top of page

05. Syllabic

I had trouble with song lyrics. I have attributed this to being a non-native English speaker but it’s more likely due to my pitch and rhythm dependency. I would “know” a song, its melody and chord progression from intro to verse to bridge to chorus to refrain. I would never know its words even once I was linguistically adept. I had an aha moment when I realized I had to know a song’s syllabic makeup to be able to play it because they are connected to pitch and rhythm. Playing songs on the piano by ear, I always thought it was funny to repeat notes to match syllables when they added little musical significance without lyrics. This was another one of only-me jokes. Some songs sound so awkward on the piano because of the syllabic repetition of words. I would somehow feel embarrassed when my friends wouldn’t recognize my rendition of their requested pop songs. What did they think, that my syllabic playing on the piano would precisely recreate the timbre of a heavily produced pop song?

I fixated on syllabic repetition for this piece. I started with “Hard Day's Night” which starts with six syllables (“It’s been a hard day’s night”) but only three pitches (C B D). “Hard Day’s Night” had me thinking about the BareNaked Ladies' song “One Week.” The song starts with, “It’s been one week since you looked at me,” and because “It’s been a'' and “It’s been one'' are grammatically equivalent, I wanted to overlap these same phrases in my piece. The BareNaked Ladies singer/ songwriter Ed Robertson spits out the lyrics to this song a mile a minute, which I never understood, but I could play/ recite every syllable in pitch. I jokingly call it my ESL brain but I can probably write a separate thesis on transnational multi-essentialism where multiple attributes can exist within various contexts. 

When I saw the movie “Everything Everywhere All At Once” I gasped during the “Raccacoonie” scene. Evelyn, the protagonist played by Michelle Yeo, utters the term Raccacoonie while arguing with her daughter. She means to say “Ratatouille” referring to the Pixar animated movie with the rat chef. It’s a linguistic slip-up, an ESL moment, haha, except that the movie doesn’t leave it there. It creates an alternate universe where Raccacoonie is a racoon chef inside the tall toque of a Benihana-esque teppanyaki cook who flips fried rice to the delight of the customers. This absurd scene is similar to what I’m doing in “Syllabic,” exposing an only-me joke, having everyone live through my (mis)understanding, my experience. The absurdism in my piece is not comical like in the movie. The process of putting together different material to make this piece created moods I wasn’t expecting - melancholy and romance. And I thought well that’s absurd, I was just obsessed with syllables. 

bottom of page