While I dislike the commercial compulsion to push the beginning of the Christmas season so far back it essentially starts on Halloween, I'm hoping the piece of music I'm sharing with you here is obscure enough that it won't be conjuring any visions of sugarplums in mid-November.
A Not-So-Frosty Snowman
PLEASE NOTE: This section contains spoilers about the cartoon The Snowman. If you haven't seen it, you should definitely check it out here. It's less than 30 minutes long. If you would rather skip straight to the music, just scroll to the bottom.
I think I first saw The Snowman when I was in pre-school. I remember being captivated by the mesmerizing colored-pencil animation, the dreamlike atmosphere, the gorgeous music and, of course, the unusually heartbreaking ending. It's a faithful adaptation of the wordless children's book by Raymond Briggs that has always stuck with me, so I bought it on DVD several years ago. It's only as an adult that I can fully appreciate it for being the masterful work of art it is.
I can't think of anything else I've seen that so perfectly captures the feeling of being a child, where dreams are vividly real and fantasy blends with reality. The lack of dialog and the mostly-nighttime setting (plus the haunting score by Howard Blake) add to its dreamy, surreal nature. The story zeroes in on that amazingly magical feeling—the not to mention the deeply ingrained childhood desire—of being singled out as special: the titular snowman comes to life and the only one to witness it is the boy who made him. They become instant friends and sneak around the house while his parents are asleep; later the boy is whisked away to a gathering at the North Pole of snowmen from around the world who have come to life, and he is the only human (besides Santa) present. His snowy new friends are all welcoming and warm (well, as warm as snowmen can be), but his true bond is with his frozen new best buddy.
Describing the admittedly goofy-sounding plot does no justice to The Snowman, though. Frosty this is not, and you are not watching a sentimental Rankin/Bass Christmas special. The film reminds me of childhood dreams in which I saw Santa Claus come down the chimney or my favorite cartoon character jumped out of the TV screen and wanted to hang out with me. Not only were they lifelike, they actually made me slightly sad when I woke up to a less whimsical reality.
As an adult, with only a hazy recollection of an early childhood that is still sprinkled with a vague remembrance of magic and wonder, the film winds up feeling like my own memory. This childlike state is only underscored by the ending, still heart-wrenching for me to this day: the boy wakes up in excitement the next morning and runs outside only to find that his snowman companion has melted. And lest we think it all was just a dream, he pulls from his pocket a scarf that Santa had given him the night before.
And therein lies the final genius of The Snowman: childhood, for all its magic and awe, still can't avoid the harshness of reality. Snowmen melt. Dreams end. Magic slowly but inevitably gets stripped away as we age. But there is something so real about even the most fantastical of dreams that it becomes tangible, a real piece of magic that's part of ourselves for the rest of our lives. All we need to do is pull out the scarf every once in a while to remind ourselves that it's still there.
It's a beautiful intersection of fantasy and reality, of childhood and maturity, of heartbreak and hope.
As a tribute to one of my favorite works of art, I re-imagined the main musical piece, "Walking In The Air," on guitar with orchestral accompaniment.
About This Recording
The original version of "Walking in the Air" is piano-based, so I wanted to transcribe it for acoustic guitar. There are some really nice harmonies that complement the main melody, and the chords have a distinct rhythm essential to the identity of the piece, so rather than try and mash them together in an overly-complicated solo arrangement I decided to arrange it for two guitars, which I overdubbed.
I grabbed my new Intel 2-in-1, a computer that switches between a laptop (with a touchscreen) and a tablet. I mentioned in my last post that Intel gave me one of these to fool around with and incorporate into my music-making process, so I used it to watch The Snowman and listen to the score for reference and inspiration. Sometimes I also stopped what I was doing and watched cat videos, which is really my own issue to deal with.
In the film there is a vocal part and some orchestral accompaniment in "Walking in the Air." I didn't try to match the orchestration, but I did want to start fooling around with some brass and string sample libraries I recently got. They're extremely powerful and I've barely scratched the surface of all the features, so for this recording I kept the parts very simple. Luckily, these libraries sound pretty great out of the box for simple chordal arrangements, so I had fun beefing up the overall sound with them.
Here's what I came up with, hope you enjoy it.
Hear it on Soundcloud here. I'd recommend listening with a good pair of headphones.
The computer, by the way, is a Toshiba Satellite. With a Windows 10 upgrade it switches automatically between laptop and tablet mode whenever you rotate the screen. It also has Cortana, which is their virtual personal assistant. So far I've found Windows 10 to be pretty intuitive and a legitimate step up from 8. I can't always decide between wanting to use a laptop or a tablet, so it's pretty handy to have both in one device.
#spon: I'm required to disclose a relationship between our site and Intel This could include Intel providing us w/content, product, access or other forms of payment.