Monday, April 6, 2009

Rhapsody in Blue

I have a love for the music of George Gershwin. I first discovered his music when I was 10 or 11. I was rooting through my Mom's CD collection looking for something new to listen to. You see, even at a young age I really enjoyed music, classical especially, and did everything within my power to find new and interesting pieces to listen to. When I pulled out the CD that said "An American in Paris and Rhapsody in Blue," I asked my Mom if these were classical songs. When she told me they were, I immediately put them in, because HOW COOL was the idea of an AMERICAN composer? (I had yet to discover the works of Aaron Copeland, who became another favorite.)

When I put it in the CD player, the first track (of the only two on the CD) was Rhapsody in Blue. I was captivated from the first moment. The initial trill of the clarinet in its lowest register and then the subsequent slide up to the top of the register was something I'd never heard before. There was something magical about it. It was bluesy and sounded to me more like jazz than classical music. Then the full orchestra came in and introduced a second melodic theme that again, didn't strike me as being classical. However, this was different than any jazz I'd heard since there was a full string section accompanying it. I continued to listen, fascinated by the sounds I was hearing. There was a very prominent piano part which I fell in love with, being a piano player myself. One of the melodic themes I recognized, which was WAY cool for me. I'd heard it in a United Airlines commercial. It was probably one of the first times I began to recognize classical themes being used in popular culture.

As I grew up, this piece became different things to me. As a music student in middle and high school I was taught about the makeup of orchestras, bands, jazz bands, etc. I played the tenor saxophone in school and was a little saddened to learn that the traditional orchestra did not contain this instrument, nor any of the other saxophones. Then I thought back to that day in elementary school when I first discovered Rhapsody in Blue. I had listened to it countless times since then, and the saxophones are obvious within the context of the piece. So I asked my teacher "well, what about Gershwin?" I was taught that he was a mostly jazz composer, but definitely had classical influences within his pieces, and chose to fuse the two with the first outcome being Rhapsody in Blue.

While in college studying saxophone, I still maintained my piano skills, and one day while perusing a music store came across a solo piano arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue. Since I wasn't taking lessons at the time, I attempted learn it on my own. It was then that I truly discovered the genius of Gershwin's writing. This piece is incredibly complex, and it was really fun for me to analyze the themes and see how they intertwined. I wasn't able to get the piece to a level suitable for performance, but I was able to garner a greater understanding of what was going on.

Yesterday I received an email from the director of a band I used to play with. As it turns out, they will be performing Rhapsody in Blue on May 5 and their tenor saxophone player recently had surgery. It looks like he won't be able to make the performance, so the director asked me to fill in for him. Of course I jumped on the opportunity. What an exciting thing for me to do - I now have the opportunity to perform one of my favorite pieces of all time! I look forward to my first rehearsal tomorrow night, and I'll be sure to report back.

Now, for your enjoyment - Rhapsody in Blue in its original form... with George Gershwin himself playing the piano :)

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Oh Karaoke. I have a love/hate relationship with this.

First off, I forgot my camera last night, so there are no pictures of my friends and me rocking out, unfortunately. There WILL be pics next time. I need to get into the habit of bringing my camera everywhere.

I went last night with my husband Dan, and two couple friends: Abby and Brian, and Lauren and Randy. I've been friends with Abby and Lauren my whole life, and it's fun that we can all go out with our significant others and have a great time.

Lauren and I are both singers, as is Abby's husband Brian. The others, not so much. Note that I'm not saying they're bad... I'm just saying they're not singers. However, there lies a problem in being a "singer" when one decides to do karaoke, at least in my mind. I tend (as do others) to be incredibly critical of myself, especially when partaking in a musical performance - be it for fun or otherwise. Thus, karaoke can be a weird experience. Many participants at a karaoke event (typically held in a bar) are REALLY bad singers. Often they're not sober, and they do it just to have fun, make fun of themselves, and be the center of attention for a little while. Let's be honest here - we do live in a pretty narcissistic society, and whenever someone is allowed to take the mike and make a complete fool of themselves, they often do it for the attention.

The complexity of being a Singer (yes, I'm using a capitol S) in a karaoke situation is interesting. When I'm performing I like to do the very best I can. Usually when alcohol is involved, my musical ability tends to go down the toilet. However, since I generally loathe being the center of attention, alcohol is needed for me to take the stage. (My friend Lauren agrees with me on this analysis. We were discussing last night.) So I was charged with the following quandry: do I take the stage after some liquid courage and make a fool of myself, or do I not participate? I chose the former.

I chose two of my favorite songs to sing. "Son of a Preacher Man" as made famous by Dusty Springfield, and "Alone" as made famous by Heart. When I handed in my slips of paper with my name, the song, and the track number (along with the selections of Dan and Brian) I was approached by the DJ. Which of my selections was to be a warmup and which was to be my competition song. Oh, crap. This is a competition? I wasn't even planning on staying that long! (I decided to go with Alone as my competition song. Belting = fun.) At least I was given the chance to warm up instead of having to go up there cold.

When I was called to sing my first selection, I discovered that the balance between the mike and the background music was way off. I was informed by my companions that they could hardly hear me while I was singing, and that I was completely drowned out by the background vocals. Lovely. At least I chose the "loud" song for my competition selection. Brian and Dan ran into this situation as well. Fortunately for all of us, we chose the louder of the two to compete with.

Brian went first in the competition. He sang "Piano Man" by Billy Joel. He did a good job and made sure to sing as loudly as he could. While he was singing, Abby leaned over and told me she could tell from his voice that he was really straining, and while we could hear him, the balance was still off. Oh well. A couple people we didn't know sang, and then Dan sang "Sweet Caroline" by Niel Diamond. He's a complete ham and had a grand old time singing up there. It was also really fun because everyone in the bar was singing the added parts that aren't really on the recording, but are known by Red Sox fans. Someone else sang, then it was my turn.

I was delayed in my start because of an issue with the disc, but I got to sing my choice anyway. I made a conscious effort to sing as loudly as I could - and on my first long high note my voice cracked. Crap. I was trying to sing in my chest voice and clearly that wasn't a good decision, although I'm not as loud when singing with my head voice. However, I took deep breaths and did the best I could. Everyone told me they could hear me, so that was good.

Shortly after I sang we decided to leave, despite the fact that the competition wasn't over yet. Apparently we did pretty well, since the judges didn't want us to go. However, it was nearly midnight and us old fogies had to get to bed. (We're not really old, but we were all ready to call it a night.)

Overall it was a fun experience. I'm not sure I'm going to go on a competition night again though. There was a little too much anxiety for me involved.

And yes, I'm aware that I take my singing too seriously :-P What can you do?

Friday, April 3, 2009

for you foodies out there...

Carol and Sarah have contests going on right now!

This is what is wrong with Music Education

On what planet was this girl told she should teach voice lessons?

I can't take credit for this find. My friend Stacy sent me the link. It's just so, so wrong.

In other news, I will be putting MY singing hat on tonight and going out to do karaoke with some friends. I'm debating what song to sing... I might stick to the usual (Son of a Preacher Man), but I almost always do that one. I need to look through my iPod. There are a lot of songs on there I sing... pretty well, at that.

Pics tomorrow of tonight's adventures :)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Why Blog?

I've been thinking of doing a blog for a while. Friends of mine do food blogs, and while that's fun for me to read and get great recipe ideas and such, I'm not so much a foodie. Sure, I enjoy food... and I've recently gotten more adventurous in the kitchen, but a connoiseur I am not. So I started reflecting - what could I blog about that I wouldn't quit a month in? The answer was easy... Music!

Why music? It's pretty much my life. I have a degree in music education, I currently work as a musical director at a church, and I pretty much have something playing 24/7. I listen to everything. I have strong opinions, and I can tell you what I like and what I don't like about what I have on. It's not always a popular opinion, but they're strictly MINE.

So what specifically do I like to listen to? It's a loaded question. My Pandora stations vary. I have one that was initially based off the music of Ben Folds, but it's evolved into a hodge podge of everything from folk to jazz to 80s hair bands. I have one of Classical Piano from the Romantic Era. I have one of torch singers from the 30s and 40s. BeBop. And the list goes on... it will largely depend on my mood which I'm listening to that day.

So enjoy my ramblings. Sometimes I'll be reviewing an album, sometimes a song... sometimes a frame of mind. Thanks for joining me on this journey :)