Classic Mornings

Somewhat Shatterproof


I keep telling myself to stop doing this. Why can’t I just leave my imaginings alone?

I’ve asked listeners so many times to close their eyes – except for those who are driving – while listening to a barcarolle. That’s one of those pieces of music that evokes the rocking of a gondola and/or the song of a gondolier. Not having been to Venice, the thought came to me that I didn’t know what it costs to ride in a gondola. So, I checked Venetian websites.

That was an eye-opener. It’s 80 Euros per gondola for 30 minutes, which is about $80 these days. That’s the price before sunset. After 7pm, you’ll pay $100. It’s a standard, non-negotiable price. And a gondola can hold from one to five persons. 

I could have stopped there. I didn’t. Online they talk about the strength and skills of the gondoliers, who may ask you to switch seats with others so that the boat is well balanced. I understand that they can be like tour guides. But as far as guaranteeing that a gondolier sings – forget it. You might be able to arrange for a musician to ride along. That’ll cost extra.

Will I now think about that every time I listen to a barcarolle? Probably not. Reality has already “hit home” and challenged, though not shattered, so many other idyllic images that are related to classical music. Just the concept of a barcarolle, which plays with the rhythm of waves and the melodic quality of song, rocks, you might say.

I’ve been to old style amusement parks that feature gardens and light classical music. And I’ve used the images from those memories whenever I play the music of composers like Samuel Arnold and James Hook, who wrote for the “pleasure gardens” in and around London in the 18th century.

Recently, I checked to see if those gardens are still around. It turns out that the proprietors went bankrupt, and the land eventually was used for other purposes. But I learned that there is a public park at the site of the old Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, which opened originally around 1660 as the New Spring Gardens. 

According to the website of the Museum of London, the site had been a gathering place with refreshments available from the outset. It was a place “to be seen,” as they say. Entertainment then became a part of the pleasure gardens, with Vauxhall being one of the biggest centers for such entertainment. There were art galleries. There was music – including operas, dancing, eating, and drinking. Even George Frideric Handel was a composer in residence for a number of years. I should add that Vauxhall had its scandalous attractions as well

Today, the public park is known as the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, but it’s nothing like those of times past. I glanced at their events calendar: There’s a Karaoke afternoon, a so-called Bridgeathon – involving a leisurely group walk for charity across the Vauxhall Bridge over the Thames River, and a tea service coming up.

I’m guessing that folks still associate the name Curly with a legendary comedian of the past. And I have to admit that when I noticed that August 24 would have been the 70th birthday of American organist Carlo Curley, the other one came to mind.

Carlo Curley called himself the Pavarotti of the organ. I saw a 2010 comment by William Dart of the New Zealand Herald, quoted by John Tirauds at the website Ludwig van Toronto. Reflecting on a Curley performance, Dart said that there was some debt to be owed to Liberace and P.T. Barnum. Nobody denied that Carlo Curley was a showman who helped popularize the pipe organ. He had studied with another popular organist: Virgil Fox. Curley was born in North Carolina. He died 10 years ago, weeks before his 60th birthday.

Curley played some 100 concerts each year and, while living in England, was featured regularly on the BBC.  After a little searching, I discovered that Jerome Lester Horwitz, better known as Curly Howard of The Three Stooges, died in January of the year Carlo Curley was born. Obviously he wasn’t named for Curly, as Curley (spelled differently) was the organist’s family name. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting – and amusing coincidence.

West Side Story turned 65 on August 19. The show certainly has no intentions of retiring. There was even a second film version over the past year.

So, where was if first performed? New York – Broadway, right? No. It actually opened in Washington, DC for a short run, followed by another in Philadelphia. The 65th anniversary of its Broadway opening is September 26. The original film came along in 1961.

We’re still celebrating the 12th anniversary of Classic Mornings. Join us Monday through Friday from 9-noon on FM 90.9 or online at