Oscar-nominated songs

Oscar Medley Geekery

Ah, I love the taste of jargon on a rainy Sunday night - as promised (and only because I promised, because I'm ready to move on to another subject), my analysis of my Oscar medley:

The overall structure of my medley is AABA (my favorite!), with parts of "Coming Home" and "I See the Light" making up each A section.  Was it masochism that made me choose my two least favorite songs for the A section?  Not really - it was just convenient to use the first half of the verse of "Coming Home", which sets up the chord on which the chorus of "I See the Light" begins (the IV, what a useful little chord the subdominant is).  The choice was arbitrary, really.  I had unlimited options, and I was just fooling around, and finally had to go with something because I ran out of time.

I pinpointed out what bugs me so much about "I See the Light": I hate the melody.  Too much sol-fa-mi in the verse, too much la-ti-do in the chorus.  Insipid melody, paired with cloying Disney lyrics (maybe I'm descending into a crotchety, feline-fancying spinsterhood, but I've never liked sentimental lyrics).  Bleh.  All very subjective, of course.  Sometimes my commie-pinko self really likes a simple structure that anyone can grasp; other times I want to retch.  Obviously, this was the latter.

More objective observation: listen to the chorus (about 0:50).  The first three phrases start with the same three notes and the word "and".  Three times in a row, really?   At least they have the decency to reharmonize each phrase.  I will give kudos to them for resolving the III7 to the minor vi chord on "sky is blue" (blue = sad, remember?), and from the iii to the major IV on "...world has somehow shifted".  Yay!  Shifting to love!  Major chord, shaft of light.

Making lemonade: the offending phrase occurs three times.  So does the A section.   So I used each harmonization/melodic variation once. 

I used the chorus of "We Belong Together" as the bridge of my medley, and that is how I discovered that a chorus does not a bridge make.  A chorus is a destination.  A bridge is just supposed to be... a bridge.  It's like driving on an actual bridge - even if you're enjoying the view, you always have in the back of your mind that you're heading somewhere else - New Jersey, for example, or the final A section.  So my bridge didn't quite work, at least not as a bridge.  Oh well.  Side note - I think this is the same reason the cheater bridge from "Coming Home" doesn't work for me - it's also chorus material. 

I would like to have done "We Belong Together" a little more justice in playing it.  I sort of did a stride version that - had I executed it a little better - I might have liked.  I liked that song.  Glad it won. 

The final A smacks of desperation (mine): I stole the turnaround chord progression from my "bridge", and borrowed a block of boomchuck cheese from musical theater for the "Coming Home" half of the A section, so I could give the poor, tired ballad a little variation in the harmony and feel.  Tritone sub, railroad tracks into the "I See the Light" bit, then the tag -

- oh yeah - which brings me to "If I Rise".  I liked the song's main riff, and the production, but the vocal melody didn't lend itself to being used in a solo piano medley.  I only used the instrumental riff that begins the song.  This was my second favorite of the four songs, so I tried to make up for using so little of it by using it at the beginning of the medley and to seal it up at the end.

And the Oscar goes to...

..."We Belong Together" from Toy Story 3, words and music by Randy Newman.

Yay!  The up-tempo won!  I have to confess I was rooting for this one to win.   

I play for a singing competition that is basically drunk-live American Idol, and one week the contestants had to sing a song that had won the Academy Award.  

It. Was. The. Longest. Night. Of. My. Life. 

That is how I learned that ballads are often favored for Oscar songs.  I guess there's something cinematic about a deeply-moving ballad? 

Anyway, I like Randy Newman's quirky voice, and I like the bass riff and the horn arrangment, and I'm more than thrilled that there's one more up-tempo to choose from in the realm of Oscar-winning songs. 

Oscar Medley VIDEO!

Here is my Oscar medley - unfortunately I haven't had time to write my geekery about/analysis of it, so please check back later in the week for that!

The four nominees are (cue suspense):
"If I Rise" from 127 Hours
"Coming Home" from Country Strong
"I See the Light" from Tangled
"We Belong Together" from Toy Story 3

And the Oscar goes to... ???

Medley-Makin' Time

With Mom, who is responsible for my language-nerdiness. She is also a pianist.
I nearly misspoke (miswrote?) just now, when I was about to call this post "Mashup-Makin' Time", trying to be cool and hip and preserve my youth as long as possible by using Glee-speak.  Then I googled "mashup", because I'm a giant nerd.  Here is what I discovered: according to the interwebs, the word mashup actually refers to an electronic mix of two (or more) pre-recorded songs.  It is not a clever arrangement of parts of two or more songs cobbled together cleverly (we hope) and live.  No, that would be a medley.  They are two different things. 

You know what I love about the English language?  That it has so many words that we can distinguish between a mashup and a medley.  You know what else?  I love that it is a living language, flexible and constantly evolving.  So I could be pedantic and correct people when they refer to a medley as a mashup, or I could just be cool and hip and go with the flow.  Anyhow, I surmise that "medley" comes from the same root as "muddle" (meaning to mash, as mint leaves with simple syrup in the bottom of a glass). Furthermore, I surmise that 1) I need a drink that involves muddling and 2) my language-nerd mom (who deserves the blame/credit for this tangent) is going to fact-check the etymology of the words medley and muddle.

I'm hedging, really.  I should be working on my Oscar medley right now, since the only time I have to record it is tomorrow around noon.  I almost gave it up earlier today.  My heart's not really in this particular Wish anymore, I thought.  I should use my time for other things.  Then, just for the heck of it, I started noodling around with the Oscar songs for a few minutes before I had to leave for rehearsal.  And of course it was fun and satisfying for my nerdy brain to experiment with muddling (ha) these songs together.  So I'm going to do it, and tomorrow around noon I'm going to B.S. a medley for my videocamera for my next vlog entry.

Know what else I love about English?  How nouns can be verbs.  Like hedge.  And noodle.  And B.S.

Oscar Songs - If I Rise

I didn't learn this song very well the first go-round. I intended to learn it a week ago Sunday, and then ... didn't. I was busy, sure, and also cranky about the fact that I have no idea what this song is about. I couldn't understand a lot of the lyrics, so I looked them up on the internet and read them. I still couldn't understand the lyrics.
You know how I am with lyrics. So I "learned the song" in the same way a little kid "washes his hands" before a meal - I played it on my computer while I cooked lunch, and intended to learn it, and then I think I took a nap.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself kinda liking the song the other day when I took a second crack at it. The production builds into a really interesting and tone-clustery melange of sound halfway through the song. The underlying groove never changes, but it sort of gets painted over by the rest of the orchestration, so that by the time the children's chorus comes in, it's possible to lose track of the downbeat.

Dido and A.R. Rahman collaborated on the song, and there is all sorts of stuff in it that I know very little about: electronic sounds, Eastern influences. According to the comment-sphere (usually there is space for "song meaning" comments on the sites that post song lyrics), the song is about making the most of whatever time you have. (Hey, they stole my epitaph!) There are also numerous comments about how well it works in the film. Which I wouldn't know, because I haven't seen it yet. Score minus-1 for taking things out of context.

As for the medley I'm concocting, I think I'll use the little opening riff, and maybe pick part of the melody to throw in at some point. I don't have time to render large sections of the song, or the arc as a whole, for solo piano, so I'll pick and choose what I can do at this point.

I See the Light - Oscar Songs

Following my mom's advice to remain quiet unless I have something nice to say, I will refrain from writing about "I See the Light".  Some things I just don't like.

Ok, maybe I'll say one thing:
The "here/crystal clear" rhyme thing has been done before.  It has been done on a melody of ti-la-sol, with ti ("CRY"-stal) on the downbeat.  Not, ahem, a whole new world of songwriting.  Definitely not a brave one.  Then again, brave, exploratory art rarely wins awards from established institutions.  That is the world we live in.

That is all. 

What I love about learning a song a day: I am forced to prioritize, look at the big picture.  What are the most important things about this song?  What do I need to remember?  Harmony, form, melody, feel.  When the day is over, move on to the next thing, and just see how much I can recall later. 

What I love about taking more time: Getting more in the details.  What is the keyboard player doing?  Why can't I play that one riff?  Coming back with a fresh perspective - oh, that chord has an extension I didn't hear the first time through. 

I played a game of schedule tetris yesterday.  Actually, it was more like music chairs, because with tetris, everything fits somewhere if you can get to it fast enough.  With musical time slots, there are always little tasks left running around with no hour to sit on. 

My Weekly Wishes aren't falling neatly into the weeks.  I'll learn my last Oscar song, "If I Rise", on Sunday.  I will make the medley another week.  Tonight and tomorrow, I need to practice "Black Coffee", which I'm supposed to record with my friend tomorrow.  Or I'll work on the Gershwin transcription, if she has to reschedule (I just texted to confirm).  Wrapping up this week's Wish is being pushed aside so I can finish up Wishes from other weeks.

Some Wishes, like learning to play accordion, aren't meant to fit into a week.  (Sorry, neighbors.  Sorry, kitty.) It's only a framework to see how much time I can find within a week to practice just for fun, because I still suck at time-management. To let it go and move on to something else, because I will need to practice letting go and moving on until the day I die.


Coming Home - Oscar-nominated song

Ok, if you read this blog last year, you remember about me and sentimental ballads, right? And how much they make me want to hurl? How did I forget that Oscar-nominated songs are almost always sentimental ballads?!

Oh well. I'm still having fun this week. Yesterday's song was "Coming Home", and tonight I've gotten started with "I See the Light".

In the category of unusual modulations, we have "Coming Home" (start about 2:45 on the video to check this out): it goes up a whole step after the second chorus, plays through the first two phrases of the chorus minus the patter lyrics, then it goes back DOWN to the original key of C major.  Who does that!?!? The song was written by Bob DiPiero, Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey, so apparently they do. Or maybe some arrangers who aren't credited as songwriters were involved here.

"After the second chorus" is usually the bridge. I like bridges. I mean, I have to, if I ever want to get out of Manhattan (there are piles of dirty snow everywhere, and more freezing rain on the way - right now I'm thinking cross a bridge into Queens and get the next flight to Puerto Rico). Song bridges are great because they are your chance to get out, musically speaking, of the 'hood for a while. Then come back to Manhattan for the end, because you know you love it here. On the bridge, get a change of scenery: change the chord progression, the melody, the rhythm or rhyme scheme of the lyrics.

...Or maybe just the key. I can't say for sure, because I haven't seen Country Strong or how the song is used in it, but I'm guessing there isn't a profound cinematic reason for that key change up a step and back down. I'm guessing it's some songwriters/arrangers who found a cheap trick to "write" a bridge. Hm. I will steal that cheap trick and put it in my own bag for later use.

Maybe Gwyneth Paltrow's character has to cross a bridge to get back home. A bridge that's a step up. And then back down.