During the past five months I’ve been on a very steep learning curve — actually, more like something involving tornadoes and the yellow brick road — but on January 21st I’m going to get to share with two thousand people some of the results of the arduous journey: I’m going to get to sing two of Judy Garland’s original arrangements onstage with a symphony orchestra.
Of course, I’ve been singing Judy’s tunes with orchestras for a few years now, in wonderful arrangements based on the originals by two terrific arrangers (see an earlier post, "Getting Happy"). But for someone like me who loves time travel and Judy, suddenly having access to the actual note-for-note arrangements that we’ve all heard on her albums was a stroke of good fortune that I’d never even allowed myself to hope for.
Here’s how it happened: On July 31st, after ten years of correspondence with Michael Feinstein, I finally met him in person after his concert with the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom. In a wide-ranging conversation about Gershwin and Garland, two interests we share, and vintage vocal/orchestral arrangements, I somehow mentioned that I’d been wrestling with “Come Rain or Come Shine” earlier that afternoon and he said something like, “Oh, I think we might have that one somewhere.” “We,” it turned out, is the Judy Garland Heirs Trust. He also mentioned the exciting news that four of the arrangements of songs Judy recorded for Capitol Records, orchestrated by no less of a master than Conrad Salinger — more on him later — had recently come to light.
So, fast forward a few days and Michael’s friendly assistant is sending me a scan of the original handwritten score for a song I’d never heard until he brought it to my attention, but was instantly smitten with: “Yes,” by André and Dory Previn. It was the very first song André and Dory wrote when they were thrown together by Arthur Freed as staff songwriters at MGM. Talk about a Hollywood “meet-cute!” Judy recorded it on June 8, 1960 for her Capitol Records release, “That’s Entertainment” (Conrad Salinger also arranged that tune — it’s the same arrangement she would sing on her Carnegie Hall concert the following year). Salinger, of course, was widely considered the star orchestrator of MGM’s golden years from 1942 until his untimely death in 1962, and contributed orchestrations for Judy’s biggest hit movie at Metro, Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), including the distinctive “Trolley Song,” as well as for Girl Crazy, Gigi, Brigadoon, Singin’ in the Rain, Show Boat (for which he shared an Oscar nomination with Adolph Deutsch) and An American in Paris (for which Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin won the Oscar that same year). It’s particularly miraculous that this score survived because his home, along with all his personal manuscripts, was destroyed in the Bel Air brush fire of 1961.
The song itself is charming and straightforward, but Salinger’s gorgeous arrangement brings to the surface all the yearning beneath the deceptively simple lyric. By this time, he’d also known Judy socially for a couple of decades, and I can’t help thinking that watching her throw herself body-and-soul into each new romantic relationship may have colored his approach to the song. By contrast, Doris Day’s 1962 recording with Andre Previn himself at the piano, is a little faster and breezier — very lovely in its own way, but almost a different song.
Here’s André Previn speaking with Michael Feinstein on “Song Travels,” during which they discuss how "Yes" came into being.
So where does that steep learning curve I mentioned come into this? Well, for “Yes,” only the handwritten manuscript of the score survived. This meant that it needed to be copied into Finale (a music notation program) in order to create individual instrumental parts. Since I couldn’t let the original scans out of my hands, that meant that every note needed to be copied into Finale by me. I’d been using Finale since 1996, but my knowledge of the program was still pretty rudimentary. I’d never even tried working with orchestral instruments until a couple of years ago, when finding some Johnny Green arrangements that had all the parts but no conductor scores forced me to get up to speed on Finale — and also revisit instrumental transpositions I hadn’t given a thought to since the moment I walked out of my oral exams at Oberlin two decades ago.
Moreover, after an embarrassing problem with my percussion part notation of one of those Johnny Green arrangements (“Strike Up the Band”) for a July 4th concert pops concert, I had gotten rather cold feet. But now there was nothing for it but to pick myself up, get really intimate with the Gazillion-Page Online Finale User Manual, and be willing to risk falling on my face again in front of a whole orchestra that I’m soloing with.
So, for most of the autumn, I would teach all day, practice and hit the gym, then get to work copying the scores, which also included the brilliant Nelson Riddle arrangement of “Come Rain or Come Shine.” That one had a surviving part set, but, like “Strike Up the Band,” no conductor score. The 60-year-old parts looked like they had seen some rollicking times, to say the least — oh, and the bongo part had apparently gone AWOL. But, fascinatingly, these parts were the originals from Judy’s 1956 recording at Capitol Records, released on her “Judy” album. And underneath all the years of accretions were the original in-tempo ending and the several bars in the middle that were cut sometime before her Carnegie Hall concert — bars that included an extended “Craaazy” and a extra set of syncopated “don’t’s” that point up the frenetic obsessiveness of her interpretation. Here it is, the original 1956 version:
And you’ll get to hear us do it live on January 21st! Well, close to this version. Actually, this one uses a saxophone section and the Cleveland Pops will have a full reed section instead of saxes. So once I’d copied the whole thing, I spent quite awhile cramming orchestration textbooks to try to figure out how to do some effective revoicing. Just when I was sinking into despair over how much I didn’t know and had no idea how to learn, help arrived from Michael again: Might I like to run my work by his friend Larry Blank? Daunting though it was, because of course I knew Larry’s work from so many Broadway cast albums and concerts, I took a deep breath, checked and rechecked, and then hit send. One could liken Larry’s unfailingly generous and encouraging work with me to Yo-Yo Ma teaching someone beginning cello lessons. He has set my feet on the road forward, prevented the house from falling on me, and somewhere in there I stopped feeling quite so overwhelmed and started to like it quite a lot!
So I hope you can join me, Carl Topilow, and the Cleveland Pops Orchestra at Severance Hall to hear these new-to-me arrangements, as well as the Garland hits “The Trolley Song,” “Johnny One-Note,” “The Boy Next Door,” “Get Happy,” “The Man That Got Away,” and “Over the Rainbow.” The concert is "Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance" and also features the talents of NEOS Dance Theatre. I’m so excited to share this music with you!