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The Observer's culture blog

Friday, August 4, 2017

DEET DEETLE DEET, by Gene Gaunt

I'm at choir rehearsal. A “Brünhilde” soprano asks me, can I arrange piano accompaniment for her next concert? An unpublished John Denver tune? With three chords? C (deet deetle deet), F (deet deetle deet), G (deet deetle deet). I nod dismissively. “Outback Steakhouse gift card,” I say.

I retire to my studio. I play the John Denver video. I hear C (deet deetle deet), F (deet deetle deet), G (deet deetle deet). Shaky hands drift over my piano keyboard. What to do with C (deet deetle deet), F (deet deetle deet), G (deet deetle deet)? I launch MuseScore on my computer. I notate all the effing deet deetle deets onto a piano grand staff.

And then I worry the monotony of deet deetle deets will bore the audience.

I decide to improve on (cough) John Denver’s song. I improve on the C (deet deetle deet), on the F (deet deetle deet), and the G (deet deetle deet). I add tri-tone substitutions. Inversions. Split thirds. Parallel fourths. Seven-note chords. Diminished ninths. Dilapidated tenths. Augmented elevenths. Pregnant thirteenths. Rock me, Ludwig Van! This will win me a Grammy. I email my arrangement to Brünhilde.

She replies, she doesn’t know the right way to ask this, but, is there any way I can make it less chord-y and more note-y?

Hmm.

Brünhilde needs man-splaining. Like the philanthropic denouement of a dystopian Stanley Kubrick film, my computer speaks to me in a pleasant colonial British female voice: “Email failure.” I fall asleep. I dream of chord-y cyborgs battling note-y cyborgs on the plains of Armageddon. I awaken. I listen afresh to John Denver’s song. C (deet deetle deet). F (deet deetle deet). G (deet deetle deet). I meditate. I ask the prophets, “What perspective does Brünhilde bring to this song?” And the prophets answer me.

Breath.

This is a bit of a stretch for me. Understand, I come from the piano player’s tradition. Pianists don’t breathe. But Brünhilde comes from the BREATHER tradition, where “All Breaths Matter.” Breath shapes lyric. Lyric shapes rhyme. Rhyme makes sense. Sense makes money. And I like capitalism.

Once again I listen to John Denver’s video. C (deet deetle deet). F (deet deetle deet). G (deet deetle deet). This time I listen for breath. For lyric. For rhyme. For sense. This time, John Denver’s lyrics begin to touch my heart. I get it now. The song is a lullaby for the Earth. The song is beautiful. Tears come. We’re all in this together. We are stewards. The Earth is all we have. Handle with care. Handle with tender, loving, precious, great care. Handle like a lullaby. Handle like . . . Handle like . . .

Handle like C (deet deetle deet). F (deet deetle deet). G (deet deetle deet).

Not like dilapidated thirteenths.

I re-open my MuseScore file. I delete all my brilliant dilapidated thirteenths and stuff. I re-notate John Denver’s song into: C (deet deetle deet). F (deet deetle deet). G (deet deetle deet). I email THIS version to Brünhilde with the comment, “You had good observations! I replaced the chunky piano chords with notes more like guitar strings.”

Brünhilde replies back. Thanks, she says. This is awesome.

I see Brünhilde again at the next choir rehearsal. She hands me a gift card to Outback Steakhouse. Smoothly, and graciously, I slip the card into my pants pocket, without looking at the dollar amount on the card. This is typical of my good manners.

Next day, I dine at Outback Steakhouse. Fine meal. Check comes. I unwrap my gift card. I look my gift horse in the mouth. And I see the gift card is worth a FRANKLIN.

Cool! Franklin’s my bro!


posted by John Hilton at 10:06 a.m. | 0 comments


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