What’s playing at Tonal Diversions – June 2016

It’s the end of June already! How did that happen? Time for another segment of “What’s playing?”

(Time for the disclaimer: I don’t have any affiliation with these artists or authors. I checked the albums and book out from my library and want to chat about them)

“Hamilton” by Lin-Manuel Miranda

It’s the musical everyone’s talking about: “Hamilton.” While I haven’t seen the show, I did check out the cast album. I’m not usually a big fan of hip hop/rap, but it really does work with this show. Unsurprisingly, though, a couple of my favorites on the album were more traditional Broadway-style songs. I listened to this in the car and was essentially flying blind in that I didn’t have a song list, lyrics, or synopsis to prep me for anything. Due to that, “You’ll Be Back” (sung by Jonathan Groff) cracked me up when I realized just what the song was about. At the other end of the emotional scale, “Burn” (sung by Phillipa Soo) broke my heart.

If you haven’t seen James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke,” I recommend his Broadway version (especially the Les Mis section at the end!)

“Violet” by Jeanine Tesori

I’m a fan of both Jeanine Tesori and Sutton Foster. I first heard mention of the show “Violet” when I got to hear Sutton Foster in concert in Chicago a few years ago. Foster’s album “Wish” has a solo version of the song “On My Way,” which is from “Violet.” That show got a Broadway revival in 2014, and I finally got my hands on the full album. I really enjoyed it. Of course I liked “On My Way,” and I was really impressed with the actress who played young Violet. One of the other standout songs for me is “Luck of the Draw.”

Here’s a clip of the cast singing on the Today show.

“Phone Power” by They Might Be Giants

Ah, TMBG, how fun you are! They’ve still got it. Like with Hamilton, I was flying blind on this one in terms of titles and lyrics. This time it was the song “Shape Shifter” that gave me a good chuckle, especially since I hadn’t known the title beforehand. “I Love You for Psychological Reasons” is catchy and fun. Two songs in particular (“I Am Alone” and “Sold My Mind to the Kremlin”) feel like the embodiment of TMBG.

“Why You Love Music” by John Powell

Now we’ll switch gears to print media. This title came across my desk at work and I knew I had to check it out. I’m about halfway through and have found it very interesting. Powell talks about how music interacts with our brains. Some of this I’ve known (or suspected, even if I couldn’t articulate it) and some took me by surprise (how music can affect how we perceive wine to taste, or even which wine we buy). I’m looking forward to the rest of the book.

Lori with most of her summer band gear

Lori with her usual summer band gear

Part of what caught my attention when I first saw the book was the top lines of the back cover: “Did you know that… carrying a musical instrument makes you more attractive?” I had to laugh, because they must be talking about guitars or something. I’m not sure that being in my summer band polo shirt, hair in a ponytail, with a bass clarinet case strapped to my back and carrying a drum stool and a bag of music really ups my attractiveness level. I have a concert on Sunday– maybe I’ll have someone get a pic of me and let my readers decide 😉

That’s what I’ve been listening to and reading lately. Have a good summer and I’ll see you again soon!

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Music Appreciation: The Flim Flam Cider Song by Daniel Ingram

Seeing that the grand day of silliness is upon us again, I had to take a quick trip back to Equestria for this post. This time we’ll listen to “The Flim Flam Cider Song,” music by Daniel Ingram, lyrics by Ingram and M.A. Larson, and orchestration by Steffan Andrews. We hear this song in season 2, episode 15 of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (“The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000”).

I’m not going to do a second-by-second analysis for this one. Instead, I’d like to talk a bit about how this song relates to the song it pays homage to: “Ya Got Trouble” from The Music Man (music and lyrics by Meredith Willson). The Music Man is a classic Broadway show and one of my favorites, so I recognized immediately that that’s what the MLP folks were going for.

 


First of all, the setting: Both versions deal with fast-talking traveling salesmen visiting a small town. They try to hoodwink the townspeople (or ponies) into their respective scams. For Professor Harold Hill, it’s buying instruments and uniforms for a boys’ band. For Flim and Flam, it’s a contraption meant for speeding up the process of making apple cider.

Now, the songs: The primary similarity is that they’re both patter songs. In a nutshell, a patter song is a type of song that relies on lots of words at a high speed. “Ya Got Trouble” is one of the most well-known, along with the “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” by Gilbert and Sullivan. Rock bands have had fun with patter songs as well. I’m a fan of “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies (though I’m now feeling old because that song came out almost 20 years ago – yikes!)

The Flim Flam brothers, traveling salesponies

The Flim Flam brothers, traveling salesponies

Notice also how the lead singers interact with the crowds and how the crowd joins in the song. In the “Cider” song, the ponies sing along with the melody, whereas in “Trouble” they act as an echo. So while it’s slightly different, it leads to the same effect of getting swept up in the swindlers’ spiels.

The “Cider” song makes sure to include a nod to the most iconic part of “Trouble” – the chant. The townsfolk are so enamored by the stranger they start chanting, egging the stranger on. Others have paid homage to this sequence, most notably the Simpsons and their monorail song.

What are your favorite patter songs? Have you heard any other tributes to “Ya Got Trouble”? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!

Have fun and enjoy the frivolity of today! See you next time on Tonal Diversions.

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Music Appreciation: At the Gala by Daniel Ingram

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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Bonus Features: Overture to Candide

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This will be a fun bonus post for me!  I get to share more fantastic music from Candide.  One type of musical theater and opera overtures includes snippets of music from the full songs you’ll hear later in the show.  Bernstein employed this technique in the overture to Candide, although he also adds a theme that, to my knowledge, does not appear again in the show. That theme is the initial rippling string and woodwind melody.

It may be beneficial to read a synopsis of the plot of Candide.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  I have popcorn.

1) Here is “The Best of All Possible Worlds”, from the Chicago production I saw a couple years back.  Can you hear what made it into the overture?  It’s very brief, but it’s there.  This song is at the beginning of the show.  It sets up the optimistic philosophical views of Pangloss the tutor.

2) Next up is the music from the “Battle Scene”.  You won’t hear the familiar part right away, but keep listening.  At 1:23, you’ll hear a theme that does double duty in the show.  Pay attention to that horn melody!

3) After that is “Oh, Happy We”.  This one should be fairly obvious, as Bernstein kept this theme intact and it’s featured prominently in the overture.  Remember the horn melody I told to you pay attention to? That’s the first part of this theme, although that setting sounds much harsher due to it being a battle scene. This song entertains me – the disparity between Candide and Cunegonde’s thoughts of what marriage will be like is just too funny!

4)  This might be my favorite song in the whole show (it’s hard to choose!) – “Glitter and Be Gay”.  Cunegonde has agreed to marry Don Fernando, the governor of Buenos Aires.  Of course, this is after she’s been violated by two other men earlier in the show, who then were slain by Candide.  So Cunegonde decides to marry this other dude, and is trying to reconcile her actions with how she had been raised.  Which leads to my favorite line of the song: “If I’m not pure, at least my jewels are!”  Listen for the laughter I hinted at in my previous post.

I’m giving you two versions for this song.  First up is by Kristin Chenoweth.  I feel she really embodies the essence of Cunegonde in this performance – remember Cunegonde’s lyrics during “Oh, Happy We”?  If you like this performance, there’s a DVD available of the entire show.

I’m so glad I stumbled upon this next one, and I would love to see the visuals of this performance.  Alas, all we get it audio, but I’m sure it will still entertain.  So how many of you knew that Madeline Kahn could sing?  I also wanted to add this one as her cause of death, ovarian cancer, is very personal to me, having lost both my mother and grandmother to it.  So here’s to all those wonderful ladies!

Before I close, I wanted to share this cool chart I found as I was researching this post.  It provides a nice visual of the themes of the overture and where they appear.  My only quibble is that the Fanfare is also part of “The Best of All Possible Worlds”.

Here’s one more piece from Candide, even though its melody is not present in the overture.  But it’s such a gorgeous piece that I had to include it.  Besides, it’s the last song of the show so it seemed fitting to put it here.  Enjoy “Make Our Garden Grow”:

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