Covered by a rock band

My former trio partner, Craig Higgins, is now in a rock band called Snake Oil Salesmen. His colleagues decided to cover my tune Irksome Girl, which our trio used to play and included in our CD. To watch and listen, go to the Snake Oil Salesmen music page — it’s the second video.

Whistle March

For some reason I picked up my tin whistle the other day, and again today I played it a bit. I learned the G and A scales in addition to the D, and I picked out a few tunes like the usual Mary Had a Little Lamb and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

Then I started doodling around in E dorian — basically the same notes as the D scale, but focused around E instead of D.

And this tune, perhaps a sort of slow march, resulted.

Whistle March

For want of a nail

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost,
For want of the shoe, the horse was lost,
For want of the horse, the rider was lost,
For want of the rider, the battle was lost,
For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail!

We have recorded everything except one piece, an original tune called “Cherry on Top,” composed by our guitarist on the day his daughter was born.

It’s something he’s often noodled around on during down time; the more we heard it the more we liked it, and decided we should work up a trio version “sometime.” Now that everything else is done, “sometime” has arrived.

I’m not that great at improvising on something like this by ear, so my first task was to try to transcribe it.

I pieced something together by listening first to the bass notes, then to the highest pitches, then to whatever I could pick out in the middle. Sometimes I could catch the rhythm but not the notes, and sometimes vice versa. Most frustrating, there seemed to be odd moments where there was an extra beat or a missing one.

Nevertheless, with transcription in hand I wrote out some tentative dulcimer and fiddle parts and sent PDFs and MIDI files to the guys.

When we tried it last night, we figured out what was going on with those frustrating rhythmic oddities; many of the notes that I thought were falling on the downbeat actually occurred an eighth note before the downbeat.


Even watching Craig tap his foot didn’t help me catch the right rhythm — once you’ve got an idea of a tune in your head, it’s hard to shift the feel of it by something so small as an eighth note (or a horseshoe nail).

Today, with the help of a new recording with a metronome, the freeware Audacity which lets one slow down a tune without changing its pitch, and a drumbeat ‘metronome’ to my NoteWorthy Composer file, I straightened out my transcription — and now I can feel the tune the right way, and those rhythmic anomalies have disappeared.


Otherwise, last night’s session included recording additional tracks for Hills of Lorne and for Irksome Girl / Midnight Maze, after a late start — soon after we arrived one of Craig’s kids got hurt and it understandably took them a while to determine it was not a broken arm; good thing it’s not!

For Hills of Lorne, we added mandolin picking the melody, mandolin playing some long tremolo notes, fiddle playing a sustained harmony part, and recorder playing the same part. I wanted to play the part on the whistle instead, but I’m still new at the whistle so it didn’t sound as good, plus my whistle is a cheapie with the mouthpiece glued on, so it’s not tunable.

I’m not sure if we’ll use all four additional tracks or not. That will require a lot of listening to a lot of combinations.

For Irksome, I just added some dulcimer bass notes.

There’s plenty of work yet to be done: get some photos taken, do the graphic design (with the new old Photoshop, version 6.0, that I just won on Ebay), write the liner notes, and record Cherry on Top — but it feels good to be almost done with this CD.

October Snow

Last night The Hanshaw Trio got together for another recording and practice session. It’s been raining here for weeks, but by the end of our session there was snow on our cars.

The first snow came in October two years ago, too, and I ended up writing a tune called “October Snow” in response — thinking about the childlike excitement for the first snow, mixed with the dread of long months of darkness and cold. I don’t play the tune exactly like I first wrote it down, but the MIDI at least gives an idea of it.

Anyway, unaware of the coming white stuff, we began our session by revisiting Irksome Girl / Midnight Maze, a pair of original jigs. I wasn’t happy with our previous arrangement of this medley, so I’d made some changes.

First of all, we now start with a guitar intro, then dulcimer playing the A part twice, then fiddle playing the A part twice, then both of us playing the B part. Before, we’d also tried doing four A parts the third time through the tune, but I think it makes for a better transition to Midnight Maze if we just do the A part twice.

I had also been trying to play bass notes along with the melody. It’s hard to do that both accurately and expressively, and the bass notes tended to be too loud. So this time I left them out, and perhaps I’ll add them back in later by recording them on a separate track. That way I can also control their volume better relative to the melody.

For Midnight Maze, I ended up writing new fiddle parts to add syncopation and interest, and also to hopefully avoid the awkward bowing and fingering the melody involved. Jerry hasn’t had time to learn these parts yet, so he’ll add them in later, too.

I have three full takes and two partials (just Irksome Girl) to listen to; I hope they’re good enough to use this time — we’re all a little anxious to finish this project.

After recording, we started reviewing Christmas repertoire. Last year we developed trio arrangements of nine pieces from What Child Is This?. Two of them, Fallen and Easter Thursday, we play all year. Last night reviewed the others: The Lord at first did Adam make, Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus / Planxty Irwin, O Come O Come Emmanuel, He Shall Feed His Flock, Three Ships Medley, Noel Nouvelet / Wexford Carol, and Hewlett / Silent Night.

New arrangement MIDI

Yesterday I worked up a new arrangement of the Irksome Girl / Midnight Maze medley.

Jerry had told me that the melody of Midnight Maze, particularly in the B part, involved some very awkward bowing and fingering, and I also thought it might be more interesting to make his part different from mine — in keeping with the theme of the dream world and its weird juxtapositions.

I didn’t want to take the time to really write the guitar part — who wants to notate strumming!? — so I only roughed it in for Irksome Girl in order to provide the intro and a sense of the chord structure and syncopation. The guitar will also play during Midnight Maze, I just didn’t bother writing it out.

Keep in mind that MIDI is a digital format — these sounds are just attempting to resemble a guitar, dulcimer, and fiddle.

Irksome Girl / Midnight Maze MIDI

If the shoe fits

Last night we worked on Irksome Girl / Midnight Maze, two original jigs.

The title Irksome Girl comes from one of those band name generator websites. We decided it didn’t work for us as a band name — it doesn’t exactly fit our “kind of Celtic” style. But it does fit for a description of our band’s sole female.

Guess who’s the most picky, the most demanding, the most likely to be in a foul mood, the most sensitive, the most whiny, most likely to send too many, too-long emails? Fortunately we all (seem to) tolerate my rough edges and still manage to get along quite well and enjoy one another.

Anyway, since we weren’t going to use the title for a band name, I figured I’d at least use it for a tune title.

Irksome Girl is in Am for the A part. There’s some walking bass stuff, but essentially the A part centers on that Am chord. In the B part, the key changes to A mixolydian, and the chord progression rocks back and forth between A and G or Em.

We start with four A parts, first just dulcimer and guitar, then adding in the fiddle. The third time through, we do a sort of re-intro, with fiddle and guitar doing two A parts and then me building in a rhythmic bass thing for two more A parts, leading nicely into the B part.

Midnight Maze might be the first tune I wrote here in Ithaca. There was a community-wide reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein going on, which I thought was a cool thing to do. The introduction to the book talks about its origins in a contest, and how Mary’s idea came to her in a dream.

I think dreams are fascinating, with their weird yet familiar landscapes, people, and events, juxtaposed and jumbled together. Midnight Maze nods to Mary Shelley and to the world of dreams.

It’s in Bm, and I tried to write a melody full of jumps and turns and shifts. We start with a single guitar chord and a long low B fiddle drone while dulcimer plays melody, then the guitar returns in the second A part and the fiddle joins the melody in the B part. Second time through I drop an octave, and the last time we repeat the second-to-last phrase to make a kind of tag ending.

It’s a difficult medley, especially for me. Playing the bare melodies is a bit awkward, and I’m also trying to throw in some walking bass notes in Irksome. We also had to decide between guitar strumming all the time, or fingerpicking some parts and strumming others. We like the fingerpicking, but there’s not enough time to grab a pick for strumming, so if he fingerpicks, he’s got to strum without a pick.

I’ve got seven full takes plus two partials; I hope there’s enough good material in them to edit together a good version of the medley. If not, it’s still useful development and practice.

Who am I to know the Lord our God?

Who am I, to know the Lord our God?
In awe of you I stand in silence.
And yet the Gospel says you sent your son for me
That I might be a child of God.

I believe in the Bible, I believe in your love;
I believe in your steadfastness and sovereignty.
I believe your mercy endures forever,
And I believe your grace is free —

So ‘bold, I approach th’eternal throne,’
Or I would, but I’m not sure where it is.
Through all the clouds, I cannot see you sitting there.

Someday I’ll see your face in heaven,
And then, oh, then, I will know you.
I will tremble, and you —
In spite of it all, you will love me.

I will tremble, fall on my knees —
In spite of it all, you will love me.

© 1996 Marcy Prochaska, all rights reserved.

I am more like Job than Moses.

Moses talked to God, and God talked to Moses. Moses saw God’s “back,” saw his presence in the burning bush, glowed with his glory when he came down from Sinai. Moses saw God do amazing and specific things that he announced ahead of time, things that were of great significance to an entire nation and the world beyond.

Job saw God’s finger in the circumstances in his own individual life. He knew that God is sovereign, that God gives and takes away. He knew that God is righteous and just. But most of his life he lived by faith, without any direct, unambiguous contact or communication with God.

God does appear to Job. He hasn’t appeared to me (yet), but I imagine I’d get some of the same answer. The answer that cuts, that hurts, the hard bright truth that God is God and I am not. But it is also the answer that reassures — that God is in fact God, that he is in fact righteous and just, as Job thought he was, even in these current nasty circumstances. The very fact that God appears and speaks at all is great mercy. And mercy on top of mercy! –God praises Job for his honesty, for speaking the truth as he perceived it — and he corrects his perceptions. Perhaps even the devastations were great mercy, drawing out this deep thirst for the righteous God he’d perhaps only casually talked about and believed in previously. Mercy, for God to so work in our lives that we cannot ignore him any longer.

Someone once told me that even if God spoke to me directly, soon enough I would doubt that experience and think it was a hallucination or a demon. So perhaps it is great mercy that God shows up in my life only as an ambiguous finger, sovereign over circumstances. One of my images for this ambiguous experience is the psychologist behind the one-way mirror. God, like the psychologist, arranges my room and the objects in it, because he cares about me and knows me and is treating me, but I don’t see his face — yet. My job is to trust this faceless doctor, based on what I know is true about him and our relationship.

Paul said he knew Jesus (Philippians 3:8). He met him once in a vision. But in what sense did he know him? Was it the way Job knew God, in the sense of knowing who he is, knowing his character, and having the one grand vision to confirm it all? Or were there more unrecorded conversations, more direct, unambiguous experience, like Moses had, like some evangelicals claim to have? Or when Paul said “the surpassing value of knowing Christ,” did he refer to something not yet consummated, the coming full knowing we’ll have in heaven (1 Corinthians 13:12)?

My old journals are full of the question, what is our relationship with God supposed to be like — more like Job or more like Moses? I didn’t want to settle for a life of “belief only,” if it’s possible to know God more directly and unambiguously. But perhaps not everyone is meant to have that kind of relationship. Most people in the Bible didn’t.

I think I’m a little more at peace with the life of “faith only” now. Not having direct and unambiguous experience of God doesn’t have to imply that he’s not there and that my faith is all hogwash. And yet I hope I never stop thirsting to see him, and I hope that he will so sanctify me that I will be able to see him if he shows himself to me.

By the way, the last line of this song was inspired by one of those Christian party questions — imagining what you will do when you see Jesus in heaven. Run, dance, sing, shout, hug him, what? My immediate answer was that I’d fall to my knees and hide my face. He’d have to come running to me, because I don’t think I’d have the faith to run to him. It’s like seeing someone you admire at a party, and you’re afraid to approach because of all the important people there, in-crowd people, his real friends, and you’re insecure about your own welcome.

Another by the way: read Til We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. There’s a part in the middle that offers another way to view the active yet unseen God: as Cupid, invisible to Psyche, yet her passionately loving husband.

Spring 2005


“The River” Coffeehouse

Once again, in March, I performed for Bristol Christian Fellowship’s “The River” coffeehouse in Bristol, Vermont. Daniel Hamilton, who is also a great painter, opened with a set of his original songs. My set included dulcimer pieces and some songs with guitar, including “Eve’s Song” which I’d finished just in time. Several years before I’d started working on a song about what it might have been like to experience the Fall — particularly exploring separation not only from God, but from self and others as well. I’m somewhat more articulate in prose than in lyrics, so it was difficult to put these ideas into something that would work as a song. I think it’s done, now, though.

In the cool of the day, we would walk together
In the garden, by the river: the Lord, and Adam and me
In the cool of the day

His voice came to me from across a great gulf
Distorted and strange, though familiar
He said, “Where are you?”
I answered: my eyes are opened, I see that I am a stranger

To myself, to my lover, to my Lord
I’m ashamed, ’cause I’m naked; I’m afraid, so I’m hiding
From myself, from my lover, from you, my Lord

In the cool of the day… in the cool of the day

I’m still fleeing, withdrawn and defensive
Still keeping my distance from everyone, but
I’m so lonely

I’m still fleeing from the garden where I walked with God
But in his grace, I know he’s leading my steps
And I’ll walk with him again —
In the cool of the day

© 2005 Marcy Prochaska, all rights reserved

Thanks to the Hamiltons, for having me back; to the Orvises, for their gracious hospitality.


Film Scoring

In March, I also started working on my first film score. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Plantations were working on a joint production of several short nature films, to feature narration, natural sound, and music.

The film I worked on is about the Wildflower Gardens, one of many natural areas on campus. The piece takes the viewer through the seasons of the gardens, with great footage of plants, birds, and other wildlife. Scenes with water punctuate the film and provide natural transitions from season to season.

I chose pieces that would fit the mood of each season’s footage. Spring begins with Praeludium I (Bach), then summer features Hewlett (O’Carolan), Easter Thursday, an old English D minor tune, carries the piece from fall into winter, and my original upbeat Third Street Market welcomes the return to spring. For the credits, I chose Menuet (Quantz), arranged by Carrie Crompton.

The next step was to arrange the music to fit the film — adding a little bit to the Praeludium and Third Street Market, and cutting Easter Thursday and the Menuet a bit short. Then I met with the director and one of the sound engineers to see if they liked what I’d come up with.

In May we recorded all five pieces in one long session, I think from noon or 1:00 to 5:00 or so. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to record that much in so short a time, considering how long I’ve spent on my own recording projects. Pyramid was a lovely studio to work in, despite its unappealing exterior and complete lack of parking. I thought the mic they used was particularly cool — a wooden ball, about the size of a person’s head, with the mics where the ears would be.

What I especially love about being in a studio is the amazing sound. Recordings never sound as good at home as they do on good studio equipment. I guess that’s why some people spend so much money on good home systems.

The Lab is not sure yet if they will offer this film for sale to individuals or not, but if you’re in the area, stop by and you can see it in their theatre.

This is the Day

This is the day that you have made
Come be Lord of the day
(You who are my Lord)
This is the day that you have made
Come be Lord of the day

Keep an eye on the heavens and the earth
Orchestrate nature’s dance today
Keep an eye on all the people — and on me
Hold us, and embrace our hearts today

O lifter of my head, raise my eyes to you
Sweep away the clouds that would obscure my sight today
And wash away the dust that clings that would weigh me down today

I offer you my hands, I offer you my feet
My eyes and my ears, I offer you my speech
And even the inner places, where my heart is
I offer you the whole of it, be Lord of me today

This is the day that you have made
Come be Lord of the day
(You who are my Lord)
This is the day that you have made
Come be Lord of me and all the people
Come be Lord of sky and earth
Come be Lord — come, be Lord —
Come be Lord of the day.

© 1994 Marcy Prochaska, all rights reserved.

I’m easily overwhelmed. It’s good to be able to put things back in perspective, to remember who is Lord over all that overwhelms me.

In the summer of 1994 I was in Africa, overwhelmed.

A college student, I was on a short term missions trip with Wycliffe Bible Translators to see if, as I hoped, this might be a good career fit for me. Wycliffe folks work to provide people with the Bible in their own language; it takes years to learn the language, develop a suitable orthography (writing system, like an alphabet for example), teach folks how to read and write, and translate the Scriptures. I was a linguistics major precisely because I thought Wycliffe was a great way to be a missionary — a nice concrete structured task of translation, unlike the more fuzzy work of church planting or evangelism.

Our tour started in Kenya, where the eight of us heard lectures from various Wycliffe members, learned some Swahili, and saw the sights. Then, we split up. Four stayed in Kenya, where they spent a day or two each at a variety of Wycliffe sites. Two guys went to Isiro, Zaire, to spend three weeks with one missionary family, the Sawkas. Jen and I went to Egbita, a few kilometers away, to live with the Nelsons.

Up until this point, I hadn’t felt particularly overwhelmed. It was all very exciting and interesting. I especially loved the flight from Kenya, in a tiny six-seater plane — oh my! you know you’re flying when you’re in a little plane. The same flight discouraged Jen, and she felt more and more overwhelmed as our time went on. She coped by serving. I understood that this was her way of coping, and so I stayed out of the way. Being out of the way, I felt out of the way. Alone, unwanted, and possibly resented for not helping, even though if I had helped I would have gotten in Jen’s way. I had nothing to turn to; Jen also coped by playing guitar and singing, so I stayed away from that. I tried to write letters but could not bring myself to say anything. Likewise reading and journalling were unhelpful. I felt hurt and sad, and guilty for feeling such self-pity, and betrayed and abandoned because I was doing what I felt to be right and yet it hurt and was unacknowledged.

I so looked forward to rejoining our team. Then I would be welcomed again. I wouldn’t feel marginalized anymore. And I wouldn’t need to sacrifice myself to make way for another’s coping mechanism. Ha! Had I forgotten everything about my social skills, or rather, lack thereof? The rest of the team had bonded in their three weeks together. How could there be a place for me? I knew I would be tempted to withdraw defensively, to isolate myself and avoid the risk of new rejections. I fought valiantly against that temptation, I tried so hard to stay involved with the group. That hurt so much.

Towards the end of the trip, during our debriefing time, I went out to pray. I found myself praying the first two lines of this song. I found a melody, and continued the poem, sorting out the things I knew to be true, remembering both that I was just one part of God’s world, and that I was indeed part of God’s world.

During the debriefing Jen and I were able to talk out what had happened to and between us in Zaire, and we were reconciled.

I still fight the temptation to withdraw from social life because it hurts so much.

I continue to seek perspective, to remember both the bigger picture, and the significant place I have in it because God loves me.

This is the day that you have made
Come be Lord of the day

In the cool of the day

In the cool of the day, we would walk together
In the garden, by the river: the Lord, and Adam and me
In the cool of the day

His voice came to me from across a great gulf
Distorted and strange, though familiar
He said, “Where are you?”

I answered: my eyes are opened, I see that I am a stranger
To myself, to my lover, to my Lord
I’m ashamed, ’cause I’m naked; I’m afraid, so I’m hiding
From myself, from my lover, from you, my Lord

In the cool of the day… in the cool of the day

I’m still fleeing, withdrawn and defensive
Still keeping my distance from everyone, but
I’m so lonely

I’m still fleeing from the garden where I walked with God
But in his grace, I know he’s leading my steps
And I’ll walk with him again —
In the cool of the day

© 2005 Marcy Prochaska, all rights reserved.

This is a song I first started working on several years ago and just finished this year. I’m going to be singing it during an upcoming performance at a coffeehouse in Vermont.

The classic Christian definition of sin is “separation from God.” Since sin has its root in the Garden of Eden, I thought it would be interesting to wonder how Eve might have experienced this sudden sense of separation. Hence the perception that God’s voice sounds like it’s coming from across a chasm, familiar enough to be recognized, but distorted and strange.

Skeptics have mocked God’s question, “Where are you?” as contradicting his alleged omniscience. But it’s not a fact-finding question, asked in ignorance, but a relational question. It’s God calling attention to the separation that has taken place, taking the first step to a return to the relationship.

I think the separation from God causes other separations. From others, so that there can now be quarrels, and envy, and misunderstanding, and all sorts of other social woes. And from oneself, so that there can be such things as identity crises, confusion, lack of purpose, and other pyschological woes. All these things feed on one another, so that we run from intimacy and yet grieve for our loneliness.

God is in the business of redemption. He sent Jesus to heal the separation between us and himself. Even while we’re running away from him, he leads our steps back to his door. I think the more we experience the healing of our separation from God, the more we’ll also experience redemption in our psychological and social troubles.

A final note… I’m not trying to dismiss the idea of sin and guilt… but the focus of this song is on the separations that are sin’s most tragic consequences.