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Songs in the Making
May 20, 2013
Over the weekend I thought of a bunch of things I wanted to write here today. Now it’s Monday and I haven’t exactly drawn a blank but my thoughts aren’t as lively as they were on Saturday when I was walking the dogs. Why is that? My friend Abby says she gets her best writing done during a good, long nap. For me, it’s during a morning walk when I’m not distracted by whatever distracts me at my desk. I wish I could transcribe my thoughts as I'm thinking them. Something's lost as soon as I pull out my pen, though. I think it has to do with deciding to write them down. It takes me out of my reverie. By the time I get home, the sparkle has oftened disappeared, and the sparkle's what I'm after.
Last week while I was at Starbucks waiting for new tires to be put on my car, I found a file on my laptop with the songs that Peter Tomlinson and I have been working on for almost a year. One of the working titles (“Fast Hill”) was completely unfamiliar to me even though I wrote the song. That’s never happened before, which is an indicator of my advancing years and the time it’s been since I worked on it. Anyway, I listened to it on my ear buds and started singing along (I only know this because a guy named Bob who was sitting next to me thanked me when I got up to leave). It was fun. Peter plays a snare part that makes me want to move my feet in a joyful, un-embarrassed sort of way. His teaching schedule is nearly done, so it’s time for us to get back to work on this recording. This morning I booked a week of studio time in August so we can do the final mixes. Having a deadline is good for me. It'll get done now. That I know for sure.
And we’re nearly finished my new website too. It’s taken too many years, but I like it. When we're finished, I’ll be able to do a lot of the behind-the-scenes work, which will save time and money.
Thanks, as always, for being there. You’d be surprised how often I think of you all. Your interest in my work keeps me alive in so many ways. Can’t thank you enough for that.
What I'm Not Doing
May 13, 2013
Our neighbors across the street are having the exterior of their house painted today. The lone painter is a woman in her mid 70s. Brent told me she painted the outside of our house several years before I got here. I just peeked out the window to see what she looks like. She’s wearing baggy light blue pants and an over-sized white t-shirt, neither of which have a spot on them. Her silver-white hair is pulled back in a thick ponytail that falls down her back. She’s pulling a metal scraper down the side of the house to get the old paint off. It’s not a sound I love, but I’m impressed she can still do it.
Last night, Brent told me about a blind woman who turned 100 yesterday and celebrated by skiing Arapahoe Basin just north of here.
If I live to be 100, that means I have 45 years left. That’s a lot of time. I have a mental list of things I’d still like to do, like: write more books, record more songs, take piano lessons, take guitar lessons, learn to play the drums, learn to sing again, build an energy-efficient home, go back to New Zealand, be a hospice volunteer, make mobiles out of sticks, paper and my grandmother’s fake pearls, plant lots of flowers. The list is endless. The challenge is to decide what to do first. These days, I spend a lot of time learning how not to do things: how not to be moving so fast that I miss the good stuff, how not to be motivated by what I think other people need me to do, how not to spend too much time doing things that aren’t on my list of things I still want to do.
This morning, I was practicing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for the community band concert next week. There were moments when my voice sounded like it always has; other moments when I didn’t have what I used to have, but I did have something new. What I want more than anything is to sing the way I sing now, not try to sing the way I used to.
45 years. Lots of time, or maybe not. Today, I’ll get my studio set up in the new space and with any luck I’ll be recording new songs later this week.
I've got a gig!
May 6, 2013
It’s true! Last week I heard on the radio that the newly formed Westcliffe Community Band was auditioning for an alto to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” They have their first-ever concert next week. At first I thought to myself no way. Then Brent came home and said, "I just heard they’re looking for someone to sing with the community band. Why don’t you go for it?” I told him I’d already ruled it out, so he asked me why. I couldn’t answer. Part of me wanted to do it because why wouldn’t I – I love to sing and it’s been a while; but part of me was terrified that I wouldn’t get the gig if I auditioned. I wasn’t sure I could handle that rejection right now, so I decided to err on the side of self-protection. Brent said, “Just call ‘em, Bar” so I emailed them instead and got an immediate response. That led to an audition an hour later. Long story short: I got the gig. (Inside scoop: I’m not sure anyone else auditioned).
I was nervous going over there. Melinda, the choir director for the county school district, met me at the door. She's one of those magical music teachers who all the kids adore. 60 kids are in her choir with only 400 students in the whole county (k-12). She was there to accompany me on piano. Brittan, the community band director, is a new arrival to the area. She’s from Chicago; maybe 28-years old, optimistic, energized, and excited to have a job in rural Colorado. She’s been a professional musician since graduating from college and is also a teacher the kids and community love. They’ve done wonders for this town. When they heard me sing, they were thrilled, but relieved more than anything, I think. They’d found a singer and the show could go on. I left feeling like my lights had been turned back on. I’m a musician again! I’m rehearsing, practicing, getting nervous, feeling inadequate, the whole bit. It’s wonderful! Last night I even had nightmares about coughing through the whole song – so much so that people were laughing at me. Oy gevalt!
So, I get to sing a song that everyone but me has sung a million times. Until last week I’d never sung the song all the way through. Now I’m on the lookout for some fabulous red sparkly shoes but may end up wearing the plain old, everyday red-leather heals I bought at Pegasus five years ago. Found a pair of blue satin shoes at DSW that were actually comfortable, was tempted, but that’s sort of another song.
I’ll let you know how it goes. Can’t wait.
Finally had a chance to listen to the tracks we recorded in Woodstock a couple of weeks ago. They sound really, really good (sans vocal) so I’m hopeful about that too. My voice is still less than it should be for recording so it’ll be another couple of weeks before I can sing them for real.
Life is fine.
Enjoy your week,
April 29, 2013
The tile men and electricians are here this morning. By the end of today, we’ll have light and an almost-done bathroom in the space we’re renovating. If we’re really lucky, we’ll have running water in there by the end of the week.
It’s exciting to see an idea that started in late January morph into a physical space. I love planning and organizing this sort of thing. Brent does too so we’re surviving, unlike many couples who take on a project like this. We both have strong opinions. Generally we’ve agreed on things like paint colors, faucet styles, or bath sizes. When we don’t, we’ve managed to defer or negotiate.
I read a really good essay this morning called “Good Marriages” written by Adam Fisher from a best-of anthology The Sun magazine put out. I found myself reading and re-reading the third paragraph: “Two things seem to me indispensable in a good and lasting relationship. One is laughter and the other is a deep sense of wishing a partner well on his or her own terms.” It’s the second sentence that I dwelt on. He agrees that wishing a partner well on his or her own terms is the hard part.
The electricians just asked me to confirm where the dimmer switches are intended to go. I had to stop writing here to answer them. When they asked about the dimmer for my studio, I told them I’d like it where I enter the room. Brent said, “don’t you want it on the other side where you can get to it more easily when you’re working?” I said, “no, I want it here.” A moment later, the electrician’s assistant who’d just joined the conversation, said, “why don’t you put that dimmer on this side of the room. That way when you’re working and you wanna dim the lights, you won’t have to go so far.” It took me about one breath to say, “Ok, it's a good idea.” As soon as I did, we all started to laugh. When Brent had said it, I didn’t listen. When someone I didn’t know suggested the same exact thing, I deferred right away. This having just read Fisher’s essay.
I’m off to paint. It’s my last day of painting. All that’s left are closet shelves. They’re tedious to paint, but so satisfying when they’re done.
April 22, 2013
At noon, I’ll be recording at a studio in West Hurley, New York. It’s the first recording session I’ve done in a few years where someone else is engineering. When I called to book the session a few weeks ago, I planned on taking a few hours to record some piano music I’ve been writing as well as doing another version of a song called “Heaven” that I recorded in 1999. The original had bass and background vocals on it. Thirteen years of playing it live has allowed the song to grow and morph into a different thing for me so I’ve wanted to get that on tape – a phrase that no longer applies since we mostly record to hard disk these days.
When I scheduled the time with Louie, my friend who owns the studio, he reminded me that we’d need to get his piano tuned for the session. Like any other instrument, a piano needs to be tuned before it’s played. The only difference is that a piano needs a person who knows how to tune it to do the tuning, which costs money. Louie’s strategy is to share that cost with his clients 50 -50 since he gets the advantage of the tuned piano once the session is over. It generally costs a total of $100, so that’s a good deal for both of us. If I were recording for more than a day or two, that piano would have to be tuned again, and if I were recording a whole CD’s worth of music, it might be tuned four, five, six times depending on how the tuning holds up. Normal people probably wouldn’t hear that a piano’s gone out a bit if they hear the piano alone, but as soon as other musicians add their parts, most would hear it loud and clear.
The point of my telling you this is that as soon as I realized I’d be paying for the piano to be tuned, I thought to myself (and this is typical Bar Scott) I might as well re-record a couple of tunes that we recorded last summer that still don’t feel right. That meant hiring a drummer, a guy named Gary Burke, who we thought would be right for the two songs that are fighting us. After I hired Gary, I thought to myself, well, I should probably ask Lou Pappas to join us – he’s the bass player who’s doing the rest of the songs on the recording. Typically, the drums, bass and piano are recorded simultaneously and are called the rhythm tracks when they’re done. If they feel good, the song’s going to work. If they’re recorded at the same time, it’s much easier to get that good feel. The last time I recorded true rhythm tracks was in 1992 on Silence is Broken. Since then, I’ve recorded every instrument separately. Suddenly my three-hour session was a block-booked, ten-hour day that I could really sink my teeth into – and my wallet!
But here’s the thing: when I woke up Saturday morning, my voice was gone. I arrived in Philadelphia with a cold on Tuesday – a cold that had traveled with our friend Ron from Asheville to Westcliffe the week before. Brent had gotten it and given it to me. I was able to teach my workshop on Friday (which was great, by the way. The Woodstock Writers’ Festival was the best ever this year) but by the time Abigail Thomas and I were doing our presentation yesterday morning, I sounded more like Tom Waits than Bar Scott. Not a bad thing except that I couldn’t sing anything higher than a middle C, and the new songs I was playing involved only a few notes that are below middle C. It was so bad that it was funny so the audience was forgiving, but it was a big disappointment for me. Thankfully I’m old enough now that I don’t dwell on these things for too long. A few hours maybe, but not days or weeks.
My voice is still pretty much absent, but we’re doing the recording session anyway. Too many people are involved to cancel; coming back next week or next month doesn’t make sense when I live in Colorado. I’m not worried about Gary and Lou. We’ll get their parts. But if I cough while we’re playing together, we’ll have to start over. Here’s hoping.
Seems a lot of us are sick these days. The winter has been long in terms of that. Spring is sort of here in the Catskills. It’s still chilly, but the flowers are peaking out. It’s so nice to see green. I miss it where I live. When I’m here, though, I miss the quiet of the Wet Mountain Valley.
Take good care of yourselves.
PS I did finish the lyrics I told you about a couple of weeks ago. I say they're finished, but my guess is that I'll tweak them some more before I record the final vocal:
If There’s a Way
If there’s a way to end these tears
so they won’t fall forever after or years
overflow and trickle down on my dreams
I’d catch them all, cast them out to the sea
To find a way
I would lie down before an altar of stone
And watch a songbird flying over the hill
I would follow her, wander off by myself
To find a bridge to cross
I’d learn to climb high above the tree line
To find a way
I would gamble everything that I know
I would love someone, travel far from my home
I would empty all the pockets I own
I would carry the hardest sticks and stones
To find a way
I would try to build a shelter without a border or walls
where I'd linger under a waterfall
Then I’d circle, circle back to my home
©Bar Scott, 2013
Finishing a Lyric
April 8, 2013
It’s a good Monday morning. The dry wall contractors finished the space we’re renovating yesterday so today I start to paint. There are 680 square feet of walls and ceiling to prime so it’ll be several days before we see what the rooms look like in their new colors. In the meantime, lyrics for my new songs are starting to come. I’ll be singing two of them at the Woodstock Writers’ Festival next week so the pressure’s on! Last year I sang a song that was un-finished so that attendees and I could talk about how I/we get stuck and unstuck when we’re writing words. I wasn’t thrilled with the way that presentation worked so I want to make sure I do better this year.
One of the songs I’m writing is called “If There’s a Way.” I started writing it over four years ago when I lived in Woodstock. It started on guitar – a simple little piece that I hummed along with. I figured out the final form about a year ago, recorded it with a crooked piano part, and then sent it off to Peter Tomlinson to see what he thought. When I send him songs in progress, the vocals have no particular lyric since they’re generally not written yet. Peter can put what I’ve done into his recording software program, then record his parts on top of mine. On this song, he played accordion and electric guitar, which is remarkable for two reasons: one, he’s really good at both and his tracks are so beautiful that even having listened to them a hundred times already, I want to hear them again. And second: he’s a pianist, so the fact that he plays other instruments so well blows me away.
Peter recorded his parts about a year ago, but the lyrics have continued to elude me. The night I started the song, I was missing my son, Forrest, so the first and only line I sang was, “If there’s a way to end these tears.” But that was four years ago and I don’t need to write about ending my tears anymore. And yet it’s felt wrong to discard the one line that came at the same time as the music. Somehow lines like this one always feel sacred to me and I do my best to keep them. In this case, the challenge has been to figure out how to use the line but write the rest of the lyric from where I am now.
I’m not entirely done. Still need a line or two. But that first line finally led to a second, and a third last week. When I get the second line, I know I’ll be able to finish. It sets the imagery in motion so I can see where I’m going. When I get to this point I can let go of trying and let my subconscious do the work. I’ve done the thinking part, now I have to trust that the words will come. If all goes well, and I think it will, I’ll be finished by two weeks from yesterday when Abigail Thomas and I do our event at the writers’ festival in Wodostock. Peter’s going to join me on accordion when I sing it live for the first time. Thrilling and scary!
Here are the first three lines:
If there’s a way to end these tears
so they won’t fall forever after or years
Or overflow and trickle down through my dreams
The rest of the song has to do with finding my way. Naturally.
It’s the stuff of life, isn’t it? All of us finding our way?
I like days like today when I feel like I’m able to do that.
Have a good week.