Sunday, July 13, 2014

Living Music

I'm listening to music by a couple of my friends, Kristoph and Margaret. They've come up on my custom Pandora internet station along with the likes of some very famous musicians. Their music has got me thinking about friends and music, so bear with me if I ramble on out loud here. Kristoph and Margaret are part of Avalon Rising as well as Broceliande, and they also play at times as just themselves
Margaret at Avalon Rising's 20th anniversary show
Margaret plays her harp at weddings and other events. She creates beautiful calligraphy for weddings, certificates and other documents that are heirloom pieces. Kristoph, in addition to being a multi-talented musician, is a hard working and talented recording engineer who has helped a lot of indie musicians create stellar albums of their music. They're both real working musicians who make their living by living their music.
It's never an easy thing, making your living by music. It requires exceptional musical ability, training and hard work to stay in it long term. It takes an enormous, long-lasting supply of commitment, stubbornness and bravery to do it as a long-term career, as they do. Any of us who know Margaret and Kristoph are well aware that they are both not only amazingly good musicians but they're also exceptional people. Good people, intelligent, wise people who value kindness and friendships and love. They celebrate those quickly fleeting things we value in life with their music and their art. They aren't the sort of people to climb over others on a ladder to fame and transitory success.

This is the San Francisco Bay Area, though, and it has one of the highest costs of living in the country. The Bay Area may be a haven for artists and musicians, but we're not a culture that values artists or musicians these days. Just looking at the schools and the way that arts and music has been completely cut from curriculum, except for a few dedicated volunteers, is a pretty good indicator of how little music and art are valued in this country. 
 Even here in the Bay Area, it's a really rare thing to find people who live their music as an essential part of their lives. Those few are people to be held closely, gently, with an appreciation for the gifts they let shine.
When Puzzlebox went to England to play music there, I was amazed at how many of the people we met there have serious musical training and really use their musical abilities in their everyday lives to sing, to perform, to create. 
They sing in big and small choral groups, they play multiple instruments, they perform lots of styles of music. They live in close, comfortable contact with their music, without embarrassment or apology. It is an integral part of their lives there, as it's so rarely done here. 
The way that everyone in a crowded room would just join in, singing in spontaneous harmony, just about made my heart burst. They had a closeness and sense of family that we struggle to find here with our large distances and busy lives. Here, finding like-minded people who play music and live with music as a part of their daily lives is a rare and precious thing.
Most of us are far-flung, and even those of us who live within reasonable distances are usually much too busy keeping our lives together to get together as often as we would like. We're lucky enough to have friends in our area like Jeff and Maya Bohnhoff, and Kristoph and Margaret, who all have exceptional musical ability. 
It's a lot of fun to listen to all of them geek out about music, and if you get Kristoph and Jeff going on about music and sound engineering they may never stop, since they're friends and a couple of the best recording engineers in the area. They're both top people to go to if you're ready to record an album. If you haven't heard Jeff's masterpiece Midichlorian Rhapsody, give it a listen. He wrote the parody, he recorded multiple tracks of himself, Maya, and a bunch of friends playing the many, many tracks of instrumentals and vocals and he made it all happen. He and Maya listened to Queen's original and figured out how to recreate the sound, but it's all new, all Jeff's doing. It's an amazing piece of work and really showcases his musical and recording engineering abilities. 
It's fun to be in the recording studio with each of them; they each have their own style and mannerisms, but they both put so much more into the process of recording albums than you might expect if you haven't recorded before. There's a whole lot of work that they each put into not just successfully engineering recording the sound so it is as good as it can be, but also the arrangements, additional instruments, the balancing and the sound qualities. One of the things that has always blown me away is how both Jeff and Kristoph end up adding in huge numbers of additional flavor music tracks like guitar, bass, additional vocals and more, to make the songs really stand out.
When Kristoph was engineering for Seanan McGuire on her Wicked Girls album, the musical arrangements and many of the instrumental and vocal tracks were his. Seanan had a vision for what the album wanted to be; she's such a talented writer and musician. She writes the lyrics and tunes for the vast majority of songs on her albums. There were a lot of great musicians adding tracks to that album, but it came into being and the album had a particular feel and sound because of Kristoph conducting, shaping and molding each song, and the whole album into a cohesive entity with a distinctive personality.
When I worked with him to record harmonica tracks for accompaniment on songs for a couple of albums, he made it all so much less stressful, and so much more fun than I expected, because he was relaxed, clear and easy to work with. The albums he puts out are exceptional because of Kristoph's abilities and all of the extra work he put into it. He really cares about producing a great album. Jeff is the same way, and the commitment to quality work on both of their parts is always impressive to watch in action. 

When we played at BayCon this past May, Kathy Mar invited us to play a 'braided concert' with Kristoph, Margaret, Jeff and Maya, and as many of the Puzzlebox crew as we could pull together. We couldn't really get everyone together much ahead of time to rehearse, but we managed a room rehearsal and we had a blast.
Taunya mugs at rehearsal with Socrates' fox, and Penny's cat that I made for them. :)
I'm certainly the least of the musicians among the crew we had for that concert, and listening to them working together was like sitting in on a master class in performing and arranging music. I can't really express how much I like all of them, and how wonderful it is to create music that is greater than the sum of the parts. :)
I wish for a lot more music in all of our lives, and for the joys it brings and not the heartaches of not being able to do as much of it as we would like. Thanks, guys, for making my little life richer by being in it.