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Sinatra’s 100th birthday anniversary celebrated in week-long symposium

By Katie KrahulikSTAFF WRITER Hofstra’s Cultural Center, Department of History and Department of Music celebrated the upcoming 100th birthday of Frank Sinatra, singer-songwriter and musical legend, in a symposium last week. Born on Dec. 12, 1915, Sinatra is being honored at Hofstra with the “Sinatra: A Centenary Tribute 1915-2015,” which is a series of events that recognizes, as well as reintroduces, the music and history of the Great American Songbook. On Nov. 12 David Lalama, a professor of music at Hofstra, took the stage as master of ceremonies for “The Great American Songbook: Past, Present and Future.” He introduced the event as “an examination with real practitioners, scholars and family members representing the Great American Songbook.” The purpose was to discuss the influence that Frank Sinatra brought to modern art and culture. The evening kicked off with performances by Hofstra students who sang renditions of some of Sinatra’s most popular pieces. Sophomore Zack Alexander covered “The Lady is a Tramp” and one of Sinatra’s least favorite songs, “Strangers in the Night.” Junior Christina Cinnamo covered “It Might As Well Be Spring” and “Angel Eyes.” Senior Kyle Benaburger sang “The Way You Look Tonight” and “You Make Me Feel So Young.” Lalama accompanied the students on the piano. Immediately preceding the students’ performances, a panel was introduced. The stage hosted acclaimed professionals who seemed happy to discuss the subject of Sinatra and his influence. The evening’s speakers were musician and record producer David Finck, Grammy Award-nominated jazz vocalist Jane Monheit, journalist and Professor of jazz history at New Jersey City University Arnold Jay Smith and President of My Ideal Music Debbi Whiting. Each member of the roundtable brought their personal and professional opinions to the table for the audience. Lalama’s main question of the night was “What is the Great American Songbook and what does its future hold?” Finck said that the best of the Songbook’s days were over. He stated, “The Great American Songbook consists of composers from 100 years ago to 20 years ago. But what’s next? Do we consider top hits from the ‘60s and ‘70s as classics? It’s hard to define what it’s going to be.” He said that the differences in style and arrangement of modern music sets it apart from the music of Sinatra’s generation. Smith disagreed as he brought up more modern artists such as John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen. Smith said, “Whether they are the definition of the Great American Songbook or not, I think they are still adding to it. Take ‘Yesterday,’ for example. That song is beautifully written and composed.” Tedd Firth, professional arranger and jazz pianist, shared the same opinion as Smith. “I think the definition continues to evolve to incorporate new styles to prevent it from becoming a museum piece,” he said. Monheit spoke about her feelings concerning both the Great American Songbook and more modern songs. “I do a lot of singing in both groups. I tend to think of the latter as Volume 2. It is meaningful in a different way. When looking at it, you will see that Volume 2 is composed of songs that people wrote for themselves to sing,” she said. “Things were written for different reasons. Artists such as Joni Mitchell sang about a story they wished to tell. It’s different, but equally important.” The panel also discussed the ever-evolving tendency of music and the impacts that this has on listeners. Whiting shared the experiences and stories that her mother Margaret Whiting had passed down to her. “My mother went to go see Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra live. Frank said to the crowd that he was leaving Dorsey and had wanted to branch off on his own. This was revolutionary,” Whiting said. “He was paving the way on uncharted territory. For people to go out and do this, and for it to be so successful must have been a really exciting time.” Whiting spoke specifically about her mom’s collaborative album with Jerome Kern, which she said was iconic. She said, “She reminds me so beautifully that I grew up to that song. I don’t have musical edge, but I have the ear. I’ve grown up in this music business. It is in my DNA. Joni Mitchell brings that emotion that I get from earlier decades. So, for me, I think modern seconds can become classics.” Freshman journalism major Maria Zaldivar found the evening to be interesting, as they shared their opinions on the overall experience. Zaldivar said, “I grew up listening to Sinatra because my mom and my grandpa loved him but I loved the way they talked about his importance and how they compared him to other artists like the Beatles.” Before the night concluded, Monheit serenaded the crowd as Firth accompanied her on the piano. Lalama summed up the evening with a final comment. He said, “I’m around young people all the time. I’m sorry, but if you think this generation has nothing to offer to the Great American Songbook, you’re wrong. There is a very bright future for American song and American art. That right there, that modern rendition of a century-old song, was proof.” Anna Baxter, freshman communications major, attested to Lalama’s thoughts that the younger generation could enjoy old music with a new twist. She said, “The students who performed really brought to life Sinatra’s music and made an older crowd feel young and inspired again.”

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