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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Three mated pairs of harbour ducks were swimming and diving together

This morning. Three pairs of ducks all together ...Golden Eye, Mallard
and Buffel Head

Sunny with a light frost...

Even in late December there are many bird singing on the hillside in
the morning sun

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Watching a family of Buffel Heads diving for fish off the aft deck
Here are a few more Hanukkah pictures

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah

Justine Eli and Sammy made gram cracker houses today

Just back from doing some Christmas shopping...

Finally we are wrapped in warm gray cloud again

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sammy and Santa...

Christmas carols at the Tudor Inn


It was a peaceful song that became a wartime classic. Its unorthodox, melancholy melody—and mere 54 words, expressing the simple yearning for a return to happier times—sounded instantly familiar when sung by America's favorite crooner. But 67 years after its introduction, some still are surprised to learn that Bing Crosby's recording of the Irving Berlin ballad "White Christmas" became not only the runaway smash-hit for the World War II holidays, but the best-selling record of all time.

[mpwhite1] Randy Jones

Such unrivaled success reflects everything from record-industry trends to the sweep of global history. But it all begins with the songwriting genius of a Russian immigrant, born Israel Baline, who had just turned 54 when Decca recorded the track on May 29, 1942, and already had to his credit hundreds of hits like "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Blue Skies," "How Deep Is the Ocean?" and "God Bless America." (Berlin, 101 when he died in 1989, would have many more across a seven-decade career.)

Equally brilliant, though, was Berlin's insistence that "White Christmas" be introduced by the internationally popular Crosby. Perfectly suited to the casual, romantic style of the then-39-year-old, Berlin's lyric and tune blended the message, about longing for past Christmases, with suggestions of a love song, resonating with families being separated by war.

"'White Christmas' is an icon that transcends analysis for me. It has the simplicity that Berlin always tried to imbue his songs with," says Michael Feinstein, among the premier interpreters of the American Songbook. But Berlin's kind of simple is anything but to the ears of some music commentators.

"We know the song so well that we barely know it at all," Slate's Jody Rosen writes in his 2002 book "White Christmas: The Story of an American Song." Berlin biographer Philip Furia believes the songwriter's lack of formal musical training—he composed mostly on the black keys of F-sharp, often transposing songs with a specially modified piano—led to songs that "subtly depart from the most fundamental tenets of songwriting." While others might have stressed "dreaming" and "Christmas," for example, "Berlin deftly emphasizes the seemingly unimportant 'I'm' with a whole note, then races over the other syllables" before the next whole note, "white."

Rob Kapilow, playing as he is interviewed, notes how "White Christmas" eschews the usual "bridge": the countervailing melody normally following a song's first 16 measures. Berlin's opening bars "take you up the scale of yearning in their chords," and repeating them immediately heightens the impact. "Hear the minor chords for 'listen' and 'glisten'?" asks Mr. Kapilow, known for his "What Makes It Great?" lecture series. "It's heartbreaking."

Exactly where and when Berlin composed "White Christmas" is a mystery, because he offered varying accounts. He wrote in his New York and Beverly Hills homes and in hotels, often depositing songs in what he called "the trunk" for later use. "White Christmas" started as escapist Depression-era fare—a mournful satire for a Broadway review. The song's introductory verse, expunged by Berlin from some early sheet music, and infrequently performed today, places the singer in "Beverly Hills, L.A.," "longing to be up North." (The verse, Mr. Feinstein notes, "weakens the impact by forcing the listener to interpret things in a certain way.")

Berlin finally pulled "White Christmas" from the trunk for the movie "Holiday Inn," in which Crosby and Fred Astaire tell a story through a calendar full of songs. During production, though, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Crosby gave its first public performance—unheralded and unrecorded—on his Dec. 24, 1941, "Kraft Music Hall" radio program. The Decca 78 rpm wasn't released until just before the film's September premiere, as American recruits streamed overseas, many to snowless Pacific climes.

"Songs make history, and history makes songs," Berlin told an interviewer weeks before Decca's recording, suggesting that he expected good things for "White Christmas." (He once bragged that it was not only "the best song I ever wrote, it's the best song anybody ever wrote.") Still, he later conceded that the extent of its success shocked him. Irving Berlin Music Co., which collects royalties for his heirs, won't discuss totals. But a spokesman says he's "comfortable" saying that "Crosby's single is the best-selling record of all time." Guinness World Records puts its sales at more than 50 million copies, with album and other sales taking the total above 100 million.

Berlin had worried how "Holiday Inn" would showcase the song—reportedly hiding behind a set to observe Crosby singing it to co-star Marjorie Reynolds. He paid scant attention to orchestra leader John Scott Trotter's rendition with Crosby, backed by the Ken Darby Singers. In the 1940s, though, partly because of the war, radio broadcasting turned from live to recorded music. Disc jockeys, playing Crosby's "White Christmas" repeatedly, fueled demand for 78s to mail overseas.

Longing for Christmas snowfall was hardly a common image before Berlin's song. And Christmas carols, not secular songs, dominated the seasonal music scene. (After the success of "White Christmas," songwriters followed with similarly wistful hits, including "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.")

What had inspired Berlin? As a Jewish youth in Brooklyn, he experienced Christmas as an outsider, at neighbors' homes. Some biographers suggest that the death of his infant son, Irving Jr., from a heart ailment on Christmas Eve 1928 sharpened his sad holiday associations. But Berlin loved Christmastime, hating only how his film work often made for holidays away from his family back East. In 1937 a movie-industry friend surprised him with a short film designed to cheer him. Shot in advance, it pictured Berlin's family waving to him from a wintry home, as snow fell outside. Mr. Furia suspects that Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" also might have influenced him, since the poem and song both use "the simplest of rhymes and barest of imagery to evoke a beautiful but melancholy scene." Jody Rosen writes that Berlin owes a debt to the poignant American "Home Songs" of Stephen Foster.

Whatever Berlin's inspiration, Mr. Kapilow figures that the power of repetition in the war years laid the groundwork for its later success. Carl Sandburg may have explained that early popularity best in an article marking Pearl Harbor's first anniversary: "We have learned to be a little sad and a little lonesome, without being sickly about it. This feeling is caught in the song of a thousand juke boxes and the tune whistled in streets and homes, 'I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas.' When we sing that song we don't hate anybody. . . . Away down under, this latest hit of Irving Berlin catches us where we love peace."

—Mr. Harris is a journalist and author in Hingham, Mass.

Friday, December 4, 2009

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