Singer Katie Welsh Launches “The Autumn Songs Project”; Online Series’ Debut Installment Features “September in the Rain”
“THE AUTUMN SONGS PROJECT”: Singer Katie Welsh (above) has launched an online series, “Live From My Living Room: The Autumn Songs Project.” This series of performances debuted with “September in the Rain,” and will culminate with a live Zoom Q&A session on November 1. (Photo courtesy of Katie Welsh)
By Donald H. Sanborn III
Singer and scholar Katie Welsh has launched a YouTube series, Live from My Living Room, which begins with the six-part The Autumn Songs Project. Pianist David Pearl is overseeing arrangements and accompanying Welsh (online). A press release describes the series as “a miniature ‘Informative Cabaret’ from Katie’s living room, to yours!”
“With my live performance schedule tentatively on hold during this time, I really wanted to find a way to share the music I love from home … and so Live from My Living Room was born,” Welsh elaborates in an email to this writer. “The series will consist of various ‘projects,’ and I’m starting with The Autumn Songs Project. So, every Friday for the next six weeks, I’ll upload a short YouTube video in which I sing one song about autumn and share a ‘fun fact’ about it — its original context in a musical, a backstory about its creation, [and/or] an insight into the lyrics or music.”
“Each video I upload will be relatively short (4-5 minutes), and while each video will of course be a complete experience on its own, I’m really thinking of each ‘project’ I do as being a cumulative experience,” Welsh adds. “In the case of The Autumn Songs Project I’m hoping that by the end of the six weeks, listeners have not only enjoyed listening to six gorgeous songs about fall, but have also learned a bit about how composers and lyricists have approached writing ‘autumn songs’ and gained some new knowledge about the songs themselves.”
Following the release of the videos there will be a live Q&A session, to be hosted via Zoom, on November 1 at 4 p.m. At this event Welsh and Pearl will “discuss the songs, the process of virtual artistic collaboration, and their approach to the arrangements,” states the press release. The event will be free and open to the public, though advance registration will be required.
Welsh is a singer who specializes in musical theater and the Great American Songbook. She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Princeton University, and has performed at the Arts Council of Princeton, as well as the One Table Café at Trinity Episcopal Church. In New York she has been seen at venues such as BroadwayCon, Feintstein’s/54 Below, the Metropolitan Room, and the Princeton Club of New York.
Welsh’s website notes that she specializes in “’informative cabarets,’ evenings of song that blend performance and scholarship.” Her repertoire includes concerts such as Women in the World of Sondheim, The Evolution of the Broadway Musical Heroine, and Love…According to the Great American Songbook.
Pearl has performed in New York venues such as Joe’s Pub, Rainbow Room, and Symphony Space. He collaborates frequently with musicians in the jazz and classical community, and he has received grants from the New York State Council on the Arts. He is a composer and arranger, as well as the author of books such as Piano Exercises for Dummies. His website states that his “transcriptions and arrangements are published in many music books and magazines, including jazz transcriptions of the artists Grover Washington, Jr., Dave Douglas, Roland Hanna, and Wynton Marsalis.”
On September 25 Welsh posted the first installment of The Autumn Songs Project, featuring “September in the Rain.” The music is by Harry Warren, and the lyrics are by Al Dubin. Today the team perhaps is best remembered for their work on the film 42nd Street (1933), the Broadway musical adaptation of which premiered in 1980.
In the video’s introduction Welsh notes that the song is featured in the 1937 film musical Melody for Two. The website Café Songbook (greatamericansongbook.net) specifies that the number was written for — but omitted from — the 1935 film Stars Over Broadway; Warren’s melody appears as underscoring in the earlier movie.
Café Songbook notes that there has been some dispute about the process of the song’s creation. In a biography of her father, The Lullaby of Broadway, Patricia Dubin McGuire asserts that the lyrics were written first. Warren’s recollection was that he composed a melody — inspired by Dubin’s title — to which the lyrics were written.
In Melody for Two “September in the Rain” is performed by James Melton, who plays a bandleader named Tod Weaver. The film’s plot concerns a rivalry between Tod’s band, and one led by his ex-girlfriend, Gale Starr. The competition comes to a head when the two bands vie for use in a radio commercial. Tod and Gale are reunited after Gale substitutes for Tod’s new singer, Lorna, who misses the audition.
In an introduction to her video performance, Welsh explains that she chose “September in the Rain” as her series’ inaugural installment because “it has many of the musical and lyrical characteristics that I’m finding are present in a lot of songs about autumn.”
“The song’s melody is often descending; it’s kind of tumbling down the scale, almost as if evoking leaves tumbling down from the trees to the ground,” Welsh observes. “I’m finding that a lot of songs about autumn have descending patterns in the melody lines.”
Welsh’s comment about “leaves tumbling down” echoes Dubin’s poetic words: “The leaves of brown came tumbling down.” Welsh points out that the song is “about reminiscing.” Lyrically, Dubin posits that nostalgia can supersede physical time: “My daydreams lie buried in autumn leaves … though spring is here, to me it’s still September.”
This reflective mood is well served by Welsh’s expressive rendition, which Pearl introduces with a sequence of chords that lead to a descending glissando. Perched on a sofa, Welsh looks directly into the camera to deliver the song. A delicate vibrato and unassuming smile pervade the performance, in which precise use of dynamic contrast highlights the melody’s shape.
In the video Welsh underlines that the nostalgic mood of “September in the Rain” pervades other numbers that will be included in The Autumn Songs Project. “Many of the [songs] I’ll be doing in the next few weeks are about memories.”
To view the performance of “September in the Rain” visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBr9abRiGP0. To learn more about the series visit katiewelsh.com and/or subscribe to Katie Welsh’s YouTube channel.