My Galaxy of Music

Sound is just another waveform. Like Light, X-rays, Gamma Rays and Magnetism. Waves formed through atoms at the very beginning of the Universe. Whatever that is….

Music is a pleasant, comprehensable assembly of those vibrations in a range we can hear and feel. We create music with any cool thing that makes a sound we like. And continuously improve and refine the technology from log drums and reed flutes to digital crap, uh I mean samples and synthesizers. Lately on our devices.

The essence of music begins in the interaction of atoms and particles conforming to universal laws of physics and manipulated by our minds and souls into a boogie beat, or Bach, or whatever. Those literally infinite collisions in a musical Universe form our own personal Galaxy.

Contemplating Music in this way has opened my ears, brain and heart to a more profound understanding of those little black notes across five lines. Okay, I know there are some early staves that have more or less. As a musician, composer and someone with a life immersed in music maybe you’ll find my journey interesting.

Chronologically- Growing up music was all around me. Saturday was Metropolitan Opera on the radio. 78s of Beethoven, Mozart other classical standards. Weird (to me) opera records like “Didot et Aenas”. Smattering of early jazz- Bunk Gardner, Baby Dodds, songs of Bessie Smith. Porgie and Bess covers. Wait a minute…. Bunk Gardner was in the Mothers of Invention.  That is much later.

Some early milestones were Dvorak’s “New World”. It was so smooth and rich. I understood the deep feelings behind the composition. I took it to school to share. Teacher liked it.

I also brought a novelty 78 about some purple monster on one side and “Cigarettes and Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women” on the other. That didn’t go over quite as well as the Dvorak and got broken in my desk. That made me sad.

Before Christmas one year, when 33 1/3 stereophonic was just getting established, my mother bought a complete Handel’s “Messiah” in a green album. I think I still have it. It is a smaller British production- not an over baked Mormon Tabernacle Choir version. Some have noted that their greatest asset is their numbers, sort of like a battleship compared to a cutter rigged sailing vessel. No room for subtle colorations and timbre. Let alone agility.

This British version of the Messiah had a fresh and open sound even to young ears. I have enjoyed it many times over. It brought that essential spirit to Christmas morning when I would get up early and put on “Halleluliah Chorus”. Kind of loud. Years later I found out the whole deal was about Easter. It still rules at Christmas, except it is being overtaken by the Ninth in other parts of the world.

Interspersed was Percy Faith, Roger Wagner Chorale- hey I just found a red RCA 45 of “Halleluliah” by Roger Wagner the other day. Maybe if I get an old needle I can see if it plays on the $10 turntable. Good ones are cheap in thrift stores nowadays. Wait a minute that needle is old. I’ll post a report.

Now on to Stravinksy. I didn’t know him from Saint-Saens (I did learn the correct pronunciation). We were very fortunate to have had Maestro Maurice Abravanel lured to Utah in the early fifties. He had the vision and passion to build a great orchestra here in the desert. Culturally I mean.

He cajoled, influenced, pestered and finally convinced community leaders to fund and promote the creation of the Utah Symphony Orchestra. He crafted the orchestra into an internationally recognized ensemble, even pioneering performances of Mahler, Mendelssohn and other semi-ignored composers. Of course Bach was ignored until Mendelssohn promoted him.

One of Abravanel’s major accomplishments was establishing music in the schools programs, hauling instruments and players all over the state to play in gyms, cafeterias and occasionally, good auditoriums. They would play pieces that children could connect with and the Maestro would explain what was going on in the music.

Leave it to Utah- They built a fabulous, yes, fabulous concert venue in Salt Lake City. They originally wanted to name it after some old Mormon leader. People fought for years over the legacy. Finally, when it was apparent our Maestro was in declining health, they relented and dedicated it as “Maurice Abravanel Hall”. Although it was obvious that Msr. Abravanel built Utah’s true symphonic legacy from the ground up and the hall should have born his name from the moment the project was conceived, the powers hemmed and hawed for years because they didn’t want to be outclassed by a Jew with Spanish and French heritage. Sorry once in awhile you have to tell it like it is. He did.

Mother hauled me to regular symphony performances. Thus knowing how to say “Saah Saaw”. Did I mention Stravinsky before being side tracked by the Utah Symphony?

Yes I mentioned Stravinsky. This is the third time. Now to get down to business with him. For at one symphony concert I heard in real life- the smoothest parallel octave orchestration. It was just like movie music! Well, movie composers lifted most of the tricks classical composers use, but I didn’t know it at the time. It was a revelation!

For the first time I witnessed in person a contemporary sound coming out of those scratchy wooden things on the stage. As movies were becoming more available and more in the consciousness of a youngster, film music also inculcated itself somewhere in my brain. Later I would actually study scores and scoring, especially Herrmann, Tiompkin, Schifrin, Mancini (fabulous recording techniques) and others.

At thirteen I picked up guitar. Mother found some money to buy a pretty good Harmony. “Well, I don’t really think you’ll stick with it.” Fimity years later, I’m still King of the Blue Guitars. (Name is King, Guitars finished in blue.)

The Beatles- first teachers. Bought a book with chords. Happened to be a good transcription. Correct chords, keys, etc. And had some LPs. Learned stuff off the radio. Including “Substitute” by the Who. “You can play that?” That got me into my first band. With my buddy Craig. He was good and over the years helped open my mind to a wider musical world.

Then there was Harry Saint Clair Fredericks Jr. better known as Taj Mahal, the blues guru of the sixties. With Kiowa, Jesse Ed Davis, that little band kicked open that Blues Door to all us white kids, including Duane Allman who slid all the way to heaven with a Coricidin D bottle.

And Ohio heavy equipment manufacturer Buffalo Springfield bulldozing an electric path out of the folky scene. Actually, the band of that name. They saw a tractor in a field and thought it had a catchy nameplate. But Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, Neil Young, Jim Messina, George Grantham and the rest morphed into CSNY and Poco and Loggins and Messina. All great music with some of the best vocal blends ever.

Enter Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Like a Mack truck through rock and roll. Of course countercultural and “underground”. Perfect for us repressed teenagers. But digging a little deeper, found out that Mr. Zappa was musically meticulous and insidiously trying to inform the general ignorant populous of a wider musical and social perspective.   “Most people wouldn’t know good music if it came up and bit them in the ass.”

Laced his albums with quotes from Stravinsky, Mousorgski and, specifically Edgar Varese which led my exploration to Milhaud, Honegger, CERN and others. Zappa launched us on a great journey. We found recordings from these guys in the library. And we really listened. And self-studied about contemporary composers, electronic music, percussion and even dug up an album of five trombones. Tried it on the radio once, but that didn’t last long. Trombones are best left to background noise.

And Boom! “2001 a Space Odessy”. A lot of people took the music for granted. My introduction was sitting in the balcony of the darkened movie theater. Low “F” from the organ ruummmbblled and vibrated before the curtains slowly parted and the first scene dawned to the trumpet fanfare. Brand new print, great pre-digital vacuum tube sound system. Awesome applies here. “The Blue Danube” drawing us into the deep emotion of space. Pendreski, also “Carmina Burana”. We didn’t know about these until we experienced the movie and continued our investigative journey to find out “what the heck is That?”

We bought the original soundtrack album and listened. Von Karajan and the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. Still an iconic rendition. Found the full “Also Spracht Zarathustra” soon after and absorbed it, including the metaphysical underpinning of the piece.

Liked the movie, too.

Zappa got puerile and nasty. Every other album was pretty good with some wonderful composition and arranging. “Waka Jawaka”, “Peaches and Regalia” and always some of the best musicians who could perform to his exacting standards. Like Bunk Gardner and Ian and Ruth Underwood (“What can you do that’s fantastic?”) The Turtles? But he interspersed too much smut for my taste and I lost interest.

As years rolled on I played in various bands, learned sound engineering, acoustical science and tried to study music at the best available institutions. One usurped a premier Jazz Studies program from a larger university, which grew tired of real jazz musicians on a snooty Higher Educational Institution Campus. Disrupted the safe Choral Program. There may have been some minor scandal, too.

Westminster College benefited from the coup, at least for a couple of years. Guest artists included Zappa his self, Rufus Reid, Mongo Santamaria, Dave Leiberman, Richie Bierach and even George Shearing at graduation. The best of the best!

It opened my ears to good jazz fundamentals through study and playing. Still carry those tunes in my pocket, so to speak. It was a great way to open the creative doors. Had to leave because of lack of time and money, two fundamental elements of education. I had completed all of the required credits for general education and a music degree. I was only short nine hours of basket weaving or bowling, whatever. Coming into guitar ensemble with paint on my hands from a house I was working on didn’t sway the head of the music department enough to find a way to finesse those last nine hours and tie it all up.

He was an organ master and choral guy and was pissed off that the jazz guys got all the attention. Oh well. I went off to Alaska without that degree.

From Alaska I ended up in Costa Rica and had the blessing of working with a true musical genius. Jimmy Seals has the ears, talent and imagination to earn a place in great “commercial” or any music. Listen to the evolving chord refrain at the end of “Hummingbird”. Aside from inspiring and picturesque lyrics, his ears led him to very complex chordal harmonies and unique timbres. It also helped that his musical compadre, Dash Crofts could really sing. Perfect pitch sense vital to the tight harmonies they sung. Although they stuck to their natural style, believe me, they are performers of the highest calibre. Seals and Crofts are truly under appreciated.

As an engineer, the first time I opened the mic and heard them sing, I almost fell off the chair. Doing so would have been unprofessional. Yes, it was a blessing.

While there working with Jimmy, I made a firm commitment to choose creativity in everything I did. Not just to think creatively, but to approach it in an organized and professional manner. So I seriously began writing music. It was for a nice documentary and I heard everyone liked it. To me the important thing was to begin, carry on and finish. Consistently. Creatively.

After Central America, back to, uhh, Utah. Two major musical things: The first, I picked up and finished education in music at the university . And second, a friend called me up one day and hesitatingly asked if I was interested in writing music for video games. With only one second pause I said yes. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into but had the confidence I could pull it off. Before the first meeting with the company, I wrote a nice little four part “mystery” type piece. Four part because that was how many voices the Nintendo game system had at the time. And mystery because the game was based on “Clue”. (The butler didn’t always do it).

They liked it and it became the game intro. Music composition and sound effects design went on for several years. Gee, I was making a living doing what I loved to do. I’ll post a demo.

After about ten years the gig ended. Mercurial business with the Great Scythe of Death passing regularly overhead. I guess I was fired, but on good terms. Got to buy the studio equipment at a discount.

Kept writing, mostly songs. “Produced” a CD for a talented performer. Produced in quotes as there was a disagreement as to what producing music entails and who gets credit. The artist was very talented, but I helped bring to life and polish the material I first heard on cassettes and even got some songs on the radio. Yeah I produced most of it.

Then a fallow period. No real explanation. At least not a public one. But fallow implies a fermentation and slow rejuvenation of fertile ground. Letting it rest and through natural processes become ready for the next season’s planting.

Now the studio is back together and mostly works despite some broken keys. Have been writing lyrics and inhabit some quirky characters for the quirky tunes. Plus writing and storytelling. Even a couple photography exhibits. I guess being fallow for awhile is starting to sprout. And I hope to keep fertilizing, watering and weeding it. And approach it like a business.

Currently absorbing wonderful Public Radio programs like “Exploring Music” with Bill McLaughlin. “Performance Today” and live local FM.  Now I regularly listen to those radio shows. Sometimes fall asleep to them, sorry. Just the other day when drowsing I heard a suggestion about subliminal learning. Oh maybe they meant Peter van Whosits and the Beethoven Satelite Network. It all really does provide me with inspiration. Schubert’s rock and roll string quartets. Braham’s symphonies. In fact I arranged his Fourth into a jazz composition. Swing beat under the majestic intro. Reintroduced the theme at the break. I’ll publish a copy of the score. Linking the composer’s influences through history and occasional plagiarism. All good.

I have given you a personal appreciation of the galaxy of music around us and how it is a part of me. Keep tuned right here to Alas Blancas Music for further Music, Photography and Entertainment and Words. In My Galaxy the Spheres are Music!

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