A Guide to Musical Theatre Quodlibets – The Dancin’ Quodlibet (plus Ideas for the Future)

So far, I’ve looked at two kinds of musical theatre quodlibet. Just to reiterate, these are instances when melodies previously heard are reprised, but simultaneously. Quodlibets are a specific instance of counterpoint, and I’ve covered The Berlin Quodlibet, which has two or more different melodies written to the same chord progression, and The West Side Quodlibet, in which melodies that were written to different chord progressions are reprised, but some are altered enough to fit the chords of just one of them.

If you’re kind of mathsy, you may have already spotted the missing combination yourself: is there a quodlibet featuring melodies written to different chord progressions that are later combined without altering any notes?

I know of only one, and it’s …

Dancin‘ (John Farrar, Xanadu)

Yes, Xanadu, which is on nobody’s list of great theatre scores, features the only example I know of, by John Farrar, who is on nobody’s list of great theatre songwriters. But he was – yay! – born in Australia.

Dancin‘ combines two characters’ vision of what a disused auditorium could become once renovated: Danny McGuire sees a ballroom with a ’40s style big band in tuxedos, while Sonny Malone imagines an ’80s nightclub with a synth/rock band in electric orange. Their two visions combine, visually and musically.

Normally, given this kind of writing assignment, a pop/rock writer like John Farrar would do a good job of the ’80s band, and utterly botch the ’40s swing. But instead I think he hits it out of the park. I’m using the original film version (because it’s better: the stage version truncates matters badly), and here’s the relevant part of Farrar’s Andrews Sisters-esque chord progression and melody. This is just the top sister, if you will – naturally, the underlying harmony sisters would have to change their tune if the chord progression changed:

dancin1_0019

All those ninths and thirteenths are exactly the right sort of harmonic flavour for the period being evoked (unlike the anachronistic grinding choreography in the clip I linked to: what a dirty-old-man’s vision that Danny McGuire is having). Here’s what the ’80s rock band sings, to a very pop/rock chord progression – no ninths or thirteenths here:

dancin2_0020

But look at this! Without needing to change a single note, the Andrews Sisters tune can be sung with the rock/pop progression:

dancin3_0018

Actually, there’s one tiny pick-up note that does need to change, by a mere semitone, but even so, this is very neat. I can’t really defend Farrar’s lyrics in the pop/rock verses – they just sound like threats of sexual assault – but musically, I’d rather listen to Dancin‘ than to many other quodlibets by bigger music theatre names. And please, tell me if there are other quodlibets like it that I’ve missed, because I don’t know of any.

Which leads me to …

Ideas for the Future

A word of warning for all of these ideas: since quodlibets link different songs together, they can really kick you in the teeth during rewrites. Sure, you’re cool with changing the big Act One finale, but dammit, now you have to go back and rewrite three other songs to be heard in counterpoint during the bloody thing. No wonder Claude-Michel Schönberg stuck to one of music’s most easygoing chord progressions.

1. The Double Dancin’ Quodlibet

Just like Dancin‘, except there are three tunes, written to three different chord progressions, and they still fit together later on. Hell, if I were attempting this, it might be fun to combine the three tunes over a fourth, as-yet-unheard chord progression.

As for why you’d do this, let’s see: three people who turn out to be related, maybe? Or one character, played by three different actors, at three different but related points in her life?

2. The Diminished/Augmented Quodlibet

Augmentation and diminution involve lengthening or shortening the rhythmic values of a melody, usually by a factor of two. They’re bread and butter techniques to a Baroque-era composer, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard them in musical theatre, and I think they could be fun in a quodlibet.

You’d need a dramatic justification, obviously, and you’d have to keep whatever rhythm you were playing recognisable, or the trick wouldn’t work. But pretend one character was very wound up at some earlier point, and sang a very wound-up melody. Then they had a night of passion, maybe, or took pills, or went on a spa retreat, so now we hear their melody again, over the top of their lover’s, or dealer’s, or massage therapist’s, but at half speed. Bonus points if the melody reveals hidden melodic depths at half speed, a la the delightful contrafactum Seventy-Six Trombones/Goodnight My Someone.

Change the pills, and maybe we hear the tune at double speed.

3. The One-Person Quodlibet

Here’s a snippet of a compound melody for cello, by a fellow named J. S. Bach:

compound1_0018

Bach doesn’t present this as two separate melodies first, but he could have, since it’s a combination of:

compound2_0018

Thus, a singer could sing one melody first, followed by the other, followed by a One-Person Quodlibet. For an added thrill, the two sets of lyrics could join up and make sense in a different way once combined. Even Bach never did that.

Reasons for this? J. Pierrepont Finch sings to himself in the mirror in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and his mirror self could sing back. Sid Sorokin sings a duet with his dictaphone in The Pajama Game. Guido tries, and nearly manages, to sing a duet with himself in Nine. A precedent is clearly established for men who are pretty full of themselves. Maybe it’s time to let a female character have a crack at it?

4. The Quodlibet That Doesn’t Happen

This one actually exists, but sort of by accident, in Hamilton. Dear Theodosia begins with Aaron Burr’s song to his daughter, followed by Hamilton’s different melody over the same chords to his son. Before the show moved to Broadway, those two melodies used to combine in a quodlibet, which – pace, Hamilton fans – you could hear coming a mile away, because Dear Theodosia is very pretty, but its chord progression is kinda hokey.

Now, forever enshrined on the Original Cast Recording, is a Quodlibet That Doesn’t Happen, and whoever had that idea, they were wise. We know Hamilton and Burr are joined by destiny, thanks to the first song in the show, and subsequent songs, and staging, and motifs, and word choices etc., so there’s no need for the two melodies to over-egg the pudding at this point. Instead, we get another musical bond between the two men, but implied rather than stated outright.

I admit it would take modesty and restraint to make one of these quodlibets on purpose, since one of the reasons you write a quodlibet in the first place is to show off a bit. And I’ll also admit you could probably only make one of these work in the audience’s mind if the two chord progressions were the same. Who knows, maybe it would only work if the progression’s kinda hokey?

5. The Ashman Quodlibet

There are two famous quodlibet opening numbers: Tradition, from Fiddler on the Roof, and All That Jazz, from Chicago. They’re both Berlin Quodlibets; Jerry Bock in particular has a ball inventing more and more tunes that can be played over Fiddler‘s fiddler’s leitmotif. They’re also sung by characters who are all in agreement, more or less, whether they’re detailing the traditions of life in Anatevka, or all the hi-jinks in store for Chicago’s town-painters.

But there’s a particular kind of opening number described by Jack Viertel in his Secret Life of the American Musical (a good read, by the way, if you’re interested in structure, and to be avoided if you think ‘secret’ means gossip), and he associates it with lyricist and book writer Howard Ashman. It’s the kind of opening number Ashman structured for Beauty and the Beast: the audience is introduced to the world of the musical, and in the middle of that world there is a main character who has a contrasting ‘I Want’ moment, as opposed to a separate ‘I Want’ song later.

Ashman’s not the only writer who likes this kind of opening: Marc Shaiman’s clearly a fan, having co-written structurally near-identical songs for the openings of South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut and Hairspray. There’s also a proto-version at the start of Li’l Abner: A Typical Day introduces the audience to the citizens of Dogpatch, and briefly to Daisy Mae, who wants Abner. But Ashman seems a worthy man to name a quodlibet after, not least because what I’m proposing nearly – nearly – happens at the start of Little Shop of Horrors.

Little Shop has a Berlin Quodlibet moment towards the end of Skid Row, when Seymour starts up a new tune (“Someone show me a way to get outta here”), which turns out to be a countermelody to the song’s main refrain (“Downtown …” etc). By this point Seymour has already had his introduction as a main character (“Poor, all my life I’ve always been poor …”) and so has Audrey (“Downtown, where the guys are drips …”). As for the tunes of these introductory moments, Audrey’s is the same as everyone else’s, and Seymour’s is not used again.

So, I’m not advocating any rewrites to Skid Row, but what if instead, to use Little Shop as a hypothetical model, we got this?

A section. Skid Row and its lousiness introduced

B. Seymour and Audrey introduced in contrasting sections, with their own melodies and harmony, perhaps according to their I Wants.

A. More lousy Skid Row, building to …

A+B. Big finish: Seymour and Audrey sing their introductory parts at the same time as the A section. Surprise! It was a quodlibet all along.

All other ideas gratefully accepted. Also, any types of quodlibets I’ve missed, because nobody knows every score.

Some Musical Theatre Songwriting Tropes That Need a Rest. Maybe Forever.

1. The Song That Fixes An Argument

Here’s how it works. The two of you are fighting. Then one of you starts singing something. The other resists at first, but eventually joins in. Now you’re both singing, and damned if you don’t go into an ol’ soft-shoe together! Magically, once you reach the song’s button, whatever you were arguing about has gone away.

Egregious example: Grey Gardens (“Two Peas In a Pod”)

Edith has just had a big fight with her father, Major Bouvier, in which her daughter Edie firmly took the Major’s side. As a peace offering, young Edie starts singing an old song to her mother, the first song her mother ever taught her. They’re soon singing it together, with Edith’s accompanist George Gould Strong lending two helping hands at the piano. Problem solved.

But not really. After the song, it’s their next bit of dialogue that establishes a truce.

Ingenious subversion: Merrily We Roll Along (“Old Friends”)

Charlie, Frank and Mary are arguing about – well, pretty much everything. Mary starts up an old bit of schtick with the words “Here’s to us …”. Soon, they’re all singing together, but – and this is neat – the song breaks down into an argument midway, before pulling it together for the final button. Also, since the show’s chronology is in reverse, we in the audience have already seen this friendship group break up: no matter how chummy they might be at the end of this song, dramatic irony dangles overhead.

Why this trope needs to die: it’s bogus. And I don’t mean that it’s bogus in the way that all musicals are, by any realistic measure, bogus. No, it’s bogus on its face. If these characters are to resemble real, motivated people (and ever since Show Boat, that’s what the best writers have been trying to achieve, from high drama to low comedy), then it’s the quintessence of bullshit to have characters’ desires and fears allayed, however briefly, by a tune. On the other hand, if the argument were actually resolved in the course of the song, that’d be different. And much better.

2. The “I’m Happy To Be a Slut” Song

She’s brassy, she’s leggy. She likes men and she wants you to know it. Also, she’s … no, that’s it. There’s nothing more to this dame, and she won’t do much in the show to follow. She’ll either be conquered by domestic love or die helping the hero.

Egregious examples: The Producers (“When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It”), Steel Pier (“Everybody’s Girl”)

In The Producers, Ulla turns up at Max and Leo’s office to audition with a song she’s written. She performs it for Max and Leo’s pleasure, they lust after her, and then they compete for her. Her job is to be dumb, and lusted after. I could write – nay, will write – an entire post about the wasted opportunity that is Ulla in this show.

In Steel Pier, the MC of a dance marathon is trying to drum up interest in the competition, so he spruiks the additional talents of some of his contestants. One of these is Shelby, who is pretty fast, as they used to say. She sings a song about how fast she is. It is meant to be ghastly, bursting with second-rate, second-hand jokes; and it is ghastly, since there’s no subtext or other aspects of Shelby’s character to alleviate the ghastliness. Later, Shelby falls in unfulfilling love with a younger man.

Ingenious subversion: Sweet Charity (“Big Spender”)

On paper, this is a come-on from the ladies of the Fan-Dango Ballroom. But as performed it’s clear they don’t mean a word of it, instantly adding layers to their characters. Brilliant. This was in 1964, more than thirty years before my two egregious examples.

Why this trope needs to die: Sure, it’s sexist (where are the male slut songs?), and yes, its time has passed (a female character can now simply say “I like sex”, so why should we sit through an entire song of sniggering jokes about it?), but most importantly, it’s dramatically inert. If you’re going to write a one-joke song, you’d better be Cole Porter. In the 1930s.

3. The Mad Scene Made of Dissonant Reprises

We’re near the end of the show, and a person, or possibly the world itself, is going insane. How to depict this musically? Maybe we’ll use a bunch of tunes we heard earlier in the night, but chopped up and layered over one another, with no concern for dissonance. In fact, dissonance is wanted: we’ll put long, wrong notes under previously pleasant tunes. If the tune’s in C, shove a loud F sharp or an A flat in the bass. (Composer’s confession: these are really easy to write. With some decent notation software, you can whip one up while the kettle boils.)

Eregious example: Sunset Boulevard (“Final Scene”)

Norma just shot Joe dead. The cops have come to take her away, but a journalist helpfully tells the audience that Norma’s “in a state of complete mental shock”. In lyrical terms, what is Norma given to work with? This:

This was dawn.
I don’t know why I’m frightened.
Silent music starts to play.
Happy new year, darling.
If you’re with me, next year will be…
Next year will be…
They bring in his head on a silver tray.
She kisses his mouth…
She kisses his mouth…
Mad about the boy!
They’ll say Norma’s back at last!

To be fair, there’s no dissonant accompaniment to this, which is a series of lines from a bunch of earlier songs, all spliced together. It’s even less work than the sort of thing I’m complaining about.

Ingenious subversion: Cabaret (“Finale Ultimo”)

This is one of the earliest examples I can think of, and it works a treat by undermining the traditional appeal of reprises. Clifford Bradshaw, supposed novelist, hasn’t written anything as far as we in the audience can tell; then, as he takes the train out of Berlin, he starts reading from his latest effort. Songs are heard in reprise, and this is justified as Cliff sorts through his memories. His later experiences of rising Nazism and soured romance justify the dissonances. There’s so much scope for directors in this part of the show that it keeps developing, from mirrors wherein the audience see themselves, to the cast being led off to concentration camps. It’s almost impossible for later writers to repeat this fine achievement, so why bother trying?

Why this trope needs to die: If anything should be personal, and distinctive, it’s madness. But if all madness sounds the same, how mad is it? This trope is almost always an example of writing that mimics other writers’ writing, instead of coming up with something unique to a particular character, at a particular time. Write a brand new song, folks. The Cray Cray Megamix is lazy.

18 More Eurochoruses

Semi-Final 2. Here’s how the refrains worked out, in terms of tonic chords and otherwise.

Serbia – Nije ljubav stvar

Not in verse-chorus form, which makes a nice change. But the tonic chord happens at the start of the refrain.

Macedonia – Crno i belo

Tonic chorus.

Netherlands – You and Me

Tonic chorus.

Malta – This Is the Night

Tonic on the refrain. I had a brief ethical dilemma with this one – after all, the verses are minor, but the chorus hits the tonic major. So how come major key Malta gets a pass, but Switzerland’s major verse/minor chorus qualified as a key change, with a non-tonic chord at the top?

I reason thus: Switzerland used an interrupted cadence, and the start of the chorus felt like a break, like a fresh idea. Malta have used a perfect cadence, and the chorus feels like coming home, as though the song was really in a major key all along.

Belarus – We Are the Heroes

Tonic chorus.

Portugal – Vida minha

It’s nearly the tonic chord at the top of the chorus, but it takes a bar to resolve.

Ukraine – Be My Guest

Another song with the same chord progression throughout (I-bIII-bVII-IV). Tonic right at the top.

Bulgaria – Love Unlimited

Tonic chorus.

Slovenia – Verjamem

Tonic chorus.

Croatia – Nebo

Damn, but all these songs sound the same tonight. Non-tonic chorus, however.

Sweden – Euphoria

Tricky, this one. It feels like the tonic minor when the chorus starts, but then the chorus itself moves to, and stays on, the relative major (at the “uh-uh-uh-uh” bit). It finishes in the major too, so I have to call this a non-tonic chorus.

Georgia – I’m a Joker

Another song that isn’t in verse-chorus form. Tonic on the refrain. If it were up to me, this sort of thing would win a lot more often than it does. Which is pretty much never.

Turkey – Love Me Back

Such a tease on the dominant the first time, before the chorus happens! Tonic chord when it does.

Estonia – Kuula

Ah, my old friend! Can’t Smile Without You, Last Christmas, Cuts Both Ways, Why God Why?, how I have missed you. Tonic on the first chord of the refrain. Nice extension of the form after that, but tonic on the refrain.

Slovakia – Don’t Close Your Eyes

Tonic on the refrain.

Norway – Stay

Depends what you call the chorus. It probably has to be the “I don’t know what I’m doing tonight” section, which would qualify as a non-tonic chorus. More songs with flattened ninths, please.

Bosnia and Herzegovina – Korake ti znam

Tonic chord on the refrain. Pretty extensions on the tonic chord the first time, but still the tonic chord.

Lithuania – Love Is Blind

Tonic refrain.

Of the ten qualifying songs, eight tonic chord refrains. And two non-tonic refrains, obviously.

Of the eight non-qualifying songs, two non-tonic refrains – there were only four non-tonic refrains in the entire night.

But this means that the twenty songs in the final (so far – The Big Five and host country are yet to be heard) will feature four non-tonic refrains, from a possible ten, and sixteen tonic refrains, from a possible twenty-six.

40% chance of qualifying for a non-tonic chorus, 61.5% for tonic. If the favourites, Sweden, win (and they may have already done so, but faithful Australians won’t watch the final until Sunday night, our time), they’ll have the first non-tonic winning refrain since the hat-trick of Latvia’s “I Wanna” in 2002, Turkey’s “Everyway That I Can” in 2003, and Ukraine’s “Wild Dances” in 2004.


Eurokeys, Eurochords and the Eurochorus

For those who’ve not heard me bang on about this in the past, a little preamble.

I contend (and I’ve crunched the numbers) that a Eurovision entry has a better chance of winning if the song’s chord progression hits the tonic chord at the top of the refrain. There was a time when I thought the song had to be in a major key, too, but several recent minor key winners have shaken my faith there.

No doubts about the tonic chord at the top of the refrain, though. For non-musicians, the tonic chord is the home chord of a song’s key. If the song is in the key of D major, D major is the tonic chord. If the song is in F minor, F minor is the tonic chord. The refrain is usually the chorus, but even in songs that aren’t in verse-chorus form, the refrain is the part that’s heard the most.

The tonic chord makes a progression sound as though it’s arrived somewhere, like it’s come home. Here’s an example, for a song in D major:

Verse: |D        |E         |A   G    |A        |

|D        |E         |A   G    |A        |

|Bm     |Bm     |Bm       |E7      |

|A         |A7      |

Chorus:  |D        |D         |G          |G          |

|A         |A         |D          |A         |

That’s the progression for ABBA’s Waterloo. Think about how that chorus lands right at its beginning (“always repeating itseeeeeeeeeelf … Waterloo”). Boom. That’s how you win Eurovision.

I’m not saying there aren’t magnificent songs with refrains that start on something other than the tonic chord. All The Things You Are famously holds off on the tonic chord until its very end, and it’s gorgeous. Kylie Minogue’s I Should Be So Lucky, to pick a pop song example, saves the tonic chord until the final bar of the chorus, and it sold a truckload of singles. But a chorus that sounds restless, or that sounds forward-moving is, I think, not a Eurochorus. The Eurochorus feels like this:

This. Here. This is the chorus. Now.

Last night, for Aussie viewers, was Eurovision’s first Semi-Final. Here’s how the entries, in tonic refrain terms, played out:

MontenegroEuro Neuro

Like a lot of – ahem – rap, this song has a one-chord funk groove for the verses. The chorus shifts to a different chord, effectively functioning as a movement away from the tonic. Plus it’s dreadful.

IcelandNever Forget

Minor key verse, which resolves to the tonic. Pre-chorus, or climb, that works itself up to a big fat dominant chord (that’s the fifth chord of the scale, and it longs to resolve to the tonic). Then, sure enough, tonic minor chord, right at the top of the chorus. The third chorus has the vocals-only-breakdown-at-the-key-change trick. Worthy of Broadway. Not good Broadway, but still.

GreeceAphrodisiac

Minor key verse, which works up to the dominant. Minor key chorus, starting on the tonic. Vocals-only breakdown on the third chorus, but without the key change.

LatviaBeautiful Song

Minor key verse, which resolves to the tonic. Chorus finishes on the tonic, but doesn’t start there. Oh, and a vocals-only breakdown for the third chorus.

AlbaniaSuus

Minor key verses, the second of which resolves to the tonic. The chorus (quite pretty, these chords) starts away from the tonic, and gets back there by the end. Someone did a jazzy, trained-musician chord progression like this last year, and they didn’t win either.

RomaniaZaleilah

Major key verse (in fact, it’s the classic I-V-vi-IV four-chord progression). Tonic chord at the top of the chorus.

SwitzerlandUnbreakable

Major key verse, working up to the dominant. Then an interrupted cadence! Relative minor chord at the top of the chorus! This becomes the new tonic, and the songs resolves in the minor key. Emo madness!

Belgium Would You

Major key verse, which works up to the dominant. Chorus starts on the tonic.

FinlandNar Jag Blundar

Nice chord progression, this one. You can’t tell if the song’s major or minor, until it hits the chorus. Turns out it’s minor, but the chorus doesn’t start on the tonic.

IsraelTime

Major key verse, working its way to the dominant. A major key chorus, with the tonic firmly at the top.

San MarinoThe Social Network Song

Minor key verse, ends on the dominant. Minor key chorus, with the tonic at the start. Also dreadful.

CyprusLa La Love

Minor key verse, which resolves to the tonic. Pre-chorus resolves to the tonic too. Chorus starts away from the tonic. Vocals-only breakdown on the third chorus!

DenmarkShould’ve Known Better

One of those songs with the same chord progression throughout, and it’s one that starts on the tonic minor: i – III – bVII – IV, a faithful standby heard most often in the verses to Wonderwall, by Oasis.

RussiaParty For Everybody

Tonic minor for the verse? Wait, it wasn’t a verse. OK, that’s the verse, with a tonic minor. Pre-chorus works its way to the dominant, then boom – tonic minor on the chorus.

HungarySound of Our Hearts

Minor key verse, resolving on the tonic. Then the chorus starts on the tonic too, which is a bit of a snooze, harmonically. Later, the second verse introduces a little pre-chorus, ending on the bVII. Tonic at the top of the chorus.

AustriaWoki Mit Deim Popo

Minor key verse, with “rapped” vocals, ending on the bVII. Minor key chorus, with the tonic at the top. Horrendous.

MoldovaLautar

Minor key verse, dominant at the end, and tonic minor at the top of the chorus. Key change for the final choruses. Easily my favourite song of the night, which is never a guarantee of success.

IrelandWaterline

Major key verse, pre-chorus takes it up to the dominant. Then the chorus is in a new key! But it starts on that new key’s tonic major chord. Reminds me, structurally, of Westlife’s When You’re Looking Like That. Vocals-only breakdown on the third chorus. Naturally.

Iceland, Greece, Albania, Romania, Cyprus, Denmark, Russia, Hungary, Moldova and Ireland made it into the final. Of these ten songs,  eight began their choruses on the tonic.

Montenegro, Latvia, Switzerland, Belgium, Finland, Israel, San Marino and Austria were eliminated. Of these eight songs, four began their choruses on a chord other than the tonic.

We’ll see how it all pans out in the final, of course.


Eurotheory, Part Three – The Final Countdown

So here they are, the top ten countries in Eurovision 2011:

Azerbaijan
Italy
Sweden
Ukraine
Denmark
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Greece
Ireland
Georgia
Germany

Here’s how they look as choruses in a major/minor key, starting on the tonic chord (key change in parentheses):

major, tonic (no)
minor, tonic (no)
minor, tonic (hell, yes)
minor, tonic (no)
major, tonic (no)
minor, non-tonic (yes)
minor, tonic (yes)
minor, tonic (no)
minor, tonic (no)
minor, tonic (no)

Commiserations to the songwriters who tried starting their choruses on something other than the tonic. May they console themselves with dark mutterings about voting blocs and former Soviet economies.

Eurotheory, Part Two

The following table shows the results from the second semi-final of Eurovision 2011. It was a big night for choruses in the minor key (only five out of nineteen choruses were in a major key), and seven choruses began on something other than the tonic chord (usually a IV chord, closely followed by the tonic). The qualifying nations are in festive pink, and notice that, despite the fashion for minor keys:

Of the ten qualifiers, eight began their choruses on the tonic.

Of the nine non-qualifiers, only four began their choruses on the tonic chord.

I’m telling you, Europe, tonic chord at the top of the chorus. Major or minor. Go with the odds.

The AABA for Moldova (my favourite of the night, incidentally) indicates that they didn’t use verse/chorus form, but their refrain still began on the tonic.

And Sweden gets a double tick for key changes, because the song already changed key between each verse and chorus, and still gave everyone a big fat key change for the final chorus. That’s some serious Eurovision writing and arranging right there.

Eurotheory, Part One

According to my major key, tonic chorus theory, the first semi-final of Eurovision 2011 should have eliminated Albania, Turkey, Russia, Portugal and Serbia (non-tonic choruses).

The contest is in a rut of minor key choruses at the moment (the last five winners), so Poland, Georgia, Malta and Hungary (minor choruses, started on the tonic) should have been in with a chance. Greece had a chorus starting on the tonic minor, and with a big fat key change towards the end, so that’s good odds.

The countries that ought to have done even better, according to the theory, are Lithuania, Armenia, (minor key, but major key tonic chorus), Azerbaijan, Iceland, San Marino, Finland, Switzerland, and Norway (major key, major chorus starting on the tonic), with Croatia doing particularly well (major key, major chorus starting on the tonic and a big fat Eurokey change).

In reality, the eliminated countries were Poland, Norway, Albania, Armenia, Turkey, Malta, San Marino, Croatia and Portugal.

So my theory predicted three out of five eliminees purely on the basis of a non-tonic chorus. And I was really, really wrong about Croatia.

Of course, if one actually listens to the songs, and sees the performances, Serbia’s non-tonic chorus is overidden by its Bacharach-esque charm. It’ll do well.

Also, I think the songs are getting shorter (no data, just a hunch), and that makes the big Euro key change harder to pull off. A grand institution is under threat, folks.

A Collection of I – iii Chord Progressions

If you’re my age, and incurably white, when you heard this song …

The chorus made you think of this song:

It’s not just the melody. It’s that progression from the tonic chord to the minor chord on the mediant. When I was at the School of Music, we were always taught that, say, Em was a viable substitute for Cmaj. But they’re not substitutes in the world of popular songwriting – oh no, they’re two very different chords, with only one note different (the tonic shifts down to the leading note), and you can use them to make your listeners cry like little girls.

With only one note changing between the two chords, you might expect a songwriter to use that leading note in the melody. Lady Antebellum’s song does, first popping up to the dominant and down to the sweet money spot (“need you now“). So does the Alan Parsons Project song, coming down from the mediant (“I can re-ad your mi-ind”).

I used this chord progression myself, in a heartbreaking song devoted to my testicles, and played with the way the tonic and leading note change functions against the two chords (from chord tone with auxiliary note below, to chord tone with auxiliary note above). But I wasn’t thinking about auxiliary notes, or the Alan Parsons Project. I was thinking of this song:

Laurie Anderson takes the prize. Only two chords, count ’em: tonic and mediant. Eight and a half minutes.

Adventures in NOVA-land, Part Four

So it turns out I can orchestrate a bit.  No need for a ticker-tape parade just yet, but I can orchestrate a bit.

Not that the point of all this is to make me feel good about myself.  The point of this is for me to learn the sort of minute detail that makes the difference between a terrific orchestra call and a painful one.

To wit, the French Horn player (relax, she was just lovely to me), who asked:

“Would you like da da-da?  That is, should I re-articulate the second note, to match the singer?”

“Yes,” I say.  “Is that what I’ve written?”

“No, this is more da-ah-ah …”

“Oh, well, no, the first, to match the singer would be better.”

“OK.”

And there it could have rested, but curiosity got the better of me.

“For future reference,” I said, coming over, “how should I notate that so it’s clearer?  How would I write it so that you automatically re-articulate the second note?”

“Like this.  Remove this, and add this.”

Here’s a visual.  We’re talking about the difference between this:

And this:

See?  One has the phrase mark over all the notes, and the other just between the first two.  If French Horns weren’t so damn great when they’re well-orchestrated and well-played, you might be tempted not to care, but French Horns are damn great when they’re well-orchestrated and well-played.

Incidentally, it has taken me twenty years to learn this about orchestration:

Instruments sound best playing what those instruments should play.

That’s it.  Don’t give an oboe a line that rightly belongs to a trumpet.  Get a trumpet.  Or write an oboe line.  Also, don’t take instruments out of their best range so that triads remain triads.  Put the instruments in their best registers, and you’ll get the same impact as the original triads, even if it’s now spaced over more than an octave.

I will learn this again and again before I really learn it, though.