Posts Tagged: Cincinnati


A little over a year ago, I wrote the theme music for Cincinnati Edition, a local talk show on WVXU, Cincinnati’s NPR affiliate. Here’s what it sounded like:

Now, I know what you’re thinking: it’s perfect. It’s got a gripping intro, a hummable tune, and what’s more, it totally flatters that half-jazz, NPR style. Plus, the performances are excellent.

What then, was I to do when the radio station asked me a couple weeks ago to reboot it for their new host/format? How was I to improve on perfection?

Basically I just turned a bunch of really excellent musicians loose on it. Here’s what we came up with:

Now that’s sure to get those Cincinnatians up out of their chairs at 1:00 pm on weekday afternoons!

Nostalgia Radio

Say what you will about Cincinnati, but we have an FM station devoted to the pop/jazz music of the thirties, forties and fifties.  They even play the CBS Mystery Playhouse every night from 7:00 – 8:00.  Is it our abnormally high population of geriatric Caucasians that sustains such an endeavor?  Certainly yes.  But that’s OK; I’m willing to throw my lot in with them.

There’s a few things I need to get off my chest about The Great Debasers Podcast, and it’s more than I can unload on twitter.  My friends made this podcast as a way to revel in the nostalgia of their youths misspent watching film, and in spite of the fact that we went to the same school, grew up at the same time, and lived in the same city, my early history with film couldn’t be more different from these guys’.

Let’s look at the first 10 episodes: “Lost in Translation”, “KIDS”, “A Fish Called Wanda”, “Jackie Brown”, “Last Tango in Paris”, “The Fugitive”, “Eyes Wide Shut”, “Office Space”, “Do the Right Thing”, “Romeo + Juliet”.  Alright, of those ten movies, I’ve seen five (“Lost”, “Jackie”, “Tango”, “Fugitive”, “Eyes”) and of those five, there’s only two that really made an impression on me (“Jackie Brown”, “Eyes Wide Shut”) and I saw them both in college.

It really got to me with the “Clueless” podcast, because it turns out all my college buds consider that movie a touchstone of their adolescence, and they all cop to having seen it about a hundred times.  I saw it for the first time in June, just so I could understand what they were talking about.

Since this is my blog and I can do what I want, I’m going to go on record with the movies that I watched incessantly in middle/high school and which played a part in my own personal formation:

Auntie Mame
Interview with the Vampire
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Immortal Beloved (I know…)
Les Trois Couleurs: Bleu
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg

I can still recite every line of dialogue in these movies.  Other than that, all I wanted to do was watch The Simpsons and Absolutely Fabulous, and listen to Vivaldi concertos, Beethoven Symphonies and Strauss waltzes.  And to AM 1260, D.C.’s nostalgia radio station, and they didn’t even play the CBS Mystery Playhouse.

The Boar’s Head

Have you all heard of this thing called “The Boar’s Head Festival”, not to be confused with the deli meats?  ‘Twas begun in Oxford in 1340, and apparently it’s so very English that I hadn’t come across it, but lo and behold it’s a big deal at Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, and I was unwittingly roped into participating this year.

Now look.  There are Christmas Pageants, and then there’s This thing.  We’re talking a cast of thousands.  This is Cecil DeMille meets Franco Zeffirelli meets the Renaissance Fair meets the Anglican liturgy.  Here’s a description of some of the costumes directly from the program book:

and this (!)

A longtime participant in the festival told me that to get a role as a Beefeater (solder, not gin) someone literally has to die.  That is how hardcore the Boar’s Head people are.

The first big number in the show is called “The Boar’s Head Carol“, sung by a saucy master-of-ceremonies type, and akin to “In Dulci Jubilo” in its mashing-up of old English and Latin texts:

Worthy of note is that this tune is basically a variation on that most lascivious ditty, Watkins Ale:

Now let’s pause and look at the first three lines of the BHC, because now we’re getting into pet peeve territory:

The boar’s head in hand bear I,
Bedecked with bays and rosemary.
And I pray you, my masters, be merrie.

I think it’s such a shame when we perform this Old- or Middle-Englishy stuff with modern pronunciation, because guys, here’s a little secret, in that last stanza, I, rosemary, and merrie are all supposed to rhyme, and in the 16th century, they did.  I just finished reading The Oxford History of English, and I’ve watched this YouTube clip like 5 times, so I’m kind of an expert (see esp. 4:53):

The last comment I’ll make about the Cincinnati Boar’s Head Festival is the carols are scored for a medium-sized orchestra of strings, oboe, brass, percussion, and organ.  I wish I’d had the wherewithal to record some of the orchestrations during our performances, because they are certainly interesting.  All the tunes were orchestrated, for some reason, in 1962 by one Frank Levy, a cellist in the Radio City Music Hall orchestra, and all I can say is that if a cellist in the Radio City Music Hall orchestra were to have orchestrated a number of Christmas Carols in 1962, this is what they would sound like.  The most interesting bits were a verse of “Kings to thy Rising” which got a bongoized 007 treatment and a particularly dark verse of “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” which was accompanied by a hazy, Menottian cluster of strings.

Oh, and the very last thing: from this experience I learned what Waits are, and you should to.