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 probably start using Adsense, 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 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 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!)

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