Week #40, "Spruce Head: 1884," is a meditation on fog, a common occurrence off the coast of Maine.
It begins with a bassoon and double bass mimicking the sound of a foghorn, followed by a motif that is intended to evoke an image of a row of 19th-century schooners working their way through Penobscot Bay in the pea-soup fog.
For a brief moment in the middle of the piece, the tune turns slightly more cheerful -- perhaps that fog is lifting? -- before returning to the original motif. If you are familiar with foggy Maine days, you know that some days the fog gives you false hope that it will dissipate before coming back with a vengeance.
This week's song is based on Act V, Scene 1, of Hamlet -- my all-time favorite play. This is the scene where the gravediggers are excavating Ophelia's grave and keep stumbling upon the skulls of previously buried folks, including Yorick, the king's former fool.
The gravedigger sings a little ditty while he works:
"A pick-axe, and a spade, a spade,
For and a shrouding sheet:
O, a pit of clay for to be made
For such a guest is meet."
It turns out Shakespeare didn't write this. It's lifted from a poem called "The Aged Lover Renounceth Love," that was popular in the Elizabethan era. The original lines are:
"A pickaxe and a spade,
And eke a shrouding sheet,
A house of clay: A house of clay for to be made
For such a guest most meet."
As you can see, the gravedigger doesn't get the lyrics quite right, so I took the liberty of altering it even further for my waltz. Maybe this will go in the Hamlet opera* I keep threatening to write.
* by opera, I mean "sung-through musical," but that doesn't sound grave enough for Hamlet, if you'll excuse the pun.
Week #38 of the "53 Songs" project is another holiday number and closely related to the previous week's entry ("Artificial Christmas": https://youtu.be/4FzfbKT7W8I).
This week, I asked the popular A.I. program ChatGPT to give me 50 words or phrases associated with the holidays. I then tried to weave as many of them as possible into this number. I think it's a keen reflection of how certain words and symbols have become shorthand for all we hold dear during the holiday season. The video -- also, as usual, A.I. created -- features various designs for wrapping paper that include the same lyric prompts.
Ho ho ho, indeed.
The Christmas season is the perfect time to talk about ideals vs. reality, for surely there's no season in popular culture where we embrace the Platonic ideal of peace on earth and goodwill to everyone more than the winter holidays. (And I say "winter holidays" not just 'cause I'm woke, but because the idealized good cheer of the Christmas season now really permeates from mid-October onward.)
This is the first of two holiday songs I've composed for this season and both are interrelated. This one is called "Artificial Christmas" -- not only to point out that the ideals we strive for can be too easily to reduced to signs and symbols and the plots of Hallmark movies, but also because the song itself is written based on prompts from the popular A.I. program ChatGPT. I asked ChatGPT to give me a list of 10 popular holiday/Christmas tropes, and then asked it weave those ten tropes into a Christmas song. The results were -- as usual -- mixed. (ChatGPT seems to have real problems with meter; the lines usually rhyme, but you can't necessarily fit all the words into the right number of notes.) So, I took what ChatGPT had written and wrote my own song around it. Your goal is guess which parts are written by a human and which by a computer!
Likewise, the images are all A.I.-generated, using prompts like "Christmas village," "Thomas Kinkade," and "Snow globe."