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Songs of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hammerstein will highlight talent Commencement Eve
Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The student vocalists who will be featured in “The Great American Songbook, Part One” are, from left, Rusty Ritzel, Michael J. Hawk, Margaret VanNorden, Shannon Cunningham, Deanna Jelarid, Steven Saelzer, Lindsay Zimmerman and Nicholas Bernard.

By Doug Osborne-Coy

Some of the greatest songs from Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hammerstein will be in the spotlight on Friday, May 17 when Rockefeller Arts Center presents, “The Great American Songbook, Part One,” at 7:30 p.m. in King Concert Hall at SUNY Fredonia.

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Tickets for "The Great American Songbook, Part One" are available through the SUNY Fredonia Ticket Office in the Williams Center, by phone at 673-3501.


This is the annual commencement eve pops concert, featuring eight of SUNY Fredonia’s talented student vocalists backed by the Western New York Chamber Orchestra conducted by Maestro Glen Cortese.

Envisioned as a multiyear project, this year’s commencement eve pops concert will feature the works of three composers who have contributed heavily to the Great American Songbook — Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers. The concert includes songs like “Blues Skies,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “Anything Goes,” “You’re the Top,” “Some Enchanted Evening” and “The Lady is a Tramp.”

Rockefeller Arts Center Director Jefferson Westwood is the producer of the show. He explained more than a year of planning has gone into this concert.

“One of the real challenges, after choosing the composers to feature, was the fact that there are so many great songs to choose from,” Mr. Westwood said.

The Great American Songbook is a term used to describe a collection of influential pop songs written primarily between 1920 and 1960. The songs were often featured in Broadway musical theater and Hollywood musical films. In addition to memorable melodies combined with witty, suave lyrics, the songs often featured a 32-bar format.

Over the decades, singers from Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra to contemporary performers like Rod Stewart, Willie Nelson and Michael Bublé have released recordings comprised of songs from the Great American Songbook.

The concept of the Great American Songbook has been brought to the forefront again by Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook television series, which just launched its third season on PBS.

In a foreword to Ken Bloom’s 2005 book “The American Songbook: The Singers, the Songwriters and the Songs,” Mr. Feinstein noted the Great American Songbook is “part of America’s musical heritage from the golden era of the art form.”

Mr. Westwood said producing the concert provides him an artistic outlet and that he enjoys the opportunity to work with singers and musicians.

“It’s a joy working with these fabulous singers and faculty members who are so very talented,” Mr. Westwood said. “Getting to work with them up close is a thrill because I’m in awe of their talent.”

He said rehearsals began in early April and the show has come together nicely.

“We have some beautiful arrangements of songs like ‘Night and Day’ that are very lush,” Mr. Westwood said. “We’re opening with ‘It’s a Grand Night for Singing’ from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical ‘State Fair.’ It makes a wonderful opening number.”

The Great American Songbook, Part One is a DFT Communications Pops Series event sponsored by the Fredonia and Silver Creek Penny Savers as part of the Lake Shore Savings Season.

“We are thankful for the corporate sponsors and the Friends of Rockefeller Arts Center who give money to support these kinds of events,” Mr. Westwood said.

And those who enjoy songs from of the Great American Songbook will have something more to look forward to in 2014.

“This is a theme that will be extending it over multiple years, which is why we called it’ Great American Songbook Part One,’” Mr. Westwood said. “For part two, we’ll be doing the works of George and Ira Gershwin next season. We’re already in the process of collecting charts and commissioning special arrangements for next year.”

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