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Steven S. Billings

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

YYEEOOUUCCHH!!!

It seems my five-hour stay at Comerica Park last week has come at a price.  My head feels like it's going to explode!  Thankfully, the throat feels fine.  Really fine, in fact.  It was amazing how during church this morning my sinuses just seemed to relax for awhile.  I think the vibration from singing actually helped to relieve some of the pressure.

It was another really cool week, albeit extremely busy.  I had lunch on Monday with RZ, amid work on sermons, etc.  Tuesday was my usual busy appointment day, as well as picking up a few things I didn't get done on Monday.  Wednesday was mondo-hectic, with my usual office stuff, plus newsletter, etc., etc.  I was planning on working on my Bible study, but I just plumb ran out of time.  So instead, we watched a Luther film, which worked out, because Reformation Sunday was coming up, and our class hadn't seen this particular film.  It's called "Martin Luther: Heretic" and stars Jonathan Pryce.  It's a very good film that focuses on a narrow period in Luther's life -- that of the time leading up to his break with Rome.  It was a made-for-TV movie produced for the 500th anniversary of Luther's birth in 1983.

Thursday I was back down to Sweetwater Sound in Fort Wayne for more work on my album project.  The Indy guys  -- Dane Clark (drummer for John Mellencamp), Randy Melson, and Sandy Williams --  were back up to track the last four songs of my album.  These guys are awesome!  And they really seemed to have a blast with my material, so I felt pretty good about the day.

While recording the basic tracks, it's customary to sing a scratch vocal, so the players know what they're working with.  The first song we tracked was "Cape Fear."  This is a very taxing song to sing, because it's all-out, pushing the voice to the limits.  I sang it three times, and my voice was fairly tuckered out by the end of the third take.

Within an hour, however, I was easily ready to sing again.  By that time the guys were ready to record "My Home Is You," the title track for the album, which will appear as the last cut.  They really nailed the sort-of "Motown" feel of it, especially Sandy, who laid down a super rhythm guitar track.

After that we recorded "Big Little Man."  I'd always thought of this as a bit country, but Dane interpreted it in almost an "Elvis" style, which is pretty cool.  One of the most fun aspects of these sessions for me is seeing how the professionals interpret my songs and how they can take them to new heights.  They certainly did it with "Big Little Man!"

To finish the day, we recorded "At Least a Thousand Reasons," which Dane nick-named "At Least a Thousand Pages," because of the number of pages in the printed charts.  I had composed a pretty-cool bassline, which Randy took a few minutes to get under his fingers before we started taking.  By the time we put ProTools in gear, Randy was rockin', as were Dane and Sandy.  They did several takes, and just didn't seem to want to quit.  It was tons-o-fun!

I can't wait to get in and sing these for real!  But the next session will most likely be for the orchestra, so I have to get those arrangements ready.  After that -- in addition to the vocals sessions -- Chet and I are talking about taking a road trip to Nashville to record the horns.  That oughta be a blast!  We also have to schedule a percussion session, as well as a session for female singers to add to some of the backgrounds we've done.

This project just gets better and better!  Now, if I could just get my head to stop pounding. :/

4:11 pm est

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A GREAT SEASON

World Series Game 2

Despite a disappointing finale, our Detroit Tigers made us proud this year.  I was blessed to be at the only game they won in the World Series - my first WS game ever!  Though it was really cold -- temps hovered around 45, with nasty gusts of wind! -- I was dressed in about 5 layers of clothes, so it wasn't all that bad really.  Kenny Rogers pitched 8 beautiful shut-out innings (no runs were scored on him the entire post-season), and despite Todd Jones' best efforts to lose the game for us, we emerged victorious!  But the young team couldn't bear-up under the WS pressure, and the seasoned Cardinals were just not going to go down to defeat.  My hat's off to an awesome St. Louis team.  We'll look for great things yet to come in Detroit and treasure some great memories of this amazing season.  Bless you boys!

10:12 pm edt

Thursday, October 19, 2006

WHERE DOES THE TIME GO?

My last two days in Fort Wayne were amazing. The first thing we did was add the new vocals for the new ending on "Already Gone." After lunch we worked on "I Give It All to You," filling out the instrumentals by adding really cool organ to it. The new Pro Tools "B-3" plug-in is awesome! I'm so impressed with the graphic interfaces for these tools. In many cases, they look just like the real thing. This one actually has all the switches the Hammond was famous for: draw bars, leslie controls, etc. Way cool!

The next day we recorded the backing vocals for "I Give It All to You." These are quite involved, so it took all day. It was somewhat surprising to me how hard it is to sing sustained passages. The backgrounds for this song are long, smooth phrases, which take a lot of breath and diaphragm support. The vocal chords can get really fatigued when singing this way. I guess it's part of my vocal development. I've gotten so much stronger in many areas, but this is one that takes more time to build.

Saturday of that week I went to an apple orchard. It was a lot of fun. That reminds me. I still have some cider to drink!

Monday through Wednesday were spent in Flint at a District Pastors conference. While I usually find this tedious and boring, there was much of benefit at this one, thanks to Dr. Gene Edward Veith and Peter Utech. The topic was Ministering to a Post-Modern World. Very instructive.

The following Saturday my Circuit met to elect its delegates to the next national convention. I was elected. In some ways I'm looking forward to it. There were a lot of things about the last one I went to (my first) that detracted from the experience. I was still under the black cloud of my divorce, so it was hard to really participate as I would have wished. Still, I fulfilled my obligations. But this time I'll be happy not to have that running in the background.

Had a nice lunch with a friend on Monday of this week. In the morning I had begun my sermon, which is already posted on the Sermons page. I'm really excited about the direction of this one. I finished it after lunch. In the evening I led worship for another friend, so it was a pretty full day.

Tuesday was my usual stuff. Luke, CC, HoH with V. Yesterday was frenetic, as Wednesdays tend to be. Still and all, I got my Bible Study done amidst the constant interruptions and distractions of life in the office.

Today I'm catching up, working on Sunday's Bible Study, getting shots, etc. Tonight is LLL at church.

12:27 pm edt

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

CATCHING UP

Whew!  It's been a wild couple of weeks!

It started off with a fantastic two-day session at Sweetwater.  On Monday last, we began work on "Already Gone," building on the basic tracks that were recorded a year ago in our very first session.  After a time of review, we went to work adding guitars and percussion.  This pretty-much filled up our first day.

On Tuesday we worked on vocals.  And I mean worked!  I wasn't satisfied with the vocal performance on the demo (available for download on the Music & Me page).  It sounds ok, but very dated.  In fact, the whole demo betrays the fact that this song was written a decade and a half ago.  It's a good song, but it needed to be adjusted.  Chet -- the masterful producer that he is -- helped me find my voice for this song.  It's a different way of singing for me, but it lends an intimacy to the performance that the lyric really calls for.  It took awhile to find it, and for me to begin to get comfortable with it, but in the end, I was very pleased with the result.  The rest of the day was spent stacking backgrounds.  I sang all but the lowest voice, as it's not in my range.

Funny story: I came up with that lowest vocal part at 3:00 in the morning one night.  I was in the process of recording the demo, which can sometimes take a number of days, as it is part of the creative process.  Anyway, I woke up with a nasty attack of acid reflux.  After I got the gunk out of my throat -- yeah, I know, TMI ;) -- my throat felt very much like I had a cold, and I noticed that I had a few extra notes on the bottom of my range that aren't normally there.  So I went into my study, fired up the computer, and laid them down.  Sounded great, but I knew that eventually someone else would have to sing them in the studio.  Thank God Chet has those notes all the time!

I came home Tuesday night feeling envigorated and energized.  I had a pretty decent rough mix in my hands, which I eventually loaded onto my studio computer so that I could demo a vocal arrangement for the new ending.  I also intend to demo a string arrangent for orchestral session.

Wednesday was my usual office day, Thursday was HoH with C, allergy shots and hospital calls.  Friday was Stewardship meeting with Rollo.  Saturday I spent much of the day working on my Sunday Bible Study.  It was quite enjoyable.

Sunday afternoon, after DS and shut-in/prospect calls, I began the mountain of work preparing for upcoming recording sessions.  I processed the instrumental arrangements for the last four songs of my album, as the rhythm section is scheduled later this month.  I finally finished this work Monday evening.  It amounted to more than 100 pages!!  I also began writing out the vocal arrangement for "I Give It All to You," which we will begin singing at the end of this week.  That was 10 different parts!

Monday of this week, I had not one, but two doctor appointments.  I saw my dentist in the morning and then my allergist in the afternoon.  The afternoon visit was for the purpose of getting results from a breathing test I had taken two Fridays before.  It seems my allergies have really ticked-off my lungs, creating an asthma situation.  As my doctor described it, my lungs are "tense," inhibiting lung capacity and gas diffusion.  Altimately, what this means is, I've not been getting enough oxygen.  My levels were in the 80 percentile range, which is not critical, but can easily be improved to great benefit.  So the doctor has prescribe Albuteral, which works very well to relax my lungs and permit them to do the work God intended for them.  I perceive a noticeable difference already, thank God!

Also on Monday, I completed my session prep and made some headway into my sermon for Sunday.  A very full day!!

Tuesday began with recording the demo vocal for the new ending of "Already Gone."  Six parts!  Each one doubled.  Sounds cool; I like it a lot.  The rest of the day was the usual stuff.  Finished my sermon and other DS prep.  Luke at 2, adjustment, HoH with K, and then a CC meeting.  Again, a very full day, yet quite rewarding.

Today is office day, with Family Night tonight.  Tomorrow I'm back down at the studio for two days.  Saturday I look forward to some fun Fall stuff.

Life is good!

9:58 am edt

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For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
(Philippians 1:21)

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