Monday, November 30, 2009

What’s What

I promised some Q and A. I don’t want to bore you to tears, but here are some questions I get all the time.

Q. Can I have the sheet music to your songs?

A. Not right now. I’m sorry, but I didn’t have time to write them all down. I need to be careful how I talk about this one, because I definitely don’t see eye-to-eye with y’all on it. Some people think that if I put out sheet music, I would get super rich from all the people buying the sheet music. I am afraid there is not a lot of money in sheet music. For one person that buys it, all her friends will then copy it. Secondly, it has never been my dream for everyone in the world to be able to play my music. It has been my dream to hear my music performed by people that I love to listen to. That doesn’t mean that I don’t love you, or that you don’t sound great. Someone asked me last night, “Isn’t there just a program where you play it in, and it just prints out sheet music?” The simple answer is yes, but the real answer is no… it is not that easy, and it takes me about ten hours to transcribe a song in a way that I think looks good. I am exploring avenues to get some of the music transcribed, but it is just not my top priority at this time.

Q. Is that you singing on the CD?

A. Haha! Did it sound like me? Okay… there are no stupid questions. A lot of people have even asked me if there is any singing on the CD. The best way to know for yourself, is... listen to the CD. If you read down through the posts here, I feature all the people who performed for me. I am not sure why the confusion, but the CD is made up of thirteen tracks. Ten of the songs are original songs that I have written. One of those is just piano. The other nine are songs with vocals. I asked some of my favorite singers to sing the songs. I played all the instrumental parts, with the exception of Shelley Johnson’s lovely cello. I sang with the background singers on two of the songs, but I am quite positive you will not be able to pick out my voice. In fact, I made really really really sure of that.

Q. Did you actually write Did You Know? or did you just arrange it? Because I already have it on another CD I purchased. (Strangely, I get this question about several of the songs that I wrote on the CD).

A. I am glad the song sounds familiar to you, but I am afraid you must be mistaken. I did indeed write the words and the music. “Did You Know?” did not start out as a Christmas song. I wrote verses two and three for one of my boys to sing for my son Dillon’s baptism when he was eight years old. The first verse I added a couple of years later so that a children’s choir could sing the song for a Christmas concert. All of the songs on the CD, with the exception of “Silent Night,” “O Holy Night,” and “In the Bleak Midwinter” are written entirely by me. For those three traditional carols, I wrote the arrangements that you hear on the CD.

If you have questions you would like to ask about the music or the CD, please feel free to ask in the comments section. I have a little sarcasm problem, for which I am seeking help, but I promise to control it and respond with a nice friendly answer.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Who’s Who?

I wish I had room to print all the lyrics in the CD insert. I wish I could have told all about the artists that sing and play the music. Space was limited... and yes, I am wordy. But it is all here. The following three posts are about the singers that spent the most time being tortured in my virtual studio. They were battered and beaten, and I made them all cry... but they came out the other side, and they remain some of my best friends and favorite people. Check back in a few days for some Q and A... I have had a lot of questions about the CD and about the recording process. I know they say there are no stupid questions... but, well, you will have to judge for yourself on that one. So anyway, read about my friends. They are brilliant.

Who’s Who? The Moment of Silence

Rachel has been singing for me since she was barely sixteen years old. I think that her voice is one of the purest, most beautiful sounds I know. There is something childlike about it, even while it sounds so mature. I played one of her songs for someone in the music industry over the summer, and he remarked about how beautiful her voice was. He called it a “story-telling voice.”

Rachel has such a great love of music, and is such a perfectionist, that I think she can barely listen to herself sing, because it is never quite right. But we have certainly had our moments. One of those happened four or five years ago, when the high school music director asked her to sing my song “Evening Lullaby” for the annual high school Holiday concert. I went that night to play for her, and we went out onto the stage and performed the song. It was simple. Just piano and voice. There was an amazing spirit in the auditorium. I felt it. It brought tears to my eyes as she finished the last little lullaby section of the song, but I wasn’t sure if anyone else felt it.

The last chord faded away, and I braced for the applause… but it didn’t come. There were over 300 people in the darkened room, but all there was, was this moment of pure, awed silence. Then suddenly, the place went wild. They clapped and clapped. They gave a standing ovation. We finally left the stage, and just looked at each other in surprise. But the audience would not settle down until we both went back out on the stage. I realized something that night… that most people go through their lives without feeling that spirit that we felt there that night.

A couple of years later the music director called me. He said that they had completed their new music auditorium and that they were having an inaugural concert. He wanted to know if Rachel might be able to come and sing again, because he said that night when she sang was pretty magical. He was right. It was.

Rachel took countless hours out of a completely hectic work and nursing school schedule to help out with this CD, and I could not be more grateful. There is this line in Bleak Midwinter, where she sings, “Yet what I can, I can give him… give my heart.” And that is exactly what she does when she sings. Thanks, Rachel. Love!

Who’s Who? The Six-Month Houseguest

I met Garry in a pretty unique way. He just showed up at my house one night, with luggage… and then stayed for six months! Garry is from Montana, and he served an LDS church mission here in Southern California from 2007 to 2009, based out of Carlsbad, California. We were hosting the missionaries in Rancho Santa Margarita, and in April of 2009 he transferred to our area, and moved into our home. We knew immediately that he was a great missionary and leader, and quickly learned that he had a love of music, and a unique and special voice that touches people when they hear it. Many evenings after family prayer we would enjoy a few minutes of men’s choir music around the piano, as my husband and boys loved to sing as much as Elder Pfile, and they sounded so awesome together.

When Elder Pfile transferred to Oceanside after six months, he assured us he would be back, and even left a box of his belongings in an upstairs closet to prove it. I was sure I would be mailing that box to Montana, but when Elder Pfile was released from his mission this last July, he made good on that promise and came out to record music during the summer. Unfortunately, I had lost my direction for the CD, and I wasted so much of his time that he was here. I regretted that mistake in September, when I committed again to make my CD of Christmas music, and realized that it had to be completed by the first part of November.

Maybe my favorite song on the CD is the last track… Will You Hold Me on Christmas Eve? As I have explained in a previous post, Rachel had already recorded the song, and I tried three other male vocalists to sing the other half of the duet, with no good match-ups. I was fast coming to the realization that the song would have to be left off the CD. I called Garry one morning, very discouraged, and told him about my dilemma. He asked if there was a way for him to sing it. I only had about two weeks left to finish the CD, so I couldn’t really imagine a way that could happen, but I sent him the music and told him to try it, and to give me his honest opinion of whether he could pull it off. I don’t know why, but it actually made me feel better just that he wanted to try it, after the time he had in the summer. I just had such a peaceful, unworried feeling after we talked. Three days later he called and told me he knew he could rock that song. You have to understand that Garry is a music critic… especially of himself. So when he told me that he could really do it, I believed him. Then he dropped everything to come out from Montana to do the recording. It gave me the boost I needed to push through and finish the CD. And when he sang the song, he just blew me away… it completely exceeded my expectations. It took us about eight hours to record his part of that song, because he had to work one part at a time to match everything that Rachel had already recorded. I love the way the song turned out, and even more, I love that Garry went to so much trouble to do it.

Meeting Garry is proof that God works in mysterious ways. The thought that this 21-year-old guy from Montana was sent right to our house… well, certainly there are no coincidences. I don’t know how else I would ever have met him, and if I hadn’t, I’m not sure how I would have figured out I needed to make a CD this year. This music experience has been made up of a thousand different miracles, and Garry is not only one of those, but also a true friend.

Who’s Who? The Ninja Tag Expert

If you read what I said about Tandy inside the CD cover, you might be a little puzzled about “Ninja Tag Expert.” So, just a few words about Tandy. I have known Tandy for every one of her almost 21 years. She grew up alongside my son Casey, who is about to return from his mission. He found her frequently annoying, as he thought of her as somewhat of a sister. I always thought she was cute and fun, but in her teen years when she started singing, I have to admit I did not love her voice.

Her diction was not the best… and I have never been a big fan of style over quality. But then Tandy grew up. Okay, maybe not very far. She is a little on the miniature side. But I have to say… I am a devoted fan. I love her voice. She has an amazing retro quality, and a gentleness when she sings that is almost heartbreaking. I trust her musical taste implicitly, and she came through for me on this Christmas music in a very big way. I am in awe of her talent. I knew that no one else could sing “Mary, the Mother” for me, and I am still sure that I was right.

But Tandy’s musical talent is only the least of why I am a fan. She is just one of the most exemplary women I know. She is always putting the needs of others ahead of her own, and I have seldom seen someone who cares more for her younger brothers and sister. I remember once my son Dillon told me that Tandy was taking all the boys out to play ninja tag. She makes sure they are safe and doing what they are supposed to do. How can you help but be impressed by a girl who would look out for a mob of 15- and 16-year-old boys? She already has a mother’s heart. I love Tandy for so many reasons.

She is completing her paperwork this week to serve an eighteen-month volunteer mission for our church. I will miss her, and I know there will be times when I will be very annoyed that she is not here to sing a song for me. But it is a wonderful, selfless thing that she wants to do, and I know that somewhere in the world, there are some people waiting to feel the spirit that she brings, and the music that surrounds her wherever she goes. Love you, Tandy!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Some Thoughts on Crossing the Finish Line

If this was a race, then I won. I know, that sounds vain and boastful. I don’t mean it that way. But here is the thing. Today I crossed the finish line. It wasn’t a marathon, although it often felt that way. Putting together a CD in a matter of two months is not a marathon… it is a sprint. Or at the very least a highly competitive 400 meters. And today I held CDs in my hands. I spent several hours packaging them to mail to everyone who purchased one. If you have been following along and you bought a CD, it is only a matter of a very few days before you will be holding one, too.

I would like to tell you some things, and then, after you listen to the CD, I would like you to tell me some things. I want to know… did you like it? How did it make you feel? What was your favorite thing? It would leave me gratified beyond words to get a few dozen comments on this post, just answering those questions.

I want to say that I am more than happy with the way the CD turned out. I will admit to being a little bit of a perfectionist… not for other people usually, but for myself, and so when I listen, I unavoidably hear things that I would’ve/could’ve/should’ve fixed if I had another month. But I put in about 60 hours the last week of production alone, and ninety percent of that time was spent just fixing little things and making everything sound as clean and pure as possible. And when I was finished, at 6:00 a.m. on the morning that the master had to be delivered, I was blessed with a feeling that I had accomplished what I set out to do, which was to make some music that would help people feel closer to Jesus Christ. Even after all the hundreds of times I have listened with a critical ear to each song, I still have a burning in my heart when I listen to the songs, and that helps me turn a deaf ear to any small defects there. I can only hope that the same will be true when you listen.

I look back at a December 30, 2008 post from The Welcome Mat (which is my other blog… the one where I rant and rave about completely random things). I basically threw my hat into the ring and boldly said that I was going to make a Christmas CD, and that I was going to do it my own way, with my own equipment, in my own home. I was excited. Scared, but inspired. And then what did I do? I proceeded to second-guess my declaration for months on end, spend about a hundred hours trying to figure out what equipment I needed to buy from a dizzying array of possibilities and almost make decisions and purchases that would have been fatal to the project.

Then I spent some more months thinking that I needed to “go a different direction,” and wrote songs that were not Christmas-themed. Then I spent some months driving my best friends crazy with my indecision, unrealistic expectations and with some very uncharacteristically passive aggressive behavior. Then I attended a music workshop in Utah where I learned that I was doing things very differently than normal people, and so a) there would be no help or advice for what I was doing, b) there would likely be no monetary compensation at the end of the project, and c) the song I submitted for critique was not even in the top 20 out of 100, and therefore would probably not appeal to the general public. I came out of that workshop and out of my summer recording efforts with the firm and rather spiteful decision that not only was I not going to make a Christmas CD… I was not ever going to make a CD of anything.

I spent an entire month wallowing in a uneasy mixture of self-pity and relief that I didn’t have to worry about it anymore. And then one morning at the end of August, while I was cooking something over my stove that I have probably done a hundred times, I had an accident and splattered my hands liberally with 500-degree molten sugar. I plunged my hands into cold water within two seconds, but the damage was done. I had second- and third-degree burns all over both hands. The burns were initially all white and waxy looking. Within a week they were covered with angry red blisters, and after two weeks they just looked like raw meat. It was then, that suddenly I had the overwhelming desire to just play the piano. Just sit down and play. I hadn’t even touched the piano in over a month.

As soon as I could plunk out some notes holding bandaged fingers in the air, I sat down to make some music, and I realized that after all of my ridiculously uninspired activities of the summer, after the shameful way I had treated friends, and after the deep discouragement that I had allowed myself to feel (that is so unlike me!), I still had to make the Christmas CD. And guess what… now I only had two months to do it, because I wasted the first ten. I felt chastened, excited and completely overwhelmed.

In the category of blessings: the equipment I felt inspired to purchase was exactly what I needed, performed beautifully and made everything sound warm and rich. My friends immediately rallied around, and vocalists made themselves available, even when I had previously subjected them to demoralizing recording sessions. They came from near and far. They practiced until they sounded amazing. They sometimes worked into the early morning hours with me, until we got what we needed. My family picked up the slack when I started to spend between 40 and 60 hours a week for that two-month period of time. I learned how to survive on about five to six hours of sleep a night (I am an eight-to-nine-hour girl). I was blessed with ideas of how to work around problems, and how to make certain sounds happen, and how to make everything about the CD sound better and better. There was certainly a shepherd, guiding me through the task. Not only that, but all kinds of people purchased the CD without even knowing what it is they would be getting. If they could take a leap of faith, then certainly I could. After the way I spent my year, I certainly did not deserve all of those blessings, so I have to figure that the CD was supposed to get done.

And so, here I cross the finish line… with a couple hundred pounds of CDs in the back of my Suburban, and orders that look like they might sell out the entire batch by the end of the month… and yes, I won: It turns out I was just competing with myself. I can only be grateful that I got to be part of it, and that in the process I learned important lessons about friendship and inspiration and determination that you would think I would already have learned (I am slow), and grateful that I got to spend so much time with my favorite people in the whole world.

I also look occasionally at my Stat Counter that tells me about the visits to my blog, and I see that today I have had visits from over one hundred people, from fifteen different states and four different countries. I don’t know who you are, and I don’t know how some of you found your way here, but I am grateful, and if you listen to the music, I hope it makes you smile, and that you feel a peaceful spirit. I know it is only November 18th, but Merry Christmas, everyone. It’s all about the baby.

Finish Line photo by Andrew Mo, paintings by Joseph Brickey

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Not-So-Silent Night

This is one of my favorite songs on the CD: Silent Night. It is maybe a little more upbeat than your traditional Silent Night. Shelley Johnson plays cello on two of the songs: O Holy Night, and Silent Night. I love both of those. It was interesting, though… O Holy Night took me about eight hours to put together my idea into a song. Silent Night took one take. Yes, one take. The difference is that Rachel was here for the idea phase of Silent Night. Basically, we just improvised. I played what came to me, and Rachel sang along. At one point at the end, I was coming back around for the tag at the end, and I called out, okay, last line again! She sang it, and then we looked at each other and said, “Okay, that was kind of cool… let’s hear it back!” We listened, and apart from a couple sour notes on my part, it was kind of cool, and we decided to go with it… exactly as it was. Well, minus the couple of sour notes. Then I went back and added the cello part, and Shelley made it sing. When I started playing around with O Holy Night, I had an idea what I wanted, but I knew that I wanted it to be just piano and cello, and the improvising was ever so much more difficult, since I would play what I heard, but then I had to play the cello with it, and it wouldn’t work the way I wanted, so I would have to try again… over and over and over and… you get the idea.

Anyway, you have no idea how tempted I am to put Silent Night up for you to hear. But I am resisting the urge. You have bought a CD, and you deserve some fun surprises. Which surprises, by the way, arrive on Wednesday the 18th! I can hardly believe it.

The painting is Liz Lemon Swindle’s beautiful Silent Night.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mary, may I hold your little baby?

Mary, may I hold your little baby?
Let me rock him while you sleep awhile...
I will keep him safe from harm.
Wrap my poor cloak around your shoulders
I know that it is worn and old
But at least you will be warm.

Rest now
When you wake I will still be here
Kneeling at the manger bed
Watching o'er your little baby dear
Mary, I heard you sing to your little one.
Even angels and shepherds wept
At your lullaby to God’s holy son.
Mary, may I hold your little baby?
I believe that when he fills my arms
My heart will be full too.

I know that you must be so weary
There was not an inn in Bethlehem
That would take you for the night.
I came to see the little Savior.
I felt the Spirit whispering
To come and feel his light.

Rest now
When you wake I will still be here
Kneeling at the manger bed
Watching o'er your little baby dear
Mary, I heard you sing to your little one.
Even angels and shepherds wept
At your lullaby to God’s holy son.
Mary, may I hold your little baby?
I believe that when he fills my arms
My heart will be full too.

Prophets have waited for a new star
To shine up in the heavens
To guide them to their king.
Look how it shines upon the stable
Bringing rich and poor to worship him.
See the wondrous gifts they bring.

Rest now
When you wake I will still be here
Kneeling at the manger bed
Watching o'er your little baby dear
Mary, I heard you sing to your little one.
Even angels and shepherds wept
At your lullaby to God’s holy son.
Mary, may I hold your little baby?
I believe that when he fills my arms
My heart will be full too.

On the album, this song is sung by my friend Michelle Noval.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Father’s Heart

Don’t you love Joseph? He took care of Mary, he saved the day... and I like to imagine how he loved the baby Jesus. I love this Brickey painting of Joseph. It is what I think of when I read the lyric’s for “Joseph’s Song.”

My dear friend Ric Starnes, who has a father’s heart himself, came out from Utah to record this one. I’m not putting up the whole song... like I said, there have to be some surprises for the CD. But maybe later I’ll put up a little piece of it. Hmm...

Joseph’s Song

In a thousand anxious moments
I have seen this very night
I’ve imagined how I’d feel now
And I’ve wished with all my might
That I’d know you when I saw you
And I’d love you as my own
Though you’re God’s son born to save us
You’ll be mine until you’re grown.

In this city full of strangers
There is no place left to stay
But a stable meant for cattle
And a manger full of hay.
Not a place I would have chosen
For your long awaited birth,
But it’s quiet and it’s safe here
As we welcome you to earth.

Lay your soft head on my shoulder
Sleep until the night is done.
Hear my song and feel my heart beat,
You’re my little baby son.

I have seen how in an instant
Things can change like night to day.
From the moment you arrived
Life transformed for me that way.
When I held you for the first time,
Angels sang and shouted praise.
Then a new star burst from heaven
Bathing earth with silver rays.

When I gazed then at your mother
My heart swelled; tears filled my eyes
For her beauty burned like fire
As she smiled and soothed your cries.
In the glory of that evening
I fell on my knees to pray
Thanks to God for my sweet family
And this Savior come to stay.

Lay your soft head on my shoulder
Sleep until the night is done.
Hear my song and feel my heart beat,
You’re my little baby son.

Lay your soft head on my shoulder
Sleep until the night is done.
Hear my song and feel my heart beat,
You’re my little Jesus son.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Done, and Done.

Or maybe done... and done in. This has been a hard, no-fun week for me, and lonely, in an odd sort of way. There are always a jillion people around, but not to help me do this job. And certainly not in the middle of the night. Lonely is the right word, I think.

I made a breakthrough today when I “mastered” the CD for duplication. I have been worried about this, because I have burned CDs of things I have recorded before, and the quality has always been disappointing to me. I wondered if the problem was with Logic Studio, but for heaven’s sake, it is a professional program, and it is supposed to turn out a top-quality product. But when I would play back CDs, I would get sort of a thin, tinny piano sound, and the strings and voices would sound a little shrill to me. Certainly not the rich sound that comes from my speakers or headphones. But I felt inspired to research the mastering process a little before I made the CD... I don’t even know why, because I knew I just had to burn the CD.

The first thing I found is that Logic Studio has a setting for making mp3 format files that uses a higher resolution than standard. Then I found out that the default disc-burning speed is 24x... and apparently the faster you burn a CD, the lower the quality! Who even knew that??? Not even DK, and he knows all kinds of useless facts. Apparently for the good quality CDs, the maximum burn speed should be 4x! And best would be 1x. So I burned one at the slower speed, and then took a spin in the car for a good listen... I like to drive over by the elementary school for this purpose. Don’t even know why. It only took about two minutes before I was ready to do a happy dance... it worked. The quality is awesome.

And DK helped me work on the album art today. I love it. I am looking forward to a less difficult, less lonely week. I may not post any more full-length songs here, because I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment of the CD, but I am going to eventually get all the words, and stories behind songs up here on the blog... there is not room in the CD insert for all the lyrics, so I will put them up here instead. Have a great weekend...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

On Traveling Far

This has really been a journey. Many of the songs I am producing were written over the last ten years. My taste in music has changed... is constantly changing. I know more about song structure than I did, and I cringe a little when I look at some of the older songs. I have changed and updated many of them... but one of the challenges is, I care more about the accompaniment now. Many times when I was writing a song for the children or a soloist to sing, there was a deadline, and being the world-class procrastinator that I am, I would wait until the day it was due, before I would start to think about the song. I cared the most about the words, I think, and the accompaniment suffered. Now that I am recording the songs, in many cases the accompaniment is ruining my enjoyment of the song. I realized when I rewrote the accompaniment for The Gate, that I can breathe new life into the music, by coming up with a concept for the accompaniment that really speaks to me.

I record the vocalist while playing the old-style accompaniment. But then when I begin to work on the finished product, I simply throw that accompaniment in the trash and start new. I rewrote three accompaniment parts this week! This is one. I kept it very, very simple. In most of the cases, the new accompaniment is not fancier, but simpler... in line with my new tastes, perhaps? Maybe you liked it better the old way... I kept a little of that, in the middle. So many of my friends have listened to this song for the last five years, and there may be a rebellion when they hear what I have done. Just remember, we have traveled far...

Evening Lullaby

They traveled far along the dusty way
To reach Bethlehem by close of day.
Come Joseph, hasten down the winding road.
Bring your donkey with its precious load.

As they entered through the city gate
Shadows fell; the hour was growing late
Then in the purple of a falling night
Shown a brand-new star in glory bright.

Who will share a room, a loaf of bread?
Where will Mary lay her weary head?
A tiny manger in a stable bare
Will be the cradle for her baby fair.

Come, shepherds, watch and wonder at the sight.
Find the stable bathed in holy light.
Enter softly; see the babe foretold
By prophets far and near since days of old.

Baby Jesus, now it’s time to sleep.
Close your eyes; angels their watch will keep.
And when you wake the night will fade to gray
Then you will smile upon a brand-new day.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Some Nights are Just Holier than Others

So everyone teases that I bought this Christmas painting (by Liz Lemon Swindle) because Mary looks like me. First of all, you can only see her from mid-nose up, so she could look like any number of people. Judge for yourself.

And by the way, may I say that it is eighty degrees here in lovely Southern California, and I just finished recording cello with Shelley Johnson, and basically, it rocked. I’m putting up “O Holy Night” so you can hear it. This is the one song where I got to just totally have fun on the piano. Happy happy happy

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

About a Mother

Mary, the Mother

Mary, the mother
Rocked her tiny baby
And kissed his tender little lips.
What will his lips speak
When he’s the Savior?
What will he say when he is grown?
As I have loved you, love one another.
That’s what he’ll say when he is grown.

Mary, the mother
Rocked her tiny baby
And held one perfect little hand.
What will his hands touch
When he’s the Savior?
What will he do when he is grown?
He’ll bless the weary, lift them and comfort them.
That’s what he’ll do when he is grown.

Mary, the mother
Rocked her tiny baby
And wrapped a blanket ‘round his feet.
Where will his feet tread
When he’s the Savior?
Where will he go when he is grown?

He’ll climb dusty mountains,
And walk on glassy seas.
Rough nails will tear his flesh
As Mary falls upon her knees.
He’ll leave behind an empty tomb
To soothe the ones who grieve.
His feet… bathed by grateful tears
Of all those who believe.

Mary, the mother
Rocked her tiny baby
And listened to his beating heart.
Who will he care for
When he’s the Savior?
Who will he love when he is grown?
He’ll love the children
We are all his children.
That’s who he’ll love when he is grown.

He’ll love the children
We are all his children.
That’s who he’ll love when he is grown.

The gorgeous painting of Mary and Jesus is by Liz Lemon Swindle.