Steel Guitar Strings
Strings & instruction for lap steel, Hawaiian & pedal steel guitars
Ray Price Shuffles
Classic country shuffle styles for Band-in-a-Box, by BIAB guru Jim Baron.

This Forum is CLOSED.
Go to to read and post new messages.

  The Steel Guitar Forum
  Steel Players
  Concerto for Pedal Steel Guitar

Post New Topic  
your profile | join | preferences | help | search

next newest topic | next oldest topic
Author Topic:   Concerto for Pedal Steel Guitar
Gary Morse

From: Nashville,TN

posted 17 April 2005 05:23 PM     profile     
I apologize in advance for how long this posting turned out to be......
Last night I had the honor and privelege of performing the "Concerto for Pedal Steel Guitar" with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra at the Ryman Auditorium. It was written by Los Angeles composer Michael Levine. Michael has never played steel before but has always been fascinated by it. It involved months of preparation in terms of fine tuning and tweaking the three movements. It also involved being able to read standard orchestra nomenclature as opposed to tablature.
Although I'd been playing steel guitar "by ear" for many years before I learned to read music, I had an opportunity to work in situations that involved reading standard music notation. The first time I did so was when I played steel on the musical "Best Little Whorehouse In Texas."
There were over 80 pages of charts written for the pedal steel guitar that had been transcribed from the original Broadway performances. I read enough music at the time to barely make it through but it piqued my interest in the possibilites it opened. Ultimately, I ended up going back to music school(at the young age of thirty) to study harmonic theory and hopefully improve my reading skills.
The reason I'm bringing all of this up is to encourage others to learn to read music and hopefully expand their horizons. Once you can read,(even barely read)the learning materials are nearly inexhaustible. You can learn from music written for sax, clarinet, guitar and many other possibilities. And you won't have to sit there playing a cd over and over trying to figure out the notes. They will be written out right in front of you.
In regards to the concerto, it would have been near impossible to memorize everything and still not lose my place with the orchestra. Their were many unison and ensemble parts that had to be played exactly as written. The third movement alone was nearly seven and a half minutes long! The only parts I committed to memory were the intense 16th note passages in the third movement (which even gave the woodwind section a workout!)
I was also reminded of how great an appeal the steel can have for people who have never been exposed to it. Especially if they never listen to country music. If I had a dollar for everytime someone told me last night that they were absolutely thrilled by this "new instrument" I could retire on my own island today! When I informed them of the fact that my Sho-Bud is almost 35 years old they seemed surprised. Many had never even heard of the steel before last night.
The event was sponsored in part by Gibson Guitars and was billed as the NCO Guitar Gala. The headliner was Jose Feliciano. John Jorgenson and myself were in the first part of the program. Both John and Jose were absolutely incredible! The NCO's slogan is "music without boundaries." Perhaps we should all take a page from their book and make our slogan "steel without boundaries." It's a start.....
Bill McCloskey


posted 17 April 2005 05:51 PM     profile     

Will there be a recording available?

Bob Carlucci

From: Candor, New York, USA

posted 17 April 2005 06:11 PM     profile     
Gary.. a fantastic accomplishment, by one of the foremost masters of the pedal steel...
Your outlook on the steels future is a refreshing one,and I hope your vision for the instrument is realized. Most of us can only dream of doing what you have accomplished.

Your tone is always super on recordings,and I imagine its even more impressive in a concert setting as you described.. I wish you much continued success in the future,and thank you for being such an impressive and effective advocate for the pedal steel guitar!! bob

[This message was edited by Bob Carlucci on 17 April 2005 at 06:13 PM.]

Buck Dilly

From: Branchville, NJ, USA

posted 17 April 2005 07:36 PM     profile     
Bring on the recording, please. I would love to hear it.
Al Marcus

From: Cedar Springs,MI USA

posted 17 April 2005 07:55 PM     profile     
Gary-What a wonderfual way to show the Steel Guitar in a newer way.! A big thanks from us steelers.

I am glad you mentioned about note reading being a good thing for steel guitars to learn. Especially in recording sessions.

I know it is difficult to read for a steel guitar,compared to some other instruments, but a player should be able to read enough to get by with, as you say.
It won't hurt his

My Website.....

Gary Morse

From: Nashville,TN

posted 17 April 2005 07:59 PM     profile     
Thankyou for the great feedback guys. As to the question of a cd being available, I know they recorded it and also had a 4-camera video shoot so I would imagine they intend to do something with it. I'll post here as soon as I learn something. You can also check out the orchestra's website at
Gary Morse

From: Nashville,TN

posted 17 April 2005 08:10 PM     profile     
Here is one more link that provides information on the Nashville Chamber Orchestra. The musical director and conductor is Paul Gambill and he is the mastermind behind all of their amazing accomplishments.
Jim Cohen

From: Philadelphia, PA

posted 17 April 2005 09:09 PM     profile     
Great news. Was it reviewed in the press anywhere, I wonder?
Larry Hicks

From: Alabama, USA

posted 17 April 2005 09:25 PM     profile     
Gary said . . .
"The reason I'm bringing all of this up is to encourage others to learn to read music and hopefully expand their horizons. Once you can read,(even barely read) the learning materials are nearly inexhaustible."

Gary, please keep beating this drum . . . we're never too old to learn.

On the concert; congratulations! A dream of a lifetime for most of us.

Marilyn Myers

From: Merritt, Michigan, USA

posted 17 April 2005 09:26 PM     profile     
Hi Gary,

You have truly broadened the horizons of the Pedal Steel Guitar. So happy for you, this is great!


chas smith

From: Encino, CA, USA

posted 17 April 2005 10:03 PM     profile     
Congratulations! When the tide comes in, all the boats rise with it.
Ultimately, I ended up going back to music school(at the young age of thirty) to study harmonic theory and hopefully improve my reading skills. The reason I'm bringing all of this up is to encourage others to learn to read music and hopefully expand their horizons.

Amen. The more you know, the bigger the playing field and the more fun it is.
David L. Donald

From: Koh Samui Island, Thailand

posted 17 April 2005 10:34 PM     profile     
The steel needs more instances of this.

I HOPE somebody recorded the night too...

John Lacey

From: Black Diamond, Alberta, Canada

posted 18 April 2005 05:29 AM     profile     
Congrats Gary on blazing some new trails on our beautiful instrument, it takes some balls to do that. Which neck were you using, both maybe? Which neck do you feel more comfortable reading on? I've had reading gigs before and although I learned to read fluently on the piano, translation to steel can be a bear, especially due to lack of opportunity.
Charlie McDonald

From: Lubbock, Texas, USA

posted 18 April 2005 05:38 AM     profile     
There is some recorded work by Michael Levine, using pedal steel. I'll search for it. As a relatively new instrument, there should be more to come; an exciting prospect.
Larry Bell

From: Englewood, Florida

posted 18 April 2005 05:40 AM     profile     
I'm sure you're breathing a big sigh of relief today. This is an accomplishment that helps legitimatize the steel guitar more than any single event I can think of. Thanks for seeing it through, Gary. Your diligence and professional attitude make us all look good.

Larry Bell - email: - gigs - Home Page
2003 Fessenden S/D-12 8x8, 1969 Emmons S-12 6x6, 1971 Dobro, Standel and Peavey Amps

Bill Hatcher

From: Atlanta Ga. USA

posted 18 April 2005 06:27 AM     profile     

You represent the incredible small minority of steel players who approach the steel guitar in the fashion in which the majority of other players approach their different instruments. Formal study in music is a part of the lineage of so many musical instruments. The Pedal Steel should be no different. You and your accomplishment deserve to be applauded. Keep it up!

David Spires

From: Nashville, TN USA

posted 18 April 2005 07:26 AM     profile     
Gary, I am only sorry that I missed your performance. Congratulations on what must have been a very rewarding experience, and a "thank you" to Michael for making it happen.


David Spires

Adrienne Clasky

From: Florida, USA

posted 18 April 2005 09:45 AM     profile     
This is really exciting. Thanks for posting about it!
Bobby Lee

From: Cloverdale, North California, USA

posted 18 April 2005 11:05 AM     profile     
I enjoy Michael Levine's work on the "Cold Case" TV show, but I've never heard any of his concert music. To most here, it seems that the title "Concerto for Pedal Steel Guitar" is enough for celebration.

But if this Concerto isn't great concert music, has it really accomplished anything? Sasha Matson's "Steel Chords" is pretty much a flop musically, in spite of good intentions and a great steel player (Doug Livingston) on the CD. A concert piece must stand on its own musically, regardless of the instrumentation.

I won't post an opinion until I've heard the Concerto. I hope it can inspire other composers to write for the instrument, perhaps even in an ensemble context. The pedal steel isn't strictly a solo voice, you know. It's a unique tonal color that can be blended for great effect with an orchestra.

Bobby Lee - email: - gigs - CDs, Open Hearts
Sierra SD-12 (Ext E9), Williams D-12 Crossover, Sierra S-12 (F Diatonic)
Sierra Laptop 8 (E6add9), Fender Stringmaster (E13, C6, A6)

Gary Morse

From: Nashville,TN

posted 18 April 2005 11:18 AM     profile     
John, I used E9 and C6 tunings. Sometimes back and forth within the same movement. It is very difficult to sight read for either tunings unless it is a very simple part. Invariably, I read the line and then experiment as to which tuning best suits it. In some cases I find that you can play the same phrase in several different positions depending on which neck is used and which pedals and knee levers are used or not used. That's one of the things that makes reading for the pedal steel so challenging. In the case of a piano, you have one place that you can achieve "middle C." On a double neck steel you can find it in a dozen places which makes it very difficult to know your starting point. With the exception of the concerto, most of my reading is very simple in which they ask me to double a short line with another instrument. Where reading has really paid off for me is the ACM Awards Show. I've been playing the aftershow party with different lineups for about the past 10 years dating back to the days when it was still held in Los Angeles. We back up many of the major artists who are on the televised portion. I'll be doing that again in Las Vegas next month with the Nashville All-Star Band and typically we are given about 40 charts to learn, often only days before the event! These are "number charts". Again, there are so many steel lines to learn that committing all of them to memory would be nearly impossible. In some cases I'm able to notate directly above the numbers but in more involved pieces I came up with a sort of "hybrid chart". This involves taking the number chart and taping to it a page of standard sheet music. It folds out with the numbers chart on the left and the sheet music to the right. I then write out in standard note form the passages that need to be played on the right side and refer to them as needed. In other words, I go back and forth between the numbers chart and the sheet music. This has enabled me to read my parts without having to memorize a bunch of sections. It turns out that we will also be backing 10 other artists at the celebrity motorcycle event hosted by Montgomery Gentry two days before the awards. That makes another 20 songs to learn. I couldn't imagine trying to remember all of those parts! As they say, "necessity is the mother of invention" and I was dragged screaming and kicking into the world of reading for the steel. I simply had no choice. Either come up with a system or just don't take the gig and anyone who knows me knows I can't stand to turn down a gig! LOL
Thanks again to everyone for the kind words regarding the concerto......
Jim Florence

From: wilburton, Ok. US

posted 18 April 2005 11:49 AM     profile     
Hey Gary, My wife and I drove from Wilburton Oklahoma , and Chick Donner drove down from Ohio, to see the performance, We thought it was terrific, as was that of John, and Jose.
A big dissapointment was that we didn't get a chance to talk to you and Michael. Anyway congratulations on a great performance, and I think maybe some history was made.
Joe Miraglia

From: Panama, New York USA

posted 18 April 2005 01:10 PM     profile     
Gary--Congratulations on your concert! You mentioned that you played E9 and C6 tunings. You also had to sight read the music. Would playing the Universal tuning be more of an advantage for someone who has to sight read or would you be limited with the U12 tuning? Joe
Danny Hullihen

From: Harrison, Michigan

posted 18 April 2005 02:02 PM     profile     
Well the Concerto was a huge success, and both, Gary and the composer received a standing ovation! Way to go Gary! I am indeed, very proud of you as I'm sure many others are too. I know this was no easy task, and certainly quite a bit different than the number charts we're use to using. I am always happy to see the pedal steel guitar being promoted in just about any venue, and I feel this was a step forward for the instrument.
Gary Morse

From: Nashville,TN

posted 18 April 2005 11:57 PM     profile     
Joe, It's been so long since I've messed around with a Universal tuning that I really couldn't say whether it's easier to read on or not. It sure is an interesting thought,though!
Roger Rettig


posted 19 April 2005 04:01 AM     profile     
Congratulations, Gary!!!

Coincidentally, 'Best Little Whorehouse...' was also the catalyst that convinced me to acquire some reading skills - I was booked for the show in London's West End in 1981, and was horrified when I was handed the charts. I got through it, though, and I've always been grateful for that baptism of fire that forced me to make the effort to read.

I'm still no sight-reader in the strict sense, but it's been invaluable, especially on TV-jingle sessions where something more than just generic pedal steel sounds are required, and I'd be asked to 'double' a line with another instrument. I'd still need a few minutes to find the best place on the steel to play the part, but it's reading of a sort, I suppose !

Please keep us posted if there are any developments with a CD or DVD of the event.

I applaud you for this groundbreaking endeavour!

Roger R.

David Yannuzzi

From: New City, New York, USA

posted 19 April 2005 07:12 AM     profile     
Gary ,Truely Inspiring ...Thanks for sharing the details of your journey and experience...Dave
Jim Florence

From: wilburton, Ok. US

posted 19 April 2005 11:49 AM     profile     
I was surprised that there weren't a bunch of steelers there. Just Chick Donner and me.
I did meet Mike Sweeny, but not at the show.
He was playing at a bar downtown. None of the better known Nashville guys.
David Doggett

From: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

posted 19 April 2005 12:46 PM     profile     
Yes, I think a uni is better for reading music than a double-neck, if only because you only have the one neck to learn, and the E9 and B6 modes relate to each other (B is the V of E and E is the IV of B). However, if you are only going to learn on a single-neck E9 or C6, then the uni might not be better - it would introduce more options, which would increase the flexibility, but also the complexity.

I read music on piano and sax, but never learned on guitar or steel. However, if it is a very simple song with no accidentals and in an easy key like C or G, I can read slowly on steel. I recognize the typical chords (I, IV, V7, VIm, IIm) in the written music and know where to find them and pick an inversion on steel. I also know how to play a scale in the open pedal position, and so can recognize any scale note in the written music and know where to find it on steel. Accidentals and chromatics are kind of dicey, but if I think about it I can find them.

But as Gary mentioned above, just finding a single place to play the written note is not enough to play steel properly. Even just a simple scale can be played across the strings (in any one of several positions) or played by moving up the neck (on any one of several strings). How you choose to play it will affect the harmonies and glisses available, and therefore the whole sound.

Once you move beyond a simple key I know, like C or G, it gets tough for steel. You have to recognize the chords of each key and know the scale and where the black notes are. Learning scales and chords for all 12 keys is more than I will ever have time for in this lifetime. The other approach is to learn the written note for every string at every fret and with every pedal/lever combination. That is 12 x 12 or 144 notes for an octave, plus the pedal and lever changes - maybe more than 200 written notes for a single octave of the instrument - compared to 12 notes for any other instrument.

However, these complexities are somewhat offset by some other advantages for steel in reading music. You can treat the steel like using a capo on guitar. You could just learn to read one key really well, say the key of C. These days you can get computer programs that transpose any written music into the key you know, C in this case. If the piece is in G, you just go to the G fret instead of the C fret, and read it just the same. This would be similar to using the number system. The number system is great for chords on steel, but not helpful for melodies and timing.

Any reading ability on steel can be useful, but I think reading on steel will always be a slow difficult process that has to be done ahead of time. When other musicians speak of "sight reading," they mean reading on first sight up to tempo. That is very difficult on any instrument. And except for very simple, slow stuff, that would seem to be essentially impossible on steel.

Bobby Caldwell

From: St. Louis, Missouri, USA

posted 19 April 2005 12:59 PM     profile     
All right Gary. That is fantastic. I wish I could have been there. I hope it was recorded. Bobby
L. A. Wunder

From: Lombard, Illinois, USA

posted 19 April 2005 09:32 PM     profile     
Gary, that is fantastic! I'm not a great reader, but I do read regular notation on steel, and have harmonized and transcribed some simple tunes as well. The first one was a Bach chorale. I would love not only to HEAR the concerto, but to see the score!


All times are Pacific (US)

next newest topic | next oldest topic

Administrative Options: Close Topic | Archive/Move | Delete Topic
Post New Topic  
Hop to:

Contact Us | The Pedal Steel Pages

Note: Messages not explicitly copyrighted are in the Public Domain.

Powered by Infopop © 2000
Ultimate Bulletin Board 5.46

Our mailing address is:
The Steel Guitar Forum
148 South Cloverdale Blvd.
Cloverdale, CA 95425 USA

Support the Forum