Day seven: it pays to work with a pro

Everyone should start their day listening to cello.  It will calm you, inspire you, and make you whole.  That’s what I think today, and that’s what I did.

Wendy Solomon is an extraordinary player.  We have worked together three times now – the last time, she was very ill with the ‘flu and STILL made wonderful music.  I’m always amazed when real life still exerts itself on all of us, even if we are recording, and we rise above it.  I think of the number of shows I’ve done when I’ve felt ill, and I know that it’s possible.

Paul likes strings, especially string trios: violin, violin, and cello.  Or maybe violin, cello and cello.  Today Wendy did one that was cello, cello and cello.  How gorgeous.  The cello has a huge voice, very like a human voice, and it fits very well with mine.   Why shouldn’t we work with instruments we love?  At one point in “Duncan’s Cove” today, she played a part that brought a tear to my eye.  I said yesterday: If you weep in a movie, likely there are strings involved.  There was no movie today, and still I was moved.

During the morning, Wendy did a cello trio on Quilt of Belonging (about the mega-quilt representing all the nations in Canada), a cello duo on Panguitch, a cello duo on Duncan’s Cove, and a cello duo on Little Crazy Quilt (the title track).  That’s a lot of cello parts in three hours! She played in tune, with correct emotion, and beautifully.  Cellos don’t have frets (nor to violins nor standup basses) and it’s difficult to get it right. If you’ve ever heard a beginner violin student, you’ll know just how horrible it can be. A true professional gets it right.  Ah, I love the cello, played by someone as talented as Wendy!

Wendy Solomon

In the afternoon, we worked with Steafan Hannigan – Irish multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire. Here’s another example of life interfering.  He spent last weekend at The Woods Music and Dance Camp. It’s a wonderful week-long event where aspiring musicians take classes with professional musicians like Steafan, re-unite with old friends and have a cottage experience all in one. I’ve taught there, and it’s as wonderful for the teachers as it is for the students. Steafan was driving home last night from the Woods, and he had a blow-out on one of the front tires.  It caused him to cross over the median and into the oncoming lane of traffic.  He hit the guard rail on the other side.  At the end of it, his car was totalled, but he was all right.  This afternoon, he was in studio with me. Amazing.

He arrived at the studio in his wife’s car, filled with various shaped boxes, cases and containers.  It took quite a few trips to move it all inside.  There were Irish and African drums, percussion instruments, various penny whistles, and bagpipes, and a couple of kalimbas (thumb pianos from Africa). I’m so glad I don’t have to travel with all those instruments!  There’d be no room for us in the car!

The low pennywhistle and Uilleann pipes (on the floor)

The Bodhran

The bouzouki

The Talking Drum, shaker and kalimba (no, he didn't play them all at once!)

We have arranged “The Sewing Machine” (you can see it on YouTube with Betty Hutton doing it in the film “Perils of Pauline”) as an Irish jig, and had asked Steafan to suggest bagpipe tunes to intersperse between the verses. He sent his suggestions, Paul worked out the chords, and we recorded the guitar and bass in advance.  Today, Steafan added the Uilleann pipes and pennywhistle to it.  He did them in one take each.  A “take” is each time you record a track.  A lot of the time, the take isn’t good enough, so we re-record it, or “punch in” (that is, start part way through to play it right). You know the musician is good when s/he can do it right on the first take.  Steafan did most of his parts today in one take.

The pipes are interesting.  When he was getting ready to record, we heard such rude noises from the basement!  At this point Paul said to him “If you want perfection, don’t hire a piper!”. I think bagpipers must have to have a very good sense of humour – there are a lot of jokes about the pipes. But they have their place.  The texture is very grainy – the sound cuts right through everything. (There was a bagpipe convention at Carleton University once when I lived in Ottawa, and I thought the perfect way to hear Scottish pipes was from about a mile away.)  They have drones which can only play one note. You can tune them to the key you want.  Then the “chanter” (is that related to the French “chanter” – to sing?) plays the melody. When he hit the jigs in “Sewing Machine”, I started to grin.  Such a happy sound!

Then he laid down a track on low whistle – the same melody.  Lovely!  Next, was bouzouki, a high stringed instrument somewhat akin to a guitar with eight strings – 2 to a note.  And THEN: bodhran, the Irish hand drum.  Wow. It was sounding very Irish at that point!

Next: the Oak Leaf – the slow Celtic song.  When I wrote this one, I had heard a lovely song a la Loreena McKennitt, and thought that style would suit the story well. I wrote it, and in my head, imagined Loreena actually singing it!  Turns out Steafan has recorded with Loreena a couple of times, so who better to have on the track?  He added the Uilleann pipes again, and the low whistle again.  He’s got a great sense of what to add.  A single note, held until the right moment, can bring a tear to the eye.  Amazing.

Then, finally we got to the African song: Martha’s Quilt. When I wrote this one, I kept hearing in my head a “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” (Paul Simon’s Graceland album) version.  We’ve already added electric guitar, drums, and bass to my acoustic rhythm guitar part.  Steafan added a shaker part (percussion) and Talking Drum.  He will do a kalimba part back at his studio for us.  Paul will make an MP3 file of the song, send it to Steafan by email.  Steafan will play kalimba to it in his recording studio, and send the file back to us.  This is amazing to me.  It is how it’s done these days.  On the last album “In The Heart of a Quilt”, the musical saw player was in Victoria when we were recording, and that’s how we got his part on the CD.

It was a very busy day for Paul, the producer/engineer.  Trying to get lots of tracks recorded in limited time, making sure each instrument is recorded with the best microphone, in the correct position.  Upstairs, downstairs.  We finished early – the piano tuner arrived – and I’m sure Paul was relieved to have it over.

So — it was another great day in the studio.  The songs are filling out, and I’m starting to hear what they will be like in the end. Even two people can make a huge difference to the sound!

Tomorrow is Tom Day.  I’ve been waiting for this!  Tom Leighton is the piano and accordion player.  Not only a hugely talented player, but also a wonderfully positive, enthusiastic human being.  It’s always such a boost when he comes in and does his magic on the songs.  

I’m getting lots of embroidery done during the days now, too.  The cover quilt is coming along.  Today I finished the beehive and bee block, and did the sailboat.  Pictures to follow when I’m closer to getting it finished.

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5 Responses to “Day seven: it pays to work with a pro”

  1. Pam Nourse Says:

    Wow — scary story about Steafan — I’m so glad no one was hurt!

  2. Patrice Baker Says:

    The more you tell us about the production of your CD the more I cannot wait to hear it.
    Steafan’s guardian angel was with him. We are all so thankful.

  3. Barbara Tricarico Says:

    You sound like you’re having a blast! Glad you can sit, tap your foot, smile (and embroider) while the other musicians play your background music! I’ll be especially excited to hear your sewing machine song with the pipes! Should be fun–I enjoyed the you-tube video of Betty Hutton.

    I’m happy it’s going so well. We’re having a rare thunderstorm in Ashland & we have quite the view of the valley getting pummeled with much-needed rain.
    XOXO Barb & Bill

  4. Jack Says:

    Everything they said…..pluis – you’re recording Duncan’s Cove again?? Every Cathy Miller album becomes a “must have” and that will clinch it for this one! Can’t wait. Enjoying the blog!

  5. Jan Rhoades Says:

    Congratulations you two and to everyone else involved. I can’t wait to order a copy. Some new Miller/Bunge music is just what I need right now.

    Onya John? Aussie T-shirts suit you.

    I loved reading your ‘daily’ doings – how exhausting.

    Much love
    Jan in Upper Mt Gravatt (Brisbane)

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