Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata: 'Alive' With New Sounds On the new album The Hills Are Alive, the group overhauls Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic by putting its own influences on shuffle mode.
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Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata: 'Alive' With New Sounds

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Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata: 'Alive' With New Sounds

Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata: 'Alive' With New Sounds

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

Ah, "The Sound of Music," Rodgers and Hammerstein song, as sung by Julie Andrews there. The 1965 film that's still shown and shown and shown. One of the most familiar songs in musical history, right? But now give that version a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE SOUND OF MUSIC")

BROOKLYN RUNDFUNK ORKESTRATA: (Singing) The hills are alive with the sound of music. With songs they have sung for a thousand years...

SIMON: That's the Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata. The group rearranged the entire score "The Sound of Music" for their new album called "The Hills are Alive." We're now joined by the founder of the Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata, Peter Keisewalter. Thanks so much for being with us.

PETER KEISEWALTER: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: Now, we're going to take another listen to what we just heard because maybe there was a hint here of "Start Me Up" by the Rolling Stones, maybe a little "Foxy Lady" by Jimi Hendrix. Let's listen to it again with that in mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE SOUND OF MUSIC")

RUNDFUNK ORKESTRATA: (Singing) The hills are alive with the sound of music. With songs they have sung for a thousand years...

SIMON: So, tell us your method here.

KEISEWALTER: You know, the lyric in that song - my heart wants to sing every song that it hears - I think Maria in real life and in the film is a conduit for music. She just wants to sing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE SOUND OF MUSIC")

RUNDFUNK ORKESTRATA: (Singing) My heart wants to sing every song it hears...

KEISEWALTER: Though in reinterpreting that song I imagined her sitting in front of a radio and every two bars you hear a different iconic rock riff, as if she was flipping through the radio dials and hence the schizophrenic nature of that song. There's a lot of, you know, allusions to some pretty famous rock tunes.

SIMON: Let's listen to some of what you went crazy with. This is, for many people, it's a signature song, "Climb Every Mountain."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN")

RUNDFUNK ORKESTRATA: (Singing) But got the armor that shoots you (unintelligible) so you can't, like you're supposed to honor that. (unintelligible) like the song track, (unintelligible) like the tower that smells so good (unintelligible). Climb every mountain, ford every stream...

SIMON: So, help us to understand the musical choices you made.

KEISEWALTER: So, I invited a wonderful Brooklyn-based MC named T.K. Wonder to come and, you know, expound on the themes of overcoming. And she wrote her own verses, and I included Oscar Hammerstein's original lyric and sprinkled it with a few light motifs by Richard Rodgers and really tried to go for an old-school hip-hop production on that one, and I think it turned out.

SIMON: "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" was voiced by a 17-year-old boy named Rolf who delivered messages from the Austrian version of Western Union to the Von Trapp household, sung to Liesl, the 16-year-old girl who's about to turn 17. And, you know, it's a song between two kids who are just exploring love. You've changed that a little.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SIXTEEN GOING ON SEVENTEEN")

RUNDFUNK ORKESTRATA: (Singing) I am 16 going on 17, I know that I'm naive. Fellows I meet, they tell me I'm sweet and willingly I believe. I am 16 going on 17...

KEISEWALTER: And so I definitely went with Julie Andrews' verse and changed the context of it entirely. And I imagined it being sung by a rabbi at maybe this young woman's bat mitzvah and imagined a surf rock band playing it in a sort of klezmer style.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SIXTEEN GOING ON SEVENTEEN")

RUNDFUNK ORKESTRATA: (Singing) And you may think this kind of adventure never may come to you. Darling, 16 going on 17, wait a year, I'll wait a year, I'll wait a year or two...

SIMON: Yep, entirely different image in my mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KEISEWALTER: Right.

SIMON: And you contacted the Rodgers and Hammerstein organization.

KEISEWALTER: No, I did not.

SIMON: Oh, they heard about what you were doing.

KEISEWALTER: Oh, they heard within minutes.

SIMON: They have people everywhere.

KEISEWALTER: You know, I'll tell you something, they have some souped-up version of Google alert or something because they are on. If you're singing more than four songs in the shower, they will (unintelligible)...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KEISEWALTER: They know what's going on.

SIMON: That would explain who took my conditioner. OK.

KEISEWALTER: So, when they heard about this show, they contacted me - that's the polite term for it. And...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KEISEWALTER: ...I met with them. And I've got to say, it's was great to meet real human beings behind a notoriously protective organization. And so I went to them and met and told them who I was and what I was doing, showed them charts and arrangements and played them some demos. And within a tune and a half, they said, listen, we love what you're doing, that your timing couldn't be better and go as crazy as you want with these arrangements. So, here I am 12 months later.

SIMON: Does anybody ever express an interest in booking your orchestra and do they wind up thinking that you're going to show up with a bunch of toe-headed kids in play clothes made out of the...

KEISEWALTER: We're about to see.

SIMON: Yeah, I'm sorry.

KEISEWALTER: You know, the album only comes out this month and my agents are booking shows beginning this fall. You know, it wouldn't surprise me if some people come to a theater somewhere expecting a production of this. But let me just say, we are not bringing sets. There aren't seven kids. There are no lederhosen. This is a rock band, and we're looking at these songs through the filter of rock and roll and R and B and hip-hop. So, if anyone's coming out to expect a theatrical production, you may as well stay home.

SIMON: Peter Keisewalter is the founding member of the Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata, and their new album, "The Hills are Alive," features their takes on songs from "The Sound of Music." You can hear more on our website, NPRMusic.org. Mr. Keisewalter, thanks so much.

KEISEWALTER: Thanks for having me today.

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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