Episode 17: Write My Story


In honor of it being November and many friends (and oodles of strangers) participating in NaNoWriMo I thought it was time we did a more-or-less wordless podcast. With the exception of the opening song and my bits of talking, the majority of this episode is purely instrumental, a perfect backdrop for writing, editing, or doing other things that require more concentration and less someone else’s words in your ears!

In this episode:

Write My Story—Air 5
There’s a Spy in My Martini—David Parker
Rough Sax—Mariners Lament
Lil’ Ray of Bossa—Terri England
Tidalwave—Jeff Bosset
Fire and Ice—John Gilliat
The Apes Party-Ape Surfin After Lunch
More Than Heaven—Ken Kurland
Mysteria—Rick Harris
Rainy Wedding—Dr Sounds
The Spiritual Subplot (Of A Tragic Action-Packed Romantic Comedy)—Shams
Love’s Journey—Donovan Johnson

And that’s us for another episode. We’ll be back in another couple of weeks with more great music to create to!

Sight Reading Your Life

64 Arts

A lot of the music we play, we tend to hear it first. We know how it sounds. We know what we’re shooting for when we got to actually play the piece before us in black and white dots sprinkled along the page.

And then there are the other times.

In auditions. evaluations, competitions, etc., there’d usually be a section on sight-reading. This bear of a task involves basically sitting down cold to a piece of unfamiliar music and playing it straight off. No clue how it’s supposed to sound.

Basically, we’re challenged to fake it. Not only fake it, but fake it well.

There are several reasons for this exercise, at least as far as I can tell and being somewhat removed from the situation these many years:

  1. Sight reading weeds out those who play primarily by ear, those who just follow along, and those whose sheet music skills are a bit lacking. There is, after all, faking it until you make it and out-and-out fraud.
  2. Sight reading shows observational skills: did you see that crescendo in the 12th measure? What about the key change or the coda? Missed that repeat in the second section? When we don’t pay attention to the signs on the road we could find ourselves out of sync or, worse, in an accident. [Talk about dissonance!]
  3. Sight reading shows how we react under pressure. It’s stressful facing the unknown head-on, especially if we’re being graded on it in some way! Calmer minds usually prevail and are less likely to miss those very important musical cues.

The different between a sight-read performance and a practiced one is as obvious as the actor whose still learning his lines, his character, and stumbles over large words and mannerisms that should be second nature if his portrayal is to be believed. There’s a huge quality difference, just like playing notes robotically is miles away from playing them with confidence, inflection and a feel for the piece as a whole instead of one breath after the other.

Of course, both musicians and actors are given at least a moment to go over their pages before diving in. This was especially useful in band competitions when it wasn’t a single piece of music but a composition of many instruments, melodies, harmonies, counterpoints and rhythms that had to be puzzled out in 5 minutes or less. We’d practice even this, on new pieces in the band room, learning techniques to be used later.

  1. Start at the beginning. What’s the key signature? How fast, slow, loud or soft do we start? Does everyone play on the first note or is there one clear leader that we all can then follow when it’s our turn.
  2. Look down the road a bit for changes to the way things began. Notes can change mid-song and usually have a good reason for doing so, to add depth or clarity to a piece or just make things interesting. But missing that change can leave you feeling lost.
  3. Scan the pages for large sections of notes. The more black ink on the page, the harder you’re going to have to work to keep those individual notes straight when you play them. Spend what time you have preparing for the tough stuff, knowing that the basics you’ve already got down.

Sure, in life we’re sometimes handed a situation with nary a moment to think before we must act. But those, I think, are pretty few and far between. It may not always feel like it, but we all have the capability to say to those in front of us “wait, let me look at this a minute” before we act or react. Knowing where the question or problem started is helpful in gauging the original intention or tone. If things changed: when and why? And being able to examine our options and think them forward a bit to try and anticipate any snarls to come prepares us for the moments that true split-second decisions are required.

And they keep trying to take music out of schools…

Powers to Soothe the Savage Beast

64 Arts

Not so much savage, more like ravaged.

Have you ever had a day when you just felt, for lack of a better word, fragile?

I had one of those days a couple weeks ago. Preceded by an emotional roller coaster the day before, I began this particular day uber-sensitive to everything and everyone. I couldn’t stand the talking heads on my podcast list. Voices of coworkers grated on my nerves. Even music was annoying.

Those lyrics, those words, trying to tell me what happened to someone else , somewhere else, at a time when I wasn’t there? Forget about ’em. Because that’s what songs, at least the good ones, do: they tell stories, they paint pictures and those pictures are populated with people and emotions and all manner of things to evoke an emotional response. Happy. Sad. Angry. Lonely. Loving. Dreaming.

I wanted no part of them.

But silence is deafening. Silence gives my mind way too much leeway to ramble in circles around what’s bugging me or what I “should” be doing or feeling or–do you see the pattern here?

If music paints a picture and lyrics populate it like a busy city, what I needed was a landscape.

Enter Pandora.com. If you haven’t heard of this, it’s one of many Internet music services out there. This one uses the music genome project that classifies songs, albums and artists under a variety of criteria so that when you tell it “I like this song by REM” it shuffles through and picks other songs with things in common. You create a station by seeding it with songs or artists and then offer feedback by giving the songs you like (for that station) a thumbs up, and those you don’t a thumbs down. Fairly simple.

For this particular day (okay, it lasted a few days, actually) I cocooned myself in a mix of New Agey sounds of piano and guitar. No vocal music unless it was mostly indecipherable (meaning I let some Enya in, but not much). It’s a small step, but it helped. The music helped settle some of the inner turmoil and allowed me to get on with my work and come back to my usual personality in a much gentler fashion.

If you’re having one of those days, I’m happy to share my Gentle Days Station with you.

Life’s Little Soundtrack

64 Arts

Shakespeare said “all the world’s a stage.” While live theater still gets much respect these days, movies allow for wider exposure of ideas, characters, emotions and the like.

And almost every film we watch has a soundtrack.

Whether we perform for others or just ourselves, I think we all deserve our own soundtrack–even if only we can hear it.

Now, most soundtracks seem to have a balance between songs with lyrics–title songs, a particular ballad if the movie is a romance, that sort of thing–and instrumental pieces or made-for-the-movie scores. In musicals, the wordy bits are, out of necessity, more prevalent while the more serious a movie seems to be, the fewer words show up in the music.

Unless you’re a composer yourself (or really good at sampling and mixing, I suppose), it’s easier to use songs already out in the world to build your personal soundtrack.

In high school (so many music memories go back to school, don’t they?) I was introduced to Yanni. Now, I understand he’s got a bad rap in some circles (not going to try to pigeon-hole those circles, but they also tend to guffaw at John Tesh and his ilk, as well) but I’ve always found his music fascinating. This sort of music is the kind of wonderful, powerful stuff that is the background music to my life and really came in enough flavors (brooding, lilting, frenetic, calm) to fit just about any situation.

The difference between movies and life (well, one of them at least) is that movie moments are planned so the composer knows just when to write in those crashing cymbals or lonesome bassoon. Life, on the other hand, is largely unplanned and we’re often left adding music to the moment after the fact. Unless, of course, you just happen to keep a handy playlist for all occasions at hand and have really fast reflexes.

Still, some moments are planned. Weddings are a good example of a life-moment that can be scripted and scored (to an extent). I’ve heard it’s not uncommon to pick a particular song or album to listen to during childbirth. Parties can benefit from a good amount of background music to enhance or lead the theme along.

And then there are private moments. Maybe you have one of those coming up this weekend for Valentine’s Day?

Let’s face it. As “sexy” as some songs purport to be, when you’re in the moment some of those lyrics can get just a little cheesy, setting off a case of the giggles or just ruining the mood altogether. Prevent that by sticking to instrumentals, folks.

My top suggestions for private moments (of all sorts, really, not just Valentine’s lurve sorts)

Yanni’s In My Time; a great album in total, lots of lilting piano, but my absolute favorites would be “Before I Go” and “Felitsa”

Armik’s Rain Dancer; flamenco guitar, a mix of smooth and fast songs, good for more playful evenings or a salsa feel; were I making a mix specifically for romantic purposes, I’d use “Concierto de Aranjuez” and “Golden Palms”

Tomas Michaud’s New World Flamenco Jazz; the first time I heard “French Kiss” it caused an immediate, involuntary gasp as a shiver ran up and down my spine in the best possible way; “Winds of Time” and “Eyes Like the Moon and Stars” are also favorites for the same reason

You can thank me later. Just not specifically. That might be kinda squicky.