Monday, May 17, 2010

About the Songs, Part III

7. Monica
This song is probably altogether the best one on the album. I don't know. It's my favorite to listen to, anyway, and in my alternate capacity as the lead guitarist for a classic rock/Texas country band called Texas Riot!!, I perform this song for secular audiences, who don't realize that it's a prayer to a saint - they just think it's my attempt to replicate She Talks to Angels or something. The story behind the song is the story of Saints Augustine and Monica - if you don't know the story, there's a brief synopsis of it here. Anyway, I once read a quote from another saint that went something like this: "In the order of nature, Augustine was the child of Monica's womb; in the order of grace, he was the child of her tears." I can't seem to find that quote anywhere anymore, and I don't know which saint said it (comment if you know), but I thought it was positively inspiring, and the second verse of this song is an expanded version of that quote. The whole song is written from Augustine's perspective to Monica, drawing on material from his Confessions; the chorus of female singers who come in with the guitar solo represent Monica's tears and prayers finally reaching her beloved son. Speaking of the guitar solo, this might be my best guitar work to date, and speaking of the chorus of female singers, I would love to thank Heather Gardner, Lauren Lastovica, and Cherry Whitten for their beautiful voices and their patience in recording four tracks each to make a total of 12 female voices in the chorus. This song would be so much less without them. Also, special credit is due to Cherry, who busts out a soul-wrenching blues wail in the final chorus.

8. Hearts On Fire
I'm kinda proud of this song for a few reasons. For one, I like the foot-stomping Southern Baptist/Pentecostal old gospel-y feel to it. Second, the Holy Spirit allowed me to articulate something through these lyrics that I had been trying for a long time to communicate to others: the beautiful paradoxes of Christianity, those seemingly contradictory characteristics of our faith that can only reconcile with one another through Christ: we must die to live, we must love our enemies, we must learn though we already know the truth. These are what make our faith the only one that can survive when, as the song says, churches crumble and clouds rumble. Another reason I like this song is because Cherry Whitten again graced it with her incredible voice - everybody who has heard this track immediately assumed she was a big black woman, not a five-foot little Cuban girl.

9. Sing Along (Catholic Love Song)
Affectionately known among my friends as "the Catholic pick-up line song", this is probably destined to be the most popular thing I ever write. It's my best and my worst song at the same time, best because it's been a hit with everyone for whom I have played, and worst because the lyrics are so cheesy-bad. I've played this song for nuns, priests, brothers, married couples, single people - it doesn't matter, everyone likes something, and everyone has their own favorite line. Backstory: I was bombing around Facebook one day and happened across a group dedicated to Catholic pick-up lines. I thought they were too good not to use in a song, so I combined some of those with some I came up with myself and out came this confection. I've been told that the chorus is really romantic and deep compared to the rest of the song, and that I should've written another song, a serious (aka not funny) one, based on it, but really, it needs to stay with this song. If I had a different, less meaningful chorus in Sing Along, I think the whole song would degenerate to a throw-away comedy antic and not really be the miniature romantic comedy that it is. However, the same people who suggested that route did have another suggestion that I followed: they told me I should have Heather Gardner lend her awesome harmony talents to the end of the song, and I really like it like that. It gives the whole song a sort of "he went for it, kept at it, and by the end he finally got the girl" kind of idea; it's closure, which is what romantic comedies thrive on. Music theorists might be happy with this one, too: there are some minor iv chords in the verses and a bitonal chord structure (A major chord over a G major chord, with the bass underlining one, then the other) in the little groove-jam at the end.


So that's what the album's all about. After having made it and listened to it a few million times, to the point that it feels like I'm listening to someone else's music when I hear it, I feel like Awakening is really a statement about love - intimate, personal, deep, affectionate love. Which is appropriate, because God is Love, and God has that kind of love for us. If you're reading this and haven't heard my album yet, please check it out. It's on ReverbNation, iTunes, Amazon, Napster, Rhapsody, and eMusic, among other providers, or you can buy it personally from me if you see me in person anywhere. I sincerely hope you enjoy it, and more importantly, I hope you get something out of it. I hope and pray that it leads you to your own Awakening.

In and through Love,
David Casper

Monday, May 10, 2010

About the Songs, Part II

Hey, if you're reading this and you don't have my album yet, you can get it at www.reverbnation.com/davidcasper, or find me on iTunes, eMusic, Napster, Rhapsody, and several other online providers!

4. In the Moment
There's a little backstory to this song. My dear friend Jennifer Wallace was giving the Love talk on Aggie Awakening #87, and she was having difficulty picking a song to go with her talk (reflection songs are usually customary for Aggie Awakening talks). She asked me for help picking a song, and after looking through a few good but just-not-quite-right choices, I suggested, "Why don't we just write a song?" So I picked up my guitar and we sat down and hammered out this song over the course of a couple late-evening sessions. It's as much her song as mine, and as much mine as hers, and her voice is the one singing lead on the album track. At the time, I was on a smooth, soft folky-pop music kick, and I was really diggin' Eric Clapton's "Born in Time", a cover of an older Bob Dylan tune on Clapton's Pilgrim album. I borrowed a bit from that song to start off the writing process, and we ended up crafting this really intimate love song, straight from Christ to you, focused on Him saying, "I don't care how bad you think you are, I know you're hurt and wounded, I know you're weighed down and tired, and because that's what you are right now, that's exactly how I want you to come to me. Lay it all down at my feet." Jennifer and I didn't want to add anything to this song other than vocals and acoustic guitar because it just doesn't need anything else, but if you listen closely near the end of the song, there is a third vocal part buried under the main two; I wanted to add a little depth to the end of the song, but a kind of unnoticeable, "I-don't-know-what-changed-but-I-like-this-part-even-more" thing, so I mixed the third vocal line's volume WAY down, and I think I like how that turned out.

5. Lady Love
Of all the songs on this album, I think this one is probably the best written as far as the actual chords and music go. At the time I wrote it, I was studying different forms of modulation and obscured tonality in my music theory classes, and that shows in the chorus, which goes from D major to A minor and back again - a pretty unusual change, especially in pop music. As for the lyrics, I really felt like the Catholic music world could use more songs about Mary, and not just new adaptations of the Ave Maria (can't get better than Schubert's anyway) or Immaculate Mary or the Salve Regina, but actually new material. The chorus, for those who don't recognize it, is mostly from Elizabeth's exclamation when Mary arrives at her house in Luke 1:43-44. Featured on the album track is the voice of Heather Gardner, whom I am blessed to know as both a close friend and a beautiful singer.

6. Litany of the Sacred Heart
This song probably has more backstory than all my other songs combined. I happened to be returning a borrowed guitar to Mike, the music minister at St. Mary's in College Station, when he stopped me and said, "Hey, Fr. Brian [McMaster, the associate pastor at the time] and I had this idea about doing Eucharistic Adoration on the first Friday of each month. It's kind of based on St. Margaret Mary's Devotional to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Would you want to help out with that?" I agreed to help out, and volunteered to write a musical version of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque's Litany of the Sacred Heart. The event born out of that meeting was a monthly Adoration session called Dark-Thirty, and with the help of fellow talented musicians Mike Raftery and Amy Risteen, along with a dedicated and hardworking liturgy team, it became a really successful event. Fr. Brian and I worked together and hammered out a good set of lyrics that could appeal to modern, young Catholics while still retaining the concepts of the old Litany, and the Litany of the Sacred Heart as it stands today evolved over a long trial-and-error process at Dark-Thirty. The chorus heard in the background is a group of Aggie Catholics who happened to have some free time after daily Mass to come sing. I told them it didn't matter if they sang beautifully or they couldn't sing a note - I wanted just a group of come-as-you-are Catholics, guys and girls alike, like the crowd who typically came to Dark-Thirty, and that's exactly what I got. The acoustic guitar, my vocals, and the lead female vocals were recorded by myself and Jennifer Wallace on Crusader Awakening #2, the retreat program at University of Dallas; we were in a chapel on the retreat center campus at 2 AM and the door wouldn't shut all the way, which was terrible for us because it was snowing outside. You'd never know it listening to the track, but we were MISERABLE in there. Still, we forged ahead, and it came out better than either of us could have hoped for, praise God for that.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

About the Songs, Part I

Track 1: I Love You
I wrote this song back when I was Music Staff Head for Aggie Awakening #86. It was the theme song for that particular retreat, and it was based on the Scripture readings for that Sunday; the psalm reading was Psalm 23, which we leadership members all took to heart during the leadership process. The lyrics are interesting in that the first verse and chorus are told from the perspective of a human person praying and praising God, while the second verse and chorus are told from God's perspective to that person. Also, the song says "this is my Awakening", which is cheesy, gimmicky good fun on a retreat called Awakening. This was also the first time I'd ever sung in three-part harmony with myself (at the breakdown near the end of the song), which is quite an interesting experience.

Track 2: Silver Coins
This song is all about God's call for us to do good works in the world, and about overcoming the fear, discomfort, and trepidation that often try to prevent us from doing those things. I was praying one day and reflecting on a passage in Scripture that jumped out at me, Matthew 25:14-30. It's the parable of the silver talents, of the servants who, in different measures, succeeded or failed to bring the gifts they were given to fruition and bring more back to the king. I thought it was interesting that one of the names for the coins in this story is "talents", and that just like the servants in the parable were called to use their talents (as in money) for a good purpose, so we today are called to use our talents (as in gifts and blessings) in the same way. Silver Coins also contains a little bit of my own unsureness as to what exactly my calling in life might be, and in the song, I ask the Lord to "shut me up" so that His will can be done.

Track 3: Run-On
I wrote this song in about 20 minutes, in just a complete burst of Holy Spirit-ness. As the song relates, I had been praying and reflecting one day on heaven, and what it will be like when we get there. The Book of Revelation tells us that we will be singing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!", and we'll be singing that forever and ever. It occurred to me that this is pretty much just the greatest run-on sentence ever, so I wrote a song about that, and as irony and the Holy Spirit would have it, the song ended up being one big run-on sentence itself. The little "run-on, run-on, run-on love" part at the end was something I improvised while playing the song at an open mic to make it more relatable and allow people to have something to sing along with, and I guess that worked out pretty well. Looking back on this song, it was definitely the Holy Spirit writing it and not really me, because it's much too clever for me to have come up with all that, especially the whole part where I stop, say "never stop", take a breath, and say "never take a breath". I couldn't come up with something like that if I tried. Gotta be the Spirit.

More to come later...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Release Day!

Well, hello, fine citizen. You have, whether you know it or not, stumbled upon the blog of one David Casper, a musician of sorts who does not frequently describe himself in third person but is indulging in it for at least this sentence because it makes him giggle a bit.

Anywho, as of now, my very first album is up for sale on www.reverbnation.com/davidcasper (click "Visit Store" when you get there to see it/hear it/buy it/hug and kiss it/bake it cookies). The title of the album is Awakening, and I do believe the individual tracks and the album itself need some explanation, or backstory, or whatever you want to call me talking a bit about them, so here goes:

The Album
This album is an interesting achievement because it is essentially a one-man variety show with guests. I wrote the songs, bought the recording gear, found a quiet spot to record, played all the instrument tracks myself, laid down a good 80-90% of the vocals myself, mixed it, produced it, did whatever needed to be done to it. Of course, with a putz like myself behind the wheel, some things came out in ways with which I'm still not satisfied, but overall, I like the way it turned out. Coulda been better - but it coulda been a heck of a lot worse, and I'll stick with what I've got over the alternatives anyday. In recognizing the current state of music, especially with digital distribution selling many more singles than albums, I decided not to go for a unified-sounding album, but rather to make each song stand alone as something one might want to listen to. We'll see if that plays out well or not. Also, there are some mistakes on the album - some noticeable, some not - but I left some of them in intentionally. I wanted this album to be a little bit raw, rough-around-the-edges, not-quite-perfect, because I don't like it when things are too glossy and candy-coated.

As for the title, I decided to call it Awakening for several reasons. One is that the Aggie Awakening retreat program at St. Mary's in College Station, Texas has had a huge impact on the formation of this album, as have other sister Awakening programs at other schools. I Love You and In the Moment were both written for Aggie Awakening-related purposes, and the Litany of the Sacred Heart was partially recorded at University of Dallas' Crusader Awakening. Another reason is that this album is really the awakening of my career as a Christian musician - the beginning to something to which there is hopefully no end. It's the end of my college career and the start of the real world for me, and that's kind of a big deal. A third reason is that I really want anyone listening to this music to be awakened, to be revitalized, to have some new experience that they haven't had yet with Christian music. It's not typical praise-and-worship fare. Most of this stuff is more for listening than for singing along (so, of course, I had to buck my own trend and put a song called "Sing Along" on the album), so hopefully whoever listens to it gets something out of it, a perspective that they didn't have before. Saint Cecilia, pray for us!

More to come on the individual tracks later...