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.