Monday, March 24, 2008

It Was the Best of Gigs, It Was the Worst of Gigs

Having an iPhone means never missing that "Hallmark Moment."

My favorite "local" gig (130 mile round trip: Nothing out here) is at Cibolo Creek Ranch, which is a very upscale resort where people like Mick Jagger and Tommy Lee Jones like to hang out. Well, as you can see, I had a blowout on the ranch on the way in to the gig. This turned out to be an excellent thing.

It just so happened the event photographer was just a couple of minutes behind me, so she gave me a ride to the office (Her Honda Element didn't have enough room for my gear), and the hotel manager gave me a ride back out to get my stuff. I had wanted to get some face time with this guy anyway, and so it worked out perfectly. Turns out he's managed hotels in places as diverse as Saipan, Guam, and Hawaii. I've been to all of those places, which amazed him, so we hit it off great.

There wasn't time to change the tire before the gig, so we just took my stuff back, and I went ahead and did the job. I played pretty well considering the stress level, which mostly centered on the question of whether it would get dark before I had time to change the flat. Well, the gig was short, so that turned out not to be an issue. You can tell from the photo that the sun is just setting, and I almost have the spare on.

As an added bonus, the general manager rode me back out, and we hit it off great too, so I'm hopeful I'll get to play down there more often now.

A providential blowout: Who would have thought?


I have Gymnopedie No. 1 completely memorized now, but there are a couple of tricky moves I still have to smooth out. I'm going to go ahead and make my second pass through the newly completed pieces and problem pieces with the metronome slow-play/forte play practice routine, so posting will go back to infrequent.

This is a nice routine: After each pass, I memorize a new piece, then go through again. I have a few miniatures to learn in order to set myself up for learning the Sonata Zero and Sonata One pieces anyway, so it will be nice to get that out of the way and off my mind.

Sometimes I do regret not living closer to a beach.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arranging for Guitar: Gymnopedie No. 1, Eric Satie

This was quite an easy arrangement to do. I compared the guitar version I found - which was far too simple and didn't take very good advantage of the idiom - with the piano score, and it only took Saturday and Sunday afternoons to get it done. Then, I did the fingerings and some revisions Monday and Tuesday, and I practically have the thing memorized already.

When doing transcriptions of simple little pieces like this, I'm not afraid to take any and all liberties with the music. First and foremost, I want to make the thing a guitar piece, and secondly, I want to make it my own. I view the printed sheet music in these cases as a recipe for making music: I season it to suit my own taste, and the requirements and resources of the guitar. So, while I doubt anyone familiar with this piece wouldn't recognize it immediately, the end result is quite different than the both the piano versions and the guitar arrangement that started this all.

Here's the guitar arrangement I found while surfing the internet for guitar PDF files one night. I'd link to the original site, but I just don't remember where I found it.

Measure six (Last measure, top stave) is an obvious impossibility, as it isn't possible to let the half-note D-sharp ring along with the attacked D-sharp on the last beat. The attacked major second in measure seven doesn't sound very good either. The G-sharp in measure eight on the first beat is sustained in the piano score for four measures, but that doesn't work with the guitar's low level of sustain. I don't think just abandoning it is a good solution, however.

There is another impossibility in measure fourteen, and another attacked second in measure fifteen, both of which I eliminated in my version. More of these types of things follow.

For some reason known only to the transcriber, in measure 34 he put the E and G-sharp accompaniment notes above the melody. This is a particularly good example of something that just doesn't work, and isn't necessary. It is entirely possible to play those half notes down an octave below the melody, which is what I did. Measure 37 is entirely impossible to physically execute, so I had to come up with a better solution there as well. At 40 the piece returns to the top, so I don't know why Satie didn't just use a repeat mark and use a second ending, but "oh well."

The only things different here are the last seven measures. Measure 76 is again impossible, and for the final chord he has an E major, where Satie wrote an E minor. Perhaps he did this because it is easier, but it totally ruins the effect Satie intended, so I corrected that. This is why I almost never do a "transcription of a transcription" without consulting the original score.

Here is the original piano score for comparison.

D major is the original key, as you can see, and it is transposed to E major to take advantage of the guitar's open low E and A strings. It really does lend itself quite fortuitously to the guitar.

In the third system you can see the sustained F-sharp (G-sharp in the guitar version). I simply re-attacked the note at the beginning of every measure, which is quite effective, making as it does alternating naked major sevenths and major ninths against the bass notes.

Since I untied the previous notes, I just made the strategic decision to do that wherever there were tied notes. I'm not trying to make the guitar sound like a piano, I'm trying to make this piece sound like it was written for the guitar.

This page is all repeated material.

Here you can see the minor chord Satie actually ends with. The only reason I knew the guitar transcription was wrong is because I have the recording of Christopher Parkening playing his version of this. Without that, I would have propagated the error if not for consulting the original score.

Here's my transcription.

The first five measures are unchanged, but in measure six I don't attack the D-sharp on the second beat. This is much more musically effective. In measure seven I not only don't attack the second on the second beat, but I was providentially able to use over-ring to let all three melodic notes sound (The D-sharp is played as a half note: I notated it as a quarter for simplicity's sake).

On the third stave you can see how I re-attack the G-sharp at the beginning of each measure, versus trying to let it ring (It won't; it'll die out) or abandoning it. Again, this is a far better solution for the guitar. The fourth stave is just a repeat of the second.

In the last three measures of the fifth stave I again re-attack previously tied notes, as well as avoiding the weak sounding octave leap of the original transcription.

The first two measures of the sixth stave I use the guitar's capacity for over-ring again, and in the last two measures there I beefed up the accompaniment chords with an additional D-natural an octave higher. This creates a major second with the open E string, and it harkens back to the tactical over-ring device I'm employing.

I reenforce this over-ring principle again in the second measure of the seventh stave, where I execute the D-natural as a half note. The end result is a very rich and colorful guitar piece that sounds positively lush and sensual.

You can see in the third measure of the bottom stave where I lowered the accompaniment notes an octave to get them below the melody. The resulting C-sharp minor seventh chord on the second beat sounds nice and dense; much better than the other version. For the solution to the impossibility that was in the fifth measure of that stave before, I eliminated the C-sharp on the second beat, and then leapt up an octave in the bass for the final beat. It's not even that tricky to execute smoothly, and the two falling fifths in the bass line that follow are highly effective.

Everything from the top of the page is a repeat until the bottom staff. like I said, I'm not sure why Satie didn't just use a repeat and a second ending: I would have changed it if I could have comfortably fit everything on a single page, but I couldn't. There really isn't anything remarkable here, except for the fact that I end on a minor chord as Satie intended.

This worked out much better than I could have imagined, and I'll probably have the piece in my set in just a couple of weeks: It's that easy... and quite beautiful.

Speaking of beautiful. I seriously want to tour eastern Europe! So many gorgeous girls there.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Metronome Slow-Play/Forte Practice Completed

This was a grueling three months worth of work. I had meant to start this in November, but I was caught up with composing the last bits of Sonata One, so I didn't get started until December. I've made just a ton of progress, so I'm quite happy about that, but this process has been mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting... which is why I only do it once per year.

Additionally and concurrently I have been working out like a man possessed - and the additional physical strength has helped my playing as well - but I had a major crash event last night and this morning. I had worked up to 45 minutes to an hour on the Bowflex every day, and I have added six miles of walking with a bit of jogging at the end since the weather has improved, but I got twenty minutes into my workout last night, and simply could not continue. I had nothing left.

This morning, I completed the final piece with the metronome and was planning to finish last night's workout, but I had a severe sinking spell and literally had to take a nap! Well, I've learned to listen to my body over the years, so I'm just going to relax with a beer or two this afternoon and spend tomorrow getting caught up on some chores I've neglected (Like washing my filthy truck).

Got a call for a very high-zoot wedding gig near the end of the month just a few minutes ago, so that was a good pick-me-up. The place I'm playing is a super-secret and wildly remote ranch where, of all people, Mick Jagger likes to unwind. I like low-pressure big-buck gigs. Last time I played there I almost got tipped more than I charged!

Jim has had a few delays getting some of the components he needs to finish up work on the Nylon Fly, so I'm a bit bummed about that, but I have been very good about not bugging him because I really, really want this guitar to be perfect. In fact, I've never contacted him once: He's initiated all of our email exchanges. If you ever have custom guitar work done, note this. You never want to get impatient and rush the luthier. It boils down to the ancient question, "Do you want a fast job, or a good job?"

Anyhoo... here's my set now:

I] Irreducible Sonatina:

01] ***(120-50 @ 2/4) I: Sonatina in A Minor
02] ***(110-50 @ 6/8) II: Menuetto in B Minor
03] ***(90-45 @ 6/8) III: Alegretto in C Major
04] †*(NM YET) IV: Trajectorial Variations in A Minor

II] A Minor Suite:

05] ***(100-50 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 1 in A minor
06] ***(160-75 @ 2/4) E-Axis Study No. 2 in A minor
07] ***(80-35 @ 3/4) Sarabande in A minor, 3rd Lute Suite - J.S. Bach
08] †*(NM YET) Irreducible Fugue No. 1
09] (Gavotte II in A minor, 3rd Lute Suite - J.S. Bach)
10] †*(NM YET) Irreducible Fugue No. 2
11] ***(80-35 @ 6/8) Tears in the Rain - Joe Satriani
12] (Sonata Zero IV: Fugue)
13] †***(160-100 @ 4/4) Classical Gas - Mason Williams
14] (Sonata One II: Sonata)

III] C Major Suite:

15] ***(100-50 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 2 in C major
16] ***(160-75 @ 2/4) E-Axis Study No. 3 in C major
17] ***(120-55 @ 4/4) Bourree II in C major, 4th Cello Suite - J.S. Bach
18] ***(140-70 @ 2/4-3/4) G-Axis Study No. 2 in C minor
19] ***(140-70 @ 4/4) Ode to Joy - L. van Beethoven
20] ***(140-70 @ 2/4-6/8) G-Axis Study No. 5 in C major
21] (Mysterious Barricades - Francois Couperin)
22] (Lineal Study in C major)
23] ***(180-90 @ 6/4) Guardame Las Vacas - Luys de Narvaez
24] †*(NM YET) Desert Song - Eric Johnson

IV] E Minor Suite:

25] ***(100-50 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 3 in E minor
26] ***(160-80 @ 2/4) E-Axis Study No. 6 in E minor
27] †******(140-85 @ 4/4) Bourree in E minor, 1st Lute Suite - J.S. Bach
28] ***(140-70 @ 2/4) B-Axis Study No. 2 in E minor
29] (Gymnopedie No. 1 - Eric Satie)
30] ***(140-70 @ 2/4) G-Axis Study No. 4 in E minor
31] †*(NM YET) Spanish Fly - Eddie Van Halen
32] (Sonata One I: Tocatta)

V] G Major Suite:

33] ***(120-60 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 4 in G major
34] ***(140-70 @ 2/4) B-Axis Study No. 3 in G major
35] *(140-70 @ 3/4) Minuet in G major, Anna Magdalena No. 4 - Christian Petzold/Attr. J.S. Bach
36] ***(140-70 @ 2/4-3/4) G-Axis Study No. 6 in G minor
37] (Jesu, Mein Freude - J.S. Bach)
38] ***(140-70 @ 2/4-3/4) G-Axis Study No. 1 in G major
39] †(NM YET) Lineal Study in G Major ||||\ ||||\ ||||\
40] †*(NM YET) A Day at the Beach - Joe Satriani
41] (Sonata One III: Scherzo)

VI] B Minor Suite:

42] ***(120-60 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 5 in B minor
43] ***(140-70 @ 2/4) B-Axis Study No. 6 in B minor
44] †*(NM YET) Minuet in B minor, Anna Magdalena No. 15 - Christian Petzold/Attr. J.S. Bach
45] †***(90-60 @ 6/8) Sonata Zero III: Scherzo

VII] D Major Suite (Drop D Tuning):

46] ***(100-50 @ 9/8) Figuration Prelude No. 6 in D major
47] ***(180-90 @ 4/4) Bourree II in D minor, 3rd Cello Suite - J.S. Bach
48] *(120-60 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 23 in D minor
49] (Bourree - Jethro Tull)
50] †***(100-65 @ 4/4) Eu So Quero Um Xodo - Dominguinhos

VIII] F-sharp Minor Suite:

51] ***(140-70 @ 10/8) Figuration Prelude No. 7 in F-sharp minor
52] †*(NM YET) Irreducible Fugue No. 3
53] †*(NM YET) Yankee Doodle Dixie - Chet Atkins
54] (Mood for a Day - Steve Howe)

IX] A Major Suite:

55] ***(100-50 @ 6/8) Figuration Prelude No. 8 in A major
56] ***(160-80 @ 2/4) E-Axis Study No. 5 in A major
57] ***(150-70 @ 2/4) Etude VI - Leo Brouwer
58] †*(NM YET) Irreducible Fugue No. 4
59] (Lineal Study in A major)
60] ***(90-45 @ 4/4) Stairway to Heaven - Jimmy Page

X] C-sharp Minor Suite:

61] ***(120-55 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 9 in C-sharp minor
62] ***(160-80 @ 2/4) E-Axis Study No. 4 in C-sharp minor
63] *(120-60) Heavy Nylon

XI] E Major Suite:

64] ***(100-50 @ 12/8) Figuration Prelude No. 10 in E major
65] ***(160-80 @ 2/4) E-Axis Study No. 1 in E major
66] ***(110-55 @ 6/8) Caprice - Rodolphe Kreutzer
67] ***(140-70 @ 2/4) B-Axis Study No. 5 in E major
68] ***(120-60 @ 4/4) Fighter Pilots

XII] G-sharp Minor Suite:

69] ***(80-40 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 11 in G-sharp minor
70] †**(80-40 @ 2/4) G-Axis Study No. 3 in E-flat major
71] †**(140-80 @ 2/4) B-Axis Study No. 4 in G-sharp minor

XIII] B Major Suite:

72] ***(180-90 @ 5/8) Figuration Prelude No. 12 in B major
73] ***(140-70 @ 2/4) B-Axis Study No. 1 in B major
74] (Menuetto in B major)

All of the pieces with asterisks are pieces I've successfully gotten down to half speed. Three means I've done that three times with them (Over the past three years), and one means this was the first successful attempt.

A cross before a piece means I have not successfully been able to get it down to half speed, and successive asterisks mark the number of attempts.

If you look at 39] you'll see 15 hash marks after it. That was a new piece I just finished memorizing. The first time I hit those, I play them 15 times through without the metronome and add the hash marks. The second time - again without the metronome - I'll play it 15 times again, and remove the hash marks: The third time I start with the metronome work.

This makes the process very organic, as each piece is on it's own little conveyor belt toward being added to the set.

I'm going to go back through the pieces just successfully completed and those not until I fail to successfully add any new pieces to the completed list (And have three asterisks by all the completed ones), but first I seriously need a break from this.

Next item is to do the transcription of the Satie piece, which I'll start on after my Friday gig is behind me. Right now, I need another beer.

That's a spectacularly beautiful girl, IMO.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

J.S. Bach's Personal Copy of The Bible

A classical music Google group I subscribe to sent this out a couple of days ago.

It's the title page of J.S. Bach's personal copy of The Holy Bible: Abraham Colov: The Holy Bible, vol. 1 (1681).

It is now at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, which I did not know (Shame on me, as I'm an LCMS Lutheran, and that's our number one seminary).

Jim's not quite done with the Nylon Fly yet, which is fine, as I still have six more pieces to go through in my metronome slow-play routine.

Nice timing on that shot.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Readers, Meet Johann Sebastian Bach

Did you know that there is a copper replica of J.S. Bach's skull extant? I had never heard of this in my bachelors, masters, or doctoral studies, but there is, and it was used to make the most accurate depiction of Bach to date.

According to the article, Bach only ever sat for one portrait, which I also did not know. I love science and history.

Jim is still working on my Parker Nylon Fly, but I'm hopeful that it will be here by Friday. I'm about to burst with anticipation!

Also stumbled across this, which someone must have made specifically for this blog.