Music Appreciation: At the Gala by Daniel Ingram

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Can you believe it’s April already? We’re already a quarter of the way through 2015. Where does the time go?

I thought I’d do something a little different for this post. I’d like to discuss “At the Gala” by Daniel Ingram (music), Amy Keating Rogers (lyrics) and Steffan Andrews (orchestration). This piece is from the episode “The Best Night Ever” (season 1, episode 26) from the show My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. As you listen, see if you can identify which musical they pay homage to here. Bonus points if you can name specifically which song from that musical.

 

 

After Spike expresses his admiration for his pony friends, we get a magical-sounding intro from the strings and chimes, accentuated by trumpets (and fireworks!). Twilight Sparkle’s line says it all – they’ve been anticipating this night so much it’s sure to be the Best! Night! Ever!

Fluttershy starts the first verse, singing about all the wonderful new animal friends she’ll meet (0:22). This is a pony who has befriended a manticore and cowed a cockatrice, so she’s certain she’ll love (and be loved by) all the animals. The melody here is engaging, with two halves of five lines each. The ending of each is a bit different from the other, as one leads into the second half and the other finishes out the verse on a strong note. We have a Greek chorus in the background, offering commentary on what the main character is saying.

The Mane Six

The Mane Six

Next up is Applejack (0:45), who hopes to sell her baked goods in order to raise money for her family. Already, the songwriters have changed things up a little. Instead of two sections of lines like Fluttershy, she has one six-line verse. The melody is mostly the same as before, just condensed a bit. The chorus plays a bigger role here, commenting after most of Applejack’s lines. After her verse, the chorus has a longer interlude (0:58) to usher in our next pony.

Ah, the ever elegant Rarity (1:08), who longs to meet a prince. The structure here goes back closer to Fluttershy’s verse, but the key and overall feeling have changed. Rarity’s verse is more subdued, which fits the sophistication of her scene. The accompaniment has more of a feeling of a string quartet than the previous verses’ fuller backgrounds.

The chorus has another interlude at 1:25, followed by a fanfare by the trumpets at 1:35. This takes us in an entirely new direction for Rainbow Dash’s verse (1:41). Rainbow isn’t into that showtune stuff, and she certainly doesn’t care about the hoity-toity types at the party. Her verse reflects that, changing into a rock feel. The drums are more prevalent here with a groovin’ beat underneath. Notice, though, that there’s still a high string line flying around. It adds to feeling of the Wonderbolts zooming around the stands, showing off their amazing flying skills. The chorus enters at 1:58, bringing us back for a bit to the original feel of the song.

We only stay in the original style for the interlude. The next verse takes things in a different direction because, well, it’s Pinkie Pie and she marches to the beat of her own drummer (2:08).  Pinkie lives for parties, so being at the Gala is a huge deal for her. I love the chord progression from 2:16 to 2:20; it’s different enough from what we’ve heard previously to catch your ear. The chorus pipes up with a short statement at 2:25 to usher in our last pony.

At 2:29, we hint back at the magical intro as we go into the final verse of the piece. Twilight Sparkle’s verse also goes back to the beginning, sounding more like Fluttershy and Applejack with her melody and line structure (2:33). There is a small alteration to the tune that I think works very well here and is one of my favorite little snippets of the song (2:37). She is looking forward to spending time with Princess Celestia, her mentor. The chorus is back with commentary for this verse.

The chorus has its moment beginning at 2:50, the coda (closing section) of the piece. If you’ve listened to their lyrics throughout the song, you’ll notice that it’s not just the Mane Six who have high hopes for the evening. The chorus lets us know that they’re also looking forward to a wonderful night. At 3:02, the Mane Six reiterate their goals for the evening, in order of their verses. If you haven’t yet figured out which musical they’re honoring, this bit should give you a huge clue. Then the chorus joins back in with one last finishing statement (and more fireworks!)

[Can I just say that I’m totally jealous of the folks who got to be in the chorus for this? I’d love to be a singing voice for a cartoon!]

So did you figure out that this song is an homage to Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods? In particular, the song “Ever After” (which was sadly omitted in the recent movie). So you’ll have to go to the original Broadway cast for the song. While “At the Gala” has the characters talking about what they wish for, “Ever After” deals with the characters having just gotten all their wishes. But both the episode and Into the Woods deal with not only wishing for something, but the consequence of the wish.

Curious as to whether the ponies really do have the Best Night Ever? Let Pinkie Pie tell you all about it (I find the Rarity and Fluttershy parts particularly amusing).

While I had caught a few episodes before first seeing this, this episode cemented my love for the show. Any cartoon that pays homage to Stephen Sondheim (especially Into the Woods) is a winner in my book. I loved MLP growing up (I was in the target audience when they first came on the scene in the 1980s), and I feel they’ve done a great job rebooting the franchise with the quality of the cartoon. It’s not just for kids.

Oh, and watch out as you surf the internet today. The web can be a crazy place on April Fool’s Day!

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