BIOGRAPHY OF A SONG:  (Vows), by Edric Haleen



THE ORIGINS:


Early in the morning of July 22nd, 2012, I went to the SpinTunes page to see the new challenge.  It said that we had a week to write a “mini-opera” -- “a dramatic story told through dialogue sung by two or more characters.”  I was soon to learn that this was almost immediately renamed the “Edric-challenge” by the long-time participants of SpinTunes.  (Of the fifteen previous songs I had written for SpinTunes, only one had avoided the label of “sounds Broadway” or “another showtune from Edric” -- and that was the one song that’s not available on the Internet!)  So I felt some slight misgivings about whether or not this expectation was actually a good thing.  I wondered -- if I turned in a “good,” quality song, would people actually view that as a bit of a disappointment?  Would my song experience the “Gosh-this-challenge-was-made-for-Edric-we-figured-he’d-give-us-something-SPECTACULAR” effect?

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Well -- whatever.  I needed an idea.  Since the challenge was rooted in opera, I knew that we’d be looking at a story of heightened emotion.  So at first, I tried to think of some “life-or-death” story that I wanted to tell.  But that didn’t lead anywhere that gripped me.  So I started thinking of other powerful emotions.  And -- of course -- “love” came next to mind . . .

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Now -- every time I have the unspecific thought that “hmmm -- I could write a song about love,”  I always have the same immediate, almost visceral reaction.  And that reaction is, “<eye roll> -- I don’t wanna write a stupid song about love.  There are already way too many love songs out there, and most of them are sappy and bland and insipid...”  I felt the same way almost exactly two years earlier, when the SpinTunes challenge was to “Write a song where the choruses have a different time signature than the verses” . . .

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That time, I went on to write “Love.”  This time, I wrote “(Vows).”  And both times, I ended up supremely pleased that I did . . .

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THE COLLABORATION  (Part One):

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I have done a few songs where I “got away” with not having someone else sing with me.  In “The Night Before,” I wrote only one-half of the conversation.  In “I Was There,” I sung both parts myself, just in different voices.  And then there are my “multi-tracked” songs, like “Lansing, Michigan,” “The Star,” and “Exultation!”  But THIS time, there was no way I was going to sing both parts myself.  There HAD to be two singers.  So I had to find a collaborator.

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I don’t know exactly how it occurred to me to have the recording feature two male singers, but I know it was almost immediate, and I know that I thought it was a brilliant idea as soon as it did.  (I actually wrote the little blurb that ended up on the song’s main page before I even finished the first verse!)  And I know the thought arrived at almost the same time as the song idea itself because I know that I spent no time at all trying to think of a female collaborator.  I did have a lot of options -- I could have approached one of my many theatre friends here in Lansing, or I could have approached one of my many songwriting friends online.  (I’m not sure, but I think that the reason I went with an online songwriter is because I had more faith that they’d be better at recording the required tracks than someone who’s just spent time on the stage.)

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So I needed to find someone who had a voice in the right range, whose voice would be different enough from mine to be distinctive yet similar enough to blend, who would be capable of delivering a more theatrical performance than a pop-music performance -- and who would AVAILABLE to do the necessary work during a VERY small window!  (The “official” song deadline wouldn’t pass until Sunday expired at midnight, but I was leaving for a trip to Soak City with my girlfriend, and we were going to be leaving Friday evening.  So the recording had to be finished by Friday afternoon, and it was already Monday when I started actively trying to recruit a collaborator -- and I had hardly actually WRITTEN anything yet!)

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The first person who came to mind was Brian Gray, who had written a number of songs I really liked (some of them in a somewhat theatrical vein!), and who had not only been actively involved in SpinTunes, but was also helping his talented, 11-year-old daughter do the same!  But I wasn’t sure whether Brian would be free.  Then -- while I was logging into my circles in Google+ (to see whether Brian was logged in so I could “chat” with him) -- I saw Kevin’s name in my list of contacts.  I actually hadn’t remembered to think of Kevin (which surprised me), but I knew he’d be another good prospect.  (I particularly remembered his delivery on “The Tin Knight,” although I had also been impressed what he did with “My Daughter” and with the absolute change-of-pace he turned out when he wrote “Slow Jam.”)

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So when Brian was busy, Kevin was next on my list.  So at about 3:30 on Monday afternoon, I sent Kevin an exploratory e-mail.  And shortly thereafter, I caught him in Google+ and opened up a chat window between us.  Kevin was excited at the idea of helping me out, and when he found out that he’d probably only have to commit Wednesday and Thursday evening to the project, he felt that he could commit.  So now we had come to the point where I had to reveal what I was actually planning on DOING . . .

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  1. (KEVIN)                                     (EDRIC)

  2. .

  3.                                                     Now -- there's one more thing.

  4.                                                     But I need to remind you that I'm a big fan of keeping

  5.                                                     secrets and "big reveals"...

  6.                                                     That okay by you?

  7. .

  8. of course!

  9. .

  10.                                                     (I.E. if you end up not doing it, you still gotta maintain the

  11.                                                     confidence until after the listening party.)

  12. .

  13. I'll be your silent partner

  14. except for the singing, of course

  15. .

  16.                                                     Cool.

  17.                                                     If you're not on board for this particular ride, you're

  18.                                                     perfectly within your rights to jump ship.

  19.                                                     I write the songs I wanna write.

  20.                                                     Sometimes I write them 'cause I wanna do something

  21.                                                     interesting with the challenge.

  22.                                                     Sometimes I write them 'cause I've got something to say.

  23. .

  24. I've always been a fan of your eagerness to experiment and push the boundaries

  25. .

  26.                                                     Sometimes I write them for <I don't know -- a whole lot of

  27.                                                     reasons>.

  28.                                                     You remember my rap, of course.

  29. .

  30. I'll play the role you assign, no qualms

  31. .

  32.                                                     That was a "pointed" song.

  33.                                                     My "Death of a Meme"? Same.

  34.                                                     Going down that sort of a path again, but differently.

  35.                                                     I'm writing a song that COULD be sung by/to anybody.

  36.                                                     The title is going to be, "Vows."

  37.                                                     The mini-opera is going to be the exchange of vows at a

  38.                                                     wedding.

  39. .

  40. awesome

  41. .

  42.                                                     It's going to be heartfelt and honest and open and touching.

  43.                                                     And not mention gender at all.

  44.                                                     And the recording is going to be sung by two guys.

  45. .

  46. awesome

  47. and I see why you can't do this one yourself :-p

  48. .

  49.                                                     And my mini-bio is going to say that anybody who has a

  50.                                                     problem with these beautiful sentiments SIMPLY

  51.                                                     BECAUSE IT'S SUNG BY TWO GUYS, can go fuck

  52.                                                     themselves.

  53.                                                     Love is love.

  54.                                                     That is all.

  55. .

  56. oh Edric,

  57. you're a great guy

  58. .

  59.                                                     (And then we'll see if I've taken myself out of yet another

  60.                                                      Round Four!)

  61. .

  62. haha!

  63. .

  64.                                                     So -- sound like fun?

  65. .

  66. yes, definitely

  67. .

  68.                                                     Cool.

  69.                                                     I'm gonna leave you now, and go write some more of it.

  70.                                                     (I think I'm done with the first verse's lyrics.)

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So the die was cast.  I had a collaborator.  Now I needed the song . . .

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THE LYRICS:

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As I’ve done on a couple of other songs before, I actually started the lyric-writing process by writing out a couple of paragraphs, just to get the juices flowing . . .

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  1. Today, I pledge myself to you.  I celebrate you.  I thank you for who you are and for what you mean to me.  You know me better than any one else, and you love me for who I am.  You support me through the hard times; you love me through the good times; you forgive me for the bad times.  You accept me and love me, and you make me better.  I pledge to spend the rest of my life doing the same for you.

  2. .

  3. Today, I pledge myself to you.  I love you.  You add joy and color to my life.  You enrich me in so many ways.  You’ve exposed me to so many wonderful things that I never would have known if not for you.  You’ve stood by me through tough times; you’ve pushed me when I needed help; and we’ve stood together in the face of obstacles.  My heart rejoices that we’ve reached this today [sic], and looks forward to all the days still to come, knowing we’ll share them together.

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Then I started working on the first verse.  My initial drafts started to define not just the structure of the verse, but also the rhyme scheme for the song.

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  1. Today, I give thanks for who you are.

  2. Someone who knows me -- inside and out through and through

  3. Someone who loves me -- come what may.

  4. Today, I commit to (imagine? rejoice in? look on?) what we’ll be

  5. Standing (sharing [our]? walking? growing?) together -- side by side

  6. Facing the future -- day by day.

  7. Today, I commit my life (myself?) to you.

  8. Today, I remember (look back on?) where we’ve been.

  9. The (tiny) twists of fate that brought us here

  10. So I could say

  11. Today

  12. I marry you

  13. The memories we’ve made

  14. The crazy things we do.

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By the time I got finished hashing through those ideas, I had the first verse that you hear in the final recording -- save for the fact that the lyric would still include “The TINY twists of fate...” until I got to my piano and started setting the lyrics to music and realized that the word “tiny” didn’t fit well and needed to be dropped.

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By ten o’clock Monday night, I had the music and lyric done for the first verse.  Because I wanted to (1) keep Kevin in the loop and (2) get Kevin excited about the project, I recorded a quick demo of the first verse to send him.  As I said in the e-mail, “This is just to give you an idea of where I’m going with this.  This is very rough -- unaltered piano played into GarageBand on my keyboard, and unaltered vocals sung into my iMac’s built-in mic.  No reverb.  No compression.  No orchestration.  No nothin’.”

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Once the structure of the first verse was set, the writing process became a lot more streamlined for the other two verses.  I had the second verse written by 12:30 on Tuesday afternoon, and I sent those in an e-mail to Kevin so he could start to see what his character would get to sing.  In writing the second verse, I made certain to differentiate the two characters.  This was, after all, supposed to be a “mini-opera” -- not a set of generic wedding vows that anyone could sing.  So there are very definite differences in the way the two verses work.  The first verse is sung by a character who “chose” (yes, yes -- I’m the one who really made the choices -- but we’re exploring characters now) to write vows from the perspective of time (present, future, past).  The first verse, resultantly, is fairly generic.  Just about anybody could sing those words regardless of their own particular situation -- the only thing that kind of hints at the relationship that these two characters have is the line, “The crazy things we do.”

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The second verse, however, is sung by a character who “chose” to write vows from the perspective of appreciation.  And these lyrics are much more specific to the character.  I never actually chose a particular “affliction” for this character (drugs? violence? something?) -- but the character I wrote for definitely came from a place of darkness and pain.  Indeed, this character believes that -- had it not been for the other character’s influence -- (s)he probably would have been dead before not much longer.  So this character views their marriage as the final proof or symbol of his/her “redemption” or “resurrection.”  Thus, we have such lines as “Showing me I could find my way,” and “Nothing to ransom for your love/Nothing but kindness to repay” -- and lines that describe the other character as someone “Who’s been there at my side/Whose love has seen me through.”

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A little more than an hour after that, I had the third verse written.  This one is again mostly generic -- with its nods to the traditional “better or worse/’til death do us part” -- but again, there are a couple of character-specific lines.  The first character asserts that “My life is now complete.”  (S)he has felt that something was always missing from life -- something that could only be “filled” through a close relationship with another person.  The second character shares that “My dreams are coming true.”  This is a person who (in my mind) for a long, long time didn’t even have any dreams.  (S)he didn’t even feel worthy of having dreams -- until the first character helped to change all of that.)

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So that left the bridge.  I did have an instinct that the bridge would need to address their past a bit, but for a while, I didn’t know exactly how it should go.  So I took some time out -- went out and got some dinner with my girlfriend -- and then came back and took another crack at it.  And a little after 7:30, I had the bridge completed.  And I felt pretty good about it.  After all, the SpinTunes prompt did say that we were supposed to be telling a story -- not just singing about a moment -- and the three verses on their own didn’t really suggest a lot of story.  But the lines “When I met you, I was a shadow” and “When I met you, I was in hell” helped give a much more palpable sense of an important backstory.  Yes, it’s still very subtle and not at all explicit -- it doesn’t spell it all out for the listener -- but it certainly helps round out the story and gives the listener more to think about than just the moment of their wedding vows.

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When I wrote “To My Significant Self,” I used a tricky, kind of “inside-out” rhyme scheme.  It was cool and subtle (and quite difficult to hammer out!), and it lent a nice air to the lyric.  While putting the first verse of this song together, I discovered that there were some happy coincidences that I could utilize, and it led to another interesting rhyme scheme -- a rhyme scheme that remained consistent as I worked through the rest of the lyric.  So interestingly enough, there are only two rhyming sounds in this entire song -- a long “a” sound and a long “u” sound.  And they’re placed at fairly non-traditional spots in the stanzas.  And at the end of the third verse, there are even more places where the long “u” sound “matches up”!  True -- these were happy accidents, but they do definitely make me happy, and I think they help tie the lyric together even stronger, even if at just a subconscious level in the mind of the listener. . .

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  1. Today, I give thanks for who you are --

  2.   Someone who knows me, through and through;

  3.   Someone who loves me, come what may.

  4. Today, I give thanks for what’s to come --

  5.   Sharing a lifetime hand in hand;

  6.   Facing the future, day by day.

  7. Today, I look back on where we’ve been --

  8.   The memories we’ve made;

  9.   The crazy things we do.

  10.   The twists of fate that brought us here

  11.   Where I can say . . .

  12. Today, I marry you.

  13. .

  14. Today, I give thanks for all you’ve done --

  15.   Showing me things I’d never seen;

  16.   Showing me I could find my way.

  17. Today, I give thanks for how you cared --

  18.   Nothing to ransom for your love;

  19.   Nothing but kindness to repay.

  20. Today, I will marry my best friend --

  21.   Who’s been there at my side;

  22.   Whose love has seen me through.

  23. You’ve given all you are to me

  24.   And now I say . . .

  25. Today, I marry you.

  26. .

  27. When I met you, I was a shadow,

  28. When I met you, I was in hell,

  29.   But you gave my life color and purpose.

  30.   But you lifted me up and I flew.

  31. And ever since, I’ve waited

  32. And I’ve waited

  33.   (Un)til the day

  34.   When I could say to you . . .

  35. .

  36. Today, I am making you this vow --

  37.   Promising always to be true;

  38.   Promising love will find a way.

  39. Today, I am promising my heart --

  40.   Both through the good times and the bad,

  41.   Even when we’re both old and grey.

  42. Today, I cannot contain my joy --

  43.   My life is now complete.

  44.   My dreams are coming true.

  45. I thank you and I love you

  46.   And I’m proud to say . . .

  47. Today, I marry you.

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So the lyric was done.  And I had the piano part figured.  Now I needed to get the music to Kevin . . .

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THE MUSIC  (Part One):

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At around 8:30 Tuesday night, with the lyric finished, I sent Kevin another demo, so that (1) he could hear what the duet part would sound like during verse three, and so (2) he could decide whether he was more comfortable singing the top or the bottom split in the duet.  And I promised him that I would get him a guide track to follow in time for him to start working on recording his parts on Wednesday night.  (Kevin had committed to the project on the supposition that he’d have Wednesday and Thursday nights to record -- I didn’t want to get him things late and “squeeze” his window...)  Then I started working on getting the piano part typed into Finale . . .

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When I engineer a recording, I use GarageBand on my iMac.  Usually, that just involves editing and mixing my piano tracks (which I record on my Kawai RX-2 using an Edirol R-09Hr recorder) and my vocal tracks (which I record through my Audio-Technica AT2020 mic straight into GarageBand.  On the songs that need percussion and guitars and synth stuff (like “Love” or “I Hope You Die” or “One More Step”), I expand to use sounds that are native to GarageBand.

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But when I need those extra instruments to sound realistic -- like when I wrote “A Letter To Humanity” -- I cannot use GarageBand.  I mean, I can still use it for the editing -- but GarageBand ’08 simply does not have realistic orchestral sounds.  (At least, not that I’ve ever found . . .)

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Finale, however -- does.  So I knew that all of the music was going to be orchestrated in Finale, saved as an audio file, and then dragged over in its entirety into GarageBand, where I would then add the vocal lines and do the final engineering.  The first step was to type the piano part into Finale, ‘cause that would suffice for the guide track that I’d send to Kevin -- he didn’t need a fully-orchestrated track, and he certainly didn’t need to wait for me to create the fully-orchestrated track.  So note-by-note, I entered in the piano part.

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THEN, I had to carefully think through all of the TEMPOS of the song -- because once I sent the guide track to Kevin, there would be one thing that could not change any longer, and that would be the timing of everything.  So I tweaked and fidgeted and finessed and massaged the tempos and the accelerandos and the ritards and the fermatas.  (That’s also why I left three seconds of silence at the beginning of the guide track.  That was to have been two measures of sustained violins, until I got to the stage where I added the rest of the orchestra to the piano part -- and decided I just wanted the song to begin with the piano.  But those seconds of silence stayed in every demo and every take until the final version of the song was done.)

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(An interesting note?  This song is in 6/4, and begins at a tempo of 176 beats per minute.  The very same meter and tempo -- albeit with a completely different feel -- as “One More Step” that I wrote for the previous round of SpinTunes!)

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Anyway -- eventually it got very late, and I finally gave myself a break and went to bed.

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THE COLLABORATION  (Part Two):

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The next morning -- a little after eight o’clock -- I sent Kevin an e-mail that had nothing to do with the progress of the song, but had a lot to do with what and how I was feeling . . .

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  1. Subject Line:

  2. .

  3. I’m a rock tumbler . . .

  4. .

  5. .

  6. Message Text:

  7. .

  8. That's my process.  I'm a rock tumbler.  It's not pretty.  It's not fast.  But once it's ground away, ground away, ground away, it does turn out pretty, polished things.

  9. .

  10. There have been many songwriting challenge songs that have "grown" on me.  It All Makes Sense At The End was a concern to me through most of the songwriting process -- I was worried that it would just be "meh" by the time I was finished with it.  (I mean, I had confidence that it would be QUALITY "meh" -- I just wasn't sure I was going to be that thrilled with the song.)  Even my most recent song ("One More Step") was MUCH more enjoyable to me when it was finished that I suspected it would ever be when I was working on it.

  11. .

  12. I think I have a pretty good instinct by now (after playing and listening to music all my life) about what's "not-quite-right-yet" in a song -- whether it be the words or the melody or the prosody or the accompaniment or the arrangement or whatever.  To my credit, when I know something's "not-quite-right-yet," I keep working at it until I think it IS right.  (I do remember when I was younger choosing the "eh-that's-close-enough" option, so I know what that feels like -- and I know the results that it gives.)  This extra time and attention is what gives my songs the luster that I enjoy in them -- and often helps me enjoy what I've written even more than I might have.

  13. .

  14. I've already done a fair amount of that with this song.  I've revised and refined the words and the shape or structure of the overall lyric.  I've tinkered with the melody lines and the piano accompaniments and rhythmic figures.  Now I'm in the process of recording and engineering and orchestrating, so I know I'll do even MORE of that...

  15. .

  16. I can HARDLY WAIT to hear THIS song when it's done.  It's ALREADY a wonderful thing in my mind and in my ears.  And I know that I don't yet know just what it will be when it's submitted -- I'm not Mozart.  I don't have it all in my head and in my ears, it needing simply to be transcribed.  I discover it as I go along.  I benefit from happy accidents.  I benefit from trial-and-error.  I benefit from my somewhat relentless drive to get rid of all of the "not-quite-right-yets."

  17. .

  18. Between Masters of Song Fu and SpinTunes, this is the ninth Round Three song I have written.  It All Makes Sense At The End, Acceptance, The Night Before, Robot Monkey 7.2, The Star, I Was There, Sarah, and The Terrible Things That Transpired Today were all written for a Round Three challenge -- and only the last in that list got me through to a final round.

  19. .

  20. But I tell you this.  I would have absolutely no problem exiting SpinTunes on THIS song.  It may not be everyone's cup of tea.  The judges will do with it what they will.  But this song is going to kick ass.

  21. .

  22. Thank you for being part of it.

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(Three hours later, Kevin would respond . . .)

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  1. Edric, it's already a delight working with you on this project... and I haven't even really started my portion of the work yet!  Thanks for making this an exciting and rewarding-for-its-own-sake endeavor.

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Finally -- around 4:00 on Wednesday -- I had things ready to send to Kevin.  The piano part was ready and the demo vocals were recorded.  I sent Kevin two files -- the guide track and a full piano/vocal demo of the song.  Twenty minutes later, Kevin responded.

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  1. Edric, it's beautiful.

  2. .

  3. That is all.

  4. .

  5. ~Riker

  6. .

  7. P.S.  That's not all, actually.  I sincerely hope I can do this song justice.  I have no concern for my technical ability to get the part recorded... I just feel that a song this beautiful deserves the best possible contribution I have in me.  I'm going to do my best.

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(To which I responded . . .)

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  1. I know.

  2. .

  3. I knew you would the moment I thought of you...

  4. .

  5. :-)

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So the tracks were delivered.  Kevin had what he needed to do his part.  Now the song needed orchestration . . .

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THE ORCHESTRATION:

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So here’s the thing about Finale.  Finale is a wonderful program -- for creating sheet music.  But Finale is not a sequencing program.  Finale does not double as a mixer.  And Finale 2008 (the version I’m running) is not really a performance generator -- although it can . . . kind of.

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For one thing -- in Finale 2008, some of the Garritan Orchestra sounds are better than others.  The section strings sounds are quite good (the individual string sounds not as good); some woodwind sounds are pretty good (but others are quite grating and sound very artificial); piano and percussion sounds are fairly reliable; brass sounds are largely terrible.  But that’s just a matter of selecting the best sounds you can from the library and working with them -- and just dealing with the ones that don’t sound quite as realistic as one might hope.  (Additionally, I’ve also found that I sometimes simply don’t score instruments that don’t sound good.  That’s another way to work around that problem.)  Beyond that, there’s actually a more challenging aspect to scoring a playback track with Finale 2008 . . .

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Many sheet music programs over the years, when asked to play back a score, would play it back in a very blocky, artificial manner -- adhering strictly to tempos and possibly also dynamics, but ignoring subtleties like slurs, and remaining blissfully ignorant of the manner in which humans interpret music, like adding little swells on sustained notes or fading out at the end of a phrase.  Finale, however, does have a “Human Playback” option.  And Finale 2008 does a somewhat admirable job emulating how a human would perform on an instrument.  However, there are many instances where this actually causes as many playback problems as it solves.  One particularly irksome facet is clearly in evidence when you try to sustain strings for more than just a couple of measures.  Finale, in its exuberance to interpret those long string lines as a human would, goes somewhat crazy and adds inexplicably grotesque swells in unpredictable places which actually rend at the line, rather than adding grace to it.

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In order to temper this, the user must add crescendos and/or decrescendos into the score to try to counteract the playback algorithms.  However, Finale will then interpret those “smart shapes” very literally -- starting the dynamic change at the exact pixel where the shape begins, rather than where a dynamic change might actually make sense (say, the beginning of a measure, or at the attack of the note that’s playing at the time).  So it’s a finicky, finicky process that requires playing a section again and again and again, tweaking it each time, until you’ve finally “tricked” the playback into sounding the way you want it to.  One tiny bit at a time.  Over and over again . . .

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I had done this before -- with “A Letter To Humanity.”  And on Wednesday evening -- after grabbing a little bit of dinner with my girlfriend (the only thing I’d eaten that day) -- I began the process again . . .

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By the time I went to bed (at around 4:30 Thursday morning), I had roughed out orchestrations to about the two-minute mark of the song.  I was still using the guide-track vocals -- so the vocals weren’t “finished” quality, but they were serviceable.  (Later, when I was working on the louder orchestral parts, the vocals would get harder and harder to hear -- but of course, the vocals weren’t the focus during that part of the process, so I just let ‘em go.)  I sent Kevin an .mp3 of the progress to that point (in the hopes of inspiring him), and then went to bed.

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(Turns out, however, that I only slept for about four hours before my mind woke me back up again.)

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So -- between eight o’clock in the morning and noon on Thursday, I worked on the rest of verse two and got myself to the start of the bridge.  (Seemed like a long time for just a little section -- but most of that time went towards tweaking the playback, rather than actually composing.)  Then -- an hour and a half later -- I had something that I definitely wanted to share with Kevin.  It took a while to get right.  I started with just a high violin line.  That didn’t sound right.  So I then tried it down an octave -- that didn’t sound right.  But then I tried doing both -- doubled, in octaves.

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That made me cry . . .

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So I listened to that bit about a dozen times in a row, just enjoying the moment -- and then I e-mailed Kevin.

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  1. It's not "right" yet.  The violas just kind of disappear for a couple of measures in the middle of this.  Some of the volume dips haven't yet been addressed.  The vocals in the bridge are too quiet.

  2. .

  3. .

  4. But I just have to share those octave violins with you.

  5. .

  6. .

  7. (This .mp3 starts at the end of the second verse, and ends abruptly.  It's only 40 seconds long.  I hope you like it.  I sure as hell do!)

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I’d have to go through the same trial-and-error process again to get the sweep up to that violin figure.  Like I said before -- it’s not all in my head just waiting to be written down.  I have to find it.  I have to discover it.  So I continued the process again and again, getting deeper and deeper into the song.  At some point (around six or seven that evening) I did leave the house to get some Chinese food with my girlfriend (again -- the only thing I’d eaten that day), but the rest of the day was basically spent working on section after section of the song -- first orchestrating, and then fighting Finale to make the playback sound right.  (Oh, did I mention that there is absolutely no way that I could possibly have written this song were it not for the fact that I was on summer vacation?  Yeah.  That.)  However, by 10:20 Thursday night, I was able to send the following e-mail to Kevin:

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  1. (This orchestration is, of course, still going to find itself in the rock tumbler barrel until the song is submitted.  Tweaks and fine-tuning are probably inevitable.  And -- as it was, in fact, the ORCHESTRATION on which I was focused, I did not level the vocals to go with it yet...)

  2. .

  3. (However...)

  4. .

  5. For the first time in all of recorded human history -- the orchestration for this song is basically complete.

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THE MUSIC  (Part Two):

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Once it was done, I was able to look back over the whole thing and see a lot of little “tributes” to a number of the artists that I admire in the musical theatre.  To start with, this song has a structure that Jason Robert Brown uses at least once in basically every musical he writes -- one character sings, then the other character sings, then the two characters sing lines that dovetail with each other -- until the parts fuse and they sing together (with passion and drive) to the end of the song, usually ending in unison.  The piano part during the bridge and third verse is also very much based on a musical figure I learned from playing JRB scores.  And finally -- and I’m a bit embarrassed that I basically had to adopt (steal?) this idea of JRB’s to end this song -- my characters end this song in exactly the same way the Brown’s characters end “The Next Ten Minutes” from The Last 5 Years.  (To save what face I could, I only had each of my characters sing it once, but that doesn’t make it any less his great lyrical idea -- not mine.)

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Moving on to the songwriting team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty -- I realized when I was all finished that the second solo flute figure (right before the bridge) is the same three notes that you hear often in Once On This Island -- usually underneath the words “One small girl . . .”  But that’s small potatoes compared to what I really adopted from them.  I knew that I wanted a really powerful “rise” in the music to occur in the middle of the bridge.  So I turned to the greatest key change I think I’ve ever heard -- what I call the “Notice-Me-Horton” key change.  I pulled out my vocal selections book for Seussical and tried to figure out how they made the song “Notice Me Horton” shift into an absolutely stunningly new gear when Horton and Gertrude sing “Now I’ve become a someone . . .”  To my amazement, that moment in that song takes off from the key of Eb -- which is the same key I was in at that point in my song!  So I didn’t even have to transpose -- just adapt that amazing musical moment.

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And finally?  The reason that the xylophone and glockenspiel figure rings out above the third verse in this song is because I so love the tintinnabulation you hear above the final strains of “Defying Gravity” from Wicked.

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I’m really pleased with the music of this song.  It both begins and ends with the intimacy and beauty that the exchange of vows in a wedding practically demands.  But the bridge and most of the third verse give the song its moment to soar with the passion that a wedding day celebrates.  (And I laughed with glee at the thought that the SpinTunes challenge I’m meeting basically gives me permission to write as “big” as I could possibly want in those moments.  No one can really complain -- as some people have about some of the other songs I’ve written -- that this was overblown or over-the-top when the prompt all but required us to write operatically . . .)      ;-)

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THE COLLABORATION  (Part Three):

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So at 10:20 on Thursday night, I was not only finished with the orchestrations, but I was also on an adrenaline high.  There was no way I was going to be able to fall asleep if I went to bed, so I didn’t even try.  I spent a while just playing and playing and playing the orchestration demo, taking joy in what I had written.

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But then I started wondering how Kevin was doing.

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On Wednesday night, just before midnight, Kevin had e-mailed me with a progress update . . .

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  1. Here's where we stand so far.  I've had medium luck tracking my vocals, and I'm calling it quits for tonight without having come up with anything that I'm comfortable delivering just yet.  I've got three decent takes down but I still have to massage my performance to match your cadence, etc.  Tonight was really more about learning the part than capturing it.  If you could do me a tremendous favor and send me a copy of the song with *just* your part, I think I could do better.  I'll have something I'm proud of tomorrow... I promise.

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There’s something both exciting and unnerving in putting your trust in someone.  I had absolutely no doubt that Kevin would deliver his vocal tracks.  I had absolutely no doubt that they’d be the best Kevin had to offer.  Nevertheless -- what I did have was time to wait in my basement in Michigan late on Thursday night while, somewhere in California, Kevin was working on his recordings.  I had done all I could do until I got Kevin’s vocals, but I didn’t know when I might get word from Kevin.  “Eleven o’clock in Michigan is only eight o’clock in California -- that’s too early to hear back.  Isn’t it?  If Kevin wraps things up at eleven his time -- that’s two in the morning here.  Do I stay up?  What if it’s earlier than that?  Should I head to bed and check my e-mail in the morning?”

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Fortunately?  I only had to wait a couple of hours.  (And I spent most of that time recreating the flute, French horn, and xylophone line that Finale “lost” when I tried to clean up the score.  It was a mild pain -- but those were probably the three most innocuous parts that Finale could have lost.  Good heavens, if it had deleted the piano line -- or even worse, the violin line! -- I’d have been really screwed.)  But anyway -- at quarter to one in the morning (9:45 his time), Kevin e-mailed me saying that his four takes were uploading and would be ready for download shortly.  He sent me an .mp3 copy of Takes One and Four to preview while the .aif files were uploading.

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And they were wonderful.

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I downloaded the .aif files, sampled through each of them quickly to make sure the files were intact, thanked Kevin profusely, and then finally went to bed at two in the morning.

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THE FINAL MIX:

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(This time, I slept for five hours!)

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Friday morning, I started working on the final mix.  The first thing I did was to put Kevin’s takes into GarageBand and choose the best parts of each take to use.  (Kevin did a terrific job.  I had asked him for four takes.  Using quick-swipe compositing in Logic Studio, the four takes he delivered eliminated any need for me to go back and ask him to do quick “pick-up” recordings of bits with which I wasn’t satisfied.  If I record four takes in GarageBand, I invariably  have to go back and re-record little bits and pieces here and there.)  With the quality of Kevin’s recordings, I was able to assemble a rough track of Kevin’s vocals very quickly.  (I then e-mailed him a “map” of which takes I used, just for fun.)

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Then -- because I still had my demo tracks left over from before, I spent some time trying to roughly level the vocals -- figuring out how much compression to apply and starting to finesse the volume of the tracks.  Eventually I got to a point where it became clear which of my own vocals I needed to re-record, and which demo vocals I could leave in the final recording.  (I didn’t re-record any of verse one or much of the bridge, but I definitely re-recorded the quiet section at the end.  When I recorded that part two days earlier, I wasn’t smiling while I was singing the ending -- and you could tell.  My vocal lines sounded very “dark” compared to the lightness of Kevin’s vocals when we were singing together in unison, and it needed to be fixed.)

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Once I had my final vocals, I finished balancing the volume levels.  Then a few more tweaks to the orchestration -- including finally removing the two measures of silence at the beginning of the song!  When I had finished with all of that, I really thought that I finally had everything the way I wanted it.  So I burned it to a CD and listened to it several times in my car as I drove to try to catch my girlfriend at work on her lunch break.  Hearing it through different speakers in a different environment helped me catch that the cellos and the basses were way too loud in the second half of verse two.  So, upon returning home, I cleaned that up, and I made a couple of final fixes to the dynamics in last few seconds of vocal.  (I also, at the last moment, remembered to move my vocal slightly to the left channel and Kevin’s slightly towards the right channel during the times when we were singing together, to give our voices a little “space” in the mix . . .)

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Finally, at 2:49 on Friday afternoon, I sent another e-mail to Kevin.  The body of the e-mail contained no text -- just a single smiling emoticon.  And the subject line of the e-mail consisted of a single word . . .

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“Tumbled.”