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The Story Behind My Music - Pingo Therapy

Pingo Therapy is my debut album as a composer and contains some of the best work I have made to date. This album was 2 years in the making and a lot of heart and soul went into getting these pieces to the point they are now. These are also the first pieces of music that I have legitimately mixed and mastered, and as a result they are the most professional sounding, easy to listen to pieces of music I have ever made. The feedback from people who have taken a listen so far has been overwhelmingly positive and it is surreal to me that I've created something like this, put it out there and people actually enjoy it. To all those who have listened to the album (or even parts of it) or have downloaded it, thank you so much.


I wanted to create this post because there is a lot of context behind each piece, from the source of inspiration, the ideas and thought process throughout and especially the story I ascribed to each piece, which often stemmed from my own emotions and personal experience. That is why this is going to be the first post of a series on this website called "The Story Behind My Music." This series of blogs will be my way of communicating to the world why I made this music and how it came about. And since most of my music is instrumental despite being story driven, I wanted to offer my own interpretation of the story, or what my intent was on the emotional journey each piece would take the listener on.


That being said, lets start with a discussion of the first piece, Spring.


1. Spring

Date of Composition: April 2019

Spring is a piece composed for a quartet of violin, viola, cello and bass, and is in Bb Major. Though not the traditional setup for a string quartet, which is 2 violins, a viola and cello, as a bassist myself I couldn't help but include a bass and cut the second violin. As well as being the first piece in the album, this is actually the first piece I ever wrote outside of a project for my universities film club.


I wanted to write this piece mostly out of the desire to start making music not directly tied to or dependent to something else. I decided to go with a string quartet because I was most familiar with string instruments, so it felt like the comfortable place to start. This piece is mostly centered around a melody that I stumbled on, thought it sounded good and ran with that. The piece develops around this melody through some call and response between the different instruments, and the goal of that was to make it sound like the instruments were having a conversation and that we were eavesdropping as listeners. I wanted this piece to be light and bouncy for the most part, with a ham-fisted Mozart-esque emotional switch up in the middle to add some variety. I thought the combination of these elements made the piece feel more lighthearted and just a fun thing to listen to.


The story I had in mind for this piece is that these instruments are having a conversation about young love. The cello and the violin are like the yuppy people that are going on about the how romantic it is, and the viola is less on board, and the bass is just a supportive friend hanging out in the back for the most part, and steps in to cheer up the viola after they get all dramatic out of nowhere. This song doesn't have much deep connection to any personal experience, but I thought it would be interesting to try and replicate this kind of conversation and give a distinct personality to each instrument. It also gave me an opportunity to test my skill with counterpoint and try my hand at making a bunch of independent lines work together. Overall I am very happy with how this piece turned out and every time I listen to it I am surprised that I was able to come up with that at the time.


2. Childhood Concerto

Date of Composition: October 2020

Childhood Concerto is a piece composed for piano accompanied by a string-wind nonet (violin, viola, cello, bass, flute, oboe, Bb clarinet, french horn and bassoon), and is composed in D Major. The reason I decided to be so ambitious with the instrumentation on this piece is because I had just finished composing a huge symphonic piece that took me 8 months to finish, and by this point this number of instruments had become child's play. I won't reveal anymore about that piece, though, because I am currently working on mixing/mastering it and will release it at some point in the near future.


I wanted to write this piece because around this point I came up with the idea for this album. I noticed that the songs I had written up to this point (Spring, In Memory, For Now, Home for the Winter and Are you okay, chronologically speaking) could be organized into an overall, comprehensive narrative when put in the right order. When I came to this realization, I found out that to complete this narrative I needed to fill some gaps in the story.


The general story behind this piece was to establish the POV character, using Spring as a kind of overture / prologue. I wanted this piece to convey the general emotional landscape surrounding childhood. The atmosphere is gentle and innocent, with some small quirks thrown in to color this innocent world. This piece is a modified rondeau, which just means that the piece is glued together by a section that repeats every other time (in this case, the main piano melody accompanied by light strings and winds that repeats 3 times throughout the piece). The reason for choosing this form was to call back to a simpler time in everyone's lives when the world was smaller and our lives revolved around simple pleasures like having fun or feeling loved, and not understanding how complicated life can get. There are emotional highs and lows throughout this experience, characterized by the sections interjecting the "glue" passage, but for the most part childhood is a simpler experience.


Since the motivation for this piece came from wanting to build a narrative and not out of spontaneous inspiration, this piece was a bit more challenging to start. But once I got started and got the beginning and main section written, it became a lot easier and the piece felt more inspired. This is actually my personal favorite in this album and I am very happy with how it turned out.


3. For Now

Date of Composition: August 2019

For Now is a piece composed for a traditional rock band (guitar, piano, drums and bass guitar) and is written in F Lydian (with a modulation into C major at the end). The big exception here is that the "singer" is a cello. I originally wrote this song with lyrics and planned to sing for it, but I used a cello instead because the cello closely resembles the human voice and because I'm not very good at writing lyrics.


I wrote this song because at that time I had joined a loose agreement to start a band with some friends. In preparation for joining this band, I told them I can write a song for the group. How I started this piece was I played an Fmaj7 chord followed by an Em chord on the guitar, and thought that sounded pretty cool. Then after some experimentation I threw in an A major chord. At that point lightning struck and it just sounded SO COOL. I was immediately inspired and I wrote half of the piece that night. We could never find a good time to practice together, and the one time we tried most of us forgot (including myself, sorry guys). Since those plans fell through, I decided I would take my idea for this song so far and make it my own piece.


The general story behind this piece is that our POV character really wants to get something off their chest to a loved one or friend, but the fear of vulnerability drives that confession back down their throat. After failing to do this yet again, they promise themselves that they will open up at some point, but For Now they won't. At the end of the chorus you can hear the aftermath of converting the vocal line to a cello line, and can hear the cello say "For Now" a couple times as the band picks up around the 2 minute mark.


I really like this piece because it subverts the expectations set up by the first 2 pieces, starting with an electric guitar when up to this point everything has been "Classical." I also enjoyed the inclusion of this piece because despite the drastic change in instrumentation, this piece still feels like it belongs in this album and aids in the development of our POV character, who by this point has been established to have a fairly healthy childhood and some relatable emotional issues at this point in their life. Despite the shift in genre, this piece still feels consistent with the overall atmosphere/tone of the album.


4. Nocturne in Bb (Before)

Date of Composition: May 2021

Nocturne in Bb (Before) is a song composed for piano and is (kind of) in Bb Major. I say "kind of" because this song regularly steps outside of the key. Even the repeating figure uses a Gb, which is a flattened 6th note in Bb Major and is thus borrowing from the parallel minor. This is a lot of fancy music theory talk to say the song is "kind of" in Bb Major. This is also the last piece I wrote for this album and is my most recent composition. As a result, I would say this piece shows my most recent level of maturity as a composer.


I wrote this piece because I needed one more song to fill the gap of this overarching narrative I was constructing, bridging the tame character development of "For Now" to the emotional turmoil and grief surrounding a tragedy in "Are you okay." To start, I just sat down with a piano and tried some stuff out. Eventually I landed on a Bb add b6 chord, and I had the idea to arpeggiate it. The resulting sound was a dreamy yet menacing sound that oozed with foreshadowing, which is exactly what I was looking for. This chord formed the basis of the song and is the repeating figure you hear all the way through the piece.


The purpose of this piece in the story is to set up the tone for the next few pieces (Are you okay, In Memory and Pingo Therapy), and act as the jumping off point for the main emotional conflict of our character. The specific scene I had in mind was that this is the theme of the night before our character is made aware of an unspeakable tragedy. The song is very dreamlike as our character is lulled to sleep. But there is this weird feeling in the back of their mind that something is wrong. Something has been wrong for a while with someone they know and its only become more suspicious, but its only a nagging thought. There is nothing to base this feeling on other then something in their gut. Meanwhile, as our character struggles to sleep, this tragedy takes place. They don't know it yet, but their world has just been changed forever, and they will only find out the next morning. That is why looking back on this night is so strange for them because it is the definitive moment before it happened from their perspective.


I'm proud of how this piece turned out. My intent was to establish a feeling of foreshadowing and anxiety that is light, yet oppressive, while maintaining a dreamlike atmosphere. This piece also allowed me to explore a more French style by trying to convey something artistically potent through emotional restraint and getting more mileage out of fewer musical elements.


5. Are you okay

Date of Composition: September 2020

Are you okay is a song composed for 2 pianos and string quartet, and the key is G Major. The key of this piece is arbitrary, however, because this song relies on a lot of chromaticism in order to create harmonic tension throughout the piece. This was the last piece I composed without having the idea of an album in mind, so the inspiration for the piece was more spontaneous.


I wrote this piece because I wanted to try my hand at minimalism. This song ended up not following minimalism at all, but that is where the idea started. The thought was to just have a piece with a repeating chord throughout and some various melodic embellishments. The chord I found that I wanted to go with was a G add2, and is the first chord you hear in the song. I thought this chord had a lot of potential and could pivot any number of ways emotionally/ tonally. It didn't take me long to try and play around with this chord and introduce some spicy chromaticism.


I didn't have much of a clue where it would go at first, but as I continued on the piece started to feel very tense and emotionally restrained, as if the song had a really dark undertone thinly veiled underneath a confusing, somewhat bright surface. This idea developed into thinking that this piano had some really dark stuff they were silently suffering through. When I came to that realization, I added a second piano part, and this piano plays the part of a concerned friend that knows something is wrong and wants to help. This is the piano that plays the higher melodic lines, gently asking their friend "Are you okay?" All the while, their friend is crunching along, barely holding on but trying to keep it together. I eventually had the idea to throw in some Dies Irae to add to the creepiness of the piece, which is played very quietly by the super low register of the piano throughout the piece.


Dies Irae is a musical motive that dates back to medieval times that is associated with death, and is widely used throughout western culture. The video attached here is a great video essay by Sideways on how Dies Irae is everywhere in Tim Burton's Sweeny Todd, as well as its presence elsewhere in popular culture.



The story of this piece is that our POV character is dealing with the aftermath and grief of the tragedy that took place after Nocturne in Bb. It has been an indeterminate amount of time afterwards, but it is clear they are still very much shaken up. This is when a concerned friend approaches them and asks if they are okay. Our character, who is not very good at opening up to people, dismisses these worries and claims they are fine. The friend insists that things aren't fine and wants to help. Our character then makes a weak attempt to explain themselves (the first quiet section with the bright, tonally inappropriate chords). The friend isn't convinced, and they keep trying to break through, marked by the entrance of the accompanying strings. Our character becomes less composed as this continues, eventually coming to a climatic emotional moment when they finally break. I imagine that our character is in tears at this point, finally beginning to open up to their friend.


This is the exact moment I began to consider that my songs can form an overarching narrative, because I thought that this would be the perfect lead up to In Memory. With this in mind I ended the piece with the cello rising above the rest of the strings, and the piano telling the friend that they will finally tell them what has been going on. This emotional beat is the exact moment when this song ends and In Memory begins.


6. In Memory

Date of Composition: June 2019

In Memory is a piece composed for solo cello accompanied by piano, and is in Bb Major. This is the second piece I ever wrote, and is the first time I really put a lot of personal struggle on the line. Because like our POV character at this point in the story, I too was also dealing with some very heavy grief of a lost family member, and wanted to write this piece in memory of them. For the sake of privacy I will not name this person, nor anyone else affected by this loss.


I wanted the piece to commemorate the personality of this lost family member while simultaneously describing my grieving process. They were a very bubbly person and always lively, so I wanted the piece to carry that energy. The result is a piano that almost sounds like ragtime, with a very energetic and upbeat cello melody. This person was also kind of mischievous, so I used some sparse chromaticism to inject some whimsy into the piece. I am happy with the end result, and I feel like I created something that captures the energy of this person. In the middle of the piece I introduced a dramatic tonal shift to something much more somber and emotionally charged. The intent of this shift was to describe how it feels when you are thinking about this person and how amazing they were, and to suddenly remember that they are gone. It's almost like a light switch, and our thoughts slide into a cloud of depression. The cello during this section has very heavy vibrato, as if it is crying thinking about / talking about this person. We then end in silence and the piece seems to have ended.


After a few seconds of complete silence, however, the cello meekly speaks up, as if saying their parting words above their loved ones grave. After saying a few words, they begin to think again about the good memories they have of this person. The piano at this point ascends from the darkness and begins the process of uplifting. This section then jumps into an accelerando, where the piece speeds up and quickly regains its energy, skyrocketing back to the original speed at the beginning of the song, with even more energy then before. This section (briefly) illustrates the process of reframing the experience with this person and appreciating the time they had. In real life this process isn't nearly as quick or smooth, but to me this is an abridged version of how it feels to approach this mindset of post-grief. The song ends by reminiscing about this person and again repeating the memories experienced in the beginning, but with a more prepared, reframed mindset. The end of this piece is gentle and at peace. As we all know the grief never truly goes away, but when you get to this point, the memories become manageable and sweet to remember.


In terms of the story, the experience of the POV character is directly lifted from my own experience, and mirrors the progression described above. This piece is the conversation that follows directly after our character opens up in "Are you okay." The experience of this piece is a breakthrough for our character and they end up in a much healthier place. They are not completely healed yet, but they have finally learned the value of reflecting on their emotions and learning how they can begin to reframe their experience. This piece functions as the thematic climax of this story, where the character finally learns to accept the value of opening up to others and to themselves.


7. Pingo Therapy

Date of Composition: December 2020

Pingo Therapy is a piece composed for wind quintet. This piece starts in G minor, then modulates to C Major around 1:50 into the song and floats around that tonality for the rest of the piece. This is the penultimate piece of this album, because though In Memory is the thematic climax of the story, this song functions as the emotional climax for the story and for our character.


I wanted to write this piece to describe the emotions and flow of thoughts I feel when I am my favorite place, which my friends and I refer to as "Mitchell's Pingo." Just for some context, a Pingo is a geological formation in which a dome is formed around a large core of ice, and occurs in permafrost areas such as Alaska. A few years ago when I was on a drive, I caught my eyes on this hill in this beautiful open area, and I thought it looked interesting. I decided to see what it looked like from the top. When I got there, I was blown away with the variety of natural scenes that surrounded me, one of which is featured in the cover image of this album. There was something surreal about that moment. I decided to take about an hour to just sit there and meditate. It was a very introspective experience, and looking back with my renewed faith, I'm convinced that in that spot I was closer to God then I had been in a very long time. I revisit that hill often, and it has become my favorite place to clear my head. I've even showed people because I loved this hill so much, and one of my friends who knew a thing or two about Geology said it was technically a Pingo. And from that moment on that hill became "The Pingo."


I wanted this piece to feel airy and to follow a stream of consciousness, while having a mystical and sacred backdrop. I wanted it to feel like the nature surrounding our character is guiding their emotions, and that the wind itself is trying to say something. In the beginning of the piece, the oboe presents a question that they want to answer for themselves. Once they submit themselves to what the Pingo will do for them, the stream of thoughts become fluid and more nebulous. At this point the mood of the piece constantly shifts, as the characters focus is shifting and landing on random points in their subconscious. This continues until around half way through when the oboe begins to approach its initial melody, now that our character is in sync with the Pingo and its natural influence. Our character then asks this question again with more clarity. They then begin to answer their own question with the help of the Pingo, as the wind builds up and roars around them. As the piece nears its end, the tone is consistent and stays at this place that has a dark and heavy undertone, but is raw and filled with hope.


The oboe picks up again, declaring to themselves and to the world who they are. These last few notes always give me goosebumps because it feels so triumphant and climatic. As the piece ends, The tone shifts and the atmosphere feels gentle, bright and hopeful. I really wanted the last chord to be especially powerful, so I tried to emulate Brahms and his thick, gorgeous textures. I feel like I succeeded, because the last chord is very cathartic and final.


And with that, our story is concluded with a climax that is emotionally charged, powerful and appropriate for its scale. This was the one piece that I most desperately wanted to get right just because of how much the context means to me, and I am happy with the results. The whole piece feels like an appropriate summary and conclusion of the album, and the atmosphere replicated my first experience with the Pingo very well. This is one of my more unconventional pieces so I don't expect it to be regarded as much as the others, but to me this is where it all leads up to.


8. Home for the Winter

Date of Composition: December 2019

Home for the Winter is a piece composed for piano in C Major. This is the shortest piece on the album and is relatively simple, but it wraps up the experience very nicely. This piece was originally written as a Christmas present for my parents, and was originally called "Home for the Holidays." At the time that was fine , but when I started thinking about releasing it in this album I realized "Home for the Holidays" might be an unfortunate name for an original song, so I went with "Home for the Winter" instead.

I wanted this piece to be short and sweet, and be joyous throughout. I wanted my parents to know exactly what it felt like to come home for the holidays after being away for so long. The foundation for this piece is a simple progression of arpeggiated chords in the bass and a pleasant melody on top. I wanted it to carry some emotional weight throughout, so I introduced shifts in tone to represent the emotional weight our shared moments carry when we are apart more weeks then not anymore. The result is a pleasant piece that is festive in a way we usually don't get in most other holiday music. I presented them with this song and they were very happy. They still have the sheet music I printed for them wrapped up in a bow.


This piece functions as an epilogue for this album, and describes how our character is also finally coming home to their loving family, with whom we semi-know through Childhood Concerto. When our character steps in the door, they also feel this same inrush of emotions described above, and knows that for the time being they can relax. Similar to the situation this piece evokes, this song serves as a nice landing point for us and ends the album cozied up by the fire. I also really like how the title of this song contains Winter and that the title of the first song is Spring, giving us another indication of progression throughout the album, and that the story begins and ends as the year begins and ends. I didn't intend for that from the start but when I noticed that I thought it was neat.


Conclusion

Going into this blog I had no idea I would end up writing a novel, but here we are anyways. If you took the time to read even one of these summaries, I want to offer you my sincerest thanks. As well as my condolences because that was a lot to read. I wanted to write this post to finally document and lay out the mesh of ideas I've had in my head for the past 2 years, and it is a cathartic experience finally getting it all written down. Writing these songs and producing this album has been a passion project of mine for a while and it is surreal that it is actually out there and people can easily listen to it.


Speaking of which, if you want to learn where to find this album, you can find links to various streaming services in the "Streaming / Links" tab of my website. You can stream or download Pingo Therapy on Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, YouTube, SoundCloud and BandCamp. Just look up "Pingo Therapy" or "Mitchell Lee Hedrick" in any one of these and you should be able to find it.


Thank you so much for your time and for being interested enough in this album to learn more about it. Writing this post has been a cathartic experience for me and I hope it has been an interesting read for you.

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