Sellwood residents perform at Oaks Pioneer Church

See why this particular “tiny church” was the perfect venue for this special evening of cabaret entertainment …

Earlier in November, accordionist Kathy Fors, Barbara Bernstein on violin, singer Lisa Berksom Platt string bass player Jamie Leopold, as “Padam Padam” bring an evening of French cabaret music to the Oaks Pioneer Church.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Although music frequently accompanies weddings and other social events held at historic Oaks Pioneer Church in Sellwood – built in 1851, and now perched on a grassy hillside within view of the Willamette River – it’s never been the venue for a concert.

“I’ve been told it’s been their dream to host live music here,” said composer, and musician with the group “Padam Padam”, Barbara Bernstein, “it’s never happened until tonight.”

Bernstein, nationally known as a radio documentary producer and locally as a talk show radio host, told us she lives just around the corner and has walked three different dogs of hers past the church and down to the trail below. “I always thought this would be a really sweet place to play.”

Barbara Bernstein says each member of the group adds to the diversity of the music they perform.

Group has Inner SE Portland ties
Although the group has performed together for only about three years, it has gained a national reputation. And three of the four current members of Padam Padam are, or have been, East Portland residents.

The group’s accordionist, Kathy Fors, lives the Brooklyn neighborhood. The utility player, Jamie Leopold, featured on keyboard, string bass and guitar, grew up in Buckman, and now lives in Irvington. “Our vocalist, Lisa Berksom Platt, lives in the West Hills,” quipped Bernstein, “but we forgive her for that!”

While Barbara Bernstein plays, Lisa Berksom Platt sings the song for which their group is named, “Padam Padam”.

Performing songs of passion, with passion
“Padam, Padam”, which roughly translated means “the sound of the clock in the little French salon”, is the title of a sad, haunting song written and performed by a famous French cabaret singer who performed from the 1930s to 1960s, Edith Piaf.

“It’s one of our main songs,” Bernstein explained. “It’s fitting for us, because we perform songs of passion, in a European cabaret style. We mix in tangos, Mexican and klezmer music with our original songs.”

Picking up her guitar, Barbara Bernstein and Lisa Berksom Platt sing one of Bernstein’s original songs.

Essence from another universe
The group agreed that on “bad days”, playing music feels like a mechanical job. “But when we’re playing together, especially with a good group like this, it’s like we merge into a single soul,” rhapsodized Bernstein. “It’s like you’re channeling the music from someplace else; someplace special.”

But it’s not magic, she continued – there is lot of work involved, and the group puts in quite a bit of rehearsal time and “wood-shedding”. “But when things are working; the harmonies are right, and you’re locked in rhythmically and in phrasing, it feels like it’s an essence from another universe that’s landed here.”

Indeed, at the Oaks Pioneer Church, November 7 must have been one of those “good nights” – the music of Padam Padam was harmonious and soulful, and enchanted the audience well into the evening hours.

Hear some of their music, and learn more about the group, by visiting their web site by CLICKING HERE.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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