Monday, March 04, 2013

On Reaching Into The Scene

I set up a scene. An artificial moment.
I was going to draw it, not photograph it,
but not really draw it, either, just study it.
I wanted to sketch the different elements
to see if I could draw them, to see if they looked
the way I thought they’d look in a composition—
An unmade bed, two pillows, bright sunlight, shadows
and a musical instrument alone in bed.

I was thinking about the song “Scarborough Fair”
as a kind of soundtrack behind Los Angeles.

In my mind the song and city go together.

Before starting to draw I looked at the keyboard
and I could see as clear as the keyboard itself
the pattern made by the melody of the song
the shapes made by fingers moving from key-to-key.

The chorus part, “Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme”
contains what musicians call an “accidental”—
a note from outside the scale the song’s arranged in.

But the patterns and shapes of “...rosemary and thyme...”
fit perfectly and had a kind of symmetry
with the music to the phrase, “ Scarborough Fair”
and the note that’s called “outside” the scale, “rose-mar-y
seemed to fit as perfectly as the other notes
when seen as a pattern, a shape, across the keys.

I’ve never been good with what’s called “music theory”
but I’ve tried and I keep trying and I have heard
good musicians describe conditions in a song
that are clues to a temporary change of key
and if that happens the song’s harmonic backdrop
makes available different notes and chord-forms
than what you find in the song’s main key signature.

That kind of thinking has never meant much to me
because I’ve never really had a solid grasp
of the scales and relationships of all twelve keys.

But I’ve made it a point to work in all twelve keys
and I’m more relaxed thinking about all twelve keys
and “Scarborough Fair” is such a beautiful song
with a melody that is fun to think about
and I never even touched pencil to paper.

I got in bed with the keyboard and turned it on
and I played “Scarborough Fair” with harmonized chords
from a single scale, and then I played a version
built entirely around major seventh chords
as if the song modulated every few bars.

It never occurred to me that you could do that.

Jumping around the circle of fifths felt bizarre
but the jumps had symmetry and they sounded right.

And the song “Scarborough Fair” sounded beautiful
to my ears, even more beautiful played that way
than built on a scale which I understood better.

I never made a drawing. Not even a sketch.

It was as if I fell into Los Angeles.

It was as if I visited Scarborough Fair.

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme let me come back.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

On Stepping Into The Surround

Sun (And Moon) Over Scarborough Fair

Painting Los Angeles In Earth Colors

Los Angeles As An Insane Painting

“Suddenly The World Is Full Of Holes”

Things Of No Value To The Hangman

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This is a recreation of what my bed looked like for much of this weekend:

This was a wild weekend for me. I feel like I’ve been to outer space and back. I’ve been fortunate to know a lot of jazz musicians and they have almost always spoken of key signatures as a kind of convenience rather than a kind of rule. The idea from what I heard and tried to understand was that sound, rather the music itself, what a musician hears and feels, is always the ultimate arbiter of what is right and wrong in an arrangement. Other than a couple of simple rock songs that only sounded good with major triads, I’ve never felt comfortable enough with my musical abilities to really even try doing something outside scale-based progressions.

This was one of the most fun weekends I’ve ever had with music.

Even if parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme hadn’t let me come back, I still would have gone.


Just roughly, in general, this is how I would approach the harmony for “Scarborough Fair” using harmonized chords in the key of G:

CM7     GM7     D7     CM7
Are you going to Scarborough Fair

GM7     CM7     F#m7b5     GM7
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

CM7     Bm7     F#m7b5     GM7
Remember me to one who lives there

CM7     F#m7b5     D7     Em7/G
She once was a true love of mine

This look insanely busy, even ludicrously busy, but if you play carefully and steadily and pick-and-choose chord voicings carefully and how they fall with the syllables, syllable by syllable shaping the syllables, this is a wildly different arrangement that I really like. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a more “standard” arrangement:

CM7     GM7     DM7     CM7
Are you going to Scarborough Fair

GM7   A#M7   CM7   A#M7   GM7   AM7   FM7   GM7
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

CM7     A#M7     FM7     GM7
Remember me to one who lives there

CM7   GM7   FM7   D#M7   DM7   CM7   A#M7   D#M7   DM7
She once was a true love of mine

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