Tag Archives: music

What Happens When Your Brain is an Mp3 Player

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My brain plays me music. Usually only when I want it to, but sometimes when I don’t. For me, it’s never a case of one song at a time. It’s always a plethora. Here’s the cacophony blaring inside my head at the moment:

“Poor. All my life I’ve always been poor…”

“…when everything else turns to grey.”

“The servant girl, she replied to the lord…”

“I’m through accepting limits ’cause someone says they’re so…”

“SUDDENLY SEYMOUR IS STANDING BESIDE YOU…”

“Say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out…”

“I’m on the (taaaaaaah) top of the world lookin’ (dooooooow) down on creation…”

“Dragons live forever, but not so little boys…”

“Someday, somewhere, we’ll find a new way of living…”

“I’ll come rollin’ home, when my rovin’ days are done…”

“I DON’T CARE WHAT THEY’RE GOING TO SAY…”

“And you throw your head back laughing like a (breath) little kid.”

“….the lovers, the dreamers, and me.”

(Comment below with the titles of the above mentioned songs for brownie points.)

Choices

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Tonight I had a choice.

Tonight I could write a long and clever blog post on any enthralling topic you might mention…

…or I could read a book for class, relax with some yoga and laughter with a friend, take a long hot shower, listen to some soothing music, and then watch Lindsey Sterling videos and feel as though I’ve accomplished nothing with my life–then write a blog post (with a deep feeling of inadequacy).

I chose option B, and I’m trying to convince myself that being a wanna-be writer is kind of cool, too.

A Few Things to Be Learned from the Opera

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  1. Understate absolutely nothing.
  2. It’s okay to be older than your father.
  3. Sing as loud as you want about your traitorous plot—even though everyone’s just in that temple over there, no one will hear you.
  4. If you want to endear yourself to your girlfriend’s father, try to avoid declaring war on him.
  5. Break dancing is actually totally acceptable.
  6. If he’s not into you, he’s not into you. Move on. There are plenty more hippos in the Nile.
  7. On that note, forbidden love. Let’s not. Kids, don’t try that at home.
  8. Apparently, the lower the voice, the greater the evil.
  9. Always wear epic outfits.
  10. There is no facial expression too ridiculous. If you’ve got to get that note out, get it out however you have to. It will sound absolutely lovely.  

And it did. 

The Bells of Notre Dame

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Time is short, and so is this post. 

The first thing that came to my head to write about was one of my favorite Disney movies. No, it’s not a princess movie, nor is it one of the more recent CG films they’ve made in response to the Pixar/Dreamworks competition. 

It’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame

I fell in love with this movie in high school when I saw it for the first time. The music swept me off my feet. If nothing else, I can recommend the soundtrack. Certain sections bring me to tears every time without fail. 

The film is a very, very Disneyfied version of the original Hugo Novel, but the villainy of the antagonist remains intact. In my opinion, for what it’s worth, the self-righteous and lecherous Judge Claude Frollo is the scariest of the Disney villains if only because he’s so realistic–people like him actually exist. Makes the story more compelling. 

And the protagonist, dear little Quasimodo, is one of the most adorable creatures you will ever lay eyes on. I don’t care if he’s deformed. He’s still adorable, and he carries the pathos of the plot capably on his broad, though slightly hunched, shoulders. 

There. A teeny-tiny film review. Worth every penny you paid for it, but it was all that came to mind tonight. 

Astonishing

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Tonight we rehearsed with the orchestra. That didn’t go as poorly as we all thought it would.

I’m still amazed that I’m in a musical.

Rehearsals are interesting for me. Rehearsals are where I can leave the real world alone for an hour or so and pretend to be someone else. Someone whose story has a clear path and an end. My path is not always clear. The end of my story is hidden by fog.

But during this hour or three, I let myself relax and become a part of the music. One of the songs is “Astonishing.” It’s Jo’s anthem. It’s the song she sings when she decides to…

…well, to do something. I’m mostly concerned with Meg’s motivation. Meg, the hopeless romantic who hates being a governess and really, really wants to get married. We are not at all alike. She does not have an anthem.

I wouldn’t mind having an anthem. I should write one. I’m a poet. I can do that.

Because life—my life—is astonishing. My life is not a musical. Sometimes I wish it was, but it isn’t. But every life is a song. Scratch that—each life is a symphony.

Even when you can’t hear it. Even the empty measures are there for a reason. And eventually it will all resolve under a final fermata, and I’ll walk away thinking, “Well, wasn’t that lovely?”

Yes. Yes, it will be lovely. 

Autumn! It Is Autumn!

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If you ever had a childhood, you probably watched cartoons and animated films. It’s likely that most of these cartoons were Disney products, since those tended to be the ones of the highest quality (and had the best marketing), but there have been a few put out by other animation studios that were of the same caliber. One such film is Thumbelina, an animated adaptation of the fairy tale by the same title, produced by 20th Century Fox in 1994.

Thumbelina is probably my favorite non-Disney animated film. The songs are excellent (it’s impossible not to like “Let Me Be Your Wings”), the animation is top-notch, and the story is about as emotionally believably as a fairy tale can get. It traces the story of a girl named Thumbelina, so named because she is as tall as a thumb. Her mother was childless and wanted a daughter very badly, so a fairy-godmother-figure gave her a magical seed. The seed grew into a flower, and when the flower opened, there was a tiny little girl hidden inside the petals—a fairy without wings. The years passed, the little girl grew up (as much as she can be said to grow up) to be very beautiful. Her beauty attracted the attention of a young frog, which fell in love with her and kidnapped her. The whole story traces her long journey back home, aided by a colorful cast of characters.

One such character is Jacquimo, the singing sparrow. He is probably the story’s most endearing character, since he is so instrumental in getting Thumbelina home, and has many memorable lines.

Every year, on the first day of fall, I think of this comical sparrow waking up in a pile of leaves, stunned by the sudden arrival of the new season. He looks past the fourth wall, exclaiming to the audience, “Autumn! It is Autumn!”

Today is the first day of fall. The sun shone differently today. The sky was bluer and crisp-looking, as though it had been washed of all the accumulated grunge of the summer and then ironed out and rehung above the clouds. The green of the leaves looked preemptively golden. The air felt newer today, and I knew for sure that fall is on its way.

Fall, and all the beautiful things that come with it.

Like that sparrow, I stepped out of my dorm and exclaimed in shock, “Autumn! It is Autumn!”

It’s finally here.  

Delighted

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Now for an update.

I promise, I’ll be back to poems and fiction and funny little essays tomorrow. But since I asked my lovely readers to pray for me, I figured I’d better follow up with the end result of their prayers.

Apparently God wants me in a musical, because I’m in one. This semester I will be taking the role of Meg March from the Broadway musical adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I’m so excited I can’t see straight.

There’s a funny story behind this role. Perhaps it’s only funny to me, but I’ll share it anyways. From my first semester onward, I have tried out for campus plays. Shakespeare productions, musicals, new plays, old plays, graduate projects—you name it, if there were tryouts, I was there. I’ve been in a play almost every semester of my college experience. I’ve been the ghost of an aborted baby, a big sister, a Breve-Bunny-buyer, Death, and a unicorn. Call me flexible.

The dream, though, was to be in a Shakespeare production. Did this happen? Nope. Why? Too few parts for the ladies, and the female roles always went to someone else.

My rant for the last three years of my life has been, “Man, they really ought to do something with a mostly female cast for once, just to give the girls on this campus a chance to be in something. They should do Little Women. That would fit the bill.”

So someone is directing Little Women.

And I’m in it.

Being in this production is an answer to my private prayers. I love acting, I’ve always wanted to be in a musical—but I never thought I’d get a chance to do it in college, and goodness knows all of my chances for being in one after college would be nonexistent. I had a desire in my heart that I couldn’t set on a shelf and forget about, and God chose to fulfill that desire instead of removing it. He does that kind of thing very often in my life. I am grateful beyond words.

As thrilled as I am (and believe me, I’m thrilled—I’ve walked up to total strangers and told them I made it into the production), I’m wondering if this will turn into a classic case of “Be careful what you wish for.” Not only must I sing and act, I must dance while singing and acting. I can’t even sing and walk up the stairs at the same time. Meg is a romantic role, which, um, I’m not used to—in plays, I’m always the unlovable villain or perpetually single unicorn. This role will stretch me, if not even throw me into a blender and pour me out an entirely new creation. It will be an exhausting, stretching, grueling, overwhelming experience.

I cannot wait to get started. 

Praise Poem

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Creator of all,

Both great things and small,

Your words brought me life

When death was my name—

In this world made of changes,

You’re always the same.

 

I have been hopeless;

My throat has been voiceless,

But now my poor tongue

Has a better employ—

For You are within me

The triumph of joy.

 

I’ll be a poet,

For You are a poet,

And I am Your poem,

Your handiwork,

Yours.

 

Give me a reason,

I’ll sing for a season—

For all that I am

Is a channel for You,

And all of your goodness

Comes barreling through.

 

Your words are the Light

That gave me my sight.

My tongue and my pen

Are Yours to command,

Reflecting the words

That have poured from Your hand.

 

I’ll be a poet,

For You are a poet,

And I am Your poem,

Your handiwork,

Yours.

A Word about the Carpenters

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Nothing says nostalgia like a song by the Carpenters.

I’m not a child of the late seventies or early eighties, despite what my wardrobe may tell you. My mother and father were, however, so naturally I’ve been accustomed to Karen’s melodious contralto for the better part of my life.

Until recently, however, I was only aware of the music the group had done for Christmas albums. If you haven’t heard her sing “Sleigh Bells,” you haven’t lived, I say. Last summer, while the Ramblers were on vacation and shoveling through a Wal-Mart five dollar CD bin, mother stumbled across an CD of a few of their hits and insisted we get it.

Funny how Karen Carpenter’s voice always reminds me of Christmas, even when she’s singing about a postman or a rainy Monday.

Their songs have a kind of untouched innocence about them that the rest of the seventies and eighties never considered important. Their songs give the impression, at least to me, that they never really tried to be more than what they were—a brother and a sister making music for the fun of it.

I love their music. It’s quickly becoming as much a part of my past as it is for my parents’. My only complaint is their overuse of the word “baby” as a term of endearment, but the same complaint can be made of every artist in the entire music industry, so it’s hardly singling them out for ridicule.

I can only wonder how their simple, untouched music became as popular as it is and was. There was nothing glamorous or edgy or world-rocking about it. Then again, perhaps that’s why. In a shifting, changing, edgy, dangerous world, doesn’t everyone want to take a moment from all the songs that blast their complaints about love and the world and listen to something—simple?

In case you were wondering if I was coming to some kind of ponderous conclusion, I’m not. I’ve just been listening to the CD we bought last summer as I drive to and from work every day. And throughout the day, the songs echo in my mind and remind me that despite the chaos surrounding me in my ever-changing world, I still have to be a human, doing my daily tasks, making my daily memories, and hoping that my life can be as simple and as beautiful as a song by The Carpenters. 

The Watermelon Waltz

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Pick a flower,

Any flower,

Take it to the Eiffel Tower

Squeeze a lemon, sweet or sour;

Whiff up the smelling salts—

It’s time that we were dancing to the watermelon waltz.

 

Need I ask it?

Take a basket,

Polish old Abe Lincoln’s casket,

Spruce it up and then re-task it,

Serve up some chocolate malts,

And then we’ll all be dancing to the watermelon waltz.

 

Quick! be nimble,

Grab a tibrel,

Swig some cider from a thimble,

Ring the bell and clang the cymbal—

The boy, he won’t play false,

So grab his hands and whirl into the watermelon waltz.

 

Summer pastry,

Berry pasty,

Bites of life are rather tasty,

Music that makes toesies hasty

Begins before it halts—

You’ll be delighted that you tried the watermelon waltz!

 

 

Montage

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Wouldn’t it be fabulous if you could take bits of memory—especially memories of fabulous, beautiful days—and string them together with the music you heard in your head as it was happening?

Maybe I should back up a bit at this point. Perhaps not everyone has music constantly running in their heads like I do. It’s a bit ridiculous to assume that everyone associates memories with music—but I know of a lot of people who do. I’m writing to those people tonight. You’ll know what I mean when I tell you the following stories:

Whenever I listen to Celtic Woman, I remember a drive that my four best friends and I took to the beach. It was a long drive, and it felt like we had an even longer drive back to the house where we were staying, since we felt all sunburned and sandy. But we listened to that music in the car and sang along, softly, and forevermore when I hear any of those songs I will remember those girls and smile.

High school was a very interesting period of time in my life (as I gather it is for most people). I knew such a variety of people—academic kids, athletic kids, spiritual kids, artistic kids, musical kids, kids who climb on rocks. One of my top ten favorite musicals is Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the opening number (“Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats”) gives a long list of all the different kinds of cats (“allegorical cats, metaphorical cats, skeptical cats, dyspeptical cats”), and every time I hear that song, a corresponding face of a high school buddy flashes across my mind. Or several faces at once—I knew a lot of skeptical people.

Once when I was in high school, a college student stayed in our house for four weeks in the summer while she finished the last college course she needed to graduate. This girl and I got to be very good friends in that time. She introduced me to the phenomenon of YouTube and to the musical Wicked. I was very sad when she left; but as she drove away, I heard the song “Defying Gravity” in my head. I think of her every time I hear that song, but I also remember listening to that song as I flew over the Atlantic to Croatia last year—a trip I made after a long and difficult school year. Now I have two memories attached to one song—one where my friend set off on her own fabulous journey, and one where I was literally and figuratively defying gravity myself.

But every year I make more friends and more memories. I learn new songs, and songs I’ve known for a long time gain new meaning.

And sometimes I wish I could string together pictures and memories into a montage—a physical one, not just the imaginary one in my brain. A video reel might do the trick, I suppose, but I doubt that anything I threw together would be able to communicate the joy of forging friendships with strangers like me. I could write about it, but it wouldn’t compare.

So I will listen to my music and hold my memories to my heart. And smile. 

The Originality Vampires

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There are pros and cons to getting a song stuck in your head.

The pro is, hey, you’ve got a song in your head. Cheaper than an iPod, right? If it’s a good song, having it linger in your brain all day is not a bad thing. Sure, you’ll probably hum it a bit, sticking it in other people’s heads while you’re at it—but if it’s a good song, you’re just spreading the love—as long as you’re spreading it among people with similar musical tastes, which admittedly is a bit tricky.

The con is—you’ve got a song in your head. Good or bad, it won’t leave. Whether it’s “All I Ask of You” or “The Hamster Dance,” it’s there and it’s there to stay for a while. Days. Weeks even. That songs, its chords, its tune, its words, its rhythmical patterns, its rhyme scheme, are all your subconscious mind can process.

So what happens when you sit down to write lyrics of your own? That’s right. You’re writing your words, but with the tune of that other song in your head. You catch yourself using the same rhyming words. Or worse, you come up with a clever way of communicating your thought, you’re very proud of yourself, and then you turn your radio on and realize that the thought was not your own and neither was the phrasing. Boom. You’re not as original as you thought you were.

This happens to the best of us. Arthur Freed, the producer of Singin’ in the Rain, wrote the lyrics and tunes for most of songs in his popular musical films. One song and dance number he was particularly proud of was “Make ‘Em Laugh,” a song paired with a clever slapstick routine by Donald O’Connor that appeared in Singin’. Trouble is, that song is nearly identical to another song by Irving Berlin called “Be a Clown,” which appeared in an earlier film. There was a minor hoopla and the threat of suit over the plagiarized song, but Irving Berlin did not press charges because he and Freed were such good friends—and he knew that Freed hadn’t copied the song deliberately. Like so many other clever songwriters, a snappy tune got stuck in his head, only to resurface years later in the man’s subconscious and reincarnate itself into another nearly identical song. It’s embarrassing. But it happens.

Likewise, I have been encountering this problem as I’ve jotted down potential song lyrics this week. The germ of the idea always stars when I get a tune in my head. But then, usually because I cannot remember the actual lyrics, I make up my own. They fit the song. I write them down. I build a whole new song around the rhythm and tune of that first line. I come up with some cool thoughts—but in the end, I feel like none of them are mine because none of them are truly original. The last poem I put on the blog was like that. Isn’t that a shame?

Songs are wonderful things. But occasionally, if they get stuck in your cerebral cortex for too long, they suck the originality right out of you head until you can’t write anything new anymore. Hence why the title of this post is “The Originality Vampires,” and hence why I’m writing this really long post instead of a song. 

Music of the Night

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There’s a thrill that comes from singing with friends.

Especially if you’re singing Disney songs. Very loudly. And off key. On the roof of your dormitory.

Serenading the very confused couples congregating on the sidewalk below who are wondering where the disembodied love songs are coming from.

Friday nights are meant for such nonsense.

I assure you that all we had consumed was popcorn.

I’m not sure what it is about standing around with a group of like-minded people, all of whom are equally exhausted and equally willing to laugh at just about anything—but craziness happens. And singing happens. And happiness happens.

And then, after one has completely blown one’s vocal cords, the only logical thing to do is to retreat to one’s room and listen to more epic love songs. And epic Disney songs. And epic Disney love songs.

Long week? What makes you think I’ve had a long week?

Suddenly, Magic

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Because there need to be more friendship poems in this world:

Suddenly, Magic

 

Once upon a time

I found myself a bit adrift

Needing just a little lift

To get me through another day.

Then the Music and the Rhyme

Asked if they could cut in—

Asked when the dance would begin—

Then how they blew me away!

 

And

Suddenly the magic

Came tumbling from our fingers:

Every melody that lingers,

And the gentle ebb and flow

Of where the harmony could go

Came and went just as it should—

Who could have dreamed we’d sound that good?

One more time

Let’s run it through—

Imagine all that we could do!

Just the Rhyme

And the Music

And me.

 

Now, I know it may seem strange,

But I felt a little scared

Because I never would have dared

To wish for magic before.

But this is such a welcome change

From the fear that blinded me.

And, boy, now that I can see,

I know I’m going back for more!

 

‘Cause

Suddenly the magic

Came tumbling from our fingers:

Every melody that lingers,

And the gentle ebb and flow

Of where the harmony could go

Came and went just as it should—

Who could have dreamed we’d sound that good?

One more time

Let’s run it through—

Imagine all that we could do!

Just the Rhyme

And the Music

And me.

 

Who would ever have guessed

In a hundred million years

That I could pack up all my fears

And learn to be myself again?

So now I’ll try my very best

To learn life’s melody by heart,

Playing each and every part,

And trading my “if” for a “when!”

 

For

Suddenly the magic

Came tumbling from our fingers:

Every melody that lingers,

And the gentle ebb and flow

Of where the harmony could go

Came and went just as it should—

Who could have dreamed we’d sound that good?

One more time

Let’s run it through—

Imagine all that we could do!

Just the Rhyme

And the Music

And me.