Newbie Tries Live Looping Using Ableton Live

I am that newbie, and boy do I suck at this. How many times do I have to suck before getting it right just like those folks at the BOSS Loopstation Championships? Gotta shed some more wood on bass? Piano? Ableton? I guess that would be everything.

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Hope in the Darkness Premiere 12/24/2013

Here’s a performance of one of my original compositions entitled “Hope in the Darkness”. This is actually the premiere of the piece last December 24, 2013 at United Church of Christ in the Philippines – Makati Church of Christ Disciples, J.P. Rizal, Makati City. I was playing lead guitar in this performance using a recent purchase (ESP LTD MH-300) and an EBow:

For a piece that was rehearsed only twice, it was okay. Although I feel that there can still be improvement (I suppose that many who would listen to this performance would think the same as we were fumbling in various spots of the piece), I am actually very happy and thankful that the UCCP-MCCD Music Ministry decided to go ahead and perform it.

Now, here is the solo piano version I came up with last November 2013:

The lyrics are as follows:
————-

Hope in the Darkness
(Based largely on Lamentations 3:19-33)
Music and Lyrics by Mark A. Galang

When hope seems lost
We try to make sense of things
as we’re hurtin’ deep within
Is this the cost
of our own misgivings?
As we try to forget all the bitterness inside,
We could not help but really wonder why

My soul’s downtrodden
As I remember my affliction and misery
But I am mistaken
As all these things just humble me
Reminding me of Your neverending mercy
I know in my heart Your love I shall see

Refrain:
And I find there’s hope in the darkness
For You, my Lord God I shall seek
With Your unfailing love, You show compassion
In You I find the hope that I need

All hope seems lost
As I see how the wicked prosper
as I suffer
And trust feels lost
As the world had turned its back
But I see Your light piercing deep into the night
I behold Your power, majesty, and might

(Repeat Refrain)

Our hope’s not lost
For You Lord Jesus had conquered sin and death
In You we Trust
For You alone has paid the final price, granting us eternal life
No force in this dark world can take
Your faithfulness would not forsake
All darkness will then fade away
Immanuel Your Kingdom it shall stay

Where there is Love
Where there is Peace
Where there is Hope

—————-

And so I look forward to the day that I can properly record this piece and be part of another performance. To anyone who is interested in performing this piece, send me a message and I’ll send you the sheet music. Thank you very much for our audience of one.

The Church Pianist Experience versus the Prog Rock/Jazz Keyboardist

Last New Year’s Eve was very memorable for me. It was one of those rare occasions that happens a few years or so when a church requires a pianist. It’s another case of a regular pianist/organist becoming unavailable and I’m asked to fill in. It’s no accident that such times happen, and I do think it is God speaking through those people to call me up and help in their worship service. Therefore, December 31, 2012 became the second time that I was able to perform some music at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines – Makati Church of Christ Disciples (UCCP-MCCD for short). This piece is actually for people who are interested or called into becoming a church organist or pianist, and I would like to share what little experience I have in this field.

First, I’d like to provide a little disclaimer: I am not an authority on being a church pianist or organist. I have much more experience as a keyboardist/pianist in a progressive rock band than a pianist/organist for a typical Christian worship service that favors hymns from centuries past. There are many similarities yet there are notable differences.

  1. First obvious similarity is the instrument. ‘Nuff said.
  2. Second similarity is the need for repertoire knowledge and technical keyboard skills. Just like playing in a progressive rock or a worship band, you need to have some good chops because hymns are not easy to play. The ability to sight read is also a necessity because unless you have impeccable memory you only have a few hours to practice and get your repertoire for the service at a considerable level.
  3. Third similarity is the the need for improvisation. In certain sections of the worship service, the need to improvise becomes apparent such during certain sections for prayer, offertories on occasion, etc.
  4. The last one and most important similarity is the need for synchronicity between pianist and choir/congregation. In a worship service, almost everybody will sing, and the church congregation is always an active participant in the music making experience. Just like the prog rock or jazz keyboardist, a church pianist must be able to play in sync with the congregation’s flow and momentum.

When I say playing in sync with the congregation’s flow and momentum, I mean to say that a pianist should have the attitude that the congregation would become a band or ensemble member and that the pianist will treat the congregation as such. This goes both ways:  Sometimes, a church pianist will dictate the tempo and overall mood of the piece/hymn through his playing (unless the choir conductor takes charge of that). There are also times when the pianist has to adjust his playing in accordance to how a congregation would typically sing. One example I can think of is this: There are congregations that are used to singing a hymn in a particular key other than it was originally written. A church pianist must be able to transpose such hymns on the fly. A church pianist would have an easier time playing a hymn as written when a congregation consists mostly of members with some form of musical training. In cases where a congregation has little or no training at all, a pianist must be prepared to adjust accordingly. The worst experience I had regarding this was a congregation that tends to sing hymns in different keys after each stanza. Whew! That was challenging.

Now, let’s take a look into some differences between being a church pianist and a prog rock or jazz keyboardist:

  1. The instrument: A church pianist playing in a service where old-style 16th- to 18th-century hymns are in order only has a piano and/or an organ. Prog rock and jazz tends to be free and experimental, and therefore they can call upon a wide array of sounds as their instruments can call up. Keyboardists in a contemporary worship band have the same options as guys who play in prog rock bands.
  2. Repertoire: Church pianists would typically play the classic hymns. Prog rock keyboardists go anywhere from renaissance-era music to contemporary.
  3. Improvisation: While church pianists have the need to be able to improvise, their improvisations cannot be indulgent! No shred piano for me while in a church service. When I function as a church pianist, I can’t play blindingly fast and aggressive a la Franz Liszt. Prog rock and jazz keyboardists can be all over the place and blaze away with solos that rival Spinal Tap proportions.

Being a church pianist is an exercise in restraint and control. While I am required to have some considerable chops and precision, you need to be able to hold back and only play what is necessary. You can improvise but you cannot chop up your keyboard like Keith Emerson stabbing his L-100 Hammond organ. Such control is VERY important because the goal of being that sort of musician is to facilitate the congregation to focus on God through music and not focus on the musician.

Here’s some advice for aspiring church pianists and organists:

Learn the material: Get into the habit of sight reading hymnals every day. Make it a goal to commit to memory popular hymns like “Amazing Grace”, “How Great Thou Art”, etc. even if you can manage to play the melody at minimum.

Learn how to improvise: Improvisation helps in many ways. First, you can compose some lovely pieces on the fly and on the spot for sections of the worship service like the prelude/postlude, prayer time, offertory, etc. Second, given the fact that playing all four voices of hymns can be difficult to manage at times (e.g. intervals that go up to the 12th and 13th, unless you have really huge hands like Rachmaninoff!), being able to improvise an accompaniment based on the melody of the hymn is VERY important.

Brush up on music theory and ear training: This helps prepare you for improvisation, which is essentially an application of both disciplines.

The most important thing to take note of is pray to thank the Lord for such an opportunity to serve. Thank the Lord for allowing you to become an instrument for his glory. Also ask the Lord for necessary strength for the task. All that preparation will always fall short without the strength of God.

My pastor friends tell me that that particular instance of being a church pianist/accompanist is God’s calling. I have no doubt that in that particular day, God led me to that path in order to serve. However, I still don’t know if God would want me to go towards that direction in the long run. What I am certain is that that it’s one sign that the Lord has called me to be involved in a very musical life. I’d like to emphasize once more that it is not out of my own strength and skill that has made me capable. It’s only through the Lord that I gain the confidence go ahead and be a church pianist, even it if it’s just for one particular day. This experience always reminds me of Philippians 4:13 which says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

“Love Rock” by Emi’s Eve: A Composer/Arranger’s Perspective

About 2 years ago, I wrote some music for Emi Waterson, lead singer and songwriter of Emi’s Eve (an original and covers band from Australia). Fast forward to today, the result of that collaboration is now here for your listening pleasure:

 

(“Love Rock” – Copyright 2012, Emi Waterson/Mark A. Galang/Jeni Wallwork)

 

“Love Rock” is a song that started out as a melody that Emi wrote. She sent me a recording of her singing the melody and I wrote music to accompany that melody. It’s a product of my first musical collaboration with somebody from outside of the Philippines, something that was unimaginable for me prior to the advent of the Internet.

The intro where the strings are sawing away was originally a guitar riff. I even wrote a shredding guitar run in the upper register prior to the part where the vocals kick in. The whole idea that I had in mind for the music was sort of a hard rock song for a pop singer. At the very least I was trying to put some hard rock integrity into the song in the same manner that a J-pop song would have a surprisingly technical twist that you would typically expect from a speed metal piece.

The great thing that I love about this recording is how Emi and the rest of her collaborators have tweaked the arrangement. I think most of the notes I wrote are still there, the most important ones being the riffs, the chord progressions, some of the licks and the basslines. The most surprising thing for me was how the Emi and the other arrangers  turned the main riff and some of the passages into something useful for strings. The string passages gave that sort of chamber music appeal like a Vivaldi concerto.

Since the record is intended for a mass-market/radio audience, I wasn’t really surprised that the guitar solos I wrote were edited although a semblance of which appeared as a lick towards the end. Maybe Emi’s guitar player wrote it himself and could have been influenced by the solo I wrote: I’m not really sure.

To sum it all up, I’m very happy to have worked with Emi on “Love Rock” and a few other songs (regarding which I’ll keep my mouth shut for now). I was really glad how the whole recording turned out. It is a pop song, that’s for certain, but it’s one that requires a good level of musicianship to perform, a rarity in today’s music scene where garbage can produce millions of dollars. Give “Love Rock” a listen and you’ll be happy to hear how amazing Emi and her band are.

To get to know more about Emi and Emi’s Eve, visit http://www.emiseve.com.

Reviving the Band, Part III

There’s a side of me that feels like a parrot when playing cover songs. It’s not my voice and it’s not my art. The art aspect of it only falls into place with my playing, and that aspect even suffers. My bandmates and Pastor Xiaui had noted my playing to be very mechanical and emotionless. I could nail the songs without a hitch. It’s just that as a composer, it’s really hard to try and put some emotion into performing a song I never had a hand in writing. I will still try to put on my game face to sort of “own” those songs, even if it’s just for a day.

I’m still very thankful that this opportunity came. Nothing could ever beat performing with a band regardless of whether you’re playing originals or covers. The energy between each musician is something you can never experience jamming with a MIDI file, audio track or sequence. You can expect me to perform at my best at our scheduled performance. Since we’re playing as a worship band at this point and NOT a prog band, you can’t expect me to pull out stuff like crazy synth solos. However, you can expect some piano and organ playing from me, maybe some occasional strings here and there, perhaps a harpsichord sound even.

Because of this event, talks between us band members about rehearsing for a PROG album are underway. We have two songs that we will be rehearsing and recording over the next coming months, and then I’ll continue to write music for the band as usual. I hope that this new project would push through.

We are currently rehearsing for a special performance on October 21, 2012, 6 p.m. at UCCP J.P. Rizal, Makati City. We will be performing a very short set with three songs. For those of you who are in the area interested in supporting a growing church, I’d like to invite you for that special evening of praise and worship.

How to Become a Music Transcriber

There probably is no single way about how to become a music transcriber.

One would say that every serious musician in the planet has had to do some music transcription in one way or another. A good examples would be one of my guitar heroes, Steve Vai, former music transcriber for Frank Zappa. Jazz musicians have been known to do this in order to figure out the improvisation methods of their influences. It’s easy then to say that to be a music transcriber one should start by having great love and dedication for music.

Let me tell you a little story about how I became a music transcriber. As far as growing up as a musician, I had limited access to sheet music and so it was helpful that I relied on my ears to learn new songs. What I would consider my first entry into music transcription would be jotting down chords of various songs I wanted to play while I listened to my cassette tapes. Being able to transcribe music came out of necessity. I am not very good at memorizing pieces (I must have some sort of memory deficit) and so transcriptions of music became great memory tools for me. That was the start of being a music transcriber, the desire to learn new songs.

When my playing skills and my knowledge of music theory further improved, I transitioned from just jotting down chords to actually transcribing songs, whether it be in MIDI or in a scorewriter such as Sibelius. Sometimes, I still do it by hand, especially when an idea for a composition starts popping into my head.

Going back to the topic “how to become a music transcriber”, one may be able to simplify it in a few steps:

  1. Learn and practice how to play a musical instrument – Before you can transcribe, you will need some basic knowledge about how to play a musical instrument or be able to sing in tune. If you are confident in being able to discern that you can follow rhythm and melody, that is a start. You will also need to constantly practice how to play your instrument. You need to develop considerable technique that will make you understand how songs are composed and how they are arranged.
  2. Learn and study music theory – By studying music theory, you get to have a better understanding of what exactly is you are playing or what you are hearing. Studying music theory also helps a lot in how to jot down your transcripts to paper or an application like Sibelius properly.
  3. Start transcribing – Once you have some skill on musical instruments and have a good working knowledge of music theory, you can now begin to transcribe. Start out with transcribing the rhythms of the piece, and then followed by the bass line (to have a good understanding of the piece’s harmonic structure as well as provide a “skeleton”) and the melody.
  4. Practice transcribing – Practice always makes perfect, and so just like playing an instrument, music transcription requires practice.
  5. Keep a portfolio – If you want to earn some money from music transcription, you need a portfolio. Try to select the very best from your  collection. This portfolio would serve as a great way to prove that you can do it.
  6. Be patient – Any aspiring transcriber has to be patient. Imagine having to listen to the same song over again for more than 20 times. I can tire out your ears but it really is part of music transcription.

There’s not a lot of steps, but just as I said in my previous piece about music transcription, it takes a great deal of patience.  If you have a music degree or currently studying in a conservatory, music transcription will always help as an additional skill. If you do not have a music degree, don’t fret. I don’t have one but I sure can transcribe music and play an instrument relatively well. Whether your goal is to be able to study and analyze your favorite artist or composer’s works or to become a professional sheet music provider, the knowledge of music transcription will always be helpful.

So, why are you still reading this? Prepare your manuscript paper or your scorewriter and start walking the path on how to become a music transcriber.

A New Beginning

For the very, very few who have been following me and my journey through music, this is now my new web site. You might have visited chromaticism.webs.com or sterilium.tk before, my previous web avenue. From here on, the latest things going on in my career as a composer, sound designer and musician get covered here.

If you are one who has managed to stumble upon this page or have been following me previous, thank you for visiting. I hope you enjoy your stay,