The Serenity Sessions is the first CD I’ve ever made of all instrumental songs. I’ve written instrumental music for film, theater, etc. but never recorded a whole album like this. When I was talking about it with a musician friend, she asked what had inspired the music, and how I came about naming the songs.
That’s always been an interesting question to me as well. How do you name an instrumental? When a song has lyrics, it usually has a fairly obvious title, based on the chorus of the song. And when I write music for film or theater, the scene dictates and inspires the music. So how was I inspired to write, and name, these songs without words?
In this case, the songwriting inspirations were wide, and came from spending some serious time playing Bach, Mozart, Debussy, Chopin, Satie and Gershwin, as well as Carole King and Joni Mitchell. Naming the songs was trickier for me. Many of them had several different names before I landed on one that felt right. Sort of like a cat we had once. None of the many names we tried ever stuck and by default we ended up calling her Kitten. But since she was a tiny, shy thing her whole life, it somehow suited her well.
So, here’s what inspired the writing, and naming, of each of the songs:
1. “Still Lake” - Inspired by Bach’s “Prelude in C” from The Well Tempered Clavier. I tried several names with Bach-like references, but thankfully none of them stuck. Although this song is first on the CD, it was the last to get named, and it felt like the name was never going to come. So I lay down on the studio floor, closed my eyes, and listened to it, not trying to think of a name, just listening. And that’s when it came, like a cat that will only sit on your lap when you’re not trying to pet it.
2. “Arabesque #3” - Inspired by Debussy’s beautiful piano music, in particular “Arabesque #2”. See how clever I was with the title?
3. “Inner Voices” - This one was inspired by Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor”, although I don’t feel like my piece ended up sounding much like Chopin’s. This song has the most instruments on it, and as I added each one I focused on how the instruments in the middle, the inner voices, were working with each other. The title felt obvious.
4. “Curvature” - Now I’m getting into total music geek-dom. The second section moves through what’s called the circle of fifths, a harmonic movement that makes it feel sort of spinning and flowing. I was looking for a word to describe that circular feeling, thus “Curvature”.
5. “I Am” - This literally came from my working title. It was the first song I’d recorded, and it was in A minor. Using the musical shorthand Am, the working title read, “1. Am”. The next day when I looked again, it looked like “I Am”. Even though I ended up changing the song to G minor, the name stuck, probably because “I Am” is better than “I Gm”.
6. “We Wait”- This one came with a name, because I’m improvising on a song I wrote for my church to celebrate the Advent season, when we’re waiting for the arrival of the Christ child. People who go to my church might recognize it, although I’ve taken a lot of liberties with my own song.
7. “After the Fair” - I love minor waltzes. I was hoping to play my accordion on this CD, and a minor waltz is the perfect vehicle for it. I started improvising on this one after playing Chopin’s “Waltz in A Minor”. But I realized this song is actually a variation on “The Fair”, a tune we used to play in my band, Trinket. So “After the Fair” seemed spot on. A little bit of plagiarizing of myself.
8. “Here in my Arms”- This one feels the most like a love song to me, although I couldn’t say exactly why. And really, the whole album is love songs, but this one just felt more romantic than the others. I was listening to it on headphones in bed one night, snuggled up next to my husband, cozy in our warm house. It felt like I was exactly where I was meant to be, right there in his arms.