My thoughts and out loud thoughts on composition, performance, and many things musical.

2012 – Everything’s the Same Size in Texas – Year in Music

I did this last year: make a list of 12 songs for each month that really encompassed a part of the year for me.  I’m treating this, again, like a journal for myself, but if anyone reads this and has thoughts, please share them.

January was the last month of 2012 that I was in Indiana. Once February hit, I moved to Texas.  Here are the songs that had the most impact on me, may it be cerebral or otherwise.

1. Gabriel Kahane – “Winter Song” – This song sort of holds the last memories I have of living with Ben Clark & Nick Rapley.  The songs brings back memories of letting Windsor run around in the backyard, praying he did not chase the cat. (He did.) (Also for clarification, Windsor is, in fact, a dog.)

When I listen to this song I have such a Pavlovian response to gear up and drive down to Savages and drink their $0.50 PBR with Ben and Shew. (I do announce my enjoyment of PBR with them with a bit of embarrassment.)

2. Punch Brothers – “No Concern of Yours” – When February arrived I had began my awesome 2 day car voyage down to Galveston, TX to hang out with Becky and company.  The drive there was an amazing, scenic one, one that reminded me that I have not had many road trips, unlike the rest of my vocal generation.  Traveling through Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas briefly, Mississippi, Louisiana, and finally Texas I saw the species of trees change, the humidity rise, and new types of swamp areas that before only existed to me on the Discovery Channel.

After Becky and all the Walker’s left their lovely beach house in Galveston, they let me stay there another week–I didn’t have to report to Fort Hood until March 1.  Galveston in February is the most aesthetically pleasing show of Mother Nature: it is foggy, cold enough to merit a large coat, and quiet enough to have to seek out conversation, all the while the splashing sound of the Gulf replacing any need for music.

I played a few acoustic shows in random bars and coffee shops while I was there, and there is nothing quite as freeing as playing shows in a foreign city amongst strangers I’ll never see again, driving back to my one-week home listening to this song, forever associating it with viewing the town hall’s clock lights through the thick fog.  Having temporarily “lived” in Galveston, albeit just 3 weeks, I will never forget how cozy it was.

3. Anaïs Mitchell – “Coming Down” – I forget how I stumbled upon Anaïs Mitchell.  I think it was the last time I used Spotfiy. (I prefer not use Spotify.)  Her entire album Young Man in America is just so simple and brilliant, she reminds me of a female Bob Dylan with TONS of more musicality and sensibility.  I listened to her album non-stop.  I had to cover this song, because it was so pretty.   

Probably a month or two later she came to Central Texas to put on a concert.  Her concert was amazing! It was just her and her guitar. Lovely. Afterwards when I waited in line to meet her and get her autograph she said, “You look familiar. Are you…oh! Oh you covered my song, right? Are you in the Army?!”  SHE KNEW ME FROM THE COVERING OF HER SONG.  So…that was sweet.  She said she loved my cover and loved my voice. Anaïs Mitchell is fantastic: a true poet and musician, in every detailed-definitions of those words.


4. Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor – I fell in love with this string quartet quite a bit after listening to many string pieces.  I was trying to get an ear for string ensembles as I was still trying to edit my own string quintet.  This is a timeless piece and was often a playlist for me at the gym. (Yes, I lift weights to classical music.) (…and yes, I lift weights. You can’t tell though…)

5. Maggie Rogers – “By Morning” – When I was pushing my album on I received an email from a girl named Maggie Rogers saying how she really enjoyed my album.  Of course I was flattered. In the e-mail she didn’t even specify that she also had an album out.  I just happened to search her name to see if she was a musician herself. Turns out she was, also on Bandcamp.  I downloaded her album and was blown away by it.

She has a soulful/folk voice accompanied by her banjo, which at first I thought I would be annoyed by the fact that it sways out of tune whenever she strums it.  It turns out, that quality of her banjo really adds to a “on the front porch” rustic sound to her music.

This became a great driving album as I was still getting used to Central Texas.

6. Mahler – Symphony 1 – Still currently my favorite of his symphonies, it’s such an “awakening of the earth” piece of music.  Every little bit sounds like a film starting out with observing the world wake up, the sun rising, running through fields, passing by the bar with local musicians in it–it’s fantastic. I encourage anyone to go listen to it. Read about it. Enjoy it.

7. Ben Clark – Little Legs – My friend makes my list of favorite music.  Ben is another writer who is great at articulating his feelings, and writing songs in general.  The chorus is a lovely type of haunting that is easy to set on repeat.  It’s fun to have a friend who has definitely found his own sound. It’s a good sound.

8. Ryan Brewer – Where Your Heart is Lain – And AGAIN my friend makes my list of favorite music.  Ryan went on his tour this past summer and stayed with me in Texas for a few days.  I was happy to play a few shows with him.  This song has always been a favorite of mine.  Our friend Nick Rapley did a great job of recording everything.

What’s great about Ryan’s songwriting, for me, is he takes on a Bob Dylan role.  That is, the music itself is catchy, easy to sing along to, but the emphasis is put on the fantastic lyrics.  He comes from a literature/English undergraduate background, so I’m never surprised when he very eloquently sums up a feeling or story in one song.

And I love playing that song with him.

9. Roy Hargove – Crazy Race – This is a siiiicccck little funky tune.  My jazz combo in Texas plays it all the time, and aside from it just being a very catchy song, it is aesthetically pleasing to play.  When we play it we add a little pre-solo modulation based on the main melody lick.  It’s so easy to take this song and make it last forever–fun for me, not for the listener as I could play this lick non-stop for hours.

10. Gabriel Kahane – February House soundtrack – In October I had gone to NYC with Ben Clark and Nick Rapley to work on Ben’s musical, “Circus in Winter.”  It had great reviews, I got to work alongside Broadway professionals to include the very sweet Sutton Foster, and most importantly for me, I got make music with my two dear friends again.  After all the elation of being in New York City and playing the various fretted instruments I toted around wore off, I arrived back in Texas and needed to clear my musical-ear-palette.

So then Gabriel Kahane’s musical “February House” was released (I wish I could’ve seen it live!) and once again I was taken aback…

But first:

Gabriel Kahane, for a year now, has been one of my greatest influences for continuing and growing in musical composition.  I love songwriting (popular music of the acoustic flavor and others) and composing the classical sounds I want to hear (brass quintet, voice & piano, woodwind trio, etc.).  I have pictures of Mahler, Bach, Stravinsky, Ives, Mussorgsky, Eric Ewazen, Nico Muhly, and other great influences above my keyboard. Gabriel Kahane’s will certainly be added.

When I dove into a “Kahanian” world of music I fell in love with his approach to bridging a gap between popular and classical music.  That phrase alone leaves endless possibilities and interpretations. More than making a popular-structured song with orchestral instruments, he takes his favorite things about classical music and pop music, individually, and combines them.  And boy is it something fantastic. In 2013 I aim to record an album with my own music, certainly of a Kahane-influence.

My whole goal of making music that moves you physically and intellectually had been shone a bright light on it once I discovered Gabriel Kahane. His pop music is exactly what I had been hearing and trying to decipher in my head. He’s done it. And I haven’t even discussed the greatness that is his classical/contemporary music.  I easily will peruse his scores as would I with any Mahler or Stravinsky score.

SO…to the entry at hand…Mr. Kahane wrote a musical, and I, only recently being a fan of musicals with “Circus in Winter” and being involved in the Broadway world, was once again astonished.

The elements of his pop music writing, vast knowledge of writing for smaller chamber ensembles, and now his clear understanding of telling a fantastic story through many songs, makes me more motivated to compose.  The idea that “good music is good music is good music” is the only one I need.  I need not specialize in writing one specific genre.  I feel better learning about all genres, all forms, and from there just writing what I want to hear.  Gabriel Kahane has single-handedly changed how I write music, for the better.

You can read about “February House” here and I encourage everyone to listen to the album.

February House CD cover

11. Punch Brothers – Another New World – Originally a song by Josh Ritter, the Punch Brothers arranged and covered this song and completely made it their own.  They complement the lyrics by musically painting a picture of a deep world-crushing love within a sort of maritime/ship backdrop.  I seem to have had my own theme of ships and oceans in my own writing, so it’s easy with Mr. Ritter’s lyrics for me to get a vivid image of storms and love metaphors.

The end of this song leaves you taking an audible gasp of air.  Often times I have to rest at the end of this song before I move on to other music. It’s a brilliant song by Josh Ritter, and a brilliant rendition by the Punch Brothers.

12. Ben Clark – No Fool – Yet again my buddy Ben makes my list of favorite music from 2012.  This song, that as I understand was written for someone else to sing, is about the end of a relationship.  I just happen to know and understand it’s true contents a bit deeper as Ben is a close friend.

Regardless, it is catchy and well-thought out.  I was hooked initially on the immediate guitar lick.  I won’t bombard this song with descriptions, and instead just leave it at saying it is another beautiful song.


That is my year in musical influences. If you have thoughts, please share them. Cheers to the Mayan’s wild miscalculations.


2 responses

  1. A pleasure to cross paths on twitter with a fellow member of the Kahanian world of music! As a critic and a composer myself, I have been so inspired by this awesome genre-bending work over the past few months; you articulate precisely the rich and rewarding cross-section of Kahane’s influences that has challenged me to be a better musician. When you pass through NYC again, feel free to be in touch!

    December 31, 2012 at 8:09 pm

  2. Pingback: 2013 – Late to the Game, So Much Great Music – Year in Music | Music should move you intellectually & physically

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