BIOGRAPHY OF A SONG:  (Happiness), by Edric Haleen


(Originally posted at the “soon-to-be-defunct” Too Much Awesome website [toomuchawesome.ning.com])



THE ORIGINS:


I wrote this song for the first round of Masters of Song Fu #3.  The challenge was simply to write a “happy song,” so the challenge left the artists a lot of creative leeway.  However, I suspected that I could probably predict fairly accurately what the vast majority of the songs would sound like, and I really wanted to go in a different direction.  I didn’t want to write a “cotton-candy pop song” or an “ironically-unhappy happy song” or a “snarky, ironical” song.  (I didn’t have anything against them -- I just wanted to try to write something that would be different from anything else that might be submitted.)



THE PROCESS:


It actually took embarrassingly long for me to remember that, in college, I had run a “Happiness Board.”  (For the full story of the Happiness Board, click here . . .)  But as soon as I recalled that I had a listing of close to 3,000 happy thoughts saved on my old computer, I knew that I had my inspiration.  I pulled up the old lists and started sifting through them . . .


I realized quickly, however, that I was going to need something more.  It started to dawn on me that my song would need some kind of structure or larger framework, so that it wouldn’t be JUST a list of happy thoughts.  So I started to play around with ideas.  At first, I was exploring possibilities for an intro that would explain that “happiness isn’t a right,” “you make your own happiness,” or “little things can make you happy,” -- with the idea that the song would lead into, “Here are some examples of happy things.”  But that kept coming off as much too didactic.  It kept adding a pointed, grating edge to a song that I really wanted to keep wholly free of irony.  So I kept exploring.


It took a little while, but eventually I had gotten to the point where I had written down . . .


        When we’re young . . .

        As we grow . . .

        We mature . . .

        In the end . . .


I didn’t have endings to those lines yet, but those four lines gave an arc to the song -- it provided the song with a sense of being a journey through a life.  And I liked that.  (It also allowed me to start “categorizing” the happy thoughts into “things that would make a child happy,” “things that would make a younger adult (in their 20s through 40s) happy,” “things that would make an older adult (in their 50s through 80s) happy,” and “things that are happy thoughts in a fairly universal sense.”)


I finished writing the lyric (kind of humming possible melody lines as I wrote) before I sat down at my piano.  And, in the lyric, I purposely chose two happy thoughts to repeat throughout all four sections -- those being “hugs” and “friends.”  I arrived at that decision because of the way that those two happy thoughts (and many others, I’m sure -- but those two in particular) change in meaning throughout the course of a lifetime.  Go ahead and try it out . . .


        Think about what “hugs” mean to a nine-year-old.

        Think about what “hugs” mean to a nineteen-year-old. Or a twenty-nine-year-old.

        Think about what “hugs” mean to a fifty-nine-year-old . . .

        (Try the same exercise with “friends.”)



THE MUSIC:


It’s funny.  The piano part for this song is excruciatingly boring to play.  (Particularly for a full two minutes!)  At first glance, it almost seems completely banal.  But there are interesting things going on “behind the scenes.”


First of all, the song is intentionally -- pointedly, even! -- written in the key of C.  It’s a purely diatonic composition.  The song is 88 measures long, and there isn’t a single accidental anywhere in the entire song -- in the piano part or any of the vocal lines.  However, it still contains interesting voicings and tone clusters, because I very consciously made use of the two half-step intervals in the musical scale -- the half-step between E and F, and the half-step between B and C.  Which creates some nice dissonances -- like at the ends of the first and third sections, when one vocal lines sustains a B and another vocal line joins it with a sustained C a half-step higher . . .


        Section 1:  “Hunting for rainbows” and “Rice Krispie treats.”

        Section 3:  “Taking vacations” and “Apple pie.”


The closest tone cluster in the whole song occurs at the end of “Knowing you’re loved in return” in the fourth section -- because the “soloist” line holds onto the end of “endure” instead of having two more syllables to sing like in the first three sections.  “Endure” holds on a C, while “return” is sung on the B a half-step below and a D a full-step above.  (My heart still leaps every time it comes to that part.)


Also, Borba Spinotti (who did the arrangements for another wonderful song that came out of this round of Song Fu -- What Makes You Feel Happy, by another TMA member, Joe “Covenant” Lamb) pointed out another cool facet of the piano part.  To quote him . . .


                        I'm a bit of a voicing nut, and your F accompaniment had my toes curling:

                        Two arpeggiated 5th in the left hand, two consecutive 4ths in the right, and

                        the initial sonority has no right to sound so consonant (two major sevenths

                        within the chord, and no third) but yet it just works.  And the other interesting

                        thing about this chord is that it contains every single note in the scale, a

                        pangram of C major (or F lydian if you will).


(By the way -- if you'd like sheet music for this, or any of my other songs, you can visit this page . . .)



In the end, when it was all written, I called the song “(Happiness).”  The reason that I placed the “title” in parentheses is because, in my mind, I really thought of the song as an instance of happiness -- an embodiment of happiness -- not so much a song which carried a title of “Happiness” . . .