Written by Anne Ierardi
Join the Cape Symphony as they take a sentimental journey back to the days when bands were big and swing was king with “Radio Days.”
Cape Pops tunes the dial to radio’s Golden Age
This weekend’s Cape Symphony Pops concert, “Radio Days,” promises to bring us back to a time when radio was king, a time of war and heartbreak, a decade of the incredible upbeat music of big bands and swing jazz. Over the past few years, the Greatest Generation’s contributions are being brought to light through film and literature. I grew up when TV dominated our home; our minds were on perfect families, exploring space and the beginnings of rock’n’roll. I remember a family party in the 1960s when my uncle, who had served in the air force during WWII, kept changing the records on the phonograph from pop to his favorite big band tunes. Years later I came to love the music of the 1940s, such as cabaret singer Andrea Marcovicci’s “Love Songs of World War II” that she performed at Town Hall in Manhattan.
This Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, Jung-Ho Pak, maestro of the Cape Symphony, features Five by Design, a creative, exciting quintet of singers who have created a multimedia show that will delight audiences by recreating the sounds and sights of this era. I had the pleasure of speaking with Terry Niska, one of the performers of the group. Five by Design began at the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire in the 1980s. A group of trained classical music students including two brothers and a sister-in-law met together to harmonize on jazz and pop tunes. Inspired by 1987’s Woody Allen film “Radio Days,” starring Mia Farrow with Allen as narrator and a fantastic musical score, they created their own live version of the Golden Age of Radio.
Alton Acolla came up with the idea of combining all the elements of a real radio day experience through costumes, lighting and props. In 1994 they had their first symphony collaboration with the Milwaukee Symphony and they were awarded the Number One Pops Performance of the season. By 1997 the group was booked throughout the country.
Niska said, “Our band grew to love this unique American-style music, especially the harmony which drew us together. I sometimes think I was born in the wrong era. The lyrics have an inexplicable power with fascinating melodies.” The symphony collaboration “takes the music to a whole different level,” functioning not as backup but as an integral part of the performance. Audiences will be treated to a mixture of theatre, commercial jingoes, Inner Sanctum Mystery, an old popular radio show and special Foley sound effects.
Artistic director and conductor Jung-Ho Pak describes the music as “fun, energetic, filled with boundless joy…you can see it in the dancing… I like the songs that have great meaning for America during the war…particularly “I’ll be Seeing You” because it played such an important part of World War II. To me, it just captures this hope that we will see each other again; that there will be a tomorrow and the war will end.”
“Five by Design” includes founder Accola who serves as host, Lorie Carpenter-Niska, Kurt Niska, Catherine Scott, Michael Swedberg and Terrence Niska. Their website (www.behindthemic.org) highlights performances with the Boston Pops, St. Louis Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Vancouver Symphony, Calgary Philharmonic, Toronto Symphony, more than 200 symphony orchestras in all.
Vocalists that have influenced their music include Manhattan Transfer, The Real Group from Sweden and Bobby McFerrin. Terry Niska told me that the group loves to meet their audiences, especially to hear the memories and stories of people who lived through this compelling decade. “Radio Days” will include “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” “Moonlight in Vermont” and “I’ll be Seeing You.”