Monday, January 14, 2013

Eleanor Rigby

At the beginning of the year the first week - or so - is often especially enjoyable for musicians. The hectic schedule of the Christmas season is over and there is now finally a little time to hang out at home, watch movies and work on some music just for fun.

This year I decided to finally do a little “forensic” study of the seminal 1966 Beatles track Eleanor Rigby, which featured a double string quartet as the only instruments supporting Paul McCartney’s vocal.
The somewhat gritty sound has its origin, it appears, in McCartney’s worry that the strings not sound too “Mancini”, he wanted them “really biting” and non-vibrato. Engineer Geoff Emerick accomplished this through very close-up miking, unheard of at a time when quartets where traditionally recorded with just one or two microphones, placed high, several feet up in the air. This produced quite a bit of eye-rolling from the musicians, evidently, who got annoyed to the point that they declined an invitation to listen to the playback. Out of 14 takes, the last was chosen as the best, and the whole session concluded in less than three hours. Viola player Stephen Shingles remembers being payed 5 Pounds Sterling, the equivalent today would be ca. $110.

Getting to know the track intimately through the process of transcription, it becomes clear that producer George Martin’s masterful score is not only a model in economy - getting the greatest effect with minimal means - but also an essential partner in conveying the emotional tone of the vocal and lyrics. Since he is writing for what is really two players per part, subtle use of divisi is made from time to time as well. This, combined with the overall quality/age of the recording and mix, presents quite a challenge to listen into the sound and decipher what is going on, especially with regard to the inner voices.

After a week the transcription is finished as close as seems possible. It was fun living for while inside this little gem that so unexpectedly entered our collective consciousness some 46 years ago. I can actually still remember the impact of Revolver when it was first released and how ground-breaking, even shocking Eleanor Rigby in particular felt, though I was only 10 years old at the time. The world of music was not the same afterwards.

For those interested, more detailed background and history surrounding Eleanor Rigby can be found here: 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Kristin & Ronnie at Bella Donna

Long time collaborator, friend and great oboist Steve Pettey joined us once again as guest soloist for what turned out to be the last wedding of 2012 for us (12/29).

Kristin, the bride, had actually been a student of Steve’s as a young girl and always pictured her teacher performing at her wedding. Having the luxury of this particular instrument combination to work with, “Gabriel’s Oboe” (from the film The Mission) was chosen for the bridal processional. In the lovely space and acoustic of the Bella Donna chapel nothing could have been more poignant and serene (see audio samples below).

For the Unity Candle Kristin requested the Adagio from Albinoni’s Oboe Concerto in d-minor (Concerto a Cinque, op. 9, No. 2)

Schubert – “Ave Maria”
Massenet – “Meditation from Thais”
Bach – “Bist Du Bei Mir”
Fauré – “Pavane”
Bach – “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”

Wedding Party Processional
Bach – “Air”

Bridal Processional
Morricone –  Gabriel’s Oboe”

Unity Candle
Albinoni – “Adagio” from Concerto a Cinque, op. 9, No. 2

Jason Mraz – “I’m Yours”

Aleksandr Snytkin, violin
Jennifer Sweetman, violin
Norbert Gerl, viola
Mitch Maxwell, violoncello

Steve Pettey, oboe

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