Feb 042011
 
Renee Fleming

Renee Fleming (1959 - )

Renee Fleming (1959 – ) is primarily a classical musician, although her interests in music and singing span a wide field. Her resume of opera appearances and roles is exhausting, reflecting a busy career of many years.

Her musical pedigree is stellar. Both of her parents were music teachers. She studied at both the Eastman School of Music and at Julliard. It is no wonder that a talented and dedicated singer such as her got to be an A-List opera singer.

However, unlike most of the “old-school” classical musicians, she has always applied her musical interests towards the performance of all kinds of music. While at the Eastman School of Music, she sang in a jazz trio, and later, at Julliard, played gigs to help pay for her schooling. It is not surprising that she has expressed an increasing desire and preference for performing concerts, rather than operas. From a recent Wall Street Journal interview, she said

It’s unlikely I will learn any more operas than I already do”.f
Commenting on the classical music “traditionalists” vs. those who reinterpret the opera standards. “I’m not a reactionary. I’ve loved some of [these productions] when they’ve been well thought out. I have no problem with edgy, as long as it’s not vulgar or disrespectful of the piece.

In addition to numerous Classical and Operatic recording, she has also recorded with many well-know popular and jazz artists including Elton John, John Bolton, lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, and others. In the movie, “Lord of the Rings” she sang a song in an imaginary language. She has recorded albums in her name covering songs by Leonard Cohen, Jefferson Airplane, and others. She sings on Yo Yo Ma’s CD/DVD on 2009. (Yo Yo Ma is another classical musician unafraid to venture into other genres). On this album, she sang “Touch the Hand of Lover”, written by jazz singer, pianist and composer Blossom Dearie.

On that particular DVD, Yo Yo Ma also collaborated with Diana Krall on one song, James Taylor on another, and so on. In 2009, Renee sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, from Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel”, at the Presidential Inauguration, where Yo Yo Ma and many other popular and classical musicians also played.

Renee Fleming (Wikipedia)

Jan 082011
 

Young Franz Schubert

What makes a melody beautiful, interesting or memorable?

I wish I knew the formula to make that happen. Of course, there is no “formula” (fortunately). But we can all look back at songs we know of and make these sorts of assertions.Here we will look at examples of melodies and deconstruct them for the purpose of shedding light on the craft of songwriting.

On a big poster you could write the names of all 600+ songs Franz Schubert wrote in his 31 years on the planet, throw a dart and hit a gem. Let’s look at his song An Die Musik. The song was once sung (really well) by Garret Morris on the first season of Saturday Night Live. (The gag was joke text scrolling by as he sang).

The song is an homage to music, as you can see in the english translation (it doesn’t translate very well from the original German):

Oh lovely Art, in how many gloomy hours,
When life’s fierce orbit entangled me,
Have you kindled my heart to warmer love,
have you carried me away into a better world!

How oft’ has sighs, flown from your harp–
A sweet, sacred chord from you–
Unlocked for me the heaven of better times,
Oh lovely Art, for that I thank you for this,
You lovely art, I thank youI

Looking at this song from a compositional standpoint, let’a see if there are any clues as to why the song works so well. There is just enough intro (2 bars) to establish the key and to set the singer up, that is, enable the singer to get the beginning in his/her head. The bass in the piano does that, and the pattern is echoed throughout the rest of the song. Then the intro resolves to home key in the 1st beat of the 3rd bar, Now it’s the singer’s turn. When it goes to the IV chord, the piano’s high note changes, and “clues” the singer for the chord change (bar 7). It goes the the relative minor after that, and back home, setting up the piano. The piano then does an interesting sequence to get to the I, where the singer comes back in; but that line is mostly on the V chord, and the piano is right there with it. Shortly, the piano part plays an obvious build-up to move the the IV chord, which soon becomes B minor, the climax of the song. Then the vocal line’s movement brings us to the end of the 1st verse. The piano interlude, bringing us around to the 2nd verse is memorable. It even briefly includes a lydian mode IV chord, and later, an E min/maj 9th chord.

Wikipedia->Franz Shubert

Nov 212010
 

This example show’s some interesting consonant/dissonant harmonies between the vocal and the accompaniment. The melody is simply a downward-arpeggiated A minor chord, with the added “B” note, functioning first as a 9, then as a 2. This note has a built-in dissonance in this context because it is one half-step from the defining minor third note (“C”). A good vocalist will clearly hear in advance, in his/her imagination, the A and C that surround it, and fit the vocal note in at the right pitch and volume. The resultant sound being perfectly on pitch, and exploiting that dissonance. The singer has to nail it right off. Sliding up or down to the note, or too much vibrato will spoil the effect. For example, listen to how Chet Baker does this so well.

Notice that the first note, “Now…”, has an easy, powerful, and great sounding vowel for a vocalist. As the note is held out, the crescendo sells the song. The rest of the line becomes a very natural-sounding decrescendo.

Cry-Me-a-River_1.mp3
Continue reading »

Play