Last quarter at UCLA, I took a class called, "Intro to Recording Engineering" with David T. McKenna (Post Production & Scoring Stage Manger at the UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television). It was a very intense class that offered no course credit...yes, no course credit. I took the class because I knew the skills and experience I would gain would be far more valuable than any letter grade on my final transcript.
The final project of the class was to record a song; each member of each individual group had to record an acoustic instrument, mix and bounce the file onto a disk using AVID Pro Tools Ultimate. I however was given a slightly different assignment. Since I was the only graduate student in the class, I was required to write and record my own song versus recording an arrangement of an existing song. My group began to form shortly after: Ben Thompson (keys), Eric Kim (bass), and Marko Danilovski (sax).
Throughout the next weeks, I began working on several song ideas and had some melodies written out on piano, but nothing solidified.
It was on October 17, 2019 when I received news that my cousin, Dennis, from Guatemala had passed away.
It was during this difficult season that I found myself in front of a piano, reflecting. I had only met Dennis once during my first visit to Guatemala, but I could not forget his kind and gentle spirit that was a reflection of his love for Jesus. Dennis was only 20 years old. He was a computer science student in Guatemala; a brilliant young man who was looking to make technological advancements in his country.
As a young person it is tempting to look at a life like Dennis' that was taken away so young and wonder: what is the purpose of life if we can be taken that young in the midsts of pursuing our dreams and aspirations? It is certainly a difficult question to answer, but I found my answer in Isaiah 57:1-2:
"Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die."
I refuse to say Dennis lived an unfulfilled life because I know for a fact he impacted so many lives, including my own.
In a practice room at Schoenberg Hall I composed the chorus of "Resting Saint" which was inspired by Hebrews 1:14, "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?" In my chorus, which I hope you will listen to, I am not referring to Dennis as an angel watching over me, because he is surely resting and rejoicing in heaven. What I am saying is that I often feel aided by heavenly ministering spirits as I navigate through this difficult life, and in this instance I felt that I was being guided towards proper understanding while processing Dennis' home going.
A week after I had composed the chorus I met with Ben Thompson to finish the song, which ended up being a fusion of pop, jazz, hip-hop and gospel. There are so many short stories and insights within this general framework I am presenting and if you would like to know more, I would love to answer questions.
The biggest obstacle during the production of this track was our time limitation. My group only had three recording opportunities, a total of 3 hours in the studio to track six performing artists, which included Jordan Avesar (drummer). Our 1 hour slots included the time it takes to set up mics, their placements, cables, powering on the console, loading protools, recording, playback, saving as well as the time it takes to shut down and put away all equipment. Each artist was further limited to three takes, sometimes we ended up not having time for all three takes. These factors certainly reflect the quality of our final product, but none-the-less I am proud of the work put into this track.
One of the magical moments in the recording of this song, is the final section that I like to refer to as the doxology. Within the doxology there is a dramatic key change and feel of the song which introduces a new voice. This dramatic shift is a musical metaphor for the fact that Dennis is no longer here with us, he is in a eternally happier place. Ashely Elizabeth Crowe's voice is featured on this track, her execution and passion was incredible to witness in the studio! Her presence on the track is also what provided a gospel/worship music element.
I have since performed this song with a different group of musicians, and will be performing it again as an acoustic set with alto saxophonist, Lenard Simpson at UCLA's Kerckhoff Coffee House on January 27th, 2020. I find it exciting to hand the music to different musicians and witness how they interpret it. Each time it is performed, I hear a new arrangement of my song, and it reminds me that I will be telling someone new about Dennis and the life he lived.
I titled my song, "Resting Saint" because it speaks of heavenly peace while also serving as a personal anthem. A few lines from my song reads: "This little light of mine will still shine//protect the flame, don't let him (blow) it out//protect the flame, don't let him (blow) it out." Singing those words remind me that while Dennis is gone, I am not. Meaning that my light is still burning bright with a mission to complete before I too can finally rest. If you are reading this, that means you are still on your journey too...shine bright & blessings.