Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Providing a Tune to "If Only" (from Holes by Louis Sachar)

This posting is especially intended for anyone who might be about to do a read-aloud of Louis Sachar's book, Holes, and is in need of a tune to use when the song "If Only" comes up in the text (as it does four times through the course of the book).

I recently took up the task of creating a private audiobook (for usage in a single grade 4 classroom) of the book, Holes, by Louis Sachar.

Not long after I started, I stumbled across the lyrics to a song in chapter 3, a song which the main character's father sang to him. It turns out that the song, with lyrics altered, appears a few more times throughout the book, and it serves a wonderful purpose of binding together the story's narrative, which spans several generations of a "cursed" family. The song seems to serve not only as a leitmotif for the family curse (placed on the family by the elderly fortune-teller who first teaches the song to the family patriarch), but also as a lovely and loving coda at the very end of the story's epilogue (emblematic of the lifting of the curse).

Feeling it vital to sing the song as part of my audiobook (rather than simply recite it), I looked on the Internet, hoping to find a good tune that might have been written for it. Finding none, I spent a few minutes creating my own.

Not having any idea what modality an old gypsy song might actually be in, I simply set the song in f minor (although my usage of a flat sixth in the verse that ends the book apparently qualifies it as aeolian mode) and made sure that the song never resolved to the tonic until the final verse at the book's end. (Yes, the song cannot come to resolution until the curse is lifted!) Then, to give my book a bit of a soundtrack, I recorded a few versions of the tune played on an alto recorder (to serve as intro music for the first chapter, and end credits music after the last). (Confession: I was in such a hurry I did not even break out one of my good alto recorders, instead using a plastic one that was lying nearby.)

Anyway, the following video offers up the various verses of the song, which might be given the title "If Only". All lyrics are by Louis Sachar, from his book, Holes.


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  2. Dan, as a fan of both Holes and audiobooks I'm excited to see you take on this project. You've done a great job with this tune, it seems particularly fitting to the desert. if I can find it I'll share some work I did with a student a few year s ago in a similar vein.