Now available: "Lower Town" is named for the most visited part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, where a cluster of old buildings and stone ruins meets the shores of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. This instrumental piano piece is written in a familiar American style and evokes the energy and pleasantness of first meeting this pretty war town.  

It is available almost anywhere you listen to music. 

About

Life makes art.

Vandalia River is the creative outlet of R. Hall, a pianist, songwriter, and music teacher in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. The vision of Vandalia River is to reap the art of ordinary life by creating music to distill the beauty of every day living - and encourage others to do the same.

You'll find here original music and a weekly blog with thoughts on music, music education, and the Christian life. Many interests, few specialties - but one deep channel of faith runs through them all.

Instrumental Piano

Pensée No. 1

Vandalia River

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Pensée No. 1

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Pensée No. 1 is a brief instrumental piano piece with an ounce of pretty and a dash of suspense. Available on most streaming and retail platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon.

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Lyrical Songs

Heaven and Earth: Scripture Songs for the Old and New

R. Hall, featuring Kellan Gash

Acoustic, catchy, and mostly not annoying: these songs are the home-grown product of a church Scripture memory program. After a long process of writing and refining, vocalist Kellan Gash and sound engineer Derryck Birt helped R. Hall bring the album to the next level.

​Now these songs are a gift to you. Listen, use, and share without compulsion to pay. A PDF of chord sheets is included in the album download.

Also available on many streaming platforms, including Spotify and YouTube!

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If you like what you hear, I'd love to send you news and blog updates.

From the blog

Digging for Heaven 

It seems like the people who have the most heavenly stories are the one who've dug deepest into the earth. 

Corrie ten Boom lived a war, provided a hiding place, survived a concentration camp, and forgave. 

Gladys Aylward boarded a train to go through Europe to China. When it stopped at the edge of a warzone in Russia, she started walking. Both the regularity of her ordinary service to the Chinese and the spectacularity of events that arose from it qualify her story. 

Similarly, the most creative people are the ones getting their hands dirty with real stuff. The early Disney animators didn't get their inspiration from watching cartoons (there weren't any!). They had been boys in the early 20th century, and, I wager, that gave them the imaginative kindling they needed to animate their cleverness. Much more recently, Garrett Taylor tells one reason he was hired as an artist for Pixar: "To my amazement, the man that chose me for the position said he particularly liked that I had a knowledge of carpentry, and could see that understanding in my portfolio." Carpentry had been his back-up job and the only thing on his resume - but it was this physical craft that made his illustration rise above that of others. 

This all reminds me of that writing advice to live first, write next. Douglas Wilson ("love him or hate him") writes in Wordsmithy, "Live an actual life out there, a full life, the kind that will generate a surplus of stories.... Picture your writing corpus as the mouth of a great river, and all the life you have experienced as the various tributaries that feed the river." 

And, indeed, modest though they be, the projects that appear here at Vandalia River were inspired by real, regular life. This weekend is the anniversary weekend of releasing Heaven and Earth: Scripture Songs for the Old and New. These songs came about because I had kids; I was going to church with kids; I was living life with folks in church; and I was reading Scripture. I was living life, and life gave me something to write about. 

On Sep. 20 - next Friday - another bit of music will be released that was borne out of non-musical living. This track inspired the whole Battlescapes album I've been working on. Jacob runs. He runs because he likes it, but he really runs because he loves his son, and it's one of the few things they can do together. We know this town, this park, and this community all the better for his running pursuit. One day, as a service to my daughter's cross country team, he took video of a trail route on Schoolhouse Ridge, a series of fields that are part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. He set an early draft of a piece I was creating to the video.

Years later, remembering that video and that piece, I realized it needed to be finished and named "Schoolhouse Ridge." And it needed to be accompanied by other pieces commemorating places linked to our home and story. 

Schoolhouse Ridge. Murphy Farm. Lower Town. The Heights. Virginius Island. The Confluence. I look forward to unfolding what these places mean to me in music. 

 If you haven't yet, pre-save "Schoolhouse Ridge" on Spotify. 

If you like the style of these piano pieces so far, let me know if you'd be interested in a Battlescapes CD. If I get enough pre-orders, I'll be able to print a small batch.

Singing Belongs to You - and Some News 

This summer a little dream came true. 

A handful of acquaintances got together in someone's house and learned an a cappella song together. We were college girls, working mothers, empty nesters, and due this fall (well, one of us). Some of us could read music; others not so much. Some of us were known to be gifted vocalists; others were not known to be so (and in my case, was certainly not). We got together once a month three times - the first time to figure out our parts and suggest songs to learn; the other times to come together and sing what we practiced. We couldn't all show up every time, but when we did, we were smiling.

To learn our parts, we had a notated arrangement as well as the parts recorded singly for those who didn't read music. I recorded the tracks and shared them on Soundcloud, but for a lot of arrangements you should be able to buy pre-recorded tracks. 

This was a way to be together and bring music home. This was a way to use the voices we all had regardless of gifting. We didn't produce any record-worthy performances, of course. But that's not why we sing. 

We just might do this again.

 


And Some News!

A few weeks ago I sat down during an evening storm and played a piece from the forthcoming Battlescapes set. It's called "Schoolhouse Ridge" and is named for a series of fields nearby that saw action during the Civil War. Schoolhouse Ridge is preserved today as part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

And "Schoolhouse Ridge" has been preserved in studio. It's coming out as a single on Sep. 20! 

If you like it, you can now pre-save the piece on Spotify. 

"Lower Town" Goes Public  

"Lower Town" is now out where you can get it!

"Lower Town" is an instrumental piano piece named for the most visited part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park: a cluster of old buildings, ruins, shops, and residences hugged by the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. Visitors who approach it from either Maryland or Virginia are impressed by the sight of this point of land, with its spires and stoneworks, descending into the confluence of two great channels.


 

This piece captures the energy and pleasantness I felt when first meeting Harpers Ferry, while pausing at points just like I paused to reflect on the somber aspects of this war town's history.

 

Choose your link of choice to listen. If you like it, please share. 

SPOTIFY 

AMAZON 

ITUNES / APPLE 

YOUTUBE

Consumer Report 

Music 

This collection of mostly acoustic, guitar-driven songs is really nice in the morning. It is gentle yet cheery, and the lyrics look up and out rather than in and down. 

 

Josh Garrels won me over with his new album Chrysaline. Atmospheric, sincere, worshipful, sophisticated. 

 

Last week I recommended the Classics for Kids podcast. Well, I didn't want to listen to the episodes on John Philip Sousa. A victim of his own success, he wrote military marches that are almost cliché now. But I did listen, and somehow the smartness of his music shot through to me freshly. 

 

Books 

Working with Winston by Cita Stelzer profiles several of the personal secretaries who worked for Winston Churchill. Before, during, and after the war they worked their tails off according to his very particular and all-encompassing methods. They had plenty of pluck and intelligence, demonstrated by their Operation Desperate "war memo" commissioning persons to "command Special Mission to U.S.A. for the purpose of exploring the rich resources, believed to exist in the West, of certain vital commodities. These are:-- (i) Silk Stockings (ii) Chocolate (iii) Cosmetics." 

Movies 

A few personal favorites, chosen for relative obscurity: 

A Canterbury Tale 

Babette's Feast   

Temple Grandin   

The Secret World of Arrietty

Microcosmos (nature documentary. make sure squeamish family members are present for the kissing snails scene.)

Four Ways to Bring Music Home 

I aspire to bring more live music back into the home. Strategically this means bringing music to our kids. Here are four ways that has happened in the Hall house.

1. Singing

Singing belongs to you. Some people are knock-out singers, but everybody is meant to sing. I hear about homeschooling penny pinchers who can easily get music literature, history, and theory in their house but, unless the parents are musicians, can't afford actual music lessons. Well, singing makes you an instant practitioner of music. Certainly there's proper technique to it that's not intuitive - but go ahead. Start with the songs you know and like. Start when your kids are young so they don't learn to become embarrassed. Maybe learn some rounds to sing in the car, such as "Scotland's Burning."

Speaking of Scotland, these guys are cool.

But they're not singing a round. Here's another one.

This summer a few of my friends got together to form a casual summer a cappella group. We were lucky a trained vocalist could help us find our parts. We learned a two-part arrangement of "Down to the River to Pray," practicing on our own and coming together in a mom's house with kids milling about to bring it all together. It was fun, and we're hungry to tackle something for Christmas now. GENE PUERLING CHRISTMAS ARRANGEMENTS, WHERE ARE YOU?

2. Classics for Kids Podcast

Each episode in this podcast is six minutes long, winsomely narrated by Naomi Lewin at WGUC in Cincinnati. Naomi introduces names, places, musical forms, biographical anecdotes, and humorous facts, all interspersed with samples from the composers' well known works. Though meant for kids, it's a serious introduction to music literature that will inform everyone. Subscribe!

3. The Piano Safari method

Many piano methods for young children emphasize how to read piano music. Piano Safari focuses on how to play the piano. Not at all neglecting, however, to lay a foundation for reading. By the end of the series kids are reading the grand staff, improvising, playing chords and scales, understanding some chord relationships, and playing folk and classical pieces with deliberate technique. A good teacher can convey these things no matter the method, but Piano Safari brings it all together. The website is a pedagogical hub of resources for teaching concepts as well as supplements for students sticking with a different method.

4. Routine

Routine is magic. If each day has a routine with music practice tucked in the same place, practice happens. For the resident student in this house, piano practice is the last school subject before free play. No reminder needed. And, a little bit of practice every day goes much farther than a lot every now and then. I never cease to wonder at the miracle of incrementalism. No matter how tangled the notes look or how awkward the fingering feels at first, the minuscule gains each day seem suddenly to resolve in a creditable performance.

This carries over to creative work, too. A little bit of regular time devoted to writing music yields results. As I saw songwriter Jon Guerra put it, "Regularity is the mother of spontaneity."

#BringMusicHome