Category Archives: Music

Working on our Vespers service book

Today’s project for me was to slave over a hot service book.

Our Vespers service is the service we’ve been doing the longest. As we’ve been doing a priestless version for a while, my first revision of the book cut out all the stuff we don’t do.

We actually have at our disposal TWO different Vespers service books (multiple copies of each, we’re not all hunched around trying to peer at the words). The simple one is the white one, which are branded for our former overseeing church. It doesn’t have the music in, and there’s places where it notes that extra songs are added in.

The red book is more complicated, as I was reminded when I was looking through it to fill in some blanks. now some parts have me more confused…

We also have a set of music, which I believe we’ve been using in conjunction with the white books. There’s some songs in there that we haven’t done (the ones noted in the white book). This is the stuff that has mainly thrown us off when we’ve had a priest with us, and our recent visit to K-town’s Vespers used them, so we’ve decided to add them in.

So that’s what I’ve been collecting and adding today. The extra verses and parts of Lord, I Call Upon Thee, the Apostikha verses, and the Troparia. There’s also the Prokeimena, but I skipped those today. They weren’t in with the music, and the red book was seven shades of confusing in that regard. Plus the other stuff already took me most of today.

There are eight Tones, and we cycle through them. So Tone 7 started today, Tone 8 starts next Sunday, then it goes back to Tone 1 after that. All the things I added today (text only, thankfully, though some of the music could really use redoing), I had to add for each of the eight Tones.

The Lord, I Call stuff started straightforward. The first set of music I found turned out to not be the full set, the second set was more complete (missing a page, I think). After the “Lord, I Call” part, there’s 3 verses, each with a “Stikhera” (for the sake of not looking it up, let’s describe it as “a choiry bit”) afterwards.

This was just fine until Tone 7, where on the music sheet, the third Stikhera kind of gets interrupted by the third verse coming back and saying “wait! I wasn’t done yet!”, then the third Stikhera finishing off. (“I’ma let you finish…”)

In a rare display of being easier, the red book just includes “Verse 3 ctd” as part of the uninterrupted Stikhera.

The three verses have the same words in all 8 Tones. The red book lists 10 verses, the first 3 being the ones that we use. The verses are labelled 1-10, 1 and 2 being in the section (X), 3 and 4 in (V111), 5 and 6 in (VI), and 7-10 in (IV). I have no idea what this means; in the following pages, the words (and most of the music) are displayed, and only use the same 3 verses.

And after the last Stikhera, before the Theotokion which rounds out each Lord, I Call section, it says “(etc.)”

What etc? I don’t know the etc! Can’t you tell me the etc?

I have no idea. Maybe I’ll find out. That’s maybe one to ask now-Father Dan.

In the meantime, have to check with musicy people about which construction of Tone 7 to put in the book.

The Apostikha(s? e?) were a lot more straightforward, the only issues I see cropping up here are noting that I need to enforce consistency with capitals (just corrected a bunch of Thys and Thous, cross usually has a capital C, as in “By ascending the Cross, O Lord…”, “Thy most pure Body” is in the Troparia, do I capitalise the B in “His holy body”? and so on).

I suspect proof-reading will be a lot of work.

The last section was the Troparia, and here things got a little complicated.

The wording on the music sheets mostly matched up with the Troparia in the Sunday service book, so a quick copy-and-paste did that job. I think the tunes were different, so I made notes where things were different. the differences were minor, Thy/the, to/for, some extra ands and an our. Some of the sheets had music for “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.” Others had [G.N.E.] written on them (I’d say “scrawled”, but don’t mean it to be disparaging, and also it’s better writing than mine). Following that, there’s a Theotokion.

The white book just says “Troparia (sung or chanted)”, followed by priesty parts we usually have to skip. So previously our service would stop just before this point.

The red book at this point in the service has a Troparion to the Theotokos (one set of words, two options for music, not a different one for all eight tones like in the music sheets). then it has page numbers for the appendices for Sunday Troparia and Lenten Troparia, so essentially the other way round from the music sheets. But the Sunday Troparia (words, at least, didn’t check the tunes) seem to be the same as on the sheets and in our Typika service book, so grateful for some consistency, there.

I’m grateful for the consistency we do get, and I do enjoy this project. It’s just that everything turns out to be more work than you think it’ll be. Lord willing, we’ll know what we’re doing someday!

Adventures in spontaneity

Went to K-Town this afternoon. My parents-in-law were going, and Middlest had said she wanted to go, and I had thought about going with. But then a bunch of stuff happened between then and last night, and it kind of fell off my radar. So last minute I decided that I wouldn’t go after all (before being reminded about Middlest going).

With three kids who are often a handful, it’s easy for my wife and I to default to staying home with the kids. But last night, my wife had second thoughts about defaulting to no, this time.

So, after checking this morning when it would be too late to change our mind, we decided we would go after all.

The church in K-Town has a Deacon who’s going to be ordained a Priest, soon, and our church will transfer to be under his care. So right now, that church is in the middle of getting their new church building physically ready, and we were there for choir practice this afternoon, learning a bunch of new songs, some for the Bishop being here, and some for the Ordination.

It was fun practicing the songs. In our church, we’re often split pretty evenly Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass. Well, one Tenor, and the rest of us have 2 each. At the practice, most of us were Basses, which made it easier to hear all them. A few times, I had to stick my finger in my ear to try and hear if I was hitting the notes well. Sometimes, I think I was fine, other parts I was pretty sure I was messing up, and the rest of it? Live in hope, I guess :)

Some of the tunes were more straightforward, some were pretty complicated, or seemed more so because they were fast, and a few threw a foreign language into the mix.

At Transfiguration, we don’t often have services with a priest. Sometimes we go to K-Town and they sometimes do, sometimes we go to Zoo-town, and they’ve had a full-time one for a couple of years. Preparing for a service where multiple clergy are going to be part of the service, with just the soon-to-be priest to guide us through the preparation (at this point, anyway)… I’m having  a kind of weird feeling about that, that I’m having a hard time trying to describe. Maybe it’s just a being-on-the-outskirts thing.

Anyway, having decided not to go, I ended up being glad I went. Gave the songs a go. Hope I wasn’t too disruptive when I wasn’t managing the notes or the timing.

On the way home, we had milkshakes. I don’t really consider myself much a one for milkshakes, and was a bit hesitant, but I’m glad I had one, for the most part it acted like soft ice cream (not even wanting to come through the straw til I was pretty much at the end). I think I would have more readily gone for something with bits, but I was happy with what I had (and am also trying out this “trying not to be too much of an asshole” thing, less successfully than I would like).

Wife decided she didn’t want the milkshake (would have gone for something with bits, wasn’t an asshole about it [after what I said in the last paragraph, thought I’d better qualify]), then closer to home she got offered a Blizzard (yum yum, and she let me have a bite :) )

Yay bits. Go with bits.

Memoria: A Melancholy Tribute To Final Fantasy IX

Here, have the album on while you read this:

A few weeks ago, I happened to have some MP3/video/ebook credit on Amazon, due to choosing No-Rush Shipping for a few things. Determined not to let it expire this time, I went looking around the music.

The problem is, if there’s a CD, then I’d rather have that and rip it to hard drive, than just have the files. Same with movies and DVDs – only then it seems more critical because you never know how long Amazon (or the like) will have that item available for streaming.

Getting nowhere slowly with just browsing the selection, on the off-chance I did a search for Final Fantasy. I’ve been playing the series since I got IX when it was pretty new (my PlayStation was second-hand, though, and still works fine). A few years earlier, a friend of mine had raved about how good Final Fantasy VII was. Now I own I-IX (III on DS, the rest on PlayStation).

I played VIII and IX most heavily at the time, I have now finished those and VI. I’m a way into VII now, but just haven’t been playing it much.

I’ve liked the music all the time, had a bunch of MIDIs from VIII and IX, which I listened to a lot on my phone. More recently, I’ve discovered the Distant Worlds series of CDs (plus others that are harder to get on CD over here – until recently, GrooveShark was my friend in that regard).

Among the Amazon results, were some albums by “TPR” – “Memoria: A Melancholy Tribute To Final Fantasy IX”, “Fragments Of Memories: A Melancholy Tribute To Final Fantasy VIII”, and some others. VII and X.

I did a search for these albums elsewhere, and found they came from a YouTube channel that had the tracks separately, but also videos of the full albums. Yay for Try Before You Buy!

The tracks are well-played, they sound great. Some of them are very close to the originals, some have been rearranged to fit the style. I’ve got to say, it all works. And the track selection was great – the opening track, “Terra”, is a tune I’ve particularly liked over the years, and it’s not one you encounter much on albums and collections.

The only problem with the album is that I wish the last track, “You’re Not Alone” (one of the most popular FFIX tracks) would go on a whole lot longer.

“Leave ’em wanting more”, as the ancient Chinese proverb goes.*

Music has a few particular uses in our house. Obviously there’s what someone listens to on their own, but the other main place is to have on in the background at mealtimes. We have lots of music that fails that particular test, but this album seemed to go over well, and pass that test. Even before the next paragraph.

This moment in our lives, shall we say, is a good time for some melancholy music. That’s why I write about this today, while I was thinking about what to write about, and other stuff going on at the moment, I was humming some of the tracks from this album. Rose Of May, Steiner’s Theme.

If you’ve got some tough stuff you’re going through in your life, remember: “You’re Not Alone“.

The album can be found on Amazon here. And yes, I did spend that credit on this album.

*Probably not Chinese.

Square Notes Into Round Clefs

Today I was working on stuff for the Holy Transfiguration site.

I went back into MuseScore and converted the Beatitudes from four staves (as I did it initially) to two (soprano and alto together on the treble clef, and tenor and bass together on the bass clef).

Copying and pasting first the alto and the bass, changing them to Voice 2, and then copying and pasting the soprano and the tenor, worked for the most part. Things like triplets, quadruplets and quintuplets (which is how I work around the notes that are chanted quicker than a quaver) didn’t survive being changed between the voices, sometimes slurs needed redoing, and fermatas didn’t survive the voice-switching either, so it was a bit more work than I hoped, but it went ok.

I tried following that up by transcribing “Vouchsafe, O Lord”. I’m not really happy with its’ current state: some parts seem a little slow, and I’m not sure if it’s that the whole thing is slow. The tuplets I put in seem ok, I’m a bit paranoid that they will be too fast if I end up needing to up the tempo for the piece as a whole. I’m not happy with this piece, yet. Not ready for the limelight.

I did, fairly quickly upon searching, find an image that would be good to use on our service books. When I’m closer to having all the pieces ready for one of the service books, I’m pretty sure I’ve found the right email address to ask for permission to use it. I found them on a blog, which linked back to another site, who credited someone for giving them permission, I’ve found the email address of someone with his name, so with any luck…

Not entirely happy with the free hosting place I’m using there. Throws up an ad when you go there, and it disagrees a lot with Internet Explorer. A friend has offered me a very charitable rate for hosting the Transfiguration site with him. Very much tempted to go with that. Need to discuss it before I jump into that.

Radio Killed The Radio Star

Coming out of a discussion that just happened in the room behind me (that I joined in with). There’s something about not having control over the music you’re listening to.

There have been several places I’ve worked where the radio has been on for the enjoyment (or otherwise) of the employees.

One was a relatively small store, where we had a little boom box on out back, in the warehouse area of the store. Sometimes we’d bring in CDs, but most of the time we’d hear the radio. A lot of the time we weren’t back there, being on the shop floor, but even then it was clear that some stations were more repetitive than others. Virgin’s “No Repeat 9-5″ offered some reprieve to this sameness… until you clued in to the fact that the playlist was pretty much the same every day. You could just about set your clock by the appearance of some of the songs – if I remember correctly (it was ten years ago), there was a period where the great November Rain by Guns ‘n’ Roses without fail would come on right before the 11 o’clock news. Made it easy to find out what the song was called.

Out on the road, by that point, I had started reverting to the rather more talky Radio 2.

A few years later, I was working in a rather large distribution centre on a night shift. The shift lengths varied a bit over the years I was there – it was between 8 and 10 hours a night. They played radio there, too: I think the station got picked by one of the office workers, I know it changed sometimes.

The speakers in the area I worked in were relatively small for the area they had to cover. Other parts of the complex, you could hear more clearly. Where I spent the most time, you could hear the higher frequencies kinda ok, and the lower frequencies not at all. The upshot being, if there was an annoying part to a song, you would get that scratched into your brain.

For example, Beyonce’s “All The Single Ladies” was popular at the time, and you couldn’t hear the grungey electro-industrial weirdness that runs under the song. You could hear the singer, but not particularly clearly. The part where she repeats “All the single ladies” over and over – it sounded very much like “I want cigarettes”.

Another song that became particularly obnoxious very quickly was Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars”. There was one song, and I think it was this one, that I counted five times in one shift. Seriously? A century of recorded music and you have to play that whiny junk over and over again? (incidentally, this also was the only song that carried through our floor from the shop below, while I was trying to get to sleep. Un-fun…)

Actually, most of the songs I tired of easily (Single Ladies, too) just sounded so whiny. The tinny speakers didn’t help, of course.

But even pre-tinny speakers. “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt. Just as whiny. (May I recommend the Dead Ringers parody version.)

As music radio became more tedious to listen to, I started listening to other things. Especially in that distribution centre job. Final Fantasy MIDIs on my phone soon became mp3s of my CDs, soon became podcasts and podiobooks. I’d venture to say that podcasts have changed my life. This may not have been possible without the utter tediosity that radio has become, so I can’t be entirely ungrateful.

I’m not quite in the same boat as Queen, though. “Radio, someone still loves you!” That wouldn’t be me. Radio, I’d be happy to love you again, but most of the time you’re just not really worth listening to.


Reading Program update: Oldest hit 9 hours altogether, Middlest hit two. I reached one hour total from reading to kids (today’s half-hour reading to Middlest, most of that was a chapter of The House At Pooh Corner) and five minutes on my stopwatch from reading to myself, in a little break, and I didn’t count thumbing through a newspaper from 1975.

A Different Kind Of Coding

In addition to the site for a friend that I mentioned the other day (nearly there, nearly there), I have also created a website for my church.

As part of the site, I’m uploading music that we use, hopefully to help new visitors, or people elsewhere looking into Orthodox Christianity.

To be honest, I started transcribing the music before I thought of doing the site: I’m not so good at harmony, and I was hoping to get the hang of the bass part before we were due to perform a song (that one’s not up yet, I’ll explain in a bit). It almost worked: singing and thinking the bass tune while hearing the soprano is somewhat tricky.

I’m using MuseScore for my transcription. I came across it a few years ago, when Windows Media Player was sucking at playing Final Fantasy MIDIs. Now I’m getting used to writing in it.

Time signatures in Orthodox church music are somewhat complex. Or to put it another way, they don’t really use bars. In a lot of cases, one tune (a “Tone”) is used for various different texts, so a line of music has to be adapted to different lengths to accommodate varying lengths of text.

What I’ve been doing, then, is when starting a new score, I’ve set a basic time signature (usually Common time), the tempo, and the number of bars I want. Then I delete the “C” denoting Common time (which at an early stage like this changes nothing), and change each bar to the length it needs to be (often between 8/4 and 15/4, few have been less, but a few have been more than that).

Took me a while to figure that out, also took me a while to figure out where to add in tempo, and how to have notes of differing length at the same place in the same stave (using Voices).

The earliest things I transcribed, I need to go back and redo, armed with all these things I’ve picked up along the way.

Today, despite missing the kids-having-rest-time and kids-watching-a-Sunday-show window of opportunity, I managed to do O Gladsome Light, one of my favourite hymns from Vespers. I like the “now that we have come to the setting of the sun” and “for meet it is at all times” parts. Orthodox Wiki has a nice page detailing the history of the song.

I’d started in earnest with transcribing Vespers (fewer changeable hymns), and started at the beginning. At this point I’ve skipped the changeable hymn, because I’m not sure how I’m going to integrate it into the new service book. Another day…

Today, I also started putting files up onto the Files page of the church site. The transcription and that website are my Sunday project, it’s nice to make progress on projects.