Category Archives: Religious

I Have A Testimony

Thought I’d share something that has been in my queue for a while.  My friend Karen Kimball and I wrote a song a couple years ago for primary aged children.  It was based on her poem that was published in the October 2007 Friend magazine.  Converting a poem into a children’s song was something I’d never done before and was an enjoyable challenge. We had lots of discussions about how to keep the essence of the poem while making it singable.  There was a lot of nitty gritty song crafting: creating different versions (two verse/three verse?), testing it with children, getting other musicians feedback.  We were finally able to come up with something we were both happy with.

Last month, I attended a Great 2 be 8 fireside, and I heard Karen’s daughter perform the song. And that reminded me that I’d forgotten to post it to this blog.  So here it is!


I Have A Testimony Sheet Music

Hope you enjoy it.

Silent Night 2012

Apologies for such a long delay between posts. I’ve been working on various projects, including a Children’s education website, web commercial, and a primary children’s song. Just a lot of backlog here that I need to get around to posting.

My goal this holiday was to finally publish the initial version of Silent Night that Jolie and I worked on in 2010, which was a solo version of the SATB I wrote in 2008. Anyway, I finally got around to putting the Youtube video together and putting the mp3 on iTunes. I hope you guys like it.

You’ll notice that If you compare the audio in the Youtube video against the iTunes mp3 and/or the sheet music, you’ll find there are a few subtle changes. When I initially wrote it, I had the refrain at measures 52-55 repeat “Christ is Born.” This is what Jolie ended up singing. I later realized that it would be more powerful to have the piano play the second refrain. Same thing goes with measure 79.

Also, at measure 60, the final produced version has Jolie singing a 5th higher than notated (Bb instead of an Eb). This was a change I made after hearing her do the first run through. I actually had to call her back into the studio (i.e., my bedroom) and re-record that line. The sheet music also still shows an Eb.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, and I hope you enjoy the video.

Click to purchase in iTunes
Click for sheet music

The First Noel

Happy Holidays everyone!

Jolie and I have been working on recording a couple of Christmas carols to get us in the Christmas season.   This first one, an arrangement of The First Noel, is something I actually started in September.  I first began the initial sketches after receiving a request from a lady from Washington who needed some original music for their Christmas Nativity event.  She’d really enjoyed Give Said The Little Stream and wanted to see if I had anything else.  I thought her inquiry would be a fun project and so I started playing with a few ideas.

After experimenting with a few different carols, I knew I had a potential idea in The First Noel.  I recorded a few measures, and upon playback, immediately felt all Christmasy.  That was a good sign.  The first two verses came in the span of 30 minutes because  I knew what I  wanted to convey: images of fallen snow, a mother peacefully singing to her child, etc.   But when recording the initial demo, I abruptly stopped at the end of the 2nd verse/chorus.  I had no idea which direction to take the music.  So, I did the typical musician thing and put it on hold for a few weeks (e.g. forgot about it).

In late October, I revisited the arrangement by looking at some of the other verses contained in the carol.  The last verse  in particular stuck out to me.

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made Heaven and earth of nought
And with his blood mankind has bought.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

It was joyous, mysterious, celebratory.

I realized that, growing up, I’d sung the carol superficially. I’d always sung it as a narration, as I were telling a story to a nearby child.  The carol had always been about that story, and never about the act and joy of praise. Reading that last verse, I realized that I’d missed the true message of the carol when singing it.

I started writing the third verse with all those thoughts in mind.  I could hear the crescendo of the piano adding emphasis to the message, with the Fm9 bringing an aura of mysteriousness.  And finally, the refrain “Born is the King!” reminding us of the joy his birth brings to the world.   Both the third verse and the final refrain came quickly. And now, when I listen to the arrangement, that 3rd verse is my favorite part.

Merry Christmas everyone and I hope you all enjoy the video.

Jared

p.s. In terms of the mp3, Jolie and I thought it’d be helpful to put the music on iTunes/Amazon, etc.  This is all hard work (but fun!) and we know that there are those of you who are supportive of what we do.  Thanks for understanding!
iTunes Link
Amazon Link

p.p.s. Other arrangement notes: Some of you might notice that the meter of the arrangement is in 4/4 instead of 3/4. This was done to emphasize the chorus and really bring out the melody. Also, the third verse was changed a little bit from the last verse of the original carol in order to more facilitate a musical transition to the final refrain.

Sunday Sounds #1

I’ve been thinking about doing this type of recurring post for quite a while. But Saturday or Sunday always passes and by then it’s too late. So, today’s the day when I’m actually going to start the recurring blog post, “Sunday Sounds.”

I have a lot of random hymn arrangements floating in my head, but this is the first one I’ve recorded in many months.  This is a rough cut of an arrangement I’m writing for Jolie.  We’re planning to do another demo recording, and this was a favorite hymn of hers.  Unfortunately, she’s pretty busy, so she’s not recorded the vocals yet.   So, for this initial Sunday Sounds post, you’ll only get to hear the arrangement as the initial piano accompaniment scratch track to Be Still My Soul.   And honestly, probably a lot of the tracks you’ll hear in my Sunday Sounds blog posts are going to be quick piano things because those are the easiest to record quickly.

The arrangement actually has four passes of the verse/chorus.  The fourth verse will consist of a piano solo, with the final chorus containing the following lines:

“Be still my soul, Thy best thy heavenly Friend, thru thorny ways, leads to a joyful end.”

“Be Still my soul, when change and tears are past, All safe and blessed, we then shall meet at last (I added the word “then” to make it easier to sing).”

In general, the arrangement is supposed to be sad, sweet, contemplative, peaceful.  That is the way the hymn speaks to me.

Other writing notes you might be interested in. These will be more “music theory” based, for those of you who eat that type of stuff up:

  • Some of you will notice that around 0:42, the arpeggio sounds like something out of  Prelude in C. Yes, I did that on purpose.  It’s a tribute to Bach.
  • I hit the low C during the third verse to give that feeling of spiritual resolve as the hour is “hast’ning on”.
  • I don’t hit that distinct Major III chord (chord sung at “remain”,” at last”, “restored”) that totally makes Be Still My Soul until the  last chorus.  My purpose for resolving with that chord until the very end is  to help people take notice of the music and lyric (“leads to a joyful end”) at that point of the song.  I’m trying to be subtle in the way I draw people’s attention.  I’m curious if this catches your attention in the way I intended.
  • I do use the major 3rd at 2:26, but since it’s not expected to be heard in that part of the song, it adds a certain mysteriousness to the lyric.  It also leads nicely into the  obligato melody I use for the end of the 2nd chorus.
  • Speaking of that slightly changed melody, those of you who have listened to some of my other arrangements might have noticed that I do this quite a bit.  I guess it’s one of my signatures (play the end of the chorus melody a third above the original).
  • I use deceptive cadences throughout the piece, because, well, I like deceptive cadences.

I’ve  yet to write out the sheet music, but if this is something you’d like to play for yourself, please shoot me an e-mail or leave a comment so I can gauge the demand for this type of thing (writing out sheet music in Sibelius takes a while!)

Enjoy!

Be Still My Soul arr by Jared Ong v1

Hi Mr. Ironing Board!

As promised in my earlier post, here’s the video that we took during our vocal recording session.  This take is actually the last take of the night.  And now that I think about it, I like this take quite a bit, so I might actually just use the audio from this clip when distributing the mp3 online. Some other things you might pick up out of the video.

  • Mr. Ironing Board, the perfect way to lay sheet music flat without any ruffling noises.
  • The double keyboard setup (Yamaha Motif ES6 and Casio PX-310).
  • My headphones of choice being Sony MDR-V6s.  In my opinion, these are the best sub $80 headphones you can buy on the market.  They just sound great.
  • My friend StevO’s microphone that he so kindly let me borrow.

Lastly, I have a confession to make.  My room usually isn’t this clean.

Give Said The Little Stream, version 2

I know this little blog hasn’t been updated in quite a while.  I have been writing music in the interim.  Unfortunately, my stubborn Chinese self keeps insisting that I have projects completed before I do a new post, and so that’s to the blog’s detriment.

So today, I  finished one of the projects in my queue, a remix of Give Said the Little Stream.  I really do love the original version that my friend Stephanie Bennett recorded for me. It captures the innocent and cheerful nature of the song, and her voice is just wonderful.  However, I wanted to attempt to make the recording a bit more full and radio friendly, and that necessitated re-recording the vocals to fix a couple of the EQ problems I ran into during the original recording.

Since Stephanie is now in Utah, I asked a favor from another friend, Jolie to do the vocals.  She definitely has a different texture to her voice, and I had to work with that a bit.  Oh the joys of recording in a home studio.  I’ll have to post a video we did, there’s a standing joke related to ironing boards and such. One thing I noticed when comparing the two versions is that Jolie smoothed out the rhythms and sang them a little bit looser with more legato.  Anyway, in the midst of remixing the vocals I started playing around with some new string patches.  One thing led to another, and I ended doing a string/flute arrangement.  Emotionally, the piece sounds and feels quite different with this type of orchestration. More mature perhaps.

This also was good practice for me to try and get the strings to sound as realistic as possible.  I originally started with some string sounds from Omnisphere, a virtual instrument, which was what got my muse going initially.  Although it sounded great, I had the problem of trying to bring out specific melody lines, and the patch sounded too homogenous for that.  Then, I had the idea of also adding other string sounds from Kontakt (a sampler), but that still didn’t sound quite right.  So, I decided to stop being lazy and ended up splitting all the chords into separate parts: Violins, Violas, and Cello/Bass.  Then each part was tweaked by drawing volumes and velocities to simulate string motion.  The last step was to pan and add reverb (Altiverb) to each part to simulate the string section.  The sound isn’t perfect, but its miles better than what I was able to do in college.  Of course I have much better tools now, so that helps.

The flute was added some time in the middle of my work on the string stuff and was the easiest to emulate.  I just stuck some nice reverb on it, panned, and did some quick editing.  Originally in some earlier mixes the flute was quite prominent, but I’ve ended up pulling it back into the mix to kind of meld it with the string sounds. I like it when its more subtle.

Anyway, I haven’t heard any LDS pieces written in this style (a hybrid of Classical, New Age, perhaps?) so I’ll be interested to hear everyone’s comments.   I plan on submitting this to a couple places too, so we’ll see if people connect with this style of arrangment.  Here’s hoping :)!

-J

Give Said the Little Stream, Jared and Jolie

Sunday Sounds

Here’s a little something for Sunday.  This is a quick two minute demo piece that I put together to practice my mockup abilities.  The arrangement is based on some ideas that I had while playing prelude music about a month ago.  I’m looking at getting some killer string and orchestra sounds, but for now these will have to do.

Did You Think To Pray Demo

Happy Holidays!

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve updated this blog.  I took a hiatus to recharge my batteries sometime during the summer/fall and I didn’t take the effort to update my blog.  I started tackling a couple of other new song ideas in the recent weeks but I don’t quite have anything ready for preview.  I’m finding that I am definitely a lot more prolific when I have a songwriting companion.  I guess that’s just the way I work.  Writing with someone else allows myself to think and compose out loud and get immediate feedback.  I guess I need that as additional motivation.   In any case, I guess I should start looking for a writing partner (e.g. Elise, if you ever decide to come back to California…).

Anyway, today’s post is my first example of arranging for four part SATB harmony.  Although much of the music core at the Y was classical choral theory, I’m wasn’t one one to usually write in that style.  Silent Night came about because the institute choir wanted something to sing for a last year’s fireside and I needed to work on my choral chops.  This explains why the piece itself is not too taxing. I kept things fairly straightforward to cater to the level of musicians in the choir.  Unfortunately, since I was accompanying the choir, I didn’t get a chance to hear whether the harmonies blended correctly.    I need to find a good choir to test the arrangement with and tweak any notes.  It sounds good in Sibelius (my notation software), but midi oohs and aahs aren’t very useful in helping me find me find any enunciation trouble spots.  If one of my readers wants to use the arrangement, let me know.  I’m curious for feedback.

A couple of my favorite spots:  The sus2 to sus4 chords to start out the piece.  The sus chords are scattered all throughout to give an ethereal sound.  I’ve always thought of Silent Night as being an international hymn of mystery (hehe), what with it’s Germanic origins. Contrast the tune with the happy bright melodies of Angles We Have Heard On High.  The sus2 and sus4 ‘s are meant modernize that choral aura a bit.

I enjoyed playing around with the repetition of the last line and making things a little different.  Sleep in heavenly peace becomes sleep, sleep, sleep in peace (measures 18-21).  There’s that essence of a baby’s lullaby in the original hymn, and I wanted to bring that out more.

The sus2 (accompaniment) and sus4 chord (choir) combination in measure 52.  The choir is supposed to just hit that chord and let it ring and reverberate around the room to give us pause at the spiritual wonder of the birth of our Savior.   And then measure 56 where the sopranos get to shine, like angels.  There the sopranos have to be careful or else it just turns into pure cheese.  But, if done right, it’s pretty.

The ending by the piano.  It’s peaceful.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the arrangement.  Constructive comments are much appreciated.  I’ll try and upload a recording of the accompaniment in the next week or so.  And, if I can kind some kind choir to let me record them, I’ll upload an mp3 of how everything sounds together.

Happy Holidays!

Jared

PDF: Silent Night – Arranged by Jared Ong

The Songwriting Process – Part 3

The first thing that I changed when I got back from San Diego was the outtro.  When recording the original piano scratch track, I ended up playing the 4th chorus and improvising the ending.  In the process of rewriting the song, I’d actually never mapped out how to end the thing.  My follow-up listens showed that the ending was too abrupt.  Outtros should be an extension of the verse or chorus and let the listener ease out of the mood created by song.

Another thing that I ended up fixing was the “C” sections of the song (i.e. the bridge).  The improvisation of the early demo was just too distracting.  I opted instead for some simple ooh’s and a restatement of the chorus.  This worked much better with the general groove of the bridge.

The lyrics also were tweaked a bit.

I’ll find some days I’m lost
Out on my own

was changed to

I’ll find some days I’m lost
On lonely roads.

This seemed much more appropriate for the metaphor.  Other similar lyric changes were made.

After I felt comfortable with both the lyrics and structure of the song, I decided to try and add a couple of instruments.  I originally heard strings. But after playing them in, my creative side got really excited and I started adding more instruments that I’d anticipated.  First it was the nylon guitar.  But that seemed a bit boring without the bass.  Then I heard congo’s and shaker.  But when that was added, they seemed lonely without the rest of the drum kit.  So I added the kick, snare, hi-hat, crash, and cymbal swells to build the song properly.  Adding the rest of instruments consisted of about 2 or 3 marathon 8 hour sessions of recording and MIDI editing (e.g. I’m not yet efficient in using ProTools to do my arranging) plus mixing and tweaking over a period of a few weeks.

As my internal deadline started approaching, I had to stop with the MIDI and work on rerecording the vocals.  This ended up being one of the more frustrating aspects of tracking.  I’m not a singer, and trying to recreate the vocals in my head just makes me hear all the flaws in my voice.  However, since I didn’t really have time to go and find a good vocalist, I ended up recording myself and editing out the bad sounding bits.  There was also that blasted dog that decided to bark for 20 minutes straight right when I was ready to record the main vocal track.  Anyway, the vocals sound a bit rough, but what can I say, it’s a demo.

The last thing I added were a couple of vocal comps.  At one point, I had this Imogen Heap Hide N Seek sound going on but decided that might be a little much for an EFY track.  The harmonies ended up mostly hidden underneath the main track.
Here are the final lyrics:


I Know It’s You

Words and Music by Jared Ong

Copyright 2008

Verse 1

I find some days I’m lost

On lonely roads

And then by chance it seems

I’m heading home

And I see more clearly

Verse 2

And in my life I’ve felt

I’m on my own

But without words it seems

That someone knows

And I see more clearly

Chorus

I know enough to say

When life just goes my way

It’s not from what I do

I know enough

To know it’s you

Verse 3

Then there are times I ask

To know you care

And when I turn the page

The answer’s there

Then I see so clearly

Chorus

Bridge

Ooh

I know it’s you

Ooh

Verse 4

At night I close my eyes

To say I’m grateful

My heart just overflows

And I’m unable

To freely sing to thee

Chorus

I know enough to say

When life just goes my way

I know it’s all from You

I know enough

To know it’s you

Repeat Chorus

Bridge

Ooh

I know it’s you

Ooh

Outtro

I know enough to say

When life just goes my way

It’s not from what I do

I know enough

I know enough it’s you

Here’s the final mp3: I Know It’s You Jared Ong Final Demo

And here’s the final mp3 minus track (i.e. instrumental track): I Know It’s You Jared Ong Minus Track

One thing I forgot to mention is that when recording, I transposed the song from the key it was originally written in (F major) to Ab major.  I hear the song being sung by a tenor, although I’d like to see what female vocalist could do.

I definitely still get annoyed by the limitations and flaws in the mp3, even with all the edits and rewrites of the songwriting process.  Fortunately, I know that demo submissions don’t need to be perfect and am comfortable with the current result.  Of course, I still would like to find a good vocalist to rerecord the vocals, but I’ll get to that in due time.

Going through this demo submission process really helped re-emphasize past lessons learned from when I was studying Media Music at BYU.  Each songwriter/composer works differently, however here are a few common things:  The first is to leave nothing sacred.  Don’t avoid rewriting just because you’re tired or afraid something better won’t come along.  Time crunches are a different matter, but even then at least make the attempt.

It’s important to follow your instinct on what works.  This is of course assuming that your instinct is properly aligned.  I’ve heard some really, uh, interesting music at some LDS open mic nights when I was in Utah.  If you’re unsure of your instinct, get feedback from trusted peers.  Have them tell you the bad stuff, as well as the good stuff.

It’s also important to know your audience.  I don’t write strictly in one style, but for this demo submission I had to do a rewrite to make sure the song fit the target audience (there’s that instinct thing again).

Lastly, identify the parts of your music/lyric that you feel standout.  My professor at BYU, Ron Simpson, always reminded us to build our music with golden bricks.  If you can’t hear the golden bricks in the song, do the rewrite.

Who knows what will come out of this demo, now that I’ve sent it into the Internet void.  However, I do hope you’ve enjoyed being a part of my creative process as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about it.

The Songwriting Process – Part 2

Sometimes as a writer you hang on to an idea, afraid to let go because you fear there’s a chance you won’t find a better alternative.  This was the case with I Close My Eyes.  I felt reluctant to do a rewrite. It’s hard to make a lot of headway and then have to start over.  I hate feeling like I just wasted time on something that will never see the light of day.  I know, of course, that this is all part of the creative process.  Still the perfectionist side of me sighs every time I have to make major changes.

When I approached the project on the second day, I was pretty focused.  My goal was to rework the chorus to make it less generic and a little bit more interesting.   By changing up the bass line in the left hand, I was able to use a lot of the original chorus’ chord progression to create a greater emotional lift.  What was once F, Gm, F/A, Bb became F/A, Bb, Gm7, C.   I found that ending each phrase on the V (C) instead of the IV (Bb) just seemed a lot more pleasant.

Happy with the chorus, I resumed work on the verse.  I was slightly horrified to find that my existing lyric didn’t work.  The modified chorus created more energy, which necessitated an increase of tempo.  With the song a little faster, the verse of I Close My Eyes was just too wordy.  I remember singing through it a couple of times and feeling like I was writing something from The Music Man.  Ugh.

So out went the existing verse.  I struggled with keeping the existing theme with the new lyric.  In the end, the verses became a little bit more generalized.  I felt this was necessary in order to help listeners better relate to the song’s subject matter.  I hated scaling back the details.  At one point, I had a verse about being lost in San Francisco, and trying to catch my plane in time.  It would have made a really good story song.  It would also have made a really awkward musical number for a fireside.

What was funny about the whole rewrite was that it came pretty quickly.  I had a self imposed deadline of Saturday at 7pm in order to head down to San Diego for Father’s Day.  I’d also promised a friend that I’d send her the current version of the song.  Everything was a rush in order to finish the thing before leaving for the weekend.   I laid the piano tracks in one shot, and sang once or twice to comp the vocals.  Then it was a quick bounce to disk and upload.

Here’s the mp3: I Know It’s You v1

And here are the lyrics:

Verse 1

I’ll find some days I’m lost

Out on my own

And then by chance it seems

I’m heading home

And then I see

More clearly

Verse 2

And In my life there’s been

That lonely road

And without words it seems

That someone knows

Then I see

So clearly

Chorus

I know enough to say

That when life just goes way

It’s not from what I do

I know enough

To know it’s you

Verse 3

Then there are the times

I need some answers

And when I flip the page

It’s staring there

And I see

So clearly

Chorus

I know enough to say

When life just goes my way

I know it’s all from You

I know enough

To know it’s you

Bridge (solo)

Verse 4

And when I kneel to say

I feel so grateful

My heart just overflows

And I’m unable

To freely

Sing to thee

Chorus

I know enough to say

When life just goes my way

It’s not from what I do

I know enough

To know it’s you

Repeat Chorus

I listened to this version all the way down to San Diego.  Part 3 will detail the issues I heard during those listens and the changes made to the song upon my return.