Jenn’s Jams ♪: Music Inspiration From Unlikely Places
Hello, my comrades!
It’s nice to be back, how have you all been?
This cycle, I want to make Jenn’s Jams a little more personal and less “official” (does that make sense?). Let me explain. If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll notice that I only really post if I’m presenting a finished work to you guys, and I feel like there’s some sort of barrier between you (the readers) and myself (the blogger). Now, in my musical journey I’m going to try breaking that barrier so you all can see what I’m doing behind the scenes—the thoughts that run through my head, and routes I’ve tried but decided not to take in the end—instead of just showing you my completed products.
To start, today I want to talk about what I’ve been up to for the past few weeks and some things I’ve taken inspiration from.
Your Lie in April
My brother recently started to watch anime (I know some of you are cringing and want to close the window just seeing the word “anime,” but hear me out), and I’ve never been a fan since it wasn’t really my thing; it’s too dramatic, and I found the gender roles deeply engraved into Japanese culture irritating with female characters having unnecessarily high, whiny voices and male characters who don’t take “no” for an answer always playing the “hero-saving-the-girl” role. I also was definitely not fond of illustrations overtly sexualizing female characters, but I realized that I, someone who hates being stereotyped and generalized, was stereotyping and making a generalization about an entire genre of animation based on the aspects of the anime that the media tends to focus on.
I know, I know. Jenn’s Jams is a music column, but don’t worry, I swear I’m going somewhere with this.
Long story short, my brother forced me to watch an anime with him over Winter Break since, according to him, I didn’t “have anything better to do anyway.” My brother convinced me that since the anime was about music—piano, specifically—I would really like it, considering I’ve dedicated 12 years of my life to my love of piano. There were countless great reviews of the anime on the internet, and he said it was a perfect concoction of cuteness, humor, and sadness (with breathtaking animations). Right up my alley!
In the end, I gave in and agreed to watch it with him since, first of all, I don’t ever get bonding time with my brother and he was offering to stop where he was to wait for me, and second of all, he was right—I didn’t have anything better to do during Winter Break. The anime we watched was called Your Lie in April (covering 22 episodes at 20 minutes each), and, in all honesty, I ended up really liking it.
In a nutshell, the themes of love, loss, and music collide in Your Lie in April, a story about how music transforms a boy and a girl as they learn to come to terms with themselves and the loss of the ones they love. I picked two songs from the soundtrack that you can listen to while you keep reading, so below is the first one.
This song is called “Again” and it’s left an impression on me because I remember it playing whenever Kousei Arima, the male main character, or Kaori Miyazono, the female main character, found inspiration again to pursue music.
The song is mainly composed of a simple piano melody, with some synth sounds and special effects in the background, yet it’s capable of evoking all the sad, happy, and hopeful emotions I developed watching the anime’s compelling characters grow throughout the episodes. Breathtaking scenery was a really big part of what made Your Lie in April so significant to me too, and whenever I hear this song I’m reminded of cherry blossom petals falling during the spring, and the sun shining through cracks between the leaves of a really big tree in the park.
The second song I chose to talk about is called “Like A Little Brother,” and it’s follows a similar style to “Again,” but has a larger emphasis on the piano melody instead of the effects in the background.
This song always tugs at my heartstrings whenever I hear it now because it reminds me of Kousei’s relationship with his childhood best friend, Tsubaki Sawabe. After growing up next door to Kousei, Tsubaki develops feelings for her despite their complete differences—Tsubaki being an athletic, sporty tomboy and Kousei being a nerdy, introverted musical genius. Tsubaki had always considered Kousei to be a little brother to her, so when she realizes she has feelings for him, Tsubaki has trouble accepting it because she knows he likes Kaori. Tsubaki’s experiences and feelings in this situation are very much relatable and understandable; she feels lonely when Kousei always leaves her to practice piano, powerless when she cannot help Kousei overcome his mother’s death, and guilty for not wanting Kousei to study music overseas or for Kaori, a fantastic violinist, to return his feelings—because to Tsubaki, music always seems to take Kousei, her best friend, away from her.
I chose these two songs from Your Lie in April because the anime really struck a chord in my heart. As a pianist, I could relate to a lot of things happening in the show. I remember a specific quote saying, “The piano is you. If you touch it gently, it will smile. If you touch it with force, it will become enraged,” and I have never heard a quote as accurately describing what playing piano was like for me as that one. “Again” and “Like A Little Brother” give me both happy and sad flashbacks from Your Lie In April, but also remind me of how inspiring the show was to watch. After stopping my piano lessons due to too much school work a year-and-a-half ago, I have finally gone back recently. I genuinely think watching Your Lie in April and watching Kousei’s and Kaori’s devotion to music evolve really reminded me of how much I love and missed my piano lessons. I think Your Lie in April’s ability to touch my heart and rekindle my passion of piano was incredibly powerful, and I’m reminded of my own music in that I write and sing to express myself, but also to move others.
Yona of the Dawn
Oh ho ho, but I am not done yet! I have another two songs I want to talk about, and they’re from a different anime. Finishing Your Lie in April made me realize that I should give anime a chance—if Your Lie in April left me teary-eyed (from joy and sorrow), there are probably tons of other animes out there that I would genuinely enjoy, and Yona of the Dawn is one of them. Yona and her companions in the opening of the show. From left to right: Zeno, Jaeha, Shinah, Kija, Yona, Hak, Yun[/caption]
Yona of the Dawn (covering 24 episodes, 20 minutes each) in a nutshell is a coming-of-age story about a girl named Yona, the princess of the Kouka Kingdom, who is driven out of the palace and her home. The show follows Yona’s growth from the very beginning as a spoiled and naive princess…
…to the end as a person completely changed through self-discovery and self-reliance. She takes up a weapon, the very thing causing the violence her father hated so much, and confronts the reality of having to kill or harm another person in order to save herself. Yona experiences grief, heartbreak, and betrayal and learns to not only become a strong, independent woman, but also to become a worthy leader of the nation she used to rule but had never truly seen with her own eyes.
The soundtrack is the hallmark of the show, as it perfectly captures both the emotions and the rich, historical atmosphere of the Japanese-Chinese-Korean-fusion time period. Certain songs still create goosebumps along my arms when my mind flashes back to critical and moving scenes of the anime.
The first song I chose from Yona of the Dawn is called “Final Chapter,” and I still feel chills when I hear it, even after finishing the show for over a month.
The quick percussion and chimes at the beginning of the track create a suspenseful feeling, but these shortly transition into a more peaceful, mellow melody with stringed instruments. Following that is a cheerful, folk-style tune that moves into a quicker drum beat and more intense orchestral instruments. If I had to pick a song to represent the anime, it would be this one. The story is kicked off by the tension of Yona’s father being killed, then it goes into the eventful, adventurous search for four legendary dragons to aid Yona on her journey, and ends with the climax of Yona confronting her harsh reality (I would be more specific, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the show for anyone who decides to watch it).
I really like this track because of how capable it is of evoking the feelings I had in the moment of a memorable scene of the show, and I think anything that moves a person is something that’s really important. I also love how well it encompasses all the important emotional elements of the show, since I find it particularly hard for a song, let alone a song without lyrics, to be able to convey to the listeners what the composer wants them to feel.
The second song from Yona of the Dawn—and the last song I’ll be talking about today—is called “Yona of the Dawn (Akatsuki no Yona) – Melancholy Version.” It’s probably my favorite anime soundtrack piece of all the ones I’ve heard, which is a huge statement in itself, considering I’m the most indecisive, incapable-of-choosing-favorites person on Earth.
I think it’s titled “Yona of the Dawn” because its melody is the recurring anthem that’s played throughout the entire anime. It starts off with a simple, guitar-plucked melody that already strikes a chord in my heart before the clear, fluid sound of a woodwind instrument is introduced. Backed by more orchestral instruments, the guitar and the woodwind really compliment each other because the harmony sounds a lot like ancient Japanese or Chinese music, but the instruments themselves give off a more modern feel than traditional.
I always associate this song with the image of a sunset in my mind, and it gives me some sense of nostalgia when I think about how far Yona has come on her journey in the show.
Although it’s only been a little over a month, I hold this song really close to my heart, and I always find myself stopping in the middle of whatever I’m doing to fully appreciate it when it plays. It gives me a calming peace of mind, but makes me feel peaceful and wistful at the same time.
So why did I talk about all of this? When I said I wanted to “break the barrier between the readers and myself,” I really wanted to be able to let you all recognize what goes on in my mind, see what kind of things I take inspiration from, and understand the feelings I experience in my heart from different types of music. Rather than presenting to you my finished works, I wanted to take you all along behind the scenes and really see what goes into my music.
Your Lie in April sparked some sort of drive within me to get back into the groove of playing piano (which is incredible enough in itself), and the songs I picked out from Yona of the Dawn reminded me to play around with different instruments, because certain sounds I would never have thought to use in a song may end up being really useful. One thing I noted was that for my next work, I should try focusing on simpler background music; all four songs I talked about in this post were limited to a few instruments, but had no problem stirring up emotions that were anything but simple.
I don’t think making music is just writing lyrics and making beats. I think making music is about tying in bits of your life into what you create, and that includes what moves you, what inspires you on a daily basis—not just what you can come up with in the moment in one sitting. People with sharp noses are really sensitive to different aromas and scents they’re around, artists take more notice of the visual aspects like textures and colors of whatever they’re seeing, and I, as a musician, really value the sounds I hear and the music in my daily life. This is why even though I’ve only seen a couple animes, I found the soundtracks important enough to me to write an entire post about them.
The songs I talked about in this post got my creative juices going a lot, and also made me reflect and recognize what kinds of effects I wanted to have on people with my music. I hope my listeners will be able to feel in their hearts what I wish to convey from my own, and I hope everyone who hears my music will be able to remember and understand the sincerity I put into it.
With all that said, I’ll put a wrap on the post here, as it is a bit lengthier than my typical post. But hey, this just shows you a little bit more about who I am—I’m a talkative person who’s very wordy when I really want to communicate something, and I put a lot of value on things in my life others may label as trivial (like the soundtrack of an anime). If you’re open to trying new things and have never given anime a chance, I definitely recommend watching Your Lie in April and Yona of the Dawn, especially if you enjoy compelling, dynamic characters and magnificent animation art. Maybe you’ll feel the same way I felt, and fully understand what I mean when I say the soundtrack and music really leaves a mark on your heart.
(Just a little note, though—if you do decide to watch the animes, I recommend watching with English subtitles rather than an English dubbed version. I always find the voices of the voice actors in the English cast a bit… awkward.)
Until next time! Peace out, girl (or boy) scouts. 🙂
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