At Ease or on Fire
This CD took a while to finalize. I wanted to add percussion and other sounds, and took my time so I would be happy with the outcome. I am happy with the outcome and will continue along this musical trajectory for a while. A few notes.....The solo Thief River Falls is based on the real-life town of the same name in Minnesota. I have never been there. Many years ago, I stumbled upon the name of this town in a business brochure and the name immediately struck me. I'm quite sure if and when I go there, the town can't live up to my embellished image of it. The fantasy town of Thief River Falls appears in an upcoming novel that I have been writing for many years. If there's a cooler name for intrigue, escape and fantasy, please let me know. For now, I think I've nailed it. Track 1 - Thief River Falls - Probably one of my favorite tracks that I've ever recorded. Initially, this song was over 21 minutes long. Before I put music online, I go through a fairly extensive listening process. That is, I put the music on my ipod, I listen to it in the car, on the stereo and on the computer. Also, I send it to several people and patiently wait for feedback. When I listened to this song on my ipod, I realized I liked the initial 3 minute groove better than the musical wanderings that happened afterward. So, rather than wandering through musical 'no man's land' for twenty minutes, I simply repeated the initial 3 minute groove. I love the result and am happy I did it this way. Thief River Falls was recorded by drop tuning all the strings on my double strung harp to an approximate A-flat minor. Then, the C, F, and G strings were levered up to their natural frequencies. The bass run leads with the F string, so I suppose I am playing in F minor. I tune everything by ear, and I like a bit of dissonance. Since I'm a soloist, it works well for me. I had several recordings of this song and chose this one for the initial smooth groove that is repeated. The water sounds were recorded at Bliss Woods in Sugar Grove, Illinois. Nice name for a forest preserve, I think. The unusual bird sounds around the one minute mark were recorded at Pilcher Park where I often walk in the early morning. Water flutes, wind chimes, congas, bongos, atmosphere and choir mist pads were added with Acoustica's digital audio workstation, Mixcraft. Bird calls near the end were recorded at Sweet Woods, which reminds me of a peaceful oasis in the midst of a bustling city. In this case, the outskirts of Chicago. One final word about the sound effects on this track.....One of the great sounds in nature, to me, at least, is to hear a gaggle of geese together making their geese noises. One morning, I was driving on a country road and came upon hundreds of Canadian geese in a large field. I had a portable recorder with me and slowly approached them on foot. My intention was to capture the moment they all took flight. I knew if I got close enough to them, they would fly away. And so they did and the recorder captured it beautifully. You can hear them around the 4 minute mark in the song. To me, the only sound sweeter than this is to have it happen over water. Track 2 - The Reckoning - I am blessed to own two beautiful guitars. Both of them were heaven-sent, in their own way, at various times in my life. One of them is a Ramirez crossover jazz / flamenco guitar made by Ramirez guitars in Madrid, Spain. It has a dovetail cutaway from the 12th to the 17th fret and has the thinner neck and lower action of a jazz guitar and the deeply resonant sound of a flamenco / classical guitar. It is handmade and expensive. And it sounds that way. The other guitar is a Breedlove 12 string C-250. I've always loved the sound of a 12 string and the Breedlove is beautifully made. It is heavy - to support the 12 strings- and well-built. Kim Breedlove, the owner of Breedlove guitars was a California surfer-turned-luthier. I like the incongruity of that. Both guitars have on-board electronics built into them. The Reckoning was recorded by simply recording myself playing various falsetas over a period of a couple of weeks. I used the pick-up on the Ramirez guitar mainly because a microphone would pick up too much ambient sound. I record music every few days so going to a studio is out of the question. Then, I picked a few falsetas and mixed them on the computer. I love the sound of a Ramirez guitar. I've played many guitars in my day, but none of them could breathe quite like this one - especially in the lower registers where I like to play. All the percussion sound effects were added with Acoustica software. Bird calls were recorded at Sweet Woods. I use Savarez 520R normal tension strings. When played well, the guitar is a beautiful and deeply resonant instrument. Maybe one of the most beautiful instruments ever invented. This, however, proves to be a double-edged sword. The same acoustic characteristics which make the guitar resonate as it does, will turn disastrous when played poorly. Herein, lies the conundrum: The world is replete with ex-guitar players who began well and with the best intentions and were humbled by the guitar's response. They quickly realize that what other players make look easy, is not easy at all, but requires long hours of repetitive practice. And even this can backfire if the player develops bad habits in his practicing. I have the deepest respect for good classical guitar players, because, at heart, they are the humblest of God's creatures. Every guitar player who ever played has been defeated by his or her instrument. Not once or twice, but on an hourly basis throughout their lifetimes. Perhaps that's why society puts such a premium on musical ability. Among other things, musical ability speaks of self-discipline; and more often than not, it speaks of childhood discipline. In my opinion, there are few activities more desireable for one's well-being than the consistent practice of a musical instrument. First of all, practicing an instrument regularly creates countless extra pathways in one's brain. Music exploits the brain's neuroplasticity to carve out new pathways which didn't exist prior to practicing. Learning a new song, for instance, is physically making you a different person by causing more synaptic pathways to be formed from your brain, down your spinal cord and into your fingers. You are thus, no longer the person you were before. These extra pathways allow for easier access of all types of information - whether musical information or not. And the more the player plays, the deeper and more numerous the synaptic pathways become. Music education is a remarkable thing, and is often given a lower significance than, say, math or science. The truth is, it is most likely the most important skill a person can learn, as it causes your brain to grow new connections and adapt, allowing for more capability to problem solve in other areas. As well as giving the player the tools for happiness his or her entire life. Track 3 - Requiem for a Nightingale - This song was recorded on Easter Sunday in 2012. I am deeply concerned for the youth of today. Mostly, the endless amount of information - most of it irrelevant to what's essential in their lives. In my day, television was the 'great distractor'. Today there is an endless ocean of things that can and will distract the young person. It is reflected in the culture. The short, faux communication of twitter. The complete and oftentimes ridiculous obsession with facebook. I know because it happens to me - and I am a disciplined person. And I don't even have a facebook or twitter account. I rely on computers to make my music. I need the hardware and software to mix in the nature sounds and other sound effects. I wish I didn't. I wish I could telepathically create the sounds I am after. I wish, that by just imagining my music, I could create the sounds I was looking for. Maybe that will happen in heaven or on earth someday. But for now, I need the computer to mix the sounds. Otherwise, I think I am better off without the distraction. Requiem for a Nightingale is dedicated to those young people who have struggled with this online problem; who have missed the point of technology. Technology is supposed to improve one's life, not take it over. It's for all young girls, perhaps, who have buried somewhere deep in their DNA, the seeds to sing like a bird and don't actualize it. Young boys perhaps, who, without constant distractions, might mentally wander into a cure for paralysis or some other disease. It is a profound loss, in my view. Recently, I have been reading about ancient civilizations. It is a fascinating subject to me. The ancients used stone structures like the pyramids, the temples of Malta, and the Irish towers to harness the subtle energy of the earth and sky to help people. They used these stone structures - some which, inexplicably, seem to be cut with a laser beam, to capture and amplify certain frequencies of the electro-magnetic spectrum. The pyramids, for example, are not tombs mainly, but rather, they are machines. The were made to capture and amplify sound waves, among other waves of the EM spectrum. This, used with the natural precession of the solar system, provided healing properties and sustenance for the human race and were used as a portent or sign of things to come. And it didn't end there. Today, if you were to ask Stephen Hawking how many fundamental particles there are in the universe, he would tell you, 'over 200.' If you were to ask the priests of ancient Egypt how many fundamental particles there are in the universe, they would say, 'exactly 266.' All in all, when taken as a whole, whether one is speaking of the ancient native American structures of the American Southwest, the pyramids at Giza, or the megalith structures of Easter Island - they all speak of a shockingly sophisticated understanding of the solar system and ultimately, our own quest for immortality. I think there is much to learn by quieting one's heart and mind and getting in tune with the natural world. The earth is very old, after all, and as such, very wise. Track 4 - Dunescapes - One of the great pleasures of my life is to walk in the woods. I am fortunate enough to live within a few minutes driving distance of some very nice forested land. Generally, I get out there early, by 7 am or so. I bring coffee or water with me and simply walk. While company is always welcome, I prefer to walk alone, unladen with conversation. Any worries or problems I might have are lessened by this exercise of walking in the woods. I have come to rely on this time as a time of renewal for my heart and mind. I walk in all the seasons, and in wintertime - which has it's own appeal - I am able to cross-country ski on these same trails. On both track 3 and 4, the sounds of sea gulls and water lapping on the shore were taken in mid-March at the Indiana Dunes National Seashore. The number of sea birds here surprised me and I was lucky enough to have warm, sunny weather then. This is no small feat, in the mid-west, in mid-March. This track also has bird calls from Sweet and Whistler Woods, and geese, water and duck sounds from Bliss Woods. Water flutes and pads were added with a DAW. Also, I used a short, analog delay on the harp throughout this song. Track 5 - Thoroughbred - I am very happy with this track. My youngest daughter, Rachelle, always makes an issue with me to write more music in major keys. More upbeat sounds, as it were. I promised her a CD entitled 'Enjoi!' ('Enjoy' spelled incorrectly, on purpose) with all major keys. In the meantime, I recorded her this song. I had the chance to watch her run on the cross-country team in New York recently, and tried to capture her performance with this song. She runs like a thoroughbred and I think I have captured the essence of it here. Cymbals and percussion were added with a DAW. Oklahoma and Leo Buscaglia In August of 1977 I went to Oklahoma for my first year of junior college. On a whim, my sister's husband at the time invited me to spend the year on their farm which was in Skiatook, OKlahoma, about 30 minutes north of Tulsa. They had a small house with a Franklin stove and electric baseboard heaters in the bedrooms to keep warm in the winter. There were about 7 acres of land where they kept some horses. Every morning around 5 am, I would work my way through the mist and feed the horses. Horses are strong ! Especially when they are hungry ! More than once I got sandwiched in between two or more of them as they stuck their noses into my grain bucket. We lived off a country road in a little clapboard house on a hill. I didn't know it at the time, (we seldom do, do we?) but this was to be one of the 5 best years of my life. I had 2 guitar teachers, 2 jobs and money enough to burn. I baled hay in the autumn and worked in the Tulsa oil fields with a wiry little man named Tuffy. And went horseback riding after school with a girl named Candy - who was just as sweet as her name. I met Mike G. from Attleboro, Massachusetts who was getting his commercial jets pilot's license at Tulsa's flight school. He already had his private pilot's license and took me flying on the weekends all over the countryside. I was young, single, unburdened with responsibilities and free. I had money, music and friends to enjoy life with. Looking back with nostalgia some 35 years later, I find that the world, my world, was much younger then. One of my favorite people born into this world was the late, great Leo Buscaglia. Leo was a professor at the University of Southern California and became known all over the world for his love class entitled 'Love 1A', and his appearances on PBS, Oprah, and other places. At one time, he had 5 book titles on the New York Times Bestseller list at the same time ! I have collected many of Leo's audio and video lectures and interviews. He often talked about the following story he read in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology. It was written by an 85 year old man who was terminally ill and had only a short time to live... The man writes: 'If I had to live my life over again, I'd try to make more mistakes next time. I'd try not to be so damn perfect. I'd relax more, I'd limber up, I'd be sillier than I've been on this trip. In fact, I know of very few things that I would take quite so seriously. I'd be crazier and I'd certainly be less hygienic. I'd take more chances. I'd take more trips. I'd climb more mountains, I'd swim more rivers, and I'd watch more sunsets. I'd burn more gasoline. I'd eat more ice cream and fewer beans. I'd have more actual troubles and fewer imaginary ones. You see, I was one of those people who lived prophylactically and sanely and sensibly.....hour after hour and day after day. Oh, that doesn't mean I didn't have my moments, but if I had to do it all over again, I'd have more of those moments. In fact, I'd try to have nothing but wonderful moments, side by side. I've been one of those people who never went anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a gargle, a raincoat, and a parachute. If I had to do it all over again, I'd travel lighter next time. If I had to live my life over again, I'd start barefoot earlier in the spring and I'd stay that way later in the fall. I'd play hooky a lot more. I'd ride more merry-go-rounds. I'd smell more flowers. I'd hug more children. I'd tell more people that I love them. If I had my life to live over again.....But you see, I don't.' Leo goes on to say.....'You know, I have a strong feeling that this wonderful quality of humanness, with all of it's wonder, is God's gift to you. And what you do with it, is your gift to God. Don't satisfy yourself with anything less, than offering God the perfect gift that you are. And have a blast doing it.' Another quote I've always liked is by Brandon Lee, the son of the famous martial artist and actor, Bruce Lee. 'Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless...' Brandon Lee died an untimely death in a shooting accident in 1993 at the age of 28. As my children were growing up, they heard this type of talk from me: 'Find your passions early. They're the only thing that lasts.' 'Pick a career that you would do whether or not you got paid. If you can do that, you've won.' 'Escape meaningless jobs.' 'It comes in many forms, but don't shuffle papers for a living. And don't stare at a computer all day. If you do, you're liable to turn into one.' 'Money helps, but time is more important than money.' 'Try not to wear a watch. Learn to tell time by the sun.' 'If you have to do a repetitive task throughout your life, let it be through athletics or music. With athletics, you'll always be in good physical shape. And with music in your soul, you'll always be saved.' It worked. Both girls are musicians. One daughter is a gifted music teacher and band director and the other daughter is on her way to the Olympics. ( :-) I wrote that for you, Rachelle Anne.) The key to living life fully is passion. I was one of the lucky ones. I found it early. And the older I get, the more I realize how rare that is. In closing, here is some advice... Whether at 33, 43, 53 or 93 you will ask yourself a series of questions- They will go something like this: Did I become all I could become? Do I regret anything? Did I live life in joy and wonder realizing that all I have is now? Did I laugh often? Was I kind and patient? Did I become that 'ideal person' I was meant to be? Did I create beauty in one form or another to leave the world? Can I die content that I fulfilled my life's work? I can almost promise you, whether at ease or on fire, this day of reckoning will come. A special thanks to my friend, Patricia Shaw, for allowing me the use of her painting entitled 'Evening' and whose cover art seems to fit so well with my music. She is kind and gracious and a joy to correspond with. Thanks, Patricia.