The Medley Format and Christmas Albums
GP: The concept that you used in putting the Christmas songs together on Volumes I and II of your Christmas Hymns and Carols. Today we see a lot of this. It’s called the medley format. And it’s kind of interesting that you used that format even back in 1945, 1941, whenever you did these carols. Was that your idea to put as many songs together on an album, as possible? Or how did that come about because it’s a very interesting concept that we still use today in many areas of popular music too?
RS: I don’t think – I think we were trying - I certainly was interested in getting a number of titles on the album to give it sale-ability, so that people wouldn’t feel robbed. At the time we were doing that, we were doing those Chesterfield Pleasure Time shows which was a 15 minute radio show and there were 3 to 4 - there were only time for 3 to 4 numbers on one of those broadcasts, in addition to baseball scores and a little bit of news that Paul Douglas used to do, who became the famous Hollywood actor at that time and shortly thereafter. And so, it was almost non-stop music. In 15 minutes you had about 13 minutes and 35 seconds or something. And so, I don’t know whether that influenced at all. It seemed to me that certain carols did comment a bit upon each other and somehow seemed consanguine and wanted to fit together and flowed together.
GP : The Flow
RS: Yeh. So it was also - so you see since we had - in those days since we had no tape, 3 was about - I guess also, just come to think of it, long playing records hadn’t come in. And so I suppose this is why we did it obviously, cause we were limited to 4/1/2 minutes a side sort of thing and so they just fit together. But the other contributing factor was that since we didn’t have any tape, we’d have been very pleased to stop after one number but we had to go through - even if they were different keys - we had to go through 3 and then remake the whole thing if we hadn’t gotten it.
GP: So kind of by accident and technical problems, you created a style that has gone on. We’ll talk about this now. You sold - you were the first conductor to sell 1 million copies for RCA classical wise and you have the gold record here in your house. That must have been a thrill for you.
RS: I finally had the thing framed cause people - it’s like my - I have a few Grammys too, but I remember when the Grammys arrived, I thought, this is a - I don’t like to join things. I really don’t like to join things. This is just a sort of an exercise in self-gratification. It’s almost a dirty word, so that - and I never, for instance, joined the society. I don’t even know…
RS: NARAS. I never joined that thing And finally here, I joined because I thought it might help the orchestra get recognized. But there are so many categories – it’s like the Oscar and the Emmy shows and the Grammy Shows are just nonsense now.
GP: You’re correct on that, but it’s nice that you could receive those awards. I think music and radio and so on are kind of nebulous. You can’t hold sound, music in your hand, so this is something to show.
RS: That’s fair too. And certainly, if one wants the institution, as I so greatly desired the Atlanta Orchestra to be recognized for what it is, which I believe is one of the great orchestras in the United States, it’s important that these things happen, particularly so that they can convince other people.
GP: One final note on Christmas Music and then we’ll move on to our final portion tonight. The songs that you chose - I don’t know whether this was influenced by your collegiate music over the years or the Robert Shaw Chorale – but you chose some songs that at the time were kind of unknown: “I Wonder as I Wonder”, “My Dancing Day” , “The Coventry Carol”. But these songs today are standards. How did you choose your music back then? Was somebody influencing you or did you?
RSNo, we - there had been published at that time already“The Oxford Book of Carols” and most of these were not a part of my church background. Now obviously, I knew some of the black spirituals because my mother was a very famous singer on the West Coast, and she at one time studied singing with Roland Hayes, who was a great, great fabulous Negro tenor of the early days. And so she knew a lot of these spirituals so I knew those from her.
GP: Go Tell it on the Mountain was one.
RS: I knew those from my background and from singing around in the home. Butthe other things we simply found in The Oxford Book of Carols and.
GP: These were Old English carols.
RS: Yeh, yeh.
GP: 1500s or?
RS: Oh I support some of them predate. Nobody knows quite sure. And they’re still undergoing a transformation. They’re still changing. But that’s where most of those others came from, as for instance when we did some albums of folks songs, we found those in the Library of Congress with mostly the Lomax - Alan and the Lomax brothers and sisters and family, who’d collected those and had taped individual singers - completely nonprofessional singers - in the Appalachian mountains.
GP: What made you go a cappella for most of your music? Was it economical again, or did you want that sound, that pure sound?
RS: That’s a hard question to answer. I guess it wasn’t economics. My background, my college background in my years, was all a cappella singing, and I didn’t have any really - since I didn’t study, take a lot of music courses in college or anything - I didn’t have any skills in arranging for orchestra, but I had some experience in arranging for choruses and I. Also substantially, my college background - Fred Waring’s primary sound grew up a lot by Harry Simeon and others and Roy [Ringwald] also used to do a lot of arrangements. But was essentially the a cappella sound in which instruments occasionally…
GP: It’s a beautiful sound. It’s a pure sound. It takes the genius out of keeping the singers on pitch and on key for twenty-five minutes at a shot because that’s what you had to do in those days and you couldn’t stop.