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In the Melodious Ocean
On the island of G Flat Key
Lived many musical notes
Spending their days singing, yes, you guessed it, songs in G-flat together
Viola was a C-flat note
And though everyone thought that she
Fit in with everyone else
She felt that she didn’t harmonize with her home island’s endeavor
She knew deep inside
C-flat was not what she ought
She felt much more like B-natural
And every single day she thought
To actually be
That’s the key”
One day she finally tried it
But they all said, “No way, that’s wrong!
The only naturals here
Are all the Fs, and they’re fine at times, but followed best by a flat note”
So, though they all thought her perfect
Knowing that she did not belong
She chose to leave them behind
Visit the Musical Keys nearby on her old family sailboat
And though she was scared
Off-key, at last, this was it
Perhaps this key change would help her find
A place where she could finally fit
To actually be
That’s the key”
Each island was smaller and stranger
With even more naturals than previously
And she even heard tell of a place with only natural tone
Though the Key of B-flat was clearly not where it’s at
She soon found her first natural key
But at the Key of F, near the entryway clef, the only flat was B alone
Seemed to Viola the next key
Had to be the all-natural one
So she was shocked to find out
All of the other keys long ago were swallowed up by the ocean
About to give up and go home
Several notes said, “It could be fun
to have a B-natural around
Compared to the flatter keys, you’d be fine here, at least consider the notion”
And though she was scared
A smile grew on her face
They made new songs weird and wonderful
Viola finally found her place
To actually be
That’s the key” “Where I am factually free
To actually be
That’s the key”
This song and the album it comes from were written using Appreciative Inquiry and Internal Family Systems. With IFS, we can talk about different parts of ourselves as if they are separate people. Hopefully that clarifies why these stories at times refer to he, she and we!
One part of me was hesitant to even write a song. He was afraid of what people would think of it. That was a general concern for him, always concerned what others think, wishing that others might actually be interested in what he thought, but always afraid they wouldn’t be. Just like with the first song written for the album, where a part was standing in the way of writing the album at all, through Appreciative Inquiry we were able to take those very concerns and channel them constructively in a way that actually contributed to the album. That’s how this eighth song came about.
Through the AI, he started talking about times when people, in fact, had expressed interest and valued his/our contributions. What he most appreciated about others expressing interest was that it took away his feeling of hesitation. Instead of always wondering when and how to express himself, always putting it off because of never having a good enough answer to when or how to say something, people sometimes gave a clear opening. Then it would be easy to contribute. Maybe they’d dislike or disagree with what I might say, but this part could be okay with that — it was more important that they wanted to hear from us in the first place.
He started realizing that it would be great to have a song that was a real story, nothing obviously philosophizing or giving advice. The story would be about someone who felt he wasn’t getting to be who he really was, who was conforming in order to get approval, to feel accepted. But because conformed, he was only accepted as something he really wasn’t. So he somehow develops the courage to try to be himself and find others who wanted to know the real him. In a way, it was like a classic tale of someone with a dream, at first put down by those around him, but he never gives up and eventually finds his way.
Thinking about metaphors, we thought about shapes — how some people are considered “square” when they are different from the rest, and how when things aren’t quite right we can feel “bent out of shape.” The other metaphor that came up was musical notes, and the classic punny phrase, “Don’t B sharp, don’t B flat, just B natural.”
That musical metaphor busted things wide open. The entire story of this song practically wrote itself in an instant after that point. There was the notion of there being musical keys, where some notes fit better than others. And some note might see itself as fitting better in some other key. The classic punny phrase gave the idea that some note would want to “be natural” — and that, of course, it should be a B-natural note that it wants to be.
Thinking about the different keys, there were suddenly lots of happy coincidences. In the keys based on flat notes, B is always flat — so a B-natural would feel particular out of place. The note we usually call B-natural does finally reappear in a flat key, but it’s one of the “flattest” keys, G-flat, and that note isn’t even referred to as B anymore but, instead C-flat. So there was suddenly this notion of a C-flat note really wishing to “B-natural” in a very flat, “unnatural” environment. This immediately suggested a journey far away, to find a key where it could fit as it wanted to. Several other A few other other ideas from music popped up as relevant for the story — “home key,” “key change,” “harmonizing” with others, “perfect” intervals, the journey being toward more and more “natural” environments.
From there, the leap was made to keys also referring to bunches of islands together, like the Florida Keys. Suddenly, there was a whole fantasy world where musical notes lived on “keys,” on different islands in an ocean, very separate from each other, and where if one note wanted to find a different key, there’d have to be a heroic journey across the sea. This not only suggested another musical detail — “off key,” as in off the island — but solidified a title. The title phrase popped up as yet another meaning of the word key, simply being the most important thing, the thing that unlocks everything else. We were surprised at how short the chorus ended up, and at just how much got packed in such a small space — a triple four-syllable rhyme, not to mention secretly hiding the phrase “be natural” itself. Can you find it? 🙂
The islands suggested musical influences as well. The nature of the heroic journey, though, seemed to need something bigger than the average calypso/reggae. Yet it couldn’t be anywhere as serious as something like Bob Marley’s song “Exodus” either. I then thought of the song “Kokomo” by The Beach Boys, itself about a bunch of islands, “off the Florida Keys” no less, and the one special place “we wanna go.” Despite its subject and obvious Caribbean musical touches, the music was really mostly like a Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” song, like “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes. Those songs were themselves noted for incorporating maracas, castanets and other sounds often heard in “island” music, and yet they had their own very particular pop sound, not island music at all. I read up on Wall of Sound arrangements, and I also thought about Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” a Wall of Sound tribute with conspicuous castanets, but also having a more rock-oriented middle section thrown in.
Looking for music-related names for the main character, Viola showed up as a recognizable first name. So the hero became female in the story. With orchestral string instruments often playing a part in Wall of Sound arrangements, I decided to use only violas for those parts.
From there, the words and music mostly took care of themselves. It was obvious that the song had to start in the key of G-flat, but also just as obvious that it had to switch keys as Viola took her journey. Most of the physical journey itself is packed into the Billy-Joel-inspired bridge in the middle, where the chord changes closely reflect key changes from G-flat through keys with fewer and fewer flats, until Viola finally arrives, as the song says, in the key of F. Unusual for songs to move down with a key change — usually they move up, but going down somewhere worked here.
There seemed to be something poignant about her finding this key. It was the first on her journey named for a natural note instead of a flat one. It was also in a way the exact opposite of her home key — Gb had only one natural note and all the rest were flat, but the notes in the key of F are all natural except for one. And that one was, of all things, B-flat. Here, she could feel like she’d come so far and gotten so close only to feel as much an outcast as ever. If only she could go one key farther, it would be the “all-natural” one she’d heard of, the key of C where there are no flats or sharps at all. But letting her get there seemed to be a bit too pat an ending to the story.
Have all the other keys just not be there, just not be options, seemed to add a nice bit of drama to the story, and it opened the way to a less predictable and more satisfying ending. The notes in the key of F decide to stretch themselves a bit to accommodate Viola. They convince her not to give up, to stay, figuring that even if it might not be truly what she was looking for, they would welcome her, and she should at least feel far more at home with them than she would anywhere else. Having others meet her partway seemed a strong way to show that Viola had really found a place where others accepted her for who she was, a place she belonged and could call home.
Sometimes I think about how it might have been global warming that caused the other keys to be swallowed up by the ocean! I wonder, then, if there’s some kind of sequel to write for this story, where enough notes living a more “natural” life somehow leads to the other lost keys resurfacing. This makes me think of a bunch of other ways that musical ideas could work into the story. Perhaps the world is saved and Viola finds that she can eventually come to feel at home even on her original island. After all, G-flat is also F-sharp, a key that itself already has B-naturals — everyone there would come to see themselves differently, and nobody would have to go anywhere else to feel at home. We’ll see… 🙂
Share your own stories — of art or other things that have inspired you, of how you came to do something artistic or creative, of how the OHB’s songs have impacted you, whatever you like — at the Fan Clan.
Written by and &© 2008 Mark S. Meritt (BMI). All rights reserved.
Dianne Mucci – Vocals
MSM – Instruments
Produced, arranged, recorded and mixed by MSM in the basement in the village, Red Hook, NY, using a MacBook Pro, MOTU Digital Performer 5.13, Native Instruments Kontakt 3, EastWest/Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra Gold Complete, Quantum Leap Colossus, EastWest/PMI Bösendorfer 290 Grand Piano, and an M-Audio Keystation Pro 88.
Vocals recorded in the garage on the mountain, Bloomingburg, NY.
Release Date: November 11, 2008
Album: Everyone's Invited
Track Number: 2
Written: 8th of the 12 songs for the album, February 2008
Arranged: 1st, starting March 6, 2008
Vocals recorded 5th, July 22, 2008
Mixed: 2nd, starting September 10, 2008
From the album Everyone's Invited
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