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16 Apr

Secret Love

By  Robert Walton
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(Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster)
Robert Farnon’s arrangement analysed by Robert Walton

When I first came to England from New Zealand in 1957 with my family, one thing I was determined to do was to meet my idol of music, Robert Farnon. But it wasn’t as easy as I had imagined. As time went by, for one reason or another, it was becoming increasingly obvious that I might miss him. Undeterred by this possibility, I then decided to take the bull by the horns and just present myself at his Gerrard’s Cross home. Nervously knocking on the door and not knowing what to expect, suddenly he appeared looking just like the photograph he had originally sent me. I needn’t have worried though because after an extremely warm welcome I was invited in and given a signed copy of his LP “Pictures in the Fire”. Mission accomplished!

Back down under I couldn’t wait to take the disc out of its sleeve, place it on the turntable and hear his latest creations. One arrangement that really stood out was the Doris Day hit Secret Love from “Calamity Jane”. Going straight in with no introduction, gentle strings in foxtrot tempo treat us to the classic simplicity and symmetry of a Farnon score with celeste and clarinet trimmings. Even with just the basic sheet music chords, the sound was like no other orchestra. So nothing unusual about the first 16 bars of harmony and orchestration.

Now the woodwind plays the melody. Following the words “The way that dreamers often do” something symphonic stirred in the strings. But there’s more. In the bar after “Just how wonderful you are” the most magnificent swell occurs, transforming the tune from a ditty into a miniature masterpiece. It literally took my breath away and over an hour later I finally identified that gorgeous chord of E9,11+,13 in the key of G. Robert Farnon was the first arranger to successfully employ shock tactics seamlessly, in the nicest possible way, in a simple song.

No need for altered chords in the bridge since we’re still reeling from that heavenly harmony. In complete contrast to singer Day’s strident strains, Farnon opted for a beautiful more laid back violin solo guaranteed to produce the inevitable goose pimples. The strings still enriched with that burst of musical uranium, wind down for more conventional chords. Then the orchestra sort of hovers, as if deciding what to do next. The woodwind, minus the rhythm section, repeats the bridge.

In the final 8 bars Farnon again turns up the heat with some magical examples of his own particular brand of slightly dissonant chords. The strings and woodwind suddenly slow down bringing this Great American Songbook standard to a perfectly natural Farnon finish with the guitar having the final say. Fain and Webster must have wondered what hit them!

Robert Walton

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