Regular readers of this blog know that usually I write about a song, and then at the end I include a video of the song being performed, usually by the artist who originally wrote or recorded the music. Because that is how I usually come to a song. I hear it on the radio. I play it over and over again on an LP, or a cassette, CD or iPod.
I connect with the music completely based on what I hear. Images occur to me that illustrate the story of the song or the musicians performing the song. The song becomes complete for me, and then maybe later I see the artist perform the song live in concert, or I see them on television or in a movie, those images are now added to the previously complete picture I had in my mind.
However, in the case of “Falling Slowly” by the Swell Season, I first became aware of the song through the lovely film Once, released in 2007. Once is a story of an Irish street musician, a busker, who falls in love with a woman he meets while performing on the street. He learns she is from the Czech Republic. He learns she plays piano. He learns she lives with her mother and young child. We never learn his name, we never learn her name. They are only ever “Guy” and “Girl.”
Guy is played by Irish musician Glen Hansard, and Girl is played by 17 year old Czech musician Marketa Igrova, and for a time in real life, they were the band Swell Season.
In the movie, Guy and Girl talk about music, and Girl tells Guy that she frequently visits a music store where the owner lets her play the pianos that are on sale during her lunch breaks. Girl wants to hear more of Guy’s music, so she invites him to join her one day on her lunch hour.
They greet the store owner when they enter, and then go towards the back of the store where they find the grand piano Girl plays during her lunch breaks.
There is an almost documentary nature to the entire film. We watch beautiful music being created, we watch a relationship being formed. This scene that takes place in the music store is emblematic of the entire film. Film critic Roger Ebert explained the scene perfectly in his 2007 review.
“He wants to hear her play. She doesn’t have a piano. She takes him to a music store where she knows the owner, and they use a display piano. She plays some Mendelssohn. We are in love with this movie. He is falling in love with her. He just sits there and listens. She is falling in love with him. She just sits there and plays. There is an unusual delay before we get the obligatory reaction shot of the store owner, because all the movie wants to do is sit there and listen, too.”
As the song progresses, they are playing with more passion and more energy, and we can’t help but to think about the store owner, and if anyone else has walked into the store since they began playing. It is not until almost six minutes into the scene that we cut back to the store owner, and watch him react with a little smile and nod. An acknowledgement of the beautiful music being played in the back room of his store. An appreciation of a special moment.
And what makes this scene all the more perfect, all the more powerful, is how the song tells the story of the film about to unfold before us. As he looks at her in the store, as they play this love song together, Guy begins to fall in love with Girl. This girl he barely knows.
“I don’t know you
But I want you
All the more for that
Words fall through me
And always fool me
And I can’t react”
“Falling Slowly” starts with a gentle piano and guitar arpeggio, Classical in nature, and as the song progresses it builds in passion and energy before quieting back down to the simple arpeggio that begins the song. It is a simple structure, but the simplicity serves the song well.
The movie was a hit, and the hit inspired a Broadway musical of the same name, and that too was a hit. I have seen the play twice, and while I enjoyed it very much, there is nothing that can take the place of the beautifully, simply filmed music store scene, and the knowing glance from the store owner that speaks for us all.
I include songs in this blog because they are perfect, well at least, they are perfect to me. Some songs are more perfect and meaningful than others. This song became even more meaningful to me when I recently watched my daughter walk down the aisle to this song being played beautifully on the harp at her wedding just a couple of months ago.
Now that is perfect!
Written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Igrova
Performed by The Swell Season
Released May 22, 2007