Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Monday, April 05, 2004


Last week on March 27 I mentioned that my beloved spouse had found some great Calliope music on the web. Here's the link. "The Liberty Bell" march by Sousa is "song 3" of the Delta Queen Calliope. Haunting and sweetly slightly out of tune.

I knew that Calliope was one of the nine muses but I had to Google to find out which one. She was the Muse of Epic Poetry and the mother of Orpheus. Which is exactly the type of association that the makers of merry-go-round music were thinking about, I'm sure.


I once asked my beloved grandpa, who was born in 1907, what music he liked when he was a kid. Brass band music, was the answer. That was popular music then.

We tend to think of brass bands strictly as marching bands nowadays, but there were also concert bands with virtuoso soloists and circus bands. Wynton Marsalis played the cornet solos on a lovely album of concert band re-creations called "Carnaval." Tuneful "light classical" pieces and popular songs featuring blazing bell-clear cornet leads.

I mention this because my friend Jay Sherman-Godfrey sent me this note today:

So Sunday was Ringling Bros. w/ Mac at Madison Square Garden. First, tix were a reasonable (these days in NYC, anyway) $28.50 and we managed to spend only $15 at the over-pricing venue.

Music, on the whole, resembled post-A.L. Webber/Disney broadway. In fact, the whole thing was structured around songs -- not a bad idea, but the songs were pretty pedestrian. MC, in addition to announcing, was solid and pleasing broadway tenor. Female singer was one of the top-billed stars -- grating, thin, acrobatic r&b alto. There was an inept hip-hop segment, saved only by the excellent, rubber-boned clown dancing. They did have a live band, however, which we were seated very near. A brass band (still), more or less, with synth, electic bass and guitar, and a trap kit. They were excellent, but the kit was mic'd badly. I noticed a valve trombone, which took a few solos, and the fender bass player doubled on tuba!

Very little traditional jaunty circus music, but some - mainly to accompany the clowns -- who were excellent. Sound effects were triggered by the soundman at ringside -- I could see him fingering a small keyboard and some percussion pads.

Sound reproduction was pretty bad. Couldn't make out a lot of what the MC was saying. That hurt the performance -- the over-the-top introdutions being so important for full circus effect.

Mac really enjoyed it -- the herd of elephants was awesome, stunning horse act and a guy aptly named Crazy Wilson who was sort a a daredevil jack of all trades -- high wire and motorcycles. The main clown was ok, his second set piece being grabbing audience members, assigning them to an instrument/noise maker on a stand in the center ring, and condcucting them. John Linnell of They Might Be Giants does this with band members and audience each and every show to better effect.

Overall, I missed the oom-pah. I wonder if rock-and-roll had infiltrated the Ringling Bros. circus we saw as kids?

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