Thursday, March 15, 2007

Things That Bug Me That Most Likely Don't Bug You

Stephen Sondheim's "No More" is one of my favorite songs. It's an achingly searching, defeated, pensive song about wanting to give up in the face of the constant challenges life hurls in our faces. The song is a duet sung between a father and son, as the father tries to gently, somewhat sarcastically, talk his son out of running away from his troubles.

The way the song is structured, the son sings the intro and then the father comes in, singing in a ruminative, deliberately simple, nursery-rhyme-esque melody, "they disappoint, they disappear, they die but they don't/They disappoint, in turn I fear, forgive though they won't." And in that sing-songy melody, the "don't" and "won't" lines are set on a sudden drop down the scale - "they" (relatively high) - "DON'T" (low).

In reading through the vocal score many moons ago, and in haltingly playing my way through the song, I realized something not evident on the cast album - that those two words are actually different notes. The second drop, the "don't," drops to (if memory serves) an A-flat, while the "won't" is an A. And since then, whenever I see a production or hear a recording of this song, I listen to see if the singer nails those intonations, if he or she gets at that depressing, flattened, off tone on the "don't" in what is otherwise a simple sing-songy melody. And no one ever has. Not Mandy Patinkin on his first solo album, not Tom Aldredge (Tony Soprano's father-in-law!) in the original, not whoever played the Mysterious Old Man in the recent revival, not any of several high school kids I've seen. No one.

And that bugs me.

Until Whenever

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