Category: Music

Into the orchestra

Into the orchestra

Another year, another Spring musical by the Redondo Union Theatre Arts Program.

This time around, my alma mater put on Stephen Sondheim‘s take on Grimms’ Fairy Tales: Into the Woods.

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Le playbill

The show had live music by a pit orchestra, in which my sister took part. When they did Crazy for You last year it was the first time in a long time that a musical had live orchestration at RUHS, so I’m glad to see the tradition continue.


Editor’s Note: I thought I wrote about that show but apparently not, so forgive my semi-random link up there.


I don’t have too terribly much to say about the show itself. The theatre kids put on a nice performance that I would say shined most in its stage design.

To create the titular woods, stage hands dragged tree stumps into the mid-ground, and logs were lowered onto them from the ceiling. It was a really neat little effect that got enhanced by fog machines.

Those gave everything a mysterious Midsummer Night’s Dream forest vibe.

And of course, the music was wonderful. Which I only say in part because this post is a shill for my sister (who deserves credit, but still). Even though the sound mixing was not optimal and a lot of the actors kind of got lost in it.

The only major complaint I have about the show was an odd framing device added on top of the story.

They decided to have Into the Woods, in the context of their continuity, be the content of a book being read to a lost little girl in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

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The stage set up as a disaster relief area before the show.

Bit of an oddly paired metaphor.

It didn’t bear enough of an effect on the story to ruin it necessarily, but at the same time the fact that they didn’t elaborate on it much just left me asking why it was included at all.

I suppose I will say that it contributed to an immersive theatre-going experience.

All the kids got to mess around and play their hearts out in the aisles of the auditorium before the show. Asking audience members if they’ve seen family or friends lost in the hurricane, requesting food in exchange for voodoo crystals, so on and so forth.

It was a lot of fun, and added to a nice overall presence through things like a faux red carpet backdrop in the lobby:

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Didn’t get a picture with the backdrop because I’m stupid.

Pretty cute stuff.

That’s just about all I have to say about the show. It was originally going to be my main blog post of the day before I exhausted myself last night and decided to save my Us review for earlier.

But I didn’t want to leave my sister hanging. Especially after I got such a cute picture of her.

So you’re getting two-for-one today, and I don’t have to feel as bad about skipping another day of writing in March.

Rainy day jazz in Santa Barbara

Rainy day jazz in Santa Barbara

At this point it feels like I’m collecting California high school visits for a checklist.

Once again my day has been spent journeying to watch my sister perform with the Redondo Union High School jazz band.

The destination? Dos Pueblos High School in Santa Barbara.

The event? The 50th annual “Jazz in Paradise” Jazz Festival.

Luckily hosted indoors, as it rained hard all morning on our way up north. None of those outdoor venues like the marching band competitions get.

While I appreciate any and all opportunities to break out my Master Sword umbrella (and boy has it gotten work this rainy season), I was more appreciative that we could hide instead.

Especially with such a nice auditorium to hide in:

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The beige whites, wooden trim and striped-blue decor gave the Elings Performing Arts Center a nautical harbor vibe that felt like home, even though home was a good few hours away.

I was also a fan of the music, even if I can’t speak to why quite as well as I can for a visual aesthetic.

That’s frankly my biggest problem with these events. While I can’t say I’m the biggest jazz listener in the world, I typically enjoy what I get to hear at the competitions. I just don’t have near enough musical knowledge to be able to tell people why — and usually those who can will tell me how awful a band was despite my thinking they sounded as good as the rest.

The one thing I can point to is Santa Ynez, who really impressed me in particular by utilizing a violin in their set.

After a while, the performances across different events do start to sound similar, so shaking that up was nice.

Plus I’ve found that I’m actually a huge fan of taking more “classical” instruments like the violin and using them in unique, more modern settings. Been noticing that a lot more in different soundtracks I’ve listened to for games and such.

But beyond that, hopefully you aren’t here for deep diving musical analyses.

All I can really provide are these screenshots and videos to help you feel like you were there.

For instance, here’s Aly and RUHS’s Jazz Band A performing “Barnburner” by Les Hooper:

I know I say it a lot, but I am quite proud of how good she is at this stuff. So much so that she recently got accepted into a rather prestigious-sounding summer program in New York.

Then again, I also make fun of her falling off video games whenever I can, since I know she loves that a whole lot.

But recently I found a good game to get her into solo play with Kirby’s Adventure on the Nintendo Switch online NES game compilation. Thus I can’t really make fun of her.

… Though I will pester her about finishing Let’s Go Eevee with me again. Especially now that Sword and Shield are coming soon.

Oh- By the way, RUHS won first place in the advanced bands with their set.

As well as smaller awards for having the best saxophone and rhythm sections.

Then they won best overall band score, on top of one of their musicians winning best solo performance of the night.

AND Aly got an outstanding soloist certificate for the advanced division.

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In other words, they swept the floor.

This event in particular also stood out because after the awards there was a concert featuring Wayne Bergeron — who has apparently worked on things like the soundtrack to Pixar’s The Incredibles.

That’s pretty cool!

Unfortunately my parents and I did not stick around for that part. We went hard from 9:00 a.m. until the end of the awards at about 6:30 p.m., plus the drive home after. So we were beat down.

Especially me after an unexpected nosebleed in the middle of the performances.

Wound up scrubbing my hands of spots like Lady Macbeth as people came in and out of the bathroom.

Never had that particular flavor of “unintentionally embarrassing myself in a public venue” before. It was fun.

Just like it was fun when my family and I went to Chili’s in the rain while waiting for the festival to start.

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Hi, welcome to Chili’s

A fact that I only bring up so I can finally reference an ancient Vine in some attempt to appear relevant and hip with the kids.

Because that feels like the most appropriate way to end off a blog post all about Jazz.

Mini-band banquet bonanza

Mini-band banquet bonanza

Well I promised two blog posts today, so even if I don’t have a lot to say I might as well follow through.

For the past week or so both my parents have been pretty sick. As a result, thanks to still being on vacation, I’ve become a more distinct guardian for my sister.

Which includes being the chauffeur. Which, by extension, meant getting up to drive her to school for zero period.

At 6:00 a.m.

Every day.

Needless to say she owed me a little something. Luckily tonight was her mini-band banquet, a potluck the RUHS Marching band holds halfway through the school year to celebrate the end of the competition season.

If there’s anything high school kids enjoy, it’s gorging on lots of food.

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I’m more than happy to mooch.

The unfortunate downside of tagging along to mooch off free food is that the entire event, which hosts about 100 high schoolers and band parents, is held in the small gym on campus.

So imagine a bunch of people stuffed into a hot gymnasium wearing semi-formal attire, walking around on rolled out tarp.

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As it turns out, band kids also enjoy breaking the flow of music to do silly things.

Like Fortnite dances.

And singing a Minecraft-themed parody of a-ha’s “Take On Me” en masse.

While it was admittedly hilarious seeing the older parents who have zero concept of internet memes cringe harder than I did, that didn’t stop me from cringing.

In fact, ridiculous high school antics were rampant throughout the event. The most stand-out of which for me being a girl walking around who apparently did not get the semi-formal memo because she wore a sleeveless crop top, leggings and heels.

I know that sounds like I was being a creep and judging what some high school girl was dressed in, but I swear she just stood out that much.

Outside of cringe-enducing high school antics, I suppose I can’t say I regret going. The food was a huge plus, and I have become at least pseudo-friends with some band parents simply because I’m around so often for Alyson. It’s nice catching up with them.

I even chatted with someone who was willing to give my business card out to someone who works at one of the local newspapers around Redondo Beach.

Always networking. Always.

But of course, it was also nice to support my sister.

Even if it meant getting a picture with this real creepy mannequin from their field show in the background.

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I assure you that even for someone who was at some of the shows, this guy here doesn’t make too much sense.

Aly only has one more year of this stuff ahead of her (as much as I die inside every time I imagine her graduating high school so soon), so I might as well fill in as much time supporting her as I can before she probably heads across the country for music school.

… Just as long as she doesn’t do so until we finish Pokémon Let’s Go, Eevee together.

I’m not letting that one go.

Bands under the Bob Cole banner

Bands under the Bob Cole banner

As promised last night, here I am to talk about sitting around in Long Beach all day.

Except today there was a much more pertinent reason for me to be there! Instead of just bumming around laughing about how much the campus at Cal State Long Beach looks like an F-Zero track, I got to enjoy the:

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Cue dramatic choir build-up!

That’s right, after an intensive weekend of frequently driving back-and-forth between Redondo Beach and Long Beach repeatedly, it was finally time for my sister’s official performance with the honors band.

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There she be.

This was actually, from what I can tell at least, a relatively prestigious little event that she applied for.

Of course I only say that because the bare minimum that I know without further research is that the four-year-old concert featured a few guests with pedigrees including the L.A. Phil Harmonic and John Williams movie scores, as well as the fact that kids apparently applied from as far as Alaska.

So you know. Either it’s a prestigious event or some folks were real desperate to get away from Sarah Palin.

Jokes aside, it was a pretty awesome hour-and-a-half show in a very lovely auditorium. I decided to be that guy who went around taking pictures of the lobby just to let y’all feel like you were there too.

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If that’s the kind of thing you like.

The stage itself was also very nice, enough to be my Featured Image. Not only were the acoustics resonant for the entire audience, I would also argue it’s nicely designed from an aesthetic point of view.

A nice mesh of dark grey and maroon, with the panels of the wall specifically made to be a surprise when some of them were revealed to be doors.

At least I thought it was a cute little surprise.

Now, I’m sure you’re all expecting me to delve into the content of the show itself. I will, but not in quite as much detail as I originally expected to when planning to write about her show today.

I wanted to take a photo of all three groups that were performing, maybe even include some video of the songs. The grand finale that Aly’s band performed certainly would have been bombastic to show off.

Unfortunately they did not allow photography or video of any kind.

So… Threw that idea in the dumpster. Which is a shame considering Aly was basically right in the center of the front row as a second chair flute.

But that’s the writing business for you, I suppose. Adaptation is required.

Instead of a more in-depth catalog, here’s just a brief synopsis of the show’s bands:

  1. The Choir. A very nice set of performances that only helped reinforce the idea in my head that all choirs seem to perform is churchy religious hymns and such. Also helped me realize that my 21st century urges to be doing literally anything with my hands comes out strong when all I have to look at is a bunch of kids standing on stage singing for a half hour.
  2. The String Orchestra. Subjectively, I’d argue this group was my favorite if for no other reason than string orchestras with that keyboard clatter in the background always remind me of medieval castle interior themes. Thought it was really funny that two of the performers were in blue and pink dresses because I believed they just didn’t get the memo about dressing in black, but it turned out they were special guest soloists. Whoops.
  3. The Big Band. Objectively the best group of the night… And I’m not just saying that because it’s the group my sister performed with. They were the most complex and developed in terms of sound because they were a mix of many instruments instead of just one musical theme, and there were tons of nice environmental mood-setting pieces as a result.

Not so lustrous without visual or musical accompaniment I know, but hopefully I can make up for that by sharing these obligatory family photos we took after the show.

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Mostly trying our best to cover up the missing “S” on the Conservatory sign.

Extra shout out to the man who took our full group photo before taking a selfie of himself. Don’t know who you are, but you’re a real G.

Overall, I’d say I was really impressed with the show. Considering it involved 100+ high schoolers all meeting each other, learning 4-7 pieces each and practicing them over the span of two days, it was actually phenomenal how well-done all the music was.

If nothing else, I suppose this is proof of how great Aly’s going to be once she gets out into the workforce of quick turn-around performances!

Strange Associations: Irvine band competition edition

Strange Associations: Irvine band competition edition

Tonight my family and I braved the smoke-ridden California atmosphere to head out to Irvine for the California State Band Championship semi-finals, where Alyson and the RUHS band performed.

I’m not sure whether it’s wrong of me to talk about that while people in areas actually ablaze right now are surviving a horrible tragedy? But the fires have been so intense that the South Bay has seen huge clouds of dust, and we were treated to a bright red sun on the way into Orange County.

Full credit to my mom for snagging this one out the window.

So we might not have it as bad as somewhere like Malibu, to get images like this one I’ve seen circulating out of the LA Times:

But I still felt like it was worth mentioning.

Now let’s get into the meat of this post, shall we?

… Or at least, that’s what I would say. If there was some to get into.

I’m caught in a bit of an awkward position when it comes to talking about this competition. It’s all about a number of marching bands from across the state coming together to perform musical and visual shows so they can earn a spot in the finals.

I don’t think there’s a monetary benefit involved? Unless you consider a school’s potentially increased willingness to fund an award-winning program.

The problem comes when that musical and visual performance is best captured on video, but we’re not allow personal video recording of the performances because the organization is doing “professional recordings” and wants you to buy their video.

I’m not sure I could feasible argue this is a professional venue, and I’d rather not deal with a headache if it turns out they’re the kind of organization that sues if you break the rules.

So brief pictures will unfortunately have to do.

Like this one I got out of the performance by Troy High School:

The drum major actually did something unique by wearing that cloak and performing the prologue ballet for their show on that guitar there.

It was a bit goofy because the whole thing was leading up to a fantasy love story. But it was different and I appreciated that.

Of course I also tried to get Aly’s band performing their show Imagine, which is a somewhat bizarre blend of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Ironically relevant to me this semester if I hadn’t made that obvious enough already.

However, that’s about as exciting as I can get with this whole experience.

So I figured I would harken back to an older post I did and talk about more strangely specific video game-related associations I’ve had thanks to this competition.

The drive out brought back a memory from over two years ago. Way back to those days when instead of trying to do daily posts, I just wrote about a few things of interest whenever they came up.

Like brand new details about the as-of-yet released Pokémon Sun and Moon.

Boy those were the days, weren’t they? Everyone was so eager to eat up each and every little detail they could about the much anticipated Generation 7.

I miss that kind of game hype.

But now I’m getting sidetracked. All I wanted to say was that the drive reminded me of writing this blog post, specifically the Type: Null portions, in the car.

Which in turn drudged up the chunk about Tsareena and Bounsweet that I wrote in the stands that night.

That’s not where my gaming-centric connections end, though.

The competition is taking place at Irvine High School, where we’ve been here for a different band event in the past.

When we were here last it must have been a few years ago as well, because I distinctly remember playing Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright at the time. In fact I can do you one better and pinpoint the exact mission I was struggling through.

Mitama’s unlocking mission: Paralogue 12, as I looked up.

However… Just talking about that reminds me that I keep putting off that Fire Emblem Heroes post, which is focused on Fates characters.

So I’m going to try and cut my losses by wrapping things up here.

Would only be right to do so with the results. Aly and the RUHS band got fifth place, so they are going on to the finals. Because the top six teams make it through.

I guess here’s to next week when I’ll be doing this all over again!

What does that song sound like?

What does that song sound like?

Everyone’s had those moments where they hear a song — be it in the background of a T.V. show, on the radio or a restaurant backing track, or whatever it may be — and can’t quite put their finger on what that song is.

If you haven’t had that moment because you have a photographic memory or something… Well the I’m sorry to be leaving you behind with this topic.

I have those kinds of moments fairly often, as I am a fan of a range of music but am not necessarily an audiophile like my Dad and sister.

But I’m not here to talk about remembering specific songs.

Rather, I’d like to talk briefly about what I would consider a much less discussed but equally prominent concern: Identifying exactly what category it sounds like that song should belong in.

I don’t mean something like “pop song” versus “rock song” versus”country song,” or whatever the overall genre might be. This is specifically about those times where a song sounds like other songs you’ve heard before, but you can’t quite put your finger on exactly what that similar sound is.

Now. This is an odd conversation topic on my blog I’m sure, considering I don’t talk too often about the particulars of music. I tend to just stick to the generals of “my sister played a thing” if I do bring it up.

But in this case the context suggests that it’s not a thing my sister played, because she doesn’t play video games anymore.

Yeah I’m still on that bit, Aly

See recently Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links got a major update. A much-needed one for me, as I was starting to drift away from the game.

Until they added on the next generation, 5D’s, and a novel (for me) summoning style called Synchro summoning.

Learning a brand new way to duel has gotten me right back into the swing of things. Synchros offer up an interesting level of field management that Ritual monsters attempted to hit but couldn’t, as you need to have a specific “tuner” monster on the field alongside a specific number of stars to summon a Synchro monster.

So many of the cards being added as a result are interested in flooding the field with monsters and augmenting the number of stars on a monster, that way you can summon things with specific requirements. It’s just the kind of micromanaging that makes me love to do things like deck build.

Which… Who knows, I just might do again soon.

Look out for some Synchro deck profiles, possibly.

But for right now that’s off-topic. The only reason I gave all that context is to get to the point that a new season of the anime being added into the game also means new characters to play.

New characters means new battle tracks. One in particular has caught my ear so far:

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Meet Akiza Izinski. I know literally nothing about her because I never watched 5D’s.

But I do know that in Duel Links she has absolutely amazing battle music.

I have to say, as much as I like a wide range of music, video game soundtracks are definitely at the top of my list. I could go on-and-on about different songs I adore from various games.

In fact, I’ve been considering doing video game music posts around here. Just haven’t really had the time to hash out a specific style for it.

But Akiza’s theme here is a real prime example of the kind of tune I can just melt into.

The opening ten seconds or so has a plain single instrument rift that brings to mind N’s theme from Pokémon, or Moonstruck Blossom from Kirby Triple Deluxe.

Then the song continues to build until about 30 seconds in, when the real magic begins.

At that point, the piano is co-opted by some kind of Theremin-sounding track that gives everything a techno/haunted house feel.

Even when the Theremin bits disappear, the song keeps its haunting undertone despite somehow also bringing a lot of battle-ready energy to the table.

The song overall is just really well-done, and makes grinding for cards against Akiza a real pleasure.

My problem is, as much as I can (somewhat haphazardly) explain the emotions that this song elicits, it’s hard for me to place exactly what the song reminds me of. Because it definitely reminds me of SOMETHING.

There’s an air of the haunting melody underlying Lusamine’s battle theme from Pokémon, as one of the comments on that YouTube video I used mentions.

Haunting yet beautiful. Her chief gimmick appears to be monsters based on roses, so it’s an encapsulation that makes sense.

I also get some heavy Binding of Isaac vibes. Not sure why for that one. It just does.

Unfortunately though, part of the reason I wanted to write this is because I’m hard-pressed imagining what kind of other songs this song reminds me of.

So I wanted to throw it out to all of you.

Does this song bring any others to mind? What kind of comparisons would you make for it?

Let me know down in the comments, and while you’re at it let me know if you’re interested in seeing me write about video game music more!

I get very passionate about that particular breed, so I’m sure I could do it in a heartbeat.