Correspondence (Illustrated): RIP Margaret Whiting


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Rifftides reader Mark Stryker sent this reaction to the previous entry. Mr. Stryker is the music critic of The Detroit Free Press. He has good ears.
Just a coda re: “Moonlight in Vermont," whose unusual lyrics were written by John Blackburn. The A section words are actually in the form of a haiku, with 5-7-5 syllable pattern. Nor do the lyrics rhyme. Also, a note on the interpretation: Whiting takes a big (and to my ear unfortunate) breath leading from the bridge into the final A section, separating the words “lovely" and “evening," which breaks up the single image in the lyric that continues over the bar line: “People who meet in this romantic setting/are so hypnotized by the lovely evening summer breeze."

Without disrespecting Whiting's gifts, compare to how Jo Stafford sings it. Singing a slightly alternate lyric, she doesn't take the breath where Whiting does, making it through the bar line before grabbing some quick air after the first word ("shadows") of the new 8 bars. But you can tell she's trying to keep the line focused into single, unbroken thought, and her phrasing does give the impression of a more liquid, expressive legato, especially since the arrangement slipped into rubato on the bridge.

Of course, the master of using breath-control technique, the legato line and savvy phrasing to heighten the meaning of a lyric is Frank Sinatra. “Moonlight" was always a showcase for him in that way. He takes it 'way further than Stafford, connecting the bridge to the last A with a suspended phrase that raises the tension to a peak before a wonderful release, making it all the way to the end of the sentence in the second bar before breathing; he even ornaments the word “evening" with a little downward portamento slide. The second time through the tune he ups the ante in what for me is one of the most electric moments in all of Sinatra Land. Over a rubato accompaniment, he sneaks a breath between “hypnotized" and “by" and then suspends time f-o-r-e-v-e-r. When he finally slides into the final 8 bars, the key slides up a half-step (thanks, Billy May) and the combination of Sinatra's phrasing and the arrangement has the music reaching for the stars. Wow.

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