Tay Zonday: A Chocolate Philip Glass?

Before you raise your fists in an uproar and call me a racist, watch the clip… 

The title is a play on Tay Zonday’s song, “Chocolate Rain” which, according to Yahoo and Eonline, is sweeping both virtual and real worlds.  A few nights ago, Zonday was a guest on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’ where he performed his famed song live.  Famous musicians like John Mayer and Tre Cool have made their own version of the song while 8,000 spoofs were uploaded in YouTube.  His clip garnered 5,140,000 hits and was made favorite 22,223 times. 

                                          “Chocolate Rain” as Hook 

Now, why would a serious music teacher like myself write about Tay Zonday?  Is his song worthy enough to be mentioned here, much less a classroom? 

I say, yes.

5,140,000 hits. Made favorite 22,223.  Chances are my students could have been one of those who watched the clip.  Yours could have been one of those who saved the clip to their favorites folder.  In this day and age of virtual living, we teachers should not find that surprising. 

My once-a-week class of 50 minutes gives me the burden of revving my students’ interests.  I deliberately chose the word “rev” instead of “motivate” to emphasize the urgency of catching their attention.  In order to do this, I’m constantly on the look-out for ‘hooks’: things that 12-18 year-olds might be interested in.  They could be positive exemplars that don’t have to have the same exact characteristics as my topic.  A few solid similarities go a long way with ‘hooks’.  The same goes for negative exemplars.  Their differences can be a basis for comparison and, therefore, fodder for discussion.  Of course, there’s a huge gulf between concrete contrasts and flimsy connections.  Students can detect desperation faster than vacating their chairs at the end of the day.  In order for me to find real solid connections between what might interest them and my topic, I put myself in their sneakers, so to speak, and listen and learn until I find it interesting, too.  I find that that’s the best way to be sincere.

                                        “Chocolate Rain” and Minimalism

Aside from its obvious potential for teaching vocal timbre and electronic music, we can use “Chocolate Rain” as a jumping off  point for introducing minimalism, the twentieth century genre popularized by the likes of Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Terry Riley.  Minimalist music is based mostly in reiteration, stasis and, slow transformation.  It is:

“… any music that works with limited or minimal materials: pieces that use only a few notes, pieces that use only a few words of text, or pieces written for very limited instruments, such as antique cymbals, bicycle wheels, or whisky glasses. It includes pieces that sustain one basic electronic rumble for a long time. It includes pieces made exclusively from recordings of rivers and streams. It includes pieces that move in endless circles. It includes pieces that set up an unmoving wall of saxophone sound. It includes pieces that take a very long time to move gradually from one kind of music to another kind. It includes pieces that permit all possible pitches, as long as they fall between C and D. It includes pieces that slow the tempo down to two or three notes per minute.”

                                                            Tom Johnson, The Village Voice, 1989 

                              A Quickie Musical Analysis of “Chocolate Rain”

  1. Reiteration of a musical phrase: Zonday had a theme made up of 13 notes (the rest are passing notes) which he repeated for 4’52”.  Referring to Tom Johnson’s explanation, it was a piece that moved in a seemingly endless circle.
  2. Repetition of text: His repetition of the words “chocolate rain” contributes to the constancy of the piece.
  3. Subtle transformation: Although the theme was consistent, you can hear that he created subtle changes by moving the bass to a lower and higher register.  He also made use of syncopation, stressing a subdivision of a beat usually not emphasized, in the shift of the bass to the lower register. 
  4. Single timbre: The most obvious. Although he used an electric keyboard and could have programmed it for other timbres, he chose one and stayed with it throughout the piece.

Okay.  That may have been a simplistic dissection of his song but, hey, unlike Zonday I can’t go on and on about one thing.  Besides, the ‘hook’ is just the beginning.  IF you plan to use “Chocolate Rain” as one then the goal is not to dwell on it.  Cite it, silently thank Tay Zonday for the help, and then get down to business.  That is, if you can stop the students, and yourself, from humming his hypnotic repetitive melody.  Last Song Syndrome (LSS) can be such a pain in the butt.    

My sources:
Kids, repeat after me: plagiarism is a stupid person’s only recourse.

9 thoughts on “Tay Zonday: A Chocolate Philip Glass?

  1. elementaryteacher says:

    I wasn’t expecting to be impressed by this video before I played it, but I WAS impressed. Never heard of this guy or this song, but I he has a lot of talent, and I liked the melody, as you said!

    I think your comment about if someone might call you a racist went right over my head. What did you mean? I couldn’t see that it had anything to do with your post. I feel like I’m missing something here.

    Thanks for sharing this interesting video. We would never have a chance to hear of it otherwise.

    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas

    Hey, Eileen. There’s actually some kerfuffle about what “Chocolate Rain” is about. Believe it or not, the song sparked some debates about racial issues. I discovered them while doing dome research about the subject. Zonday, however, hasn’t offered explanations.
    When I first played the clip at YouTube I thought I wasn’t going to be impressed, too. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  2. margotmarrakesh says:

    I love this so much I found it on youtube and added it to my favorites! I looked up this singer in Wikpedia and was surprised to discover he was American! (I thought he was from the Phillipines since it was on your blog, and I was amazed his English sounding so American!) I sent it to all my friends. Wow, thanks!

    Maybe this will be as big as the Lambada (Brazil)was, or Dragota De Dei (From Romania).


    Maybe. Maybe he’ll get a record deal soon. 🙂

  3. repairman says:

    My speakers aren’t hooked up to this computer, so I’ll listen to the song later, but I didn’t need to song to be appreciative of your analysis of your students’ needs and interests, and how you could connect with them. Wow!

    Thank you so much! Actually, I haven’t used this in my classes yet. Although my school has internet, it isn’t available in the classrooms (you have to be online to watch YouTube clips). It’s a pity because there’s a lot of good ‘hooks’ in YouTube. Again, thank you for the comment! I really appreciate it. 🙂

  4. repairman says:

    “need to hear the song…”

  5. elementaryteacher says:

    Dear Lizzy,

    I have to tell you I really LEARNED something from this post and I wanted to share with you what it was.

    Last night before going to bed, I was at my desk, and felt compelled to play this Chocolate Rain song over and over because I ended up liking so much. After looking up on Wikipedia, and finding out the singer is actually an American, I read through your post again, about what you discussed regarding his music with your students.

    I am a flute player, but not a singer. I had never heard of these concepts you discuss: minimalism, reiteration of a musical phrase, repetition of text, subtle transformation, and single timbre. But then I saw how they are all in this song.

    OK, so I went to bed. My FIRST thought upon awakening was of another song with (it appears to me) these same characteristics you are talking about (which I also just happened to be listening to yesterday before coming across your post about Chocolate Rain). I want to share it with you, as I like it quite well, it’s easy listening. It’s a song by Harry Belafonte, called “Turn the World Around” at:

    My next thought was about some of the famous Middle Eastern singers. I can’t recall the name of the person I want now, I’ll have to ask my husband if you’re interested. But he’s from Lebanon. He sings really long songs of 30-60 minutes sort of repeating the same phrase, but with subtle changes all the way through, really an art form. I believe the now-dead famous Egyptian singer Oum Kelthoum was famous for the same type of style. I think it’s a great tradition in the Arab World.

    So I realized that I had learned a lot from your post. Thanks so much! And I will definitely share this Chocolate Rain song with my class when we start in September.

    Best regards,

    Wow, Eileen. I really appreciate your comments so much. 🙂 Yes, minimalism is not really a new concept, it was just something new to America and quite controversial. In fact, Philip Glass was inspired a lot by Asian culture. The genre also peaked during Ravi Shankar’s stay in the US. He’s the famous sitar player from India (He’s also Norah Jones’ dad). Yes, please do ask your husband about it. I am very interested in middle eastern music. Again, thanks for sharing. 🙂

  6. elementaryteacher says:

    Dear Lizzy,

    I’m wondering if you would mind taking a look at this video of this Middle Eastern singer (not the one I mentioned, I’ll have to ask my husband when he gets back tomorrow). But some time ago, someone brought this to my attention, and even though I can’t understand the language (although I can get you a rough translation of the words if you want them, the words are good, it’s obviously a song praising God). Anyway, I showed this to my husband, and he said he knows this guy comes sometimes to sing in one of the religious cities of my country, and they sometimes show him on TV. Anyway, I personally think he has an amazing voice, but I’d just like to know what you think, as a music teacher, if he’s as good as I think he is!

    his name is “Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan”

    Best regards,

    Eileen, I don’t know why but that clip you want me to see isn’t working even if I go play it directly at YouTube. I’m able to watch some other clips from YouTube and some, including that one, won’t open. I’m afraid I can’t give you my opinion as of yet. Thanks.

  7. […] also show how creative a blogger is.  I like pictures and videos. Here’s one I found at a friend’s site.  Keep it playing as you read the rest.  You don’t have to look at him and the music lasts […]

  8. elementaryteacher says:

    Hi Lizzy,

    I just wanted to ask you to write a blog entry about the typhoon there? Please share with us?


    Hi, Eileen. Fortunately, my family and I weren’t affected by the typhoon. Most of the roads were flooded, though, and classes were suspended for 3 days. Elsewhere in the Philippines, houses and crops were destroyed. I believe 3 people died, I’m just not sure exactly how.

  9. Jose says:

    I just wrote about this. Repairman forwarded me this post. Needless to say, I’m still laughing at the song. :: shakes head:: I’m glad you made this a serious post, too, because as hard as I tried, I just knew I couldn’t. …

    Thank you so much. 🙂 I also read your post and will be commenting in a while. Two minutes into Chocolate Rain, when I realized a chorus will be nowhere in sight, I immediately thought of minimalism. It seemed such a waste not to even try to make the connection. 🙂 Thanks for dropping by, Jose. 🙂

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