Wednesday, November 19, 2008

We're still Remembering Christmas

Hello fellow Frank Rendo fans.
It's not that I've "forgotten" about writing more of the wonders that comprise Frank 's Christmas CD, "Remembering Christmas" - it's just that....well.....there has been MUCH going on in all of our lives, and pieces of it involved each of us in varying ways. We've been having fun, and we have definitely made some progress in our venture, so it's all good.
Let's see.....where did I leave you regarding "Remembering Christmas?" Ah yes, at one of the pinnacles of the CD...I'd just written about the magnificent "Bethlehem Morning." This compilation simply gets better and better......and better from here, folks.
The next selection on this beautiful collection of Christmas stories, sung so lovingly, so carefully by Frank, will warm your heart just as a log fire on a cold winters night will warm you through and through. And how comforting and cozy getting in "that place" is, yes?     (pictured:  Frank Rendo)
It is a lovely song entitled "What Her Heart Remembered," with music composed by Scott Brasher, in 1991 - with lyrics by Michael Card, from Michael's album entitled "The Promise."
Musically, this song reminds me of what I would think of as a folk song. Palma begins it by playing a plucked harp. An oboe and a flute enhance the intro in a place or two, but instrumentally, it's pretty minimal, to start.
As Frank's vocals begin, it sounds to this writer that his voice is doubled, though I do not believe it really is. I think this is a "fat" vocal effect provided by the album's talented engineer, Fred Guarino. It really makes a nice big, full sound, without being overpowering.
Palma introduces a Cello and a really cool sounding English Horn, too - the "less is more" concept is used here in the instrumentation, allowing Frank's beautiful voice to tell the story with just enough of an instrument foundation beneath him.  (this photo:  Frank Rendo)
Strings are introduced on verse two, in order to add just a bit more depth and drama to the overall sound. Frank is joined by Palm in a place or two vocally, adding color and interest.
The story itself is a beautiful one about the Blessed Virgin, Mary - the mother of Jesus. I had not heard this song before hearing it here - yet I clearly see why Frank chose this one to record. Inasmuch as Frank's wonderful vocals compliment the song; the song compliments Frank's voice and style right back. A nice coupling.
We all know the story of the birth of Jesus, but this story really focuses on Mary, and seems to be more of a "back story," if you will. It begins:
"...Out in a stable yard, she sees a glow
Could it be Angel light? How would she know? Shepherds stand wondering - afraid to come in~ But this baby that's born tonight will free them all to never fear, again..."
Okay, this part of the story we sort of know, right? Here is where the more pointed story of "What Her Heart Remembered" comes into play:
"...As He lies in a cattle trough, she kneels by His side.
Sweet baby breathing, soft infant sighs...
Soft sounds of swallowing - as soft fingers part.
Marvelous memories - she pondered them and hid them in her heart..."
A beautiful way to tell this story, wouldn't you agree? Frank's innate ability to paint the picture of the story for us as he sings so "warmly" only adds to the overall beauty of the story itself. My favorite lyric is this thought provoking chorus:
"...Like a good mother would, she learned His cries.
If He'd awake with a belly ache from hunger or fright.
But, now and then, sometimes when the dark would descend-
He would weep a dark so deep - for all her love, she could not comprehend..."
Okay now....take a deep breath after reading those lyrics. I love the way they depict Mary, "learning" the cries of her infant; knowing which cry meant which need should be met. Yet, sometimes the weeping was of such a deep reason, she absolutely could not comprehend it which of course, WE now have the ability to understand. So beautifully depicted by Frank ~ truly!
In between this chorus and the next verse, the music is more full, with instruments moving this way and that, and Frank adds a bit of humming, as well. Really nice, and such a fun change-up. We hear the collection of the instruments come to a peak, and then, if you listen very closely, you can hear, suddenly, one instrument is missing - then another, until that simplistic harp/oboe combination has been attained yet once again.
Frank repeats the chorus and with the addition of backing vocals, yet another interesting "flavor" has been added to hold our attention.
It sounds for the world that Frank is "whispering in his singing voice" so as not to awaken the sleeping Christ Child - that is, one gets that impression when listening to the end of the story. Frank has a way with being able to do that when he sings - he "portrays" so eloquently the story he is telling his listeners.
Can you imagine being able to watch him live, in concert? I would guess, between his expressive voice and his fun, articulate, sincere and warm personality that it would be a most enjoyable experience, to be certain. It's an experience this writer intends to have for sure.....and more than once!
BRAVO! A wonderful selection, executed expertly by all! Following this lovely lullaby, we are transported to a spectacular "Broadway Musical" type Latin-styled tune, which was written originally for Bing Crosby and was performed by Bing in his 1959 movie SAY ONE FOR ME. The song was written by the ultra-talented composer, Sammy Cahn...along with Jimmy Van Huesen. The Latin-style, to me, enhances this song's sentiments of warmth and Christmas love.
Strings, along with a harp playing a high to low scale, and a flute -  all provide the intro, bringing us into the piece - and when Frank begins his vocals, he sounds rather excited to be telling us the story - as if he, himself, has just discovered "The Secret of Christmas."  (pictured: Frank Rendo)
"...It's not the glow you feel when snow appears~
It's not the Christmas cards you've sent for years~
It's not the joyful sound when sleigh bells ring~ Or the merry sounds children sing...."
The sleigh bells come in exactly on cue, but played very subtly in the background - and Palma adds the oboe and she reintroduces the flute to a nice effect. Claves are also heard in the mix, giving the song a nice, relaxing rhythm. And, though all of this fun is going on behind him, it's Frank's VOICE that is predominant as he sings so smoothly. 
"...The little gift you send on Christmas Day~
Can not bring back the friend you turned away! So may I suggest The Secret of Christmas ~ is NOT the things you do at Christmastime...But the Christmas things you do~~~all year through..." And NOW, the build! As Frank began the second verse, there was a build that started, and was augmented as the verse continued. Here, it seems as if we're watching Frank on the stage, all alone, telling his audience the "secret" he has recently discovered.  (pictured:  Frank Rendo & Palma Pascale)
The fanfare that occurs in the music is so engaging with the trills of the flute (or perhaps it's a piccolo), the ritard and the piano, harp, and the strings. It's a fun few measures that leads into our final piece of the story being relayed to us - that being a repeat of the chorus, but with more fervor and flourish than previously. That build I spoke of intensifies during the instrumental break, and leading into the modulation which occurs before Frank repeats the last chorus. I love how Palma takes the song out, just as she brought it in. It makes us know we've gone the full circle with this one.
Once more, it becomes discernible that Frank has such marvelous control of his voice - and he is always on key - never a flat or sharp note - whether he is crooning softly, or he's belting it out - he does fabulously!
Moving on, (though one can't imagine how, possibly, this trio of talent can go yet another interesting step to entertain us even more, as well as to inspire us and fill us with hope and wonder - they somehow manage to do just that)! And, with the flair we have come to recognize from Frank's masterful vocal interpretations; Palma's arrangements and the execution of her orchestral expertise; and the magic that Fred creates with his know-how and mastery of not only the technical aspect, but drawing from his own musical proficiency, as well.  (Pictured:  Palma Pascale)
THE PRAYER is an exceptional composition, written by renowned composer Carole Bayer Sager, along with David Foster. This song won a Golden Globe and was Oscar nominated as well. Sung as a duet by celebrated artists such as Celine Dion and Josh Groban, THE PRAYER is just that....a prayer, which for us, here, is eloquently done by both Frank and Palma. Opening with a luscious string ensemble, this brief 6 measure intro ends on a suspended chord that is "knock-your-socks-off" gorgeous! I just love the resolution of a suspended chord. It's like an "amen" at the end of a prayer. (sorry, no puns intended). Palma softly begins:
"...I pray You'll be our eyes ~ and watch us where we go. And help us to be wise in times when we don't know.
Let this be our prayer, when we lose our way.                                    
Lead us to a place ~ guide us with Your grace,
To a place where we'll be safe..."        (Pictured:  Frank Rendo)
Accompanying this delicate vocal delivery are a bed of strings, enhanced with a bit of oboe, some "Rhodes" sounding electric piano, and a sprinkling of flute here and there. Frank adds the following:
"...I pray we'll find Your light ~ and hold it in our hearts.
When stars go out each night ~ remind us where You are. Let this be our prayer when shadows fill our days.
Help us find a place (Palm sings) Guide us with Your grace~
(together) Give us faith, so we'll be safe..." It is sometimes difficult to describe something as straightforward and uncomplicated as these two verses are, yet they are sung in such a compelling fashion, it almost takes one's breath away. They continue together with the bridge, as the intensity ratchets-up a degree or two:
"...A world where pain and sorrow will be ended
And every heart that's broken will be mended.
And we'll remember, we are all God's children
Reaching out to touch you - reaching to the sky..."
The chilling crescendo occurs on the word "remember" and is punctuated with the dynamic roll and crash of a cymbal and the note, held to accentuate the lyric on the word "all." By the time they get to "reaching to the sky" where there has been a bit of a dramatic ritard, the level is quite intense. And....there's that suspension again - only this time, (it occurs on the word, "sky") it doesn't get resolved - leading us into what I will call the second bridge - where they both are now singing with a fervor! They echo each other, as they sing:
"...We ask that life be kind ~ and watch us from above
We hope each soul will find another soul to love.
Let this be our prayer ~ just like every child
Help us find a place ~ guide us with Your grace ~
Give us faith, so we'll be safe..."
Here, on this tag, the excitement level is at a fever-pitch...on the following line "Help us find a place ~ guide us with your grace..." there is a tympani and cymbal roll/crash on that held-out note (grace) ~ and then, softly, pleadingly and slowly, The Prayer concludes:
"...Give us faith, so we'll be safe..."
The last chord changes, those sung in harmony throughout the word "safe" are truly heaven blessed. This song has that "chill factor" ~~ you know the one ~~ when you are SO moved ~ and the music is SO beautiful that it literally sends a chill throughout you? This captivating ballad will most certainly create it....very quickly. BRAVO and KUDOS to all!! Can I take just a second here to brag on Fred Guarino? Boy - he is the true unsung hero in this whole thing. He is the guy, content to be "behind the scenes" making things happen, as he has his finger on the pulse of the operation. Fred listens to volume levels, and he mixes (and so, so well, I might add), he fades voices and instruments just at the right time; he provides reverb or other vocal enhancing effects; he provides digital enhancements to the music as well, if/when necessary and so incredibly much more. It's an "art" that not many people know how to really recognize, but I can tell you, there's never a dull moment in Fred's working world. This man is mega-talented, and he knows how to suggest and implement the correct compliments to the overall composition. He knows the language of the musician, not just the technical jargon. Besides that, Fred is just a great person - fun to be around, generous, incredibly smart and humble. He's got lots of energy, and he has done and seen a lot in the almost 30 years he's been in this business. Outstanding work you do, Fred. Just brilliant!
I will be back with more Remembering Christmas, and soon. Gosh - the season is here again....already! It's okay with me - I know The Secret of Christmas; The Prayer is in my heart, and I've learned just What Her Heart Remembered. I'm good to go, as they say.        (Pictured:  Fred Guarino) Until my next installment then,
I wish you all the very best musically, And the best for this beautiful season of Christmas,

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