Yes, I know, St. Patrick’s Day was yesterday. Believe me, I don’t think the holiday should be dragged out any longer (especially after the endless weekend of St. Fratty’s Day celebrations) buttttttt I do think the day after St. Patrick’s day, while the orange and green dust settles, is a great time to discuss Ireland’s impact on modern music.
Many of us associate movies with their leading stars, dramatic plot lines, or box office success. However, one area that is often overlooked is a movie’s soundtrack. Mostly drawing from music of the 60s and 70s, but also more recent tracks, several movies have created new meaning for songs that have become crucial to pop culture.
On the Friday before spring break, I had the pleasure of seeing the Vanderbilt Core Choir perform their home concert that began their week long tour to Florida. The front end of the program was a typical classical repertoire, featuring works from Bach, Mendelssohn, and Brahms. Via short sets focusing on international pieces and original compositions by choir members and friends, there was a gradual transition into what I found to be an absolutely stunning performance of Americana songs at the tail end of the program. There was a complete change in atmosphere of the concert, and it was in no way related to the quality of the music going up for some strange reason. The performance level was stunning throughout; in the roots set, it was just like the music stopped being a performance and began to be a warm and welcoming conversation. It focused strongly on spirituals, arrangements of songs by The Wailin’ Jennys to highlight some of the ensemble’s remarkable sopranos and altos, and a selection for the male vocalists to shine on that happens to be one of my current favorite songs. This was an adapted arrangement of Marcus Mumford and Oscar Isaac’s recording of “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” for the 2013 Coen Brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis (you can listen to a recording of the choir’s men performing the selection above). The film follows a week in the life of Llewyn Davis, a fictional folk artist in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s struggling to make it by, providing a dreary reminder to the audience that for every Bob Dylan or Joan Baez success that came from this vibrant folk movement there were countless careers that failed to start. Again and again in this dismal setting, the film’s music shines through, punctuated by performances from Oscar Isaac in his titular role. The man that put that soundtrack together was T-Bone Burnett.
I spent the majority of my spring break plastering the walls of a cinderblock building in the Puerto Rican rain forest. The only way to possibly get through a task as mind-numbing as plastering walls is to have an upbeat, driving playlist of music blasting from a decent set of speakers. Luckily, for the most part, that was the situation; our work crew leader had impeccable and eclectic taste, and about 100,000 songs in his iTunes library. One day, though, we made the call to switch it up. My buddy Matt had concocted a playlist entitled “Ridiculous Rap,” mainly comprised of one-hit crunk wonders from the mid-2000s. The first couple songs were hilarious and everybody sang along. By song five, the high had disappeared and it dawned on us that we had been ingesting pure crap for the past fifteen or so minutes.
It’s Olympics time, and that means patriotism is at a relative high here in America. So is the potential to wile away the hours in front of non-stop sports coverage. It’s taking all my willpower to keep my eyes on my laptop as the American hockey team plays the Czechs on the television in front of me.
But there’s one thing about seeing the United States in international competition that bothers the hell out of me: our national anthem, when compared to those of other countries, just doesn’t cut it.