I'm halfway through my annual stint here in Alaska at the incredible Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. I highly recommend that you occasional attend some sort of piano workshop or festival. It's a musically stimulating environment and you'll get a lot out of learning from the teachers and being around other pianists with similar interests to yours.
A few days ago I went food shopping after my evening class. While waiting in the checkout line at my favorite local store, Fred Meyers, I heard a young woman behind me say, "Look, they have Lavender Ice Cream!" Even though I knew she was talking to a friend, I was interested because I like Lavender (it reminds me of Provence and some of my favorite food from that region) and I had never heard of Lavender Ice Cream.
I stepped out of line and went to the freezer to check out this novelty item. Sure enough, there was an "all natural" pint of Lavender Ice Cream, ready and waiting. I was curious to taste it so I put it in my cart and brought it home.
Now, I'm sure the company that made it is a fine company, and I'm sure they have a clientele that regularly enjoys this flavor. But for me, it tasted like I was eating my shampoo! I like lavender, and I like ice cream, but I didn't feel they go together at all. It definitely tasted shampoo-like!!!
Eating this gave me the same feeling I get when I hear a song arranged in a style that doesn't fit it. Like the Beatles' "Yesterday" played as a samba. Arrangements like this happen all the time. They work a little better instrumentally than with vocals because lyrics have a point of view that naturally lend themselves to certain musical feels. If a lyric is tender, maybe that heavy metal version isn't the best route for this particular song. I was once hired to arrange "Matchmaker" (from Fiddler on the Roof) as an exciting jazz waltz for full orchestra. I did it, but felt that the level of "jazzy excitement" the producers wanted sabotaged some of the charm of the lyric. The music sounded great, but something was lost in the translation.
I see this all the time with vocalists. They want to do a song in a "personal" way, so they invent a new musical context for the song. "Sunrise Sunset" in 7/8 time??? A better way is to find what the song is saying to you, and go from there. Now, it's entirely possible that this will lead you to something fun like a heavy metal version or an unusual time signature, but make sure it happens organically. From the inside as it were.
When in doubt, make music from your heart. Let that inform your musical decisions. Otherwise, you'll just end up with Lavender Ice Cream.
My apologies to anyone here who enjoys Lavender Ice Cream! Here are some thoughts on the best way to learn piano improv. Have fun 🙂
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