December 11, 2009
By Terry Walstrom
I shall attempt a sort of free sketch of Main Title to The Dove without bogging down in sordid details the non-musician might find soporific.
John Barry prefers (if past choices are to be an indication) minor key melodies. Minor keys are the brooding, mysterious and sad ones. He also has a tendency to select the key of F for his major melodies and Fminor, Eminor or Cminor for his other venues.
The Dove is an exception The key is plain vanilla C Major. Look at your local piano. See those white keys? Yep, that's C major.
It is what we like to call the guitarist's favorite key. As an aside, George Gershwin would/could only play in C major. I guess those glissandos are easier that way:) (A glissando is a sweep up or down hitting all the notes in a scale.)
Barry's choices for what instruments are going to play his theme are unusual (for him.)
Normally, JB uses the guitar either for melody (James Bond theme) or for rhythm/percussive effect. The Big Band era used acoustic guitars for rhythm purposes and the jazz era developed a sort of strum and "fill" style that created an effective color. But, not until the invention of the electric guitar (so you could actually HEAR the notes) did the guitar come crashing to the front of the line.
In The Dove, Barry has chosen for the guitar something completely unusual. An arpeggio/rhythm. There are twin 12 string guitars (they sound like that timbre, but, I suppose they might simply be gutstring) creating a rather loud arpeggio in triplets (three notes cycling over and over) on both wings of the listener's field of aural soundscape. In other words: far left and far right.
Why? We might well ask. I can't say. From a musical standpoint, nobody else did it before and it seems to work. Is that good enough? :)
It has a rough texture that catches the ear and puts some "grit" in the mix. Further, it has a psychological motive. The guitar is not a "formal" instrument. It is portable. It represents the vagabond, the adventurer out and about. Otherwise, your conservatory brand composer would have placed a HARP here instead of the guitar. This choice is friendly to the ear and catches the spirit of a sailing spree by young people on an adventure. That's as much seat of the pants psychology as I can offer:)
Later, just for fun and contrast, I might go back and substitute different instruments in place of John Barry's and let you hear what a world of difference it makes to how you FEEL when listening.
In addition to the guitars, John Barry is going to play his melody theme on the violins as a section (not as a solo instrument) and will have the flutes playing the same notes. Musically, this is called "doubling". Barry's flute/violin section doubling gives a pure sound that is pretty without being corny.
Cumulatively, the bass notes will be plucked by the double bass (giant, fat, swollen-looking violins that stand upright:) as the low strings (always on the right) give us a carpet of---shall we say---additional rhythm, and provides a sweeping warmth to the mix.
For punctuation, the timpani (kettledrum) adds a bit of emphasis here and there. You can't have John Barry and not have Horns. Barry's singular use of horns is sui generis. He does it and nobody else does it like him. (I can't imagine why they don't, frankly!) The Horns, he discovered around 1965, can be used in a choir (three or more at once) the way the piano player uses chords or the guitar player uses chords. Not to say he didn't know this before. He didn't really use it and develop the horn choir until mid 60's. Great Movie Sounds of John Barry introduced our ears to this device. Listen to the track: From Russia with Love. The horns are clustered in the low register. It is turgid, muddy and almost unpleasant. This is a first effort. Later, Barry began putting the Horn Choir in the middle and high register to great effect. On Her Majesty's Secret Service unfurls the sweeping sonority of Brass Choir majesty in all its glory... But, I digress... In The Dove, the brass isn't used for beauty and majesty so much as it is for dramatic power and punctuation.
John Barry likes to double the strings, flute and marimba. A marimba is like a Xylophone or vibraphone, except the tone is precise and there is no after tone. In the Main Title's middle section the marimba "cuts through" the mix and gives definition to the rhythmic counter-melody in a way that neither strings nor flute can alone.
Further, if we subtract the melody content and expose the skeleton or spine of this composition we'll discover a sense of motion up and down the scale which is quite exhilarating in its energy and good-naturedness. The strings go high in one direction as another section goes low in the other. Barry builds interest by changing paragraphs of whole thought. Intro--melody--intermezzo--melody--etc. This highly stylized clockwork precision is transparent. You always know what part of the orchestra to listen to. Never a dull moment. Each space has content. No clutter, no fuss and not once a train wreck.
Now to the melody. The "tune", if we may call it that, goes from middle "E" to "E" above C and doubles back and forth on its way back down. The tune is a series of cells of phrases mirroring each other and setting on top of a decending harmonic device that is as old as music itself. A unifying device is like the foundation on a building; it keeps the construction from toppling in confusion. In this case, the chords (like Pachelbel's canon) decends the C major scale. The notes C, B, A, G, F, E, D, C are the scale. Barry indicates these notes either with harmony or with the bass as the melody rides on top. Think of the Christmas carol: JOY TO THE WORLD. "Joy to the World the Lord has Come." That's the C scale in spades. (Well, no spades necessary:) Hum the Dove tune (starting on the E of the scale) while somebody else sings Joy to the World and you have it!! (Each note must be held the same duration, however.) Oh, nevermind! :)
If the above is confusing or impressing to you--you've missed the point! All music has some architecture. James Bond theme has a "vamp" that goes up and down three adjacent notes PLUS the guitar melody has a catchy rhythm repeated over and over. That's the architecture. It is memorable and emotionally exciting.
The DOVE uses scalewise motion and the guitar arpeggios. PLUS, the 6/8 meter (six notes per measure; all of them 8th notes) allows Barry to syncopate little licks here and there (sort of like skipping) to offset any feeling of robotic predictability of a mundane nature.
Where does this leave us in our understanding of what this Main Title is? Let's sum up:
- Hum the tune. Hear those little pauses? Ask yourself, "what is happening each time the melody pauses?"
- The guitars keep background interest exciting during melody pauses.
- Listen way down low to the lowest thumps. That's the plucked strings (pizzacato) on the lowest string instruments. Hear the rhythm? Bump___ba dada dum Bum Bump___ba dada dum. That is yet ANOTHER component doing something different than everything else on top!
- Listen to the non-melody strings. What's going on there? It's a kind of mist hanging in the air that is catching the color of the evening over the ocean.
- Listen how phrases repeat themselves first HIGH.....then a little lower......then again, a little lower, etc. Why? You get to hear the same phrases---but---they are made different and interesting at the same time. The piece stays "simple" but varied.
Bottom line? Simplicty is created by Barry by the magic trick of repetition. You don't get lost in all the commotion. Never. Why? Like any good Magician, John Barry directs you where he wants you to attend and hides the actual work involved in pulling off the illusion.
What is music but melody, harmony and rhythm? The tune is the melody. The string background and the movement of the scale (down and up the white keys on the piano or C scale) provide the harmony. The guitars, plucked string bass, marimba are the rhythm. ALL THE REST is VARIATION. Mostly, Barry uses a different part of the scale for his variation. High, Middle, Low. Up and then down. Down and then up.
One last thing to listen for: the flutes and woodwinds and marimba take turns. As one group is doing somersaults upward, the other group is merely sliding downward, downward downward. Then, they change places. The HORNS do this too. We have one choir sliding downward while the other choir somesaults upward. Note: this "blend" of tones creates tension and harmony. Passing tones are interesting to the ear. Think of a juggler keeping pins in the air and adding yet more. As one pin spins upward another is simultaneously decending as one hand passes the catch to the other hand's pitch.
What is the best way to keep track of what you are listening to? I start with the lowest instrument.
If you listen to the lowest thing you can hear you automatically hear everything else (on top) with clarity. It takes a little practice. You have to relax. Try NOT listening to the top notes at all. It ain't easy, Bub. Why? The human ear is selective. Information seeking. We learn culturally that information is at the top. Everything beneath is relegated to background (context). However, in listening to music, the rules change. Music is built on the lowest note. Beethoven composed his symphonies, for example, by first composing the bass notes! All else was built on the foundation.
Main Title to The Dove is built on that skipping bottom pizzacato (plucked string bass).
Barry has INTRODUCTION (setting of the tonal stage) MELODY (the tune) and varation (changes from beginning to intermezzo and back in variations. This is our cast of characters. We always know who is on stage. We always know where we are. We know why.
One last topic: what makes The Dove so enjoyable as a score? It contains recognizable Barryisms, certainly. However, John Barry had a very rich period of pure invention. Just before he sunk into a one-size-fits-all approach, John Barry approached each and every movie with a clean slate. Everything was different. You simply did not know what NEW thing you would hear. The variety of conception is astounding. Nobody else sounded like him. He never sounded like others. One of a kind.
One of John Barry's stylistic quirks is that he really loathed the drumkit. He tried to avoid typical percussion schemes. Too conventional and predictable for him! Instead, Barry began treating the right side of the strings (low end) as a rhythm section. From the early 70's forward, more and more of JB's creations used this scheme. This finally became a mannerism and a fall back.
Go back and listen to THE PERSUADERS theme. Listen to the drumkit. Ha! Bizarre! When does the downbeat come? Where is the typical beat? Gone. Listen to any of his tv theme work and ask yourself "where is the drumkit?" You will have a hard time finding any example of 2 and 4 beat. ORSON WELLES theme music too contains a transitional drumkit part that is so understated as to almost be a private joke on JB's part. I digress... The DOVE is about texture, movement and a really good mood. The horns give the adventure and the melody grants optimism.
Finally, one thought. A story about two beautiful young people on a sailboat would seem to cry out for lush romanticism. Right? Barry could do that, right? A string melody like Poledouris' BLUE LAGOON comes to mind. (A very Barryesque score!) But, John Barry doesn't give us lush at any part. Stop and think about that. Never are there sweeping violins in the (now typical) Barry manner. What do we have instead? Playfulness. Drama. Adventure. Never lush romance. This is youth+nature on the open sea first and foremost. The adventure is discovery "...while it's still FREE....." Lyn Paul tells us.
Of all the Barry creations, The Dove stands alone in the palette, colors and arrangement of instruments. Enjoy!