Grant Woolard and the Art of Counterpoint (Musical Musings #6)

Honestly, I had to get another post up, because as much as I like “Night at the Ballet”, I just couldn’t leave that picture as the first one people see on my blog. Anyway, on to the subject at hand. Maybe you’ve seen “Classical Music Mashup”. It was a YouTube video that went viral just over a year ago, by channel name grantwoolard. Woolard has posted several videos on his channel like the mashup, and he very recently uploaded a second classical mashup in the same style as his first one. But why am I talking about him? What makes his “mashups” so great? It’s all about the art of counterpoint, which Woolard, it seems, has mastered. 

What is counterpoint? Well, to explain it in a somewhat easy-to-understand way, counterpoint is how different lines of music interact with each other. Let’s take choir music, for example, and it’s a great one. Choir music is more or less written for four voice parts: the high-singing women (sopranos), the low-singing women (altos), the high-singing men (tenors), and the low-singing men (basses). All four of these voice parts will be singing at the same time in any given piece, but they will all be singing different notes, which makes the distinct choir sound. The four voices won’t always sing harmony, exactly, but they will always work together to support each other. Most of the time, the choral piece wouldn’t make any sense if just one voice part sang their line. It takes all four lines of notes interacting with each other to make the piece what it is. That’s counterpoint, for the most part. All of this is true with instruments and piano music; any music that contains more than one line of notes is employing counterpoint.

Grant Woolard did something unique with this art of counterpoint. He took already-established melodies, single lines of notes that made sense on their own, and he put them together to make a brand-new sound; this is why he calls them “mashups”. The cool thing about his classical mashup videos is that he never alters the melody: whether it be Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”, Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag”, or even Williams’ “Death Star March”, the melodies are exactly the same as in the original piece. The only things Woolard alters are the key, which just makes the song higher or lower in pitch, and occasionally he’ll change the tempo, or timing of the song. But to put two classical melodies together without altering the melody is extremely difficult, but Woolard has done it in a six-minute video… twice. What’s more is that sometimes he puts three or even four melodies in all at the same time, and no historical period of music is out of the question.

Woolard also makes his videos entertaining to watch, as he lays out the sheet music for the melodies he’ll be combining, and then he puts the composer’s name under each new melody he introduces, letting the music notes pop up on the staff as he plays them. And the music notes are represented by the composer’s heads, as demonstrated in the picture above. It’s really high-quality stuff, both visually and musically.

Go check out Grant Woolard for yourself! In addition to his “Classical Music Mashup” and his recent “Classical Music Mashup II”, he has also combined Disney songs and commercial jingles using the technique of counterpoint, in his videos “Disney Mashup” and “Commercial Jingle Powerpoint”. Go listen to this wonderful use of counterpoint on the channel grantwoolard on YouTube. It’s really quite amazing.

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