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CHEEKS FROSTED by the evening snowfall, an overflow crowd packed the Currier House Senior Common Room for last Saturday's Cambridge debut of Harvard singer-composer Ricky Lyon. The room itself was sparsely furnished, with a Baldwin grand piano, and a soft, deep carpet. Huddled together on the floor, the student audience waited anxiously for the program to begin.
Rick strode in promptly at 8:30 and talked easily with the group while his sound men were making final preparations. "Is it still snowing out there?" he asked. The ensuing chorus of yesses was met with a sage nod and an amused shrug. The performer looked down at the piano, struck the opening chords of his first number and smiled, "So it goes." Saturday was Rick's nineteenth birthday, and he began with a certain tentative air, flushed with youthful nervousness. Yet the concert that unfolded was a display of finely matured and sensitive musicianship. He performed eighteen original selections, an imposing bulk of creative material, and did a fine interpretation of Dylan's "Girl From North Country."
Anyone who plays piano and performs original rock risks comparison with one of the handful of stylists who define the several genres of solo performance. Lyon, however, is distinguished by a strikingly personal mode of expression, a result of his curious musical background. He had a brief fling with classical musicianship as a young boy, a relationship which eventually succumbed to his own creative urges. After studying liturgical music for three years in his native Washington, D.C., he served as a cantor at a local temple. His interest in serious composing dates from about four years ago, when he was profoundly influenced by the emerging Laura Nyro. Like Miss Nyro, he has taken the piano, and cast a musical mold in his own image.
His most impressive commodity, also after the fashion of his idol, is his ability as a composer. His lyrics are complex, and the music is often captivating. Each is a refined, highly polished piece of work and one is particularly struck by the vast range of moods that he has successfully captured. Saturday's audience was warmly receptive. Many appeared acquainted with some of the artist's material and welcomed familiar numbers with gracious applause of recognition.
RICKY tossed off a very hard rocker, entitled "No One Loves to Wiggle Anymore," and tickled the crowd with his saucy dedication to Dean Archie Epps. The number was a moaning young man's lamment for the relatively carefree, thoughtless Fifties. He plaintively asked, "Must be someone, somewhere, --Loves a Friday night;--Loves to wiggle to a big, bad boogie band." Alluding to the recent success of Don McLean's cryptic "American Pie," Rick said, "See, we all write about Chevies and levies in our own way."
One of the best songs of the evening was "Don't Ask Me 'Bout Tomorrow." This intricate piece is rather like a suite, with its several sections characterized by distinct melodies and rhythms. Forceful piano solos separated the thoughtful verses, which cast a critical eye to the city, perhaps Boston, and spoke of its several subtle faces.
The most interesting work of poetry was the beautiful "Butterfly Lady." Lyon therein recounts the course of a precious affair, his lover's tenderness, and the inevitable passing of their relationship. The birth of a love, "the daybreak in your smile," eventually gives way to an understanding of the nature of fleeting affection and the last verse: "I just don't know quite why,--They leave the flowers drinking rain--Butterflies seem to me all the same,--They'll always play the game,--Then fly away." The poetry was complemented by an exceedingly clever piano arrangement, in which the graceful pattern of open chords suggestively pictured the butterfly of the song.
As the evening progressed, Rick's touch at the piano increased in authority and strength. He worked skillfully with the crowd, developing an excellent rapport and speaking with conversational ease between numbers. They appreciated his artistry, and called him back for an encore. That final number was a statement about "veritasian" Harvard, an "uncensored" musing about the vicissitudes of freshman life, entitled "Lonely in Harvard Yard." The song, complete with appeal to Jennifer Cavilleri, was ribald and funny, and the crowd broke into excited accompaniment of the bouncy chorus.
APPARENTLY life in the Yard has afforded him with substantial material for reflection and song--he has written fifteen new pieces in the last three months alone. A warm and witty kid, his creativity is by no means restricted to musical production. As a high school student in Washington, he conceived and produced a program on local radio dealing with the relationship between youth and politics. For that effort he received a nomination for a Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting. Further, he wrote a book about his urban high school experience which is headed for publication. In sum, Saturday night marked the debut of a musician of copious talents. Lyon's claim to success is as genuine as were the smiles on the faces of his delighted audience, as they filed out of Currier House into the evening snow.
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