To remember:

The sky was up to all kinds of dramatic shenanigans as I was walking the dog this morning. It was overcast, as it so often is in this corner of the continent, but the sun was just rising and for a fleeting moment it found a window and shone underneath the cloud cover. It turned West Van golden, made the ships out on the water glow, and lit up the top of a single yellow tree like it was on fire.

Wow, I thought, this can’t get any lovelier, and then all of a sudden there was a rainbow right in front of me, full arc, crossing the entire sky.

Sometimes nature in Vancouver really doesn’t know when to quit. Get yer gilded lilies right here, folks!

I thought, Huh, it must be raining west of us for there to be a rainbow, and within seconds the sky opened up and it started raining on us. The rainbow and transcendent illumination vanished, and my dog – whose jacket I’d forgotten – started pulling urgently on the leash, trying to run home.

That was all par for the October morning course, though. The thing I don’t want to forget is that I was listening to “Crush” by DMB, and thinking that that’s the song my Journal of Crackpot Musicology ought to tackle next. I have anecdotes dating back to Amy Unbounded, and of course your usual delicious ration of half-baked analysis. Tune in soon*!

*”Soon” is always measured on a geologic time scale around here, of course.


Safe to Write

(Another bit of silly filking for your amusement)

You can write if you want to,
You can leave your words behind.
Jot ’em, ripe or green,
By hand or by machine,
And everything will work out fine.

You can write where you want to,
Someplace where they will never find,
Or teach yourself to fly
And write it in the sky,
And leave your critics far behind.

You can write, you can write,
It’s ok if you look like a fright
(Just look at me, now)
You can write, you can write,
Dawn or dusk, noonday or night,
It’s safe to write!

(écrivez!)

You can write what you want to,
If you don’t, nobody will.
You can coin new words
And make ’em all absurd
And then laugh like a burzbagill!

You can write if you want to,
You can read your words aloud,
You can hold it all in
Or whisper to the wind,
In any case you should be proud.

You can write, you can write,
Ponderous or silly and light
(Just look at me, now!)
You can write, you can write,
I struggle, but it’s well worth the fight.

It’s safe to write.


Rebuild the Wall

Do you like Pink Floyd? Do you like bluegrass music? Have you ever said to yourself, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if someone combined the two?”

No? Me neither. That’s why I’ve been totally surprised by the awesome that is “Rebuild the Wall” by Luther Wright and the Wrongs. Here’s one of my favourite songs (and one of the most unrecognizable, in bluegrass form) —

Covers can be hit or miss, I know. We were discussing this with friends over the weekend, how the best covers don’t just give you a new insight into the original but make you glad they exist in their own right. That’s how I feel about this album. (And those of you worried about how cringeworthy “In the Flesh Part 2” is going to sound in a southern accent, they solve that problem rather elegantly, I think, with some judicious lyric alterations.)

In the course of that discussion, our friends introduced us to the Scissors Sisters’ disco version of “Comfortably Numb,” which is also well worth your attention:

AHAHAHAHAHA!

There you go. A good laugh in the morning makes the whole day worthwhile.
 


Shadow Scale sample chapters, and a song

Random House Kids have posted the first few chapters of Shadow Scale at Scribd, and they’re available for free! I encourage you to go check ’em out. Of course, this little taste might merely be more frustrating than anything else. It’s still a bit of a wait until the book comes out.

To help pass the time, here’s one of the bands I went to see last night:

They even played this song, which is one of my favourites. It’s in Norwegian, but the band is actually from the Faroe Islands. Sometimes they sing in Faroese. Sometimes they even wear shirts. Well, a few of them do, anyway. It’s possible the band only owns a couple between them, and they have to share.

Edited to add: Hat tip and thanks to Ms. Carina Olson, who brought the sample pages to my attention yesterday, and who has written this very nice blog post after re-reading Seraphina. She also appears to be Norwegian — that’s apparently the theme for today!


I Eat at Chez Nous: a YES Sandwich with a Glass of Wine

Here it is, at long last: the post wherein I finally compare a YES song to a sandwich. I have carefully considered which song to use; I wanted something representative, something long and complicated and full of whales YES-ness. Well, I found it. Those of you who are nerdy brave enough to handle it, join me below the fold at my favourite YES-centric eatery: Chez Nous.

The rest of you may want a real sandwich, after all this. Anything with melted cheese sounds good about now.

Read the rest of this entry »


Gathering the ingredients

So here’s my next bit of YES analysis, longer and – if I may flatter myself – even more tedious than the last instalment. I try to live by the immortal words of Dogberry, from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing: “If I were as tedious as a king, I would give everything to you, your Worship.”

You may not want it all, of course. If you need to go trim your toenails, I won’t be offended. I totally understand.

Read the rest of this entry »


Caesura

I am getting the next YES post written, but it’s turning out long and my life seems to be entirely interrupt-driven these days. Today was our first day of school – YAY – but school only lasted an hour – BOO – and parents were supposed to stay at the school for French Immersion orientation – OOPS – and now we have a laundry list of school supplies to buy – YAY? – and I’m already fretting about travel at the end of the week – EEK – but I’m still planning to get this done tomorrow or Weds – HUZZAH.

But you see how it is. Constant. Interrupt.

To tide you over, here’s Chris Squire, bass player for YES and arguably my favourite member, playing the first two songs from his solo album Fish Out of Water. The second song, in particular, has a wonderful basso ostinato line under the flute solo, which gives it a pleasantly Baroque flavour.

I, uh, can offer no excuse for the kimono (and I’d love to learn it’s a lady’s kimono, because that would somehow serve him right). I’d protest that it’s better than Wakeman’s gold cape, except it really isn’t. I try to pretend it isn’t there.


Prelude to a sandwich

I’ve been threatening for some time to compare the band YES to a sandwich.

It turns out to be harder than I first thought, not because the comparison isn’t apt but because I seem to have rather a lot to say about YES (not as much about sandwiches, but that might change if I really get going).

This has made it tricky to get started. I’m not quite convinced that my yammerings about YES are anything the world has been waiting desperately to hear. However, I seem desperate to yammer, and I’m thinking I should finally get it out of my system so I can move on to other things. This is going to be too long; didn’t read for most of you, and that’s ok. You could go take a nap instead. I think you’ve earned it.

The rest of you intrepid villains may follow me under the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »


If it ain’t Baroque…

My son has just started guitar lessons again after taking the summer off. His old teacher left to pursue a PhD, but we’ve found a new teacher who can teach both electric (heavy metal) and classical. If it were up to B, of course, he’d be all Metallica all the time, but we mean parents like him to have some variety of technique.

This is the long way around to what I really want to talk about, which is Baroque music. B’s new classical piece is “Agitato” by Mauro Giuliani. Here’s a very serious dude playing the song in outer space:

(I love how he maintains that absolute deadpan face while galaxies swirl out of control behind him. Also: well played, serious dude!)

Anyway, this song is simultaneously easy and challenging for B. Easy because the rhythm is very regular and there aren’t a lot of position changes, challenging because there are a lot of accidentals. The thing is, the accidentals are absolutely predictable if you’re familiar with Baroque music. Every time B gets stuck, or plays a wrong note, I’m able to sing the correct note for him — and not because I’m already familiar with the piece. I’ve now listened to Mr. Deadpan’s performance about six times, but before that I really wasn’t familiar with this.

But this is either the beauty or the tedium of Baroque music (depending whom you ask) — composers had essentially just invented the circle of fifths, and they liked to ride that thing like a merry-go-round. I enjoy it. I find it soothing. Back when I played cello, I used to rank Baroque composers by how predictable they were. Bach is one of the all-time greats because he’ll surprise you; Vivaldi, on the other hand, really only ever wrote one song, in my opinion. Kind of like Boston. You can turn “More Than a Feeling” into “Foreplay/Long Time” without breaking a sweat.

Which is not to say I don’t enjoy Vivaldi. I totally do, and – who am I kidding? – Boston, too.

Handel was always my favourite Baroque composer. He seems predictable until you actually have to learn the parts, and then you realize he’s way weirder than you ever imagined.

Here’s another of my favourites, though, and it’s about as predictable as they come: Corelli’s Christmas Concerto. It got a lot of play at home when I was a kid, and I’ve performed in it as well.

YE GODS, IS THAT AN ARCHLUTE?? Actually, it’s probably a Baroque tenor lute, but still! We didn’t have no stinkin’ lute in my university orchestra, more’s the pity. Anyway, I think I should make B listen to this. It’s got all the best Baroque tropes, used to good effect.


Shostakovich’s Fifth

An astute reader recently asked me whether I’d had a particular song in mind for the “Invocation” Seraphina plays at Prince Rufus’s funeral. I did, in fact: there’s a moment late in the first movement of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 where a flute plays a plaintive melody, echoed by French horn.

If you’re not familiar with Shostakovich’s Fifth, here’s a decent interpretation by our old friend Lenny Bernstein:

If you’re the impatient sort, the flute/French horn duet is at about 14:00. That said, I really think you should listen to everything that comes before it, rather than skipping ahead. It’s so much more beautiful if you’ve suffered through endured fully experienced the music that came before. It’s actually quite an easy listen for a 20th century composer. I almost wonder, as I’m listening again (for the billionth time in the last two weeks) whether someone like John Williams didn’t find influences and inspirations here for the Star Wars soundtrack. It’s that level of listenable, is all I’m saying, full of grandeur and drama, always in motion. Also, Lenny is fun to watch. He’s got kind of a Peter Falk thing going on sometimes, which amuses me.

This symphony, along with Brahms’s 4th, was my go-to music for writing when I was a teenager. I would sit on the couch with headphones on and scrawl terrible, terrible fantasy novels in spiral notebooks. I hardly dare describe how terrible they were, but the music that fuelled them was not. One thing I love about this piece is that it has a bit of everything: anguish, hope, terror, beauty. There’s a diabolical march at 10:54 that gives me chills. I had better stop enumerating all my chills right there; there’s really no point counting. I’ve got chills enough for an influenza epidemic.

Also worth knowing is the history of this piece. It gets its own Wikipedia entry. The short version: Shostakovich fell from political grace – a dangerous thing to do in Stalin’s USSR – and this symphony is his attempt to give the Party the kind of inspirational, uplifting,”classical heroism” they demanded.

Or is it? Did Shostakovich comply, or not? How do we know what a piece of orchestral music really “means”? Is meaning something the listener brings to music, or something the composer puts in it? What about Lenny, what’s his role? How much does the artist create for himself, and how much for others? It’s fascinating to me how many layers there are.