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Close Harmony

I’ve been low-energy for most of this past week, and haven’t made much progress on various projects. These things happen. I filled in some holes (of which there are many) in my memoirs, but mostly I’ve been prowling YouTube for new music. I hear occasional classical cuts on KBAQ that I’ve never heard before and buy them as singles on Amazon, usually for 99c or (at most) $1.25. So I have classical covered. I do like pop music. My collection is…big. But I’ve been gathering it since I was in high school, and I’ve heard it all a lot. I’ve caught myself being impatient when one track or another isn’t over yet. That’s a pretty clear sign that I need to freshen up the collection a little.

I’ve been looking on YouTube. A lot of people probably haven’t caught on to the fact that whatever music you like is probably in buried in that huge pile somewhere. Really, it’s not all cute puppy videos. I consider the Monkees’ cover of the Mann-Weil song “Shades of Gray” pretty obscure. It was never on a single, even as a B-side. But it’s there. The accompanying video is forgettable. In truth, I generally don’t watch the video portion of a song playing. The other day I was taking notes on The Molten Flesh and listening to a lot of different things. I put the browser down in the taskbar. It’s a lot like listening to the radio, and all it takes to “change the station” is to bring the browser back up into view and look for something else.

As long as I’ve listened to music, what has mattered to me are melody and harmony. Youtube does a pretty good job of suggesting tracks I might like after I play something. So I jump from one song and one artist to another. There are plenty of misses. The hits I add to a playlist. The best of the best I buy on Amazon and copy to the thumb drive that plugs into my stereo in the Durango.

One of the first things I found startled me for a number of a reasons. It’s the Podd Brothers’ NYC Virtual Choir and Orchestra, performing the old hymn “How Can I Keep from Singing.” There must be a hundred singers and musicians, all at home, each shown in a window in a matrix that scans around as the track plays. The harmony, wow, particularly toward the end when the orchestra goes quiet and the singers go full a capella. I was startled by the faces, which are the faces of ordinary people, which is to say, not movie stars or rock stars, of all ages and races. Any of them could have been my friend, and by the end of the song I caught myself wishing that all of them were. And that’s music, with a capital M!

Most of my old friends were present. I’ve been listening to Celtic Woman for a long time. Some of my colleagues dislike the big stage productions they prefer, but I’m not in it for the video. Their cover of “The Parting Glass” is wonderful. I’m not a huge fan of bagpipes, but in this case, well, it fits. Another solid piece they have is “Tir Na Nog,” which I had not heard before.

Perhaps the best discovery so far is Brigham Young University’s Noteworthy, an a capella group of college-age women, and they are good. Close harmony doesn’t get a whole lot better than this. Consider their cover of “When You Believe” from the animated film Prince of Egypt. It’s a powerful piece from anyone who performs it well, and this is hands-down the best I’ve ever heard. “Be Thou My Vision” is another favorite hymn here. Listen to harmony on this one, yikes.

The biggest single surprise so far is almost certainly the One Voice Children’s Choir. Getting what looks like most of forty or fifty kids to sing harmony is a feat that boggles the mind. And they are really, really good. Consider their cover of the Chainsmokers’ 2017 hit, “Something Just Like This” It’s a terrific song, and even better when the voices are this good. The first time I heard it I had a weird realization: This song could be a duet between Larry and Sheri, the stars of my novel Dreamhealer. Larry reads all the old books (which get him into quite a bit of trouble) whereas Sheri wants a good man at her side, and she could do without all the occultish dream arcana. (Sheri loves him and follows him anyway, all the way to the center of the Collective Unconscious, to face down the Architect of All Nightmares.) One Voice also does a cover of “When You Believe,” and it’s excellent. Ditto “J’Imagine.” Kid choirs seem to be a thing right now. Here’s one from Ukraine, singing “Something Just Like This.”

Maybe you’re not that into close harmony. No sweat. I don’t listen to rap. As best I can tell, it’s all here. Set aside an evening, pour yourself a drink, and poke around. Whatever might be bothering you, I’m pretty sure you’ll feel better. Worked for me.

4 Comments

  1. Jim Dodd says:

    Thanks for these reviews, Jeff. I will be checking them out. You make them all sound worth a try.

    I’m glad we’re seeing a return of close harmony as another option in music.

  2. Olli says:

    “Youtube does a pretty good job of suggesting tracks I might like…”

    In my case from Claude Debussy to Ted Nugent. 😉

  3. I’m actually LISTENING to music again and enjoying it because of youtube and the recommendation engine. I found whole genres I didn’t even know existed, like electroswing and lofi.

    If you haven’t already, check out Patty Gurdy, who plays a hurdy gurdy and writes new music as well as performs the old… Over the Hills and Far Away gives me shivers. (I feel like I either made the recco before, or YOU made it to me, weird. ) After Patty, your suggested’s might include some Alestorm (pirate metal) or one of my favorites, UNLEASH THE ARCHERS singing “Northwest Passage”. I don’t know why metal and pirates work, but I like it.

    Lindsey Stirling is a youtube phenom, and worth at least a couple of looks.

    Post Modern Jukebox has some truly awesome covers, and your reccos will fill with some powerful female singers.

    Listen to a couple of The HU songs, like Wolf Totem, or Yuve Yuve Yu (mongolian metal!) and you can take a wikiwander into some very interesting mongolian folk. Which might lead you to the viking stuff (Heilung), russian folk, klezmer, celtic (of course), and a whole host of other interesting roots, or revival styles.

    These are just a few of the very interesting things youtube has caught my attention with.

    Oh, and Rick Beato is giving the internet a masters class in listening to music, how music works, the ‘biz’, and what makes a modern song work. I am hearing things I never learned to hear after listening to him.

    Lastly, if you like female a capella and you haven’t watched Pitch Perfect you will enjoy it immensely. I was a theatre geek and did musical theatre not choir or band, but the milieu is close enough that I laughed out loud. The production team stayed together for the sequel and the third movie which is very unusual in Hollywood. The second isn’t quite as good as the first, feels a bit forced, but the third recaptures the spirit of the first and is hilarious. (The commentators providing ‘color’ commentary for a capella competition are just killing it, which makes sense as she’s the writer…)

    Even if some of my suggestions end up being more of a novelty experience than something on your playlist, they will lead to some other fun stuff too.

    I’m enjoying music again, after a long period of just not listening to anything new or new to me, and a large part of that is hearing new stuff on youtube.

    nick

  4. TRX says:

    > One Voice Children’s Choir

    I didn’t even know “children’s choirs” were a thing until I saw the video for KISS Alive IV.

    “Symphonic rock” has been around since the Moody Blues, but KISS had to push the envelope; the had the full Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performing with them, and for “Great Expectations” they also had the Australian Children’s Choir, who are apparently international-grade Hot Stuff in their own right; they tour all over the Far East and Europe.

    The orchestra and the choir perform in front of live audiences; that’s what they *do*. But they apparently weren’t used to the… robust… feedback from a rock show. And then they unwound and were visibly having a blast instead of just delivering a workmanlike job.

    It reminded me of the Leningrad Cowboys’ concert in Helsinki in 1992, when they hired the Red Army as their backup vocalists. The Alexandrov Ensemble were professionals, but again, they weren’t used to rock show feedback.

    They were pretty starched doing “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” By the time they got to “Sweet Home Alabama” they were definitely not maintaining a military bearing…

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