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The Lexington Music Awards


Well, it has been a while since I have written a blog - so first and foremost, to anyone who is not connected to me via my facebook, twitter, soundcloud, linkedIn, youtube....(DEEP BREATH)....google circles, pinterest, e-mail, or text messaging please know that I am alive and well (mostly.) I am nearing the end of the Master's program here at Michigan State and will be looking at places to work on my Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) this fall. I'm really not one to express mushy sentiment's all over the internet, but I just want to say that I've had a blast in Michigan, apocalyptic ice age temperatures aside, and I will surely miss this place if I choose to further my studies elsewhere. I am overwhelmed by the amount of friends and connections I have made here and could not be more thrilled with how I am progressing as a composer. *sniff sniff.

Above all, thanks to the MSU Composition faculty for welcoming me into their community. This place really is something special.

Now, as many of you may be aware, last month I received the honor of being selected to write the opening and closing theme music for the inaugural Lexington Music Awards. Although I had to step in unfamiliar waters to write music that would sufficiently fit the local scene and its artists, this was a pretty important opportunity for me. Never before have I been asked to compose theme music for an event, so there was little to no hesitation on my end in taking this gig. The only slight hesitation was due to the fact that this has been my absolute busiest semester since I chose to return to Academia in 2010, in case my absence from the blogiverse wasn't a dead giveaway.

So there I was - tasked to write a piece outside of my traditional contemporary-classical language, written for a group of artists who perform mostly music widely considered as 'popular music'. To be fair, the Lexi's does not discriminate against any style of music - categories including classical genres were well represented. However, I was fairly certain what the majority of my audience would consist of/ Still, it seemed wrong NOT to include some of my classically-trained influences in the music. More on that later.

Fortunately, David was not terribly particular in what he expected of the music. He did not want the intro to be very long, but wanted it to incorporate some dance-like beats and unusual sounds. His exact words were "I always think of the tonight show Johnny Carson, but I don't want anything like that." Ok....so I watched the tonight show intro to ensure that my music would sound nothing like it. Check. "Something exciting...." CAN DO. Exciting might be what I do best. "Kicking it off with a marimba or dulcimer." Ok, so the truth is that I started off with some ideas including marimba. It did not work well, so I scrapped them all. I probably burned around five hours just trying to figure out how to start the damn thing. In the end, what resonated the most with me was that he wanted 'exciting' but 'unusual'. The unusual part was tough to pull off, so what I interpreted that to mean was to add sort of a quirky sting to some more familiar sounds. What it boiled down to was an exciting drum-filled fanfare-esque introduction coated with some zesty latin flavors. Mmmm...sounds tasty, eh?

A sample of the final construction of the Intro in Logic Pro. Click on the image to see an expanded version.

I used Logic Pro X (Thank you, Dr. Mark Sullivan!) to compose the work. I'm not sure using primitive MIDI sounds notated by Sibelius 7.5 I had at my disposal at the time would have been very impressive in that setting. (The non-sugar coated version of that is that it would have sounded like God awful shit in those speakers - well...in any speakers). I used 12 midi channels of various sounds, mostly a compilation of guitar, piano, strings, and brass...with a cute little flute solo that sneaks in there somehow. I also used an upright bass to help strengthen the roots of the dorian-ish chord progression; an instrument that was a featured soloist at the end until Mr. McLean waved his magic wand of death and cut the line completely, asking that it be replaced with a more exciting bang to go out on. All jokes aside, he didn't specifically make any cuts - just asked to change the ending - and it was the right decision. The horn fanfare that occurs somewhere in the middle is probably my favorite part, being a brass player myself. However, I wasn't too keen on how the strings worked within the context. Of course a lot of that was due to the MIDI configuration I was using - its so hard to get Strings to sound good through midi samples. Anyway, you can be the judge. Below you'll find examples of the Intro with the original ending and the Intro with the alternate - used in the show - ending.

See? Tasty.

MOVING ON. I probably enjoyed writing the Show-end music more and I think it worked better overall. David wanted a SNL-esque ending (again, not anything actually like that)...more of a background mood music that could be playing while people come onto the stage for the final call before the show ends. He asked it to be longer than the intro to allow time for that. Word of advice - never ask a composer to make something longer without being specific, because they will usually double - and sometimes triple it. The intro was a little over a minute; the outro? 5 minutes.

For this segment, again using Logic Pro X, I included more of the Latin sounds that Dave had originally asked for. He got his Marimba. Happy, Dave? You got your Marimba. :) Seriously, though - common Latin beats were used. However, to add an unusual spin I juxtaposed these with some African conga and bongo sounds along with - and I'm not making this up - some jungle audio samples including an orangutan cry, birds, crickets and there's even a lion's roar somewhere in there. I'm really not sure why I added those sounds. I think I was thinking of the Rolling Stones 'Sympathy for the Devil' at the time, and wanted to recreate a similar sound. It may or may not have worked. Again - you can be the judge from the sample below.

So there you have it. Believe it or not, I DID put some thought into both of these works. In closing, I will say that the awards show appeared to go on without a hitch - despite some unusual weather we had that weekend. David and Heather did a terrific job putting the thing together and I couldn't be more thrilled that I got to be a part of that! And just as an added tease, David and I have already been talking about the music for next years show - it will be something really big (I hope he doesn't mind me throwing in that plug!). Oh yeah, and I have to give a special shout out to my brother Paul, who took home the Jay Flippin' Music Educator award! Pretty tremendous honor - and of course well deserved. - PJF


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