Harmony’s in trouble? Cue
It’s about time there was an erudite acknowledgment that we are living through a musical dark ages (“Whatever happened to harmony?,” Arts, April 21, James Reed). I have had this ongoing conversation with music people for years. I am 63, so I am allowed to wax nostalgic. I consider myself very lucky to have experienced the magic of the harmony years, when rock ’n’ roll was young. I can actually remember singing the 1956 Five Satins song, “In the Still of the Night,” in harmony with a group of friends under one guy’s girlfriend’s window. Can you imagine something like that these days?
I try to believe “harmony is not dead . . . it simply doesn’t reside in the Top 40 anymore.” In my humble opinion, the real problem is that music used to have such a unifying effect, and that wonderful elation of singing songs everyone knew is long past. Everyone shared the joy of it because we all knew all the songs. In today’s world, what passes for music is fragmented into separate worlds, some angry and dark. In the words of Theodore Cleaver from “Leave It to Beaver,” “It ain’t like it usta’ was.” But we harmony people are out here still, singing without dancing girls, gigantic TV screens, and fireworks. Still trying to wake up little Susie.
Thanks in three-part harmony.
KEVIN J. CONROY
I am slightly older than Reed (in my 70s). In my family, we were brought up on harmony. Ma and Dad and all six kids sang in harmony. We grown-up kids still do whenever we can. (Even when no one requests that we do.)
When Reed described “the rush you feel when you hear a harmony line that embeds itself deep into your psyche,” he captured the feeling perfectly. I think that nothing can lift and fill your soul quite like beautiful harmony.
Reed is right, harmony brought people together. In addition to listening and dancing to music, we used to sing. A few of us could harmonize, and when we got together, instead of saying, “Hi, how are you?” someone would sing a line, and we would join in and harmonize. We did this in cars, in restaurants, etc. It was part of life. And what I learned from my friends from the South, families would harmonize together on a regular basis, just informally. It was definitely a way to connect. We need this now.
We do not use WePods, WePhones, or WePads . . . we use I-Everything. Why should popular music, the songs that make it into the Top 40 anyway, be any different?
In order to have harmony, you must have something like a melody! Sadly, the vast majority of what I hear has very little along those lines with a lead vocal line that, when removed from the multilayered background, has very, very little variety or range. Great harmonies are built upon melodies with variation in both tonal and chordal structure.
Do a very simple test. Hum a Beatles, Mama & Papas, or Beach Boys song by yourself with no backing whatsoever. The melody is almost always strong enough and has enough interest to stand on its own. Now try that with just about any modern rock, pop, or R&B song. See what I mean?
On one hand, I agree with everything Reed said; on the other, by the end I was ready to throw something . . . at him. Yes, in too much of today’s music, harmony has gone missing. But if you want to find out where it went, take a listen to a cappella singing.
Part of me is not surprised that Reed did not mention this, as The Boston Globe is for some reason a cappella allergic. Maybe once or twice a year, the “g” section will throw us a bone with a brief listing of an upcoming concert or event. Meanwhile, there are college, pro, and semi-pro groups all over the world making amazing harmony . . . including original songs as well as covers . . . all with just our voices. There is a hugely popular movie, “Pitch Perfect,” about a cappella. NBC-TV finally woke up to the fact that people miss “The Sing-Off,” an a cappella competition that aired for three seasons, and is bringing it back this fall.
I realize that a cappella will, sadly, never be “mainstream,” but God knows it’s loaded with the harmony both Reed and I miss in the broad genre of pop music.
Harmony lives in the country genre. Try the Zak Brown Band, Rascal Flatts, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, to name a few. As a CSNY and Southern rock fan of the ’70s, I recently found a home in country music.
ELISA GOMEZ PENNIMPEDE
I am one of those guys who grew up on the Everly Brothers, and a great deal of the music that I listen to is of that era. I know all the words and can harmonize pretty well. Whether the Everly Brothers’ music will go down in history as great songs remains to be seen. However, if music that is still being played and bought 50 years after release is any indication, then I think they certainly have a place in musical history. Are there songs being written and sung today for which the same can be said? I don’t know.
In addition to the lack of harmony, what about lyrics? I admit that I do not know current composers, lyricists, or artists. But I wonder whether anyone still writes love songs. When I listen to Ella Fitzgerald, for example, sing the songs of Porter, Hart, Rodgers, etc., these were songs with beautiful lyrics. When I listen to Nat Cole’s version of “Stardust,” I wonder whether there are any songs written at all today that even come close.
It is not a surprise that art and music have always reflected the times. Unfortunately, I guess that today’s lyrics and the lack of harmony are simply a reflection on where the world is in the 21st century.
When the lyrics
We looked forward for months to the performance of “The Book of Mormon” on April 21 at the Boston Opera House. Surely, the fact that we paid $820 for four tickets, including an unknown service charge of $125, was excessive. We accepted the cost with anticipation of an enjoyable evening at the theater. The four of us are retired on fixed incomes and choose to go to the theater on rare occasions to see a smash hit.
Our seats were Sect Bal RC - Row P - Seats 2-8. Know that there was no problem hearing, but the words were not distinguishable, and there is something very wrong with the audio or acoustics. We took the time to ask several patrons if they could understand any of the songs, and they too (young and old) could not decipher the words.
The management must be aware of the problems and owe its patrons an answer and a refund. A special evening was ruined, and we left the Opera House with enormous disappointment and a feeling of being deceived.
‘Millie’ and musical memories
Thanks to Terry Byrne’s review, I saw the wonderful musical at the Stoneham Theatre: “Throughly Modern Millie” (“Back to the carefree Roaring Twenties with ‘Millie,’ ” g, April 23). Extremely talented cast. Ephie Aardema could hold her own as the lead in any Broadway musical.
I grew up outside NYC, and my parents were big theatergoers. My original Playbill collection includes “Wonderful Town,” “Gypsy,” “Mame,” “Carousel,” “Brigadoon,” “Annie,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “The Music Man,” “Camelot,” “Kiss Me, Kate,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “My Fair Lady,” and “South Pacific.” My most valued Playbill is the original “Death of a Salesman” with Lee J. Cobb, Arthur Kennedy, and Mildred Dunnock. I also have “I Remember Mama” with Oscar Homolka and a young actor named Marlon Brando as the young son.
My biggest regret was in 1943 when my parents asked if I wanted to see a new musical called “Oklahoma!,” and I said no because I thought the title uninteresting.
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