Only kidding! The title is truly awful and an extremely tenuous link, but it was the first thing that came to mind. However, Mrs. Wife and I did recently attend a Moving Picture House to see the wonderfully sublime, The King’s Speech. It was, quite simply, brilliant. I’m not ordinarily given to gushing, but I do feel a gush of some considerable size coming on, so you have been warned! It was utterly faultless, superbly written, shot and acted and is definitely worthy of the accolades currently being heaped upon it as well as the £6 or £7 for the admission (The old system employed in my youth of 1 paying and then opening the fire escape round the back by the bus station comes with considerable risk these days, what with alarms systems, CCTV and the ubiquitous “mag lock” which seem to be attached to every door in every public building these days (my church included) making entry and exit an infuriating process). “And the point is?”, I hear you ask. Well, about sneaking in without paying – you’re like to get caught, but generally, all will be revealed. Yes, I am fully aware of Musicademy’s dominant role in the crazy world of worship music, and that the only other films I’m led to believe Mr. Chamberlain’s involved in are most decidedly NOT Christian, although very Old Testament, if you know what I mean!
No, there is a relevance to music, but I can’t peak too early, as it were, or the article would be too short (mercifully so, in some people’s opinion). I most sincerely urge you to see the film, but, having been asked to succinctly describe it by a friend who is only too aware of my verbosity, I defined it thus: “a simple story, brilliantly told”. For the uninitiated, it tells the remarkable story of the Queen’s father, Bertie, later George VI, who had been afflicted with a severe stammer from childhood and his attempt to overcome it with the help of a outstanding Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue. The second son of King George V, Bertie was never expected to ascend to the throne, that would fall to his elder brother David, later Edward VIII. However, David’s affair with American socialite Wallis Simpson ultimately led to his abdication, leaving Bertie, next in line to the throne, as king.
In 1925, at the age of 30, Bertie’s father forced him in to giving the closing speech at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium. It proved “an ordeal for both speaker and listeners alike”, to quote Wikipedia. At that point, fearing more of the same, he resolved to seek a resolution to his problem. Fortuitous, given later events.
The film is largely about the friendship and respect the two men have for each other. It is a moving, thought-provoking, brilliantly written and brilliantly acted piece. The point, Nick, the point. Well, the point is: simplicity! By the time I reached my late 20s I’d discovered that most of my favourite films had started out life as stage plays – “12 Angry Men”, “The Odd Couple”, to name but two – and this wasn’t a coincidence, I like a simple story, simply but effectively told. Without the technical possibilities of film, particularly these days with CGI (Computer Generated Imagery), writers have two main tools to hand, the actors and the dialogue. The better both of them are, the better the drama. Turns out that after David Seidler showed his wife the first draft of The King’s Speech, she felt it was too “caught up in the language of film”* and suggested he re-write it as a play, which is exactly what he did. And it was that which was ultimately made in to a film!
Music, and particularly songs, are stories. The lyrics are obviously telling a story, but so is the music. And not just contemporary music: listen to most classical music, and the story’s there for all to hear. Worship music is story telling, and there are different types of stories. Some are majestic, some are empowering, some joyful and some, just fun. But to tell them brilliantly, you need to keep it simple. I’m coming to the “sum of it’s parts” bit now.
Firstly, a confession. I’m a big Take That fan, not old Take That, new Take That. We, or more precisely, my 13 year old son, own the DVDs of the last 2 concert tours. Half way through each show “the boys”, as I like to call them, take to the stage clutching instruments and perform a couple of “numbers”, to use the vernacular. Howard sits behind a drum kit, Jason clutches a guitar, Mark a bass etc. They’re actually quite good. But this isn’t a new feature of their shows. Back in the early 90s they did the same thing but there’s a big difference. Back then they did it to “prove” that they were proper musicians, to try and throw off the “manufactured boy band image”. The problem was that, with the exception of Gary Barlow, they couldn’t play. Or at least not very well. Their management, however, had a cunning plan: give them really easy songs to do! “Another Brick In The Wall” by Pink Floyd was perfect. Simple but effective and could be played simply and still work. They still didn’t look like a real band, too far out of their comfort zone, but they did make a passable sound. Here’s the thing. A basic drum pattern, root notes on the bass, a simple rhythm guitar part, whole note chords on the piano, and you can make a fantastic sound! Even if each part only scores 5/10, the total sound could be worth 9/10 or even 10/10. Go on, try it at your next rehearsal. Strip a song right back to the basics, simplify all the parts, give it room to breathe and let the singer loose, you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
Bear this in mind. Irving Berlin, one of the twentieth century’s most enduring and successful composers (“Let’s Face The Music and Dance”, “Puttin’ On The Ritz” and of course not forgetting, “White Christmas”), could only play the black keys of the piano! Every song he wrote, he wrote in F# major because it was the only one he knew. He famously said, “The key of C is for people who study music.”! And for those of us who have study music, C is cited as the “easy” key for it’s lack of sharps! Don’t let anything get in the way of your heart’s desire to play music. If a part is beyond your ability, simplify it. K.I.S.S., as they say abroad. Keep It Simple, Sucker. I’m even led to believe that young Mr. Chamberlains proper films contain cheat chords for those struggling with more complicated arrangements.
Remember this, you don’t have to be a great musician to make great music (trust me, I’m a shining example!).
Nick is 46, married with 4 children, a musician, studio engineer and tired. Very, very tired!
Nick’s been writing a series of blog posts for us recently.