Living in Pittsburgh, we pay homage to our most famous songwriter, Stephen Foster. You may know him from "Oh! Susanna" or "My Old Kentucky Home" or "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair." But he also wrote "Hard Times Come Again No More," and I find the song to transcend the decades and have meaning no matter when you're listening to it. I had been meaning to play it for a while when two friends bought a house and ran into problem after problem. I wanted to send them a clip as a joke, and then got hooked on playing it -- funny how that works.
This summer I played a concert in Boston, and at the end, a member of the audience asked for this song. I had never heard of it (Shame on me!), but you might well know it from Ken Burns's documentary The Civil War. In honor of her request, I've learned it. I love how this piece was written in 1982 and does have a contemporary mood but is rooted in such a rich, timeless feel.
I have a soft spot a mile wide for a good anthem. So when our local radio station first played this gem of a song by Dawes (do watch it -- there is someone playing air guitar on a chicken) that culminated with the chorus wishing for us all that our favorite bands would stay together, I was hooked.
Being a musician means that when you hear a really great tune it is absolutely NOT enough to just listen to it over and over, it means you have to find a way to participate in that tune, thank you very much. So I started trying to figure out the chords and melody, wondering if I could be a piano, guitar, and voice all at once.
It was tricky. Piano chords sound good when you just play them and let them ring. But when I plunked those same chords on the marimba, it sounded a little empty. I would need to waggle my hands a bit to fill things out. But waggling wasn't enough -- the melody is actually pretty fantastically intricate, and holding four mallets meant the "voice mallet" (the one closest to the camera) was getting thrown off by the others wiggling about hilter-kilter. So I had to inform the other mallets they'd need to actually move in time, with the melody fitting in like a little puzzle. And finally, I had to get them to move in time in a way that wasn't too chunka-chunka-thud-thud -- I wanted them to feel like a nice stream of sound with the melody gliding over the top. I used three rounder, softer yarn mallets on the bottom and a cord mallet on top to try to create that sound.
Below, I'm including my chicken-scratch music, which doesn't have the voicings or accompaniment rhythms but gives both you and my brain a general idea of how it all comes together:
And below is the my full version of "All Your Favorite Bands," including a little opener and bridge not notated, which for now I'm keeping simple and hymn-style, though I have suspicions it might evolve to rock a bit more ...
Oh, The Avett Brothers. They wrote the sweetest song, and it captured my heart the first time I heard it. And it sounded simple enough that I thought I might be able to combine the piano and the vocals and put something together for the marimba.
But y'all, those melodies are deceptively tricky to fit in! As simple as the melodic contour is, each time it is stated it changes just slightly in terms of rhythm, which actually makes it feel quite different! It all leads to an interesting discussion, how rhythm so beautifully affects melody depending if it is a touch more round or angular. (But it was less interesting discussion and more swear words as I tried to get it all to fit together in practice sessions.)
I must confess this version is missing something big -- in the second verse is a pretty little cello melody in the original, and I'm hoping to actually sing it over the top eventually. However, getting my voice in shape is a work in progress, so for now you can hear it without my faltering, pitchy attempts: