Blog

Posted in Music stories

God Rest Ye Merry………Gentlemen?

For the next couple of Mondays, I’m going to dive into some of the…..strange lyrics and stories of Christmas carols. Today, I’m looking at the song, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”.

 

I have to start with the comma in the title. This has always intrigued me. The way it is written is God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. But that doesn’t really make sense, does it? Wouldn’t the comma be before Merry, not after it? Well, I found a NY Times article that deals with this. In the article, it explains that the phrase “God Rest Ye Merry” is explained as “God keep you merry”. OK, that makes sense. But in the over 3 centuries since the song was written, that comma has wandered.

 

OK, so we know what the first line is talking about. But what about this “tidings of comfort and joy” thing? Tidings just means news or information. So it’s news of comfort and joy.

 

The whole song is talking about keeping cheerful and happy because Jesus was born to save us. But why is the melody written in a minor key, if it’s so happy?? It is an interesting choice, isn’t it? Major keys typically sound cheerful or happy, while minor keys sound somber and sad. It’s a unique and interesting juxtaposition that I can’t really find an answer to. Normally, the music reflects the text…but this is a unique connection. What are your thoughts?

 

God rest ye merry gentlemenLet nothing you dismayRemember Christ our SaviorWas born on Christmas DayTo save us all from Satan’s pow’rWhen we were gone astrayOh tidings of comfort and joyComfort and joyOh tidings of comfort and joy

Posted in Music theory, Rhythm, Theory Thursday

Theory Thursday–A dotted note?

I’m starting a new series on Thursdays, called Theory Thursday. Each Thursday, I’ll highlight parts of music theory and share a bit about them. Today, I’m focusing on a dotted note. What is a dotted note? When a dot is added next to a note.

 

When I teach dotted notes to students, I talk about how the dot isn’t an extra drop of ink that isn’t supposed to be there. It’s put next to the note for a reason! I tell students that the dot adds half of the value of the note to the note. What does that mean? For example:

 

This is a dotted half note. Normally, without the dot, the note gets held for 2 counts. BUT with the dot, we take half of the length of the note (half of 2 is 1) and add it to the note…which means that a dotted half note gets 3 counts!

 

This is a dotted quarter note. Normally, without the dot, the note gets held for 1 count. BUT with the dot, we take half of the length of the note (half of 1 is…..1/2???) and add it to the note. And this is where things get a bit trickier. Yes, there is a note that gets half of a beat. It’s called an eighth note, and that normally messes students up. But, the dotted quarter note gets 1 and a half beats. A couple of examples of a dotted rhythm would be the “All the way” part of the song “Jingle Bells” or “To the world” part of the song “Joy to the World”.

 

Yes can also get smaller and smaller lengths for dotted notes, but these two are the ones that students will primarily see. Just cut the length of the note in half and add it to the note, and you’ll be fine!

Posted in Halloween

Grim Grinning Ghosts

If you’ve ever been to Disney’s The Haunted Mansion, you’ve heard Grim Grinning Ghosts. Here’s a version by the A Capella group Voiceplay

 

 

 

The music for the song was written in the late 1960’s by Buddy Baker and the lyrics were written by Xavier Atencio. When you go on the ride, one of the voice talents in the attraction is Thurl Ravenscroft, who was recognizable from other Disney projects, the annual Chuck Jones/Dr. Seuss Christmas special How The Grinch Stole Christmas and as the voice of Tony the Tiger. He leads the five “singing busts” in the graveyard scene with his characteristic voice. A projected film loop is used to animate the busts, with Ravenscroft and the other vocalists appearing as “themselves.” The Ravenscroft bust, which is the second one in from the left, is “broken” and has often been misidentified as being an image of Walt Disney himself. The other four voices of the busts are Jay Meyer, Chuck Schroeder, Verne Rowe, and Bob Ebright.

 

The song is written in a minor key, which usually makes for a “spooky” or “eerie” sound. Different variations use 4/4 or 3/4 for the meter. The following chord progression is used for all versions: Am, B, Am, B, Am, F, Am, F7, Am, E7, Am. Typically, each chord lasts for two beats of 4/4 or three beats of 3/4. This underlying chord progression provides a macabre mood for the Haunted Mansion attractions. The song modulates to B-flat minor thus: Am, E7, F7, Bm and on to B-minor via Bm, F7 and F7. The melody then modulates back to A-minor after repeating a dissonant chord six times. When recording the song, the organist actually played the song backwards to achieve the discord that the composer intended. The organ part that can be heard in the song is that tune played forwards.

 

What do you think of this song? Is it spooky? Scary?

 

Check out the previous songs I’ve covered in the 13 days of Halloween

Frankenstein!! Miss Dracula

Spooky Scary Skeletons

 

Posted in Halloween

Frankenstein!! Miss Dracula

This one was a new one to me. But it’s absolutely fascinating!

 

 

HK Gruber (also known as Heinz Karl Gruber) was born in 1943 and is the composer/conductor of the BBC Philharmonic. He wrote Frankenstein!!, in 1976-77 and it is called a pan-demonium for chansonnier and orchestra (or chamber orchestra) on verses of HC Artmann. It was developed from the voice-ensemble Frankenstein Suite, 1971)

 

The world premiere of this work was on September 30th, 1979 in Berlin. In doing some research on this piece, I found this from Gruber himself:

The origins of this ‘pan-demonium’ go back to the Frankenstein Suite of 1971 – a sequence of songs and dances written for the Vienna ‘MOB art and tone ART Ensemble’, which was then active in the field of instrumental theatre. Although the Suite was a success, I was unhappy about its improvisatory structure, and also needed the resources of a full orchestra. So in 1976/77 I completely recomposed the work in its present form. It was first performed on 25 November 1978 by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Simon Rattle, with myself as soloist. For the 1979 Berlin Festival I wrote an alternative version for soloist and 12 players (first performed that year by the Vienna ensemble ‘die reihe’ under Kurt Schwertsik, again with myself as soloist). Since then, the two versions have happily co-existed; and in 1983, at the Espace Cardin in Paris, Frankenstein!! entered the theatre for the first time – an unforeseen development, but one that proved suited to Artmann’s multi-layered fantasy.

The title of the volume from which I took the poems of Frankenstein!! – Allerleirausch, neue schöne kinderreime (Noises, noises, all around – lovely new children’s rhymes) – promises something innocuous; but Artmann himself has described the poems as being, among other things, ‘covert political statements’. Typically he refused to explain what he meant. But his reticence is eloquent: the monsters of political life have always tried to hide their true faces, and all too often succeed in doing so. One of the dubious figures in the pandemonium is the unfortunate scientist who makes so surprising an entry at mid-point. Frankenstein – or whoever we choose to identify with that name – is not the protagonist, but the figure behind the scenes whom we forget at our peril. Hence the exclamation marks.

Artmann’s demystification of heroic villains or villainous heroes finds a musical parallel in, for instance, the persistent alienation of conventional orchestral sound by resorting to a cupboard-full of toy instruments. However picturesque or amusing the visual effect of the toys, their primary role is musical rather than playful – even howling plastic horses have their motivic / harmonic function. In order to do justice to the true significance of the texts it would be enough to provide some extra exercises in structural complexity. By analogy with Artmann’s diction, my aim was a broad palette combining traditional musical idioms with newer and more popular ones, and thus remaining true to the deceptive simplicity of texts whose forms at first glance suggest a naive and innocently cheerful atmosphere.

 

What do you think about this piece? Is it spooky? Creepy? Weird? Fun? Comment with your thoughts!

 

Check out yesterday’s post about Spooky Scary Skeletons!

Posted in Halloween

Spooky, Scary Skeletons

I found a listening calendar that is the 13 days of Halloween, or the spooky season. I’ve shared it with my students, so I thought I’d expound on it a bit more in a blog post format.

 

 

 

Yes, we’re starting with Spooky Scary Skeletons. Where in the world did this song come from? The song was written by Andrew Gold and has been around since 1996. Thanks to the Internet, it has taken on a life of its own in meme culture. In 2019, Intelligencers Brian Feldman called the song “the Internet’s Halloween anthem”, and that same year, Rolling Stones E. J. Dickson referred to the song as the “Halloween meme” of Generation Z. In 2021, Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post ranked the song number two on her list of the 50 best Halloween songs of all time.

 

Gold put the song on his album “Halloween Howls”, an album solely consisting of Halloween themed music. He played all of the instruments on the album! Of course, the song has been remixed, put into different formats, had different videos added to accompany it, but it’s quickly become a popular and favorite song. It’s one of my 10 year daughter’s favorite songs! The video that the song is paired with is actually a Disney animation from the 1930’s!

 

It seems like after Christmas songs, Halloween is definitely the season with the next largest amount of songs. It’s an interesting thing to ponder why, outside of Christmas, having songs about spooky things is the next most predominant on the list. Why do you think that is?

 

What do you think of the song? Comment with what you think! Happy haunting!

 

Posted in Practicing

Getting Back into Routine!

Yes, I first need to start with an apology. I’ve been a bit silent. Between getting my studio filled and “fall” lessons started (It doesn’t feel like fall in Houston) and my wife and daughters starting school last week, time to work on content wasn’t quite there.

 

But I thought that routine would be a great topic for new blog post! It’s always interesting to look at the stereotypes of musicians. Musicians are disorganized, late, chaotic and more. While for some, that may be true, to become a musician of any level, it takes work and discipline. And a big part of that is….routine!

 

I’ve been sharing with my students that started school last week or may be starting this week, that practice needs to be a regular routine in the rhythm of their life. Every night growing up, my mom would always say, “Craig, why don’t you practice the piano while I do dishes?” We didn’t have a dishwasher. So I practiced. And practiced. And practiced. I finally asked her this summer if she decided to slowly take her time, double rinse the dishes and more, and she just laughed. Which I took as a yes. I hated that routine at the time….but now, I’m thankful for it.

 

We’re in routines in many other parts of our life. Exercise, sports, watching our favorite streaming show, checking social media and more. As a musician, practice has to be a part of that routine for growth and excelling to happen. No one likes practicing. It’s work. It’s frustrating at times. Yet it is so beneficial and necessary.

 

One thing that I was reminded of on Saturday is something that I need to be in a better routine of. Writing/arranging music and publicizing it. See, I try to write and arrange music and have it self-published. I don’t talk about it like I should, except for the times like Saturday morning when I get an email saying that I sold copies of an arrangement. Which triggered the thought that I need to be in a better writing routine. And then a better publicizing of my compositions routine. (Which, by the way, you can find them here) So I’ve started to think through my schedule and how I can make that a priority and invest the time to improve that skill.

 

Routines are essential to life. Routines are necessary and beneficial, even if at the time, we don’t think that it is. How are you going to improve or change your routines this week? Comment with what you’re going to do.

Posted in Student highlight

Check out Miles!

Miles has been watching his big brother Luke take lessons from me for a few years now. Today was his first lesson! He was super excited and already was very knowledgeable about the piano! I’m guessing Luke taught him well already!

One of the fun games I love to play with students is to guess how many black and white keys are on the piano. I told Luke he couldn’t tell. It took Miles a little bit of guessing, but he got to the right answer! It’s 88 black and white keys on a full sized piano!

Miles learned a bit about the music alphabet, which is different than the regular alphabet (only A-G), but…..the music alphabet goes backward! Ever try saying the full alphabet backward from Z? That’s a fun challenge! He also got to learn about quarter notes, half notes and whole notes. Quarter notes are one count (short) notes, half notes are two count (longer) notes and whole notes are four count (really long) notes. Miles learned where middle C is, and then played a song! I asked him before he played whether or not he thought the song was easy or hard and he said easy. Still thought it was easy after he played it the first time!

I love starting new students on lessons. Their excitement and enthusiasm cannot be topped! I do still have a few times available in the afternoons, and lots of times during the day for homeschool students and their families. You can find more about my schedule, lesson policies and calendar here.

Posted in About Craig, Student highlight

I Love My Students!

Story time with Craig today. I taught lessons on the side of my church music jobs for 18 and a half years. Finally in 2020, I decided that I would make the leap out of church music to doing something else. My degree is in music education, so going back to teaching was a thought, but what really intrigued me (and scared me to death) was stepping up my lesson business to full time. The pandemic hit, so I dove in to teaching online, which was a huge learning process, but I enjoyed it. I was building up a good number of students, and ramping up to the fall of 2020, when an opportunity to direct choirs part time came up. It was a good experience, but it only lasted 1 year. So, again, last summer, I started building up a good number of students. The fall came, and all of a sudden, I’m only down to 11 lessons a week. That’s far from full time. I started doing Door Dash to come up with the shortfall. I was frustrated and questioning why I made the decision I did.

 

But then, in December and January, more and more students signed up. I got to 31 students this past semester. And these students are fantastic! They are willing to learn, put in time to practice, are excited about music and learning, and it has reminded me of why I wanted to go this route of full time teaching. My students regularly make me laugh, surprise me with the questions they ask and the things they say. For example, I had a student tell me yesterday that he named his books! What did he name them? “Bruce Willis” and “Dwayne the Rock Johnson”. And he told me that after talking about having a summer pot-luck. I asked him how many pot-lucks he had already had and he’s had none. Hilarious stuff! It’s about music, but so much more. It’s about relationships.

 

One of the things that I’ve learned over the past year is that my background in church music ministry has helped prepare me for this. Music is about relationships and connections, just like church music ministry is. It’s not just the relationships with the students, though. It’s also about the relationships with parents. Because without the parents, the students aren’t getting to their lessons, getting their lessons paid for, So, it’s my responsibility to make sure that I am effectively communicating with parents, something also learned from church music ministry.

 

It’s been amazing to get to the end of this semester and look back at the journey I’ve been on. I know that I still have room to improve as a teacher and in communications, running my business and more. But the biggest thing that I am thankful for more than I can say is my students and their families. They have blessed and encouraged me far more than I could for them. And every day, I wake up excited to teach and excited for what will come for each lesson. This means that my work isn’t work. It’s joy. And it’s because of my students and their families.