31 December 2013

The Previous Post Was Too Hopeful, So I'm Writing This

(And also because there hasn't been a good rant on this blog in a while...)

My goal this year was to match and double my choreographic output from last year. That would mean creating twenty-six complete works in 2013. When college happened, I decided to lower the goal to just matching last year's output -- that is, thirteen dances. And right now I'm at eleven and a half. So basically I have twenty-two and a half hours to finish my current work and come up with another full dance by the time the year is over. And somewhere in there I have to figure out what I'm actually doing for National Choreography Month because I haven't even thought about that playlist yet...

All this would have been a much more attainable goal if I hadn't spent FIVE HOURS today on one page of glissades transitioning into waltz turns. I never want to see another glissade again in my life. Seriously, they're one of the easiest things in ballet and I spent FIVE HOURS trying to get the dumb sequence to work. Glissades are tricky little bastards... it doesn't matter how carefully you count them and notate them and think through all that has to happen, you always end up on the wrong foot. Always.

But that's beside the point. Point is, it's very likely (if not a given) I won't meet even the lowered goal. Therefore I hate myself right now (I know, I know, the Swirling Eddies say 'don't hate yourself'...). And there's this voice in the back of my head saying, if you hadn't gone and wasted four months of the year on college...

I could so easily have doubled last year. If it wasn't for college (and the dread associated with it as it approached), I could totally have done twenty-six dances this year. I did absolutely nothing during the actual semester because I was drowning in homework, and even before that, my depression over the prospect of going to college took me almost completely out of choreographic commission as soon as it sunk in that my final dance performance was going to be the one this past June. I haven't been on a good choreographic tear since May (and even then I was practically dying of strep throat, so I feel my work then wasn't as good as it could have been).

Remind me again why I'm blowing two (potentially) wildly creative years of my life in academia? It's not like I'm a great student and it's not like this degree is going to guarantee me a job.

This is so frustrating. So frustrating. I wanted to do so much this year. I wanted to have a solid choreographic repertoire by now, and I don't... because of this music degree. If that isn't irony, I don't know what is.

28 December 2013

Shadows And Lights

I have started so many posts, trying to put into words what I'm learning and what I'm experiencing and the pain of being away for such large blocks of time. I have yet to successfully make a post that smoothly covers all of that without going on for pages and pages.

A lot of the past semester was the depths of despair. I was away from my family, studying for a degree (which I still see as a cop-out move for people not willing to just move on with their lives and I loathe myself for now being one of these idiots), forfeiting dance -- the love of my life, having absolutely zero time for even listening to music (never mind doing choreography), and finding out that everyone on the planet has more skill and talent than I do at anything you could possibly name.

From this there were only brief moments of respite. Most of them were packed into musical weekend. And even then, there was sadness mixed in with them (the first of which being the knowledge that no-one I knew was coming to see this, the biggest production I've ever been a part of).

See, the college puts on this Christmas musical every year. This thing is a big deal. I don't know if this is standard procedure, but this year they ran four shows in three days. There's a full orchestra, three choirs, dancing, pyro, an intricately detailed set, and, of course, the drama itself. Apparently this thing pulls crowds of 10,000 people some years.

I'm in the college choir, thus I was in the show. I found out two weeks before the show opened that there had been the option to audition to be a dancer. But I hadn't known that back in September when they were holding auditions or I would totally have been there. I hadn't auditioned for an acting role because I know I can't act, and I doubted I wouldn't end up in the madhouse under that kind of rehearsing/course schedule.

Opening night was painful for me. It felt like there was something wrong with the universe. I was up in the risers with the choir and we were singing wonderful beautiful arrangements of lovely songs which I did quite enjoy, but words can't describe looking down from the choir and seeing the dancers in white skimming across the front of the stage. It was so hard not to cry. All I could think was I should be down there with them.

But there were redeeming moments too. The general atmosphere of being backstage and onstage, entering and exiting, looking up and seeing the lights, looking out and seeing the crowd, waiting for the music's cue, the cheers of the audience after our most spectacular rendition of O Holy Night, costume changes, the smell of stage makeup, silence backstage as we waited to file on. Even the hurried snacks of apples or granola bars in between acts were like being at home. This is where I belong. Backstage, onstage, in costume, under the lights, surrounded by music, living on apples, granola bars, and the odd sandwich. This was the first time I'd ever been in a show that ran more than once, and that made it even better because then if you slip up in one performance, you can fix it in the next. There's always room for improvement, and by the time you reach the fourth show, you are rocking it. Plus, it means more stage time and backstage time and just more time in the performing world in general. When you only do one show, it's one afternoon/evening and that's it, you're done. It's really only a hiccup in the fabric of your real life, you don't have time to sink in to the performing world long enough to enjoy it.

It was enough to get me through the final month of the semester. It reminded me of my dream: the stage, the music, the dance.

If only I'm not too old and beaten down for the dream once I get out of college...

24 December 2013

(Belated) Music Day - The Birth

We are now delving deep into the darker recesses of my music library -- my guilty pleasures, if you will. (Actually, I just rediscovered this song this past summer and then forgot about it again till the other day.)

This is a moment in history on this blog -- I am actually featuring an artist commonly known as 'country.' (Daniel Amos doesn't count because they came to their senses, burnt the cowboy hats, and became awesome.)

I wouldn't say this is a country song, though... I would classify it as rock (though I'm not, shall we say, an expert on the difference between music genres). I didn't actually know this was a country artist (this is the only album of his that I know) until my mother pointed it out. I would think it's more of a stretch to call it country than it is to call it rock.

Enough self-justifying.

So how did I know this song existed? Well, the word 'rediscovered' in that first paragraph will probably have tipped off the longtime readers (all two of them)... this is a gem from my dad's music library. Oddly enough, I don't have any specific memories attached to it, but I think before this summer the last time I'd heard this song was when I was four or five.

It is glorious. This is what praising God should be -- a big freaking celebration! Sure, the track starts out very mildly, with Mr Daniels reading a passage of Scripture (Luke 2) in a deep down-home southern twang. Soft. Quiet. Peaceful.

But then the choir bursts on the scene! crying out Hallelujah and it echoes back, several times, then adding Hosanna and it builds... builds into an explosion of joy. The choir filling the air, the bass with its infectious groove, the acoustic guitar sparkling over the top, the electric organ chords rounding out the high rich sound...

Plus, you just know a song is awesome when it has two guitar solos and an organ solo. Party on, man.

Title: The Birth
Artist: Charlie Daniels
Album: The Door
Year: 1994
Label: Sparrow Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

To get the full effect of this song, do what my dad does: crank it until the walls dance along.

Merry Christmas to you all!

13 December 2013

Music Day - Album Review

Preamble: So when I said this would be up 'next week,' (*cough* several weeks ago...) I apparently forgot that I was doing NaNoWriMo, a full college class schedule, a book report, and rehearsing for/participating in a musical which ran four times over three days. So, obviously, this review was not real high on the priority list there for a while. But it's here now. I still feel it doesn't do the album total justice, but if I wait till I have time to really listen to it another four or five times, we'll probably be into mid-February. So here you go. Enjoy.

Remember John Schlitt? The voice of Petra since 1986's Back To The Street? Yeah, well, his new album came out a few weeks back -- a Christmas album.

I have to be honest: though I supported the Kickstarter campaign, I wasn't entirely sure if I would like this. I've heard Christmas rock music and so far it has all sucked. Remember the band formerly known as Newsboys? tobyMac? Yeah... some artists/bands just weren't cut out for Christmas music. I doubted John's gravelly voice could take these stalwart carols and not take something away from them. Rock is one thing, Christmas is another.

What first struck me when I got the advance download was the track list. This is not your run-of-the-mill Christmas album. No Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree, no Jingle Bell Rock, not even Joy To The World or Angels We Have Heard On High or Away In A Manger. (Can this legally be sold in Christian bookstores?)

Nope, he went way back to the beautiful old Christmas songs that are familiar but, by and large, haven't been bludgeoned to death yet by hundreds of mediocre CCM arrangements. In addition, there are two original songs (That Spirit Of Christmas and What Christmas Needs To Be).

And now, for the track-by-track fangirling *cough* I mean breakdown of John Schlitt's The Christmas Project.

Hallelujah Chorus -- The following is my word-for-word reaction to hearing this song for the first time: 'HOLY DEUCE WHAT THE CRAP WAS THAT AMAZINGNESS THAT MY EARS JUST WITNESSED?' (Seriously.) This. Is. Perfect. This may border on sacrilegious, but I think I like this version better than the original Handel arrangement (though that may be because of my predetermined taste for rock music). It opens with John singing And He shall reign forever and ever a cappella, and then repeating the phrase again and again, singing the different parts and then they start to be layered. Even if he had done the whole song like that, that would have been lovely enough. But it gets better.
As he sings those parts, some kind of harpsichord or something fades in (it's all very Christmas-y), and then suddenly the rocker voice all Petheads know explodes through the speakers: King of kings! and then the electric guitar and the drums come in behind the choir parts. (Also, I'm a soprano and I'm a tiny bit jealous of the notes he hits here. Simply impressive.) Then it becomes a solid rocker of a song, fancy electric guitar work, rollicking drums, stuff that will get you headbanging.
Phenomenal opening song. Ladies and gentlemen, make way: The Christmas Project has arrived.

Do You Hear What I Hear? -- Then with the sound of barnyard animals, we hear a juvenile voice reading the classic Luke passage. Then turns into an upbeat rock sort of thing. It feels quite current, actually (though I'm not exactly on the cusp of current music, CCM or not, so I may be completely out to lunch on that assessment). I've never really liked this song (lyrically) to begin with, so I'm finding it hard to judge this version objectively. But it's easy to move around to and it does feature a pretty decent guitar solo (and the verse right after that is backed by only drums, which is cool, and then a little bit of bass work).

Little Drummer Boy -- This is perhaps the most mainstream song used on the album. Yes, it starts with a drum roll. And the drumming continues with a nice open feel to it, and a melancholy keyboard (or perhaps it's strings), and the vocals come in low and gentle. The song is done faster than most artists do it, and it actually works rather well. After the second verse, it builds a little and yes, there's some guitar, but it's not as in your face like most rock versions of this song. The focus is John's versatile powerhouse voice. Does it top the White Heart version? No... but it's pretty darn good.

O Holy Night -- This one is really pretty. Nice and gentle. John has quite a nice not-rock voice, though the processing it's given in the 'chorus' of this song seems a bit unnecessary. This is a guy who actually can do the full-on screaming rock songs (Mine Field with Petra being perhaps the best example) and the gentle Christmas carols and be equally powerful on both fronts. That takes more skill than I think a lot of us realise. This song doesn't stand out as 'holy crap this is spectacular,' but it is exactly what this song should be (unless you're in the Christmas musical that I was a part of this past weekend, where we did this song with dancers and a full orchestra and a hundred-ish voice choir and there may or may not have been fireworks involved). Gentle but quietly powerful, building a little, now softening a bit, the dynamics just naturally following the contour of the lyric. This is a great song/version of it for just sitting and staring out the window on a clear winter night and looking up at the stars (or at the Christmas tree in the front window of the house across the street, as the case may be). And it even closes with the sound of distant church bells. What more could you ask for?

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen -- It starts out as what could be called a brooding rock song, but with more energy and a deceptively light and airy vocal. You just know it's going to explode, and it does after the first verse with guitars and strings and drums and it's beautiful. This feels a lot like his previous album The Greater Cause. This song actually works well as a rock song. The strings in the background take it from mere 'rock song' to 'symphonic energetic Christmas rock song.' Then with one last cry, the song screeches almost but not quite to a halt and fades out as daintily as the snowflakes dancing in the night.

Good Christian Men Rejoice -- Ah, yes, traditional jingle bells opening the song. But then it turns into a great rollicking, toe-tapping, hand-clapping song with some pretty nice guitar work weaving through the background. The choreographer in me would like to add that this has 'tap dance' written all over it.

That Spirit Of Christmas -- Then we take it down a notch with a mellow, almost bluesy sort of tune (disclaimer: I know exactly nothing about blues). It reminds me of the filler tracks from Petra's mellower years in the late '90s. It's probably a good sitting-by-the-fireplace-with-some-hot-chocolate kind of song. Decent, but not my proverbial cup of tea.

We Three Kings -- The piano riff that starts this is beautifully warm and haunting. It makes me think of the cold winter nights with the clear sky in a wide expanse above a snowy landscape. Nice moody electric guitar work. And, of course, the strings in the interlude. I can't put it into words, but the instrumentation is just perfect for the song (until the last chorus, when it somehow feels a little harsh, but then it melts back into that pretty piano riff again).

What Christmas Needs To Be -- It just sounds happy and fun. I like the guitar riff. Not so much the backing vocals. I don't know why, they just don't work for me.

What Child Is This? -- More pretty piano! I've never heard so much piano on a rock album (or even some Christmas albums). It's really nice. It builds subtly in the chorus -- subtly but powerfully. For the third verse, everything stops and then John's gentle voice comes back in with only a little piano, which makes the final chorus stand out more

Overall, this album far exceeded my expectations. Finally, another Christmas album that won't wear out within one year of purchase. (The list of year-in/year-out classics is almost devastatingly small.)

Buy the album on his website here (you can also preview the entire thing on that page). Available on iTunes here.

25 November 2013

Steve Taylor News

This needs to happen.

This NEEDS to happen.

Yes, fans of obscure music, a new Steve Taylor album -- the first in twenty years. And it's up to us. Pledge by Christmas Eve.

Let's make this happen.

(For the curious... concert footage here.)

23 November 2013

Novel Update - Day 23

That's right. I'm still in the game even with a college workload (mind you, all of my big assignments went in the last week of September) and having to do my own housekeeping (washing dishes continues to be my least favourite chore).

So... I guess I have to start at the beginning since I haven't actually posted one of these yet.

It's 1985, and the book opens on this nine-year-old kid named Lucien. He's dancing in a cordoned off and weed-infested parking lot to an audience of decrepit buildings and abandoned sidewalks. We learn that he lives with his dad in a motel room in a seedy district in SoCal (not that I know if there are actually seedy districts in SoCal, but research is what December is for), working in the motel bar in exchange for living there.

One day, a band (who may or may not be Crumbächer under assumed names) comes in and plays the motel bar. Lucien is captivated and the members of the band become his friends -- his only real contacts in the world aside from his father. He convinces the motel manager to bring the band in several more times and each time, his friendship with the band grows.

Then one morning, he and his dad wake up to find that someone staying in their motel has been murdered. Lucien's father is visibly shaken and tells Lucien to pack -- they're moving.

As he's packing, Lucien accidentally knocks over a box of his father's that he is not supposed to touch. As he's putting the contents back into the box, he realises that some of the papers are newspaper clippings -- clippings talking about the unsolved murder of his mother. Lucien is stunned. His father had always told him that his mother had died of an illness. In addition, he finds a contract for a Russian ballet company, signed by his father, and a handwritten letter. It's in the Russian alphabet, which Lucien doesn't know very well, but he gets the drift that it's a threatening letter, though he doesn't know why.

But he says nothing about all of this, only puts the contents back in the box and continues to pack.

The band, by chance, plays their new home motel several weeks later and they reconnect with Lucien. Shortly after that, Lucien is doing his favourite thing -- dancing in an abandoned parking lot -- when he is grabbed from behind, drugged, and taken away.

Lucien's father is left a nervous wreck. Having suffered through the murder of his wife and now reduced to living in motel rooms, living day-to-day, losing Lucien is the final straw. He slowly begins to go mad with grief.

The band, while playing the motel a few weeks later, recognises Lucien's father and asks him where Lucien is. It takes some doing, but they finally get it out of him that Lucien has been kidnapped.

Two of the band members, Daniel and a character known only as Flip, take it upon themselves to start checking in on Lucien's father, making sure he's doing okay, helping where they can.

Meanwhile Lucien awakens and over the course of a few weeks finds himself taking dance classes full time in a studio in Russia. He befriends one of the senior dancers (Mikhail), who tells him that he is being trained to ultimately join the dancing master's company sometime within the next ten years or so. As the gravity of his situation sinks in, Lucien realises that the only way he will ever see his father again is if he can work his way up to be in the main touring company before they next tour America.

In the meantime though, he misses his father. He gets Mikhail to track down a copy of the band's record and sends a letter to their booking agent, telling the band where he is and to tell his father that he's okay.

Upon reading the letter, Lucien father's snaps and goes literally mad with a mixture of grief and rage (the readers don't know it yet, but he recognises the name of the man who Lucien is studying under as the man who murdered his wife nine years before).

The band is now going to attempt to tour Communist Europe all in a harebrained scheme to re-kidnap Lucien back from the ballet company. This will be difficult, as Lucien is not allowed off the property, and if he's going to attend the concert in the nearby town, Mikhail will have to smuggle him out. Plus, of course, there's the issue of getting Lucien out of the country and back to America after that...

As for the actual writing process, it was odd -- I had this very well planned out, but when it came to write it, I had a really hard time getting into the swing of things this time around. I'm blaming it on college -- my brain is so fragmented. At home I could just focus on one thing all day if I had to. Here I focus on music theory for an hour and fifteen minutes, then I focus on getting to and eating lunch fast enough to make my next class, in which I think about theology for an hour and fifteen minutes, and so on... I can never dwell on anything as long as I need to in order for it to sink in, I only have a certain amount of time to think about it before I have to shift into a completely different headspace. It's draining, and the first 25k of the novel (among other things) really suffered because of that. I love this novel and the plot idea, but I just haven't had enough time to really have fun with it. I can never really get into the zone of it because there's always something else that also needs to get done so this is on an hour/minute timeline now rather than just the thirty-day one. It's got a lot of potential, though, and I'm getting a decent framework for it laid down, at least. I was hoping I would be able to have more fun with this one during the actual writing process though.

Now for statistics:

Current word count: 40,098
Official goal for Day 23: 38,333
Number Of Daniel Amos References: 3
Number Of Characters Killed: 0 in story; 1 in backstory
Cups Of Coffee Consumed: 0 (that's right, I'm so skilled I can do NaNoWriMo without caffeine)
Number Of Times I've Played ¡Alarma! Bonus Bonus Disc: at least 4
Currently Listening To: Eternal Teenage Angst by Veil Of Ashes (2013)

22 November 2013

Music Day - Crack The Sky

I like this song because it's different. It does not start with a few mellow acoustic guitar chords. It starts out with a thundering drum (I'm always reminded of the sound of horses galloping) and a rocking guitar before it falls into a gritty bass line. The rest of the song is pretty normal '80s-Christian-rock fare, but the relentless drumming absolutely makes the song. (It almost goes without saying that I'm a sucker for the chorus medley on the keyboard.) Plus, the guitar solo simply soars. As I listen to this again, I'm reminded of DeGarmo & Key, circa Streetlight or D&K.

Title: Crack The Sky
Artist: Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart
Album: Crack The Sky
Year: 1987
Label: Word Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

COMING UP NEXT WEEK: I'll be reviewing John Schlitt's new album The Christmas Project, released this past Tuesday. Does it measure up to the standards of this Christmas music purist and that doppelgänger of hers who loves a good rock song? Find out next Friday...

14 November 2013

Music Day - Royal Command Performance

Finally got Escape From The Fallen Planet. Man, I thought Incandescent was amazing. Holy crap.

Generally speaking, Escape isn't nearly as fast as Incandescent, but it freaking soars. You can fly on this album, and especially this specific song.

Title: Royal Command Performance
Artist: Crumbächer
Album: Escape From The Fallen Planet
Year: 1986
Label: Frontline Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

It is majestic. It is the best of the eighties sound -- a rich, full-yet-open feel that you almost never hear from a keyboard-based band. It has a killer harmony, and vocal layering that is... indescribable. The song as a whole just swirls around you, open at the top, as if you were in one of those old European cathedrals. The double keyboards fill everything and yet it's anything but claustrophobic. It sweeps you along on a whirlwind ride through space. It soars. This is the song you would listen to while touring the solar system.

Not long ago, I had music theory tutorial and then after that was done I wandered out into the main foyer. Since there's no classes on Fridays, there was nobody in there. Anybody who did show up was just passing through, head down, on their way to somewhere more important. But even these were few and far between... thankfully.

In the week leading up to that, in my choreographic-creation-deprived state, I had been walking through that foyer from one class to another with an intense sense of longing. The space was so big and mostly wide open. And I wanted to dance in there in the worst way. But there were always classes... either my own or others, which meant that even when I was free, there were always other people in there. And choreography is not exactly something that happens in public... so when I walked into that foyer and saw it completely empty, an excitement that was perhaps unprecedented came over me. I marked out an imaginary stage before me, pulled out my iPod, and began to listen -- first to a DA song (and I choreographed the intro, the second chorus and the ending, thank you very much), but then inspiration seemed to run temporarily dry and on a lark, I started playing this song.

People -- when you're sitting on the floor, with your back against the wall, looking across a space larger than most entire neighbourhoods (at least in my part of the world) into the open doors of the (equally large) sanctuary, with no-one around to distract you, and you look up into the high valanced ceiling and listen to this song, and let the dancers in your mind carry it... it is a chilling, beautiful moment.

Crumbächer isn't generally known for deep touching lyrics, but these have been exactly what I've needed for the past few weeks.

One-night gigs are bringing me down
I'm feeling blue (why am I feeling blue?)
Fill my thoughts with the hope of serving You...

Later in the song there's line in a backing vocal: It's such an honour to play for You.

And that's really what it is. Since coming to college, I've been pondering my apparent calling to choreography... how it's pretty much guaranteed that I will never be rich or famous doing it -- heck, I'm probably going to be lucky to have money for food. Realistically speaking, it's almost a given that I'll 'languish' in obscurity, if I get anywhere at all with this. (Of course, none of that takes into account the power and orchestration of God.)

So if I'm basically going to be performing it for no-one (barring an act of God that dictates otherwise), then why do I bother still doing this?

I wasn't sure myself. But sitting there, looking up at the ceiling, listening to Stephen Crumbächer's natural everyman-like voice talk to God about his life (at least in the role of the song's protagonist), and then identify himself as a servant for the King of the universe -- that put it in a different perspective. Regardless of how many people see my work, the fact is that God does. The King and Creator of the universe -- I am essentially performing for Him.

I mean, say you're a carpenter or something, and you get summoned to the grand palace of the King of the freaking universe, and He asks you to build a piece of furniture for His personal quarters. Wouldn't you use the best wood you could find and make certain there are no flaws in it before using it? Wouldn't you measure and cut it with the utmost care and precision? Wouldn't you do everything you could possibly do to make it perfect? Not a lot of people outside of the palace would see it, but you would still do your best, right? Because it's for the king. It's a royal commission.

Well, for now the King has asked me to create dance. May I give it the best that I can... and may I quit complaining that 'only' the King sees it.

10 November 2013

Taking Risks

So it begins...

And it ended spectacularly. That photo was taken at 9.17pm, just a few minutes after I sat down and began to listen to the song. By 10.30 I had choreographed (sketched out) the entire dance, down to the individual steps, except for the entrance, exit, and the third verse. Oh yeah -- it's a six-minute song.

You may or may not have suspected as much from the album review, but this song is my favourite from this album, and it was a favourite from pretty much the first time I listened to it. This was also the song that seemed like it would be the most difficult to choreograph. In fact, I was reluctant to even attempt it -- nothing I could come up with could possibly do justice to something so lovely and nuanced. I didn't want to ruin the song by matching it with a forced (and by extension crappy) dance.

I was listening to the song that night just to listen, but this time I didn't stop the dancers in my head -- though I wasn't expecting them to do much.

Boy, was I wrong. This dropped into my lap. It was all I could do for my pencil to keep up. It felt gloriously like when The Double came to me in February. It's not so much me choreographing the dance as it was me writing down the dance. There's no effort involved, no 'what would fit best here?' the brain just takes the song and flies, grabbing my hand and dragging me in the wake of it, demanding that I write faster, still faster, lest I forget what I just saw.

You know, I think it's only with Daniel Amos/Terry Scott Taylor songs that I can do that (so far). I owe that guy a huge, huge debt for the inspiration alone (to say nothing of how much the songs themselves mean to me).

08 November 2013

Music Day - My Frontier

I've been overdosing on this song as of late. I don't even know why... it's like when I was a kid, I would love songs to death, but people would ask me why I liked this song or that artist so much and I wouldn't be able to answer. I didn't know why I liked them, I just did. Nowadays my reasons for liking songs usually have something to do with the lyrics, the poetry, the vocal, or sometimes there's a certain instrument track or soaring climax that captivates me. But I don't actually know why I love this song so much. It captivates me and sends me through so many emotions, but I don't know what it is about the song that does that. Perhaps it's all of it as a whole -- all the instruments, the poetry, the vocal... this is DA, after all. There's a melancholy artistic feeling to the song. I think it's the feel of the whole general thing that gets me -- the sum greater than its parts, maybe?

I suppose I should talk about the specific attributes of the song here though, so you have a better idea what you're about to hear. I make no guarantees about my ability to put this into words though (trying to describe great music in writing is stinking difficult -- why do I keep doing it then? Probably because nobody listens to me when I talk out loud about music and I have to exercise my enthusiasm somewhere...).

It crashes in with a guitar... I don't know, chord? and then the jingling guitar creeps up and that wonderful solid bass line comes in -- thump thump thump. The whole song has kind of a sweeping, swirling, ethereal feel to it, and only the bass keeps it grounded. It really is timeless. It's the same sort of feeling that captured me way back when I was four and fell in love with the music of David Meece (specifically, the song This Time).

And the climax of the song gives me chills -- when the piano thunders in and Terry's voice grows higher and more earnest (he spends most of the song in a low smooth near-whisper). And for some reason I absolutely love the line Kick it apart; Kick the whole world apart... Don't know why.

Title: My Frontier
Artist: Daniel Amos
Album: MotorCycle
Year: 1993
iTunes here; YouTube here.
Lyrics here.

Kick it apart
Kick the whole world apart and the
Night will absolve us
Wipe the slate clean
Maybe not for a lifetime
For just one day
Just one more day...

29 October 2013

Too Busy? Never...

Longtime readers may have wondered -- Is she still writing a novel in NaNoWriMo?

Heck yes! Well, planning on it anyway. For the first time in my writing life I actually had a playlist before I had the plot. (Despite the fact that I eat, sleep, and breathe music, usually the plot idea does actually come first. Barely.) This summer Daniel Amos released a 'Bonus Bonus Disc' to accompany the already double-disc ¡Alarma! re-release (because apparently the first bonus disc didn't have enough space, such is the sheer epic genius of this band), and it includes a lot of instrumental mixes (plus a heartbreaking vocal mix of As Long As I Live). Listening to all these instrumental mixes, I thought You know, this would make great writing music.

Great. So I had music, but I still didn't have a plot.

Then, while reading up on the history of ballet in Russia (I'm not this boring in real life, honest), I came upon a brief account of Nijinsky, how he had been the star of some bigshot Russian ballet company and then was dismissed while on tour in America because he (gasp!) got married. The director of the company pretty much made his life a living hell after that, and Nijinsky suffered a mental collapse before he even turned thirty.

The concept intrigued me, but I kept reading, on through the account of what happened to that company and all the others in Russia at the time. Then I set the book aside for a break, but my mind kept chewing on that idea -- of the director of a ballet company deliberately driving his former star to insanity out of sheer bitterness.

Within an hour and a half, I had a solid plot sketched out. Two days later I named the characters.

This will be interesting, as it's shaping up to be quite a dark book. I mean, I've written a book containing hallucinations and a rather violent murder (Reuben); a book that opens with a drug-overdose death and continues with the subject of drugs and drug addicts throughout the book -- to say nothing of the fact that one of the characters is, quite literally, in Hell (Chasm); and a book where a heinous plague is threatening to wipe out an entire world (Rebecca's World). Aside from the aforementioned murder, I've written at least three other death scenes in my novels over the years. But this one looks like it will not only contain murder and a stalker and one man actively trying to drive another insane, the story goes that the ex-star and his nine-year-old son live out of dingy motels, mostly working in sleazy bars just for food. It's all here, people -- drugs, murder, crime, cheap women, booze... the whole bit. Kill or be killed.

Then the kid discovers that his mother's death years before was actually murder. Not long after that, he's kidnapped and while in captivity he develops a fierce determination to avenge his mother's death -- even if it means taking out the director of a world-renowned dance company.

26 October 2013

Let's Have a Listening Party!

Have you been dying to hear the new Daniel Amos album? (You know, the one I've been fangirling over for months...) Are you the type who's too cheap to buy an album until you know you'll love it? (Don't be ashamed -- I'm a founding member of that club.)

Well, here's your chance to see for yourself if the new DA album really is as amazing as I keep telling you it is. Hold on to your wallet. (Actually, don't. The guys could probably use the cash.)

The Cephas Hour will be broadcasting the new Daniel Amos album, Dig Here Said The Angel, in its entirety tomorrow, 27 October. The special runs at 11am Eastern Standard Time (8am Pacific) and again at 11pm EST (8pm PST). I would also assume it'll be released in podcast form (on iTunes) later this week as are the regular episodes of the Cephas Hour.

Tune in here.

Lyrics to the album can be found here (click the song titles).

25 October 2013

Your Obscure Music Digest

Well, since there's a lull in DA and White Heart stuff, I am now featuring stuff from The Choir. Observe.

From the list linked above, I've only heard four songs -- Beautiful Scandalous Night (and that was only in part), Between Bare Trees, Midnight Sun, and That Melancholy Ghost. They're all lovely; however, those of you who know me as a rocker will be surprised -- these tracks (at least those four) are slow and the instrumentation is sparse. If it wasn't for the writing, I probably wouldn't listen to them at all.

The link is included on the page linked above, but if you're too lazy to read through it, here's the link directly to their Kickstarter campaign to make a new studio album and a live album. They've already met their funding goal, but you have until the end of the month to join in.

Metalheads, take note: Bloodgood and Stryper have both got new albums going out in a few weeks (November first and fifth, respectively). Word on the street (that is, Facebook and random album reviews) says the Stryper one is worthy of the Stryper banner... haven't heard too much about the Bloodgood one yet.

Watch the official video for Stryper's No Hell To Pay here. Watch the official video for Bloodgood's Lamb Of God here.

Also, after announcing a Kickstarter campaign that was supposed to launch last week, PFR is unexpectedly calling it quits. For good? Who knows -- this is PFR. They've quit and reappeared at least twice. But it's safe to say they're out of commission for a few more years at least. They have asked for prayer for the guys -- no more information has been given.

Lecrae's dropping a mixtape, Church Clothes 2, on 7 November. The last one was released on Datpiff, so I assume CC2 will be the same. (For those of you keeping score, that's three new albums in the first week of NaNoWriMo. Can you say 'jackpot?')

Also, this. This is awesome on so many levels. I love the DA/Choir/TST/etc. fanbase so, so much, and this is a great example of why. Name me another fanbase that will even think of something like this, never mind actually give it a shot.

21 October 2013

Time Bubbles

Moving to another province and entering a public schooling system for the first time in my life was... surreal. It felt like I was in a bubble -- that my life in Alberta was 'paused' and I had picked up a life in Saskatchewan that existed in linear time, but not on the same track my time in Alberta had been. (Believe it or not, this is the best way to explain it.)

They were so separate, so easily. In fact, so much so that when my mother and my sister came to pick me up on Thursday (to take me back to Alberta for reading week), it was very jarring to see them in that context. I'm used to my dorm mates walking around the halls and in our room, not my mother and sister. My brain was flashing 'incongruency detected' at me throughout dinner and then as we left the college campus. In fact, it didn't really start feeling normal until we stopped for fuel at Rosetown.

Saskatchewan and Alberta are so different. Saskatchewan has no trees. Even the towns are tiny and they're few and far between. I feel like the town I'm going to college in is one of the larger ones (maybe it's just because you see more people there though), and even their population doesn't reach a thousand. Once you cross the border into Alberta, the difference is almost instant. There's almost this sigh of relief -- civilization! In Saskatchewan, Subway is pretty much the only chain-anything you will see (outside of farm equipment dealers). I spent two months in Saskatchewan and I have yet to see a Wendy's. In Alberta there's one in nearly every town.

But enough about the social/geographical differences.

Coming back home after a two-month absence was kind of odd -- we parked in front of the garage, like we always do, and I grabbed some of my stuff, walked inside and dropped it all on the same spot at the table as I've always done. And as I did so, there was this sense that no time had passed. It was as if the 'Play' button had been pressed, and things were picking up where they had left off. It was like my entire time in Saskatchewan, all those classes and tests I've taken and the people I've met... it was like it had all been a dream, and this was my reality, here, now. And it was odd because I expected these once-normal things to be more foreign to me.

On one hand it was a relief... I was terrified that I would come back to Alberta and nothing would be the same, and I'm glad that wasn't the case -- nothing drastic has changed. But on the other hand it's a little frightening. Two months have gone by (almost). Two months. And it feels like nothing. This calls up the question: how much time has to pass before it feels like something? How much time can be wasted before we start to feel it? The answer scares me... two months between leaving the house and returning to it was as if maybe a couple of hours had passed. What if it's several years before you feel like time has really passed? Or several decades? You could spend decades wasting your life and not feeling it. You could conceivably spend decades inside a certain bubble of time and not realise it until it pops too late.

Seriously, it feels like I never left. Four days after leaving Saskatchewan I'm having a hard time remembering my dorm mates and all the classes as something that really happened, not just a dream I had. It feels so normal and 'right' here. I get the sense that leaving Alberta to finish the semester will be much, much harder than the first time I left...

13 October 2013

What I Miss

You know what I miss the most about being at home?

All the driving.

No, I'm serious. It's always mystified me how much people whine about driving -- be it commuting to work/school, going on vacations, or doing errands. People hate driving. I've never understood this, but it's become even more weird to me now that I haven't driven anything in nearly two months.

See, my mother decreed that the rattletrap was not coming to Saskatchewan with me. It eats coolant and the vital systems of the thing are slowly failing. She didn't want me to wind up stranded on the side of the Trans-Canada highway in the middle of December with nobody within a nine-hour drive able to come rescue me (this was before we got here and found out several people in my hall did bring vehicles and probably do care for me enough to come rescue me from the side of the road).

I miss a lot of little things about driving. I miss watching the sunsets as I cruise down the highway. I miss seeing the streetlights stretching out before me on the way to tap class. I miss slowing down to forty and studying the buildings in the small town near my home out of the corner of my eye. I miss feeling the steering wheel under my hands and the solid click of the turn signal.

I miss the peace that came with driving... of not having to do anything else, just drive. And think. And maybe sing. You don't have to pause what you're doing to change over the laundry, or write something down, or check your email, or any other combination of ten things at once. You have one task and one task only. Just drive. I miss that assurance of knowing that if you keep going, you will get there all in good time.

But I think if I'm honest, most of all, I miss the music.

I miss JAG on the way to Bible study. I miss Daniel Amos on the way back from my friends' house. I miss Prodigal on the way back from ballet (Electric Eye) and the other Bible study (Just Like Real Life). I miss White Heart on the way to tap class and dance team. I miss Crumbächer on the way to get groceries. I miss listening to Michael W. Smith's Christmas whenever the heater's running and the snow is dancing in the high-beams.

Basically, I think I mostly just miss music. And streetlights. And dusk. And home.

04 October 2013

Music Day - Elle G.

This has been running through my head for a week. As the green leaves turn orange and yellow and swirl around below my window and the grey clouds of the approaching winter hang over town, this song weaves its way around the inside of my head, adding a melancholy melody to the chilled wind whipping my hair around my face.

I miss my family and friends so much. I miss the forays to the mall and to antique shops, having time just to have fun and to slow things down. I miss the laughs of my sisters and the faces of my brothers (and vice versa). I miss going to church and knowing everybody there. I miss driving twenty minutes to anywhere during twilight, alone, singing. I miss the hugs from my three closest friends at church, every week. I miss doing choreography, without the shadowed pressure of 'you know you have a paper to write...' I miss telling my mother everything there is to know about my favourite bands, even though she doesn't seem to really care. I miss working with my dad in the blasting sun on the hottest day of the year, shingling the largest roof in Canada. I miss being able to quote Daniel Amos songs and not having to explain what I'm quoting and why I think it's so dad-blamed funny. I miss saying 'White Heart' and people knowing who I'm talking about. I miss hearing Petra playing from other rooms in the house rather than just mine. I miss having an unobstructed view of the sunset every night. I miss people understanding my peculiar brand of sarcasm.

This song touches the same feeling (though deeper and darker than mine). It is perhaps the most beautiful song the Newsboys ever recorded.

Title: Elle G.
Artist: Newsboys
Album: Going Public
Year: 1994
Label: Star Song
iTunes here; YouTube here. (For interest's sake, listen to co-songwriter Steve Taylor's live take on it here.)

I am comforted slightly by the fact that I still see the dancing. As I listen to this song, I still see choreography in my mind, the way it's always been. I guess I shouldn't be surprised... I've been doing this in my head since I was seven. But somehow I thought that I might lose the capability since I haven't had the chance to choreograph anything since the beginning of August.

I've sort of been singing this song to myself here from myself in Alberta -- you can't imagine the guilt I feel in leaving. Most of my siblings are still so young. I feel terrible for leaving them. Sure, I'll be back for Christmas and for the summer, but what is that? What is that when we will be apart for Thanksgiving and the crucial atmospheric weeks leading up to Christmas and depending when Easter falls (I haven't checked), that too?

Silence all
Nobody breathe
How in the world could you just leave?

I feel like I left everything for this, and the stupid thing is I don't even know why. God called me here, so there must be a purpose, but so far I don't see anything that was worth leaving my family for. Not for two years. The people here are wonderful and funny, but though several of them remind me of my family, they will never replace them.

Thumbs out on a desert road I am told
Leads to nowhere...

Maybe this world is a barren place for a soul
Prone to get lost
But heaven still hounds from the smallest sounds to the cries
Of the storm-tossed...

28 September 2013

Music Day - Grace

Yesterday it rained. Actually, it rained harder than I've ever seen in my life -- and consistently. Back home it'll pour rain for maybe five minutes, and that's all you'll see all year. Yesterday it was pouring rain when I woke up at 8.30, and it poured rain consistently for the entire day. If my academic day hadn't sucked, I would have been dancing around the building.

But walking to the academic building in the pouring rain to the 12.25 class, without a complete assignment in my hand, knowing that by making this walk without that paper, I was forfeiting 20% of my grade... suddenly, randomly, this song was in my head.

I'm not expecting grace. This is college. I'm not going to get away with not turning in a major assignment on time, no matter what the reason, no matter how hard I may have tried. But this song began to softly weave its way around in my head, adding that perfect poetic melancholy to the rain and that walk over the brick path to the building.

Title: Grace
Artist: The Choir
Album: Speckled Bird
Year: 1994
Label: R.E.X. Music
iTunes here; YouTube here.
You can buy a set that contains this album from the band here (it's near the bottom of the page).

You know, I didn't really like The Choir when I first started hearing stuff from them. It wasn't bad, but it didn't capture me.

Then, of course, I discovered Daniel Amos.

Daniel Amos and The Choir mix together in so many ways I can't keep track of them anymore. They play on and produce each other's albums (Tim Chandler is actually the official bass player for both bands), and members from both bands are involved in the Lost Dogs. Thus, my love for Terry Taylor's poetry has helped illuminate that of Hindalong and Daugherty.

I first heard this song in particular on the Cephas Hour a while back. I was hooked at Screaming at the newsman...

I love the orchestration. It's sort of reminiscent of DA's Dig Here Said The Angel (though lyrically it feels more like Prodigal). It has a slow swirling underwater-murky feel throughout, with so much ominous restraint in the low end. In the third verse, for about two lines, there's this sound in the background -- it defies description, but it sounds so cool.

It's the little things in the arrangement that make this song so startlingly melancholy. It's so different to hear a song start with the vocal right away. And then, when the lyrics have all been sung, the song ends. No goofing around with superfluous lyric repeats and high-falutin' guitar solos. They say what needs to be said and then shut up so you can think about it. I know I already said this, but it really is Prodigal meets Dig Here. It's beautiful. It's real. It pulls no punches.

It is the perfect rainy day song.

By the way: they're launching a Kickstarter program next week... and there's a free online concert on Tuesday. Check out their website for details.

23 September 2013

A Happy Check-In

So I got 80% on my book report. 96% on the music theory quiz.

We're starting on our Christmas music in choir this week.

Got two packages in the mail today. Both packages had food. One had a Crumbächer CD (Escape From The Fallen Planet) and a ballet syllabus music CD.

Spent most of the day with Vector's Dance in my head.

And I have ballet class tomorrow.

The only bad thing about this day was that I didn't get to work on choreography because I have a 1200-word paper due on Thursday.

20 September 2013

Music Day - The Midget...

Another new favourite. I love this one. Soft, sparse, and gentle but just a little bit haunted... the softness really makes the song. Sure, you could scream this lyric, a la Skillet, but it wouldn't be nearly as lovely.

This is perhaps one of my favourite vocals (so far) from Terry. You have to hear it to get it -- you can't really put words to layers and subtext like this. He may not have the razor-sharp, crystal-clear quality of Rick Florian, but dude can pack nuance into a vocal. Holy smokes.

The lyrical build is fascinating -- midget, speck, molecule, almost nothing, invisible but not silent, a commanding presence even in the absence of physical representation.

The little bitty speck bit is perhaps my favourite part because the whispered, breathy vocal gets slightly processed, giving it a more haunted, empty sound. Parts of the song remind me of the title track from Dig Here Said The Angel.

Title: The Midget, The Speck, And The Molecule
Artist: The Swirling Eddies
Album: The Midget, The Speck, And The Molecule
Year: 2007
Label: Stunt Records
iTunes here; this isn't on YouTube (are you serious?). Buy it from the artist here. (Also, if you go here, they have the most adorable 'Midget' buttons, featuring the 'midget' artwork from the album cover. So cute.)
Lyrics here.

Can you see me through your glass darkly
I'm an old hitchhiker...

17 September 2013

Routine Drive

(Found this while looking through my 'Unpublished' folder - don't know why it wasn't published. Originally written on 7 May.)

I live about twenty minutes from the nearest substantial town (there's a tiny little pinprick town about ten minutes away). As a result of this arrangement, I log a lot of hours alone behind the wheel of the mostly-faithful rattletrap, driving to church meetings and Bible studies and meetings with friends and, for about a year, my job as a papergirl.

Those drives are filled with lots of music and lots of thinking.

Tonight was Bible study night. As I left the house and walked down the driveway, I began to slow things down... walking more slowly as I made the left turn onto the sidewalk towards the rattletrap.

I looked at the bush in front of the house, lining the sidewalk, remembering how just weeks before I had walked this same sidewalk and marveled at the the beauty of the streetlight across the intersection glittering off the snow that had been piled beside me.

I looked up, at the still-light sky. Dark blue clouds obscured the actual sunset and added pop to the lighter blue sky above it, but the light still shone through, silhouetting the tree branches down the lane. In a moment I was transported back to Vancouver in the summer of 2009 -- one week I hope that I never forget. In fact, I can still feel the blister on the back of my ankle from those tight shoes and I can still see the glorious pink and orange sunset as it sank into the Pacific Ocean and the shadows lengthened on the beach.

I headed to the rattletrap, parked rather farther from the curb than I thought it was. As I came around the front to the driver's side door, I noticed someone sitting in the backyard across the street. Their face was lit with the unmistakable glow of a bonfire that I couldn't see from my angle.

As I got in the van, I caught some of the smoke smell. Ordinarily I hate that smell, but that one soft wisp across my face was pleasant -- bringing back all those nights a decade ago with family friends as the adults talked around the campfire well beyond midnight and we kids ran around in the cool grass in the dark open spaces.

I got in the rattletrap and started it up. This morning in the mail I had finally received a copy of JAG's 1991 album The Only World In Town, and I had been listening to it on the way into town. The title track was just starting as I pulled away and slowly rolled up to the stop sign.

A couple was crossing the street to my left. Further on, another couple was walking in the direction I would be traveling. I made my turn and at the next stop sign I watched a whole group of kids, perhaps in their early teens, ride their bikes across the intersection.

This town is not a generally happy town. It's known all around as kind of a place where the 'ne'er-do-wells' hang out. Homeless folks abound here, and drinking is a huge problem. This is not the kind of town you walk alone at night.

Even as I made my turn at the second stop sign and headed down the road to the highway, I saw the red and blue flashing lights on the corner of one of the side roads. There was only the one police car, and I didn't see any other cars or any kind of kerfuffle. But as I approached I saw a cold blue light. After a moment I realised it was a police flashlight.

As I passed, I saw a lone cop standing on the grassy embankment on the side of the road, shining the blue light on a man lying against the fence. At first I wondered if it was a body, then I saw the man move, slowly, as if in pain. His baseball cap was falling off his head with the movement, revealing a bald head.

This is the only world in town
Who's gonna change it
This is the only world in town
We'll never make it on our own...

Even though the posted limit was sixty, I was only driving forty. The music was perfect for the moment -- the fading sunlight, the streetlights clearly visible against the darkening sky.

Then I reached the city limits. The hospital is to my left. As I sit at the stop sign, checking for traffic, the highway stretches out in either direction.

I crossed the highway onto the secondary highway -- a one-lane-each-direction deal rarely traveled. On the average trip down it you'll see only three or four other vehicles on it. Most of them are passing you.

I watch in the rearview mirror as the streetlights by the hospital melt together into one little blob. Then as I go down the hill, they are finally snatched from sight, and I am once again alone on an open, lonely country road.

13 September 2013

Music Day - Don't Bother Me Now

Since coming to college, I've been intensely discouraged. Remembering how just before I left, suddenly everyone loved me. Suddenly I was everyone's darling. Now that I was doing something with my pathetic life, now they couldn't tell me enough how they were so proud of me and how much they loved me.

And all I can think of is that VeggieTales quote, from A Snoodle's Tale... "A gift that's demanded is no gift at all." I should not have your love only when I've 'earned' it. It should be unconditional or nonexistent. Lukewarm love is the deepest insult and abomination of the worth of a human.

But now is not the time for the full rant (believe me, this could go on for days).

Suffice to say I've been in a pretty despondent state thinking about this. Knowing that even to those who should love me most deeply I'm worth only as much as I make (or am being educated to make).

The other day I read a blog post (somewhere...) that reviewed this album. I'd heard of the band, but the actual music I'd heard so far didn't thrill me. It was well-crafted, but it didn't grab my attention. However, based on that review I listened to a few tracks on this album. Then a few more. Then a few more. Then the rest of them. These ones I really enjoyed. Even previewing it on iTunes made me feel like the record player was sitting right beside me, with the needle bobbing and dipping along the vinyl.

Yesterday I finally broke down and bought the thing. Last night, while the rest of the hall was watching a movie, I caught up on some email while listening to the album.

This song stopped me in my proverbial tracks.

Title: Don't Bother Me Now
Artist: Sweet Comfort Band
Album: Perfect Timing
Year: 1984
Label: Light Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

The lyrics -- this is me, right now. This is me.

You've got the funniest way of showing me that you love me
You seem to never have time to go out of your way
I finally catch you alone
You've got your mind on your money...

I think I'm losing my voice
Still you don't hear me
I'm saying everything twice
But nothing at all...

06 September 2013

Music Day - Ghost Of The Heart

This is such a great song. It's got that acoustic 'flavour' to it (though it's not actually completely acoustic), but it has such a great groove to it. Especially through headphones.

This is one of the first Daniel Amos songs I owned (there were three). I actually only bought it because I read that this was the track being played backwards to create the soundscape for their song Hollow Man, and I wanted to hear what the original sounded like.

Like I said though, this sounds very stripped-down and acoustic, but if you give it a careful listen (or several), you'll hear that it's really quite complex. I really like the acoustic picking on this one. That and the bass groove absolutely make the song. (It's also funny listening to live recordings of them doing this song with Jerry Chamberlain taking care of the female vocal in the bridge. He does it pretty well, but it's still kind of funny.)

Also, I have nearly an entire tap dance for this one. Nearly. Formations are all figured out, and so is all the group work. It's just some soloist stuff and the footwork in the (what else?) guitar solo. I know kind of the look and sound I want, it's just a matter of figuring out how to create it.

Title: Ghost Of The Heart
Artist: Daniel Amos
Album: ¡Alarma!
Year: 1981
Label: Stunt Records
iTunes here; buy the deluxe edition of the album from DA's website here. (Trust me, it's worth the money. There's not a miss on this thing.)
For YouTube, you'll have to settle for this and this because apparently the studio version doesn't exist on YouTube, only the live ones... The first one is from 1982, a year after the album came out. It's significantly more 'rock-y' than the original, but you get the general idea. The second is from 2011, and it's actually closer to the original than the 1982 one (though the groove still isn't as prominent).

05 September 2013

Building Puzzles

Note: This was actually written a couple of weeks ago, however, the stress of packing and moving (as referred to in the post) zapped my energy to finish and publish this until just before the Internet went down for four days. As I write this note, I am actually at the college and have just began classes. Therefore the timeline in this post is a little bit out of whack (when I say 'right now,' it now actually means like two weeks ago), but the general informational idea (such as it is) is still the same.

So after that post talking about that little detour (or, more accurately, hairpin-sharp left turn) into the college thing, you faithful readers may or may not have wondered, 'Will she still do choreography?' (Okay, I know you probably didn't care, but humour me.)

As of right now, yes. Actually, I'm kind of choreographing like a mad woman. Having never been in a public school setting I have no clue what to expect from college. I hear people griping about the workload -- assignments and essays and homework and things -- but I don't know how much truth there is to that, or if they're all just being public-school whiners (crap. I said that out loud, didn't I?). As a result, I'm not sure how much spare time -- if any -- I'm going to have for personal pursuits such as choreography, so I'm trying to cram in as much as I can now, just in case. On paper, my course load this semester seems not bad (three classes Mondays and Wednesdays and two on Tuesdays and Thursdays), but who knows how much outside studying there'll be...

I've talked before about my experience with emotion being good for creativity (whether it's quality creativity remains to be seen). So having to leave my beloved dance school and now psyching myself up to saying goodbye to my friends and family here in two weeks and then moving -- something I've never done before in my life -- out of province is sparking a lot of creativity. Since the beginning of June I've choreographed (fully notated) ChangelessSanctuary, and Daniel Amos' lovely Beautiful One (that last one only took 28 hours from initial idea to full notation), plus I've also sketched out a lot of other stuff and it's all quite good (in comparison to everything else I've done so far).

Following that I was working on a White Heart song (hey, DA and White Heart make good nuanced music, okay?) called Heaven Of My Heart. It's off to a slow start, though... I know sort of the feel I want for it, but the specific steps to accomplish said vision are so far eluding me, so I've been flipping back and forth between a few other songs... notably White Heart's Silhouette, John Michael Talbot's The Birth Of Jesus, and Terry Scott Taylor's Dancing On Light (words cannot explain how much I love this song). I have a lot of good ideas for all of them, but for some reason I don't want to commit to one... probably because I had committed to Heaven Of My Heart and it's not going anywhere. I hate leaving choreography half-finished (Montana Sky still haunts me).


The other day while listening to the ShufflePod, David Meece's heavenly symphony God's Promises/Rainbows In The Night came through (followed immediately by the Swirling Eddies. I love my iPod). This is a gorgeous song, and it has ballet written all over it. I always knew I would do it someday, but 'someday' would come when I had really refined my ability to choreograph a smooth, flowing dance and aesthetically pleasing formations. This is a phenomenal majestic song and as a choreographer I cannot give it anything less than the best that ballet has to offer. I knew if I were to do it at that point, I couldn't even do the song justice, and even mere 'justice' is not good enough for something so sweeping and marvelous. I wasn't yet ready for a project of this caliber -- it would be six and a half minutes of grand, majestic, and very precise classical ballet for twelve people.

Last time I even thought of this song was probably in the spring sometime. I hadn't heard it in a long while (it's a crime to forget this song, and yet I keep doing it). Since then, things have changed -- I've had the opportunity to take a couple of ballet classes in the next level up than I was in, and it's one of those 'big jump' levels... you go from floating and gentle ballet to quick, precise and expressive ballet. I've noticed choreography coming far easier and far more quickly than before I took that class, plus my dancing is way more interesting now. I have a lot more technique to draw on thanks to that class.

Also, in the past week and a half or so I've been watching pretty much every classical ballet video that exists on YouTube. All the classic ballets (Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, I even saw some Alice In Wonderland...), and quite a few rehearsals, plus a bunch of Balanchine's stuff (despite having spent most of my life in the ballet community and having heard he was such a great choreographer, I've never actually seen his work).

You know how it works -- the more you watch something or listen to something, the more it sinks into the fabric of your being. Watching literally hours and hours and hours of rehearsing and excerpts of great ballets has packed my head so full of ballet stuff: intricate footwork, quick and complex movements, strings of impressive extensions, turns, and jumps without a break. (If you only watch one ballet excerpt in your entire life, watch this one... you will never fully understand how amazing this is if you've never been on pointe, but even to the untrained eye this is no doubt impressive.)

As a result of all the learning, the other day when that David Meece song came through, I began to wonder if maybe now I was ready.

So I'm seriously sketching it out now -- not officially notating, but coming up with pieces and fitting them together. It really is like building a puzzle, only you also have to create the pieces first. I did this with Sanctuary, with fantastic results -- Sanctuary is freaking gorgeous. The ending alone could stand as my best work (so far). Of course, by the time I finished I was ready to shred my sketch pages (my cross-references had cross-references which cross-referenced back for two lines of information before another cross-reference sent me off on another quest for a different page. The ending may have turned out spectacular, but sketching that first and then filling everything else in later on the following pages was insanity), but at least the final product was worth it. Because it worked so well with Sanctuary, I used the same approach with Beautiful One -- essentially choreographing the entire thing in my head and outlining it in English notes, then just transcribing it into BMN. I can pretty much guarantee that was how I managed to create the dance for Beautiful One from scratch so quickly.

Sorry, kind of a ramble... but as I'm writing I'm realising I think I found my creative rhythm!

Anyway, I haven't totally committed to God's Promises/Rainbows In The Night yet, but it's much closer to what I envisioned than it was a month ago... I seriously thought it would be years and years, and it's kind of surreal to think that maybe it's not that far off. I'm excited, anyway.

31 August 2013

Music Day - Powerhouse

This is perfect rocking-out concert material (see Exhibit A and Exhibit B). Big drums, big hair, great guitar riff, rumbling bass, and Rick Florian.

It starts with with a solid guitar riff, then the drums and bass come in and together they build a great little nest of straight-up rock goodness for Rick's vocals to slide into a few measures later. Halfway through the first verse you begin to hear a little bit of keyboard. Rick himself sounds just a touch edgier than he does on some of the earlier projects -- even the rockier songs on the previous album, Freedom, featured very clean vocals where he was concerned (which, now that I think about it, is precisely why I love this his singing so much. It takes a lot of skill to keep a clean vocal when you're singing Power Tools).

And now back to today's song...

I've always liked that guitar riff sliding down into the chorus, and then the band vocals burst on the scene: 'Pow-er-house!' In the second and subsequent choruses, there's quite a lot going on vocally -- band vocals, backing vocals, Rick's lead...

They take it down (slightly) for eight sets of eight, just long enough to give the song some texture (and add some light keyboard and a sort of otherworldly 'Power...' from Rick), then the guitar chugs back in and blazes through a solo that's loud if nothing else, and then it all stops, everything, and just the band shouts again 'Pow-er-house!'

And with a sparkling keyboard, the chorus kicks back in. I think my favourite part is just at the end of the chorus, that last high hold from Rick (We need the powerhouse...) and then the drum sort of 'stutters' before the guitar comes back in and does kind of a reprise of the solo (it actually sounds a little out of place here, but the sheer passion with which it's played makes it tolerable).

Title: Powerhouse
Artist: White Heart
Album: Powerhouse
Year: 1990
Label: Star Song
iTunes here; YouTube here.

Go ahead, crank it and roll down the window. If anybody asks, it's summer's last hurrah -- those are always allowed to be 1990 arena rock. (Beyond Belief, anyone?)

27 August 2013


My favourite time of day is not night (as many assume due to my tendency to stay up till four in the morning), it's actually dusk.

At dusk, it's not completely dark and you can still see the trees and the outlines of the clouds that only a few minutes ago reflected the sunset.

Dusk is the centre of all the magic. The sunset is just fading, the streetlights are just beginning to be visible, the air is just becoming cool, quiet is just beginning to settle over the land. Dusk is the rare time of day that is equally gorgeous both in the city and the country. And it's fleeting enough that you can never get too used to it.

Around this time of year a lot of my driving happens to take place over sunset and dusk. It's all at the same time on the clock, but thanks to the changing of the seasons I drive around at sunset now and not in the dark or in full sun.

Driving is one of the few times I'm well and truly alone. Sometimes I enjoy it, though sometimes it kills me that no-one is with me. Today I enjoyed it.

Initially I hadn't wanted to go anywhere, but I needed to be at a practice at the church and so I (rather begrudgingly) drove to the church, in full sun. But by the time I left the church to drop off one of the others at her place, the sun had dipped behind the buildings and the trees. By the time I drove up to the last intersection in town, the pale pink sunset was already beginning to fade.

There are two ways home from this intersection. You can turn right and go straight, or you can go straight through now and turn right later. My parents prefer going right at the intersection and then driving straight home, but my love for city lights means I often go straight through the lights.

If you go straight through the lights, just beyond the halfway point between the lights and my turn, there's a little town. At dusk it's mostly closed, but the streetlights are on, the two gas bars are still open, and there's a little pub on one corner which always has coloured lights to stand out against the grey-blue sky.

Even before the town, though, the highway is beautiful. It's lined with trees most of the way. There's one short piece just before the town limits that's nearly closed in with tall pines on both sides of the road, then the trees open up just as the road drops and you go around a bend and over a creek. I often think I've wound up in the mountains, due to the view. It may be nicknamed the highway of death, but at least it's a lovely place. (This was the highway where I had my accident, and I know of at least four others who were also in serious wrecks along this stretch. One was fatal.) On the other side of town the trees thin out, but by then you're preoccupied with the beauty that preceded it.

Songs like Walls Of Doubt and Ghost Of The Heart were playing on my stereo as I headed into (and out of) the little town, complementing the scenery. But then that was the end of that CD and I put in my (shiny brand-new) Dig Here Said The Angel CD, hoping I could hear the title track before I got home.

With some careful speed-limit finessing (which can only be done in the country because city people get angry when you drive slower), I not only got to the third track, I managed to make it last for the entire stretch of road from my second turn to our driveway.

Driving along a gravel road, with headlights barely doing anything to illuminate it (I narrowly missed hitting a porcupine), and listening to that song while watching silhouette trees rise up into the steel-blue sky as a yellowish green light (a remnant of the sunset) illuminates a few sparse clouds to the west is a magic moment. Getting out of the rattletrap right after the song ends and letting that gorgeous chorus melody echo through your mind as you stand in open stillness at the edge of dusk is perhaps even better.

23 August 2013

Music Day (Or, A Probably-Pointless Trip Down Memory Lane)

Last fall and early winter, this was my driving-to-tap-class album. The dance studio is far enough away from our house that I can listen to an entire album on the way there, and another on the way back. Tap was on Monday nights and while the album on the way back would vary, on the way there it was always Don't Wait For The Movie.

The first couple songs were me setting the speed, getting to the highway. By the time I got to the first city lights (I skirt two cities on the way in and enter the third), Fly Eagle Fly would be starting.

Here the magic began. Not so much the song (it's actually kind of a really cheesy song), but the visual... velvet black nightscape dotted with oncoming headlights and the streetlights of the city up ahead. And as I took the ramp onto the main highway, Convertibles would always start to play.

Let The Children Play and King George would mark my time on that highway, following the streetlights for part of the way, and then as I approached the second city and got onto the exit for the ring road I would get to listen to No Apology, and then Maybe Today would always just start as I went under the first overpass on the ring road and into the beginning of the curve. It was always a glorious sort of moment, not in that it was a big dramatic thing, but because the tinkling intro and the quietly-soaring keyboard backing Mark Gersmehl's brooding vocal seemed to be so, so perfect with the glittering streetlights in the endless Alberta night sky. I think this moment was the reason I always, always chose this album on that drive.

As I got to the halfway point on my trip on the ring road, Dr Jekyll And Mr Christian would start, and it would always just be ending as I was coming up across from the second city's skyline. (About halfway through the tap session I noticed that and holy crap I almost had a heart attack the first time I saw it... It was all lit up and so so beautiful -- red and green and blue and purple and streetlight off-white. I hadn't realised you could see the skyline from that road.)

And then I would exit off into the third city (well, not technically a city, though it's big enough to be one) during this, the final song on the album, to kind of calm me down and gently lead me into the dance school's little parking lot. Often I would pull into the parking lot with one chorus left to go, and if I wasn't running terribly late I would stay out in the rattletrap and let the song finish.

Title: How Many Times (Seventy Times Seven)
Artist: White Heart
Album: Don't Wait For The Movie
Year: 1986
Label: Sparrow Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

This album so quickly became my soundtrack for winter night city driving, following the string of streetlights along the highways, stars against a black sky. Several times it was snowing during the drive and I seem to remember one time where it was raining. Once the fog was just so that it caught the streetlights and scattered the light everywhere, lighting up the entire road and the sky above it. It was almost -- though not quite -- like driving in the daytime, so spread around was the light. There was one section on the ring road that randomly didn't have streetlights (still can't figure out why not), and driving through there that night was almost terrifying... the rattletrap isn't exactly known for its great headlights (actually, it's not really known for its great anything, but I digress), and without the light to scatter around, the fog pressed in and blocked the streetlights ahead and the streetlights behind almost completely from view. It was almost completely dark there for about a minute.

Oh, the song? Well -- Rick Florian. That should tell you everything you need to know. It's a good lyric too:
How many times
Have You wept from the anguish of all my shame
How many times
Have I nailed You up on that cross of pain...

It starts out with the concept of protagonist trying to come to terms with the concept of forgiving someone who's wronged him -- knowing it's what Christ has commanded, but struggling to lay aside his pride in order to do so.

But then after the interlude (a lovely simple keyboard bit that capitalises very well on the 'quiet struggle' mood of the song), the protagonist's point of view shifts to his precious Christ on the cross -- did Christ not forgive me of things far more grievous? Who then am I to withhold the grace that shouldn't have even been mine?

The ending is gorgeous. Protagonist is still wrestling with his desire to not forgive and is halfheartedly trying to convince God that 'no really, this is unforgiveable' when he knows better. And to each one of his arguments, a soft voice comes back to him: Seventy times seven.

And finally he is silent in the face of the reminder of simple, powerful love.

Seventy times seven.

(For those wondering what 'seventy times seven' has to do with anything... once, Jesus' disciple Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive somebody who's wronged him. Peter asks, "Is seven times enough?" Jesus (God in the flesh) says, "No, not only seven times, but seventy times seven." The term 'seventy times seven' has since come to be, for better or worse, a 'sacred buzzword' of sorts, a code phrase within the church meaning 'forgiving.' You can read the account of Peter's question and Jesus' answer in Matthew chapter 18, starting at verse 21.)

21 August 2013

The Messenger

The other day my great-uncle died. We knew it was coming, we knew it would likely be before the end of the month, and so it was sad -- although not a shock -- when the phone call came through.

Out of all the many, many relatives I know of, all the great-aunts and uncles who I greet by name if I see them around town, I was closest to this great-uncle. He lived in the next province over, but he and my great-aunt visited frequently and it was always wonderful news to hear that they were in Alberta. He always had a good story (the one about the talking car stands out to me) and some of his funniest sayings are still used in this house today ('For crying in the soup' is a notable one).

His son was with him when he died, and the son said that moments before, his eyes got wide and he smiled -- this huge smile. Even as I type this I can picture it lighting up his face. My dad (who got this story through the grapevine) said as he was telling it, "...so maybe he was seeing Jesus."

I was a bit surprised at the choice of words. Maybe? Only maybe?

Of course I can't prove it, but there's no doubt in my mind that he did see Jesus. I have never in my life met anybody who loved Jesus more than my great-uncle. Jesus was so very precious to him. It was so simple, but that love coloured everything my great-uncle did.

(Cue the part of the post where music shows up to 'help' me make my point.)

The day he died, I listened to the Daniel Amos song Banquet At The World's End. I'd only heard it twice before (once on YouTube and once on the Cephas Hour), and had just bought the album (plus somebody turned on the radio during Matt Redman's 10,000 Reasons, so I had to break out the iPod quick lest I suffer permanent brain damage and Banquet... was the first song I saw).

I love this song. I may have only heard it twice, but I'd probably read the lyrics about fifty times by then (yes, I go on the DA website and read random lyrics when I'm bored. Your point...?). Those are such beautiful lyrics -- The poor are coming; The lame are running... There's a harelip salesman shouting out the news: "Come to the banquet at the world's end!" And it's all set to upbeat happy music. I'm seriously considering choreographing this and including a role for a little girl to be 'inviting' people to said banquet. Not sure exactly how it's all going to work, but that's the embryonic idea.

As the song played and then continued to run through my head after it finished, I realised this had been my great-uncle's manifesto throughout his life (or at least most of his adult life). He spent many years going to Europe to preach. I've heard him preach a few times over the years, and he was the kindest preacher you would ever meet. He knew the Bible and would not exchange its truth for any other idea, but he was gentle and kind in his delivery. It wasn't just 'preaching,' though, the way most people think of it. He wasn't just a pulpit-thumper. He lived his life in accordance with everything he said from the pulpit -- the preaching was more like an extension of the way he lived rather than an occupation. To put it perhaps more accurately, he was a messenger, just announcing to anyone who would hear what God has done and is doing. He spent much of his life traveling internationally (without traditional missionary sponsorship) and inviting people, with a simple earnest joy, to come to the banquet at the world's end. (This is exactly the spirit I'm trying to nail down for the little girl in the dance.)

Now, this night, as I type, he is at that banquet. But there is still room for more around the table. And if the 'beautiful people' (as they're called in the song) won't come because 'life' (*cough* money) is too important, there are plenty of poor and lame who can and will, if only they know they're invited.

This poses a challenge to those of us remaining. My great-uncle's work here is done, but that doesn't discount the rest of us. May we -- may I -- take up the cry and run through the alleyways, beckoning to the forlorn figures hiding in the shadows...

Come to the banquet at the world's end!

10 August 2013

Music Day

Seriously? I haven't featured this song yet?

This was the only track I initially liked from the album of the same name (though I thought Ritual was kind of cool too). White Heart hadn't rocked hard like this since Bye Bye Babylon.

Oh, it starts quiet enough... but at about the nineteen-second mark the drum kicks up and then the bass falls in, gritty, crunchy, and most of all loud, with a similarly styled guitar ripping across the top on the seventh beat (dance counts), then the sixth and eighth beats of the next phrase.

Two more sets of eight, and then Rick comes in -- an almost-menacing intimate whisper, the power of his voice just barely restrained as he sweeps up into I don't know your name...

A breath, and control returns, a delicate tip-toe melody now for You've been hanging around for so long at my place...

By the time he sings It's crawling back again to find me and slips up into a desperate near-scream on Get it out of my mind... the song has taken on a slightly creepy feel. 'It' is never explained, though looking at the context of the song I'm picturing something kind of like Lecrae's Indwelling Sin -- the old sinful man trying to regain control of the redeemed human, to the horror of said redeemed human.

I absolutely love the guitars in the chorus -- low, fuzzy, almost static-like. It's a smooth trade-off... the vocal in the verse was heavily processed, but in the chorus it's mostly organic. However, the guitar takes over the fuzzed-out sound, giving the song a subtle change of pace while still feeling consistent.

Then we get the two sets of eight from the beginning again. (Darn it, I'm listening like a choreographer. Brain apparently does not want to shift into music-enjoyment mode.)

Listening to this again, I think this is the lowest I've heard Rick's voice, right there at the beginning of the second verse. He's very dynamic on this song, actually. I'm surprised more people don't quote it as a favourite (because we all know White Heart songs live or die by how spot-on Rick was when they recorded the vocals -- at least the rock ones). He's in fine form here -- almost growling, a touch of sarcastic menace, then screaming high (the word 'wailing' is the closest synonym I have off the top of my head), and it's all done so smoothly. Nearly every line has a different dynamic, and you're hard-pressed to find the transitions. The line You know that's a lie is delivered in a way that calls to mind the fire from Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Christian nine years before, and yet there's a touch of sadness in it -- you know that pained feeling you get when you see someone you love being a total idiot and destroying some aspect of their lives when you know they know better? Yeah. It kind of sounds like he's watching something like that.

Regular readers know that usually I don't pay attention to guitar solos (that or I hate them with a passion... depends if I'm choreographing it or not), but this is a killer solo. The bass and the drums still play behind it, adding power to it, and (thank goodness) it's not one of these presumptuous guitar solos where they just kind of shoe-horned it into the song because every song needs a guitar solo, right? It changes directions partway through, going from straight up rock-guitar-solo to something a little more finessed but equally loud. As the song rocks on, hurtling with reckless abandon to its close, the guitar work becomes rather off-kilter. So now you've got a totally fuzzed-out, not-quite-centered guitar and Rick's clear angelic voice still throwing in some stuff over it. It's perfect.

And then it all comes to an abrupt end with the vocal sliding up and snapping delicately off into nothing and a reverberating guitar chord picking up where the vocal track leaves off, carrying the song to a suspenseful-yet-satisfying ending.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present... Inside.

Title: Inside
Artist: White Heart
Album: Inside
Year: 1995
Label: Curb Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.