Tag Archives: Music

Back In The Saddle Again

My friend Mike Pengra is very good at his jobs. He has several, but for the most part they all boil down to doing the same thing – Mike makes other people sound better.

As a producer, editor, music-picker and scheduler, Mike supports classical music programming at Minnesota Public Radio, and is the lone human behind the robot-powered rootsy music stream, Radio Heartland.

He’s also the drummer in a band called City Mouse.  In the music world, the rock band drummer is a character who is both essential and undervalued, so the role suits Mike well. He makes everything OK and distributes the credit elsewhere. Somehow people feel more competent when Mike’s around, and he’s too kind to reveal that it’s his doing, not theirs.

This is why everybody likes Mike.

Mike and I worked on Radio Heartland a few years back, and for a good stretch before that we were teammates on the weird three-legged stool that was the MPR Morning Show, Mike playing the silent partner like the multi-talented Silvester Vicic and the saintly Nora McGillivray before him.

Mike contacted me a few weeks ago and said a group of demanding baboons had made a bunch of music requests, and he wanted some help feeding tunes to them.

I don’t host radio shows anymore, but I was happy to oblige this time, knowing that as soon as I walked into Mike Pengra’s studio I’d become two times funnier and at least ten times smarter.

And believe it or not, that Mike Pengra magic still works.

You can listen for yourself to a Baboonish Request show today at noon, and again on Sunday evening at 7.



The Boomgaarden Orchestra

Today’s guest post comes from Renee Boomgaarden, aka Renee in North Dakota.

Sometime in 1925, the residents in and around Ellsworth, MN were abuzz with the news that Okke Boomgaarden had bought a $3000 accordion for his daughter, Amanda.

Okke was my great uncle, the fifth oldest of the sixteen children in my grandfather’s family. Okke was, officially, a farmer, sort of like how Don Corleone was, officially, an olive oil importer. Okke made his money bootlegging, and his barn was used for dances, not livestock. Okke had regular dances in the barn. He provided refreshments, at a cost, and members of the family provided the music.

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Family historians talk about my grandfather and many of his siblings having a natural aptitude for music. All were self taught.

  • Great Uncle George learned to play the fiddle when he was 16.
  • Great Uncle Albert also played the fiddle.
  • Great Uncle Herman was a noted left handed banjo player.
  • My grandfather played the cello.
  • Great Aunt Amelia played the piano.
  • Other family members played the accordion.

In the years before the First World War they were know as The Boomgaarden Orchestra and played for dances, weddings, and harvest festivals in northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota.

After the war, they changed their name to Mandy’s Jazz Kings, and played in Okke’s barn, joined by Okke’s children Georgie on fiddle, Jake on saxophone, and Amanda and Mabel on the accordion.

My father remembers going to some of those dances when he was a little boy, driving to Ellsworth with his parents in their Graham-Paige automobile. I wish I know more about the music the Jazz Kings and the Boomgaarden Orchestra performed.

I wish I knew what happened to my grandfather’s cello. Until I researched for this post, I never even knew he played a string instrument.

Okke died of a heart attack in 1928, and the dances stopped soon afterwards. The older members of the Jazz Kings had their own farms and families to care for and couldn’t play with the band anymore. Okke’s sons Georgie and Jake kept playing, changing the name to The Georgie Boomgaarden Orchestra. Georgie and his band played in the towns around Ellsworth until the 1970’s.

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The Depression hit everybody hard. At one point, Jake’s saxophone needed $12.00 worth of repairs, but he didn’t have the money to fix it. The local doctor intervened and paid for the repairs. He had just built a night club in Ellsworth and needed musicians to play for the dances.

My grandfather felt it was important for my dad and his brother to have some kind of music training despite the tight finances. Grandpa drove Dad and Uncle Alvin to Luverne once a week to practice with a drum and bugle corps. This group was comprised of sons of World War I veterans, and you can see them in the photo at the top of this page. Dad played both drum and the bugle – he is the third boy on the right in the back row. He can still play his bugle, and has two of them in his bedroom.

Renee played bass clarinet for Concordia.
Renee played bass clarinet for Concordia.

My children and I are the current Boomgaarden music amateurs along with my husband. Husband plays the cello, guitar, harmonica, and piano. He also sings. You can see me playing my bass clarinet in the Concordia College Band in 1978. Daughter plays the violin, French horn, and piano. She sings in college. Son played the trombone and sang in college. He currently sings in the church choir. I drafted husband to join the handbell choir. He drafted me to sometimes play the bass guitar in a very amateur gospel/rock and roll group.

Why do we do these thing? I have no idea. Maybe Okke will explain it to me someday in the Hereafter.

Who has the talent in your family?

Happy Birthday, Roger Miller

Today’s guest post comes from tim

roger millers birthday is today. he’s not around to enjoy it anymore but he left something behind for us to enjoy in his absence.

roger miller was a blip on the screen in the 60’s when his hits , dang me, do wacka doo, king of the road and you can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd were topping the charts. i enjoyed them and thought they were good songs. i gave them more credit than the equivalent guitarzan by ray stevens which sort of appealed to the same demographic.

king of the road upon inspection is a tune that offers a view of another mans shoes that is not really given enough credit for how different it was from everything else out there and if you actually went into the thoughts behind dang me and do wacka doo they show that there was a serious thought behind the semi babble top 40 pop effort of the times.

my first marriage gave me many unique memories two wonderful kids and one mother in law that insisted on knowing exactly what gift to buy for christmas and birthdays before she went out to shopping . i told her album collections were the way to go. dylan, the stones the beatles, roger miller and she chose roger miller. i already had too many dylan albums and most of the beatles so if it comes down to the stones or roger miller , roger miller won.

each album was 8 dollars and 50 was the budget so 6 was the number of roger miller albums I received . I had no idea you could get so much music form 6 albums. in addition to king of the road, do whacka do and dang me there were tunes like husbands and wives and other heartfelt balads he was incredible at writing that never made the radio and….there was an album called big river which was roger millers broadway musical i had no knowledge of at all at that point. it turned out to be a turning point for me and roger.

he spent three years writing big river. unlike all his other efforts he put time and energy into the production and it showed. he even played pap on broadway when john goodman had to leave the broadway production to take the role of dan conner on the tv series roseanne. if you haven’t heard the album recording of the musical do it. it is the best musical ever.

that fistful of roger miller albums caused a backwards biography of roger miller that informed me that while he was a kindred spirit he had a troubled history with many problems starting when his dad died during the depression in the dustbowl era of oklahoma and he and his two brothers were each shipped off to live with a different uncle.

shep wolley was another relative who taught roger to play violin and introduced him to the nashville end of showbusiness where roger got his start writing tunes for ray price and someone else on the grand ol opry and then befriended chet atkins and johnny cash and became part of the nashville scene. along the way he burned through life with ex-wives drug problems bouts with depression and kind of a death wish outlook on his career.

he was given one of those tv show in the 60’s. remember them all, the nat king cole show, ed sullivan, dean martin, red skelton, jimmy dean, judy garland, johnny cash, well they cut rogers out after the first 13 weeks, showing up for work was not a good job description for roger who did best shooting from the hip and writing songs when inspired.

while i am fortunate enough to be able to claim no depression, drugs and relationships had taken their toll and offered their challenges.

sometimes you are attracted to a guy and then find out the creative juices that he oozed were not a celebration of life but a pressure relief valve. if its in there its just gotta come out. when it does how you deal with it determines where it goes from there.

there are lots of roger miller clips out there on you tube. its like looking into steve goodman or john prine or a bag of lays potato chips once you get started its hard to stop. you guys are all fine but i may need to do some serious accessing.

name a creative artist who you would consider a kindred spirit.

Dave Brubeck R.I.P.

One year ago today we observed Dave Brubeck’s 91st birthday.

Brubeck died yesterday and has been the subject of many remembrances and tributes. We’re sorry to see him go but there’s no question he used his time well and made a lasting impression. It will never be possible to measure the effect of his work on subsequent generations, but there’s a sense of it in these two videos posted on You Tube by his son, Chris.

The first is a performance recorded in June of 2011 where Dave makes a guest appearance with his son’s band. The Master comes out on stage to an ovation about 3 minutes into the recording.

And here’s a video of Dave and Chris talking about Ansel Adams, the photographer. They put together a symphonic piece for orchestras to play while Adams’ photographs are projected for the audience. Sounds majestic. But I particularly like the story they tell about Dave’s youth in northern California.

Musicians are composers. Photographers are composers. Talking about the similarities between the two art forms, Dave Brubeck said “That’s what you do as a composer – you develop a theme.”

Maybe we’re all composers in one way or another.

What themes have you developed?

Art Tatum’s Art

Today is the birthday of Jazz piano legend Art Tatum.

Tatum is one of those artists known mostly for the way he was admired by his fellow musicians. He didn’t achieve great popular success, but other players stood in awe of his talents and his influence is undeniable.

Need some evidence and a few accolades?
Here’s a clip from Ken Burns’ series, Jazz.

And here’s another sample of Tatum at work. I can’t tell you anything about the structure of this piece, but I recognize that there are a lot of notes in there. Without truly comprehending the significance of what he is doing, I can easily believe that Tatum is making something difficult appear to be quite easy.

We’d like to believe people who are the very best at what they do will be handsomely rewarded for their ability – that excellence will always be properly recognized.
Art Tatum’s life and his relative obscurity seem to argue the opposite – that artistic genius does not guarantee success.

Who is the most accomplished artist you’ve seen in person?

The Home Place

Today is musician Laurie Lewis’s birthday. She’s 62, born in 1950.

Laurie Lewis plays bluegrass and a jazzier fiddle music called “newgrass”. She’s from California and discovered the work of Bill Monroe through a community of musicians in the San Francisco Bay area – not the standard path but certainly effective. She’s not an imitator, but finds inspiration in the tradition. Lewis told an interviewer earlier this year, “How am I ever going to be able to imitate a man from Kentucky, I’m a woman from Berkeley.”

She turned out to be a trailblazer in her chosen style of music. As far as the impetus for breaking gender barriers and being unconventional, it seems to come naturally out of her upbringing. Here’s a quote from another interview:

“You know, I grew up in Berkeley, and it took me years of getting out of the area before I got over the feeling that everything was weird, everybody thought differently than I did, everything was strange. I realized after awhile that, no, I was the weird one, and that Berkeley was the strange place. And outside of modern European countries, there weren’t many places in the world that were like this. You know how Europeans claim they can spot Americans all the time? When I was 16 I went to Europe for the first time with my family. Nobody thought we were an American family. They all thought we were maybe German or Danish or something. The way we dressed and the way we were was just different. But that’s what I grew up in.”

What are some of the lasting effects of your upbringing?

The Day The Music Arrived

Today is Buddy Holly‘s birthday. He landed on the planet as Charles Hardin Holly in Lubbock, Texas on this date in 1936. He had a strange, short life that has been much chronicled since. I’m amazed at how listenable his music is even today. You have to admire anyone who could create such a lasting body of work in a few short years.

The video in today’s post presents a weird scene, very early in Holly’s brief live TV career. He had made his first appearance on American Bandstand just four months before, and now just a few days before the start of the new year 1958 he shows up in enemy territory on the Arthur Murray Dance Party.

The show was an infomercial for the Arthur Murray Dance Studios. Americans were learning to waltz and do Latin steps in the 1950’s, but rock and roll was an intruder. I suppose as a business strategy it was important for the show to include new music that younger audiences preferred, though it’s hard to imagine dancing to Buddy Holly’s music in the outfits the Murray cast is wearing as they provide a mostly stationary backdrop to his performance of “Peggy Sue.”

I particularly enjoy Kathryn Murray’s painfully polite introduction. She may as well have started with “I will explain why we are about to horrify you” and could have added “please don’t turn the channel” after every sentence.

A motherly “and it’s good for you” would have been an appropriate finish.

What do you say when you know you are just about to disappoint someone?

Love at the Five and Dime

Today is singer/songwriter Nanci Griffith‘s birthday. She’s 59.

A commercial broadcaster once told me that he appreciated a public radio show I worked on because we played Nanci’s music. I guess she wasn’t commercial enough to be featured on his station very often, but we had the freedom to embrace good music that was not going to make a lot of money.

At least one Nanci Griffith song did become a top 5 country hit – as done by Kathy Mattea. But Nanci’s is the version we played.

She has ardently promoted reading and featured books on many of her album covers, back when album covers mattered. Those looking for political statements in the poetry would find a distinct leftward tilt.

With her latest recording, Nanci has become more openly political and expressed unabashed support for the Occupy movement. Apparently this is not a topic that can be addressed with a pretty ballad, though I hope the hand-clapping Hell’s Angel boys are optional.

Things certainly do change.

One criticism of political songs is that they don’t have much staying power. Things happen. Conditions change. The topic shifts. Before long people can’t remember what it was you were talking about in your musical commentary.

But nothing is immune to change, and the fog of time obscures everything, eventually.

In addition to those suffering personal economic distress in the form of foreclosures and job loss, the “I’m not all right” assessment in that second song could certainly apply to Woolworth’s, featured prominently and innocently in the first song. The company closed all its five-and-dimes and retired its well-known name in the late 90’s to focus on a new retail strategy through a string of mall outlets called “Foot Locker”.

Yup, that’s all that’s left of Woolworth’s. Somehow I don’t think that lovely Five and Dime song would sound the same with the line “… she made the Foot Locker counter shine.”

Good thing Nanci Griffith was there to write the song at a time when people still knew what Woolworth’s was all about.

Name a favorite song, poem, book or work of art about something that is no longer around.

The Wedding Dance

Here is a tricky social situation, just right for navigation by sensitive baboons. The note comes from Jane Beauchamp – a former Morning Show listener, sometime Trial Baboon reader and permanently proud mother who is about to have an FTD moment.

FTD in this case means “Forced To Dance.”

My son is 24 years old and marrying his high school sweetheart in an outdoor garden ceremony July 21 at a local country club to which her parents belong. He’s my oldest and the first of any of his friends to get married. I’ve not been very involved in the planning but it appears that it will be an elegant affair; a champagne reception and formal dinner follows the ceremony, after which the dance begins.

The challenge, then, is to come up with exactly the right piece of music to make the obligatory mother/son wedding dance both memorable and painless.

My son and I agree that a) neither of us are great dancers of any genre and b) we do not want anything that is very sentimental/syrupy/pop culture type of thing that would leave his mother (me) weeping in a heap on the dance floor. In fact, if we could avoid the whole dance thing that would probably be better, but I’ve been advised that isn’t part of the program for the evening, and, honestly, I would likely regret it if we didn’t do it.

What is the solution? Jane says the tune should be “something classic but/and fun; short vs. many verses is better; and beyond that we’re open.” Here’s a little more background to help guide you as you sift through your musical back stacks.

When my boys were growing up, we’d listen to The Morning Show every morning on the way to school. I like many other of your listeners told them it was my way of supporting a part of their music education. It was my only chance music-wise, as they both are very competitive athletes and that’s where their interests were. The son getting married played high school and college soccer; since finishing college, he’s been in sales for a national insurance company and loves the different type of competition he experiences there. He and his fiance have a small dog, Jolie, who they love to pieces, and when they’re not planning their wedding they like to travel (France, US, Mexico) and cook.

Stories? Suggestions? Songs?

Lab Rat Walking

I love science and am constantly amazed at the things researchers are able to discover through careful, methodical experimentation. These human “lab rats” are the smartest people around, and they provide the best hope for our future together!

But I’m worried that we may be missing something fundamental in the latest results that suggest actual rats whose spinal cords have been severed (by scientists) can learn to walk again through the combined application of chemicals, electricity, physical therapy, technology and chocolate.

After the rodent’s spinal cords were cut (by scientists), the animals lost the use of their back legs. Different approaches were tried to get them moving again. The one that worked best used all of the above elements and resulted in a number of the rats experiencing a “nearly complete regrowth of severed spinal fibers.” Amazing. Some of the creatures were described as “sprinting up” a ramp to retrieve their reward.

There’s a video on the National Geographic website that shows all this happening.
The poor things are working so hard! But what inspired their comeback?

I didn’t see Burgess Meredith cheering them on from ringside, but I definitely heard a different kind of music to accompany the video of these striving rats. I know we’re not supposed to anthropomorphize them, but what if rat recovery from surgical paralysis is really aided, not by electricity, drugs and chocolate, but by white hot feelings of ratty vengeance that inspire them to perform unlikely feats, such as running up a very long flight of stairs?

Kinda like this?

What would you be doing in your inspirational “Rocky” training montage?