The French coined the term deja vu to describe a situation in which a person's impressions of a current event evoke memories of a similar occurrence that happened sometime in the past.
“Yesterday Once More,” the Oklahoma City Philharmonic's recent tribute to the Carpenters, evoked a similar feeling in me, although it was more of an aural sensation (deja entendu) than a visual one. For it was approximately 40 years ago that I heard the Carpenters in concert on the same Civic Center stage.
Produced by Jim Brickman, “Yesterday Once More” surveyed nearly two dozen hits the Carpenters made famous during the 1970s. A vocal ensemble and three-piece combo joined the orchestra for this nostalgic tribute.
The music of Karen and Richard Carpenter captured the public's imagination during a particularly difficult time in American history: the war in Vietnam continued to rage and the Watergate scandal would ultimately undermine Richard Nixon's presidency.
Through their music, the Carpenters offered an escape from the harshness of reality. Karen's sultry alto voice and Richard's expert arrangements created a wide range of emotions, from the melancholy to the upbeat. As one of the singers characterized their music, it was “the soundtrack of an entire generation.”
While John Trones, Jen Burleigh-Bentz, Michelle Carter and pianist David Lohman didn't set out to duplicate the Carpenters' sound, their renditions certainly evoked the duo's close harmonies and the clever harmonic shifts.
This music became so well known that even a song's opening vamp was sufficient to remind listeners what lay ahead. Think of the gently rocking piano chords that introduce “Close to You” or the oboe solo that launches “For All We Know.”
Carter scored points with her tasteful rendition of “Solitaire,” which also featured a fine orchestral arrangement. And while the singer's voice doesn't possess the same timbre as Karen Carpenter's, she shared the same alto range as her famous counterpart. Carter also took the lead in what may be the duo's biggest hit, Leon Russell's “Superstar.”
Burleigh-Bentz zeroed in on the poignant lyrics of “Bless the Beasts and the Children,” a reminder that “The world can never be the world they see. Light their way when the darkness surrounds them, and give them love, let it shine all around them.”
Vocally, Trones was the evening's standout, his warm, resonant voice a perfect fit for such hits as “For All We Know,” “There's a Kind of Hush” and “Goodbye to Love.” His natural stage presence also allowed him to forge an immediate connection with the audience.
Joining their voices in combination, the singers reminded us that not all of the Carpenters' hits were wistful ballads. There was the upbeat Beatles' hit “Ticket to Ride,” the country-inflected “Top of the World,” the Cajun-inspired “Jambalaya” and the childlike appeal of “Sing.” Douglas Droste skillfully handled the orchestral accompaniments and lent the singers tasteful support throughout.
It's interesting to note that as we age, nostalgia plays an increasingly important part in our collective memories. This enjoyable concert proved that it was indeed possible to relive “Yesterday Once More.”
— Rick Rogers