Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Song Fu Final Challenge

The final Song Fu challenge was a showdown between Molly and Berg & Jerry. Unfortunately, Molly did not submit a song by the deadline, so Berg & Jerry won by default. All other competitors (including those from previous rounds of Song Fu) were welcome to submit a "shadow" entry which would be posted, but could not receive votes. There were only three of us who did. The challenge was to write a song about a journey involving three main characters.

As usual, I toyed with several ideas early on, and eventually settled on the idea of a journey involving animals. I had been recently playing around with photographing wildlife in the zoo, so that felt like a natural choice. Of course, an obvious type of animal journey is a migration, but why would there be only three animals migrating, instead of a whole herd?

The answer turned out to be that the animals (whatever they were) were on the brink of extinction, which suggested a tragic song. A little googling later, and I decided that the Passenger Pigeon would be my subject. Honestly, I'm not a big fan of pigeons, not least of all because they tend to leave my car in need of a good scrubbing. But passenger pigeons really do have a sad story. They were once the most abundant bird in North America, and were known for their large migrations, and then, quite suddenly they went extinct, due to a combination of massive hunting, habitat loss, and not being able to sustain a large enough communal breeding population.

The last Passenger Pigeon -- that we know about -- was a zoo specimen named Martha who died in 1914. The last confirmed wild sighting took place 14 years earlier, but unconfirmed sightings took place for some time afterward. For the purposes of my song, I imagine there were three remaining wild survivors who outlived Martha, and are taking what may be their last migration.

I especially like the way this song modulates between E and D, the sound of the DMaj7 chord, the banjo-style rolls in the chorus, and the backing vocals in the bridge. The instruments are: baritone ukulele, melodica, shaker, tambourine, and bass. I actually played the bass line on my new guitar, then pitch-shifted it down an octave in software -- I'll probably be using more of this technique in the future. The rolls were played as a second uke part, with a capo on the 7th fret, IIRC. Since I'm not quite that good at picking, the timing of some of the notes had to be fixed in software, post-recording. I wanted to add a flute part as well, but never got around to writing one.

Here's the mp3 (link to box.net): Passengers.mp3

And here are the lyrics:
Passengers

[Verse 1]
Summertime is finally gone in upper Michigan,
Leaves are changing shades of gold, and falling once again.
The weather's turning cold, and winter's moving in,
So spread your wings and fly, our migration must begin.

[Chorus]
We're migrating to sunny Florida,
We're the only three,
Just you and him and me,
We're migrating to sunny Florida,
Three birds of a feather,
Seeking better weather.

[Verse 2]
Now it's time to take a break in central Tennessee,
So we'll roost here by this lake, and high up in this tree.
A person's down below, he's watching you and me,
I think he's taking notes, he looks surprised by what he sees.

[Repeat Chorus]

[Bridge]
Every night I find I'm wishin'
That we three weren't the last passenger pigeons,
Cause the livin's pretty lonely
When you're one of the only of your kind.

[Verse 3]
Used to be when we flew by, the sight would fill the sky,
Our flock would block the sun, and stretch a mile wide.
But since the people came, a billion birds have died,
And now we're all but gone, we're the last three still alive.

[Repeat Chorus]

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