Category Archives: Music

Music….food for our souls

The first record I remember hearing was James Taylors “Sweet Baby James”.  The vinyl sounded course and dirty.  The lyrics confused my 12-year old brain; I had no idea what love was, or how it felt to lose it.  But the melodies spoke to me. James Taylor had this way of writing about pain and longing, without sounding whiny or….to use the parlance of my particular time: “Lame”.  My parents liked his music, so I was almost forced to listen. I’ve always been glad they were James Taylor fans.

The first album I bought with my own money was the “Days Of Thunder” soundtrack. David Coverdale, Chicago, Guns N’ Roses. I grew up in a sort of racing family, so the film moved me. The soundtrack was silly, and I kind of knew it at the time.  But still, I would crank that sh*t to eleven, and imagine myself behind the wheel of a speeding race car.

Grunge came along in the early 90′s, and my interest in actually making music started to take shape. Filthy guitar tones, front-men shrouded in mystery. Why were they so angry? Where did these vicious sounds and words come from? I wasn’t a particularly angry or disgruntled kid at 14. In fact, I had it pretty easy. (It wasn’t until about 15-16 that I started to get in trouble with the local police and disrupt an already dysfunctional family) But records like Pearl Jam’s “Ten”, and the soundtrack to “Singles” made me listen beyond the melody, and forced me to focus on the lyrics. At that point, I realized that pop music mattered, and that lyrics were so important; a time-stamp of an emotion; of a generation.

In 1993, I heard Counting Crows,”Mr Jones” on the radio, cutting through the static of generic “grunge/Seattle” programming. On the record “August And Everything After”, Adam Duritz poured his heart out with reckless abandon. He sang of longing and insomnia. Of love and love lost. Of finding ones true self. He washed his words in americana, and metaphor of vast panoramas and endless highways. I longed to explore the American landscape, free of parents who didn’t understand me, teachers who couldn’t teach me – and myself, whom I didn’t really know.  The album, “August And Everything After” made me a guitar player, and a songwriter. It made me an artist, and it changed my heart forever. It made me a romantic. It made me truly care about music, and the effect it had on my life. To this day, I regard that record as one of the most important catalysts in my life – not just it’s musical influence, but it’s affect on the way I viewed the world, and how I interacted with it.  Last year, I had the opening chorus of “Rain King” tattooed on my body:  ”I belong in the service of the Queen. I belong anywhere but in between.”  I see these words everyday, and yet their meaning continues to evolve.

This post is about the music that first affected you….the music that you truly adopted as your own. The music that defined you.  What first moved you? What upset your heart and challenged your mind? What defined/shaped your taste for art?  What made you dance and sing and shout and cry – madly and unabashedly?

Sound off…  Because it this little blog has taught me anything, it’s taught me to listen. And I like to listen…

High / Low Split

The two music creators (arrangers / composers / orchestrators) that I hold in the highest esteem have never met each other, but I was reflecting today that they have something in common when they talk about music. I’ll call it the high / low split.

When they talk about big M “Music”, it’s clear that they have a deep reverence, and highly personal resonance with music, that it touches and moves them in a way that seems altogether different than how you and I hear chords, melody, timbre, and rhythm. They dive so deep into it, and come up with new insights every time. Music for them is always unfolding, never unfolded, eternally discoverable and mysterious. Let’s call that the high side.

The low side happens when they talk about any particular piece of small m “music” that they are working on. Then, things get very, very pragmatic. This works. This doesn’t. I like this, but the producer didn’t, so we did this instead. Yes, they can sing this, but it doesn’t feel good when they do, so write something they will like and it will sound better. Why did you skip the chorus after the bridge? It’s called a formula because it works!

I love that. I think that high / low split is a really good way to thing about a lot of things, especially things we create.

O Holy Night – Instrumental

I know, it’s a few weeks late. Just bookmark it for next year.

A few hours before our Christmas Eve service, I knocked out an arrangement of “O Holy Night” for tenor sax and piano. It came out … pretty well, I think. Jonathan Proctor played, and that guy has turned into a very fine player indeed. Great tone, phrased the part wonderfully.

So, in the fine tradition of this blog, and in recognition of the fact that printed music publishing no longer exists as a viable income stream, I present the arrangement here for your perusal and use. The lead part is simple, you’ll find it useful even for high school players. The piano part is written for me, so basically nothing is written out. Enjoy!

O Holy Night – Bb Tenor Sax

O Holy Night – Score

If anyone wants the Sibelius file to print parts for other lead instruments, shoot me an email on the contact page.

Hensley Buzz:

Hensley Buzz: Worship Leader Magazine has put a nice review in the issue that just arrived. has a free download on their front page. The CD release party was great (thanks to June) and we sold a nice pile of discs. And now, everyone that reads Addison Road is about to order their copy at

Side note: any of you artist types every tried Facebook ads to sell your record?

And That, Son, Is What We Call “Pro”

I had one of the most satisfying recording sessions ever yesterday. We were recording keyboards and drums for a handful of song demos, all part of a new musical being written by the lovely and talented Abby Miller.

It was me and three other very talented people, including a drummer, Aaron Sterling who is part of the new LA Wrecking Crew – he plays on every record coming out these days, it seems like. He and Abby wrote some of the songs, Abby and I wrote some of the songs, everybody there had a different stake in the project.

What blew me away was how seamlessly everyone moved between their different roles, from arranger to producer to sideman. On some songs, Aaron was producing the session, it was his tune, and I got to be just a keyboardist (I love that). On the next tune, it was mine, and I was telling him what to do. The engineer (our very own Mr. Chris Steffen) and Abby moved through the cycle too, from engineering to arranging, from writing to tracking vocals.

The only thing that nobody did, all day long, was bust out an ego. Chris and I talked for a few minutes after the session, and we agreed that it would be impossible to try and do something like that if anybody had brought a rock-star vibe along with them.

There is a beautiful balance between having deep pride in your work, and no ego about what you do. I want to learn how to live in that place. I believe it’s called being “Pro”.

Save the Date

So you’ve seen Mike’s posts about The Lord’s Prayer, and his piece, Our Father Vindicate,  now come hear it live.

From the APU School of Music Calendar:

Jan.22, 2010 Friday: “The Lord’s Prayer” Festival Concert; Stamps Rotunda (Darling Library), 7:30 pm

Men’s Chorale, Chamber Singers, and Alumni Orchestra

Alex Russell, violin    Duane Funderburk, piano

“Enjoy an evening of music dedicated to the most famous prayer in Christendom, featuring new music composed by Professors Phil Shackleton and Michael Lee, as well as new music by contemporary composer Alf Bishai (NYU). ”

I say we make it an event and go out for dinner, celebration afterwards. Whose in?

a reflection on playing music

Today I got two calls to play piano.  The first was from an unfamiliar source, wanting me to play at a “Shakespeare audition thing” from 6-9 tonight, and they didn’t mention money.  Jason and I were laughing about how much money it was take for me to do it.  $500?  In other words, I was particularly uninterested.

Then I got another call.  A man in our church has died.  He has been ill for quite some time.  His wife, for this long duration of his illness, has spent one of her few hours away from his bedside each week teaching my son’s three year-old Sunday School class.  I’m not sure how long she’s been teaching, but she was also the teacher two years ago under the same circumstance when my daughter was there.  Can I play at his funeral Friday night?

Instantly I became grateful for the ability to play, because I can’t find the words to say Thank You.

Sappho 31, The Demo

One of my favorite things that has ever happened in the world, ever, happens at 40 seconds into this demo.


So, Sappho 31 is done, I’m off to rush it into an envelope with the final version of the score, but I stopped first to drop it here to you good people at the Roadhouse. The demo is unmixed, thrown together at the last possible second. Many thanks to Rebbecca (Brannon) Ginzink, Gretchen Lee, and Ashley Morgan for helping me sing the female vocals.

Sappho 31

The Score:
Sappho 31

That’s a *&^ Idea

Tonight was the first night of actual classes for my MM adventure. I think I’m going to start a list of things that profs at Cal State are allowed to say, that I would love to say in my classes, but never could. First on the list, the prof for Advanced Composition, talking about what made Beethoven such a compelling melody writer.

Play the first 4 notes of the 5th Symphony.

“Your hear that, nobody’s waiting around for the musical idea to show up. That’s a f’ing musical idea!”

It’s that time of year.

Christmas record time!

So, I’m doing a little solo record. It’s the first time ever for me. It’s an interesting process for a guy that is always trying to help someone else do their music. I’m not sure what I sound like on my own. So, I basically gave myself a narrow niche to fill, and dove in.

It’s a instrumental piano record, but not “solo piano” music. I’m building loops and grooves and “production” out of sounds I’m creating by playing, hitting, strumming and plucking our little Steinway. The vibe is pretty chill… the idea being that it’d be a nice easy background to your Christmas party. But, since I want to be able to market it to my church and some of the Worship Leader Mag connections, I’m keeping it all sacred Christmas hymns. So, no ‘Grandma Got Run Over’ on this one. And harmonically, it’s pretty consistent too… lots of add 9, add 4, plenty of minor 11, and an occasional plain ol’ major chord.

And since everyone that makes a record these days has videos of the process up on YouTube, I figured I’d better get with the program. Hopefully they’ll be somewhat interesting since I’m doing more than just sitting at the piano playing pretty. So, the first two vids are up, on YouTube and on my website. And of course, here.

Intro to the Christmas Record

Meet the Steinway

New Notes

I took a risk yesterday, and it paid off in a huge way.

I met with the Dean of the school of music, and we negotiated a big shift in my responsibilities in the School of Music. I am stepping down from my role as Director of Small Groups, and taking on the role of Staff Composer. A big chunk of my job from now on will be to compose new music and do some arranging for the ensembles in our school. In the last year, I’ve had several ensemble directors come ask me to write or arrange something, and I’ve had to say no to some of them because of the time constraints, and because they didn’t have room in their individual budgets to pay for new music. This solves both problems in one glorious swoop. I now get to say “yes!”, they get to have new things written specifically for them, I have time to do it, and they don’t have to decide between paying for new music or paying for scholarships (or whatever else they spend money on).

I have loved my role at APU since day one, and I didn’t think it was possible for it to get even better, but this is like a dream come true.