The Composition of a Song: The Star Spangled Banner

A short time ago I was invited to perform for a race called “Swim Across America.” The song was to be The Star Spangled Banner and at first, I just played it on my pedal steel alone. I sent the orchestrator of the race a recorded mp3 copy and he urged me to “hop it up” as he implied that it was beautiful for a calm morning with the sun rising over Lake Washington, but as far as a race goes it was too laid back and mellow. When I play a song, it makes me happy to play it, but equally as happy to please the person listening to the song, so I added drums and bass to “hop it up.”

It turned out he was right. The swimmers at the race were extremely jazzed when I played it. They cheered like it was a big rock concert. After that, I went back to my studio and ran over the song again. I felt that even though I went to the point of adding a live recording of myself playing bass and drums for background tracks, I wanted the song to go even deeper.

For those who don’t know how I put together my music, you should know that I record all of my background tracks in my studio, and then mix them together for the final piece. If I am performing the piece, I will sometimes lay out prerecorded tracks, and play an instrument over them or will live record one instrument and repeat it real time to “build” a song. So with my music, if there’s a guitar in the background, it’s a real guitar, and so on. This is because I find the quality of real instruments to be very different than digitally generated instruments, and a sound I very much prefer. It has taken me years to master the instruments that I need for my songs, but in my mind it is well worth it.At the end of the Star Spangle Banner, on the steel, I produced these two

At the end of the Star Spangle Banner, on the steel, I produced these two chords going back and forth. They intermingled with lead notes found in the chords that gave me visions of someone flying across mountains on a magic carpet. It was very mystical. But, I wasn’t allowed to play these chords for the swimmers at the race, as there was only a three-minute window to play the song. Back at my studio, I added the cords across the bass and drums just to jam with it and enjoy the great feeling it gave me to play this. Here’s how I get my rush! After a

After a bit, I decided to record it and it worked out to be where when I start the song, I perform it live on the pedal steel, playing the main tune across the rhythm section (bass and drums) from my stomp box . But then, about halfway through the song, I moved the steel back to a prerecorded track allowing me to pick up my violin and solo like crazy to the finish out the song. All who have gotten the chance to listen to this are totally impressed. Even the orchestrator of the race when describing it used the word “awesome”!


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