Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Keep Believing

Our family has been listening to the music of "With Mine Own Hand" for a long, long time. First it was just humming a melody, then it was plunked on a piano, then it was filled out on a piano (a million times), then we added our own voices, then we added test-actor voices, and eventually we heard it orchestrated with MIDI (computer-generated instruments.)

We heard the score with real instruments and real actors for the first time only weeks before the 2007 workshop production. But the quest for the best possible representation of the score was not over. The real With Mine Own Hand; the music that as creators we had been hearing in our heads for many, many years, was yet to be played, was yet to be sung...

This is the story I have been asked to tell; it is the story behind the making of the CD of “With Mine Own Hand: The Musical Account of Nephi”. It is a story that begins with BELIEVING: first, in the Lord and the Book of Mormon, second, in ourselves and our family, and thirdly in a whole lot of other people.

Of course, we knew something about audio and recording work, ever since college days. We actually have a small studio in our home which we dub “Voices in the Shed”, since the sound booth is where the yard tools used to be before we padded up the walls. We employed our home-based equipment and engineering skills to make test recordings for the orchestrator to work from. That project, just piano and test voices, took the entire summer of 2006.

The next twelve months were spent orchestrating and refining the score for performance. First, David Zabriskie of Sandy, Utah, the musical genius behind the “Nauvoo Pageant”, “Light of the World”, and “Savior of the World” did the copy work for Becky Alexander’s score; that means he transferred all of Becky's handwritten notation into a computer-generated piano-vocal score. Dale too got involved with that copy-work, learning first-hand how exacting the process really is.

Next, Jay Richards, of Logan, Utah, a musical theater composer himself, began to arrange the new piano-vocal score into full orchestrated pieces. It is one of the miracles associated with the project that Jay had six weeks to accomplish this titanic creative task: twenty-eight pieces of music to be interpreted and arranged for all those instruments in the orchestra. Since we were going into production at the end of that same six weeks, there would be no time for rewrites; we needed perfection and we needed it now. Without question, and to our thrill and delight, he nailed it. Churning out two and three pieces a week, Jay captured the magic of the score and the magnificence of the story through his orchestral arrangements.

Following the workshop performance in Vancouver, Washington (which took the entire summer of 2007) we wondered what could be next. It wasn’t long before the opportunity to produce the show at Brigham Young University during Campus Education Week was offered us. We knew that transporting a show from out-of-state, that is, from the Pacific Northwest (which is our home base) to Provo, Utah, would require minimizing the number of bodies involved, and that meant recording the orchestra. It only followed that we might as well go a step further and record the cast as well. The vocals would not be used in the live performance, as would the recorded orchestra, but the 2008 cast would be featured in the recorded CD version of “With Mine Own Hand.

A steady stream of opportunities, decisions and revelations led us to the top of our Mt. Everest. Jay Richards, an accomplished studio producer in the Utah musical community, acted as our guide. He recruited musicians from Orchestra on Temple Square, BYU School of Music faculty, and Utah Symphony Orchestra.

The players came rolling in (the bass and tympani literally rolled in) over the ice and snow on the morning of Feb. 13, 2008. By the sheer number and variety of instrumentalists at one time, we were breaking new ground at Salt Lake City’s Counterpoint Studios. Recording Engineer Michael Greene sectioned the musicians into five different spaces or adjacent rooms, which actually proved an advantage in mixing since he could separate, or control, the volume of the different instrumental groups for a better blend on the final track. For instance, the percussionists set up their paraphernalia in one room, harpists hid behind another door, while the horns were separated from the strings and woodwind by a glass wall. Becky, with headphones on, sat at the keyboard in the control booth itself.

Everyone had a clear view of Dale, who would be conducting this dream orchestra. They were definitely Utah’s best of the best. He knew it, and they knew it. Not that they needed much direction; these professionals could, at first sight, at first read-through, play a piece to near perfection, both interpretively and technically.

As impressed as were were with both the musicians and the music they made, they, interestingly, were just as impressed with us; not only with the work itself, but with our determination to make this project happen, to see it through: “tenacity” they called it. I know too, that they felt amused, if not charmed, by our enthusiasm. Grant and Hannah, who also sing on the CD, were with us in the booth doing scratch vocals. And of course, Becky, the composer, sat on the piano bench. Maybe the four of us should have behaved more aloof, more professionally, but with the music soaring about us in its full glory at last, we just couldn’t help our yelps of glee.

With the recording of the orchestration complete, it was time to add the vocalists at Super Digital Studios in Portland, Oregon. Over the course of an intense week, each performer took his turn in the booth, pounding out his part, relentlessly critiqued and tweaked by yours truly; yet each one came out smiling like the fisherman who’d just nabbed the biggest catch of his life.

Now engineer Michael and producer Jay -- back at Counterpoint -- mixed, that is combined and balanced, the orchestra and vocals. This meant days and days of repetition: every note, every instrument, every sound analyzed and worked over. Once that was accomplished, our Portland engineer, Erik, took over and “mastered” the entire recording (something like polishing a clean car).

Dale and I of course were intently involved each step of the way, lording over the process, protecting and perfecting every drop of the dream. Grant was right beside us and Hannah held us all up. With the finishing touches going on in the studio, Grant busied himself with cover artwork and liner notes so that all of the ingredients came out of the oven in July 2008. Audiences in Portland and Provo could actually take home CD’s from “With Mine Own Hand” that same summer, a very unusual offering from a brand new musical.

So guess what we’re doing this summer? Yes, we are back in the studio, the ole’ studio, (our fourth summer at this) adding all of Nephi’s narration and other dialogue to the CD. Don't worry, we’re not going to recall the originals (…hey! maybe they’ll be worth something on Ebay someday…I’m just sayin’…) but we are producing a “new and improved” version which will allow the listener to follow Nephi’s account from “I Nephi, having been born of goodly parents…” all the way to the “Promised Land”, through music and spoken word.

Stay tuned…what a funny thing to say. We’ve been “tuned” in to this dream for nearly two decades. It’s exhausted and frightened and intimidated me to no end, but the big picture keeps getting bigger, and there is no changing the channel now.

I think you will find that everything I have written can be characterized by two words that are worth musing over for a long time to come....


Related Musings: Wish List
and Dream House

Muse with me: What dreams have you realized or hope to realize one day? (Don't give up! This dream of mine took 20 years and counting!)


Heidi said...

I will miss the weekly musings. But I'm glad you get to work more on your dream. Good luck and have fun this summer! By the way, I absolutely LOVE the musical. Thank you so much. Some songs have meant quite a lot to me recently, and I love belting them out in the car!

It's interesting that this week's musing is on dreams. I've spent a lifetime learning to accept "unfulfilled dreams." Still, I cling to and work on the ones I know the Lord wants me to have, and is helping me to reach: Finding happiness in this life. Having my own home again. Obtaining eternal marriage and family. Achieving eternal exaltation.

Yet we manage to throw in a few more of the, I guess, "temporal" kind of dreams--for they are still MY dreams and provide occupation, joy, silliness, fun, and/or growth in this life. Having a written work of mine published. Visiting Prince Edward Island, and other places in the world. Performing on stage in a musical. Putting on a successful storytime. Getting more work done for my ancestors. Serving a mission. Meeting and singing a duet with Josh Groban.

I love dreams. I love having them. I love working on them. They give my life so much flavor. And ones I've had--living and studying in Nauvoo, touring Europe, seeing Wicked (twice as of last Friday!) and other musicals, professionally recording myself singing, and so much more--are just another confirmation to me of how much the Lord loves me and wants me to grow, love life, and be joyful.

Emu Monkey said...

I will miss your musings for a little while, but look forward to the new product. What a monumental task it is to create such beautiful work. It is such and amazing production. I know many are so grateful that you all take your time and talent to make it happen. Good luck this summer.

Rebecca said...

Hey! I'm commenting! I must have some more time on my hands (since the concert!) I have to say, McKay asks for the "dancing music" (meaning "The Book the Gift" track) every day in the car--we play it over and over and over again. He still loves it, he still dances to it--he asks me to sing and dance it regularly too! Thanks for giving me something so meaningful that I can share with my kids!

As for MY summer--gosh! what are we going to do with ourselves without play practice all the time? I am dripping with free time! Well, not really, but now I have to do what I've been putting off for some time--cleaning my house! :)

Sara Lyn said...

It's been really exciting to watch your dream unfold all these years. Thanks for letting me be a participant. That means more to me than you know. It's also been a great testimony to me in letting things happen in the Lord's timing. They'll not only turn out the best, but all that waiting will be worth the wait. :)

Bri... only she said...

The CD is our favorite as well. and it brings back such sweet memories. :)

Terresa said...

What an amazing project to be involved in. Reading about your adventure and the evolution of it all helps someone like me (eg: clueless!) better understand the work in pulling together such talent, energies and blessings into a beautiful CD and message.

I've always said, "The gospel rocks!" (Hel. 5:12)...but you know what? You guys do, too!!

2busy said...

What an amazing feat you have accomplished. Congratulations!

I am a recent follower and will miss your weekly musings, but it will give me some time to catch up and read past posts.

Have a great summer!

pcNut said...

Aunt Mona,
It has been a privilege to feast from your musings for the last six months! I will MISS your inspiring messages!
I can't wait to hear the improved version of, "With Mine Own Hand." God Speed in your journey ahead.
With Love,
The Elliotts

Larsen's said...

Thank you, I will keep believing! Have a great summer! I love the Cd's they are wonderful!! I will miss your words but glad you are fulfilling your dreams!!

Lois Brown said...

The CD is wonderful! I'm so happy that you are still working on your dream. We will miss your musings! But it will be worth it when we can all buy the finished product! "Break-a-leg"!!!!!

Serene is my name, not my life! said...

Congrats! How exciting!

Someday, I'd like to go back to school and take more art classes... someday.

Heidi Ashworth said...

It is so wonderful to have ones dreams and talents fulfilled and validated! Congrats for hanging in there!

Mona said...

Thank you all soooooooooooooooooo much for your kind comments and support. They mean the world to me. I will miss musing with you all very much this summer. I hope you have a blessed, relaxed, refreshing June, July and August! (I hope to pop back in and out in July sometime...as I say, stay tuned...)

Loads of love!!!

Matt said...

You deserve a break-not that it will be much of a break, but WMOH is worth all the time you have and will spend bringing it to it's perfect state. I know I speak for all who have been involved when I say that every minute spent by the many wonderfull people who made this possible has been so rewarding, and precious. Your Dream was an inspired one and we should all be very grateful to have taken part in it. We Love you Mona!

McAuliffe Bunch said...

This is so exciting. I will miss your weekly musings but I am so happy for you. It is so much fun to see how you get to realize your dreams.

marzee said...

Oh Mona - it's so wonderful to read that story. Your question at the end - particularly tonight - drew tears. I am constantly torn in how to be both mother, student, and aspiring writer. I just don't know how. I feel like no matter what I do - I'm sure to fail somewhere and it eats me up. I am constantly filled with doubts and worries. I just don't know how to do it. I pray, I read, but I feel so lost that my heart is often breaking. Thank you for your story. Do keep it up - the dream -the pursuit - and sharing it all.

Olivia said...

WOW Mona! Great job! Well, a dream came true today. Tim graduated and became a Doctor! Hurray! We move on to my dreams on Friday as we set sail (or put rubber to the road) to Florida. Dreams do come true...

Danyelle Ferguson said...

What an incredible and inspiring story! I can't wait to get the CD. I wish we lived near Utah so we could have come to see the production at BYU!

BTW - This week's Summer Time Give Away is an EZ View Desktop from The Original Scrapbox Company - a $200 value! It's an incredible tool to organize your scrapbooking, stamping, or card making supplies. I thought you and your readers would enjoy this give away! Come stop by to my blog to check it out. Enjoy!


Valerie said...

I just wanted to let you know that I miss your thoughts and insights. I hope you are having a great summer and doing all the things you love to do!

Bonnie said...

Hi Mona. I have so enjoyed your blog! For various reasons I have changed my blog to:


I was formally Grandma's Thoughts, and I'd love to have you visit my new home! I can't wait to hear how your summer has been!

Love, Bonnie Holt

Nishant said...

I absolutely LOVE the musical. Thank you so much. Some songs have meant quite a lot to me recently, and I love belting them out in the car!
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michelle said...


I just realized I saw this at BYU Education Week with a friend! I wish I had written on it when it was fresh in my mind.

So happy I made that connection in my mind, though.

Did you get my email that I sent from mormonwoman at gmail? Please email me...I'd like to connect with you.