One of the curious terms that has sprung up in the music arranging world in the very recent past, thanks in this case to the influence of the pop music world, is the mashup.
As in, “this is a mashup of Whitney Houston's 'I Wanna Dance with Somebody' and Cyndi Lauper's 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun'.” A couple of tunes that have at least a little to do with each other. Maybe they don't have that much to do with each other lyrically, but somehow they've been jammed together, put into the same key, perhaps linked by a compromise between their two rhythm-section grooves, and away we go.
When I first heard of the mashup, I listened briefly to one, and thought, “perhaps you meant a medley, yes?”
It can seem that way, but of course a medley is one tune, then another, distinct and separate, connected only by clever transitional material. In a mashup, the tunes appear to do something that is impossible in physics. Two objects can't exist in the same space … but two songs sometimes can.
Some mashups are sheer unadulterated brilliance – “I would never have thought of putting those two items together but don't they work!” And some are square peg / round hole creations. But it's been interesting hearing different arrangers' efforts.
The example I quote above, as you will have figured out via the link, is an actual arrangement done by Elle Brigida, a terrific arranger who has written charts for the Cape Cod-based women's a cappella group Cape Harmony for the past couple of summers, and has hit it out of the park on a regular basis. When Cape Harmony closed its shows with that one, this past summer, nothing could follow it.
Another great example of utterly inspired mashing was done by Northeastern University band director John Leonard, for the field show performed by the Central Connecticut State University Blue Devil Marching Band. In the finale of a space-music show, full of Gustav Holst's “The Planets” show through with moments from the new Star Trek movies' and the “Halo” video game's scores, John's rendition of Elton John's “Rocket Man” is sailing along, when suddenly, if you listen closely for the mellophones and saxophones, you can hear a secondary melody from Holst's “Jupiter” movement dancing around amidst the “Rocket Man” melody.
During one of CCSU's band camp music rehearsals, my instructor colleague and I realized what we were listening to, and had a moment of complete jaw-drop. Wow – John made that work. That is really cool. We found an Easter egg!
Some time ago, though, I figured out two reason why I had initially kinda looked askance at the concept (because I surely did), other than – as with every kind of musical form, in the right hands it can work and in the wrong hands you need a crash helmet (or possibly a forensics expert).
The first reason was … gang, you all may think you've created a new musical form, but as it turns out, every kindergarten kid in America has sung a partner song.
Okay, I can be fairly relaxed about that reason.
But the other reason is one that, if I don't exactly want to launch a crusade about it, at least it inspires me to make a suggestion:
Can we give it a more dignified name?
“Mashup” sounds … well … ham-handed, to me at least. “Mashup” is what you do to peas, when you're four years old and don't want to eat them for supper anymore.
When a musical mashup really works, to the point where you only realize after a few moments that you're listening to two songs work out a negotiated settlement … that's so much more sophisticated, and therefore, I think, deserves a better moniker than what it's got.
Anyone got any alternative ideas? Other than partner song, which tends to put me in mind of farmers and dells.
I don't. But I'd like some.
[Ed. note: this article is cross-posted at my "other", slightly less music-specific blog, Editorial License.]