Recent Thanksgiving break activities have me thinking a lot about cover songs, cover bands, and the like. I would imagine that an artist or group would consider it an honor to have someone do a cover of one of their songs, or maybe they are offended by someone wanting to put out a "better" version of something they've already done. Despite the motives, I think its very interesting to hear different versions of the same songs, because it unleashes a new meaning to something that may appear to be rather static.
Everyone who hasn't been living under a rock knows who Rihanna is, and one of her more recent hits was the song "Rude Boy". I didn't initially know or understand what a rude boy was, until I was reminded by Destiny's Child in their song, "Soldier". I don't think it really matters anyway, because the song is catchy. In an effort to find a new ringtone I did a search for "classical pop music" in youtube, and the results included a group called Aston from Australia. This is a group of young musicians (21-23) who take top 40 hits and arrange them for strings and percussion. (This is totally what I thought I was going to do with my life, but it looks like they beat me to it.) "Rude Boy" is one of their top sells right now, and I can see why. The original by Rihanna is kind of in your face, hip, and makes you want to dance. Aston's version, to me, sounds a little retrospective, and I think that puts an interesting twist on the song. I imagine myself thinking back to my younger days when listening to this piece, and being THANKFUL for all the "rude boys" I let slip by. I can only wonder how Rihanna feels about this.
After my Thanksgiving in the San Gabriel Valley, we returned to Andy's brother's house, Brian, to a group of guys playing Rock Band. I'm not very sauvy on the game, but being the only musician in the room, I wasn't going to allow myself to be stood up. I started out simple by playing the bass parts, then to guitar, followed by drums, and ultimatly took the mic. Granted, I didn't know most of the songs, but one I did know was "You Oughta Know" by Alanis Morissette. I'm not claiming to have performed a great cover of this song (even though I was on the "hard" difficulty and scored a 94%, count it). I have to note, though, that the only reason I knew this song was through Beyonce's recent cover of the song. I'm biased, yes, but I do think Beyonce's is better. As I say that I have to wonder if this is only because I heard her's first.
This topic is relevant to classical music - I promise. I heard the LA Phil for the first time over the weekend (pictured below - I had pretty good seats. Thanks Shawn Mouser!) and fully enjoyed the performance. I sought out tickets to this specific concert because one of my all time faves, Hindemith, was being performed (Symphonic Metamorphosis on a Theme by Carl Maria von Weber).
Often times we know an original first, and then hear a cover. Well, I was introduced to this work through a Wind Ensemble transcription, and "bandstration". I'm sure many will disagree, but I think the band version is better! Don't get me wrong - the performance was top notch, but I think Hindemith would have better appreciated the exaggerated gestures a Wind Ensemble can produce from his piece, as opposed to an orchestra. A previous post discusses how I make up stories in my mind to go along with classical music. For this work, I think of a war. The first movement exhibits plans for battle, and the building of a machine. The second is a party full of the war generals, politicians, and the groupies. The third tells the story of the victims of this war, with the big flute solo representing an orphaned child. The last movement is the march to the battle field, and ultimate victory of the "good guys". I could still play that silent film in my mind while watching Salonen conduct the LA Phil, but the gestures only reminded me of my pre-conceived ideas. The opening string melody didn't sound as industrial as a group of woodwinds doing it. The chaos at the party wasn't as roucous with the smaller brass section (even though the timpani player in the LA Phil blew me away in this section), and the vengeance in the hearts of the soldiers marching into battle, in my opinion, was a little soft, as compared to the band orchestration. Again, it was a blast hearing such a great orchestra play such a great work, but I guess my ideas of the piece have been skewed (or brought to life) by the Wind Ensemble rendition. I have to give props to the North Texas Wind Ensemble, because I think they have the best recording.
Are there cover songs you like better than originals? Do you think it matters which you hear first? Do you think the original artists like it, dislike it, or even care? From an artistic point of view, I don't think I could say either way. Personally I enjoy hearing music through difference voices. In todays world, however, money drives the music (often times) more than the music itself, so I'm sure Whitney Houston's version of "I Will Always Love You" was totally fine by its original singer, Dolly Parton.
This past weekend I was priviledged enough to get a gig (which apparently a big deal in Los Angeles within itself) playing with the Caltech-Occidental Symphony in Pasadena. These two schools don't have enough musicians to have separate orchestras, so they share one, and hire out for the holes in the ensemble based on the literature being performed. I was on contrabassoon. The major work on the program was the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1. It was a great piece of music, and its third movement reminded of the life Shostakovich had to live, and how that might not be completely different than any of us.
This Russian composer came up through the music world after some of the Russian greats, including Stravinsky and Prokofiev. His music was inspired by many of their styles, including neo-classical and romantacism, and the mixing of these two styles is most clearly seen in his "Lady Macbeth". Critics influenced by Stalin publically condemned that piece, and in Shostakovich's eyes, that was a death sentence. Under Stalin's regime a secret branch of the police would go out in the late hours of the night, arrest people at their homes that were not found favorable to the governing powers, and they would disappear forever, usually killed. With one of his major works described as "vulgar" by the government, he figured his time was coming, and a suitcase was always packed in his apartment in preparation for that midnight knock at the door. He didn't die until 1975 (lung cancer), but the thought of death being so close for him is said to have driven him mad.
As I performed his Violin Concerto, I thought about what could be in store for me, or any of us. The research I'm doing on the Wind Ensemble coupled with the other projects I have has me thinking a lot about my future, and if I'm preparing for it. As musicians (and even in other fields), our fate lies in a single audition, or interview. So many years of study, practice, and hope lead up to every single one of those, so how do we know if we are, like Shostakovich, packing a suitcase in vain? I think it's important to understand, though, that he continued composing through this time, and it is this music that's most memorable to audiences today. Maybe the mental struggle made his music better. They say that grapes that have to grow out of dry, rugged earth make the best wine.
As we study, practice, prepare for interviews, and make hopes for the future, I think we have to be prepared. I wouldn't go as far as saying that we all need to prepare for a midnight knock at the door (probably by a repo man or landlord, haha) as much as I'm saying that we need to press through the difficult things in order to produce something great. From coal comes diamonds, after all.
Everything we do in preparation for the future may very well be in vain. Not every musician wins an orchestral audition. Not all lawyers find work in the fields they want to, and teachers are even getting laid off in school districts across the country these days, but we have to press forward. If you know me, you probably know that "The Matrix" is one of my favorite movies. In the second film in the trilogy, Morpheus gives the following quote, and I think it's interesting to tie in with our futures, and the "what ifs" of life.
"...tomorrow we may all be dead, but how would that be different from any other day? This is a war, and we are soldiers. Death can come for us at any time, in any place. Now consider the alternative. What if I am right? What if the prophecy is true? What if tomorrow the war could be over? Isn't that worth fighting for? Isn't that worth dying for?"
Listening to: Aston - Bullet Proof (cover)
For those of you interested, I'm posting my research project abtract along with the presentation I did in class this week. I took out the pictures for easier viewing. Sorry for the half-ass post, but I think this is relevant to musicians and music-lovers of all kinds!
It's been a while since I've posted to this blog, and school is to blame. Don't get me wrong, I am truly enjoying the many musical opportunities I'm getting here in Los Angeles, but lately I've barely had time for myself, much less anything else! That coupled with getting less than a decent night's sleep leaves me waking up in the morning not quite feeling like P. Diddy, in the words of one of Andy's favorite pop artists. None the less, my job has slowed down, as has the semester, so I should be getting back to doing this on an almost daily basis. About a week ago my partner, Andy came out for one of his bi-monthly visits. Despite my head being caught up in my job, papers, practice, performances, and the like, I decided to push it all aside for the weekend so that I could make the most of his visit. It turned out to be a good decision.
Being a student at USC does mean living in Los Angeles, but only geographically. The situation runs parallel, I think, to a song written by Charles Ives (a song that I love) titled "The Cage":
A leopard went around his cage
from one side back to the other side;
he stopped only when the keeper came around with meat;
A boy who had been there three hours
began to wonder, "Is life anything like that?"
Yes little boy, life is something like that. Since I've been here I can count the number of times I've done "touristy" things, like going to the beach and seeing some of the other sights, and Andy's visit gave me a reason to do some of those things. Southern California is nothing new to him - he did his undergraduate at Pepperdine, but coming out here is still something out of the ordinary for him. From traveling down to Del Mar and sitting on the cool beach, to partying in WeHo, I got to experience some of Los Angeles through him, and it awakened my senses. It's common for people to say "wake up and smell the coffee", but on his visit, I woke up and smelled the sand.
Music has gone through a few awakenings in the past, and specific composers have captured their art through personal muses. One that comes to mind for me is Vivaldi, nicknamed "the red priest". Every bassoonist knows this composer for his numerous bassoon concerti, but we all are familiar with his "Four Seasons", specifically the "Spring" movement:
In a nutshell, Vivaldi was a teacher and composer, and wrote many of his works for the all-female music ensemble of the Ospedale della Pietà, which was an orphanage. He may have just been in it for the money (and if so, I can't say that I blame him), but I would like to believe that he wrote this music specifically for the purpose of enlightening those young girls, serving as a muse. For a young girl who seems to have nothing, music creates an outlet to something larger than us all.
As you're going through your days, weeks, months, and years, escape from "The Cage" you're pacing in and find your muse. Get in touch with that person, place, thing, or idea that unleashes your thoughts, and gives you a break from waiting around for another proverbial hunk of meat. "The Seasons" in your life may not always be set on spring, but it's always good to set everything down and smell the roses, coffee, or in my case, sand. As my life rolls on, I think more and more about how thankful I am for finding my "awesome" personal muse.
Listening to: Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1
With mid-term elections coming up I thought it would be appropriate for me to have a sort of political post. The two major political parties of this country run everything and duke it out on a daily basis via television commercials, radio ads, and the like. Personally, I don't strictly associate myself with a specific party, but rather as a progressive. Everything in life is evolving and progressing, and I don't think political and social beliefs are an exception. Originally from the south, I am aware of the lack of progression in many of the social arenas of today's society. There was once a time (not as long ago as you may think) where inter-racial dating and marriage was illegal. Right now the battle on same-sex marriage and gay rights is hitting head lines. If you think about it, so many components of life undergo progression without as much as a peep of opposition. Whether it's fashion, transportation, or even the way we eat, I think change and evolution is inevitable for everything. The big thing I spent this weekend thinking about, however, was the progression of music.
On Friday I went to a baroque oboe recital, which included theorbo, baroque guitar, viola da gamba, and baroque cello. The sound of most of these instruments was recognizable, but it was very interesting to hear how the sound of the oboe has changed over the centuries. There were many sounds that today's music audiences would consider "bad", or simply wouldn't understand. There were other things, though, that could be heard as an older version of what exists today. Personally, I enjoy the sound of the modern instruments much more, because I am a progressive.
Yesterday I was invited to a chamber music concert by my teacher at the Los Angeles County Museum, and I enjoyed it very much. The two major works on the concert were a Beethoven quintet and a Poulenc sextet. If you've listened and performed Beethoven, his wind music can sound pretty predictable, but it was done very tastefully and artfully. The Poulenc, which is a 20th century work, was less predictable, but contained many of the same qualities of the Beethoven. I think it was important for the two works to be performed in that order so that the audience could hear the progression of this style of chamber music over the centuries.
I may be a little biased (my car insurance is even with Progressive), and I don't bash the beliefs of other people, but I am definitely amongst those who believe in change and evolution. I hope everyone goes out and votes tomorrow, and despite your political persuasion, consider the aspects of your life influenced by change, and see if that thought has a place in the selections you make in the booth. I can't reference specific California issues because I still consider myself new here, so I'll just see what Stephen Colbert has to say and go along with that...haha