Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Even though I was looking forward to the Neil Sedaka Concert at Disney Hall (December 7, 2010), I felt some nervousness. I wondered what he'd look like, and if he could still sing. A few years ago, my husband and I saw the Burt Bacharach concert at the famous Sydney Operahouse, and while we enjoyed the experience, we noticed that Burt was passing off a lot of the singing parts to his backup singers. Put simply, Burt could no longer sing well.

Those thoughts were running through my mind as I looked at the single grand piano on the stage - no full orchestra as Burt had - just a single piano. I wondered if Neil, at 71 years old, still had the voice.

When Neil Sedaka walked on to the stage,I am sure I was not alone in sizing him up. Thank God, he still looked like the Neil Sedaka of the 1960s. Okay,he looked older and he shuffled a bit but he still looked enough like that Neil of my youth.

He didn't say much - a short greeting, then he sat and played the piano and sang - and a wave of relief ran through me. The music was still good! More than good, great. The quality of his voice was still thankfully great. He seemed to avoid the high notes, but the voice itself was fine.

He started off with the old hits, giving bits of information about each song, and encouraging the audience to sing-along. The audience, clearly old fans, did just that, belting out 50 year old lyrics. And I have to admit, that so did I. Who would forget: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, The Diary, Oh Carol, Calendar Girl, Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen?

These songs brought me right back to my teens when I used to plaster my ear against the radio to listen to those hits. We all had a crush on Neil Sedaka. I had 45pm records that I also played (yes, I was one of the 40 million who bought Oh Carol). I also bought those Song Hits booklets with the words of the songs, and croon away at night. (I can still remember the lyrics of Run Samson Run, Little Devil, and his other songs.)

Here's a couple of things that he did last night that I liked: he'd turn his head now and then so the audience behind and to his side could see him; and he'd get up after each song and acknowledge the clapping by sweeping his right hand, and nodding to the audience all around him. (While it wasn't exactly a theater-in-the-round,there were a few seats behind him and to his left side, who had his back most of the time.)

From the old songs, he went on to songs he'd composed after the Beatles showed up and he suddenly ceased being popular. The Hungry Years had a haunting, melancholic sound as opposed to the perky cheerful songs of the '60s. I read somewhere that during his "hungry years" it was Australia that continued to give him work. So did England,the English continued to support him even while Americans had dumped him for the English boys. Last night he mentioned that a musical based on his life, "Laughing in the Rain," will be presented in London this March.

Good for Neil! Really, it's wonderful that this man, who has been playing the piano and singing for over half a century is getting the attention that he's getting now. Look at his contemporaries, I hardly hear about them - Paul Anka, Fabian, Connie Francis, Pat Boone. But here Neil Sedaka is still giving concerts to full houses.

I enjoyed the songs. His early songs were delightful,not only because of the joyful melody but because of the associated memories. His latter songs were pleasant to listen to and they were effective in evoking emotion, but they were difficult to remember. They didn't have that "jingle" effect that some of the early popular ones had.

The audience loved his old songs and his new songs. They gave him a standing ovation at the end so he had to come back and play some more.

I was left with respect for a man who has been true to his art. This was what I got from last night's concert. When a man has such a gift from God, he needs to honor that gift whether or not he is popular; you just have to use the gift.

This was what Neil did. He had the gift from the start. Son of Turkish-Jewish immigrants, he grew up in Brooklyn. His second grade teacher in a choral class suggested to his parents that he take piano lessons. His mother took a part-time job in a department store for six months to pay for a second-hand upright piano. In 1947, he attended the Julliard School of Music on Saturdays. He was big in the 1950s and the early 1960s, but by the late 1960s was losing popularity in the US. But he kept at it and found his audience outside the US. It seems he kept his life together - one wife, children, no drugs. And now at 71 years old, he's still doing his thing. That's what I call a blessing straight from God.

Go Neil!

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