Creating something, especially something artistic requires sustained times of focus. It can become a constant drone of thought and background noise if you let it–sometimes even if you try and prevent it. Or maybe that’s just what it looks like for me. It can be both a gift from somewhere I don’t quite understand and a bit frightening as it can also result in some serious navel gazing.
A few months ago I got a small Southeast MN Arts Council grant to record an album of original songs. I’m gifted with the power of the curse of the ability for sustained, strong focus when I get started on a task. Others might call it myopathy. Still others might call it narcissism. Listening to the sound of your own voice over and over, and over yet again can have that effect. Redoing, redoing, redoing again trying to get it to sound in real life like it does in your head. It can also be demoralizing. “Why can’t I get that note right?” Hitting “that note” isn’t always one of my gifts.
Yesterday, a friend came over to “The Frog” (my home studio in the finished room over the garage) to add her voice to the chorus of voices on two songs. She was a bit tentative and anxious at first, but quickly settled in, found her part and nailed it. Her voice found its place among all the others on the chorus in the recording. Just nestled in there like it belonged, like old friends settling in together in easy conversation after a long absence.
There’s a magic to the sound of melody and chords. Notes blending and contrasting just so. Okay, I know it’s not magic, but is math. Sometimes it isn’t helpful to focus on the reason why and how instead of the specialness, the magic, that emerges out of those relationships.
After finishing her parts, we pulled up another song (one mostly completed except some final harmony and mixing and mastering) in the recording software. “Listen to what Dave did on the piano,” I said. “It gave me chills when he started playing that first chord when we were recording it.” After we had listened, she said, “I was skeptical when I saw accordion in the mix, but it all really works. All the pieces fit really well together.”
It’s a humbling thing to see (hear) an idea go from a few words on a page and simple melody scratched out of some chords to an arrangement that makes a bigger whole and not really know where it came from. And then to recognize that in a different time and space, with different musicians something entirely different would emerge out of the math–out of the magic.
In conversation later that night, I found myself expressing gratitude for melody, for the mystery of a simple chord, relationships built with fellow musicians, with friends, maybe even listeners, and yes, even some controlled and harnessed narcissism.
Here’s a sneak peak of one of the songs, at least in a rough draft form. Listen to what Dave did on the piano. Nailed it.