Saturday, November 24, 2007

if ever i would leave you

Here's a song for you. I've been occasionally playing piano and singing at a new place called Stefania's (owned by Stefania of Dolores Del Rio fame). A while back — a month ago! — my parents came in with some friends and sat close.

I always try to tailor my set to who's listening, so I picked out some tunes they'd appreciate. (Later, my brother and his wife came in and we did a bossa version of the Bellamy Brothers' "Let Your Love Flow," which actually worked quite well. Gotta remember that one.) For whatever reason, I decided we should do "If Ever I Would Leave You," from Camelot. I don't remember Dad ever singing that. I know we have the soundtrack somewhere, but I didn't gravitate to it as much as to the Rodgers and Hammerstein stuff. For whatever reason, though, I always associate it with my parents, perhaps because the musical happened right when they got married, and perhaps because I think of their love affair as one for all seasons. So I called the tune, and we played it, rather loosely but with brio.

Catherine likes how I sing this song. She says my voice "shines" in it, and I can tell exactly which parts she's thinking of. Lerner and Loewe are mainly to be thanked here: they're the ones who used that wonderful secondary dominant to such good effect.

You may remember that a dominant chord is the five chord, or V chord in standard notation, that "dominates" because it leads so strongly to the one chord — the home base of any tonic song. Anyone who plays decent piano can show you easily how you can make any major chord into a secondary dominant by simply adding a dominant seven in there, and then going to a chord a fourth above. So, if you're in the key of Bb, the dominant seven chord is F7, but you could play a Bb7 and go to Eb, creating a momentary shift in the tonality.

That's exactly what L&L do in this song. It happens three times in the form: "your hair streaked with sunlight," "I've seen how you sparkle," and "Oh, no, not in springtime." Each time, the song revs up to a cadence, but it's not the real cadence at the end of the musical thought; it's like the semi-resolution at the end of a television episode, in that you know there's more coming. Lerner and Lowe make these cadences the highlights of the song by placing the highest peak of the melody right there. Nice place for it. It happens at the volta of each line, telling us why the singer can't leave his lover at the various times of year.

This is why it's good for a singer to know a bit of musical theory. When you're aware of what the composer is doing, you can milk those moments. So, when Catherine says I "shine" there, it's partially because I'm just giving the music what it asks for.

So here you have it, dedicated to Joe and Marjorie Brake. I'd figured I would post it on their anniversary date, but, you know, server trouble.

If Ever I Would Leave You