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Archive for April, 2014

This Week in Music History: April 28 to May 4

Posted on: April 29th, 2014 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By Adam Bunch

THE CANADIAN BEHIND THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL MUSICAL EVER

It was one of the most famous, most groundbreaking and most controversial musicals of all time. It brought nudity to the stage, embraced free love and environmentalism, criticized the Vietnam War, showed characters using drugs and swearing, and even involved the burning of an American flag. Theatres refused to book it, church groups picketed, authorities tried to shut it down. At one point, while it was running in Minnesota, a priest released white mice into the lobby hoping they would scare the audience away. In Boston, the producers were sued. In Cleveland, someone bombed the theatre. In New York, famous astronauts walked out of the show in protest. In Norway, people formed a human barricade to keep the audience from getting inside. In Mexico, the government padlocked the doors and the cast members were forced to go into hiding.

But none of it stopped Hair. The musical re-wrote the rules for putting on theatrical productions. Taboos fell by the wayside. Laws were challenged and overturned. The musical racked up praise from all over the world: it won Tony Awards and Grammy Awards and rave reviews. It became one of the most famous musicals ever; it even got turned into a movie directed by Miloš Forman. Meanwhile, the songs from the production raced up the charts. They quickly became some of the most iconic tunes of the 1960s. Many of them are still familiar today: “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” “Good Morning Starshine,” “Easy to Be Hard” and the title track, “Hair.”

The music for all of those songs was written by a Canadian: Galt MacDermot. He was born in Montreal, went to school in Sherbrooke, Quebec, and in Toronto, and then got a music degree in South Africa. Before long, he was living in New York City, writing the music for the musical that would go down in history. It was during this week in 1968 that Hair opened on Broadway.

“HAIR” FROM THE MOVIE HAIR

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THE “GREATEST CANADIAN SONG OF ALL TIME” AT CARNEGIE HALL

It was during this week in 1967 that Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Ian and Sylvia took the stage at Carnegie Hall in New York City for one of their most prestigious gigs. The folk-singing duo had started out by playing in the smoke-filled coffee houses of Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood and were soon helping to lead the folk music revival that swept the Western world in the early 1960s. Their best-known song, the wistful ballad “Four Strong Winds,” was a big hit at home in Canada as soon as it was released – and it gradually gained a following south of the border as well. Everyone from Bob Dylan to John Denver to Johnny Cash to fellow Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Neil Young and The Tragically Hip have covered the song. Nearly 40 years after Ian and Sylvia took the stage that night in New York City, CBC listeners chose “Four Strong Winds” as the greatest Canadian song of all time.

NEIL YOUNG COVERS “FOUR STRONG WINDS”

This Week in Music History: April 21 to 27

Posted on: April 22nd, 2014 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By Adam Bunch

Image: Guy Lombardo (left); Sarah Slean performing with Symphony Nova Scotia (right)

A NOSTALGIC HIT FOR GUY LOMBARDO AND HIS ROYAL CANADIANS

It seems funny to look back on a song that is more than 60 years old to find that it’s looking back even further than that. But that’s exactly what you’ll find when you listen to “Dearie,” a sweet and wistful jazz tune that was spinning on everyone’s gramophones in the early months of 1950. The song’s lyrics are all about fondly remembering days gone by. “Dearie,” the vocalist sings in that old crooning tone, “life was cheery, in the good old days gone by.” It’s full of pop culture references that were already out of date by the middle of the 1900s: Charlie Chaplin, Henry Ford, crystal radio sets. “Do you remember?” the lyrics ask cheekily. “If you remember, well dearie, you’re much older than I.”

A pair of Americans wrote the song, but it was a band of Canadians who would make it famous. Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Guy Lombardo was born and raised in London, Ontario, where he formed an orchestra with his brothers when they were still just young boys in grammar school. Before long, Lombardo had moved to the United States and become one of the biggest names in jazz. It was during this week in 1950 that his version of “Dearie” – recorded with his band, The Royal Canadians – was sitting high on the Billboard charts.

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THE EARLIEST ROOTS OF SYMPHONY NOVA SCOTIA

This is also a big week in the history of classical music in Canada. It was 117 years ago – on April 24, 1897 – that the Halifax Symphony played its first-ever gig. It was a memorial concert for the Austrian composer Franz Schubert. But that original orchestra wasn’t destined to last very long: the Halifax Symphony disbanded in 1908. Still, Halifax had an appetite for classical music, so the symphony was reborn in the 1950s. Eventually, the orchestra merged with the New Brunswick Symphony Orchestra to become the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra. Even then, its complicated history wasn’t over. A decline in support and a labour dispute forced the new organization into bankruptcy in the early 1980s.

That, finally, cleared the way for Symphony Nova Scotia. It was founded in 1983 and is going strong today, more than a century after that first orchestra played that first gig in Halifax. Symphony Nova Scotia has now earned a reputation as the most versatile orchestra in Canada, not only playing the big hits of the classical world, but also collaborating with a new generation of 21st-century Canadian talent, including Joel Plaskett, Buck 65, Owen Pallett, Basia Bulat and Sarah Slean.

Record Store Day is April 19! Five Reasons to Listen to Vinyl

Posted on: April 17th, 2014 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By James Sandham

It comes but once a year, that special day dedicated to devout audiophiles everywhere: Record Store Day. This year’s event falls on April 19, and it just so happens that the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2012 inductees, Blue Rodeo, will be serving as the official ambassadors for the Canadian celebrations.

“Growing up, records were our religion,” says Blue Rodeo vocalist and guitarist Greg Keelor. “They were our statements of cool. We carried them from party to party, rec room to rec room, symbols of our hipness. It’s funny, things haven’t changed that much.”

It’s true: vinyl is still just as hip as ever, but that’s not the only reason to love it. As any record aficionado will tell you, there are a slew of grounds for why vinyl is preferable. Here are our top five.

1. IT SOUNDS BETTER

This is always the first argument an audiophile will make, but what exactly does it mean? Is there really that much of a difference between digital and analog sound? The answer is a resounding “Yes.”

As HowStuffWorks explains it: “Original sound is analog by definition. A digital recording takes snapshots of the analog signal at a certain rate…. This means that, by definition, a digital recording is not capturing the complete sound wave. It is approximating it with a series of steps. Some sounds that have very quick transitions, such as a drum beat or a trumpet’s tone, will be distorted because they change too quickly for the sample rate.”

Or, as FastTopTen puts it: “Imagine fitting a closet into a single suitcase: as your wife jumps on the outside of the luggage while you attempt to zip it shut, you are forced to discard a few, seemingly negligible items.”

The bottom line? Vinyl gives you the full sound, the way the musician intended it to be, and digital formats do not.

2. IT LOOKS BETTER

Technical issues of music fidelity aside, there is no doubt that the vinyl format just looks better. Sure, you can still get cover art with digital files, but it’s not a complete cover package the way it is with records. The design of vinyl sleeves is practically an art form in itself, and Joni Mitchell, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1981 inductee (and a self-described “painter derailed by circumstance”), is just one of the numerous artists who designed much of their own album artwork.

3. IT FEELS BETTER

Beyond looking and sounding better, a lot of record collectors claim that vinyl “feels better,” too. Most seem to mean that there’s something about the record’s actual physicality that lets the listener connect with it on an existential level. You can hold it, you can hear each pop and crackle from its physical surface, and there’s something warm and present about that immediacy. The fact that a record is right there in front of you means that it can generate a certain type of ambience. For proof, just look at how nice a record room – like the one in the photo above – can “feel.”

4. IT’S MORE FUN TO BUY

Digital files are easy to buy. You can get them whenever you want, wherever you are (as long you’ve got access to the Internet). They are supremely convenient. However, the inconvenience of vinyl is exactly what makes it so much fun to buy!

With vinyl, you actually have to go out to a record store. Most record stores these days are independently run. That means that the stock they carry is sort of like a curated collection. Plus, you’ll meet people there browsing through the same shelves as you and you’ll immediately know they share your taste. There’s a whole community that orbits around record shops. Check out these photos of Sound Central Record Shop in Montreal – way more unique than shopping at the iTunes store!

5. IT’S MORE VERSATILE

Finally, there’s just so much more you can do with a record. Ever seen someone make a bowl out of an MP3? I didn’t think so.

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