Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Collaborators And Creations: Benjamin Harlan

For some, composing music involves sitting alone in a room, sometimes with a piano, tapping into some corner of TheMysticalUniverseOfSound and pouring it onto the page. The idealized images of Beethoven ThinkingDeepThoughts are just that--idealized images.
Ludwig's sketchbooks are revealing,  demonstrating the distance between his initial ideas and finished products. I've done my share of this sort of composing, and it can be grinding work; very satisfying once completed, to be certain, but it is a slog in the middle of the process. It's well, lonely, three minutes into that seven-minute piece. Minute seven may be days away, and there's no way out but forward.

I therefore love to collaborate--with other composers, with conductors, poets, performers, publishers. I prefer to write with a goal in mind, and with people who have clear goals. Sometimes, they give me an idea of what they have in mind; other times, the roles reverse.

One of those long-time collaborations is in the arena of American Protestant church music with
Benjamin Harlan.

If you have sung in a Protestant church choir in the past quarter-century, odds are you have sung his music. His resume includes the dean's chair in the music school of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, head of music ministries for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and hundreds of works published. He's an inspiring choral conductor, teacher, and one of the jolliest souls one could ever hope to meet.

He definitely has a goal--to restore hymns back to congregations in the pews. The wholesale post-modern experiment that ditched the hymnal in favor of Powerpoint and 'praise music' (whatever that is...) has been a dismal failure. Benjie has labored mightily these past several years to create a body of work that restores sanity, crafting versions of the standard hymnody that encourage the people in the pews to sing again, with the choir and instrumentalists in a supporting role. He writes, he publishes, he travels, he conducts, he teaches. He releases a new collection of hymns every year.  If you wish to purchase a copy for your church, he'll make it available. More than anything, though, he wants to talk with you, not just sell you something. Email him here to begin the conversation.

His goal is one I share, thus the years of work together. Along the way, we together created a library of orchestrations to enhance a selection of the arrangements.  I hear reports from all corners that these collaborations work well, and it brings joy to the heart. 

If you're interested in knowing more, email Benjie at the link above, or leave word below. I don't just want to sell you stuff either--the publishers have made an art of that, and look where it got us. I want to talk to you as well, as I know that the conductor, the musicians and the congregation are all part of the collaboration that makes these pieces succeed so well.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sibelius Software, The Musician's Friend--About To Be Ridden Off Into The Sunset

These are tough times for those in the highly specialized business of music composing/editing/engraving software. Both major platforms, Finale and Sibelius, are housed in troubled firms.

Avid, the firm that brings us Pro Tools, bought Sibelius a few years back. It was going to be wonderful--the integration of Pro Tools with the slickest music notation program in history.

(I wondered how this could happen, because I have yet to work a recording session when Pro Tools didn't crash at the most crucial moment. When budgeting, I build in time and money for the Pro Tools crash. It's gonna happen, as surely as the sun rises in the morning.)

It didn't quite work out. The development team in the UK has been put out onto the street, while Avid assures everyone of their commitment to the brand. Just how does that happen, when the brain trust who carries the product in their heads has been dispersed? It's sort of like NASA--who disbanded the team that put man on the moon, once they had put man on the moon. All that's left are memories and a few left-over Saturn V boosters on display in Huntsville, Alabama.


So, I'm putting my two cents in, for what it's worth. I left this on the Avid site, but doubt it will see the light of day there.

It's a small matter in a big world where people think it's somehow a good thing to blow up school buses full of children, as happened yesterday in Bulgaria. But for those of us who are left to respond to that sort of madness by composing music, it matters that Sibelius not be orphaned and left to die.

Dear Avid: I am a composer/arranger who trained with the pencil and pad, old-school. I still employ it extensively.  However, my good friend Dave McKay, your best friend in Nashville, showed me how Sibelius can allow me to think like an old-school composer and still take advantage of software for editing, storage and transmission. It has been a great tool, and my dear bride now sits at her desk, typesetting and editing her annual choral series--in Sibelius 7.

Have you noticed something in all these comments, if you have bothered to read? Do you realize that you have extended your middle finger to your avidly (pun intended) loyal customers? Do you realize that a lot of them will remember this month when it comes time to make a purchasing decision between your DAW and other pro products and those of your competitors? Do you realize that your growth has come from positive word-of-mouth from your customers? You can spend kajillions on sexy displays at trade shows, but it's the actual users, comparing notes over beers, that make or break you.

Are you really that out of touch? Didn't anyone mention this before that MBA was handed to you?

Now, about outsourcing to Ukraine, or wherever: Have you heard the news that a lot of places in the world don't operate with high ethical standards? When your code is plagiarized twelve-ways-to-Sunday by your 'bargain-rate' programmers, where are you going to go in the former Soviet Union to file that lawsuit, get the prosecutor to go to the judge and have the perpetrators prosecuted? Does anyone ever think this stuff through--the questions about real costs, about the long-term health of a business, about what happens when an entire customer base is alienated?


If costs of operating in London were so high, there are some alternatives, like Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Wales, the Channel Islands. Your team could probably be persuaded to relocate there, within a day's drive of families and good English schools for the kids.

Does anyone ever think of these things? Anyone? Ever?

Have the lessons of GM, Chrysler, Sears, Merrill-Lynch, hundreds of local banks, Rover, SAAB, and other spectacular members of the Failure Hall of Fame ever sunk in? Do you think you are immune, because you are, well, you? Those guys all thought the same thing, as they drove their firms over the cliff into the sea.

You have the inalienable right to go broke--that's what the free marketplace is about. What your customers are telling you is that they do not share your desire for sea-water in their lungs.

Good luck. Think this through, while you can. You only have a few days left in all of human history to make the right decision.