In every home, a piano, and on its bench, the house minstrel. And in that bench, a collection of popular songbooks to draw upon for the night's entertainment. That's the age that songwriter Beck recollects with his latest album, Song Reader, released Dec. 11 exclusively in sheet music form. If you want to hear it, you have to learn to play it. However, Full Sail University had the intriguing thought to invite a range of local musicians to do what they could with assigned songs from the then-unreleased album. Full Sail recorded the performances of each band involved and started broadcasting them on their YouTube channel Dec. 18. Below, I talked to four musicians involved in Beck's earnest cultural revival to see how they planned to arrange their songs.
Andy Matchett & the Minks
Song: "Heaven's Ladder"
The band's frontman Andy Matchett on …
… interpreting the song: I'm not as fast a sight-reader as our violin player, Emily Dwyer. She's going to sort of be the go-to for the nuance stuff. I kind of will do the overview and just feel it out.
… his favorite Beck album: A lot of people have come to think of us as a party band, but most of our album is actually pretty low-key, so we're gonna go more toward the Sea Change side of Beck. That was always my favorite stuff anyway, personally. I love all his stuff, but Sea Change is just awesome.
… writing sheet music: I think I've done sheet music maybe three times in my life. Mostly, it was for copyright purposes, or I needed to send something to a violin player who didn't play by ear and only sight-read. It's a rarity. … Music just seems like you can't put it into a box, but then you put it on paper like that, and the language is so complex. It still baffles me. I identify much more with people like Frank Zappa, who never learned how to read it. I'd rather not take the magic out of it, if I can help it, but this is a good challenge for me.
Song: "Just Noise"
Music producer Brendan Wood on …
… approaching the sheet music: There's some people here I work with that are making MIDI files. They're putting the notation into software that can give me data that I can work with in my production software and my performance software.
… including any Beck influence: I'm sure it'll sound nothing like Beck, but I think I'll probably just stylistically put some of the attitude, some of the Beck flair that he kind of puts into a lot of his music. A lot of his early records are sample-based, the ones that were produced by the Dust Brothers, and his styles always kind of vary. He always changes things in an unexpected, interesting way, so I want to at least have that same spirit in what
… his own songwriting process: I usually hear something that sparks some curiosity or something I want to imitate or I want to figure out, and I start to experiment with some idea of how to get it across externally, and that usually sparks some creativity in me developing some new ideas and going some directions I haven't gone before.
A Special String Arrangement by Chris Belt
Song: "The Last Polka"
Composer and music educator Chris Belt on …
… finding the polka: It's not really like a polka. It's kind of like how people call songs a blues when it's not really a blues. So, there's some element, to him, that has something to do with polka, so that's something that I'm kind of like thinking in the back of my mind is: Where does it actually make sense to make this a polka?
… what's missing: If you look at what he's written … all he has written are notes. Sometimes, he'll write some little text or whatever. So, in this particular piece, it's just the notes and the rhythm, and no articulation … no phrasing, no dynamics, not even a tempo indication. It's very, very vague. All that he says at the beginning of this piece is "Premonitory." He wants it to be premonitory in some way.
... his latest arrangement: The really nice thing about this is it's just got beautiful harmonies, and I want to be able to kind of highlight that and color it in a way that if you were just playing it on a piano, you really wouldn't be able to do. (Belt will play guitar, with Nicholas Buonanni, flute; Beatriz Ramirez-Belt, oboe; Anastasia Cetverikova, clarinet; Jeremy Adams, bass)
Song: "We All Wear Cloaks"
Songwriter and music educator Carlos DeSoto on …
… overcoming the sheet music's simplicity: … It seemed almost simple – I don't want to say that because I don't want to come off in a way that seems to insult the song – it's just it seemed kind of basic. And that was good, because that kind of gave us the freedom to say, let's just do whatever we can with this, whatever we want.
… jazz-ing it up: Being that I started graduate school for jazz this year, the first thing I did was notice it was in a minor key, and right away, that gave me the opportunity … to say, well, then it's a melodic kind of thing, which is sort of jazz. So I've started shifting the chords and substituting chords that weren't there. … There were few chords that were really happening, and they were very standard, so I was given the opportunity to think, well, let me re-harmonize this.
… how he writes music: Todd [Elliot] and I are sort of the main songwriters, and we usually start with an idea or a riff and record it. … What I think is unusual or unique about the way we write is we just start recording parts of it, so it's just recording, recording, recording, and then we start changing parts of it. We do edits and rewrites, just adding layers. That's how we roll.
Hear Song Reader recordings by local musicians
through Friday, Dec. 21