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Topic: Christmas 2011 music, creation and behind the scenes.

  1. #1
    Senior Member Silh's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Alberta, Canada

    Christmas 2011 music, creation and behind the scenes.

    I remember last Christmas someone started a topic about what went into creating each piece of music for the Community Christmas album. I suppose I should probably dig it up as a template :P, but anyhow, I'm always curious what kind of process each person takes to arrive at the music we hear, from the tools used to the ideas behind the arrangement. So, if anyone wants to share, please do!

    And again, a hearty thank-you to everyone for their music, and to Dan for organizing and putting everything together!
    -- Matt Wong

  2. #2

    Re: Christmas 2011 music, creation and behind the scenes.

    I felt like doing an original piece this year, and I also felt like doing something a little less specifically Christmas-oriented. My contribution ended up being a jazz ballad called "The Wintry Mind."

    The title is cribbed from the following poem by Witter Bynner (yes, that's actually his name).

    Winter uncovers distances, I find;
    And so the cold and so the wintry mind
    Takes leaves away, till there is left behind
    A wide cold world. And so the heart grows blind
    To the earth’s green motions lying warm below
    Field upon field, field upon field, of snow.

    I started by working out a synth pad part in Finale. I wrote the chord progression for the whole piece fist, then notated it in Finale, saved it as a MIDI file, and opened that up in SONAR. The synth sounds are from the Garritan sounds bundled with Finale. I don't know if these were ever used in a commercial product--I assume they were intended for the GEM library which was announced but never released (as far as I know)--but I think they still qualify as Garritan products.

    Another thing I wanted to do was use my EWI, which I bought over the summer. I still don't play it very well (it turns out that 40 years playing violin/viola does little to prepare one for performing on a wind instrument! Who knew?), but I wanted to try recording with it anyway. The EWI lead uses Garritan sounds from AKAI, namely the English horn and alto flute layered together with a little bit of the Choir oohs from the Finale soundpack.

    Piano, bass, and drums are from JABB 3. Wind machine is from GPO.
    Dan Powers

    "It's easier to be a composer than it is to compose."
    --Ray Luke (1928-2010)

  3. #3

    Re: Christmas 2011 music, creation and behind the scenes.

    On the Christmas album thread, Toby asked about the instruments I used in my "Coventry Carol" tracks. Post #16 on that thread is my reply, listing the Garritan World instruments I used, with some other background info:

    More info:

    I found two different versions of the song in notation posted online. I used a vocal SATB score from "ChristmasCarolMusic.org" as a starting point, first using my Recorder quartet playing the vocal lines. That was very straight forward, short and sweet. I knew I wanted to expand and develop the theme, using several different moods throughout.

    At YouTube I found "Coventry Carol on Mountain Dulcimers" - and liked the sliding notes the musician there used throughout on the main theme phrase - so I emulated that with the World Dulcimer - carefully editing pitch bends to achieve what the Dulcimer player was doing on that video.

    Another YouTube video, "Joe Collins and Mike McGee-Coventry Carol" featured Dulcimer and Acoustic Guitar. I liked elements of their arrangement also, and let that be a guide for yet more development.

    I also found a very nice arrangement sung by the U.S. Army Band, different and more complex than the straight SATB arrangement I'd first found, so I used some elements from this version.

    I wanted to have at least a feel for the Medieval sound throughout the recording, so, as I said on the other thread, I found a site online that had example clips of a lot of archaic instrumenets like the Rebec, Serpent, Zink - and let the sound of those inspire more layers in my arrangement. It was from listening on that site that I decided to use the GPO Contra Bassoon in conjunction with the Recorders, since it has a sound akin to some of those old instruments. Listening to the Psaltery examples, I realized that layering the World Fiddle and the Garritan Strad, with no vibrato, would get a good approximation of that sound.

    Wanting to include a more up-beat B section, I worked in an arrangement from a few bars of "Angelus Ad Virginem," another Medieval Carol I'd come across while researching "Coventry."

    Over the course of several months, I kept coming back to the project, trying various orders for the sections I was fleshing out, adding, subtracting various harmonies I was developing, and eventually settled on the version that I submitted.

    It was a very rewarding experience, doing the research, experimenting, and developing a unique version of the ancient song.

    NEXT!---It's a really good thread topic, Silh - glad you started it, and hope we hear from more Christmas CD contributors.


  4. #4

    Re: Christmas 2011 music, creation and behind the scenes.

    I had originally decided on setting a sequence of ancient Christmas songs (13th-15th century) as a sort of "holiday showcase" for strings.

    I also wanted to highlight the wonderful strings of GPO and how they CAN sound nice and relatively realistic.

    I used a full string section (1st, 2nd, violas, celli and basses), to which I added a solo quintet (2 violins, 2 violas, and a cello).

    The solo instruments were taken from various soli in GPO as well as one instance each of the Garritan Solo Stradivari violin (no longer available), and the Garritan Gofriller Cello (also, discontinued).

    The structure of the music was simple: three kings, so three repetitions of the theme (A Child is Born in Bethlehem = Puer Natus in Bethlehem). Each repetition a 3rd higher than the previous. Each section also used different orchestral makeups: some balanced the soli within the sections, others pitted the solists against the sections.

    As with all of my music, I made use of a great deal of counterpoint.

    There was no real external mastering. I created the audio from within Finale, using a HumanPlayback setting of "Standard", and the Garritan Ambience Reverb set to Concert Hall 1.

    The only thing I did outside of Finale was to boost the volume in Goldwave.

  5. #5

    Cool Re: Christmas 2011 music, creation and behind the scenes.

    “I Wonder As I Wander” was fun to record! It is about half JABB and half GPO. I always try to bring something a little more unusual to the GPO Christmas party, using the GPO instruments outside of the typical classical arrangements, so this year the concept is sort of “modern jazz waltz meets Native American folk tune.” I definitely wanted to avoid the boom-ching-ching boom-ching-ching feel of a lot of ¾ songs.

    I started by tracking a very basic drum and percussion guide track, to get the feel that I was hearing in my head. I then tracked the piano, choosing the JABB piano over the GPO Steinway, because it is brighter, and more modern-sounding. After that, I tracked the bass guitar and acoustic guitar arpeggio parts. I like the way the guitar arpeggios and the piano work together to create a “Carol of the Bells”feel (go back and listen for it!). I then went back and re-tracked the drums, to get a looser, smoother feel that was more consistent with what the song was becoming.

    Once the rhythm section was in place, I fleshed out the background with GPO strings, and added the solo instruments. I love the GPO solo flute, and I like the way that the pitch bend can be used to make it sound more like a bamboo, or native American flute. The flute and the solo violin trade lines, until the acoustic guitar solo comes in to finish the song. A few percussion toys were added, and the song was complete.

    All parts were bounced to individual tracks in Sonar (I'm still at version 3.0...) for mixing and processing. I used a Pultec emulation plugin from a great small company, “G-Sonique”, to give the track a bit of needed tube warmth and punchiness, and used Har-Bal to inspect and fine-tune the EQ.

    Thanks for listening!


  6. #6
    Senior Member Silh's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Alberta, Canada

    Re: Christmas 2011 music, creation and behind the scenes.

    Guess I should take my turn, having started the topic .

    For myself, the theme of 'Come' stood out in my mind ever since I decided on 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel', and particularly the lyrics of the first verse and the verse 'O come, Desire of Nations'. I played around with the idea in my head for probably a good month before actually writing anything, eventually deciding on a mournful first verse as befitting the words, a lighter second verse with a more ad-lib feel, perhaps a hopeful feel, and a joyful third verse. I debated for a very long time on the instruments to use... for a while the solo was to be a bassoon, to be followed up by a wind ensemble (which I have a particular weakness for liking to use!), but eventually settled on the strings with a flute, despite the solo strings not having the control which (some, at least, of) the solo winds do. (Please, please, rerelease the Garritan violin and cello. Pretty please!). The ending was also a bit of a toss-up until very late in the timeline, when I thought, 'rejoice because He came, but now waiting and hoping again for His return', and decided to drop back into the cello. I don't know if that all came across as I wanted, but that was the intent at least! The chord structure is mildy different with each verse for the mood, with the last verse's mostly based on a hymnal's SATB parts.

    As I typically have, I started with ol' Noteworthy Composer. Once I'm done, it all goes into Reaper where I do all the rest of the work with the timing and dynamics. I had a heck of a time with that Cello 2 Solo, since a good amount of dynamics are built into the samples unfortunately, but its tone was what I wanted for the part... tried to counteract it as much as I could manage with some very weird shaped volume/CC1 envelopes, but a lot more of it comes through than I wish would have. (*Wishes again for more controllable violin and cello!*)

    I threw some ReaVerb at it with impulses off of samplicity.com, and some other minor effects, but such things are getting outside my comfort zone (see comment about trying things out and discarding everything that sounds worse...), and I notice that the final result is still better sounding, so much thanks go out to Dan for beefing things up and also some further tweaks and touch-ups!

    Suggestions for improvement are welcome (PM or perhaps another thread since cluttering up this one probably wouldn't be good), since I am neither experienced nor educated about a lot of this stuff!
    -- Matt Wong

  7. #7

    Re: Christmas 2011 music, creation and behind the scenes.

    Quote Originally Posted by Silh View Post

    Suggestions for improvement are welcome (PM or perhaps another thread since cluttering up this one probably wouldn't be good), since I am neither experienced nor educated about a lot of this stuff!
    Matt--I love your post. You're so humble - Your Christmas contribution is beautiful, admirable, a great contribution. But you're so incredibly humble about it. - In case you didn't know, and despite what anybody wants you to think about them, Everyone, no matter how experienced, is always in a quandary about how to start on a project and what to do next once they've started.

    And, by the way, it's great what you did to breathe so much life into that solo cello in GPO!

    This was a great insight into your work, thanks for it.


  8. #8

    Cool Re: Christmas 2011 music, creation and behind the scenes.

    Actually I apologize for repeating my personal clichè over and over...

    The point is in real life I never have occasion of writing orchestral music, nor fugues... but darmn...I love it!

    Then in the last 7 years I used the Christmas CD as the nice opportunity for doing it. I take the original song tune, I sit in front of my piano, and I start looking for the basic harmonization. Sometime I've the basic harmonization already in my personal collection of Choral music, I wrote years ago when I was a choir director.

    Then I decide the structure, usually made of the classic Corale or Ouverture form: introduction, simple theme play, variation, fugue or fugato, and coda.

    I put the structure and the main harmony voices (usually in the strings) in Notation sw, and I start counterpoint, using Strings and winds for appropriate voicing.

    once the full piece is scratched with the main parts all on "paper", I finish orchestrating to the final whole orchestra form, pre-listening with human playback and GPO by notation sw. It is usually a fast work...round 1 or 2 days (e.g. 1 day for fugato and 1 for orchestration).

    I save the MIDI of it, and import it in my sequencer (actually Cubase 6 Artist) for fine expressive editing of all parts (articulations and controllers) and for audio rendering (mix and convolution positioning and ambience). This is usually the long and exausting part of the work...it takes days for an acceptable result... and I'm never totally happy...LOL

    Then i send it to DPDan. And always I change my mind, and I send another version a couple of days later...

    I don't know what Dan does with my file, but usually after he touch it, it sounds even better...LOL (magics of professional equalization/normalization).

    Will MakeMusic keep the tradition? I hope so, I want to write another Corale and new fugues... untill you will bann me form the team...

    Congratulations everybody for years of sharing nice ideas, and keep in touch.

    All the best, happy new year


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