Oh, no.

I think that in order to get used to the idea of just writing faster music, I need to pick a rock song and arrange it as a first step. It’s just … damn, that stuff is hard. Way harder to arrange well for a piano than the classical that I’ve been working on. It’s designed for guitar and drums, but nevertheless Haendel never wrote anything for a piano per se, either. Most of his stuff (that I’ve been messing with) was written for voice and chamber orchestra. It’s no more at home on a modern piano than any guitar-oriented rock.

This stuff just intimidates me. I’ve been fantasizing arranging “Blue Collar Man” for piano, a la Jerry Lee Lewis, but for all my love of it, rock piano still mystifies me. (Jonathan Cain is practically a classical pianist anyhow. Sure, he does serious rock, but it’s often as a rhythm section or sort of Prokofiev-flavored rock. Let’s face, he’s Rock Ballad Dude. Like Grieg in an 80s haircut.) I’ve gotten myself a copy of Hanon finally, but I need to pick a good rock song and just arrange it, with the same attitude that I used for the Haendel stuff. And I don’t want to get sidetracked by “Don’t Let It End” or any of that stuff, either — more ballads. Or arranging “Boat on the River” as yet one more effing 6/8 thing. I can already do that. I need to expand my “home court.” I need to be able to deal with something fast and semi-aggressive, that ends decisively and not contemplatively, and that isn’t in a freaking triplet rhythm.

There’s just a mindset of “letting go” that I think I need, not worrying so much about wrong notes. I still have that. Honestly, I like it when I’m writing; being a picky pain in the ass is a good thing, but for this sort of music, it’s getting in my way. And this is music that I love! And I still have this “where’s my water wings, that look really deep, I don’t know about this” reaction. If I’m reacting that way, it’s a sign that this is what I need to do. I still want to keep going on the Ebm thing because that’s really good and I want to get it done, but I also need to do some arranging. “BCM” is in Dm, so it’s not too bad. There’s so much going on, there are so many suspensions all over the place — this is rock fer gawdsakes — there are a zillion instruments duking it out … my water wings aren’t inflated enough … that looks too deep … I forgot my sunscreen … it’s too hot … I can’t swim …

Jesus Christ. I can’t get away from Mixolydian.

I think “Lights” is in D mixo. Yes, the Journey song. There’s not a C# to be had in the thing, but there’s lots of Cnats and GM in place of A7.

Crapo. “Lights” is in D mixo.

Update: Whoop, I’m wrong! There’s a C# in the 14th measure. That I added in a little ornament that isn’t there in the radio play version. Gadzooks, I’ve unmixolydianized it! Gawd, I love English. What other language will let one invent words like that, just slapping prefixes and suffixes willy-nilly onto stuff and resulting in something entirely legitimate?

Hm — blues, rock, and mixolydian mode

Veddy interesting — coming out of classical, I’m unfamiliar with what amount to non-diatonic modes. However, I’ve been mulling investigating blues scales after hearing Uli Jon Roth discuss them in the context of blues guitar a bit in a podcast with Rachel Barton Pine. (I thought Uli was spelled with two letter l’s … ? Anyway.)

So I’ve been poking around a bit and found some interesting things that I may need to play with at some point in the future. And I’ve been amused to learn that it’s got its similarities to what may be my favorite new peculiar mode: mixolydian, a major scale with that pretty flat 7th. I’m curious about modes that will give one a flat 6th as well, seeing as how I appear to be in love with iv, and a flat 6th will give me that.

I’ve never been a jazz fan and I still won’t be. I’m afraid I’ll always associate jazz with bebop, and bebop will always sound to me — which I’ve said repeatedly — as if someone had a mouthful of 32nd notes and sneezed into a trumpet. Random and hence irritating buzzing noises, like being attacked by a swarm of flies.

But I’ve loved too much rock not to like blues. I know blues has its own life and development as an independent form of music, but for me I may always see it as embryonic rock.

Rigidly policed boundaries

Conversation A:
Me: I think Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphonic Dance is the best piece of music ever written for orchestra.
My interlocutor: I know, I hate the Meditation from Thais, too!

Conversation B:
Me: I think “Open Arms” is a really good song.
My Interlocutor: So you probably hate Van Halen, then.

Why is it that Conversation A never happens, but Conversation B is almost a certainty? (And you can invert them: “So you hate the Meditation?” “I know, I hate metal, too!”)

I know that classical music is supposed to be snobby and insular — and sometimes is — but in a lot of ways, the rock world is way worse. I think liking classical music sets you apart as a geek far enough that people just don’t quibble about it. Whether you like Vivaldi or Grieg doesn’t matter, as most people can’t tell them apart anyhow. Besides, we can’t be too restrictive about what kind of classical music one likes; after all, there’s around 800 years worth of this stuff. It’d start to go all “People’s Front of Judea vs. Judean People’s Front” by that point. Each person would comprise four unique tribes — with no further members! — in and of themselves.

But rock? Rock is a baby, and so it’s insecure in a way that classical music isn’t. Its geeks are desperate to prove that they are actually cool (they aren’t), whereas classical music fans can hardly avoid letting our geek flag fly pretty proudly. Any kind of classical music will instantly brand one as a nerd, so liking Stravinsky as well as Caccini won’t cause one’s social status at the coffeehouse to slide any more than it already has. But liking Michael Bolton’s voice (although I wish he’d choose more interesting music) as well as Nine Inch Nails will cause a lot of rock fans’ heads to explode in confusion.

Rock needs to unclench its sphincter and just grow up. Its fans need to start listening to the music for its own sake rather than worrying so much about whether they can afford to be seen publicly enjoying a certain form of it. After all, Rock Fan A’s ears are connected to Rock Fan A’s brain, not Rock Fan B’s. Music should be about what goes into that person’s brain.

In some ways, this is due to the fact that — for good and ill — classical music is less social. Not always — and not always for musicians. But for the most part, a traditional symphony audience is composed of around 5,000 people all sitting quietly and having individual experiences. Rock concerts are composed of people who go to them with a couple friends, again both for good and ill. Liking a certain type of rock music brands one more indelibly as a member of a certain tribe, and if you are not of that tribe, in many ways you are socially barred from going. And going to a rock concert by oneself is certainly considered a strange thing or even a bit risky for a youngster, which cuts a lot of people out of the live rock experience, unfortunately. Classical music is a bit more tolerant of different personality types. One can be an avowed extrovert, and one can also be a socially awkward Aspie who hates eye contact. I’ve gone to lots of classical music events by myself, but I would have serious reservations of going even to a TSO concert by myself.

“But you can meet people! Make new friends!” says the TSO fan.

What if I’m not looking for that? What if I’m more reserved? What if I just want to enjoy the music rather than become initiated into some tribal affiliation? What if I’m just not a “joiner?”

The only conclusion to reach is that I am not the kind of person who likes that music … which is an awful thing to say about any form of music, particularly the wonderful TSO. Yet the live music experience of that sort of music does indeed prejudice it to being delivered only to the “right sort” of person. Classical seems to welcome groups and individuals a bit more easily. It might also be an artifact of an older audience that has left its clique-forming years in the distant past.

Of course, there is also some difficulty in the fact that classical music doesn’t facilitate connections between audiences members, especially in its failure to monetize that sort of behavior. But the fact that classical music isn’t nearly as cliquish for the audience has its positive aspects. And I’m not talking about your academic music department and how the Second Viennese School fans won’t sit at the same lunch table as the Mozart specialists. I’m talking about normal people, here. All academics factionalize, not just music departments. You should hear the plasma physicists and the theoretical cosmologists have at one another.

Rock can stand to lose some of its baboon-troop tribalism. And while the classical music live experience does need to revitalize itself, we should at least think long and hard about what we will lose (NOTE THAT THAT WORD HAS ONLY ONE “o”!) if we invite that sort of behavior into our world.

You know what I should start getting into Musescore?

“Twilight.” That damned ELO laser-show rock song that I love so much that is begging to be a piano rag. I’ve got some of it written down already, especially the nasty parts that will now scare me to think that I:

1) figured them out less than a month after getting the Clavinova, and
2) probably can’t play them nearly that well now.

Creepy. Oh, well. I definitely would like to get that into Musescore. I have a feeling that is going to be a piece of music that I will be putting together here and there in nonlinear bits and pieces for a long, long time.

What a fantastic piece of music that is … ! I haven’t listened to a lot of rock lately; rock was my go-to music in the car, since the HDR-quality it had regards dynamic range (where the soft and loud parts are sort of “normalized” relative to one another, putting the entire thing within a narrow range band) made it a good choice for being heard well over road noise. Classical music can be hard to listen to if you don’t have a million-dollar car since road noise wipes entire sections completely out of existence. Since my commute has gotten very much shorter recently, I don’t have as much opportunity to listen to music in the car, and at home I tend to pick things like Brahms. I need to go back and enjoy some ELO again. “Twilight” is such a magnificent piece of music; so much of Jeff Lynne’s work really needs to be scored as piano concerti. It really is that involved and complex. And beautiful.

In the blink of an eye …

I’ve gone from seeing a little tabloid-size piece of cardboard tacked up in the locker room of my first high school for this album to being halfway to 50, both shocked at how quickly the time went by and incredibly touched and moved at how thoroughly this music has been embraced by succeeding generations.

Not the Comic-Book-Guy art-rock junk that went before, that snooty, distant (and let’s face it — misogynist) stuff that was rock’s answer to the weird atonal art-classical that’s been so completely rejected after having rejected its audience first. Not the Politically Relevant Protest Songs that went before that, understandable only within the narrow historical context in which they were created (like all that unpleasant, ugly, cacophonic stuff that was a response to World War 1). Not the smash-your-guitar-on-stage-before-choking-on-vomit nonsense that confused being an Artiste with dying a preventable, tragicomic, preposterous death from a heroin overdose at 27.

This. Music that was music, that concentrated on telling a basic, timeless human story that will always be relevant, in a melodically rich, technically rigorous way. Stuff that the Art Rock Crowd disdained. Stuff that my generation was laughed at for loving by the people who came before — people who had better like the taste of crow, because unless they manage to paint themselves out of the critical corner in which they’ve lived for the past 30 years, they’re going to be dining on it a lot from now on.

I’m seeing youngsters who haven’t even passed completely through puberty falling in love with this stuff that we loved first. I’m seeing youngsters watching old concert footage with the same expression of amazement that the kids in school wore who were lucky enough to be able to see them live, that stunned look that said, “Wow. Perry really sounds like that.” I’m seeing kids with secondhand Strats from eBay woodshedding Schon’s work like violinists do Paganini. I myself continue to find incredible inspiration in Jonathan Cain in every way, and in his predecessor Gregg Rolie as a Baroque stylist that I can never hope to equal.

I’m even seeing 13 year old girls wearing that same facial expression I must have worn at the same age, as if every brain cell in their head went on vacation at the same time, because they’ve seen Steve Perry on stage and can’t fathom anything else ever being so beautiful, beautiful enough to break your heart, wedged in that thin crevice between “gawky” and “elegant” where one also finds 17 year old supermodels and Russian wolfhounds.

People love this music. Everyone. (Those who don’t are either beginning the arduous verbal process of logicking themselves out of the Gordian knot they created or are just very, very quiet.)

This music meant so much to my generation. We love it and are possessive of it and protective of it like a 10lb stray cat of her litter. It is timeless, rich, rigorous, beautiful, complex, and entirely free of irony. I can’t communicate how it feels to see it moving proudly and regally into Velveteen Rabbit territory.

That Ebm thing I’ve been working on? Started with “Who’s Crying Now,” because I wanted to try something in a minor key that didn’t raise the seventh to get a V7 and instead used v7 to resolve. (I’m not as good as Cain. I raised it in the end. Someday … )

Our music is the Velveteen Rabbit. My music. You better believe it.

“Boat on the River” by Tommy Shaw/Styx (2)

Three pages into it, I’m still not sure why what is effectively a 2/4 oom-pah sort of folk song thing has turned into a 6/8 nocturne. I think it’s the minor key. (It may also be due to my diet of Baroque, where every damned thing is in triplets.) It’s a simple enough song with two main themes and one cadenza, so it should be easier to actually complete a version of it as opposed to “Twilight,” which is far too complex for a first-attempt arrangement. I’ll probably revisit this song in the future as I get more confident in my ability to arrange things and develop my ear better.

I’m still amused and pleased at how lyrical Shaw’s softer songs can be. He has developed a reputation (accidentally or not) as a bit of a rocker-punk in the non-musical definition of “punk,” and many of his other songs are more appropriately raucous. But as much as Dennis DeYoung had the reputation as the balladeer of the group, Shaw can clearly write beyond the borders of harder-edged rock. Currently, I’ve got about three pages of this song down (an intro using that dronelike G that sounds so good, even over the D7; the chorus/A theme; and that beautiful B theme), so excepting the cadenza (oh, merely that … !) I’ve got all the pieces down.

I’ll have to look up that Finale (or whatever it’s called) musical markup language at some point to get it down on paper, or just hope someone writes a drag-and-drop notation program for the iPad. I’ll also have to find someone who really knows how to write music as opposed to a piker like myself and ask them to vet my notation and make sure it’s accurate. It’s improved hugely since I started taking it more seriously and working from the bass line first, but there are still holes and inconsistencies, especially regards dotted quarters in triplet time. I’m just not sure how to deal with them when a triplet clearly stands for a single beat.

Ah, this is the thing I was thinking of! MusicXML — something more open-source.

“Twilight” by Jeff Lynne/ELO (4)

I’ve decided to be methodical about this.

I’ve casually “diagrammed” the piece into its components bits, written down my strongest impressions of each bit (put in a descending bass, use octaves or sixths in the treble, go soft or heavy in this or that part, etc.) and will be working on various arrangements of each bit this weekend.

Then I sew them all together as a first draft and start editing. Frankenmusic!

ELO keys

— are quite interesting. Unsurprisingly, “Don’t Bring Me Down” is in a minor, Am. Another one that was probably written on a piano. “Big Wheels” is EbM, a surprising one. “Heaven Only Knows” is Bm, and both it and “Big Wheels” probably began life on a guitar. “Destination Unknown” is Cm, another surprise but a lovely one.

More to come, and indeed “Twilight” is working up into a nice little rag.