Adventure Monday -- Nobuo Uematsu: Is This Real Life or Final Fantasy?

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Adventure Monday -- Nobuo Uematsu: Is This Real Life or Final Fantasy?

Whoa, it's been a long time. It is going to take me a little bit of time to clean all of the dust off of this "blog" thing that I accidentally lost the time to write on. I feel like the time has come to revitalize it and bring it back, don't you? Why don't we start with getting caught up on what all went down in the last 6 months. 

  • I went on a random road trip to New Orleans day trip to see Tool.
  • I got to pretend to be a boyscout with 68 awesome Dudes and win a silly little rag-tag show choir show. 
  • Somehow managed to prepare and successfully put on two senior recitals, one for composition and one for piano.
  • I got to perform the first movement of Camille Saint-Saëns' 2nd piano concerto with my university's orchestra.
  • I got my first two ever birdies in disc golf.
  • Two of my best friends got married, and I had the honor of being part of their wedding.
  • I got a new job.
  • I won a bet that got me a new stuffed wombat. His name is Chompsky.
  • My band has been recording a lot of stuff.
  • I went to a ton of awesome concerts, one of which let me relive my middle school dreams.
  • I've entered some cool contests, so fingers crossed that something comes out of that. 
  • I graduated from college.

That last one really hits hard. I graduated. That's unreal. I've hated school for the longest time ever. My parents somehow talked me out of dropping out of high school, twice, and then kept me motivated to stay in school and finish everything out, and look at me now -- I have a college degree. I actually have two of them. I earned two undergraduate college degrees in less time than it took me to finish high school. That's pretty cool. And even though my graduation wasn't nearly as epic as this, it was still an awesome feeling when I walked across that stage. 

Let's get down to business. No, there are no Huns involved here. Well, maybe. I don't think there are any Huns in any of the Final Fantasy worlds, so yeah. No Huns. With the impending release of the latest title in the Final Fantasy franchise, I wanted to tell you people a little bit about one of my heroes: Nobuo Uematsu. Uematsu got started in the video game music world with Square all the way back in 1985. He's a self-taught musician, and he says that one of his biggest influences is Elton John. Then again, how can you not be inspiring when you wear hats like this?


Uematsu has always been one of my greatest heroes and influences because he's a naturally good composer. He knows how to write a good melodic line, but he takes it and twists it to be slightly not what you would expect. It makes his music great. Well, other things make his music great too. I'm just going to have you listen to some of it. Now, the majority of Uematsu's music was originally arranged for whatever MIDI synthesizer he was using at the time. But what else would you expect for a game that has so many pixels that it makes the beach look less grainy. Not to mention the opening dialogue looks like it's either a really long Jeopardy question or the Windows blue screen of death. 


Anywho, as time evolved on in the video game world, so did the MIDI instrumentations of Uematsu's music. He eventually started using MIDI orchestra sounds to create the music for his game scores. There's a term that I like to use about some of the older video game music that it's so MIDI that it hurts. It's very true in every aspect of game music, but at the same time, it's so nostalgically beautiful that you can't help but find almost perfection in its timbres and colors. Back in the early 2000's, a lot of his music from the Final Fantasy series was transcribed for solo piano, and it's also absolutely brilliant. But nothing can truly beat hearing Uematsu's classic & beautiful themes performed by a real orchestra. That's something truly magical in of itself. 


That's all the time I have for this week. I've got some neat ideas of what I'm going to write about in the coming weeks. Aren't you so glad I'm writing on this blog again? 

Until next time, my friends, I leave you with this: never give up. (Trust your instincts) Never stop trying. Preserver and strive to the end, because it's worth it. I promise. 

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Adventure Monday -- Christmas Time Is Here!!

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Adventure Monday -- Christmas Time Is Here!!

 Tank & Me

Tank & Me

It's been quite an eventful week since we last talked. I premiered one of my piano pieces that I wrote, my car died and was brought back to life, then it was hit by another driver literally 15 minutes after being brought back to life, my car died again, the truck I was borrowing got a flat tire, I apparently forgot to pay one of my bills from last month, and I was selected to be a soloist with my university's orchestra in their spring concert next semester.

(If you don't know my life story, I have never won anything for playing piano in the 18 years I've been playing, so this is a huge deal for me)

So, if you're not doing anything on 19 April, you can come hear myself and my friend, Daniel (Tank), play the first movements of Saint-Saëns(myself) and Rachmaninoff's(Tank) 2nd piano concertos with the university orchestra. (Listen below! The Soundcloud link is to the piano piece I wrote. Give it a listen too, and let me know what you think!)


You know what's most exciting about this time of year? CHRISTMAS. I love it. It's my favorite holiday. Everyone puts up awesome lights, people (usually) tend to be in a much happier/jollier mood, and it's a guaranteed time that I get to see my family. You know what else is awesome about it? Society sees it socially acceptable to listen to Christmas music again. So, I'm going to tell you about four Christmas music albums that you HAVE to listen to this holiday season. So, here they are in no specified order. 

Let's kick things off with one of the most chill albums you can listen to this holiday season: A Charlie Brown Christmas by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. If you don't know anything about Vince, he wrote the music for all the Peanuts cartoons and movies. Vince takes a jazz vibe to his music, and in the trio, the ensemble for this album cites Vince Guaraldi (piano, organ, arranger), Fred Marshall (double bass), and Jerry Granelli (drums), with Monty Budwig (double bass) and Collin Bailey (drums) subbing in on the Greensleeves track. 

The album opens up with a super awesome arrangement of O Tannenbaum (O Christmas Tree), and it also shows off Guaraldi's arranging skills at other familiar songs like What Child Is This?, Hark, The Herald Angles Sing! and My Little Drum (The Little Drummer Boy). The album also has some original tracks that are shown off on the Charlie Brown Christmas Special show/movie like Christmas Time Is HereSkating, and Christmas Is Coming. Listening to O Tannenbaum, you'll hear what sounds like a lot of monophonic (single voice) playing in both the bass and piano. The bassist is playing a bass line that gives us an idea of the harmonic progression that Guaraldi wants to take, and the piano primarily plays an improvised melody line on the tune of O Tannenbaum while also doing some chordal accompaniment in the left hand. It's a really cool rendition, and the whole album has some awesome arrangements like this one.

 Also, Snoopy is my spirit animal. 

Also, Snoopy is my spirit animal. 

The next album is quite possibly one of the most rocking Christmas albums you'll ever listen to. Let's take a ride in our 1970-something Ford Mustangs again, because this album is A Twisted Christmas by Twisted Sister. This album honestly is not the greatest album in terms of musicality, but it's one of the most fun Christmas albums that you'll ever listen to. It doesn't have any original songs like the Charlie Brown album does, but Twister Sister does make some clever little lyric changes in order to make your Christmas time more brutal and more metal. The two best songs to check out on this album would definitely be O Come, All Ye Faithful and Silver Bells. Silver Bells is just incredibly rockin' throughout the whole song, and it's really fun to play. O Come, All Ye Faithful is pretty much the same vibe as Silver Bells, but you can hear a reference to the Twisted Sister hit, We're Not Gonna Take It, at the end of the guitar solo, and it actually fits really well. Oh, and yes, the music videos are just as weird as the band.

Okay, I know I said that I was talking about these albums in no particular order, but I'll go ahead and tell you that I kind of lied about that. This last one is probably my favorite Christmas album to ever be recorded, and it's by one of my favorite bands of all time. That's right, you guessed it! It's Le.......no. No, it is not whatever Justin Bieber just came out with.

Come on guys.

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Pull yourselves together. You should know better than that. Back to the good music. The last Christmas album we're talking about today is Let It Snow, Baby...Let It Reindeer by Relient K. This album is a pretty long one in terms of how many tracks are on the album. It's got 17 songs on the album, six of them are originals written by none other than Matt Thiessen himself. The album kicks off with an incredible rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and it goes into the classic alternative-punk sound that Relient K loves to boast in the next track, Sleigh Ride. It goes back and forth with the alternative-punk sound and the classic punk rock skater punk sound that we all know, love, and miss from when we all thought Rip-Sticks were the coolest thing since the toaster.

My favorite song on the whole album is one of Thiessen's original tracks, Santa Claus Is Thumbing To Town. Give it a listen, if you have the time and want to head bang like you did back in middle school. It's a hilarious punk song about Santa having to hitch-hike his way around the world on Christmas Eve because his sleigh broke down. There's also a pretty killer cover of Handel's Hallelujah chorus.

Okay, I would talk more and more about Relient K's Christmas album, but I have to go practice for juries again. Semester is almost over, so expect some more in-depth content in the coming weeks. That, and I'm going to see Relient K this Saturday, and I'm so pumped. Here's the set list for the show. This will also be the....4th or 5th time seeing them for me, so it'll be a blast.

Until next time, my friends, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, but most importantly...MERRY CHADWICKMAS. WE'RE STILL GOING STRONG UNTIL THE END OF FEBRUARY. LET'S GO.

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But for real, Happy Holidays, guys. Take advantage of the season to spend time with your family and friends. Because that's one of the greatest gifts you'll ever get. And sometimes you'll get to make goofy Christmas photos with them. I leave you with Christmas photos with my friends from the last two years.

 Christmas 2013

Christmas 2013

 Christmas 2014

Christmas 2014

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Adventure Monday -- Themes, & Variations, & Bears(and Birds), Oh My!

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Adventure Monday -- Themes, & Variations, & Bears(and Birds), Oh My!

THEME AND VARIATIONS
noun
: a standard form of musical composition consisting of a simple usually harmonized melody presented first in its original unadorned form then repeated several or many times with varied treatment so based on the theme that at least some semblance of its general melodic or harmonic form is evident
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

I recently collaborated with several of my colleagues on a piece for a small brass ensemble that was performed for an even at my university. The piece that we worked on was in a musical form called theme & variation. What is a theme & variation? I'm glad you asked! For an official definition, let's ask our good friends Merriam & Webster.

If you'd instead rather me explain it, it's basically a form of music where a melodic theme is stated, and then instead of developing the piece off of the theme, or melody, that has been created, the composer takes that one melodic idea and restates it in different ways in order to create different moods, feelings, textures, etc. with a piece. Let me give a couple of examples. One of the more popular piano variations would be Beethoven's Variations.  Beethoven took the melody from "God Save The King", or I guess My Country 'Tis of Thee depending on where you're from, and he wrote seven different variations on the melody. Take a listen!


The other example I would give is actually my favorite variations: Aaron Copland's Piano Variations. I actually did a research project on this piece my sophomore year in my Composition seminar. Adam Tendler did a punk job on his performance of the Copland's piano variations. Check it out.


Now that we have a good general idea on the concept of what a theme & variation is, let's talk about something that isn't technically a T&R, but I like to think it is a little bit like one. We're going to talk about the soundtrack to one of my favorite video games: BANJO-KAZOOIE! 

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Banjo-Kazooie was a game that came out for Nintendo 64 back in 1998. The game is about Banjo (Bear) and Kazooie (Bird). Banjo's sister, Tootie, is kidnapped by the evil witch, Gruntilda, and you have to save her by running around different worlds and collecting things like music notes, Jigsaw Pieces (AKA Jiggies), and there's a magic shaman who turns you into strange things. BEHOLD THE MIGHTY MUMBO JUMBO.

 
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Okay, let's move on to the important part of what this is about -- the music. The soundtrack to Banjo-Kazooie was written by one of my favorite composers, Grant Kirkhope. Grant was hired as the studio composer for Rare LTD. in 1995, and this was one of the projects he worked on with them. Every single different world has its own theme, but if you look at it from how the progression of the melody flows, you could almost argue that each world's melody is actually a variation on the main theme of the game.

Let's take a look.

I wrote out the main theme of the video game, and there's an audio recording over by it as well.  Grant, wonderful job, and I apologize if I butchered the notation or misheard a note. My Theory Lab skills only go so far. One of the main parts of the BK main theme you'll notice is the use of repeated 16th note figures. The harmonic progression pushes in an abnormal way. In the key of C Major, I see the opening chord structure as C-Ab7-C-Ab7-C7 (I-bVI7-I-bVI-I-V7/IV), which modulates us into the F chord in measure 9. The coolest thing about this entire song to me is that overall, the song uses a standard I-IV-V-I sort of chord structure, but the chords used in between to help progress to the structure make the tune unique.

Ignore the [Unnamed Treble Staff] thing

So take what we've talked about with theme & variation style songs and apply it to right now. One of the worlds in Banjo-Kazooie is Click-Clock Wood. Take a look at the score and/or listen to the song, and you'll kind of see what I mean. Grant didn't use the same 16th note figures in the melody for CCW as he did with the main theme; it's slightly varied with a dotted 16th note/32nd note swing rhythm. When the melody transitions into the IV chord in measure 5, the melody takes a different spin to further set it apart from the main theme. All in all, is Banjo-Kazooie's soundtrack technically a theme & variation? No, probably not, but the concept is somewhat similar, and it's one of my favorite soundtracks to a video game to be written. Plus, it's just a goofy/fun game that never gets old and nostalgia and childhood and yadda yadda.

That's all we have time for today. You can check out more of Grant's music on his website
 and his Soundcloud page. He's super talented.

Until next time, my friends, go start an adventure. It is Adventure Monday, after all.

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