Looks like Kurt Weill and my dad share a birthday (along with Jon Bon Jovi and Elmer Fudd). I consider this to be an auspicious sign as I am in the beginning stages of joining my friend, Joe Mabel, in an extended Kurt Weill project. Joe Mabel is well known around Seattle as being a local historian, photographer, and software developer, but you may not know that he is also a kick ass guitar player! Heck, I didn't know either until he asked me to be a part of this project.
We got a chance to rehearse Youkali Tango together and it sounds really great on guitar, so I'm excited to hear how the rest of our set list sounds as well. It turns out that Kurt Weill's music is rarely played on guitar, at least in the classical sense. There are certainly plenty of bands that play his music, but in the classical world it is all performed on piano or with orchestra.
Our first official show isn't scheduled until February 19, 2022 (at The Chapel in Wallingford, Seattle) due to the pandemic, which we are hopeful will be much mitigated by then, but then we will be ready to invade your house party with Weill music. We have hopes for recording an album as well, and perhaps touring widely if all goes well.
I happen to be the art director for this project as well, and am deep in the process of designing a logo. We will be presenting each song with a large placard on the stage, in Epic Theater fashion, but there are far too many songs for me to design all of these - and my style doesn't exactly lend itself well to the angry tones of many of these songs. Joe is also a very talented visual artist who will be helping with this, but we also enlisted internationally known artist Yvette Endrijautzki to design several of these placards. She is perhaps best known for her Farrago Spiritum tarot card deck which she designed with Raven Zingaro, but also owns Nautilus Studio and gallery in Wuppertal, Germany.
Joe is already writing up articles on the link between John Cale and Kurt Weill, and I will likely have more to add as well. There will be a big academic side to our project, but on the whole Kurt Weill's music is pretty new to me. Mack the Knife was the official Ballard High School literary club anthem back when I and my friend, Sara Girganoff, founded it, though the anthem was her idea and I never even learned all the words. Weill is an artist whose music exists in a liminal space - not quite classical and not quite pop. This makes him the go to composer for opera singers who want to sing something poppy, and for bands who want to do something classical.
For the record, one of my biggest pet peeves is when opera singers try to sing pop. It almost always sounds stilted and laughably pretentious. I say this as an operatic pop singer myself (see me singing 99 Luftballoons with Operadisiac above), but my approach is very different. I take on pop music and exaggerate its operatic possibilities for comedic effect. I know I'll be laughed at for singing pop music anyway, so why not own that and play it up? This is making the Weill Project challenging for me since I need to find a way to sing some of his poppier stuff in a way that still sounds authentic when a comedic take is not desirable. Does that mean leaving out the vibrato? Using more chest voice? More swing? Something else? I don't think I'll be able to figure out a formula for it, because if I did I would be just as bad as all those other stilted popera singers.
At the same time, I am finding the classical, romantic even, sensibility in Weill really beautiful and moving. There is a lot there reminiscent of classical German art song and operetta, sweet dashes of Schubert and Lehár.
I'll have a lot more to say about Weill's music in the future, but for now join me in wishing him a happy 121st birthday!