Don’t they go by in a blink…

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Trying to comprehend how over three years got past me since the last substantive post here, which was toward the end of the Berklee activity. That seems like mere weeks ago. Feel like I’ve been in something of a suspended state throughout most of that time, and am just waking up from it.

That post back in mid-’11 was also put up partway through a live performance experiment with some guys I connected with in late 2010, ultimately called The Brookhouse Band. For various reasons – the typical interpersonal adjustments and communication breakdowns that always seem to be part of such projects; a keyboardist who joined and quit, twice; family and relationship issues tending to interrupt our progress… – we never actually got far beyond the brook house. But we did have some moments during our year-plus of rehearsing toward a viable repertoire. The goal was to get out into some of the CT venues as a ‘classic rock’ band, maybe work up some original tunes… the usual aspirations. I exited at the end of January, ’12, after recognizing that our various priorities weren’t ultimately compatible. Ken & Chris have since gotten together with bassist Mark Hubble to form The Lone Wolf Trio – now playing out and about, as you’ll see at their FB page.

Haven’t done much of anything musically since early ’12, when the remainder of our game plan hit too many potholes to go any further and I started working on Plan B. Now we’re closing in on 2015 – a realization that was actually a tad frightening, i.e., how quickly that much time had passed – and the motivation to come up with an alternative way forward seems to be returning. Took a long, honest look at the past and decided that some of the most rewarding of all those experiences was while performing live, back in the G.C. days… and even way back in Berlin, with Matt, Doug, Jay & Darryl. Part of this examination included acknowledging the fact that the one instrument I’ve never really explored was the one I was first drawn to: keyboard.

During the stint with BHB, the biggest problem was finding and keeping a good keyboardist, preferably one with vocal ability. There are tons of guitarists, drummers, bassists and vocalists out there. But many of the working keyboard players seem to be splitting their time between two or more projects because of the demand. It may or may not be realistic, but the 18-month plan going forward is aimed, in part, at leveraging that situation. For various reasons, it’s long past time for some formal keyboard study. Outside of live performance, keyboard facility is critical in the context of composition, orchestration and arranging, and of course it’s never a bad thing to be able to sit down at a piano and be able to play more than Heart & Soul.

To this end, I cast around for some online keyboard training and ultimately found PianoMarvel, which has led to some pretty quick progress. I’m partway through Level 3 (of 6) at day 24 of a 30-day trial. I’ll probably subscribe, as the method seems to be working for me. The Berklee coursework and the year or so I spent studying ‘cello cured me of the mental block I’d always had regarding music notation. That was pretty serious: my brain would literally lock up. Now I’m finding that while not necessarily easy, things are coming reasonably quickly. No doubt this is at least tangentially related to my 100+wpm typing ability (haven’t written anything more than a birthday card longhand in a decade or more). It will take some work to get back to hands that work independently again (guitar, bass and cello all force them to work in tandem). But I credit the time I spent working through the various theory and ear training courses with just having a better feel for what I’m doing. At this age, it’s a big help.

Of course, a plan like this would be less fun without a wish list for gear. Patty has expressed a renewed interest in keyboard – she studied organ for years in her teens (at Pop’s insistence – she really wanted to learn piano). So I’ve decided that a Yamaha DGX650 is in our immediate future – probably before Christmas. It seems to get glowing reviews everywhere, has standard (GHS) weighted keys, a piano sound based on the sampled Yamaha CFIIIS (9′ Grand) and lots of options for rhythm accompaniment as well as education.

DGX650B

That’ll be our “home” piano, which could conceivably go on the road.

For performance, I’m looking at the Roland V-Combo VR-09 and, later, the Jupiter-80.

vr-09_angle_1_gal jupiter-80_angle_gal
The former isn’t terribly expensive, and appears to have a reasonably decent array of basic EP, SP and modifiable organ sounds (including highly tweakable, stereo Leslie simulation), as well as plenty of synth voices; the latter looks like pretty much the top-end of performance synths, and has the sort of split, layering, preset and other capability that seems necessary. As I learn more, this wishlist may change. I looked at Workstations and Arranger/Backing keyboards, but unless there’s a need for sequencing or a digital rhythm section for live performances, I’m not sure all those bells and whistles would ever get used. I already have both SONAR and Reaper audio workstations here in the studio, which are just fine for sequencing, music production, etc. Beyond this we’ll need a volume pedal and, once a second axe is added, a small (2 or 4-chan) mixer.

Since keyboards probably go best through the P.A. during live performance, I’ll probably also invest in a 16-channel, stereo-amped P.A. system with two sets of speakers – one for just the keyboard rig, which can double as monitors when used with the other set, i.e., for a full band P.A.

On the surface this seems like a pretty big shift, having been mostly some sort of guitarist since the age of 15, but I think it’s a natural one for a number of reasons. And I’m always about multple reasons. I feel like a lack of basic keyboard skill really held back progress I could have made during my abbreviated attempt to complete Ben’s Composition for Film & TV course, which I started after completing the two Master Certs, but never actually finished (part of the slow ’11 meltdown, I’m thinking), as well as during other coursework. Mike was right when he recommended pursuing some basic keyboard training prior to any attempt to interact with Conrad re: film score production. Any (even semi-) serious musician needs basic keyboard ability – I wish someone had been able to impress that upon me back when I dropped it in Jr. High, because playing guitar was “cooler”. And frankly the prospect of playing keyboards live is more attractive – at this point – than going back to bass (which is up for sale again, BTW – shoot me a note if you or anyone you know is looking for a Fender American Deluxe Jazz Bass V in the beautiful and now-discontinued rosewood neck / Transparent Wine color).

I suppose we’ll revisit all this in 6 months and a year and see how it holds up. I’m optimistic…

 

Kickstarter – Musical about the Life and Songs of Myra Taylor

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Check out my cousin’s new Kickstarter project – a musical about the life of Jazz Songwriter/Singer Myra Taylor.

My Heart Still Needs You

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Week 2 of Songwriting (see previous post) and we’re still pushing forward.

This week’s real-world assignment was to rewrite a temp song (i.e., something that’s already been recorded, published, released, etc.) that’s been used in a movie or TV show for screening purposes. It’s a torch song being played at a high school reunion (by a DJ) and needs to have a musical break for dialog. The licensing would cost too much to use the original, so an original ‘sound-alike’ needs to be written… in three days.

There are rules and techniques associated with this, but I won’t bore you. Basically, the idea is to create something original that’s as close to the original temp song as possible, without skirting copyright issues, etc. Except for the lyrics, melody and vocal track, of course, this was cobbled together quickly from various loops I found here and there – resequenced, recorded, mixed, etc.

I’ll leave it to you folks to guess which tune I cloned here. It may be obvious, but perhaps not quite as obvious as you think, because the IMaj7-VIm7-IIm7-V79 chord progression used in this tune is pretty popular for standards. Maybe this’ll become one of them.

My Heart Still Needs You – MP3 – 128kBps – 3.7MB – 3:51 min.

Lyrics:

My Heart Still Needs You

One day you found my empty heart
(and) You filled it with your
Love from the very start.
Then you left me and I don’know why.
My lips want to say good-bye.
But my heart still needs you …

Your laugh still taunts me every day.
I wake at night – you’re gone.
And that ache won’t go away.
Darlin’ you gotta know
My hands want to let you go.
But my heart still needs you …

One day you held this empty heart.
And filled it with your smilin’ love.
Now it’s torn apart. You’re gone and I
Don’t know why.
My head don’t wanna wonder why.
But my heart still needs you

Those nights above that foggy bay
Those quiet little games we’d play
I’ve tried to put that all away
And every time I think it’s gone
It all comes back like a favorite song
What can I do – my heart still wants you.

Copyright © 2011 Ron Romano

Here’s a hint.

Fold Over Me

Audio Recording, Composition, Performance, Songwriting, Video 3 Comments

Hopefully I completed my first Master Certificate (in Theory, Harmony and Ear Training) at Berkleemusic last week (update: with a 4.0 average! …uh-huh… uh-huh…). Still waiting for the final grade to be posted for my last class. It was a lot of work, but it sure doesn’t seem like it’s been over two years.

This term should be the last one for the second Master Certificate (Arranging and Orchestration). Both classes look to be extremely interesting: Film Scoring 101 and Songwriting for Film and TV.

We hit the ground running in Songwriting – the video below is my submission for the first week’s assignment, which was to write a song for a snippet of an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, which I’ve never watched. All week I kicked around ideas but nothing really gelled. Then yesterday on the way home from band rehearsal a bit of a verse melody came to me, then some bridge melody and, before I got home, I pretty much had the whole tune composed in my head. Pardon the ugly vocal – I’m fighting a really nasty cough right now. If this thing lives beyond schoolwork, hopefully I can get my daughter to sing it.

This was done in SONAR 8.5 Producer (32-bit version) since QuickTime doesn’t yet support 64-bit and I didn’t install a 32-bit version of SONAR X1 (which, so far, really hasn’t even been worth the nominal $99 I spent for the upgrade). Drums are Session Drummer 3; guitar and piano are both EastWest PLAY instruments, played/sequenced by me; bass is me, live. I think I got the audio file a few seconds too long (whiteout at the end). Hey – it’s my first time ever trying this…

Video is below (just click). Enjoy.
Read the rest…

Hard Road Down

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Been a while. I’ve been getting a handle on songwriting harmony in BerkleeMusic’s BMW-133 Songwriting Workshop: Harmony with (the awesome) Shane Adams. This week was the first I’d actually put something complete together. I’ve upgraded to Win 7, which meant saying good-bye to the Tascam FW-1804 and replacing it with a PreSonus FireStudio Mobile. This is the first stuff recorded with that unit, which – especially considering it’s about 1/10th the size and has almost the same capability – is pretty darned nice.

Harmonically, this tune stays primarily Ionian for the most part, but borrows the Lydian II and the Mixolydian bVIImaj7 at different points.

The verse section uses two distinct “power progressions”: I IV and I VIm IIm V, which are both in the list of Ionians in the book. The second pass through the verse replaces the Ionian IIm with the Lydian II – actually II7sus4 & II7, followed by a V with falling bass.

The chorus uses an idea that’s similar but not identical to the last Ionian power progression in the book – the one with the falling bass line, i.e., prosodically (Shane?) ‘going down’. The progression is IV IV/bIV IIm V I I/VII VIm VIm7, repeating, and ends with bVII IV V.

Sorry if the audio is a little hard to follow and the vocal is a bit strained. I literally wrote, threw it together and rough mixed it in about 4 hours – that’s two acoustic guitars, electric guitar, bass, electric solo, MIDI drum track and a vocal. *pant* It sounded incomplete without at least these parts. Strings and piano will be added later, I’m thinking, and of course this needs about two more verses, another chorus and maybe a modified repeat of the bridge. Right now I’m just trying to figure out where to go with the lyrics.

Hard Road Down – MP3 – 192kBps – 6.5MB – 4:31 min.

Tommy – Live!

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We met with some friends to (finally) catch Tommy Emmanuel in person at the Patriot Place Showcase Live venue last night. Tommy was in superb form. It was quite an experience to be sitting only about 40′ from the world’s greatest living guitarist.

Some highlights were And So It Goes, which brought tears to my eyes; Somewhere Over the Rainbow, ditto; the low end in Initiation (the one point where the P.A. volume was appropriate) literally shook me in my seat; and the Rick’n’Tommy duet to close the main show was great fun with some classics like Wake Up Little Suzy and Love Me Tender. Tommy did an extended encore, which included his awesome Beatles medley, and he even received a $1 tip from one of the waitresses! Yeah, that (read: she) was a little weird.
 


What. A. SHOW!!!

Only three minor disappointments: the house system was cranked up WAY too loud (I was sitting right next to the sound guy, so there really was no excuse – except that he must be partly deaf), Those Who Wait was MIA, and Guitar Boogie was played on an ancient 1934 Kalamazoo into a flat condenser dynamic-looking mic (fun, but the tune literally loses ALL its punch that way).

Everything else was an absolute delight – including Rick Price who has a great voice and an excellent stage presence. We all liked his music and his performance a lot.

BIG THANKS to Brian for spotting the tickets for this when the tour was added!

Links to additional pics below. Here’s hoping he was able to get that shirt back to Wal-Mart before heading on to Norfolk-Norfolk-Norfolk. 😉

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Star Trek Music

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We went to see Star Trek last week (twice). I was impressed and completely enjoyed it (hence the second viewing) and expect lots of other folks did too – it’s grossed almost $200M in only 8 days – but I’ll save a real review for another time.

Although I’m not awestruck by Giacchino’s new Star Trek theme – maybe it’ll grow on me – I was fascinated to hear how he worked Alexander Courage’s original into his new one for the end credits.

Here’s Courage discussing the concept, composition and production of the original T.V. theme, with a little surprise near the end.

 
The underlying “train” feel, with an overlaid, lyrical melody that Courage describes here is exactly the sort of thing I was shooting for in the little T.V. theme I did with SONAR and the JV-1080 years ago.

Volo Flamenco

Audio Recording, Guitar, Performance 7 Comments

It took almost as long to come up with a name for this as it did to finally get around to recording a scratch copy – again, this is SONAR running while I practice. Kinda sloppy here and there, but it has the basic feel.

This was inspired in part by Steve Stevens’ Flamenco-A-Go-Go (thanks again for turning me on to that, Bryan). I plan to use this file as a scratch track to build a much more complex piece (more guitars, orchestra… the woiks! use your imagination), as my final project for the Producing Music with SONAR course.

It’s pretty dynamic, so if it sounds really low-volume when it first starts (about 8 seconds in, or so), don’t turn your volume up too high. It’ll get louder soon enough. Enjoy!

Volo Flamenco MP3 – 128kBps – 6.1MB – 6:41 min.

Take One

Audio Recording, Guitar, Performance 4 Comments

Ok – finally got something recorded that I can stand to listen to. This was the best single take of Those Who Wait I could throw down this morning. Not as dynamic as usual, but then I’m playing “sound engineer” while performing, so it may take some time to minimize that distraction. One step at a time…

Those Who Wait (Tommy Emmanuel) – MP3 – 256kBps -10.2MB

Those Who Wait (Tommy Emmanuel) – MP3 – 128kBPs – 5.4MB

Setup:
Larrivée OM-09E -> Rode NT-1 Condenser Mic -> M-Audio AudioBuddy Preamp -> Tascam 1804 -> SONAR 6

Mix:
96kHz x 24bit Stereo Track -> Compressor* -> Reverb* -> Eq* -> Export to 44.1kHz x 16bit WAV -> MP3**
* All Cakewalk effects
** Used AudioGrabber for conversion from WAV to MP3.

Feedback appreciated.

Those Who Wait

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It’s taken about three weeks, but I’ve learned Those Who Wait well enough to have hope that, someday, I’ll actually be able to play it this well.

One thing I learned in this exercise (among many) was how differently an acoustic ‘plays’ through an amp. Its not just louder. The feel is completely transformed, especially with a slight delay/echo effect. Inspiring, actually – it helped to create an entirely new ending for Two Voices, about which I’m excited but which of course now sets its completion back considerably. It’ll be worth it if I’m able to pull off what I’m hoping to do.

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