Day 42: New improvisations

Day 42

a mere song couldn’t handle

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It’s perhaps hard to believe based on my journey into the musical sphere yesterday, but I actually enjoy singing. It’s not that I am a very talented singer (I still have vivid memories of a weekend with musician friends (singers of this calibre); they will stay with me for the rest of my life as a friendly reminder that I am a far way from having perfect pitch), and I have never liked singing in a choir or together with others that much.

I even hate musicals. I like opera, at least some operas, but musicals? Never. Every time my wife dared to hum a few bars from Jesus Christ Superstar, I sensed it as a threat to our relationship. Anything else than Lloyd Webber! And yet I’m not even quite sure how to define a musical or how to recognise if a song is from a musical or not.

And still: almost every day, I sing something — and most of the time, it sounds like a musical.

At dinner, I sing to my children: “dinner is served, you must eat, come on just taste it, just a little bit”. When we play a game, I always sing, either about the game or about something completely unrelated. After the kids have gone to bed, I sing to my wife, or to myself, while doing the dishes or cleaning up the mess from the kids’ attempts at picassoing the living room. Often, the others start singing as well, making our day into some kind of a musical episode of our lives.

I did mention I hate musicals? So how is this different?

Because I improvise. I never know where I’ll land when I start singing. I know the first words fit with whatever tune I sing, but after that, I have no idea which words will come. Ever since I heard Bobby McFerrin (hero alert) for the first time, I have enjoyed trying to mimic him, especially trying to mimic his solo improvisations. Ever since I heard him, I have tried to make music myself, tried to create something rather than just repeat what I have heard before. Like this:

I can’t compose, though, or even create simple melodies, I’m not talented enough. But I can create new words on the fly, and that’s what I do.

There’s a Norwegian song called Mellom bakkar og berg. It’s one of my favourite songs to sing, as it’s easy to sing out oud:

The first stanza is like this:

Millom Bakkar og Berg ut med Havet
heve Nordmannen fenget sin Heim,
der han sjølv heve Tufterna gravet
og sett sjølv sine Hus uppaa deim.

At our home, though, we have changed it to this:

Mellom bakkar og berg utmed — hadet!
Nå tror jeg at jeg må dra hjem.
Jeg har lyst på en stor sjokolade
Men først vil jeg gi deg en klem.

(Mellom bakkar og berg utmed — bye-bye!
I think I have to go home.
I’d like to have a big chocolate
But first I’ll give you a hug.)

— And we have made it into a mime, and we have sung it 50 times, each time giving each other a hug in the end. And it was all because I started to improvise, and the boys followed suit. Just singing the text as it really is wouldn’t have been half the fun.

A mime just like in a musical, eh? OK, I admit, sometimes I cross the line and really sing something from a musical. I have even hummed a couple of bars from Jesus Christ Superstar, but just to see how the lyrics could be changed. How I could make new rhymes.

You see, my wife, although she speaks something like five languages fluently, is a terrible rhymer. She’ll miss the glaringly obvious rhymes or make up new words to complete a rhyme and still miss it. Every time I nail an improvisation, every time I manage to find new, rhyming words for a tune, she’s amazed and impressed. How did you do that, Jostein, how did you manage to sing a tune and make a new text for it at the same time?

When you manage to impress your wife with something, you should continue to just that.

And so, I enjoy singing. I love improvising when my family’s around. I jump, and if I fall twenty times, I know that they’ll (she’ll) be amazed once I manage to make the rhyme fit the tune, to make the meaning fit the situation. I love the feeling of discovering new words literally without losing a beat. I love the open-endedness of it all.

It the price I have to pay is starting to tolerate Jesus Christ Superstar, so be it. I’m sure my ten years younger self will forgive me.