An American in Paris, Beck, Buddy Guy, Cinematic Orchestra, Everybody's Gotta Learn sometime, Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael, Hollywood Bowl, John Williams, Kiss Me Kate, LA Phil, Nat King Cole, Pops, Radiohead, Singing in the Rain, So in Love, Stardust, To Build a Home, You Were Meant for Me
Let’s go back to the Hollywood Bowl for a moment. Over the past 25 years or so, I’ve heard pretty much every type of music one can experience at an outdoor venue – from John Williams to Buddy Guy to Radiohead to the LA Phil. And while they have all been amazing shows, there’s one thing the Bowl does better than anyone else: POPS CONCERTS. There’s something so satisfying about hearing your favorites played by a full orchestra. There’s something so special about that added splash of strings. Granted, not every song is cut out for orchestration. Some songs sound best when stripped down to bare bones – a singer and his piano or guitar.
There’s a time and place for different instrumentation. It’s a choice the composer (or arranger or producer) makes, just like a painter choosing which color to use in a painting. Winds add blues and airy colors. Brass can add cool, piercing like the winter wind, or warm and rich like the leaves of Autumn. And strings are, at least in my (somewhat biased) opinion, the most versatile- adding warm, full sounds or shimmering silvery tones.
There are few things that I find more romantic than a string section placed perfectly inside a song. The very very best example of this is the beloved song Stardust, by Hoagy Carmichael, as performed by Nat King Cole. In more modern songs, though, I would dare anyone to find a more perfect splash of strings than the one heard in the Beck song Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime. The harmonics are my favorite part. There’s also the nearly overplayed Cinematic Orchestra song To Build a Home.
Then there are the old classics. From Singing in the Rain, there’s You Were Meant for Me – with the wonderfully dense string voicing that’s typical of that era. There’s An American in Paris, by Gershwin (with the most romantic bit happening around 9 minutes in). Let’s be honest, pretty much all of Gershwin’s music is romantic and sounds great with strings. From Kiss Me Kate, there’s So In Love. I’m sure I’ve overlooked a million great examples, but I think it’s fair to say that everything is better with strings attached.