Still not able to find time or the skills and concentration to produce as many new pieces, but I thought it was time to finally realize a Parlando version of Thomas Campion’s Winter Solstice poem “Now Winter Nights Enlarge.” I’d first thought about doing it back in 2017 when this Project was a little more than a year old, but for some reason I never wrote music for it, so it was time to set that one right.
Using an unplugged electric guitar so as not to disturb my household, I composed a good tune with an attractive set of chords that were more at a chord-melody approach, with moving notes inside the chord forms than is my usual style. Unplugged, with me mumbling the words to myself, it sounded quite promising.
Earlier this week I had a couple of hours in which to try to record it. I grabbed an electric guitar to play the music I’d conceived, plugged it in, and…
I couldn’t play the more complex chord voicings and keep any sort of appealing groove and vocal performance. I’ve never been a good, or even part-way good, comping or rhythm guitarist, so this shouldn’t have surprised me — but it disappointed me. I tried just laying down the chords with the idea that concentrating on that and leaving the vocal to a secondary, overdubbed, take might fix things. No, it didn’t. A little better, but still not nearly good enough. I thought of all the not-extraordinary guitarists in the world who could have done a passable job of playing what I’d written with some verve, but none of them were in the room with me.
So, I appealed to the composer — who being me, myself, listened with concern and quickly rewrote the tune with a simpler chord progression while the microphone waited. I put the electric guitar back on its rack and figured that Campion (who wrote music for his poems) had probably composed his music on the lute. I grabbed a small bodied acoustic guitar strung with some European silk and steel wrapped strings.* In short order I figured out a cross-picked part for the new music, but my time was getting short. I quickly ripped off three or four takes of the new tune with the acoustic guitar, and I thought the last one just might be worth sharing.
Too many chords old man. What do you think this is, Jazz?
Overnight last night I stayed up recording the piano and cello parts you can hear below. As is common for me, I played the piano left-hand and right-hand parts in separate passes on my little plastic keyboard. I wanted to play a viola part for the bowed-string track, but I don’t have a good solo viola virtual instrument, and so I used a cello VI I did have. This morning I mixed the results, and there it is.
Campion’s words do well to try to convince one of the cheer of long nights and cold temps, and this December we’re to have our fill of both of them this week along with wind and blizzard snows predicted. Is that the message play the Minnesota Theater of the Seasons is putting on? That our lives and loves may be but toys, but playing with the unwrapped toys in dark December** is never an elderly joy, but something always new and discoverable.
Want to read Campion’s words silently in the enlarged night? Here’s a link to them. The player gadget to play my compromise Solstice song is below for many of you. Nothing that looks like a graphical player below your tree? This highlighted link will open its own player so you can hear it.
*The strings are the Plectrum set from Thomastik-Infeld. They are extraordinarily low tension and smooth, but must be played with a very light touch. Rather than the bright zingy tone that the common steel-string acoustic guitar produces, the resulting timbre is somewhat like gut or nylon strings.
**If your top falls and doesn’t always give you גאַנץ, may it at least fall on האַלב.