Monday, November 23, 2009

Harmony Brothers, recording, the zone

Early in October, Allan and I (one half of the Harmony Brothers) went into the recording studio to begin what the four of us have been talking about for over three years: a good recording of our Harmony Brothers sound. The plan was to start the process by recording five of our best songs and then, after that, to take stock on where to go next. Eventually, we will record ten or twelve of our best songs and release a CD for our long-anticipatory fans (if there are any of them left by the time we've completed the project).

We chose to work with Audio West, a recording studio located in West Sacramento that's owned and operated by Ed Etzel. Ed is an easy going, easy to work with guy who always quick with an interesting story about recording someone in the studio or his experience with recording sound for t.v. and films. He's a sound man/engineering veteran with lots of experience. We're appreciating his support and expertise in the studio, as much as he appreciates our laid back attitude and easy going professionalism. Oh yeah, it also helps that he likes the way we sound and the tunes we play. I think we give him a break from some of the younger musicians he works with that have plenty of growing room for maturity and life experience.

Our first session was like coming home for me. After arriving there and as I was tuning my guitar, I was home. A little while later after we had been recording for awhile, I was in the "zone". It is such a joy to focus entirely on playing guitar and singing, doing both on more than one track for the overall recording sound. I realized, after that first session, that being in the recording studio is like being in church for me. It's my sacred place away from all my other worldly cares and worries. I wonder what it would be like to record for myself or working with others on a regular basis. I'm thinking it wouldn't just be a "job". It would be an energy focus, a creative outlet, a way to follow my calling. I found myself scheming how I could spend more time in the recording studio to be in the zone more often. More will be revealed around that one.

After laying down guitar and vocal tracks with Allan in October, Dave and Ron joined us for a vocal session earlier this month in November. Ron had a lead vocal to lay down and both he and Dave had background vocals to do. Next, Allan and went back in for some vocals review and digital polishing tricks. To me, it seems like cheating to tweak vocal tracks with compression, cut and paste, and the occasional pitch fixing. Still, hey, we want it to sound good on the CD. As long as we don't get too carried away and go Milli Vanilli with it, I reckon we're good with it.

Also, in that second November session with Allan, Ed had his bass playing friend, Don, come in to lay down tracks for a couple of our more upbeat tunes. It was fun to work with Don; he's an old pro and patiently gave us the bass feel we asked him for. He was done in less than an hour, as we suspected he would be. To wrap up our session, Allan and I both added hand percussion to the same two upbeat songs and I experimented with the kalimba (thumb piano) on the one song that has an African feel to it. I'll go back in for another session with the kalimba after I played with song at home and have a better groove down for the song. Nothing like adding extra texture to a song for that certain special musical icing. We'll go back in next month in December to tie up any additional track work and do the mix down dance. I'll share more on the studio project later.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Harmony Brothers, Spiritual Life Center, co-creation

I have been a member of the vocal group, The Harmony Brothers, for over eight years now.

All four of us (Alan, Dave, and Ron) met as members of the Spiritual Life Center (SLC) choir which, at that time, was under the wonderful direction of Richard Burdick.

After singing together in the SLC choir for a couple of years, we wound up jamming and singing together as a lark at a summertime hootenanny in the little churche's courtyard. We had such a good time, we decided to keep singing together!

Over the last eight years or so, we have built quite a repetoire together and have done a marvelous job of co-creation through vocal arrangements, ringing harmonies, and some original tunes written by myself and Alan Klein. About five years ago, after we had been singing on Sunday mornings at SLC off and on for a couple of years and receiving positive appreciation from the congregation members, I decided it was time to take ourselves more seriously and start being compensated for our talent (i.e., getting paid for the gigs).

So, we requested financial compensation from SLC (which they gladly provided) and began booking ourselves at other New Thought churches in the greater Sacramento area and a bit beyond. So far, we have performed at the Center for Spiritual Awareness (West Sacramento), Unity of Stockton, Unity of Davis, and Unity of Vacaville. It's been a slow go of it for us; the work of establishing our name and reputation in the New Thought circuit. Over time, we have lived and breathed enough musical material to play at least two full sets of live music. We even were the featured (and only) headliner at an SLC cabaret back in September 2006.

We kept being asked by folks if and when we would have a CD available for them to buy, so we began to seriously consider that idea. As a matter of fact, we did arrange for a friend of ours, Phil Mead, to record our September 2006 SLC cabaret performance, in the hopes that we could use that as a live CD to market and sell to our growing fanbase. After working with the live recording (supported generously and patiently in the process by Phil), it just wasn't the recording we wanted to present to our current and future fans.

So finally, this year in early October, we went into the recording studio to begin our first studio project. I'll give an update on this in my next posting. Stay tuned!

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

mentoring boys

Today was our monthly outing with the boys. Each month, myself and a few other men from the Sacramento area get together with a group of boys for connection, sharing, and learning. Our work is to model conscious manhood by being living examples to them. We work with and are inspired by a program called Boys to Men that empowers men to mentor and work with boys in their community within the age range of 12 through 17. It may sound complicated, scary, or even corny to those of you who have not (yet) had this experience. What I've been discovering and learning from boys for over two years now is that mentoring boys is simple, basic, and good soul food for me, the boys, and other men.

Being with the boys brings up memories of fathering my own son (he's thirty years old now) and it also brings up memories of my own adolescence; some happy, some not. It gives me the opportunity to be of service to boys, yet it goes deeper than that. I experience being a kind of uncle to the boys and, as a man of 56 years on the planet, I also experience being a grandfather figure, an elder to the boys. It's not what I expected to ever experience in this life.

At times, I am frustrated with the boys because they're bored, impatient, or picking on each other. Truth be told, sometimes I find myself in a place of boredom or other disconnection, too. That's about me and personal work I still have to do. At other times, one of the boys will show up in an honest way from their heart and move right past my wall of emotional defense, judgment, indifference, or doubt into a place of trust. This surprises me and keeps me inspired to continue showing up for them and me. I've experienced the boys expressing their appreciation and gratitude without even saying anything. It might be through a hug or a smile. Simple, direct, and uncomplicated.

I enjoy giving them encouragement about being honest, speaking their truth and acknowledging them when they show up with the willingness to change or courage to be themselves. I'm happy to see how my connection with the boys continues to deepen.

Once again, it's not rocket science with the boys. It's about showing up and being open and available. So, if you're curious about Boys to Men and want to know more, check them out at www.boystomen.org. There are Boys to Men chapters around the U.S. and also in Canada and South Africa. Boys are ready and men are needed. This work is part of building and co-creating a better future for all of us.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

guitar heroes

No, I'm not talking about the popular video game. Yesterday, I saw a film called It Might Get Loud which features Jack White (of the White Stripes), The Edge (of U2), and Jimmy Page (of The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin). They share one main thing in common: they all play rock guitar. Here's the web link for the film, if you're interested. www.itmightgetloud.com. It was a trip to see three different generations of rock guitarists all in one documentary talking about their musical process as guitarists, their musical careers, and their first guitars. The film has the feel of a musical summit when they all meet together in one place and play songs of their own with the other two learning the guitar riffs and joining in on the fun. The film ends with them singing and playing acoustic guitars on The Weight, that old standard by The Band.

There weren't a lot of guitar secrets given away which is what I was hoping for. Then again, the creative process of playing guitar (or any other instrument) is very personal and what is expressed by one player is different that what is expressed by another player. That is the nature of the Muse; she comes through different musicians like they're each their own unique radio station tuned into a different frequency with all frequencies coming from the same power source.

I visualize a kind of cosmic jukebox that plays what I'm tuned into and that comes through either in a recording by someone else or through me and my own instrument of choice. My two main instruments of choice are voice and guitar with occasional keyboard and recorder being played. At various times, I have the gift of picking out a song from the cosmic jukebox and playing it in my musical memory radio station or picking up my guitar and singing it. My jukebox access does have a strong preference for folk, rock, country, blues, pop, and sometimes jazz and classical. Those strong preferences are like pre-sets on my car radio. And, there are times I'm able to change the pre-sets by listening awhile to other musical genres (ex., Celtic, show tunes, ragtime). As James Taylor once wrote, "Hey mister, that's me up on the jukebox....."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

musical memory

I heard music by Yusuf Islam this week from his latest CD, Roadsinger. For those of you who aren't aware, Yusuf used to call himself Cat Stevens in a former lifetime. You know, Peace Train, Moonshadow, etc. Not to worry, I haven't changed spiritual directions. I continue on my path as a spiritual eclectic and expressor of Spirit.

I've heard some of his new music recorded as Yusuf over the last few years. There's a great reworked version of Peace Train, complete with an African style choir and hand percussion.
I think I saw it on YouTube last year. I think he still has good chops as a songwriter. Even though, nowadays, he's a man of the Muslim faith, I still hear pop hooks in his songs and arrangements. That's o.k. with me and it makes sense with all of his past experience in the music business. I continue to appreciate his sense of wonder and beauty as he expresses through words and music. If you want to hear him singing at Island Record's 50th birthday bash earlier this year, check it out at http://www.sugarmegs.org/ under Yusuf Islam. He continues to have a connection with Spirit like way back in the '70s. The only difference I see is that he made his spiritual focus very specific and quit wandering about the landscape of his life.

I can tell Yusuf's new music continues to have those pop hooks built into it because, after listening to his online performance at Island Record's birthday celebration, a few days later some of the phrases and sections from his songs were on heavy rotation in my musical memory. It's a blessing and a curse, that musical memory. It comes in handy when I want to learn a song to play myself and also somehow it takes me deeper into the spirit of the song and the songwriter, as inspired by the Muse.

The curse of having a strong musical memory comes when I'm working on writing a song and what comes through sounds very much like someone else's composition. It might just be the melody of the chorus or a chunk of the verse. When I become aware of that, I usually have to change the structure of the melody, so I'm not distracted by and pulled into the other song's melody. This mostly happens when I'm creating the melody line and it hardly ever happens with the lyrical structure of a song that's coming through me. It's a good thing I don't have a strong poetic memory, at least when I'm songwriting.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

musical flashback

I was in Starbuck's this week (yeah, I know it's main stream corporate American culture) meeting with a friend and, as I placed my soy steamer order (no coffee for me, thank you), there were CD's of The Beatles (Abbey Road, Help, Rubber Soul) on the counter. It was a musical flashback. I'm aware from online news that the Beatles recorded music catalog has been remastered on CD and was released this past week, along the The Beatles Rock Band game. As it has for a long time, the marketing machine continues to roll on.....

As I held the Abbey Road CD in my hands, I remembered holding and looking at the Abbey Road LP way back in the day. Wow, it was deja' vu all over again. I recalled the whole "I buried Paul" mumble by John Lennon at the end of Strawberry Fields Forever and then thought about John being dead for years now and George being dead for about eight years. Two Beatles standing now. And, I'm standing, too. O.K, that's enough Beatle rambling. Next posting, I'll ramble on about Pink Floyd (just kidding...)

Since my last posting about the new song that came through me last week, it has become clear to me, one more time, that music is a big part of my spiritual path. It is the way that Spirit speaks and creates through me. When I let the energy vibration of music flow through me, life goes easier. When I avoid it or ignore it, I cause myself suffering. My personal mission statement goes like this: I co-create a connected, compassionate world for myself and all living beings by speaking my truth, owning my power, and expressing beauty of Spirit. When I'm in the groove and expressing beauty through music, I'm living my mission. When I push joy and beauty away in the form of music, I'm not living my mission. To express or not express, that is a daily choice for me. May the Muse bless you today in however you choose to express creatively. So many ways to be blessed and to bless others.

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Monday, September 7, 2009

This is it........Melodies, Harmony, and Music!

O.K., folks. After my wife set me up to begin blogging last February, I'm finally posting my first blog. (She's also the webmaster for my website and my personal creative feedback person, fellow creative, and best friend.... Thank you, my beloved.)

This blog will follow my adventures as a "creative"; that's what I call someone who must create in some way, shape, or form of expression and share it with others on this journey called Life. My path as a "creative" involves music and language. I'm also a lover of good books and films and deep spiritual experiences, dialogues, and insights. I'm an appreciator of melody and harmony and how that shows up and is revealed along the way.

Last week was a powerful experience of that. What happened first on Thursday morning was a musically inspired meditation, sparked by a melody I spontaneously sang that was full of Spirit longing. This continued with images during my meditation. After meditation, I was compelled to get out my guitar with pen and paper and work on capturing the song that had begun to be revealed to me while sitting quietly. To view a chart for this song, click here. When I sang the newly birthed song for my wife, she cried. Thank you, Spirit for the blessing of music!

On the next day (Friday), I went to San Francisco with my good friend, George, to hear the Neville Brothers and Dr. John in concert. Dr. John played a tight set and he's an old pro. He even played electric guitar, complete with solo, on one song. That was a surprise. I didn't know he played guitar along with keyboard. (I was in the right place, but it musta' been the wrong time...) The Neville Brothers were tight and polished with in-the-pocket funky grooves, steamy sax playing, and soulful singing. The highlight for me was Aaron Neville singing a passionate version of Sam Cooke's classic hit, Change Gonna Come.

I was so inspired by hearing Aaron sing live, the next day (Saturday) I decided to sing the same song for a gig I was scheduled to play on Sunday. So, I charted it and practiced singing it in Aaron's style with the falsetto voice and tremolo tone. Wow, that ain't easy to do! It is fun, though.

Finally on Sunday, I sang both my new song and the Neville-inspired tune at my monthly gig at a local area Science of Mind church. What really got my attention was the quietness of the congregation after I finished singing Beauty Rises Forth, my newly written song that was gifted to me in my meditation a few days earlier. I sensed that folks were sitting with the energy of the song in musical contemplation before responding with their appreciation. I was surprised by this audience pause and it was a powerful reminder for me about the impact that music from the heart and soul has on people.

Stay tuned for further adventures, ruminations, and observations. My work here will be to blog twice a week for now and see where it goes from there.

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