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Left Coast / Right Coast: Ode to Joy and other great melodies

What I have found fascinating in my study of music is that the truly great music is actually based on very simple progressions of notes. The melodies that you find yourself humming or whistling to yourself are these simple melodies. I’ve found that this repeats through every generation and style of music.
Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Nancy Gold.

By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur "living the dream in the Pacific Northwest."

Beethoven composed his 9th Symphony (based upon a poem called "Ode to Joy" by Frederic Schiller) when he was in his late forties. Of course, at that time he had already gone completely deaf. He was only able to “hear his notes” by putting the body of his piano, sans legs, on a hardwood floor and “feeling” the vibrations of the notes.

What I have found fascinating in my study of music throughout my life is that the truly great music is actually based on very simple progressions of notes.  The melodies that you find yourself humming or whistling to yourself are these simple melodies. And I’ve found that this repeats through every generation and style of music.

"Ode to Joy" (the main movement of Beethoven’s 9th) is a very famous simple progression. When you hear the notes you instantly recognize it as Beethoven. Of course, if you know nothing about classical music – you may not recognize is as such, but I guarantee you will walk away from that music playing it, humming it, or whistling it to yourself.

Here is a flash mob in Germany performing it. Just watch the little girl standing next to the base player. She gets mesmerized by the tune in that great composition.

Now here is a piano player in the NY subway. Again, watch how the little girl simply gets caught up in the music. He is not playing a particular easy piece – nor one composed of simple tunes. But she is still captivated.

Okay, let’s continue the journey. Let me move to one of my favorite composers Brian Wilson, founding member of the Beach Boys. His compositions are compared to the best classical composers. Brian created the most brilliant six- and seven-part harmonies and melodic tunes. But to me, his best songs are based, again, on simple tunes. Listen to "Wouldn’t It Be Nice." Remember, this song is over 50 years old. Just shows how the best music will stand the test of time, just as it did for Beethoven.

Listen to another Wilson composition, "Little Surfer Girl." A very simple tune, but one that will stay with you. Just look at Brian Wilson close his eyes during his performance as he enjoys his own work. Brian often talked about creating a feeling of “joy” in his songs. What was that Beethoven 9th based upon again? Oh, yes “Ode to Joy.”

Here is the great Billy Joel paying homage to Wilson with his rendition of "Don’t Worry Baby," again a simple tune.

A little side diversion – now that Christmas Season is over. Listen to the best Christmas Carols. They are all very simple tunes. Here is "Silent Night." Or listen to one of my favorite religious songs: "Amazing Grace." Listen to it on Scottish bagpipes. I dare you to keep a tear from forming in your eye. A beautiful melody yet a simple tune.

I’ll finish up with The Beatles. They were, like The Beach Boys, outstanding composers. I particularly like the works of Paul McCartney. Two of my favorites are: "Yesterday." A beautifully haunting but simple melody. And last here is my favorite, "Let It Be." Again, a simple tune but just brilliant.

It just amazes me that talented people can write songs this good. Just as with "Ode to Joy," great composers are often inspired by things in their personal life. McCartney wrote "Let it Be" after dreaming about his deceased mother named Mary who “spoke to me.”

Oh well, after writing about such great composers, I guess I can write my little column and pretend someday someone might actually like it.

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