During my formative years, I was not particularly plugged into the popular music scene at all.  While most of my peers were finding deep, angsty meaning in The Smashing Pumpkins or Nirvana, I was making my first forays into the world of musical theater.  Aside from the lush orchestrations (which I love) and the incredible technical complexity of the vocals, the music from theater tends to do one thing better than most other musical genres:  theater music wears its emotions on its figurative sleeve, while not burying the emotion or meaning in layers of too-dense poetry.  In theater, music is usually used as a means of portraying heightened emotion when simple words may not suffice.  You are rarely left to wonder what the song means or what the character singing it is feeling.

I like that.  I like that in most of my art consumption.  Call me an artistic simpleton, but when I want to sit down and enjoy some piece of art, I generally don't want to have to work too hard at it.  I want to be able to appreciate the technique and skill it took to create, the emotion or feeling it evokes.  I don't want to have to try and figure out how I feel about it, or what the creator intended when it was created.  If I can't tell by simply experiencing the creation, then it has failed (for me.)

Being the typical over-emotional teenager with a somewhat a-typical cause for my emo tendencies, I gravitated toward music that allowed me an outlet for my emotions.  Les Miserables, The Secret Garden, Beauty and the Beast, Chess…if it was bombasic, had stirring vocals, and could make me cry, it was central to my high school playlist.

It makes sense, then, that popular music just didn't do it for me.  It was all Mariah Carey pop ballads, or novelty songs like "I'm Too Sexy," "Mr. Wendall," or "Whoomp! (There It Is)."  It was also the start of the age of Nirvana and Alanis Morisette.  It was all disaffection and disinterest–shoving your feelings down and appearing to be completely detached from the world. Or anger.  A lot of it was about anger. 

My Sophomore year in high school, my dad got an album of country music artists doing covers of songs by the Eagles.  I was not particularly well-versed in the Eagles' discography, but I recognized most of the songs in one form or other, mostly from having heard them in the background on the radio.  Once song I had never heard before was the song "Desperado."  Originally written by Glenn Frey and Don Henley in 1973, this song and I had just never crossed paths.  

I remember loving it the very first time I heard it.  

The lyrics were simple, the emotion straightforward.  The words were poetic, but not obtusely so. The melody was soaring.  It was (and still is) one of the most perfectly crafted pop songs of all time.  It soon fell into part of my regular rotation.

My sophomore year of college, when I finally got into the Music Dance Theatre program, I was able to take the beginning voice classes: Music 161R and 261R, taught by the incomparable Gayle Lockwood–an institution at BYU.  We did all kinds of music in these classes, in an effort to expand our vocal experience, and each semester, we had a segment on pop songs.  Gayle's selection of pop songs was pretty heavily based on the late 1980s and early 1990s.  "If Ever Your In My Arms Again," "Hold on to the Night," and songs like that.  They were chosen specifically for the style of singing that was required to safely hit the insanely high screamers in these songs.  Also in that segment was the song "Desperado."

I picked "Desperado" the instant I saw it was an option.  I had loved singing along with the song when I would drive around Albion late at night in my car that smelled like Maple Syrup (AKA Grandma's Tank) when I was in my usual emo mood because the boy that I secretly had a crush on didn't even notice me.  (Even now, I still cringe when writing a sentence like that…what a train wreck I was back then.)  I knew the song well, and I knew I could hit all the notes easily.

The first time I started singing the song in class, I knew there was a problem:  I couldn't hit the notes.  I looked at the sheet music a little more closely.  Sure enough, I had been given the women's version, which had been transposed up a minor third from the original…thus placing the highest note on a Bb/C instead of a G/A.  Over the course of the semester, I tried and tried to make the higher version of Desperado sound good.  Hell, half the time, I just tried and tried to hit the freakin' notes.  

Suffice it to say, I never actually did make it sound good.  I'm pretty sure that some of my classmates from those Music 161R classes, have images of me, red-faced and straining, looking like I had just crapped my pants from pushing so hard (which, in all fairness, I may have) burned into their minds.  Not to mention the auditory PTSD flashbacks of some of the sounds that came from my mouth as the direct results of my caterwauling.  I know it's petty of me, but I still take a small piece of solace in the fact that, at least there were a few people in the class who sounded worse than I did.  


A few weeks ago, I was flipping through my music, and decided to listen to The Eagle's Greatest Hits two-volume set.  When "Desperado" came on, I was reminded all over again how much I loved that song, and figured I should try to figure out how to play it.

Over the last couple of years, I have taken to do something a little bit different than my norm.  Instead of buying or downloading the sheet music to a song I like, the way I used to, I have made a conscious effort to try and figure out the chords and progressions on my own.  First, I am a cheapskate, and I don't want any additional sheet music (digital or otherwise) crowding my life.  Secondly, I figure that if I can dissect those songs that I like, it will help me to understand how to write better songs myself, assuming I will ever again have the depth of emotions (or time) to write music.  

Figuring out Desperado was actually quite easy.  It only took me about 15 minutes, and I had the chords figured out.  Then a quick refresher course on the lyrics, and I had a passable version of the song.  Of course, I stuck with the original key of G, because, really, why torture myself or others?  I'm not even sure I could hit those notes at all anymore.  I've lost a few notes off the top of my range.

Something interesting to note…the audio for this recording was done entirely on my iPad, using the Auria app.  Auria is a 48-channel Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) specifically for the iPad.  You use the USB Camera Connection Kit for the iPad to plug in an audio interface, then hook up your instruments and microphones.  It's a pretty slick system.  I've actually considered using it to record audiobooks, but unfortunately, that would require me to have a second iPad, since I would need one to record and the other to display the text I was trying to read.  But it's great for these little videos where it's just me and piano.  I don't have to drag out all the cables and boot up the pro software.  It's simple, and it works well.  Technology is cool.

So, here's my video cover of "Desperado" by Glenn Frey and Don Henley.