BIOGRAPHY OF A SONG:  Dance!, by Edric Haleen


What a fantastic challenge.  To have to score a dance that’s already been choreographed and performed.  To imagine a story and to write a lyric that interprets a dancer’s movements, rather than the other way around.  Fantastic.  And it was definitely a challenge to accomplish this feat, as it drew on all of the skills you’d normally employ in the writing of a song . . . and then some. 


I did not enjoy the process of writing this song.  And I wasn’t too crazy about this song either, until it was done.

But that actually didn’t worry me.  That’s happened to me before -- first and most notably when I wrote It All Makes Sense At The End.  What kept me going (besides my work ethic, plus the fact that it was the final round of STX and all...) was precisely the knowledge that I had felt this way before, and that it had turned out fine.  I knew that once I finished the song, it would be quality and it would demonstrate craft and it would be a lot better than my initial misgivings would want me to believe.

(I just had to get there.  And the path was, as a poet would say, fraught with perils . . .)

For one thing -- the tempo seemed to me to be highly variable.  Not just the meter -- the tempo.  Which meant that click tracks and metronomes were going to be of no use.

Which would be fine if I were planning a simple accompaniment.  But I wasn’t.  I was planning a fuller orchestration . . . with drums.  And I’ve said it before -- I don’t do drums well.  I have little experience with them, so it’s a very laborious process when I try to employ them.  Now -- when I’ve done drums, they’ve always (I think) turned out very well . . . but that doesn’t mean they come easily.  (I’ve only ever used GarageBand drum loops twice -- here and here.  Everything else I’ve created from scratch.  Including this song.)

And what’s worse is when I have to do drums without a click track to which I can align them.  I learned this the hard way the first time I did drums.  Since then, I’ve striven to use a solid beat as often as I can.  But I was forced to do “free-floating” drums for Reality . . . and I had to do it again for this song.  And that forced me into using GarageBand.  I can’t use Finale to score a piece unless there’s a solid beat -- or at least one that isn’t too variable.  (Which also meant that I’d be stuck with less-realistic sounding instruments than I might get with Finale.  Which doesn’t help when you’re trying to approximate a Big Band sound.)

And then on top of that . . . I was planning a “ring-a-ding” swing number for that “Big Band” ensemble to play.  So now not only do I have percussion parts which are outside of my wheelhouse, I’m also composing in a style with which I have very little experience!  For as well as I play piano, the chord progressions in swing music are almost completely foreign to my fingers.  They’re even hard for me to play without tons of practice, let alone compose.

So yeah.  Unlocking the secrets of the video and turning them into a song was just the beginning of this journey . . .


The lyric wasn’t actually too hard to create -- although I judge that on a sliding scale for this challenge.  I think I got lucky in deciding to write about dance itself, because then some things in the song could slip slightly into the “meta-realm.”  But in other ways, I think it was really serendipitous that I could pull so many dance references out of his choreography.  The “hat-in-hand” moment where he didn’t have to apologize.  The “some guys” section, where the guys can be bashful, and then faux-seductive, and then anti-ballet in sequence.

(And then -- having already chosen the topic of dance -- it was really nice to just “sit back” and let the end of the song unspool as a dance break, and not have to “decode” any more lyric or story to speak of after the 1:50 mark . . .)


One could make a pretty strong argument that the music in this song is built around/inspired by a C6 chord.  I wouldn’t argue with them much.  It’s certainly true to say that whenever I was stuck with where to go in the music, I played a C6 chord to help me figure it out -- even if it didn’t.  But many times it did.

The choice of chord wasn’t random or an accident.  It’s actually the first chord played in the right hand in Jason Robert Brown’s Grow Old With Me.  Being largely unpracticed in “ring-a-ding” swing, that was the first song I sought out for musical inspiration/instruction.  I’m pleased to say that I didn’t copy or “borrow” anything from that song (at least, not knowingly), but that C6 chord did have the “sound” I wanted in my song, so I used it both as a reference point and as a musical lynchpin.

What really pleases me in this song is all of the fiddly piano-bits that I concocted for this recording.  They’re like nothing I’ve ever written before -- they’re like not much I’ve ever even played before -- but they remind me a lot of Borba Spinotti’s piano accompaniment towards the end of (MoSF Champion) Joe ‘Covenant’ Lamb’s What Makes You Feel Happy.  Borba is a tremendously talented pianist, and it pleased me to no end that my tinkly piano-bits reminded me of his.


Saturday morning, I went downstairs to start the recording.  I had a lyric.  I had melody lines running through my head.  I had resigned myself to the fact that the “orchestra” would sound more synthetic than I otherwise would have liked.  (I must have left my real orchestra in my other pair of pants.)  And I had a C6 chord bouncing around in my brain, looking for a place to land.  But that was it.  No preliminary work on the piano.  No chord structures for the song.  A (literal!?) pencil-sketch of the song, and two days to complete the recording.

The first 12 seconds of the song took me three hours to orchestrate.

But in those first three hours, I figured out the mechanic of GarageBand vis-à-vis this song.  I chose my instrument list -- my “library” of sounds, if you will.  I made a lot of decisions and figured out a bunch of things that I wouldn’t have to re-invent as the weekend wore on.  So my “rate-of-return” improved dramatically as the weekend went on.  But by quarter-to-two on Sunday morning, I was still only at the 1:35 mark of the song.

So I went to bed, setting an alarm for 8:30.  And all day Sunday, I doggedly slogged through the process of crafting the rest of the song.  And at quarter to eight in the evening, I was able to send it to Travis.  And then go out and get some dinner.  (And then head to school to try to do as much of my “weekend-work” as I could in fifteen minutes.)

And then?  Blessedly?