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Imitation the sincerest form of flattery

Sooz 02 Mar 03 - 07:23 AM
Mr Red 02 Mar 03 - 08:38 AM
Allan C. 02 Mar 03 - 08:59 AM
Tweed 02 Mar 03 - 10:57 AM
Stilly River Sage 02 Mar 03 - 11:05 AM
Liz the Squeak 02 Mar 03 - 11:18 AM
Sooz 02 Mar 03 - 11:44 AM
leprechaun 02 Mar 03 - 11:52 AM
Amos 02 Mar 03 - 11:53 AM
Sooz 02 Mar 03 - 11:54 AM
Thomas the Rhymer 02 Mar 03 - 12:55 PM
leprechaun 02 Mar 03 - 12:57 PM
Thomas the Rhymer 02 Mar 03 - 03:37 PM
CraigS 02 Mar 03 - 04:21 PM
Jim McLean 02 Mar 03 - 05:28 PM
Mr Red 02 Mar 03 - 06:33 PM
GUEST,T-boy 03 Mar 03 - 08:23 AM
GUEST,don 03 Mar 03 - 09:39 AM
GUEST,Strollin' Johnny 04 Mar 03 - 08:19 AM
Amos 04 Mar 03 - 08:38 AM
GUEST,Pat Cooksey. 04 Mar 03 - 09:13 AM
George Papavgeris 04 Mar 03 - 09:22 AM
Steve Parkes 04 Mar 03 - 11:13 AM
GUEST 04 Mar 03 - 11:25 AM
Leadfingers 04 Mar 03 - 01:46 PM
fat B****rd 04 Mar 03 - 03:17 PM
Bill D 04 Mar 03 - 04:25 PM
smuggler 04 Mar 03 - 06:14 PM
CRANKY YANKEE 04 Mar 03 - 06:41 PM
breezy 05 Mar 03 - 05:37 AM
GUEST,Strollin' Johnny 05 Mar 03 - 01:18 PM
Mudlark 06 Mar 03 - 12:08 AM
Gurney 06 Mar 03 - 04:37 AM
GUEST,Strollin' Johnny 06 Mar 03 - 07:52 AM
GUEST,Sooz(at work) 06 Mar 03 - 08:05 AM
greg stephens 06 Mar 03 - 08:14 AM
Big Mick 06 Mar 03 - 08:38 AM
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Subject: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Sooz
Date: 02 Mar 03 - 07:23 AM

When we perform a song, we do not try to perform a copy of the original but try to put our own interpretation, accompaniment etc on it. This can lead to quite significant differences after dozens of performances and it occurred to us that the writer of the song could feel miffed at this evolution! Any comments, either from other performers or writers who have suffered at our hands? (Whatever the concensus, we'll carry on doing what we do!)


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Mr Red
Date: 02 Mar 03 - 08:38 AM

That is a very good point from obviously a supremely intelligent person (**BG**)

No but seriously, I have always had problems hearing other interpretations of my songs but it is a comfort to remember that someone is singing it. I guess it would be different for songwriters who have more acclaim and more "names" singing it.


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Allan C.
Date: 02 Mar 03 - 08:59 AM

"Look what they've done to my song, Ma!" - Melanie

I'm sure lots of people have winced a bit to hear their work done by others - especially when done poorly. There is also the issue of folks who diddle the lyrics to suit themselves rather than to stick with what was written.

This last bit reminds me of what Gary Shearston might have thought when hearing Peter, Paul and Mary sing his "Sometime Lovin'" using lyrics they heard incorrectly from his recording. He supposed it was because they couldn't understand his Aussie accent. It was amazing what they came up with!


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Tweed
Date: 02 Mar 03 - 10:57 AM

Good on you Sooz! I think it's a healthy thing to interpret songs as you feel them. That's how the music evolves and continues to grow. Otherwise, to hear songs exactly as they were played originally, there is the detested "kareoke nite" down at the local sports bar....Gahhhhhhhgh, blargh, ptooie!

Yerz,
Tweed


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 02 Mar 03 - 11:05 AM

Last summer someone sent a link for Beth Nielsen Chapman and her song "Sand and Water." Part of what one learns about that beautiful and very personal song (and Elton John's use of it) is that he asked her to write another (alternate) verse for him, and she did.

Someone once asked my Dad to change a few words of his song about the Pig War (on San Juan Island in the north end of Puget Sound), in order to use a recording of it up at the National Park that is dedicated to the event. I was working there at the time. He refused to make the change, because he knew that his research was correct, and the person making the request was just quibbling and pulling a little power play. The song ended up not being used, and I didn't pursue it, because it wasn't worth trying to convince the whacko supervisor that you don't just ask someone to change a song for no good reason. Chapman, on the other hand, took her song and extended its reach to a broader audience.

SRS


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 02 Mar 03 - 11:18 AM

I was once told that 'you sang that exactly like the record' which made me quite upset - I'd spent ages learning the song and did it in my own way, but as a consequence, I've never sung that song in public again.....

I'm the singer, I sing other people's songs, but I want to feel I'm singing them in my way. If I want to flatter someone, it won't be by singing their song.

(Mind you, I tend not to do the flattering sycophancy stuff anyway.... if I like someone I tell them, if I don't like them, I tell them that as well.)

LTS


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Sooz
Date: 02 Mar 03 - 11:44 AM

I know just how you felt Liz. It's just as bad when someone tells you you've done it wrong because:
It's in a different key on the record. (That one really makes me cringe).
HE used a different chord there.
etc etc
I think that songwriters should get a really warm feeling knowing that lovely people like us want to sing their songs!


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: leprechaun
Date: 02 Mar 03 - 11:52 AM

This is a very good thread.

To whom does a created thing belong? The writer? The performer? Or the listener?


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Amos
Date: 02 Mar 03 - 11:53 AM

One of the reasons folk music as a whole is as vibrant and self-renewing as it is is that it tolerates and nourishes the regeneration of old forms into new communications. The burden on the listener is to be able to hear what is there now rather than insist on partsing it through a stuck picture of how a song is supposed to be because an earlier singer sang it that way That's the folk process in play.

Singer-songwriters (in my opinion) need the greatness of heart to tolerate and enjoy this happening with their songs as well, as it is indeed a sincere compliment.

A


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Sooz
Date: 02 Mar 03 - 11:54 AM

It must be all three - songs unsung just die.


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 02 Mar 03 - 12:55 PM

The inspiration to "do" a song at all, comes from the timis e when the potential performer hears it, and is turned on by it, or 'hooked' by it... So, no matter how you decide to recreate or represent this 'inspiration' with your own persona and spin... it is only right and proper to give credit to the 'origional' which brought this moment into being... deference is a correct folk passion... and aids in the carrying of 'the torch' ... ttr


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: leprechaun
Date: 02 Mar 03 - 12:57 PM

Yes indeed, that's the folk process, and I agree with it to a degree. But I can see how some artists might be upset when their work is changed into something they consider ugly. See Melanie above.


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 02 Mar 03 - 03:37 PM

I've got a brand new pair of rollerskates, you've got a brand new key! Dang, if it don't happen all the time! My tuppence... Being offended is no ticket to 'process betterment', and so, once you put an Idea out there, ya just gotta watch and wonder! ... and maybe a little chat with yer lawyer once in a while will be enlightening... ;^)
ttr


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: CraigS
Date: 02 Mar 03 - 04:21 PM

I've had a thing for years about asking people if they mind if I sing their songs before I do them. At the same time, I suffer from acute embarassment if called upon to do it in their presence - even if it is someone I regard as a friend. On the other hand, it recalls an occasion 25 years ago when I went to see Tom Gilfellon in Nottingham, who had one solo album out at the time. All the floor singers sang some material from the album, and not always well - I was left wondering whether it was a tribute, or whether it was a conspiracy! Tom gave a marvellous performance, and did not touch the album material, so it did not bother him too much, but it would not have been kind if he was trying to plug his record, or a person of restricted repertoire.
I know one girl who sounds so much like Joan Baez that you don't need the original. For myself, when I start fading halfway through a gig I get people coming up to me saying I sound like Howling Wolf (which would be OK if I wasn't trying to sound like Big Joe Turner). I don't think it is harmful if you sound like someone famous - but in general performance terms, you either have to sound exactly like the original, or be completely different, to be acceptable to the listening public.


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Jim McLean
Date: 02 Mar 03 - 05:28 PM

I always feel flattered when someone sings one of my songs. Sometimes their interpretation is very different from my intention but there must have been a reason for their singing it and that's enough for me.
Jim McLean


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Mr Red
Date: 02 Mar 03 - 06:33 PM

How many songwriters have you heard tell the story about the person who goes upt to them and, thinking it to be cute, proceeds to explain the meaning of the song to the songwriter? And the songwriter doesn't recognise that particular subtext!!!

It's not just singers who re-interpret. BUT if it has touched someone why should the writer quibble? That was their intention. Too bad it was not quite how it was intended - hey that is what we call LIFE.


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: GUEST,T-boy
Date: 03 Mar 03 - 08:23 AM

If anybody ever sang one of my songs I'd be so chuffed I wouldn't care what it was like.


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: GUEST,don
Date: 03 Mar 03 - 09:39 AM

I might as well put my two cents worth in. I admit, I have sung other peoples' songs differently from the way they wrote them. Sometimes it was accidental (I had sung it so long and so often that it had evolved), and occasionally on purpose. But I admit I feel both ways about it. Consider Nanci Griffith's wonderful rendition of "From a Distance" (I know she didn't write it). A year or two later Bette Midler came up with a version that was a direct steal of Nanci's, right down to the tiniest detail (except that Nanci's voice was much sweeter). That really irked me! Ian Tyson wrote "Some Day Soon", a perfectly fine song as is. Judy Collins recorded it and for some reason felt compelled to change the tune. Ever since then, everyone that has recorded it has done it as Judy did it... not because that way is better (it isn't), but because they learned it from her record, or from a third-hand copier. They obviously made no attempt to find out the true origin of the song. I really let things like that bother me. So you can see, I feel strongly both ways! I guess what really matters is that when you sing someone's song, you give credit to the composer (and let the audience know if you have added the second verse), and by all means remember to pay royalties if you record it.


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: GUEST,Strollin' Johnny
Date: 04 Mar 03 - 08:19 AM

Sorry to name-drop guys, but a long time ago I had a conversation at a gig on the Renfrew Ferry in Glasgie with one of the very best (in my not-always-humble opinion) songwriters, Eric Bogle, about this very subject. When I nervously asked for his blessing on my performing his material, he told me that he writes the songs to be performed and that he's happy for anyone to perform them, with two provisos:-

1) Always tell the audience who wrote them.
2) Don't copy his version - do them your own way.

My experience is that writers are, in the main, very generous people (and I've met and 'borrowed' material from some crackin' ones). I think the majority would agree that the sincerest form of flattery is not in imitation, but in loving their songs and giving them air. It doesn't have to be a perfect performance, nor 'Stars-In-Their-Eyes', just one of a song loved and enjoyed by performer and audience alike.


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Amos
Date: 04 Mar 03 - 08:38 AM

I knew there were more reasons to like Eric Bogle!

A


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: GUEST,Pat Cooksey.
Date: 04 Mar 03 - 09:13 AM

Many of the versions of my songs I have heard are better than
I could do them, I am happy to hear other people sing them in
whatever style they choose, however I don't like people adding
verses, or changing the words I wrote, unless they ask first.


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 04 Mar 03 - 09:22 AM

A song does not "belong" to the songwriter, once it's out - except in the legal, royalties etc ways. At least no more than a child "belongs" to the parent. Both of them, once they are out in the big world, will grow and adapt and touch, and be touched by others. And so they should; as Mr Red says, that's life.

We may not always like what becomes of our children (or songs). Sometimes we may think that no treatment they receive is good enough for them. But we are wrong.

The singer-songwriter has no additional rights to "fix" a performing style or manner for his/her song. When they perform the song, they simply add "their" interpretation, just as (hopefully) others will add theirs.

The first time I heard Johnny Collins do my "Heart of a sailor boy" my jaw dropped, but from awe, not shock: it is recognisably my song, yet I do it in slightly ragtime style with heavy guitar riffs, while he does it unaccompanied, in a different rhythm, with the "JC style" stamp indelibly on it. And I just wish I could sing it like he does!

When Breezy does "Emptyhanded" or "Sailing tomorrow" I listen and learn. And I now perform both of those in a more laid-back manner that is definitely his own contribution to the songs.

In fact, with many of my songs, I confess that I have favourite singers that I wish I could hear them sung by: Martyn W-R doing "Expiree"; or HergaKitty doing "Two cannon balls" (I have hopes...). One thing I will wholeheartedly admit: I am NOT the best performer of my own songs, and in a perverse way, I am pleased for that.


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 04 Mar 03 - 11:13 AM

I've always wondered why I was the only one to see the irony when the New Seekers recorded Melanie's "Look what they've done to my song". I hope they did ...

I knew a bloke in Wolverhampton years back who firmly believed that "when someeone wrote a tune, that was how they wanted it to sound, and it was wrong for anybody to do it differently". e was then about the age I am now, so he should have known better. Where do people get such strange ideas?

Steve


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: GUEST
Date: 04 Mar 03 - 11:25 AM

They do get those ideas though. Grrrrrrr. I know someone who slavishly goes back to CDs to get the definitive key/tune/riffs/chord voicings etc - but the whole effort is doomed because their voice is very limited & cannot complete the exact copy they want to achieve anyway. I believe they'd be better off to adapt the song to their own capabilities so that they can perform it to the best of their ability - rather than reaching for the unobtainable.


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Leadfingers
Date: 04 Mar 03 - 01:46 PM

If I sing a song out for the first time and find it sounds too much like the Original singer/composer, I put it on the back burner for a while,until I can do it 'My'way.I always credit my sources,but feel
that doing a slavish copy of someone elses work is not doing ANYBODY any favours.I feel that if you cant put a lot of YOU into the song ,perhaps you would be better off not singing it.If you are going to do three consecutive songs off an album,with the recorded intro word for word,why not just play the record ?


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: fat B****rd
Date: 04 Mar 03 - 03:17 PM

I have actually seen a band perform a song what I wrote and I was flattered and surprised, but when I was a blue-eyd soul boy I was told I sounded like Bob Hite/Eric Burdon which pissed me off tremendously 'cos I wanted to be Ray Charles/Bobby Bland.


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Bill D
Date: 04 Mar 03 - 04:25 PM

well, I don't mind when a song is massaged gently to reflect the singer's personal taste and view...but I HATE it when someone changes the very character of the song with extreme alteration of pace, tune and feeling. If they need to do a drastic makeover, let 'em write a new song!

("Bluegrassed" versions of slow ballads, done at 90mph,is a personal grump for me)


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: smuggler
Date: 04 Mar 03 - 06:14 PM

Some songs I sing are like the original. Some are changed to suit my voice.The reason they are sung is because they touch something in me, either lyrics or tune. Some changes suit my voice better.
I'm happy to have my songs sung by anyone. Some will not feel right but a lot will sound a damn sight better.I like the variety.
Songs you wrote a long time ago feel like someone else's songs anyway.


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: CRANKY YANKEE
Date: 04 Mar 03 - 06:41 PM

There have been Three (to my knowledge) copies of my "Good Morning Captain" (muleskinner Blues) Sheb Wooley, The Fendermen and Dolly Parton. Muleskinner Blues is a folk song, and as such belongs to all. My reord was a complete departure from the hitherto traditional renditions like, Jimmy Rogers and Bill Monroe. it also included new lyrics.
Am I miffed? At first, yes. But not anymore, it is, after all flattery to have such heavy hitters copy my work, and, my rendition was only a new way to sing an old song.
Everyone (that I've heard in recent years) sings it my way, now. That indeed is flattery. "Good Morning Captain" TETRA 4450, got me into the "Rockabilly Hall of Fame". I never expected to get anything (monetarily) out of it anyway, so "good luck to all"

Jody Gibson
(the Crank)


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: breezy
Date: 05 Mar 03 - 05:37 AM

I think El Greko is such a class person.
He may have found another song project!!
His 'Bye and Bye' love song is a gem.
Catch him wherever you can.


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: GUEST,Strollin' Johnny
Date: 05 Mar 03 - 01:18 PM

What a great thread - thanks for starting it Sooz, I'll buy you a beer at the 8JB.

And even greater thanks to the writers who have contributed to this thread - keep it coming guys. I couldn't write a song to save my life, so I'm in awe of you all.

Thanks most of all to those (living and, alas, some now departed) whose great works I've borrowed and, hopefully, given something of myself to. Without you I'd just be a guitar player.

Just proves what a great bunch musicians are - shame we don't run the world instead of the politicians.

Johnny


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Mudlark
Date: 06 Mar 03 - 12:08 AM

It seems to me this question is a fairly new one, historically...and has come to pass because singer-songwriters are the in thing right now. But going back to the music of the pre-60's, there was no question that once the song was written and "out there" it was up for grabs for however any group/band/song bird/singer wanted to do it. Very often the definitive version was several iterations beyond the original.

I can't imagine doing a song exactly like someone else...as someone stated above, why not just play the record and get the real thing, if that's the case. I don't even consider playing a song for anyone if I haven't committed it to memory and played and sung it until it has become a part of myself...which, by necessity, means it's going to be how I do it, not the writer's (except that we all copy a little from here and there, now and then, often without even knowing it).

It may be heresy to say it, but to my ear that are many fine songwriters with less than pleasing voices, for instance, and I am thrilled to hear their execellent music performed with an instrument/voice that does it justice. Of course, the writer should be given credit, and if major changes are made, responsibility for them taken.


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Gurney
Date: 06 Mar 03 - 04:37 AM

I'd wonder how a writer feels when someone starts singing a parody of a song.


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: GUEST,Strollin' Johnny
Date: 06 Mar 03 - 07:52 AM

Don't change the subject Gurney!
JB


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: GUEST,Sooz(at work)
Date: 06 Mar 03 - 08:05 AM

Looks like the start of a new thread Gurney.
Thanks everybody for their contributions.


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: greg stephens
Date: 06 Mar 03 - 08:14 AM

Gurney's question, how does it feel whn someone parodies your song?
happened to me once. I was song-writer/musical director of a show at the Tyneside Theatre Company, and the closing song was a mournful,deeply moving elegiac piece about the Blind Willie Purvis, the Tyneside street musician who (reputedly) wrote Buy Broom Besoms. Well one night I was walking down a corridor back-stage and I heard some actors in a dressing-room singing an extremely obscene and very unfair parody of my heart-felt and wonderful song.
    Well, right now I find the incident very funny, and quite flattering. But at the time, thirty years ago, I can admit I found it a bit upsetting!


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Subject: RE: Imitation the sincerest form of flattery
From: Big Mick
Date: 06 Mar 03 - 08:38 AM

I can tell you that I often do them different than the way they were done originally. That is because the lyric speaks to me differently, and then I, and the folks in my band, add the music that we think gets the message across. I would never ask the original writer (if alive) to bless the song as s/he probably wrote it exactly as they intended it to come out. I am arranging on the basis of what I hear. Occasionally, I hear an arrangement that, in my mind, is perfect and I will use it, giving credit for the arrangement and the author. Always give appropriate credit to the author. More often I will hear an arrangement that serves as a "jumping off" point for me, but when it is done it will have various changes. I always credit the arrangement I started with in those cases as well.

Mick


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