I’ve been a music-lover/musician for most of my life. Admittedly the ‘musician’ part has slipped recently. I’ve channeled my energies into more of the ‘active listener’ role over the last few years. And as a musician I was mostly a performer. But my real love has always (secretly) been music history, analysis, research, etc. The composition and arranging part of it is my husband’s passion. I’m always amazed at his abilities – he can listen to anything and write it out, harmonize it and turn it into a performance piece. He should go into business full-time. Really. He dabbles at the moment, but he should really do more of it. He’s also been known to compose original stuff – which is something I thought I’d never do – until…
My recent obsession has been the Hunger Games books. I know, I know – I’m a bit late to the party. Seemingly everyone I know has already read them. But when I picked up the first one last week I couldn’t put it down. Literally. For a good 2-3 days that’s all I did. And I’ve almost finished the third book.
If you know the books, then you know the song ‘The Hanging Tree.’ The books only give the lyrics and hint at the harmonies sung by the birds in the woods. It’s a haunting song – and the other day I woke up with the first three notes of a melody stuck in my head. I can’t shake it. But my Type-A-ness wants to make any attempt I make at writing it out historically accurate.
How can I possibly be historically accurate in writing a melody for a fictional song that occurs in the context of a fictional future? Let me explain. In my music-teacher days I had the privilege of spending three summers in the most grueling, agonizing, musically and intellectually inspiring experiences of my life. From 8-5 every day I was stretched, molded, brainwashed and challenged in lesson planning, sight-singing, musical analysis, conducting (take that, Phil Clements!), folk music research and choral performance. The last was one of the more agonizing given that I am an oboe player, not a singer. Well, the requirement of playing three piano parts (yes, on piano) while singing a fourth was definitely the worst, given that my piano skills are abysmal on a good day. But I loved every minute of it! One of the long-term effects was a fascination with and interest in folk music research. And this leads back to ‘The Hanging Tree.’
See, one of the proponents of my training is that any musical performance must be not only musically, but historically accurate. The Hunger Games’ Katniss, who sings the song as learned from her father (in true folk tradition) has lived her whole life in District 12. We are told that ‘in old times’ District 12 was part of a region called Appalachia. And Appalachia has a rich folk song tradition going back to the original Anglo immigrants. So it makes sense to me that any version of the melody must have some of those characteristics. Of course.
I’m excited. I have a project!! I’ve dug out all of my materials and resources to research music in the Appalachian tradition, analyze common elements, etc. Because my goal here is to compose (yes, me! compose!) an authentic ‘futuristic’ Appalachian folk melody. I can’t even tell you how overwhelmed and driven I am at the idea! Especially since YouTube has a few arrangements that other people have written for the song – and they are so ignorant of the region’s rich musical tradition it’s embarrassing. Plus they’re bad.
So that’s my goal for the week. And if I’m really lucky, my extremely-gifted spouse will agree to harmonize and arrange it for me. I’ll keep you posted!