In a recent episode of his vlog The Daily Doug, classical composer Dr. R. Douglas Helvering reacted to Phish‘s “Divided Sky” and—spoiler alert—he likes it.
Dr. Douglas Helvering, aka Doug, has studied classical music for 20 years. He studied to be a classical composer and has worked as a professor of music at the college level, “but one thing that I have missed,” he says in a video explaining his daily music vlog, “is a whole bunch of great metal songs, rock songs, prog songs, anything pop related, most of it I have missed, and so I am taking this opportunity to kind of take a critical eye and ear to these songs to figure out what makes them work, how they tick, and why they continue to move us so and be just these emotional companions as we go on this journey.”
At the start of his Phish reaction video, Doug offers some background on the band and the song, adding that while he isn’t familiar with Phish’s music, he is aware of them and could probably recognize the band if he saw them. He also says that he has been approached by fans of the band requesting a Phish reaction video for months.
For his first entree into the world of Phish, Doug selected the song “Divided Sky” on the recommendation of a fan identified only as Sid. The 12-minute composed epic is suitable fodder for critical analysis with a classically trained ear.
Doug explains that the song was composed by Trey Anastasio and a couple friends during his first year at Mercer Country Community College (“Which is in my backyard, y’all!” he says). “They were doing a drum circle and they looked up at the sky and they noticed that half of it was dark and half of it was light, and being on mushrooms at the time, things just kind of went from there,” he says. He also mentions the song’s connection to Gamehendge toward the end of the video and asks fans to explain the saga to him in the comments.
Doug chose a live version of the song recorded on August 29th, 2012 in Oklahoma City mostly because there is a high-quality video of the performance. After the song’s instrumental opening, Doug critiques the band’s vocal harmony as they belt out the song’s brief lyrics. “Tune it up guys,” he says in the voice of a disapproving choir teacher. This is Doug’s only negative critique of the music, though, and the rest of the composition seems to genuinely impress him.
“This is really tasteful music,” he says. “It’s not overly flashy. It’s not overly virtuosic, but it reveals really tasteful songwriting. Nice inclusion of influence of jazz fusion with just traditional harmony.”
In particular, Doug seems to appreciate Trey’s use of sequential patterns in the song’s chord movement and key changes. “They’re jumping around to a lot of different spots here, but it’s so tastefully incorporated into the licks that they’re playing. It’s very melodic. It’s lovely.”
Throughout the video, he offers musical insight that might fly over the heads of the less musically educated. “They’re going up minor thirds. They’re all major chords that are all a minor third away… cool!” he says.
One of the highlights of the video is when Trey pauses for the crowd to cheer before playing the last note of a phrase. “Come on, Trey, check your battery,” he says, puzzled.
Watch as classical composer Doug Halvering reacts to Phish’s “Divided Sky” below.
Classical Composer Reacts To Phish’s “Divided Sky” – The Daily Doug Ep. 397