Zayn’s Album Takes Over

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On March 25 2016, singer Zayn Malik finally ended his year-long music hiatus which began with him leaving One Direction by releasing his debut solo album. The album “Mind of Mine” took over the world, quite literally. The album debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, and it was the first debut album in history to reach the top spot on the iTunes charts in more than 70 countries. He’s become a part of the exclusive club of artists who have had their music reach number 1 both as a member of a group and as a solo artist. Other artists include Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, and Gwen Stefani.

I absolutely love Malik’s album. It’s not the type of music I would usually listen to, but I’ve had it on repeat ever since it came out. The quality of the music is top-notch, each song is unique, and it’s perfect for jamming out in your car. I’m obviously biased in my opinion about this since I’ve been a fan of One Direction since 2012, two years after their formation on The X-Factor United Kingdom. While I don’t have their faces plastered all over my bedroom walls anymore, I still listen to their music every once in a while.

I’m surely not a professional music critic, but I would describe this album as soft rhythm & blues. If you’re into that, give this album a chance and give it a listen. If you have a burning hatred for One Direction and everything that has to do with them, still give it a listen. It doesn’t disappoint. Each song is unique and has a catchy beat – nearly every song on the album has the potential of being a successful single. He has such a talented voice, even just casual singing for him sounds smooth as butter and is flawless. Malik’s famous high note can be found in his own songs as well as One Direction’s previous albums. Malik continues to display his voice in different areas of the music scene by being featured with Usher on Chris Brown’s remix of his song “Back To Sleep.” He’s slowly but surely expanding his musical horizons.

To me, the part that stands out the most in the album is the intermission titled “Flower,” a song that’s sung in Urdu, his father’s native language. It’s a minute and 44 seconds of beautiful, soft vocals and a few stringed instruments, displaying his appreciation for his family roots and heritage. “Mind of Mine” has a variety of song types, transitioning from sweet & slow love ballads such as “fOoL fOr YoU” and “iT’s YoU” to upbeat jams about temptation & relationships such as “SHE DON’T LOVE ME” and “lUcOzAdE.”And yes, that’s really how the song titles are spelled.

It’s a far step out from the music he made with One Direction, but I’m happy about that. It’s more appealing and it’s more unique to him. In their beginning years, One Direction had to make music that appealed to a specific audience, which were pre-teen to teen girls. They’ve had more control over the music they made in their more recent albums, but Malik still wasn’t able to experiment with making different types of music. The type of lyrics included on “Mind of Mine” isn’t exactly made for that younger age group that One Direction appealed to years ago. It was a brave and tough decision to leave One Direction, especially since they were at the peak of their career and were continuing to earn major success. I still don’t know why Malik would decide to leave during the middle of a worldwide stadium tour. Honestly, I was a little bitter when he didn’t show up when I attended their M&T Bank Stadium show in Baltimore, even though it was already clearly established that he was gone months before.  But now I respect his decision – it created an amazing album.

Music: Two Steps from Hell

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If you have not heard of Two Steps from Hell, I can forgive you. But if you have any interest in epic music at all, (or even if you don’t – yet) you should keep reading, and start listening.

Two Steps from Hell, also known as TSFH, is a company, founded by Thomas J. Bergersen and Nick Phoenix that writes soundtrack and trailer music. That description does not do it justice, though. Think of it as epic orchestral music that I consider comparable to music by John Williams (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones) and Hans Zimmer (Pirates of the Caribbean). If you have heard the battle scene music from Narnia, that is how high my standards for ‘epic music’ is.

TSFH music includes orchestral components like strings, brass and woodwinds, sometimes with amazing vocals and often with electronic sound components. The nature of soundtrack music means that it’s fairly short, two-to-five minute tracks.

The most appealing part of TSFH music is that every track is different and produces a unique feeling in whoever listens to it. For me, it’s a refreshing break from the super-annoying lyrics of catchy pop songs. And for my family, it’s really good orchestral music that could serve as a soundtrack for any number of great movies.

As proof of the awesomeness levels here, I present these facts: Two Steps from Hell music has been used for trailers for three Harry Potter movies, two Star Trek movies, Batman, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Chronicles of Narnia. That… justifies my earlier comparisons.

Some of my Two Steps from Hell favorites are:

Victory,  Sky Titans,  Freedom Fighters,  For the Win,  To Glory,  Star Sky,  El Dorado,    Heart of Courage,  Dragon Rider,  Strength of a Thousand Men, and  Blackheart.

There are around a thousand tracks that have been produced by TSFH, so you won’t run out of songs any time soon. (Even the titles are epic!)

If you want a different kind of music than you can hear on the radio…  these are the songs you’ve been looking for.

 

Music to My Ears (and Hopefully Yours Too)

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I’ve recently been listening to and playing a lot of new music, whether it’s the pieces I play in orchestra or the stations I listen to on Slacker Radio (which, by the way, is a fabulous, fabulous app to have if you’re a music nerd like I am). Since I hadn’t yet written an entry for January, I decided that I could compile a list of ten awesome songs, along with my commentary and opinions on them. Enjoy . . .

  1. “Cosmic Love”, Florence and the Machine – This band is always reliable when it comes to having a good percussive part! Not to mention that Florence added a harp into this song, which distinguishes this song from others. It’s hardly a surprise that my favorite part is at about 3:40, when the harp plays out.
  2. Above”, Blue Man Group – I’ve listened to these guys ever since I was little, because my dad had a DVD of one of their concerts. This song was what Blue Man Group opened with, and it was always exciting to hear layers being added in and then fading out . . . until the large curtain covering the stage fell down, and the whole group started rocking out! My recommendation? Look it up on YouTube, because the concert version is the best.
  3. “300 Violin Orchestra”, Jorge Quintero – I first heard this song while watching my brother play Madden Football on the Wii. I’ve never been a super big football fan, but this song is definitely rousing – the perfect stadium anthem.
  4. “The Quidditch World Cup”, Patrick Doyle – Harry Potter fans . . . enough said.
  5. “Cutthroat Carnival”, Lorne Balfe – First of all, this song is great because the composer organized it in a pretty cool way. He put the orchestra in the background and let certain instruments stand out at certain times. It has a sort of piratey feeling to it, which fits because . . . well, cutthroats. Secondly – yes, it’s a song from the Skylanders soundtrack. But you can’t tell me that Lorne Balfe isn’t an awesome name.
  6. “Orinoco Flow”, Enya – This song is great because it has two different feelings to it. On the one hand, it has the bouncy piano part (I think it’s a piano) in the background and on the other, it has the flowing vocals that easily slide from one note to the next.
  7. “For God and for Country”, Hans Zimmer – Let me just say that it was extremely hard for me to pick one Hans Zimmer song, because he’s composed so many different pieces for so many different movies, and I happen to love most of them. I wanted to put a variety of artists, but don’t worry – Mr. Zimmer will return. Anyway, this song is from The Lone Ranger and it was very well composed to fit the movie, because if you listen closely, you’ll find that the beats sound like a horse galloping. This holds true for many of the other parts of the soundtrack, such as “Silver” and “Absurdity”, which are also fun pieces of music.
  8. “Finlandia”, Jean Sibelius – This piece is incredibly moving, especially if you’re playing it yourself. It’s complex and filled with the emotional turmoil and strife that Finland was going through at the time of its composition. A bit of history: around the early 1900s, Finland was fighting a double battle for its freedom – political freedom from Russia and cultural freedom from Sweden – and this conflict is represented in the beginning of the piece by the ominous sounds of the brass, and by the intense melodies throughout. However, in the middle of the piece is a hymn, of sorts, that represents the hope that Finland has for its future. All in all, this is one of the most magnificent, intense, emotional pieces I have ever listened to or played.
  9. “The Maze Runner”, John Paesano – First a book, then a book series, and movies coming out as well – great job James Dashner! This song sounds like an adventure waiting to happen, with the echoing metallic noises, thrumming percussion, and inspiring melody.
  10. “You’re a Soldier Now”, Steve Jablonsky – Transformers? Why not? My ultimate favorite part starts at about 1:10, and the crescendos just give me shivers every time I hear them.

{Brenna, 8th Grade}

Sometimes You Just Gotta Move Along

move alongBy the end of the first week of school, I was ready for another three month vacation. I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt that way. Between the homework given every day from the second day on, my brother’s two and a half hour football practices, and my own music lessons, it was crazy busy. Not to mention the looming prospect of the two full days of ‘Orchestra Welcome Weekend’ that was in a few weeks. Also, this had to have been one of the first years where one group of people didn’t stick together throughout most of the academic classes. For the past eight years, I have had some of the same people in all of my classes, which was very much a source of comfort to me. This year, though, it seems like the administration put all of our names in a ‘Wheel of Fortune’ spinner and let that choose who was in what class.

However, I realized something when I sat at one of my brother’s football practices. I had been listening to music on my phone when the song “Move Along”, by The All-American Rejects, came on.

            When all you got to keep is strong

            Move along, move along like I know you do

            And even when your hope is gone

            Move along, move along just to make it through

Now, my hope wasn’t completely gone, but the refrain really spoke to me. Sure, things seemed hard, and I felt like there was no end in sight when it came to the heaping mounds of work given out. If I kept moving on, though, as the song said, then I would eventually make it through this tough spot and get to something better.

So, the next day, I headed to school with the mantra of ‘move along, move along’ running through my mind. I have to say that since then, things have seemed to be a bit easier to get through. Math homework? Easy. Just work through it. Running laps in P.E.? More like run along. Social Studies quiz? Pssshhh. I studied the heck out of this material.

There’s one more thing that came out of my musical ponderings. I realized that listening to music was very, very helpful as a coping mechanism. It can help you to deal with the not-so-good stuff in life, and if you play music yourself, then that’s even better. Playing an instrument is a really good way to get all of your tension and emotions out in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone else. Well, unless you’re using someone’s head as a practice pad for percussion.

Film Review: “Once”

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Film Review: “Once”

“Once” is the story of two young musicians who meet by chance in Ireland. The Guy is a rather talented but undiscovered singer/songwriter who plays on the streets at night for pocket money.  The Girl is an immigrant from the Czech Republic who is drawn to his music.  She plays the piano when she has the time, writing half-finished songs about her husband back home.  These two continue to bump into each other on the streets, and eventually start playing together in beautiful collaboration that draws them together.  This film is the story of their all-too-short week together until they go their separate ways.

This beautiful little movie was perhaps the most realistic I’ve ever seen. The director, John Carney, made the bold decision not to give the main characters names.  I did not realize this until the end credits rolled around, and the actors’ names were listed next to “guy” and “girl.”  The fact that this went completely unnoticed is really important, because Carney pulled something off that is very artistically significant.  All of the encounters between the guy and the girl were just awkward enough to make them seem authentic.  Both of them were, shall we say, otherwise occupied; the guy writes most of his songs about an ex-girlfriend whom he is still trying to get back, and the girl has a husband in the Czech Republic and a young daughter.  Nevertheless, they find a strong connection through music.

This movie was a romance, but not in the conventional sense.  The main characters never kissed; there weren’t any dramatic proclamations of love.  As much as I love a good chick flick, this was much more realistic.  The characters don’t leave their significant others for each other; there are no dramatic revelations that they are destined to be together forever.  This movie simply told the story of two people who touched each other’s lives over the course of a week.  Carney leaves viewers wondering if they will ever meet again, but to me it doesn’t really matter where they end up.  The story didn’t have any real closure, and this reflects the times in our own lives when we don’t know if we will get closure either.  In other words, this film shows us that life and art imitate each other.

The music was the best part of the film.  It was a musical, but not the kind where the entire cast automatically bursts into song and everyone knows the choreography.  This was probably the best film representation I have ever seen of how musicians conduct their relationships with other musicians.  Most of the story was told through the music, with beautiful montages that looked almost like home video silenced with music in the background.  As a musician who spends most of her time with other musicians, I can safely say that none of the musical scenes were unrealistic.  Not even the one where a bunch of strangers are sitting around a table playing music with and for each other.  This is how we communicate.  Watching this movie made me feel at home, and it is a beautiful thing when one can tell their story through music.  The talent of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová was remarkable as well.  The first thing I did after watching this movie was buy the soundtrack

Mary

10th Grade