There is a song by the bluegrass/country singer Allison Krauss that can make me a little obsessive. It’s called Forget About It. The singer essentially is telling her ex-boyfriend to move on from her. I know enough music theory to be dangerous, and I can tell you that the song is mostly in a minor key. I know this (thank you high school band director, Mr. Cook) because a major key sounds “happy” and minor key sounds “sad”, and for the most part this song has a sad sound to it. I say for the most part because of the key changes for the chorus to a major key, where the singer then reverts to happier memories.
Honestly, I am oversimplifying this analysis; and that’s doing an injustice to this song. This song is about a strong woman, who won’t let someone from her past into her present. It is gentle but her repetitive “forget about it” in the lyrics stands to make it clear that he needs to let go, and the minor key gives an edge to those words. Then we get to the chorus, and it begins with just a strum of a mandolin and a brush of a cymbal. The major key change doesn’t leave the current note structure so it almost guides itself into the new feel. The singer does go for higher chords, adds volume, and becomes more uplifting. The words she now sings are about times when things never felt so right. She isn’t telling him to move on, she’s telling herself to move on. She wants to forget him, and she isn’t as convincing anymore. Yet before we can wrap ourselves completely in those happy times, it shifts back just as easily to that minor key and we are back to pushing him away. It’s so quick that I find myself repeating that song over and over again, each time getting goosebumps on that key change.
Problem is, I don’t know if it’s a key change.
As I said, I know just enough about music theory to be dangerous. I can easily pick up a 1-4-5-1 chord progression, but then again most people can without knowing what the heck it is. I know the difference between a 4/4, 3/4. and 7/8 count (7/8 is my favorite, by the way). And of course, happy and sad chords, right? The more advanced concepts fly over my head easily.
So what, you may ask … well, sew buttons.
Years of working for different managers and different companies have caused me to take tons of personality tests. The point of these tests usually are to show how each person on a team interacts and intertwines into the others. Meyers-Briggs being the most notable (I am an ISTP by the way). While they all see to bounce around or shift over time, the one thing that tends to be consistent is that I don’t vary too far from the centerline. In the world of right brains and left brains, I am a guy that is in the middle. That doesn’t mean I am not creative nor analytical, it usually means I am both … but not enough to one side or the other to know better.
I’m heading into my marching band season, a time when I spend some weekends running around the country adjudicating high school band competitions. While I am not at the top of the field in this work, I’ve honed my skills enough overtime to recognize this “middle of the brain” process works in my favor. My strongest area of judging is called “Visual Ensemble”; a role that requires a judge to breakdown how the show is designed, why it was designed a certain way, and credit the performance and performers on their ability to meet the design approach. You can’t get caught up in the beauty or entertainment value, because that’s another judges job; and you can’t get too caught up in what is right or wrong, because then you aren’t crediting what is being done. It’s a balance of the artistic and the analytical. That’s why I enjoy judging that caption.
It’s the rest of the time that it frustrates me. I hate being that guy that can’t answer why something works or doesn’t. I hate that I can’t get it there myself. I want to know how Monet held a paintbrush and controlled his pallette to ensure the cityscape he created was so beautiful. Or why the camera movements so unique to Wes Anderson films create such constant interest in me the viewer. I want to know why Allison Krauss can give me goosebumps with a strum of a mandoline.
The flipside of all this comes from advice I received back when I was just getting into the marching band adjudication/teaching. I went to a contest in hopes of gaining greater exposure to different performances and interpretations of movement. I didn’t think I was learning much, so I turned to a friend with more experience. I noted that I wasn’t sure what I was seeing or if it was right or wrong. Our conversation went:
Him: Did you like it?
Him: That’s all that really matters, doesn’t it.
Okay, he was right and everything but … still … I mean, while it’s kinda nice to know enough to be dangerous, but come-on already … someone help a brother out.