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3 key risks to cultural education in the UK

Anna Gower

Music Education Consultant | Trinity College London | Musical Futures International

The government believes that cultural education forms an important part of a broad and balanced curriculum, and that children and young people should be provided with an engaging variety of cultural experiences throughout their time at school. Policy Paper, cultural education DFE, July 2013

This week I was asked what I thought were the main challenges in the UK facing those of us who support a holistic cultural and arts education within our schools and local communities.

The obvious answers would of course include cuts to local authority budgets and national funding, which are now affecting some of the biggest arts venues in London as well as community venueslibraries and museumsacross the UK.

Or the EBACC, which as this article from Deborah Annetts, chief executive of Incorporated Society of Musicians and founder of the Bacc for the Future campaign suggests, negates the potential impact of the recently announced £96m of funding, promised to support the most gifted students with access to arts education. Music for a few not for many.

But in answer to the question I chose the following:

  1. The risk of forgetting those at the very end of the journey to opening access to arts education-the students.

In the UK there are a huge range of organisations all wanting the same things. To find ways to open up access to the arts for all. Many of these focus on work with teachers and schools. However, the danger is that funding can quickly be eroded by getting people round a table to talk about the issues and reach agreement whilst actually making things happen takes much longer.

How can we ensure that initiatives and projects are needs-driven and learner-driven and that data is used not just to measure effectiveness, but to identify key areas where diminishing funding and support for arts education can have the maximum impact for those who need it most?

2) Communication.

It’s difficult to reach the people who can most easily affect change. Where are young people? They are in schools. Where are parents who are part of their local community? Many of them engage with schools.

Schools are a central and vital part of the local community and provide a huge opportunity to open up access to organisations trying to engage and work with local communities.

Yet we constantly hear of organisations trying to reach teachers and teachers trying to reach organisations and still a gulf that lies in finding the right language, the shared aims, the pressures of time and knowing how to reach the right people to make those conversations actually translate into practice.

It would be great to find ways to create more relationships that truly work in partnership and establish a balance that responds to local need and the sharing of expertise where it’s most needed. Without doing so then the challenge of communicating the right information to the right people in the right way remains a key barrier to making things happen.

3) Sustainability.

Many arts opportunities are often high quality, large-scale events and those who participate (or watch) never forget them. However many can be ‘one hit wonders’, expensive to run and once over, there is little evidence of or support for sustainability and impact over time.

The question of how to reach more people and to engage them for longer has long been a key focus for organisations looking for solutions to the challenges we face in the UK around arts and cultural education and opportunities in the current climate.

It’s great that there are structures in place that support collaboration and shared aims and values for arts and cultural education such as the Arts Council funded Bridge OrganisationsThe Music Education Council, the recently announced Youth Music National Alliance and the grass roots campaign to save East Sussex Music Service from threatened cuts.

But perhaps the greatest risk of all might be a failure of more arts organisations to find success in working together. If ever there was a time that this was needed, it’s now.

Music Producer Follows Homeless Kid Off Subway; Records His Demo for Free


Go to the profile of April Greene

In December 2013, my dance music producer friend Andrew was riding the New York City subway when a homeless teenage guy stepped into his train car and started singing R&B. The soulful Christmas mashup so moved Andrew that at the next stop, he followed the singer off the train and offered to record him a demo for free. The kid bit, and the two became fast friends.

I thought this was one of the cooler things I’d ever heard, so I asked if I could buy them coffee and hear more about it. In our interview, Andrew and Julian discuss their chance meeting, unlikely similarities, and musical futures.

Andrew and Julian in Manhattan last winter

Julian Brannon (the teenage guy): Well, my goal is to be the best, so let’s just get that out there. There’s no one in the industry that looks like me or sounds like me right now, and I think they need me.

Andrew Toews (the producer): You are unflappable!

Me: Wow, quite an intro! Could we back up for a sec? How did you guys meet?

AT: Sure. It was just before Christmas last year. I was on the train, and Julian got on and introduced himself and started singing sort of a holiday medley, in an R&B, soul style. I think it was: “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” and…

JB: And “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey.

AT: You can tell when someone has something to pitch you on the train and you’re like, “Dude. Seriously. Don’t.” But I liked this guy, I liked his energy. There was this spark. I actually thought, “I want to hang out with this guy!” He was making my day a better day.

JB: You know, I relate to that. I know I’m there making money, practicing, getting over stage fright. But at the end of the day, I want to make people feel better. I want them to call their mother after I sing Boyz II Men “A Song for Mama.” I know I can do that for people.

AT: So I thought about it for a second and chased him off the train. I thought he might think I was a sexual predator, or otherwise a weirdo; there was definitely fear of rejection in the air. But this was a case where my talents were uniquely suited to you — you’re not a guy with a trap kit who I liked listening to but wouldn’t know what do with in the studio. You’re a singer. So I gave him my email address. I didn’t think he’d bite.

JB: Well, most people don’t respond to me! Guess it goes both ways. I thought, “I don’t know what kind of experience this guy has, but it’s practice.”

AT: It was practice for me, too. Better than spending the afternoon drinking beers, if you ask me.

JB: It was my very first time being in a studio. By the way, your studio was small! I was thinking, “This is not Cadillac Records!” But hey, this is where I’m at. I just knew I should sing into the mic. Andrew told me to just try some a cappella covers, so I did some Mario, some Adele, Guy Sebastian, and The Fray. I put it all on the Internet and it’s gotten me a couple gigs. It’s made me money! It’s badass.

AT: I didn’t want to overcommit to a bunch of studio work; didn’t want to have to tune things later. We’re selling his voice, after all, so we just went for it straight up. We kept the imperfections.

JB: I wanted to keep the personality in it as well. I put some new runs in the songs, which were great, I thought.

AT: I liked when I asked you who you listen to and the first person you said was Adele. She’s one of the only people on the radio now who doesn’t have Auto-Tune on her voice.

JB: Yeah, her and Beyonce: who won seven Grammys and who won six? Know what I’m saying? At the end of the day, raw talent will always win out over good looks.

Me: Can you rewind a bit, Julian, and tell me your backstory?

JB: Sure. I’m from Houston. I used to weigh 300 pounds. I came to New York to sing. I’m a good singer and I can easily act, but I didn’t want to do Broadway. I wanted to be a real artist, go solo. My friends would do talent shows, and I’d say, “Okay, that’s cool — you do you, but I’ma do me.” Don’t get me wrong — musical theater moves people, too. But every note is perfect; there’s no life, no meat. That’s why I like R&B, soul… That music knows how to make people feel things.

I also wanted to get a better education, be with like-minded people, live at a fast pace, not have a car… And when I came here, I sure got all of that! But I also experienced what I would call… a graceful fall.

Long story short, I enrolled in Pace University in 2012, and the classes were easy enough — except algebra; I’ve never been a math whiz — and I was able to network a lot there. But I had to leave prematurely when I couldn’t get enough loans. I even dressed up in a suit one day and canvassed Wall Street to ask people for loans — nothing!

So I needed something, and I got this crazy pyramid scheme direct marketing job right away. I became the number one sales rep in no time. I was on fire, I had no choice. I have many talents besides singing — I’m good at sales, drawing, art. If I tapped into any art, I could master it, but music is what I care about.

Am I talking too fast? No? Okay.

So when I got kicked out of the dorm, I got into a cab and went to a hostel. I told FEMA my house got blown away in a storm so they’d pay me! Then I moved into an apartment in Harlem, where I was suddenly partying with adults, people age 25 to 45, and some of them were very wealthy. Then my company wanted me to open their new office in Texas, so I moved back there to do that. But there was some shadiness, some managerial shadiness, and suddenly my paychecks were much smaller.

So I moved back to New York again to get away from all that, but I was super broke. I stayed with friends for a few months, but wound up in a shelter. It’s a shelter right in the middle of NYC, though! And it keeps me not feeling homeless. It’s not an apartment; it’s a shared room and bathroom. And I’m choosy about who I associate with there — it is a shelter, mind you. If I get signed or put into a financial place where I can afford it, sure, I’ll move out. But other than that, it’s fine; it works.

Anyway, I found I could make more money singing on the train than working at Bill’s Burger. $50 an hour! Your minimum wage for a day is what I can make in an hour! So I was doing that a lot toward the end of last year, and I got a lot of attention from people on the train — producers, etc. I was auditioning for showcases and all that. I’m actually going to an audition right after this, and I’m doing Amateur Night At the Apollo this coming week.

I surround myself with people who are going to help me get where I need to get. It’s all about progressing. We know it will take hard work to live a privileged life, and we can be an inspiration to each other.

But here’s the thing: when you hit rock bottom — when no one’s answering your calls, when no one will let you sleep on their couch — you realize what you still have to offer. When I was singing on the train, I was thinking, “This is all I have.” But that was a good thing. That’s when I realized that’s what I really have to give in this life.

Plus, when I get rejected, it’s a positive thing, because when I get big, that’s one more person who’s going to be like, “Damn! I missed that one.”

Me: Does your family worry about you?

JB: Family? My mother, yes, it stresses her out. She’s stressed out to the max.

AT: I can imagine!

JB: But I tell her that I’m a survivor, and that I survive with dignity. It’s a struggle. But I try to do it with dignity — ask don’t steal.

AT: Reminds me of conversations I had with my mom when I was around your age — 18 or 20. I moved to L.A. with no plan. I got kicked out of a warehouse squat; was sleeping on roofs… My mom was living overseas and I called her and said, “Okay, I’m sleeping on rooftops, but I have a job, I have a car. Sure, I’m spending a lot of time in McDonald’s bathrooms scrubbing my armpits, but I’m not a scumbag and I’m not on drugs. I could do something different, but this is what I’m doing right now. I’m keeping it together.”

JB: One time my mom got a call from the police because someone found my wallet. She thought I had been killed, murdered, stabbed… But I was just at work. At the end of the day, my mother is my best friend, she supports me.

I’ve never been in love, or anything like that. I’ve been alone all my life. Not that I haven’t been close to people or they haven’t showed me love, but not intimately.

Me: Wow. Drew, would you record another singer like this?

AT: Yeah. Not right now because I’m super busy and I don’t have a studio outside my house anymore, but in theory sure. Then, if I had the time and the opportunity showed itself.

I tend to be a fearful guy. I always make myself do stuff, but it never comes easy. So this was good practice presenting to people. You don’t have to be the best in the world. I don’t want to say, “If I’m not going to be Beyonce, I’ll just quit.” That’s not the attitude I want to have.

JB: You learn certain things in life. I believe in the law of averages. No matter what you try to do, it will happen — it’s just a matter of time. If you shop yourself to 1,000 people, one of them will like you. Life is a numbers game. I’m just waiting for the date. I’m trying to set up a foundation to build upon. I want to go a record label and say, “This is what I got; what can you do for me?”

AT: It’s a big world, and it does take a certain brashness. Fear of failure is rampant, so to see someone who’s willing to rock a crowd is really good. I became a producer in part because I can be a part of that balls-out performance experience while still having a measure of control.

JB: I want to open up my own studio one day. Then I want to be a pastor in my later years. I can relate to a lot of people, I can elevate them.

AT: You grew up singing in church, right?

JB: A little bit. But my mother didn’t take me to church that much.

[I zoned out for a minute here and stopped taking notes.]

JB: Yeah, drinking. The struggle is so real; we all have to cope. But I try not to drink too much. I mean, I smoke weed. But at the end of the day, I do what I do because it’s artistically helpful.

AT: Oh man — you burn? We could have burned!

JB: We could have burned?? If we could have burned, we would have been burnin’!

AT: We need to do a follow-up session.

I asked Andrew and Julian what they’ve been doing since our interview last winter. Here’s what they said:

Andrew: “Drew has been keeping the disco fires burning at his new home studio in Bed-Stuy. He stays DJing dance parties, producing original material for a handful of artists, cranking out edits and remixes, and building a small sound design and production business. He’s also offering private music production lessons, with an emphasis on Ableton Live techniques and workflow.” Get at him via fakemoneynyc.com or drewjoy.com.

Julian: “I’ve been working in music. Planning to work with a close friend to produce our first project for my EP. Also starting a wedding singing group to support the financial aspect of producing an EP and a potential album come this time next year. I’m still living in Hell’s Kitchen saving up to move. I am currently working as a barista at FIKA in Chelsea. Great filler job while I focus on my real dream.”



Live Music is the Best Entertainment – Check Out Your Local Bands!!



JD Couch
Columnist
Read more about JD!

Live music is something we all need. Nothing is better to have at the end of a hectic work week. It will wash away all the daily trials.

It’s Friday evening. We’ve thought about going out and catching a great live band all day. But which one should we sample? There are so many to choose from, it’s hard to make up our minds on which band we want to see.

So, we ask ourselves, should we go see a rocking heavy metal band or maybe a great southern rock band? Or we could choose a band that plays the oldies. Just maybe, we’d rather see a multi genre band; one that plays it all: country, gospel, rock, blues, bluegrass and even original tunes created by the band.

As to myself, I’m open-minded to a band’s original music. I’m a singer-songwriter. I’ve written many original song lyrics. I know how much hard work goes into writing a song.

The first draft of the song is usually the easy part; perfecting the song to a shine as pure as gold lies mainly in its length. Most song verses have four lines, but it’s best to keep it under five. The chorus is usually three lines, but again no more than four. This way you have a chance it could be played on the radio one day.

When I was a young man I wrote a song entitled “Rock-n-Roll Boogie”. It has three lines in the first verse, three in the chorus. The second and third verses have four lines each. It’s what we call a southern boogie. It has an upbeat sound and it has never failed to pack a dance floor.

Since I wrote it for bars and dance clubs, it probably won’t be put on a purchasable CD. But to this day, people love to hoof it up whenever we play it. But I’ve added it to the sample CD I give to club owners interested in our music. Several cover songs by different artists will be on the list too so they know we have a variety of songs to play.

We’re musicians who love putting on a good show to entertain the crowd. It lets people know who we are. And there’s no other feeling like it in the world.

No two musicians have the same style of playing or singing. We each have a deep passion for what we love doing. All that passion comes pouring out of the soul once we’re up on that stage; that’s when the audience knows the quality of the band comes from the passion.

Maybe you have a taste for jazz, R&B, or even rap. I’m sure live bands are out there in your favorite genre, ready and willing to entertain you. If you know where to look, then give the local guys a try!!

Everyone should support their local musicians. Great entertainment lies all over this country. Go check it out some weekend soon. You might be surprised at how relaxed and entertained you find yourself. There’s nothing better than live music. Check out your local musicians and have a fun time!!


Why I Started Piano Lessons at 26


Go to the profile of Alex Korchinski

Humility and practice go a long way in keeping a promise to myself

had played piano for over a decade, but my fingers still plunked the keys with the precision of bratwursts.

The way I saw it, I had an excuse: I had never taken a formal lesson.

Piano became a hobby of mine in junior high. I wish I could say I was inspired by a Mozart concerto and had a grand vision of morphing into a musical maestro. But the truth is that I just really liked Linkin Park. We had a piano in our living room, and I thought it’d be awesome to learn their hit song, “In the End.” That was my grand vision.

Those first nine notes, which I insisted on learning by ear, took me a week and a hundred listens to unlock. I was not a musical prodigy — I was just persistent and obsessed with a rock band.

The more I played — and I would learn every song from their debut album Hybrid Theory — the better I got. Songs that used to take me weeks to learn started to take days. Then hours. My progress was addictive.

I dove into piano like a seagull seeking sardines. I jammed on the keys after school each day. I learned how to play the chord progressions and melodies from dozens of pop songs. I taught myself basic music theory. I even wrote my own music.

But I refused to take lessons. Didn’t need ’em. They would ruin the fun, I thought.

I brought a cheap keyboard with me to college. When mathematical modeling homework grew too tiresome, I took breaks by tinkering with songs on the piano.

When I finished university, my parents gave me a beautiful Yamaha keyboard as a graduation gift. I placed it in my new grown-up apartment, excited to play every day.

But I didn’t. Between long hours at work and a barrage of personal experiments, the piano’s beauty was ornamental; its keys covered in dust.

I was stuck. When I did sit down to play, the adolescent joy flowed, only to be stymied by mid-twenties cynicism. I’d hear my sausage fingers hit wrong note after wrong note, and think, Dude, for as long as you’ve been playing, you still suck.

I was sick of being mediocre at something I loved. I wanted to get better. I just needed a goal. So I made it my New Year’s resolution to put on a piano recital.

That motivated me to plow through the cynicism. I picked up right where I’d left off in high school — figuring out songs in mere minutes and learning them just well enough to jam along.

I picked a crowd-pleaser to master for my recital: “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift (Oh, how my musical taste has grown since junior high). I learned it the same way as I had the songs before — no sheet music, no tutorials, and no teachers. Besides, I was always my own best teacher. I learned by doing, dammit.

It only took me a few listens to figure out T Swift’s chord progression, melody, and chorus. It took me a few more to memorize everything. All I had to do was play it again and again until muscle memory took over.

After a few weeks, I thought I was pretty decent — closing in on my New Year’s resolution after just one month. I showed off the song to my friends. They all had the same reaction: “Not bad.”

I could hear the subtext: Not bad for someone with no formal training. Not bad for a cheap laugh at a party. Not bad for an amateur.

The bottom line was, it wasn’t good. No matter how much I practiced, my performance still stunk of mediocrity. My technique was abysmal; my hands moved at the speed of an arthritic octogenarian’s.

It was tough to admit: Maybe I’m not such a great teacher. If I actually wanted to do this — to not just play piano, but to perform — I would need to swallow my pride and learn from someone more skilled than myself.

Thirteen years after hitting my first note, I hopped on Yelp and searched for “piano lessons.” I found McAllister Music Studio, which seemed perfect: They had a 5-star Yelp rating, were located 10 blocks from my apartment, and held piano recitals in December.

I should note that my private piano lessons weren’t cheap: $60/hour. I’d have to cut back on extraneous spending, but I had enough to cover the cost. I count myself as lucky, since many can’t afford private tutelage to pursue a passion.

But just as many say “can’t” when they really mean “won’t.” And I didn’t want to be part of that second group. The check could’ve been for $30 or $300 — either way, the monetary investment signaled commitment. After all, if money was too big a hurdle, how could I expect to climb others? I booked a lesson for the following Wednesday.

I was nervous before my first lesson. The butterflies were bolstered by a run-in with the previous student, an 8-year-old girl. She looked down at her tiny shoes as we passed one another. I was twice her height and had been playing piano longer than she’d been alive, but we were probably at the same musical level. I felt like I was going back to third grade.

My mental image of piano teachers added to my anxiety. I’d heard so many horror stories of adults suffering from pre-pubescent piano PTSD after a verbal shellacking from a strict teacher. I had pictured this prototypical piano teacher looking like Ruth Bader Ginsberg — wrinkly, tough, and demanding.

Those fears were quelled when I met my teacher, Debbie. She couldn’t have been further from Justice Ginsberg — young, with dark brown bangs, and a bright smile. She was fun, upbeat, and sometimes spoke with a delightful sing-song cadence to her voice. (I later found out that she’s an amazing singer-songwriter.)

During my first lesson, Debbie assessed my skill level by watching me play “Blank Space.” She immediately zeroed in on my worst habit: I only played with four fingers. My pinkies hung off my hands like gnarled antennas.

She gave me two pieces of homework: Buy a piano lesson book and practice playing with just my pinkies.

For the next week, that’s what I did, plunking note after note with only my pinkies. It was humbling homework. It felt like I had been preparing and serving up 5-course meals all by myself only to suddenly be demoted to cutting carrots.

Despite the literal monotony, I was proud to display my pinkie prowess at my second lesson. My reward was another week of practice and tackling another bad habit: Leaving my foot on the pedal when I played. I had justified the muddiness by claiming that it added ambiance. Debbie was dismissive and gave me a pedal exercise to smooth the sustain.

Here’s the thing with being self-taught: You don’t know any better. You made the decision to eschew the well-trodden path. Sometimes that’s good. You’re learning for the buzz. You’re free to explore, dabble, and create. But sometimes that’s bad. Your solutions to problems are lazy and uninformed. You’re stubborn. You approach your craft without discipline. And worst of all, you’d never know how to correct your behavior until someone more skilled shows you how.

I can’t claim to have fully realized this on my second lesson. But when I played a chord progression with all five fingers and a sensible pedal sustain, I remember thinking, This feels weird, but it really does sound better.

Although I liked learning the fundamentals, I was most excited when Debbie asked, “Why don’t you pick a song to learn?”

I deliberated. The song had to be beautiful, challenging, and impressive — something that would garner a stronger reaction than “Not bad.”

I picked “Married Life” by Michael Giacchino from the movie “Up.” If nothing else, I had the emotional weight of Pixar on my side.

I purchased the sheet music on Debbie’s request. But this was just a formality — I still liked my way better. I learned the opening melody from “Up” by ear.

At the end of our third lesson, Debbie asked, “Want to give ‘Up’ a try?”

I beamed with pride, “Yep. I already know the first eight bars.”

Debbie replied, “That’s awesome! Did you bring the sheet music?”

“Yep,” I said, placing it on the piano.

I played with my head down, not referencing the sheet music once. “That’s great progress!” Debbie said.

Damn right, I thought. But she continued, “Can you look at this bar and tell me what these notes are?”

I faked it, relying on memory. “That’s an F, then an A, a C, and an E.”

“So the third note is actually a D,” she said.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I’m not sure the sheet music is correct. I’m pretty sure it’s a C.”

Debbie replied, “Hmm… I don’t know. Maybe try playing it the way it’s written and see how it sounds?”

I played it again. The notes rang true.

“Yeah, I guess I can play it this way,” I said. It was all I could offer at the time.

I guess. Did I actually think I knew better than Michael Giacchino, an Oscar-winning composer? The pinkies were bad, the pedal was worse, but this was egregious. That was the last straw for my self-taught hubris. I finally submitted: I really didn’t know very much about piano.

It was good timing too, because the path ahead would only prove more difficult.

When I learned the melody on my right hand, I played it in a way that I thought made sense. But with little sense to draw upon, my fingers crossed and twisted, resulting in awkward movements prone to mistakes.

I had never learned the proper fingering. Debbie detangled my mess, mapping out which fingers would play which notes. I had to relearn the entire melody.

After a week of practicing the correct way, playing got easier. My fingers didn’t jump anymore. Now, they glided. But that was just my right hand. With my weaker left hand I had to learn to play a complicated waltz.

Learning took focus, but once I gathered momentum, I made a commitment. When I got home from work, instead of plopping down on the couch, I’d opt for the piano bench. I would make time to practice every day, even if just for five minutes. I had to stay diligent.

After several weeks of consistent practice, I could play each hand’s part with confidence, but still individually. Putting the pieces together was the hard part.

Playing with both hands is a delicate dance. It’s hard to describe what it feels like, so I’ll use a series of similes to explain. It’s like reciting numbers in Spanish while writing days of the week in French. It’s like being an air traffic controller for a fleet of first-time pilots. Actually, maybe it’s more like walking two Labrador puppies when one wants to wander through the bushes and the other is straining to chase pigeons. Point being: it’s an attempt to harmonize muscle memory and mental cognition. And on a new piece — especially the hardest oneI had ever attempted — it took months to learn.

After three months of minor frustration, major patience, and incremental breakthroughs, I could play the entire song without mistakes. I had memorized the notes and knew the mechanics well.

But I still didn’t sound like a real pianist. I played the piece like a 90s computer simulation. It wasn’t infused with any spirit — the happy parts lacked joy, and the sad parts lacked melancholy.

And so we added more layers. I learned about dynamics, how to vary the volume, and phrasing, how to form the musical shape of each measure. I learned the difference between legato (long and flowing) and staccato (short and punchy)I learned how to ascend a chromatic scale; how to play each hand at a different volume; how to crescendo and decrescendo.

And then the song had life. It breathed and sighed and fluttered. I was obsessed with nurturing it — playing it three, four, five times a day. I had never given this much attention to one thing. But there was always something that could be smoother, a section that could be more expressive. I sought mastery.

It all culminated in my piano studio’s winter recital. The atmosphere was friendly — just the adult students and their friends. But for me, the pressure was on: a New Year’s resolution awaiting resolve. I was a horrible jumble of nerves — sweaty palms, shallow breaths, and a stomach struck with sudden indigestion.

Eight students in, it was my turn.

I walked up to the backlit stage. Rippling red curtains and fresh poinsettias framed the nine-foot Steinway grand piano. I sat at the bench and took two deep breaths. I nodded my head right, 1–2–3, nodded left, 1–2–3, and hit that first F note.

I had played the song thousands of times, but this was the moment — a hundred eyes on me for the next four and a half minutes.

I hit a wrong note early. The sound reverberated through my ribcage. A few seconds later, I hit another wrong note. My chest tightened. I felt hot. Not now. Not nowNot now.

I kept playing, resorting to muscle memory. But my thoughts boomed through my skull. I tried to quiet my mind, concentrating on the upcoming trill. Focus on the trillFocus on the trill.

And then I lost track of the present. I stumbled my way through the whole section, eking out a meek trill to end it.

My dream was becoming a nightmare. I was blowing it. This was a disaster. A full-scale meltdown.

But I took a breath and kept moving forward. I nailed a blistering chromatic scale, then let a long pause and a dissonant chord fill the air before bringing the melody back in. I forgot where I was — it was just my breath, my fingers, and a piano.

Before I knew it, I had landed softly on the final G major chord. I let the notes linger, lifted my hands, and was greeted with clapping and cheers. With a big smile on my face, I took a bow.

I had fantasized about this moment. Even practiced bowing in the mirror. It’s why I started taking piano lessons in the first place. I felt proud of how far I’d come. I felt joy that others enjoyed my music. I felt relieved that all the hard work had paid off.

But I felt something else too. It was small, but it was there.

I felt guilt. I had played the song flawlessly alone in my room. When it came time to perform, I nearly blew it. I felt like the audience didn’t hear my best; that I hadn’t earned their applause.

It’s here that the roles reversed. Up until now, I saw piano as an instrument to be learned. But everything I learned about piano couldn’t compare to what it taught me.

Piano taught me that it’s OK to mess up. No one noticed what I considered to be an epic meltdown. I watched the video later. I could barely tell. And that’s what happens when you’re so far inside your own head that you scrutinize your every move. If you make any mistake, you have one of two choices: You can either succumb to paralysis or keep going.

Piano taught me to keep going. To stay in the moment. To let go and move on to the next bar.

To realize that people remember the right notes, not the wrong ones.



हिंदी एफएफएम (Hindi FFM) – गांधी और संगीत …(Gandhi and Music)


अंकुर बीप्लव
अंकुर बीप्लव

महात्मा गांधी – राष्ट्र के पिता, हम सभी को एक स्वतंत्रता सेनानी के रूप में जानते हैं, एक व्यक्ति जो हमेशा सच्चाई और अभाव में, एक दैवीय आत्मा और अपने देश के लिए महान प्रेम और सम्मान वाले व्यक्ति हैं। हम सभी ने अपने जीवन के विभिन्न पहलुओं के बारे में सुना है / पढ़ा है, लेकिन आज हम संगीत के लिए उनके प्यार के बारे में बात करेंगे। हाँ! अधिकांश लोगों को लगता है कि वह सभी कलाओं और संगीत के खिलाफ थे लेकिन संगीत के लिए उनका विचार- “संगीत अकेले गले से आगे नहीं बढ़ता मन, संवेदना और हृदय के संगीत हैं ”

कुंआ! हम सब प्रसिद्ध भजन- “वैष्णव जन” और “रघुपति राघव” के पास आए हैं, ये भजन नियमित रूप से उनके आश्रम में खेले जाते थे। उनके अनुसार सच्चे संगीत में कोई बाधा नहीं है। संगीत वह शक्तिशाली हथियार है जिसमें उसकी भावनाओं को बदलने / नियंत्रित करने की शक्ति है। गांधीजी का दिन भजन के साथ शुरू होगा और भजन के साथ समाप्त होगा। प्रसिद्ध संगीतकार जैसे- पं। एन.एम. खर, मामा फडके, श्री विनोबा और बल्कोबा भावे अपने आश्रम के भजन सत्र का एक हिस्सा थे। उनके आश्रम में भजन के दौरान धर्म, जाति, पंथ, क्षेत्र, भाषाओं आदि का कोई भेदभाव नहीं था। उनके अनुसार संगीत एक था राष्ट्रीय अखंडता का शानदार तरीका क्योंकि यहां विभिन्न रिघीजेन्स के संगीतकार एक साथ बैठते हैं और एक संगीत कार्यक्रम में प्रदर्शन करते हैं। उन्होंने अक्सर कहा, “हम एक संकीर्ण अर्थ में संगीत को ध्यान में रखकर साधन लिखना और अच्छी तरह से खेलने की क्षमता का मतलब करेंगे, लेकिन इसके व्यापक अर्थों में, सच्चे संगीत तब ही बनाया जाता है जब जीवन एक धुन और एक ही समय की धड़कन के साथ होता है संगीत का जन्म होता है जहां दिल की तार धुन से बाहर नहीं होती है। ” जब गांधीजी दक्षिण अफ्रीका में थे तो उन्होंने आश्रम में शाम नमाज शुरू किया था। भजन का यह संग्रह बाद में – ‘नीतीवम कव्यो’ के नाम से प्रकाशित हुआ।

संगीत सुनने से हमें कई तरीकों से मदद मिल सकती है शायद, यही कारण है कि गांधी जी को संगीत की ओर आकर्षित किया गया था। संगीत एक शानदार मस्तिष्क व्यायाम है जो मस्तिष्क के हर ज्ञात भाग को सक्रिय करता है। यह जीवन के सभी चरणों में एक स्मार्ट, खुश और अधिक उत्पादक बना सकता है गांधी जी ने यह भी सोचा था कि संगीत लोगों के मन में शांति और सामंजस्य स्थापित करने का एक तरीका था। संगीत सुनना मानव मन को एक अनन्त शांति देता है, यह सुनिश्चित करता है कि उनका दिमाग हिंसा के प्रति आकर्षित नहीं है। किसी ने एक बार महात्मा से पूछा, “महात्माजी को संगीत के लिए कोई पसंद नहीं है?” गांधीजी ने उत्तर दिया- “अगर कोई संगीत नहीं था और मुझमें कोई हँसी नहीं थी, तो मैं अपने काम के इस कुचल बोझ से मर गया होता।” गांधीजी बहुत संगीत से जुड़े थे  22 दिसंबर, 1 9 45 को उन्होंने रबींद्रनाथ टैगोर को लिखे गए पत्र के जरिए संगीत के लिए उनका प्यार देखा जा सकता है जिसमें उन्होंने रबींद्रनाथ टैगोर का सुझाव दिया था कि भारतीय शास्त्रीय संगीत के साथ साथ पश्चिमी शास्त्रीय संगीत को बंगाली संगीत के साथ दिया जाना चाहिए। इससे यह भी पता चलता है कि गांधीजी को विभिन्न संगीताओं का बहुत ज्ञान था।     गांधी जी का जीवन लय और सद्भाव से भरा था उन्हें भजन के साथ अपना दिन शुरू करने की आदत थी और भजन के साथ अपना दिन समाप्त भी किया था। आजकल कई हिंसा देखी जा रही हैं शायद लोगों के बीच शांति, सामंजस्य और भाईचारे को सुनिश्चित करने का एकमात्र तरीका संगीत है।

English Translation

Mahatma Gandhi- The father of Nation, we all know him as a freedom fighter, a person who always believed in truth and nonviolence, a divine soul and a person having great love and respect for his country. We all have heard/ read about his various aspects of life but today we will talk about his love for music. Yes! most of the people think that he was against all arts and music. But his thought for music was-
“Music does not proceed from the throat alone. There is music of mind, of the senses and of the heart. ”

Well! we all have came across the famous bhajans- “Vaishanav Jan” and ” Raghupati Raghav”, these bhajans were played at his ashram regularly. According to him In true music there are no barrier. Music is that powerful weapon which has the power to change/control one’s emotions. Gandhijis’ day would start with bhajans and would end with bhajans. Famous musicians like- Pt. N. M. Khare, Mama Fadke, Sri Vinoba and Balkoba Bhave were a part of his ashram’s bhajan sessions.. During the bhajans in his ashram, there was no discrimination of religion, caste, creed, region, languages etc.

According to him music was a great way of national integrity because here only musicians of different religions sit together and perform at a concert. He often said, “We shall consider music in a narrow sense to mean the ability to sing and play an instrument well, but, in its wider sense, true music is created only when life is attuned to a single tune and a single time beat. Music is born only where the strings of the heart are not out of tune.” When Gandhi Ji was in South Africa he had started evening prayers in the Ashram. That collection of bhajans were later published under the name of – ‘Nitivam Kavyo’.

Listening to music can help us in lot of ways. Maybe, that’s why Gandhi Jee was so attracted towards music. Music is a fantastic brain exercise that activates every known part of the brain.  It can make one smarter, happier and more productive at all stages of life. Gandhi Jee even thought that music was a way of establishing peace and harmony in the minds of people. Listening to music gives an eternal peace to human mind thus, will ensure that their mind isn’t attracted towards violence.

Someone once asked the Mahatma“Mahatmaji don’t you have any liking for music?” Gandhi Jee replied- “If there was no music and no laughter in me, I would have died of this crushing burden of my work.” This shows how Gandhi jee was so attached to the music.
His love for music can be seen by the letter he wrote to Rabindranath Tagore on December 22, 1945 in which he suggested Rabindranath Tagore that due place should be given to Indian Classical Music as well as Western Classical Music along with bengali music. This also shows that Gandhi Jee had great knowledge of different genres of music.

Gandhi Jee’s life was full of rhythm and harmony. He had a habit of starting his day with bhajans and also ending his day with the bhajans. A lot of violence is witnessed nowadays around the world perhaps music is the only way to ensure peace, harmony and brotherhood among people.




Brent Smith: The New ATTITUDE of Shinedown


Behind the Original Cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody”


Go to the profile of Daniel Nester

Queen’s mega-hit has been interpreted countless times. But who did it first?

Three years ago, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Queen classic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” complete with a reissue of the single’s original artwork for Record Store Day’s Black Friday and a Queen-endorsed brew, aptly named “Bohemian Lager,” made in — where else? — the Bohemia region of the Czech Republic.

Over the years, the Freddie Mercury-penned song has evolved from a radio staple to competition showcase for melismatic singers everywhere to something akin to public domain. There’s countless parodies: “Bohemian Carsody,” a car-themed parody by the all-female comedian troupe SketchShe, has racked up almost 30 million hits. There’s also ascience-themed “Bohemian Gravity,” College Humor’s “Bro-hemian Rhapsody,” “Bohemian Momsody,” the Minecraft-themed “Bohemian Craftsody,” and “Nintendohian Rhapsody.” And that’s just scratching the surface.

Interpretations of “Bohemian Rhapsody” also abound. Ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro’s TED Talk cover from 2010 has nine million views and counting. American Idol’s Adam Lambert’s rendition of “Bo Rhap” led to a job playing Mercury himself in a biopic set to release this year. Kanye West, the supremely self-confident rap artist and provocateur, opened his headlining set at Glastonbury Music Festival with a “Mama” heard ‘round the world in a performance that could charitably be described as pitch-imperfect. Remember Robert Wilkison? Arrested for driving while intoxicated in Alberta, Canada, he proclaimed his innocence with a full-throated “Bohemian Rhapsody” from the back of a squad car. He racked up 11 million hits. They did not let him go.

But who made the very first “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover?

Perhaps 1982’s recording by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra?

Or maybe the 1987 cover by Bad News, the comedy metal band?

Good guesses, but both are wrong.

The very first “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover was recorded for a Top of The Popscompilation volume and released in December 1975, three months after the original song was released on the airwaves. Not to be confused with the television show by the same name, the Top of The Pops series were budget-priced compilations that featured studio musicians and singers recreating chart-toppers, and usually featured a scantily clad model as the album art. We’re talking everyone from the Supremes to the Sex Pistols. Found on Top of The Pops #49, the “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover was recorded at De Lane Lea Studios, next to Wembley Stadium, where — it might be noted — Queen recorded early demos for tracks like “Keep Yourself Alive.”

Recently I tracked down Tony Rivers, one of the four Top of The Pops singers who recorded that first “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover. He was also the vocal arranger on the sessions, a thankless task for which he was well-prepared: Rivers’ long and varied career includes working on tracks from early 60s vocal groups Harmony Grass and the Castaways, recordings with Pink Floyd and INXS, and singing backup for Cliff Richard and Elton John — all of which he’s written about in his book, I’m Nearly Famous: The Tales of a Likely Lad.

Rivers was kind enough to let me pick his brain over email about the original “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.


Everyone covers or parodies “Bohemian Rhapsody” these days — from the Muppets, Phish, Flaming Lips, William Shatner, Zac Brown Band, Kanye West — everyone climbs Bo Rhap Mountain, it seems.

Well, not many could manage to put this together, least of all Kanye West!

But you were the first.

I have always assumed that [it was], mainly because harmony wasn’t many singers’ strong point at that time, and it was the most complicated arrangement to learn in a few days and record.

Tony Rivers in the 1970s.

A few days? The original famously took three, four weeks.

There were very few around who could have done it that quickly. It was a bit easier for us four, all coming up with vocal group backgrounds. All four of us sang on “Bohemian Rhapsody.” We usually took a day to lay down lead and backing vocal tracks, and would be on our way home by 11pm. Not this time!

So it wasn’t easy to do, then.

No. With due modesty it was difficult for us because of the time restriction — maybe two or three days to live with it (once the committee had chosen it).

By “committee” you mean the people at Top of The Pops?

A small group of Hallmark employees, along with producer Bruce Baxter, would sit down prior to the planned sessions and choose the potential hits. That, of course, was the secret to the label’s success. I have no idea what their thoughts were in choosing “Bohemian Rhapsody” other than “what an amazing record!”

The cover is pretty much perfect, note-for-note. How did you pull that off?

As usual, I had the job of sorting out the vocal arrangement. I had to listen and memorize the parts. John Perry and Ken Gold were also listening and were both assigned lead lines that suited their voices, which they did brilliantly I think. Oh, and let’s not forget the late Stu Calver, who was the very high voice on the Roger Taylor parts — the “Gallileo”’s and so on.

Normally this wouldn’t be too big a deal, but with this song, I had to sit for hours at home listening, making notes, and memorizing vocal lines — apart from the other tracks we had to do that day!

The time-consuming job of layering track after track of vocals ’til we got the sound and the voicing right seemed to take forever. But in the end, it had been a great opportunity to find out how that song was put together.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around you doing all of this in a few days, to be honest.

The harmony parts were obviously part of the problem, but they are not difficult harmonies. The problem was lack of familiarity with the whole thing. We could copy sections, piece by piece. The other problem was the time needed to achieve a similar “sound.” That kind of mass tracking takes time, and wasn’t usually available in big lumps. This was something with many lumps!

We were helped greatly by the fact that all three of us had good range in our voices with JP and Stu blessed with fantastic falsetto range.

I believe we spent the early part and the rest of the day, singing whatever vocals or harmonies needed on the other songs that had been selected.

You worked on other songs at the same time?

Memory tells me at around 7pm we started on Bo Rhap, bit by bit, until each section sounded good, and added voices until it did. We finished and hit the A406 [a main London road] around 7 the next morning in a daze, in rush hour traffic, with “Gallileo”s running round our heads.

I have nothing but admiration for the man who created it: Freddie Mercury. What a record.

A bit different from something like [The Sweet’s] “Little Willie!”

The original version made a splash, of course, but the TOTP version made headlines as well. Kenny Everett, who famously played the test pressing of the original track, also played your cover.

Kenny Everett was a big name at that time , and decided to see if the listeners could tell which version had taken months and a fortune to record, and which was done in a few hours on a budget album! He played our version and Queen’s, cutting between the two, asking “Can you tell which one’s the ten-bob version, and which one cost six million quid to make?”

Did you ever hear from the Queen camp regarding your cover? I know you worked with Cliff Richard for quite some time, and Freddie Mercury and he were friends.

Ken Gold was introduced to Freddie whilst on an Elton John tour of the USA. Ken decided to ask Freddie what he thought about “that cover.” He looked pensive, then added, “Hmm, an interesting version!”

I did meet Brian May once. He said, “Hi, Tony! Roger and I used to go to see you live at Loughborough Uni/College, and you were a very big influence on our harmonies!” Not bad, eh?



The Devaluation of Music: It’s Worse Than You Think


Go to the profile of Craig Havighurst

Starving artists have been affected by more than just piracy and streaming royalties


In their many (justified) laments about the trajectory of their profession in the digital age, songwriters and musicians regularly assert that music has been “devalued.” Over the years they’ve pointed at two outstanding culprits. First, it was music piracy and the futility of “competing with free.” More recently the focus has been on the seemingly miniscule payments songs generate when they’re streamed on services such as Spotify or Apple Music.

These are serious issues, and many agree that the industry and lawmakers have a lot of work to do. But at least there is dialogue and progress being made toward new models for rights and royalties in the new music economy.

Less obvious are a number of other forces and trends that have devalued music in a more pernicious way than the problems of hyper-supply and inter-industry jockeying. And by music I don’t mean the popular song formats that one sees on awards shows and hears on commercial radio. I mean music the sonic art form — imaginative, conceptual composition and improvisation rooted in harmonic and rhythmic ideas. In other words, music as it was defined and regarded four or five decades ago, when art music (incompletely but generally called “classical” and “jazz”) had a seat at the table.

When I hear songwriters of radio hits decry their tiny checks from Spotify, I think of today’s jazz prodigies who won’t have a shot at even a fraction of the old guard’s popular success. They can’t even imagine working in a music environment that might lead them to household name status of the Miles Davis or John Coltrane variety. They are struggling against forces at the very nexus of commerce, culture and education that have conspired to make music less meaningful to the public at large. Here are some of the most problematic issues musicians are facing in the industry’s current landscape.

1. The Death of Context

Digital music ecosystems, starting with Apple’s iTunes, reduced recordings down to a stamp-sized cover image and three data points: Artist, Song Title, Album. As classical music commentators have long argued, these systems do a poor job with composers, conductors, soloists and ensembles. Plus, as I argued at length in a prior essay, they’re devoid of context. While there are capsule biographies of artists and composers in most of the services, historic albums are sold and streamed without the credits or liner notes of the LP and CD era. The constituency of super-fans who read and assimilate this stuff is too small to merit attention from the digital services or labels, but what’s lost is the maven class that infuses the culture with informed enthusiasm. Our information-poor environment of digital is failing to inspire such fandom, and that’s profoundly harmful to our shared idea about the value of music.

2. Commercial Radio

It’s an easy target, but one can’t overstate how profoundly radio changed between the explosion of popular music in the mid 20th century and the corporate model of the last 30 years. An ethos of musicality and discovery has been replaced wholesale by a cynical manipulation of demographics and the blandest common denominator. Playlists are much shorter, with a handful of singles repeated incessantly until focus groups say quit. DJs no longer choose music based on their expertise and no longer weave a narrative around the records. As with liner notes, this makes for more passive listening and shrinks the musical diet of most Americans down to a handful of heavily produced, industrial-scale hits.

3. The Media

In the 1960s, when I was born, mainstream print publications took the arts seriously, covering and promoting exceptional contemporary talents across all styles of music. Thus did Thelonious Monk wind up on the cover of TIMEmagazine, for example. When I began covering music for a chain newspaper around 2000, stories were prioritized by the prior name recognition of the subject. Art/discovery stories were subordinate to celebrity news at a systemic level. Industry metrics (chart position and concert ticket sales) became a staple of music “news.” In the age of measured clicks the always-on focus grouping has institutionalized the echo chamber of pop music, stultifying and discouraging meaningful engagement with art music.

4. Conflation

A little noticed but corrosive quirk of the digital age is the way our interfaces conflate music with all other media and entertainment choices. iTunes started it by taking software ostensibly for collecting and playing music and morphing it into a platform for TV, film, podcasts, games, apps and so on. This is both a symbol and a cause of the dwindling meaning and import of music in the multi-media onslaught that is our culture. The shiny displays distracting people away from “just” music are already ubiquitous. So why impose them on a music player? I believe that one reason vinyl and phonographs are hot again is that musically oriented people crave something of a shrine for their music — a device that is for music only.

5. Anti-intellectualism

Music has for decades been promoted and explained to us almost exclusively as a talisman of emotion. The overwhelming issue is how it makes you feel. Whereas the art music of the West transcended because of its dazzling dance of emotion and intellect. Art music relates to mathematics, architecture, symbolism and philosophy. And as such topics have been belittled in the general press or cable television, our collective ability to relate to music through a humanities lens has atrophied. Those of us who had music explained and demonstrated to us as a game for the brain as well as the heart had it really lucky. Why so many are satisfied to engage with music at only the level of feeling is a vast, impoverishing mystery.

6. Movies & Games

We as a culture do hear quite a lot of “classical” or composed instrumental music, but it has migrated from the concert hall to the video game and movie score. On one hand, that’s given young composers options to make a living, and some very good music is being imagined for these imaginary landscapes. But there’s a pernicious effect of the ubiquitous media sound track, in that whole galaxies of musical ideas and motifs and moods have been essentially occupied and rendered cliché. How does a young person steeped in the faux-Shostakovich rumbling of a war game soundtrack hear real Shostakovich and think it’s any big deal? This is rarely remarked on, but I believe that thousands of cumulative impressions of background music assigned to “romance” and “grief” and “heroism” have laid down layers of scar tissue on our ability to feel something when tonal symphonic music is made or written in the 21st century.

7. Music in Schools

It all begins — or ends — here. Like any other language, the rules and terms and structure are most readily absorbed by the young. And as music’s been cut from more than half the grade schools in the US in a long, grinding trend, the pushback has been based increasingly on evidence about music education’s ripple effects on overall academic performance — the ‘music makes kids smarter’ argument. This is true and vital, but we tend to lose sight of the case for the value of music in our culture — that music education makes kids more musical. Those who internalize music’s rules and rites early in life will be more likely to attend serious concerts and bring a more astute ear to their pop music choices as adults.


Those who care about the future of the music business ought to spend less time complaining about digital disruptions and expend more energy lifting up the public’s awareness of serious music, because we truly do devalue music when we reduce our most impactful art form to an artifact of celebrity and a lifestyle choice. Complex instrumental music has become marginalized to within an inch of its very existence, and that has a lot to do with industry folk defining “value” in only the way that affects their mailbox money.



Introducing Maddy Carty – Not Just a Political Songwriter

By Roger Moisan

The other evening, I had the great privilege of meeting Maddy Carty and was instantly struck by her engaging and powerful message. Hailing from the same camp as Amy Winehouse, Adele and Jessie J (the Brit School) Maddy Carty is an equally phenomenal tallent. Like many of Maddy’s generation, she is able to see through the blatant lies and glaring stupidity of this current Conservative government.

With rough sleeping at a record high across the UK, millions of families relying on food banks just to survive and our public services being eroded on an industrial scale, Maddy’s songs cut through the fog of media spin and tory propaganda.

Maddy Carty
Maddy Carty

Maddy’s latest album, ‘Come And Get It’ is not just a political statement but a beautiful blend of humour, sadness and fun coupled with the West London Sound.

As a West London resident, Maddy was deeply affected by the unnecessary tragedy,  one year ago, of the Grenfell Tower fire. A year on and many families are still displaced and looking for answers as to why their lives were turned upside down on that dreadful night. Maddy highlights the issues surrounding Grenfell and the many injustices in our society in her songs.

Never before has there been greater inequality in our society with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. It is through artists like Maddy Carty that we can see a glimmer of hope that things are about to change.

If you haven’t downloaded Maddy’s latest album, you should!

 

Visit Maddy Carty Music

Maddy Carty Music
Maddy Carty Music

Biography

South London-born singer-songwriter Maddy Carty is an ex-BRIT School student who went on to study at Leeds College of Music. After graduating, she headed back to London to form her own band, and record her debut album, Come And Get It.

Drawing her inspiration from artists such as Tracy Chapman, India.Arie and Van Morrison, Maddy writes all her own material.

She has supported Norman Jay and Madness at House of Fun Festival, played The Brooklyn Bowl with Maxi Priest and performed at venues such as Ronnie Scott’s, The Troubadour and The Scoop for More London Festivals.

Maddy’s first album, ‘Come and Get It’ has received support from Radio 1xtra, BBC6 and BBC London amongst many others. Her new feature track ‘Got No Love’ has been championed by Mistajam and DJ Target on Radio 1.

Maddy is now writing for others as well as working on her new project and the first single ‘Same Way’ is out now. 

“Fantastic, great sound. Well done girl!”
Robert Elms BBCLondon

“A strikingly sophisticated and self contained talent Maddy Carty’s commanding yet delicate vocal is serviced by original songs of depth and commitment.”
Gavin Martin, Music Journalist

“Sickeningly talented – and using her gifts to make the world seem just a little bit fairer.”
Ian McCann, Record Collector Magazine

“Love her voice, love her song!”

David Rodigan BBC1xtra



Practice Techniques in Preparing for Rehearsal #1



Authored by Mark Nuccio, principal clarinet of the Houston Symphony and former associate principal clarinet of the New York Philharmonic.

One of the most important responsibilities a musician has is the early preparation of a piece of music prior to even beginning to play one’s instrument. One must first familiarize yourself with the score of each work that he will be performing and evaluate just how your part fits within the context of the orchestra or chamber music piece. As is the case with many things in life, if you begin this preparation early, it is more likely that you will have a deeper understanding of the performance once you get to the performance.

If you are confronted with multiple and/or consecutive upcoming busy weeks, the early preparation can make it that much easier. It simply requires obtaining a score, preferably the urtext or most respected score for the piece you are to perform. In the case of an audition, find the most accurate score but if it is a piece you are to perform or record, it is more important to get a score from the edition from which you will be performing.

Why is this important, you may ask? Often times there may be a difference in slurs, articulations (style and location of), dynamics, etc ¼ for those who are not near a major public library or may not have access to an orchestra library, you can often times use IMSLP.com, a free source. Many times, I haven’t found these scores to be the best editions available but it certainly is better than nothing.

The next step is to seek out multiple recordings; listen to the conductor’s and the soloist’s interpretations and decide which one seems most reliable making sure that you choose something that represents the middle ground if there are large differences in tempi through the recordings. If you are performing with a major conductor who has recorded this work, find HIS/HER recording as this will be the most similar to what you will probably be performing. Certainly, if you are auditioning, this is likely the pacing and interpretation that the orchestra is most accustomed to and likely the conductor’s preference.

After you have chosen the ideal recording, you will need to listen to this again, probably several times, with your part, a pencil, eraser, and a metronome; be prepared to pause the recording many times while listening. This process will be described in detail later in this article. Your listening should be fully dedicated with NO other distractions.

On a side note, I always copy my parts so that if I were to perform the piece again, I don’t have to do all of this work again. Now you will have officially begun building your own library. Do your best to find real parts, purchase or copy them and understand that even these could have some mistakes. Use your sources (teachers, study of the most accurate published scores) determine the accuracy of the notes and/or printed tempi. Ex¼Beethoven is rarely performed at the printed tempi. Use excerpt books as a source of study but not a regular means of preparation. Always do your best to practice from full parts.

Now is where the work starts. Keep in mind that nobody should know the score any better than you. Ideally you will be surrounded by colleagues who also know the score as well as you do. Then the process of rehearsing goes twice as fast and music begins from the first time you and the “group” get together. That is “collaboration”!

Key things that I am looking for are listed below:

1. Mark the tempo for the movement on your part and include changes of tempi within the movement (ex. Quarter = 120). This will allow you to practice at the prescribed tempi during your preparation.

2. Which instrument/s starts the movement? If it is not obvious, a small cue in the part would help. Often times, a rhythmic cue of four 1/16 notes with the note “vln” would help you to know the tempo when the piece starts and who starts the piece. Obviously this would indicate that violins start with four sixteenth notes.

3. This next section should assume the person marking their music is a clarinetist. You can adjust these cues based upon your instrument.

As you are listening, decide if your notes are primary melody, secondary melody, harmony, etc.. If you are primary, you need to lead with your sound and pacing and everybody else should be subordinate and thus, follow. I might mark this (cl/ww’s) If you are a secondary melody, you should be a small amount quieter than the primary and always shadowing the primary voice regardless of whether the primary voice is with the conductor.

I might mark this fl/ob/cl)¼.in order of priority. The conductor will likely work to get the primary voice positioned correctly and then the secondary voice will then make sense. If you have the harmony or a part of the harmony, it typically is even less present, allowing the primary and secondary voices to dominate. I might mark this (Strings/ob/cl). It is entirely possibly, if not likely, that you could have the Primary voice and then hand that primary voice to another instrument and become secondary after doing so. If this is the case, readjust your role.

This can much more easily be determined during this process where you are reading a score and listening with your part in front of you rather than trying to do it in the first rehearsal on the fly with no score study. Understand that if you have the leading voice, the conductor (or other members of your chamber ensemble) will be looking your way for leadership and acknowledgement that you are aware of this. Look at the conductor right before you are to play the primary voice or solo.

As soon as he knows you are ready, he can then focus his attention on other voices. If you are not the primary, it is more important that you are in contact with that instrument and shadowing them rather than the conductor’s beat. I often times watch the bows of the lead string players with whom I am playing so that I am with them if they have the primary voice.

This is more often the case for a clarinetist since there are 30 violinists and one of me. So if you are a wind player, make sure that unless you are the lead voice, you know who is and you are with them, in time and in style!!! Even if it appears that the conductor is ahead, BE WITH THE PRIMARY VOICE. If that is the string section, watch the 1st desk of strings and you will likely be right.

Many stages don’t allow for the accuracy of ensemble due to proximity of each of us on stage and therefore we have to rely as much on our eyes tracking the bows of the lead desk of strings than even the conductor, especially if they have the lead voice. That, by the way, would be true for the back of the string section in its relation to the front of the section.

4. If you have a long rest, I find it useful to make a note of some key sound that happens during the rest so that you can check your counting as you pass by those spots (ex. In a 16 bar rest, cymbal on bar 9¼..I would write 9-Cym). If the orchestra gets separated, it may allow you to be the musician that helps to get the orchestra back together. This is also true with chamber music but less so with a concerto. Obviously there are times during a concerto that you also don’t have the primary voice and you need to know what instrument has the melody and become a bit more of a team player.

You should also make note of other cues such as a cymbal crash, loud trombone tutti, English Horn solo, or a big section cello entrance¼all things that help you to be sure you are in the right place. I also like to make sure if there is an 1/8 note pickup to my melodic line entrance, that I make a note of that and then I know to wait to hear (or see) that. I would write an 1/8 cue ahead of my part and label it ‘bsn’¼.or whatever instrument has the pickup.

5. Be aware of the instrument that precedes you and follows you so that you know the type of sound you should play with. For example for clarinetists, if oboe plays the first part of the primary voice and hands it to you, you should match the oboe sound and pitch and then if you hand the primary voice to bassoon, broaden the sound to match the bassoon as you pass the melody to them. Flexibility of one’s sound allows us to play with different colors allowing for more seamless transitions within the piece or melodic lines as we pass to different instruments.

6. Intonation: Know where you are in the chord in intonation- sensitive areas so that you are able to place your “root” or “third” with confidence. Who has the root? Is your third of the chord melodic or harmonic? That will determine its pitch placement. If you have the melody and it happens to be the third, then the root will have to adjust upward for the chord to sound in tune. We can’t adjust a third in a melody because it would sound wrong if adjusted and therefore others have to adjust around the melody.

7. Listen for what should be the appropriate style of articulation (is the weight of the accent on the front or slightly inside the beat¼, which instrument do I join and if we are in unison¼, which voice should dominate?) Style—is it a pressing tempo or back side of the orchestra’s pulse? I tend to want to play on the back side of the beat in romantic music if I have the solo. As long as the orchestra keeps pressing forward, it allows for a more expansive and expressive interpretation.

8. Always be aware of whether your line has already been stated. If so, you are obliged to make an effort to compliment the style of the solo so that the listener understands the passage in a similar style. Totally disregarding it makes you look as if you never knew that musical line had previously been performed.

9. This was touched upon earlier but make it a point to have eye contact with the conductor as often as possible, especially when the solo line is yours. He will be more confident that his “soloist” in that particular passage is ready to play and prepared to lead that passage. As they say, “the stick makes no sound”. But you should do your best to have contact with the conductor peripherally all the time.

10. Practice more technically challenging sections above the needed tempo so that if a conductor or soloist takes a tempo that is faster than your recording, you are ready. Practice with flexibility and don’t dominate when it is not your lead or solo line. On the contrary, when it is your lead, make sure to play more than your colleagues on a solo line even if it says ‘p’. Whatever the printed dynamic, your dynamic as the solo line should be one dynamic marking louder than what is printed.

11. Your preparation should allow you to sound performance-ready by the beginning of the FIRST rehearsal.

12. Make sure you have taken care of tough page turns so that you are able to execute the notes at the end of one page and the beginning of the next.

13. Be flexible with your other colleagues. Often times you may have to accommodate an instrument that has an inflexible note, pitch-wise, in another instrument. If this is something that can be addressed and fixed by the player, fine. If not, you must help them. No instrument plays perfectly in tune. My priority is first the music though and if there is anyway to achieve that rather than emphasize a pitch weakness in a given instrument, then choose the musical line first.

14. Unisons should not be played equal within the same instrument or even within the woodwinds. Allow one voice to slightly dominate in unisons and this will now sound more like one voice. Many times, allowing the lower voices some dominance adds depth the the higher voice’s sound.

Mark Nuccio

Mr. Nuccio officially began his position as Principal Clarinet with the Houston Symphony Orchestra in the 2016-17 season after seventeen years with the New York Philharmonic. He also serves as clarinet faculty at the University of Houston’s Moore School of Music. Mr. Nuccio joined the New York Philharmonic in 1999 as Associate Principal and E-flat Clarinetist and during the time served as Acting Principal Clarinet for four years from 2009-13.

Prior to his service with the Philharmonic, he has held positions with orchestras in Pittsburgh, Denver, Savannah, and Florida working with distinguished conductors such as Lorin Maazel, Kurt Masur, Mariss Jansons, Riccardo Muti, Zubin Mehta, Erich Leinsdorf, Bernard Haitink, Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Chailly, Andre Previn, Christoph von Dohnanyi, and Gustavo Dudamel.

Additionally, Mr. Nuccio has toured extensively with the New York Philharmonic and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in numerous countries, recorded with both orchestras, and performed regularly with the Philharmonic on the award-winning series, Live from Lincoln Center, broadcast on PBS. Recent highlights include the Philharmonic’s historic and newsworthy visits to North Korea and Vietnam.

Nuccio is an active solo and chamber musician and has been featured with various orchestras in the United States and made multiple appearances as a featured performer at the International Clarinet Association conventions. He made his subscription solo debut with the New York Philharmonic on Feb. 10, 2010 and returned to perform the Copland Concerto with the NY Philharmonic under the baton of Alan Gilbert on May 31 and June 1 of 2013. Other highlights include a New York recital debut at Carnegie Hall in 2001 and his Japanese recital debut in 2002.

He is an avid chamber musician and continues to regularly perform recitals in Asia and Europe as well as across the United States. In New York, he can often be heard at Merkin Concert Hall, 92nd Street Y, Carnegie Hall, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mr. Nuccio also participates in the chamber music series at the Strings in the Mountain Music Festival in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and teaches at the Hidden Valley Music Festival in Carmel, CA.

As a studio musician, Mr. Nuccio is featured on numerous movie soundtracks, including Failure To Launch, The Last Holiday, The Rookie, The Score, Intolerable Cruelty, Alamo, Pooh’s Heffalump, Hitch, The Manchurian Candidate, and various television commercials. Additionally he has performed on the Late Show with David Letterman and on the 2003 Grammy Awards. His own debut album featuring the clarinet quintets of Mozart and Brahms, Opening Night, was released in November 2006.

A Colorado native, Mr. Nuccio was recently awarded the “Distinguished Alumni Award” from his alma mater the University of Northern Colorado, a very selective honor bestowed on an elite group of 200 alumnus representing various fields throughout the long history of the university.

He also holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University where he studied with renowned pedagogue Robert Marcellus. Beyond his active performing schedule, Mr. Nuccio is a dedicated teacher committed to training the next generation of musicians and teaches master classes in the U.S. and abroad. Nuccio is a D’Addario Advising Artist & Clinician and a Performing Artist/Clinician for Buffet Music Group.