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Heavy Metal Minuets

April 24, 2013

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When people ask me who my influences are as a singer, I don’t think they expect my first answer to be Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson.

The first time I heard Iron Maiden, it was something like 11:30 on a Sunday night in 1982.  I was living in Vancouver, BC, and listening to a radio show that played imported heavy metal records.  The song had just been released.  It was called Run to the Hills [click for song].

It was like nothing that ever existed before.

I hopped two buses after school the next day to search for it at an import record shop downtown.  (I’ve already mentioned that I wasn’t like other girls when it came to music.)

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To me, as a singer, Bruce Dickinson is the The One.  How do I even describe his voice?  It’s the perfect voice, to me.  Pitch, perfect.  Tone, perfect.  Powerful.  Dramatic.  Big.  It resonated strongly with me, from the first time I heard it.  I was gobstruck.  I could only hope to ever be such an incredible singer.

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Even when I was a kid, I didn’t just love Maiden for the singing, though.  I spent hours with headphones on, picking apart the layers of each song,, each album.  The instruments, the vocals, the lyrics, the song structures – the whole scope of their music led me down a rabbit hole of musical geekdom.  (I even checked Samuel Taylor Coleridge out of the library.  Oh yes, I did.)

Recently, I started listening to a CD called Anatomy of Evil: the String Quartet Tribute to Iron Maiden.  Though I never stopped listening to Maiden (I am totally listening to Flight 666 as I write this), this CD’s breaking down of the music into different instruments really brought me back to those days of metal geekdom.  Listen to this beautiful version of Hallowed Be Thy Name [click here for original]:

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The String Quartet Tribute brought home to me how akin really good metal/progressive music like Maiden’s is to classical music.  I guess that’s why Bruce Dickinson, with his huge, dramatic tenor voice, is such a perfect fit with Maiden.  The whole thing works together, and it’s brilliant.

It really came to my attention when I was listening to some of Maiden’s newer music.  I have to say, as much as I love me some classic Maiden (I got to see them way back on the World Slavery Tour), I love their newer music even more.

You can really hear the classical influence in this song:

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I pulled this song up for my mentor one day, trying to illustrate the “classical music” point to him.

He smiled and said, “That’s a minuet.”

“What,” I said.

“Listen, it’s in 3/4 time.”  And he counted it for me:  one-two-three, one-two-three…a heavy metal minuet.  I was astounded.

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I found this awesomely cool version from the TUR Orchestra that helps me imagine it, as a kind of gypsy minuet:

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My weird, brief stint as a karaoke host led me to try unusual things on stage to keep myself entertained, and to find out what I was capable of without a guitar.  One of the first things I tried was, of course, Iron Maiden.  And I had a hard, rough time with it.  But that secret desire to actually SING Maiden pushed me to keep at it at home.

I discovered what’s different about singing Maiden from most of the other music I sing:  it requires the entire lung.  Where you have to get down low in your lungs and diaphragm for most singing, singing like Bruce requires it ALL.  It is a full body experience to sing Maiden!  And I mean that.  You really have to make your torso muscles work hard, and you have to move to do it.

I first started really getting it right when I carried a pair of ten pound weights around the Treehouse while I practiced.  I moved in whatever way felt natural to getting the song out, and with the extra tension from the weights, felt the muscles that were needed to do it.  It was an amazing learning experience.  I urge anyone who wants to build singing strength to try it!

Last summer when I was working outdoors on large property, I had an opportunity to crank up my iPod and sing Maiden, in full voice while I laboured, with only the dogs and the horses to hear me.  That was when I finally nailed this song:

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That was also the summer I became able to sing songs I never thought I would be able to sing:  Barracuda, Man on the Silver Mountain, Immigrant Song, Sweet Child of Mine, and many more.

I think singing while you are physically active is a good way to build vocal strength and breath control.  I don’t mean shouting out a Maiden song while you are jogging!  You don’t want to strain your vocal cords.  But doing something physical seems to make a big difference.

I’m quite unashamed to sing while I walk or work.  To me, walking and singing is one of the best ways to gain mastery over the dynamics and rhythm of a song.  (It’s also a great way to learn lyrics – keep a cheat sheet in your pocket but try not to look!)

And really, that’s a lesson that goes all the way back to Bruce Dickinson.  Look at the man.  I mean, LOOK at him.  Have you REALLY looked at him, RUNNING around stage and LEAPING all over the place while he is singing?  He is one fit dude.  Not to mention a world champion fencer.

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To me, Iron Maiden is as much a modern evolution of classical music as of rock and roll.  Their songs are brilliantly played, orchestrated precisely and even broken into musical sections, then overlaid with the most beautiful dramatic tenor around, singing (and acting) a well-written story for the thinking listener.

If there’s one thing most metal fans can agree on, is that Iron Maiden is one of the very best bands there is, bringing the very best music to the world.  And it’s no surprise that, with pretty much no radio play, they still have a mondo-huge following of people of all ages, from all over the world.

There is a Maiden cult, and I’ve been a proud member for 31 years.

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By the way, if you haven’t done so, check out the Canadian-made documentary on Iron Maiden, Flight 666.  It’s possibly one of the most interesting videos ever, even if you’re not a metal fan.  (But I might be biased.)  Also, Bruce Dickinson?  The singer?  Also flies the plane.

If you have the time, check out these two other favourites of mine from Anatomy of Evil:  Wasted Years and Run to the Hills.  Also check Scott Lavender: the Piano Tribute to Iron Maiden.

Up the Irons!  \m/

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Dodie Goldney

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related posts by Dodie Goldney:

Creative Interpreting

The Grass is Always Greener Where You Water It

Guitars and Sunflowers, Part One

Dominion


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