notes from the shore

Adventures in Home Recording

Putting It All Together

It’s been a little while since my past post, largely because of another live gig getting in the way. This time is was percussion for a youth music camp prodution of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at a local church. It was my first time playing percussion like this and was a lot of fun. I got tagged because I’m a music-reading keyboard player and thus would be able to handle the mallet parts on a synth. I actually played mallets in high school marching band, but that was a lot of years ago.

My other side note is that I just received a copy of Finale 2008. In my post “The Nitty Gritty“, I mentioned that the Human Playback feature is a bit buggy. One bug, which resulted in the loss of all my instruments except the piano for the entire second half of the piece, stopped my work on Praise to the Lord, the Almighty completely. Well, I’m glad to report that installing Finale 2008 solved those problems. And, I can’t wait to start messing with some of the jazz and big band instruments included in this release.

Speaking of Jazz and Big Band, this will also give me impetus to get working again on a swing-music Christmas musical and a friend and I started almost ten years ago. We both got busy and it drifted into the ether, but from time to time I think about it again. I’m not going to say anything to him until I get the opening song done (the only one for which we have all the lyrics). More posts on that to come.

Until then, I’m going to get back to work on the piano mini-concerto, now that Finale is up and running again. I promised that I would explain the reasoning behind my approach to this orchestration. Mind you, this is my first orchestration since college in 1991, so I’m approaching it by feel rather than experience.

This piece, as reported earlier, started as a piano solo that my 11-year-old daughter played. I fell in love with the arrangement, and as she played it, I could hear an orchestral accompaniment in my head. As such, this work is not so much an orchestration, as an arrangement of an arrangement. That is, the piano part is being left intact, with all of the other lines added to it. The result is sort of a “mini-concerto.”

Hearing the arrangement in my head, I knew when each of the major choirs of the orchestra would be playing. The strings would essentially be playing straight through, with a switch to pizzicato in a short portion for variety. That was the part I ended up writing first, because is was the most complete in my head. Most of the rest was just ideas and impressions.

Therefore, I wrote the string lines first, and am relatively happy with them. There are a few places where I can’t get the voice leading to sound right. I may have to scrap those phrases completely and start them over.

The next most used choir in this piece is the woodwind (with French Horn) so that’s what I wrote next. I’m actually still in the process of writing them – I have them up to where the strings were glitching before my Finale 2008 upgrade. Mostly they are providing contrapuntal color, contrasting with the largely sustained notes from the strings. Then in the pizz section, they play sustained notes to contrast the plucked strings.

The last choir will be the brass, which will mostly appear at the majestic beginning and climactic ending of the piece. What I haven’t decided yet is what percussion I will use beyond the timpani (which is also largely written by now).

One rule that I broke, and am wondering if I’m paying the price, is in the makeup of the string choir. After I started into this project I also dove into several orchestration texts, including my Adler from college, and the Rimsky-Korsakov, which is available on line. One of the first things I learned from both of these texts is that usually the Basses double the Cellos an octave down. I went ahead and wrote them separate parts, and then left out second violins because I had too many harmonies. Still haven’t decided if that was a good idea or not – of course, it’s never to late to make edits. I could move the viola part to the seconds, the cello part to the violas, and double the existing bass line and octave up.

Well, this is getting really long. Maybe I’ll write again when I’ve actually accomplished something.


August 3, 2007 Posted by | Piano Concerto | , | Leave a comment

Where have I been?

No, I haven’t forgotten you, or the music. Since my last post I haven’t done any producing or instrument design at all. What I have been doing is preparing for a concert. House of Worship will be in concert on Saturday, June 23, at the Zion Oaks Tabernacle in Creve Coeur, IL (just outside of Peoria). Here’s a link to the poster:

Anyone in the area is certainly invited to attend. Here are, however, a few interesting notes about my role in the concert…

We picked the songs in an interesting fasion. Each of us in the band submitted a #1, #2 and #3 song that we wanted included. We also submitted a list of others that were on our hearts. The #1 songs were given 6 points; #2, 4 points; #3, 2 points; on our heart 1 point, and original compositions were given 1 point. The songs were rank ordered by points and with a cutoff at four points we had roughly 90 minutes of music. Here’s the spreadsheet for song ranking:

Anyway, as the keyboard player, I needed to determine what sounds I wanted to use, and how to get them live. I started with two digital pianos – one borrowed Yamaha P90 for the piano sounds (which I use the most), and my M-Audio ProKeys acting as a controller for my woefully underpowered laptop via USB.

At the first rehearsal it became clear to me that this wasn’t going to work. I was driving a number of VST instruments with the keyboard, but the laptop just wasn’t up to the task. I couldn’t get the latency short enough to make the more percussive sounds useful without getting the crackling and dropouts that are the hallmark of too little latency…

However, for the sake of posterity, here is what I was trying to do (for the record, I’ve borrowed a Roland keyboard from church for the auxillary sounds). I was primarily going to use two VSTi’s, the ZR-1 tonewheel organ and Synthfont for playing soundfonts.

So, next week when the concert is over, it is my intention to get back to writing and producing. I post a wrap-up of the concert when I get the two-tracks posted over at

June 15, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment