50 Prompt Challenge: #1 “Name one thing that has always fascinated you”

Music. 

Since I was a small child, music has been an integral part of my life.

A lot of my posts both here at WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter  usually revolve around my love of music and such artists as Barbra Streisand, Madonna, Julie Andrews et al. I can’t explain why music has had such foothold in my life, it just has. I remember at the tender age of 4 years old, I was given a little yellow Casio Muppet Keyboard. It lit up and everything. I was immediately hooked. On Christmas day, I sat and continually turned it on and off, watching the little green and red lights flash. There’s a home movie of it, so it’s a fact.

the yellow "muppet" keyboard

Since that day forward, music has always been with me. I started my first instruction in piano when I turned 5 years old. That year, (1992) I also received another keyboard. This one, however, was bigger. A Yamaha PSR-75. I continued to play on that, until I turned 12, that’s when I finally “graduated” to a piano with a full 88 keys! That moment in my life will always be with me, as it was a period in my life when music truly mattered.

Music, for me, has always been cathartic. When ever I’m down or depressed, I turn to it. When I was twelve, my life was in true turmoil. There were issues at home, my sister had just joined the Navy and my school life was complete torment. Music saved me. The ability to play music and express myself at the piano transformed my pain and anguish. I was liberated. I relished in the ability to get lost in music, to listen to it, to play it, for it was always there.

All these years later, I haven’t changed. Granted, I still listen to the music I grew up with, but my fascination has evolved. Playing piano, has taken an unfortunate back seat. I haven’t had a formal lesson in nearly a decade, and like any muscle, if it’s not constantly paid attention to it looses function. That’s where I am today, I have lost the ability to “play” the piano. I can still play rudimentary pieces, but the technique and comfort level are all but diminished.  These days, I’m more fascinated with how music is created: how albums are arranged, orchestrated. How arrangers go about figuring out the instrumentation for a certain piece of music.

A good example of this fascination is with a certain song performed by Barbra Streisand. “Putting it Together” by Stephen Sondheim was written by the composer/lyricist for his 1984 musical “Sunday in the Park with George.”

The Broadway Album (1985)
Peter Matz, Streisand

The song details the difficult struggle between art and business and has the unique stylistic features that are so indicative of a Sondheim composition. My fascination is not with the vocals of Streisand, but the arrangement specifically recorded by the artist in 1985. Peter Matz (who arranged the first three albums by Streisand in the early 1960’s) is arranger/conductor on “The Broadway Album” and his vision for the first cut of the album has always amazed me. The beauty of it, the style, the use of synthesizer, orchestra, percussion all come together in a cohesive piece. (I love synthesizers, don’t ask me why) What I find even more interesting is how different the track is from the HBO Special Putting it Together: Making The Broadway (1986) when Barbra actually does a take of the song complete with orchestra and the commentary by David Geffin, Ken Sylk and the late Sydney Pollack, versus the one on the final release of the album.

All the aspects of a music: ideas, formulation, instrumentation and arrangement I have always been keenly aware of. With certain singers or pieces of music, that awareness is heightened and my “Why” and “How does that happen” kick in. I always want to know how and why. Especially in music. How does something make a certain sound? How can you color a certain song with a different arrangement? What does an arranger zero in on when formulating a chart of music?

My freak adoration of music has perplexed me for so long, I even wanted to make it part of my academic career. When I was first at MTSU and in the honors college, I was told I could do my Honors Thesis on anything I could think of, pending approval. I immediately thought “Music.” Wild ideas chased each other around my head: Could I ask Columbia to examine the master tapes of Streisand’s 1985 sessions? Are there instrumental tracks without Barbra’s vocals mixed in? I envisioned myself doing a 70-150 page examination of how orchestrators, past and present created music for the entertainment icon. Sadly, that never came to pass. I still have tons of questions I’d love to ask Streisand and her “team.”  To add insult to injury, David Foster, (who produced “Somewhere” on the album) also created a duet for the  young soprano, Jackie Evancho for her debut album “Dream with Me.” The duet between Streisand and Evancho uses 1985 outtakes of “Somewhere,” further fueling obsession.

Before you think to yourself: “Oh my god, another Streisand love fest.” The fascination isn’t strictly with her, but how music is fashioned for her voice. There are tons of other artists/arrangers/producers I’d love to talk to as well. People like: Richard Carpenter, Phil Ramone, Stuart Price, Johnny Mandel, Tommy LiPuma.

Music has always had a possessive power over me. It’s with me everywhere in all forms: Lp’s, Mp3’s, CD’s. There is music in nature, music in a person’s speech. I download it, buy it, collect it.

It will always be part of who I am. For that, I am so grateful.

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