Thursday, December 2, 2010

Trippin' with Chestnuts

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas here at MMmusing, with decorations overhead linking to past Christmas specials. I was hoping to come up with a new and brilliant multimedia creation for the season this year - but, you're getting this video instead. It is new.

It's been a mashup kind of year on the blog, highlighted by this bit of mischief, so I started thinking about good possibilities for blending Christmas songs. (I have, of course, been down that road before.) So, I thought, why not "THE Christmas Song"? I have to admit that I used to hate this song - it's so maudlin and  features some truly vapid lyrics, such as "...and every mother's child is gonna spy..."? As opposed to every father's child? Or every motherless child? And isn't "chestnuts" an awfully clunky word to be set so expansively? (Whoops, I'm starting to sound as grumpy as Stephen Sondheim deconstructing all the lyricists we used to think were good. Let's move on.)

The famous Johnny Mathis rendition was featured on one of the many Goodyear "Great Songs of Christmas" records that my siblings and I used to wear out every December. I remember thinking that song was about the worst waste of three minutes imaginable. But, the years go by, and gradually I've find myself feeling a vague nostalgia for this vaguely nostalgic old chestnut. (Whereas, I think I always appreciated the giddy delights of this Ray Conniff arrangement I like to call, "Hark, the Herald Angels Rumba." Seriously, check that video out [should link to the 2:44 mark], if only to watch Conniff bouncing along in his cardigan.) Let's face it, experiencing music is often as much about place and memory as it is about notes. At least, that's what I'm telling myself, having now spent more hours than I'd ever have expected with these 2-3 minutes.

The beauty of this song for mashup purposes is that it's already so soupy that it blends quite naturally, like Campbell's® in a casserole - and what better to blend it with than itself? Instead of "double the Johnny," I've enlisted Mr. Tony Bennett to man the other half of this duet, and as an added bonus, Tony's in a different key! Yet, because both arrangements are so schmaltzy and mellow, with their hazy rhythms and beds of sappy strings, the blend doesn't sound stridently dissonant - just blurry and, well...trippy. And, quite frankly, the Mathis version was pretty trippy already; I'm just helping it towards its logical conclusion. I actually used this new mashup as an example in class today during a discussion of polytonality - following on my tried-and-true Heart & Soul trick. (And then I threw in something by Stravinsky...)

To be specific, Mathis is in D-flat, and Bennett's a whole step up in E-flat - like some sort of global appoggiatura. As with my Callas-Fleming "Canon a 2 Tempi," I just set these guys off at the same time by synchronizing the "Chestnuts," and then let the individual phrases fall where they fell. Tony pulls ahead pretty early, but things settle into a satisfying, lazy back-and-forth for much of the rest of the song. My favorite happy coincidence is how Mathis finishes up (technically, his version is supposed to go over the bridge again, but I cut that) and then fades into the end of the Bennett playout, so we get an almost Coplandesque final cadence. Almost.

As for the visuals, I don't really know what to say. YouTube is the best place to post multimedia these days, and simply adding a few random still images seemed like a copout. So I took the "cottage in the snow" picture found on the Mathis video as an inspirational starting point for a dreamy (some might say "hallucinogenic") trip through some of those trite verbal images. And...scene!

[If you have a way to adjust the balance on your computer (or if you have headphones!), you should be able to isolate Bennett on the left and Mathis on the right, to get the blend that's just right for you.]

1 comment:

Banshee said...

"Every mother's child" is a very old and (historically) common expression for "every human being". (Except Adam and Eve, anyway.) "Every mother's son of us" is another way to say it.

The point is not having a mother at the moment, but that any human one is likely to meet obviously was born of some woman at some point. Everybody had a mother and a father at some point, even if only a father for a second and a mother for nine months or less.

"Cliche" would be more of a criticism -- except that obviously it's not a cliched expression these days.