20 February 2012

On Presidents Day

Today we in America have a holiday that is not so much marked by a celebration of the leaders of this country; rather, it has become a time to sell cars and clothing. Both Washington and Lincoln were born on or around this date, depending on when it falls (Feb 22 and 14, respectively), noted as the greatest presidents we have ever had in our history. While there are many other presidents to celebrate on this day (the Roosevelts, for example), there are others to hang one's head about, or to give the American pause. (Nixon comes to mind.)

More intriguing, perhaps, to travel to the realm of speculation, is the list of "should have been" presidents. It might be of interest to consider, for example, how the entire office of President might have been different had Benjamin Franklin been our first instead of Washington. Or if Alexander Hamilton might have been allowed to serve. (The clause in the Constitution forbidding foreign-born presidents is certainly a good concept, but there are those that argue the clause was championed by Hamilton's opponents.) What if women's suffrage had not taken so long to be accepted, let alone adopted? Certainly Eleanor Roosevelt seemed as adept at the job as her husband, and surely there might have been others before or since more capable than, say, Ulysses Grant, whose administration was fraught with corruption. What if slavery had not gripped this country so tightly? How might the presidency of Frederick Douglass changed the country?

We are finally reaching that time of universal equality in America, and former barriers to the presidency are being broken down with relative ease. Unfortunately, our media-fueled culture is reducing our leaders into talking heads, with wisdom and courage being replaced with sound bites and "chutzpa." So, too, is our culture changing from a nation of listeners and thinkers to a nation of shouters and gamblers. No one speaks softly and carries a big stick anymore; it's all loud talkers flailing tiny, annoying sticks.

So, this Presidents Day, amid the shopping, say a little prayer for the future. Lord knows America needs it.

16 February 2012

Something new

As I will be turning The Jolly Bard into an online literary "zine," this will now be the home of my personal ramblings, musings, and bemusements, should anyone else find them interesting.

What I'm hoping to do with The Jolly Bard is twofold. One, I will begin accepting submissions within the next month. These will be mostly fiction, some poetry, and a few non-fiction pieces that fit into the storytelling motif (in other words, no reviews or op-ed pieces). Over the year, I hope to publish something new and interesting frequently, maybe daily, which will lead to the second goal, The Jolly Bard's Best of 20xx. This will be an annual publication in book or magazine form (and corresponding e- form) putting together the most read stories and poems from the entire year.

That is, at least, the plan for now. Stay tuned...

12 February 2012

A musical realization

My apologies for the following overly music-nerdiness, as well as to my good friend Matthew Tobin, who probably put this sort of thing in my head in the first place. (Incidentally, be on the look out for a new blog by Tobin on the topic of music transcending genre, with far less technical jargon.)

My wife and I sat down at a local Mexican establishment for some much needed midday sustenance. Feeling a bit scholarly for a moment, I began to analyze the canned background music: Spanish-language pop. The first song was a standard four-chord song with the progression 1-6-4-5. It got me to wondering whether there were names for songs using similarly functioning chords. That standard four-chord arrangement is what I usually call the "Magic Changes," after the song from Grease which spells out exactly how the song is composed and the effect it has on its narrator, an unnamed listener.

The next song that came on was a three-chorder with the main progression 1-5-2-5. It uses a standard classical cadence (ii V I), which began a conversation about Pachelbel's Canon as its own type of song. To refresh, that progression is (to use classical analysis) I V vi iii IV I IV V. I posited that these "standard progressions" could be found throughout concert and popular music. Then I made the startling discovery that the progression in Pachelbel's Canon was directly related to the verses in The Eagles' "Hotel California." My wife's eyes began to glaze over.

In order to prove my point, I began writing chords and numbers on the back of our receipt. I began with Pachelbel.


Then I said, "Now, check out 'Hotel California.'"


I stared at these figures for a short while. They didn't add up the way I thought they did, in my head. Sure, there are similarities, but I wanted a match. Then it really dawned on me. Check this out.

The comparison has to do with how the chords function. So, I re-analyzed "Hotel California" using Roman numerals.


I'm aware that "secondary subdominants" isn't really a thing, BUT, in this case, each group of two chords FUNCTIONS as mini plagal cadences. (That is, IV to I.) I must note that the relationship between i and V also functions this way. Looking back at the Canon, I searched for an answer. Maybe, I thought, that vi chord functions differently. Thus:

D: I V iv/iii iii IV I IV V

A series of plagals ending with a strong IV to V cadencing into the next phrase. "Aha!" I said in a manner not unlike Archimedes discovering volumetric displacement. The chords are not exactly the same, but how they function relative to each other is.

This discovery led my wife to roll her eyes and ask if we could go. And go we did, me proud of my accomplishment and her wondering if anything good would be on TV later.

(I should note that my wife is actually very musical; she's just not much into theory. I don't blame her. As a side note to this side note, at this particular establishment, a man at the soda fountain asked me if she was my wife, then told me she was very pretty. I said, "Thanks! Well, I think so." That scored me some points.)

So, I ask the Internet populace, what does your ear say? Have you found songs with the same or similar progressions, or songs that sound the same or have similar melodies? Have a bone to pick about my pompously in-depth analysis? Do tell!

09 February 2012

Audio: Edward's Lab Partner

Check this out: Now you can work out to me reading my short story "Edward's Lab Partner." (If you want. Or just listen here.)

Edward's Lab Partner (mp3)

Read "Edward's Lab Partner" here.