Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Arranging for Guitar: Cancion Mixteca- Jose Lopez Alaves

First the OT news: I had my first "real" gig in San Antonio yesterday, so I've broken the ice. It was for a function at the Menger Hotel, which is right next to the Alamo on ground where much of the fiercest fighting took place. For some reason, I thought that was an appropriate location for my first gig back in The Alamo City.

I didn't blog about that gig or the preparation for it because I didn't want to jinx it. It's not that I'm superstitious, you understand... I just didn't want to jinx it. LOL! Anyway, it was for a lady's organization and I played excellently, if I do say so myself, but with all of their talking, I wonder how many even heard. I had my poor little Bryston 2B-LP/Lexicon MPX-G2/Turbosound TXD-081 rig turned up to maximum, and it still wasn't quite loud enough! Those ladies could talk!!! Next time I'll have to take the Bryston 3B-NTB/Lexicon MPX-G2/Turbosound TXD-121 rig: The difference between two channels of 60 watts in stereo to two channels of 120 watts stereo is ginormous, and the Turbo 081's 8" LF drivers compared to the 121's 12" drivers is really no contest. I really was lost in that gigantic ballroom.


OK, on to the business at hand. Cancion Mixteca is one of those pieces you've heard a gazillion versions of all of your life if you live in the Southwest, even if you don't know the song's title. This version is bassed on an arrangement by Tim Sparks, but there are literally hundreds of versions of this, many of which you can check out on YouTube.

Ry Cooder's arrangement from the old film Paris, Texas is particularly nice, plus there's the added bonus of classic Nastassja Kinsky:

I didn't want anything so fancy, in fact, I wanted a more straight ahead version so that it would be instantly recognizable. For that, using Tim's simple arrangement was perfect. I changed nothing in the lead part or the form at all, but I made the accompaniment richer and more active in an effort to capture something of the vibe that a guitarron player would add to the piece.

Here is the MIDI to m4a (AAC) version of the arrangement: Cancion Mixteca

Tim just had repeated B's in the bass of his version for the first three measures, and just the skeleton of the G major chords. Though I can't come through in the MIDI to AAC conversion, I'll start this out with some moderate finger-roll strums, which is something I do a lot with my five-finger right hand technique. For the bass I just alternated the third and root of the G major triad, which is something our imaginary guittarron player might do.

After four measures of five voices, the texture reduces to four voices in measure five, and then three voices in measure six, which makes a smooth transition into the more spare texture. Here the bass is playing alternating root and fifth of the D dominant harmony, which is our bass player in action again.

In measure ten the voices are further reduced to two for the parallel tenths, and the last two beats of eleven sound like a single voice in the bass leading to the concluding dominant harmony. Note that the final phrase is five measures. This is common in this style, and it's where the singers take a dramatic long note before launching back into the tune. Knowing this kind of stuff is indispensable, because mucking about with the form in a piece like this will confuse people familiar with the song, who will want to sing or hum along, trust me.

The next phrase starting at fourteen is really nice with the high thirds and the alternating open G and D strings. G major really is the perfect guitar key for this. Note again how elastic and organic the phraseology is: From fourteen to 24 is basically a six measure phrase followed by four measure phrase. I love this kind of thing, and strive for elastic phrasing in my own writing.

The elastic phrases continue on page two, and not that the pitch climax of the piece is a very high minor sixth from F-sharp to D, which is at the tenth fret. Only in G major could this work so well, because the D and A bass notes are open strings.

Not only is the phrasing interesting, but the form is too: The opening A section never returns. Rather, there is a D.S. to the second section, and a leap to the ending after that. Of course, the original version is a song with lyrics, so the singer would be returning to the top for another verse. If people start singing along, as I'm sure they will given the right circumstances, I'll do that too.

How hot is she? She's so hot the countryside spontaneously combusts whenever she walks by.


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