows down. Hum of the engine, dim awareness of someone else. Small South American man. Somehow us talking about music, Christmas, family. He polite, asking questions, sincere. Him? Drives, apartment, dinner, TV, bed, gets up. Do things with friends? No. And then how alone, solitary, kitchen clock ticking, quiet. Sink back watching Christmas blur. But... can't you join a church, a group? ...And he saying, Lady this Lady that. Finally that he prayed to God every night that he not be so lonely for the rest of his life. Long silence. I invited him to the show, outlining carefully what "guest list" means, that I'd have someone waiting at the door for him, they would know his name, spell it carefully, he would be seated with friends that would be expecting him. He would be so welcome. Please please come...
He never came. The close contact with truth articulate. In the form of this gentle taxi-driver. Our humanness. He took my frown, my figuring, figuring and put them into a white box. White, the colour of truth. Allowed me to travel with the Caravan through the dark and troubled land from the first song onwards. He didn't want anything from me. He was putting out onto the air our question, somewhere in our hearts.
The grace of that man is part of this recording.
-- Jane Siberry, New York City
December 17, 1996
From James Bessman
It's a hot August night in Manhattan's rightly named Hell's Kitchen as these thoughts are being put to paper - about as far away from Christmas and winter cold as the calendar and sun dictate. Yet as I listen to the rough tapes of Child (Music for the Christmas Season) - the third and last of Jane's extraordinary 'Siberry Three Wednesdays' monthly series of 'theme' shows at New York's showcase club, The Bottom Line in late 1996, there's an infusion of holiday cheer that at least makes the stifling New York City heat somewhat bearable.
The Christmas shows took place on December 17 and 18 - a Wednesday and Thursday actually, two shows each night - and of course, I had to see all four of them! I won't pretend they were all the same (no two Siberry shows ever are!) but by the time we arrived at the last one, Jane had indeed managed to progress from 'by the seat of her pants' to 'pretty good,' just as she had envisioned the concept's evolution through four shows in two nights with but three days' rehearsal - though really, the first three shows were wonderful, too, if admittedly less polished.
The Child shows, which followed October's Music for Films and Forests and November's Music for Saying It, were designed to 'gather the scattered Christmas energy,' as Jane so stylishly put it at the start of the final performance. The way she did so was typically artful, bringing together obscure international Christmas fare with traditional standards, songs of her own that lent themselves to the holiday season, a wrenching original spoken-word narrative, and an original Christmas song heretofore appearing only on mulitple-artist compilations.
The evening began with 'Caravan,' a Christmas song (though you might not know it) taken from Jane's final Warner Bros. album Maria. As she later explained to me, 'Caravan' symbolically served as a matrix for the Child shows, in that it portrayed people in procession leading towards a destination. Sure enough, the show then proceeded from just Jane's vocal accompanied by piano and a bit of trumpet to the fuller ensemble of Jane's core group (pianist Tim Ray, vocalists Rebecca Campbell and Lisa Lindo, trumpeter David Travers-Smith, bassist-vocalist Gail Ann Dorsey, and drummer Dean Sharp), augmented for the Christmas shows by vocalists Catherine Russell and Phillip Brown, trumpeter Frank London, reed player/accordionist Peter Kiesewalter, cellist Evan Richey, and trombonist Vinni Nobile. But it also proceeded into Jane's exploration of Christmas songs from around the world, which were as unfamiliar to everyone else, probably, as they were to me. 'Wildwood Carol' and 'Mary's Lullaby,' for instance, came from 20th Century English composer John Rutter, whom Jane discovered while listening to tons of Christmas music at libraries in search of songs meeting her criteria of beautiful melodies and uplifting lyrics. Many of us know, though that the lovely 'Shir Amami' comes form the Festival of Light Hanukkah album, on which Jane appears, thanks to Frank London, whose regular gig is with the Klezmatics.
But I remember the performance of the French song 'Quoi Ma Voisíne?' ('Neighbour Neighbour') most vividly. If you were there too, you can also delight once again to Jane and Rebecca as they enact with girlish glee the gossipy song about the Virgin Birth! If you weren't there, I should explain that their performance here was visually hilarious - hence all the laughter accompanying it. Then again, Jane's shows are always very funny, though often not without their darker moments - this being no exception. Here, the darkness came urgently in 'An Angel Stepped Down,' from When I Was a Boy - though the song is not without hope, and was beautifully tagged here with a bit of 'Silent Night.' Dark, too, and also not without hope, was 'New Year's Baby,' a poem she wrote about a young man's attempted suicide.
These two darker departures took place about midway through the show, and were followed by the return to light via a pair of traditional Christmas favorites sung spectacularly, namely Gail Ann Dorsey's 'Oh Holy Night' and Phillip Brown's 'The Christmas Song' (with the beautiful group-sing 'In the Bleak Midwinter' in between). Then came two of my all-time favorite Siberry songs, both from Bound By The Beauty, and both with seasonal appeal: 'The Valley' again mixed dark with light, with the stark imagery being balanced by the warmth of close companionship that is so central to the holiday spirit. The wintry scenario depicted in 'Hockey,' though, was all fun in its performance here. The song takes a wistful look back at the fading joys of youth, and ends with the children who are playing hockey on the frozen river, and being called home for dinner. One by one, Jane called home her band, each member regressing back into childhood and comically expressing their displeasure.
For a moment, then, we in the audience were all children, revisiting our own lost childhoods with Jane as our guide. 'One thing about Christmas that everyone focuses on is children,' Jane had said, and children were also central to the song that followed, 'Are You Burning, Little Candle?' which Jane wrote and previously recorded last year on the Christmas album Winter, Fire, and Snow and which also appears on another compilation, Count Your Blessings. The hopeful, nondenominational Christmas song is easily the best modern Christmas song I've heard since 'Little Drummer Boy,' though in all honesty, I've always hated 'Little Drummer Boy'! Be that as it may, what's not to like about 'The Twelve Days of Christmas,' which featured all 12 musicians, though Phillip Brown's soaring vocals on his ever varying 'five golden rings' part outshone everyone else.
'Calling All Angels' was the perfect closer, and a carry-over from the Music for Films program since it was used in Wim Wender's Until The End Of The World film. Jane's poignant call for heavenly aid sent us out warm and glowing into the cold and dark, but for me, there was a deeper spiritual significance to it all: Child (Music for the Christmas Season) was the only Christmas show I would attend last year at the Bottom Line, where various Christmas shows have long been a special tradition. But two of the most cherished traditional Bottom Line Christmas shows last year were not to be: Laura Nyro's and The Roches'. Actually, neither show had been performed the year before either - Laura's apparently due to the recurrence of the illness which tragically took her life earlier this year, and The Roches' because of their continued inactivity as a trio following the death of their father two years ago. So it was because of Jane (who, incidentally, appears with The Roches on the Laura Nyro tribute album Time And Love) that for me, at least musically, there truly was a Christmas season.
-- James Bessman, August, 1997
Jane Siberry -- vocals
Tim Ray -- piano
Rebecca Campbell -- vocals
Lisa Lindo -- vocals
Catherine Russell -- vocals
Phillip Brown -- vocals
Gail Ann Dorsey -- vocals, bass
David Travers-Smith -- trumpet
Peter Kiesewalter -- clarinet, sax, accordion
Dean Sharp -- drums
Frank London -- trumpet, piccolo trumpet, Eb horn
Vinni Nobile -- trombone
Evan Richey -- cello
Created and produced by Siberry.
Live recording and mixing by David Travers-Smith
Show Production Assistance: Rebecca Campbell
Live Sound: Peter Keppler
Artwork Design: Siberry
Cover photo: David Travers-Smith
Inside photo: Catherine Nance
Graphic Production: Marc LaFoy / Screen Images
Mastering: Greg Calbi, Masterdisk
ESPECIALLY SO...SOLO VOCALS
'Quoi, Ma Voisíne, Es-Tu Fachée?' Rebecca Campbell, Siberry
'Silent Night' Rebecca Campbell
'O Holy Night' Gail Ann Dorsey
'The Christmas Song' Phillip Brown
'What Child Is This?' Catherine Russell
'What Is This Fragrance Softly Stealing?' Lisa Lindo
ABOUT THE SONGS
'Caravan' by Siberry, original version on MARIA Reprise 1995 *
'Wildwood Carol' by John Rutter & David Richard Grant / Henshaw Music Inc. (ASCAP)
'What Is This Lovely Fragrance Stealing/('Quelle Est Cette Odeure Agréable?') traditional French, pd
'Quoi, Ma Voisíne, Es-Tu Fachée?' ('Neighbour, Neighbour') traditional French, pd
'Shir Amami' traditional Hebrew, Shepherd's lament, the title means 'Song of My Land', lyrics by David Eddleman, co-arrangement by Frank London & Jane Siberry / Psycho Freylekh Music (BMI) / **
'Mary's Lullaby' traditional Polish lullaby / John Rutter / Oxford University Press
'New Year's Baby' by Siberry **
'An Angel Stepped Down' by Siberry, original version on WHEN I WAS A BOY Reprise 1992 *
'Silent Night' ('Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht') traditional German, written by Joseph Mohr & Franz Gruber, 1818, translation anon, pd
'You Will Be Born', by Siberry, (excerpt from 'Oh My My' on MARIA Reprise 1995)*
'O Holy Night' ('Cantique de Noel') traditional French, Cappeau de Roquemaure (lyrics) & Adolph Adam (music) and translated by John S. Dwight, pd
'In The Bleak Mid-Winter' words by Christina Rossetti, music by Harold Darke / Stainer & Bell
'The Christmas Song' by Mel Tormé & Robert Wells / Edwin H. Morris Co. a div. of MPL Com. (ASCAP)
'Maria Wanders Through The Thorn ' ('Maria Durch Ein Dornwald Ging') traditional German medieval carol (late 15th or early 16th century), pd
'What Child Is This?' traditional 17th century English air, written by William Dix, ca 1863, pd
'The Valley' and 'Hockey' by Siberry, original versions on BOUND BY THE BEAUTY Reprise 1989 / Wing-It Music/Red Sky Music (SOCAN)
'Twelve Days of Christmas' traditional English, pd
'Are You Burning, Little Candle?' by Siberry **
* Wing-It Music/Sold For A Song/MCA Music Canada (SOCAN)
** Wing-It Music (SOCAN) (includes traditional arrangements)
'pd' indicates 'public domain'