Previously, I'd written about the artwork, and the process behind it, as well as my thoughts behind each of the islands that would feature on the cover artwork of Select Adventure. Today, I'd like to begin talking about my submission to that album, a song called The Drummer's Prayer. Specifically, I'd like to talk about the process of making this piece.
Seeing as all the songs on Select Adventure reflect our respective identities as composers, it's safe to say that they are songs that we hold close to our hearts. The Drummer's Prayer is very close to my heart, and I feel it sums up who I am and desire to be.
The piece was actually conceived all the way back on 1 March 2021, as part of my inaugural Lenten Challenge -- a 40-day composition run coinciding with the season of Lent that I undertook for myself. The challenge would see me compose 40 pieces of music, all based on a list of prompts that my fiancé and I had curated together before the start of Lent. (Side note: I'm aware that some of you would like to do this challenge with me next year, all being well, so I am making slow steps to publicise the challenge for Lent next year!)
The initial prompt for that day was "petition," and my immediate thoughts were to lay down what would become the foundations for this song. At the time, it was simply called night-time offering, for it was just that: a prayer that spilled forth from my heart out of desperation to beat the drum for my Maker. The "petition" of the prompt was in the last three lines of the song: Take my beating heart, / my beating drum, / for I am yours!
That night, I structured the song, I sequenced the keyboard, and I wrote the lyrics. I also sang them -- which wasn't so bad -- but then, I attempted to beat the bodhrán. ......Let's just say that the neighbours weren't having it, and so I wasn't able to fulfil that prompt. I shelved this song, replaced it with the bonus prompt of "isolation," and this was ultimately what I wrote on the same date.
I was determined to see this song through, even if I could no longer do so as part of the Lenten Challenge. The ideas and imagery surrounding this song remained in my heart for months on end. For, you see, as early as 1 March, I'd imagined a song of prayer that I would play and sing with a sizeable band of musicians and singers at the onset of twilight.
Incidentally, in the months before this song would finally be completed, I thought about how to flesh out this song more. I also drew some provisional artwork for the track, which is actually still used on the Newgrounds and Soundcloud releases of this same track:
When GameGrooves announced their BIPOC Charity Album in aid of Pixelles, my eyes lit up. Those of us taking part in the project were meant to write a character theme -- an original -- as if it applied to ourselves. We were all heartily encouraged to borrow references from our own cultures, or the cultures to which we had been exposed, for the purposes of composition. For me, it was pretty obvious what song of my own would represent me the most. The time had finally come for me to revisit this song. By this point it took on the title that it currently has, The Drummer's Prayer.
It'll take me an entirely separate post to cover the cultural references, history, and significance behind this piece, so I'll save that for the fourth and final post.
I'd lost the project file that I had in March, so I needed to start from scratch. However, since this song was firmly in my memory, playing keyboard and sequencing the orchestral parts was a relatively quick process; I did it in a single night.
The vocals took me three separate sittings of two hours to do. Where there is vocal layering in a song, the vocals would take me a good long while to do. I would record five separate tracks per layered vocal part (the main chorus melody would have five, the alto would have five, etc.). To me, the easiest bit to do was the lead voice. All the other bits required me to sing in a relatively throaty, nasal voice, for that otherworldly, tribal feel. Those vocals certainly did lend themselves to that feel, but they were very taxing on my throat and I needed to make sure to take lots of fluids after.
Actually mixing this was an ordeal, as the tweet above shows. In the only progress video I shared of The Drummer's Prayer, I hadn't even added the other parts -- especially the drums -- what you hear above is just a barebones file with the keyboard and other sequencing, and the lead vocals. This file seemed to start getting too heavy for my device, hence the pops and crackles, but I was determined to persevere.
Then, there were the drums and other parts. I had only two chances to record the drums, as I currently have no means of recording drums at home; I record them at Soundskills, a community centre / creative place near me. Soundskills has a studio that is open to end users for a few hours each week; I did my best to make use of that short window of time when I recorded the drums.
The solo is a thing of particular interest: I had only learnt it ten days prior to recording it, and seeing as I'm currently an intermediate(? advanced?) drummer with stamina troubles, I spent those ten days building up the stamina I needed to record it. It came as a relief to me when it was finally done.
Two friends from Soundskills -- Greg Slater and Jason Beardsworth -- did guitar and bass guitar respectively. Greg played that acoustic with his usual feel, which gave the piece a deeper sense of intimacy. Jason accentuated the opening drums with slides on that bass, a creative choice I was so happy with.
A few days after I'd recorded the drums, I made sure to take some extra recording time at a friend's place -- I wanted to accentuate the piece with more percussion. I used a bodhrán and two tambourines of different sizes. With the bodhrán, I accentuated the bass. With the tambourines, I added bits of punctuation, notably towards the end. The long ringing / shaking of the tambourine's jingles is culturally relevant to something that I will cover in the next post.
L.D. Worton (LD-W), a longtime friend of mine on Newgrounds, offered to do mid-side work on the drum tracks, so I let him. I trust his production advice; he is my second pair of ears for tracks that need the good ol' once-over.
I made sure to inform all parties involved in the preparation of this track that this was for a charity album, and they gladly cooperated with it for me. I cannot thank them enough for bringing this track out well, in their own ways.
In hindsight, could I have done more?
Right now, I feel it is too soon for me to tell. I don't doubt that, years down the line, I might find something else with which to add more energy to this piece. I'll have grown as a drummer, as a musician, and hopefully as a person by then -- it is only natural for me to think of a piece differently after it's finished.
Nonetheless, I consider this piece finished. It is a snapshot of my attempts to capture my longings, my emotions, my prayer, my sense of self. It calls to mind happy memories of collaborating with friends, of listening to the music of my other composer friends who contributed to this album, of working on the album art. I am so glad that this piece is finally able to see the light of day. I am eternally grateful for the kindness I have received from so many of you who have listened to this piece.