I'm blogging this from a 7:38 am NJ Transit train heading to Philadelphia, thereupon to Baltimore. Today's itinerary is the first of a 3-day recording session with violinist Victor Danchenko. We'll be commiting to digital posterity the violin and piano sonatas by Dmitri Shostakovich and Cesar Franck. After three intense days of Astral Artists audition accompaniments (AAAA) the brain is tired, the fingers are sore, and the body is wired from overdoses of caffeine and Advil and underdoses of sleep...that being said, the week has been going relatively well. I'll use the train time to catch up on more blogs and backstage tidbits from the recording sessions. Onward we go...
Can't view the clip? Download the player plug-in from Microsoft
The audio was recorded at 24 bit resolution directly into Audacity running on my Fujitsu Stylistic Tablet PC, then exported as an MP3 file. The video was shot with my Sony DSC-T7 digital camera, then transferred to a video editing program (Sony's Screenblast Movie Editor), where the camera's audio track was stripped and replaced with the higher quality MP3 file.
"Making Tracks" - Countdown to Jeff Khaner's Jazz Record's Release!
Jeff Khaner and i recorded an album of jazz arrangements for flute and piano almost two years ago - it's FINALLY going to see the light of day! Just got this wonderful news yesterday from Avie Records, the fantastic UK-based record company that will be doing the distribution:
Release dates: UK - Tuesday 30th May 06. US - Monday 26th June 06.
Tracks will include the following songs:
1. A Day in the Life of a Fool 3:35
2. Black Coffee 3:23
3. Moon River/Claire de lune 2:44
4. Bewitched 4:27
5. Nature Boy 4:50
6. So in love 2:36
7. Speak softly, Love 4:03
8. My Funny Valentine 2:53
9. The Summer Knows 2:44
10. September Song 2:38
11. It Might As Well Be Spring 2:32
12. Shadow of your Smile 2:50
13. Lady Be Good 1:50
14. Angel Eyes 3:49
15. Isn't it Romantic? 3:20
16. I Cried for You 4:01
17. Calling You 5:04
18. Moon River (version 2) 2:20
Total Running Time 0:59:50
The dirty little secret is the fact that neither Jeff or i actually play jazz - i actually had to write out all the arrangements! The initial plan was to distribute the sheet music version of my arrangements in conjunction with the album, but that seems to have hit a copyright quagmire...now i have to get to work writing up liner notes for all the songs. No rest for the weary...sigh...
I get asked a lot about the CD's i've made - now with this blog up and running at full steam, i can finally direct folks to my catalogue! (Note the added item in the left menu column, right under the "Meet the Authors" section.) All of the posted recordings are available through Amazon.com - when i hear of other vendors, i'll post their links as well. Some recordings are either out of stock or awaiting re-issuing, so i'll post news on those as soon as i hear of their status.
Feel free to leave feedback, good and bad! I have my personal favorites (and some that i'd rather bury under a rock), but that's for me to know and you to find out (hahahaha!) The posts are currently incomplete - missing CD cover images, program info, additional performer/composer names, etc. - i'll try to get around to posting more detailed info on each recording as time permits.
Here's the second of 2 videos, featuring a new piece by Gary Schocker called "Nach Bach", based loosely on the J.S. Bach Sonata in A minor performed in the previous video. Sorry for the plain jane single angle shot, i accidentally forgot to turn on the 2nd camera before playing! Thank goodness this camera at least had the XLR microphone input...
Gary has been abundantly patient with me, waiting since February for this video to get edited and posted! This is actually the first of two videos, both performances being related to this Sonata in A minor by Bach for flute and keyboard:
The body is shoddy and the brain is drained, but what other word can describe the amazing experiences over the past several weeks than "serendipitous"? Shooting video with my new semi-pro Canon GL2 camcorder featuring clarinetist Jose Franch-Ballester at the Cunningham Piano Factory, sitting on stage at Carnegie Hall with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Maestro Charles Dutoit, discovering Japanese culinary delights in Manhattan with my violin friend Paul Roby, getting invited to write an article for "Piano Magazine" in the U.K., flying out to Cleveland and recording an amazing CD with Gary Schocker in only 2 days, and to top it all off - running into an old friend after almost 15 years, purely by chance at the Philadelphia airport! There hasn't been any time to really catch my breath, but the ride is exhilarating and the roses are smelling sweet, even if they do tend to fly by at 90 miles an hour!
Life is rich and full - i just wish i was better at finding time to actually blog about it!
(A quick note: i'm using the new Windows Live Writer to put this blog article together. Like the nifty "polaroid picture" plugin?)
Jeff Khaner had a good laugh as he mimicked the changes in my seating posture on stage at Verizon Hall with the Philadelphia Orchestra - from edge-of-my-seat rigid with terror, to semi-alert middle position, to a final full-back recline complete with "been-there-done-that" yawn...yeah, yeah, so i'm finally getting the "hang" of orchestra life, har har har! It's still great fun, and the terror never completely goes away...not yet, at least. Carnegie Hall was definitely a thrill, and hey - i even got my taxes done on the bus ride there!
Paul Roby, Associate Principal violinist with the Orchestra and a Curtis school buddy of mine, took me out to the most amazing Donkatsu shop for dinner a few blocks away from Carnegie, called "Katsu-hama". I'm not a big donkatsu fan, since 99% of the time they're pretty poorly prepared in restaurants, but this was a revelation: melt-in-your-mouth pork tenderloin in the most amazing breaded coating fried to perfection, coupled with a sauce that never overpowered the base flavors. Heavenly!
Afterwards, we walked through Rockerfeller square and ducked into a specialty Japanese confectionary shop, where Paul picked out a box of sweet bean cakes for me and my family. Again, not a big fan of bean desserts, but this was simply unbelievable!! The kids inhaled the entire box within microseconds, and i had to dive in to snatch a single cake for myself. i simply MUST find a way to get back to that shop!!
Here's a quick little souvenir video showing me gawking and fawning over Carnegie Hall - then complaining about how small the hall actually is when trying to fit an entire orchestra on stage!
After finishing the "Masochistic Mandarin" and "Planets" set with the Orchestra, i flew out to Cleveland to record an album with composer/flutist Gary Schocker. Normally, classical CD's take a full 3 days to record, but things went so well that we actually flew through this project in only 2 days! Many thanks to the superb production team of Azica records - Alan Bise, producer and Bruce the engineer par excellence -
Alan and Bruce use the same audio software that Da-Hong uses: Sequoia. Check out the nifty hard-case setup they have! Gateway monitor and USB keyboard here...
...linked to a dedicated hard drive/CPU custom-built to interface directly with the Sequoia software. Sweet!
Repertoire for the album included the Morceau by Faure, sonatas by Poulence and HIndemith, the Reverie and Valse by Caplet, and 2 works by Gary himself - "For Dad", and "Two Flutes on the Loose in Fujian". Katherine Vogel joined us for the 2 flute piece - she hails as the principal flutist from the South Dakota symphony, and did a superb job!
We stayed at a funky hotel called the Alcazar, built in the 1920's heavily influenced by Spanish architecture and made famous by Cole Porter having written a famous song there.
Well folks, it's getting mighty late and the thinker is already heading to la-la land...but let me finish today's recap post with a picture from my serendipitous rendezvous with my old friend Anton Miller, a violinist who i hadn't seen in almost 15 years - we worked together at the old Point Counterpoint summer music camp, then subsequently at the now defunct New Arts Festival in Ft. Myers, Florida for several summers. It's unbelievable how some people just never age!! And, wow...what are the odds of running into an old friend like this when traveling on standby flights?
A brand new CD has been released by The Kings Chamber Orchestra, titled "String Heaven":
After having recorded over a dozen CD's as pianist, this marks the first project where someone else has recorded an original composition of mine - quite thrilling, i have to say! Gerard Le Feuvre's remarkable improvisatory string orchestra does a beautiful job of presenting a collection of worship songs, such as "Be still for the presence of the Lord" and "Amazing Grace". You can listen to preview tracks and directly purchase the CD at www.kingschamberorchestra.co.uk.
A quick note: the music is all instrumental, sans vocal parts. I wish that the lyrics to these melodies had at least been included in the liner notes, but i imagine that would've added considerably to the production costs. In case you'd like a refresher on what i wrote, here is the link to my previous blog article about the project which includes the lyrics to "How Lovely Shines the Morning Star" by Philipp Nicolai and the link to the free PDF score. And since i'm such a big fan of embedded apps, here is the flash player once again:
Under the Microphone: Tales and Tips on Recording CD's
This has been an incredibly busy few months with recording projects. Last month saw me shuttling back and forth to Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, where i recorded the Janacek and Hindemith violin & piano sonatas with Victor Danchenko.
Our engineer extraordinaire was Ed Tetreault, who did a fine job of locating the acoustic "sweet spot" with his beautiful set of Neumann microphones.
Note how the microphones are turned slightly away from center - that helped to give a wider stereo pan and a "fuller" tone to the recording. Here's a shot of the internal microphone setup for the piano:
Peabody has an amazing audio tech setup with a terrific Sony mixing board and even one of those dummy-head microphones that is supposed to produce incredible stereoscopic recordings by simulating the physics of the human head! I'll try to dig up my pictures from our previous session working on the Shostakovich sonata (must be in one of my other computers...) Ed was talking about me coming back down to Peabody for a tech lecture and demonstration at some point next semester for the recording arts students, so i'll keep y'all posted if that comes to pass.
Fast forward to last week, which found me spending about 3.5 days in New York City recording an album of Hebrew Melodies with violinist Maurice Sklar at the prestigious Clinton Recording Studios in Manhattan.
Everything about this project was high-end top quality - we worked with Da-Hong Seetoo, perhaps the finest classical music recording engineer in the field today with several Grammy's under his belt (Da-Hong produced most of my CD's to date with Aaron Rosand and Jeff Khaner).
A gorgeous Hamburg Steinway was rented from Pro Piano, complete with piano technician who was constantly on hand to keep the instrument in tune and the hammers nicely scratched (Hamburgs tend to have very hard, densely compacted felts on their hammers - long lasting for sure, but with a tendency to sound a bit brittle unless scratched just so on top).
The Clinton studios are the most sound-proof recording spaces i have ever come across in Manhattan. Bruce Springsteen apparently was just in the other day working on an album, and the space is used for a lot of orchestra movie music scores.
There's even Ed Sullivan's old Steinway (American made) sitting in the studio - a nice, cozy instrument, warm to the touch and ear...
Recording is always grueling work, and this project was certainly no exception. The great thing about having an engineer like Da-Hong is that he's able to make the sessions go by with great efficiency while catching all the details that need to be fixed with laser-like precision. Here are some cool new tips i picked up from this last session:
The best way to mute a violin for recording is to stick a rolled up dollar bill between the strings under the bridge (i'm sure a $20 bill will sound exponentially better...lol)
You won't believe how warm this makes the violin sound without muffling the high end! Apparently this is a trick well known by orchestra musicians who rush into rehearsals late with missing mutes...
The best way to stop a plucked string is with the fleshy part of your right thumb just in front of the bridge.
One way to estimate the time it will take to record and fully edit a CD project is with Da-Hong's "10-to-1 ratio" - in other words, he usually estimates that each hour of music will take about 10 hours to record; each hour of recording will subsequently take 10 hours to edit (for a total of 100 editing hours). Keep these numbers in mind when budgeting the use of a professional engineer for a top quality project.
Most musicians work best in 2 hour chunks. Sometimes this can stretch to 3 hours, but most folks usually burn out by that time and their playing deteriorates to the point where takes in the third hour become useless. Total daily output shouldn't exceed 8 hours (ex: 2 hours recording, 1 hour break, 2 hours recording, 1 hour break, final 2 hours of recording, go back to hotel and crash for the day)
Virtually every CD project i've done takes up 3 days of recording. Budget your time, money, and energy accordingly.
Coffee=good. Candy=good. Complex carbs=good. I keep a constant supply of black coffee on hand, along with chewy sugar candies like Bit-O' Honey and Skittles or Fruity Mentos. Beware the post session sugar/caffeine crash though...
Keep a sense of humor through the session. Don't waste time apologizing for flubs and musical mishaps - s*tuff happens, get over it and do another take. Smile now. Weep later.
BTW, Da-Hong's new session setup allows him to record continuously and mark takes on the fly without interruption. This is an AMAZING way to record, as it keeps the work flow incredibly smooth and seamless! No more, "Hold on, let me get the machine rolling...ok...Brahms, movement two, take 12..." Every recording engineer should learn how he does this!
Visual recital performance this past Monday at Inglis House with the Astral Piano Trio...another Visual Recital solo performance yesterday at the Hamilton School in North Philadelphia...have to start driving up early tomorrow morning to Saratoga Springs, NY for my recital with Gary Schocker and Jan Vinci later in the evening, sleep 3 hours then drive back home to drive kids to swim lessons Saturday morning, followed by a business lunch meeting and rehearsals for a CD recording project taking place next week in NYC...days of insanity are keeping me from updating this blog! Aack! Much to catch up on, just not enough breath to sit down and type...stay tuned, LOTS of neat stories to come...hopefully...
i'm not a professional runner by any wild stretch of the imagination, but at least i've come to the point where i can actually enjoy my runs, particularly when i have great music to inspire me into that peculiar frame of mind that i can only describe as "the zone". i suppose this is the point where runners' endorphins kick in to produce that special "high" that makes you feel like you're flying over the road. i've always had a particular affinity for electronica for my runs, music that provides a steady accompaniment to the breathing and heartbeat rhythms as my body struggles to overcome the first mile of sluggishness and my mind gradually stops fussing about how i feel and settles itself into the delicious zen of the pavement.
With that in mind, i'm getting inspired to crank my MP3 runs up to the next level by adding tracks from post-minimalist composer David Toub. Close to a year ago (November 2006) i performed one of David's works - "objects" - as part of Sequenza 21's first ever live recital for contemporary art music. The original MIDI rendition of "objects" is now available on Amie Street, a terrific work for marimba, piano, and electronic organ - the hypnotic sonic blend would make for a perfect running companion!
Be sure to check out David's other Amie Street offerings, including some fascinating minimalist meditations for solo organ:
Minimalism, to me, is a bit like those old stereoscopic posters, where you let your mind's eye drift over the collage of patterns until a three-dimensional picture gradually emerges into view. Perfect for running music, i'd say - see you on the street, David!
While Amie Street is carving out a terrific niche for independent and alternative rock bands, i wanted to draw some attention to some of the Classical Music selections i found notable as a way of both introduction to new Amie Street listeners and as encouragement to my Classical Music colleagues to consider contributing more tracks to this fledgling new distribution website.
(Ok, i'm afraid that embedding these player files from AmieStreet.com might "break" those of you viewing this site with Microsoft's Internet Explorer, so hopefully y'all will just defect over to Mozilla's Firefox Web Browser en masse!)
Here's a little summary of some of the worthwhile Classical Music tracks that can be had for almost nothing on Amie Street:
The Ingrooves Symphony Orchestra has a pleasant selection of albums for folks new to classical music. You can't go wrong with building a nice, inexpensive beginner library of Easter, Christmas, and miscellaneous selections for orchestra and solo piano with the albums below:
i've got to learn more about composer Kobi Arad (i suspect he's also a pianist, given the high level of pianism chops in these recordings) - he's got an incredibly eclectic mix of hip hop, lounge, jazz, classical and contemporary classical compositions compiled over several albums. Really remarkable stuff here, if i may say so!
i've just added a neat new sidebar widget that plays previews of my track offerings on AmieStreet.com - tracks can be purchased directly from the widget and then heard in their entirety. Setup was a little tricksy tricksy - it involved extracting a bit of code from AmieStreet's own artist promo flash player code that looks like this:
For the "playlist URL" in the widget settings, you want to extract the following code portion (look for "playlist_url=") -
"artistId__9685" refers to my Chopin album ID number.
I've set the player to start automatically when my blog page is opened. If this gets too annoying, please let me know and i'll turn the "auto-play" off. I'll try to get more selections uploaded soon so that regular readers aren't bored to tears. Please support classical music on music distro sites like AmieStreet.com and purchase a few tracks! (As of this writing, they're still really cheap - $0.13 per track - so let's see if we can't get the stock price inched up a bit, eh? Many thanks!!)
i first encountered Amie Street through composer Charles B. Griffin's website a while back. At first i thought it was just another basic MP3 upload site for artists to promote their own tracks, with a curious pricing scheme that allowed newer tracks to be free and popular ones to range in price, up to 99 cents. To be honest, i didn't spend much time exploring around and soon forgot about the Amie Street concept.
Fast forward to this past Saturday. My oldest son now owns my beloved video iPod, so i'm stuck with either listening to MP3's through my (bulky) Samsung i730 PDA phone or with my dinky little Lexar MP3 player that came as a 'bonus' with my Bose Q3 headphone purchase. Well, i've been finally getting back into running and needed to quickly find some music for "exerci-nsperation" for Saturday's run. Being bereft of my iPod has made me a virtual iTunes orphan since i can't easily port over DRM-trapped tracks to any of my other devices, so i tried to think of some other options. i started revisiting AmieStreet.com and had my "aha!" moment when i finally understood how really, really cool this site is!
AmieStreet.com works as a virtual "stock market" for music. As i stated above, new tracks get introduced for free. The more popular a track becomes by the number of downloads, the higher it starts to rise in price. The cool part here is that if you download a track - either when it's brand new and available as a free download, or at any price point as it climbs in popularity - and then write up a recommendation for the track, you will have the opportunity to accumulate purchasing "credits" as the track (hopefully) rises in value. Say for example, you download a classical music track - oh, perhaps like the Chopin "Raindrop" Prelude in D-flat major (hint hint) while it's available as a free download. If you really love it and feel inspired to write up a recommendation for it, you'll "lock in" your "purchase price" - in this case, $0. If the track climbs in value, say to 55 cents, then you will be rewarded that amount to apply to any purchase within your Amie Street account. If the track is only available for a price, then you will need to purchase it first before writing a recommendation. Your received credit will become the difference between your purchase price and the final price (up to 99 cents, i believe) whenever you decide to "cash in" your credit for the track.
i don't know about you, but i find this utterly ingenious! By this system, listeners are rewarded for exploring and sharing their discoveries, and artists are given a viable tool to promote their work while still retaining full rights to their material. From what i can tell from my initial foray, AmieStreet has a $5.00 "storage fee" for each track. i'm assuming that once enough sales come in to cover that fee, then the artist will start receiving 70% of the proceeds above that amount.
i'm just dabbling with this for now, but i'll keep everyone posted as i upload more tracks for sale. You can visit my Amie Street "store" at http://amiestreet.com/hughsungpianist (banners soon to follow here on the site). Oh, and if you're curious as to what i ended up running to on Saturday:
For many years i've worked on setting psalms and hymn texts to new musical settings for congregational worship. All my arrangements have always been completely copyright-free with no recompense required whatsoever - these have been written with the simple hope that Churches today can find musical material that puts its primary emphasis on the richness of Biblical text and great doctrine in a way that everyday folk can approach. I'm not a composer, so i'm highly self-conscious about making any pretenses in trying to be one given my immense respect for those who have dedicated their artistic lives to honing that craft. Nevertheless, it's a thrill to share this rendition of one of my hymn settings by The Kings Chamber Orchestra, directed by cellist extraordinaire Gerard Le Feuvre! This track will be part of a new album by the orchestra to be released in about 2 months' time. For this recording and similar, seek out the Kings Chamber Orchestra at www.kingschamberorchestra.co.uk.
The almost-17th century text by Philipp Nicolai is as follows:
How Lovely Shines the Morning Star Text by Philipp Nicolai, 1599
Music by Hugh Sung
1. How love-ly shines the Morn-ing Star!
The na-tions see and hail a-far
The light in Ju-dah shi-ning
Thou, Da-vid's Son of Ja-cob's race,
My Bride-groom and my King of Grace,
For Thee my heart is pin-ing.
Great and glo-rious, Thou vic-tor-ious
Prince of grac-es,
Fill-ing all the heav'n-ly plac-es.
2. Now rich-ly to my wait-ing heart,
O Thou, my God, deign to im-part
The grace of love un-dy-ing.
In Thy blest bod-y let me be,
E'en as the branch is in the tree,
Thy life my life sup-ply-ing.
For the sav-or Of Thy fav-or;
Till I rest in Thee for-ev-er.
3. Thou, might-y Fa-ther, in Thy Son
Didst love me ere Thou hadst be-gun
This an-cient world's foun-da-tion.
Thy Son hath made a friend of me,
And when in spi-rit Him I see,
I joy in tri-bu-la-tion.
What bliss is this!
He that liv-eth To me giv-eth
Noth-ing me from Him can sev-er.
If you'd like to have a free copy of the PDF with the piano score and lead sheet, please visit http://ccpc-pca.com/303500.php for a list of all my worship song arrangements. You can also download it directly from this link.
I received word over the weekend that the collaborative recording music site, Indaba Music, has now been upgraded to version 2. If you recall from my earlier blog post about collaborative music sites, i complained about Indaba Music's primitive DAW (Digital Audio Workshop) interface. That interface has now been vastly improved, bringing it at least on par visually with other sites like Splice and Jamglue, and even surpassing them with other features like LED level meters, adjustable volume changes over the timeline, moveable markers, and stereo mixdowns.
I really appreciate the addition of waveform graphics in the track views - it makes the alignment of various tracks so much easier now. Still no interface option for viewing lyrics, lead sheets, or (imagine!) music notation, but hopefully that will be something that they will address if enough musicians ask for it...
A really nice new feature is the Indaba Music Player that features a random selection of (i assume) finished session mixes:
It's nice to hear an overview of some polished works which really sound good! I wish there was a 'genre selector' of sorts on the player, but i'm sure that will improve with time. For now, it's a neat way to have some truly Indie music playing on your computer while you get through your work day.
Kudos to the Indaba Music team for some terrific improvements!
Some exciting developments that i need to mention briefly in passing - i'll try to write up more detailed blogs as soon as i have time:
I've been in touch with the developer of Pianoteq, the piano simulation software that has me really impressed - we've been going back and forth developing a version that's more compatible with the Muse Receptor, and it looks like we're already close to something workable (in such short notice too!) Amazing how quick and responsive the developer has been!
I'm hoping to get a chance to test out the new beta version of Pianoteq - the developer tells me that their new C2 model incorporates the best elements of some of the finest concert grands in the market today, so i'm really eager to put it through its paces...
I'm putting together the video from my latest show at my sons' elementary school - the clip features my new digital piano setup with the Pianoteq piano modeling simulator, and i have to say, it sounds quite impressive! Hope to have it up really really soon...(tonight, maybe?)
A local arts group is moving forward with a possible collaboration between my Visual Recital technologies and their roster of artists! I'll check with them to see if it's ok to mention them by name now - should be very exciting training other musicians to incorporate synchronized visuals into their own performances!
Thank you for visiting this site! I hope you'll find this to be a friendly place to learn about and discuss the fascinating technologies available for the Classical Musician. A great place to get started is with the ongoing "Getting Started" series. Remember, the worst questions are the ones you never ask, so feel free to email me!