On Sunday I went to see my girlfriend’s mother sing at a Presbyterian Church in Purcellville, Virginia. FYI- Purcellville is a very small town. Her chorale performed Mozart’s Requiem with an orchestra of perhaps 8 plus an organist. This was a wonderful example of amateur music making. Truly. They were all there because of a deep and abiding love of music and the making of music. The spirit in that church was wonderful. I hadn’t heard this piece in way too long. It is a spectacular piece of music. As with all of Mozart, there are no unnecessary notes. All the notes are in the right spots. Everything fits. His work is composition of amazing efficiency. And it is amazingly effective. You know this when you hear it performed in a country church in Purcellville VA. It was not necessary to have a monstrously large chorale or a bigger, better orchestra. The music simply works. It works because it is perfectly written. Every note, every line, resides squarely in every player’s and every singer’s sweet spot.
I also had not heard a piece sung in Latin in a while. It struck me that having the Latin mass as the libretto provides me with comforting, plain vanilla syllables that come with a built-in importance… or spiritual weight. So often in choral music, if the composer chooses a text in English, one ends up trying to hear and understand the words. that effort usually takes away from the music. Using the standardized Latin mass neatly sidesteps this part of the choral equation. You get nearly meaningless ( unless you actually speak Latin) syllables that magically have a profundity infused into them. Meaning without explicit understanding ( this pretty much sums up my religious experiences) . This allows the listener to apply his full attention to the astonishing architecture of Mozart’s music. This also made me understand the loss many Catholics felt after Vatican II when the Latin mass went toodle-oo.
Hats off to the noble music makers of Purcellville Virginia. The music moved me. And your love of music moved me.
Chaise Lounge just came off two wonderful gigs. A concert at Black Rock Performing Arts Center. And then this Saturday at The Hamilton. The Hamilton was amazing. To use a sports analogy : we left it all on the field. It is an amazing feeling to know, and to know deeply, that you gave the crowd everything you had: every bit of skill, every bit of emotion, and the sum total of all the arranging, re-arranging and rehearsal that, over years, add up to a good song and a good performance. People say it all the time, but that makes it no less true, that what you get back from the audience, if you are tuned in, is more than you have given. We played for nearly 400 attentive ( meaning sometimes screaming and sometimes lost in a wash of emotion) fans. It feels funny to say “fans”. I just think of them as lots of folks I know,… even when I don’t know them at all. That’s the way it feels. There are only six of us in the band. We were hopelessly out-numbered. We put out only six people’s worth of music, but we got 400 peoples vibes coming back at us. The wave of musical joy and satisfaction that swept back over us after each song was palpable. Every gig is different. But I hope we can get somewhere close to this feeling every time.
A few years ago I looked up to find that- for several years- I had spent nearly 100% of my musical time either at my desk and piano, or in the studio recording. I know that sounds lovely to some people. Especially some hard-working gigging musicians. But for me it created something of a disconnect. I was making music without the benefit of any immediate feedback. I was writing in a resonance-free zone. I don’t think that it is a terrible way to make music or to make a living. But I really started to miss one of the key components of a satisfying musical life….an audience. An actual pay-for-a-seat appreciative, clapping audience. Yes this involves a world of difficulty that composing and studio work neatly circumvent. But the work was necessary for me. Luckily I had my band, Chaise Lounge, to fall back into. For the past few years we have amped up our performing schedule little by little. The benefits have been enormous. Firstly, I think that the more I play for people be better I am at composing music with, for lack of a better phrase, emotional impact. There are many ways to write music. Some of them are completely intellectual. And the closer I got to that end of the composing spectrum, the less satisfying I found my writing to be. The further the meter swung towards an emotionally resonant method of writing, the better it felt. and the better the writing actually was. Of course,another of the obvious benefits of playing live is…playing live. Really? where else can you get that adrenal high? Yes all the things that surround a gig are exhausting: the travel, the sound-check, lifting and lugging gear, booking agents, club owners, incompetent sound guys, the list could go on for pages. But the nut of it all, the standing on stage and playing songs that emotionally connect with the people right in front of you- that makes it all worthwhile.
I’ve been thinking about this as I juggle my life around my gigs. Tomorrow we are in Germantown MD at the Black Rock Center for Performing Arts. And this Saturday we are at The Hamilton in Washington DC. After that we will be in NYC at the Metropolitan Room. This is all difficult to do. And it is all well worth the trouble. I can hardly wait to unpack and play.
The fine art of singing background vocals is a rarely noted craft. Had a session last night with the legendary Tommy Lepson and Dusty Rose and it was something of a lesson in this arcane art. Listening to them find the EXACT phrasing in the lead vocal track, and then discussing whether to match it or straighten out the rhythm in order to more fully feature the lead was intensely interesting. I can sing and I have had to put down bg vox on Chaise Lounge recordings. I struggle with this. I struggle with matching pitches, phrasings and vibratos. It was nice to have some old-school guys in the studio who come by those skills via years of singing and a high degree of natural talent.