When I decided to become a computer scientist, many people were shocked by the announcement. It had been assumed by all who knew me as a child and young adult that I would study music and become a professional musician. For as long as I can remember, I have been singing and creating music in other ways, such as with keyboards, percussion instruments, and whatever else might be right for the sound I was looking to make.
Growing up, I would use two cassette recorders sitting next to each other, speakers to condenser mics, and create “multi-track” recordings by bouncing back and forth between them. Differences in tape speeds, the lack of a mixer, and the noisy environment of a house with three children and four dogs made for imperfect productions, but I was always satisfied with them. Had I technologies like MIDI, virtual synthesizers, PC-based sequencing, and multi-track software then, I probably would have taken that other path.
But I didn’t. Still, music is a large part of my life, and it is largely practiced in church settings, such as did for over 20 years at Riverbend Church (2001-2022). I divide these activities into these areas:
- Singing– I sing tenor, although I am technically a baritone. I blend well and can reproduce most any vocal style I hear. My voice isn’t as adept as I’d like. Sometimes I over-control it, or fail to control it, and the result is unpleasing, at least to my ear. As a soloist, I hold my own, but I don’t think of myself as a very good one. As I get older, I can tell my voice is changing again, although I don’t have much occasion to sing these days as in earlier years. My best work vocally is always in an ensemble setting. Here is a duet I performed with Jeannie Russell in 2009, which I thought was good enough to be posted publicly.
- Musical Ear and Transcription– My musical memory is phenomenal, according to others who regularly assess such things. Not just melodies…I can remember entire orchestrations, chord progressions, and other musical details after only a few hearings. It’s isn’t audiographic, though – I am still prone to “hear” something that isn’t there (but that I think should be there). In becoming adept at musical transcription – where I take a recording and create musical notation (charts) that capture it for subsequent live performance – I’ve become much better at hearing what is really there, and reserving my editorial ear for times when it is really needed. Here is a video of a song for which I transcribed the chords and ensemble parts from a recording. You can view the BGV and CHORD charts, too. (I am singing in the ensemble, by the way.)
- Composing– I lack formal training as a composer, so what I know I either possessed innately, or I’ve learned from others in informal or working settings. I can certainly hear wonderful things in my head and I have the ear and natural understanding of how conventional music works to create what could be really nice pieces…if I could get them out of my head and on paper. I have gotten much better at that over the years, learning theory on my own, and through using my ear and computer background to create MIDI sequences and charts with Finale. Below is one of several original songs I wrote and arranged for the vocal quartet “150 Reasons,” of which I was a member. You can also view the chart as a PDF.
And here are is an “album” I created in 1996 entitled “From the Desk” – a collection of MIDI sequences that are my own composition.