Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Place You Can Go

In a live performance, Joel Gilmore demonstrates floating a melody around the music.

Most of the time, in an improvised song, the singers follow the rhythm of the music very closely, with the phrasing of each line slotting in nicely to the beat of the music. Some musical styles really suit the singer being loose with the rhythm.

This is hard to explain, but easy to demonstrate. Fortunately this week we have an example :)

Improv the Musical

I was privileged to perform with the EDGE Improv folks for the final of their season of Improv the Musical. Directed by Louise Callanan, the show featured a variety of musical short-form in the first half, with a nice long-form musical in the second half.

The setup

Joel Gilmore stepped up to the stage for Lounge Singer, a game featuring a singer that hasn't made it big yet, and has to play in less salubrious venues. The MC gets a location from the audience, and the singer uses that as inspiration for the scene. In our case, our fearless MC Greg Duncan got "The Ipswich Mall".

The song A Place You Can Go builds on the reputation of The Ipswich Mall. While I vamp and Joel chats with his audience, the other players set the scene with suitable lowbrow stuff - the mother chasing her kid, the patron shouting obscenities, and so on.

(I've had the pleasure of doing a band gig in a bar in the Ipswich Mall once. There's a rule that when a fight breaks out, you keep on playing. That's really hard. I'm pretty sure we all stopped what we were doing and watched the fight, slackjawed. Live and learn I guess.)

Right at the point where Joel hints that he's about to start singing, one of the other players approached me and, facing away from the audience, demonstrated how one could mistake a piano player for a urinal. That's where you hear the audience go off. Straightaway, Joel takes his cue from that, and launches in to song.

The Song

Joel starts with a nice freeform melody in the key of the vamp. Until we establish the rhythm, the music sits underneath with gentle chords, until we finally strike out with a beat.

Hear that strange sound right as Joel hits the word "Place"? That's the sound of me grinning from ear to ear. This was only my second gig with Joel, and the first time I'd heard him sing. It is wonderful to realise the person on stage has an instrument like that!

As Joel works his way through the song, he knows exactly where the rhythm is; he's being quite careful sometimes to sit outside of it, or use syncopation. Sitting outside the beat lets him soar and really sustain some of those big notes.

Another benefit is that, because he's lagging the beat a fair amount, he can take his time to let the melody settle in to a good fit with the music. For example, as he sings "white and clean and yellow", "yellow" lags a bit, so Joel can drop it nicely in to that progression. That said, when Joel does sit on the beat, you can hear him correct really nicely to slide in to a note compatible with the chord.

Right at the end, as Joel sets up the big finish, you can hear me lose my nerve and drop the rhythm from the music for a bit, until I heard where he was going and it picked up again.

That last word? Joel held that beautifully, stretching it out, and setting up the final moment really nicely. (I've never heard that word sung before. Lovely.)

The whole way through the song, Joel felt confident enough to disengage from the rhythm for a while, then come back again, really playing with the timing. I think that adds such great colour and interest.

In the end, this didn't conform to most of the "rules" of a song - no repeating chorus, no verses. It left me with the impression that it could have been a snippet from a longer song.

I don't know if this always happens to me, I'll pay more attention in the future, but I distinctly recall that when we were doing this song I had other songs pop in to my head. Moon River came to mind right away, and I'm sure that minor 6th at the start came right out of that. Somewhere towards the end, around the time Joel sings and holds "At Ipswich", Non je ne regrette Rien appeared in my head. On reflection, Somewhere You Can Go and Non je ne regrette Rien seem to be quite similar.

Performing with the EDGE folks was a lot of fun. It was the first time I'd met many of the performers, and that's always exciting.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for recording and posting this- I'm really sorry I missed it! What an awesome song!

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