A trusted advisor suggested that we not use New Dominion String Band as a name, because “band” suggests more than two people. “Boys” is a pretty common name for a duo, so after finding out via Google that most of the good names are taken, we settled on calling ourselves The Ridgewood Boys.
We finished the demo, quicker than I expected. Friday afternoon I recorded scratch vocal tracks for the four songs we chose, singing along to a metronome, then went back and recorded a bass track for each one. Then I got Chris to record his instrumental tracks, and while he mowed the lawn I re-recorded the lead vocals. That evening I had Chris record the harmony tracks. All told, it only took a few hours.
Saturday morning I sat down to mix final versions of the songs. It took a little experimenting, but by noon I had finished all four. I spent a little time designing a nice informative label to print on the CDs, and made up a few to pass around. When I get time, I’ll make the tracks available on the band website.
I’ve heard that Service Pack 2 for Windows XP will go a long way towards stopping pop-up ads, spyware, etc. So when it became available this morning, I downloaded and installed it. Once installation was done, the system restarted … and wouldn’t stop restarting.
My guess is that there is something about my hardware configuration that the new software didn’t like, but I don’t know for sure because the error message that preceded the restart only stayed on the screen for a fraction of a second. I spent the morning trying various reconfigurations of my computer to see if I could get past the problem; no luck. So I tried restoring the system to where it was (supposedly) before the software was installed. Still no luck.
This afternoon I gave up and reinstalled Windows XP. I was afraid I might have to do a full install from scratch, which would have meant reinstalling the zillion or so software applications I own (and finding all the serial numbers, product keys, …). But fortunately I was able to do a “repair” install, which left my software applications alone. So at 3pm I’m more or less back where I started the day.
Sunday was the last Pickin’ in the Park session for the year. There was a decent-sized audience, and quite a few musicians on the program–three featured bands, and a number of individuals. We got to open the program again, mostly because MC Nina Ketron knows we’ll play with no notice. One of the featured bands, Sigean, played a great set of Celtic music, a nice change of pace.
We had invited a resident student, Blake Saunders, to come along with us. He brought his instruments, and decided to sign up and play a couple of medleys on his hammered dulcimer. Chris and I accompanied him on banjo and bass on one of the songs, “Angeline the Baker.” Afterwards the three of us came home and ate, then spent the evening jamming.
Chris and I spent a day and a half recording cuts for our demo. We got good performances for the songs we have played for awhile; the newer songs were rougher. Unfortunately, I had decided to record the cuts using a single microphone, and after putting them on a CD together with a cut recorded awhile back using three microphones (vocals, guitar, bass), the new cut didn’t sound so good–the vocals were not as up front.
Since then, I’ve asked a friend who knows about these things how many cuts a demo should contain. It turns out that more than four is overkill (and more than six shows inexperience). So I’ve picked six songs that we do well and that together give some idea of the range of music we play; once we’ve recorded them we’ll have some friends vote on which should be the four cuts on the demo.
I’ve also tenatively decided to record the cuts using multiple tracks, one per instrument/vocal. It won’t be as good as a live take, but we’ll be able to correct mistakes more easily.
Periodically Chris and I sit down to sing a batch of songs into the minidisc recorder, to see how we’re sounding and to have something to pass along to friends. Often we’re short on time and long on songs, so it’s single take after single take. Last time we did it, I was fighting off a major cold. And we’re improving fast enough that after a couple of months the recordings aren’t representative of how we sound.
We’ll be doing it again in the next few days, but this time we will be trying to record something that will last longer. I’ve gone through the 300 or so songs we’ve worked on and made a list of 27 songs that are particularly good for us. We’ll record those, then try to pick out the dozen best takes for a CD that we’d be willing to pass along to folks who don’t know us.
Nine of those 27 songs are fresh from Augusta. It’s a little strange that one-third of our “best of” list consists of songs we’ve hardly had time to learn. But Augusta provided us with a treasure trove of new material, and our ears tell us that these new songs will suit us well.
I can’t do justice here to last week’s trip to Augusta; it was like spending six days on another planet. I’ll just review some of the highlights.
Chris spend his mornings learning old-time banjo from Riley Baugus. In the afternoons he was either practicing, searching out people to jam with, or attending workshops. By the time we left Saturday noon he was exhausted both in brain and in body.
I attended four vocal classes: Primitive Baptist singing, southern Gospel quartet harmony, country duet harmony, and black gospel choir. Ginny Hawker taught the first class, as well as co-teaching the second class with her husband Tracy Schwarz; both of them are now heroes to me. I had a great time in all four classes, getting to sing harmony, and to sing at the top of my range.
Wednesday night there was a student vocal showcase, a sort of open mic evening where students could sign up to perform a song. I signed up me and Chris to sing an a capella gospel duet we’ve worked up, a Carter Family song called “Better Farther On.” We did pretty well, and it was gratifying to get some praise afterwards from some of the instructors. But what surprised me was how many students stopped me later in the week, obviously touched by the fact that a father and son had gotten up to do such a thing. Folks, never underestimate the power of the testimony you’re giving to the world when you live your life openly and unashamedly before them. (And, yes, three separate times we had people come and thank us for visibly saying blessings before our meals.)
The very last event for us was a Saturday morning public performance by the gospel choir, at the citywide festival that ends the Augusta season. We had learned nine gospel songs, and got to sing them all. True, the choir consisted of seventy extremely white people, but it was great fun and I think we sounded pretty good (all praise goes to the instructor, Ethel Caffie Austin, for that).
One final observation: probably 80% of the songs sung in my classes that week had strong Christian content, much of it straight out of the Bible. Yet I would guess that not one in twenty of my fellow students were Bible-believing Christians. So I spent a lot of time watching pagans confront the Word in one way or another. There’s no way to look into their hearts, but it clearly touched them in a fashion that they couldn’t explain away.