Camille Reyes

Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

So this French Guy Writes a Book…

In Culture, Film, media, Music on December 28, 2012 at 9:53 am

Les Misérables (2012), the musical, in a movie theater—I was skeptical.  The signs of hope were there, however.  For one, I’d seen that the director made the actors wear earpieces, piping in live music for each take from an accompanist just off camera.  As a singer, and a one-time (terrible) actor, I instantly recognized the treasure of this method; Hugh Jackman did not need to explain it.  Basically, you get the benefits of two media in one.  You get the enormous temporal flexibility of film—doing shots in any order, taking bits from here and there, multiple takes, etc. without losing as much of the improvisation of live performance, of feeling the song.

Although the movie is far from perfect (paging Russell Crowe, please stop singing, yesterday), it moved me repeatedly.  The “Heart Full of Love” trio with Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, and Samantha Barks was so beautiful musically that the movie aspect—the editing in particular—diminished the romance.  (Wait, I take that back, a little.  I could look at Amanda Seyfried without diminishing anything, especially my pulse.)  I dare say that these three actors were classically trained in voice.  It’s no accident this was my favorite moment in the film.  My ears might be biased.

Amanda Seyfried

Speaking of these biased ears, I had forgotten that the musical was sung-through, meaning there is little-to-no spoken dialogue.  The film preserves this, another wonderful choice from director Tom Hooper.  Les Mis, more than any other piece of musical theater, always makes me wonder about the medium.  Why is Les Mis widely considered musical theater and not opera?  It seems to me that the location for its original exhibition, the Broadway/West End-equivalent stage, is the source of the puzzling definition.  Of course, from a marketing perspective, musical theater is an easier sell.  If by easier, one means making the world’s most risky media investment (a Broadway show), a little more bankable.  This movie will do much good for the art form, and for this reason, I really do not care what we call it.

I do care about the experience of media though, what it means to change the form of something in myriad ways.  In the packed little Western PA movie theater where we watched Les Mis, my mother and I were jarred by the people clapping after the big numbers.  It took me out of the moment so I was annoyed.  At the same time, I liked that people were preserving a little slice of the original medium—the live-stage.  One could argue that the clapping added to more of a shared experience.  I’m usually all about those, unless, it turns out, I’m watching a blasted movie.  Shut up!  I don’t have to suspend my disbelief here, unless you clap, you rube.

How odd that I’m the first to yell, “Bravisima!” at the opera.  Corny, I confess.  I even prefer my opera singers to be better actors than singers.  Witness my devotion to Domingo over Pavarotti.  While the latter might be technically superior, the former wrenches more emotion per note than anyone.  When Domingo sings Puccini’s ballad about the stars as he longs for his lover Tosca in prison, I weep at the exact. same. bar. every. time.  Keep in mind I’m speaking of a recording; I’ve never seen him do it live, and I guess I never will now that his voice has aged out of the range.  Again, I’m back to the medium.  The recording does not diminish my experience, although I’m certain the live version would’ve found me bawling from the Met chandelier, straining through tears for a better view of my tenor hero.

So yeah, Les Mis.  It’s an opera, dressed as musical theater, trying to convince big sister to take it to the movies.  I highly recommend the experience, whatever yours might be, but if you’re not down with people singing non-stop for over two hours, don’t—wait, go anyway, what am I saying?  You might enjoy making fun of the nerds in the audience, the sniveling weenies who sing every part in the shower, especially when the tigers come at night.


Karaoke Ninjas and Radioheads

In Culture, Music on December 17, 2011 at 2:15 pm

I am a karaoke ninja. Well, maybe the ninja who knocks off several roof tiles as she jumps Crouching Tiger style from doll house to doll house. Karaoke is hard, and I love it. What makes it most difficult are my years of vocal training. You’d think this would be a plus, but it is a completely different genre of singing, almost a different category altogether. Think of Mariah Carey (damn fine voice-forget the terrible material) trying to act. Guh.

So yes, sometimes I have Glitter moments on the tiny stage with the ten cent mic and a crowd full of talkers. So what if I chose a weepy ballad! Song choice is half the battle though. I like songs with string sections, piano, and introspective lyrics like some awesome love child between Samuel Barber, Tori Amos, and Ani Difranco. These don’t tend to go over well in a bar. Case of You. Silent All These Years. Breathe Me.

I need to study the karaoke stylings of my best friend. She has no training, and a Big Gulp heart. She always picks crowd pleasers like 4NonBlondes’ What’s Going On? or Jet’s Are You Gonna Be My Girl? Her voice cracks ever so perfectly on the latter. Everyone wants to go home with her. She owns the stage.

The best friend and Gordita singing a crowd pleaser.

But no, I keep choosing my obscure little ditties, wondering what key I’m going to get, hoping I forget anyone is watching. Even though I always have my birthday party at a karaoke bar, it is almost too performative for me. Singing for me is in many respects a solitary pursuit. This made my old stage and professional gigs a bit problematic. I still remember people lining up to thank me for my brief run as Annie in my high school musical. Although I would have never said this out loud, my interior monologue was: You’re welcome, but I didn’t do it for you.

One exception to this was my brief stint as a strolling opera singer and hostess at a Tampa Macaroni Grill. I sang arias for tips in a white button down shirt, black apron that was too long for me, and a pink tie I borrowed from my dad (and never gave back). I also had trouble carrying all the silverware and menus to the table. Aside from the Puccini, it was one big mess. I needed the money. I digress.

I inhabit songs, and they inhabit me. Occasionally I surface from this special communion to acknowledge the crowd, get them involved. This might seem theatrical, and it is, but it is also selfless. I’d rather be alone, but I enjoy watching other people so much, it seems unfair to hide completely. My favorite song at karaoke as of late oddly speaks to this strange tension–the tension between adoring, wanting to be adored, and being alone. It’s Radiohead’s Creep. Now those of you who know me are probably already laughing because I look like a cute leprechaun–creepy in a horror movie, but not when you are a petite ginger. The juxtaposition of my physical appearance with the lyrics is comedic at first. But, like the use of a girls’ choir on the same song to promote The Social Network (the trailer is genius, and better than the movie), once you get past the oddity, a strange empathy emerges–at least, that’s my hope when I sing the song, for you and for me.  Here’s the chorus:

But I’m a creep
I’m a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here

With apologies to Tom Robbins, “even cowgirls get the blues.” Clearly, I need more therapy. But I hope that when someone experiences my version of this song, they think, well, if she feels that way, then maybe I’m not alone.

The first verse of the song sums up the near universal feeling of not measuring up to someone you’ve placed on a pedestal. (This lyric would be the micro-blogging leitmotif of my love life with one exception, not to be discussed.)

When you were here before
Couldn’t look you in the eye
You’re just like an angel
Your skin makes me cry
You float like a feather
In a beautiful world
I wish I was special
You’re so fucking special

I like to really stick the word “fucking” when I sing it–again for the jarring juxtaposition (nice girls don’t say “fuck”), and because the near repeat of the line immediately before is not lazy lyricism. The subtlety is important. I read the line as a 1 part jealousy, 2 parts fatigue and 1 part kernel of motivation to move the fuck on. I try to capture this interpretation in song–not easy to do. I am almost to the best part of the song though, the bridge and the climax:

She’s running out the door
She’s running out
She runs runs runs

This is heartache in three lines. The first time I sang it (on acoustic night at the best karaoke bar in the universe, Baby Grand in SoHo), I achieved near transcendence. Playing with a live guitarist gave me the freedom to stretch it out even more than Thom Yorke does. The audience felt my anguish, knew I was somewhere else, and went nuts. Their cheering brought me back to earth, and for once, I was grateful to them.

Lyrics: Radiohead, Creep (1992)

Bonus: the girls’ choir version without the trailer.