In this list, to signify the coming end of 2013, are my Top 10 Moments with a Soundtrack. Now, 2013 was a fantastic year. It was a year full of transition. I spent (what will be) five months out of this year in a completely new country coinciding with my first job as a professor of composition - the dream when I started this whole grad school odyssey 6 years ago. Kate and I have found our rhythm as a couple and the past few years have been phenomenal.
However, I will say that some of the greatest moments of the year do not show up on this list because they didn't include a soundtrack. Like the moment when I opened my email on a December morning to find that Soochow University was offering the job to me over more than 300 other applicants (ok technically 2012 but close enough). Or the moment when Charlie, Steve, and I graduated together or when we hung our ties up at Valhalla or the countless games of Beer Golf on Rice campus. Or sitting on a beach in Mexico, sipping drinks with Kate as we only heard the sound of the ocean. For inclusion on this list, music had to be completely intertwined in the moment. I can't think about these 10 without thinking about these particular songs. For most, it was because myself or someone else was playing the song. 2013 was the year of picking up the guitar again for me, something I hadn't done in a long while.
So here it goes. See below for the Spotify Playlist
During March and April I was hard at work completing my dissertation. I wrote the entire piece by hand, sometimes writing in sketch form, sometimes already in full orchestration on paper. After the piece was completed in February I spent the next two months orchestrating and putting everything in to the computer. Making sure that every single dynamic, slur, expression, instruction, etc was formatted correctly and not colliding with anything else. Sounds like the most fun in the world right?
Not even at all.
This work is incredibly boring. So why does it even make it anywhere close to the list? Because Justin Timberlake's new album had just come out. iTunes had a deal where you could stream the entire album for free before it came out. I listened to that album over and over and over and over and over while I was working on the dissertation. The week before it was TimberWeek on Jimmy Fallon. Justin performed Let the Groove Get In with the Roots. I still think that performance is better than the album version. I actually ripped the audio from hulu using some Max/MSP and SoundFlower magic so I could listen to that single version over and over and over and over and over and over...
Anyway, listening to that album got me through those long hours of working on Warning Colors for orchestra which allowed me to successfully defend the piece, graduate, move to china, and officially accept my new position. Thanks Justin!
My friend Maria is Canadian. Celine Dion is Canadian. That should be enough right there.
But, I'll go on. A few years ago at a Valhalla Sunday (see #6 for full description) with Maria kneeling on a bar stool, one light going on the disco ball, and one light as a spot on her, Maria gave a full performance of My Heart Will Go On. Pretty epic.
So this September, I am walking back to my apartment with Kate and Clara, our Professor of Flute at Soochow University. It was during the Moon Festival in China. We heard music coming from somewhere and decided to check it out. In a little courtyard in our complex, a group of people was gathered for karaoke. They saw us and and very nicely invited us to sit and watch, gave us each a bottle of water and a moon cake. Awesome.
They asked if any of us wanted to sing. We said, not really. Most of the songs were chinese but they said they did have some English ones. We sit for awhile. Then. They play it.
I laughed and quietly started singing along. THEY RUN OVER WITH A MIC and just hand it to me. What was I going to do? I was admittedly getting over a cold so I couldn't belt. But, I rocked a lower part with the girl running the show singing the high part. I went home and immediately texted Maria. Epic.
The story here relates to Sarah's (Kate's sister) wedding in July. We had a rented house on Lake Michigan. I made bonfires every night. As you will read about, this past summer was the summer of guitar. Around the bonfire I played guitar and enjoyed some bourbon as this was our last two weeks in the states.
Anyway, we were out around the bonfire. Kate's Dad, her brother Peng, and myself at first. Then the rest of family came out. I was playing the songs I had learned all summer. Peng said, "Can't you play anything that I know?" or something like that. Like what? Jack Johnson?
He pulled out his iPad and played this song for me. After 1 hearing, I had figured it out (gotta love a classical music education that gives you those kinds of aural skills). So I started playing. I didn't know the words but presumably he did. EXCEPT HE DIDN'T. I learned the song for nothing. But not nothing. Sarah and Andi and Kate proceeded to just make up words like "waitin, wishin, pickin, fishin, i'll be cookin in the kitchen..." while standing on chairs to escape the mosquitos. A lot better than Kum Ba Yah.
So one night after trivia (see #4 for the full scoop), Mark, Cori, Steve, Kate, and I went over to Lydia's house to hang out. What happened next (after Steve and Kate went home...lame) can only be described as the most epic dance party the world has ever witnessed between four people in a living room. Lots of alcohol, Lydia's coffee table, and Lydia's iPod speaker dock was involved. I was acting as DJ and Mark requested this song.
We found out that MARK KNOWS ALL THE WORDS to a lot of mid-90's hip hop. Anyway. We started dancing at 10 and didn't stop until 3am at which point I was the only one sobered up to drive us home in Cori's car. Oh, and Lydia had on these little booty shorts that I think her husband Jonathan had deemed were only for house use...as in please don't leave the house in those. Hilarious!
On of the things I miss most living in China is the lack of a weekly tradition like Valhalla Sundays. To those of you who barely know me at all, Sunday nights at 9 meant one thing at Rice: Valhalla. My best friend Steve and Alison bar-tended and thus were in control of what music was played. Steve became a bartender at Valhalla in our first year of DMA, and since then I had attended nearly all Sunday nights that I was in town. Whether or not I had to teach at 9am the next morning, had a paper due the next day, had whatever in the world that DMA could throw at us, Steve and I were there. Around the 9:35 mark, if you were new to Sundays, you witnessed a ritual.
First of all, on the white board above the board, Steve would always write two things:
1. FREE BEER (for showing your own female...you get the idea) - it only actually happened once...but no one wanted to see...
2. No Bar Service during Mr. Jones
At 9:35 or so, Alison and Steve would call LAST CALL for 5 MINUTES. Then we would play Mr. Jones and sing along. To describe all the intricacies of of how our sing-a-long differed from the actual song is pointless. It is something you have experience. After Mr. Jones, we'd play Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen. Again, many finer points of performance that the uninitiated just won't understand. Then Take On Me - aha. Kate does this crazy dance that would happen every week. Nearly every girl in the bar would join in, and sometimes all the guys would too. After these three songs, the playlist opened back up, but this tradition was strictly adhered to 95% of the time.
I miss that feeling of family every single week. Yes, some nights were better than others. Sometimes, no one was in the mood. Sometimes, Valhalla got us in the mood. More than anything it was Steve and Alison behind the bar that made Valhalla amazing. For the full Valhalla Sunday 9pm Playlist go here.
For one week in March I got to go back to Tucson, hang out with Kyle Maxwell Doherty, and see/hear my string quartet The Gate be part of the incredible vision of Ashley Bowman and Claire Hancock called "I Wonder If My Name is Alice," a modern dance take on Alice in Wonderland. It was a fantastic week and really fulfilling as an artist. But, some of the best moments were driving back to Kyle's place at night with the windows down in our Honda Fit and listening to this song. There was a certain nostalgia for Tucson, a beautiful feeling in my heart for the work that we (the Kingfisher Quartet, Artifact Dance Project, and myself) were creating, and just being overwhelmed by the whole experience. The song perfectly captured the moment and feeling.
So during the end of my last semester and all throughout the summer, we went to trivia at the Flying Saucer on Tuesday nights. The crew was usually Kate and I, Steve, LydBonez, Jonathan, Marky Mark aka Funky Bunch Hirsch, and a rotating cast of others. It was awesome. We peaked at third place once with a $10 gift certificate to be split between the 6 of us. Legen-waitforit-dary.
Team name: #SpiderBitesandLightning
Team name origin: Final question of the night one night was put these causes of death in order from most to least for American men in 2013. We had the top 4 correct but switched the last two which were Spider Bites and Lightning.
Anyway, after almost every single trivia night, we hopped in Lydia's car to hang out post-usually-terrible-game at the Hance residence. And in that car, this was usually the first track Lydia, Mark, and I sang for which we knew all the words. Pretty epic.
In July, when Kate and I were back in Ohio before moving to China, we had a going away party. All of our friends in the area showed up and despite the terrible rain storm that forced us all inside and made trips to the keg an adventure, we had a great time. Rachel Coats came to the party. I had my guitar out and we were messing around. She said that she had a gig the next day or the day after that was a last minute offer as she was filling in for someone else. She needed a guitarist and asked if I wanted to do it. Since this summer was the summer of guitar revival for me, I said yes.
Rachel sent me a set list. I learned 30 songs in one day for the gig that night. We switched off on guitar and bass to keep things interesting and to fill in for the other person. I also brought my djembe and a hi-hat and Rachel, her dad Don Coats, and I rocked some Beatles (Come Together) and some other stuff. Anyway, Locked Out of Heaven was one of my favorite songs to play because I was playing bass. I'd never played E. Bass in public before that night and only played it in private maybe 3-4 times in my life. It was a cool experience. It was a new nervousness that I'd only felt in dreams where you show up for a test, you haven't studied, and somehow you are naked. But, to power through and trust that yes in fact, despite spending the last 6 years doing nothing but composing and occasional drumming, you can still play guitar and can learn bass on the fly.
P.S. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one of my other favorite songs to play of the night - Cee Lo Green - Fuck You
Bonfire sing-a-long on a beach on Lake Michigan at Sarah Burnham Breen and Fulton Breen's wedding this summer. Gorgeous setting. I played a few Bach pieces on guitar for their wedding and we kept the music going that night on the beach sitting around a bonfire with all the family. Again - summer of guitar revival. Getting the family to do the Ho's and the Hey's was tricky but when all else fails just play the chorus.
This was easily the anthem of 2013 for which I have Mark Hirsch to thank. It made appearances at the previous 3 moments of 2013 and on my second day in China when both Kate and I felt so alone, lost, and helpless it was playing while we were missing Houston and our friends and family.
Rachel and I played it at the gig and several drunk girls got up to sing and dance along with it. Peng and I sang it at Sarah and Fulton's wedding on the beach bonfire after-party. Mark and I sang it countless times on Lydia's back patio after trivia. But, one of my favorite times with the song was the first time. We were sitting in the courtyard at our apartment in Houston with our neighbors, Steve, and Mark. Mark played it. Steve and I sang along providing harmony for the chorus. It was the kind of night you look back at and feel like it should have been part of a montage in an indie film.
Whenever we leave someplace we have always found the people we feel like we should have been friends with all along. Mark and Lydia/Jonathan were those people for us in Houston. There is never enough time before you say goodbye. Even if it is just for awhile. (Ok - sap over.)