Sunday, December 23, 2012

Advent and Christmas Music

As a Catholic who occasionally sings in the choir, Advent and Christmas are almost as important as Lent and Easter, and the music is better too!

Advent is a sober, quiet time in many ways. The modern focus on getting ready is mostly about getting presents bought, wrapped and shipped, and binges on candy, baked goods, booze, and a good ham.

Advent helps remind me to prepare spiritually, too. In modern America we tend to ignore the spirit, and our lives suffer for it. Fasting, taking time to pray and seek absolution, finding opportunities to volunteer, dropping some of our burden of sin and the elements of this world as we focus on the things that feed our spirit - it all serves to clarify what really matters and to helps us prepare to be the best person we're able to be.

During the Advent season we sing a cappella in the church choir, and songs like "O Come Emmanuel" are lovely. Careful 4 part harmonies, slow stately phrasing, the sound blending and echoing off the walls of the church in the dimness as mass proceeds, it instantly changes my state of mind, pulling me out of my day to day concerns and helping me not just think penitent thoughts, but actually feel sorry for my failings and sins and errors - and I've got plenty. This version is nice, although there's no harmonies.
The vows to do better, to sin no more, are more powerful in that emotionally connected state, and it helps me do a slightly better job living up to my expectations. Like all imperfect humans, I'll miss, but I know I can be forgiven and I have to keep trying and striving to do as well as I can. Anything that helps is appreciated!

We light an additional candle at each of the 4 Advent masses, and the one purple candle is lit for the first time on "Gaudette" Sunday. We sing "Gaudette" at that Advent mass, and that's always fun.
This is a barbershop version, well done with good dynamics, limited to 4 parts and can't quite wail like a full choir but you get the idea.

Advent and Christmas are a bit intense in the St. Marks choir, with pre-mass songs and songs during mass and the recessionals at the end, different songs each week, many in 4 part (and occasionally more) harmony, all a cappella for 4 weeks so errors are very noticeable.

At the same time we have some major long complex numbers to nail down for Christmas mass, which is done with musical instruments - brass. With the Church filled to overflowing and communion taking way longer than normal and instruments added to the mix, we'll be doing 400 year old songs in foreign languages in 4 part harmonies - and loving it. I have many favorites, like "Joy to the World" with brass and hand bells, and more obscure ones like "Wonderful Peace"

It's appreciated if you can sing Midnight mass and one or more of the morning masses so that there's enough voices to pull it all off.

Christmas lasts for 12 days, so we get to sing the joyful Christmas carols beyond Christmas day, too! The joyful carols tend to be the hardest on my throat, they're always forte or louder and the air is filled with smoke from the incense in the censors, and with the pre- and during and post-mass singing we end up singing for well over an hour for each mass. By the end my throat is pretty sore, but it's a good sore.

If I'm lucky I'll also get to sing carols and maybe fake it on the guitar with some family and friends sometime over the holidays, too. I think our culture has largely forgotten how fun it is to get together and perform music, and we've lost something that most don't even notice is missing.

Christmas is the one time of the year when it's not that hard to get people to sing together, and I can pull out the guitar and ask people to sing with me and they don't look at me weird. I appreciate that, and I've always associated Christmas and it's joys with music.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and a Joyous New Year! May your life be filled with love, family, friends, music, light, health and joy all year.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lavender Diamond and Shelby Earl at the Sunset Tavern

I've been a fan of Shelby Earl since seeing her at West Seattle Summer Fest in 2010, and she sounded great at an early afternoon set at Bumbershoot that I caught for a little bit, so I was looking forward to seeing he in a nice small scale setting at the Sunset Tavern.

Shelby opened for Lavender Diamond, an unknown band for me. Jaime posted about Lavender Diamond on Facebook and was looking forward to seeing her, and Jaime's recommendations have always been solid.

I got there early, took a seat with a good location in the bar and had a beer. The location gave me a good intimate view of the stage. Shelby Earl at the Sunset, December 2012 Shelby and her band came out, fairly classic lineup with Shelby singing leads and playing acoustic guitar, a hollow body electric, a stand-up bass, and a drum kit. They had a back-up vocalist who occasionally sang some leads, and the hollow body electric guitarist and bass player also added tasty backing vocals on occasion. Shelby has some great songs, "Under Evergreen" is already a favorite after a few listens:

She does some down-tempo romantic, sad songs that make my heart ache at the same time as they put a smile on my face, songs like "Everyone Belongs to Someone:"

Lavender Diamond was new to me, she performed with a small group that played a pretty stripped down music and added an occasional tasty backing vocal. Lavender Diamond at the Sunset December 2012 Once the music starts her vocals are the focus. Another example of a fairly slow tempo, unusually slow for modern music, but wonderfully apt for this beautiful, soaring song. As she hits some of the higher notes with those clear clean vowels, just nailing the note no matter where it is - I get goose bumps. I love that - her performance is disarming, communicating directly to my emotions, making it hard to remember to keep the camera framing her properly as I lose myself in aching beauty.

Her patter brings the mood back to Earth, she's a bit of a nut, but so am I and she's mostly my kind of nut. The stuff about holograms is classic, she's on to a solid metaphor: each bit of the hologram encodes part of the whole, so if you remove a bit of the hologram, no single object or detail drops out, instead the overall detail diminishes a bit. The patter is fun if a little scattered, and the songs are wonderful.

She has an amazing voice with a great range and precise control of pitch, tone, and volume. Her microphone control is also impressive as she smoothly moves back away and turns a little while cranking intensity up, wailing away without overwhelming the mic or the sound system, then moves back in for a quieter breathier section, carefully keeping her voice balanced in the mix without overly "playing to the mic" - check the bit around 4:20, for example. Lavender Diamond petty much relies on the frontwoman's voice and personality: she's the show, the other musician's are her backing group. Lavender Diamond at the Sunset December 2012 From where I sat and stood, that works well. Lavender Diamond takes a powerful voice used beautifully and expressively and showcases it in quiet yet emotional songs that sneak up on you and get inside your heart. She takes you on an emotional spiritual journey for 4 minutes or so, then brings you back to what passes for Earth in the Northwest with patter about holograms and rain from hotel windows and creative blockakge, followed by another 4+ minute song soaring off into the ether...
Somehow her songs mend my heart on a level that I hadn't even noticed was hurting.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band and Fresh Espresso at the Vera Project

Marshall has been a member at the Vera Project for a few years, running lights at shows and hanging out with the rest of us volunteers and having fun. Marshal is in high school and enjoys socializing and pretty much always seems to be happy, great kid to hang out with at a show. After knowing him for a year and a half and working with him at any number of shows, he casually mentioned to me that he was in a band.

"Which band?" was the obvious question. "Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band" he replied.

Wow - that's the cool local band I've read about - hadn't managed to see them yet - and they have the complex back story involving Benjamin Verdoes and Marshal Verdoes, adoptive brothers...

I realized he was that Marshal - oh! I had no idea. I'd always wanted to see Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band, now I wanted to see them more than ever.
Seeing Marshall pounding on the drums at a hip hop show whetted my appetite. Marshall joined the DJ and drummed live along with some pre-recorded bits, and the Dj's set got much better while he was playing.

Finally on a Saturday a while back I got a chance to catch the Mt. St Helens Vietnam Band with Fresh Espresso and guests at the Nova Benefit show at the Vera Project. I've seen Fresh Espresso a few times, at a Capitol Hill Block Party After-Party and so on, and P-Smoov is familiar to me for some other stuff as well.
Fresh Espresso does good, fast catchy hip hop music, in this case with a live drummer.
They have a good time rapping, trading leads back and forth, syncing up for some harmony work or at least a little emphasis. Nice sound, Bosanova is pretty cool.
I enjoy the music and the message, Fresh Espresso is a reliably upbeat fun party act.
I also got some footage that I think is "Can the Boy Tell Time" which features Marshall on drums too:
I think "Can the Boy Tell Time" was before Fresh Espresso, but the videos ended up in 1) Fresh Espresso then 2) Can the Boy Tell Time then 3) Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band order on YouTube for some reason. Most likely I was switching cameras and the order taken off the cameras differs from the order recorded onto the cameras, if that makes any sense.

Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band came out for the headline set with a typical rock and roll lineup, 2 guitars, bass, keyboards and drums. DSC01228
Nice sound, I like the way they build this song up from a simple beginning to a nice full song with some complexity and tight control of dynamics and intensity.
They played a nice selection of good, catchy songs. I like the guitar riff that starts about :45 into this one, it's jangly and kinda pulls you along Then when they drop it the feel changes and moves away, circling back eventually, I love the sense of movement and progression. I also enjoy guitar oriented rock, so this is pretty much right up my alley, and parked in my driveway up on blocks, I suppose - almost too comfortable a fit.

The band put on a great show and kept a large benefit crowd happy and entertained, and I'm very happy I finally got to see Mt. St. Helens Vietnam band and found out what all the fuss was about.

It turns out they have an embeddable link for their CD, so here's some of their music if you're looking to pick up a CD.