Category Archives: Music

Hey Band Nerds!

All you squeakers and squawkers out there, reed, double-reed, no reed, brassheads and trash can bangers, looking for some help here. I’ve been asked to write a piece for symphonic band, which is a genre I haven’t touched since … let’s call it 20 years. So, here’s my question for you:

Is there a piece of literature for symphonic band that really, deeply moves you? Anything you’ve listened to that just left you breathless? The only one I can remember is Bukvich’s Symphony No. 1 (In Memoriam, Dresden, 1945). Anything else that comes to mind?

The Swamp Effect

I have a horrible habit. At some point in every project, things start not sounding … right. Good. Emotional. Whatever. The train has jumped the track, and is off wandering through antique stores on State Street. I’ve lost my way.

At this point, I do the same thing, every time.

I do more. I do everything. I take every idea, and make it louder. I double it. I do it in octaves. I do it with a triplet backing rhythm. I add 3 string samples and 2 pads, on top of 3 more loops and a delay. I start putting out frantic midnight calls for friends to play overdub parts, stacked, with overdrive and double-stops.

I add piano, add flamenco guitar, add horn swells and swirly synths, a B3 solo, 6 passes of backing vocals, and a Taiko. With reverb. Then a reverse Taiko with even more reverb.

Then I put a limiter on the main bus, a 6:1 multi-band compressor, then another limiter. Then I turn my mains up. I turn on the sub, then add another low string sample.

The swamp effect takes hold, and whatever spark of inspiration birthed the process has been completely, utterly, horrifically buried in a morass of crap.

Save as.

Rename.

Delete.

Repeat.

It’s Friday, Friday

So, a few weeks ago, ARK music productions unleashed what is, unarguably, the worst pop song ever inflicted upon a listening public. That song is called “Friday”. It has been watched by 34 million people. 34 million.

What I offer here is a bit of musical sorbet, a palate cleanser if you will, to remove the fetid taste of bubblegum ice cream from your mouth. Here are the days of the week, as they deserve to be songified.

Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

The Days of the Week

the devil can’t have all the good music

Our associate pastor has been preaching a four-week series.  Usually whoever is preaching doesn’t request a specific postlude (played after the benediction, as the congregation is exiting), but sometimes new blood behind the pulpit brings fresh ideas.  Each Sunday he requested a specific pop song that tied into each sermon, making it more memorable.  For Mark 2, when the paralyzed man is lowered from the roof due to the large crowd that had come to hear Jesus, the worship band played James Taylor’s “Up On The Roof“.  I loved it.  One of my favorite songs has a whole new meaning.

Doxology

You know how sometimes you just find yourself needing random things, and so you make them, and then you release them into the wild on the off chance that other people might need those same random things?

Here’s a 4-part hymn voicing for the venerable Doxology. Share and enjoy.

Happy New Year from the Stecklers!

Hey Roadies, thought I’d spread a little holiday cheer and whip up a little remix for your New Year’s Eve party mix. June was kind enough to add a little translation and of course, the obligatory pics of the kiddos. Enjoy! (If you want to download it, click the little down arrow in the Soundcloud player.)

Auld Lang Syne (Stickmix) by Brian Steckler


a theory on theory

“Once I begin to inspect, study and analyze the bits and pieces that make up the mechanics of music: the notes, the timbres, the durations, the rhythms, the harmonies, the melodies, the forms – as soon as I try to find out if there are some recurring patterns, or if there are some technical theories that can describe what makes the music sound that way, I’m now in the land of theory and always recognize that these analysis have a different purpose than the simple act of making music.  How I technically think about and describe what’s being played is a different subject from the act of playing.  And it’s only use is to help me more fully understand how to better do what I want to do.  How to play better; perform better; communicate better; be a better musician.”  -Chick Corea

Sing, Ye Christmas Choirs

Working on the opener for the big APU Celebrate Christmas concert. It’s going to be a big epic choir & orchestra setting of “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, building up into a new anthem that I just finished last night. I’m kind of loving this.

Sing, Ye Christmas Choirs

Sing, ye Christmas Choirs
Ring, ye wild bells ring while darkness flees

Sing the Light of Heav’n
Sing of peace o’er all the earth while darkness flees,

O sing, ye choirs
O sing, ye choirs
Ring out, ye wild bells ring

Ring out Christmas bells
Ring out songs of joy for God has come

O Son of Israel
O Zion’s Daughter, sing! our God has come

Brightest of Adam’s wandering sons
Joined with the light of the holy one,

O sing, ye choirs
O sing, ye choirs
Ring out, ye wild bells ring

Musical Authenticity

Billie Holiday vs. Bing Crosby

Hank Williams vs. Garth Brooks

James Brown vs. Prince

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the last few months thinking about musical authenticity (mostly in order to pass one of the classes in my master’s program). This topic has come up here at the Roadhouse before (1|2|3), but this is the first time I’ve done any real heavy lifting on the topic. So here, in very un-academicy format, are some of my thoughts on musical authenticity.

1 – Romanticism
Most people use the “Authentic” as a stand-in for the romantic notion that art should be unfiltered and un-crafted. Sophistication is the antithesis of authenticity. Niel Young is authentic because he gets falling-down drunk and then records songs on the first take without rehearsing the band. Never mind that the result sucks, it’s authentic. The idea of muse, inspiration, artist-as-bystander, these are the notions that get bound up in the term “authentic”.

2 – Historicity
Authentic is also a function of historical proximity to the musical nexus, when something changed into something new. When field songs became the blues, the first generation of artists were “authentic” by virtue of being close to the source. The Sex Pistols are more authentic than Green Day because they were part of the pivot. In some sense, anyone who tries to stand in an existing stream of music suffers comparison to how it was done by the first ones who did it, and even the flaws and cracks in how the first generation did it become codified as essential to the “authentic” sound.

3 – Pills and Powders
If you have liver damage, you are more authentic.

4 – Africa
This is a particularly American phenomenon, but authenticity in American music is often used as a way of quantifying the amount of “Africanism” in the music. American music emerged out of European and African streams – it’s not African, it’s not European, it’s American, something uniquely new emerging out of the tension and crossing influences of the two. In spite of this historical reality,  the controlling narrative of musical criticism is that White music stole and corrupted Black music. Against this backdrop, “authenticity” is a code phrase for music that is less “corrupted” by white influence, something that is “true to it’s African roots”. This narrative was already in full effect by the time John Lomax made his famous field recordings of the early blues, seeking out music he believed to be “untainted” by white influence (ignoring the fact that anything with a dominant 7th chord is already hopelessly entwined with European harmony). The commercial success of Lead Belly and other earth blues artists with white audiences was specifically because of this perceived authentic preservation of Africanism in their music. This controlling narrative emerged again and again, in the social commentary on Jazz, Be Bop, Motown, Funk, Hip-Hop …

It’s impossible to escape the blatant racism in this assumption, especially in light of point 1. The subtext of Africanism-as-authenticity is the appeal to lack of sophistication, the romantic notion that music emerges unfiltered and un-crafted. Clearly James Brown couldn’t have thought through the complex intricacies of how to form a funk groove – “those people” just have natural rhythm!

So, I’m interested in what you fine folk have to say. Here are a few questions:

  1. Is it possible to be authentic as a 2nd generation artist in a genre?
  2. How important is impact (who it influences, how long it endures) on authenticity?
  3. Does authenticity matter? I know we all get skittish about words like “better” or “important” when we talk about music, but let’s acknowledge for a minute that our experience grants us some expertise, and make a judgment call. When it comes time to load up humanity’s cultural artifacts in the space-ark, will authenticity be part of the criteria for preservation?
  4. Race. Not really a question, but go for it anyway.

I promise, you are not being drafted into my thesis paper homework. I just think this is a discussion worth having.

O For A Thousand Stacks

I am supposed to be writing a piece of chamber music, which has to be finished, like, yesterday. I am, therefore, of course, doing anything and everything but that. Here’s today’s little time waster. By the way, singing through a hymn 20 times is a great act of meditation and contemplation. Those words start to take on serious meaning.

O For A Thousand Tongues