Sunday, July 25, 2010

Notes from the Road

Buffalo, all week:

I love staying in hotels!  I haven't jumped on the bed yet, but rest assured, I will.

No access to a piano today.  Listened to "Candle in the Wind", analyzed the harmony on the lyric sheet.  Checked against the Elton John piano/vocal book I brought, was pleased with how accurate I was.  Sang along (quietly) with the recording (I have a room to myself).  Will have to do the rest another day, but at least I have a good start on being familiar with the song.

I've blocked out times each day when I can be by myself in a room with a piano to learn my song.  It's a bit of a challenge between my schedule at this camp, and the overall rehearsal schedule - sometimes all the rooms with pianos are being used by other parts of the camp, even if I have an hour off. 

Tomorrow will be the hardest day to fit it in: a long day of youth-flavored, administrative and musical mayhem, followed by Beer O'Clock, which I understand is celebrated with almost religious fervor at the end of every day.  Work hard, play hard.  This is gonna be a fun week.  I get to music direct, I'm with a group of people I really like working with, and if Buffalo is a little less glamorous than New York City, it's also less murderously hot.  I wore a sweater outdoors tonight for the first time in months. I've never really pursued touring, but as we got oriented at the theater this afternoon, it crossed my mind that I might really enjoy it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Piano Month!

Greetings, gentle readers.  You probably won't be hearing much from me this week as I'll be busy.  I'll be working with Camp Broadway's summer day camp off and on the next few weeks, and it's fun but pretty intense. 

Have I mentioned July is piano month?  According to me, that is.  I think I forgot to say that.  After last month's string of arbitrarily-chosen hits, I am now choosing to spend some time playing stuff that's actually piano-based.  I decided that a few days into July, and since then have worked on "Clocks", "Trouble" (also by Coldplay), "Summer, Highland Falls", "Lullabye" (Billy Joel's), "Vienna", "Lullabye" (Ben Folds', with the kick-ass piano solo), and, today, Fiona Apple's "Shadowboxer". 

Piano-based stuff has its own challenge within my time constraints, because I actually want to figure out exactly what they're playing, as opposed to deciding how best to distill the track into a piano-only groove as I have to do with guitar- or orchestrated/produced music.  I have to concede defeat on things like "Summer, Highland Falls" and Ben Folds' piano solo on "Lullabye" - I'm just not going to have the exact notes and the memory all in place in the time I have to work on it in one already-busy day. 

Part of the point of my little self-challenge is to move on to a new song every day. Letting go of imperfection is not my strong suit, and that inability to let go of anything and move on was, ironically, making life and music even more imperfect than it might have been otherwise.  That said, I've already determined I need a lot of review if I'm actually going to know 365 songs at the end of the year (panic rises in her throat) - so I move on to focus on the next song, I can still go back.  Today I actually did my review before learning the new song - I looked at "Against All Odds" again, and I spent a little time on the "Lullabye" solo.  I was gratified to discover it sounds much better today than when I was first learning it yesterday.  Not all memorized yet, but that's ok. 

I better go get the rest of my stuff together for tomorrow.  See y'all on the flip side!

Friday, July 9, 2010


This is from yesterday:
Exhausted.  Today I am willing to admit I need almost as much sleep as the average human.  Not concentrating well.  Coincidentally, I am learning Billy Joel's "Lullabye."  One of my favorite songs ever: I like the lyrics, and I'm a fan of the minor-iv chord in just about any context, and of the occasional change of mode (as in the instrumental interlude).  I may geek out on this later, but right now I have just enough petrol left to write OR learn the song.  So, goodnight, my angels.
I did actually manage to go to bed at a reasonable hour, partly because (as I finally confirmed today) my modem has died, and for some reason none of my password-unprotected neighbors' wifi connections were available last night.  Today, I started learning Billy Joel's "Vienna".  The other day was "Summer, Highland Falls."  Those songs are I guess not as well-known as, say, "Piano Man" or "New York State of Mind", but , according to interviews (thanks, as always, wiki and other online sources), are his two favorite songs. 

Anyway, I spent 10 seconds at the piano at 8:55 this morning as I was running out the door figuring out the key and the first couple chords, and figured out most of the chord progression and the form on the walk to the train.  Now it's time to sit down and do the rest.  I have three hours before I am going out, and need to practice a little bit for a gig tomorrow, but if I manage my time well, I'll have time to finish learning "Vienna" and to review a song or two. 

It feels pretty great to be rested.  It's not often I admit that, and this rested feeling won't last long - the next 9 days are busy, and I'm not getting my bi-weekly self-mandated day off.  But for today, I've kind of been taking "Vienna"'s lyrics personally - "slow down, you crazy child" - after I played auditions for a few hours, I deliberately wasted some time online (neighbor's wifi is back, RCN is coming to fix mine Tuesday), and took a little nap.

...Wow, I was just reading through the lyrics, trying to decide which ones to quote, and ... it could pretty much all apply to me.  Except the Vienna part.  I spent 18 hours there once.  I took a walk and had a coffee and saw a concert at the cathedral, and was on my merry way to Budapest the next morning.  I kind of regretted how little time I spent there, but I had read that it was kind of a stuffy town, so I gave it short shrift in favor of the other cities I visited.  Heh.  I didn't wait for Vienna.  My loss.  Well, if the song is right, it'll be there when I decide to go back. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

2010 - California Gurls

Greetings, loved ones.  Let's take a journey.  So says Snoop Dogg at the beginning of "California Gurls", the hit song from my birthday week this year. 

That's more or less what I told myself in the wee hours of New Year's Day of this year when I embarked on this possibly-insane project of attempting to learn and memorize a pop song every day and writing about the experience.  And here we are at the halfway point.  Happy Halfway Point!

So far:
My Perfectionazi still talks to me but I'm getting better at telling him to eff off.  The Doubts are harder to deal with because there's the most infinitesimal chance that there's a grain of truth in what they say.  I'm spending somewhere in the range of 15-20 hours a week on a project that doesn't pay, but it is paying off in other ways: I hear music differently now, I discover new music every day, I connect with people more often over music because now I know  - or at least know of - the songs they're talking about. 
I want to stay up and wax eloquent about  what I've learned so far, what I think this project is about, what fresh geekery today's song has inspired, but I'm just too damn tired.  If I've learned one thing, it's that I have to concede some nights to getting a semi-decent amount of sleep. 

I've also learned how much I resent sleep.  So just a tiny tidbit of geekery:

Aughto-tune: the sound of the Aughts.  Pretty much every hit song today uses it.  That hit home this morning when I was downloading "California Gurls" and I listened to the 30-second snippets of all the other current hits on iTunes.  Little kids today will one day feel about the sound of auto-tune the same way I feel about 80s power ballads that modulate up a whole step at the end. Nostalgia.

Today's song is pretty straightforward, form-wise: verse-prechorus-chorus x 2, bridge (which is Snoop Dogg's rap), chorus, tag.  The melody is really solidly in F; the bass never hits an F.  In the end, the bass drops out and the treble resolves to an F to finish the song.  One thing I don't miss about the 80s: repeat and fade on every song!

Onward - birthday month is over, have to figure out how I'm going to choose my songs now!