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My latest bit of music appreciation

George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley wrote "Careless Whisper" when they were teenagers, years before their band Wham! was a worldwide-known thing. It would be a huge hit later. (A meme going around following George Michael's death, claiming that Michael wrote the whole song but co-credited Ridgeley anyway, is wrong; George Michael was generous other ways.) Seventeen-year-olds wrote that. Later, Michael himself would question the song's popularity, but even at 17, he was hoping he'd write hugely popular songs and...he did. Over and over. For years. Some artists do it for decades.

To me, that's alchemy. How do you do this? How to take musical ideas and combine them in a way that will make thousands or, perhaps, millions of people listen to it and buy it and sing along to it? How crazy-confident to the point (perhaps) (probably) of arrogance do you have to be to think you could pull that off? AND KIDS CAN DO THIS.

...yeah, I wasn't that kid. I've realized plenty of times that I can appreciate music but feel dubious about any ability to create it. Sometimes less dubious, though, like when I learned language theorists considered that we may have developed true spoken language after music. Whether it happened that way or the other way around, with our ancestors taking spoken language and refining it into music — remember, melody is like the rise-and-fall of talking, but more organized — music and language are tied together. Music is a language, and that is beautiful.

I know: it's a craft, you can learn it, you can be trained. I had a neat time as a reporter covering a middle school's music composition class, teaching the basics of melody to junior high students, including how melody is far more malleable than the limits of notes would imply: the students started with a few basic motifs and all the students' melodies went in different directions. As it was explained to me another time, anyone had the ability to write the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, but only Beethoven would ever have written that exact constellation of notes (so many notes) to follow those four notes.

(Well, okay, four chords, to be more exact.)

Beethoven, of course, was brilliant. George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley were talented...or maybe they were (and are, in Ridgeley's case) brilliant, I'd be the wrong judge of that. Hans Zimmer, as much as I run hot and cold on his work, especially from the 90s, is talented. I'm not catty enough to list composers I think aren't talented...though now I think of a writer-editor I wrote for who told me he thought one prominent modern composer could be "a very talented fraud." (I won't name either person referred to in that sentence.) But workmanlike composers get the job done, too. Maybe, if I wanted to, I could get to "workmanlike."

As entertaining as it is, Empire is not going to teach me the ways of making a hit song, but obviously many people behind the show know the nuts-and-bolts of making a song and getting it right. "Right" is subjective, like (YES!) any kind of art, but that sense — of what is the right form of a piece of art — comes to me more often as I get more confident as a writer of poems. That word belongs there; that other word doesn't, a writer can think, about a composition that simply didn't exist before. And it can be an exciting sense.

I love that kids can experience that, and that some, later, get to share it.

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