Sunday, May 31, 2009

Set Organization Progress (Addendum)

I had meant to show the final A major suite in the previous post on this topic, but I simply forgot.

To review, my set for dinner and bar crowds, art openings, parties, and corporate events, is organized around the circle of thirds from A minor to A major: A minor, C, E minor, G, B minor, D, F-sharp minor, and A.

The pattern for the suites is two originals, and then alternating covers and originals, with a crowd pleaser at the end - for a total of nine pieces per suite - and each suite is about 25-30 minutes in duration. So, I play four suites, take a 30 minute dinner break, and then play another four suites to make a four hour gig (D major and F-sharp minor are still short at this point, running about fifteen minutes each).

As I mentioned previously, the first four suites have crystalized, with just a bit of uncertainty in the G major one. Because there is so much great guitar music in A minor and A major, it's just natural that the final suite has come into focus as well.

It looks like this now:

64] Figuration Prelude No. 8 - Hucbald
65] E-Axis Study in A major - Hucbald
66] Guardame Las Vacas - Luis de Narvaez
67] Six Variations in A minor - Hucbald
68] Etude VI - Leo Brouwer
69] Irreducible Fugue No. 3 - Hucbald
70] Yankee Doodle Dixie - Chet Atkins
71] Irreducible Fugue No. 4 - Hucbald
72] Desert Song - Eric Johnson
73] Heavy Nylon - Hucbald
74] Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin

I have eleven pieces here just in case I run short and have some time to fill up. This is a very good idea, because it's a million times more impressive if you never repeat yourself over the course of a four hour engagement: Folks think you could just go on and on. So, if I'm on time, I play Stairway to Heaven, which is my finale/encore piece, last (In place of Desert Song). If the crowd is a good one - drunk, jazzed... and tipping - I'll play the whole set through Heavy Nylon (Which is a PITA to get just right) to Stairway.

You'll notice I put some A minor pieces in here: There are just a gazillion cool pieces for the guitar in A minor - I actually have extras - and a lesser number of compelling A major works, so I did that on purpose, not out of any necessity. I have an awesome - and extremely difficult - arrangement of Bach's Sheep May Safely Graze in A major, which I may learn at some point, but I have all eleven of these memorized, so that's the path of least resistance right now.

I could have updated the previous post, but I wanted to post another pic of this stunningly awesome redhead.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Set Organization Progress

After four years and nine months, I'm starting to finally complete learning all of the pieces for some of the suites in my set (The previous post on the 19th was my four year "blogversary" BTW). Discovering the two crowd pleasers in C - Unchained Melody and Dust in the Wind - really helped to bring things together.

Since my set is divided into suites that progress around the circle of thirds from A minor to A major - A minor, C, E minor, G, B minor, D, F-sharp minor, A - this means there is light at the end of the tunnel for the first four suites as well as the last one in A.

I have completed learning the A minor suite, so it looks like this now:

01] Figuration Prelude No. 1 - Hucbald
02] E-Axis Study in A minor - Hucbald
03] Sarabande, 3rd Lute Suite - J.S. Bach
04] Sonatina in A minor - Hucbald
05] Gavotte II, 3rd Lute Suite - J.S. Bach
06] Irreducible Fugue No. 1 - Hucbald
07] Tears in the Rain - Joe Satriani
08] Irreducible Fugue No. 2 - Hucbald
09] Classical Gas - Mason Williams

This pattern of two originals, a Bach lute piece, a third original, a second Bach lute piece, a fourth original, a minor crowd pleaser, a fifth and final original, and then a major crowd pleaser is fun, interesting, eclectic, and perfect for dinner and bar crowds where I'm background "musical wallpaper." In situations like that, you don't want to draw too much attention to yourself, but before it's time for a sip of tea, or whatever, it's nice to play a rockin' piece to get the crowd's attention and generate some applause (And hopefully tips). This suite runs between 25 and thirty minutes.

I'm currently working on the last piece for the C major suite - Dust in the Wind (I got Unchained Melody, and it's delicious) - so it's shaped up like so:

10] Figuration Prelude No. 2 - Hucbald
11] E-Axis Study in C major - Hucbald
12] Bourree II, 4th Cello Suite - J.S. Bach
13] Allegretto in C major - Hucbald
14] Ode to Joy - L. van Beethoven
15] G-Axis Study in C minor - Hucbald
16] Unchained Melody - Zaret/North
17] G-Axis Study in C major - Hucbald
18] Dust in the Wind - Kansas

Same number of pieces, same pattern, and the same duration; 25-30 minutes.

I have one piece left for the E minor suite - the Sarabande - and it will be thus:

19] Figuration Prelude No. 3 - Hucbald
20] E-Axis Study in E minor - Hucbald
21] Sarabande, 1st Lute Suite - J.S. Bach
22] B-Axis Study in E minor - Hucbald
23] Bourree, 1st Lute Suite - J.S. Bach
24] G-Axis Study in E minor - Hucbald
25] Gymnopedie No. 1 - Eric Satie
26] Fighter Pilots - Hucbald
27] Spanish Fly - Eddie Van Halen

Still nine pieces with the two originals and then alternating with others, so a similar pattern is maintained, as well as a similar total length.

I play four of these suites before my break, but a couple of things are still not set about the G major suite, so that one will take some more time before it gels (The last piece before my break is the Joe Satriani tap tech masterpiece, A Day at the Beach. so I end the first set on a real high note). In any event, I'm psyched to be finishing up these first three at long last, so I'm highly motivated to get the last few pieces memorized.

As it stands now, it looks like the G major suite will end up in this configuration:

28] Figuration Prelude No. 4 - Hucbald
29] B-Axis Study in G major - Hucbald
30] Menuet in G - Attributed to J.S. Bach, but actually by Christian Petzold
31] Scherzo in G major - Hucbald (The jazz piece from Sonata One)
32] Jesu, Mein Freude - J.S. Bach
33] G-Axis Study in G minor - Hucbald
34] Cancion Mixteca - Jose Lopez Alaves
35] G-Axis Study in G major - Hucbald
36] A Day at the Beach - Joe Satriani

The only piece I'm not positive about is Cancion Mixteca. I have a great arrangement of it by Tim Sparks, but I'll have to see if I like the flow of it with the rest of the pieces in the suite. I think it will work, but it's pretty radically different. Then again, the whole set is highly eclectic, so that's why I think it'll be cool.

Since it's taken over four and a half years to rebuild my set to this point, you can see that I put a lot of thought into this. Each suite has a nice pace within it that builds to the concluding crowd pleaser, there's a little bit of something for everybody in terms of styles. I spent just a ton of time searching for those pieces that aren't mine to get the flow just right, plus I make it fun for myself to perform and the listeners to hear (Well, you can't please everybody, but as this has developed, I've been able to test the effectiveness extensively at gigs, and it works great).

As I've said before, one of my biggest gripes about other solo guitarists is that, with most of them, their sets don't display that a lot of thought went into putting them together. The idea for me is to take the listeners on a musical adventure, and not just to show off all the time. For the dinner and bar crowds, receptions, art openings, &c. that I do, constantly showing off is a distraction, and therefore counterproductive. Concerts are another matter, and I'll address that at some point too.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Arranging for Guitar: The Devil's Trill - Tartini v2.0

One of the things on my desktop - and therefore not backed up - when my Mac Mini's HD kicked the bucket was v1.0 of this arrangement. Fortunately, like, less than an hour before that catastrophe, I was testing my new copier/printer/scanner, and I printed out the score. So, all I had to do was copy the music, not rethink the arrangement. Whew!

In v1.0 I just transcribed the opening and closing main sections that worked in D minor with the guitar in drop-D tuning, not the slow grave sections or the middle section, which modulates to A minor. That didn't really work, because the grave sections are necessary to properly introduce the "rocking" sections. Problem is, I really think that espressivo style is cheap, and besides, it doesn't transcribe to the guitar worth a damn. So, I just took the opening phrase of the first of those sections, reduced it to its basic form, and used that for the intro, link, and conclusion. I still haven't figured out what to do about the modulation - that will have to await v3.0 - but this is much better than my first effort.

I'm amazed at how well the violin part and the continuo transcribe to the guitar in the drop-D tuning, but the A minor section is going to take some thought, so it'll have to wait.

I got the idea to do this, by the way, when I listened to Vanessa-Mae's over-the-top rock version of this piece. I looked up the original score, thought about it, and went, "Oh, cool!" when I realized it would work on the guitar in drop-D, even with the accompaniment.

Here's the m4a: The Devil's Trill.

And, here's the score, posted w/o comment:

And yes, this is all technically executable on the guitar. Kind of amazing, but sort of happy accident amazing.

My God, she has the market cornered on dimples. What an impossibly cute girl.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Arranging for Guitar: Unchained Melody

After searching for over two years for a crowd pleaser in C major, I've now found two in the space of just a couple of months. I'm currently learning the first one I found, Dust in the Wind by Kansas, and so I was looking for another piece to do, preferably in G major. I found a kinda lame version of Unchained Melody in G, but it didn't really work on the guitar in that key - hence the lameness of that guitar arrangement - so I looked up the original music, which was in C.

I didn't know that Unchained Melody was originally the theme for a motion picture - called Unchained, natch - having grown up only hearing the classic versions by The Righteous Brothers, The Platters, Elvis Presley, &c. Well, the original is quite different from The Righteous Brothers' version - I'd post the PDF I found, but it's still under copyright (Google "Unchained Melody PDF" and you'll find it) - and I liked different aspects of each, so I made my solo guitar version as sort of a combination of the two, plus with added harmonic sophistication from my classical and jazz comp chops.

Here's the MIDI to m4a version I made in iTunes using the RealFont 2.1 Nylon Guitar soundfont: Unchained Melody.

In order to follow the score I'd suggest opening up two tabs with MMM on them, then listen to the m4a in one and follow the score in the other. Here's the score.

The original had the passing tones in the bass on the last eighth note of the first two measures, but I changed that to have them on the entire final beat - a dotted quarter in 12/8 here - because it just sounds cooler. Additionally, that allowed me to get the chromatic secondary leading tone at the end of measure three. I'm not sure why other arrangements of this I've heard don't use this device, because it seems totally obvious to me, but then I compose a lot of classical and jazz music, so I'm used to looking for that sort of thing.

At the end of measure seven I use a descending chromatic passing tone in the bass, which sounds tres cool, non? I find this much more interesting than the rather bland classic arrangements.

Then I use the secondary leading tone again at the end of measure seven as a lower neighbor to the G, and I increase the interest here by making the sonority a fully diminished seventh chord, versus the earlier half-diminished. The third system is the same as the first, so nothing new there.

At the end on measure fourteen, however, the higher melody note allows me to play a full A-flat major triad, versus the earlier F minor, first inversion: Obviously, I'm using the more interesting harmonies in the second appearances of the chromatic bass notes.

For the two full measures of G that start in fifteen, I take advantage of the high melody note to stretch out the figuration, and then in the second half of sixteen I present a full G(m7m9) chord. Where the melody starts getting really low in twenty, it sounds nice and rumbly on the guitar, with it sounding 8vb.

The "rumblage" continues in twenty-one before the melody leaps up to finish the phrase.

Twenty-five actually marks the beginning of the bridge, and since the second half of twenty-six is an E-flat major chord, I had to come up with a different solution than either the original or the classic arrangements used (Since the guitar only goes down to E-natural). I actually like my solution better than any of the other versions I've heard: Make the E-flat major triad a first inversion with G-natural in the bass, and the E-flat and B-flat in the figuration. It sounds really excellent, I think. Much more slick than just mindlessly using the root in the bass, as it makes an F, G, F, G, F, G, C ostinato in the bass.

After the bridge we get a Da Capo repeat, and then the Coda is just a broadened out I, V6, vi, V7 to I ending cadence. A piece of cake, and as American as apple pie.

Got my first lead on a regular gig here in San Antonio - finally - so my self-promotion efforts are starting to pay off. Which reminds me, I need to call her.

More Georgia, because Georgia is just... cool.