Saturday, November 25, 2023

Glory Glory Dixieland: Trying to Keep Up with the UGA Redcoats Marching Band on Piano


If you like my version, click HERE for the free Midi file, and HERE for the free sheet music.

   I'm not a huge sports fan, but... living in Georgia, with a bunch of friends and family being fans of the Dawgs... I've become a de facto fan myself.  To the point I take pride in the team, and a certain amount of personal satisfaction with every win.  :^)  

  My brother-in-law is one of the most dedicated fans, and also an amazing musician.  His love for the team, and for the band, inspired me to pick Glory Glory Dixieland as the next song for this blog.  (I also thought Dixieland would be similar to Southern Gospel, just "revved up"... unfortunately for me, it's MUCH more difficult than what I'm used to!!!)

  Julia Ward Howe wrote Battle Hymn of the Republic in 1861, and used the music from the already existing “John Brown’s Body” for the melody. The tune itself existed well before that.  Wikipedia has an in depth article regarding the history of the song [here](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Brown%27s_Body).  The Battle Hymn of the Republic is in the public domain.  It's not the first time I've recorded Battle Hymn, but it's most certainly the first time I've attempted a Dixieland style.

  This is a tribute to the version played by the UGA Redcoats Marching Band (found HERE on the University of Georgia Website). I've done my best to honor their skill, talent, commitment, but to be very clear... at my age, and declining memory, this song is beyond my abilities.  I'm doing the very best I can to play it similarly to the Redcoats, at least to the point where I can accompany them.  The complexity of their style is amazing, and inspirational.  Considering they're a full band with a team of dedicated musicians and I'm one guy with one piano, there's simply no way my arrangement can possibly match their arrangement... but I feel good about the result.   
  ONE NOTE:  If you're on the verge of getting a song right, but it's just too fast for your fingers to catch up... coffee is your best friend.  :^)

  I play by ear, and don't read sheet music.  Thanks to Audacity's free audio software, it was possible to break pieces apart and slow it down so as to hear the details of the band's music. Just because I could hear it though, doesn't mean I could match it. Did the best I could, and blended my own style into the mix.  It's been an odd experience.  For decades I've played solo, at whatever speed felt fun. Trying to match timing (especially when they play it SO fast) is way out of my comfort zone.  Please pardon my drifting, if you happen to notice the times I got a little behind or ahead of the pace. 
  ANOTHER NOTE:  If you download the midi file, you'll notice at least two places where I missed a key, and one place where my speed got off track.  Call it a personal limitation. After nearly four months of practice, it's the best I've been able to do.  If you play, and upload your version to Youtube, send me the link.  I'll be glad to post it here!

  In terms of matching speed with the band, sacrifices were made. My fingers aren't that agile any more, and maybe never were.  The riffs the band plays are complex, rich, and devious.  I'm used to enhancing a melody by playing notes within the same chords, but not necessarily the exact notes.  Jazz/Dixie takes it a lot further, running though the song like a fox leading hounds on a merry chase through forest, streams, and meadows.  When slowed down sufficiently to hear the notes, it's like they play all the notes above and below, without necessarily playing the exact melody.  It doesn't make any sense, until you hear it at speed.  Suddenly, it makes sense and all I can do is wonder how somebody could figure out how to cram all those notes together and wind up sounding exactly right?

  The final result is more like an "accompaniment" in my own style, than a stand-alone.  Since I specialize in Southern Gospel and Country Music, this isn't pure Dixieland Jazz, but a hybrid between the two styles.  I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Off Topic - Dreams and Things

 

It's been a long time since the last post.  I'm still here, and still working on related projects.  Mainly the Glory Glory Dixieland version of Battle Hymn of the Republic, performed by the University of Georgia.  It's been an ongoing project for a couple of months.  I thought it would be easier, since Southern Gospel and Dixieland Jazz have some similar elements, but the differences are dramatic.  Aside from the issue of one piano trying to match the output of a whole band, the melody line is breaking my brain.  It sounds so fun, and so perfect, just to listen the the band play.  Then I try to break down the parts, and they wander over, under, in, and around the melody without actually hitting the melody, yet it all blends together and sounds fabulous as a whole.
Honestly, my hat is off to the Redcoat Marching Band.  Tons of respect for their superhuman skills!

Yesterday marked a major accomplishment.  I've finally learned the entire song.  Now, it's time to learn to play it all smoothly, as a single cohesive song, and match my timing up to the band.  I'll probably never be able to play it as fast as the band does.  I'm using two hands, and trying to manage base (which again, is more complex than Southern Gospel), back-up chords, and melody, in an impossible attempt to live up to the example set by the University of Georgia's marching band.  

In particular, I'm using the last two fingers of my right hand, with a greater spread and more complex patterns, than usual.  Resulting in a good bit of pain, especially at the base of my wrist, on the side under the pinkie finger.  Time enough to rest it later.  Right now, on a roll and want to push through. I may not be an entire band, but am pretty pleased with how the song is working out.  Even if it's slower, I'm going to practice to improve, and then record it.

OFF TOPIC

In the meantime, totally off the usual topic, I'm up early this Sunday morning with a problem that wouldn't let me sleep.  Writing usually helps, and this is my blog, so I'm diverging from the beaten path today to help get this off my mind:

Woke up too early.  Restless night with a recurring dream.  Dreamed I was working a full-time job, but that wasn't the focus of the dream so I've no idea what the main job was.  This dream focused on a part-time job I went to after work.  It was run like a Blockbuster, with the checkout area very much like the old days.  The people I worked with were nice, though a little distant.  The drive was long, but it was through gorgeous wooded country roads, so overgrown it was almost tunnel-like.  As much as I hate and fear driving, this was an enjoyable trip.  Never met anybody else driving on this road. It was just me, and the days were always a pure blue color, with occasional small white clouds drifting along.  At work, it was a combination Blockbuster and old country store.  They sold an eclectic collection of things, and were rarely busy.  I might have had four co-workers, who came in at one time or another.   In the first dream, one of my co-workers had a customer who was kind of a trouble-maker, in an Andy Griffith mean-old-man kind of way.  They had to step away from the till to discuss his problem, but first he was determined to prove his identity by showing his signature, hand-scribbled on the back of the comics page from an old newspaper.  Then he went on at length about a walking cane he bought, and how much he disliked it.  He complained that it splashed him when it rained, and he'd get muddy walking along with it.  

The dream faded there, and I woke up for a while.  When I went back to sleep, the dream continued but on another day.  Same drive to work, but for some reason it was crowded and busy, and we had four lines running, each deep with people waiting their turn.  I thought to myself that I had taken this second job for added income, but also, because it was enjoyable. When it got that busy, I was regretting being there.  Then a man roughly late-30's or early-40's stepped up to my till, and before he'd tell me what he wanted, he had to go through the same rigamarole about proving his identity by showing his signature on the back of the comics page from an old newspaper.  This time around, I noticed he was using the Sunday funnies, because they were in color.  Then he had a complaint, but couldn't figure out how to tell me what it was.  He wanted me to wait there while he went outside, but the person who came back was the old man from the first dream, who also wanted to show me his signature on the piece of paper again, then launch into the same tirade about his cane.  I wondered why he hadn't returned the cane last time, took a look at the huge line of customers waiting at all the tills, and said "Oh, please, sir, not with all these people waiting. I heard the whole story the first time."  

He seemed to agree, was about to speak, and I woke up again.  I lay there a moment, trying to go back to sleep; then realized I didn't want to go back to that same dream and continue to listen about his cane.  Checked my watch, it was almost 6:00. Got up but the dream kept haunting me.  Now I'm sitting here writing it out, because it's going to haunt me until I get it written down.    

Now I'm done.  But I'm still not going back to sleep.  I quit, they can get someone else to listen to that guy complain about his cane.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Midstream Progress Report - GloryGlory Dixieland is going slow

     Last post was detailing how I use Audible to help learn new songs by ear.  In it, the example was based on the song I'm currently learning, the University of Georgia's "Glory Glory Dixieland", a really jazzed up version of the "Battle Hymn of The Republic" as performed by the Redcoat Marching Band.  (If anybody wants to hear the source material, it's on Georgia Dogs.com - Songs of the Georgia Bulldogs.  Just scroll down to the Dixieland version.)

    I've known the song for years from church, and have always played it in a Southern Gospel style. The song is public domain, and I've already posted a Youtube version in my usual Southern Gospel style.  When I finished learning my last song, and was considering which song to play, Monique suggested this version.  It's been on my mind, because it's fun, and sounds a lot like southern gospel style, just revved up.   All I have to do is learn to play the song like the college band does, on a piano, at the same speed they play it, and record it for Youtube...   :^)

    Okay, maybe not that simple.    With my memory, I have to learn very small segments at a time.  Been working on it since early/mid August. It's now mid September, and I've learned about 45 seconds.  The full song is a bit over 2 minutes.  On the other hand, I managed to match the single-key melody line in the middle, all the way up to where they start singing "Glory, Glory Hallelujah", so it's mostly a matter of memorizing those elements, and figuring out the fingering.

    Another aspect is the speed of the song.  I've always tended to play too fast, but these kids are too much for me.  Either my age or the complexity of the song is too much. I can't keep up.  Dixieland and Southern Gospel sound similar in some ways, but there's a wide gulf between the details of the two styles.  Probably going to have to get the song as good as possible, and settle for the best speed manageable.  It had been my intention to make a video overlaying the band with the piano, to show that my arrangement follows the band's playing properly.  May have to give up that thought.  Haven't decided yet.

    What I HAVE been able to do, is due to Audacity. It's been a Godsend.  I'm trying to pluck a consistent melody line out of a New Orleans style rendition of an entire band playing all at once, to play on one piano, with only two hands.  There's no way I can match an entire band, so it's a matter of following the notes that stand out the most.  At times they're playing way too fast for me to hear individual notes, much less focus on a single melody line.  It's like they're hitting EVERY note except the melody, but so fast that it blends INTO a melody. 
    With Audacity, it's possible to isolate a segment and listen over and over for the dominant melody.  It's possible to slow the song down while keeping the same pitch.  It's kind of like a bionic replacement for bad hearing, bad memory, and slower hands.  Audacity makes it possible for me to learn and play like I used to; just in smaller stages, at a speed I can handle.   :^)

    When I post a new song, I usually print out the sheet music for people who want to learn. In this case, after I worked out most of the song by playing along in the same key the band uses (B-flat), I discovered some band-type instruments are natively tuned to B-flat, but read the sheet music in C.  It felt like I'd put a ton of work into something that may not be usable by anybody who might like my arrangement, and I was depressed about it.

That final complication just got solved a few minutes ago.  Since the band plays Glory Glory Dixieland in B-flat, I've been playing in that key while listening/learning.  (I'm usually key-of-C, but B-flat isn't too far off for me to learn.)  Googled transposition software just now, and found there are two I already have that can do the job:

    MuseScore 4 is free, and does a wonderful job converting Midi to sheet music.  It has two drawbacks for me, though.  First, it doesn't understand all my my playing.  It sometimes messes up on grace notes, which is kind of important in Southern Gospel piano, and sometimes plays the notes slightly out of sequence.  Kind of jumbled together at the wrong pace.  Second, it doesn't retain the Sustain pedal in the Midi files created in Ableton.  It's still excellent software, and free, but has limitations that won't work for me.  In all fairness, maybe my computer's just not keeping up when the notes are garbled, but that doesn't happen in every midi player.  Some players get it right, even on my computer.

    On the other hand, Notation Musician 4 is everything I want, but it's not free:

  • It plays my style perfectly. 
  • It plays back Ableton's midi files and retains the sustain. 
  • It also converts midi into sheet music... and allows you to print the files.  
  • And it can transpose sheet music, which I only discovered this morning.  :^)
    It does far more, but these are my requirements.  No free software met all of the first three requirements.  Most paid software was either out of my price range, and/or didn't offer a free trial with the features I needed unlocked so there was no way to test it. 
    Notation Musician was still out of my price range.  But I absolutely knew it worked perfectly for my needs because they have a free trial.  It was almost $100, so I had to wait a few months, but it was worth every penny once I bought it.  And now I know how to transpose with it, so it's even better!

With all that said, I'm still not sure how much longer learning the song is going to take.  Making satisfactory progress (just slow).  But it's been so long since posting anything, I wanted to let all my readers and fans (Hi Monique!) know I'm still here!

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Play by Ear Using Audible With Complex Multiple-Instrument Music

     Not sure if that's the clearest title ever.  In case it's not clear enough, this article explains the process by which I learn a song by ear, when the song has a full band playing several (or many) instruments.  Especially if they're being jazzy and the melody switches between instruments, while they're all playing at the same time.  Even more so if I'm trying to play it in the original fashion, instead of in my own style.  I'm assuming that you already play by ear, and can pick out a melody by listening to the original music.  My rule of thumb used to be, if I can whistle it, I can play it.  These days, there's a caveat... I also have to be able to remember the whole tune without forgetting what it sounded like.  This is the process I follow when simply hearing a song isn't enough to be able to play it back.  It's mainly useful if you're struggling with memory issues and can't remember the entire song in one piece right off the bat.  Occasionally, it's exceptionally helpful to break down a too-complicated part of the music so I can hear exactly what notes they're hitting.

    Case in point, I'm trying to learn the University of Georgia Bulldogs "Glory Glory Dixieland" at the moment.  I've played my own version of Battle Hymn of the Republic for years, in a Southern Gospel style.  There's some commonality with Dixieland, but a lot of differences too. 

    Most of the time, I learn by listening, matching the keys, doing a ton of repetition to help remember the melody.  Easy enough, the only hard part is matching the key if it's not one I'm good at, and remembering the full melody if it's not a tune I already know well.  But this version of the Battle Hymn is in a key I'm not great with... and the melody drifts in and out with the different instruments like a fox laying a trail for the hounds. I'm not familiar with the patterns the band is using.

    There might be better options, but I'm a big fan of "Free", and Audible is free, open source, and a fantastic audio editor.  As usual, I only learn what I need as it's needed. Audible is way beyond me in all the many things that it can do, it helps to focus just on the useful parts.  I use it to adjust audio clips, digitize audio from very old VHS tapes, and to make sure all my audio is output in WAV.  WAV is uncompressed and lossless, and excellent for aligning a sound track with a video.  Learning to play a song with Audible is a new process for me, but as I get older and my memory declines, it's become a great help for learning songs in smaller chunks of sound.  And in the case of "Glory Glory Dixieland", slowing the audio down enough to hear the distinct notes being played is a Godsend.

    When a song doesn't have a clear melody being played by a single instrument, listening to a small segment over and over will also help you pick out which line you prefer to follow.  In "Glory Glory Dixieland", at times there's a jumble of sound.  I'll listen to it until one part stands out over another part, and pick that as the melody to follow.

    To start, open Audible and load the music file.  If you simply play the file, it will play the complete song and stop.  If you click and drag sections in the audio track, you'll highlight a portion of the audio.  Now when you play, it will play the highlighted section and stop.   At the end of the playback controls, clicking on the "Loop" command will add  a looping region that matches your highlighted section. (It shows as two bars in the timeline above the audio track.) Now it can play that one loop over and over, and you can focus on that one brief clip until you've figured out the notes you need.  

   Right click on the loop track, select clear, and you can choose another section to highlight.  Or select either side of the selected range and drag to reposition them. Listening to the music, piece by piece, you can learn the entire song in this fashion.  

    If the music is fast, or too complex at normal speed, you can slow it down.  For a quick fix, there's an information line below the tracks, and in that line you'll see a green arrow.  Hovering over it shows "Play-At-Speed."  To its right, you can change the speed it plays back by sliding the button.  This will change playback speed on the fly.  It's great if you just need a quick comparison, but as you change the speed, the pitch will also change, meaning it won't play back in the same key.

 

  Highlight the entire audio track, and from the "Effect" dropdown menu, choose "Change Tempo."  This will let you adjust the speed to your liking.  (I like to reduce the speed by about 30% for breaking down fast segments.)  If you click "Preview," you can hear a short sample with the new setting.  If the new speed sounds right, click "Apply." Now you have the entire song slower, but still playing in the original key!

    Save your work when it's done processing.  I export a WAV file, then save a "Project" file.  If you want to change the speed again at a later point, reload your original audio and make the change.  Reason being, changing the tempo while keeping the pitch results in artifacts in the file.  I haven't noticed them at one iteration, but the Audible website says it gets worse with each iteration, like making a xerox copy, then a copy of the copy, then a copy of the copy... it winds up losing quality.

    Now it's just a matter of learning the song at an easier pace.  Choose a small segment, listen over and over until you can match it.  If there's too many instruments, keep replaying the section, but listen for a melody that stands out over the rest of the instruments.  When you're trying to convert a whole band into a single person playing on the piano, you have to choose which parts work best and which parts aren't necessary.  I'll learn several segments, then practice playing them all in one run, then adjust the highlighted playback to the longer segment, and learn to play all those parts in time with the audio clip.  I'll learn the song as I go, and wind up being able to play along with the original music at it's original pace.  (Unless it's original speed is too fast for me to keep up!)

As always, I'm primarily writing this to accommodate my own memory loss.  If the time comes I can't remember how, this guide will remind me.  If it helps anybody else, that makes it even better.  :^)

    

    


Friday, August 18, 2023

Dealing With Lifechanging Events

 And now for something completely different:
As of August 11, 2023, exactly one week ago today, I retired.

    "Retired" is a tricky word.  A year ago, I went from full-time at my job, to part-time.  Voluntarily, in an attempt to reduce stress, and focus more on my time with Monique.  We tried calling it 'retirement', but that didn't sit well.  Settled on calling it 'semi-retirement'.  Seemed more accurate.

    Now I've given up the job, retirement still isn't exactly the right word.  I'm in my 60's, so retiring is age-appropriate.  But what really happened is I stopped working at the paper, and started working full-time with Monique.  We can't afford to actually retire.  I'm calling it retirement, but what it means is "working full-time on eBay to make ends meet."  One week in, and we're starting to figure out the shape of our future.  It's great to spend a whole day focused on eBay, but as it turns out, other needs continue, as they always have, to interrupt our plans.  Some things will need to become part of the permanent routine.  Others are one and done. The cost of... everything... will keep going up.  The unplanned-for continues to surprise us.  :^)

    So a week into our new normal, I have to say I'm liking it a lot.  Working at the paper was a good job.  And the people I worked with... really great.  As in, I've only been gone a week and really miss getting to see everybody while we did our daily work.  I miss the job itself, but not nearly as much as I miss the people.  Over the years, the job changed to deal with all the changes in the industry.  Newspapers went from being powerful, to struggling to hang on.  Many couldn't, and closed.  The paper I worked for was a labor of love, and our leadership worked extremely hard, and very creatively, to keep the doors open.  We continue to succeed, where so many haven't.  And of course, the aftermath of Covid had an indelible impact, personally and professionally.  For a long time, I adapted.  Not always willingly, but always got there in the end.

    It helped when I went part time last year, but change kept happening.  People I care about move on, the job itself continued to change.  I found myself struggling, and failing, to adjust.  The merry go round wasn't fun anymore and I was ready to leave the circus behind.  My willingness to change, and keep changing, was gone.  A good friend put it bluntly, telling me I was burnt out.  Sounds about right. 

    Monique and I talked it over a lot.  I tried to hang in as long as possible, but more and more, the thought of dropping out and spending all my time with Monique sounded better and better.  We planned and prepared as much as possible.  Decided we needed a trial run.  A week off of work, to see how it would go.  Gave my manager (another very good friend) a rather indeterminate heads up that Monique and I were considering making the leap.  Found out later she thought I was literally turning in my resignation on the spot.  We cleared that up, I promised her at least a month's notice.

    Spending that week with Monique was awesome.  It convinced us I could make the switch, treat eBay as seriously as any other job. It also convinced us both that it was time, so when the vacation was over, I gave just over a month's notice.  The timing was serendipitous.  That month and a few days made my final day at work a Friday, and Saturday would be Monique's birthday.  It seemed appropriate to celebrate both events together.

    The anticipation was keen.  It was hard to delay that month, but I also didn't want to leave my friends behind.  There were discussions about ways of keeping me on in some capacity, but the upshot was, I'm more than happy to give advice, share expertise, and will always pick up the phone when my friends call, but not for pay.  My paid job is eBay, and I need to treat it like a job.  But I'm always glad to hear from friends, and to feel needed.

    They threw an amazing farewell party.  I've worked with people (yes, more friends) for 15 years that I never met face to face - some of them made the trip to the office just to say goodbye, and share a hug.  I tried to search out everybody and tell them how great they've been.  Then it was over.  Did a few last jobs, because they were there and I didn't want to leave Joy with any of my unfinished work.

    Now, a week later, I had an epiphany:
I left the job while I was still good at it, and would be remembered fondly.  

    If I'd stayed, my ability to do the job would have diminished, my anger and stress would have grown, and nobody would have liked me any more, not even me.  Carol Burnett had a very successful entertainment show for years, and it was still going great when she decided to stop.  As she said, "I thought it was much classier for me to say bye-bye first.”  I agree.  

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Meeting In The Air Southern Gospel on Piano

  


Meeting In The Air MIDI File

     This marks the 2nd new Southern Gospel song posted since re-starting this blog.  Meeting In The Air is an old old favorite.  I loved to sing this in church when I was a kid.  It's one of the songs I can clearly remember from church, from Uncle Freil playing, and from playing it myself.

    The song's original copyright was in 1925, and is currently under the Public Domain.  It was written by Mae Taylor Roberts.  According to Hymnary, the copyright notice originally contained this offer:  "This song may be had in sheet music at 25 cents a copy. Order from Mrs. Mae T. Roberts, 1554, East Washington, Pasadena, California."  Since that was nearly a century ago, I sincerely doubt she's still honoring her offer.
    I've looked for more information or songs from Mae Taylor Roberts, but couldn't find anything beyond the small amount Hymnary has.  If you'd like the lyrics, Hymnary offers 3 verses plus chorus.  I've seen it in the past with 4 verses, but usually consider Hymnary to be the most reliable source of hymn information.

    Speaking of verses, I took the road less traveled this time.  Most of the time, I'll do two or three verses with a chorus between each. This time around, I had an example to follow.  I recently found several decades-old videos of my uncle Freil playing.  This was one of the songs, so I had the rare opportunity to compare my version to his.  For his version of the song, he simply played the verses three times.  Didn't play the chorus at all.  It never occurred to me that could be an option; plus, I liked that a lot, so I'm following his lead and just playing three verses.  

    Also, not surprising at all... his way of playing Meeting in the Air is much better than mine.  I tend to play a very direct melody line.  Freil had a subtler approach.  He wound in and around the melody line, in ways that would never have occurred to me, lending his variations a much more sophisticated feel.

    With some effort (okay, a lot of effort), I listened to his version of Meeting in the Air over and over, working on learning how he did it.  Unless you're very familiar with Friel's style, you probably won't hear the difference.  But for those of us who knew him, it's there.  The first and last verses are my style.  The middle verse is as close to how he played the song as I can get.  The difference blurs a bit, because over time, fiddling with the arrangement, some of  his style blended with mine.  That's fabulous, because I'd love to be able to play more like Freil.

    Regardless, I'm happy with the arrangement.  I can tell what's mine and what's Freil's, and love the fact that even after all these years, I'm still learning from him.  

    The video itself is a whole other story.  I have a new (outdated, but new to me) cell phone, and struggled with the settings.  It has problems with the audio.  It sounds like it's playing underwater, with strangely distorted sounds, and halfway through the video the audio stops entirely.  My final attempt was with the lower resolution setting turned on.  It was the best version I'd played, out of several hours of trying to fix the video.  By that point my hands ached, and I was getting tired to the point of starting to play worse, rather than better.  So I took that final effort as 'best effort' and called it done.  The playing is fair enough, but the lower resolution makes the video itself disappointing.
    I'd like to fix the audio issue, or at least figure out what's going on.  But... the video plays with perfect timing, and I never use the original audio anyway.  I always use Ableton to record while playing, export it as a Wav file, and overlay the Wav on top of the original video's audio track.  It's cleaner than the original audio, with none of the ambient noise, barking dogs, etc.  So, the odd audio isn't an issue in this particular situation.  At least, not for making these piano videos.

        I've been working on this for a couple of months (or longer).  It would have been easy enough to do a simple arrangement in the key of C.  That's always been my wheelhouse.  But for these videos, I try to change up the keys a little, and offer greater variation in each verse.  With age and covid affecting my memory, it takes longer to get comfortable with an arrangement I like, and my ability to play it perfectly is based more on good luck, no matter how much I practice.  So, please pardon any errors.  The style is there, clearly enough that other pianists can take inspiration from the style and arrangement.  Aside from the actual video of me playing the piano... there's also a "how-to" video using Midiano (see sidebar link to Midiano) to play the song at normal speed, and half speed.  

    In addition to the how-to, the Midi file for Meeting In The Air is available on this page for download.  You can download the file, go to Midiano and play it, which comes with a variety of options that will help in learning to play the song.  You don't have to use Midiano, any Midi player is fine, but I don't know of any free player that can do everything that Midiano does.  Actually, I don't know of any better midi player at all, paid or free. 

     If you read sheet music, a pdf file is also available for download.  All the downloads are available for free, on this page.  (At some point I'll consider adding appropriate affiliate ads, maybe a "buy me a coffee" link, but as of this moment, haven't looked into them yet.)    But even then, there's no obligation, no charge to download.   Get the files, enjoy them, but if you share them, please credit me for the arrangement.  :^)

    


Friday, July 14, 2023

Childhood Memories With My First Piano

    When I was about 6, in 1966, my parents bought a Baldwin piano for me.  Piano lessons were MANDATORY... Dad was military.  They asked my opinion before buying the piano.  In my 6-year-old innocence, I agreed that "sure, I'd like to learn how to play the piano."  That answer resulted in me repeating 3 years worth of first-year lessons...  not many people can say they were sent back to start over 3 times in three years.
     
    At 6, I had no concept of the actual amount of work, practice, and commitment that na├»ve reply was going to cost me.  And nobody, not myself nor my parents, realized how much wasted time and repetition the next three years would entail.  My first piano teacher started me off.  She was an officer's wife who lived on base housing within walking range of our home.  After nearly a year, she moved away.

    Mom and Dad found me another teacher, who insisted I start from scratch to learn her way of doing things.  Less than a year into it, she bailed, and the search began again.
    The next teacher taught group classes.  She also insisted I start from scratch to learn her way.  My only real memory of this class was how easy I made her classes look next to all the other kids.  And why wouldn't I?  I'd already had nearly two years of the same first-year piano lessons!

    The next teacher was where I started progressing again.  Mrs. Bernice Little was a little old lady living in a brownstone in an old neighborhood somewhere in Meridian, Mississippi.  She had a tiny white Chihuahua that was always trembling.  She said in dog years, he was over 100.  She took the time to get to know me, and figure out what I actually knew, and started working with me from that.  It might have been about a year that she taught me.  I recall the total count was three full years of 1st-year lessons, but Mrs. Little took me past that point.  

    She actually entered me in recitals, playing in front of huge crowds (to an 8-year-old, the crowds looked like thousands and thousands of people.)  I learned to play music the likes of Elouise, Nola, and the 1812 Overture.  All beginner-appropriate difficulty level, but it was far beyond what the other teachers gave me.  

    Just as I started enjoying the piano... Dad got orders.  She arranged with Mom to let me spend summers visiting her, but I never got to see her again.  She was advanced in age, and I'm guessing maybe she passed away, but nobody ever told me for sure.  What I DO know for sure, is that I loved her like a grandmother.  Anything I still carry from those early years on the piano, are treasured memories of lessons with Mrs. Little.  When we settled into our new home at Dad's new duty station in Jacksonville, my folks asked me if I'd like to continue lessons.

I said no, for two reasons.  Firstly, I had visions of yet one more teacher making me start over yet again with first-year lessons.  No way.  Not interested, no thanks.  Secondly, and much more importantly, no teacher would ever be able to live up to Mrs. Little's legacy.  The thought depressed me, and I refused to play the piano again.  Ever.
    
    After a couple of years, during our family visits to Nanny's home (my Mom's mom) I started listening to Uncle Freil playing piano.  He played by ear.  He sounded amazing, and was well known in South Georgia and North Florida churches and communities for his playing.  Most importantly, he made it look fun.  Somewhere along the line, I found out he never learned to read sheet music (years later, he learned some, I'm not sure how much.)  I started playing again, watching and listening to Freil play, trying to learn how he did it.
    Some 50 years later, after a lifetime trying to play like Freil, I love playing the piano.  Haven't read sheet music since childhood, and would be hard pressed to read it now.  I mostly play Southern Gospel and Folk/Country music.  Not as good as Freil, still trying to improve but doing well enough.

    Through this blog and elsewhere, I've spoken time and time again about Freil being my inspiration and how much he influenced my childhood, and that's completely true.  But this post started because in my "adult life" I sell vintage advertising on eBay, and ran across this vintage ad (see side picture).  Because of my childhood with a Baldwin Piano, this ad really spoke to me, and I featured it in my eBaying blog.
    This entire post was going to be on that blog (eBay Ephemera - A Page Out of Time), but it became so long, and so much more suited to being on "Grace Notes", I moved the majority of it to this post.  Click this link if you're curious how this post started out.  :^)

    Back to Mrs. Little; I'm not sure if she had family to remember her, or other students she inspired, but she lives on in my heart.  I'd like to think she'd be pleased to know she set me on a life-long path.  Maybe it's not the one she envisioned for me, but she's the one who first made me love the piano.  Mrs. Little, I love and miss you, and wish I could tell you what a wonderful gift you gave me.
    

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Stepping On the Clouds: How to Play Southern Gospel Style


Click HERE to go to the original blog post with free downloadable Midi and Sheet Music.

     In the past week, the final piece of the puzzle dropped into place.  Music Notation 4 was the finishing touch.  In the original Grace Notes, there were multiple elements with each new song:

  • The actual video, playing the song on piano (Yamaha DG-640 back then)
  • A How To video, with sheet music and animated keyboard showing what keys to play
  • A free downloadable Midi file of the song
  • A free downloadable version of the sheet music

    That took a full toolbox of software (plus a keyboard).  Over the years, the Yamaha quit working for me, and was replaced with an M-Audio Hammer 88.  It's a beautiful keyboard with a great feel, but has no built-in audio.  Strictly a Midi controller.  It came with Ableton as the DAW.  The main computer was my Swiss army knife, but Ableton didn't play well with the other installed software.  It took getting a dedicated laptop to make Ableton and the Hammer 88 work consistently.  And even then, I wound up needing an external audio driver (Also M-Audio, as are the speakers.)  Ableton creates the initial Midi, Notation Musician cleans it up a bit.
    Originally, I used the Flip line of digital video recorders, and later a more sophisticated digital camera.  Eventually, cell phones improved to the point I now shoot the videos on my phone.  Nothing special, just a slightly outdated Android.  Got a cheap mini tripod from Amazon that has flexible legs.  It can wrap around handy furniture or fixtures so I don't have to worry about getting an odd angle or knocking it off a shelf.  Bandicam was my screen video recording software.  Did a good job then... does a good job now.  I've kept it through at least three computers, and it just keeps on working.
    For regular video editing, I use HitFilm Express.  My needs are simple.  I mainly use it to replace the live piano audio from the original video (with all the household noises, barking dogs, etc...) with a WAV audio file generated by Ableton.  I sync the audio and video by the simply watching my fingers on the piano, and aligning the audio to match the movement.  It's like having my own private sound studio, and easier than you'd think.

    The How-To videos were made using Midi Sheet Music, a freeware program that hasn't been updated in years and isn't compatible with Ableton's exported Midi files.  It converted Midi to sheet music, plus could play the sheet music notation with an animated piano keyboard.  And it divided the single-track keyboard into 2-track treble/clef sheet music.  Those were the only things it did, but it did them all-in-one and was dead-simple to use.  It wasn't pretty, but it did the job.
    Now I use Notation Musician to output PDF files of the sheet music.  It also splits the Midi files into two tracks.  Didn't have to have that feature, but it makes the sheet music look cleaner.  I can play the midi files and follow along in the sheet music onscreen, but lacks the animated piano keyboard.
    Lastly, I use Midiano to actually play the song (with the animated keyboard) for the How To video.  It animates the sheet music across the screen, has a gorgeous animated piano at the bottom, and drops played notes visually down the screen to show which keys are coming up in sequence.  Tons of customizing available.  Absolutely free.  Midiano is a sparkling example of brilliant design.  It's a fabulous learning tool, with more features than you can shake a stick at.  Did I mention free?
    I highly recommend Midiano.  Download my midi file (or any Midi file), load it into Midiano, and you can experience a whole new way of learning piano music.  It even waits for you to hit the next notes, before moving on.  You can see it in action in the video above.

    There's more here and there, but these are the basic tools I use.  Music Notation 4 was the last big piece.  With it, I can include the sheet music, and can replicate everything the old Grace Notes blog used to provide.  Since it's been so long between posting the actual 'live' piano video, and then today doing the how to video, I'm putting the new video here on this page.  Going forward, all four elements will be on a single post, so you don't have to search for every separate piece.


    

Music Notation 4 Sheet Music Print Function, and Making PDF Files Work With Google Blogger

     I mentioned in a previous blog the limitations inherent in Google Blogger.  It's great with images, and video, and linking to URLs.  Other files are kind of left hanging out to dry.  There's a workaround on Google Drive Direct Link Generator.  Makes it just a few easy steps.  I'd prefer that Blogger could natively handle the files, but this is almost as easy.

    With that said, the bigger problem has nothing to do with Blogger.  I've been looking for a way to convert MIDI files to Sheet Music.  I play by ear, and haven't read sheet music in about 50 years so writing my own would be more effort than I really want to do.  For years, I used "Midi to Sheet Music", and it was great.  Super simple, but anybody who wanted to learn my arrangements by music notation could do so.  When it quit working, there wasn't much of an alternative out there.  MuseScore had potential, but I didn't like the way it played the files, and it didn't seem to understand my "southern gospel" twang.  Music Notation played my stuff perfectly, but the free version was crippled so as not to print the notation out.  You had to buy the full program to be able to output the sheet music, and it was $90.  

    That's where I've been stuck for the last two months.  My son and his wife unknowingly funded the project when they sent birthday money last week.  Bought and downloaded Music Notation 4, and spent a few days exploring it.  Does more than I need, but the important part is that it DOES WHAT I NEED, and does so extremely well.  It's absolutely worth the cost.  If you click the link, it will take you to Notation Software's website.  If you decide to buy it, be careful to choose the correct program.  They have two, "Notation Composer," and "Notation Musician."
The former is a more complete program, and much more expensive.  The latter, Notation Musician, is the one I got.  For the record, I have no affiliation with Notation Software, and make no money for recommending them.  :^)

    A few weeks ago I posted my first new piano music video in years, and included a link to the midi file (thanks to the Direct Link Generator above).  Now I've got the sheet music for it:

Stepping On The Clouds Free Sheet Music

    I'll edit the original post with the video, so as to have the video, midi, and sheet music all in the same blog post, but wanted to include it here as a technical example of the link working properly, and how well Notation Musician handles the conversion process.  

    As an added bonus, it splits the left and right hands for me.  Not that I'm reading the notes, but watching what's being played while listening to it, it sounds like a fine job of separating the track into two.  Might not be following "The Rules According to Hoyle"... but well enough for someone to learn the song from it.

One more related link - If I choose to make a "How to Play" video like like the original Grace Notes blog did, Music Notation would work but Midiano includes an actual piano keyboard on the screen, so you can read the music and watch the keys all at the same time.  And speed or slow the playback as desired, which makes a great learning tool!!  
    (NOTE:  Today I figured out how to put an image and link on the sidebar, now you can click on the image and go directly to Midiano!)

Thursday, June 22, 2023

VLC Media Player Transfer VHS to Computer

     In the last post, I described the steps that took me from failing with OBS, to succeeding with VLC.  In this post, I included the step by step images that actually worked for me, and a portion of the resulting video.  Portion, because the test video recorded for well over an hour.  When I played it back, the entire duration played fine.  Audio stayed synced.  Image quality looked great (for a plus-or-minus 30 year old VHS tape).  It was satisfying, gratifying, after the entire journey from "Why isn't this working?" to "Look, Mom!"

For the record, here's VLC's official site.  VLC is completely free, and a very "swiss army knife" of a video player.  Versatile, fast, and lightweight.  I've used it for years, but even so didn't realize it could capture video until a year or two ago.  It's sort of 'hidden', unless you explore the menus.  And VLC could do with some actual documentation.  But I can't complain.  It's free, works great, and solved the problem.

    Quick note about the video recording - I played with some options that should have shown the video as it played, while recording.  Nothing worked exactly right.  If I chose the "Play" option and recorded from there, the video was visible while recording, but would only record AVI, which has a size limit.  Ultimately, I had to follow the steps, but take it on faith the video was recording correctly.  Once I hit the "stop" button, it finalized the file.  Only then did the finished file play.  As you see, it worked, I just couldn't see the actual video while it was recording.

    I still strongly recommend visiting "How to Record Screen with VLC."  By the time I found this site, I had a lot of the puzzle pieces.  This was the website that put it all together and showed a wide variety of ways to record.  But for a quick visual shortcut, the images below shows the process that actually worked for me.

Above you see VLC's startup screen.  

Next, under the MEDIA menu, select "Open Capture Device"

Here, under the Capture Device tab, make sure "DirectShow" is selected for Capture Mode.  I'm using AV2HDMI for the capture hardware that connects the VCR to my computer.  For me, the Video Device Name was "USB Video."  The Audio Device name was "Digital Audio Interface (2 USB Digital Audio)."  Your devices may be different, depending on your capture device and your computer setup.

Where it says "Play" near the bottom, click the dropdown arrow and select "Convert."

The "Convert" popup should appear.  Source was automatically set for "dshow:\\", I didn't have to choose that.  I did not select "DeInterlace."  Thought it might be needed, but it worked fine without.  I did try the "Display the Output", but still couldn't see the video as it was recording.  The recording worked, with or without trying to display the output, it just didn't seem to make any difference either way.  Under "Profile", I selected "Video - H.264 + MP3 (MP4)."  There was a higher numbered Codec for H.265.  I tried that, but it embedded the audio in a way that my players and video editors could not use, so I went back to H.264, which works just fine.  

The only thing important here is that the "Browse" button is highlighted. Click on it to open the save window.

From here, you select the target directory you want to save the video to, name the video, and type ".mp4" at the end of your filename.  Adding .mp4 seems to be all you need to tell it what format to save in.  There are other options, but mp4 is the only one I wanted.

Now you're back to the "Convert" screen with your destination file selected.  Click Start.  


Now you're on the recording screen.  I know, it's blank.  That's all I could see.  But the red dot was depressed, and the counter was counting up.  At this point, I took it on faith, and went to eat supper.  How did the video turn out?  Check out the clip above!

    For the record, I (accidentally) recorded an hour and 13 minutes for the test video.  Left it running, and forgot it was on.  Most of the video is very old children's cartoons recorded from broadcast television.  Rather than bore you with all of it, I took the first six minutes because it was me... playing 30 years ago.  It's like a window into the past.  And a chance to see how my playing then compares to my playing now.

    Honestly, I think I played better back then.  Still made mistakes, but my playing was more certain, and felt more 'full of joy'.  I've learned a lot since then, and can play things now that I couldn't back then.  But it seems to be missing some part of what I loved about the piano.  Food for thought.  Maybe I need to simplify, and get back to just having fun with it.









Wednesday, June 21, 2023

VLC Media Player for Transferring VHS to MP4

 


    I mentioned OBS in a previous blog, as a great free option for capturing video.  I'll have add a caveat.  It's great, when it works.  When it as working, it was perfect.  The first time I ever used it, it felt like a godsend.  Now, I have another videotape to capture.  Booted OBS, it still captures video great, but no audio.  I hadn't changed anything about it.  Settings were still the same, hardware still the same.  I'm using AV2HDMI, by the way.  Sneered at by professional VHS restorers, but they consider a minimal set-up investment to start at $1,000, and freely recommend much more expensive equipment if you're serious.

    Those guys are exactly that - professionals who make a living salvaging old videos at the best quality humanly available.  I had to wait weeks to afford the $35 I needed for the AV2HDMI unit plus an HDMI to USB cable.  Would love to have the pro stuff.  I used to do weddings/industrial video production, so once upon a time I had most of the gear they mention but that was decades ago. Back in the first great days of video production using an Amiga 4000 and NewTek's Video Toaster.  Revolutionary days back then.

    Back to modern times...after several days of research, studying, trying to learn, following multiple guides and suggestions, it started looking like it wasn't a hardware issue, but a compatibility issue.  OBS's main strength is as streaming software.  Seems like video capture is kind of a side effect, and doesn't work equally for everybody.

    Given the number of other people online making the same complaint about OBS - no audio - and the lack of any consistently successful solutions, I had to give up.  I did try Virtualdub, but really had my doubts.  While the software will run in Windows 10, it's specs list Windows 98, ME, NT4, 2000, XP, Vista, and 7.  While that's a huge spectrum of continued support, it's age and lack of mentioning Windows 10 put me off.  Gave it a try, the quality was fair, but most disappointingly the only output format was AVI.  Some modern media players don't even recognize AVI, others struggle to play the audio in an AVI.  For the record, 5kplayer was great at playing AVI files. 

    The biggest problem with AVI was that I could only record a few minutes and then it auto-stops.  Some very minimal searching on google, and I found that AVI files were originally limited to 2GB, and using some tricks with pointers, can go to 4GB.  I'm not certain that's the problem here, but it's a limitation that MP4 doesn't have, so that disqualified VirtualDub for me.

    There were a few paid options, but I didn't look into them.  I've already invested my limit.  :^)
Then I remembered that VLC Media Player has a rather obscure video capture system.  It didn't work for my previous capture card, so I'd forgotten about it until yesterday.  Didn't even have to update, it was immediately compatible with AV2HDMI.  There were still some bumps in the road, but at least it worked with the hardware, and grabbed clean video.

    First problem?  Defaults to AVI.  The initial guides I found all lead to saving the file on the default format.  Plus, the guides were a bit outdated, so I had to blunder around blindly on the parts that weren't accurate any more.

Eventually, I found this page - How to record screen with VLC 
If you want to see the process that worked for me, it's on my next post - step by step images, and an example of the video:  VLC Media Player Transfer to VHS

The article offered instructions for multiple techniques.  The most useful part for me was the section on recording a video.  You have to read between the lines a little.  But following the steps, the article got me exactly where I needed to be. 

    The best part, when you get to "Convert/Save", and the option to create the file name, you can choose MP4 format simply by TYPING .MP4 AT THE END OF YOUR FILENAME!!  That seems too little, too simple, it feels like there should be a button to select or a preference somewhere.  VLC actually offers a lot of format options to save in, and it's very simple once you know how to get to it.

I just did a test video, running for over an hour, and the quality was great, the audio was perfect, and it recorded the entire hour-plus.  Finally, a reliable way to get video from VHS tape to my computer!!

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Another Minor Update - New Blog and Another Cookie Consent Struggle

     It's been a while since the last post; that's getting to be a bad habit.  Lots of little things all up in the air at once.  Plus some annoying hurdles to get past.  I did finally resolve the cookie consent issue for the upcoming eBay Ephemera-focused blog.  I've been using CookieYes for Grace Notes, but they only let you have one free site.  If I wasn't on such a limited budget, I'd have been happy to sign up for the cheapest available paid service they offer.  It's only $10 per month, and allows up to 600 pages per scan.  Not sure if that's 600 "unique URL" sites, or literally 600 pages in total scanned.  Either way, the cost was very reasonable.  It's my income/living expenses that aren't reasonable.  Currently I'm on the Google Office plan of $12 per month, plus $12 per year for the custom URL.  Unless Monique and I can improve our finances significantly, I'm not willing to spend more on what amounts to a hobby.

    Instead of upping my game with CookieYes, I found another cookie consent site called "Osano".  Like CookieYes, Osano has a "first one is free" policy.  With restrictions.  And difficulties.  For some reason, this one was harder to get working.  Then I had a hard time confirming it was actually functional.  Finally ran into CookieBot.  Their site has an app that checks your site for cookie consent compliance.  They confirmed "Not Working" at first, and after some effort, I finally received positive confirmation.  

    So, after far too much effort, the Ephemera blog is ready to begin.  There's still a ton of set-up, design, and of course, actual blog posts to write... but it's ready to start now.  You can check out my progress here:  eBay Ephemera: A Page Out Of Time.  Still working on the next gospel song.  Haven't been as focused as I should be, so it's going slow.  Finished a personal project today, that should free me up to work more on the blogs now.  Hopefully that will include enough practice time to get that next song ready.

    Went to visit my folks yesterday.  Aside from spending a great day together, Mom decided to go through her old 'home video' collection.  We found three tapes that seemed like good potential.  They're on my desk in front of me at the moment.  Will get them transferred to computer, then fast-scan through the videos to see what's on them.  With luck, there might be some footage of my uncle playing piano.  Not quite so important, but one of them might have some footage from the early 90's of me playing.  I'm curious to see how my playing has changed over the years, but also hope to see one of my favorite pianos.  Back in the Missouri days, my final year or so in the Air Force, I had a vintage upright piano.  Not the best condition, but most of the keys worked.  The piano itself was stained a faded green.  Can't remember who made it.  Like any old beat-up upright, it had a strong honky-tonk sound, and was a lot of fun to play.  When I moved, it was too big to take, so passed it along to another family.  Fingers crossed, I'd be very pleased if that piano was on one of these videos.  I'd love to hear it again.


Sunday, May 21, 2023

Google Blogger Housecleaning: Customizing Blogger

    Writing kind of a trivial post today.  At least, it's trivial in the large scheme of things.  It was a big deal for me, anyway.  :^)

    Back in January when the idea of starting Grace Notes back up was gaining momentum, there was a huge speed bump that just about shut things down before it even had a chance to start.  The "cookie consent" situation.  There were a log of changes to manage, new things to learn.  Last time I was paying (a lot!) for hosting and using Wordpress.  This time we're taking the budget express.  Google Blogger is free, and you can have a BUNCH of blogs if you really want to.  Google charges $12 per year for the URL domain, and $12 for Google Office.

    The URL name is a compromise.  It's not the original one for Grace Notes, but it is my overarching URL ever since Galaxy Quest came out.  Crewman6 was the redshirt who lived, and it's always been an inspirational name for me.  Google Office gives me a custom email, more storage for whatever files I use on the blog.  Some other benefits I haven't looked into yet.  Pretty much, this is everything I need to manage Grace Notes.  WordPress was a great blogging platform, and was more versatile than Blogger.  But it was a heck of a lot more expensive to maintain, and the hosting company just kept leapfrogging the rates up every year.  As things stand, I pay about $156 per year for this setup.  The old Grace Notes, with Word Press, hosted on a proper site... was costing nearly $500 per year by the time I pulled the plug.  Blogger is far more cost-efficient for me.

    At some point I'll turn Adsense on, but it's not a big goal here.  Grace Notes cost much more to maintain than it ever made me last time around.  If it can pay the $12 per month fee this time, I'll call it a successful hobby and enjoy it.

    Now we get to today's subject.  To properly manage the cookie consent requirements, I had to paste some code into the Blogger theme.  I also pasted in some custom lines for a couple of features that weren't easily available on Blogger.  Not really a skill of mine, but I did manage to follow a couple of guides.  Afterward, the initial menus for Theme management were gone.  There was a comment about some features not being available now.  I took that to mean I could no longer change the advanced features of my theme, without reloading the base version, making my changes, then re-inserting whatever custom codes needed to be done manually.  For a few months I looked for other theme templates off-Blogger, but didn't find any that seemed worth changing the whole blog for.

     With that in mind, I've been leaving a lot of 'tidying up' undone for months.  Mainly the link colors, and making a custom Banner. Woke up this morning, and it felt like today was the day to finally fix all that.  Found some websites that gave pointers on changing the link colors and sat down to puzzle them out.  The first one wanted me to start off on the Theme tab.  As usual, the first line read "Theme Preview is currently unavailable."

   


    If you're familiar with Blogger, at this point you've probably realized I've been mistaken this whole time.  The ability to customize my theme was always there.  As was the Advanced options.  Maybe something changed, maybe I just read it wrong.  I was clicking the down-arrow on the orange button to get the drop-down menu.  Took me ages to realize I just had to click on the orange button ON THE WORD "Customize!!" in order to get to the customization options. Now that I know, fixing the link colors was very easy.  

    It was a bit of work to get the banner done, but at least it was legitimate work, not a figment of my own imagination.  My previous keyboard was a Yamaha DG-640, and was a grayish-silver color.  That worked really well against the black background of the blog screen.  The Hammer 88 was more difficult.  A black body on a black background doesn't stand out a lot.  I played with it, even tried to use an external image for the background, but it didn't come out perfect.  It will stand for now, I do like it a lot.  But some day in the future, I'd like to have better lighting so the keys will be a clean white. Today's lighting was partly sunlight from a window, partly incandescent bulbs from a ceiling fan light, and the keys aren't consistently white.

    It's been a learning process, and a matter of finding the right software all over the internet.  I started with PixLR, used Irfanview, and tried several online tools before getting something that worked.  At the moment, I'm calling it a day, and an improved banner will have to be a project for another day.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Introducing The Singing Chapmans: Just Over In The Glory Land

 


    Some time ago I digitized all the audio from the record album "Introducing The Singing Chapmans."  The album has 12 songs.  It's one of two albums I know of that has my Uncle Freil playing the piano.  (He also did a couple of CDs solo, but those are easier to find.)  I chose to feature "Just Over In The Glory Land" because it's one of my childhood favorites.  Even better, there's a fair amount of interesting history involved with the song.

    According to TraditionalMusic.com, the words were written by James W. Acuff (1864 – 1937), and the music by Emmett S. Dean (1876 – 1951)

    Per Pixabay, James Acuff wrote it in 1906, so the song is considered Public Domain.

 As always, their midi is clear and pure. Nothing fancy or complicated which makes learning the melody much easier if you’re a ‘play by ear’ pianist.

    I can remember Freil Playing and Aunt Elsie Mae singing this song in church.  And through the years, heard Freil play it just about anywhere there was a piano available.  Eventually it became one of my favorites to play myself, not as nuanced as Freil's playing but brash and bold, and full of joy.  (The result of not knowing as many non-major chords as Freil.)  

    Going back to digitizing the record... it was a loan from my sister, so I had to get the songs to computer quickly and return the album.  It was convenient to do that work immediately, with the intention of going back later and getting them onto Youtube.  So of course they languished forgotten on the computer for a couple of months.  Now they're online.  You can play the video above, and click on "play on YouTube" to see the rest of them.  I may feature a few more from the album, but it will be over time, no rush.

    So far, the songs done by "The Singing Chapmans" have not been easy to research.  It's been difficult to find much about each individual song, and discouraged me from doing each and every one.  In this case, "Glory Land" is well-known, with a bit of history, a bit of lore and some confusion about the song's provenance scattered thoughout the internet.  Here are a few of the links and claims:

    Timeless Truths has a nice looking page, and is one of my favorite resources for information about gospel music. But in this case, they’re a bit sparse on information.  They agree it was writtten by James W. Acuff, and specify that it was PUBLISHED in 1906.  They also state that the copyright is Public Domain. They have the words, sheet music, and a midi file to listen to.

    But the end-all and be-all is an extremely-well researched article by Henrik Smith-Sivertsen. I found out much more than anticipated, and far beyond the scope of southern gospel I usually stick to. Smith-Sivertsen writes that “Just Over In The Glory-Land” was first published in the hymn book “Glad Hosannas: A Winnowed Collection of New and Old Songs for Christian Work and Worship”, in 1906. He gives credit for the lyrics to Acuff, the music to Emmett S. Dean, but goes on to name Dean as the editor of the hymn book, and part owner of the publishing company. The fascinating part, and this explains why some websites seem confused about the copyright, is that another publisher, R. E. Winsett, obtained “renewed copyrights” to the song.

    The article in full is worth digging into, and with an extensive bibliography, seems likely the most authoritative and trustworthy document of the song's history.  

    I personally agree with the articles and websites that list "Glory Land" as a public domain.  Especially after this year, because January 1st, 2023 marks the date for everything published up to the year 1927 (U.S. only; other countries have different laws.) There's a wonderfully detailed article by Jennifer Jenkins regarding copyright.  It's a fantastic read and very worth the time if you're interested in the Public Domain.

    As a matter of fact, she mentions that on January 1, 2024, the first ever appearance of Mickey and Minnie Mouse will enter the public domain!  Imagine that... I bet Disney is having fits about it.  Even Sherlock Holmes no longer has copyright protection.  Until 2023, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's last two Sherlock Holmes stories have been under copyright protection.  As of this year, everything Doyle wrote about Holmes is in the Public Domain. If even the Doyle Estate, and even more so, The Mouse, can't keep their characters out of the public domain, there's no reason a song published in 1906 would still be copyrighted.

It's safe to say, out of all the posts I published in the original Grace Notes, this was by far the easiest yet most overwhelming song to research.  Some day I'll post another blog about "Just Over In The Glory Land", but next time... it'll be with my rendition on piano.  I do believe I mentioned it being one of my favorite songs to play.  :^)

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Used Laptop for the Hammer-88: USB Problems

     Just an update based on a simple fix for a long-standing problem.  Going way back, I originally had one very good desktop to do everything.  It's 6 or 7 years old now, and still good, but no longer great.  Over the years, some things started conflicting with others.  The usual victim was system audio.  

    This caused the biggest problem with Ableton Live Lite and M-Audio's Hammer-88 keyboard.  Sometimes the audio drivers would quit working randomly.  The  most consistent and annoying villain was when Microsoft did a Windows "update/upgrade."  EVERY SINGLE TIME.  I only know a couple of swear words, but I've used them many many times at Windows updates.

(Warning - Upcoming Rant)
    The problem could sometimes be fixed easily (usually the random occurences.)  Other times (looking at YOU, Microsoft...) it could take days or weeks to get the audio to working reliably.  Sometimes it took so long, another update would come out just days later and we'd start all over again.
    Helpful Hint:  This website provides a link to a trouble-shooter that could fix most of the audio problems in moments:
https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/fix-sound-or-audio-problems-in-windows-73025246-b61c-40fb-671a-2535c7cd56c8
    Yes, I'm aware it's a microsoft link.  That doesn't make me like them any better, since it was nearly always their OS updates that triggered the problem.  Just the same, this is the first thing I try when the audio stops working.  Click the link on the page and allow the app to test for problems.
    The weird thing is, it always reports "no problem found", and starts suggesting random things to try... but actually fixes the issue, at least most of the time.  So I click the "Open Get Help" button, let it do it's thing, then close the window after it reports failure.  And that's usually all it takes.
    Other times, it's as simple as checking "Sounds", going to the PlayBack Tab, and finding that the update has totally played havoc with speaker output assignments.  For some reason, it would reassign a new random output as the default.  Sometimes it would go to a legitimate speaker, like the one built-in to the monitor.  Other times it would choose options that had no output at all.  Re-setting the correct speakers as the default option will typically fix the audio, but sometimes it has to be reassigned as the default with every reboot.  Eventually it sticks, until the next system update.
    The worst ones... the mystery issues with no reliable fix... were the worst. This is part of the reason I quit playing.  It was so consistent, there were so many times I just wanted to 'play the piano' but couldn't, I gave up for a while.
(Rant Over)

A Dedicated Laptop
    In a final attempt to solve the problem, Monique found a used laptop on an Amazon lightning sale.  It's an older HP EliteBook.  Old enough it was originally sold with Windows 7 installed.  It's running Windows 10 now, but that's pushing things.  I don't install extraneous software.  Primarily Ableton, plus CCleaner and Irfanview.  And my favorite browser, Vivaldi. 
    Ableton 10 Live Lite - dedicated to the Hammer 88.
    CCleaner for it's utility toolkit and easy system cleaning. 
    Irfanview for the times I need a screenshot. 
    Vivaldi mainly because I used to use Google Drive to swap files.
    Our working space is tight, so the keyboard is on a wall-mounted shelving system, right beside the door.  It's easy to bump the keyboard while walking past it, and I thought maybe too many impacts caused the issue.


The Ultimate Fix: A USB Hub
    Eventually I realized the problem was the USB port the keyboard was attached to.  The laptop only has 3 USB ports, one to an external audio driver (the Air/Hub, by M-Audio), one to the keyboard, and one for the mouse. Not enough to go around with one having intermittent problems.  We had a 7-port powered hub.  I tried it, but for some reason when the laptop is powered down the hub still provides power to the Hammer 88 and to the mouse.  I didn't want the keyboard to be powered up non-stop all day long.  Seems like that would wear the electronics out faster.
    For about $15.00, we found a great USB hub on Amazon, by Sabrent.  It's powered, has 4 ports, and each port has a dedicated on/off switch, with a light so you know which ones are on.
    Now the keyboard and mouse are connected through the hub.  I also keep a USB memory stick on one port, for trading files between computers.  And the fourth port, just because it was available, provides power to a VCR-to-Computer converter.  Only the ports in use are powered up.  And when the laptop is turned off, I turn off the hub ports as well.  
    Now it works great.  I can play the keyboard reliably, at any time.  And turn the peripherals on/off as needed.  It's amazing when things function like you need them to!!

    With this setup it worked most of the time, but frustratingly there were still days it didn't.  Sometimes on a reboot, the laptop would not communicate with the keyboard.  Occasionally reconnecting the cable between them, but not always.  I started worrying that after all these years of not getting to use it, maybe the keyboard was aging, connections failing, who knows. 

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