Monday, January 28, 2013

Notes From the Recording Studio

I have found my one true calling!

I was meant to be a children's music recording artist! I can see it now: the accolades, the awards (watch out Adele, I am gunning for your Grammys), the platinum albums...the future stretches out in front of me as clear as the eye can see and it is glorious.

Ok, so maybe I am getting a bit carried away, but I did spent a weekend recording some songs for my nephew James and it was SO MUCH FUN. I first got the idea back in October. After all, James loves listening to music and I love singing music, so I figured what better Christmas gift than a couple songs from his Aunt Maggie? Luckily, my friend Andrew from college (a fellow ginger and overall musical genius) has a recording studio set up in his house and was kind enough to help me with the songs. Not luckily, we weren't able to get together in Williamsburg until just a few weeks ago, so the songs had to wait until after Christmas.

But the important thing is, Andrew and I were finally able to meet up and lay down some sweet tracks. The whole experience was so cool--I can't really think of another way to describe it. It wasn't easy--sometimes I had to sing the same part over and over to get it right, and Andrew had to learn two songs for the piano (just by listening!) and orchestrate a whole other song...but through the whole thing we had a great time. It was just like you see on tv: you wear headphones to hear what is being recorded and sing into a microphone...just so neat. And Andrew displayed infinite patience for dealing with me and my (what I think of as occasional) pitch problems and I was just blown away by his abilities.

I haven't quite figured out how to put the sound files here on blogger, which is a shame because I would love for you all to hear the three songs we recorded. The first song is actually one that I used to sing with my Mom all the time as a kid.  It's an old bluegrass number called Stealin' and it's sung in three part harmony. Which meant I had to sing all three parts myself and sing along with myself to record them! We got off to a great start--it's a capella so Andrew got to play producer through the entire process--and we got the alto and soprano parts recorded fairly quickly. The bass line was a little trickier (since I had never sung it before!) but we got the entire song recorded in about an hour.

And then Andrew accidentally erased the alto and soprano parts from the computer. Whoops!

But it wasn't the end of the world; I just had to record them again by singing along with the bass part. This was way harder than the first time we did it, it's always easier to match yourself when you have the actual melody line to work off of. But again, we got it done!

The second song we worked on is another favorite of mine--and another lesser known number. It's called On the Front Porch and it was originally sung by Burl Ives (you know, Mr. Christmas!) in an old Disney live action movie with Haley Mills. It's on my five disc Classic Disney CD collection (what?) and I've always loved it. So I played it for Andrew when we needed a third song and he was on board.

Of course, these things are always easier said then done, and it turns out the song is actually really hard to sing and accompany. It's full of minor chords and other oddities that made it, pardon my French, a bitch to sing. And it turns out I didn't know it as well as I thought and was getting a lot of the notes just plain wrong. But Andrew's genius saved the day again, and he was able to walk me through the rough patches and sort it out.

The last song we recorded was You Are My Sunshine (pause for awwwwwws). If you are familiar with the song then you know that it's actually hella depressing. If you don't know what I am talking about go watch the movie Beaches and then come back. I'll wait. Because of the depression factor, I decided to write some new James-centric lyrics. With a little help from Andrew, here is what we came up with:

You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are grey
You’ll never know dear,
how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away.

You are a young lad
And still you’re learning.
You love to run, and jump, and play.
And when you’re older,
you ‘ll go exploring,
But never far from our hearts will you stray.

You’ll have adventures,
And go exploring,
You’ll sail the oceans far and wide,
As for the mountains, you will climb them,
And the rockets you will ride.

Some day you’ll come home,
From all your journeys
To your family’s love and care
You’ll speak of clear days, and some of grey skies
In your songs and stories you’ll share.

You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are grey
You’ll never know dear,
how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away.

Ta-da! Not too shabby, huh? And the best news of all is that Bill, Amanda, and baby James love the songs and listen to them every night!

Like I said, new career, right? I'm hoping Andrew and I can do it again sometime this summer and work on getting a whole album recorded. What it could happen!

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Christmas 2012

Well, here we are in 2013. And all I have to say is, THANK THE LORD.

Even numbered years are typically not the best ones for the Rileys. In February of last year, I experienced the unexpected loss of my Uncle Tom in February. That was probably the only truly tragic thing to happen during 2012, but I don't know-- by the time December rolled around it was time for a change. And I have a good feeling about 2013.

But before we could make it to the new year, we had to make it through the holidays. It's funny how Christmas is my favorite time of year and yet it still often feels like something you need to "make it through." I think the problem with this year was several members of our family were out for the count (due to health problems or distance) so I volunteered to take on some extra duties. Not that I'm complaining--I'm happy to help--but it just makes for a lot of running around, baking, wrapping (dear god, the wrapping), purchasing, decorating, and all the other kinds of things that are needed to make a successful holidays nowadays.

But we did it! In the past, Christmas has been something of a quiet affair because I usually end up spending the day just with my Mom. This year my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew were in town so we had 9 adults all running around being slaves to the schedule of a 13 month old. And let me tell you, in case you ever have any doubt, having children is EXHAUSTING. We had one kid who wasn't even mine and I was ready to fall over by the end of the day. I feel like it's almost blasphemous to admit (since I'm 33 and *gasp* unmarried), but it made me so thankful that I don't have kids. For reals, you guys. It's just too tiring. I mean, I am sure someday it will happen (hopefully before my eggs all dry up), but for now I like being able to sleep.

Despite the griping, we had a really wonderful holiday and having everyone around for it made it all the more special. Per usual, we had the typical Riley family orgy of consumption with enough food to feed an army and enough presents that we probably single-handedly kick-started the economy. It's starting to embarrass me how much STUFF we give each other, but every time I suggest drawing names or setting money limits I get shot down. Maybe next year?

And now for some precious memories....that will live on forever here on the internets!

 James enjoys his first cinnamon bun on Christmas morning! Cinnamon buns are a tradition at Mom's house--it's been our Christmas morning breakfast for...oh, say 30 years. 


 Amanda and I model our matching cupcake aprons. Now I can be an OFFICIAL cupcake baker. Before I was just a wannabe.

 My Christmas tree. As Mom put it, "it's the prettiest one you ever had!" Of course, she literally says that every year.

 OMG A LEGO ORGANIZER HOW DID YOU KNOW THANK YOU SO MUCH! (We didn't have the heart to tell him it was for the baby)

I told you it was a lot of food. Next year I vote that we limit the spread to cookies and cocktail weiners. Oh, and booze. 

Bill models his new kilt-towel, one of the gifts I brought back from Scotland. And in his words, "the present of the year."