How to pick a fight with a classically-trained Musical Pharisee

Posted on October 13, 2010


(You are about to enter my dream. In this dream, I am hanging out with famous musician friends of mine (mostly rockers and rappers), and we’re all jammin’ out in my garage with the garage door open. We’re making music and minding our own business when out of nowhere, a group of classically-trained Musical Pharisees drive up to my house in their Beamers and Benzes. They park them behind the rock/hip-hop stars’ Ferraris, Bentleys, Trip Lee and Lecrae’s hooptie and boombox from Jesus Muzik  (2006) and my 2003 Honda Civic with the faded paint and busted back headlight/dented bumper from a hit & run back in July. The Musical Pharisees begin arrogantly strolling towards the open garage with noses held high.)

Geddy Lee: Ohhhhhh no…

(Angry, I throw my guitar down and begin to walk defiantly towards them with Trent Reznor, Jimmy Page, John Mayer, John Legend, Geddy Lee, Eric Clapton, Chris Thile, Trip Lee, Lecrae and many more garage band friends behind me. I’m leading the way because even though they’re more famous, more skilled and more experienced than me, I have the bigger mouth. A Sandlot-esque argument ensues between both sides.)

Musical Pharisee #1: Yeah…it’s easy when you make music with a bunch of rejects instead of with Bach and Stravinsky, Branam.

Bob Dylan: Back off, man…

Me: (to the Pharisees) WHAT’D YOU SAY, CRAP FACE?

MP #1: I said you shouldn’t even be allowed to touch a piece of sheet music.

Miley Cyrus: Um…we usually don’t…

MP #2: Except for Branam here who actually took the time to get a degree in music from a small west Texas school we’ve never heard of, you’re all an insult to the form of artistic expression that is experienced aurally. And by the way, we know that Branam was a horrible student in college, had a terrible work ethic, a bad attitude towards The Repertoire, and that all of you are infinitely more accomplished and skilled musicians than he is. You probably practiced more last week than he did in 5 1/2 years of college, but Branam has the Paper, and you don’t, so  you’re still the bigger insult. (Although if he REALLY wanted respect, he’d have two or three Papers.)

Me: Come on! We’ll take you on. Right here, right now!

Clapton: It took you 5 1/2 years to graduate from college?

Me: Later, Eric. Let’s talk about that later. Right now, let’s show these fools what’s up!

Garage band friends except for Trip Lee and Lecrae: (shouting) Yeah! Come on, let’s go! Let’s do this!

MP #3: We make music in a real concert hall, Branam. You aren’t good enough to pass out our programs.

Me: Watch it, jerk.

MP #3: Shut up, idiot!

Me: Moron!

MP #3: Scab eater!

Chris Thile: Butt sniffer!

MP #3: Fart-smeller!

Justin Bieber: Guys I don’t agree with but I’m nice to because I’m nice to everybody!

MP #4: Your music uses electronic organs and other electronic instruments instead of pipe organs and other real instruments, geek.

John Mayer: Maybe that’s because now we have this thing called electricity? Geek?

MP #2: Half the time, you don’t even write your own music, and you often don’t write the text to your works.

Taylor Swift: Almost ALL the time, you get your lyrics from poets and librettists. And I DO write my own music. AND lyrics. So there.

MP #3: You write your music and plan your live performances based on what will make you money and not based on following the artistry of your heart.

Me: For almost 100 years, a ton of YOUR music has been more about what pleases YOUR BRAINS than what it does for people’s hearts!!

Garage friends, including Trip Lee and Lecrae: YEAH!

MP #5: You listen to music with little to no harmonic motion…and you LIKE it!

Me: (pausing in a moment of restraint, but then deciding to go ahead and drop The Bomb)

Well YOU aren’t complete musicians.

Long, awkward silence from Musical Pharisees while garage friends chuckle a little bit under their breath (even Trip Lee and Lecrae, who were still trying really hard to be good Christian examples couldn’t contain their laughter in that moment).

MP #1: (ego damaged and in shock) What did you say?

Eminem: You heard him.

MP #1: Tomorrow. Noon. At our concert hall. See you there, buffalo butt-breath.

Lady Gaga: Count on it, pee-drinking crap face.

Garage friends except Trip Lee and Lecrae: YEAH!!

MP #1: Let’s go. (Musical Pharisees get back in their cars and drive away while my garage friends except for Trip Lee and Lecrae high-five me and dap me up as we walk back to the garage.)

Me and garage friends except for Trip Lee and Lecrae (who are praying for us), in unison: Jerks…

Gaga: They’re not monsters. They’re monsters.

When we get back to the garage, Miley plugs her iPod into my stereo system, bypasses her classical music playlist and finds her favorite playlist that has “the Jay-Z song” and “the Britney song.” And when we hear our song, we all put our hands up, nod our heads like “yeah,” move our hips like “yeah,” and magically, the butterflies fly away and we know we’re gonna be ok.

Music I DARE you to listen to

Dare: La Pastorella, by Gioachino Rossini

Ok…going with some opera today. Take a deep breath…relax. Say it with me: ” I CAN listen to 10 minutes of opera clips without passing out or vomiting. I CAN listen to 10 minutes of opera clips without passing out or vomiting. I CAN listen to 10 minutes of opera clips without passing out or vomiting.”

” I THINK I can I THINK  I can I THINK I can…”

Joan Sutherland, by all accounts, was as famous an opera singer as Pavarotti was in his day. She was given the nickname, “La Stupenda,” which if you ask me, is the best nickname for any female ever. If you know of a better one, leave a comment below. If you’re one of my musician-type readers, you probably know that Sutherland passed away just the other day, and that musicians the world over are giving their own little tributes to her in their own ways. Consider this my tribute.

This music portion of this Youtube clip is barely two minutes long. I’m not going to bother telling you what the song is about, but if you want a translation from the Italian, click here. This is some spectacular singing. Note: get over the hair and clothes. People will laugh at you in 30 years too (if they aren’t already…HEYO!).

I’m sorry, but  as much as I love Snow White, Sleeping BeautyPrincess Fiona and Giselle and the vermin of New York City in their little “a-ha-ha-ha-ha” moments, they ain’t got nothin’ on Joan Sutherland (I will now wait for my mom’s side of the family to disown me based on that last statement).

Double Dare: Now I’m going to show you something that makes Musical Pharisees mad. And even though I just mocked them a couple hundred words ago, in this instance I understand their complaint. Remember when Charlotte Church was all the rage a few years back? This is a clip of her singing the same song that you just heard above:

Now granted, Charlotte Church is much younger than Sutherland was, and she doesn’t have as much experience/skill as Sutherland did when she sang in her clip. And I’m not saying Charlotte Church sucks. William Hung sucks. But still: if someone put a gun to your head and told you that you had to listen to one or the other of these recordings for an hour straight (basically 25-30 times) and you choose Charlotte Church over La Stupenda…I want you to consider listening to more opera. When the Charlotte Churches and the Jackie Evanchos come along on America’s Got Talent-type shows, the Musical Pharisees get a little perturbed, but I don’t think it’s because they think they suck. Remember: William Hung is the one who sucks. SUCKS. It’s just that if there are millions of people enjoying that sort of faux-opera sound, they’d almost certainly like “the real thing” if they gave it a chance, and the MPs just want them (you?) to realize that so you can go enjoy an opera. And honestly, I do too.

Someday, I’ll tell you the story of how I got into opera. It involves me hating opera, me being cast in an opera against my will in college as a drunk guy and chipping one of my teeth on stage in the process. Good story. But I’ll save it for another time. For now, I’ll simply politely request that you treat opera like you used to be forced to treat healthy food as a kid: at least try it a few times before you write it off for the rest of your life, and remember that what you used to hate as a kid you might have more of a tolerance/appreciation for as a slightly older kid. Even I, the king of meat and potatoes, have spinach and celery in my food repertoire these days.

Physical Challenge: Mira, o Norma, from Norma, by Vincenzo Bellini

This should be a Double Dare, but whatever. This is more Joan Sutherland, but it also features another famous voice from her generation: Marilyn Horne. These two are great for opera rookies to listen to because their voices aren’t over-the-top wobbly or crazy (by opera standards). Just pure, beautiful, “Bel Canto” singing, as they call it. This may be the best duet I’ve ever heard. Just listen to these voices and this beautiful music.

You THOUGHT you could, you THOUGHT you could. Way to go. Thanks for sticking it out and letting me share that with you. Until next Wednesday, you stay classy Planet Earth. And try some more opera on for size if/when you get a chance. Let me know if you’re looking for suggestions for more listening.

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