A Choral Arranger’s Experience at Musikapella 2017

It’s always a pleasure to hear musical ideas come to life. It’s something that gives me great joy as a composer and arranger.

Last October 2017, I got a call from the UP Economics Society (from the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City) asking me to arrange “Simbang Gabi” for unaccompanied SATB, SSAA, and TTBB choirs. The arrangement was slated to become the contest piece for Musikapella 2017, one of the hottest annual choir competitions in Metro Manila.

I said to myself that three arrangements of the same song for those ensembles shouldn’t be a problem but then UP Eco Soc said that they needed the arrangements within 3 to 5 days. After thinking about how great an opportunity this was, I told them I could do it.

Once UP Eco Soc knew I could work with a tight deadline, they took me in. I think they were already out of options, hahaha!

Remembering Symphony X’s “Candlelight Fantasia”, I went into making the score, and through God’s help I was able to complete the scores.

Fast forward to November 25, 2017, I hear my score come to life for the first time. It was astonishing! Here’s one of the Musikapella 2017 contestants, the UST Senior High School Chorale (Selah), performing my arrangement of Lucio D. San Pedro’s “Simbang Gabi”:

Lucio D. San Pedro’s “Simbang Gabi”, arrangement by Mark A. Galang for unaccompanied SATB choir:

This performance floored me! That’s all I can say.

I’d like to congratulate and thank Mark Agpasa (choirmaster) and the rest of the UST Senior High School Chorale for doing such an amazing job. I also would like to thank the UP Economics Society for entrusting me with such an important task. Perhaps this is a good start to really becoming involved with the Filipino chorale scene. Who knows, right?

There’s also an all-female choir version during Musikapella 2017. I thought St. Scholastica’s Academy Choir did a great job with my arrangement:

Lucio D. San Pedro’s “Simbang Gabi”, arrangement by Mark A. Galang for unaccompanied SSAA choir:


All of the 9 choirs that participated in Musikapella 2017 as well as family and friends made me feel like the biggest winner of the night. To them I send my thanks and my gratitude.

I also have to thank my vocal arranging mentor, Christopher Borela, for training me well back in PWU.

Now, time for me to go back to practicing my instruments, writing composition ideas, and all that stuff, a day before I go back to work on all things Freejazzlessons.com.

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Jose at Musika “Luma” Album Tour Live @ 12 Monkeys Music Hall & Pub (05/16/2016)

It’s been a while since my last post so here goes nothing. I’ll just go ahead and go say that this is probably one of the most significant gigs in the history of Jose at Musika. This is the second leg of the “Luma” album tour which happened last May 16, 2016 at 12 Monkeys Music Hall & Pub. Enjoy:

 

How To Write Brainwave Entrainment Music

About four years ago, I was in a rather curious phase in my journey as a composer. I was involved in writing and producing music that had what’s called “brainwave entrainment”. The works that I wrote for such a purpose pretty much sounded like this:

Take note that it’s best to listen to this music with your eyes closed and with headphones on:

This particular piece that I entitled “Night Sky” was released under a record label that was called a7records and is now known as Roundwaves. Now, what the heck is the purpose of all this? Music written with brainwave entrainment techniques (a.k.a. binaural beats) is part of what we can call “functional” or “applied” music i.e. music that is not solely written for simple listening pleasure or entertainment. Such music includes those used in film, video games, animation, etc. If music for movies enhances the viewing experience to a whole new level (try watching films without music, they suck!), brainwave entrainment music is designed to put you in a particular state of brain activity. Why? The theory is that setting your brain’s electrical activity into a particular phase will help facilitate various functions such as eliciting sleep, improving concentration, helping you to relax, excite you, etc. As it is universally known, music is a very powerful agent for altering your state of mind. You feel pumped up when listening to speed metal as you go across the freeway. You kind of feel very cheesy when you hear David Pack sing “You’re the Biggest Part of Me”. You kind of what to bob your head up and down when you hear some kind of four-on-the-floor drum and bass hit. Music with brainwave entrainment built into it is kind of like that too.

Now, the question is how do we actually go about writing music that is theorized to have the effect of relaxation, sleep, and other effects? Here goes:

  1. Know what kind of effect you want to elicit first before you go write your track. Do you want your listener to just relax and chill? You need your music to elicit an Alpha wave response. You want them to go to sleep? Go Delta wave. Go ahead and read up on what these brain waves are and what they’re associated with. Start by reading this Mental Health Daily piece.
  2. We need to generate the basic backing track for it, and that basic backing track is something that has a binaural beat that is equivalent to the brain wave activity you are trying to produce. To do this, you need two sine waves, tuned to a barely audible bass or contrabass frequency, one panned hard left and the other panned hard right. Now, it is VERY IMPORTANT that the two sine waves are tuned in such a manner that the difference between them will create an oscillating beat equal to that of the frequency of the brainwave you’re trying to elicit. For example, the sine wave to the left is tuned at 50 Hz and the sine wave to the right is tuned to 38 Hz. The difference between the two is 12 Hz, the upper limit of Alpha waves. The easiest way to do this is to use Audacity to generate these sine waves that are tuned to the exact frequencies you need. The length of this binaural beat track (or tracks) depend on how long you want your music to be. Usually 8 to 10 minutes is enough.
  3. Make sure that the sine waves you use for your binaural beat is in key to the music you are going to write. This is plain musical common sense. Why? First of, you want to make the music as pleasant sounding as you want. Tune your sine wave to a root or a fifth. Second, anything atonal or dissonant will only irritate your listener. For instance, if my music is in the key of G and I want Alpha waves, my left sine wave is in 24.5 Hz (G0 if A4 is 440 Hz) and my right sine wave is 36.5 Hz (about a microtone below D1 if A4 = 440 Hz). 37 minus 24.5 is 12 so I expect my binaural beat to match Alpha waves. In some instances, you may have to adjust the pitch of your sine waves accordingly if your music changes to distant keys. The point is that your sine waves (more or less) have to be in tune to the music.
  4. As for the amplitude of your binaural beats, it should be kept to a minimum as possible. You bury it in the music and it should be more felt than heard. This is the reason why we usually tune our sine waves to bass frequencies.
  5. When your binaural beats are set, write your music over the binaural beats. Notating it first on paper (or your scorewriter) or improvising over it doesn’t matter as long as you get to have appropriate music over it.
  6. Make sure that the music is LONG. We are not writing a radio hit here folks! Not everybody can fall asleep, concentrate, relax in just under a minute or two.
  7. You can write in any genre as long as it is appropriate for the effect that you want. You surely won’t want screaming metal guitars on your sleep music, right? It’s just common sense.

I suppose these steps should be enough to get you started in writing your first brainwave entrainment piece. If you all think I missed out on something, please leave your comments below.

Another New Beginning

My contract with GuitarZoom has expired, unceremoniously and without major incident, about two weeks ago. I do believe that I had parted ways with Dan Denley (founder and CEO) of GuitarZoom and the rest of the crew on good terms. For the past year, my professional life was pretty much about transcribing sheet music for Steve Stine, Steve Dahlberg, Rob Ashe, and the rest of the guitar instructors of GuitarZoom. My stint with GuitarZoom really gave good money. However, time for creative pursuits such as my own compositions suffered.

Many will say it’s such a shame that it had to end. Income is still income, and the end of my GuitarZoom contract takes away a significant chunk from my expected monthly earnings. However, I would like to see it as another new beginning. Seems to me that 2015 has been pretty much all about new beginnings for me. I was never meant to simply copy another musician’s work on paper. In my heart, I have always been a composer. This perhaps is an opening for me to go forward with more creative pursuits.

I Wish Most Filipino Luthiers Were…

…able to create real, unique, custom instruments!

Please take note that I have deep admiration for Filipino luthiers. I am not insulting  or trying to offend such fine craftsmen. Their craftsmanship is superb. That I do not doubt. However, it seems to me that most of them are afraid to take up the challenge of experimenting and building unique instruments that will bring about new sounds that will bring about much needed change in the OPM scene.

I will admit I am crazy. I have this loony side. I like weird stuff, with weirdness that crosses over the border of becoming unique without sacrificing function. For years, I have had this dream or aspiration that one day, a Filipino luthier would be able to make the instrument/s of my dreams. Some of these instruments I dream of having include extended-range guitars (more than 7 strings) and a guitar that can function like a viola de gamba (arched bridge and fretboard). It feels very frustrating that these proud luthiers can’t build any of these. There are a number of things or reasons why these luthiers can’t make such instruments, and that would include lack of materials or a lack of knowledge.

One day, while I was on Facebook, I approached this luthier who had a substantial following. I requested from him to give me an estimate as to how much it would take for them to build it. He said he can’t do it because he doesn’t have existing patterns or templates for it. I said I’d take the risk of spending more just to make sure my vision is realized. Afterwards, he said he just can’t do it. A few months later, he starts spewing pictures of how he masterfully copied Taylors, Gibsons, Martins, and Fenders for his customers.

What does this tell us? Do we revel at the fact that we are good copycats? Why can’t we Filipinos aspire for bigger goals? Why can’t just try to change? Why do we have to stick to years of traditions that don’t push us forward?

Again, I am NOT trying to insult Filipino Luthiers out there. I am merely posing a challenge. Please build real custom instruments, not just copies of popular brands like Taylor, Fender, Martin, Gibson, Guild, etc.

Frank Zappa: Musical Genius, Questionable Bible Knowledge

Saying that Frank Zappa’s music is influential to mine is an understatement. I very much appreciate his musical genius. Other than the music, most of the time I would agree with his criticisms of society. However, I have to say that when he makes such sweeping claims about the Bible, that’s where I would disagree with him. Had he read the Bible well with openness and understanding, he would not say that it turns people into idiots. Any person who carefully studies the Bible would need to exercise thought and logic. Most of the time he misinterprets scripture in some of his songs.

It seems to me that his criticisms stem from various facets of “Christianity” that give the Bible a bad name such as televangelism, the Roman Catholic Church, and all other cults and organizations that dupe people their money into a lot of doctrines that otherwise don’t hold up to the truth in the Bible. The thing is that all of these allegations against Christianity are the result of prominent individuals and groups pursuing their own selfish agendas while slapping the Christian label onto themselves. What a shame. Seems like Gandhi is vindicated when he said (I’m paraphrasing here), “I like your Christ. I don’t like your Christians.” It exposes the fact that many “Christians” do not follow what Jesus Christ actually said. In Matthew 7:15-23, the Lord said this about such people:

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

The reason why people such as Frank Zappa have loaded accusations against the Christian faith is because he sees the impact of such people claiming to be “Christian” and how much they’ve messed up society. They should be rightfully rebuked for their hypocrisy as Zappa tried to do within his lifetime. However, Zappa commits the error of making a sweeping accusation that such people are representatives of true Bible-based Christianity.

It’s fascinating when you see people like Frank Zappa and all of these other so-called geniuses mock the very thing that gave them the liberty to do what they wanted in the first place. Many of the laws that keep the civilized world free have been patterned after the Bible , so it really is kind of amusing when people start attacking it as the cause of bigotry and hatred around the world. Sweeping generalizations are dangerous; most of the time, it’s the result of seeing things from a narrow perspective rather than really getting into the meat of it all.

Listening to Frank Zappa’s music is always an exercise in critical thinking. I appreciate the music for it’s ingenuity. I would go so far as to say that serious musicians will find it very worthwhile to study the music of Zappa because it is very much groundbreaking. At the same time, it’s kind of like viewing a TV show like Family Guy any of those Seth McFarlane cartoons. You always need to take on it with a grain of salt and you shouldn’t watch or listen to such stuff without having a firm spiritual and intellectual foundation. At the end of this piece, I will still say that Zappa’s musical aptitude remains to be laudable. I just don’t agree with him when he starts attacking my faith from a skewed perspective.