Stephanie Bermudez    [B+    JMS]

Honors 125: Arts in New York City

On October 2nd, I was walking through Union Square around 7pm, and came across a crowd. The event consisted of about 20-30 people, of varying ages and nationalities, and took place in front of the park. They were all gathered around a Danish band called Brothers Moving. Photos were taken, videos were recorded, and money was tossed into a black guitar case. Within half an hour, the crowd doubled, the mood elevated and there was excitement all around, but composure at the same time.  The genre of music they play is acoustic, folk rock, and bluegrass. However, when asked about their genre, they reply with “acoustic gypsy rock from Denmark.”

I heard three of their songs—“Sorte Sigojner,” “Roxanne,” and “You”—and found each to be distinctively different from anything I had ever heard before. In particular, their cover of “Roxanne,” which utilized a Cajón drum box and a kazoo. “Roxanne” is program music, because it has a story accompanying the song, and is in song form because it has verses and a chorus.  The song, originally written by Sting, is a piece that tries to discourage a woman from prostituting herself. In terms of melody, the song is repetitive and rigid in beat and in minor key, which adds a more haunting touch to it. Its melody is one of those catchy ones that can be stuck in someone’s head for days. The song is choppy and agitated as the lead singer pauses to allow the others chime in with a growly, throaty “Roxxx-anne.” The song itself sounds remorseful. It’s a mixture of disgust—at her prostitution—and anger at her not being his for the taking.

The rhythm of the song has a regular beat and, like the actual lyrics that try to persuade Roxanne, is insistent. It’s constant and I found myself easily and quickly tapping my foot in response.  The piece develops through repetition and solo vocal augmentation—especially in the beginning and in the pronunciation of Roxanne.

The song’s harmony, the vertical aspect of music, is rich with development, especially with the bass solo. The bass solo is ripping on the theme and doing some variations. The song is dissonant, however the dissonant chords move to more stable, sweeter sounding chords. It is as if the melody wants to move away from it because it’s unstable. It wants to move towards something sweeter, like the second time they repeat the chorus.  The song involves several lines that overlap especially when the lead vocalist and backup vocalist combine. The former is on melody, whereas the latter is harmonizing against the melody.  The counterpoint is clearly heard, however it is easy to decipher what each is saying, as there are only two voices.

The tempo is slow and agitated, but constant. However, the pace picks up with the kazoo solo, goes back to being slow, and once again picks up. The dynamics start out soft, but get louder. The piece is contrasting and increasing.

The band played rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass, vocals, the Cajón drum, and the kazoo. In contrast to the Police’s version of “Roxanne,” Brothers Moving add a more folk feel to it. The rhythm guitar in the song emphasizes the down strum and provides rhythm and beat to the song. Bass guitar is like a bridge between a rhythm guitar and drums. It’s very low—like a drum—yet maintains a similar melody to that of the guitar.  Another instrument, and one of the most peculiar one, was the kazoo. The kazoo was played during the end and was very unexpected. The lead guitarist didn’t blow into the instrument, but rather talked into it. This provided the song with a more authoritative sound and mimicked the rhythm of “Roxanne.” Throughout the song, the Cajón drum is played in the background. Cajón, which is Spanish for box, is a small to medium wooden box with a hole on the one of its sides. Slapping the front of the box produces music, but in the case of “Roxanne,” the musician plays it gently and in rhythm to the song. Instead of intensely hitting the box, he takes cues from the other band members and gently taps on top and front of the box.

The instruments, to me, evoke the idea of a dry place, like a desert. The song is played in a minor key, so everything seems dry, and it’s as if the singer’s raspy voice begs to be quenched with water. However, though a desert may be thought of as arid and stifling, it still maintains its liveliness—like the song.

Overall, the experience was good and I’m currently keeping up with them through their Facebook fan page, where they list their upcoming gigs. I usually don’t watch street performers for more than 10 minutes, but their music was catchy and innovative. Even though it was chilly and I was tired, I liked their sound enough to stay. I became aware after a few minutes that I was tapping my foot to the beat and had not been aware of the physical setting. However, when I looked around I noticed the various and distinct faces. At the end of each song they paused and members of the audience would step forward and put money in their open guitar case. If they donated more than $10, they received a CD. However, everyone took one of the band’s business cards, which contained a link to their fan site, as well as their contact information.

The experience was interactive and personal because they did not use microphones or amplifiers. Additionally, the kazoo player came forward and played his instrument while going around in circles. The most memorable part, though, was when a 5-year-old boy moved forward and took his place among the band.  Unfortunately, his five minutes of fame ended with tears when his parents carried him away in direction of the train station. Nevertheless, his antics provided the crowd with comic relief.

In terms of art, I noted how integral the choices of the performers are on a piece. Each instrument was carefully chosen to reflect and convey the band’s feeling. When I first saw one of the band members sitting on the Cajón box I thought it was because he just wanted a box to sit on. However, in retrospect, the drum was chosen because it added a rhythmic aspect to their music and made it more harmonic.

The sounds produced through these chosen instruments elicited different responses. Through the lyrics I had a lot of visual imagery and imagined an alleyway where a man tries to persuade a woman to give up her occupation. However, in terms of an emotional response, I was more aware of the band, their instruments, and the actual moment to really relate and sympathize with the song. In general, Brothers Moving is able to bring an acoustic medium to bluegrass, folk, and rock. They are able to use their contagious music to not only attract an audience, but captivate them as well.