Week 20 – Hard Times, Come Again No More

Stephen Foster is a composer of true Americana.  His songbook is filled with compositions known by Americans of all walks of life – songs like “Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” and “Beautiful Dreamer.”

This week, I’ve arranged Foster’s “Hard Times, Come Again No More” for the Duo Chronicles project.  Although not as well-known as the songs I mentioned above, it’s still a very common song, especially in the folk circles.  For example, my favorite version was performed by James Taylor with Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Mark O’Connor.

For the Duo Chronicles version, I stretched the harmony, but not so much that the song is hidden – it’s just presented in a different light.  I also tried to stay true to the lyrics and mood of the song, which transitions between hopeful and dark imagery.  Here are Foster’s original lyrics:

Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh Hard times come again no more.
Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh hard times come again no more.
While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay,
There are frail forms fainting at the door;
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
Oh hard times come again no more.
There’s a pale drooping maiden who toils her life away,
With a worn heart whose better days are o’er:
Though her voice would be merry, ’tis sighing all the day,
Oh hard times come again no more.
Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave,
Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore
Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
Oh hard times come again no more.

This is our first departure from original material in the project besides the holiday songs – we’ll be back to original compositions next week.

Week 17 – Holiday Music

This week, we’re bringing you two songs instead of just one.  Also, instead of doing original material, we chose to do arrangements of traditional holiday songs.  With the way that we approached them, I think they still sound like Duo Chronicles – not a total departure from our usual sound into the some-old way that these songs are normally played.

My arrangement of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” (video above) has the typical form of the old carol, but departs harmonically into dense chords.  The melody is kept pretty true to the original, though.  In the video, you’ll see footage from Portland, Oregon’s own Peacock Lane.  If you’re not from around here, I’ll explain:  Peacock Lane is a stretch of about four blocks in Southeast Portland where all of the houses get decked out in holiday decorations through the month of December.  People flock to the street to drive or walk through and admire the festivities each night, causing what I’m sure is a nightmare for the residents of the lane.  Clay and I were remarking as we drove past last week that it must be tough on the realtors on that street when they’re about to close the deal on a house and they have to explain that there’s just one more thing to mention – they probably won’t be able to drive up to their house or get any quiet time in the evenings for 1/12th of each year.

Clay’s arrangement of Silent Night is in a similar vein – the basic form of the tune, but with new chords.  That is, until the end when we start trading.  This video has footage from the Heathman Hotel’s holiday decorations.

Happy holidays from Duo Chronicles.

Week 16 – Ode To Joy

I have a tendency to wax poetic when I talk about music. I don’t know, I can’t help it. Sure I like talking about technique and craft, but sound, how does one describe sound? How does it make you feel? Everyone feels something different. My default word is “vibe.” I think if something is true, if there is truth in there, it has a vibe. Kind of like the cliche, if it feels right, it is right, which also makes sense to me. I think this week’s song (and arrangement based on Ode To Joy, from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony) is going for that.

The melody to Ode to Joy is set to a poem by the German poet Friedrich Schiller. While the melody is simple (a beginning band can play it), it is also powerful and resounding. Kind of analogous to an architect building a skyscraper, Beethoven took musical motifs and built musical skyscrapers out of them. One aspect of Beethoven the composer that I like is that, he made lots of revisions and changes in the compositional/arranging process. Really struggled, whereas someone like Mozart, his music has that kind of flows from the pen vibe. Every note is right in place. Of course some of this might have had to do with Beethoven being in the Romantic era and Mozart in the Classical era. Stylistic differences.

Gospel music can be infectious. The sound is uplifting. So it seemed natural to me to combine the gospel tinge with the melody to Ode to Joy. I don’t really like musical genre descriptions, but here you go, gospel-jazz tinged Beethoven.