I had a busy productive day yesterday. Met with my boss Jen at 8:30 for our first meeting in a while since she’s been on vacation. Every time I meet with her I remember how lucky I am to have her for a boss. Her calm presence and easy-going sense of humor are a godsend. And she does value my contribution. What a difference a decent boss makes to the gig!
After that I drove to Zeeland and rehearsed with Roman the drummer and Nate the bass player. I had in mind working on some refinements in how we play together. This is tricky because once again I am attempting collaboration in a tricky arena. These two men are young and are probably more used to older people basically teaching and directing them. They seem to be just beginning to understand what they themselves actually have to contribute artistically.
I would say that this worked pretty well yesterday with these two. In our rehearsal as I underlined how much I valued their skills I mentioned the idea that bass players and drummers often can create exciting music if they listen closely to each other and play in “ensemble.” “Ensemble” is kind of classical music talk for finding each other in the music with precision and grace. I talked this way because both of these musicians are classically trained.
Roman is pursuing a career in Music Therapy and starts at GRCC in the fall. A very interesting choice. We had a good conversation around the power music has in people’s lives. Nate mentioned that he is arranging the Elton John tune, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” for orchestra. I had to confess that I was a bar musician when this song came out and I and another singer did the male/female duet at several gigs. Both of these people are a bit younger that I was thinking they were: Nate is fifteen (this means he was probably fourteen when he played with me last time at Lemonjellos!) and Roman is seventeen.
I found working them yesterday to be informative and exciting. And I greatly enjoyed having lunch with them, especially the conversation. God is good!
After lunch I met with my three string players: Amy on violin, Laurie on viola and Dawn on cello. We went over the string parts for the songs for next Thursday’s gig. They found an error in the tempo markings in “Dead Man’s Pants.” (At one point I double timed without marking it in the score. Easy to fix. And I am grateful that they helped me figure it out.)
I can feel the positive energy gathering around this upcoming gig and I am curious how it will come off. The process of learning music and working towards its performance is for me most of the satisfaction. In the performance itself I try to put myself in a space of positive communicative energy. This means I am less distracted or even concerned by imperfections. In my experience (both as a listener and performer) imperfections are always present in a live performance. They are part of the territory.
Recently I sat next to the sound booth at a performance of the Grand Rapids symphony with the vocal group Spectrum. They did an excellent Motown cover show. I was especially impressed with their drummer and bass player and mentioned them as an example of playing together to Roman and Nate. There seemed to be two sound engineers for the symphony’s mix board and one for Spectrum.
I have been thinking quite a bit about how recording (and also live mixing) has shaped the last hundred years and continues to shape how we all think and perceive music.
The Motown show started off with a symphonic piece beginning in the brass. The mikes were not working. So as a listener you could hear the actual distant sounds of the high brass. All three sound people were scrambling around and yelling at each other. It actually took them several pieces into the night before I had the sense that the mix was under control. It’s a complicated thing mixing for that many musicians even when you know what you’re doing.
I found this oddly reassuring. Imperfections exist in this kind of situation. I recalled that when I played with the symphony we did an afternoon concert in a school auditorium. I had to play the organ part (to Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra) on a synth. The sound was coming through the mix board and the PA in the room. I had a little volume knob myself that I could control but I told the sound man I would rely on him to balance me with the orchestra. My fear was that I could quickly drown them out or misbalance from my vantage.
We had no sound check. We had no balance run through or anything. We just went in cold and performed.
The sound guy did not turn me up as promised. Consequently there were some sections where the conductor looked at me oddly because he couldn’t hear me. I was not sure enough of the actual balance to turn up.
Later I wondered if they held me responsible for this inability to balance properly without a soundcheck or feedback of hearing what I was I doing. I suspect they figured I screwed it up and the sound guy at the very least stayed quiet about it.
Anyway, they never asked me back to do any more fill-in as an organ and harpsichord substitute player (this is what I was doing with the GR symphony). This is probably unrelated but one never knows.
So today I’m taking a bit of down time. It’s been an intense week and next week will be busy, but the intensity is actual lessening a bit as my performance nears. I will certainly bear down on practicing, but that is sheer pleasure. As I hope the final rehearsal and performance will be. They usually are a time of culmination of the process and thereby a different atmosphere. Amy the violinist mentioned yesterday that she was feeling a slight sense of sadness that soon preparation for this gig will be over. She has mentioned that she has enjoyed doing some of my (ahem) unusual compositions.
I have noticed that the support I am receiving back from these musicians is very satisfying to me. Nate the bass player was mentioning songs of mine that he really likes. That he especially likes the words. It made me smile to hear him say how he likes my song, “Moneyland,” because it “sticks it to the man.” (he said it sarcastically of course…. but still I was flattered).
I received a very interesting email from a man named Derek Sivers which sort of relates here. He is the founder of CD Baby which is an organization I have always admired. He has recently sold this business and simplified his life in an admirable way (read the very interesting reasons why http://sivers.org/trust ) The email seemed to be a customized mass mailing his new projects with links.
Very interesting stuff:
MusicThoughts: inspiring quotes about music
MuckWork: assistants to do your dirty work
Derek Sivers: my personal site, with articles
SongTest: a free, open song contest
I followed the link to why he sold CD Baby and found some excellent blog entries. I like this guy’s style quite a bit…. He has lots of good insight and advice on what’s possible in music and life. I will probably check all of this out further. He has me thinking about getting rid of stuff in my life (as he and his wife apparently did) and also feeling pretty good about how I approach my music and my life……