Tag Archives: mormon music

The New Mormon Pop: Clean Flicks or Artistry?

1.11.13 | | 27 comments

I am the lucky mother of a tween. She’s nine years old and, while we share a great number of similarities (like hair color), she is different than me in many ways. Example: For Career Day on Friday she’s dressing up like a pop star/fashion model. When I was in 4th grade the only pop star I could name was Debbie Gibson; I was too busy listening to my dad’s LPs of Fiddler on the Roof and The Sound of Music and, oh yes, Saturday’s Warrior. Thanks to iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and the ubiquitous iPod/mp3 gadgets every kid but mine seems to have my daughter has heard more pop music than I have and, well, there’s been some friction.

Now I like pop music as much as the next mom, but I just have a visceral reaction when I hear my nine-year-old belting out Katy Perry or LMFAO or Niki Minaj. I finally had to draw the line at Pitbull. I’ve been doing my research and trying to find “cool” music that will placate her need for auto-tuned lyrics and techno-dance beats without introducing concepts that simply aren’t appropriate for a little girl–because, despite her protestations, she still is one.

Enter The Piano Guys. Seriously, these dudes have saved us many a music battle. Even my 5 year old and 2 year old request  Pepponi on a regular basis. I listen to their stuff for fun, inspiration, and to plow through writer’s block. (I’m actually kind of a super fan; I commented on their Facebook page and they replied and I totally called all my friends and told them. . .)

Of course, my daughter really wants something she can sing along to. Enter artists like Tyler Ward and Megan Nicole. I don’t want to start any Mormon rumors so I’ll just say this: while the Piano Guys sell through Deseret Book, I have no idea if Tyler Ward and Megan Nicole are Mormon–except that they have that Mormon look and change cuss words and questionable lyrics in all their covers to more saccharine/appropriate options. For example, in Megan Nicole’s version of “The Lazy Song” by Bruno Mars instead of waking up, doing some P90X and having some “really great sex”, Megan Nicole does P90X and then has some really great CHEX. Cheesy and silly? Yes. But now my daughter can listen to a song and enjoy it and sing it and she and I don’t end up having long and somewhat tricky conversations.

It recently occurred to me, though, that this is like the musical version of Clean Flicks. Now, if you weren’t living in Utah in the late 1990s and early 2000s you probably have no idea who this company is. The short version is this: they took movies that most Mormons wanted to watch but wouldn’t  because of “questionable” content and edited them to fit a “family friendly” standard. This is the company that made it so Neo in The Matrix said things like, “Oh crud” and “Jeepers Creepers.” They were pretty big business for a few years–until they got shut down by a lawsuit filed by the Director’s Guild who claimed they were violating copyright laws. From what I recall of the court case, directors like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese felt that the CleanFlicks folks were unlawfully trampling and changing their artistic property. They made their movies with “questionable” content because they felt it needed to be there and it was a slap in the face to their artistic integrity to have someone come along and “clean” it up.

So now I’m wondering if these artists like Tyler Ward and Megan Nicole are treading on the same ground. Obviously music copyright works differently and these covers are legal, but what about the aesthetics? Does editing the music so that it is appropriate for my nine year old kill someone’s artistic vision?

For me it’s a moot point. While I don’t mind China Ann McClain, (I love China’s version of Dynamite.) Zendaya, One Direction, and Taylor Swift anything that saves my ears from another Justin Beiber song or a Bella Thorne auto-tune-fest is a gift to me. And, really, the less Katy Perry in my life the better!

What do you think? Do cover songs like this trample the artistic integrity of the original? And, really, is this just a Mormon thing to rewrite pop culture to fit our aesthetics?

And in case you needed it, here’s a favorite of mine from the Piano Guys. Let your inner tween out and bop along!


What’s on Your Relief Society Birthday Playlist? (Alex Boye??)

3.12.12 | | 29 comments

This month female members of the Church will be gathering in countless cultural halls with casseroles, crockpots of soup, and rolls in hand–all to celebrate a very special birthday: the anniversary of the founding of the LDS Relief Society. A required Church activity (it’s described in the Handbook of Instructions) this evening which seeks to epitomize the roots of sisterhood is a staple in every RS yearly calender. Along with the soups and ubiquitous chicken salads (the recipe with whole garlic cloves is always a no; the one with avocados and raisins is a surprising yes), there will be a program of some sort celebrating the history of Relief Society and the women who have shepherded the organization from its inception in Nauvoo to its current state as world wide humanitarian powerhouse. There might be women in costume. There might be reader’s theaters. There will definitely be a music.

One year (the only year!) I was put in charge of our ward’s Relief Society Birthday celebration I opted to go with a regular birthday theme. There were balloons on the tables and we all ate Texas sheet cake that one of the sisters had piped with the Relief Society seal and logo. Super creative, I know–but you have to understand this was well before the Pinterest or even sugardoodle.net was around. (Egads, that makes me sound old! So does my use of the word “egads” . . .)The one part where I took a risk was the music. Instead of hymns or the clanging echo of female chatter on the cultural hall walls, I opted for Glenn Miller. I brought a small CD player and set it on the stage (which wasn’t being used that evening) and we all grooved to “Little Brown Jug” and “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” It was fun. It was nice. But it didn’t really hit on the spirit of the Relief Society.

Surprisingly a lot of singers, from your ward and from the big LDS music marketers, are seeking to fill that gap. Just like some Deseret Book musicians release theme music for the youth programs every year, a clutch of DB female LDS musicians release albums aimed at capturing the special sense of sisterhood. Usually it’s ladies like Hilary Weeks (your Facebook feed probably got inundated with this one last fall) or Mercy River. For awhile it was Gladys Knight and the Saints Unified Voices album (who knew “I Am a Child of God” could be so deeply soulful!). And always there are the humble renditions of the hymns “As Sisters in Zion”, “Love at Home”, and “Each Life That Touches Ours For Good” sung by tender-hearted ward members.

A few other songs stick out in my mind. Like the Janice Kapp Perry numbers that graduated with me from Young Women’s into the RS (The presence of “I Walk By Faith” at some of these events is baffling to me). Or Sally DeFord’s “My Sister’s Hands”. The most notable is Mindy Gledhill’s “Emma (Never Had an Ordinary Day)”, which is almost rebellious in its questioning of those who would question Emma. Standing behind Emma, choosing not to judge another woman’s spirituality based on the outcome of her marriage and her children but instead choosing to simply be with her and help her–to my mind that’s the heart of the Relief Society sisterhood.

And just recently I discovered another unforgettable one. Alex Boye’s “Relief Society Tribute” song. Seriously, this one is unforgettable. I can’t not share it with you.

While I unequivocally love Mindy Gledhill’s “Emma” I am a bit divided on Mr. Boye’s offering. On the one hand, I appreciate his compliments and there a couple spots that I actually tear up because he articulates my feelings fairly well. There is a part of me that seems to crave this kind of validation. But then, well, there’s the part where he raps “Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel”. And all the “hey-O!” that makes it so my brain automatically starts singing Taio Cruz. And there’s the surprising (flippant?) mention of Heavenly Mother. I would never compare myself to her, but now that he’s done it I find myself realizing that there’s a reason I don’t compare myself to her–I WILL NEVER MEASURE UP! The perfect women he lauds in this song are, for the most part, not like me. I know this is not the intent of this song, but, well, isn’t there some way to talk about Mormon ladies without idealizing them? Sometimes it seems to me like the old angel-of-the-hearth thing all over again. (Although Hestia is always classified as one of the “Big 12″ Greek gods and she is the original Guardian of Home and Hearth, so maybe that isn’t so bad? But I digress.)

I don’t know. Is my discomfort just because Alex Boye’s song is so very, very far from the style that I expect to hear? Or does it epitomize the Mormon woman/Mother-in-Zion syndrome dilemma?

How about you all? What do you make of Boye’s song? What kind of music is central to your Relief Society experience? (And, yes, men please weigh in!)

“Cupcakes Can Kill You. . . (An interview with Mister Tim in two parts)

2.23.11 | | 3 comments

. . . especially when they’re made with death,” says Mister Tim, the quirkiest voice in a cappella music.

I’ve known Mister Tim for more than 5 years and witnessed many artistic incarnations. The earliest (for me) was as our ward choir director. Intense, focused, squinting with the effort of tweaking our voices into a semblance of harmony and with one ear always turned toward the choir Mister Tim–er, I mean, Brother Tim–did his own arrangements of hymns and sang all the music as if it were being performed for the first time every time. Ward members still talk about his performance of “O, Holy Night.”

The next incarnation, which he had been inhabiting since college, was Moosebutter. Like most college a cappella bands Moosebutter focused on and perfected the silliness inherent in singing “classic” music, like “Popcorn Popping”, with that characteristic BYU-comedy flair. They were big with the ten year olds and all their parents for being able to comically riff on everything from Harry Potter to Spam to Jon Williams (who is most definitely the man), for which they were nominated for a People’s Choice Award.

From there Mister Tim went on to work on the Vegas Strip and put together, manage, and perform in many other a cappella groups. When his stint in Vegas ended and he and his family rolled back into Colorado he came with yet another incarnation: Vocal Magic.

Vocal Magic is a multifaceted one man show that hinges on Mister Tim’s prodigious vocal textures, far-reaching vocal range, and his ability to work three sound effect pedals that enable to sing with himself and mix his voice in real time–a process called live looping. Part stand-up comedy, part poetry slam, and part performance art, Vocal Magic was like nothing I had ever seen before. My first thought: If T.S. Eliot could have sang and Allan Ginsberg had known how to beatbox and been stuck in one body, they could have been reincarnated as Mister Tim. Vocal Magic was like nothing I’d ever seen but it was definitely something I wished to see again.

Mr. Tim graciously agreed to be interviewed. His answers were thorough enough and thought-provoking enough that I split the interview into two parts. Here’s part one.

LHC: How are you feeling today? (Fuzzy, spacey, ???)

Mr. T: Perpendicular.

LHC: Tell me about the modern a cappella scene. Until I saw your show whenever I thought of a cappella I always thought of those guys from “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” How has a cappella grown and changed?

Mr. T:There is a great deal of detail and nuance to this answer. “A Cappella” to most people, I think, means Rockapella (Carmen San Diego), or a barbershop quartet, or a college group like BYU’s Vocal Point, or, more and more frequently, “GLEE” (even though there has only been one actual a cappella song on that show). But, even Rockapella, still touring the world 15 years after Carmen San Diego went off the air, is nothing like they were on that show: [now] they are a technology-dependent pop act. There are groups that use stacks and stacks of expensive sound gear, like Naturally 7 who are touring with Michael Buble.

Really there are three ways to define “a cappella”: 1) the most basic– meaning any music performed without
instruments, regardless of style (including when rock bands sing a section of their song without instruments, like the beginning of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”); 2) what seems to be the popular interpretation of a cappella, which is the Rockapella version, or the college a cappella version, or even the barbershop version, which carries a fragrance of dorkiness; 3) and “contemporary” a cappella, which is a movement of modern musicians doing modern music at a very high level, usually incorporating vocal percussion, and usually depending on technology to create the same auditory punch as a ‘real’ band.

My history in a cappella really follows the progression of contemporary a cappella. I listened to The King’s Singers (classical) in high school, saw BYU’s Vocal Point at one of BYU’s very first a cappella jams; I had friends bootlegging a cappella radio programs onto cassette tapes and passing them around; I was introduced, through rumor at first, to The House Jacks, and then by the late 90’s to m*pact. I started attending a cappella conferences, and growing less satisfied with the traditional a cappella standard and wanting… more. And there were groups doing more, and I gravitated to them. Then I started making my own groups, and have been skewing further and further from “traditional” a cappella since then, although I still keep the traditional stuff around because it makes $.

When most people call me wanting to hire “an a cappella group,” they want something like early 90’s Rockapella, or like a college group. Recognizable covers, bare-bones vocal sound, oftenthey want something a little corny (which is part of that old-school a cappella… thing).

LHC: What attracted you to live looping? How is it different from traditional a cappella?

Mr. T: My wife and I used to joke that I was constantly disappointed with the other singers in my groups because what I really wanted was for all the singers in my group to be me. Well, looping lets me do that! I get to sing everything just the way I want it sung, and I don’t have to wait for other people to learn their parts.

Other reasons I started live-looping: a) I want to go out and perform as often as possible, but couldn’t get the other people in my groups to go all the time; b) There are lots of paid shows that come up that don’t pay enough for a whole group, but are good money for just one person; c) I saw other people do it, and it looked like fun.

But, one of the biggest factors: I love teaching. I love teaching. The problem with the kind of teaching I do, where I drop in and talk to kids in their regular music classes, or in assemblies, or at music festivals, is that if they don’t know who I am, they don’t care about what I have to say. If I’m there with a group, they hear the group sing, they think it’s cool, then they’ll listen. But I want to be teaching as often as possible, visiting classes, flying out to music festivals, showing up at concerts. I can’t afford to fly a whole group out to these kinds of things for free, which most of them demand (even the big a cappella festivals where I teach I have to pay my own way there unless I’m one of the headline performers). But now that I’ve got a solo act, I can drop in on a class with my small sound system that takes less than 5 minutes to set up, sing a couple of songs,
the kids think it’s cool, and then when I speak, my words matter. It’s a pedagogical thing.

Artistically, what attracts me now to continue live-looping is that it really is rare to have one person doing looping with just the voice. Novelty factor, and if done well and if we find the market I’ve got a corner on the market. I do enjoy the constraints: a lot of my material has developed to address specific issues of how to keep the show from being boring, dealing with the repetitive nature of the loop, not being able to change the music once it’s laid down without completely starting over. Limiting, yes, but has forced me to adapt in ways and to develop new approaches to my performing that I think have greatly improved the overall impact of my
performance.

LHC: I know you’re a fan of all types of music, but what musicians and songs/works have stuck with you over the years?

Mr. T: The 3 B’s: Bach, Beethoven, Barenaked Ladies (I don’t like Brahms); Midnight Oil; Kingston Trio; Manheim Steamroller; Spike Jones; Weird Al Yankovic; Alan Sherman; Smothers Brothers; Brandon Flowers; John Adams

To be continued, but while you are waiting feel free to enjoy this:

Music in the key of free: an interview with Sally DeFord

11.24.08 | | 10 comments

Sally DeFord is one of the most prolific modern LDS composers and arrangers. Her work has been featured in Church magazines seven times and she has received 33 Church music awards for her compositions and arrangements. Seriously, search for her name on LDS.org—there are eighteen hits. Her song, “If the Savior Stood Beside Me” was used in the 2008 Primary program and was performed in the General Young Women’s broadcast in 2007. Oh, and she also gives away her music for free. That’s right. You heard me. FREE. (That noise you’re hearing, that’s ward and stake choir directors everywhere cheering.) Read on to find out why.

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