One of our good friends is a teacher at Flower Mound High School. Several months ago, she shared some great news: her school was staging Les Miserables in January. I’ve seen it done twice by professionals, but never by a high school. The creators published a school edition of the show that shortens some songs, adjusts the range in a few places, and cleans up the language a bit. Even with those changes, not many high schools attempt the show, probably because it’s such a demanding production. It’s long, requires several great voices, has a complicated set including a rotating stage, and requires a large cast with many costumes.
Our friends, Jenny, and I attended Flower Mound’s performance tonight and were very impressed. At least three All-State Choir members had major roles, and many of the other singers nailed their parts as well. For me, Enjolras, Valjean, and Eponine really stood out vocally. The guy who played Enjolras (Andy Eaton) took first chair in state, probably as a baritone or tenor 2, and sounded really close to the amazing Marius from the original London cast. The guy who played Valjean blew me away with his gorgeous version of “Bring Him Home,” one of the most difficult songs in the show. The technical crew shocked me by actually using the turntable stage, which is a great device for showing motion and passage of time while letting the stagehands change sets in the background. An army of costumers created beautiful period costumes, and the barricade set in particular looked great.
Congratulations to everyone involved on a great show!
On Tuesday night, I went to Bass Hall with Jenny and some of my family and friends to see the Canadian Tenors perform with the Fort Worth Symphony. They were FANTASTIC. The program mixed Christmas music with songs from their debut album, featuring fresh arrangements that highlighted the beauty and power of their voices. For me, the highlights included Victor’s mesmerizing performance of the Lord’s Prayer by Malotte and the quartet’s beautiful renditions of “The Prayer,” “O Holy Night,” and a French version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. The four Canadians obviously enjoy singing and get along well, and their enthusiasm adds warmth to the music. Thanks to my mom for introducing me to these guys.
I love music. I listen in the car, at home, at work. I try to sing. Sometimes I just want background music. Sometimes I want something to sing along with. Sometimes I just want to relax and concentrate on it. Rock, pop, jazz, classical, choral, hip-hop, even some country – my taste is all over the place. One look at my iPhone music library will convince you.
For some reason, certain songs are welded to specific memories in my mind. The minute I hear one of them, I go back in time to see a person, place, or event, Sometimes it’s a good memory, other times a bad one, but it’s a powerful connection to my past.
Here are a few of those songs and where they take me:
“Faithfully” by Journey – Jenny, since it’s “our song”. More specifically, it often reminds me of the evening we spent at Jellyroll’s piano bar at Disney World for our 5th anniversary. I got the piano guy to play it for us.
“Give It Away” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers – My first real date was Homecoming my freshman year of high school. The DJ decided to play this song three times in a span of 30 minutes. We didn’t stay for the whole time.
“Outshined” by Soundgarden – A bad day on the tennis court back in junior high or high school
“Thunderstruck” by AC/DC – Two memories here. 1) Hearing it for the first time in my bedroom on a tinny little radio. The DJ introduced it as a brand new song. The minute I heard that killer opening guitar riff, I was hooked. 2) Stars games, because they often play it there, and it just works.
“And So It Goes” by Billy Joel – A girl I dated in high school and part of college. We sang a choral arrangement of the song in high school choir, and the lyrics remind me of our relationship.
“The Promise” by When in Rome – The end of Napoleon Dynamite, part of one of my all-time favorite ending/credit sequences
“The Lord Bless You and Keep You” (traditional, arr. Peter Lutkin) – Although we sang this often in my high school choir, singing it in the wings during our one-act play, Little Women, really burned it into my memory.
“YMCA” by the Village People – My days as a technical trainer in the IT department at Southwest. I found a way to incorporate the Village People into a class on how to use an application I helped design. I got some strange looks but also some laughs.
“One” by Metallica – My friend Jon from high school, who sorta figured out how to play both guitar parts in the song.
“The Holy City” by Jerome Hines – My grandparents had an great old-school hi-fi with a record player and the Reader’s Digest collection of Christmas records. They always played those records when we visited for Christmas. “The Holy City” was the first time I ever heard an operatic bass. His power and depth blew me away and helped get me interested in singing.
“One More Try” by Timmy T – I believe this song was playing the first time I danced with a girl at a junior high dance party.
“Crash into Me” by Dave Matthews – A good make-out song (try it, just don’t listen to the lyrics b/c they’re kinda creepy), it reminds me of a girl I dated in college.
“Outside” by Staind – My old apartment in Waco
“Jive Talkin’” by the Bee Gees – My sister used to dance to this at work. I can easily picture such a scene because my sister is awesome.
Am I alone in this, or do songs take you back in the same way? If so, what are some of the songs and the memories they bring back?
If I had more talent, time, experience, training, and other advantages, I would love to perform in the Ensemble for an area production of Les Miserables, my all-time favorite musical by far. I’ve seen it twice and listened to my recording of the original London cast countless times. The movie adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel that starred Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, and Claire Danes was also excellent.
I love the story largely because it’s a fantastic picture of grace and its impact on our lives. Early in the show, a kind bishop shows grace to Jean Valjean, a recently paroled thief. Receiving grace instead of justice radically transforms Valjean’s view of himself and of others, helping him become an honorable, loving man. Javert, a police detective who pursues Valjean for most of the show for violating his parole, has no concept of grace and cannot accept it when offered by Valjean. His inability to accept grace ultimately destroys him.
Honestly, my chances of actually performing in the show are slim to none. I certainly don’t have the voice to play Javert, the role that best fits my voice (bass-baritone). Even for a touring show, I probably don’t have the talent and experience for the Ensemble or Chorus, which is the collection of random, nameless characters in a musical who sing group songs. But my, my, my, would it be fun. Barring a Matrix-style infusion of goodness, I will be content to sing along in my car alone at full volume, thanking God and the creators for such an amazing story and musical.
A few years ago, a Simpsons episode told the story of how Bart, Milhouse, Nelson, and Martin (I think) turned into a boy band that produced recruitment material for the Navy. (Oh, how I love The Simpsons) Even though none of the four can sing at all, they had the right “look” for a boy band, and the music producers made up for the quartet’s utter lack of talent with a mysterious dial labeled Studio Magic.
Although Studio Magic is exaggerated for laughs, it’s based on a real technology called Auto-Tune. Using sophisticated computer processing, Auto-Tune can bend a singer’s voice to match the exact pitch he/she should be singing. Sometimes a singer only needs minor corrections that an average listener’s ear could hardly detect. Sometimes a singer needs significant help. Auto-Tune can make a voice sound normal or intentionally distorted, as in the weirdly electronic vocals of Cher’s “Believe” or Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It”. It can even correct a live performance so that a singer at American Airlines Center sounds in-tune even during an off night.
The majority of singers in popular music now use Auto-Tune for studio work, and many use it in concert as well. Ever notice how some singers sound much worse live compared to their CD recordings? Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and the Black-Eyed Peas come to mind. I suspect they are not strong singers in term of pitch accuracy, so they use Auto-Tune for studio recordings but inexplicably opt-out for concerts. Kelly Clarkson, on the other hand, produces consistent, in-tune vocals whether on CD or live. Since Kelly earned a spot in the Texas All-State Choir, I assume she has a very accurate voice that needs little pitch correction.
Some purists hate Auto-Tune. They argue that it cheapens the art and craft of singing, produces fake-sounding music, and hides the “character” that makes music interesting. Others love it because it produces a cleaner sound, saves work and time in the studio, and gives fans a better experience when it’s used in concert. What do you guys think?