The Final Rip: Preliminaries

Since I feel like reminiscing about the CDs I’m re-ripping as I go through my collection, I figure it’s worthwhile to provide a little bit of background.

I began buying music — on cassette tape — in 1977. I remember picking up Styx‘s Cornerstone album from the local drug store. Then I joined the Columbia and/or RCA record clubs on and off over the years as a quick way to acquire more music.

In the mid-80s the Compact Disc was introduced and I was an early adopter. I rejoined all the record clubs to replace my cassettes with CDs and have been collecting ever since. I am also an avid shopper in used CD stores, always meticulously scanning through the piles of used discs, looking for a great deal or something new to try.

Over the years my tastes have wandered from American Top 40 (with Casey Kasem!) to MTV to hair metal to new wave to techno/industrial to grunge to 90s alternative to techno to now where it’s pretty much anything that strikes my fancy.

If there’s one common theme across all these genres, it’s that I particularly enjoy music that is dark, moody, epic, and/or minor. (Which contrasts nicely with my generally upbeat personality!) This is not a 100% hard and fast rule, but it is a pretty obvious thread when I step back and look at my favorites.

And so with that background out of the way, look for my next post where I’ll start in rip order (aka alphabetically) through the list….

The Final Rip: Intro & Tools

I have a massive CD collection, close to 1,500 titles, split about 70:25:5 Rock:Classical:Soundtracks (those being very broad categories).

Of course, being a good nerd, I had long ago ripped them all and stashed them up on a server for my Squeezeboxen to stream from, or to copy to USB sticks for playing the car.

Ideally I would have done all my rips losslessly at the time and been done with it, but 1TB of storage was not cheap back then (figure 1500 CDs times 60 mins/CD times ~10MB/minute), and so I went with decent quality MP3.

Fast forward to now, and 1TB ain’t no thang, so it’s time to revisit that decision and do one last rip.

Of course, the tools now are better than they were. Being a longtime adherent of EAC (Exact Audio Copy), I naturally began the process with that old beast. Super configurable, it works really well in most cases, and cross references the rips against online databases of known good tracks.

The issue is what to do when you can’t get a good read. EAC would try hard (often TOO hard in my opinion), but for some discs, it just wouldn’t happen. Later versions of the program suggest maybe trying something called CUETools to repair the damaged tracks.

Curious, I did just that. Although the repair process is implemented in a rather cryptic fashion, it does seem to work for a lot of situations. I also noticed that CUETools came with its own ripper called CUERipper.

CUERipper pales against EAC in terms of features, but its simpler interface handles the basics just fine, and it handles a few things (like multiple metadata entries) much more smoothly than EAC, so I’ve switched to that.

At the time of this post, I’ve made it alphabetically up through and including my giant Depeche Mode section and have been able to produce 100% verified copies for everything, so I think this will remain the plan for the rest.

Once ripped, I’m compressing them all with FLAC, in part because it is natively supported on the Squeezebox, and also because I like that it’s simple, open source, and independent.

Having set out on this project of course has made me nostalgic and wanting to revisit much of the collection, so I think I’ll follow this up with some random musings about what I run into….

Messiah Rehearsal Tracks

For several years now, I’ve run the site to privately host rehearsal tracks for choral groups that I participate in.

With the holidays fast approaching — and with them the inevitable Messiah sing-a-longs — I figured it was finally time to share something more broadly useful: a set of Messiah rehearsal tracks.

They are now available for free usage in two categories:

All part numbers, measure numbers, and page numbers are based on the Bärenreiter Urtext edition of Messiah, but I expect that they should line up pretty well with most other editions.

There are a couple of specific edits in the versions presented here, as compared to the version in the full Bärenreiter edition:

  1. For “How beautiful are the feet of Him/Their sound is gone out,” the version presented here is the second version (34a/35a) instead of the longer versions (34/35) that appear earlier in the edition.
  2. For “O death where is thy sting?” (44) the cut from measure 5 to measure 23 is removed.

Feel free to give them a try! And if you find any errors, be sure to click the “Report an Error” button to file a report, and I’ll be sure to get it fixed as soon as I can.

Summer of Song

September is finally here, and with it, the start of a new choral season.

I recall when I first started singing a certain disappointment that the singing generally stopped in May or June, and didn’t resume until the fall.

Eventually I discovered that I could cover the time with continued voice lessons, or participation in some of the Seattle area’s excellent sing-alongs during the summer.

A couple of summers ago, I decided to step things up and participate in the Midsummer Music Retreat held at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. For one week of intense participation, this was great, but the summer still felt kind of empty outside of that experience.

Last summer I tried something new in addition to the retreat: a barbershop quartet, practicing most week in the basement of our local church. Great learning opportunity, but without a final concert or other end result, it felt incomplete.

This summer, I feel like I finally nailed it.

In June I got the chance to participate in the “Star Spangled Spectacular” with the Seattle Wind Symphony. Two rehearsals with a performance on June 29 at Benaroya Hall, this was a fun little project singing classic music from the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” to “Take Me Out To the Ball Game” to the “1812 Overture.”

In July, I had the opportunity to take a class on Gregorian Chant and Renaissance Polyphony from Michael Alan Anderson at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. We spent a week learning about history, notation, musica ficta, and other great topics, then performed a Vespers service and concert on July 26.

In August (and in all the summer spare time prior) my new group the Summer Fling Vocal Ensemble kicked off its compressed rehearsal schedule, going from zero to concert in three weeks. We rehearsed a collection of early American music in the context of the American Revolution, and had our inaugural concert on August 27.

So, one concert per month throughout the summer. Some great opportunities in both large choral settings and more intimate ensembles. A really unique experience putting together my own concert and ensemble.

Feels like going back to regular church and community choir participation will be akin to “taking a break” — and hopefully I’ll be recharged for next summer!

Introducing summer fling vocal ensemble

Today I took the wraps off of a new project I have been putting together for the past few months: the summer fling vocal ensemble. The concept of the project evolved and morphed several times during that period, but I’m pretty happy with where I ended up:

We are a mixed chamber group of community chorus singers skipping out for a month during the summer to explore new genres and experience small ensemble singing.

The initial idea for the project came about because I have always wanted to participate in a smaller vocal ensemble, with just a few (2–3) voices on each part.

In the Seattle area we have an awesome set of community choirs, but most of them are larger than what I was seeking, and the smaller ones were mostly either professional groups or women-only groups.

It was clear then that if I wanted the chance to experience and learn in this area, I was going to have to put something together on my own.

Last summer (2015), I decided to take my first plunge by assembling a barbershop quartet. I reached out to friends, and friends of friends, and eventually found 3 other people to try it with me.

In the end, I felt the experience was really worthwhile. I learned a lot, sang in a new (for me) genre, and I really loved our time singing together. Yet I found myself with a few regrets afterward:

  1. I had no prior barbershop experience, so I had to rely heavily on another member to do most of the driving in what was ostensibly my pet project.
  2. It was just the 4 of us with no outside coach or listener to provide feedback.
  3. Our work never culminated in any performances, so the end of the project kind of fell flat.

This year (2016), I decided to try again with the express goal of solving the problems:

  1. I would create a more traditional classical ensemble, where I could at least leverage my own experience.
  2. I would hire a coach/conductor to guide some of the rehearsals and provide feedback.
  3. I would be sure to end with a concert.

Since I had been recently delving into early American hymnody, and had come across a few interesting anthems along the way, I decided pretty quickly that I would use that as the core repertoire for the group.

The next step was finding people. My aim for this group was to find 3 people per part (a total of 12). I really didn’t want to go through auditions, especially since I feel like auditions are not good indicators of how dedicated and hard working people are. So I decided instead to tap my network of friends, and sure enough they came through.

It was at that point things began coming together. I whittled down the repertoire to a reasonable, focused program; transcribed all the music from original sources (because I’m like that); arranged mutually amenable rehearsal and concert times; found a coach; located a suitable venue; put together a website and Facebook page; and did the kinds of things I was used to doing as General Manager of the Sacred Music Chorale.

However, I didn’t feel like it was really happening until our first get together, which happened last night on July 11. Everyone showed up! We ran through a bunch of the music, I faked my way through directing, and good sounds were made.

And now I’m encouraged and very excited to see how this adventure turns out!