Friday, February 19, 2016

KDFC is pronouncing "Varèse Sarabande" three different ways, and only one of them is right

A current storyline on CW's The Flash centers on Jay Garrick moping--and then doing some more moping--over the loss of his ability to run at superhuman speeds. Jay fought crime under the name of the Flash in a parallel universe where their version of Barry Allen, the show's main character, doesn't have any superpowers, so Barry's not the Flash over there. Unless he's actually been the Tony Todd-voiced supervillain known as Zoom this whole time, Jay is too much of a goody-goody to regain his speed with the help of cocaine, so the only way Jay can get his speed back temporarily is to inject himself with an experimental drug called Velocity-6.

I suffer from writer's block all the time, which was never a good thing when I worked in the newspaper biz, and it's the last thing you want to deal with when you're running a blog and you're trying to come up with one or two posts per week. But I don't need Velocity-6 or blow to type out a post at a superhuman speed. All I need is the Bay Area classical music station KDFC.

I recently discovered that having KDFC in my headphones has helped me to finish writing posts. DJ mixes sometimes do the trick, but they can occasionally be distracting, especially when the DJ throws on a beat like the one from Pete Rock and CL Smooth's "The Creator" or the one from Kendrick Lamar's "Alright," and then all I want to do is nod my head repeatedly or do the Robot instead of finish writing. Film and TV score music, the Internet radio format I dabbled in from 2002 to last month, is even more distracting. Like I wrote a few weeks ago, score music comes with too much baggage.

"That kind of music often wrecks my attempt to concentrate on filling a blank space with a paragraph and causes me to start thinking about the action sequence the cue was written for, followed by all the camerawork that went into it... And then my brain starts to shout, 'Yeaaaah, go, Iko Uwais!,' or 'Yeaaaah, throw that shovel hook, Michael B.!,' and my concentration is completely destroyed," I wrote on January 26.

Neither classical music nor instrumental hip-hop come with that kind of baggage, so when I need music to help me to concentrate, only those two genres can get me to start typing (classical music has also helped me to sleep well late at night). So right when I've started turning to KDFC as a reliable place for instrumentals that cure my writer's block instead of distracting or annoying me, the station, which tosses in a few movie themes on its playlists here and there, has been increasing the airplay of film score music.

KDFC chose last June's Varèse Sarabande album Back in Time... 1985 at the Movies, Galaxy Quest composer David Newman's re-recording of film score cues from 1985, as its "CD of the Week." All this week, the station has been spotlighting selections from 1985 at the Movies, which is a solid album from Newman, although I would have swapped out the love theme from St. Elmo's Fire for either a selection from the John Morris score to Clue or a Lee Holdridge instrumental from Moonlighting, and I would have packaged the six-disc edition of 1985 at the Movies exactly like a McDLT, so that "The hot stays hot and the cool stays cool!"

Then all next week, KDFC will join in the countdown to Oscar night and play one theme composed by John Williams per hour as a salute to Williams. He's one of this year's Best Original Score Oscar nominees for his work in Star Wars: The Force Awakens ("Rey's Theme" is especially terrific).

After trying to avoid film score music because it doesn't help as an accompaniment for writing, I should be irritated that KDFC is playing more film score music this month. But I'm not. I'm actually kind of delighted to see film score compositions like "Rey's Theme" receiving airplay on terrestrial radio outside of a college station, although KDFC tends to prefer concert arrangements of film score music over the actual score cues that were used in the films. So that means you won't hear "The Scavenger," the cue that nicely introduces Rey in The Force Awakens, but you will hear "Rey's Theme," the concert arrangement of the Daisy Ridley character's motif. But it doesn't matter; it's just sofa king good to hear such cues on a non-college terrestrial station.

Not everyone agrees.

Anonymous needs to go walk into traffic. That's just stupid talk. As someone who streamed film and TV score music for 13 years, I can't stand people like that.

And as a film score music DJ who would then encounter racist, neo-con film music nerds who think hip-hop, one of my favorite genres, is evil or unworthy to be considered music, I can't stand those people either. They need to go walk into traffic too.

KDFC's Dianne Nicolini and KDFC president Bill Lueth (Photo source: SFCV)
I don't have time to deal with narrow minds. I don't miss the part of being a film score music DJ where I'd be subjected to "Hip-hop causes violence!" or "C'mon, really? Who wants to listen to just the instrumentals? Am I right?" I also don't miss the part of it that involved trying to pronounce baffling-looking names of composers, filmmakers (I would love to hear someone say "Krzysztof Kieslowski" while they're on Novocaine) and record labels. But whenever I encountered such a name, I would always Google its pronunciation. I didn't mind doing that. I never wanted to sound like an imbecile or Alec Baldwin in that SNL "Soap Opera Digest" sketch where he's playing a doctor and he keeps mangling medical terms and university names, like when he says, "There's no class at Yeah-leh Medical School that can prepare you for this!"

But how did I find out about mysterious pronunciations before Google? I simply asked around. One particular name that used to make me scratch my head in the '90s was "Varèse Sarabande." That one was cleared up for me by Jeff Bond, the author of The Music of Star Trek and a film score music expert who has written score album liner notes for everyone from Varèse to La-La Land Records. I simply asked him how to pronounce the inkblot-logoed record label's name while recording with him a phoner for my college radio program.

So that's why it's amusing to hear KDFC DJs attempt to tackle "Varèse" during the week of Varèse's 1985 at the Movies in the spotlight, without even checking its pronunciation. Morning host Hoyt Smith pronounced it as "vuh-reez." Early afternoon host Dianne Nicolini said "vuh-rez" (rhymes with Pez). Afternoon drive-time host Ray White went with "vuh-ray-say."

Only Nicolini is correct. It's "vuh-rez."

I'm glad to see 1985 at the Movies--and film and TV score music in general--receiving this much exposure from the KDFC DJs, but they ought to follow Nicolini's lead. The key to pronouncing "Varèse" isn't hard to remember. It would simply be "It rhymes with Pez."

If movie theaters need bouncers, then classical stations need pronunciation consultants. Who wants to end up looking like Alec Baldwin in the SNL "Soap Opera Digest" sketch? No name is too intimidating for a pronunciation consultant. Such a consultant would always be ready and on call to tackle the predicament of trying to figure out how to say a puzzling-looking musician's name on an album cover. There's no class at Yeah-leh that can prepare you for "Sofia Asgatovna Gubaidulina."


Other film and TV score compositions played by KDFC (from snapshots I took of score music appearing on the KDFC site's playlists)

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