+
Most Shared

There's a reason so many people love 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow.' A songwriting expert reveals it.

A composer breaks down a simple but fascinating interplay that made this song a classic.

Why did "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" get into our hearts and stay there?

It's not hard to see why "The Wizard of Oz" was a smash hit back in the day. It was one of the first films to use color and had major star power with a young Judy Garland.

But one of the movie's most iconic moments is more about sound than sight, and we're about to look at this song in a way you probably never thought of before.


Get ready for four new revelations about one old song.

"Words make you think thoughts, music makes you feel a feeling, but a song makes you feel a thought."

One man can tell us why this song wedged itself deep in our collective psyches.

This is Rob Kapilow, composer and explainer of deep musical secrets. His gesture is practically inviting us to enter his mysterious world of composer-y know-how. How can we resist? (Image by Peter Schaaf, used with permission.)

PBS Newshour's Jeffrey Brown interviewed Rob Kapilow, a composer who developed a program called "What Makes It Great," which explains why musical pieces effect the responses they do. Why does this song tug at our heartstrings?

1. Kapilow says it just comes down really to two notes at the beginning and then two musical concepts that repeat through the melody.

It's a real "aha" moment:

Jeffrey Brown: "'Over the Rainbow,' right, one of the most — everybody knows this song, but why? What makes us know this song?"

Rob Kapilow, composer: "You know, amazingly, the answer to that starts with the very first two notes. In this famous opening idea, there's really only two ideas. One of them, I call 'leap.' The other one, I call 'circle and yearn.' And it's important."

These are those two opening notes he's talking about (from 0:11-0:15):

2. Then Kapilow goes into more details about the concept of the "leaps" and "circle/yearn."

Those two notes you just listened to were the first example of the leaps. That first one was the biggest. Low ("some") to high ("WHERE"). Those leaps get progressively smaller the next two times — on "way UP" and then again on "there's A." You're singing those to yourself right now, aren't you?

The circle/yearn part is explained as if the low note (a low C) represents her feeling stuck in Kansas and the high note (a high C) represents her belief in a more wondrous place:

Kapilow: "So, you start on a note, you circle back to it, and then you yearn. That's it, circle and yearn. Now, there are three [instances in the verse]…"



Brown: "And the question is, what are we — what is she — yearning for? And at the end, we realize, right?"


Kapilow: " Yes, exactly. She's yearning for high C. She's yearning for high C."

3. Now Kapilow explains the crucial moment in the song where its original composer, Harold Arlen, captured the sense of longing.

Kapilow: "Now, it's really the harmony that makes it so exquisite. You know, Yip Harburg called this a song of yearning. So, here's what she's yearning about. He could easily have written kind of a cheery accompaniment to 'way up high,' like this."

To understand what he means, you really have to hear it — watch the part at 2:50, because it would have absolutely changed the whole feeling of the song.

It's clear that cheery would never do in this context, so the notes Arlen chose really sealed our fate — we were destined to love and relate to this bittersweet song.

4. And then Kapilow goes on to explain how the final leap at the end signifies Dorothy's transformation — which is worth sharing with all your "Wizard of Oz"-loving friends.

He says that the final notes are what brings her to Oz (in her heart) after the wistful circling and yearning in the entire song. He notes how the final line — the part with "happy little blue birds fly" — mimics the melody of the B section ("troubles melt like lemon drops") instead of closing out with the main melody.

Kapilow: "She would have been home, but she would never have gone to Oz. In a beautiful moment — and this is a fantastic moment — Arlen decides to bring back the middle of the song, but in the orchestra. There's a beautiful quote from Yip Harburg, who wrote the words. He said, 'Words make you think thoughts, music makes you feel a feeling, but a song makes you feel a thought.' And you can feel her thinking. Just the orchestra. Then she comes back, just like in the B section, 'If happy little blue birds fly.'"

Judy Garland (singing): "If happy little blue birds fly beyond the rainbow, why, oh, why can't I?"

Kapilow: "One last rise. 'Why, oh, why,' and where does she finally get to? Oz. From low C to high C, from Kansas to Oz, from reality to fantasy, and her transformation is complete."



[youtube http://www.youtube.com/embed/PSZxmZmBfnU?rel=0&start=102&end=132&autoplay=0 expand=1]

Dorothy's song is the first fortuitous sign we get as the movie is getting started that says:

"Hey — this person is going somewhere unimaginable that will change her in wonderful ways."

Maybe that's why we all love it. We all want that for ourselves, too.

If you enjoyed this new way to look at an old song, maybe your Oz-loving (or music-obsessed) friends will, too.

This article originally appeared on 04.15.19


On May 28, 2014, 13-year-old Athena Orchard of Leicester, England, died of bone cancer. The disease began as a tumor in her head and eventually spread to her spine and left shoulder. After her passing, Athena's parents and six siblings were completely devastated. In the days following her death, her father, Dean, had the difficult task of going through her belongings. But the spirits of the entire Orchard family got a huge boost when he uncovered a secret message written by Athena on the backside of a full-length mirror.

Keep ReadingShow less
via Pixabay

A beautiful Christmas tree lot.

Hallmark has produced more than 300 holiday-themed movies over the past decade and they tend to be romantic comedies or stories about families that reunite around Christmas. The movies are meant to be comfort food on a cold winter’s night, so no one seems to mind that they’re filled with predictable plot lines and cliches.

Hallmark movies have become a big part of America's holiday tradition. Last year, more than 80 million people watched at least part of one.

Each film usually begins with a single woman in a small, quaint town having a meet-ugly or a meet-cute with her love interest. In a meet-ugly scenario, the boy and girl are either adversaries in a cause or inadvertently injure one another in a freak accident. If it's a meet-cute scenario, the two randomly run into each other and have an instant connection.

Regardless of how they meet, the couple falls for each other and then a major misunderstanding drives them apart before they are brought together again

Writer Shyla Watson went Christmas tree shopping on November 27 and inadvertently found herself in a situation that resembled the first act of a Hallmark holiday movie. Her tweet about it quickly went viral, receiving more than 72,000 likes.

Keep ReadingShow less
Photo by Roméo A. on Unsplash

Cat hilariously rats out owner in front of the landlord.

Maybe it's a right of passage into adulthood or maybe some landlords discriminate against pets because they can't tell people kids are forbidden in their residence. Either way, just about everyone has lived in a rental home that didn't allow pets. Most people just abide by the rules and vow to get a pet when they find a new home.

Some people, on the other hand, get creative. I once came across a post on social media where someone claimed their pit bull puppy was actually a silver Labrador. But one woman on TikTok was harboring a secret cat in her rental that had a no pets policy, and either her cat was unaware or he was aware and was simply being a jerk.

My money is on the latter since cats are known to be jerks for no reason. I mean, have you ever left something on the counter for a few minutes? They make it their mission to knock it on the floor. So I fully believe this fluffy little meow box wanted to make his presence known in an effort to rat out his owner.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

The Gen X grief when a 'Sesame Street' character dies is so real

We're the first generation to have educational programs molding our core memories.

Bob McGrath, one of the original "Sesame Street" actors, has passed away.

"A loaf of bread, a container of milk and a stick of butter."

It's a simple, repeated line from a one-minute sketch, but as a Gen Xer raised on public television, it's one of thousands of "Sesame Street" segments etched into my brain. Such memories still pop into my head at random times, clear as day, well into my forties. Bert singing about his oatmeal box while playing it like a drum. Kermit lamenting that it's not easy—but it is beautiful—being green. Buffy Saint-Marie breastfeeding her baby and explaining it to Big Bird. Mr. Hooper—the sweet, bow-tied man who ran the Sesame Street corner store—dying.

I was 8 when Mr. Hooper died. It was a big deal. I rewatched part of that episode recently to see what I'd think of it as an adult. The "Sesame Street" gang of 1983 handled it masterfully, helping us all process his unexpected death through Big Bird's own experience of learning about what it means to die.

Keep ReadingShow less