Reflecting on Music, Variety and Risk-taking

I love music and I love the numerous varieties of music in the world from hip hop to classical, from Norwegian music to Chinese music, from Blue Grass to opera.  Like food, I have never met a music I did not like.  Of course, that does not mean, I have never heard a particular piece of music that I did not like.  Music is like anything else, there is good music and there is music one does not care for.  Karen plays music and is always more fond of learning a new instrument or taking part in a music jam, choir or sing-along.  She is a participant while I am an observer.  Alas, I have no talent in the musical arena and so I content myself with listening.

However, I think my listening style may be somewhat unique.  While others sip deeply from a fine piece of music, I enjoy listening to the same piece played by many different musicians and in many different styles.  I can sit for hours listening to the same piece played by an assortment of artists with a myriad of instruments, vocals and rhythms.

I find the creativity in how a piece can be played and the many different ways that a piece can be played to be fascinating.  I have sat and listened to the Ave Maria played by fifteen different artists and each one brings something different to the song.  I have listened to more versions of Carmen than I can think about.  From Bizet’s traditional Carmen, to the American Carmen Jones to Beyoncé’s Carmen, each version has its own virtues and vices.  Music makes the comment that “Variety is the spice of life” to be an absolute truth.  Today, I would like to illustrate this aspect of music with a song that I fell in love with called Malagueña Salerosa.   A short background on the song courtesy of Wikipedia:

Malagueña Salerosa also known as La Malagueña is a well- known Huasteco or Huapango song from Mexico, which has been covered more than 200 times by many performers.

The song is that of a man telling a woman (from Málaga, Spain) how beautiful she is, and how he would love to be her man, but that he understands her rejecting him for being too poor.

If, like me, you enjoy the lyrics to a song as you listen to it, the following is the English translation:

Graceful Malaguenan

What beautiful eyes you have,
beneath those two eyebrows
beneath those two eyebrows
what beautiful eyes you have!

They love to watch me
but if you don’t let them,
but if you don’t let them,
not even to blink.
Graceful  Malagueñan.

I long to kiss your lips,
I long to kiss your lips,
Graceful Malagueñan.
And to tell you, beautiful girl,

that you are stunning and bewitching,
that you are stunning and bewitching,
like the pureness of a rose,
like the pureness of a rose.

If, for being poor, you look down on me,
I agree you are right,
I agree you are right,
If, for being poor, you look down on me.

I don’t offer you riches.
I offer you my heart,
I offer you my heart,
in exchange for what I lack.

Thus, to illustrate my observation about variety and the endless ways that one can find variety in the world (for that is the real message of my blog), I have selected three versions of Malagueña Salerosa.  The important point which I see over and over again is that there is an endless variety in the world.  There is no limit to imagination, innovation and creativity.  Even the same song, can be performed endlessly and never be boring.  People often wonder why they should write on a subject when it seems that there are a thousand books written on any topic you can think of and perhaps now an additional million blogs.

My answer is that every one of us has a different and unique way of looking at the world. Your biography, your story, your view on ethics, your views on management or your views on child raising will be unique.  Just like your DNA is unlike any other DNA in the world, it is impossible for you to be a carbon copy of anyone else.  Even if you wanted to, you could not exactly copy anyone else.  So why bother to try?  The excitement we all bring to the world lies in learning to be ourselves.  It is a job I have been working on for over sixty years.  I sometimes think that there is a conspiracy out there to deny us the originality that we all possess.  We must struggle against the chains of conformity which are everywhere we turn.  Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery or the path to millions of dollars but it surely is not the path to creativity and innovation.

My three versions of Malagueña Salerosa include what I might say vocally is a “perfect” version sung by noted opera tenor Placido Domingo.  His delivery is masterful, his ability to hit high notes and low notes beyond mortality.  I have listened to Domingo and Pavrotti many times and while I enjoy both, I think Placido’s voice achieves a clarity unlike any other tenor alive today.  So please listen to a least a little of his version of Malagueña Salerosa before you continue reading:

Can you imagine a performance more hauntingly beautiful than that you have just heard by Placido?  If you wanted to copy or surpass his style and delivery, I would say it would be impossible.  That is why, our only choice in life is to be ourselves and enjoy our own uniqueness.  We must do what we have a passion for and do it as well as we can.  We can always improve ourselves but we can never be another Placido.

The next version is a more traditional version of Malagueña Salerosa played by three Mariachis.  This version has an authenticity that somehow I find lacking in Placido.  I can see this as being the “real” version that was song by the love-struck young man as he tried to win her love.  While Placido excels on the vocals, this version gives us a stronger set of instruments and more of the true Latino flavor that I find missing in the Placido version.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_1qHNc-vNk

The third and final version of Malagueña Salerosa is by the Mexican rock band Chingon.  They contributed the song “Malagueña Salerosa” to Quentin Tarantino’s movie Kill Bill Volume 2 and a live performance by the band was included on the film’s DVD release.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iM0JVDqLYnE

You of course, will have noticed after listening to Chingon that they had no intention of imitating Domingo or any strolling Mariachis.  Their style is a blend of Rock, Mariachi and Ranchera, but they put their own stamp on it with their singing, tempo and beat.

I am not an expert musician and I could not begin to tell you why or exactly how each of these three versions differs from each other.  But while I may not be able to explain it, I can feel it as I am sure you can as well.  Like a good wine or a good meal, I may not know how to explain what I taste but I certainly know what I like.

I dread the thought of doing anything over and over and over again, unless it is for the sake of practice and to develop technique and ability.  Why continue experiencing the same thing, when I can savor and experience so much variety in the world?  Variety is one of the things I value most in life.  It has taken me years to be able to see how unique the world is.  No same old, same old, unless we are trapped in our minds and routines.  The world offers a smorgasbord of treats and excitement to those who are open to challenge, change and risk.

I leave you with one last short (1.5 minute) video which you must see.   If you have ever been afraid to experience something different, to go somewhere foreign or to listen to a new style of music, this video will help you to reflect on a life lived with no risk.  It is very effective at portraying the fear of risk but also the upside joy that risk can bring.  It is called Always Dare:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJ2WbDahaaM

“No pleasure endures unseasoned by variety”– Publilius Syrus, 1st Century BCE

Time for Questions:

What variety do you experience in your life? Do you live a life open to variety?  How do you find “new” things in your life? What are your thoughts about going someplace new?  Listening to some new music?  Would you be willing to try raw oysters, truffles or pickled pigs feet?  Have you ever tried any of these?  Why not?

Life is just beginning.

 

 

 

ON WRITING, MUSIC, CHOREOGRAPHY, THE SEASONS AND LOVE

Allegro

What does writing have to do with making love? Can the changing of the seasons really be compared to an overture? What if on some primal level, we all live by an unseen rhythmic law? This law says that there is fundamentally no difference between making love and writing or between a brilliant piece of choreography and the changing seasons. Does the rhythm of the universe expect a form of symmetry to all of life? A regulated succession of strong and weak elements or of opposite and contrasting conditions becomes the master of all we do. The seasons come and go. The music ebbs and flows. Our love is gentle, passionate, sublime and tired. Mornings, afternoons, evenings and nights fuse with the spring and summer and fall and winter of our lives. The harsh gales of November echo in the overtures of Stravinsky and Beethoven. All things are one say the mystics. Is my writing one with all things? Can I form, norm, storm and perform even with mere words. 
 
Adagio

Far be it for me to confuse philosophy with art. Greater men than I have said that there is a unity to life. We travel down our different paths often blind to the journeys of others who walk side by side with us: This one a carpenter, this one a computer scientist, this one a teacher, this one an artist and this one a hero. If I were a rich man, lord who made the lion and the lamb, would it really spoil your cosmic plan if I were a wealthy man? We are all dust in the wind but our rhythms echo down the halls of time. The most unforgettable and amazing repetitions will resonate as long as humans walk the earth. Coded in the numerous ways we have of capturing the rhythm of our lives: Some dynamic, some peaceful, some violent and some sad. We write our lyrics, pen our verses, create our stanzas and design our choreography all guided by the unseen law of rhythm. Now we are hard, then we are soft. Now we roar and now we snore.

Scherzo

Love is kind, love is considerate, love is not selfish. The waltz was a creation of times when love was more restrained. This torrent of mine was supplanted,
extending my being, your challenge. The Tango alternates patterns of space and closeness with syncopated rhythms of violence and passion. Love me tender, love me sweet, never let me go. Rock and Roll ushered in a wild abandonment of morality in the face of conspicuous sexuality. The rhythm of music often exhibits striking harmonies with the rhythm of our love lives. Can I be soft and gentle like a warm breeze but also wild and unrestrained like in the movies? What if I made love to the William Tell overture or would Shakira’s lyrics work better:

Baby I would climb the Andes solely 
To count the freckles on your body 
Never could imagine there were only
Too many ways to love somebody

Is it enough to alternate patterns of tenderness with patterns of inhibition? Shall I open with an allegro, then move into an adagio, followed by a scherzo and conclude with a rondo? Who would expect love to end without a crescendo? Should my love making follow the classical style or should it be more like a jazz piece?

Rondo

Whether goes my writing. I have written this in four parts to reflect my cosmic view of the rhythm of life. We form and norm and storm and then perform. Spring is the opening that brings fresh growth to our world before the bloom of summer. Summer brings the maturity and ripeness of life. Fall brings the storms and winds that signify our frailty and insignificance to the universe. Winter ends our symphony with the closure and solace that our work is done and our day is over. Our life, our work, our art, our thoughts all finished but with a hope to be reborn perhaps by someone who sees a need to continue the rhythms that we have started. Not really finality, but continuations that started before us, and will continue long after our memorials are put up. Perhaps, my headstone will have four verses or stanzas or paragraphs or perhaps like the newest greeting cards, you will be able to press a button on my tombstone and you will see a picture of me singing and dancing to a four part harmony.

 
Time For Questions:  
Does music teach you anything about writing?  Does music speak to you? Can writing be like a symphony?  How do you hear music?  Does it speak to you like a good poem or a good verse? What is your favorite kind of writing?  Do you ever think that the writing you enjoy could be like music?  What would it take to transform the music in your life into writing or the writing in your life into music?  
 
Life is just beginning

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