Operation Just-For-Nice: A little dancing

Today in Operation Just For Nice, my on-again-off-again project that attempts to make at least one little bit of one little day in at least our little house a little bit better instead of worse, we have been putting on dance music in the evenings.

Not dance music like club music, but music that the five-year-old and the two-year-old want to dance to, which I am happy to have them hear. We usually start evening chores at 7 p.m, but the little guys don’t have regular jobs yet, so they dance in the living room while the bigger kids work around them. Or sometimes I just put music on, and that’s pleasant, too.

One of the great disappointments of the last few decades is that I’ve never managed to get more than one or two of my kids listening to classical music. I wanted them to be able to say “Ah, Chopin!” or “Whoa, Mahler” while listening to the radio, and I wanted them to be able to identify whether they were hearing baroque, classical, romantic, or modern music. I wanted them to hum themes from Die schöne Müllerin while washing the dishes. This was how I grew up, and it may not have made me a better person, but I’m sure glad to have all that music in my head.

Anyway, that’s not how it worked out. We don’t get to concerts, and while my kids don’t resist classical music and are even kinda into opera, they never turn it on by themselves. Well, so I turn it on, in the car, and now in the evenings. I haven’t been pushy about naming composers or styles or form (although I recommend the delightful and accessible Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin, if you’re looking for that). Instead, I ask the five-year-old what kind of music she wants to dance to, and then I pick something good and readily interesting that fits that description.

(That’s an invaluable parenting secret: Kids are 9,000% more receptive to things when they get to pick.)

If she says she wants ballet music, I feel like they will definitely come across The Nutcracker and probably Swan Lake on their own without help, so here instead is Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”:

Princess-at-a-ball music? You could do worse than “Wiener Blut” by Strauss, or just about anything by Strauss:

She asked for tap dancing music, so I did a search for tap dance music, and she danced along (not bad for her first time!)

but just about anything big band would do. Try Cab Calloway, unless you’re allergic to corn.

She requests fighting music? Here’s Aram Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance:

or you could go with some Hungarian Dances by Brahms. Here’s #5, which has a lot of back-and-forth for two dancers:

Jazzy dancing music, you say? Here’s Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt being delicious with “Minor Swing”:

Maybe someone wants to be a lonely butterfly. Here is a little Chopin for that:

Forgive me, Bach, but I told my children you wrote vampire music:

We’ll get the Well Tempered Clavier later.

The other day she requested Ninja music, and I was at kind of a loss. What can you suggest?

When Ella Fitzgerald had no one to watch over her

Ella Fitzgerald’s voice means warmth, joy, careless brilliance, strength wrapped in velvet. But her early life was cold, rough, harsh.

It’s Ella Fitzgerald’s 100th birthday today, and on NPR’s Morning Edition, Susan Stamberg reports that Fitzgerald, born poor, was orphaned at 15. Her surviving stepfather was hard on her, and she lived for a time with an aunt, but then started skipping school, eventually living on the streets.

“She was on the streets of Harlem dancing for tips” [Smithsonian Curator of American Music John] Hasse says.

She earned more pennies as a lookout for cops outside a brothel. At one point, she was arrested for truancy and sent to a reform school, where she was regularly beaten. So she ran away — this awkward, gawky girl with skinny legs and old, cast-off boots — with no money, living on the streets and sleeping where she could.

Around this time, Fitzgerald used to say, she first began to sing on stage. She was 17, and found herself terrified in front of a brutal audience at Amatuer Night at the Apollo. She had been planning to dance, but her legs shook too badly; so instead, she sang. And everyone loved it, so she kept on singing. At least that’s the way she tells it.

Who can describe her voice? Instead of talking about it, let’s listen. The velvety ballads are my favorites. Here’s one of the greatest:

Oh, how I need. What a miracle of vocal engineering that she goes all high and hoarse without losing an ounce of power. Happy birthday, you beautiful woman. Someone I’d really like to know.

Image: Ella in 1940, photo by Carl Van Vechten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons