14 tammikuuta 2012

Evolution of a song called Usva


I just posted Thaiga's new music video "Usva" (the mist) on YouTube. The video was a clear step forward compared to our earlier videos. We shot the video mostly last summer, but there is some footage from the summer 2010 used, as well. Amazing what you can do only with a pocket camera!

The song "Usva" is from our Thaiga EP that we released in September 2010. However, Usva started its evolution quite a bit earlier. And that's what I'm going to talk about in this blog post. But first, go ahead and watch our latest music video below.

The beginning

I started composing Usva in winter 2006. (I probably don't remember all details correctly, this is how I remember it right now..) I had just started the first "specialized classes" of my major at Berklee. Jazz Composition 1 was all about composing a tune. We wrote at least one song a week and analyzed them in class.

The class was pretty small. For some reason the only people I can recall were my classmates John and one Korean guy whose name I unfortunately can't remember anymore. Could it be that there was only three of us in the class... Perhaps it's possible.

Our professor was Jeff Friedman. Among students I think he had a reputation of being a bit strict at times. But I never understood what the problem was. If you just did your stuff and were interested in what you were doing, Jeff offered kindly all the support you could ever need. And wasn't it only fair to assume that if you chose Jazz Composition as your major, you should be interested in studying it too? I personally liked and respected his approach to teaching music and composition very much.

So, it was a lot of work. But the classes were great fun. We listened, analyzed and wrote music all winter. (For some reason I start to think now that this class was actually in summer, not winter.. Hmm. Let's say it was winter, though.)

We got a new assignment just before the spring break. The same evening I was on my way back to Finland. Lots of memories come back when I start think about the journeys between Boston and Helsinki I made during these three years. Relationships, expectations, dreams, seemingly endless possibilities etc.. It was truly a learning experience.

Anyways.. I knew that I had to finish this assignment before going back to Boston. So, I spent part of the spring break composing Usva. I remember the exact moment when I got the first motive. There was this nice slow chord progression that I eventually started to fall in love with. I felt that the song just started to compose itself without much effort.

I came up with this rather uninteresting melody. I liked it back then, but now looking from a distance, I certainly see that it was not that sophisticated. Perhaps a nice little melody for a pop song. But not a melody that goes very far if evaluated in musical terms. There was something in "Usva" that spoke to me even though it was still far from finished.

Soon the break was over and I was back in Boston and Berklee. I played Usva to Jeff and the class. I felt pretty confident that this was my best tune this far.. The response, however, was far from what I had expected.

Generally Jeff had liked my tunes this far, but this new one he didn't like that much. I don't remember what the exact feedback was, but the message was clear: He didn't feel that I had given my best. So, I went home and started working on it again.

I tore the melody compositionally apart, which wasn't that difficult, because there wasn't much to tear.. I juggled with ideas and somehow came up with a melody that's very close to what Usva is still today. The next week we listened Usva again. And this time Jeff really liked the tune.

The lesson learned: sometimes you fall in love with a tune for all the wrong reasons. And sometimes you can't even identify these reasons. Sometimes it requires a good and objective feedback to get you back on the right track. You have to find a way of becoming conscious of the blindness that you'll most probably have towards your own work most of the time.

So, the first version of Usva was composed in winter 2006. Below you can find the very first (not so successful) version and the revisited version.

The evolution

The third version of Usva was just a little refinement here and there and a change of key, if I remember correctly. This was in 2007 when I prepared for my final recital. Until now the tempo and feel of Usva had been medium up. The traditional jazz waltz stuff.

The fourth version of Usva was made in 2008. This was a bit larger evolution. I made this version for a quintet that I had for a while. The quintet had a vocalist, so I had to make lyrics for Usva. The key was changed once again to fit better the vocalist. And the tempo was taken down quite a bit. The B section was radically altered, too.

In 2009 I arranged Usva for only a piano and vocal duo. This was part of a larger "idea" that's still in my mind developing. That is to re-arrange songs into a duet setup.

The final (6th) version then came in 2010 when I started this "Thaiga" project. I played all the instruments myself and hence had all the freedom to experiment. I took the tempo down quite a bit more, I added the intro and re-arranger the whole thing. In addition to the lead melody, Usva now had two vocal parts, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano, strings, bass and percussion. And this is the version you can hear in the video above.

The conclusion

The point I'm making is that the evolution of a song can be quite long process sometimes. And I guess I could still imagine doing yet another version of Usva someday..

It's interesting to balance between different viewpoints you can have towards the composition process. One viewpoint is to keep on changing and developing a song endlessly whenever you feel like it. This way you'll never "let the song go". The other viewpoint is to develop a song only until you're ready to "let it got" and then you more forward composing your next song.

Both viewpoints are valid, and there's no point in arguing which is better. Every composer has to come to her/his own conclusions. How you plan your strategy and keep your creative juices flowing is a very personal thing.

What I've come to realize is that even though I try to keep the "movement" going forward, rather than trying endlessly refine my old work, sometimes it really is a lot of fun going back and revisit a tune.

I just have to be careful and keep an eye on the bigger picture all the time! I constantly have to ask myself these simple questions: Am I still writing new music too? Or have I simply fallen in love with an idea that's never going to work, and lost focus at the same time.

Now I suddenly recall what mr. Friedman once said (quoted freely): "To be a composer requires you to write music. If you don't write music, you're not a composer." Again, I can't recall what the context of this message was. And without the context this may not seem like a very deep conversation. But I do remember that that context was substantial enough that this message got me thinking. It somehow got me thinking what it means to be a composer. And somehow, indirectly, the results of this thinking process can be heard in the final version of Usva, as well.

Hope you enjoyed this blog post! Thanks for following! Have a good one!


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