When I was eighteen I went on a pilgrimage to Greenwich Village. I wanted to see Washington Square Park, the dingy cafes, the haunts of Springsteen, Dylan, Baez, Mitchell and Joplin, among others. But when I got there I could listen to only one thing: Simon & Garfunkel. I’d lie back in my hostel bunk bed and listen to “Bleecker Street” on repeat. It is the sound of the Village.
Everyone knows Simon & Garfunkel, whether it be for their Mutt and Jeff appearance or for their iconic soundtrack for The Graduate (including the eternal favourite, “Mrs. Robinson”). But in my mind their greatest strength is how they can be so rooted in a specific place and yet so entirely universal. “The Boxer” is firmly set in midtown Manhattan; “The Boxer” is the story of anyone who’s felt alone and uncertain. “America” tells the tale of Paul and Kathy driving down the New Jersey Turnpike; “America” is the anthem of every soul who’s longed to find something bigger than themselves. Paul Simon’s songwriting weaves the two elements together as masterfully as his and Art’s voices entwine in their lush harmonies.
The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra no doubt understand this power, which is why they’re performing The Sounds of Simon & Garfunkel this Friday and Saturday. Conducted by Michael Krajewski and featuring the S&G tribute duo A.J. Swearingen & Jonathan Beedle, the program will include arrangements of iconic songs from both Simon & Garfunkel’s canon and Paul Simon’s solo work.
I’ll admit the idea of the ESO performing folk songs struck me as odd at first. Folkies and symphony-goers have traditionally fallen into two distinct classes, and I’m much more comfortable in the former. But given the amazing string arrangements on S&G tracks like “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “The Dangling Conversation”, Simon & Garfunkel’s songs are suited to the symphony treatment. So it seems this Saturday I’ll be trading in my ratty wool jacket for a fancy dress and heading to the Winspear. I will be prepared to be swept off my feet by the strings and sweet harmonies.
The Sounds of Simon & Garfunkel will be playing at the Winspear October 26 and 27. Find tickets on yeglive.ca.