Monday, December 14, 2009

Summer Project #2

Our deck steps were in bad shape. They were cracked and warping and not anything you'd want to walk over in bare feet.


So we (I) undertook a project of removing the steps and the risers and replacing them with new ones.


I cut new boards to length (thanks for the saw, dad) and stained them on all sides, then mounted them back on the stringers. Here were the first few I did. It was so cool to see the boards bead up after a brief shower.

Reece was a big helper.


He was so curious, he just couldn't stand to not be involved.


Janet and I stained the whole deck.


This probably took three months from start to finish. In part, because we were also working on summer project #3...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My Dream Job

Maybe when I "retire" I'll do this. I don't know, I guess you might say I already enjoy my dream job, but this would be even dreamer. It took this picture this summer at a Durham Bulls game. The house "organist" is just sitting out there in the open, doing his thing.

He gets to watch baseball every day, and make thousands of people listen to him while he plays the keyboard. I could do this.

Of course, I would take requests.



Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Facebook Scam

I have occasional discussions with my wife about the various pros and cons of social networking in general and Facebook in particular. Even though she hasn't jumped on the bandwagon of Facebook yet, I had an experience today that should make us all think twice about our connections and who is really on the other end of the line.

In my browser I have set two perma-tabs and faviconized tabs that are always open. (Check out this great hack from smarterware using Firefox extensions). So even when I'm not actively using one of those browser windows, I'm constantly logged in to Facebook and my Google Reader.



While working elsewhere today, I heard the familiar chat pop come through my speakers indicating that someone was sending me messages. I flipped over to the Facebook tab and found that my friend Micah, whom I have not spoken with since our high school graduation, and whom, other than this Facebook connection I have shared maybe one sentence of "hey how ya doin'?" initiated the following conversation:

Micah
hey!
you there?
10:30amBrian
hey man! what's up!?
10:31amMicah
not good at the moment
10:31amBrian
what's going on man
10:31amMicah
i'm stuck in London,England at the moment
10:31amBrian
not a bad place to be stuck, I'd say? flight delayed?
10:31amMicah
i was mugged at gun point last night
10:32amBrian
oh wow...down town?
10:32amMicah
here in england
10:32amBrian
did they beat you up?
10:32amMicah
all cash,credit card and cell were stolen off me
i was hurt,bruises all over my neck
10:33amBrian
awe man, I'm sorry...did they take a passport?
10:33amMicah
i still have my passport with me
i've been to the US embassy and the cops here
they're both not helping issues at all
10:34amBrian
not working together?
10:34amMicah
they asked me to wait for 3weeks,but my flight leaves in less than 3hrs from now
but the hotel manager won;t let me leave


At this point, I'm trying to picture his scenario, the embassy, the cops, and the hotel thing. These pieces didn't elide in my head, almost as though he doesn't want to admit something--but I kept going:

10:35amBrian
because you have no credit card?
10:35amMicah
yeah to settle the hotel bills
10:35amBrian
are you there on business?
10:35amMicah
yeah
i need your help urgently


OK. I paused. At this point, a lot of questions are going through my mind. Remember, I haven't seen or heard from this guy since high school. I'm beginning to have doubts, but I continue.

10:35amBrian
what do you need?
10:36amMicah
i need you to lend me some few bucks to settle the hotel bills
i'll pay you back tomorrow as soon as i get back home
i don;t want to miss my flight
10:36amBrian
so you're there on business? why do you need ME to do that? what can't your company do that?
10:37amMicah
i came here on a business trip by myself
10:37amBrian
no one else state-side to support you? are you in business on your own?
10:38amMicah
yeah
no one to contact now
please help me
10:38amBrian
hang on a sec
10:38amMicah
ok


At this point, I'm smelling something funny, but just to get a second opinion from a guy who also knew Micah from high school, I called my good friend Dan. Right away he declared it a scam. I didn't want to be played, but I didn't want to leave an old buddy in need. Dan's idea: ask him something about himself that only he would know. Yes. Of course:

10:45amBrian
hey help me out here.
10:46amMicah
huh?
10:46amBrian
I need to verify you are who you say you are.
10:46amMicah
sure
go ahead ask me any question
10:46amBrian
what was the name of the group you founded at Kings?


I imagine at this point if the scammer is on Micah's page, he's probably glancing through his profile trying to find an answer. Notice the time that elapses before his response:

10:48amMicah
you kidding me?
10:48amBrian
nope. you would know.



And that's how it ended. He never finished the talk and we never went any further. I emailed Micah from the address given on his profile page but I haven't heard back from him. I hope our hunch was right and he's not at this moment sitting in the hotel lobby in London waiting for someone to bail him out.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What's Google been working on?

Yeah, I'm a Google fanboy. Here's what they're working on. I like the way they think, though it probably scares some of you.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Summer Project #1

I'm certainly no Roger Cook, but I took a crack at unifying our back yard this summer by removing a fence and some landscaping.

The previous owners of our house had a couple of dogs. The customized their (our) house and back yard for these dogs by putting in doggy doors so that the dogs had freedom to move in and out when they wanted. They also put a fence down the middle of the yard so the dogs could do their "thing" on one side and so they could enjoy the other side.


Since the time we moved in, I have wanted to remove that fence and bushes and landscaping they put down the middle of the backyard, and regain a contiguous backyard for our kids to enjoy. The yards in our neighborhood are not large, but our backyard is probably one of the largest and most private, since we are on a cul-du-sac and since there is protected greenland behind our house.



So the poject began over several weeks (read: months) as I pulled out seven bushes and other plants.


the fence posts were anchored in concrete so I had to cut them out with a reciprocating saw.


I rented a rototiller and planted grass seed.


After a couple of weeks (in October) the grass came up and I removed the straw. I only wish the rest of the yard looked as good as this single strip.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sort by Magic

Do you use Google Reader? I've written extensively about it here.

Now, Google has this clever new feature Gina pointed out on TWiG, which I think is really slick.

If you're like me, you add many web posts to your feed and sort them by category. This sort is best handled with folders. Well now there's this nifty little feature called "sort by magic" which is an option under the "Folder Settings" pull down.

What it does is sort to the top of the list items that it thinks you will be most interested in based on your browsing habits. If you've shared, emailed, starred or "liked" certain types of posts in the past, it will elevate similar items to the top of your list. It works best if you have a lot of unread items as it will not show any regard for read vs unread items.


One more way in which Google knows even more about our browsing habits and interests. Ostensibly so they can sell you another ad.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Resolute

Resolute: The Epic Search for the Northwest Passage and John Franklin, and the Discovery of the Queen's Ghost Ship Resolute: The Epic Search for the Northwest Passage and John Franklin, and the Discovery of the Queen's Ghost Ship by Martin W. Sandler


My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I would recommend this book. It may seem like the last subject you'd want to read about: a bunch of 19th century Britons trying to find a way to the Pacific Ocean over the top of North America.

I'll be honest, if you had asked me if I knew what the North West Passage was before I read this book, I would have told you that is what Lewis and Clark were looking for.

OK, so some random thoughts:

• though the title is "Resolute" the book is far broader than about a boat that was lost and then found while looking for someone else that was lost.

• the whole Arctic expedition thing was about two things: Finding the Northwest Passage, and/or finding the North Pole. The one who found either first would bring both personal and national glory.

• the Royal navy was too proud to think about seeking counsel from those who might actually have experience in the Arctic. Namely the native Inuit people, who knew how to survive the year-round cold, and the whalers who knew how to navigate the ice flows and northern climates.

• The people who explored and were lost or died or even returned unsuccessful in their quest were seen as heroes. This whole Arctic thing was a pretty big deal in the mid 1800's and captivated public attention, even though these explorers would leave and vanish from public consciousness for years at a time.

I would recommend this book because this vast story is well-told. There are a lot of characters spanning the approximately 80 years of attempts to conquer the Arctic, but Martin W. Sandler organizes his book well with extended end notes (that stay out of the way of the drama of the story) and appendices that are quite interesting.

View all my reviews >>

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Important Information Regarding a Change to Your 411 Service

Recently I received this email from my otherwise fabulous home phone service, Vonage:

Dear BRIAN MEGILLIGAN,

We'd like to share with you some important information regarding our 411 Directory Assistance service. We're expanding our 411 service to include 411 Direct Connect. With 411 Direct Connect, when you dial 411 from your Vonage phone you'll be directly connected to the residential or business listing you've requested at the new rate of $1.49, effective August 17, 2009.

Not sure of the name or business you're trying to reach? Vonage 411 Direct Connect will allow you to search by category or keyword to find listings even when you don't have a name and address.

Remember, Vonage 411 is not just about phone numbers. You can also continue dialing 411 from your Vonage phone to access movie listings, airline flight times, ATM locations and more...all for $1.49 per 411 call!

We strive to provide an excellent customer experience and want to be sure you're getting the best value from your Vonage phone service. If you have any questions, please call us at 1-VONAGE-HELP (1-866-243-4357). We operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. One of our Customer Care representatives will be happy to assist you.

Best regards,

Vonage



Did you catch that? They would be happy to charge me just $1.49 a call to connect me when I dial their information service. Seriously?

I couldn't resist. Here was my reply:


Hello,

Have you ever heard of Google?

Google is this great online search engine. You can type things you're looking for into it and it will bring back results.

Google has this service kind of like yours. What you do is you call 800 GOOG 411 and tell them the city/state and what you're looking for and it returns the results pretty well.

And just like you, it connects you right to that business you're looking for. Pretty cool eh?

Oh, but unlike you, they connect you for FREE.

So as I consider which directory I'll call out of convenience knowing that I can be hooked directly to it when found, I'll weigh carefully weather I will call through the service that is gonna charge me or the service that is going to let me connect at no cost. It will be a hard decision.


Brian

So surprised I haven't heard back from them.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How did you find this blog?

Google Analytics provides interesting tools that allow you to see how dismally attractive your blog is from a statistical standpoint. It's a free tool and an interesting resource.

I have been quite interested in the search terms people use to land here. Below are a list of terms people used in the months of May and June to get here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

100 Things Your Kids May Never Know

I enjoyed this great post from GeekDad the other day and thought I'd share my favorites.

4. The number of TV channels being a single digit.
6. Rotary dial televisions with no remote control. You know, the ones where the kids were the remote control.
17. That there was a time before ‘reality TV.’
21. 5- and 3-inch floppies, Zip Discs and countless other forms of data storage.
23. DOS.
37. Finding out information from an encyclopedia.
45. Not knowing exactly what all of your friends are doing and thinking at every moment.
50. Privacy.
58. Putting film in your camera.
72. Not knowing who was calling you on the phone.
91. Having to manually unlock a car door.

You can see the full list here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Worship at Providence

Here's a video edited by Tim of our services over the last couple of months. It's just a taste. We get to work with some very talented people--all of whom love to serve and love the Lord! This is on the church web site, but I thought I'd spread the love here.


Worship@Providence 09 from Providence on Vimeo.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Flyboys: A True Story of Courage

Flyboys: A True Story of Courage Flyboys: A True Story of Courage by James Bradley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In high school there are certain things that you learn about World War II. Years later, there are much fewer things that you remember. There was Hitler, D-Day, FDR, the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, the battleship and carrier wars fought in the Pacific over little tiny islands in the middle of nowhere, and finally the first use of the atomic bomb by the US on two Japanese cities.


There were plenty of new perspectives to be gained on the war in the Pacific through James Bradley's book Flyboys: A True Story of Courage. Though the book focused on 8 specific pilots and gunners, as well as their background and families, their individual stories were presented in context--not just of the war, but of Japanese history, culture and mindset.


There were several theses Bradley skillfully presented in this book. Here are some bullet-pointed highlights:


• The Japanese and American cultures could not have been more opposite one another. In everything from the way they ate their meals, to the way they saw their place in the world, these were two very different "worlds" at war, neither able to truly empathize or understand one another.


• Previous to World War II, the primary dimensions for battle were land and sea. FDR pushed hard for the monies to invest in this new 3rd dimension, the air war. Indeed, it proved pivotal in both the Pacific and in Europe.


• Japan "learned" imperialism by observing the west. They believed they were doing the best thing for China by invading it in order to "culture" it with it's own brand of civilization. Japan as a country felt snubbed at the end of World War I when they were awarded very little territory and concluded that this was as much a racial decision against them as anything. They had been exercising the same ethnic cleansing they observed in the US as the anglo-saxon race obliterated the native tribes in the name of civility and religious conversion.


• Though there existed much honor in Japanese warriors of previous generations in the 18th century, the generation that fought World War II perverted the standards and practices handed down to them, and with a mixture of mythicism and power-hungry leaders, led the nation to believe that even in the face of hopelessness, they were as valuable in death (in war) as they were in life. Surrender was the ultimate act of cowardice and shame, even among the civilians, who, in the impending land war with the US army, would fight to the end with sharpened bamboo sticks.


• While condemning the bombing of civilians of England by Germany, the US apparently saw nothing inconsistent with bombing city after city in Japan indiscriminately. There was no urban planning in Japan. Wooden houses were built right next to large factories in Japanese cities. The Napalm burned both easily, and as a result, many Japanese civilians were killed or made homeless.


• The dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not out-of-the-blue acts of desperation or experimentation that led to the surrender of Japan. The use of these weapons were actually the next logical step in the systematic bombing of many Japanese cities by B29s in an effort to delay a ground war and were used in the hopes of bringing a swift surrender. We are awed by the destruction of a single bomb, but the damage done was commensurate with what was already being done using many planes and many pipes of Napalm.


The temptation when reading a book that deals with such difficult subject matter is to confuse the quality of the book with its content. Some passages in this book were difficult to read. Anecdotes and interviews of Japanese soldiers that fought in many fronts: Iwo Jima, ChiChi Jima, New Guinea, the Philippines, and China were gruesome and disturbing. Stories of torture and cannibalism abound. Bradley uses these stories not gratuitously, but to reinforce the thesis previously mentioned about the Japanese warrior mindset at the time and also to proudly display the bravery of the American and Japanese soldiers in the face of certain death.


Yes, it is difficult to recommend a book with such material-like what a Stephen King book is like, except with real events-but the story is well-told, the research is thorough, and the book is well-cited. Reading this book brought the Pacific theater to life and gave me a renewed respect for the generation that fought in World War II.




View all my reviews >>

Friday, July 10, 2009

14 Basic Skills

Recently in my RSS feed appeared an article entitled "14 Basic Skills All Men Should Possess."

Sean Percival evidently couldn't come up with one more to make the list nice and rounded. Or he got to 10 and thought of four more things. So here we go. Do you agree? Can you align yourself with these arbitrary and random skills?

  1. Drive a Stick-Shift (check)
  2. Hook up and Entertainment Center (check-though it would be fun to get to set up a new one some time!)
  3. Fix a toilet (check - forced learn that one!)
  4. Navigate a Map and Use GPS (check and check, though these seem like completely different skills to me, and the GPS one doesn't even really seem to be a skill at all.)
  5. Change the Oil (check-yeah, motor oil)
  6. Balance a Checkbook (check, but file this under obsolete skills-at least in the analog world. Who actually balances a checkbook? I make Quicken do it.)
  7. Cook the Perfect Steak (CHECK- come on over some time, I'll show you how it's done)
  8. Swim the Breaststroke (check - though there's no distance specified. That's good. I can do it pretty well, but not for very long)
  9. Write Effectively (hmm, I think so, my blog readers can decide, and the recipients of my many, many emails can toss in an opinion here too. You know who you are.)
  10. Dress for the Occasion (FAIL)
  11. Sew a Button (check. I've got this one down. I probably average a button every two months)
  12. Do Laundry Properly (check, though my kind and gracious wife usually handles my laundry, when she's away, I can clean my underwear and starch my shirts)
  13. Handle Roadside Emergencies (check-Anyone can call AAA, right? I've changed a couple of tires in my day. Loads of fun.)
  14. Build a Fire (FAIL. I have never started a fire without a match or lighter, but I can set up a pretty good, long-lasting fireplace fire or campground fire with good kindling.)(I miss my fireplace)
I'm giving myself 12 out of 14. Soon I'll write the "14 skills every woman should possess." That oughta get things stirred up.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Philosophy of Orchestration (Part 5)

Questions to ask yourself when considering orchestrating a hymn, chorus or other song for your church orchestra:

1. Does the song need an orchestration? (dealt with in part 1)

2. Should everyone play? (dealt with in part 2)

3. Does the orchestration support the lyric? (dealt with in part 3)

4. Is your orchestration accessible to your players? (dealt with in part 4)

5. What are key considerations for orchestrations?

Finally, we consider key.

On the surface, key may seem to be of incidental importance. However, consider the following scenarios:
  • In general, string players prefer sharp keys while brass and woodwind players prefer flat keys.
  • Guitar players prefer sharp keys while keyboard players often prefer flat keys.
So the solution, then is to arrange everything for the key of C!

Initial key selection

Deciding on key starts with the melody of the song. Regardless of whether a song will be orchestrated, a song for congregational singing should be set so that the majority of the melody falls between a Bb-D range (a 10th, not a 3rd). Some would argue that C-E is acceptable, but I would not spend a lot of time in the high D-E-F range song after song or you will wear out your congregation.

Key is almost always an issue of planning. Besides the establishing the primary key of a song discussed above, consider how small changes can have a large affect in the overall sound.

For example, suppose we have a song that sits well melodically in E. The guitar players love it because it's a nice open sound on their instrument, and the chord changes are accessible. The bass player likes it because E sets nicely as the tonic and the lowest note on a four-stringed instrument. For five-string players, they can drive the dominant strongly on their low B string.

But suppose we take the same song and move it down just a half step. Now we've effectively cut off the ability of the bass player to dig some nice low notes on his instrument. The lowest tonic he can play is almost an octave higher than it was a minute ago. This is also true for the dominant. The guitar players will no longer get that nice open sound out of their instrument. Acoustic players will likely play with a capo in a more familiar key, like G, but the chord sounds will come out differently because of the resulting change in register and voicing. (I would love for guitarist to chime in here and comment about their experience in this area).

Experienced players understand that alternate keys are part of the church music world and are flexible enough to make transpositions in their head when capo-ing, and finding the right notes at the low end of the bass through chord inversions. It is important, however for the orchestrator (and/or band leader) to anticipate a different sound from the rhythm section by altering the key, even by such slight amounts.

Key changes within a song

An example of key setting dilemma on the orchestral side of the coin comes from Darlene Zschech's "Shout to the Lord." This is an interesting song melodically because it spans an 11th from verse to chorus. This automatically limits the key choices for the arranger. Set the key too low and no one will be able to sing the second phrase of the verse: "...my savior..." Set the key too high and everyone will be screaching through the chorus: "....power and majesty, praise to the king...." So your choices are somewhat limited from MAYBE Ab to as high as C.

The original arrangement features a dramatic key change midway through the chorus so this adds more planning on the part of the arranger. The original recording of this song begins in A with a move to B. This isn't a problem for the players on the album--there was no orchestral arrangement on that original either--just a band! However, attempting to orchestrate this song for church orchestra throws some challenges for some players playing in A. As if that weren't bad enough, moving to B can cause even more clams as players forget to sharp the A's!

This problem is easily solved by moving the song up to Bb. Now the second-phrase low note is rased to an A, and the orchestra has two easy keys to play in as the song moves from Bb to C.

The catch? Now the tenors are reaching for an A in the final chorus!

Orchestrate to the keys you may someday play the song in

If you are introducing a new chorus, complete with orchestration, one of the least anticipated issues is that "someday" we may want to do this arrangement again, but in the context and flow of the future service, the song will need to be transposed down (or up) a step.

There are two approaches you can take here. The first is the "plan-ahead" approach, leaving room for your instrumental voicing to work just fine either up or down a step from your first key. This means that your brass players have been given parts that have margin on the high end. It means that your sax and string parts aren't already reading notes written at the very bottom of their instruments' capabilities.

The second approach is to orchestrate it in a key that you're likely to sing or play the song in and orchestrate to that key. Then, when it's time to do the song again in a different key, you take the time to re-do the orchestration in spots that take your instrumentalists out of their range.

I have been forced into the second approach by not taking the time needed to plan in the first approach! This takes practice and experience.

Pick any new song you'd like to introduce. Put it in a median key, then orchestra with the intent that the song may be used a 2nd or minor 3rd in either direction. This will save you so much time down the road. Assuming you use modern notation software such as Finale, transposing the music is a very simple mouse click or two.

Here is an example of bad planning.

This orchestration works nicely in C. But can you find the trouble spots if I were to take this down just a half step to Db? Violin II of m 30, beat 4 would be out of range, and the viola in m 31, of beat 4 would also be out of range. Moving the song up a step might prove challenging for an inexperienced bass player in m 31 on the high notes.

It is dangerous to spend so much time at the low end of an instrument--especially a whole section of instruments if you think there is a chance the song may someday move to another key! In this case, I would be forced to redo the Violin II, Viola, and Cello lines in this passage to make it all work.

One final consideration related to key that is worth noting is how the notes of a resulting transposition fall on an instrument. For example, the original trumpet line below

would probably be more attainable for your players in concert F than in concert E:
In this case, I would probably bump the key down one more half-step to concert Eb so that this crazy line falls easier on the horn and the player doesn't have to fight such a crazy key. (I would also probably put the 2nd example in Gb rather than F# if I had to leave it!)

Orchestrating for church orchestra is a craft. It requires knowledge of strengths and weaknesses of your individual sections, understanding timbres in varying ranges of instruments, likely doublings, good key selection and more. Each church orchestra is as unique as the people and personalities of which it is comprised. Hopefully the principles given in these posts will be useful and transferable to your setting.

Monday, June 01, 2009

"Made Me Glad" Made ME glad.

I will not divulge my list in its entirety, but one of the songs in my "five star" list for a very long time has been Travis Cottrell's arrangement of Made Me Glad. Part of it is the song, part of it is the arrangement, part of it is just that it is fun to play.



I'm still processing our time from Fusion Conference this last weekend. One of my personal highlights was playing "in the band" for Travis and his singers. If you've never heard Travis, he's more than a gifted singer, he's a great leader of worship. More than that, he's great a shepherding a group of worshipers into understanding more about God and declaring truth. He's a real encourager.

One of the other great things about having Travis here is that he brings some really great singers with him. They were all so gracious, putting up with long days, teaching a couple of sessions on vocal techniques, and singing in a Friday night concert and leading Sunday morning services. I think we just about wore them out.

One of his singers was Julie Goss. I've decided I'm a forever-fan. She can sing so passionately and warmly on songs like Revelation Song, but she can also open it up.

She creates the highlight for me in the midst of the weekend's highlight when she lets it rip on Made Me Glad, especially in the chorus return on the key change after the bridge. I couldn't get enough of that every time we played it, and fortunately we did it four or five times this weekend. We could have done it a few more times as far as I'm concerned!

We worked hard at being the best band we could for these talented singers. In some ways, they made it easy. In other ways, I felt at times like I was on the edge because I ceded musical control of my "domain." I normally know what to expect. How many times of this, how to end that, when to start the next thing. In this case, it was a lot more wait and see, or maybe more of "get-ready-to-loop-that" But it all worked out great.

Thanks once again to Travis and the gang (Seth, Nirva, Julie and Lici) for making Fusion weekend such an enjoyable and entertaining one! You guys are talented and humble servants!
Thanks to Alan for the photos!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Four Star Songs

I've been working outside a lot lately-staining our deck and replacing the warped and splintered steps and risers. While doing my work, I keep the ipod running, usually catching up on the podcasts I listen to: Buzz Out Loud, This Week in Tech, Mac Break Weekly, Mac Geek Gab, This American Life, among several others. Sometimes, I actually use my ipod to listen to music.

There's a slick tool in iTunes called "Smart playlists" and it lets you have iTunes automatically sort your songs in any number of ways and it can auto-update, so you don't have to actively manage it. One of the ways I've recently decided to use the smart playlists is by using the track rating system. You can give a song zero to five stars. I've created three play lists: A five star, four star, and three star list. Anything song not fitting into those categories doesn't deserve to be on a list. Especially not a smart playlist.

I have another playlist that contains only songs that don't have a rating. When I'm driving around town I'll shuffle songs from this list and add my rating as I go. When I sync the iPod up to iTunes, the folders automatically get updated. In my "unrated songs" smart folder, I have 4,264 unrated songs.

I've gone through about 300 songs so far and I'm already digging my four star playlist.

The five star play lists are all time favorites. Songs that I will probably never not like. There are only a couple songs in that list so far.

The four star play list contains songs that I'll always stop and listen to. I like them for reasons ranging from fun to sentimental, to technically enjoyable, to great performances, etc. Basically, my criteria for giving a song a four star rating is that when it randomly comes on I say "Oh yeah!"

So far I think I have 39 songs in my four star playlist. I'm being vulnerable here. Don't judge me.

  • All About Glory For You - Mark Condon
  • At Last - Etta James
  • Autumn Leaves [Take 2] -Bill Evans
  • Bye Bye Blackbird - Miles Davis
  • Celebration - Kool and The Gang
  • Dreamlover -Mariah Carey
  • Everlasting Love - Stevie Wonder
  • Feels Like Redemption - Michael English
  • For The Honour - Parachute Band
  • God Great God - Kurt Carr
  • Gravity - Embrace
  • Hear My Worship - Jaime Jamgochian
  • Hosanna - Kirk Franklin
  • Hot N Cold - Katy Perry
  • How Can I Not Sing? - Lakeview Worship
  • Hungry - Kara
  • I Fall in Love Too Easily - Bill Evans
  • I Give You Worship - Ashmont Hill
  • I Live to Worship You - Ashmont Hill
  • I Won't Be Afraid - Ashmont Hill
  • The Last Jesus - Kirk Franklin
  • The Love Of God - MercyMe
  • A Love That Will Last - Renee Olstead
  • Magnificent - Tulele Faletolu
  • My Life, My Love, My All - Kirk Franklin
  • Oh What Love - Cindy Morgan
  • One Sweet Day - Mariah Carey
  • The Reason - Hoobastank
  • Run, Baby, Run - Sheryl Crow
  • Song of Glory - Ashmont Hill
  • Take My Breath Away - Berlin
  • This Will Be (An Everlasting Love) - Natalie Cole
  • Under The Influence - Anointed
  • We All Bow Down - Kara
  • What If - Jadon Lavik
  • When I Fall In Love - Keith Jarrett
  • Without You - Christina Aguilera
  • You Are Good - Israel & New Breed
  • You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine - Lou Rawls

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Next Year's Halloween Costume

If I ever actually DO dress up for Halloween, this is how I want to go.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Philosophy of Orchestration (Part 4)

Questions to ask yourself when considering orchestrating a hymn, chorus or other song for your church orchestra:

1. Does the song need an orchestration? (dealt with in part 1)

2. Should everyone play? (dealt with in part 2)

3. Does the orchestration support the lyric? (dealt with in part 3)

4. Is your orchestration accessible to your players?

I once heard a conference speaker make a statement that went something like this: "Your church musicians should be better musically right now than they were a year ago."

When we as church music directors put our "music educator" hat on, we would hope that yes, eventually everyone will become better the longer they are under our direction. Though there are issues in practice related to just how far musicians under our tutelage can advance (see Maxwell's Law of the Lid), we always want to see areas of weaknesses progress to strength, tentativeness turn to confidence, and technical sloppiness woodshed to crisp dexterity.

If we worked with a static ensemble, in which no member quit and no new members joined, the goal of constant musical growth might be attainable. This could be achieved if everyone did their homework, almost daily individual practice occurred, an omniscient director provided appropriate challenge for each member, and everyone showed up to rehearsal.

The closest I've ever seen to this scenario was a college ensemble. Even professional ensembles do not have the idyllic luxuries given above. What church ensemble of "weekend warriors" could ever muster that ideal?

Our volunteers have lives. They like to play and sing. They see it as ministry and service. They may even see your rehearsal as a place of musical growth, but you have turnover. People get sick. Their kids get sick. They can't make rehearsals. They have a job that keeps them from the first 30 minutes of rehearsal, they have finals to study for. On and on it goes.

On top of that, people leave the ministry and volunteer to work in the (ever-needy) children's program. They move away, they leave the church. Enthusiastic 8th graders want to play. The 70-something clarinetist wants to dust off his case again and join the ensemble.

These are perfectly legitimate and realistic circumstances for people coming and going in a church music ministry. Building consistency and growth is an ongoing challenge involving constant reminders and seeking out teaching moments in the music to help your ensemble grow and improve. Sometimes it's two steps forward and a step back. Sometimes it doesn't feel like you're moving at all!

How does one orchestrate for and prepare an ensemble with such turnover? Here are a few ideas, please offer more if you have any!

  1. Orchestrate to your strengths but challenge the weaker sections. This is easier said than done, of course, but it's something that needs to be kept in mind. I once had a clarinet and oboe player beg for me to write something in an orchestration that really challenged them. I kept everything around them pretty "vanilla" and give them interacting lines. They paid me with a bag of Doritos.
  2. Remember that your strong section may not always be strong and your weak section may dramatically improve! Over a seven or eight year cycle, I've seen a church orchestra with a strong cello section, FOUR oboe players and a fairly week horn section change to an "average" cello section, NO oboe players and a ripping horn section. Your writing needs to adjust to those needs, and you need to not always assume that your sting section will be missing a viola.
  3. Pair an experienced player with a beginning player. This will succeed if your seasoned player is brought in on your plan from the beginning. They must know that their role is not to play all the solos, encourage the newer player(s), and impart whatever wisdom about their instrument they can without being condescending. This works only with the right personalities.
  4. Allow beginning players to be a part of rehearsals only, until they are clearly contributing to the whole ensemble. This is a great way to bring rhythm players along who are not used to following chord charts. It's also a great way to get a violinist into the orchestra. Help give them confidence in their playing by surrounding them with other experienced players.
  5. Write for the middle. I'm thinking skill level here, again realizing that the trumpet section may not always be your strong section, for example. "Writing for the middle" should still including some challenging passages to keep everyone on their toes.
One of the best ways to illustrate "writing to the middle" is with the following illustration.



This represents three different ways a similar idea could be written for trumpets in this cadential passage. (1) is the most challenging passage. The rhythms are tricky, there are accidentals scattered around, and the line is angular. This could be played by moderately good players, but it may not be as easily read by moderate players. This is the lick that will bring your rehearsal to a screeching halt!

You can see that the second example simplifies some of the rhythms, removes the high note, thereby reducing the angular nature of the line. Everyone has a different way of coming up with these lines. I usually sit quietly at my work station, play the melody or sing the song in my head and imagine what I would think a cool horn section line would be, then I try to peck it out on the keyboard. In the midst of this process, it may be a good idea to determine what the most fundamental elements of your lick are. Strip away some of the ornamentation (yes, in a Schenkerian sense) and see what you can do to "say" something similar to your original intent, but with a little less complexity (such as example 2)

Example 3 eliminates the opening syncopation all together. The line emphasizes the same basic notes as the first example, and in essence says the same thing, just in a simpler way. If we think of music in terms of a language, then example one was spoken by an articulate college professor and the third example conveyed the same thought through the vocabulary of your average high school student.

Another musical element that should be taken into consideration is the key you arrange in. This will be discussed in the next part.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

No Smoking, Please

As a parent of a ten year old I make a conscious effort to evaluate the world as a ten year old might. More specifically how I remember evaluating the world when I was a ten year old.

I spent most of my childhood years in a small Swiss-decedent town of Berne, Indiana. Like many small towns, it was full of charms that invoke the "good old days" sentiment, but really, had I stayed there all my life, I know my view of the world would be much different than it has become. For better or worse.

One of the things about being a kid in this little town is that you owned it if you had a bike. Riding my bike within a radius of about 1.5 miles from my home would pretty much cover the entire "town" section of Berne. I loved it. As I became 11 or 12 years old my freedoms increased and my parents granted permission for me to ride across town to the park, to the swimming pool, and even to get my hair cut.

I mention the hair cut because I have specific memories of going to get my "hairs" cut. My dad always took me to McKean's Barbershop. Bill, I think was his first name--though I was never allowed do address him as such--was a "sponsor" of one of my little league baseball teams. I think that meant he paid to have his shop's name mentioned with the team name, i.e., the McKean's Barbershop Rangers, and maybe he paid for the team t-shirts we wore.

Anyway, I have distinct memories of his shop. He was always very friendly to me. I had a booster seat I sat in. His shop had that hair spray-aftershave-shaving cream smell There was always the hair on the floor, AND when kids were done with their hair cut, we were awarded one of those Bazooka Joe bubble gum pieces with "1 cent" printed on the front. There was this ridiculous piece of gum, which lost its flavor after exactly five chews, and a Bazooka Joe comic inside that was never funny.

When I finally came "of age" to ride my bike to his shop by myself, carry the $3.00 he charged for a kids cut with me, and declare I wanted a "tapered" cut--even though I had no idea what that was, I felt I had arrived. I was grown up. I even locked my bike up on his little bike rack he had out in front--like some one would actually try to steal MY five-speed bike.

I went into the shop and waited my turn. I don't remember much of who was there that day, except for one man. I remember him because he was a large man. With a beard. It was probably his motorcycle out front too. He seemed friendly, but he looked mean. And most significantly, to my sheltered mind, he smoked.

I don't mean I thought he smoked because I was close enough to smell it on his clothes or in his breath. I mean he was sitting there in this little room smoking.

Did he know that was bad for him? Did he know it was probably--no--it WAS a sin? Who's gonna tell him he really shouldn't be sucking on that cigarette? I wanted to be offended by the smoke, but it was kinda cool the way it streamed out of his mouth--and nose. It intrigued me that the smoke could come out of his nose as well as his mouth. On TV, I had only seen it come out of people's mouths. This was new information. Could he achieve the "inhale" portion of the cycle by sticking the cigarette in one of his nostrils? I didn't know,

It was my turn to get my hair cut. I sat facing him, at least as long as Mr. McKean pivoted my chair in his direction.

It was building up inside me. I had to say something. He has to be told the truth about his habit. But he's not going to listen to me. A kid. A kid who just rode to get his hair cut on a bicycle. I have to be funny. I have to be direct. But I have to sound convincing, authoritative, and maybe intelligent. Maybe I'll shame him into quitting his habit right here. I'll say something so pithy, I'll put it in such a way that he's never thought of or imagined before thereby prompting him to squash out his smoke stick and vow to never take it up again.

So this was my chance. I thought long and hard about what should be said. So I mustered up the courage. I watched as he sucked in the smoke and exhaled through his nose.

"Has anyone ever told you that you look like a fire-breathing dragon when you do that?"

What followed can hardly be described as a chuckle. Not even a laugh. Maybe more of a guffaw. Not just from him, but from the others waiting for their hair cut.

"No," he said. "I don't think anyone has ever told me that."

I did my duty. Judgment had been handed down. He'll have some things to think about now.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Philosophy of Orchestration (Part 3)

Questions to ask yourself when considering orchestrating a hymn, chorus or other song for your church orchestra:

1. Does the song need an orchestration? (dealt with in part 1)

2. Should everyone play? (dealt with in part 2)

3. Does the orchestration support the lyric?

Early church fathers (i.e., those leaders immediately following the apostolic era) debated the use of song in the church. Some were against it for reasons of association. The Graeco-Roman practices of worshiping the gods involved instrumental music accompanying singing. The usage of instruments added a sensual and emotive component that worshipers allowed themselves to be caught up in. The church fathers denounced the parallel practice of using instruments in the church for the music's intertwining role in wrapping emotion with theology. The music, they felt, poisoned the rational understanding of the Psalm's teaching.

There was even debate among in the early church as to whether singing should be allowed at all. An interesting passage from St Augustine, in his Confessions hints at a tolerance, though with some reservation, for the use of melody:

Sometimes too, from over-anxiety to avoid this particular trap [being fascinated by the pleasures of sound] I make the mistake of being too strict. When this happens, I have no wish but to exclude from my ears, and from the ears of the Church as well, all the melody of those lovely chants to which the Psalms of David are habitually sung; and it seems safer to me to follow the precepts which I remember often having heard ascribed to Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, who used to oblige the lectors to recite the psalms with such slight modulation of the voice that they seemed to be speaking rather than chanting. But when I remember the tears that I shed on hear the songs of the Church in the early days, soon after I had recovered my faith, and when I realize that nowadays it is not the singing that moves me but the meaning of the words when they are sung in a clear voice to the most appropriate tune, I again acknowledge the great value of this practice. So I waver between the danger that lies in gratifying the senses and the benefits which, as I know from experience, can accrue from singing. Without committing myself to an irrevocable opinion, I am inclined to approve of the custom of singing in the church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired with feelings of devotion. Yet when I find the singing itself more moving that the truth which it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin, and at those times I would prefer not to hear the singer.

The words have always carried the most significant importance in song in the church--as they should, since it is by the words we teach and admonish one another. To the early church, however, the idea of having instrumental music exist only for the sake of the music would have been rejected outright. The melody always serves the text. The singing always serves the melody (even to the point where having too good of a voice is a distraction). The instruments always serve the music, and so on. Here we have a heirarchical order given that looks something like this: text->melody(chant)->singing->instrumental accompaniment.

Not until the Renaissance did the idea of instrumental music apart from singing begin to surface. So foreign was this notion to the church that instrumental music began to develop on a path outside of purely religious contexts. Art music has followed an interesting historical cycle where it first serves a non-musical function, usually that of ceremonial pomp or aristocratic dance, for example, but later evolves into an art form too complex to simply be precessed to or danced to and progresses to art that must be listened to in order to be fully grasped.

Fast-forward to the 21st century church where the text of a song now has to compete to be heard among modern rock-style bands or in other contexts large-scale instrumental ensembles. The art of music has changed so much since the early church, but centrality of scripture, at least in evangelical churches has remained. This text of scripture must be carried along attentively by the instruments so that the communication of the lyrics are not compromised.

Modern day churches have issues to deal with that the early church could not have dreamed of. We have a worship leader, sometimes a "team" of additional singers, and other times, maybe even a whole choir of people to help proclaim the text as clearly as possible. If this isn't enough, we are fitted with words projected onto a screen, or at least words printed on paper or in a book. We have amplifiers and loudspeakers. We can buy recordings of the songs sung in churches to help us learn them. We can hear these same songs on the radio from time to time, giving us all the more opportunity to become complacent about the text!

How do we use an orchestra to enhance the text being sung?

One way to enhance the sung text of a song through orchestration is to not use an orchestra at all. This was discussed at length in part 1, but for the sake of clarity, the fundamental question of if a song needs an orchestration should be revisited. Even if a song should have an orchestration, it does not have to begin at measure 1 and continue without rests to the very end! Surprise everyone and have the players play through the verse, then drop out at the chorus, the place the orchestra is usually added. Use spacing wisely to keep from distracting from text that it sung only once. Build up the orchestral accompaniment where text is often repeated and well-known, like the chorus sections.

If you struggle in an acoustic environment where the use of certain instruments overtakes everything else going on musically, use these instruments in interludal sections. Strophic form often used in church music lends itself well to this and as the arranger, you are free to make these interludes longer than a standard end-of-phrase turn around. Extended introductions or "outros" (classical "codas") can also serve this function for your players.

Appropriate melodic doublings can be used to enhance the text, particularly in quiet parts of the song by solo instruments. I have found that this works particularly well when the instrument is scored at least on octave away from the vocal line. An oboe line playing a melodically reduced line (in the Schenkerian sense!) about a male solo, a French horn playing a reduced line beneath a soprano line, three-octave strings (Violin I, Violin II, and Viola) locked in octaves accompanying a large and dynamic choral section are just a few examples of how this technique could be used. Scoring in octaves also forces the other instruments to be used cautiously as you want the octave line to "cut," so you must be careful to build light accompanying lines around it.

Everyone wants to write great horn lines, maybe something like what you might hear here. But even if you had the chops to write something like that, it is unlikely you'd have players with the chops to play something like that, and if you had that magic convergence of talent and skill, the congregation would have no idea what to do with it. Especially if they're trying to sing along! I have found (the hard way) that some of the best horn lines are not complex. They never compete with the melody of the song, they are attainable by your players, and they almost always work best at the end of phrases or when the vocal line is resting. File this suggestion under "less is more." A great example of spares horn lines can be heard in Stevie Wonder's Sign Sealed Delivered, I'm Yours. Even in the 30 second sample you can hear how simple the horn lines are. In the gospel world, We Worship You from Israel Houghton has some complexity in the horn lines, but most are fairly simple. This is also a great example of how using the orchestration at the octave can enhance the melody. In this case, the trumpets are in octaves.

These horn line examples bring up another issue that church arrangers are often faced with: Individual player skill level. Stay tuned for part 4.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Twitter Spam update

Here is an update from my adventures described in this post.

Today I got an email from a service I use that tells me when people stop following me on Twitter, called Qwitter.

Here's what it said:

Hi, BrianMegilligan.

Oh! Nuts (OhNuts) stopped following you on Twitter after you posted this tweet:

is studying laundry room ventilation.

Check out OhNuts's profile here:

http://twitter.com/OhNuts


Best,
Qwitter


It's nice when the spammers "unfriend" you.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Philosophy of Orchestration (Part 2)

Questions to ask yourself when considering orchestrating a hymn, chorus or other song for your church orchestra:

1. Does the song need an orchestration? (dealt with in part 1)

2. Should everyone play?

After considering the issues and weighing the options from the first question, and the conclusion is made that an orchestration would both serve the congregation and the volunteers well (and not just for this one time, but potentially in an ongoing manner over repeated uses of the song), the question of who should play needs to be addressed next.

In some cases, this is an easy answer. If your ensemble is small, it would not make much sense to exclude the lone violinist, for example, because you don't want to "write this one for strings."

If you have the benefit of a fuller ensemble, however, it makes more sense to think in terms of sections.

We tend to think of orchestral sections in terms of style. For example, we often think of the string section accompanying the ballads, with unison or multi-octave lines in the big sections, and warm "pad" voicings in the smaller sections. We may also think of using only the horn section (and by horn section we usually include the saxes while excluding the French horns and tubas), only on the "cookin'" songs.

Here are some oft-overlooked combinations that may be useful as well.

On the ballads, consider adding French horns or certain solo woodwind lines, particularly clarinet or oboe.

Consider how well-voiced brass can strengthen what the string section already brings to the table. Particularly in circumstances when the string section is small, a well-placed and well-voiced brass ensemble sound in key spots of the arrangement can add a great deal of depth in a given passage.

The percussion section is often overlooked. If your church is fortunate to have timpani, and a timpani player, a well-placed roll (or rolls) can add great drama to a song. Along with the timpani, the more affordable suspended cymbal can have a similar effect, as well as the still more affordable wind chimes or mark tree.

Sometimes beginning orchestrators avoid using these instruments because they are unsure how to notate their parts. This would be like leaving the lights off the Christmas tree because you don't know how to replace a bulb on the line. Neither is hard to do, and just a little research can bring about great results.

Something that could stretch both you as an orchestrator and director is to use sections in unexpected ways. For example, treat a ballad only with brass, or write some grooving string lines for an upbeat tune. In addition to pushing your own creativity, it will force your players into being used in ways they may not be used to, which will ultimately only enhance their musicianship.

Consider arranging only for the woodwinds. Plenty of songs will support this, we just rarely think of the woodwind section in this way. Listen to some good woodwind ensemble writing to remind yourself of how to maximize the timbers. Include the French horn as well. If you have a skilled cellist or euphonium player, you may be able to substitute those voices for the bassoon.

Many times, it is a strong musical decision to include the whole orchestra. This addresses the "worth it" factor discussed previously and it usually forces the arranger to think in broader terms about a particular hymn or chorus.

In the case of a large hymn arrangement, built for the full fanfare forces of choir, organ, and congregation, find ways to include the whole ensemble, for sure.

Issues that need to be considered include those of repetition vs through-composition, determining the climactic moment of an arrangement, and writing to the strengths of your sections.

The answers to issues concerning orchestration style and more on instrumentation are answered in the next question, given in part 3. (stay tuned)

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Socialist Solution to the Crisis

An interesting Op-Ed appearing in the Wall Street Journal today from
POUL NYRUP RASMUSSEN, the former prime minister of Denmark (1993-2001). We could be much closer to global socialism and a one world government than we think:

The simplistic dictum of more markets and less government -- championed by Reagan, Thatcher and their ideological heirs -- has failed on a momentous scale. In the White House, President Hope has replaced President Tax Cuts for the Rich. As we go into the G-20 meeting in London, even European conservatives such as Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel are calling for a new global financial architecture, better financial regulation and a crackdown on tax havens. The previously unimaginable idea of a "Global New Deal" is suddenly on many people's lips.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Worship Matters: Book Review

Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God by Bob Kauflin

My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you follow Bob Kauflin's blog, you know that his routine of answering people's questions about church music ministry is done very deliberately. He doesn't rant. He encourages right relationships first. He emphasizes biblical principles, and in the end he'll get around to answering the question, an answer that usually seems more obvious once he cuts to the heart of the issue, and what is really important. It is no surprise then to see his book written in the same style, and with the same patience we've come to expect from him. Worship Matters is more than just another book about worship, and it is more than a little commentary and list of suggestions on how to "do music" better.
Summary
Bob Kauflin's book Worship Matters is a very useful guide for church music volunteers to music directors to worship leaders, to senior pastors. The book's primary focus, however is on worship leaders. He takes his time patiently addressing each topic, even sometimes repeating himself, but not to anyone's detriment. The book serves as a healthy reminder to those who would lead worship-musical or non musical, as to what is important and what should be remembered, and what can safely be discarded.

The book is divided into four main sections. The first deals with the worship leaders in five short chapters. What is important, what should be important? what are the things the leader should love? what are things the leaders believe? what are the things leaders practice? what are the things leaders model?

It is a great centering area of the book for worship leaders to ruminate on even before proceeding further along in the book.

Part two of the book deals specifically with what a worship leader does. Here he presents his definition:
A faithful worship leader
magnifies the greatness of God in Jesus Christ
through the power of the Holy Spirit
by skillfully combining God's Word with music,
thereby motivating the gathered church
to proclaim the gospel,
to cherish God's presence,
and to live for God's glory.

He spends the next several chapters exegeting his own statement, exploring and giving insight phrase by phrase. Here Kauflin gives a nice mix of scriptural, philosophical, and practical teachings and suggestions for understanding the worship leader's role.

The third part to his book explores what he terms "Healthy Tensions." Using the following principles, 1. Do what God clearly commands. 2. Don't do what God clearly forbids. 3. Use scriptural wisdom for everything else.

Even though he spends time expanding on these tensions, I find that the most insight is gained by pondering the existence and identification of the tensions alone. Not meant to be a comprehensive list, Kauflin lists the following:

  • Transcendent and Immanent
  • Head and Heart
  • Internal and External
  • Vertical and Horizontal
  • Planned and Spontaneous
  • Rooted and Relevant
  • Skilled and Authentic
  • For the Church and Unbelievers
  • Event and Everyday

The fourth part deals with Right Relationships: Church, Team, and Pastor. It is always good to be reminded of healthy relationships, and their importance, particularly in church leadership. This section of the book was probably the most meaningful to me, as with great humility Kauflin framed healthy church leadership relationships in light of submission to the pastor, seeking to give encouragement, seeking biblical steps in resolving conflict, nipping personal pride, and seeking evaluation and reproof. Proverbs 12:1 "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid."

The end notes to this book contain a robust annotated bibliography, short on music sources and heavy on theology. This is no surprise as his writing is rich with scriptural references and one of his fundamental perspectives is that the worship leader, just as all followers of Christ, should first seek to be a theologian.


Some favorite quotes:


A worship leader who barely knows the Bible can't be a faithful worship leader.

We're good theologians if what we say and think about God lines up with what Scripture says and affirms. We're bad theologians if our view of God is vague, unbiblical, distorted, or based on our own opinions.

Misconception: We know God better through music than through Words.

When we're dodgy about our theology, we're really saying we want our own Jesus.

[God] never gets tired of hearing believers' almost-in-tune, somewhat together, faith-filled offerings of worship.

If our doctrine is accurate but our hearts are cold toward God himself, our corporate worship will be true but lifeless. Or if we express fervent love for God but present vague, inaccurate, or incomplete ideas of him to those we're leading, our worship will be emotional but misleading-and possibly idolatrous. Neither option brings God glory.

If you have a role in leading worship in church or parachurch, this book will be well worth your time. Whether you're the primary worship leader, a "chief musician," a volunteer, or a senior pastor, I highly recommend this book and it's valuable insights to you.




View all my reviews.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Philosophy of Orchestration (part 1)

I had a lot of fun gearing up a for a little presentation I did today at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary's orchestration class. The professor, Joshua Waggener, asked me to give some perspectives of "real world" church orchestration and techniques for writing for rhythm sections.

I blew it all out in a matter of fifty minutes. So much to say, so little time. Those poor students.

The following represents the beginning of some things we discussed related to orchestration and your orchestra. The context was specifically church orchestration since that is generally the orientation of the music program at SEBTS.

The first question to ask yourself when considering orchestrating a hymn, chorus, or other song for your church orchestra:

Does the song need an orchestration?

Here I could write almost an entire blog post in response to this question. (in fact, it turned into one!) As music staff we probably don't wrestle with a bigger question: just because the orchestra is sitting there, does that mean they should play? Or asked another way: What is a reasonable amount of material to expect an orchestra to play on?

The tension here lies in the "worth it" factor. If you have three services in the morning, as we do at Providence, is it wise to ask your orchestra volunteers to come and make themselves available for all three services in order to accompany one anthem and a hymn? As servants, we would say, yes, they should be happy to come in and play only the refrain of just one hymn and be glad they got a chance to serve.

A steady diet of this, however would strongly affect their morale and before long, there would be very little orchestra left for whom to orchestrate!

The flip side of this coin, and frankly the side we error on more than the other, is to make a programming decision based on the fact that the orchestra is scheduled to play. An observer might perceive this as the tail wagging the dog. Honestly, this is sometimes the case as we occasionally are forced to change what we felt was an already strong service plan in terms of flow in order to satisfy the "worth it" factor for the orchestra volunteers.

Being forced to make decisions like the one above is wrought by everything from bad planning on our part to an overall lack of quality arrangements available to us. Sometimes, however we are blindsided by another factor: partial orchestrations.

On a day in which the entire orchestra is scheduled, we may plan a service and congratulate ourselves on how frequently we managed to involve the orchestra. Upon closer examination, however, we realize that on song A, B, and D, only the strings play, while on songs C, and E, only the brass play, and on song F, the lone orchestrated hymn selection, the woodwinds get to play.

Planning well requires answering the original question: Does the song NEED an orchestration? If it is decided a song could be enhanced by an orchestration (another subjective decision), the project needs to be set into motion weeks in advance of the service, not only for the sake of the arranger, but for the sake of rehearsal.

But let me just be clear about this one thing: Some songs in the pop world, Christian or secular or not bettered by the finest orchestration. Some band-led songs often need to stay that way. Any attempted horn lick or string line can diminish the pathos of the song in it's original state and derail the emotive qualities of a song. Again, a subjective call, perhaps, but would we really want to try to add to All the Saints Join In, or This is Who I Am? Great skill would be required both by the arranger and by the performer!

Upon answering the question in the affirmative regarding the need for an orchestration, we have several more to answer. (Stay tuned)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Twitter Spam

There have been questions by observers for some time now about how on earth Twitter will ever monetize its service. Recent news has added fuel to the speculation, but in the mean time, I have found how quickly and clever business can be in attempting to recruit customers.

Recently, through the power of suggestion via a podcast I was listening to, I developed a hankering for Jelly Beans. So I tweeted:

Within a half an hour I was being followed by Oh! Nuts, evidently a snack company (I haven't given them the satisfaction of actually trying to find out) who probably scouted out the key words "Jelly Bean" on a service like monitter. Later in the day I received the following @reply:

I haven't followed any of their links, but judging by their many @ replies, it appears that someone has a full time job of scouting certain terms on twitter, and turning their tweet into a direct marketing opportunity. I guess we're gonna have to start blocking until the folks at Twitter figure out how to make money off this scheme.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Are Rebates Worth it?

I recently bought 4GB of memory from a Tigerdirect retail store close to my house. The appeal for this particular brand was simple. I could get "4096MB PC6400 DDR2 800Mhz" RAM for $20.00. Yeah!

First, I have to pay $45.00, the get my $25 rebate. The catch, of course, is the rebate process. I can just picture the execs sitting in a room dreaming up ways to help people loose heart in cashing in on their rebates.

The process begins by going to a CompUSA (really?) web site, typing in the part number I purchased. (This was not easy to find, by the way). So after typing "C13-6082" into the little form, I get a list of possible rebates I could be eligable for depending on the date of my purchase. Once I find my date range, I have to download a pdf document that then instructs me to go to ANOTHER web site to really begin the rebate process. OK.

This web site is happy to send a check for $25 in 8-10 weeks (really?), or in 5-7 days, they'll send me a gift visa or wire me money for a small $3 fee.

No thanks.

I click to get the full rebate of $25, even though the value of the dollar will probably fall enough to make it worth the $22 I am now being offered to get my rebate sooner.

So now, after surrendering my address, phone number, and TWO email addresses (just in case), I am directed to another pdf to print. I then receive an email (at both addresses) featuring these instructions:

  1. Verify all fields on the rebate application including name, address, order number, serial number etc. are filled in completely and the information is accurate. The name and address that appear on your invoice or purchase receipt must match the name and address on your rebate application.
  2. Print out and Sign the completed rebate application. (Your rebate application cannot be processed without your signature)
  3. Attach all required documentation as specified in the rebate application including your invoice and the UPC barcode. Depending on the rebate offer, Serial numbers and other proof of purchase may also be required. The rebated product must appear on your invoice or purchase receipt.
  4. Send your completed and signed application along with all required documentation to the PO Box address indicated on the rebate application. For your convenience the rebate application contains a mailing label with the address preprinted.
  5. Be sure to have your completed submission postmarked on or before the "postmark by" date on your application. This date is usually 30 days from your original purchase date.
Why is the signature so important? If I can produce the serial number, surely all this could be done instantly and online.

I am going to do it all. I am not going to give them the satisfaction of "forgetting" to complete the process, thereby giving them an 80% markup!

The question I have yet to answer, and may never really know for sure: "Is it worth it?"

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Why I Enjoy Facebook

It has been said that Facebook is for people you knew, Twitter is for people you don't know yet. I think this is true, as I have particularly enjoyed stretching both directions recently with both tools.

Below is a screen shot of a recent "conversation" I had with several old friends. The cool thing about this to me is that I know that if I could get these people in a room together, they'd probably all get along great! Below are comments from Chapel friends, Cedarville friends, high school friends from Kansas City, high school friends from New Jersey, and local friends. It is a lot of fun to be reconnected, even if the thing that reconnects you is trivialities. Ultimately, I see Facebook and Twitter as a ministry tools, but that's fodder for another post.