Hello, hello from inside the mirror! This is my attempt at a practice session selfie – using a dinosaur of a camera, no less. Notice the placement of the pillow, the height of the footstool and yes, indeed, those comfy tennies. This is my normal performance set up; albeit with a change of clothes and shoes.
However, in the recording studio, my beloved Dynarette pillow makes plastic-y squeaks during my playing as I tend to move a bit from time to time while I’m ‘in the moment’.
This is not a good thing.
Hardly noticeable by anyone on stage or off during a live performance, those squeaks wreak havoc to one’s ears while listening to playbacks of pieces played to perfection in the recording studio.
In my early attempts to silence those squeaks, I tried covering the plastic pillow with a cloth, but it only caused my guitar to slip and slide its way off its intended perch. Bottom line: getting rid of those squeaks meant getting rid of that Dynarette. But – how to replace its much needed function in the positioning of my guitar? Then I remembered an old trick: just hike up the footstool to its highest position. Once done, I quickly remembered why I had neatly forgotten that trick: it doesn’t do anything but complicate playability and crumple up one’s posture.
Back to square one.
Often when I am stumped, I’ll do something mindless, like say, clean house. So, I placed the Prisloeon its stand, turned around from the mirror, opened up our tiny clothes closet and began decluttering.
And what did I come across at first glance, but that pair of black patent leather shoes with the chunky 3 inch heels. That pair of shoes I hardly wear, but keep ‘just in case’.
Let me just say right here and right now, I have never ever been a high-heel type of gal. Especially the tall, pointy-sharp kind. Wedgies, yes. Pumps, yes. And sometimes in an extreme circumstance, ones with chunky 3 inch heels. I’m not the most graceful lady on the planet and even less so while bumble-walking wearing skyscraper footwear.
Here in the South, that’s sacrilegious – Meh! – I’ve always been more of an Earth Shoe Mama.
shoe & footstool setup for recording purposes
shoe, footstool & pillow setup for performance purposes
But here’s the thing: I got this wild idea to slip on that left foot black patent leather 3 inch chunky heeled shoe and try it on for size in tandem with my footstool.
How’s that for a clever classical guitar recording tip?
Like many others, I feel at a loss to shape words into coherent phrases expressing outrage, sorrow, compassion and balanced thinking in the midst of our current flood of events in today’s world.
In light of this, as always, my medium of choice is music…and music as protest/social statement has a long history. Yes indeed I, myself, did the singer-songwriter scene in my early adulthood. Coming of age in the midst of another time of social unrest – I still embrace that genre.
Life goes on and in today’s world, my own current brand of compositional expression tends towards instrumental music. Personally, I feel it allows for individual interpretation, un-dictated by lyrical suggestion.
Which leads me to Max Richter, a favorite contemporary composer of mine.
Some time ago I stumbled upon an interview-article with Max published on Fifteen Questions. This on-line journal engages “production experts, performers, journalists, scientists and composers to discuss what music means, how it’s made, where its limits lie, and why it affects us all so differently and yet remains universal” rather than discussing the private lives of artists or their latest releases.
Here are a few of his thoughts to which I relate and are relevant to the subject of this blog post. I encourage those of you interested in musical composition and the driving forces behind it to read the full interview.
Max Richter – interview excerpts and short musical clip
Music for me is storytelling, so I usually start with an intention or something I want to say. From there I kind of struggle around in the dark, trying to find ways to say that. Sometimes it’s a linear thing where I have an idea and then go about trying to find ways to express it. Other times I will discover things along the way and the idea ends up turning into something else altogether. It’s a mixture between intention and chance.
I think the reason I write music is because I’m trying to say things that I find difficult to encapsulate verbally. Music is its own kind of language and it’s very good at saying things that words struggle with, so that’s often the impulse for me.
The role of the composer has always been subject to change. What’s your view on the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of composers today and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
Music is a social art, kind of like talking, but in a way, music as a vehicle for political critique has evaporated in the last 20 years and that’s disappointing.
I think if we’re talking about something in music, we should be talking about the big things that are worth talking about and those things are: the state of the world; how we live and how we spend our time. That’s something that really drives me. For example, the track The Shadow Journal on Blue Notebooks, for me, is a protest song. It was composed and recorded the week after the first big anti-Iraq war march in London. And even though Czeslaw Milosz’s words are actually describing the Second World War, the imagery he used resonated with me at that particular moment in time and so social comment was most definitely the primary motivation behind this piece of music.
Generally speaking though, people are not thinking about music in those terms anymore, not if you compare it to the counter-culture movement of the sixties, when social commentary was one the absolute driving forces of music. It’s a shame and a lost opportunity in many ways.
Herbie (and the Headhunters) Hancock – interview excerpts and musical clip
And then there’s Herbie. Rummaging through some of my paper files a few weeks ago, I came across a Music and Musicians (June 2010) article I kept on hand entitled, “Herbie Hancock: Imagining the future with a plan, a piano and a vision of peace.”
I first heard of him as Herbie and the Headhunters in 1973 during my second year of college (University of Colorado at Boulder, 1972-1977). I fell in love with his ‘new’ funk sound while listening to his Chameleon on the then ‘underground’ Denver radio station KLZ FM.
Give the piece a listen as you continue reading excerpts from that article.
I wanted to make a global record. Although I’ve recorded with artists from other countries at various times, this truly was about emphasizing global collaboration as a path toward peace. I started thinking about America basically being an immigrant country.
Most of us have ancestors who were not from these shores. So we have these issues that are happening now about immigration and closing the borders and locking things down. I understand the motivation – the fear from 9/11 and terrorists. If you couple that with the insecurity that has come about because of the economic downturn, it’s drawing people into a state of chaos.
They’re trying to find ways to blame something, to put it on somebody. I think it’s time to stop looking outside for who to blame…now is the time to proactively begin the process of creating the kind of future we want for our children and for our children’s children.
How did you translate those ideals into music?
The first thing you have to do is be willing to be open and to embrace cultures outside of our own. The second thing is respecting the cultures and the people of those cultures. What other ways can we show our respect for other cultures? One of them is through language. It’s why I decided that if I truly wanted a global record, the record couldn’t just be in English…
Today’s World – in conclusion
Max and Herbie’s comments reveal the motivation behind much of an (he)artist’s work.
Communication – whether of a personal social statement or expression of some inner emotional response to life’s experiences – is often the result of a composer’s work; intentional or not.
For most musicians, even if performing non-original pieces, interpretational nuances shape one’s own message to be received by the audience as a gift from the heart.
For myself, my Swimming with Swansproject is one such work…to give voice to the fact that those of us who have experienced or are currently in the midst of a period of displacement in a living situation or even state of mind, are not defined by that but live day-by-day and create works of beauty regardless. And share it with all who will listen.
That’s just who we are and what we do – we count, we matter and we make a difference.
“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV
I look forward to sharing the entire article (entitled – Peace Post: Max Richter, Herbie Hancock and Today’s World) with you in the next few days.
“I think the reason I write music is because I’m trying to say things that I find difficult to encapsulate verbally. Music is its own kind of language and it’s very good at saying things that words struggle with, so that’s often the impulse for me.”
Max Richter, composer
“Most of us have ancestors who were not from these shores. So we have these issues that are happening now about immigration and closing the borders and locking things down. I understand the motivation – the fear from 9/11 and terrorists. If you couple that with the insecurity that has come about because of the economic downturn, it’s drawing people into a state of chaos.”
Herbie Hancock, musician
Whether superstition, or relative to some innate programming within the natural world, death often occurs in multiples of three. My own family has recently experienced two losses close together and I hold out hope that the power of three will not prevail in our case.
However, in the musical world, I have a tally of three personal favorites who have passed within weeks of each other. Like my taste, each one is different from the other in genre, temperament and level of public awareness.
Thank-you readers, from newest to first-to-follow, for marking this milestone with me. This year, I’m commemorating my third year blogiversary by offering the following quotes and links to past posts for you to peruse. Enjoy!
Quotes: 3 Very Different Men, All on the Same Page
my original hand-scored “Goats in the Garden at Midnight by the Light of the Full Moon”
I am in the world only for the purpose of composing. Franz Schubert
Dad (Al Bruno) ~circa 1945 (?)
Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn. Charlie Parker
Cesar Chavez in Community Garden-photo by Cathy Murphy
When we are really honest with ourselves we must admit our lives are all that really belong to us. So it is how we use our lives that determines the kind of [wo]men we are.Cesar Chavez
This coming Saturday morning, I leave for my third and quite possibly, last, scheduled trip to Colorado to visit with Dad (note-operative word here is scheduled). With it comes the usual deliberation on what to pack; most of which is rote routine. But those few variable items that require more thought on just how to pack along for the trip are often troublesome.
As a musician, it’s always about the music.
Yes, I have my NOTION software available to me on my laptop if the muse tickles my fancy, or I feel the need to work on compositional works-in-progress. Heck, I’m so old-school I consider it a badge of honor to whip out my staff paper notebook and jot down ideas using archaic graphite dots.
But that’s not what I’m meaning. And I’m not talking about iPod, streaming or even radio station music, either.
I’m talking about how does one pack that part of your essential being that doesn’t fit into a suitcase, in the overhead bin on an airplane, or be safely transported as general baggage without risk or costing a fortune? This common question faces all instrumentalists, yet there is no one-size-fits-all answer to it.
Coping with life – the good, the bad and the ugly (to borrow a phrase from a fav Spaghetti Western) – has always been reflected in my music. Prayers, supplications, questions, acceptance; hurts, healings and happy dances; all the dialogue, working through, pouring out – done with my instrument.
Rental ‘beater guitar’ placed across scrap quilt I made for Ma & Dad ~ 1983
Borrowing or renting a classical guitar is not as easy as say, a violin. I won’t go into the technical details of why, but suffice it to say that the “beater guitar”* I scouted out to rent during my first extended visit, while hard to procure, did deliver as a sort-of security blanket instrument during that five week time span.
My second visit lasted two weeks, a doable length of time to go without direct instrumental contact so that counted as an easy fix.
But…those were solutions for then. What about now?
This time around, I’m slated for a three week stay. As much as those visits are a precious blessing, they are also very intense; filled with tender moments alongside heart wrenching end-of-life realities.
This time around, hubby booked my flight on another airline, one which allows 1 bag and 1 personal item for free as carry-ons.
This time around, I’ll stuff the computer bag with my wallet, snacks and paperback mystery novel as usual, and tote my UKE as the other carry on.
After all, George Harrison composed ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ on his UKE when his primary instrument was unavailable for use.
*”beater guitar” is a term used by cgers and acoustic guitarists alike that refers to an instrument that can be taken anywhere without fear of ruining it…case in point: around the campfire during wilderness treks.
One of my fav renditions of this piece follows and indeed, inspired several of my students at the time to ask me to teach them the UKE…thus forcing me to pursue a certain level of mastery over this little gem of an instrument -
The first recording session for Swimming with Swans: the music is scheduled to begin Wednesday, April 27th.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog post:
When prepping for actual recording, timing is everything. Not just in the realm of musical readiness, but also in gear readiness. Booking this session date gave me approximately two weeks to break in fresh strings. So of course that meant changing out strings ASAP; which I did.
All set and ready to go!
Changing out strings on the Prisloe is pretty routine. Basic procedure for me involves laying down a blanket on the living room floor, arranging all the necessary tools on it (tuner, peg turner, string pack, dust rag, jewelers’ sandpaper, string clipper) and then sitting down with the instrument to my right. All set and ready to go.
The body as a natural luthier’s bench
This is how I’ve done it for decades on both the classical and the 12-string, so even if I had access to a cool luthier’s repair bench, I’m not sure I’d use it for this task.
gently sanding out burrs in the nut
Doing related guitar maintenance is often easier done during string changes. Unfortunately the ‘new’ dead spot on the 4th fret 4th string is way beyond my mending capabilities. It will have to wait until I find someone in the area qualified to do repairs on my custom Prisloe.
1st string shortened before winding on peg
Until then, I also trick-out the 1st string to accommodate an oddly unbalanced string winding on the peg.
odd but workable 1st string winding
Interrupted by a local intruder
Last week’s string changing routine was spooked up a bit by the need to crush a curious Palmetto Bug* (he looks tiny, but he shrank after being smashed, believe me!). Ugh – how I hate anything roach related.
Now, please excuse me as I continue to dig my fingers into these fresh strings…Gotta break ‘em in. My three solo selections are ready and just itching to be recorded.
*nicknamed ‘the unofficial state bird of South Carolina’, here are some funny conversations about the local critter.
Waiting for Brenda
Of course wouldn’t you know, the day’s dark grey skies decided to pour forth a drenching rain the moment I stepped out of the car. Brenda and I were meeting that morning at the FloTown Starbucks on Palmetto for a quasi-interview, so I wanted to get there a bit before the appointed time.
After my mad dash into the tiny building, I quickly scanned the area for an available table. As a veteran of numerous coffee shops, I know that claiming one’s territory is best done first. I planted my book bag atop my find as evidence of ownership then proceeded to redeem my empty bean bag* for a free cup of coffee.
Returning to ‘our’ table with java in hand, I settled in to read a few pages of ‘Home to Cedar Branch’ while waiting for Brenda’s arrival…
Home to Cedar Branch is Brenda’s second novel in the ‘Quaker Café’ series. While not intended to be a part of an actual series, this stand-alone book clamors to be part of something larger than itself. Writing has a way of making demands on its author and Brenda is accommodating those demands by crafting yet a third book in the ‘Quaker Café’ series as of this posting.
Both novels, along with an in-progress third, are centered around the fictional community of Cedar Branch. I asked Brenda if she would like to live in Cedar Branch. Surprisingly, she told me that she Continue reading →