half notes and quarter rests

4 08 2009


As Shop Girl and I stood on the back deck before leaving the wild North, our neighbor stopped by to inspect the new fence that was put up in honor of my birthday (a whole blog post dedicated to that story to follow soon).  He knew that we were soon to embark on our road trip to Nashvegas and he and the wife had been discussing the nature of our artsy fartsy children and asked where the musical DNA came from that is Shop Girl’s forte.

Anyone who has known us for longer than 10 minutes knows the answer to that query – the Dr. of course.  As I recall the blurry facts of my childhood, I believe I was sentenced to three years of solitary confinement seated before the ivories.  Neither of my parents played the piano but Charlie (my maternal grandfather) could play a pretty mean honky tonk – after which he’d ask forgiveness of the heavens above for letting himself get so carried away with worldly delights.  Those occasions were few and far between but as I recall he was the only other person beside the sibling trio that would ever sit at the keyboard.

Billy did appreciate good music and the Mrs. could carry a tune enough to be part of the church choir for years.  Somewhere in there,  it was motivation enough for them to prioritize their meager funds enough to spring for years of lessons for the three of us. And by junior high, we were all bi-instrumental – so there were cases lugged back and forth on the school bus, ham dinner fundraisers to attend, uniforms to purchase, parades to march in and concerts to tape on portable cassette records with internal mics.  Just months ago I gifted one of these stellar Christmas concerts to my oldest friend.   She was a real musician – she played the bassoon.

I wonder if I could read music if someone threatened my life with a metronome stuck in my back.  Somewhere in the dark recesses of whatever gray matter is left, that information is stored. Within the first hours of our trip I got to thinking about how music becomes more than the notes on a one dimensional page.  It becomes something that we hang lots of memories on.  All I have to do is punch the button for the 70’s station on my satellite radio in the car to be transported to another dimension as each song evokes the specific soundtrack of my life.

I know enough about music to understand that it isn’t just the notes on the page – it’s the tempo, the rhythm, the lyrics, the instrumental solos – the mood.  During the recording of Shop Girl’s second CD her producer suggested changing up the tempo of a song and it magically became something totally different than how it had all started.  On our most recent trek to LA someone who makes huge chunks of change writing pop songs that you’d all recognize mused outloud that he wished he could bring more space into his songs like hers have. He wanted her to teach him how she makes “the quiet” work in her songs – not filling up every bar with words – letting the music speak for itself and to each individual listener.  Sorry, it won’t play in Peoria.  Her’s is a different kind of music all together.

Tricky business this of song writing.  It’s not just top lining and catchy hooks. It’s about the rests and silence between the notes. Gaps on a page that speak.  I marvel at her craft.  I wonder what it is like to hear things that no one else does.  To create like this. To hear a song and know it isn’t fully fleshed out yet.

And here is where this came full circle for me again.  These trips aren’t just about making music.  There is always more to the timing of the bigger score that I become aware of.  This trip was particularly tricky to pull off with re-scheduling and shifting responsibilities.  But I knew I had to be here.  I knew we had to do this THIS week and had no idea WHY.

Its the conversations had with fellow musicians, producers, sound engineers – all friends – that happen between creating music that is the real beauty behind it all.  The timing – the spaces – the rests – the sustained notes that fade – the tempo.  We had no idea how important it would be to be here right now.