Tuesday, October 6, 2009



A return to the music portion of our adventure!

Truth be told, I have been arranging, playing and recording like a fiend this whole time but...
I basically have time to either write about working on the CD-
or actually work on the CD.

I have been taking copious post-it notes the whole time tho-
so for dramatic effect, allow me to now post in the present tense.

aaannnddddd curtain going up....GO!

The next song on the docket is a tune i'll refer to as THE BALM IN GILEAD by the brilliant sister song writing team of Anna and Kate McGarrigle (with which a very young Rufus Wainwright got his start btw). The reason for this title is because it actually is/was a Balm in Gilead for the sister of a childhood friend of mine.

I remember going over to my friends house to play and his older sister was locked in her room. All you could hear through the door was this very tune.
And over.
And over.
And over.
And over.

This was being played on a record player as well-
so, there was some effort in this for all you youngsters out there who have been weaned on auto-repeat functions and the like.


When i was a kid...
after we would walk 5 miles in a blizzard up a mountain to the one room school house where everyone shared a pencil and slate....
if you wanted to obsessively listen to a song over and over again you had to actually use your fingers, and entire arm to lift the record player's tooth from the end of the track...
and then....
stay with me here, stay with me.
You'd have to use your HAND-EYE COORDINATION to place it very gently to the beginning of the track.

Oh Lord!
Hard times come again no more, my loves.


I was absolutely fascinated by this whole thing and the song was...
it was siren-like, coming through the door.
I was hypnotized by it.
It was a combination of three women singing...
they all had different voices but..
when they sang together it was truly symbiotic.
I found myself sliding down the wall by her door and just listening entranced, for quite a few repeats.

Eventually my friend found me and asked me what the hell i was doing.
I asked him why his sister was listening to this beautiful song over and over and over.

He explained to me that his sister had just been unceremoniously dumped by her fiance at the last minute. 
She had already been in her room for two days. 
Playing that song. 
Over and over.

I honestly didn't know what was more romantically cool.
That this girl was just working it out in the only way she knew how...
with music....
and she wasn't even a musician...
or that her awesome family was just letting her.

Well, I just started to cry on the spot.
That whole event is literally seared into my brain.
I will never ever forget it.
It was the first time for me, that I understood that music wasn't just to be enjoyed, appreciated, played, created...
it also served a much nobler purpose.

It could be used to actually....
help you.

it could be used to actually...
heal you.

It was like.....
a spiritual surgical team....
a magical spell....
a guardian angel.

And it WORKED!

It was from this moment on that I never once felt any sort of 'artistic guilt' some people have about being in the arts. I dated a guy once who had parents who worked as missionaries, who were always looking on his chosen profession the theatre as some sort of narcissistic journey through 'me' land and I just didn't know who to feel more sorry for.

His parents, who obviously had never allowed themselves to be touched, healed, or transformed by the arts. Looking down on it as some sort of frivolous folly and an affront to God.

Or him. For having somewhere inside him the God given desire and talent to create, move, help and serve people through such a majestic profession...and not truly believing in its purity.


We broke up.

I will never ever forget that moment in that hallway, listening to that poor girl's pain wailed out through a song repeated ad infinitim.

Nor will I forget a few years ago when I was unceremoniously dumped by my ex-fiance, my playing that song quite a few times myself. Although, I admit - Donal Og, Tom Waitts' How's It Gonna End, and my own personal composition: 

"Die! You mother fucking scum sucking ass wipe waste of space poor excuse for a friggin' human being, you ball jack!" got a weeeeee bit more play in my apartment.


This song-
this balm in Gilead to me, is actually quite magickal.
I have literally seen it's power at work to heal a young girl's heart.
And so...
it must be treated with the utmost respect.

Oh i should also mention, that this music can only be found in one place in Canada. It's also not sold as an individual tune but in a collection that costs...i think around $60?

not in the budget for that.

I finally got in touch with the marvelously generous Anna McGarrigle (after about two months of searching) and when I mentioned to her that I would just pull the arrangement off the recording I had, she just pdf'd me a chart.

God I love cool musos.
and the internet.

With that time sucker out of the way (a much more talented person could just pull arrangements off with a firmer grasp of music theory than I do, but... math was never my strong point to it takes me a tad longer)....

I start to dive IN baby!

First things first...
the lead sheet is only chords.
While i'm still grateful for something...charts and chords are not ideal for me.

Because I'm classically trained...
I can sight read pretty much anything with actual notes, but...
give me little capital letters and it takes me jjjuuuuussstttttt that extra second to figure it out which makes for a clunky piano track.

An extra step for me then is to work out all the chords one by one and write them as notes in the music i have.

Then, because that looks like a mental patient threw up his meds...
I go BACK again to record the piano line through garage band which then prints it OUT for me.

Now, the REAL bitch here is that with garage band-
if you're wanting a chart from something you played you HAVE to stick with the metronome.
Otherwise, if you play with any sort of rubato, the computer doesn't pick it up and just assumes that you're drunk. And as punishment, turns simple quarter notes into crazy shit like a 32nd note tied to an 8th note, held over for an 8th rest (tied to a 32nd note rest), etc etc etc.

not pretty.
and not helpful.

So if you're going to be making actual violin and cello parts for other people-
as i am...
i need to make TWO SEPARATE recordings of all the tracks.


One- completely metered and in time so that the arrangements don't look retarded.
Two- the musicalized version that will eventually be used to add vocals to on the recording.

I figure, best to start with the "PDF version" since, once i finish that and print out all the charts I can just read them down one by one, like any other musician in a recording.

Bored yet?

you all are SO going to thank me when it comes time for your cds...
you don't even want to know how long it took me to fucking figure OUT the whole 'two versions' thing. just sayin....

I start with the piano.

Write out the chords, record straight for PDF, print out PDF, open new version for the real recording with rubato, lay down piano track with feeling....and done and done.
This takes me a few hours, embarrassingly enough.

I do a fake vocal track over it to make sure that I have the right timing before i start arranging every other instrument to match the piano. If the piano isn't right, then the whole arrangement will be fucked. A painful lesson learned with THE MONUMENT song.


it's off.


Ok well....it's just a matter of re-recording the piano. Now that i have the notes in front of me, it's not so bad.

I play the fake vocal track and accompany myself to get better timing and feel.

I make a mental note that this is how i should start every song from here on in:

1) Record piano track while singing.

2) Go back and record another fake vocal track to make sure (because i do phrase things differently when i'm singing and playing piano, vs just singing).

3) Then, go back again and literally accompany myself like i would as any other pianist.

Obviously these aren't steps taken when you're in a studio with a bunch of musicians...
this is what i have to do because it's me, myself and I over here, but the difference in musicality is too great to ignore.

Oh Jesus.

It's 3am.

Times to sleep.
I'll attack the rest of the arrangement tomorrow.
Piano down...
flute, accordion, violin, cello and vocal parts 1, 2, and 3 to go.

God i love this song.




  1. You must tell me: Where DO you find the energy? If the recordings are as rewarding as your blogs I CAN'T WAIT for the cd. The suspense is unbearable.

  2. Thanks doll!

    I type really really really fast.
    A positive result of all those years I temped when I got to the city.