Tag Archives: Music

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

What I Said Tonight

Every spring, the APU School of Music faculty sits down for dinner with the students who are graduating. Toward the end of the evening, the floor is open for students to talk to share about their experiences here, and for faculty to give a few words for the road ahead. Tonight, I said two things:

First, one of the hardest things about graduating is the collapse of structure. For the past 4 years, every minute of your day has been accounted for, you have to know certain things by certain dates, you have to show up once a week and play for someone who intimidates you just a little, you have been forced into some very good habits. The day after graduation, all of that goes away. No more juries, recitals, exams, no more weekly lessons. The collapse of structure can be devastating. Figure out how to build that structure back into your life, so that you continue the good habits that are part of being a good musician.

The second thing is this: you have a power and a freedom that many of us no longer have. You have the freedom to be poor (lots of laughs, most of them from faculty members who are pretty convinced they are still living with this freedom). There is a real freedom in that. If you can live poorly, you can make creative decisions for creative reasons, without having to worry about how much money the gig pays. Don’t trade that freedom away too soon.

Don’t buy a new car. Don’t take on debt. Find roommates, eat at home, don’t buy things you don’t need. The less money you HAVE to make each month, the less time you have to trade away for that money. You don’t want to live this way forever, but for these first few years, embrace the freedom of being poor. You may not ever have a time like this again.

I don’t mean to romanticize poverty, at all. I do, however, think that I started worrying about making money earlier in my career than I should have, and passed up on the chance to do some really great projects because they didn’t tally up on the bottom line.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts. I know as a group we’re all over the map in terms of both income and creative choices, I wonder how often we stop to think about the particular blessings of whatever situation we are in at the moment.

Behold, Emmanuel

So, this guy I know wrote this really cool choral piece for men’s choir.

I’ve gotten to know a very cool local choir director (she’s Zane’s piano teacher too) who roped me into playing percussion for a couple choir concerts, as well as doing a recording of her community choir singing last Christmas season’s program.

Like most music majors, I sang in the big choir at school, and was exposed to some pretty cool music back then. And like most “commercial” musicians, I don’t hear or write that sort of thing in the course of my typical pop/rock record production gigs.

So, inspired by this reemergence of “serious” choral music in my life, I thought maybe I should give it a try. Janine, the aforementioned choir director encouraged me to write something for Christmas, and offered to have the choir sing it, assuming it passed muster.

I came up with this.

behold_emmanuel_DEMO_071009.mp3

Behold, Emmanuel

Obviously this is just a demo… Thanks to Michelle, Alissa and Ryan for singing the parts I couldn’t.

Janine seems to like it. She’s offered to show it to a bunch of mucky-mucks she knows in that world, so who knows where it’ll go. I’m sure I’ll be losing all sorts of street cred as a hip pop/rock producer by dipping a toe in the choral music world, but I figure in the spirit of “lots of irons in the fire” it can’t hurt.

Let me know if you’d like to see the score… I’ll email it to you.

Our Father, Vindicate – Finished!

On May 28th, 2008, I jotted down the first few notes of Our Father, Vindicate. I stared with the melodic theme (E – D#, F# – D#), and the sound of that flat 6 suspension in bar 26. One year and one month ago today.

A few minutes ago, I just finished the final mix of the recording. It’s such a huge feeling of accomplishment to see this thing come together, and to have something solid in hand, something people can hear and respond to. I’ve loved writing this piece, I’ve hated it at times, I’ve put more hours into it than anything I’ve ever done, and I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a musician because of doing it. I’m glad it’s behind me, but I’m very glad to have done it.

So, here it is.

Our Father, Vindicate
By Michael A. Lee
our-father-vindicate.mp3

Downlod the chart: Our Father, Vindicate.

The vocalists are, in order of part from top to bottom:
Anthony Maglione
Brent Froelich
David Loucks
Jessie Bullock
Kyle Campbell
David Kress
Lucas Short
Phil Nash

Additional vocals by Michael Lee, and Harold Clousing.

Pump It Up!

Hey you! Yes you! Remember that cool album from The Dailies that you’ve been listening to over and over again? Well, why not take a moment to tell every living person how incredibly awesome it is!

Head over to Amazon.com and review the thing already! Give it the 5 stars it deserves, and then leave a lengthly diatribe about how nobody appreciates the subtle brilliance of the keyboard work, or give a track by track critique of how the album is really an extended metaphor for sexual awakening, or set off on a vicious indictment of the key of Ab minor … whatever! Just get some review up already!

Click the pics below to go the page for each album:

mixing metaphors

61twwkdlpl_sl160_

re:write

The goal of my music and ethics class is to have the students write a thesis paper, 25-30 pages of well-developed argument. I set milestones along the way: by this date, you need to have a thesis selected, by this date you need to show me ten pages of writing, by this date your draft needs to be ready for peer review, that sort of thing. This week is one of those deadlines, when I meet with the students to review the first 10 pages of their paper and a fully developed outline of their argument.

thesis-papersI ran across one of the students in passing, and he mentioned that he didn’t have anything to show me (I wish he were the only one). He then mentioned, rather flippantly, that he wasn’t all that worried, because he knew that he could knock out a “great paper” in no time once he had finished his research.

I left the encounter feeling very frustrated, for two reasons.

First, nobody can knock out a great paper in no time. The best anyone can do is knock out a great draft of a paper, a first writing. This is a recurring theme from my students; I keep getting first drafts handed in as final papers, because they’ve waited until the last possible moment to write them. When there are obvious errors, errors that any decent editor would have caught just by sniffing the ink, I know that nobody has read this paper but you. Nobody has edited for you. Nobody has done a critical review for you. Which means you’re handing in a paper expecting me to do it. Well, I will, but I do my editing with a red pen in one hand and a gradebook in the other.

Flip open any great book, any well-crafted work, and you will find the author thanking a whole list of people who graciously interposed their critical eye between the author and you, the reader. They are friends and colleagues, loved ones, and professional editors, all of whom serve the monumental and laudable goal of making sure the author doesn’t look like an ass. As a student, you have access to all of those same tools – peers, friends, family, a writing center staffed with editors. Their goal is make sure that your ideas connect to your reader with minimum hindrance by the medium. Writing is not a solo endeavor, not really, not at its best, but when a paper rolls off the printer 10 minutes before it is due it must be. And as a result, I end up grading your first draft.

My second frustration goes much deeper. In 16 years of schooling nobody, including me apparently, has managed to communicate to this student the actual value of writing a long format paper.

I don’t care about the paper. Really. The ink is pointless. I care very deeply about the process of writing a paper, because I believe that it is still one of the best ways to organize sustained, focused, rational thinking about complex topics. I care very deeply that you learn how to do that kind of thinking. The reason I was so frustrated by the student’s response is that the most important part of that process happens after you finish writing the paper.

Writing the paper is a prolonged period of pressure, cramming ideas into your brain, fighting to make logical connections between disparate bits of data. The intensity of pushing all of these ideas into a coherent, organized stream of thought requires reduction, and is mentally exhausting. You finish, hit print, the paper is done, run to class, hand it in, head home, take a nap, and then something magical happens. All of those ideas that you have been pressing down on begin to float freely. They start to shake loose from your organized stream of thought, loose from their moorings, and they rise. They bump into each other in new and interesting ways. They reorganize, like water molecules crystalizing together in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. You begin to understand things in new ways, ways that you were prevented from seeing before because your brain got in the way.

Two days after you finish writing a paper, the ideas you spent so long collating will have reorganized into something that really makes sense. Brilliant connections emerge. Small threads that barely emerged in the initial reading take on new significance as your brains chases them down in the noise beneath conscience thought, using the mental energy recently made available by the lifting pressure. That’s when you sit down and rewrite.

The way to make a writing project really useful is to research, write, release, rewrite, research, rewrite, release, rewrite, continuing the cycle until you arrive at conclusions that have the inevitability of all great ideas. That’s the way to arrive at mastery of a topic. When the topic at hand is your own value structure in an ethically complex situation, that kind of clarity is essential.

It matters to me. What you think about these topics matters to me. How you arrive at your thinking matters to me.

You will stand in front of a school administrator and have to argue that the purpose of education is the development of persons, not the development of merely useful skills, to argue that cutting music education is a dereliction of duty, and it is vitally important to me that you do it from a place of deep knowledge and the passionate conviction of rightness.

You will hold the phone in a long pauses, knowing that you cannot possibly agree to play under the circumstances being presented, also knowing that it is real money you are turning down, and it is important to me that you know why you are saying “no”, or that you know what it will cost you to say “yes”, and that the knowledge be more than merely notional, that it be the result of sustained and careful thinking.

You will run down your list of players to contract for Easter services, and you will skip the names of better players to hire those share your faith (or you won’t), and it is important to me that you have grasped with full rigor the tension between art-as-art and art-as-function when you make that choice, that the conversation between theology and aesthetics has taken place in your mind before you make your calls.

It matters to me how you have arrived at your thinking on these, and the dozens of other topics that emerge as thesis papers.

There are other ways to do this thinking, but this is the way that has been placed in front of us, for now. If it matters to you like it matters to me, embrace this process of read/think/write/rethink/rewrite. Don’t cheat it by counting words and chasing ink. Give it the time it deserves.

avalon

Listening to tunes today, and it rolled down the list to Avalon. It’s been years since I listened. Such great singers, such awful songwriting.

iTunes, without the ball and chain

Apple Fanboys had their orgiastic expo-tacular today, where new products are typically unveiled by His Steveness. Steve was absent today, part of the ongoing effort to confirm the internet rumors that he died in March of last year.

Nothing big was announced: a new laptop, upgrades to popular software suites iLife and iWork, pretty much what was expected. The big surprise for me was the announcement that iTunes would be going DRM-free. For those of you who don’t take the time to memorize every TLA that you come across, DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. It’s the thing that prevents you from emailing a song to a friend, or playing it on another computer, or taking advantage of any of the awesome powers granted to us by the digital era. It’s the industry’s lock and key.

I haven’t bought anything on iTunes for about 12 months, and DRM is exactly why. I love everything else about the Apple model, but I can’t abide having my audio files locked away, preventing me from doing things that are well within my legal rights to do (like playback on any device I own). I switched to the Amazon MP3 store because they offered a universal file format (mp3), and no DRM lockdown.

In some ways, I think Apple was paying the penalty for being first to market. They made a deal with the devil to get major record labels to agree to release their catalogs to the iTunes music store, and the price was DRM lockdown. Once the model proved successful, other distributors (amazon, for example) were able to negotiate much more favorable terms for their own download sales. Steve Jobs said as much almost two years ago.

I’m glad to see Apple unchain their content. I hope this marks a step forward into a new model of distribution for all kinds of digital media, from video to software.

I dream of a wireless, portable, personal, and highly fungible digital future, where my data moves with me and works for me, without barrier or constraint.

More Things I Said To My Students In Class Today

part 2 in a 586 part series

Very few people are allowed to define their music careers narrowly. People who make a living in this field have to be good at a lot of things, and you don’t know yet what those things are. We rarely get to define ourselves, we rarely get to say, “I am a violinist, and I’m only interested in playing Stravinsky.” You get defined by opportunity and necessity – what becomes available for you to do, and what other people need you to do.

The irony is that the better musician you are at one specific thing, the more people will ask you to do things that are outside of your expertise and training. If you’re good, you’ll be successful at it, and get asked to do it again, or something kind of like it, and then you’ll start drifting from the musical definition you imposed on yourself early on. That’s a good thing.

Your 30-year-old self shouldn’t be held hostage to the predilections of your 18-year-old self. Don’t define yourself narrowly. Grab every tool you can, because none of us knows what we we might need on the journey ahead.

Gathering Eden

Kyrie Yeshua,

We have no memory of happier times
except the mimeographed black and white
irrelevant and unlived kind

No touchstone of bliss to serve as reference
For reconstruction and renovation

Instead we forage through the present pieces of ordinary lives
gathering Eden from the disparate strands presumed to be
echos of the first thing, the better thing, the joyful thing

And perhaps the joy itself is provenance enough
to prove that such things were present there
And have floated down the Tigris to us here.

Polytonaly Yours, With Love

The opening lines of “It Is Well” don’t normally include clashing polytonality and inscrutably rhythmic patterns. I took a creative risk this morning. Note clusters. Non-functional harmonic groups. Painting with colors that are so far outside of our normal 3-chord pop-tastic worship that at one point I was screaming inside for a 3rd hand, so that I could fully realize the Eb / D(6/9) / Dbmaj9 stack that I wanted. I know. Using chord notation at that point is just gratuitous. You get my point.

And then, because I like my church and enjoy my current level of employment with them, the crashing cacophony resolved down into notes that made sense, notes that made happy, notes that made me fairly certain that I will be welcome back next week. But for a little while, it was glorious.

I blame Alex Wen, my ne’er-do-well teaching assistant. That kid causes me more trouble. He has a frustrating habit of dropping by, serving up some canapé of intriguing speculation, and then leaving me to process and re-process for the remainder of the week. I enjoy it so much that I don’t have the heart to tell him that it’s supposed to work the other way around.

This week, it was on the role of music in worship. Alex was talking about the use of aggressive and difficult music, modern compositions that will not yield easily to passive listening, but that richly reward the engaged.

Which left me thinking about the role of music in church. Not just in worship, but in the institution at large, the cultural and social phenomenon that the gathered people construct around themselves.

Music is nearly gone from public education. We recruit our best musicians at APU either from secluded art-intensive high schools, or from other countries that still consider a musically literate public to be a worthwhile expense. The musicians who grew up in the church come to us either as butt rock guitar strummers of the most parochial kind, or as power-pop vocalists. Some are very good, but good only in the narrowly confined musical space that is useful for corporate worship. Good at dreamy delays and 3-note gospel harmony. Good at ripping off Coldplay. Good at dropping out after the bridge to build up to the final chorus.

Can we do more? Should we do more? Should we, as the church, be elevating the musical language of our congregants? Should we be force-feeding them dissonance, poly or even a-tonality, and complex musical ideas until they know how to understand that rich language of tension and resolution? Should we give them musical meat that is not yet useful in worship, until it is? Can we move to repair some of the musical poverty caused by our federal abrogation of all non-testable educational outcomes? Can we train up young players to understand and appreciate music that is just beyond them, until it isn’t? Should we bring in talented artists capable of transforming and elevating the congregation’s perception of what music is? Can we set them loose to play things that are not trite rearrangements of popular hymn melodies?

Once we move beyond music as marketing, music as useful, music as emotional scripting, is there a role for music in the church qua music?