So, as was true of my previous blog entry about the last several months, I also have not posted any of the musical projects I have been working on after that same time frame.  So, I figured I would post those all here for the one person in the world  who doesn’t have a Facebook account and still checks my blog every now and again. (Hi, mom!)

So, the last song I posted was the song “Old Friend” which I posted a while back.  That was, in fact, the last song I recorded in my old apartment.  Now that I  have moved into my house, I have the luxury of playing/singing/recording whenever the hell I want to, and I don’t have to worry about being considerate to my neighbors, since none of them can hear me.  It’s pretty great. Actually, it is the single best thing about owning a home: the ability to play and sing at the top of my lungs whenever I want. Having lived in apartments for the last seven years, I hadn’t realized how far my voice had really deteriorated, because I almost never had the opportunity to sing full voice.  But man, I do not have the same voice I had eight years ago when I was performing, teaching, and living music.  Age and non-use coupled with the process of audiobook narration (in which I am generally trying to speak in a lower register than my natural voice) has taken a bit of my top range, but has given my voice some more warmth and depth.  It’s been fun getting to know my “new” instrument.

In any case, the first song I recorded after moving into the house was an original song I had penned while I was still living in the apartment. I was starting to freak out a little bit about the fact that the place I had lived for seven years was no longer going to be my home, and my new home was 45 minutes away, in an area I didn’t know very well, and in a neighborhood very different than the one I was used to. I love water, and always have, and my old apartment was right on the northwest shore of Lake Sammamish in Redmond. When I was feeling down or contemplative, or just wanted to enjoy nature, I would put the leash on Luke and go sit on the dock and enjoy nature. It was where I felt like I was most at peace. It is a stunning little piece of man meeting nature, that little dock. And it’s the one thing I miss more than any other from that old apartment.

But my life had gotten rather stuck. I knew it was time for a change–possibly a big change. I had worked myself in a very comfortable rut, and I was emotionally fighting the idea that I had to leave my rut to start a new adventure. For someone who had been such a gypsy for so long, it was very unusual for me to get so attached to a place. That is where the idea of this song came from.

Where You Are
Music and Lyrics by Matt Armstrong
© 2013 Matt Armstrong

The sound of rushing water could always draw you near.
Or the sound of autumn leaves, rustling past your ears.
A summer night with endless lines of blue and yellow stars
Could always bring you home to where you are.

The streets are always bustling.
The busses always run.
Parades of endless pairs of feet all passing one by one.
And you, inclined to follow,
To join that weary throng,
Could always find the place where you belong.

Draw up your plans, and make your charts
And learn your every line–
Just crowding out the chance for life to take you by surprise.
So find the one who needs you.
It’s time to lose your head.
And try to live the life you’ve never led.
It’s time to live the love you’ve never led.

The normal won’t surprise you,
Can’t alter your routine.
This careful world you’ve built yourself:
It’s crumbling at the seems.
It’s time to grow beyond, love–
To reach and grasp the stars
And find a better place for where you are.

The next song I recorded was a cover of a song I had first heard when I was on my mission in Tempe, Arizona. Back in the day, I used to be a HUGE fan of LDS music. Michael McLean, Kenneth Cope, Julie de Azevedo, Brett Raymond, Northern Voice. You name it, and I had the CD. This song was from Julie de Azevedo’s album, Pray for Rain. The album still has some great songs, although I don’t love her voice. And some of it is a bit on the schmaltzy religious side, but the final song on the album is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. The arrangement on the recording is simple perfection: piano and accordian by the inestimable Sam Cardon, and simple, straightforward vocals by Julie. I would listen to that song over and over and over again, late at night on my mission, and get choked up. I don’t even know why, really. The metaphor of water was rather poignant to me, and there’s something about the chord structure of the song that still gets me. I transcribed this by ear, and other than a key change to fit my vocal range, I just did the best I could to match Sam’s style on the piano with my far-less able hands.

The next song is, I’m just now realizing, also about water. I’ve also always loved the classic “Moon River.” And with my long history recording Mark Twain’s Tom and Huck books, I feel like I have an emotional connection with the admittedly sappy lyrics and overly languid melody. Andy William’s recording is a standard, of course. But the recording that I’ve always adored is the recording by Australian tenor Anthony Warlow. His recording is quite possibly one of the most perfect recordings of one of the most perfectly simple songs ever written. I knew I could never compete with his recording, but I have always wanted to do one. I learned, about half-way through the process of orchestrating this song, that “Moon River” was also my maternal grandfather’s favorite song. So, by the time I was ready to lay down the vocals, I had a lot of emotional ties to the song.

The orchestrations on this song were really the focus, since the lyrics are very simple, and very short. So, this time, I didn’t do a video because I couldn’t imagine what I would show during the long, long interlude between the only chorus and the repeat of said chorus. This one is audio only.

And finally, the song I just completed this evening. This is a song called “Welcome to the World” from the musical A Man of No Importance by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens. This is the composing team that is responsible for my all-time favorite musical, Ragtime. I’m also a big fan of a lot of their other work. (Although they did the lyrics and music for an upcoming musical version of Rocky that I’m not really thrilled about. I mean, seriously? A boxer like Rocky Balboa breaking out into song? I can suspend disbelief, but only so far.)

Anyway, A Man of No Importance was based on a film from the early 1980s about a middle-aged Irishman named Alfie, a ticket taker on the local bus, who also happens to be a gay man locked deep in the closet. Alfie is secretly in love with his co-worker, a very handsome younger man who befriends him and tries to get him to enjoy life a little more. Alfie struggles with feelings of loneliness, guilt, and shame over his secret, and channels his energy into reading Oscar Wilde and producing community plays. (If you’re thinking that this sounds remarkably like the personal story of a certain bald blogger you know, you’re not wrong.)

(By the way, this next part is nothing like my life. Just want to point that out.) When Alfie walks in on the object of his infatuation in a romantic interlude, he is so distraught he decides to go out hook up with another guy. He gets found out, beaten up, abandoned by his sister, and has his upcoming production of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé shut down by the local church leadership for indecency. In essence, his whole life as he knew it is immediately ruined. This is the song that he sings to himself in a mirror toward the end of the play. It is his moment of personal realization that, despite all of the awful things that have happened to him, and all the pain that he has experienced, he is now free in a way he never had been before. He will now be allowed to live his life.

For OBVIOUS reasons, this song appeals to me a lot. A closeted gay man lives in a small community where his way of life would be threatened if his secret comes out, and who has a crush on someone close to him, finally throws off his secrets and finds that, although many bad things did happen, in the end, it was all for the best. It’s the “It Gets Better” for those of us who weren’t able to find the courage to be open and honest with ourselves when we were 15 or 16, and instead, waited until we were 30. I adore this song. Adore.

By the way, if anyone ever decides to do a production of this play, I would come out of retirement to play the role of Alfie. In a heartbeat. I’m even balding, and I have red hair, so I can play Irish easily. Besides, I can sing a whole hell of a lot better than Roger Rees, who played the role on Broadway, and who is far too slender and handsome to realistically be Alfie.

I chose to do a simple piano/vocal recording, playing and singing at the same time, because I wanted this to be as “raw” as my voice is capable of being. I have a relatively smooth tone to my voice, so I didn’t want to produce this song up and make it all slick and fancy with strings and brass. Just simple.

One last thing I’d like to point out is that, for those of you who are used to pristine and perfect vocals, I do not own any AutoTune software, nor was any uses on any of my recordings. My pitch wasn’t perfect, but for someone who had to do all this in 1 or 2 takes for video purposes, it’s not too shabby.

  • Sally

    Really great songs Matt! You’re such a talented man!-Sally

  • Thanks, Sally!