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Thursday, December 16, 2010

273. "2000 Miles" by The Pretenders

What this really is is a recording of Miranda's class's portion of her school's holiday program, and the Pretenders tune only comprises a tiny little portion of it. Still, I put such an absurd amount of work into it that I felt it warranted inclusion in the project. The way it happened demonstrated, to myself if nobody else, how completely insane I am, and the extent to which I put a whole bunch of effort into something about which nobody has any specific expectations, or indeed much knowledge of any kind other than myself.

The setup is that Miranda's class was reading a pair of poems in the midst of a mostly musical program, and her teacher, with whom I worked on the PEMDAS song, asked me to provide some musical accompaniment and a few segues for their segment. I thought for a bit about what I could do as a solo guitarist as seasonal music while the kids were marching on and off-- I'm neither a classical nor jazz guitarist who can provide especially engaging melodic lines and chord progressions together, so I really had to think this through in order to choose a piece. I came up with "2000 Miles", a song where the guitar riff in particular has become a widely recognized instant holiday signifier, and also happened to be played on an electric 12-string, a sound which was right within my reach at short notice. Thing is, the riff was harder to learn than it might seem. I play a lot of arpeggiated "jangly" guitar and have done so for ages, but when it comes down to it I've basically been using the same 1o or 12 picking patterns, with variations for bass runs and hammer-ons as ornamentation, the whole time I've been playing. A "new" arpeggio pattern can therefore be a bit like reinventing the wheel-- way harder than it sounds.

Beyond that was the challenge of integrating what I was doing into the by-definition on-the-fly unraveling of an elementary school performance. And the kids needed some percussion instruments to provide a little more ambience to the readings, so I was also to be the provider of jingle bells and horse hoofbeat simulating cloppers to that end. So this is me, at an ungodly hour in the morning, loading up my car by myself with guitar, amp, percussion stuff, mic stands, cables, mics, laptop and outboard recording gear, which I then have to get down to the school and into the auditorium and fully set up before anything happens, not to mention distributing the percussion to the kids at some point. This will involve re-parking my car quite a few times, as almost any morning activity in a school zone is likely to do. And it should be remembered that, probably due to my own insistence on just dealing with stuff, basically nobody but myself has any idea what I'm trying to do or how I'm trying to go about doing it. I get a little concerned about myself when I get in these situations. Frankly, there was even more than that going on, but it's not that interesting... suffice it to say that I was doing an ill-advised juggling act just based on what I personally thought my daughter's performance deserved from me. I'm sort of nuts.

Anyway, halfway through the program and with one act to go before Miranda's performance, I was in the auditorium recording the school chorus, of which Ridley is a member. My plan was to capture that and then head up to Miranda's classroom to dole out the percussion. But once the chorale shuffled out, who should appear at the door on deck to perform next but Miranda and her classmates, sans percussion-- the order of the program had been changed. So now I had to go get their instruments right away... the problem there being that since they were going on at that very moment, I was also expected to be playing them on with "2000 Miles"! I made a mad dash across the room, found Ms. Wong and told her to send someone back for the instruments, raced back to my amp and started trying to play sedately as the kids filed in. During this process, a great many people asked me questions about what the hell was going on, to say nothing of several kids who desperately needed to know if I was really Miranda's dad. Amazingly, the instruments did make it into the students' hands just in time for the first reading, but the circumstances go a way toward explaining the shakiness of my playing.

The performance goes on to include the reading of Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" accompanied by some ambient, supposed-to-be-icy-sounding noodling by me; a very off-the-cuff walk-through of "The Little Drummer Boy" to stall for time; the Shel Silverstein poem "Snowball", and an even-more-off-the-cuff attempt at "Good Christian Men Rejoice" that goes on for quite a bit while the kids file out. And then I had to break it all down, return the cloppers to wherefore they came, attend a conference with the principal, grab the kids (adding Miranda's cello and bass to the gear jammed into the car) and race over to Burbank so Miranda could audition for a band, then to Eagle Rock to pick Eden up from school (adding a viola to the Musical Matrix), and then, I think... home? For the holidays?

Voices and percussion ~ Hancock Park Elementary School 4th Grade Class 2010
Guitar ~ Rex

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