Another Chapter for Mom

This past Friday, I got to be a part of my Mom’s wedding.

It was a remarkable and beautiful occasion — beautiful for most of the usual reasons: two people pledging themselves to love and care for each other until their bodies fail them in the task, a community of loving and supportive friends, and the chance for all us married folks to reflect on our own vows along with the couple at the center of the event.

But there were wonderful, unusual aspects to the day as well: both my mother and her new husband, Bill Liles, had been married before, and had previous spouses on hand to cheer and support them. While Bill’s parents were unable to make it down from Pennsylvania to attend the event, the best man had a cell phone in hand for the entire ceremony so that they could listen in and be a part from their home. There were a wealth of children, step-children, and grandchildren of the couple on-hand and involved. The church choir in which they met was there in force both to affirm their union and to provide some great music for the event. (Oh Happy Day!) My mother was celebrating her wedding the day before she celebrated her 70th birthday.

But the best thing of all, to my mind, was that it was the most joyful and happy I have seen my mom in years. Possibly ever. (And, while I don’t have the same history with him, Bill seemed similarly giddy.)

In spite of the fact that just over a month elapsed between the time they decided to get married and the wedding, everything came together beautifully (though not without a certain amount of scrambling). Marti, my mom’s sister, did an amazing job of pulling together the necessary planning, organizing, and communication. Kathy whipped together a lovely program in Word the day of the wedding. (This was especially notable, as she and technology are normally mortal enemies.) And I was honored to get to sing Steven Curtis Chapman’s “I Will Be Here” during the lighting of the Unity candle. (I was wryly amused that the rendition during the ceremony was rougher than any of my practice sessions, and that my doppelgänger brother actually received more comments on it than I did.)

But in spite of the hurried preparations, the evening was terrific and really reflected the character and personality of the couple. Joy, humor, beauty, silliness, tenderness, authenticity, love, and the odd slightly off-color comment were all there in front of the altar with them, and were clearly welcome companions.

So, best wishes and prayers to you, Bill and Diane, as you launch into this next chapter of your lives together. We look forward to walking it alongside you, and are delighted at the joy you have found in each other. Big love to you both.

Star Trek: The Song

One of the reasons I enjoy my good friend Barry Brake so much is his penchant for wandering off into what one of his friends calls “Barryland”, a mental space characterized by enthusiasm for and serious contemplation of things that most people would gloss over. He recently recorded what may be the first rendering of the classic Alexander Courage Star Trek theme with the words that Gene Roddenberry wrote added back in. It’s terrific, and suits Barry’s voice and style to a T. Go and enjoy.

Pat Metheny’s Orchestrion Project

Kathy and I attended the Pat Metheny show in Austin last night. We’d never gotten to see him before, and were familiar with very little of his music, but I was crazy to see this show once Barry Brake brought it to our attention. Why? The Orchestrion!

What is the Orchestrion? It’s a huge assemblage of instruments played by mechanical means — a player piano taken to crazy extremes. I’ve long been interested in non-traditional instruments and especially ones that are driven by electronics and machines, so this show was irresistible to me.

The performance was amazing. Metheny’s virtuosity on a guitar, both the normal version and the various “enhanced” ones he played over the course of the evening, was remarkable. The mechanical instruments were varied, beautiful, and fascinating, and a pleasure to watch and try to figure out how he controlled them. The only downside? It turns out that neither of us particularly like Metheny’s music.

But first things first. The instruments — my goodness, the instruments! He opened with a hihat with two solenoid-driven drumsticks playing it, as well as a set of finger cymbals mounted on a similar actuator. He also had some very cool four-stringed instruments with robot “fingers” that rolled rapidly up and down the strings and revolving plectrums that set the strings vibrating. There was a big marimba on each side of the stage with a mallet for every bar that played under computer control as well.

After a few pieces with these instruments, he pulled up a curtain to reveal the rest of the Orchestrion. My first impression was that some enterprising high school biology student had taken a scalpel to Neal Peart’s drum kit, carefully dissected it, and then neatly pinned all its component bits to the wall. There was also a cabinet filled with jars containing varying amounts of water to produce different pitches when air was blown across the top, a bass and guitar that looked like they had been assimilated by the Borg, and a big collection of hand percussion being shaken by mechanical poltergeists. When they all got going at once (which they often did), it made for some wonderful mechanical musical madness!

Unfortunately, Metheny plays a flavor of music that, while technically amazing and probably fascinating to modern Jazz fans, didn’t do much for either of us. Melodies were rare, harmonic progressions often seemed a bit directionless, and we were left feeling a bit adrift in a sea of high-speed improvisations. We were, however, clearly in the minority, as the crowd was hugely enthusiastic and provided several standing ovations over the course of the evening.

But in spite of that, we found the show fascinating, enjoyed getting to see the Paramount for the first time, and had a great evening together.

Will o’ the Wisp

Now that I’ve found and started to get the hang of MuseScore, I’m catching up on a bit of music stuff that’s been lurking at the back of my to-do list for a while. Next up is Will o’ the Wisp, a little Irish Jig I wrote a couple of years back. It’s a trifle, but kind of fun, and is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial license, so you’re free to perform, remix, and otherwise mess around with it if you wish.

Will 'o the Wisp

You can also grab it in PDF if you like.

Pretending to be Jason

My excellent friend Jason Young is deep into the part of his year where he writes and transcribes hundreds of pages of sheet music for Baylor University’s annual Sing event. Since he recently harassed me for not having posted anything to the weblog lately, I thought I’d take a stab at pretending to be him for half an hour and posting the results. Here they are:

For No OneThis is the solo from The Beatles “For No One”, which my dear horn-playing Abigail has been after me to transcribe for her for months. It is transposed here into what is (I think) an easy key for horn, and hopefully a comfortable range. (Jason, let me know if I’ve gotten that wrong!)

The big obstacle to doing this up to now has been notation software — I’ve been reluctant to shell out for the commercial packages, but all of the free/open-source stuff I’ve found has quickly made me crazy. But this morning I stumbled across MuseScore, an actively-developed, well thought-out application that allowed me to learn it well enough to knock out this simple score in about 30 minutes.

I’m really pleased with the program, and am looking forward to more easily be able to do some sheet music for O’Malarkey, the Irish band I’m playing with, as well. If you ever have occasion to write out music, take a look! (It handles scores, lyrics, and chord names as well.)

Pop Music and Vocal Range

This morning while walking the kids to school, I had Simon & Garfunkel’s “Only Living Boy in New York” running through my head and, since I have no filter between them, out of my mouth. As I reached for the low note at the end of a phrase, it occurred to me that the range of the song’s melody — an octave and a perfect fourth — seemed unusually large. That got me to thinking about vocal range in pop music and wondering whether Paul Simon is more ambitious than most in that regard.

While mulling this over and considering various examples, I decided it would be fun to enlist my musical friends to see what the most extreme examples of melodic range — both large and small — we could think of in popular music are. So, musical friends, let’s play! Here are the rules:

  1. Your entry can include a maximum range song and a minimum range song. (Figuring out the range is helpful, but not strictly required.)
  2. You can’t repeat a song someone else has already mentioned in the comment thread already.
  3. The song must be common enough that most people would have heard it. Thus, either major record labels or something with a comparable degree of exposure.
  4. Note to especially talented friends, and corollary to rule #3: you may not write a song just for this purpose.
  5. Multiple entries are encouraged.

I’ll throw my hat in the ring with an initial entry that should be easy to beat:

  • Large Range: Only Living Boy in New York, Simon & Garfunkel — an octave and a perfect fourth
  • Small Range: Johnny B. Goode, Chuck Berry — a perfect fifth

In order to make this a bit more interesting, I’ll buy the winner their album of choice in digital format. The winner will be determined entirely by me, and my decision is final. Anyone who disputes it will be beset by my army of trained flying monkeys.

The Man Who Makes Sing…Awesome

A couple weeks ago, Kathy and I went up to Baylor University in Waco for their annual Sing event, a four-hour long song and dance revue. The show was, as always, terrific. The best part for me, however, is the post-performance debrief with my friends Jason Young and Barry Brake, who are integral parts of the event, having long been key figures in selecting, arranging, and performing (in the pit band) the music that makes up the show. This year, the Baylor newspaper published an excellent article on Jason that captures nicely what a labor of love the show is for him. (They did omit the fact that he also builds a number of large-scale props for the various acts.)

It’s great to see these guys doing something they so clearly love, and to be able to so directly enjoy the fruits of their labors.

UPDATE: for those of you wondering about Sing, here’s a good overview of this year’s acts and a nice photo gallery.

New Gig: O’Malarkey

The Patio Boys, the band with which I’ve been playing for several years, has gone on hiatus for the moment, leaving a big eighth-note shaped hole in my life. I have, however, been sitting in on an Irish Session at a nearby coffee shop for a couple of months, which has led to an invitation to join up with O’Malarkey, a local group that I’ve enjoyed listening to for a number of years.

O’Malarkey focuses on Irish music and plays various places around the San Marcos/Austin/Wimberley area. The shows are high-energy and a lot of fun, and I’m delighted to get to be a part of the musical goings-on. In order to make it easy for folks to keep up with the band, I’ve registered and pointed it to a Facebook page I’ve created. (I plan to get something more comprehensive up eventually, but this seemed a good start.)

Here are a few of the upcoming public shows. Stop on by for one (or all)!

  • San Marcos Public Library, March 10, 7:00pm-8:00pm
  • St. Patrick’s Day Concert & Potluck, 7A Resort, Wimberley, March 14, 7:00pm-9:00pm (times tentative)
  • Fiddler’s Hearth, Austin, April 4, 9:00pm-11:00pm (I won’t be able to be at this one, as the family already had plans for that night. I hope we play there again, as it looks like a great venue.)

The African Children’s Choir

Last night, Kathy and I took the kiddos to see a performance of the African Children’s Choir. As a big fan of African choral music, I was really excited to get to hear this group, even though I didn’t know much more about them than their name. I was not disappointed.

The 30-strong choir, made up of kids aged seven to eleven years, charged enthusiastically on to the stage amid drumming, whoops and ululations, tearing right into a number of well-choreographed songs. The musical arrangements were straightforward, but the kids’ enthusiasm, dancing and excellent singing made for an absolutely terrific time.

It turns out the Choir isn’t primarily about these performances, but is in fact a Christian aid organization which uses the musical tours to raise funds for their work back in Africa. Most of the children performing had lost one or both parents to war or disease and were terribly vulnerable before the African Children’s Choir took them in. While the choir we saw was comparatively small, there are hundreds of kids in Uganda,  Sudan, Rwanda, Kenya, Ghana and South Africa that the organization supports and cares for.

Midway through the program, each of the children said hello to the crowd and said a little about what he or she wanted to be on reaching adulthood. Aspirations ranged from bus driver to singer to President (a goal that got a predictably warm response from the crowd a day after President Obama’s inauguration). This recitation of dreams was especially poignant given that for most, simply living to adulthood would have been unexpected if it weren’t for the work of the choir. (We compared notes among our group afterward, and there was barely a dry eye during this section of the program.)

The Choir received three standing ovations by the time they wrapped up for the evening with one of the more rousing renderings of “This Little Light of Mine” that I’ve ever heard. So go see them if you can (they’re bouncing between San Antonio and Austin for the next few days), or support them in some other way. You won’t regret it.