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"My Favorite Song"

Guest contributors select one song that has a special, personal meaning for them, sharing specific reasons about why they find the music and lyrics irresistible, and choosing a performance that they feel ideally captures the spirit of that song.

Archive of Past Selections


"My Favorite Song"
December, 2014

Welcome to the monthly feature of the Vocal Arts DC web site in which guest contributors select one song that has a special, personal meaning for them, sharing specific reasons about why they find the music and lyrics irresistible, and choosing a performance that they feel ideally captures the spirit of that song.

Samuel Viggiano

Leonard Bernstein: "I Hate Music!"

In an American society that values Disney's latest musical movie and Billboard Top 40 hits over opera and art song, we are faced with a dilemma: what keeps art relevant? When deciding on my favorite song, I considered relevancy rather than what I try to "belt out" in the shower.

I first heard Leonard Bernstein's comical musical masterpiece "I Hate Music" at a close friend's recital. The recital was meant for academic purposes, but exceeded the expectations of academia and entertainment through the artist's mastery of challenging and unique vocal works, including repertoire from Mozart to Debussy, Brazilian jazz, and of course, Bernstein's "I Hate Music."

The song is one of five in Bernstein's cycle "A Cycle of Five Kid Songs for Soprano and Piano" and is anything but childish. "I Hate Music" requires strong vocal technique and fluid musicianship. The song is considered "atonal," or not written within a key or mode. Yet, the melody is surprisingly hummable and recognizable. Bernstein's accompaniment does very little to aid the singer musically, however provides supportive drama, much like Schubert's lieder accompaniment.

The vocal range and capabilities of the singer are tested by the tessitura (or range) and ever-changing style, as are the singer's musical aptitude and acting ability. The song begins with a giant leap scaling a typical soprano's range, followed by a disjunctive chromatic, yet catchy, melody. After the virtuosic beginning, the singer suddenly jumps into vocal patter with changing and asymmetrical meters.

While considering its musical difficulties, the singer must also understand and develop an appropriate character presentation. Although the song cycle's title alludes to children's songs, the cycle is anything but. "I Hate Music" comments with child-like simplicity on the "state" of music, claiming music is, " a lot of men and a lot of tails/Making lots of noise like a lot of females/Music is a lot of folks in a big dark hall/ Where they really don't want to be at all/With a lot of chairs and a lot of heirs/And a lot of furs and diamonds." This perception of music encapsulates the attitude millennials and young audience currently feel towards opera and art song, yet so many continue to love to sing and explore the music.

The composer, Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), although not a millennial, held a similar attitude towards music. Hailed as the "dean of American music," Bernstein championed symphonic and orchestra music, ballet, film, and theater music, choral works, opera, chamber music and pieces for piano. A multifarious composer, author, and musician, Bernstein wrote some serial music, but later rejected the musical movement that many composers considered was the next popular musical form. His "I Hate Music," among his other notable choral, vocal, and orchestra works, is a reflection of his attitude, that music can be simultaneously enjoyable, intelligent, and virtuosic. His timeless song cycle, among his other works, remains a relevant musical staple which comments on that state of music while displaying superior musical qualities.

I HATE MUSIC (1943)
A Cycle of Five Kid Songs for Soprano and Piano

1. My Name is Barbara  2. Jupiter Has Seven Moons  3. I Hate Music!  4. A Big Indian and a Little Indian (Riddle Song)  5. I'm a Person Too

I hate music but I like to sing
La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la
But that's not music
Not what I call music, no sir

Music is a lot of men and a lot of tails
Making lots of noise like a lot of females
Music is a lot of folks in a big dark hall
Where they really don't want to be at all
With a lot of chairs and a lot of heirs
And a lot of furs and diamonds

Music is silly
I hate music but I like to sing
La, la, la, la, la


Click here to view previous month's submission.


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"My Favorite Song"

Archive of Past Selections