Monday, August 01, 2011

The Right Hue

Saturday night was a rare night out on the town for my wife and I. We attended a concert at Orchestra Hall featuring the band Pink Martini accompanied by the Minnesota Orchestra. It was an entertaining, if somewhat uneven, evening of eclectic music which was not surprising given the background of the group:

15 years ago in his hometown of Portland, Oregon, Thomas Lauderdale was working in politics, thinking that one day he would run for mayor. Like other eager beaver politicians-in-training, he went to every political fundraiser under the sun...but was dismayed to find the music at these events underwhelming, lackluster, loud and un-neighborly. Drawing inspiration from music from all over the world – crossing genres of classical, jazz and old-fashioned pop – and hoping to appeal to conservatives and liberals alike, he founded the “little orchestra” Pink Martini in 1994 to provide more beautiful and inclusive musical soundtracks for political fundraisers for progressive causes such as civil rights, affordable housing, the environment, libraries, public broadcasting, education and parks.

“Pink Martini draws inspiration from the romantic Hollywood musicals of the 1940s or ‘50s...with a more global perspective. We write a lot of songs...but we also champion songs like Ernesto Lecuona’s “Andalucia”or “Amado mio”from the Rita Hayworth film “Gilda”or “Kikuchiyo to mohshimasu (My name is Kikuchiyo)”made famous in the 1960s by the great Japanese group Hiroshi Wada & His Mahina Stars. In that sense we’re a bit like musical archeologists, digging through recordings and scores of years past and rediscovering beautiful songs.”

The performance was thankfully free of politics of any sort although there was a surprise appearance by a guest singer whose name is likely familiar to those who follow national politics closely: Ari Shapiro. Yes, that Ari Shapiro, the National Public Radio White House correspondent. I was not previously aware that the Fargo born Shapiro had grown up in Portland, followed Pink Martini as a fan for years, recorded two songs on their holiday album, and had performed with the group numerous times. Shapiro definitely has some pipes and did a decent job on a couple of solos and joining Storm Large (filling in for China Forbes-yes, they are singers not strippers) on two duets, including one where he sang a part made famous by Judy Garland (yes, really). He didn’t have the stage presence, range, or timbre of Storm Large-a brassy broad who can really belt it out-but for the most part he held his own. His talents as a singer were certainly a surprise.

An even bigger surprise was how the audience reacted to Shapiro’s appearance. While I recognized his name when it was announced, I didn’t realize that being an NPR White House correspondent made you something of a rock star. At least it did judging by the reaction from the crowd at Orchestra Hall on Saturday. There was much applause, whooping, and cheering when Shapiro strode on stage. Some of this was no doubt from Pink Martini fans who knew of Shapiro’s previous work with the group. But I think a good part of it was because of his role with NPR. Which struck me as a little odd. Hard to imagine that Bret Baier, Jim Angle, or Major Garret would receive the same reaction if it was announced that one of the former Fox News White House correspondents was going to appear as a special guest singer. Ed Henry might receive some tepid applause from his days at CNN, but it would be nothing like the reception that Shapiro received. The crowd must appreciate the objective, straight-down-the-middle, unbiased NPR style of journalism that Shapiro personifies. Yup, that’s why they like him.