28 October 2016

Music Day - I Can See

I have been playing the crap out of this song lately. The other day I found out about the Steve Green cover of this song (which is fairly true to the original, and also it's apparently fairly well-known -- you know how sometimes the cover eclipses the original even if the original is better? This looks like one of those times), and I've been playing the original (which I already owned) ever since.

I really want to do a ballet solo to this. The orchestration is perfect for it. Now that I think about it, this song -- the album closer -- was really a departure from the album that preceded it. This was probably David Meece's most rocking album (which is still pretty mellow), and then at the very end comes this lovely quiet tender piano piece with a string orchestra and a very heartfelt (rather than energetic) vocal performance. David Meece is one of those performers who bleeds into his songs -- they're not just his way of making money (theoretically), these songs are a part of him. They come from his very soul and he means every word he sings. And it's not just the lyrics that are heartfelt -- the fact that he was practically born playing piano means he has that elusive ability to speak through the piano. The piano is an extension of his thoughts. This kind of intimacy with an instrument or tool only comes with long practice so it's quite rare (though less so among classical musicians, which David is), but it's so incredible to hear. There's a person at our church who plays cello and she's the same way -- she's so intimately acquainted with her instrument that the bow is an extension of her arm and she knows exactly how to make it say what she wants. (I hope to be able to dance like that one day -- that I will be able to know exactly how to shade what I do to speak without words. The sad thing is most dancers age out before they attain that level of thoroughness in their experience.) Photographers can do this too -- the camera is so much a part of them it's like the pen with which they write. They know the camera and the camera knows them. Taking a picture is a conversation between the photographer and her camera. But I digress...

This is a Don Francisco-style lyric (for his take on the same Biblical account, check out his song The Traveler/Joy), but David's voice is not quite as harsh as Don's and so blends better with the fragile flowing violins he chooses for his arrangement. I was first introduced to this song on vinyl (courtesy my dad), and that's a special treat. The warmer sound of vinyl adds just a little bit extra to the experience (although if your record has a lot of surface noise -- like ours does -- it's much harder to hear the actual song because the song is so quiet to begin with). If you get the chance to listen on vinyl, take it. But even listening in a digital format can be a moving experience.

Title: I Can See
Artist: David Meece
Album: 7
Year: 1985
Label: Myrrh Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

All at once he walked beside me
Like he'd been there all along
Not a stranger -- but a father
Who can sense when something's wrong...

24 October 2016

Big Deep Space

I finally figured out what I like in my music -- why I love the '80s so much and why I CANNOT STAND hipster music.

I mean, there are several things I like: a good clear voice that's not nasal or raspy (Rick Florian of White Heart, Loyd Boldman of Prodigal), keyboards/piano (David Meece, Crumbächer) poetic/deep/insightful lyrics (everything Terry Scott Taylor has ever breathed on), a good dancing beat (basically the entire 1980s)...

But the other night one more ingredient clicked in my mind: I like bigness.

The 1980s (especially rock and, to an extent, pop) are notorious for 'big' production. Lots of instruments, lots of layers, lots of space -- music that could, and often did, fill arenas and stadiums. Late at night, go crank up the local '80s station and notice how sooner or later your mental pictures start going into outer space even if the song isn't about outer space. The production is just so big, so open, that your mind just starts to fly on its wings and suddenly you're meandering past galaxies.

You don't have that kind of space in a hipster song. There's nothing between the moaning vocal and the acoustic guitar. It's so flat and listless. Rock used to glitter and sparkle and have shape -- big shape, like a cathedral's ceiling. There were layers you could dig through -- drums, bass, keys, multiple guitars, vocal harmonies -- and they all had different dynamics. I realised I like music that lets me escape, distracts me, lets me fly, fires my imagination, releases me to the stars. It awakens my sense of wonder, and these days I need as much of that as possible. Hipster music doesn't do that, and worship music especially doesn't do that (worship music should though, in my opinion -- how are you going to inspire wonder in a congregation about a God you can only praise with flat, listless, bland, boring music?). (For more on that rant, see here.)

This doesn't just apply to '80s rock either -- choral music and symphonic music have a similar effect. Both have been widely used in the church and still capture the hearts of young and old in any religion today. Coincidence?

I'm not saying we have to go back to '80s arena rock. It's not everyone's thing, and that's cool. But can we at least kill this hipster music thing so we can have a resurgence in inspiring music? Please?

22 October 2016

Why I Can't Get Any Homework Done

Written 21 October 2016.

Me, yesterday: "Tomorrow is pretty busy, but I'll try to get some work done in the afternoon between my dance classes."

Me, today:

10.15: *gets up*

10.20: *dresses/eats breakfast/does hair*

10.50: *goes to dance*

1.13: *goes to post office*

1.20: *makes lunch*

1.35: *eats lunch*

2.00: *practices voice*

3.00: *goes to music department office*

3.15: *heads back to flat*

3.18: *notices flat tire on van*

3.20: *calls dad* (*interrupts funeral*)

3.26: *calls tire shop*

3.27: *calls doctor's office about x-rays*

3.37: *meets tire shop people*

3.41: *calls x-ray place*

3.45: *homework*

4.02: *kills spider*

4.06: *walks two blocks to pick up van*

4.17: *drives back*

4.21: *writes blog post about not getting homework done*

4.35: *makes supper*

4.45: *eats supper*

5.36: *leaves for dance*

6.03: *goes to bank*

6.18: *arrives at dance school after having to cross Main Street, pull a U-turn, and come back because for some bizarre reason you're not allowed to turn left onto Main Street after leaving the bank even though you can turn left onto Main Street at literally every other intersection*

6.45: *pays outstanding dance fees*

7.00: *dance class*

10.20: *leaves dance school*

10.45: *brief detour at friend's bonfire*

11.13: *leaves bonfire*

11.32: *drops friend off at her house*

11.36: *returns to flat*

12.07: *emails mother*

12.36: *checks school email*

12.54: *publishes blog post*

21 October 2016

Music Day - Morningstar

One of my favourite Terry Scott Taylor lyrics EVER is Daniel Amos' song When Worlds Collide. It's a beautiful lyric, from the perspective of God to those He loves. This is a notoriously difficult angle to write from -- so rife with potential pitfalls that most songwriters rarely attempt it and those who do usually make it so contrived it's unlistenable. Terry Taylor, however, is 1. not out to write a Number One hit, and 2. a thinking man -- which in this case translates into 'fantastic songwriter' -- and as a result his take on it is probably the closest one out there to how it actually is.

Not long after that song appeared on DA's Vox Humana album in 1984, Terry Taylor produced an album for a little band called D.O.X. that made two albums and disappeared. Even though he only wrote two of the songs on it (the band took care of the rest), his influence is ALL OVER that album. I keep thinking it's a lost DA record (compare with DA's Fearful Symmetry album from the same year). You can even hear Terry Taylor, Rob Watson (DA keyboardist), and Tim Chandler (DA bassist) in the background vocals in some of the songs. This influence extends to the songwriting of Mark de la Bretonne (D.O.X. frontman), and nowhere is this more evident than in the album closer, Morningstar.

Title: Morningstar
Artist: D.O.X.
Album: D.O.X. (Defenders Of The Cross)
Year: 1986
iTunes here; YouTube here.

The song opens with a brief but crisp description of loneliness and twisted love in the big city, enough to paint a picture of a heart's desolation. And then it segues into what is clearly the voice of God, pining over an unrequited love (hint: that's all humans), much in the style of the aforementioned When Worlds Collide (though admittedly, Morningstar is not as tender -- I mean, it has rock guitars).

The real payoff here is in the final minute of the song, when some genius (who, I suspect, bears the initials T.S.T. but I could be wrong) decided to layer bits of the first verse with the chorus and the result is heart-wrenching. It stopped me in my tracks when I first heard it.

Sit down. Close your eyes. Breathe. Listen.

I walk the streets alone
I call your name...

08 October 2016

Music Day - Kickstarter Alert!

Ever wanted to see Crumbächer in concert?

Or the Altar Boys?

Or The Choir?

Or Undercover?

Or 4.4.1?

If you, like me, are too young to remember the glory days of Christian music, here is your TARDIS!

See, back in 2005, these five bands did a one-night-only reunion concert. This show was filmed. Interviews were filmed. And now, eleven years later, they're putting it all together in a double-disc four-hour DVD extravaganza!

...If they get the funding. And that's where we come in.

The link to their Kickstarter campaign is here. If you're not familiar with these bands, allow me to introduce you...

Altar Boys
These guys have gone down in history as Christian music's first legitimate punk band. They were raw and gritty and honest and above all, passionate.
You Are Loved
Hearts Lost In Nowhere
Life Begins At The Cross

The Choir (Website here.)
If you're more into the mellow introspective side of things, this is the band for you. Hipster music fans, this is your entry point.
Children Of Time
Sentimental Song

The true masters of '80s synthpop. With killer harmonies to boot.
Once In A Heartbreak
Life Of The Party

Straight-up rip-your-face-off melodic rock with one of the biggest voices EVER in Christian music (featured on the the last two links below).
Is Anyone Thirsty?
Build A Castle
Darkest Hour

4.4.1 (Website here.)
I'm not as familiar with this band, but I have played the crap out of Mourning Into Dancing on YouTube.
In The Night
In His Presence

As you can see (and hear), there's something for everyone at this concert. Maybe '80s synthpop isn't your thing. So skip the Crumbächer and headbang to Undercover. Maybe rock makes your ears bleed. Fast-forward Undercover and go hang out in The Choir's section of the disc.

All of the songs mentioned above will be on this DVD set. But this is only a small offering of what is in the footage, and even that is only a small portion of each band's total output. If you like what you hear, go buy some music from their websites or from a legal source and then go fund this thing. Immediately. If I had 45 grand in my bank account, I would pay for this entire thing myself. But I don't, so that's why we need your help.

You know you want to...

02 October 2016

Self-Perception and Faking It

Lately I've been thinking a lot about talents and skills and our perception of them. Obviously the way we see our own abilities differs from the way others see our ability. In the same way, the way other people see their own ability sometimes differs quite widely from the way we see their ability.

I really notice this when I'm at college. You all know that I have a very poor opinion of my own singing voice and am perpetually intimidated by everyone in the entire music department in that respect. Yes, I have seen improvement in my singing, but I feel I'm still so far behind. So often I see or hear the other music majors and I think 'wow, they're so great... I wonder what it must feel like to have all this come so easily.' I mean yes I know they practice but still... they see results from their practice. They know exactly what to fix and how to fix it. They know how to improve. I just sing it over and over until I'm tired and I've logged my time for the day. I'm just faking it and still terrified that one day they will all find out I'm faking it and don't have any actual talent.

Of course I've often considered that maybe they are just as insecure about themselves as I am about myself. But recently I wondered if they listen to me sing and think similar things to what I think when they sing. The thought seems kind of ludicrous -- who in the world would be jealous of anything I have? -- but maybe they think that exact same thing about themselves too.

It's so hard to know who to seek out and encourage. It's so hard to know who's unaware of their talent. Maybe the reason we performing artists go so under-encouraged is because we're so good that everyone assumes we're aware of it when really we think we're just frauds and are hoping no-one will find out and we're hoping for some kind of sign that we aren't frauds...

One one hand it can be helpful. This constant not-knowing if I even have any business being in this program drives me to practice like a madwoman -- sometimes at the expense of my schoolwork, health, and sanity. The sheer amount of practice means that I improve at a steady pace, even if I don't see it. Plus, there are still some people in the world who look for a hard worker rather than a good-looking babe with natural talent oozing out of her ears.

However, on the other hand, there is the very real potential that not-knowing will eat me alive. I fight this every day... waking up in the morning wondering if today is the day someone tells me the horrible truth -- that they can see right through me, that they know I'm faking it, that they're not going to humour me anymore, that I'm not welcome among the ranks of the actually talented any longer. I feel like a spy in enemy territory, constantly on edge, just waiting to get caught and executed.

This is part of why I find myself trying so hard to be bland and invisible -- if I'm invisible, no-one can see that I'm faking it, because no-one can see me. But the very nature of the career means you must be seen. It's your job to be seen and heard, very brightly and very loudly. How to reconcile that without feeling even more like a fake...?