Monday, January 23, 2012

The Incredibly Upbeat Stick-Figure Progress Montage You've Been Waiting For

Well, I haven't posted a new song in three months. And, lest ye think I've come to a stand-still: "ARRR, but no! A busy wee lass I have been!", says the Scottish Pirate (?).

The fact is, there's a lot going on behind the scenes. In My Imagination, a Spotsylvania's Marching Knights live show involves a full band with multiple instrumentalists, drummers, dancing, shouting, choral-ography, the whole bit. So, not only do I need to write the lyrics and music for the songs, I need learn how to arrange them, sing them, play piano/ukulele/horn in them, gather and rehearse a band for them, dance [some of] them, and not be afraid of them.

To tell the story of what I've been up to, enter The Incredibly Upbeat Stick-Figure Progress Montage You've Been Waiting For! But first! Turn on your speakers and PRESS PLAY to enjoy the upbeat montage music!

[Click image to enlarge.]

Kudos to anyone who can translate my heiroglyphs into action points. I'll start: 1. Take dance classes.

Monday, January 16, 2012


(from, via Thomas Deneuville)

This is profoundly intelligent.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how being a musician prepared me for Real Life. And I've been feeling pretty good because I realized a couple of weeks ago, when practicing my fourth horn part for the Brooklyn Wind Symphony, that I still remember how to learn. I think that may be the #1 thing that I learned from my years of musical training: how to learn. Slow it down as much as necessary in order to play it successfully, break it into pieces and master each fragment, combine one fragment you've mastered with the next and master that grouping, continue to add until you have the whole phrase. Subdivide and synthesize. It is better to do it accurately than to do it quickly. The process felt so good as I plodded away in the basement with metronome tocking.

Another thing I'd posit is that learning a musical instrument builds up a tolerance for inadequacy and failure and a faith in subsequent success. Meaning: the visceral and lifelong embodiment of the knowledge that inability + practice = success. Perhaps it even lowers the frustration boiling point in an individual.

Can you tolerate frustration? Can you tolerate not being able to do something long enough to master it and find fulfillment? Does anybody else out there feel like musical training helps with this?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Matt Torrey's & The Pickleback Band

Says the band director to the wind symphony: "Hey everybody, after rehearsal we all go over to Matt Torrey's bar." [He points to the principal percussionist.]

I have joined the Brooklyn Wind Symphony. For 11 years, such an ensemble did not interest me but then, this season, a change. I'd been trying to get back into horn playing but with work, songwriting, life, etc., I kept letting it go. What better way to keep my chops in decent shape than to join an ensemble, right? And how nice that P.J., a tubist from undergrad, had moved to NYC and was playing in the band.

What I'd forgotten or underestimated or simply not anticipated was just how friendly a community of musicians can be. I approached Grand Street High School wearing my horn backpack, and before I'd even crossed the street from the L station, three musicians had introduced themselves to me and one had asked me to join a brass quintet. I entered the halls of the school to that age-old warm-up cacaphony and numerous passersby smiled at me as they sucked on reeds and assembled their instruments.

My 8-years-in-NYC-default-response was: Why is everybody being so nice? What gives?

I was immediately processed, shuffled over to the principal hornist for evaluation, handed music for 4th horn, and seated last chair. (FAIR.) The principal, having taken a large chunk of years off of the horn earlier in life, didn't have to hear me play to know that my chops would need the lowest part possible to convalesce.

Within minutes we were reading Blue Lake Overture, Symphony No. 2, Elegy, and Incantation and Dance, for the all John Barnes Chance concert honoring what would have been his 80th birthday. As band-y as band can get. And there I sat, next to the saxophones, like the band kid I've always been.

At Matt Torrey's after rehearsal, I learned that my fellow 4th hornist studied at the University of Miami when I was living there for my first years of teaching and we'd run with the same crowd but never met. Another fellow hornist asked me why I decided to start playing again. I told her that I realized a couple of years ago that my husband and my friends in Miami and New York had never heard me play music that they didn't know me as a musician and it felt very strange to me. Her response was better than any words I'd put on it:
I know! It's such a part of identity, isn't it? Like, you walk around knowing yourself to be a hornist, even if you haven't played in months or years! I joined the band a year ago and it was such a relief, like I'd immediately found my people: the band kids.
It was about then that a round of about 25 signature "pickleback" shots were ordered and distributed a shot of Old Crow bourbon chased with a shot of McClure's spicy pickle brine and I was officially initiated into the pickleback band. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Call Your Girlfriend (I found percussion)

Tell her not to get upset, second guessing everything you said and done.

Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend" arranged and performed here by Erato for three female voices and table percussion (empty cottage cheese containers, if I understand correctly). Hat tip to Thomas Deneuville for this one.

This is a great idea, and it reminds me of my conundrum regarding how to handle my acappella + percussion songs like My Father Was A Barber. Percussion is critical to the sound I'm trying to build, so I've been fretting this whole time over how I can get together with enough percussionists and write out complicated arrangements. But another answer is for me to grab some found instruments from around the house and start making my own noises. It's not like I don't do that already, but for some reason I hadn't really thought about fully embracing found percussion in my recordings.

Give your reasons, say it's not her fault.