John Williams, Live

If I am a musician at all, it is thanks to John Williams.

John Williams, the five-time Oscar winning composer, who created the soundtracks of so many childhoods with the scores to Star Wars, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones…ok, I think you get the idea.  I listened to his music on repeat in high school.  He made me love marches, appreciate the French horn, and put me to sleep many nights with his “Hymn to the Fallen.”

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Yeah, this guy.  John Williams conducting at Hollywood Bowl By Alec McNayr (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I have had the extreme privilege of seeing John Williams himself conduct the world-class Cleveland Orchestra three times in my life.  Most recently, I saw him conduct the orchestra at their beautiful Severance Hall in the cultural heart of Cleveland.  I bought these tickets eight months in advance and had to purchase a subscription to other orchestra concerts to even get a chance to do so.

It was so worth it.

The evening started with “Sound the Bells! (a classic fanfare) and progressed through a series of hits until finishing with the highlight of excerpts from Star Wars.

 

There were a couple of fun surprises for me.  I was familiar with all the pieces except the Suite from The BFG, which turned out to be a charming, fantastic piece featuring a lot of flutes and the use of a tuba mute, which I don’t think I’d ever seen used before.

Tuba Straight Mute
Yeah, this thing.

Another pleasant surprise was the theme from the ’90s remake of Sabrina, which I honestly forgot he scored.  I promptly went home and watched the movie again on Amazon Prime.  I love that movie, and my husband had somehow never seen it,

I was also pleased to hear some excerpts from Jaws.  I think this is one of his scores that tends to get overlooked; everyone is so familiar with the ominous two-note shark motif that the rest of the score gets forgotten.  Check out “Out to Sea,” which is a jaunty little nautical tune.

Of course, the highlight of the night was the Star Wars music.  It was great to hear some of the new stuff, and for one of the encores they played “Han Solo and the Princess.”

The night really lived up to my expectations.  Williams is such a genial guy, and he spoke about nearly every piece.  I think he enjoyed conducting as much as the audience enjoyed listening; he said that performing with the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall was a “bucket list” type thing for him.  It was just perfect that he was able to be here for the orchestra’s 100th season.

What’s your favorite piece or score by John Williams?  Can you even pick a favorite?

And on Earth, peace to men of goodwill (via John Denver and the Muppets)

Around this time of year, the sounds of the season are constantly playing in my house and car; Celtic Woman, Straight No Chaser, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and many others are regulars in my playlist.  I love Christmas music, and my very favorite album is the sadly-rather-obscure John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together.

We had this album on vinyl when I was a kid, and I learned to use the record player just to be able to play it. It has some darling versions of classic Christmas songs:

  • The Twelve Days of Christmas (BA DUM BUM BUM)
  • Little Saint Nick by Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem (RUN RUN REINDEER)
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Piggy pudding?!?)
  • Silent Night in both German and English, with a brief history of the song

There are also wonderful original songs, most of which I’ve never heard covered by anyone else, which is a shame:

  • The Peace Carol (beautiful flute part)
  • When the River Meets the Sea (more beautiful flute)
  • A Baby Just Like You (can you tell I play flute?)
  • Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913

This last one is my favorite track on the album.  It is a solo by John Denver–no Muppets, therefore less interesting to me as a kid.  But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found it to be one of the most meaningful Christmas songs I know.  The lyrics are adapted from a poem of the same name by Robert Bridges (which is now in the public domain).

Noel: Christmas Eve 1913

Robert Bridges, 18441930

Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis 

A frosty Christmas Eve 
   when the stars were shining
Fared I forth alone 
   where westward falls the hill,
And from many a village 
   in the water’d valley
Distant music reach’d me 
   peals of bells aringing:
The constellated sounds 
   ran sprinkling on earth’s floor
As the dark vault above 
   with stars was spangled o’er.
Then sped my thoughts to keep 
   that first Christmas of all
When the shepherds watching 
   by their folds ere the dawn
Heard music in the fields 
   and marveling could not tell
Whether it were angels 
   or the bright stars singing.

Now blessed be the tow’rs 
   that crown England so fair
That stand up strong in prayer 
   unto God for our souls
Blessed be their founders 
   (said I) an’ our country folk
Who are ringing for Christ 
   in the belfries to-night
With arms lifted to clutch 
   the rattling ropes that race
Into the dark above 
   and the mad romping din.

But to me heard afar 
   it was starry music
Angels’ song, comforting 
   as the comfort of Christ
When he spake tenderly 
   to his sorrowful flock:
The old words came to me 
   by the riches of time
Mellow’d and transfigured 
   as I stood on the hill
Heark’ning in the aspect 
   of th’ eternal silence.

The song distills it beautifully into three shorter stanzas:

A frosty Christmas Eve, when the stars where shining
I traveled forth alone, where westward falls the hill
And for many, many a village, in the darkness of the valley
Distant music reached me, peals of bells were ringing.

Then spread my thoughts to olden times, to that first of Christmases
When shepherds who were watching, heard music in the fields
And they sat there and they marveled, and they knew they could not tell
Whether it were angels, or the bright stars a-singing

But to me heard a far, it was starry music
The singing of the angels, the comfort of our Lord
Words of old that come a traveling, by the riches of the times
And I softly listened, as I stood upon the hill
And I softly listened, as I stood upon the hill

Because you probably just skipped reading that wall of text, I’ll sum up.  The narrator is out walking and hears the church bells ringing for Christmas.  The music, seeming to come from the sky, reminds him of how the angels appeared singing to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus.  He feels their words (Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis = peace to men of goodwill) speaking to him through the Christmas bells.

It’s a beautiful sentiment, and one that gets at the heart of the Christmas season.  It’s a time to pause and appreciate what we have, the beauty of nature and humanity, and let peace fill out hearts, even at the darkest time of year.

So to all you people of goodwill, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I wish you peace–now and throughout the year to come.

Christmas Haul!

I got so many awesome things from my family and friends this Christmas!  One of my friends actually made me pottery.  How cool is that?

Millenium Falcon

You’ve already seen the awesome Falcon my husband made me…it was filled with candy, as well as Star Wars-themed cups.  The cups had images from various movies, etc., but I was kinda disappointed that the Rebels one had Ezra, Kanan, and Zeb but not Hera or Sabine. 😦  I did get a Captain Phasma lollipop though!

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Look, there’s even a satellite dish and a spot for the cockpit to angle off.

He also got me some Christmas lawn decorations.  There was some jumping and excited screaming involved.

t.rex

Yes, that is a T-rex with a Christmas present.  Yes, his head moves.  YES, THERE IS A MATCHING STEGOSAURUS WITH A SANTA HAT THAT ALSO MOVES ITS TAIL.  I’ll post pics of that one some time, too.

My husband is the best.

Books (aka the best gift ever)

  • xxxHolic v1 by the incomparable CLAMP and Ms. Marvel v1 —I want to read more comics this year!
  • Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde—all my friends rave about this author
  • Several sci-fi and fantasy books by local authors, including The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima
  • Skylights by Luther Siler—oh wait, I bought that for myself.

Board Games

  • Splendor—a very fun card drafting/development game with very pretty art.  It has pretty simple mechanics, plays 2-4 people, and has good replay value.
  • Mysterium—the English version of a fun social game I wrote about previously; it’s like a mix of Dixit and Clue
  • B also received One Night Ultimate Werewolf, Sheriff of Nottingham, and Codenames
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The board game pile keeps getting bigger.

Other Media

  • Frozen—there’s going to be a lot of singing
  • The Force Awakens soundtrack by John Williams—I can’t wait to get a better listen to this.  I think it will be great writing music!

Last but not least:

  • R2 soup—yes, my parents got me a can of Star Wars soup as a Christmas present.  I absolutely ate it and it was delicious.
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The Star Wars shapes totally make it taste better.

5 Favorite K-pop MVs of 2015

There were so many great comebacks this year, but these are the videos I was watching on repeat.  And I definitely know some of the dances by now…

  1. “Crazy” by 4Minute

I swear half of this video’s 43,000,000 views are from me.  In general I like tough hip-hop concepts better than cutesy pop ones, and the girls of 4Minute (including Hyuna of “Gangnam Style” fame) pulled this one off perfectly.  The song is fierce, with great dance and rap parts.  I love the effect of the black and white with occasional pops of color.  And those hats!

2. “Dope” by BTS

BTS is a younger group but they’re already one of my favorites.  This song is a total earworm, and the video’s choreography is probably my favorite this year.  I love the “profession” costumes the boys are in, both because it fits thematically also because it helps the viewer tell them apart.

BTS always has very personal lyrics (rappers Suga and Rap Monster in particular always write their own parts); at first I liked how they’re proclaiming their hard work, but after watching so many times, Suga’s line about “Even if our youth rots in the studio” started to make me sad.  That’s kind of the double edge of K-pop.  I like the product, but it’s important to remember that there are real people underneath.

3. “Like Ooh-Ahh” by Twice

Can you believe this is their debut?  Although this is more on the cutesy side, it’s also energetic, funny, a little sexy, and shows the girls’ personalities.  Plus zombies are always cool.  The first time I heard this song I was already singing along to it.  I also love the fact that this group includes three Japanese members and one from Taiwan; it’s a big group but they are all so talented.  I can’t wait to see what’s next for them.

4. “Lion Heart” by Girls’ Generation

Despite losing a member, Girls’ Generation had a big year with a great Japanese single and three Korean hits.  I kind of liked the tough concept for “You Think” better, but “Lion Heart”‘s video is just so original.  It has a cute story in addition to fun choreography, and the girls all look so beautiful.  I love the different period costumes and styling, and I love how colorful it is—that’s something that just screams GG to me.

5. “Just Right” by GOT7

You have got to turn on the closed captions and read the lyrics of this song while you watch.  This concept of the doll-sized guys running around a little girl’s room could totally have ended up creepy, but instead it is just so sweet.  I think this is the most touching, uplifting music video I saw all year.

Other Honorable Mentions:

  • “Shake That Brass” by Amber feat. Taeyeon—f(x)’s rapper gets a solo with fun attitude and cameos by all her K-pop friends.  Plus you can watch her whip and nae nae.
  • “Only You” by miss A—The everyday scenes in this veteran girl group’s video make it feel very relate-able.
  • “Ice Cream Cake” and “Dumb Dumb” by Red Velvet—These girls were rookies last year but have managed to have two of the biggest hits this year, both with creative concepts and fun choreography.
  • “Zutter” by GD&T.O.P—BIGBANG released a slew of new videos this year, each weirder than the last.  This rap video is hilarious, disturbing, confusing, and artsy, with a lot of references to other media (and apparently some wordplay in the lyrics).  It’s kind of on another level.
  • “Hold On” by Axodus feat. Key—An EDM song with vocals by SHINee member Key; the video is composed of a series of clips that transcend their mundane nature to become beautiful and expressive.
  • “Twenty-three” by IU—The solo artist has a winning combination of meaningful lyrics, a catchy tune, and a whimsical Alice in Wonderland concept.

 

K-pop MVs (Star Wars Special): 2NE1’s “Follow Me”

We’re finishing out this series with my favorites 2NE1…and a surprising Star Wars cameo!

This is a typical crazy K-pop video, featuring motorcycles, fun dancing, and questionable sartorial decisions (including copious amounts of colored animal print??).

But then at 1:43…we get “Dara Vader” and her stormtroopers (later revealed to be Minzy and CL).  The first time I saw this, I was like WAIT WUT.  2NE1 and Star Wars together…so random, so awesome.

After watching it a few more times, I noticed that at the end of the video (around 2:55), they are all wearing Star Wars baseball caps!  I noticed Minzy’s R2-D2 one first; also, Bom has the stormtrooper, CL has Darth Vader, and Dara has C-3PO.  These hats were sold at the time of the video (2010) by New Era in Japan.  I would have loved to have one!

The members (in the order they start singing):

  • CL (0:02)—leader, main rapper, lead vocalist
  • Bom (0:44)—main vocalist
  • Dara (0:50)—visual, vocalist
  • Minzy (0:55)—main dancer, lead vocalist, lead rapper, maknae

“Main” is ranked higher than “lead” in these positions.  CL is actually not the oldest but simply has the personality to be the leader.  The “maknae” is the baby of the group.  The visual is basically the most attractive member who does promotional activities.

More from 2NE1:

Also check out EXO’s Star Wars collaboration video “Lightsaber”