Music education always & always looking forward.

Changing Meter in Tori Amos's "Spark"

What terrific timing!  Today is Tori Amos's birthday!  And so it's a great day to write about a song that served as an entryway for me to the world of Tori.  I missed out on a lot of the early nineties Tori wonders, which I caught up on later of course, but "Spark" and the album From the Choirgirl Hotel hit me square in the jaw right at age 15.  

Tori is one of my lifetime favorite artists, and as she refers to herself, an acquired taste.  But having eclectic tastes of her own, a church music background, and starting at Peabody prep at age 5, she has a pretty fascinating compositional style.

What more is there to say?  To know Tori is to love Tori -- well, for most people, but when you love Tori, you love her.  I love you, Tori, and happy birthday!!

“Spark” - Tori Amos

Intro: Known more for a wholly devoted fan following than album sales, pianist and singer-songwriter Tori Amos came to prominence in the early 1990s. The song "Spark" comes from her 1998 album From the Choirgirl Hotel and is one of Amos's more well-known singles. The album garnered Amos two Grammy nominations in 1999 and "Spark," as the album's lead single, charted on the American Billboard Charts (both Modern Rock and Hot 100) as well as in Canada, Ireland, and Australia. Amos still continues to record and compose, having moved on in her later career to more classical and musical theater composition, owing a great deal to her early classical training (in part from youth programs at the Peabody Conservatory). Amos has sold 12 million albums worldwide to date.

Analysis: Most of "Spark" is written in symmetrical compound meter (here in 6/8 time), but other measures of compound meter are thrown in throughout the song. The first example of this is a 7/8 measure, eight measures and 0:12 (on this video recording) into the song, and frequently heard throughout the verses of the song. The choruses (first one occurring at 1:01 on this video recording) are steadier in meter, with changes occurring at the end of the choruses ("mean it" at 1:24). The meter changes to accommodate the number of rests that Amos includes before launching into the second verse. This song can serve as a challenging example for students trying to count along and follow the meter.

Considerations for Teaching: Tori Amos is known for her overt sexual and religious themes in her music, as well as non-sensical lyrics (the latter had become a reference point for music critics in the 90s). This song does not contain much in the way of overtly offensive lyrics, although it does mention Judas in a biblical reference, but does include plenty of non-sensical words ("trusting my soul to the ice cream assassin"). The not easily discerned theme of the song (and the album) is the struggle of a woman who has had a miscarriage. The official video is not blatantly violent, but does indicate some violence, portraying Amos as a victim of kidnapping trying to escape, with a drop of blood dripping from her finger at the end of the video. 

Ascending Minor (and then Major!) Sixth in The Beatles' "In My Life"

Uneven Groove: Asymmetrical Compound Meter in Frank Zappa's "Thirteen"