Songwriting Series: #5

Singing is fun. Sort of.

Everyone says singing in the shower makes you sound better, and generally, that’s probably true. The reverberations inside a bathroom definitely give your voice a more operatic feel and helps you sound more powerful (as well as muddying any awkward termination of phrases), but bathroom echo doesn’t help fix incorrect pitch. I consider myself a poor singer, not because I can’t “sing” or because I’m embarrassed about my voice. I’m embarrassed about my ability to never sing on pitch.

Of course, I’ve been slowly getting better after successive projects and constant attention to proper singing (hopefully the later projects will reveal at least some level of improvement), but as they say, practice makes perfect (though I do want to qualify that by saying what my cello professor Adam Carter says: bad practice makes bad habits permanent, so practice good practice, xD). With a brand new song assignment in my hands, I gathered my energy and courage to make another stab at a song, nearly as layered as “Finding You,” determined to add singing to the final product.

The first part of the assignment asked us to provide a lead sheet of our proposed piece. A lead sheet, as I quickly learned, required lyrics with chords and melody. My initial impression of a lead sheet was lyrics with only chords, though after thinking about it, a lead sheet without a melody would lead (pardon the pun) to…no melody (or infinite permutations of a melody with no common origin). One would think that the inclusion of a melody isn’t a problem, but after realizing that my normal process involved composing the piece first (normally the background, and then adding a melody, I was scared of the skewed work timeline ahead of me.

The typical student would take the assignment, write some chords, write some lyrics, write a melody, and then submit that lead sheet, leaving the actual recording, playing, and mixing to the latter second stage. My process required me to write chords, instrument the piece, plan the sections, write a melody, and then add lyrics. With all the pieces in place, then could I put down the lead sheet; however, this would effectively mean I had completed the piece before having written the lead sheet. I find that somehow backwards.

Regardless, that’s how I approached it, so I toiled away well into several evenings trying to complete the piece so I could eventually mock up a lead sheet. Luckily, this meant that while everyone else would be recording two songs, I only had to really record one. The second part of the assignment asked us to do our own cover of someone else’s song given their lead sheet. This will be discussed more in the next project entry.

“Not Enough” is ultimately a song about love and is inspired greatly by Chinese love music. One of my favorite Chinese songs, merely because it’s like the first one I’ve ever listened to, is 老鼠爱大米. Chinese songs, as I’ve discovered, are super melodic and mainly consist of very even quarter or eight notes. Very rarely do we see a lot of syncopation. I must qualify this remark by saying that it’s not entirely true, considering modern day C-POP and the influences of global music, but a lot of old Chinese love ballads and drama series music tends to be very square. This is perhaps partly because the Chinese language itself doesn’t lend to words that require certain emphasis on certain syllables.

Keeping this in mind, I tried to develop a melody that was smooth and square, but then quickly realized that adding English words wasn’t working very well. The process of making lyrics up to a melody is quite hard, especially if the melody doesn’t lend itself to easily pronounced words. The square-ness of quarter notes and even eighth notes sounds robotically unnatural in the English tongue. I wasn’t a huge fan, but I stuck with it.

I often have periods of loneliness, but I try to not let it bother me. Actually, let me say that I don’t’ often have these periods, I just do. Being at college has consequently exposed me to times of angst and sadness where I feel very isolated. This isn’t necessarily bad, as I’m someone who particularly enjoys being alone most of the time, but sometimes, as I’m sure everyone has felt at least once, I long companionship. Granted, family is a constant source of support and companionship, but since college students spend most of the year away from home, the umbilical cord to home has already been severed.

Essentially, I’m saying that sometimes I wish I had a girlfriend (I hope you aren’t reading this and squealing with excitement), but I will admit that having a girlfriend would make my days a meadow full of flowers (dang, I’m disappointed I can’t conjure more beautiful imagery..). I’ll leave internal thoughts about this topic for another blog entry, but my inability to pick up my confidence from the floor and meet a girl worth fighting for (lol…). Well…to be honest, college is probably the most likely place find a compatible person, and with most of my friends banging me on the head, telling me there’s only a y ear left, I will admit that I’ve met some admirable, beautiful (inside and outside), smart ladies at UVA, and I’ve given this issue serious thought. But I digress.

Pouring feelings out as if I had a loved one next to me in song was quite strange. It was something I never expected to experience, and truly, my lyrics are pretty cheesy, but despite the fact that I wouldn’t say any of these things to someone in person in speech, in song, it’s remarkably funny and heartwarming at the same time.

I enjoy the penultimate stanza where the song modulates a half step higher, increasing excitement and energy till the very end. My singing is far from satisfactory, but too many hours of previous toil told me to quit. The instruments used include piano, piano, electric clavier, Liverpool bass, tambourine, and trumpets (lol, these sound hilariously cheap).

Listen carefully and listen to how I sloppily splice some of the audio tracks (the sudden swishes of exiting/entering background noise), as well as parts where I’m stilling singing, but I still breathe for the next line. I’m a genetically modified human being with two vocal tracts (xD). I also enjoy listening to myself randomly change voice timbre as I change notes, phrases, and ranges.


Lyrics

Finding You (2012)
By Christopher Hsing

What is this feeling that I have, I have never felt this before.
Afraid to breathe the air absent from my chest, I am left yearning more.

Am I really worthy enough, for your mercy, love and grace.
How is this not a dream? It’s as if my worries are really far far away

Hand in hand, side by side, I continue to walk this weary road with you
Never gone, always there, during times when I feel both red or blue, even when I ended up being a fool

Nothing can compare to you, not the sun, the sky, or moon.
It is seven o’clock, the day has set, but your daylight still reaches me

Everyday, every hour, you are there to brighten my world through and through.
Feel the pain, feel the joy, your art palette paints a work of infinite moods (Additional Counterpoint Melody)

Not enough, I need more, nothing seems to satisfy me, I don’t want to just exist
When we met, that fateful day, upside down seemed right side up, and all my wrongs then seemed right
That’s why I want to be with you.

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