An inspiring vintage piano helps my flow

The film “Dancing with the Wind” gave air to the fact that the Wind Ketcher is a beautiful sailboat. However, if you have taken an interest in the music of the film, then you need to know that the acoustic piano that generated the sounds inside DWTW is a vintage Victorian era Steinway grand made in 1875. Lovingly restored in the late 1980s and meticulously maintained, #31542 and my joy in playing her is largely how the music of DWTW came to be.

I’ve come to appreciate the kinship that often exists between sailboat enthusiasts, romantic music, and those who enjoy flying old kites (older airplanes of tube and fabric), and I think it is fitting that the piano in the film is every bit as classic and lovely as the sailboat.

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Between Songs – Remembering Youth

There are really only 2 scenarios under which one would write an autobiography: 1) There is an outcry of interest for it which implies the person is already famous or notorious with a hungry audience of moochers interested in his secret past, or 2) There will never be such an outcry nor ready-made audience for it, but the poor bastard cannot help himself as the stories and anecdotal snippets of life that seem worthwhile and entertaining when told pile up.

One nice thing for me about being firmly unable to generate any type 1 scenario is how I’m utterly free from trying not to let down any fans who think they know me by revealing something that interrupts their being a fan. If I recall something ridiculous or laughably self-deprecating but interesting about my youth which also happens to reveal times when I was stupid or naive or just plain immature, but growing, it is a comfort to know it won’t stymie any sizable audience already garnered about my songwriting or other writings.
With that said, I am actually enjoying spending a little time in collecting my short narrative essays and clustering them into some semblance of theme and order. It is self-indulgent of course, but then again no writer can be anything but.

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A Peek At A Song Under Construction

It is worth starting with how for me each song has its own story, both in inspiration and also in how the process of crafting it may have worked through me. Some songs come in a flash almost complete with melody and lyrics already dancing together in harmony; some arrive with snippets and starts and stops, full of interruptions and backfires; some remain melodies without a lyric for years until a lyric one day leaps unto it in my mind for some reason beyond my really knowing exactly why. Less frequently a small lyrical line attacks my attention with perhaps a hint of cadence, and then I try to fill in the missing pieces of melody and lyric over time.

When melodies come first, I can generally weave lyrics unto them once I’m inspired in that direction. And mating lyrics to an already existing melody can almost feel easier to me than trying to do the reverse. If the lyrics are first it is for me the harder method. But several of my past songs were crafted in that way. But I generally dislike bending a melody to fit a lyric for there is so much structure in a good chord properly anticipated and accentuated musically. Somehow to me it seems as though bending a phrase or altering a word with a synonymous turn of lyric upsets the art of a song less than monkeying around with a melody.

Part of the reason I mention all of this now is how I’m currently embroiled in struggling with a song concept that began with a lyrical idea which I fleshed out in way too much of a hurry such that I now face the daunting task of finding the melody inside it. Ahhh, such is the joy of the work inside it all.

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Epic isn’t Epic Anymore

The word “Epic” has been tormented in the last decade or so; becoming synonymous with ‘cool’ and having lost much of its charm in the fall from grace.  What once was a single word that embodied how a story or poem would contain multiple settings across large spans of time featuring a character of gravitas and import, now is used simply to imply a Wow.

An explosion cannot be epic.  A hot rod cannot be epic.  I suppose it is quite possible that a video game can be, although I don’t wish to research the notion.

Part of me wants to say that a song cannot be epic in the pure sense of the word, but some knock on the door of it.  I would argue that if a song wanders across multiple themes, enjoys tempo changes and rhythm swapping to create entirely differing emotions while yet remaining “the song” somehow, then I can see applying the descriptor ‘epic’ to it.

A song of mine entitled “My Frozen Heart” is one of the songs I might consider as a contender for ‘epic’.

Click on the picture to give it a listen and you tell me – does it cross geography, emotion, and lines without losing the theme?   

 

 

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Anatomy Of An Affair–Book Project

I finally finished a book project long in the back of my mind, thematically.

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The Anatomy of an Affair project represents a body of work that spans eight plus years of effort across five main artistic modes of expression, namely, poetry, writing, musical composition, songwriting and graphic design. It has its own web page and associated links for purchase etc. CLICK HERE to have a look.

Meanwhile, thanks to all who worked on this with me. The list is long, but a few photos are included below.

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Recording Summary So Far

In 2007 I recorded original music for a sailing documentary film project.

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It was the first time I had been in a professional recording environment since the late 1970s. 30 years prior, as a teenager, I was asked to play keyboards for a band with a pipe-dream and saw first-hand how monumentally expensive and out of my reach was studio recording a song. Now 30 years later I discovered the modern digital recording world and began to learn my place in it.

During the summer of 2009, after finishing the sailing film project, I began recording my singer-songwriter songs in a professional studio. Over the next 3-4 years I worked part time, but devotedly, to record and release albums.

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Soon I added a home studio partial setup for recording my acoustic Steinway grand piano in collaborations with studios and artists across the digital realm.

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By 2013 the consistency and level of my music work had risen. This combined with an intentionality to get away from album song clusters and focus on each release individually led me to remove old works and rebrand.

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Many of even my earliest recordings remain proud accomplishments which I did re-release, but there were a few I happily put on the cutting room floor. During this time I also enjoyed original score work for another short documentary film and found renewed inspiration not only to continue my singer-songwriter recording, but to go further with instrumental composition.

During the rebranding and shift of process in 2013, I made a studio and producer change that took my recording to Pennsylvania and studio musicians of the northeast. Now when recording I would cease all other business or work and focus entirely on the sessions. To me there was an immediate positive result, and the feel of my music coming back to me was more satisfying.

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As of the end of 2018, there are 103 original studio artist songs, 39 instrumental works, and 14 covers or adaptations of covers behind me.

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Helping Someone With Their Music Gives Back

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Over this weekend I enjoyed working with my son on recording a song of his. I put myself to work with all seriousness as a technician and “producer” with my home studio set up; focusing on him and his song in the same way that the good producers from my past have with me and mine.

 

And though I knew it already, producing and arranging a recording session is a completely independent art form. It is separate from the skill of arranging the music itself, or being a songwriter.

Now sure, it helps as a producer to understand, and to be able to hear the music not only as it is, but as it can become, etc. Sure, it helps to be able to know each instrument and its dynamic range. And I suppose in many ways the truly great producers are likely closet songwriters. But beyond all of that comes many other aspects to helping someone record.

In effect you must also channel your inner:

– coach – preacher – teacher – fan – critic – passerby – and more

And the exhaustion that ensues as you work in such a way with someone is utterly different than the spending of energy associated with being they guy performing and being recorded. I truly enjoyed doing it with my son and look forward to next week when we go at it again. In addition, I am happy to report how working with my ears, and the +s and -s of the digital arena, and the cables and the mics, and the art of finding the sweet spot for a mic placement in a wood room all helped re-inspire me as a songwriter. I’m not sure how it will sound when it finds its way back into my muse, but briefly being a producer helped my inner songwriter.

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Brahms Adaptation–Seed Planted

Recently, I’ve been infected with a VERY long-term seed that finally has germinated into a song. It had its roots in my learning to play a portion of the beginning of the Adagio movement of the Brahms Piano Concerto #1 in D. Originally, he composed that section as a 2 piano piece, but later was encouraged to create a string concerto. Somewhere along the line I encountered the two-piano score and learned the first 35 measures or so of the Adagio section. They contain a piano lament that has always stirred my soul.

For many years, when playing it, I always kept hearing a solo vocalist with a choir behind him, and eventually lyrics began to bubble up. But these things I kept hearing, I beat them down for years, telling myself that no one should dare to insult Brahms by inserting a single note or thought atop his theme. But as I’ve enjoyed many choir concerts, from Florida All State ensembles to college concert choirs, and heard many times how classical themes become adapted and as such help to keep them alive in young minds, I found this old idea of mine resurfacing with increasing insistence upon my muse.

Finally, I could resist no more and wrote this adaptation of a Brahms theme for solo tenor and choir. As a piano lover, I have taken as much priority as I dare to keep the piano as the anchor about which the voice and choir are in orbit. One of my goals was to make it such that if a vocalist misses a note, the song would survive and yet if the piano player flubs it there would be virtual collapse.

The peculiar ability in Brahms to sometimes sound as if he is falling up in the most inspiring and heart-wrenchingly sad way is for me a deep beauty I hope to have kept alive in my “Cannot Stop Myself”.

Listen at: CLICK HERE

Contact for score at: CLICK HERE

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Quietly Going About Making My Art – Shut Up And Play

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I am increasingly embracing a personal prioritization reboot when it comes to my artistic endeavors. In a nutshell, I am challenging myself to get back into making my art as the higher priority, and trying to market or sell it as a lessor one.

This goes in the face of many who suggest the exact opposite should be my next course. And I readily admit how many of them have works that I admire and that surely have penetrated into the lives of more of our planet’s billions of inhabitants; more than likely are any of mine. My decision to refocus on my creations rather than doubling down on past works’ promotions is not born of laziness, for I have and continue to work hard at outreach and always trying to communicate with anyone in the world of music, prose, or the larger art world. It is not my feeling dejected or depressed for I actually feel good inside about the issue as I debate it in my head. It is not my feeling sorry for myself or trying to illicit pity from you or anybody, for I detest such gigantic waste.

For me, at least, the issue has become one of sensing an atrophy of my piano playing ability, or my guitar progress as I’ve spent so much time on trying to promote that surely has driven down my practice time and communication with my muse.

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Being an organized sort of man (often to the point of near-neurosis which artists are prone to do), I have spreadsheets galore and the resulting near paralysis of analysis regarding the size and scope of my comparative lack of success with my art. And I find that of late, I have more pages in my notes about my work in marketing my artworks than I have pages of actual artwork afoot. This will not do.

I’ve had to ask myself quite clearly: Is success to me completing the next 100 songs and literary projects which inspiration has come upon me for, or is it reaching thousands of people (or even millions) who might enjoy artworks already done? At least for the next year or so, I find myself smiling and inwardly saying, “shut up and play.” With the added caveat of ‘I play for myself’. I have always enjoyed small coffee house soiree’ playing more than stadiums – in fact I practically always detest large group behavior… so for me… shut up and play becomes a don’t even look up while you’re playing kind of a feeling.

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Learning The Ropes – Untie Rather Than Cut

In sailing, there are many lessons learned on the boat which can easily apply to life, and many come from the ropes themselves. Of course, sailing snobs will attack you for calling a “line” a rope, but let’s forgive them in advance.

In learning the ropes, one will uncover special situations, special knots to use, and which knots become rapidly permanent after bearing a strain. But inside all of that, plus the callouses which arrive on your hands after a time, is the idea that each piece of rope becomes more and more precious the further from shore you get. And the idea of losing a piece of rope due to mis-management becomes more egregious indeed when you might as well be a million miles from a replacement.

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One lesson is never to cut a line which could be untied. The knife or hatchet is a last resort. And cutting is destructive to hundreds of potential future uses. Like cutting wood when building something to fit, you can always take away a bit more, but you can never add back. Life lesson metaphors abound if one applies this to relationships.

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Another lesson comes in the form of being neat, tidy, and ship shape with your lines. To a sailing newbie, taking the time to coil and stow a line may seem needless when it appears to be in no one’s way at all. But then again, it is in nobody’s way now, when the ship is flat and the sea is calm. Yet, later if the seas are bucking, and the deck is awash, and that line now stretches out across the deck it will either be whipping around and beating you to death, or wrapping around something you desperately need to move in a hurry, etc. Properly stowing a line is like a bachelor making his bed before leaving for work. You never know when the day will be that you meet someone and decide to bring them home.

The summary: Make your bed, stow your lines, and don’t cut a line except as a last resort.

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