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.