Tuesday, April 19, 2011

There's A Saying Old...

Michael Buble, modern day crooner and recording artist extraordinaire, has made quite a remarkable living off of his suave renditions of some of music's most historic and cherished songs. Although Mr. Buble has reached mainstream success with some of his original tunes, I argue that the bulk of his fan base became infatuated with him based on his renditions of the "standards." While hundreds of songs seemingly come and go every year, some songs are so good, they become permanently etched in our collective musical memories. Luckily for Buble, he garnered a love for these songs at a young age, and developed himself as a musical artist under the guise of the great songwriters of yesteryear. While I am certainly a fan of Michael Buble, this entry is not principally concerned with his career. No, my focus is on the songs.

One great pleasure of being a fan of the "standards" is that most of them have been recorded by a large number of artists over the years. Bobby Darin's "Beyond The Sea," for example, is a song so good, it has been recorded and performed by more musicians than I care to list here (no rendition better than Darin's original, if I may be so bold as to say so...). Because of the outstanding availability of many "standards" by so many different artists, fans of the music can take great pleasure in exploring different renditions of a given tune, often leading one to come up with a personal favorite. It may even be the case that the focus narrows even more, where a specific performance of a song by a particular artist becomes a personal musical staple.

"Someone To Watch Over Me," composition and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, is one of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching songs you are likely ever to hear. It is a song of longing over something worse than a lost love… a love never had. In expressing remorse over being forced to cherish only the prospect of love, the song’s protagonist expresses a profound hope that there is “that” person out there, who is meant to do no things better than to love him/her. What is particularly beautiful about the song is how it describes love in such an unconventional, but staggeringly honest and alluring way. A typical way of describing love, or someone to love, is to run through all of the qualities that make that (potential) person attractive. Whether it be physical attributes or personality characteristics, we often conceive of love in the ways that we can come to love someone else. Equally as important, I say, is how able we are to be loved. It is in this notion that I find the real beauty of the song. For me, the phrase “how I need someone to watch over me” encapsulates an essential, but often repressed human desire – the desire to have someone who will make you able to be loved in the same way you desire to love someone else. In an act of full disclosure, I have spent more time trying to write this paragraph than I have many other entire posts. I wish that I could write more about what makes this song one of the greats, but that is a task formidable for far more talented writers. I can only ask that you listen to the song for yourself, and hopefully feel similarly about it.

Although this song has been performed by many musical greats over the years, my favorite rendition of it comes from a seemingly unlikely source. The film Mr. Holland’s Opus is a film that centers on an aspiring musical composer named Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss), who decides to take up a job teaching music to high school students in order to pay the bills. It is Mr. Holland’s thinking that teaching high school students during the week will serve as a less than strenuous way to make a decent living, and more importantly, will also allow him the time to focus on his own musical efforts. Of course, Mr. Holland quite quickly discovers that the job of a teacher is slightly more time consuming than he had originally envisioned. At one point in the film, Mr. Holland is asked to team up with the school’s drama teacher in putting together a Fall musical. They decide on a Gershwin review. In the midst of auditioning less-than-stellar thespians for the singing roles, Mr. Holland finds himself entranced by a young woman named Rowena Morgan (Jean Louisa Kelly). Ms. Morgan sings beautifully, and appears perfectly suited for the role as the film’s ingĂ©nue. As we discover later, however, she manages to transcend the characteristics of such a stock character.

I fell in love with Gershwin’s song in part because I, like Mr. Holland, fell in love with Rowena Morgan. Her performance of the song is simply breathtaking. What I believe to be noteworthy about my affection for this particular performance is the fact that for all intents and purposes, it is not the “best” that the song has ever been performed. Surely, from a musical standpoint, Kelly’s performance as Rowena does not hold up to other renditions of the song by musical icons like Sinatra or Fitzgerald. Still, whenever I hear the song, to this day I recall the first time I “met” Rowena Morgan, and experienced her enchantment for the first time.

If you have been so bold as to read this far, you are wonderfully patient. Even the most patient reader, I’m sure, eventually must ask, “What is your point?” Here it is. I think it is incredibly important for us to cherish specific memories like this one, and to share them with others. It gives us the ability to communicate pieces of ourselves to those around us, which can prove to be unbelievably fulfilling for our own emotional development. A great many people have heard “Someone To Watch Over Me” in their lifetimes, but no one has ever heard it in precisely the same way I did way back when. Similarly, I may have seen the same film that you have at one point, but I have never seen it exactly the way you have. But, to understand the ways you have seen the things you cherish in your life is a way for me to understand you. And maybe, a chance for you to better understand yourself.

John Denver wrote “Annie’s Song” for his wife. I once saw an interview where she said that, although he had sung the song to her many times throughout the course of their marriage, the most beautiful time she ever heard it was at her daughter’s wedding, after John had died. While Annie may hear that song innumerable more times in her life, she will always hold dear the memory of hearing it that one time. That, my friends, is special.

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