Thursday, October 16, 2008

On Musical Narrative: Over the Rainbow

One of the subjects that fascinates me is "narrative" in things we don't normally think of as being narrative vehicles, things that embed narrative or express it non-verbally or indirectly.

I've done a few posts on the subject "reading" images:
How to Read a Movie (Reading Pictures)

And narrative is fashion:
The Aesthetic Narrative of Ralph Lauren for Women

My essay on graphic design and style also covered the subject in some interesting ways:
As Stupid as a Graphic Designer: The Slippery Subject of Style.

Song lyrics are usually the component that conveys narrative meaning. For non-musicians the "music" is usually felt and not understood. (A good example of the two contradicting each other in pop music is REM's "One I Love", which is really a song about jilting someone, not a love song.)

This morning I listened to a great piece on NPR about the song "Over the Rainbow" written for the movie The Wizard of Oz in 1939 by Harold Arlen. 'Over The Rainbow,' From Kansas To Oz (What makes it so great)

Rob Kapilow explains what makes "Over the Rainbow" so great. He says that a lot of the song's success lies in its emotional landscape, derived from just two deceptively simple notes that travel from Kansas to Oz.

"One of the amazing things about the great songs of American Musical Theater is somehow, within 32 measures, they manage to tell a completely satisfying emotional narrative. And what's really amazing about that is since these songs are whats we call A-A-B-A, 8 measures, you do them again, you go away, you come back you do it a third time. The amazing thing is that its all staked on that one 8 measure idea that we hear over and over again, and there has hardly ever been a better 8 measure idea than the opening 8 of Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

There are two musical, "narrative" ideas that he discusses at work within the piece. The first is "leap" and the second is "circle and yearn".


kathleen said...

And then there are those of us who don't like musicals... go figure.

Thomas Sherman said...

Despite how insipid most musical theater is the NPR piece on "Over the Rainbow" is really great. So don't be such a poo poo pants

kathleen said...

hey, it's my lousy day, I'll be a poo poo pants if I want to :-)

I actually have to admit that I've enjoyed two... three musicals: The Full Monty, Avenue Q, and Flower Drum Song (the modern version that unfortunately came out just before the musicians' strike a few years back - after the first three songs it got good). Apparently I like naughty musicals.

Really despised Les Miz. Was never big into drama anyway, but that one seemed to assume you'd read the book.