I have again failed in my goal to get out less since I couldn't resist going to hear a lecture on "The Unknown Irving Berlin" at the Library of Congress tonight. The lecturer, Jeff Magee of the University of Illinois has been plowing through the documents (letters, manuscripts, etc.) in the library's Irving Berlin collection and focused on some of the distinctive trait's of Berlin's music. He talked about Berlin's development of the syncopated ballad, use of contradictory images (e.g. "I got lost, but look what I found"), reuse of his own musical themes, incorporation of topical themes, and frequent employment of counterpoint. What made the lecture particularly enjoyable was extensive illustration of the points by some of his students (three singers, one pianist). A particular highlight was a performance of "Torch Song" (which Magee discussed in the context of topical references). They also had an exhibit of Berlin manuscripts and sheet music covers in the foyer outside the auditorium. My only disappointment was the poor turn-out, possibly the sparsest attendance I've seen in the Campbell Auditorium. That may have been due to limited publicity, as I only found out about the talk yesterday from the music division's email list.
By the way, one question Magee was asked had to do with how Yiddish music influenced Berlin. Magee kind of talked around that, but did mention the song "Blue Skies." It's an interesting example to bring up around this time of year since the very first lecture I ever went to at the Library of Congress was Jack Gottlieb's on the Jewish roots of Tin Pan Alley about 5 years ago. And Gottlieb pointed out that the tune for "Dayenu" is buried in "Blue Skies!" (You have to play every other note, but it's a way cool bit of trivia.)