Friday, July 30, 2010

"American Songwriter, Cole Porter" from Voice of America

This is Faith Lapidus. And this is Steve Ember with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we tell about the life and music of American songwriter Cole Porter.

(MUSIC: "Begin the Beguine")

That was "Begin the Beguine" played by Artie Shaw's orchestra in nineteen thirty-eight.

It is one of almost one thousand songs Cole Porter wrote. In his seventy-three years, more than five hundred of those songs were published. Porter wrote most of his songs in the nineteen twenties, thirties and forties. Yet they remain as fresh as when he wrote them.

Cole Porter’s songs are still being sung and played today. They are performed at musical theaters, jazz clubs, even rock-and-roll concerts. A movie about his life, called “De-Lovely,” was released in two thousand four. Kevin Kline stars in the movie as Cole Porter. Ashley Judd plays his wife, Linda Porter. Popular young performers of today sing his songs in the movie. We will play some songs from that movie later in this program.

Cole Porter was born June ninth, eighteen ninety-one, in the middle western state of Indiana. His family was wealthy and educated. His mother, Kate, guided him to music at an early age. He wrote his first song at the age of ten.

As a young man, he was sent east to study at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. In his extra time, he continued to write songs. Two were for the university: the "Yale Bulldog" song and "Bingo Eli Yale." They are still sung there today.

After finishing his studies at Yale, Cole Porter went to Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts to study law. That plan lasted only a year. At a party one night, he played some of his songs for the students and professors. The head of the law school spoke to him. "Why are you studying law?” he asked. "You are no good at it. Why don't you go to Harvard's Music School and then write for the musical theater?" Later, Porter said: "That idea had never entered my head before. "

At the time, musical theater was extremely popular in America. This is because there were few music records. And radio programs were still being developed. So, songwriters had to work in the musical theater to be successful. Cole Porter wrote his first musical show in nineteen sixteen. He was still a student at Harvard. The show was called "See America First." It was produced in the Broadway theater area of New York City.

The show was a complete failure. Porter wanted to leave town until people forgot it. So, he went to Europe. He stayed there for most of the next thirteen years.

During this time, Cole Porter became famous for his parties. His guests were wealthy, pleasure-loving people from all over Europe. They liked him because he was smart and funny and knew how to enjoy life. And they loved his songs, which he played at his parties. Here Cole Porter sings his song, “You’re the Top.”


You're the top!
You're the Coliseum.
You're the top!
You're the Louver Museum.
You're a melody from a symphony by Strauss
You're a Bendel bonnet,
A Shakespeare's sonnet,
You're Mickey Mouse.
You're the Nile,
You're the Tower of Pisa,
You're the smile on the Mona Lisa
I'm a worthless check, a total wreck, a flop,
But if, baby, I'm the bottom you're the top!

Linda and Cole
In France, Cole Porter met the woman who became his wife. She was a beautiful and rich American named Linda Lee Thomas. They were married in nineteen nineteen. The Porters gave parties that lasted for days. They had so much money they could do anything they wanted. And they did. Their life together was a search for excitement, adventure and pleasure.

Still, Cole Porter remained a serious, hard-working songwriter. He wrote both the words and the music for his songs. The words and music always fit together perfectly. His songs were funny, sexy and intelligent. They were playful -- full of little jokes and hidden meanings.

One of his earliest big hits is called "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)." It was written in nineteen twenty-eight for a show called "Paris.” Alanis Morrissette sings the song in the movie about Cole Porter called “De-Lovely.”

(MUSIC: "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)")

birds do it, bees do it
even educated fleas do it
let's do it, let's fall in love
in spain, the best upper sets do it
lithuanians and letts do it
let's do it, let's fall in love

the dutch in old amsterdam do it
not to mention the finns
folks in siam do it
think of siamese twins

some argentines, without means, do it
people say, in boston, even beans do it
let's do it, let's fall in love

Some of Porter's friends thought he might not be a success. One friend, Elsa Maxwell, told him: "You are too good. The humor and poetry of your words are far beyond the people. One day, however," she added, "you will bring the public up to your own level. Then the world will be yours."

Most of Cole Porter's songs are about love and desire. When they were written, they stretched the limits of what was socially acceptable. The words were often unexpected, sometimes even shocking. They spoke both directly and indirectly about sex, about drug use. Some songs he sang only for his friends.

Critics consider "Love for Sale" to be one of Porter's finest songs. He wrote it in nineteen thirty for a Broadway musical called "The New Yorkers." For years, the song was banned on American radio. Here is a new version by Vivian Green.

(MUSIC: "Love for Sale")

Love for sale,
Appetising young love for sale.
Love that's fresh and still unspoiled,
Love that's only slightly soiled,
Love for sale.

Who will buy?
Who would like to sample my supply?
Who's prepared to pay the price,
For a trip to paradise?
Love for sale

Many of Porter's songs were written in a minor musical key. This gives them a feeling of sadness and longing. Yet they also can have a feeling of great excitement. American songwriter Alan J. Lerner said only Cole Porter could really "write" passion. One example is "Night and Day." It is considered perhaps the finest song Cole Porter ever wrote. It is about the kind of romantic love that is almost a form of insanity.

Porter got the idea for the song while traveling in Morocco. He heard drums and a man singing a prayer. The song has a sound that beats endlessly, over and over. It is like a lover who thinks of nothing but his love, over and over, night and day.

The song "Night and Day" was introduced in a nineteen thirty-two Broadway musical comedy called "The Gay Divorcee." The great dancer and singer Fred Astaire played the leading male character and sang the song.

"Night and Day" became famous around the world. And Cole Porter was becoming one of the greatest songwriters America had ever produced. Today there are many recordings of the song by different singers and musicians. Here is “Night and Day” from the movie about Cole Porter called “De-Lovely.” John Barrowman and Kevin Kline sing it.

(MUSIC: “Night and Day”)

On our program next week, we will tell more about Cole Porter’s life, and bring you more of his music.

(MUSIC: "Begin the Beguine")

This program was written by Shelley Gollust. It was produced by Lawan Davis. This is Faith Lapidus. And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.


1. Cole Porter was born in 1891 in
a: Paris 
b: Indiana
c: Iowa
d: Illinois

2. Porter attended two Ivy League universities,
a: Dartmouth and Princeton
b: Columbia and Cornell
c: Yale and Harvard
d: Brown and Penn

3. After he wrote his first Broadway musical, Cole Porter moved to and lived for many years in
a: Europe
b: Argentina
c: Canada
d: Antarctica

4. According to the story, Cole Porter
a: never drank 
b: was a quiet, lonely man
c: threw wild parties
d: ate regularly at the Olive Garden

5. Most of Cole Porter’s songs are
a: solemn and religious
b: clever and sexy
c: written for little babies
d: heavy metal

6. In 1919, Porter
a: formed his first band, “Cole Porter and the Stouthearts” 
b: was kicked out of Harvard
c: married an American woman in Paris
d: was born

7. The song, “Love for Sale,” is about
a: a prostitute 
b: an online dating service
c: Valentine’s Day
d: 25 minutes long

8. “Night and Day” was first sung in the movies by
a: Brad Pitt 
b: Vicente Fernandez
c: Elvis Presley
d: Fred Astaire

9. The idea for the song, “Night and Day” came to Porter in
a: Africa
b: America
c: Alabama
d: Alaska

10.Another possible title of this story could be
a: “From Farmboy to Fanatic”
b: “Poor Young Man Makes Good in Europe”
c: “Cole Porter, a Sophisticated Talent”
d: “His Real Name Was Fred Astaire”

Like the beat, beat, beat of the tom tom
when the jungle shadows fall
like the tick,tick, tock of the stately clock
as it stands against the wall
like the drip, drip drip of the rain drops
when the summer showers through
a voice within me keeps repeating
you, you, you

Night and day you are the one
only you beneath the moon or under the sun
whether near to me or far it's no matter darling
where you are
I think of you
night and day, day and night
why is it so that this longing for you
follows where ever I go
in the roaring traffic's boom, in the silence of my lonely room
I think of you
night and day, night and day
under the hide of me , there's an oh such a hungry yearning burning
inside of me
and this torment won't be through
'till you let me spend my life making love to you
day and night, night and day.

Cole Porter, Part Two

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"Contemporary Classical Composers" from VOA

BARBARA KLEIN: Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Barbara Klein.

STEVE EMBER: And I'm Steve Ember. Today we present the second of two programs about contemporary classical music written by composers working in the United States. We begin with Osvaldo Golijov. He grew up in La Plata, Argentina, in a Jewish family from eastern Europe. He studied music in Israel and currently lives in the United States.


BARBARA KLEIN: This is Osvaldo Golijov's "La Pasion segun San Marcos," or "Saint Mark Passion." He wanted it to express the story of Jesus' last days as seen through the Latin American experience. The performance includes dancers and folk instruments like the accordion and guitar.

The work was first performed in Germany in two thousand to mark two hundred fifty years since the death of the composer Johann Sebastian Bach. The crowd cheered wildly for over twenty minutes. One music critic wrote that modern music history had just been made.

Osvaldo Golijov's more recent work "Azul" is a cello concerto written for Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony Orchestra:


STEVE EMBER: John Adams began his music career playing the clarinet, but he also began composing as a child.

His works over the years include the opera "Nixon in China," based on the historic visit by President Richard Nixon in nineteen seventy-two. Another of his works is "Shaker Loops":


STEVE EMBER: More recently, John Adams composed a piece in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks of September eleventh, two thousand one. "On the Transmigration of Souls" earned a Pulitzer Prize as well as three Grammy Awards.

(MUSIC: “On the Transmigration of Souls,” Atlanta Symphony Orchestra)

John Adams took words from missing-person signs that had been put up by friends and family members immediately after the attacks. He also used the names of victims and personal stories about their lives that appeared in the newspaper. He said he wanted the music to express a sense of otherworldliness, like the listener is in the presence of generations of souls.

John Adams is a writer not only of music: he is currently working on a novel.

(MUSIC: “Red Violin Caprices” by John Corigliano, violinist Philippe Quint)

BARBARA KLEIN: John Corigliano writes many different kinds of music. Much of it is bold and expressive. He grew up in New York City in a family of musicians.

He has written several symphonies as well as music for movies. His "Red Violin" concerto was developed from music that he wrote for the movie of the same name. Another of his works is called "Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan."

(MUSIC: “All Along the Watchtower,” Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra)

STEVE EMBER: For some people in the classical music world, the past ten to fifteen years have been a difficult period. Budgets have shrunk, a situation that only worsened with the recent recession. And there is growing competition from other forms of entertainment.

Also, public schools in the United States have reduced classical music education.

BARBARA KLEIN: Still, there is reason to celebrate the variety and energy of music created in the United States today. So says Frank Oteri, himself a composer. He works for the American Music Center, a nonprofit group that supports classical music. He started its online magazine, the NewMusicBox.

Frank Oteri says the Internet and new technologies have increased the competition for people's attention and money. But he points out that technology has also made new music available to people all over the world twenty-four hours a day. He says there has never been a richer time for so many musicians and so many kinds of new music.

We asked Frank Oteri if there is something that defines the work of modern American composers. That is a hard question, he says, because there are so many kinds of music being made right now.

But he believes this variety in music is informed by the variety in backgrounds of a nation of immigrants. If anything defines American music, he says, it is a spirit of redefinition and reinvention.

STEVE EMBER: Adam Schoenberg is a young composer adding to this rich variety. He started playing the piano at the age of three. But it was not until college at Oberlin in Ohio that he decided to study music more seriously. He recently earned a doctorate from the Juilliard School in New York.

Here is his piece "Finding Rothko" which he wrote for the IRIS chamber orchestra in Tennessee.


STEVE EMBER: We asked Adam Schoenberg about his composing process.

ADAM SCHOENBERG: "Every composer is different. I always get my notes at the piano, first and foremost. And I tend to sit down and improvise. Within those improvisations certain motives and ideas will come about that I like."

STEVE EMBER: He writes down his ideas, then continues his work away from the piano. He uses a computer notation program called Finale to put the work together.

So what does Adam Schoenberg think of contemporary classical music?

ADAM SCHOENBERG: "Something happened post-World War Two where a divide occurred between the audience and the composer. And today I feel like composers are reconnecting with the audience and the orchestra. I think it's an incredibly exciting time because we can now draw on so many different sources that we are influenced by, and I sort of feel like anything goes."

(MUSIC: “Gazebo Dances” by John Corigliano, University of Texas Wind Ensemble)

BARBARA KLEIN: Our program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Barbara Klein.

STEVE EMBER: And I'm Steve Ember. You can read and listen to this program at voaspecialenglish.com. You can also find last week's program about composers, including two women who have won Pulitzer Prizes, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and Jennifer Higdon. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.

From "Pasion Segun San Marcos" - Osvaldo Golijov

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Percival Lowell: Pluto's Discoverer" from VOA


I'm Mary Tillotson.


And I'm Bob Doughty with the VOA Special English program PEOPLE IN AMERICA. Today, we tell about Percival Lowell whose work led to the discovery of Pluto. His efforts and imagination helped change the history of astronomy in America.


Percival Lowell came from a New England family with a long history in America. The Lowell family first came to the colony of Massachussetts in sixteen thirty-nine. One of Percival Lowell's ancestors, John Cabot Lowell, manufactured cloth. He became an important American industrialist in the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries.

Percival's father, Augustus Lowell, worked in the family cloth business. He settled his family in Boston, Massachusetts. Percival was born there in eighteen fifty-five. He had a younger brother, Abbott Lawrence, and a younger sister, Amy.


Percival Lowell attended American and European private schools as a young man. He studied mathematics at Harvard University. After he finished his studies at Harvard in eighteen seventy-six, he traveled in Europe and the Middle East for a year. Then he worked as a financial officer in the cloth business of his grandfather.

After several years, Percival realized he was not happy as a businessman. So he decided to travel to Japan to study its culture and language. While there, he was asked to go with a special trade group from Korea to establish trade relations with the United States.

In eighteen eighty-three, Mister Lowell traveled to Korea as a diplomat. He reported on a clash there between Korean and Japanese troops. Mister Lowell remained in East Asia for ten years. He returned home when each of his six books about East Asian subjects was published.



Percival Lowell also had an intense interest in astronomy and mathematics. In eighteen ninety-three he left Tokyo for the last time and returned to the United States. He decided to spend more time observing the planet Mars.

He had studied observations by the famous Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli. He found notes that described markings on Mars that Mister Schiaparelli called "canali" Mister Lowell came to believe that intelligent life created the markings on Mars.

In eighteen ninety-four, he built an observatory near Flagstaff, Arizona. He had the world famous telescope maker Alvan Clark and Sons make a telescope for his observatory. He began a program of observing not only Mars, but also Venus and Mercury.


Mister Lowell published his first book about Mars in eighteen ninety-five. In it, he developed a theory that intelligent life had created waterways all over the surface of Mars. His theory was that Martians were trying to bring water to the warm areas near the equator of the planet.

Mister Lowell's theories were based on what were serious scientific studies of that time. Yet his theories about life on Mars may have had more lasting influence on many writers of imaginary stories.

Three years after Mister Lowell's book was published, H.G Wells published his famous book "War of the Worlds." Mister Wells' story told of a Martian invasion of Earth. The Martians that he imagined lived on a dry and wasted planet. This is very similar to Mister Lowell's description of Mars.

Mister Lowell's theories about Mars also influenced Edgar Rice Burroughs. Mister Burroughs is best known for stories about "Tarzan." He also wrote a series of books about an American who traveled to Mars and fell in love with a beautiful princess. The popular series began in nineteen twelve with "The Princess of Mars."


Mister Lowell's book, "Mars and Its Canals," was published in nineteen-oh-six. In that book, he expanded his theory about Martian life. He said he could see changes in the seasons on the surface of Mars. He said the darkening of the Martian surface during some times of the year was caused by the growth of plants. His theory of Martian life became so complex that he made maps of cities and waterways on the planet.

Percival Lowell did not know that his eyes played a part in the markings he saw on Mars. Experts explain that the movement of air in the atmosphere and natural qualities of the human eye caused him to see markings that were not there.


Percival Lowell also studied the effect of gravity on the planet Neptune. Small changes in the movement of Neptune led several astronomers to believe that an undiscovered planet was affecting Neptune's orbit. Mister Lowell called it Planet X. Mister Lowell himself searched for Planet X for two years starting in nineteen-oh-five.

He made the search by comparing two pictures of the same part of the sky. The photographs would be taken several weeks apart. The astronomer would then check both photographs. An object in the solar system could be identified if it appeared to move from its place in the earlier photograph.

However, the first search failed. In fact, he failed to recognize Planet X in a few photographs. He searched again for it several years later. Percival Lowell did not have the chance to discover Planet X. He died suddenly in November, nineteen sixteen.



The search for Planet X did not restart at Lowell Observatory for years. Then in nineteen twenty-five, Guy Lowell, a relative of Percival, gained control of the observatory. He decided to seriously search for Planet X. He wanted to continue the work Percival had started.

In the following years, Percival's brother, Abbott Lawrence, provided money to build a special photographic telescope. The new telescope was completed in early nineteen twenty-nine.

That year, an observatory official, V. M. Slipher, offered a young man a job working with the new telescope. The young man's name was Clyde Tombaugh.


Mister Tombaugh got a job a Lowell Observatory after he sent drawings of his observations of Jupiter and Mars. He quickly learned how best to use the new photographic telescope at the observatory. He carefully planned his research to make the most of his time. On February eighteenth, nineteen thirty, he discovered an unusual object after less than one year of searching. The object moved slowly in the sky like a distant planet. Percival Lowell's Planet X had been found!

On March thirteenth, Clyde Tombaugh and V.M Slipher announced the discovery of a new planet. The date was the seventy-fifth anniversary of Mister Lowell's birth.

Mister Tombaugh continued to record the motion of the new planet for thirteen years. He found more than seven hundred small bodies that orbit the sun, called asteroids. He also discovered a number of star systems called galaxies.



During his life, Percival Lowell did not enjoy the success he hoped to find in astronomy. He died long before the search for Planet X resulted in the discovery of Pluto. And his theories about waterways and complex life on Mars have been disproved. In nineteen sixty-five, NASA's Mariner Four spacecraft showed that no waterways existed on Mars.

Yet, the institution Mister Lowell established in Flagstaff, Arizona, has made many discoveries in addition to that of Pluto. Evidence that the universe is expanding was first discovered at Lowell Observatory by V. M. Slipher. Also, the rings around the planet Uranus were discovered there.

Lowell Observatory now has four telescopes and is continuing to expand. It supports programs that bring astronomy to the public.

Astronomers at Lowell and many other observatories continue to search for life beyond our planet. Their efforts continue Percival Lowell's tradition of scientific investigation.



This Special English program was written by Mario Ritter. It was produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Mary Tillotson.


And I'm Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for another PEOPLE IN AMERICA program on the Voice of America.