Where None Would Go – Gettysburg Memorial Song

“Where None Would Go” (Gettysburg Memorial Song) is a piece I wrote to commemorate the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863. This song released July 4, 2016. Words and Music by Conrad Askland. Vocalist: Leisha Skinner. To a variation of the melody “Shenandoah”.

I was inspired to write this song after spending many hours of discussion on the Civil War with my friend, Joe Bowen. He is a scholar of American History where he studied the Civil War at Harvard College. He will setup battle tactics and battle strategies on tables using napkins, playing cards, cups – whatever is around – to really immerse me in details of the Civil War. The conversations usually start with prose, then get into historical details and facts of the battles and politics of the time, then end with philosophical musings, anecdotes and quotes from soldier’s letters.

I don’t have the academic study of the Civil War under my belt, but I do have the artist’s yearning to wonder what it felt like at the time to be immersed in that world, and to wonder how I could express that feeling. In the end, what seemed most appropriate was to create a song as a commemoration of that time. I know there is a lot of controversy over the Confederate flag and I understand that. I included a verse each to highlight the military leaders of both the Union and Confederate armies. I thought it was appropriate to give each equal time. At the end of the video you will see two Civil War veterans shaking hands. You will also notice several cutaways to Abraham Lincoln and to the Lincoln Memorial. I hope what gets across in those images is the high resolve the mankind is capable of to do great good, the immeasurable pain that mankind is also capable of inflicting, and that in the end it is only mercy, grace, and reconciliation that will matter. Maybe I’m reading too much into such a short piece, but those were my intents.

LYRICS

WHERE NONE WOULD GO (Gettysburg Memorial Song)

We went on where none would go
We went on where none would go
And we saw what none had seen
For we went on where none would go

We saw light when all was dark
We saw light when all was dark
And we saw what none had seen
For we saw light when all was dark

We did roam where none would go
We did roam where none would go
And someday we will be home
For we did roam where none would go

We went on when all was lost
We went on when all was lost
And our place was all our own
For we went on when all was lost

We lived on when all did not
We lived on when all did not
And now our path is ours alone
For lived when all did not

We went on where none would go
We went on where none would go
And we saw what none had seen
For we went on where none would go

ORCHESTRATION


The orchestration is very simple: three string parts, piano and synth pad. The double bass string section sticks to root notes the entire piece, the cello section takes the fifth of the chord (except where the 5th happens to double the vocal note), and the viola section takes whatever the third note of each chord was left over. I experiment with adding soaring violin parts but I felt it distracted from the vocal. I also tried adding in timpani and military snare parts, but I felt it was starting to sound too much like a “production” piece. For this song, I wanted a steady drone in the background with a steady vocal. The idea being that the focus should be on the vocal and whatever media accompanies the piece. In this case, I put in photos of Gettysburg. Alternate media could include photos of a modern military group or photos of a more religious nature. In any case, the purpose of this song is to accompany a secondary media for a multi-disciplinary art format.

The piano part was actually my scratch piano part just for the vocalist to get timing and pitch. I originally never intended it to stay on the final, but I liked the simplicity of the part. The synth pad is from Omnisphere and is similar to the old TX802 or Roland D-50 patch called “heaven”, kind of a chiffy string pad. I did eq out some of the “chiff” because to my ears it was distracting with the strings.

RECORDING NOTES


I ran hi pass filters on most of the sends and returns along with sidechain compression triggered by the vocals. This allowed the vocal to stay clean and upfront, while having the reverb trails come in just at the ends of phrases. For this particular song, I wanted the vocals to be very present and upfront. I have been to military funerals where the vocalist sings a capella graveside and I wanted a similar feel. I was very intentional on having the vocalist (Leisha Skinner) hold back and keep a somber and reserved approach to the vocal, so there was never a “belt” moment. Vocals recorded with a Neumann U87 and final mix with many UAD plugins including Studer, Ampex, SSL and Neve 1073 preamp.

On the sends and returns I used standard Lexicon halls and plates. I also used Ocean Way “re-record” setups which gave the vocal a little more ambience and live space.

Two mistakes I made in the recording: On one of the last verses there is a little “click” sound. I couldn’t find a replacement vocal take for that note and it wasn’t working well to edit it out and crossfade, so I just left it in. My biggest blunder was using Melodyne and using an automatic setting to process the entire track. My inner voice kept saying “don’t EVER use automated vocal correction!” but I didn’t listen and paid the pride. On the other side, I really had a burning compulsion to get this released before July 4th was over and I finally got the video submitted to YouTube at 11:50pm on July 4, 2016. I guess I could have spent a few hours extra to learn Melodyne better, but now it’s forward and on to the next project. On the SMART side, I did save unaltered original comp vocal tracks so it could be used down the road and remixed for a new version.

For the vocal track, my instructions to the vocalist was “I wanted it to sound like you have a foreign accent, like you are an immigrant, but I don’t want anyone to be able to tell what the accent is.” So, as an example, we experimented with Irish and Scottish accents and then had her pull back the accent to it was subtle. You’ll notice a peculiar enunciation on words like “go” on the line “where none would go”. That sound was very intentional and part of concept to create a “timeless” sound. Another visual I gave is “imagine that the Statue of Liberty is singing this.”

 

Information on the Battle of Gettysburg:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Gettysburg

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askland

Pianist, composer and audio producer. On the internet my handle is "Cybermonsters", including the public forum discussion groups that me and my friends admin.

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