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Posts Tagged ‘music’

When I walked out of the bathroom, she was still singing the same tune. She had been singing it on and off for the past several days. The song was now stuck in my head. I loved the song and loved her singing it.

A thought struck me.

“You know what, I just realized something.”

“What?”

“I have started subconsciously associating this song with you. I think that whenever I hear it again, I am going to remember you. It could be someone else singing it, it could be years in the future — I don’t think I can ever hear it without thinking of you.”

“Well, that’s nice.”

She smiled beautifully as I shook my head in only half-mock desperation. There was a long kiss.

She slapped my butt playfully. Her lips pursed. “Off you go,” she said.

I walked out of her apartment and made my way back to mine. Somewhere in the middle, I stopped momentarily to let the song play clearly in my head and felt the association stronger than ever. It was a weird sensation; painfully pleasurable with notes of utter beauty and tragic sadness. But then, I am sure I have been through this with other people before.

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I am always fascinated when the inclusion of a famous song or classical piece in a movie gets it absolutely right. By that I mean that it not only perfectly reflects the mood and meaning of that movie scene but enhances its emotional impact in almost preternatural manner.

Such is the case with Shostakovich’s “Waltz No. 2” in Eyes Wide Shut. I simply can’t get it out my head however much I try. It is such a beautiful piece; flowery, passionate, romantic yet with that indelible tinge of mystery and haunting spookiness. As a theme music for that movie, Stanley Kubrick couldn’t have chosen any better. Enjoy:

What other well known music inclusions for movie soundtracks can you think of that gets it perfect? Off the top of my head, here are a few that give me the chills: “Johnny Came Marching Home” from Dr. Strangelove,  “Hello” from Bitter Moon, “Bang Bang” from Kill Bill, “Girl, You’ll be a Woman” from Pulp Fiction.

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Despite the title, this post is not going to be a complete list but more of a little story.

One day when I came back from a rather stressful day of school and in a really bad mood — I was thirteen at the time — my mom suggested I lie down on my bed, close my eyes and play Mozart’s Piano Concerto 15 on my little cassette player. I did as she said. And that was how it all began.

I discovered Mozart and I have been in love with his music ever since. His genius has helped me tide over so many difficult times.  He has made me laugh in childlike delight on so many occasions. I have occasionally tried to express my gratitude in posts like this and this but I don’t think they really do justice to his greatness.

And it would be wrong not to mention the other composers I have discovered since. Dvorak and his amazing ninth. Beethoven. Bach, Vivaldi, Strauss, Wagner. Tchaikovsky. Copland.

And oh, Bizet! I love Carmen. I could listen to the Habanera all my life. In fact I could watch every performance of Carmen that has ever taken place. I have come to appreciate opera more over the years. This aria from the Marriage of Figaro is magical. It is Mozart after all. But if I have to pick one piece that touches me most intensely — sends tingling sensations through my body and makes me feel part of some indescribable greatness — it would be this miracle. Has there ever been another song as moving? Operas are great. I am going to see one this week — Die Walkure — and the very thought makes me excited.

I cannot say I am anything close to an expert on classical music. I know nothing about the technical aspects of music. I can barely tell keys.  I can’t read. I can neither sing nor play any instrument. But I just love hearing the stuff. It makes me happy. It can make me happier than almost anything else can.

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Below is an abridged translation of the Habanera, currently my favourite song in all of opera.

When will I love you?
Good Lord, I don’t know,
Maybe never, maybe tomorrow.
But not today, that’s for sure.

Love is a rebellious bird
that nobody can tame,
and you call him quite in vain
if it suits him not to come.
Nothing helps, neither threat nor prayer.

The bird you thought you had caught
beat its wings and flew away …
love stays away, you wait and wait;
when least expected, there it is!
All around you, swift, swift,
it comes, goes, then it returns …
you think you hold it fast, it flees
you think you’re free, it holds you fast.

Love is a Bohemian child,
it has never, ever, known law;
If you love me not, then I love you;
If I love you, you’d best beware!

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What’s so special about Carmen?

For one, the truly great music. Carmen is magical melody after magical melody. As for the orchestration, this is what Richard Strauss had to say:

“If you want to learn how to orchestrate, don’t study Wagner’s scores, study the score of Carmen. What wonderful economy, and how every note and every rest is in its proper place!”

Carmen also has a great story that is wonderfully presented. As the Wikipedia article points out, Carmen is extremely innovative in its drama: it alternates comic or sentimental scenes found traditionally in opera-comique with stark realism.

Yet, there is something beyond music or drama that lies at the heart of Carmen’s appeal to me. It is easy to distinguish good art; beyond that, things get very personal. The truly special works of art are those with qualities that talk to you, touch you, in ways that separate them fundamentally from others. Obviously, this aspect is highly subjective; this is why  people usually disagree on their favourite movie or piece of music even when they mostly agree on which movie or music is good.

The opera Carmen epitomizes liberty. The character Carmen is relentless in her passion for freedom. She is strong, extremely sexy and gives everything in her relationships with her lovers. However, she can never be possessed or exorcised of her passionate love for self-determination. For Carmen, all true interactions are voluntary and devoid of any notion of ownership of another person or duty to any institution.

Carmen is willing to live life only on her own terms.  As this book correctly points out, Carmen is “brash, vicious and callous”, yet the quality that defines her over and above all this is “her willingness to be Carmen, a determination to be free and follow her own bliss.” Carmen never gives up her “tireless obsession to control her own destiny.” And this extends beyond mere action, it is a fundamental part of her morality. In the final scene, even when Carmen knows that she will die she refuses to compromise on her principles, instead she courageously faces her fate. Her death is not a dessert for her sins but a consequence of her essential nobility in an ignoble world; her refusal to give up her self-ownership to another person.

(Of course, early audiences and critics did not view it the same way. Carmen was universally denounced as a vile, immoral, shockingly offensive creation.  Times have changed — modern audiences would undoubtedly be more sympathetic to my vision of Carmen as a flawed but heroic character murdered by a jealous man who is her moral and emotional inferior. That’s another aspect of all great art, like life they have many contradictory interpretations.)

It is these thematic elements of Carmen that, for me, lift it from a great opera to something far more special. Like Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Polanski’s Bitter Moon and Hardy’s A mathematician’s apology, Carmen talks to me in that special way that is both infinitely subtle and passionately stirring. It will forever be a part of my heart.

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As I was watching the opera today, it struck me that there were some remarkable similarities between the character of Carmen and a person I loved a long time ago.

I was thinking of this just now and suddenly remembered that her cellphone ring tone used to be the March of the Toreador. She really liked the ring tone and googled it up one day to see its origin. And that is how both of us heard of Bizet and Carmen for the very first time.

Update: While searching on Youtube, I discovered this very cute video:

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I went to see the LA Opera production of  Carmen today.

What can I say about Carmen that hasn’t been said before? I had been waiting to see it for three years. Too often when your expectations are that high, you end up disappointed. Not so with this one.

It was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had. It was the most worthwhile $20 I have ever spent.

When you combine a great story with absolutely magical music you get Carmen. I could of course nitpick. The tenors weren’t that great, Carmen could have been prettier. But the music alone was worth it. Carmen’s voice was fabulous.

And who would have guessed that the opera with the most perfect music ever would also have as its central character a seductive, fiercely independent woman who fears neither heaven nor hell but only believes in freedom and prefers to choose death than compromise on her liberty?

Embedded below are my favourite pieces from Bizet’s masterpiece. Enjoy.




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I can’t make up my mind! I first heard Evita in high school and fell in love. Years went by and my favourite changed to The Phantom of the Opera. It stayed so for a long time till a year ago when I heard Evita again and started preferring it again. Then I heard Jesus Christ Superstar (for the first time) only a months ago and was blown away. JCS was my favourite, till an hour ago, when I re-heard Evita in full. And now I once again think that Evita has the most consistently good music of any ALW musical!

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Musical bliss

I received the 100 Best Opera Classics in the mail today!

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Many years ago, my then girlfriend showed me a website dedicated to “positive music”.

Positive music, the website said, was music without harsh, discordant sounds. It wasn’t the kind of music that arouses negative emotions. It wasn’t music to disturb or change the world. It wasn’t rap, hip-hop, hard rock or grunge. It wasn’t heavy metal. It was music for warmth, for calm and serenity, for happiness and harmony.

As far as I remember, the classification was based on the musical quality of the sounds alone. The lyrics were incidental. They even had short audio files to illustrate what kind of sounds count as positive and what don’t.

It was an interesting site and I enjoyed it. I don’t know why I remembered it a short while ago.

I tried to find it with a google search.

What I found was this site, ostensibly of the “Positive Music Association”, and full of words like these:

The PMA is about seeing music not only as entertainment but as a means of creating positive change in the world. People drawn to Positive Music often are interested in subjects like personal development and empowerment, social transformation and peace, and in creating healthy and sustainable environments, relationships and communities. We encourage artistic integrity and social responsibility.

Positive Music is not: love songs, because they do not necessarily inspire action or change; religious since they are not inclusive of all human beings, just those who prescribe to that particular religion; simply happy songs unless they inspire appreciation or action; or anti-songs (e.g. anti-war, anti-drug) unless they focus on solutions.

Somewhere in these six years, the music went out of it. Or more likely, I just didn’t find the correct site.

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My car radio is usually tuned to FM 91.5, better known as classical KUSC. The channel plays beautiful classical music, but because they are listener supported, every three months they go on donation overdrive.

So, I was listening to them go on and on about how I should help keep the music going, and that if I pledge $180, that is $15/month to them for a year, I would receive a 6 CD collection of the 100 best Opera classics.

Don’t get me wrong — I love KUSC and I totally appreciate the fact that they need the support of those who listen to them. However, I really prefer their music to recitals of their phone number, repeated ad nauseum.

They must have realized what I was thinking, for they started playing songs from the promised 6 CD collection. In particular, they played this miracle.

Who said music can’t move you? To cut a long story short, I am now a donor and waiting for my promised CDs to show up.

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Having just finished an enourmous sandwich at Panera’s, I walked towards my car in order to drive to a nearby coffeeshop (which is where I am writing this post from). Today is blazing hot and as I entered my car it felt like I was inside a pizza brick oven.

I stepped on the brake, turned the key, shifted the gear and released the brake. The beast started moving. Simultaneously, the car radio came to life. This was playing.

I laughed out loud in child-like delight.

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I was listening today to a recording of Evita that my apartment-mate had borrowed from the Glendale library. It made me travel, as music often does, back in time. To be precise, nine years and three months ago.

I used to go to a boys school and my friends and I were understandably delighted one day to learn that an all-girls group from a Himalayan boarding school were soon going to perform in our auditorium. It would be a musical, we were informed, though at that time I didn’t really know what that meant. My only exposure to music outside the staple fare of Bengali and Hindi songs had been some Western classical — mostly Mozart — and a heterogenous collection of old pop — ABBA, Cliff Richard, John Denver.

On the day of the performance I was dismayed to learn that most of my friends had made other plans. However I decided to go ahead on my own. I had never seen a musical before and was also curious to see how well these girls from the school with a quaint name (which I have sadly forgotten today) would carry it off. The musical was called Evita, of course, and the brochure handed to us neatly summarised the story and even had the lyrics to most of the songs. I thought that was very professional and it gave me a good feeling about the show itself.

The moment the show started, I realised that it was going to be nothing like I had ever seen in my life.

For those girls were good. They were really damn good. They sang effortlessly and acted brilliantly. Everything about them seemed to have been choreographed to perfection. There were no slip-ups, indeed no mistakes worth pointing out. They were all so pretty and graceful as they danced and emoted and moved around the stage that I was simply mesmerized. And they were just kids my age!

And the songs. I just loved them! Since then I have heard a lot of other work by Andrew Lloyd Webber but the magic of that night was something special. As I left the show there was no doubt in my mind that I had witnessed something utterly spectacular which I would not forget as long as I lived.

And indeed, as I heard the same music today, nine years later, those memories came back to me clear as ever. That was a memorable night and not just for the performance I witnessed. It was also the date when I discovered certain swellings on my neck that terrified me and changed the course of my life for a long time. That, however, is another story entirely.

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I am a big fan of the Los Angeles opera and their upcoming 2008/2009 season is amazing. Hell, it’s breathtaking.

Just consider some of the operas coming up over the next twelve months:

Madame Butterfly, by Puccini; number one on the list the list of most performed operas in the US.

Carmen, by Bizet; in my opinion the opera with the greatest score ever.

The Magic Flute by Mozart; yes Mozart.

Die Walkure by Wagner; full of superb music like the rousing “Ride of the Valkyries“, and featuring Placido Domingo, recently voted the best tenor ever, as Siegmund.

La Traviata by Verdi; which contains this magical, magical duet and some of the most beautiful and popular opera music you will ever hear.

Wow.

 

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If you are ever in Las Vegas, do not miss this.

For an amazing video of the same thing from the hotel room on the 30th floor, click here.

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