July 26, 2013 at 3:36 AMI feel I picked the perfect morning to listen to the recently released New Age album Transcendence, which features longtime V.com member Andrew Sords playing works by Sean Christopher Dockery.
My husband, kids and I were setting out on the fourth day of our cross-America road trip, driving east across the city of Cleveland at sunrise. Coincidently, this is also Andrew's city, where he grew up and also studied violin at the Cleveland Institute of Music with Linda Cerone and David Russell.
The clouds lined up perfectly on this morning for a long-lasting sunrise, the kind that seems like those epic paintings in which a host of angels ride down through the clouds on a sunbeam. Minus the angels. Or not: the angelic voices seemed to be supplied in the choral samples of the first track, "Gloria."
I'll admit right here that New Age music is not my first love, but you all knew that about this classical girl. Still, I'm interested in all kinds of music. I find New Age to be a peaceful soundscape in yoga class, and in college I truly loved listening to Pat Metheny, Shadowfax and a few more. This album also has a nice classical bent to it, with the use of some themes from masses, Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata,' and a few other things.
But what do I like the most about this particular project? They hired a live violinist to record for it! Of course, as a violinist myself, I understand how a live musician makes a huge difference in the heart and soul of any music. The warm and human sound of a live violin, very much a part of "Transcendence," is irreplaceable. I very often marvel, why would an artist bother to set his work for the record, using the cold, dead sound of synthesized strings?
So in addition to speaking with Andrew, I also put my burning question to composer Sean: What made him decide to use a live violinist, not synth, as so many of his colleagues would do, to record this kind of music?
"I've always tried to be a bit different than the typical New Age artist in my compositions," Sean said. "My last album, Sojourns, featured two soprano performers singing in a more operatic style, which is not typical with New Age. I own the finest violin sample libraries available and could have used them in my compositions, but in my opinion, they cannot touch what an accomplished violinist, like Andrew, can do in regards to emotion in the performance. Andrew's playing is extremely fluid, especially regarding his legato transitions, and that is what sold me on using him on 'Transcendence.' His playing gave real emotion to the album that I would have never been satisfied with, using synth or samples."
Is it a rather big investment, to use a live musician?
"There is definitely an investment using live musicians, which is why not everyone uses them," Sean said. "Besides getting Andrew across the country from his home in Ohio to where I reside in Boise [Idaho], there were expenses in hiring an engineer to set up in the cathedral where we recorded Andrew. I also gave the Methodist church that let us use their cathedral a donation, as it was the least I could do for their generosity in allowing us to record there."
How did you find Andrew?
"My wife and I know the conductor of the Boise Philharmonic, Robert Franz, and approached him on recommending a violinist for my album," Sean said. "I told him that I needed someone who was especially good at very slow, emotional playing. I've worked with violinists before that were excellent at fast staccato performances, but when it came to the slow legato transitions, I wasn't always be happy with the performance. Perhaps I am too much of a perfectionist, but I know what I like. Even though I was initially hoping to find someone local, Mr. Franz recommended Andrew. Once I heard samples of Andrew's work on the Web, I was sold. Andrew definitely contributed to the soul of 'Transcendence.'"
And what about Andrew, who most often plays classical concertos, recitals and the like?
"I was quite unfamiliar with the genre," Andrew said, "but good rock, jazz, New Age and others can speak to audiences just as effectively as classical can. We hear New Age music in many settings: soundtracks, yoga studios, massage parlors, and large arenas."
And how did he feel about transforming the Moonlight Sonata into to New Age?
"The genius of Beethoven and his themes are such that composers will incorporate his music for the next three hundred years," Andrew said. "It brought me back to my days as a piano student, studying that movement. Later on in the CD, Caccini's 'Ave Maria' is represented as well."
The parts seem pretty playable; did the New Age genre present any challenges?
"My bread and butter include the Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky concerti; the Franck, Ysaye, Beethoven and Bach sonatas," Andrew said. "It was like learning a new language, to pull off this genre. In the classical repertoire, you learn from the live concert experience what works and what doesn't. During this recording process, I had to evolve from the mindset of conveying Beethoven to 2,000 people to filling a cathedral with beautiful new age melodies."
Was this done on an electric fiddle, to match the electric vibe?
"No -- the fiddle used in the recording is my own - A Talisse from 1912," Andrew said. "I had the good fortune to play a Stradivarius this summer -- perhaps the next recording project will be on that fantastic instrument!"
The test, for me, of a good album is: 1) Does it grab and hold my attention? 2) Does it make me want to hear it again? My answer to both questions in this case is yes.
The sound quality is excellent, and Andrew definitely delivers the kind of violin sound I aim for. I've played the whole CD four times already and highly recommended it.
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