time to change the way we view music and the arts

Sounds like speech, if you catch my drift.

Woodstock babble

Musical re-imaginings of historical dialogue: A “speech” all its own?
(Cit. Comics.ha.com)

The last piece put up for your reading pleasure touched on the finished work of Hilary Hahn and Cory Smythe, as well as flipping around how we, as a music consuming public, might newly view pieces written and used for encores. It is quite the specific facet to bring to the forefront but not without enough substance to construct an ongoing movement, if everyone took to it enough. That said, presenting this same type of idea for an equally specific musical archetype seems like a farfetched possibility, if not downright impossible. That’s what I thought initially after finishing last week anyway.

Sheer coincidence would have it though, that immediately following my drawing this conclusion, a raw idea came through the shouts and declarations of one very specific, televised clip that aired tat the beginning of last week, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. If you haven’t guessed the clip in question already, we are talking about his immortal “I Have a Dream” speech -and the whole presentation at that- not just an except. My only regret is that I did not get inspired to pose this idea prior to the day itself.

I unleash this premise to the web and to the songwriters of the world:

What if we forged a new spin on the embodiment of history by interpreting speech into music?
Stick with this premise for the moment if you will. Mused over for more than a minute and the potential of this inspiration source seems like if could stand rather well on its own. The representing of truly unique events, while also turning out truly unique compositions one after the other, just by the nature of how and from where every piece’s shape would be drawn and the mold of the “same old grind” of writing about love, sex, drinking and death, could easily get busted apart -and for the better.
Way back when, in the first year of Throw the Dice and Play Nice, in this post, I had expanded upon the discussion of speech patterns and their audible pitch(es), that was breached in a fascinating Radiolab podcast on the human perception of sound. (Here is the whole podcast and the insights of music psychologist, Diane Deutsch.) The reason I bring this out of the archives is to remind, or perhaps newly mention to some, that all speech, regardless of its primary intended purpose, can be feasibly matched to a musical counterpart. After making that acknowledgment, it merely comes down to a matter of how much we do or don’t emphasize this inherent quality and apply it to a musical form for performance or playback.
Now, with what’s been mentioned to this point, have a listen to “I Have a Dream.”

Aside from the popular and repeatedly clipped, climactic and ending segments, there are many additional, unique peaks and valleys during King’s speech; dynamic peaks and valleys that can be attributed to not just loud or soft but to the presentation’s total sense of character: volume, chosen words, order of delivery, King’s individual vocal inflections, head versus chest voice, and so on. Hold these thoughts at the front of your mind and then just listen to the speech, but, not necessarily the words. Just listen to the pure sound, perhaps even disregarding the language component all together. That’s what I found myself doing when the idea of speech set to music struck me. Combined with clear suggestions that tilt toward certain dynamics, the speech’s delivery also lends itself to an assortment of instruments and performance techniques, a steady crescendo on a 120 quarter note, timpani roll, for example, that I believe would create a surprising but satisfying end result if drafted down on some manuscript.
We already have songs that are inspired by images and films that are aggregated to create soundtrack compilations, songs intended for scores written to audibly adorn the former and latter but in a more  indirect manner and, now, we are even starting to more seriously embrace the complexities of music geared specifically toward the amalgamated elements of video gameplay experiences; with research groups like the UK’s “Ludomusicology” taking an enthusiastic spot ‘at the front of the class.’ Imagine what this slight, but still individualist, tweak to indirect scoring of visual action, would do for things like education and memory retention. Not only King’s iconic speech but other common pieces of US academic repertoire like the Gettysburg address, the John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, speeches following 9/11…
Such moments in history could be re-introduced in a way that fuses the best aspects and or benefits of film scoring, creative interpretation, the fundamental scholastic purposes of the animated series, “School House Rock,” the scientific study of effects of music listening on work performance, and, it would add a new place for the application of classical music in daily mainstream study, that does not involve directly competing with other veins of coursework -like the infamous battle against athletics.
Lastly, and probably my favorite possibility to consider with this compositional proposal:
If the setting of historical speeches to music became an accepted pursuit, perhaps, just maybe, we could stop saying “Classical Music in America is Dead,” once and for all.
This, unfortunately, is probably of more wishful thinking than the songwriting niche itself!

Leave a Reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS