Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Best Is Yet to Come

The Best is Yet to Come

Yes, Mr. Coleman, yes!

Ok, I admit this is another song I wasn't crazy about when I started working on it. I don't not like it, but... I'm mostly learning it so I know it better for Akilah's show. But talk about compositional craft! I've always liked Cy Coleman's music, but this it the first time I've ever sat down and looked closely at one of his songs.

This song was a bit of a pain in the ass to learn, what with me being in a hurry all the time, because the form is longer and more complex than most of the songs I've learned so far. It starts with an AABA-ish verse, then an "interlude" (so labeled in the piano-vocal arrangement - I was looking at both the PV and the lead sheet for this one) in the relative minor, then back to the musical material from before, but in a modified form and a different key center. No two sections are exactly alike.

I took a couple semesters of composition lessons in college. I was sort of the unwanted stepchild in an overburdened department; I had tested out of first year theory and needed to make up the credits with elective theory courses. Now I wish I'd taken jazz arranging instead, but hindsight's 20/20. Anyway, my teacher sometimes described composition in terms of unity and variety, and how human beings need a balance of the two in their art. AABA form is the perfect example of this: A - we hear it once. A - we hear it again, and we like it, because we're creatures of habit who crave familiarity. B - something different, almost always in a different key center, because we're bored by this point (think of it as an affair, perhaps). and A again, usually back in the original key - because we like adventure, but most of us want to come home and be at peace at the end of the day.

Can you tell I love AABA form? I could talk about the "tag" as well, but I'll geek out on that another day.

Instead, I'll finish by congratulating the late Mr. Coleman on 1. motivic development and 2. minimizing the Cheese Factor in his modulation up a half-step at the end of the form. 1. Like I said before, no two sections in this song are exactly alike - either the key or the melody or the chord progression is different. One might fear that he leans a little too much to variety in the unity-variety spectrum. But he uses the same building blocks throughout, just building subtly different houses in each section. That's mad cool yo. And 2. It's such a musical theater cliche to go up a half-step once, twice or ad nauseum in any given tune that it leaves many a musician cringing and wanting to outlaw the use of the flat-VI as a pivot chord. He does it really sneakily, coming out of the interlude into what I think of the B section of the verse ("Wait til you're locked in my embrace..."), only now the entire section's a half-step higher than it was before, with the result that the final A section is also a half-step up. So no abrupt flat-VI-becomes-V-in-the-new-key Cheese Transition. Yes, still the same transition, but not so abrupt. Ease me into it, that's the key. Ha ha, no pun intended.

I would like to thank those of you still reading for putting up with my music theory geekery (perhaps a refreshing break from my mental abyss narcissism). Oh, and I listened to about 5 different versions of the song on internet radio, and I would just like to say, I really like Tony Bennett. He da man.

1 comment:

  1. "I would like to thank those of you still reading for putting up with my music theory geekery..."

    The music theory geekery is what I come here for. The feeling of inadequacy it generates in me is comforting in its familiarity. Another (less facetious) plus is that it drives me to learn enough to fill in the gaps that up until now have been gently concealed by the thin veneer of meaning-through-context.

    Please, continue...