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If Music Be the Food of Love…

by Paul D. Williams

July 18, 2008, Chapel Hill, NC: Everyone in attendance at University United Methodist Church on this evening was perforce a veritable gourmand. During the program, dubbed “La Bonne Cuisine,” conductor (chef) Sue T. Klausmeyer cooked up every conceivable variety of musical porridge. Servers were members of the “Summer Chorus” derivative of the Chapel Hill Community Chorus. Powerfully aiding throughout was pianist Frank Pittman, with occasional support from bassist Martin Stam, percussionist Stephen Coffman and trumpeter Eric Hallman.

Who knew there existed so much music dedicated to food? Enough, it turned out, for a full menu of Starters, First Courses, Entrees, and Desserts. The mood was set early with “Food Glorious Food” from Oliver. The singers needed no score here, accompanied by piano, bass and drums. This song was reprised later on when the chorus joined the audience for a sing-along. Also among the Starters was a major surprise: “Banquet Fugue” by Rutter. (Again proving that no choral program can be considered whole without a piece by this composer.) This work showed the chorus at its musical finest. Despite the humorous “guzzle, guzzle, munch, munch, gobble, gobble, chomp” repetitions, the artistic quality was of the highest order, with a faux grandiosity that would have made Johann Sebastian himself envious.

The First Courses section was best represented by an imaginative pairing, “If Music Be the Food of Love” by the ancient Henry Purcell, followed by the same text treated with incredible charm by contemporary composer Jean Belmont. That this version was so captivating is no surprise when one realizes that the composer is also responsible for the equally charming favorite, “Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier.” This section featured a rendition of “Oysters and Clams,” a vocal rag by Theodore Morse (1873 – 1924). The arrangement with prominent piano and bass was by David Dusing, a frequent collaborator with Peter Schickele (P.D.Q. Bach). Anders Edenroth’s “Chili Con Carne” proved to be a delightful paean to Mexican spices. But one listener opined that it did run on a bit. 

In the Entrees, the guest artist assumed the “title role” of the evening. Soprano Florence Peacock performed Leonard Bernstein’s cycle, La Bonne Cuisine, four everyday recipes set to lively and humorous music. The stylish soprano brought to these pieces the musicianship and sparkle for which she is so justly noted. Her infectious enjoyment of the songs was matched by that of the enthusiastic audience.

The yummiest of the Desserts was probably “Supper Time” from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Here the combo of all the instruments, piano, bass, drums and trumpet, furnished the requisite beat and spirit. Closing the evening was the mouth-watering hit from 1945, “Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy.”

It’s difficult to imagine anyone being unhappy with the evening’s offerings. Well, maybe Nelson Eddy in his era would have been offended at seeing no "Short’nin’ Bread" on the menu. This great crowd of dinner guests left the table properly sated, yet without a hint of over-stuffing.

   
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