RENT, the Musical

A playbill from the Original Broadway Cast of RENT.

RENT, the musical by Jonathan Larson, is one of my favorite musicals of all time. I’ve listened to a lot of musicals—and at this point, I can’t really name them all. But RENT makes it near the top of my favorites, because of its music, plot, and beautifully fleshed out characters. 

RENT tells the story of a group of starving artists living in Lower Manhattan’s East Village, from 1989 to 1990. During this period, the HIV/AIDS epidemic was wiping out thousands of people not only in the US, but all over the world. It was a devastating epidemic, and even today, around 35 million people have passed due to HIV/AIDS since 1981. This epidemic plays a huge role in the story of RENT, as different characters—Roger, Mimi, Angel, and Collins—are living with it, and one of them eventually passes away during the musical. 

The main characters include Mark, a filmmaker; Roger, his roommate and a musician; Mimi, a dancer at the local club; Angel, a drag queen and performer; Tom Collins, a professor; Maureen, a performer and actress; and Joanne, a lawyer and Maureen’s partner. All of them struggle to achieve their dreams, and this musical shows the struggle and the cost of wanting to achieve those dreams. RENT shows the discrimination and the stigma that surrounded HIV/AIDS during this time. This same stigma caused the real life deaths of so many people around the world. A disease that could’ve been stopped and prevented sooner, wasn’t, all because of discrimination. And the cost? Countless human lives. 

This is what Jonathan Larson set out to do when he wrote RENT. He lived in the same village the characters lived in, and he wanted to put out something that people could relate to. He based the experiences of the characters, especially the ones living with HIV/AIDS, on some of his own friends. Although, this was very controversial and experimental at the time. He wanted to write a rock musical, and those were rare—even never done before. It took him so many years and work to complete RENT and eventually have it produced and performed. The most heartbreaking thing about it all is that he passed away the night RENT was going to be debuted. He put in all his work, and never got to reap the fruits of his labor. 

But even so, RENT continues to be one of the most beloved musicals in the world, and a classic. So many productions have been performed around the world, and its been translated into so many languages. It also became a movie in 2005. The reason why RENT became so popular and beloved was because it was so real. You could feel the pain these characters were facing, you could relate to their loss, and you could relate to the joys they experienced together. The message RENT is trying to tell us is that no day is promised. No day is promised, and we need to cherish our lives with the people we love, and that is such a beautiful statement. 

No day but today!

Another Day, from RENT

-Claire C.

Music Genres?

In modern society pop music appears to be the most mainstream and popular style of music to listen to. Especially in the younger generations artists such as Ariana Grande, Charlie Puth, and Billie Eilish are some of the most played artists. Though I personally like some pop music, most songs are overplayed and extremely repetitive to one another. As another option, I will be describing some of my favorite songs, artists, and genres to listen to.

Though it is quite underrated in the modern United States, jazz music is very satisfying. When studying or doing homework lyrics often distract students, but jazz is a great substitution. The music always contains great rhythms and crazy solos that leave you wanting to listen more. I personally have listened to jazz for many years and I know finding a place to start is one of the hardest parts. Paul Desmond’s “O Gato” is a bossa nova tune that is soft but yet addicting to listen to. Some of my other favorite players are Charles Mingus, George Bensen, Wes Montgomery, and Sonny Rollins. Their pieces have varying styles of jazz like bossa nova, big band, swing, and bebop. If you are looking for a nice upbeat song Charles Mingus’s “Moanin’” is a great tune to get your feet tapping. Though jazz is the backbone to all music today, it is often overlooked for more modern pieces. But if you analyzed songs today, they all have remnants of jazz written all over them.

Your Name (album) - Wikipedia
This is the album cover to “Sparkle” by RADWIMPS

My newfound favorite type of music as of now is japanese music. In modern society younger generations have been introduced to anime, a japanese style of television. Simurally this is how I began this new area of music. Without prior knowledge I would never see myself listening to Japanese music but now some of my favorite songs originate from openings and ending animes. My personal favorite artists are called RADWIMPS, lots of their songs are soundtracks to popular anime movies like “Your Name” or “Weathering with you”. Not only that but they have beautiful album covers that are card to ignore. Their songs included “Stick Figure”, “Cocoronoaca” , “Sokkenai”, and “Sparkle”. I would seriously recommend these songs, Japanese music in the United States is quite underrated and is not overplayed. Similarly they are great songs to listen to while doing work, since the lyrics are not in English and therefore can not distract you. If you are one of the many people that enjoy watching anime I would seriously recommend researching the openings and closings of your favorite shows as an introduction to Japanese music. 

Lastly I would like to introduce some funk bands that I enjoy. Funk is one of those styles that is always there but never that popular or mainstream. As far as modern bands go, Vulfpeck is my favorite. They combine jazz and modern rock to create some funky tunes. My favorites include “1612”, “Tesla”, and “Back Pocket”. They have great bass lines and drums that just get your head bopping. Vulfpeck has great wind players along with a rhythm section that will blow your mind. Personally I believe that Vulfpeck’s live shows on youtube are even better than their studio recordings. If you ever need some music to vibe to when you feel down or lonely, never underestimate the power of funky music.

-Lilly G.

Intro to Guitar!

With the more free time that has opened up due to quarantine it is the perfect time to find something you enjoy to fill the time. I recommend learning the basics of guitar. If you enjoy any style of music there is bound to be a guitar part somewhere within the piece. The awesome thing about this stringed instrument is once you understand the basics you can learn any song you want with a little bit of practice. Stay tuned to hear some basic tips for getting started on your music journey!

When you pick up a guitar for the first time the first thing going through your head is most likely what are all of these pieces. Right below I have a picture that shows the different parts of the guitar. If you are right handed the fretboard and neck is where you put your left hand while the right goes over the body. If you are left handed it is the opposite, there are actually left handed guitars that are made for any left handed players so keep that in mind when finding a guitar. But, it is not necessary, my brother was left handed but learned on a right handed guitar and never used a left handed one, it is all up to preference. 

As seen in the picture above there are 6 strings that stretch across the fretboard. From top to bottom, or thickest to thinnest, the notes are E A D G B E. An easy way to remember this is by remembering the expression Eddie Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddie. If you noticed there are 2 E strings. The difference is the first one is a low E while the last one is a high E, meaning they are a whole octave apart from each other. Memorizing these string names is very important when you’re starting to play guitar. 

For beginners I recommend starting on an acoustic guitar so that your fingers can grow accustomed to the thick strings before playing an electric guitar where the strings ate thinner. Many do this so you can build calluses on your fingers as you play. If you start and notice that it hurts everytime you touch the string, that is normal!!!!! After several weeks your fingers will grow calluses that make  any pain disappear. 

When you pick up a guitar the first thing you need to do is tune it. On a guitar the pegs at the end of the guitar is what tunes it. For starters notes can be flat, sharp, or in tune. When it is flat or sharp the notes will sound off and distorted which is why it is important to tune it first. As a tuner I would recommend the “GuitarTuna” app available on app stores. This app will provide a visual representation of whether or not the guitar is in tune each time you play a string. Linked down below is a short and simple video to be used as a visual of how exactly to tune a guitar. 

Instructions on how to tune the guitar are readily available on YouTube!

Music History 101: Harry Styles

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JULY 18: Harry Styles attends the “DUNKIRK” premiere in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

Harry Styles. That’s it. That’s the article. 

You may be wondering how this international heartthrob became so famous, so much so that the mere mention of his name gets everyone talking. Well, let’s take a step back in time and examine all his success, his failures: his history. 

Styles was born on February 1st, 1994 in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, England. As a young adult, he formed his own boy band called White Eskimos, where they won best band at their school. His childhood consisted of working at his local bakery, attending school like the average U.K. teen, and spending holidays with his family. 

At just sixteen years old, he took the stage for the first time as a contestant on the widely popular British show, The X Factor. He auditioned using the all too famous, “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder. Unfortunately for Harry, he didn’t make it to the second round as a solo artist, but fate had other plans for him. Simon Cowell, one of the judges on the show, was astonished by his performance, and instead put Harry into a group, a boy band for that matter, with four other contestants who also auditioned as solos. These contestants were Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Louis Tomlinson, and Liam Payne. 

One Direction, as they were soon to be known as, became one of the most successful and influential bands of the decade. Their hits included, but are not limited to “What Makes you Beautiful,” “Story of My Life” and “Drag Me Down”. The group went on a hiatus in late 2016, and ever since then, the ex-bandmates have been focusing on their solo careers. 

Styles, with only two albums released, has had hits of all kinds. His music genre speaks for itself: a hint of 70s with a hue of rock. Individually, he is known for singles such as “Sign of the Times” and most recently “Watermelon Sugar” and “Adore you”. 

Just last week, the global sensation snatched his first win at the Grammys. “Watermelon Sugar” won best pop solo performance at the award show. Barely ten minutes before that, he opened up the show, with a dazzling and impressive performance of, you guessed it, Watermelon Sugar. 

At the award show Styles decked out in all Gucci. His black leather jacket and pants complimented his green boa, that sure made a great deal of his fans go crazy. 

#ProudOfHarry was trending all night, and so was his performance. Who knows, maybe this’ll kick start the beginning of a new era: one filled with green boa’s and sweet, tasty watermelons.

-Haana F.

Music Review: love is not dying by Jeremy Zucker

Often, when listening to music, we tend to only listen to a few songs from one album, but I find that listening to the entire album from start to finish is much more impactful.

I recently listened to Jeremy Zucker’s newest album, love is not dying, and I found that the album, as a whole, is a touching story. The concept of the album isn’t particularly new, as it’s a glimpse at the rollercoaster of love, but the approach that Zucker takes in this album is original and creative—the album is almost like a timeline of phases of a relationship.

There are thirteen tracks in total from this album, which if listened to in order, transition right into one another. The transitions are probably the most well-known aspect of Zucker’s album, however, there is much more to it.

The album starts out with a forty-second track called “still,” which is an intro to the entire album. Next to his apartment in Brooklyn, Zucker samples the everyday sounds of life (birds chirping, a church choir, etc.), which crescendo slowly over the course of the short intro. Zucker says in an interview for Genius Lyrics that “The title came from something that someone said to me once. Everything was moving so fast and everything was so hectic, and this person was like, ‘I just wish we could be still,’ and that phrase really stuck with me.”

Zucker then transitions into a series of songs that represent the ups and downs of a relationship.

The third track, “somebody loves you,” is the start of a relationship. Zucker, through Genius Lyrics, says that the song is about someone he met online and really connected with, but knew that it wouldn’t be the same in real life. Though he feels that he loves this person, he knows it won’t last long, and reassures this person that someone else will love them much better.

The seventh track, “not ur friend,” represents a time where the relationship has become toxic. Using a rhythmic beat and a catchy melody, Zucker explores the concept of cutting someone toxic out of a person’s life and being better for it. He elaborates, “It’s a selfish song, which, in its own way, is a really celebratory thing.”

“not ur friend” transitions right into the next track, “full stop.” The song’s intro is interpolated with a snippet of the pre-chorus of “not ur friend.” The idea behind “full stop” is built right onto the previous track—essentially, what happens after breaking away from someone toxic. Zucker describes the concept as, “Alright, I’ve removed this person from my life, but now what?” The structure is sort of random and nonsensical, as each section of the song is quite different; but somehow it still flows together perfectly. “full stop” is just this complex, spiraling train of thought, which, to Jeremy Zucker, “feels like the sky is falling and the world is crashing.”

The ninth track, “julia,” portrays a point post-relationship where the subject has moved on, and looks back on his relationship without bitterness, finally ready to mentally let go. “julia” was written about a person who many of Zucker’s previous songs were about. According to Zucker, the track was one of the last written about the aforementioned person; as it represents a time of self-realization and closure.

The eleventh track, “always, i’ll care,” depicts a period of time far after the relationship has ended. During the song, through soothing melodies, Zucker sings of the realization that not all of his relationship’s problems were his significant other’s fault. He has moved on completely, and reminisces of memories apologetically, saying he’s still sorry for not being as attentive or responsive as he should have; and promising that he will do better in the future. Zucker concludes that “always, i’ll care” is “me showing how much I care.”

Jeremy Zucker’s love is not dying touches listeners through its gentle tunes. The tranquil sound of poetry shines through in Zucker’s both heartbreaking and heartwarming masterpieces. love is not dying is more than an album—it’s a complete story, calming the listeners with more than just music. This musical story cannot by passed over, being more than just rhyming words set to a tune—it’s an entire story that will completely change the way listeners think of music. Don’t miss love is not dying by Jeremy Zucker; it’s absolutely worth your time.

-Chan T.

Literary References in Taylor Swift Songs

Taylor Swift is undoubtedly a spectacular songwriter and an outstanding singer, but what if she wasn’t? In Vogue’s 73 question interview, Taylor states that if she were a teacher, she would teach English. It’s no surprise that this is the subject Swift would choose, because she’s referenced many literary classics in her songs. Here are some of them:

Romeo & Juliet: It would be hard not to know this one, unless you’re living under a rock of course! in Swift’s song “Love Story” from her sophomore Grammy winning album Fearless, the song follows a romance similarly to that of Romeo and Juliet’s. However, Swift ends the song with a happy ending, allowing the two lovers to get married. The song, Swift said to the Los Angeles Times, was inspired by Romeo & Juliet, and Swift states that “I was going through a situation like that where I could relate.” Though her inspiration from Shakespeare, Swift was able to release a chart topping and timeless hit which peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The Scarlet Letter: Swift references this novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne in two of her songs, one of them being “Love Story” once again and the other being “New Romantics”, a track on the deluxe version of Swift’s fifth and Grammy winning album 1989. In “Love Story”, Swift describes her romance as a scarlet letter because of the fact that it is kept secret in shame with the lyric “Cause you were Romeo, I was a scarlet letter.” In “New Romantics”, which peaked on Billboard”s Alternative Streaming Songs at #5, Swift sings “We show off our different scarlet letters, Trust me, mine is better.” Using the scarlet letter as a symbol of one’s problems, Swift explores the mindset that many people have where they believe that their issues are worse than everyone else’s. So the use of this novel in Swift’s two songs interestingly contrasts one another, as in one, the scarlet letter is a symbol of shame, and the other a symbol of resilience and proud struggles. This interestingly fits the novel’s depiction of the letter “A”, which is at first a shameful symbol which represented adultery, but then was later a symbol of the protagonist’s, Hester’s, strength and ability to endure all the pain she went through. Hawthorne’s novel provided a framework for Swift’s ideas, as she states in an interview, “I was a big fan of a fairy tales growing up, and you’ll see a lot of references to like Romeo and Juliet and The Scarlet Letter, and that’s from my reading.”

The Great Gatsby: Swift makes references to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel in two of her songs, one being from “happiness” , Swift’s 7th track in her 9th album Evermore, and the other being “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”, Swift’s 13th track on her 6th album, Reputation. In “happiness”, Swift references The Great Gatsby in a lyric saying “I hope she’ll be a beautiful fool.” This parallels Daisy Buchanan’s line in the Great Gatsby where Daisy acknowledges that there is no hope for her daughter because of the fact that she is a girl and not a boy. Swift uses the line a little differently, telling her past lover that whoever loves him next is “a beautiful fool.” Swift knows that this next lover will have no luck with this man, and she uses the reference from the Great Gatsby to introduce more context into the song. As for “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”, the ode to Fitzgerald’s novel comes in the first verse, as Swift says “Feeling so Gatsby for that whole year,” while describing an extravagant party scene which she hosts just as Gatsby did. This song explores a very similar theme to the Great Gatsby, both being about how being kind to others makes them skeptical about you. In the novel, when Jay Gatsby throws parties for his guests, generously gifts them expensive things, and is willingly kind to them, they do not seem to appreciate him but rather just speculate about his past and make offensive assumptions about him. Swift, who tried her best to be generous with others, let her friends come on stage with her on tour as a nice gesture, threw parties for them, and got them gifts. However, many of her friends turned their backs on her, and when discussing the song, Swift states “It’s about when people take nice things for granted. Like friendship, or trusting people, or being open or whatever. Letting people in on your life, trusting people, respect – those are all really nice things.”

Taylor Swift is clearly a well read singer and songwriter, as these are just three of many literary references in her 100+ songs. Some more of these include:

Rebecca: “tolerate it” “no body, no crime”

A Tale of Two Cities: “Getaway Car”

Alice in Wonderland: “Wonderland”

The Road Not Taken: “illicit affairs”

Jane Eyre: “invisible string” “mad woman”

All’s Well That Ends Well: “Lover”

-Chan T.

Why a Met on Demand Subscription is Better Than Any Other Streaming Service

Have you heard of the Met Opera on Demand streaming service?! Let’s be real, probably not. But I know many people who have Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime to stream from… so I think this is might interest y’all, teens! It’s award-winning, recent, full length, HD performances from the Metropolitan Opera House. And it’s the best thing ever. Stop using Netflix. Cancel that Hulu subscription. Forget your Amazon Prime password. This is all you need in your life right now. Here’s why the Met Opera on Demand is better than any other streaming service.

1. You Can Learn a New Language

Operas are in English, Italian, French, German, and loads more languages! They have subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, Russian, and Swedish! Opera is slow and repetitive, so it’s a great way to learn languages! If you’re learning German, for example, it might be useful to have English subtitles on an opera like Die Zauberflöte (which side note is a beautiful production… it’s just so pretty to watch, it’s like watching a moving painting). You’ll understand all the German being sung with the English subtitles, and some new vocab might stick in your brain if it’s being sung in a catchy tune over and over. I think learning a language through song is a great way to learn new vocabulary, and get an ear for the language. “Comic operas” like Die Zauberflöte and Carmen even have spoken dialogue. The opera singers’ pronunciation is amazing when singing and speaking!

2. You Can Learn History

Opera loves to take place in ancient times, and tries to be as authentic to the time period as possible! When learning history, sometimes it’s hard to picture the time period. Watching an opera in the time period you’re learning about really helps you picture what you’re learning. Also, many operas are based on true stories. For example, there are three operas about Adrienne Lecouvreur, a French actress who mysteriously died in 1730. Or Boris Godunov, an opera about real events in 1584 surrounding a real Russian tsar. Or Doctor Atomic! It’s an opera about the test of the first atomic bomb. And all of these have full HD videos of the performances! There’s so much history to learn with this subscription.

3. You Can Learn About Books

Reading Shakespeare in school and struggling to picture the action? Well, Met on Demand has you covered! HamletMacbethA Midsummer Night’s Dream, and more are full-length operas that come with this subscription!

Der Ring des Nibelungen (although Tolkein denies it) is the basis for The Lord of the Rings. Don’t believe me?! Watch it on Met on Demand to see the shocking similarities.

The opera Marnie is based on the book that inspired the Hitchcock classic of the same name. (the 60s movie where the lady gets stabbed in the shower to strings going EEK EEK EEK).

There is also audio of operas based on The Great Gatsby and An American Tragedy, which are books titled of the same name.

If you look up the operas on the website, I’m sure you can find more book-related stuff.

4. It’s Relaxing

The Met’s performances are beautiful. The performances are visually dazzling, and the singing is world-renowned. It’s a nice thing to just have on quietly in the background. If the stunning video is too much, there are recordings dating back

-Jessica F.

Theater Review: Dear Evan Hansen

The Tony-winning Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen is currently on tour around the US, and I was lucky enough to snag tickets for a show in Costa Mesa. I had already listened to the soundtrack more times than I could count, but I was ridiculously excited anyway. Dear Evan Hansen is one of my favorite musicals of all time, and it is the second musical ever that I have seen live. And, let me tell you, it was a treat.

This musical addresses one of today’s biggest issues: teen suicide and anxiety. The main character, Evan Hansen, has extreme social anxiety, and his therapist tells him to write positive letters to himself. However, when he prints a failed version one of these letters (it was very pessimistic) out in his school’s computer lab, Connor Murphy, a fellow student, snatches it from him and shoves him. Later, the characters find that Connor has committed suicide, and they find Evan’s letter in his pocket. They think that the letter is Connor’s suicide note, addressed to Evan, and them Evan and his family friend, Jared, get dragged into a huge mess of lies and deception. Evan and Jared write fake emails to Connor to “prove” that they are friends, and they start a huge project to spread awareness for Connor’s death. Evan even gets together with his long-time crush, Zoe Murphy, who also happens to be Connor’s sister.

However, nothing this perfect can last, especially if it is based on a lie. Evan’s mom finds out about the Connor project and how he has been spending almost every night at the Murphys’ home. The whole charade falls apart, Evan eaves the Connor Project, and he and Zoe break up. Although he and Zoe do make peace at the end of the musical, I was still in tears throughout the entirety of Act 2.

Although the soundtrack was very differet from the actual live musical, both are thoroughly enjoyable. Dear Evan Hansen is one of my favorite musicals of all time for its storyline and beautifully written characters, and seeing it live is not something that I will ever forget. This musical is truly fantastic, and I would definitely encourage seeing it if possible.

-Arushi S.

Event Review: The Phantom of the Opera

This past month, my band class played The Phantom of the Opera at our Fall concert and must I say, was it a big hit! In order to prepare for the music piece, we also watch the live musical that was performed at the Royal Albert Hall. The “opera” itself is absolutely amazing. The vocals, the dancing, the acting, the string music, and the costumes–everything about the musical was breathtaking.

The musical was based on the 1910 French novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux. It is basically about an opera house in Paris that is essentially “haunted”. As they are rehearsing for an upcoming play, the backdrop wall falls down frightening everyone. What does not help is that the owner of the opera house suddenly retires… Hmm, that seems a bit suspicious does it not?

The main soprano and star of the play Carlotta storms off the stage in fury as the directors do not seem to do anything about it. Carlotta is soon replaced by Christine Daaé, a chorus girl who is taught by her “Angel of Music” who is actually the Phantom of the opera house who lives under the opera house (creepy isn’t it).

Then everything from that point on goes hay-wire. The opera house continues to have suspicious occurrences because of the Phantom which scares everyone off. Eventually, the Phantom gives up terrorizing the opera house, and everyone continues on with their lives and everyone lives happily ever after.. or so they think so.

The musical is absolutely amazing even though it is slightly creepy. If you enjoy fantastic  singers singing to amazing music, I recommend the musical

-Phoebe L.

“thank u, next” Review

Pop singer, Ariana Grande, released a new song called “thank u, next” on November 3. Though I’m not a huge fan of Grande, I love how her song is not only catchy but empowering and eyeopening.

Ariana became engaged to Pete Davidson not long after breaking up with singer, Mac Miller, in early 2018. Miller died in early September from drug overdose and though Ariana was engaged, she still felt the heavy pain from losing someone she once loved. Davidson and Grande broke off their engagement in October but, Ariana embraced the single life, singing about it in “thank u, next.”

In a society that encourages “clapping back” and stirring up drama, Grande’s song is refreshing and genuine. Rather than wanting to throw shade at her exes, Ariana wants to thank them for making her a stronger individual. They all hold an important and special place in her heart because “one taught [her] love / one taught [her] patience / and one taught [her] pain” and now, “[she’s] so amazing.” Without these past relationships, Ariana wouldn’t be the person she is today.

In my opinion, another important aspect of the song is Ariana’s focus on self-love and self-betterment. While her exes taught her love, patience and pain, she also taught herself love, patience and how to deal with pain, which ultimately made her a better person. Grande explains that she found someone else to love, referring to herself as that “someone else.” Grande promises that the self-love she holds for herself is “gon’ last” and she “ain’t worried bout nothing.'”

Self-love and appreciation is a noticeable trend among today’s youth. Feminists advocate strength and success without the aid of men. Mental health victims strive to put their health and progress first. Social media posts remind individuals (whether they are fresh out of a relationship or have been single for awhile) of their self worth and hype them up. Grande’s song advocates this confident self-love and explains that no one should feel ashamed for putting themselves first.

Grande reveals herself as a self-aware, vulnerable and mature artist through this song, which are rare qualities to find in modern day artists. She teaches listeners that not all relationships are meant to last but they all can teach important lessons. Heartbreak can be a negative or a beautiful part of life and Ariana believes that it’s up to the individual to make it positive.

-Jessica T.

Looking for music by Ariana Grande? Visit Hoopla for an extensive catalog of her music free to download with a Mission Viejo Library card.