07.30.2008

The same college friend Albert who talked about inspiration as aesthetic also told me once, “Music is all about space.” He used as an example one of his favorite bands, Dream Theater, saying, “They’re a group of amazing musicians who have no concept whatsoever of musical space.” The concept of musical space can refer to horizontal space, such as pauses or rests in the music; vertical space, such as the voicing of a chord (which notes of the chord are played in which registers); or a third dimension, for example involving other instruments. Albert’s example of Dream Theater suggested that they lacked a proper understanding of 1) horizontal space, because there were never any breaks in the music and there was sound going on constantly; and 2) spatiality, because instruments would step on each other’s toes and get in each other’s way instead of giving each instrument its own space (musically speaking, not physically, of course).

The song “What Is This Feeling?”, from Stephen Schwartz’s soundtrack for Wicked, is an example of an excellent use of musical space, while also being one of my favorite songs in the show. In the intro and beginning of the song, the instrumental accompaniment is sparse, both in the number of instruments and in the notes that they play. The texture of the music (which Wikipedia defines as the number of musical voices and their relationship to each other) is very light: not many instruments are playing, and they only put in a few chords here and there with lots of empty space in between, which creates a clear, open feeling.

(There is also a great detail in this section, as I mentioned in my opening post about Wicked. Notice that the hi-hat cymbal precedes each chord played by the other instruments: quick note by hi-hat–chord!…space…quick note by hi-hat–chord!, etc. It’s a small, delicate touch, but it punctuates the chords and sets them off very nicely.)

The song also makes good use of form, as the texture consistently thickens as the song progresses. The accompaniment grows denser and becomes more complex, although the general feel remains light. The choir enters to attest their agreement with Galinda’s loathing of Elphaba; then, after they sing a short interlude by themselves, they sing a chorus layered on top of Galinda and Elphaba singing the verse in harmony, which is a very effective use of space in which each part has its own room to work without getting in the way of the others.

Finally, the melody of the song is also worth noting. While the verses are pretty conservative and stepwise in motion, the chorus consists of leaps that are not as conventional in vocal music, but work well and make the song unique. Next to “Defying Gravity,” which shall perhaps be the crowning post of this week, “What Is This Feeling?” is probably my favorite song on the soundtrack.

You can listen to the whole song, courtesy of iLike, here: click on the third “play” button on the left in the list (next to “What Is This Feeling? by Stephen Schwartz”).

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    Ryan Fleming on 07.30.2008

    I really love this song. I love it when a beat/pulse can be felt in a song without the presence of percussion. This is definately the case in this song. And when the percussive eighth notes enter (at 1:30), it just fits right in.

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    Darth_Harbison on 07.30.2008

    Just as a random thought from a theater person about the music on this song, the way that the whole song is set up, and specifically the intro, I can listen to the song once and hear how the choreography should go. I don’t think I’ve ever had that experience with any other song, but it always struck me as really cool how this song basically choreographs itself just by the music.

    I’d agree that next to Defying Gravity this is the best song in the show . . . I REALLY want to do a duet audition with this song someday.

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    Albert on 07.30.2008

    I’m so very honored to be mentioned on TLB, twice at that! (at least I’m assuming I’m the Albert–I’ll pretend I am anyway).

    I’d like to congratulate you on reading all kinds of deep and subtle meaning into my off-hand, totally uninformed comments (one of which I don’t even remember saying). I probably stole those ideas from somewhere and didn’t have the decency (as you had) to mention where I heard them.

    Next time one of our many, many conversations about learning Chinese comes up on MY blog, you’ll receive full credit, I assure you.

    Keep on rockin’!

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