There Were Penguins in the Opera House

By Louise Frank |

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Corky Siegel – the internationally acclaimed harmonica virtuoso, pianist, singer, composer, and musical alchemist whose signature blend of blues and classical has captivated audiences for over fifty years – wants to invite you into his living room.

Since sheltering at home, Corky and his wife and collaborator-in-chief, Holly, have presented Life’s Dream, a live-streamed series of songs and stories, usually every Tuesday and Thursday at 11:20 am CT.

They recently looked back to There Were Penguins in the Opera House, a poem Corky wrote “in the ’70s or ’80s.” In the early 1990s, Corky asked his friend Hans Wurman, (the mad genius behind Moog Strikes Bach and other electronic renditions of classical melodies,) to set the text to music. Corky and his group Chamber Blues recorded the piece at Chicago’s famed Universal Recording studio in 1994.

In the mid-1960s, conductor Seiji Ozawa invited Corky and Jim Schwall to “sit in with my band.” The result, William Russo’s genre-mixing Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra, became one of Deutsche Grammophon’s best selling recordings when the Seigel-Schwall Band performed it with the San Francisco Symphony. They played the piece many times with different orchestras, and Corky has been exploring the common ground between the two musical styles ever since.

RELATED: Corky Siegel at 75: The Future Is an Unopened Present

Corky tells WFMT his vision for There Were Penguins in the Opera House was “a symphony orchestra looking like penguins in their tuxedos and people in the audience looking like penguins in their tuxedos and the people wearing minks and sables in the audience.” And he recalls Seiji wanting to ask the orchestra members to dress in blues jeans as a means to alleviate that impression of stiffness.

Holly and Corky always loved the poem and what Hans was able to do with it (“he also played the piano lick on the piece.”) So, Holly – a gifted illustrator, and the iPhone videographer for all their Life’s Dream live-streams – created the whimsical drawings, and Corky edited the video.

Enjoy these other performances featuring Corky Siegel below, or visit his YouTube Channel for more videos.

The Siegel-Schwall Band performs William Russo’s Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops


Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues perform Angel Food Cake