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Gail Selkirk - Songbird of Swing!

Five Miles

You ask me where I get my ideas.   That I cannot tell you with certainty.   They come unsummoned,  directly,  indirectly - I could seize them with my hands - out in the open air,  in the woods,  while walking,  in the silence of the nights,  at dawn,  excited by moods which are translated by the poet into words,  by me into tones that sound and roar and storm about me till I have set them down in notes.
  --  Ludwig Van Beethoven

I have a great passion for walking through the cemetery near my home.   I walk about 1,500 miles a year.   As well as getting exercise,  I brainstorm musical ideas in there.   Each of my arrangements has been born in a place populated with dead people.   How ironic!

Five miles seems to be a typical arrangement starter.   While walking this particular distance,  past all the tombstones,  I mentally sing the chosen song over and over to get a general musical direction.   With the rhythm of my feet slapping against the pavement,  little ideas start to sprout.   I embellish upon these until they're bigger.   Bigger ideas joined together then create a basic structure.   By this time, I've walked 5 miles, produced a concept and a structure.   That's the fun part.

At home,  I dig out the pen and manuscript to start turning fledgling ideas into something more tangible.   The real work has begun and it's laborious,  tedious,  painstaking and just plain dirty.

After deciding the key(s),  tempo(s),  signature(s) and voices,  etc.,  I chip away at the manuscript,  scritching and scratching,  crumpling and tossing,  section by section.   Sometimes, I work through the song's proper sequence or sometimes I start at the middle or the end,  but I just keep going.   The more I write,  the faster the ideas fly up into my face - ideas concerning melody,  time and key changes,  intro's,  outro's,  bridges,  verses,  choruses,  reharmonizations,  repeats,  voicings,  modulations and instrumentation.  

I write furiously and for a long time until my rough copy looks,  well,  rough but completed.   I then transcribe the rough copy to the formal score paper.   It's a lot of work but there it is - thousands of notes,  neatly copied to a score for posterity.   From the big score,  I transcribe each part to part paper,  all by hand.

Each arrangement takes three weeks of solid,  steady effort to complete.

You know,  as much as I dislike the technical process,  I'm grateful for the education that enabled me to turn my ideas into a reality without depending on anyone else.   By having arranging knowledge and being able to write out the score and parts,  I come to appreciate the song from different angles and in great detail.   Finally,  when I look at my finished work,  I feel like a part,  however humble,  of that fabulous legion of arrangers and composers.


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