Hi everyone....can't blame you if you're confused. I'll try to explain.
(pictured: Tim San Paolo @ Tiki Recording Studios)
The next song on Frank Rendo's wonderful CD is the compilation's title song, Remembering Christmas. This sweet tune was written by composer and multi-talent, Palma Pascale, who also arranged and conducted this CD. Palma actually penned this song as one of 23 songs that comprise her Broadway Musical, WHAT THE HELL, NELL! I was quite surprised as well as pleased that Frank was using this tune...and was, in fact, using it as the title song for his Christmas CD. For a time, even though I recognized the title of the tune - it was so familiar, yet I had a hard time assimilating that this was the same song that Palma had written for the musical! It actually wasn't until after I was asked to participate in this recording that I finally had that duh! moment...and was, at last, able to put two and two together, and correctly come up with four! (pictured: Tim and Ann San Paolo and Fred Guarino).
My wife, Ann and I were planning a long-weekend trip to Glen Cove, New York, last October when the polishing touches were being put on Remembering Christmas at TIKI Recording Studios. The day before we left for Long Island, I got an email from Frank who asked me if I would sing with a few others on a bit of Remembering Christmas. Well...... YES!!! I was absolutely delighted. I very much enjoyed my two-line addition to this song, and will always be grateful to Frank for asking me to be a part of his beautiful Christmas CD (which I'd known about and followed the progress of for over a year at that point). I knew this album would be a real work of art, and I was not disappointed. I am also most grateful to both Palma Pascale and Fred Guarino for their part in my being asked to participate.
With Palma and Frank both having done a bit of lyric re-arranging from the musical, Remembering Christmas comes off well, used by itself as a Christmas duet with Frank and Palma. It's a nice waltz that makes us recall Christmases of our past, and it has a positive, loving spin.
"...Remembering Christmas when the family was with us
the greatest of gifts we could own.
Remembering Christmas and the spirit still lifts us
Gifts of the memories at home..."
The song begins with a duo of flutes, a bit of piano, along with some light-sounding sleigh bells - reminding this writer of falling snow. Frank's rich, full voice is somewhat animated sounding as he sings these opening lines of the song; a perfect reading, I think. Given the original context of the song, and the anticipatory feel of the lyric, I love how it ends up sounding. Palma's interpretation so compliments Franks, and the actress comes out in her during this one. She has a talent, too, for truly "acting" with her voice, and she does it well here.
Frank and Palm throw the first part of verse one back and forth to each other, and they join together to sing the last portion. I must say, the voices of these two work incredibly well, together. It's a really nice combination of harmonies - you know how sometimes two voices just don't sound good together? Not the case here. The two voices truly compliment one another.
After the intro, musically, we hear a lone clarinet enter the mix, which is a great, rather unexpected touch. Palma uses the familiar oboe to accentuate nicely and it seems to "fill up an empty corner" just here and there, perfectly. Remember her philosophy, "less is more."
By the second chorus, lovely strings and some other interesting percussion instruments are added. In one verse, a closed hi-hat might be used. In another verse, it could be the more free sound of a ride cymbal played with brushes. It just is always interesting, because there is always a surprise awaiting us. Palma uses a harp in the third chorus, but you really have to listen to know it's there. So clever.
It's on the fifth repeat of the chorus that the "family" sings, just at the modulation. The family is comprised of Dominick Avento III, Fred Guarino, Tim San Paolo, Laurie Mangano, Jackie Carey, and the two children, portrayed so well by Palma "Anne" and Frank "Anthony." Yes, I verified that the children are really the voices of Palm and Frank - and they did it quite convincingly, too. :) Just the right touch of "Christmas Magic." As we sing this last chorus, Frank and Palm do a slight ritard on the last two lines which emphasizes the phrase and makes the whole story "hit home", if you will, to the listener.
"...Always remembering Christmas when the family was with us...
The greatest of gifts we could own...
(ritard) ...Oh, they'll never leave us - They're waiting to greet us...
The gifts of the memories at home..."
Nicely done, all!
I honestly don't quite know where to begin in attempting to describe to you the absolute radiance and beauty of the version of BETHLEHEM MORNING that Palma created orchestrally, and that Frank sang so majestically. (pictured: Frank Rendo)
This is one of the "roughs" that I got to hear long before the album was completed - it was just Palma at the piano and Frank's wonderful voice. I recall thinking that Frank's singing reminded me, in a small way, of the singing of another very talented individual I like to listen to: Michael Crawford. (Michael has had a most successful stage and film career...he starred in the film version of Hello Dolly, with Barbra Streisand, as Cornelius Hackle. This is where I was first introduced to his voice). However, I have to say that honestly, in my mind, Frank's voice far surpasses that of Michael Crawford. Frank's "command" of his voice is so incredible, and he awes us in this particular hymn of praise with his interpretation of Bethlehem Morning.
So perhaps I should begin trying to describe the orchestration and then the vocal interpretation. Palma has done another brilliant job in creating the layers of sound used to accompany Frank on this gorgeous song which was made so famous by mega-superstar, Sandy Patti.
Palma begins with the simple plucked sounds of a harp, followed closely by a flute which plays a bit of melody line. Then we hear piano, which grounds the entire orchestra.
As Frank gently leads into the story, the musical score is just as gentle - continued harp and flute are used for the first half of the verse...during the second half, as the song begins its monumental build, we are treated to a glissando of the bar chimes, the lovely sound of an oboe and gradually a flute and strings are also added. By the end of the verse, and to segue into the powerful chorus, we hear these gorgeous strings, doing a trill....a chilling glissando with the bar chimes and the rolling cymbal crash, beautifully done "together". All of this, combined with the voice quality of Frank Rendo, serves to afford the listener that "chill factor" which is really powerful at this point in the song.
"...Bethlehem Morning, it's more than just a memory-
For the Child that was born there has come to set us free-
Bethlehem sunrise, I can see Him in your eyes-
For the child that was born there...His spirit never dies...."
One of the most exciting things about this song is the gradual, continual build. As Frank expertly sings the chorus, we hear the addition of a clave', a bass drum, an echoed tambourine, and a cymbal, each played only occasionally...yet their effect is just really wonderful. Also included are "vox" voices, as well as Palma's and Frank's own voices for backing vocals. Palma adds electric piano for maximum effect, as she continues to use this combination of instruments...crashing cymbals and trilling flutes and strings, to expertly accompany Frank in the majestic manner in which he is singing the story! Oofah!
At the end of this chorus, when Frank sings "...His spirit never dies..." he holds the note (on the word "dies") for 5 full measures, and just beautifully....effortlessly. It is just an exquisite moment in the song. He continues:
"His star will never...it will never grow dim~
And it's a brand new dawn - a new Jerusalem~"
All the while, the song is building its momentum. A complimentary group of voices echos Frank's vocal, leading into a grand ritard, coupled with a discerning modulation....which increases the intensity just a bit more, still. Palma adds the gonging sound of tubular chimes, a powerful glissando of the harp, all leading to the pinnacle of the song where Frank sings "...I can see Him in your eyes..." Next, a rubato, soft vocal that comes across as deeply emotional - Frank delivers:
"...For the child that was born there is the King of Kings
And the Lord of Lords
See Him split the Eastern sky..."
It is almost as if both the orchestration and the volume of Frank's vocals mirror, or bookend the beginning of the song as they take it "out." The oboe is briefly heard, and just as it began, the song ends with plucked harp and a lone flute - with the piano and an electric piano used as that anchor for the very last note.
The song is just amazing to me in its composition, in the first place. However, the manner in which these two remarkable talents have sung, arranged, and executed it, and with Fred Guarino so expertly engineering this project, well....it's beyond description how great it truly is. You will just have to hear this one for yourself, and you will be so happy that you did.
Brilliant! Simply, Brilliant!
Until Next Time, I wish you all the very, very best!