Film music and… a costume? Really?

October 18, 2009

Last week, I got asked to play with the Golden State Pops Orchestra for their next concert. If it weren’t for the actual concert hall we sat in, I’d believe that I had been transported to a soundstage recording an orchestral tracking session for film/television!

Film composer/conductor Stu Philips (Battlestar Galactica, Knight Rider) conducted last week’s rehearsal in a downright old-timing New York attitude, experience-ridden, industry-worn way that reminded me of the great Leonard Bernstein’s down-to-business rehearsing/recording of West Side Story.

I miss it. The fast pace of rehearsal. The pressure, to play perfectly the second time the ensemble sight reads some tougher-than-classical film music. The professionalism of showing up and expecting to be on your game, in the moment, and never missing a beat (literally). The preparation that had been done before I got to my seat: bowings marked out by the principal player already, everyone in their seats, everyone stops playing as soon as the baton stops beating. Not a second to waste or a rhythm to miss.

Also conducting us is Jason Livesay, a wonderful APU alumnus, violinist, composer, conductor. Yep, he orchestrated the end titles for the new film, Astro Boy, which we will be performing. It stars the boy from August Rush, FYI. Simply gorgeous themes; pretty epic and inspiring. And here it is--for your enjoyment!

Astro Boy (John Ottman, composer; Jason Livesay, orchestrator)

Something else on the program that simply thrilled me: Though the new Star Trek movie returned to the music of the original series, I grew up with the ‘Next Generation’ shows and movies. As the orchestra started up the piece, I felt full of wonder hearing that melody that was so familiar every afternoon in front of Grandma’s TV after school!!!

Star Trek: First Contact

Here’s one I never got over. Terrified me as a kid. I even watched the X-Files show; only I switched channels every time during the opening titles.

The X-Files

And last but not least, a little class act from the early 90’s.

Knight Rider (Stu Philips)

We’re performing these exact pieces and more this Saturday, October 24. If you’re interested in the concert, there are student tickets for $15. More information and tickets here. Now I must go find a costume for this concert. They’re making us all dress up. (So HERE’S my question: what should I wear?!)

Jamie Cullum – A Memorable Night at the Bowl

August 21, 2008

I made a last minute decision last night.  At 5 pm, I was trying to decided whether or not to go see Jamie Cullum at the Hollywood Bowl.  I didn’t have tickets yet and they were unavailable online.  But I thought I’d try and see what I could get at the box office.  I my good friends Caleb and Katy decided to come as well.  We parked at the park and ride 15 minutes from my aparment and for 5 bucks, got a round trip bus ticket to and from the Bowl.  When we got there, the cheapest tickets available were the $13 tickets.  I was more than okay with this, as $18 is a fantastic price to pay for what happened that night.

The night began with Elizabeth Shepherd.  The Canadian born jazz singer also plays piano, and was accompanied by a bassist and drummer.  I really liked their music.  She had almost a Bjork/Fiona Apple sound, but with a definite jazz feel.  This was very much “progressive” jazz, with odd harmonizations and frequent time changes.  A few times I was thrown off by the time changes, but that’s not a complaint.  The bassist and drummer were very good, and Elizabeth’s piano playing was great, although I wasn’t crazy about her singing.  It’s not that she has a particularly bad or unpleasant voice, it’s that she doesn’t have a particularly pleasant, or memorable voice.  She can sing just fine, but her voice wasn’t all that memorable.  All in all, they were very good though, and I plan on checking them out online.

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The Pendulum Swings

July 18, 2008

There’s something about music.

I got a call recently for a gig playing with a Swing band at the Hip Kitty Jazz Club in Claremont. I have been to this venue before and really liked the atmostphere and thought it was a real hip place, so naturally I was excited to get to play there.  I said yes to the gig perhaps too soon.  With gas costs to and from the rehearsal and performance, I woul be about breaking even.  But, I figured, it would still be fun to play at such a cool venue.

The only available rehearsal space was the band leader’s wife’s salon.  While driving up the street on my way to the rehearsal, I got a flat tire. That really set the mood perfectly for how the night would unfold.  The drummer was also a sub, like me, as well as the bari sax player.  I won’t bore you with specifics, but the rehearsal was 3 hours of misery.  For a swing band, we certainly didn’t swing.  The drummer in particular was all over the place.  Beats were dropped right and left, the saxes were out of tune, all of my parts were written out note for note, and I was the youngest in the band by at least 40 years.  As soon as the rehearsal was over, I bolted out the door to leave.  But, alas, I still had a flat tire to change.  I set about doing so when the band leader noticed my situation and did what he could to help.  2 other members of the band came out and helped me change my flat tire.

So, the gig was tonight.  I had told all my friends how awful it was going to be.  I had talked it up to be this horrible 4 hour performance that I was about to experience…for free.

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A Tight Groove

July 13, 2008

Tonight as the sun set over Buena Park Christ Community Church, I saw a glimpse of heaven. APU’s touring musical small group, Celebration, not only was mind-blowing and impressive, but knowing it was the last time this group would exist together as it is to perform together and lead people into the presence of God through worship only heightened our experience into their their tightly woven harmonies (and unisons), impecable timing, unspoken fervor, and powerhouse skills of voices and hands all serving the unified purpose of their music, worship, and ministry.

It was breathtaking, much of what vocalists like Ashley and Jessie did, singing and speaking Josiah’s bass-playing could get anyone head-bobbing and feet-thumping after a few seconds. Andrew, oh friend and former roommate, there are no words… Just when you thought his work on the ivories wasn’t enough, he picks up the guitar. Anyone get inspired by August Rush? The drummer, Justin, could not be more on top of it! But I’m just a violist speaking. Wow, such great strides made over and for this tour. Players like Ryan and Karen you often can’t get enough of. Karen on Tambourine and Shaker,… Oh and the cello. What happened to the ‘concert not ending until she sets her cello on fire’? I was in such high anticipation!

Thank guys, for doing what you did up there. Thank you for the work you put in so that we could, well… groove with you. I can easily say I am proud to study music among a crowd such as yourselves.

On a slight tangent, there is something to be said for the repetition of performance. I know this happens often in a more mainstream contemporary band than not… rock, pop or jazz, but coming from a classical standpoint, so many times it seems that we work forever towards one or two performances, and what could-have-been, would actually come easier. In the two weeks my quartet performed and toured, we crossed lines in ensemble performances that two years only seem to get us close to. Practice and rehearse all you want, but perform more. Especially in college while the opportunities are up for the grabbing. That’s what tonight reminded me of, this small group touring for six weeks, despite any hindrances or confilcts of personalities, etc (just generalizing… every group will have its share… I don’t know) meshed and grooved so incredibly tight. That’s what performing on the road does, right?

Thoughts on Music

April 12, 2008

As I delve throughout the different genres of music, like most people I run across things that I like and things that I don’t like.  Country music for example, makes me groan and frustrates me that anyone can listen to that and enjoy it.  I guess that’s just not my personal taste.

I have long been a fan of the modern 4 piece rock band.  Drums, Bass, two guitars and lead vocals.  This seems to be what the majority of people in the US enjoy.  At least people my age.  There are many different variations to this ensemble, and many different styles that are included within it.  This has been my primary source of music for most of my life.  And it is wonderful.  I love it.  I really do.  While there is a lot of it out there that is pure rubbish, there are plenty of fantastic pop/rock bands that stand out amongst the rest.  Very musical bands that make music for the sake of music, not caring what other people think.

I do not wish to say anything negative about any pop/rock/4 piece group at all, however, as of late I find myself primarily drawn to everything else but this.  I’m a little burnt out if you will.    In the sea of musical monotony, several styles stand out, and each has their specific reasoning.  Here are the 3 types of music that I just can’t enough of lately.

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The Jazz Effect

February 29, 2008

It is a strange phenomenon. This semester I typically run very long days. Classes begin around 9:30, and 3 days out of the week end around 9:30 or 10. I very frequently find myself exhausted at the end of the day, and understandably so. However, I absolutely love it.

I am in school studying music. I love music. I LOVE music. I enjoy all of my music classes, and even my 1 academic class. I particularly enjoy the performing groups I am in. Some more than others. I am in a jazz combo that meets once a week from 8pm until 10. Immediately preceding that, I have symphony orchestra rehearsal from 4:45 to 7:45. Earlier in the day I have a jazz band rehearsal from 1-2:30. I also have 2 other classes that day. Bottom line is, it’s a long day. But it seems no matter how long or rough of a day I have had, I thoroughly enjoy jazz combo. I have energy all of a sudden and the 2 hours seems like nothing at all.

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Sniffles and Hiccups

February 10, 2008

Last Wednesday, my string quartet had the opportunity at APU to play for the a group visiting the states. The Christian University of Thailand arrived with its president and around 50 masters and doctorate students from abroad to visit our campus. In their arrival, we performed for them the whole of Dvorak’s F major quartet, aptly named “The American“.

At the end of our performance, a standing ovation turned remarkably humbling from what their representative graciously told us (even after their gifts to each of us; very cool shirts).

A young woman stood up and thanked us for the performance, then said for just about all of them, it was their first time hearing a live performance. Why, I couldn’t even imagine! I had to think to myself, ‘I’m sure they have local folk music and what-not’, so perhaps this implied more of their first time with a formal performance, classical strings in particular; the latter they did mention specifically.

Do you remember the first time going to a concert performance? (You may answer). Not necessarily classical, but somehow this caliber and style of music lends itself to, what is my first impression: a high-art and top notch force of music. Maybe it was the first time you heard the colossal sounds of a live orchestra? Saw the coordination of a band of musicians so in tune (no puns, really) and synchronized, or so into each other, that it made you excited for them?

What a privilege that we can have nothing to do on a Friday or Saturday afternoon and by 4 p.m., decide to check out Eschenbach conduct Mahler’s 6th downtown for no more than the coffee some might spend throughout the day. (NOT a knock on coffee)

The LA Phil gave a stunning performance. Having gone to the first and second of three performances this weekend, I had two very different listening experiences. Behind the orchestra, you get the front view of an ecstatic conductor, much learning was had as a music student. Last night however, we got the ‘normal’ view. Sure it sounded great, but…

Do you know how painful it is to suppress a sneeze-inducing itchy nose and a five-hour ‘yet-to-be-done’ hiccup during the Andante movement of a symphony?! Ask me for strategies.