All posts by Matt Cook

14 Songs in 14 Days: Day 8, The Early College Choir Years (or, When Things started Getting Serious)

Recap: I was challenged by one of my friends in EMU Choir to participate in one of those “14 Songs in 14 Days” kind of things, where you list or discuss 14 pieces of music that have had a profound impact on your life! Seeing as to how I have an abundance of time on my hands that I’m using only semi-usefully to this point in the quarantine/isolation, I figured why not step up my game a bit and use this challenge as the theme of a blog post series. For the entire series, click here.

We segue today into the back-half of this 14-day series (though again, it may go longer than that—I certainly seem to have enough music to keep it going for a while!), where I think you’ll find the overall tone (no pun intended) of the music shifts more serious, particularly driven by my college-found love of choral music.

College choir in my undergrad was, to say the least, an eye-opening experience. I had decided near the end of high school to largely give up on playing the trumpet because having braces really sapped a lot of the joy of playing. It was this, combined with not being sure how I could make a living being a musician aside from teaching it (which I didn’t really see myself doing), that led me to be drawn to sign up for the UT Martin University Singers, the ensemble open to all on campus. It certainly helped that my sister was a music major and I’d gone to a few of her choir concerts while I was still in high school, and it definitely didn’t hurt that a cute girl named Karen from Jackson was going to be a music major and in the choir, too… (Yes, I can safely/largely attribute our relationship starting to choir, particularly choir tours.)

But then we started singing. And wow. It was…something. It wasn’t always perfect, it was sometimes a struggle to be artistic, but at its best (when we really did what Dr. Mark Simmons asked), there were so many life-changing, stunning moments. The music from the first couple years (Fall 2005–Spring 2007) included some of the most important choir music of that era and of all time: Samuel Barber, Eric Whitacre, Eleanor Daley, Mendelssohn and Bach and Haydn… it was a veritable choral music education. I still remember the feelings of making the auditioned chamber choir, the New Pacer Singers, which meant I was double majoring and working a part-time job (eventually, two 20-hour “part-time” jobs on campus when I started at the newspaper sophomore year) but I made both choirs work to the best of my ability. There was one semester or so where I had a class conflict with University Singers but still learned the music. I graduated in 2009 and Karen still had a year left, so on relatively short notice I learned the baritone music after a guy dropped for the 2010 tour. Choir wasn’t exclusively my life, but close!

The music from the first two years that really set me on my path to loving choral music as I do today was, perhaps clichédly of course, largely the music of Eric Whitacre. In my four years at UTM, we performed “Sleep,” “Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine,” “When David Heard,” (which is so long it just simply isn’t performed all that often—seriously…good performance tempos yield versions 15–17 minutes long), “i thank you god for most this amazing day,” and I want to say we might have sung “Water Night” with a high school festival choir that Dr. Simmons was conducting. In the later years we also sang “This Marriage” and “5 Hebrew Love Songs,” and these last two Karen and I asked the New Pacers to sing at our wedding. From those first couple of years, it was Sleep, When David Heard, and Leonardo that just captivated me.

For all these songs tonight, I’m giving you some top-notch recordings, in particular starting with the Eric Whitacre Singers (his own hand-picked choir, so you know this is the kind of sound he’s looking for with his own music!) Sadly, none of these are of the UTM Choirs from that era.

Beyond the peak-Whitacre-era obsession (I grew up/more eventually…😁) I was completely enthralled by perhaps the most challenging and technically demanding set we sang in those first couple years, Samuel Barber’s Reincarnations, a musical setting of Irish poetry from James Stephens (1882–1950). If you’ve never heard Reincarnations, you have to listen to them. They are challenging. They are chilling. They were, at the time, the hardest music I had ever learned—and it took a lot of work to get the three movements down.

The last piece from this time period that was incredibly meaningful at the time was my first sung Requiem, by contemporary Canadian composer Eleanor Daley. This piece we performed on our 2005 Tennessee with UTM voice faculty member Dr. Amy Yeung, whose voice I thought was surely that of an angel. I was fortunate enough to have a little spare time later in college to study with her for one semester.

{Edited to update because I remembered that the first time we performed all of this on the 2005 Tennessee tour was at Knoxville’s Church Street United Methodist Church. Little could Karen and I have imagined at the time that just a few years later we would join that church and sing in its choir from 2010–2016!}

Not a perfect recording (there’s some skipping like it was ripped from a CD), but it has the score, which is a nice feature if you’re a choral singer listening for the first time and you’d like to follow along.

I spent a lot of my life in grad school (particularly when frustrated with some difficult social theory or with writing a dissertation…) wishing that I’d just pursued music in college, but now with the perspective of added time, I find that I’m happy where I’ve landed with a double-life as a (decently paid) geographer and (as of yet, not fully employed…) singer.

More great choral music (well, mostly…) to come, friends.

14 Songs in 14 Days: Day 7, The One in which Downhere’s Music is Still Incredibly Relevant

Recap: I was challenged by one of my friends in EMU Choir to participate in one of those “14 Songs in 14 Days” kind of things, where you list or discuss 14 pieces of music that have had a profound impact on your life! Seeing as to how I have an abundance of time on my hands that I’m using only semi-usefully to this point in the quarantine/ isolation, I figured why not step up my game a bit and use this challenge as the theme of a blog post series. For the entire series, click here.

Today’s post covers (shocker) not just one song, but one of my favorite bands of all time. I’ve chosen them because their entire song output is really well done and is still incredibly relevant, especially now during our current Coronavirus quarantine.

That band would be the Canadian Christian rock group downhere (they stylize it fully lowercase; don’t shoot the messenger!) I mentioned in previous posts about my musical upbringing, a long-standing interest in CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) but how those tastes have changed over time, and also about the multiple bands I’ve been in. Come to think of it, I failed to ever mention that my bass guitar playing also got me into several “praise and worship bands” over time, including the high school praise band at church, the Baptist Collegiate Ministry band at UTM, and that group eventually morphed into ByGrace, which was semi-independent and played various events and services throughout Northwest Tennessee from about the middle of college up until I left for grad school. But throughout all that time (going back to high school), it seemed that hardly anyone I knew with an interest in CCM had any clue who the group downhere was…which was a crying shame. Perhaps it was because they were from Canada, eh? (That joke’s more funny when you live in Michigan, I promise…)

I think I actually “was subjected to” (as in, their music was played on a bus trip somewhere with the the church high school youth group and I just happened to be paying attention) their first album, the eponymous downhere (2001), which the youth pastor had bought at some event in Memphis, I want to say. I’m ever so glad he did. After listening to that album several times throughout the rest of high school (the youth pastor must have been a fan, because it was a regular feature of bus trips!), I bought their first CD online (still a big deal in the early 2000s, children 😆) but kinda forgot about them for a year or so after I started college—more on my lengthy college music experience starting with tomorrow’s blog!

Then, completely randomly, one of my coworkers in UTM’s Instructional Technology Center had on a playlist of music that made me say, “Hey, is that the singer from downhere?!” To which he replied something to the effect of, yeah it IS downhere—how’d you know? At that point I realized that I’d somehow missed the fact that the band had released two more albums! Needless to say, I had to get caught up…and went on a downhere spending-spree and musical obsession that ended up lasting years. [While Facebook was still in its relative infancy, I even became friends with two of the band members (this was before public figures or celebrities/musicians could have Pages to “Like and Follow”), bassist Glenn Lavender and drummer Jeremy Thiessen!]

Side bar: I knew it was the lead singer (okay, there are kinda two co-singers in the band, but one who does more than the other...k?) Marc Martel because he has an incredibly distinctive voice—uncannily similar in timbre, range, vibrato, etc. to Freddie Mercury of Queen. So much so that downhere essentially went on hiatus because Martel auditioned for and was picked up by a Queen revival band Queen Extravaganza (sponsored by a surviving Queen band member) from 2012–2016, after which he then moved on to another Queen cover band, The Ultimate Queen Celebration. Crazy good.

The thing that drew me to Downhere’s music (and I own all six of the studio albums they released; they unfortunately went on an indefinite “hiatus” right after I finally got to seem the live for the first time in Knoxville, sometime around 2012) more than any other CCM artist was the depth of their writing and their complex musicality. Both of these attributes were particularly bold choices while the band was active (~2001–2012) because most CCM was moving in the opposite direction…more repetition of text and all-but-stripped of musical complexity (and that’s to say it’s necessarily for bad motives: many CCM artists work to write songs better suited for praise and worship services popular among many Evangelical denominations/churches with contemporary music services).

But downhere was better and more than that. They wrote narratives that were meaningful and complex; they had songs that are poignant; songs that were (and are) incredibly relevant to contemporary issues: reconciliation (“Reconcile”), personal struggle/depression (“So Blue,” “Raincoat” ), war, division (“1000 Miles Apart”), poverty (“Little is Much”), a certain vapid interpretation of Jesus common to some corners of America (“The Real Jesus”)…. it goes on. The group was simply brilliant and wrote well-thought-out music that the general public apparently just didn’t buy (seriously—the group won loads of awards but toured in a 15-passenger van for almost their entire time together…At one point early on they wrote a tongue-in-cheek song called “Rock Stars Need Money”!)

So, Matt, which songs should we listen to? (I’m glad you asked, but it’s hard to narrow it down…)

The song that perhaps had the largest influence on me…and was actually my morning alarm for years (first by using my MacBook in college and then when I eventually got an iPhone) is the song “Hope is Rising” from the 2009 album Ending is Beginning.

There are several more downhere songs you should listen to, right now in particular, because of their relevancy during the ongoing Coronavirus situation, as pointed out by one of the band members on Facebook recently. I’ll leave you with a few. Take some time (since you’re presumably reading this on a Sunday, right?) and listen to all, if you can.

14 Songs in 14 Days: Day 6, “What song is it you wanna hear?” FREE BIRD!

Recap: I was challenged by one of my friends in EMU Choir to participate in one of those “14 Songs in 14 Days” kind of things, where you list or discuss 14 pieces of music that have had a profound impact on your life! Seeing as to how I have an abundance of time on my hands that I’m using only semi-usefully to this point in the quarantine/ isolation, I figured why not step up my game a bit and use this challenge as the theme of a blog post series. For the entire series, click here.

After a brief hiatus last night from being just a little too busy trying to stay on top of being both an active professor teaching three (now) online classes to wrap up the semester AND be a music student with three-ish active classes on top of all that, I think we’ve got time to squeeze in one more fun song from the high school days before we move on to my college tastes.

As the title of this post gives away, that particular song would have to be Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird.” I just learned tonight that the song title is actually TWO words… I’ve thought it was Freebird my entire life. Oops.

Start playing now... this is the super-long live version from the 1976 album One More for the Road. It has to rank as one of the best and most influential pieces of recorded rock'n'roll ever.

But…so why Free Bird, you might be asking yourself? My relationship to this song is about as complex as it gets.

The first time that I heard Free Bird, as far as I can remember, was actually not a recording of Skynyrd performing it, but it was in a field show by one of the larger marching bands in West Tennessee… I can’t remember which year (might have been my middle school days in the marching band) or which band (Cordova? Mumford? One that was WAY bigger than Westview and WAY out of our league.) So of course, the marching band version wasn’t the recorded version that ranges from 4:41 (single version) to 10-14 minutes (live, length depending on how crazy the guitar solos get, plus the sweet piano interlude sometimes included like the YouTube video above).

Eventually, though again, I can’t recall when, I finally heard the Skynyrd version…this was back in the day of dial-up Internet, Napster and Limewire (which I never used), and Kazaa (which…okay I did use…) so it wasn’t exactly easy to listen to specific songs right when you wanted them to (just keep that in mind, you youngsters!) unless you went out to Walmart and bought the album—and even then it wasn’t guaranteed they’d have a copy.

I heard the normal radio version and was blown away. Eventually the guys in the garage band (Whitehall) all listened to the 1976 live version that one of them owned (probably Paul, the lead guitarist) and we decided we needed to make it one of our early cover songs, along with Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mr. Crowley.” These, in addition to the 6 or 7 songs we wrote ourselves, were our most successful, consistently practiced and actually played in public! I think we played Free Bird only once, the one year we somehow convinced teachers at Westview that we should be able to have live music for the annual field day…

So Free Bird is in my life as a song from the garage bands, but that’s just where it gets started.

For some odd reason (perhaps partly encouraged by the members of Whitehall, now that I think about it…) we got DJs to play Free Bird several times at dances like Band Banquet and Prom. It’s kind of a good fit for high school dance, honestly, because the music starts out as a slow ballad that’s easy to slow-dance to, but then it gets boisterous (for lack of a better term? Faster tempo—that’s what I’m getting at…) that’s better for…other styles of dancing? (I’m clearly not a dancer.) Not moshing…but whatever it is one who is largely uncoordinated does when dancing to faster-paced rock music. Anyway, it was a hit, it was romantic, and for some reason I seem to recall dancing to it (at least the slow part) multiple times when dating Sarah Roberts. (Cue the “awws”…lol!)

But the relationship with the song goes on even further, particularly after I went to grad school and came out on the other side a critical geographer and scholar. (Not to mention—during this time, I worked in a restaurant for a couple of years where the kitchen listened to Knoxville’s classic rock station 97% of the time, so we heard “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Free Bird,” “That Smell,” “Simple Man,” and “What’s Your Name” SO many times it started to drive me crazy…) More importantly, during this time (2012) I became more aware of Skynyrd’s use of Confederate iconography, in part because it was even a topic of a Cultural Geography seminar in a week on music. Without turning this into a critical geography post (because I’m writing this late at night, go figure!) suffice to say that like many things “Southern” including a lot of artists in the Southern rock genre—the realities are more complex than just simply throwing things out entirely. In this case that means being able to appreciate “good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll” like Free Bird while still being cognizant of a band’s political and cultural choices (and not always agreeing with them).

See you tomorrow…the next post will probably be something completely different!

14 Songs in 14 Days: Day 5, The Beatles were (still) Everything, even in the 2000s

Recap: I was challenged by one of my friends in EMU Choir to participate in one of those “14 Songs in 14 Days” kind of things, where you list or discuss 14 pieces of music that have had a profound impact on your life! Seeing as to how I have an abundance of time on my hands that I’m using only semi-usefully to this point in the quarantine/ isolation, I figured why not step up my game a bit and use this challenge as the theme of a blog post series. For the entire series, click here.

Alright, now the gettin’s gettin’ good.

Or something like that. After the struggles of yesterday’s brainstorm to figure out what music from the middle/high school band days left the biggest impact, I’m back at you today with the pop/rock/funk, etc. that started to shape my earliest individual musical identity.

I mentioned yesterday that middle school was the time when I started to develop my own musical identity, and then focused particularly on my days as a trumpet player from 6th grade to high school graduation. But the second half of my early/individual musical identity formed—in large part thanks to being in the high school marching band, going on SO many long bus rides to football games and marching competitions—because of buying a bass guitar in 7th (ish?) grade and buying a SONY Discman to be able to listen to CDs like kids today constantly hooked into the bluetooth headphones streaming music from the ether, er…cloud. (It was quite possibly this model, still available for purchase on Amazon!)

And what was I listening to?

Well, a lot! But often, a lot of the same variety of stuff: Contemporary Christian Music (dc Talk, Jars of Clay, Caedmon’s Call, OC Supertones, Third Day, Mercy Me, Reliant K, Casting Crowns….you know, all the standards—music I still have in iTunes even today), “Progressive” Rock and Classic Rock (this was at my bandmates’ encouragement, since Whitehall was a prog rock garage band after all—Dream Theater, Coheed & Cambria, Liquid Tension Experiment, Rush, Queen, Boston, Eric Clapton, Guns N’ Roses, a bit of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne), and other random stuff (like Parliament Funkadelic, the Moody Blues, a lot of crazy guitar and bass players like Buckethead… Ya know, just enough of the “scary stuff” to make the parents worry…😉)

But the group that made the longest lasting impression—with no offense to the artists above, many of whom I still listen to—has to the group that started it all: The Beatles. I had a poster of them in my bedroom for the longest time, and if I had to guess I’ve heard most if not all of their songs at one point or another, though I only own a handful of their albums.

While I grew up listening to the “oldies” station while riding with my parents as a kid (mainly Dad…I seem to recall he preferred the oldies station to WCMT most of the time in the beat up 1984 Dodge Ram), The Beatles stand out as worthy of a 14 Songs/14 Days post because of my love of and learning from Paul McCartney’s bass guitar playing (remember, this was right around the time I started learning to play…and boy did I want one of those Hofner violin basses), the sheer contagiousness of their music (my first album was 1, the album of all their No.1 Chart toppers in the US & UK), and the variation in their music as they matured as artists later in the ’60s (okay, yes, lots of drugs were involved in their process as we all know…)

So out of literally hundreds of songs, how does one choose the one or two top favorite songs that made a lasting impact? (Dang near impossible, I say!)

But I’ll start with the one that really started it for me—”Yellow Submarine,” which first came to my attention through going to Camp Mack Morris for Boy Scout Camp. I’m not sure which of the other guys it was that knew it and taught it to us (not really by choice, but just because he sang it all the time!) but I’m betting it was Peter. Of course, after learning this one at scout camp (complete with the extra vocals not sung like “Captain, Captain” and the yelled echos on the last verse, naturally!) I had to learn more about them, even though my parents didn’t have any of their albums. That’s probably another reason I say they figure in so heavily into my own personal musical identity—I’m sure my parents aren’t opposed to The Beatles!) but I/we didn’t listen to them on a regular basis until that Discman came my way…

The second choice, if I’m allowed one, is so tough. For multiple reasons, I want to go with “The Long and Winding Road” from Beatles 1 but I’m going to cheat and go with the entire second half of the album Abbey Road, called either “the B-side” (from the record, obviously) or “Abbey Road medley” because the songs all fit together seamlessly and are often included on Paul McCartney’s live tours as a single set. There was one particular live version of this from McCartney’s tours that I used to listen to nearly every day in my undergrad when times were tough… alone in my apartment or in the student newspaper office where I worked, I’d crank it up and sing along, of course, hoping that after the 15 or so minutes was up that things would be a little better. It helped tremendously through some tough stuff. So naturally, now I can no longer find that specific live performance any more! In this case, the deluxe album version will have to suffice (with slightly different song order and some fancier guitar/keyboard parts over the original album version!)

Time permitting (and really, where else do you have to be right now?) promise me you’ll take some time today and listen all the way through.

14 Songs in 14 Days: Day 4, Middle & High School Band

Recap: I was challenged by one of my friends in EMU Choir to participate in one of those “14 Songs in 14 Days” kind of things, where you list or discuss 14 pieces of music that have had a profound impact on your life! Seeing as to how I have an abundance of time on my hands that I’m using only semi-usefully to this point in the quarantine/ isolation, I figured why not step up my game a bit and use this challenge as the theme of a blog post series. For the entire series, click here.

I actually had a hard time thinking of what to pick for my self-imposed chronological trip through my personal musical memory lane today! I’ve been trying to think up what music from my middle school years made a lasting impact on me or shaped my life in some way, and I’m kinda coming up dry… (and can we all agree that middle school is the most awkward time for all humanity, and thus it’s okay that I’ve done a good job of blocking it out of my mind?!)

But I must prevail for you, o valiant few readers! And so I’ve come up with a couple of ideas.

Middle school was the time when I started to develop my own musical identity, somewhat separate from the musical influences of my family and church—and even my early schooling, come to think of it, because we did have music class and choir in K-5, but it was all largely in the same genre of music that’s developmentally appropriate for young children. But by middle school kids are wandering around trying to find their place in the awkward world and starting to branch out, and for me that took a couple of forms that would have lengthy impacts on my life: 1) I joined middle school band in 6th grade and started playing the trumpet (and became no small obsession from then until college…) and 2) at the encouragement of one of my best friends, I picked up the bass guitar sometime in either 7th or 8th grade, though I didn’t really become decent at it until high school. Perhaps I’ll delve more into the rock, funk, blues, and other music that shaped the bass guitar playing (and high school garage band days!) in tomorrow’s post?

But I’m not sure any one (or two) songs stand out from that period. Early band is all about learning the fundamentals of music and how to play your instrument, and nothing that came out of the 6th grade band book is going to qualify as “life changing!” (With my apologies to Mr. Tucker and Mr. Farmer…)

But beginning in 7th grade, due to either a shortage of competent high school band kids or maybe the directors’ seeing some future potential in me (or some combination thereof) I was selected to join the high school marching band, not unheard of for select 8th graders but a pretty rare thing at that time for a 7th grader! Suddenly I was thrust into the world of very old and very scary high schoolers [never mind the fact that they were mostly just angstier/horomonally challenged versions of middle schoolers—they were so big.] But I took a plunge and ended up, by the time high school was all said and done, one of the biggest band nerds in school: marching band for six years (so many that I lost track of which fieldshows went with which year…), high school jazz band from 8th grade on, 1st chair and trumpet section leader all four years of high school… Dang, I was such a nerd. (And really, what’s changed?)

So since I can’t settle on just one song from that period that greatly shaped my musical life, I’m giving you a couple different options for your listening pleasure tonight.

The first, in keeping with my incredible love of jazz during that time period (though ironically, this phased out as I’ve gotten older and shifted more and more toward classical music!), I give you one of the most challenging pieces we ever attempted to tackle in jazz band: Buddy Rich’s jazz standard Channel One Suite. It. Was. Tough. We asked Mr. Farmer (the jazz band director) if we could play it…probably every year. I think we pulled it off maybe twice during my time there, and I don’t have a recording of it from then. So enjoy this amazing (24 minute! ours wasn’t nearly so long…) version played live by the Buddy Rich Band.

The second option I’m going to leave with you as indicative of the entire trumpet-playing, marching band period is the one marching band field show I happen to know is on YouTube (because I had a recording of it from some video project in high school and I uploaded it to my own YouTube channel a while back!) Enjoy the 2003 Westview High School field show called Song of the South. For the record…I won’t feel bad if you don’t listen to the full versions of either of these! 😆😂

14 Songs in 14 Days: Day 3, The Most Epic Mannheim Steamroller

Recap: I was challenged by one of my friends in EMU Choir to participate in one of those “14 Songs in 14 Days” kind of things, where you list or discuss 14 pieces of music that have had a profound impact on your life! Seeing as to how I have an abundance of time on my hands that I’m using only semi-usefully to this point in the quarantine/ isolation, I figured why not step up my game a bit and use this challenge as the theme of a blog post series. For the entire series, click here.

Today’s song will bring to an end the posts about songs from my early childhood that had a profound impact on my life, as tomorrow I’ll start to transition to a little bit of the “in-between-times” (I’m thinking specifically of this as the middle/high school age range). But before we move into the “not-quite-a-child” and “nowhere-near-an-adult” times, let’s celebrate one more song that brought me (and my sister, and perhaps an entire generation of kiddos in the early 1990s!) unabashed joy…so much so that my family entertained our seemingly insane requests to tape it from the radio, local Martin radio station WCMT 101.3 FM.

That song, of course, would be the first hit off Mannheim Steamroller’s 1984 (!—how did we not learn about them, at least in Martin, until the early ’90s?!?!) 6x platinum album Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, “Deck the Halls.”

Just go ahead and let that YouTube video start rolling. I’ll wait.

I simply cannot adequately express the SHEER THRILL of hearing that song on the radio for the first time.

“You mean…Christmas songs… can sound fun? Funky? Synthesizers?!

Nevermind I had no idea what a synthesizer was at age, like, 5. That’s beside the point. I was in awe. We really did wait for it to come on the radio and then recorded it to cassette tape, like people did in the days when the Internet was still in its super infancy and if they didn’t sell things at Walmart or in a catalog, we likely didn’t know about it in Martin, TN. I still sometimes think that the end of this particular track is supposed to be followed by the radio interlude music (or maybe it was an ad or a station identification?) that came on right after “Deck the Halls” on our recorded cassette. Because, naturally, we just kept recording the radio station until the cassette ran out of tape! I still remember the song where it ended (and then we started anew on the “B” side of the tape)… good ol’ Johnny Mathis’s “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Before Pandora became a thing, I don’t think I’d ever heard the entire version of his song before… the tape side ended right around the 1:35 mark, during the brass interlude!

Eventually, of course, my family went on to purchase all (I think?) of the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums as they were released, even switching at some point to CD! We listened to those albums in the car (see the Day 2 post for more on just how long those car rides were!) every Christmas season so much, I’m amazed they never broke. These albums stayed with us year after year, holiday drive after holiday drive, right up until I went to college and met Karen, who—also being the same age and having a musically responsible family—ALSO loved and owned ALL the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums (and her mom still has a lot of their non-Christmas, classical albums, which I never knew were a thing until Karen and I met!) It is now our tradition to start listening to the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums, in chronological order of their release, every year on our drive home from Thanksgiving, which is the appropriate time for Christmas music to begin (fight me on it…) This song just sticks with you—for life!

Oh, and in case you thought we were done here…. Oh…no, no. I JUST FOUND OUT TONIGHT while searching for a YouTube video of the audio (for ease of sharing the audio recording with you) that Mannheim Steamroller made music videos in the ’80s and it’s either the greatest thing I ever seen (well, okay at least since binge watching all of Stranger Things earlier this year—can you tell I’m on a bigtime ’80s kick right now?) or incredibly scary for small children. I’ll leave it up to you to decide!

TTFN! Can’t wait to see what craziness we find ourselves in tomorrow!

14 Songs in 14 Days: Day 2, Songs from the Car Rides

Recap: I was challenged by one of my friends in EMU Choir to participate in one of those “14 Songs in 14 Days” kind of things, where you list or discuss 14 pieces of music that have had a profound impact on your life! Seeing as to how I have an abundance of time on my hands that I’m using only semi-usefully to this point in the quarantine/ isolation, I figured why not step up my game a bit and use this challenge as the theme of a blog post series. For the entire series, click here.

As I mentioned in my first post, in my quick brainstorm yesterday for this series, I came up with way more than 14 songs that have had a substantial impact on my life. In an effort to combine some of these (though I’m open to the idea of keeping this series going beyond “14 songs/days”), I started thinking about how I might organizing some songs based on the time periods in which they first had that impact or the major activities that were going on during those periods. Today’s two songs are a good example of that combination.

Those two songs, at first blush, wouldn’t seem to have much to do with each other or have much in common! The two are Larnelle Harris’s “I Miss My Time with You” and “Take Me in Your Arms” by the Doobie Brothers (though really, these two songs are taken from the respect albums From a Servant’s Heart (1986) and Best of the Doobies (1976). See what I mean?! Not a lot of similarities here, on the surface!

But I join these two songs (as representative of the full albums) together as having been some of favorites as a young kid because we listened to these albums (on cassette tape, naturally!) seemingly non-stop in the van while I was growing up…and my family drove places in that van a lot! I already mentioned in yesterday’s post that I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, a music minister’s kid, but what I didn’t mention is that the church where Dad worked was something like a 40- or 45-minute drive from our house, and we went, usually, three times a week from about the earliest memories I have (maybe Kindergarten-ish?) until about sixth grade! So that was a lot. Then you add on the many trips to see grandparents, who all lived around a two hours’ drive away (maternal and paternal grandparents in somewhat opposite directions, mind you!) and you start to see how I think back on my childhood as being shaped by music on cassettes and a lot of library books. It’s almost like I was destined to become a singing academic…

[Ironically enough—and I’ve remarked on this quite often in recent years—despite the fact that my a lot of my research interests falls under the subfield of Geography called “geographies of memory,” my own personal memory of a lot of my childhood is rather limited. Maybe I just haven’t put enough effort into trying to recall a lot of the details (there are only so many hours in the day, after all!), but so much of my early life seems to have faded into mist (if I may be permitted to sound a bit Tolkien-esque for a minute…)]

Anyway, to the music!

Larnelle Harris’s 1986 album, From a Servant’s Heart (entire album on YouTube can be found here), while a bit short at only 9 songs amounting to 41 minutes of music, is nonetheless a masterpiece of 1980s early Contemporary Christian Music, before it largely devolved (in my “now-opinion”) to the more praise-chorusy, guitar and drums-driven simplicity of the ’90s (though at the time when I lived through it, I was very much in love with dc Talk…it’s so funny how tastes can change!) From a Servant’s Heart has very high production value, incredibly soulful singing (perhaps why Dad owned it and another Harris album on Cassette, though which one I’ve forgotten…), and excellent orchestration. Coincidentally, it was not until I researched David Phelps for yesterday’s post (after finding his video of “His Eye is on the Sparrow”) that I learned that both Phelps and Harris were one-time tenors for the Gaither Vocal Band, AND it was not until today—when looking up more about this particular album—that I remembered Harris has a version of “His Eye is on the Sparrow” as the last track on the album. The particular song I chose as representative of the album and this time in my early life is “I Miss My Time with You,” which Harris also released as a highly successful single. If you’ve never heard it before (entirely possible, as I would imagine it’s a bit obscure among mainstream music listeners?), get the Kleenex ready. 😉

The second song/album, to help you recover from ol’ Larnelle up there, is completely different! So much so, in fact, that I’m not even sure if the album was bought by one of my parents or both of them together or what! (Their musical tastes, as evidenced by their wide-ranging LP and cassette collection I recall seeing growing up, were quite varied.) The Doobie Brothers, if you’re not familiar with them, are a five-decade-spanning American rock band (so where’ve you been if you don’t know them?), but also with folk, blues, and soul influences/sounds over the years. They are one of those groups whose music is so popular that you “probably would recognize some of their songs, even if you couldn’t quite put your finger on the name of the band.” I’m actually not that familiar with their wider discography, having only every really listened to the greatest hits album, The Best of the Doobie (the earliest of their greatest hits albums, since they’ve gone on to continued success since it’s release). But what makes this whole album memorable (and this one I now own) is the combination of ear worms, contagious enthusiasm and largely upbeat (nearly all the songs are on my running playlist), and the excellent examples of how an ostensibly “rock” band can still have incredible vocal harmonies! Oh, and in the music videos, the AMAZING hair/facial hair! 😂🤣

Enjoy this one on full blast, and I’ll check in with you tomorrow for (at least) one more round of the soundtrack of Dr. Matt’s childhood!