One Last Concert

So that’s what being a reporter is like. You complete one story and then on to the next one although I imagine the stories don’t usually occur within hours of each other. This Saturday I first had to watch the Franciscan men’s basketball team’s game, interview the coach, and write about it all in the space of a couple hours because I then had to make my to a concert to do research for yet another story, this one an audio slideshow that I had to narrate as well.

The concert, itself, was a lot of fun. Kevin Heider, an artist of whom I’d never heard, was the headliner supported by some Franciscan students and a local producer. He also brought in Chris Cole, a similarly styled solo artist who sang backup and had a few songs of his own.

I was pleasantly surprised by the talent on display at the show. Shannon Keating, the opening act, demonstrated some excellent vocal range in covering Seal’s “Fly Like an Eagle” and Ingrid Michaelson’s “You and I.” Her stage presence was very endearing with the almost demure façade that she put up. She even gave a bashful smile when singing that line from “You and I,” “Maybe I want to what bunnies do with you.”

She self-deprecatingly said that she doesn’t have a talent for songwriting, which is why she focuses on covering other artists. A lot of artists get by this way, at least at the beginning. They make a name for themselves by doing amazing covers of others’ songs. Birdie comes to mind with her cover of “Skinny Love” or Walk Off the Earth’s “Somebody that I Used to Know” in which the entire group used different parts of a single guitar to provide the instrumentation for the song. Both of these artists got record deals and began to make their own music, touring for avid fans who were introduced to them by those famous covers.

Next up was Courtney Christine Shingle, another student, who played original songs. This performance didn’t grab me, as well, but maybe that was just a reaction to her overenthusiastic household sisters.

The star of the show, though, was Kevin Heider who brought his folk rock sensibilities to the stage. His songs went from upbeat fun to contemplatively slow, but they were always entertaining and personal. He also didn’t overuse the harmonica nor Chris Cole’s trumpet, leaving them for just a few songs. “Salzburg Revolution” was one of the most interesting songs I heard, a ballad about three outlaws.

He also had a song called “Barcelona,” which was inspired by his adventures when, as a Franciscan student around eight years ago, had a bit of trouble getting to Barcelona from Austria. I always find it interesting to hear what inspired someone to write a song. Usually the story isn’t what you think. One of Nickel Creek’s most famous instrumentals “Ode to a Butterfly” was named such because Chris Thile, the band’s frontman, saw a butterfly on the window as he was writing the song. He says that it may have actually been a moth, so the song could have actually been called “Ode to a Moth.” It doesn’t have the same ring to it.

This will probably be my last blog post of the year as things are going to be too busy to keep this going during the Christmas season, so I will leave you with an old fashioned sign-off.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Praise & Worship, Christian Rock: What do they offer?

Well, I finally did it.  I went and attended a FOP – a Festival of Praise, the monthly praise & worship gathering in the fieldhouse at Franciscan University.  I traveled to that event that is peculiar to Franciscan and listened to and witnessed to the outpouring of praise and worship accompanied by repetitive and unoriginal music. For something that is supposed to break from traditional Catholic practices of worship it really seems to suffer from a distinct lack of creativity. My hat goes off to the performers who sang for almost two hours, but it was quite uninspired. The theme was “How He loves” which could be an interesting topic except the sermons and reflections given by the speakers never went below skin-deep. The simplicity of the music – makes sense since the whole point is to get people to sing along – does not automatically mean that you have to simply cajole people into saying, “I know He loves me.” And this type of thing was done repeatedly. It reminded me so much of an Evangelical church’s preacher’s stereotypical sermon. I don’t see how this can foster a more personal connection to God. I’ve always ascribed to the passage from Matthew 6. “When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door, and pray to the Father.” For me, I have always found a more private setting a better place to contemplate and grow closer to God.

Since this is a music blog, it might be worth it to speak a little about the state of mainstream Christian music. There has not really been an original, mainstream group since Switchfoot from 10 years ago and Relient K – who resist that categorization with their wide variety of releases. Currently I am best served by finding bands with wholesome yet quality music like Mumford & Sons, Beta Radio, The Oh Hellos (Great band by the way. Their latest album was heavily inspired by C.S. Lewis), and a plethora of other groups who resist the trends of hip-hop, rap, and pop.

Praise & Worship music is an entirely separate genre from Christian rock, but they cross over especially when mixed with the musical sensibilities of young Christians/Catholics. Both feature similar beats and progressions and both use, call them crutch, lines. Lyrics like, “Come Lord Jesus” or “You are holy, Lord” are commonplace in both genres and add absolutely nothing to the musical piece as an art. Music is a form of art, and an incredibly rich one with plenty of opportunities to say something meaningful. It’s such a shame that for all their fervored ways of calling God “holy,” these songs usually end up saying nothing at all.

A Disappointing Weekend with a Fortunate Twist

This last weekend was shaping up to be a solidly entertaining one.  The Family Crest, a band I’ve been following with interest for a little over a year, who are relatively new on the scene, was coming to Steubenville.  Their first high profile album, “Beneath the Brine,” was released just this year and while I enjoyed their previous EP, “The Headwinds,” more, I had a lot of fun with the new LP.

Unfortunately, work got in the way as I had to attend and write a recap on the Franciscan Men’s Soccer team’s win that afternoon.  I was unable to extricate myself from the computer until well after 7 p.m., and the concert was already one hour old.  I missed an opportunity for a great story, but I found another.

I talked with a student who had actually interned at the production company owned by famed movie score composer Hans Zimmer, the man who created such iconic themes like “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Gladiator,” and the upcoming “Interstellar” among others.  As a fan of Zimmer’s work, I was suitably impressed and took the opportunity to ask the student for an interview where he could share his experiences down in Santa Monica, California, where Zimmer’s company Remote Control Productions is based.

The interview went well and is up on my website, though I am having a hard time embedding a player on the page.  As it is, browsers can play the interview quite ably.  The embedding process will have to wait until I find a method that actually works.

Catching up after a couple of weeks – Bands to look out for

As far as musical events, there was very little to choose from this past weekend on or off campus. There was one event put on by the Harmonium Project, whom I’ve mentioned in previous posts, at the yet-to-be-opened BookMarx Bookstore down in Steubenville. Due to previous engagements I was unable to attend, but there are a couple more on my slate this semester.

For one, the Family Crest is scheduled to play later in the month. An indie pop group from San Francisco, California, the Family Crest first hit my radar when I heard their single “Love, Don’t Go” on my car radio. The band’s interesting sound comes from their large ensemble. The core band is made up of seven members, and they often play with extra musicians. Many of their musicians are classically trained in violin, trombone, cello, and flute among others. This makes the band sound almost like an orchestra in their songs.

On October 4, homecoming weekend hit with different events all day. The final event that Saturday night was a concert from Ceili Rain that I wrote an article about on my still-developing website. It was an interesting experience as the concert started an hour later than was scheduled and the crowd was pretty sparse. In the fieldhouse gymnasium, it may have been the smallest crowd in the biggest venue I’ve ever witnessed. The band didn’t phone it in, though. Whether or not they were contracted to do so, they played energetically for an hour and a half and entertained their patient audience with their Celtic rock music.

In my quest for new and interesting sources of music, an album by Dirt Poor Robins caught my ear. “The Raven Locks Act 2” and its predecessor “The Raven Locks Act 1” is the strangest kind of throwback album. Where most bands these days might go back to the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, Dirt Poor Robins’ songs sound like they came from before World War II with the use of scratchy audio techniques with “Anthem of the Seaward Suffragettes” being both the most memorable and most catchy tune. Belted out by Kate DeGraide, the song features a group of suffragettes and their declaration of autonomy. Both albums are a very interesting listen all the way through.

The Modern Landscape of Music Consumption and What it Means

In a class today, my professor discussed the changing patterns of music consumption. This got me thinking – I know, a dangerous habit – what are the actual effects and benefits of these different forms of consumption of music. These days there are dozens of different methods. There’s radio, the time-honored method for artists to get their music out in to the world where the millions could listen to and come to love their work. These people then go to buy their albums. In the olden days, by which I mean the dawn of the twentieth century to just ten years ago, this meant actually buying the record at a brick-and-mortar store. The record went from many different forms through vinyl, cassettes, eight-tracks, before finally reaching compact disks, or CDs. In the 21st century came the dawn of the digital download method of getting and consuming music, which began a whole host of ethical and legal problems centered around file-sharing and other now illegal means of receiving and giving music. iTunes somewhat successfully made digital downloads a feasible revenue source for the music publishing companies yet the problems with piracy still remain in the digital sector.

Recently, a new trend has surfaced, one that involves not even buying actual albums or songs. This trend is online streaming services like Pandora and Spotify. I use Spotify. I love it’s near endless selection of music from both major record companies and smaller independent labels. With a small monthly fee, I can listen to just about any band I can think of, but this isn’t a Spotify commercial. My point is that I increasingly see young people gravitate toward such streaming sites as Spotify, Rdio, and Pandora. I predict that this form of music consumption will eventually become the norm, although I also predict that prices for this service will rise slowly just as Netflix’s subscription price and services changed as the studios began to fight for more fees from Netflix to display their work.

The effect of digital downloads has been well-documented, but how does streaming support the artists/music publishers, and does it do enough? What I’ve found is that largely the answer is no. While I can find dozens of unknown-to-me artists, this ability to listen to music either supported by ads or my subscription payment does not effectively support the artist – at least, not yet. I found a lot of information on this subject in an article by Scottish musician David Byrne. In Sweden, the birthplace of Spotify, a country whose main music source is streaming, it turns out that while music recording companies do just fine, the artists often fail to get a decent cut. In America, where streaming is far less common, streaming gives barely a trickle to the artists. As it is music streaming needs to and probably will change in the future to better support the artists, and this has as much to do with the record labels as it does the Spotify system. As things are, even Spotify struggles to make a profit, and these businesses need to be reshaped if streaming and the artists who provide the content will survive and thrive. (Source)

This weekend I will take a step outside my comfort zone and enter the world of Praise and Worship music by attending Franciscan’s Festival of Praise. I will write a story on this.

Movie Scores and What Happens When They Disappear

Over the weekend, I saw a certain movie called Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  Now while this movie is neither known for its score nor is it especially memorable although I did mark how effectively it added to the tone of the film.  So I decided to take this opportunity to look at how important a score is to establishing the mood of the film.  For example, early in the film, as the main character, played by Jimmy Stewart, explores the sights of the capital, the music is a collection of patriotic American folk songs – Yankee Doodle, the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  All these reinforce the sense of wonder, optimism, and patriotic fervor so essential to Jimmy Stewart’s character.  As the movie continues however, this naively patriotic music fades to more ominous tones as Mr. Smith discovers the corrupt, underbelly of Washington politics.  Music augments the mood of a film more effectively than almost anything.  Inspired by this, I began to think about the great musical scores and how critical they are to the success of a film or really any piece of media, video games included.  That was when I found this:

While obviously meant to be comical, this parody shows that a score cannot only make a scene better; it can literally make a scene.  An awkwardly silent scene becomes a triumphant display of victory. Nothing stirs the imagination of a science fiction lover like the Star Wars theme music, and the swooping, soaring trumpets and fanfare match the swooping, soaring spaceships and lightsaber battles.

Other films that come to mind: Gladiator, with its beautiful, heartrending music, especially the song “Now we are free” that can make any person tear up recalling the tragic conclusion to that movie.  The Princess Bride, with its whimsical score that matches its fairy tale atmosphere and that absolutely beautiful love song come the credits.  All these sounds are as much a part of the film as the images and these movies would not be the same masterpieces without the soundtrack.

In music news, alt-J, the English indie rock group, released a very strange album featuring elements of A Capella and R&B.  One song was even inspired by an extremely graphic scene from the film Alien.

Weezer is teasing a new album, releasing a single titled “Cleopatra.”  The 20-year-old band will release their tenth album on September 30.

A kick-off to this blog and this semester

It was a beautiful evening on Sunday, the seventh of September, at Ft. Steuben, the park in the middle of downtown Steubenville, the venue of the lastest concert put on by The Harmonium Project, an organization dedicated to forging a stronger bond between the students of Franciscan and the city of Steubenville.  The performance was headlined by the ever-entertaining Celtic Rock band Scythian with the opening act sung by a local favorite and Franciscan alumna, talented singer-songwriter Alanna Boudreau.

Kicking off the show.  Boudreau brought the audience sweet, soulful songs of love and loss.  Having never heard her music before, I was taken aback by the strong attention she put into the poetry of songwriting as well as the mature – by mature I mean deep and grown-up not obscene or vulgar – themes, which she infuses into her songs.  One song in particular, “Solitudes,” examines the nature of love itself, looking at the separation that always exists between even the closest of friends and lovers. As far as the melodies they were catchy and well crafted, especially the hum-along number “My Fella.” As would be expected, she received an enthusiastic ovation after her performance.

What followed was a little bump in the road, as The Harmonium Project had to make their pitch to the crowd, but then came the main event.  Scythian was, as I’d hoped, just a whole lot of fun to listen to.  They had the whole crowd, not a huge one, but a sizable gathering of mostly Franciscan kids, dancing, jumping, and clapping almost throughout their entire set.  Their infectious mix of Celtic, gypsy, and Ukrainian rock and folk made for an incredibly unique sound with the accordion and banjo making appearances. From hearsay, I had expected the fun show – many family members and friends had seen them live before – but for many, this was their first Scythian show since they hadn’t played in Steubenville for a few years.   After a couple encores, the show ended and so did a fun night of music in downtown Steubenville of all places.

Probably the biggest draw for many students was the student discount making for some very inexpensive tickets. But that is The Harmonium Project’s mission: to institute a culture of music and art in downtown Steubenville to help turn it in to a traditional college downtown and stimulate economic growth in the city.  Eventually, they hope to turn Steubenville downtown into a social hotspot.

In other music news, Counting Crows came out with a new album Somewhere Under Wonderland, which many music critics, such as Grantland’s Steven Hyden, claim is their best album in fifteen years, and I would also recommend giving it a listen.  It has all the subtle lyrics and references that their original hit album was known for.

The British pop group, the Kooks, also released their new album Listen.  A more beat-heavy offering than their previous, which may appeal to different sensibilities than Junk of the Heart, but still worthy of your time.

Finally, work is progressing on my website, which will feature some slideshows and other multimedia presentations.  Enjoy the music.

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