The Valley Line: Rhapsodizing with peacocks and the Pops

Mother Nature must be punishing me. She knows that I hate being hot! Here we are in mid-September, still simmering because she just won't turn the burners down on her stove. This weekend we were sweltering in triple-digit degrees.

It was pretty darn hot when concertgoers began to arrive at the Los Angeles Arboretum in Arcadia for last weekend's Pasadena Pops concert, all 3,000-plus of them.

I know many of our local residents are not fond of peafowl, but the Arboretum does have an on-premise flock of these beautiful birds. Yes, the plumage of the male peacock is quite spectacular and iridescent. The peahens, however, are more subdued, with only a bit of color on their long necks and understated feathers of beige and brown on their bodies.

For the first time the other night at the Arboretum I did see two of these lovely ladies proudly showing off their offspring, known as peachicks. Each peahen had only one chick and they were tiny, probably not more than 3 inches tall. Each peachick stayed very close to its mom. Even with all the commotion of cars and people, neither the mom nor her chick seemed to be stressed. The peahen regally strolled along the path and her chick scurried to keep up with her. She was very protective of her young one.

The resident peafowl have been known to add their own voices when the music starts playing, but that evening not one of them made a peep.

The JPL Chorus made its second appearance at the concert under the direction of Donald Brinegar, who also brought along some of his singers from the PCC campus.

It was such an exquisite evening of the music of Ira and George Gershwin. The chorus blended their voices with Gershwin favorites such as “Foggy Day” and “I Got Rhythm.”

The orchestra was under the direction of Larry Blank. Blank's career was mentored by the late Marvin Hamlisch, who was the principal conductor of the Pops before his death in August.

Featured soloist was pianist Kevin Cole, who was also mentored by Hamlisch; over their eight-year professional relationship they became the best of friends. Cole spoke poignantly about becoming almost like family with Marvin and his wife Terre. He said that Hamlisch called him either “Babe” or “Kid.”

Cole introduced to the audience and the world a song that he wrote upon hearing that Hamlisch had died. It is a moving song and Cole wiped his tears away at the conclusion of the song. He mentioned earlier that he had called Terre Hamlisch to sing the song to her after he wrote it.

Cole also performed a medley of Gershwin show tunes, a portion of “Concerto in F,” “Porgy and Bess,” and of course George Gershwin's famed “Rhapsody in Blue.”

A back story that Cole told was fascinating and certainly not well known. He relates that “Rhapsody in Blue” almost didn't get written at all. Cole said that one evening the Gershwin brothers met Paul Whiteman at a Manhattan cocktail party. Whiteman said that he was thinking of doing a concert where he asked major songwriters of the era to contribute new works that would blend symphonic music with jazz. He wanted to know if George Gershwin would like to contribute. Gershwin said, “Sure.” Evidently he forgot all about this conversation and did not get to work on a composition for the concert.

According to Cole, Gershwin's memory was jogged one day, months later, when he was playing pool with some friends. His brother Ira was reading a newspaper and came across an article that reported Whiteman was opening his concert later that month. He quickly told his brother that he had “better get cracking.”

George called Whiteman and said he couldn't write a concerto but asked if a rhapsody would do. Whitman reluctantly said yes. So within two weeks, writing day and night almost without stopping, Gershwin came up with “Rhapsody in Blue.” Wow! It was a good thing that brother Ira was reading the paper or the world would have missed out on a beloved piece of music.

On Saturday, Sept. 22, the Pasadena Pops will present a free concert celebrating the life and legacy of Marvin Hamlisch on the steps of Pasadena City Hall called, “Music under the Stars.” The concert, with Larry Blank as conductor, will begin at 7 p.m. Actor Jason Alexander will be the emcee.

The pre-concert activities for the entire family will begin at 5:30 p.m. There will be a musical-instrument petting zoo, children's entertainment, food trucks, and more. Bring your own chairs or blankets.

JANE NAPIER NEELY covers the La Cañada Flintridge social scene. Email her at with news of your special event.

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