In Perfect Harmony: A Response to Rochester, MNby Kevin Fogarty on 01/15/12
In Perfect Harmony: A Response to Rochester, MN
It’s 5:30 in the morning- not exceptionally early if you grew up on a farm like I did, but still, 5:30. So, at times such as these when my wife and cat refuse to be disturbed, I turn to the internet as an audience for my ramblings.
Yesterday, while I was checking some statistics on my website (this website software can tell you anything) I found that the question had been posed by a person in Rochester, MN: “What are the chords to ‘Temporary Setback’ by Kevin Fogarty?” Now, the question was not posed to me directly, but rather to Google. And I know it’s rude to butt in and answer a question when you weren’t asked, but, come on Rochester, Google doesn’t know the answer to that. That’s why Google sent you to my website. Only I know the answer to that. And even if Google did know, it sure wouldn’t enjoy talking about it as much as I do. So next time, Rochester, or any other city, just come straight to me and we’ll have loads of fun discussing things like this. Or at least I will.
Now, on to your question. Questions about music theory can be tricky especially when you don’t know the level of expertise of your audience. Rochester, you may be a regular Mozart when it comes to this stuff, but I’ll try to keep this basic enough for a beginner yet also interesting for someone who’s a bit more experienced.
First off, the sheet music for Temporary setback does not include chord symbols for one simple and good reason. This particular song cannot really be interpreted with a chord chart. Many great musical theatre songs can be played this way, and coming from Nashville, I do not look down on chord charts one bit. However, with this composition, if you just had the melody line written out, and above it, written “F, Dm, Bb, C, etc.” you really couldn’t come up with anything that sounds like Temporary Setback. But that’s not to say that it does not have a very clear and carefully thought out harmonic structure. And that is what we will discuss today.
So here we go from the beginning. We’re in the key of Eb major. The opening of the song is built on what I would call a riff. A riff here refers to an implied chord progression outlined by a melodic line. This riff is actually quite simple in that it just rocks back and forth between the IV chord and the V chord (Ab to Bb). Interestingly enough, the melodic line in the riff is played in the left hand with the right hand filling in the Ab2 and Bb2 chords creating a string of eighth notes with an accent pattern. The beginning of the verse continues revolving around these two chords in the same way.
When we get to bar 17 (“But while in his heart…”), things start to get a little more interesting harmonically. In bar 17 we go to a Db major chord which we’re going to call bVII. bVII is a very popular chord in pop music and can be used a lot of different ways, each of them causing different responses emotionally. It’s important note here, that I strongly believe that the emotional element of music comes from whatever is constructed harmonically (the chord structure, not what’s played on the harmonica). One might argue something to the effect of “Well I often get emotionally stirred just by hearing a melodic line with no harmonic accompaniment whatsoever”. But I would say, in those instances, that’s because the ear (consciously or otherwise) perceives an implied harmony. And I would bet that someone could harmonize that same melody changing only one or two chords and make a person feel entirely different, but changing several notes in the melody (as long as the implied chord structure remained the same) would change the emotional response very little. None of this is to downplay the importance of melody. It’s crucial, and without it, a song is rarely remembered.
Ok, back to bar 17. We have Db (bVII) and we work our way down the scale in the bass. From there we go to Ab in first inversion. Meaning the 3rd of the Ab chord is in the bass. Pretentious classical people will call that IV6. The next chord tells the listener we’re working our way down the scale chromatically, (by half steps). This is intentional as it’s sort of a small example of some basic “text painting”. Text painting is where the music mimics what the text is saying in a more specific sense than just “the music goes well with the text” which should always be the case. In this case, on the word “illness”, there’s an emotional shift because this is the first time that anything negative is mentioned about this character. So underneath the line “Illness had made him increasingly deaf”, we need to have something that startles the ear a bit harmonically (again, the emotion comes from the chords). So for this, we go completely outside the key and outline a Cb major chord which is bVI in the key of Eb. And then we go down a half step again to Bb in the bass which is a Gb major chord in first inversion (bIII6). These four bars together also make a nice sequence as the second two bars are just the first two bars repeated a step lower. Then in measure 21 (“The only melodic strains”), obviously to match the lyrics we need a “melodic strain”, so in the accompaniment you have a series of ascending eighth notes that outline an A major chord with a #4 (pronounced “sharp four”). Now if this song was a well known hit, theorists would sit around and debate how to classify this chord the way I theorize with my more nerdy friends about the chord progressions in Sondheim’s “Now” from A Little Night Music. But for now, it’s really only discussed by me and perhaps isolated circles in Rochester, MN. Anyway, we’re going to call this A major chord bV even though it’s not really functioning as bV at all in the traditional sense.
This whole little journey outside the key takes place when we’re talking about the “exception” to this character. That’s actually important. The entire first part of the verse is perfectly within the harmonic confines of Eb major as we discuss every good thing this character has going for him. When we talk about his illness we venture off the path. That’s the thorn in his side. Measure 25 (“But still…”) we go back to the original key as we go back to what we were originally discussing in the text. So we come to two held chords, very simply the IV and the V again
And now we’re to the chorus. Well we’re to the measure before the chorus, a rapid IV to V sequence which the ear presumes will go back to the tonic chord Eb in what’s called an authentic cadence. But since we want the chorus to have a bit of a “lift”, what we have instead is a bit of a twist on a deceptive cadence. Deceptive cadence you may know is when the listener thinks the V chord is going to the I chord but instead goes somewhere else, usually vi. Here instead of the usual deceptive cadence to vi (pronounced “minor six” or “six minor” in Nashville) we are going to go to VI (major six) and this VI becomes the new I chord for the chorus as we have successfully modulated to C major! Damn, that feels good, doesn’t it Rochester? Go ahead a make rock fingers. I just did.
Ok, I’ve got a fresh cup of coffee and I’m ready to delve into the chorus. It’s very simple. For most of the chorus, the right hand plays a poppy little figure that revolves around a vanilla C major chord with an added 2. Underneath this, the bass, in a syncopated rhythm, outlines a C7sus chord note for note playing C, F, Bb, G. At the half cadence at bar 30 (“inconvenience, that’s true”) instead of going to a standard five chord, what we have is a turn around that the ear perceives as bVII, IV, I. (See I told you bVII could be used for lots of things). Now the ear perceives it as bVII, IV, I, (Bb, F, C) because that’s what is being played in the right hand, but the Bb and the F chords are both being played over a G in the bass. So when we analyze it we have v7 (minor five seven) to what we in Nashville would call 4/5 (pronounced four over five) simply meaning a four chord with a five note in the bass. Now there may be a way to classify that in the classical Roman Numeral system, but I can almost promise you that no one reading a figured bass line would know what to play if they came across that. So here I would call on every elitist European sophisticated academic musician to acknowledge that Nashville came up with a better way of analyzing music than you did. Here I’m talking about the truly exceptional Nashville Number System which we’ll get into in a different blog.
So after the half cadence, we go back to the C7 riff and end the chorus with another sequence, this time over an unusual chord progression which is ii7, IV6, iii7, bVII9. And that’s the end of the chorus. Verse two is almost exactly like verse one and I’ll keep the bridge short because I am probably losing readers fast.
The bridge comes right out of the chorus so we stay in the key of C. Throughout the entire bridge, the right hand maintains a steady sixteenth note scale pattern that outlines the chords. It’s not a straight arpeggiation of the chords, but just a 4 note scale that hits the key notes. The actual chords are played in the left hand and are as follows: IV, bVII, ii, IV (in the key of C: F, Bb, Dm,F). As the bridge builds in measure 78 (“And all those other people…”), we build some tension with a Vsus chord to iii, and end up on vi all the while keeping the scales noodling furiously in the right hand. And here when we get a dramatic pause on the vi chord, the character finally spits out what he’s been wanting to say for this entire song. And he does this over some simple block chords, namely ii, I, bVII ( which the ear actually hears emotionally as a vi, V,IV because the intervals are identical but we’ll talk about that later)
And then, we have one final chorus that’s voiced higher of course because the character is meant to feel naked and very exposed here so we have all the same chords as a usual chorus (with a variation on the end) but the piano accompaniment is sparse, again because the character’s heart and all of its fears are laid before his love. And in the last two bars we have that complete “What the heck just happened?” moment which depending on the listener is either the perfect most romantic thing to say or most idiotic thing to say. Clearly the character thinks it’s the right thing to say and since character dictates emotional context, the harmony gets full resolution on the I chord – C major, perhaps the most boring chord in all of music!
So Rochester, I can’t imagine you finding this little essay on the internet, but in case you do, I’m glad we had this chat. These are the kinds of things I think about when I sit and listen to music. This is why most people think I’m insane, including other musicians, but not you, Rochester. You get it, I know. Let’s do this again. It doesn’t have to be with just my music, although, as you can see I’m not shy about the subject. Perhaps you write songs yourself and I’d enjoy hearing you discuss them. Perhaps you’d like to dissect something simpler yet unbelievably amazing like a power ballad. Oh, man, have you ever heard “High Enough” by Damn Yankees where the song actually modulates DOWN? We have lots to talk about Rochester. Hit me up. In the meantime, this probably won’t help you chart out “Temporary Setback” for your accompanist who may be like me, a terrible reader when it comes to notes. But thanks to your question, I feel we now we have a very intimate connection. You feel it too, right?