Category Archives: Music

Shooting a whale in a teacup

Before Rogue One came out, I remember reading some excited comments on Reddit amounting to a score wishlist from Giacchino. Most of that wishlist came true: first and foremost, Darth Vader’s theme got a good showing (Krennic’s Aspirations and Hope). This is like shooting a whale in a teacup; Giacchino could have stuck in an Imperial quote played by a Peruvian pan flute and made the crowd go wild.

The finer points of the A New Hope score that the aforementioned comment hoped for were the insidious minor-third motif (which I hadn’t really taken notice of before) and the over-the-top Death Star flourish.

To my delight, Krennic’s Aspirations fulfilled the former almost gleefully. Giacchino really did his homework, I imagine. However, the Death Star motif didn’t get any showing that I can remember. In fact, the Death Star doesn’t seem to have any particular musical motif for itself in Rogue One since it is rarely the focal point in this movie.

A shower thought came over me tonight: the 2 firings of the Death Star provide a musical foil to each other from film to film. The cue Destruction of Alderaan is chock-full of dramatic tension, whirling up and down the heartstrings before culminating in a shocking and angry resolution in which Leia’s home is destroyed. The big ending to The Battle of Yavin evokes Holst (a bit like the opening Tantive IV chase) with no less bombast, going for the wholesale brass fortissimo to keep the audience engaged.

Compare these 2 examples against how things played out in Rogue One. In Star-dust, the quiet, almost nonchalant destruction of Jedha is just background noise while Jyn tearfully reconnects virtually with her father. One of the quickest genocides in galactic history plays out over quiet piano chords with minimal orchestral work. The cue and scene are serene, because the emotional crux of the scene lies between Jyn and the unreachable Galen. In Your Father Would Have Been Proud, the rate of mickey-mousing drops below zero as a choir layers a slow-paced cue over the abrupt destruction of the upper Citadel tower (and the death of Orson Krennic). Again, the action need not be frenzied because the outcome is inescapable. Jyn and Cassian have no way out; all they can do is collapse on the beach and wait for their time to come, soaring away on a heroic refrain of Jyn’s theme. The Death Star is mostly irrelevant in the scheme of things, having failed to interrupt the rebel transmission.

Compare the cues against each other and you see that we lose nothing by the omission of the quasi-motif of the New Hope Death Star. Rather, the musical blindness to the Death Star prevents the audience from being distracted by what is the largest on-screen object, enhancing the flow of the story.

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“Hi,” he said, shaking my hand. “I’m Pablo Hidalgo.”

I grinned. “And I’m John Williams.”

He didn’t react. He stared blankly at me, still vacantly pumping our hands up and down.

“No, really,” I said, “no joking, who are you?”

“Pablo” sighed and motioned for me to sit. I did, still studying the old man behind the desk. This wasn’t Pablo – a few short years ago, Pablo had been so alive, zipping around the Twitterverse in an unending quest to straighten the Star Wars canon. Here I beheld a tired, thinly stretched, and graying old man who could have passed for a Jedi in exile.

“Did you orchestrate this?” Would-be Pablo held up the printed cue faintly.

“Yes.” I was more confused than peeved. Scoring was hard work, and this was the first time I had been referred to the story department on matters of music. It shaped up like a pointless dent in my schedule for wholly unmusical reasons. “Is something the matter?”

“You indicate that this cue,” said Pablo weakly, “incorporates a men’s choir.”

“Yes.”

Pablo sighed. “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’ll have to rethink this. If you’ve built anything in particular around the sound of a men’s choir, that’s also out.”

I wasn’t shocked, but my annoyance now overtook my confusion. “Just a minute, please. What about a men’s choir is so objectionable that the story group has to step in to interfere with the scoring process?”

Pablo didn’t answer. He lay his forearms on the table, wrapping both hands wearily around a bright green mug.

“I’d really like an answer, ‘Pablo,’ because that is a lot to ask.”

I suddenly noticed the veins in Pablo’s forearms. They stood out vividly as though they had been stenciled in with magic marker. He was straining – and he was gripping his fluorescent mug pretty hard.

“Is this about that silly Sno – ”

CRASH. I flinched. The mug had shattered from between Pablo’s hands. A gash in his palm pulsed heavily, and blood began to dribble out.

“You’re bleeding, my god, you’re bleeding. Are you okay? Where’s your first aid kit?”

“Stop.” Pablo hadn’t moved.

“You’re bleeding!”

“Just.” Pablo was still sitting ramrod-straight. “Just. Please.” He didn’t sound hurt, just wearier than ever. Maybe that was shock. “Please redo this cue.” He looked me in the eye. “And please don’t try using a men’s choir again.” The cut in his hand was slowly pooling blood among the ceramic shards of his former mug.

I bolted out the door. I had passed a first-aid kit next to the hand sanitizer on my way in.

147: The Falco intensifies

It’s so strange that one of the most meaningful decisions in my undergraduate career is yet to come. I am faced with a modest dilemma about the Music 41A final recital. It’s a little less than two weeks out (May 1); we must commit to our individual pieces in about a week’s time. I have studied very little this semester (of course), having only two bits from Barnes’ first serenade to add to my repertoire. These are the Milonga and the Barcarolle. (We ignore the silly Bach chorale I arranged.)

Felix has been learning the first serenade in its entirety since day one; he has focused his practice around the same pieces plus the Sicilienne. Anders has been eyeing the Sicilienne for himself, too. If I decided to be selfish, one of them will almost certainly be thrown under the bus. I.E., if I claim the Barcarolle,

  1. Either Felix takes the Milonga and not the preferable Sicilienne, which goes to Anders,
  2. Or Felix takes the Sicilienne and Anders loses out on his dream piece that haunted him first when he listened to the carillon.

After dessert at McDonald’s

I let myself into the Campanile and locked myself into the Verdin Room (someone had the library keyboard). The tower had freshly struck eight. After about half an hour of practice, I heard the sound of the outer library door closing (but my earplugs deafened any feet on the staircase). I nosed around the library; nobody was in. I helped myself to the keyboard. From there it was another solid hour of practice, homing in carefully on the weaker parts of the Barcarolle (mostly the pedalling in the first part!). It’s worrisome that I can’t hit 100% accuracy on such a slow-moving pedal part. At least the Vanden Gheyn had its fast parts to shield me from criticism.

Actually, directly after dessert

I went to the observation deck first, partially to test the elevator and partially to watch the beautiful sunset alone. I spied the dome atop Campbell Hall for what it was (a bona fide telescope); I saw the Big C, still fluorescently outstanding in the fading light. I pulled out my phone and put on Zimerman playing Chopin’s third ballade. At the close, I lay down my phone and wallet. After a moment’s thought, I also lay the tower key on the ground. I absolutely did not need to see it hurling out of my pocket over the lip of the observation deck.

I turned two cartwheels on the west end of the observation deck – first in a southerly direction, then northerly. On the latter turn my foot clipped the far pillar (second furthest northwest, I believe), reminding me that there wasn’t much room for these physical shenanigans. I pocketed my things and returned to the first floor.

I have done two things that few people have ever done (or will probably ever do) atop Sather Tower – listen to Chopin’s third ballade and turn a cartwheel, both in the sunset. I find that the experience is totally unremarkable.

J39M

136: Kappa

Nope, not feeling too hot at all. Not finishing the CS 162 project didn’t help. Some days I can’t look myself in the mirror.

133: Zzz

Joey was out of town on an interview or similar, so he pinged the carillon guild asking if anyone could cover his Thursday recital slot. I was free Thursday at 6 PM, so I jumped right in.

I got to the tower with half an hour to spare, but I was feeling ill. I used the elevator for once, because I didn’t trust my jellied legs to manage the stairs. Nobody was on the first floor – I guess nobody practices ’round this time.

I went up with ten minutes to spare, took a selfie in the playing cabin, and waited for the six o’clock chimes. The program came out a lot faster than I realized – I actually underran the ten-minute cap. I ended up playing “Pigeons and a Boy (Pazu’s Fanfare),” the “Air” by G.F. Handel (the very first piece we played!) and the Fugue in E flat minor by A. Gerken (omitting the prelude).

I ended with a miniature encore for my own benefit – the opening fragment of Sayaka Sasaki’s “Zzz,” the ending theme to Nichijou. It sounded really weird on the carillon, but then again, so did everything else this past evening.

I deposited my music back in my folder and left the tower discreetly. It was fun.

J39M

132: Relinquish

A word about “Let It Go.”

I played the (Chinese – not Taiwanese) Mandarin translation for the family last Thanksgiving, and everyone there with a decent command of Mandarin had a good laugh. The chorus, “Let it go,” is translated “隨它吧,” which just sounds wrong to our Taiwanese ears. 隨它吧 is loosely translated “as it likes,” “whatever,” etc etc. The first character is close to “whatever,” the second is a general non-human pronoun (e.g. “it”), and the last character is … literally verbal filling. It has no meaning; it ranks lower than an interjection in the English language. I guess you could say it adds a proper ending to the phrase, which would sound very strange indeed without the last character. But it has no proper translation that I can readily think of. It just ends a lot of declaratory sentences.

The three-word phrase is common enough in China, so my Chinese friend tells me, and can definitely be construed to approximate “Let it go” in English. But he and I agreed that “吧” is awkward as an analogue to “go.” “Let it go” comprises three words easily digestible by your five-year-old, but it does not strike one as a fragment, a linguistic misfire, or lack of ingenuity in songwriting (indeed, the song’s charting speaks for itself). To simulate the awkwardness that I and my family hear in “隨它吧,” imagine if the chorus “Let it go” were replaced by “Whatever.”

Whateverrrrrrr

Whateverrrrrrr

and I’ll rise like the break of dawnnnn

doesn’t really have the same ring, does it? It sounds almost moronic. Stressing the trailing “errrrrrr” makes it sound pretty silly. The runner-up for awkward sound is probably “Okay thennnnn,” though that somewhat offsets the clumsiness into using “Okay” in the lyrics.

I can at least vouch for the chorus of the Taiwanese Mandarin translation. The chosen lyric was “放開手” for most of the song, and later “讓它走” when Elsa gets her big wardrobe change (the last reprise of the chorus). Both of these may loosely translate to “Let it go” in English, but the images they generate in Chinese are startlingly descriptive. The translation’s flexibility is both clever and pleasing. “放開手” is just the verb phrase “放開,” meaning “to release” or “to relinquish,” and the noun “手,” meaning “hand.” The “hand” bit merely qualifies the verb phrase, clarifying that someone (the object of the directive) has a handhold on something. (Naturally, we all know that the speaker addresses herself in the song.) “讓它走” is also easily translated; roughly, “let it leave.” This highlights the translation’s excellence: whereas “放開手” is a directive that says nothing of the object being released, much like what Indy Sr. would have said to Indy Jr. of the Holy Grail, “讓它走” very obviously imbues action into the thing being let go. It’s easy to imagine making the link from turning up your palms in the first few rounds of the chorus to finally seeing something off in the last reprise. (Twice or so, you set them free; “放開手.” The last time, they turn to go; “讓它走.”) They are all more or less “let it go” in English, but the particular phrases in Taiwanese Mandarin are very colorful.

J39M

130: Helsinki

“It sounds like … a sink in hell.”

As always the title is totally irrelevant to the post: but today we celebrate the Rotterdam Philharmonic for its scheduled collaboration with Rafal Blechacz.

Screenshot from 2015-02-13 15:21:37

I already posted about this in the Facebook group, but for posterity I keep a copy here of the record. Ta-dah! As promised, Rafal has worked Brahms’ first piano concerto into his repertoire. As of 13 February 2015 this is the last visible schedule concert on his page, but I expect there are more to come. Akiko (over at the [un]official Rafal Blechacz fanpage) mentioned that Rafal will be on sabbatical come 2016, but I hope we will hear lots of the Brahms before then. I cannot imagine why he would take a break (last I heard, he was aiming to complete his thesis before the Chopin Competition this year), but I hope he enjoys a well-earned rest.

J39M