Saturday, December 31, 2011

Leaving the Folk Music Behind

What a cool coincidence to notice that my latest post before the very long break was about a Mamas and Papas song. That band has, in fact, become quite a big favourite since then. I had known about the band for years and I enjoyed some of their songs such as Monday, Monday and I Saw Her Again. The harmonies and vocal arrangements always struck a chord with me but it took a while to finally begin to see all of the beauty behind this group of two men and two women.

The Mamas and the Papas were not a very long-lived band but recorded lots of excellent late 60s baroque/kind-of folk pop music. Huge harmonies, baroque elements and sunny California spirit also justify a link to sunshine pop. In my opinion, the Mamas & the Papas stand out best due to their brisk, cheery male-female vocal harmonies, arranged by John Phillips.

Despite the harmonious, well-balanced, often even playful sounds, lyrics and rhythms, there was quite a bit of drama in the band. The members ended up disliking each other and breaking up on more than one occasion. They however became an iconic American band of the late 1960s having released five albums and several successful singles in 1966–1971. The Mamas and the Papas also performed at the prestigious Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.

As usual, I ended up enjoying this band a great deal after the usual getting-to-know period. There is indeed a lot to love: beatlesque stuff such as Straight Shooter, the huge sunshine pop harmonies of Monday, Monday, the band's most famous hit California Dreamin', a non-successful yet awesome debut single Go Where You Wanna Go, Dancing Bear with its great baroque sensibilities, as well as other quieter songs Got A Feelin' and Strange Young Girls. The Mamas & the Papas also show their talent with several versions of good old classics such as Do You Wanna Dance, Spanish Harlem and Dancing in the Street.

I also discovered a song called Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Going to the Canyon) and knew immediately there was something quite special about the song. Listen to it on the headphones and you'll hear the pure genius of a vocal harmony. There are different interpretations of the lyrics and I don't know which ones are true but the song is anyway amazing in its baroque melancholy.

A lot of the Mamas & Papas magic comes from Cass Elliot's superb vocal abilities which also play an important role in the band's overall sound. I don't pay attention to female singers all that often but here is one that I really appreciate. There is no denying the power of her impeccable sound and sense of style and dynamics. Check out songs such as Dream A Little Dream Of Me, Words Of Love, and The In Crowd.

The Mamas & the Papas are probably usually remembered by California Dreamin' but there is a lot of other great stuff as well. Their charming music is definitely worth checking out.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Going Back in Time – Centuries for a Change

Sorry once again, folks, for my long-lasting absence from this blog. It's been a busy fall but now the holidays are here once again. While trying to get as much rest as I can I also hope to write down some of my most cherished memories of late 2011.

First of all, meet my new favorite live act. They are probably the biggest group of people I have ever seen playing music together. They are the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra, my home town's very own orchestra. Like probably almost any other orchestra, this one performs mostly old classics from the 18th and 19th century but also “new” music of the 20th century and even brand new pieces every now and then.

The transition from popular music to art music surely feels difficult for a lot of people. Classical music differs from popular music in many ways but I don't think there is much reason to be afraid of going to a classical music concert. The first concert may not be the most pleasant experience you can think of but it will get better every time. Classical music doesn't rely on catchy rhythms, explicit melodies or moving lyrics. Instead, there are complex harmonic structures, wildly twisting melodies and dynamics that require sitting on the right seats to be fully appreciated.

However, I am not saying that classical music is difficult. Enjoying any new type of music requires practice. The brain needs to accustom to new ways in which sounds, rhythms, and dynamics are combined. Any person able to sense the basic elements of music will develop a deeper understanding of classical music while listening to different symphonies, concertos, and other pieces.

The first time I heard classical music live was while still in elementary school, which certainly was too early to understand anything about it. Like any other music, classical music is also best served when you are ready for it. Still, now is as good a time as ever to test if you might be ready for classical music.

My interest in classical music began when my dad wanted to take my heavy metal loving brother to listen to some proper acoustic music last summer. I went along and was immediately incredibly moved by the overwhelming harmonious beauty of the violins, cellos and other instruments. A few months later I went to another concert with some people from the university. Then, I realized I wanted to go every week, so I went as often as I could. I heard Barber, Prokofjev, Brahms, Schubert, Finland's pride Bergman and a fabulous concert with music from Weill, Britten and Bartók on my birthday. The last concert of the year was a beautiful baroque Christmas concert with music from Händel, Telemann, Corelli, and Bach.

After all, classical music is actually not so different from baroque pop – the pop part is just kind of replaced with something else. Usually that results in more complex structures, harmonics and melodies that make it more challenging to hear the music as a whole. In the end, perhaps the challenge results in even more rewarding listening experiences.