Even on an ordinary day I’m a pretty anxious and strong-willed person. Today, I was even more so. For one thing, I wasn’t entirely happy with what I’d recorded yesterday and uncertain what to do about it. I also really wanted to finish recording the dulcimer today, but I wanted to do it well and not rush, and I was concerned that the remaining two pieces might not be ready yet. That’s a lot of stuff to be anxious and stubborn about.
We started with “Emmanuel.” I wasn’t sure that slowing down at the end of the first section was a good idea after all.
I had no idea how we might fix that without having to re-record the following sections, but it turned out to not be that difficult. I just punched in that last part of the first section plus the first note of the next section, then Matt moved the previously recorded next section up to match. Then I re-recorded the melody line of the third section to clean up some of the timing and expression things I hadn’t done so well yesterday.
Next, we worked on “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” My version starts with an old English tune called “Forest Green,” then two verses of the familiar “St. Louis” tune, and a final verse of “Forest Green.” The first “St. Louis” verse I recorded in four-part harmony.
By the time I got to the tenor part, the sun through the stained-glass window behind me was casting my shadow on the soundboard and creating a glare on the strings — that’s a little disorienting. Matt came in and set up one of those tall wooden baffles behind me to block the sun: “Is that better, Princess?”
After lunch, we finished “Bethlehem,” and started working on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Christmas Star.”
“Twinkle” is a tune I often play when people comment about how difficult the dulcimer looks; I show them that it’s simple to play simple tunes like “Twinkle,” because all the notes are in a nice vertical row with nothing to skip in between. I add more chords and ornaments as I go, then talk about the visual shapes I improvise with and how those shapes and patterns make writing, arranging, and improvising so much easier on this instrument than on the other instruments I’ve tried.
Gradually my arrangement started incorporating some unusual chords and acquired an air of mystery and wonder; I thought it would be cool to include it on this album in honor of the amazing journey of the Magi, those mysterious people from the East who read Jesus’ arrival in the heavens and made their way to Israel to see him.
While we were working on these two tunes, I was increasingly anxious and stubborn. I really wanted to be done. But I was also trying to be careful not to settle for less than my best just for the sake of being done.
That kind of tension makes it difficult to evaluate things and make choices. (Perhaps it also tries Matt’s nearly infinite patience.) So even though we “finished” recording the dulcimer for this album, I’ll have to listen to the results a lot before deciding if I’m really done or not.
Matt’s teasing got me thinking about princesses and extreme sensitivity; “The Princess and the Pea,” for example.
I suppose you can’t have sensitivity without irritability; you can’t be sensitive only to positive things. On the flip side, one might take a second look at the irritable people in one’s life and find out that they are not sensitive only to negative things.
Anyway, I hope Matt and Will and my husband and everyone else around me have not been too bothered by my irritability while working on this project, and I hope that the plus side of that sensitivity will show in the finished CD.