Saturday, October 06, 2007

Ben's Vision And His Thorn

Ben posting here. A little NIV section headings humor there in the title. Trust me, there's more where that came from.

Yesterday morning I awoke after only two hours of sleep and I felt better than I had all week. Was it that I had put something terrible behind me? Or was there something wonderful in store for me? The answer, my friends, is yes. Strings, my friends. Strings.

Arranging strings, let me tell you, is lonely, tedious work. I do it every few months, usually for records I'm producing, though sometimes other folks will hire me. This time around, I was arranging three songs for AP's record and two more for another band. I would call that about four days worth of work. I had only a day and a half to devote to it, which meant that the bulk of the work would have to be done at night. Yay.

When you set about writing arrangements for a number of songs, the first arrangement is, without fail, the most difficult. I'm not sure why. I guess it's like starting your mower for the first time in May. It just takes a minute. I can expect not only to spend about a full day coming up with the parts (this is what I would call "writing," as opposed to the creation of the sheet music, which I would call "torture") for the first song, but also to have to rewrite or at least revise it the next morning and probably revise AGAIN when I come back to it after I've written the other arrangements. So I started arranging "All Things New" on Monday night, finished it Tuesday night, and rewrote it Wednesday morning. I credit the amazing headache I had on Wednesday night to the fact that I had four arrangements left to go and only a day to write them.

The good thing, the weird thing, is how fast the other ones go. It's almost embarassing how fast they go. It's like how you take a thousand pictures of your firstborn and twenty of your second, and you feel bad but somehow your second-born turns out just fine in the end. I wrote one of the songs for the other band in about an hour and a half. And it's a fine arrangement. "The Good Confession" didn't take long either, come to think of it.

"Hosanna" was sort of an exception. It was the second one I wrote and I suppose it took me a while, but it was a pretty demanding song. In fact, each of these three AP songs is the kind of song you're supposed to hit out of the ballpark. They want something spectacular, not just something that fits. I didn't have to swing as hard on The Good Confession, since it already had the choir, which sounds amazing. But the other two, and especially All Things New, wanted the full 21 gun salute.

And who better to perform the 21 gun salute than David Davidson and friends (David Angell-2nd Violin; Monisa Angell-Viola; John Catchings-Cello)? Are they still called the Love Sponge Strings? I'm not sure. But they are the DEAL. Look, I've hired other string players and we've gotten through it all right, but David (and whenever I refer to David, let it be known that I am referring to the other three players by extension) is a whole different animal.

First of all, the facility of these players on their instruments is ridiculous. There's nothing they can't do. Many times now, David has stopped in the middle of a take to inform me that I've written something that worked fine on my keyboard, but that would be impossible to play on the violin. And every time, not two minutes later, he's PLAYING IT. Blisteringly fast.

The sound of this group is amazing. The tone is so vibrant and the intonation so accurate. And that's not something to take for granted. But maybe more than anything is that these guys really interperet music. I remember my band director in high school telling us that 90 percent of the music is in the dynamics and articulations. He would drool pure valve-oil if he heard these guys (okay, that got weird; lack of sleep, remember). Stringed instruments are capable of so much nuance, and I'm not fluent enough to communicate that kind of nuance on paper. At least not every time. But David and the guys are so intuitive about these things and so very patient about working through the exact phrasing of a line. In fact, most of it they don't have to ask me about. I can hear them reinterpereting, sometimes even disregarding, my phrasing marks as we record and it makes me grateful that I'm in such good hands.

But the coup de grace for me is that I still associate the Love Sponge with a signature sound, most recognizable in their playing on the Fleming & John records, which I hope you've heard. I was really influenced by those records (as well as a few others that John Painter arranged for the Love Sponge, including the self-titled Sixpence album) and I frequently write with that sound in mind. So imagine what a thrill it is for me to hear that sound coming back at me in the booth. Suffice it to say it's worth a little sleep-deprivation.

But I digress. I finished writing the fifth arrangement at about ten on Thursday night. Beth ran and got Starbucks. Good thing, because I still had to prep the ProTools sessions we'd be working in and, horror of horrors, create the sheet music. The long and short of it is that I didn't put my laptop in the bag until about five in the morning. But that's just par for the course. I am always up stupid-late the night before a string session. And it's worth it to wake up feeling like the morning sun is a big, yellow Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card and to know that the pain is behind me and the joy is before me. Which is, I think, what this record is all about.


Jonathan Edward Gall said...

this blog made me realize that I recently misspelled coup de grace in a college paper.
you have no inkling of the pain and humiliation this has caused me.
are you proud of yourself, mister?

Joy from the Prison said...

Yeah, Ben... "the pain is behind us and the joy is before us..." I was just thinking how Jesus has rearranged my life in that manner, and you put it nicely into words.

And I'm looking forward to hearing those strings. Strings are great. Thanks for including them.

JD said...

Hey Ben, I just want to thank you for all the hard work you put in. You may not see the fruit of your labor, but all those late nights are NOT going to waste. Thanks!

Gaƫl Cosendai said...

Will there be a video of the strings recording session? Would loove to see that!

b.j. mumford said...

i don't have anything to add except i was listening to the way we are the other day and internally monologued about how perfectly constructed 'the pearl' is. (a young man named ben first recommended that album to me, long long ago ...)

Peter said...

Thanks, guys, for writing this blog. You're encouraging others by your writing long before the album hits the shelves.