02.18.2009

Wedding Music, Part 4: All The Music

Posted by AJ Harbison at 8:30 pm

It’s here–the last week leading up to the wedding! I’ve been rather busy (as you might imagine) so I haven’t had much time to post. But I’m going to try to write a few entries over the next few days and then schedule them through the next week and a half, so even while I’m away on my honeymoon you can still get your TLB fix.

I thought that I’d post today, for anyone who’s interested, the overview of all the music I’ve planned for the wedding. The first three wedding music posts can be found at the following links: Wedding Music, Part 1, Wedding Music, Part 2, and Wedding Music, Part 3: Recessional.

For the ceremony, a member of our church community group agreed to play the piano for us–she has a master’s degree in performance so we were excited to bring her on board.

For the prelude, she’ll be playing a variety of classical music: some Bach, a little Debussy, etc.

There will be two hymns that the congregation will sing during the ceremony: “Be Thou My Vision” (careful; if you open that page a really crappy MIDI version of the hymn will start playing automatically) and a modern hymn, “In Christ Alone” (music starts automatically there too, but at least it’s a decent recording).

Then there’s the music I wrote, in three parts:

The processional: “Amazing Grace.” This is the song that all the bridesmaids and groomsmen will “process” to as they walk down the aisle. I wrote a flowing sixteenth-note pattern in D major (pretty cool, if I do say so myself) for the left hand and set a slightly altered version of the melody “Amazing Grace” over it. Then after a full verse of “Amazing Grace,” the left hand changes to portamento (i.e. slightly detached) single notes while the right hand plays an altered version of “In Christ Alone”–the two songs actually make for a pretty seamless medley, because they’re in the same meter (3/4) and have similar rhythmic patterns. After the last line of “Amazing Grace” returns to cap things off, there are four bars of anticipation while the piano plays around softly with a G major chord (the IV in D) and C-sharps, which create the feeling that something else has to come next. Then comes a hanging G major-add6-add7-add9 chord, the back doors of the church open to reveal the lovely bride, and the next piece begins:

The bridal processional: “Passion And Purity.” (See the Wedding Music, Part 2 post for details on this piece’s history.) The intro and outro of this piece are based loosely on the theme from the second movement of Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, Op. 36, a piece that has a pretty fascinating history of its own. (If you happen to click on the audio sample from the Wikipedia article, please be advised that it does not contain the theme that my piece is based on.) It’s played in a simple, innocent-sounding setting in C major symbolizing purity. The main body of the piece is a setting of a simple melody I wrote a long, long time ago–the only musical connection in the wedding to anything else I’ve written. It begins in C major, but then transitions up to a more brilliant setting in A major (symbolizing, for me at least, passion), and includes a subtle quote of Bach’s piece “Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring,” which is often used as a bridal processional itself. The conclusion of the piece, returning to the Górecki theme, remains in A major–suggesting a new kind of purity in the context of marriage.

The recessional: “With Joy.” (See the Wedding Music, Part 3: Recessional post for details on this piece’s history.) This piece was the most fun to write and is the rocking piece in the set. It is also in A major, continuing the idea of passion–and what a passionate piece it is. It starts with a high triplet pattern I stole from a Michael Card song, “The Voice of the Child” (click on the song’s title under “Song Clip” to listen to it–the triplet pattern is at the beginning; if that link doesn’t work, click here and click the play button next to track 7). The pattern builds as the pastor says “I now present to you, for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. AJ Harbison!” at which point I will give our pianist two quick conducting cue beats. On the downbeat, the triplet pattern shifts into overdrive (in sixteenths instead of triplets), and the left hand crashes down into low octaves à la “Baba O’Riley” as explained in the linked wedding music post above. It’s gonna be awesome. The middle section calms down a bit–I think it’s at that point that the pastor will invite everyone over to the reception–and is I think the only passage in all three pieces that is newly-written and not referencing something else. It’s mostly chordal and follows simple progressions built around the IV, V and vi chords. Then the high pattern/”Baba O’Riley” theme returns, in a slightly modified form that eventually dissipates up into the original triplet pattern, quiet and way up high. There’s a faint echo of the theme from “Passion And Purity”–tyin’ it all together–and then it ends on a high held A, and a low A octave as quiet as possible. I’m telling you, it’s gonna rock.

(I’ve joked to Eleanor that I could never publish the wedding suite, if I ever wanted to–there’s way too much plagiarism in it. I’d bankrupt us paying all the licensing fees. But at least it’ll be awesome on the day itself!)

Then comes the reception! We decided to hire Bonne Musique Zydeco to be our live band, and we can’t wait to dance the night away with them. My lovely bride and I will have our first dance to Derek Webb’s song “Better Than Wine,” she will dance with her father to “Up Around The Bend” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and I’ll dance with my mother to “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” James Taylor-style. All with dashes of zydeco thrown in to spice things up. We’ll eat, drink, dance and party; and then my bride and I will make our getaway and ride off into the sunset.

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01.18.2009

Wedding Music, Part 3: Recessional

Posted by AJ Harbison at 8:01 pm

One of my favorite TV shows is House, a medical version of a Sherlock Holmes mystery: “House solves mysteries where the villain is a medical malady and the hero is an irreverent, controversial doctor who trusts no one, least of all his patients.” It’s now in its fifth season, but since I’m watching it on DVD and very slowly, my lovely fiancée and I are only in season two. One of my favorite episodes, which was the fourteenth episode of season one, is “Control,” in which House, by questionable ethical means, saves a young CEO who has destroyed her heart by ipecac self-poisoning and bulimia. I don’t think I agree with his decision in the episode, but despite that disagreement the episode is very well-written and the ending is one of the most satisfying that I’ve seen yet on the show. After his final conversation with the patient, House returns to his office and begins playing “Baba O’Riley” by The Who over his iPod speakers. The song has an awesome intro, and the feeling of triumph is unmistakable. (You can watch the whole episode for free, albeit in low quality and with Spanish subtitles, here. If you’d like to skip to the last scene, start playing the video and then click around in the timer bar until you get to about the 38’30″ mark. If you really trust me on this one and want to watch the whole episode on Amazon for $1.99, click here. You can listen to the entirety of “Baba O’Riley” for free, courtesy of our good friend Last.fm, here.)

As I’ve mentioned, I really love this episode and I really love the way the song is used to evoke elation in the watcher/listener. So, a few days ago I got an idea for the recessional for my wedding. (As I wrote before, I’m going to be writing all the music for my wedding ceremony.) The piano would start by “fading in” with a high ostinato repeating pattern, perhaps based on the keyboard intro to “Baba O’Riley” but not the same. The anticipation builds as the pattern continues and the pastor says: “I present to you, for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. AJ Harbison!” at which point I give a quick conducting cue beat and the pianist crashes down on low octaves in the left hand–the same notes and rhythm as in the song. (Believe it or not, Eleanor actually really likes the conducting cue idea.) Hey, satisfaction, elation and triumph all count at the culmination of the wedding ceremony, right? I think it’ll make a rocking recessional. And I can’t wait to give that cue–more fun than a composer should be allowed to have!

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01.13.2009

"Just As I Am" Branches Out

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:32 am

First off forgive me for not posting over the weekend–your favorite listening blogger came down with a cold; but I’m feeling much better today and we’re back to your regularly scheduled posts!

Second, I want to thank everyone for the proliferation of comments recently. As I’ve mentioned before, I love getting your thoughts and opinions and dialoguing with you on the site here, and I appreciate the consistent comments I’ve been getting on the last few posts. Keep it up!

Third (now that I got those things out of the way) I wanted to inform you all of an exciting development for me. I’ve written several times about my arrangement of the hymn “Just As I Am,” and how the Jeff Mercer Band has been playing it pretty regularly at their River of Worship services. (Incidentally, I drove up to Redlands to record my acoustic guitar parts and vocals for the Jeff Mercer Band CD two weeks ago, and it’s now entering the final stage of production. I can’t wait to share the version of “Just As I Am” from the CD with all of you; it has a full band behind it and it sounds really cool.) One thing I haven’t written about yet is that I also shared the song with the worship director at my church, and he’s been playing it on Sunday mornings for several weeks now. I’ve gotten great feedback from members of the congregation, and one of my musically-inclined friends suggested I try to publish the song.

Since I’ve never published anything (yet) and didn’t know quite how to proceed, I sent an email to the CFAMC Yahoo group and asked their advice. I got a number of excellent responses, which were all encouraging but also noted that “publishing” (in the sense of finding a company to print sheet music) is not necessarily a profitable way to go in regards to worship music, since most worship bands learn new songs by imitating recordings rather than reading sheet music. However, several of them said they really liked the song and wanted to pass it on to the worship leaders at their respective churches. Based on the latest emails I’ve gotten, it was already played by one church in Ohio yesterday, and is in the process of being pitched to churches in Canton and Granville. It’s exciting to know that a song I’ve written is being played in at least two churches literally 2400 miles apart, with more likely to come!

If there are any CFAMCers who read this blog, I want to thank you for your group’s thoughtful and encouraging response. (And I’d love to hear from you and know you’re listening!) And for everyone else–I’ll keep you posted on the continued progress of the song!

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12.01.2008

Flutey And The Beast Is Complete!

Posted by AJ Harbison at 3:07 am

I wrote back in July about Flutey and the Beast, a tuba and flute duet I was writing for my friend Jeff. After much procrastinating on my part, the piece is finally complete! The only way I have to share it with you is the MIDI realization that Sibelius, my music notation program, provides; it doesn’t sound good, and it hiccups a bit (anything that sounds like a performing mistake is a hiccup), but you’ll get the idea. Before you listen to the piece, here are the “performance directions” I included in the score (there’s also a description of the piece in the post linked above):

This piece is a dramatic work, telling a “beauty and the beast”
story, and it should be performed in a very expressive and dramatic
fashion. The tuba plays the beast, who states his gruff theme after
the introduction in the pickup to measure 8. The short theme in the
tuba in measures 14 through 16 represents the beast’s longing to
be, well, not so beastly. The flute plays the beauty and is
continually interrupted and rebuffed by the beast, until the full
statement of her theme in measures 29 through 35. The beast is
slowly but surely won over by the beauty, until he plays her theme
beginning in measure 55 and then plays a bass line supporting her
final triumphant statement. The introduction returns in a slightly
modified version as the conclusion.

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11.26.2008

Wedding Music, Part 2

Posted by AJ Harbison at 3:55 am

As I mentioned in my first wedding post, I’ve taken on the responsibility of planning the music for our wedding, and that includes the music for the wedding ceremony itself.

TheKnot.com is a wedding planning site that I would normally stay far, far away from, as a guy, but as a fiancé I guess I get a bit of extra slack. I decided, after spending an hour or two or three on Gigmasters, that I would check it out just to see if it had any good suggestions for wedding music. In the sidebar of an article entitled “Ceremony Music: The Basics,” I found the following list of ceremony music suggestions, which was rather amusing and entertaining in itself:

Your selections will speak volumes.

Traditional
Processional: Bridal Chorus (Wagner)
Recessional: Wedding March (Mendelssohn)

New Traditional
Prelude: “Apotheosis” (Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty)
Processional: “Spring” (Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons)
Bride’s Processional: “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” (Bach)
Recessional: “La Rejouissance” (Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks)

Gospel/Religious
Prelude: “Amazing Grace” (John Newton)
Processional: “In This Very Room” (Ron and Carol Harris)
Bride’s Processional: “St. Anthony’s Chorale” (Haydn)
Recessional: “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” (Hans Georg Nageli)

Modern
Prelude: “You and I” (Stevie Wonder)
Processional: “In My Life” (The Beatles)
Bride’s Processional: “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” (Lauryn Hill)
Recessional: “Beautiful Day” (U2)

Hipster
Prelude: “J’ai Dormi Sous L’Eau” (Air)
Processional: “Luna” (The Smashing Pumpkins)
Bride’s Processional: “Fade Into You” (Mazzy Star)
Recessional: “Love Song” (The Cure)

It was funny just to note my own knowledge of these pieces–I recognize all the songs listed under “Traditional” and “New Traditional;” about half of the songs under “Gospel/Religious” and “Modern;” and none of the songs under “Hipster.” I guess that tells you where I fall in my musical tastes….

Several years ago, an old friend of mine asked me to write a bridal processional for her wedding–the song that would accompany her as she walked down the aisle. I wrote it, incorporating a lot of musical symbolism–even basing the melody of the middle section on her name–and in the end she decided against using it. (She already had music in mind for the bridesmaids’ processional, and I guess it didn’t flow well with my piece. She ended up using the piece that she had sent me as an example of what she wanted it to sound like.) A short while ago, Eleanor and I were talking about music for our ceremony, and I mentioned that piece (which I had entitled “Passion and Purity,” based on this book). She got very excited, and asked if I would want to compose music for our wedding ceremony. I got pretty excited myself.

After that I looked at the Passion and Purity Wedding March again, and was horribly disappointed–it’s really not well-written at all. I composed it in the spring of 2006, which I suppose is not very long ago but rather a long ways away in terms of my development as a composer. So, for our wedding ceremony I will be rewriting the Passion and Purity Wedding March. (Not least among the revisions will be the middle section, which will no longer feature the name “Hannah.”)

In further discussions, Eleanor said that the more music I composed for the ceremony, the happier she would be. I don’t know how much I’ll have time to write, but I love the thought of writing all the music for my own wedding. Seán Dunnahoe did it for his, and (although his style was very different from mine) it was really cool and worked out very well.

Most likely we’ll have just a piano (to keep costs down, and make my writing easier); I guess if I wrote everything I would compose the processional, the bridal processional (a new incarnation of “Passion and Purity”), and the recessional. I’ll keep you all posted on thoughts as I go!

P.S. Amazon is having a Black Friday sale all through this week and next, with different deals each day. And, as always, if you click through any of the Amazon links here on TLB, your favorite starving composer-blogger gets a commission on whatever you buy, with no extra cost to you! If you’d like to do some of your holiday shopping online and support me in the process, please click here: Black Friday 2008 Deals.

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10.25.2008

BeachFire Audition

Posted by AJ Harbison at 5:06 pm

My very talented friend Seán Dunnahoe found a posting on Craigslist a week or two ago, calling for acoustic solo and group acts to audition for a live and possibly weekly gig at a bar’n'grill called the BeachFire in Ladera Ranch. So he suggested that he and I get together, work up some of my original songs and jam there. So we did.

Tuesday night was the audition, which we discovered was really more of an open mike event. The general manager was there and listening, so in that sense he was gauging the acts to see whom he might want to hire; but there were plenty of customers there listening as well, and it was just like playing a short set on stage.

Seán plays hand percussion (as well as drum set and a zillion other instruments), so he brought congas, bongos, a fish-skin tamborine and (as I mentioned before) Irish bones, which I called “clickety things” for the benefit of our listeners during the set. We were the first band to play, after a “house band” guitar player warmed up for us. We did five songs altogether: “Who I Am,” “Too Far,” “Remember,” a Dave Matthews Band song called “Grey Street,” and as an encore my all-time most popular song “Coastin’”. We rocked it–I did a good job playing and singing, and Seán was awesome as I knew he would be. We got lots of compliments afterwards; many people asked us how long we had been playing together, and were subsequently surprised when we told them this was our first gig. “He’s played stuff before, I’ve played stuff before, but this is the first time we’ve played together.”

The BeachFire’s general manager told us that he’s pretty much booked through January; but he said he would get back to us at that time and see what his schedule looked like, and I said we’d be more than happy to fill in if he had a last-minute cancellation. He seemed to like what we did, and I know that if we were to be hired to play it would be a paying gig; so we’ll see what happens in January!

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10.18.2008

A Music-Filled Weekend

Posted by AJ Harbison at 10:34 pm

One of the vendors I work with asked me yesterday if I had any big plans for the weekend, and as I explained to her what I’d be doing, I realized that I have been and am going to be playing guitar. A lot.

First of all, this past Wednesday was the 2nd Annual Art Show at my company, Rauxa Direct. It was a free show whose participants were employees and friends and family of employees (basically anyone who wanted to enter), and although there was technically a contest it was really just an exhibition. It was pretty cool and I recruited several of my artistic friends to submit art pieces; I myself played guitar as a representative of a non-visual art. I played a two-song “showcase,” and then later a longer set as “background music,” although by that point there were only a few people left (one of which was my lovely and loyal girlfriend). It was a lot of fun performing, even if it was not the most flattering of venues, because I hadn’t played for a while. Pictures will be forthcoming next week and will show up on my website. (If you’d like to check out my photo gallery before then, feel free to click here.)

On to the weekend! Last night (Friday) I had a rehearsal slash jam session with my composer/percussionist friend Seán Dunnahoe, whom I mentioned in this post. We’re going to be auditioning for a performing gig at a place in Ladera Ranch on Tuesday night, performing a few of my original songs and a Dave Matthews Band cover. I’ll be playing guitar and singing, of course, and Seán will be rocking out on congas, bongos, shakers and Irish bones. (Bones are, by the way, THE single coolest instrument I have ever seen played. And Seán ROCKS on them.)

On Saturday, I’ll be in Redlands playing guitar and singing with the Jeff Mercer Band at the Saturday night River of Worship service (I wrote a TLB post about the band here). It looks like we’ll probably be playing “Just As I Am” again, as well as some more of the Jeff Mercer Band original songs that are being worked on for the CD.

Then on Sunday morning, I’ll be back in the OC, playing guitar and singing for the first time with the worship band at the church that my lovely girlfriend and I attend. That should be exciting as well.

My fingers are going to be rather sore, come Sunday afternoon….

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09.23.2008

"Just As I Am" Is A Hit!

Posted by AJ Harbison at 11:50 pm

I traveled to Redlands this past weekend to play in the River Of Worship service with my friend Jeff Mercer and his Jeff Mercer Band. I wrote in my last post that he and the band are working on a recording, which we hope to have finished by the end of the year, and I had told him a short time ago of my arrangement of “Just As I Am” (written about on this blog here). It will likely be on the recording, now, and he agreed to add it to the set for Saturday night as well, so the band (led by me on guitar and vocals) played it for the first time in the service. It was very cool to hear it done with a full band; being a song with little structural variation (it doesn’t have the advantage of, say, a bridge or a chorus to break up the repetition of the verses), it was a great help to have the band to add variation in other ways: different rhythms, more or fewer instruments playing on different verses, differences in dynamics.

Of course, as a worship song, the point is not for people to like it or to get praise for myself; but it went over very well. I was hoping that Jeff wouldn’t bring attention to the fact that I had done the arrangement, but he did, and I got a number of compliments afterwards on it. One friend in particular (who may or may not be named Nate) told me he really, really liked it; at a later point in our conversation, I told him as I often do, “I like you a lot,” and he responded, “I like you a lot too–and I like you even more after tonight!”

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09.13.2008

"Clapping Canon," AJ Harbison

Posted by AJ Harbison at 4:26 am

One more clapping piece for your listening pleasure–and I promise, this one is cooler than the last one.

Our other clapping assignment in the composition class was to compose a clapping canon–where one voice (in Latin called the “dux” or “lead”) would begin, and the second voice (called the “comes,” or literally, “friend”) would imitate the first exactly. Kinda like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or “Three Blind Mice.” This piece sounds more interesting than the last one and has cooler rhythms because the interplay between the two (or rather four) hands is more specifically focused on interacting with each other, and more complicated because the imitative part is fixed based on the leading part, and the leading part then has to play something against what it just played a few measures before.

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(Just in case you were wondering how I did on these assignments: both of them got an “A” grade; the ostinato was also marked “Nice” and the canon “Good counterpoint.”)

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09.11.2008

Interlude: My Recording Technology

Posted by AJ Harbison at 10:18 pm

Since I’m recording two clapping pieces this week for your listening pleasure (one in the previous post and one yet to come), and since Albert and Ryan Fleming both asked (here) about how I record, we’ll take a brief respite from the clapping posts and I’ll reveal my “technologies and techniques” of recording.

My “first album” of sorts, Following A Star, was recorded at the end of 2005 using my iBook G4 laptop, which (I think) was new in 2004 and was running Mac OSX 10.4 Tiger at the time. I used the Mac program GarageBand v. 1.1.0 to actually record the album, and lacking any real recording equipment, I used the computer’s built-in mike. For being a built-in mike, it performed very well, and the only real drawback was noticeable but not overwhelming static in the background. (You can listen to that whole album on my website, www.ajharbison.com, under the heading “Popular Music” on the Music page.)

Last year, for Christmas, my mother bought me the instrument I’ve been using for the recent recordings (“Just As I Am” and the clapping recordings). It’s called The Snowball, and it’s made by Blue Microphones. The cool thing about The Snowball is that it’s a professional quality USB mike, so it’s exceptionally clear while needing no intermediate interface–a standard USB cord runs straight from the mike into the computer. I love it. I still use GarageBand, and now that I’ve figured out how to use The Snowball with the program, it’s great. (Before I realized that you had to change the audio input setting within GarageBand, I was still recording with the built-in mike thinking I was using The Snowball. That was a bummer.)

If you’re the audio geek type, you can check out all the product specs on The Snowball’s page. If you’re too lazy to check that out, the basic stats are that it records at a 44.1 kHz and 16-bit rate–typical CD quality–and can operate in either omnidirectional or cardioid polar patterns. In other words, it can do pretty much anything I would ever need it to do, and it does it at a very high level of quality. I’m very happy with it.

The only problem that I’ve come across–and I’ve only discovered it recently–is that it has a slight latency problem with GarageBand; in other words, when I’m recording a second track, there’s a slight delay between what I hear in the first track and what I’m recording on the second track. So if I sync the performance of the second track to the first as I listen to the first, when I play them both back the second track will be slightly behind. I haven’t figured out how to fix this yet, and I’m not sure whether the problem is in the mike, the program, or my computer (it’s getting old now and it’s rather slow). I recorded “Just As I Am” playing guitar and singing at the same time (so it was only one track), and I’m recording the clapping pieces by syncing both parts to GarageBand’s built-in metronome, which has worked thus far (and made me think of this A.W. Tozer quote). But if I want to do any other multi-track recording, I need to figure out how to eliminate the latency.

But in terms of quality, I couldn’t be happier. The guitar and voice, even recorded together, sound terrific, as Albert pointed out–I joked to my girlfriend that “the guitar sounds better than live!” If you have any suggestions about the latency, let me know; if I figure it out, I’ll post about it here. And until then, Albert and Fleming (and any others who are curious): I hope this satisfies your curiosity.

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