Music with Minnesotans: Allen Hamilton

by Alison Young, Minnesota Public Radio
March 21, 2012
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St. Paul, Minn. — Here's a little essay written upon request by me from actor Allen Hamilton:

Prospero says "Every third thought shall be my grave." Whatever are we to do in the face of the long dirt nap? Certainly, we felt no distress two hundred years ago when we all were dead before we were born.

So, don't be shy. Feed and empty the dogs, take comfort in the quotidian, recognize that this is a random world of accident- including your birth - in the middle of the Great Depression, the shock of the news to my father must have been as great as that annunciation to Joseph! - and realize that (although loss is our legacy) all this - ALL OF THIS - is gravy and the only appropriate stance is gratitude.

Finally, to quote my dead best friend, "Have something for your memoirs!" and "Don't be bashful with time!"

Allen Hamilton is an actor who's played on Broadway and London's West End as well as in feature films. His musical talent is limited to one string instrument - the yo-yo(!) - but his gift for understanding the passion and joy in classical music and being able to translate that into language is supreme.

Allen brought just a few discs to listen to - but he calls it "a stack of heartbreak." He is easily moved - and cries on command - but mostly for singing that reaches right into our hearts.

We started the session with Leonard Bernstein "Some Other Time" from On the Town. Before he could introduce the piece and get the words out "this is the saddest song I know" he already was choked up. And our lovely MPR disc of Anne Sophie von Otter was nice he said, but he needed the cracking and fragile voice of Blossom Dearie.

Allen loves radio - and wants to be behind the mic himself. This is because he is really good at the enthusiasm part, telling his friends "Sit down. You gotta listen to this."

In the 1950's Allen was in the army in Germany and in the very town where Friedrich Ruckert was born, the writer for many of the songs Mahler wrote, including Kindertotenlieder - Songs of the Death of Children. Allen lost his own son when a teenager, and there is a special sympathy to these extremely direct, heart-on-the-sleeve songs.

Allen says he does not use classical music in his work directly, except in keeping his soul healthy. The final chorale of Bach's St. Matthew Passion is a work that calls to mind yearning - a yearning for transcendence of our earthly condition, and the brevity of life.

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Allen Hamilton's playlist:

Ralph Vaughan Williams, Linden Lea - Ian Bostridge

Leonard Bernstein, On the Town: Some Other Time - Blossom Dearie

Gustav Mahler, Kindertotenlieder: In diesen Wetter, in diesem Braus - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau/Berlin

Johann Sebastian Bach, St. Matthew's Passion: Wir setzen uns mit Tranen nieder - Cleobury/Kings College Cambridge

Leonard Bernstein: On the Waterfront Suite - Bernstein/New York Philharmonic

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Next week,John Osborne from the Mayo Clinic joins me. He plays cello in his spare time and has brought a few pieces that were his favorite to perform.

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