notes from the shore

Adventures in Home Recording

Production Update – 05/29/09

I’ve moved forward on a number of fronts, without completing anything. Thus, a production update post. Continue reading


May 30, 2009 Posted by | Hymn CD Project, Production Diary | , , , , | Leave a comment

MIDI Soprano Sax

I spent a little time working on what will be the last track on the new project: Going Home. It’s sort of an homage to Vince Guaraldi, one of my favorite jazz piano players. The concept is piano, soprano sax, upright bass and trap set played with brushes. Likely everything will be totally MIDI tracks unless I come across a soprano sax player who will work for cheap (and I like his tone). Continue reading

November 20, 2008 Posted by | Hymn CD Project, Production Diary | , , , | 2 Comments

How to Compose Music – Step 1, Compose some Music

As of last night, the writing of music is substantially complete! That is, all the parts are placed and in order, and I am reasonably happy with the way they are turning out. That’s not to say that there aren’t places where I’m still troubled – I just don’t know what to do with them. They will probably end up being buried in the mix. Last evening’s work consisted of adding in the final sprinklings of brass at the finale, tweaking the horns a little bit, and working out the conductor’s track. Continue reading

August 29, 2007 Posted by | Piano Concerto | , | Leave a comment

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

A New Project

So, you’re probably thinking that I should finish some of my other projects before I tackle a new one. Well, that’s not really the way I work. I tend to flit from one project to another as they take my fancy. Really finishing something generally involves a deadline. I do pretty good work under a deadline. I mean, I finished the backing track for my daughter’s solo in time – not that I’m thrilled with the way it turned out.

Actually, this work is prompted by a new software purchase. Back when I graduated with my engineering degree in 2000, I picked up a copy of Finale 2000 as a graduation present to myself. I’ve been using it since then strictly as a music notation program, which is of course what it was originally designed for. All of the lead sheets on my website were prepared with that copy of Finale 2000.

Lately I’ve been interested in more orchestral, or at least classically influenced, music. Two pieces I’m working on are going to be arranged for piano and string quartet. Then there’s the musical that I’ve been working on with a friend for years (most of those on hiatus), set in 1920’s Chicago and all of the music is Big band swing. I certainly can’t afford to hire a big band to cut the tracks, and since the target market is small to medium sized churches, they certainly won’t be able to swing live swing.

Enter Finale 2007. Sometime between Finale 2000 and Finale 2007 they added a feature called Human Playback. This allows Finale to interpret the symbols and markings on the score beyond just notes and rests. It can also duplicate styles of music from Baroque to Swing (Swing!). It is also bundled with Kontakt Player and a stripped down version of Garritan Personal Orchestra, which means very expressive possibilities. If and when I upgrade to Finale 2008, the instrument collection has been expanded to include much of Garritan’s Jazz and Big Band collection, and Garritan’s Marching Band collection.

My first project using Finale 2007, however, is none of these. I chose to start with something that is not an original composition at all, rather an orchestration. At the same event in Decatur where my daughter sang to the soundtrack I spent so much time on, she also played a piano solo. We found a book at a local music dealer with really nice contemporary arrangements of classic hymns and choruses. Last year she played Holy, Holy, Holy, and this year she played Praise to the Lord, the Almighty. While she was practicing this year, I could hear an orchestral accompaniment in my head – kind of a mini-concerto with the piano playing exactly what she played solo. I scanned in the piano part to jump start the process and began adding instruments this week.

For my next installment, I’ll start getting into the technical details of making Finale do what I wanted it to do. Until then, I’ll be trying to get this music out of my head and into the computer.

June 30, 2007 Posted by | Piano Concerto | , | 1 Comment