Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Most of you know that The WannaBeatles have a drummer who was born in Cuba. This means David Toledo speaks Spanish perfectly well, which also means we have a great opportunity to reach the Hispanic community.

As this blog has indicated, we see ourselves a global group. (see previous blogs about "going global.") But making that a reality means taking a practical step to reach out to the rest of the world. Taking advantage of our built-in bilingual resource is our first step on the path of least resistance. 

One thing we've tried before is translating Beatles songs into Spanish.


As it turns out, David's dad is a professional translator, having been hired for English and Spanish translation for high level government functions. Reinaldo Toledo is a retired Methodist pastor, and studying different languages was part of his preparation.   

David took him the lyrics to "Because," and after a few days, Senor Toledo came up with a beautiful version. 

As most Beatles fans will remember, the first line goes, "Because the world is round, it turns me on." In our Spanish version, that line became "El mundo en su esplendor me inspira mi" which means "The world in its splendor inspires me." 

That line is a good indication of the difficulty of translating a song. First of all, most English phrases cannot be expressed in Spanish with the same number of syllables. Spanish versions of English words and phrases are usually longer. When a book gets translated from English to Spanish, it can add 20 per cent to the length. 

A great place to see Spanish and English compared is at Lowe's or Home Depot. All the signs are bilingual, and most  cases, the Spanish version of the word is longer.

Another challenge is wordplay. John Lennon was making a joke by putting "the world is round" with "turns me on," and there's no equivalent joke in Spanish. What David's dad did was to take the phrase "turns me on," and make it more noble - the splendor of the world inspires me. 

So what we had with "Because" was a beautiful line, in a beautiful language, with too many syllables. That required squeezing together words with the technique called elision. 

Because we were restricted by the specific notes of the melody, we had to squeeze the eight syllables of "El mundo en su esplendor" into six notes. The elision turns it into "El Mun - doen sues plen dor" with "doen" and "sues" each being restricted to one syllable each, although they each contain complex diphthongs.

Here's the sheet music we made (first page only:)

Perhaps we're getting too technical here. Suffice it to say singing notes in tune is one job, and learning how to pronounce a language that doesn't quite fit into the pattern of one's native language is another. But we had David to help us, training us to pronounce "doen" and "sues" as if they were one syllable. He assured us that Spanish speaking listeners would know what we were saying. 

And we went through the entire song that way. And we struggled with the parts for musical reasons apart from the language issue. And we never gained the confidence that we could do it. We rehearsed it repeatedly, and performed it once, at Puckett's in Franklin, and felt we didn't do well enough. That was the last time.

That was a few years ago, and we haven't tackled any other Spanish projects. Until recently. 


We've been working on a version of "If We Simply Love" to be used by Big Brother Big Sister of Middle Tennessee. That's another story unto itself, but for now, what's exciting is the possibility of using a Spanish version of the song.

Our friend Todd Wilson at Big Brother Big Sister made a video for the song, with photos of lots of real life Big Brother Big Sister relationships. It's a natural progression that putting out a Spanish version of the video would make sense for the organization to reach its Hispanic audience. They already have a version of their website completely in Spanish.

David went back to his dad to get help in translating his song into Spanish. Again, certain English phrases couldn't be translated exactly. But the result was a more beautiful song, not only because of the fluid sound of many Spanish words, but also because seeking ways to convey the meaning led to new ways of expressing the ideas of the song. 

For example, the chorus has a line "The moment we start to live from the heart." The Spanish version has "Cuando al comenzar A vivir y amar," which means "When we begin to live and to love," which has more weight and drama to it. 

David said that he had worked with his father on the translation, and that his mother joined in the effort too, so that the result was actually the work of all three of them. For the record, that's David, Maria and Reinaldo Toledo. It felt very appropriate that David had made both his parents part of the process. It emphasizes the organic family nature of what we're doing, in addition to turning out a quality translation as easily as taking a breath. 

After the new lyrics were written, I spent an afternoon at David's studio helping him record the Spanish vocal on the song. There were a few places where elision was necessary, combining syllables to fit into smaller available space, but most of it fit well with the existing melody.

There were several times during the session when David called his dad on the phone, to check on the grammar of a particular phrase. He wanted to add "Yo sey" at the beginning of the second verse, which means "I know." He had to hear from his dad that it would be acceptable. 

There were other creative moments. At the very end of the song, David repeats the title, "Si puede amar." "Si" in Spanish means both "if" and "Yes." There's a common expression "Si, se puede," which means "yes we can," or "it can be done." David thought of adding that to the end - playing on the double meaning of "si" to bring in an additional encouraging thought, which adds further drama to the message - an improvement which was only possible because of the way the Spanish language works. 


We had just finished recording his entire vocal when his wife Alice arrived home after her day of teaching at CPA. We were excited to play it for her. Alice was born in the U.S. to a Puerto Rican mother and bilingual father, so she's completely fluent in Spanish as well. She was able to hear the new song and give it a qualified response.

Alice looked at the bridge, which opens with these two lines:

Por los que hoy llorando estén
Y se preguntan el por que

In English, that means "For those who now have been crying/And those who wonder why."

What she noticed is that "estén" was somewhat forced, when the verb "estan" would have been a more natural way to say it. ("those who cry" rather than "those who are crying" is a rough translation of the difference.) David saw that the verb had been chosen to rhyme (at least mostly) with the "por que" which concludes the following line.

That provoked a brief discussion of lyric options, which led David to consider other lines that might work rhyming with "estan" rather than "estén." He thought of the word "amparo" which means "consolation" and came up with a phrase that works well and rhymes perfectly with "estan:"

 "Y el amparo no les dan"
which means "And no consolation is given to them." Amparo is one Spanish word that has fewer syllables than its English translation. 

David was very happy with the change, since the idea of people being inconsolable had greater emotional depth than people "wondering why."

And so, Alice's observation led to a brief rewriting session, which made the song better.

In addition to that observation about the lyrics, Alice commented on David's pronunciation. In particular, she said that the word "guardo" (in the second line of the song) should not contain a hard "g" and a strong "r." 

To hear her criticize David's pronunciation opened up a new world for me. There are many different ways to pronounce Spanish. Hearing  Alice pronounce" guardo," with its softened consonants, sounded elegant and smooth, while her caricature of David's pronunciation sounded more like Rocky Balboa in the 'hood.

David took her advice, and we recorded that line over again, with David incorporating Alice's suggestions, and improving his vocal.

We don't yet have a final version of the song to play for you, nor of the video. But we do have the lyrics ready for you to read, complete with the latest improvement based on Alice's feedback.

And so, I had entered the Toledo home, and watched a family process produce a beautiful version of a new WannaBeatles song. 

I gained a new respect for Reinaldo and Maria Toledo, for raising their son David, and a new respect for Alice, who helps David learn how to pronounce his native language when none of the rest of us have any clue. 

It gave me a new appreciation for the Hispanic community, and the fact that this country is such a great place to live, and to fulfill one's talents and abilities. There's so much here that we take for granted. It helps me realize how valuable our freedom is to work with David, and to get to know the Toledos.  

It's an important part of who The WannaBeatles are, and how we reach the rest of the world.

Bloggin' Bryan 25Sep2013

1 comment:

  1. Bryan,
    Thank you for the beautiful Blog.
    You really sum up the process beautifully.