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”
- 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.
- Repetition of text: His repetition of the words “chocolate rain” contributes to the constancy of the piece.
- 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.
- 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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minimalist_music http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Glass http://www.encyclopediadramatica.com/Tay_Zonday Kids, repeat after me: plagiarism is a stupid person’s only recourse.