400 years ago, the recorder was so popular that people were writing concertos for it. Now, we associate it with primary school music lessons. We’re here to explain why…
Long before it was used as a teaching instrument, Renaissance and Baroque composers like Monteverdi, Purcell and Bach loved to compose for this small, whistle-like instrument. Here’s Vivaldi’s lovely Recorder Concerto in C:
Back then, all recorders would have been made from wood and ivory – a far cry from today’s primary school plastic numbers.
So why did we start using them to play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’?
Fast forward to the 1900s, when Carl Orff – that’s the German composer who wrote Carmina Burana (the cantata which includes the epic ‘O Fortuna’) – thought it would be a great idea to use the soprano recorder as a teaching tool.
Aside from writing excellent music that would later be poached by The X Factor, Orff became instrumental in shaping music education theory in the 20th century.
His Orff Schulwerk encouraged learning music through rhythm and creative thinking, methods he thought to be much more effective (and enjoyable) than learning by repetition.
The work also called for a wider range of simple, easy-to-play instruments, specifically those with a similar vocal range to a child. Orff figured that if a child could sing the notes they were playing, they’d be more likely to understand it.
To him, the soprano recorder’s lack of strings, reeds, bow – or need to develop a good embouchure in order to make a half-decent sound on it – made it the perfect instrument to inspire children to play music. You could say the same for other teaching instruments, like the glockenspiel or the tambourine.
So do people still play the recorder seriously?
Sure they do! Recorders can be as small and simple as the soprano recorder, and as big and practically impossible to play as the contrabass recorder (there’s also the sub-contrabass recorder, which is even scarier). It looks like this:
Imagine trying to play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ on THAT.
Here’s the Palisander Quartet, making the recorder look advanced and awesome:
Please watch this amazing video of pianist Robert Levin playing Mozart’s piano sonatas on Mozart’s ACTUAL PIANO.
Last year, pianist and musicologist Robert Levin was announced as the first Hogwood Fellow of the Academy of Ancient Music. So, we filmed him playing on Mozart’s very own instrument.
The fortepiano, from around 1782, was used by Mozart for both composition and performance from 1785 until his death in 1791.
The piano was originally made by Anton Walter, one of the most famous Viennese piano makers of Mozart’s time. It is two octaves shorter than a modern piano, and is much lighter and smaller than modern pianos, weighing only 85kg. It’s also much smaller than a modern piano, at just 2.23m long.
It can currently be found in Salzburg, where Robert Levin is using it to record Mozart’s piano sonatas.
“The voyage and discovery of playing on period instruments is to move in a world – physical, emotional and aesthetic – that is inhabited by the geniuses that wrote this music. It brings us very, very close to them,” said Levin.
“So sitting down at Mozart’s piano, sitting down at an organ which Bach played himself, you understand things about the weight of the keys going down and the repetition and the balance in sound.
“And all of these things bring you very, very close to the music and make you say ‘A-ha, that’s why it’s written that way’, which is not the kind of thing you’re going to get if you’re playing on the standard instruments that are being manufactured today.”
PUREtouch Electronic Pad System
The PUREtouch Electronic Pad System is a new creation, developed by Pearl and Korg to provide drummers with a pad surface that sits perfectly between being too bouncy and soaking up the force of the stick. The PUREtouch electronic pads are constructed from six layers of material that work together to create the most natural feeling electronic pad available today. Every area of the snare head acts and responds the same way that an acoustic snare does, from the center to the edge. The head tension can be made tighter or looser to vary the feel and the tone, allowing you to adapt the kit to your play style, and not the other way around as you had to with the majority of other electronic drum kits. The snare pad features two separate rim triggers that are perfectly positioned to offer cross stick and rim shot effects, all fitted to a 14” pad to provide the most authentic playing experience possible.
Wave Trigger Technology
Pearl have worked alongside Korg, taking features from their legendary Wave Drum, to provide electric pads that respond and feel like an acoustic drum kit. This has long been the aim of all electric drums and has also been the request of drummers since electric kits were first introduced. The features of Korg’s Wave Drum allowed your touch, your feel and the vibrations you create when played to influence the tone and character of the sounds produced. Pearl have implemented this technology across all of the pads on the e/MERGE Electronic Kit. This technology has been named Wave Trigger Technology and allows every nuance of your playing style, and even your stick choice, to influence how the sounds are produced.
e/MERGE MDL-1 Module
All of the incredibly advanced features on the e/Merge Traditional Electronic Drum Kit require an equally advanced drum module. Pearl have created the e/Merge MDL-1 Module to power the kit, providing all the power and performance required housed in a simplistic, easy to use interface. The module features a pair of multi-core processors and is filled with a large array of 700 different high definition voices, 35 high definition preset drum kits and 36 different effects. Pearl have recorded an entirely new library for the e/MERGE in the most respected and renowned recording studios, Music City USA in Nashville, Tennessee, ensuring that they match the incredibly advanced technology featured in the e/Merge kit. Pearl have also combined a selection of sounds from Korg’s renowned high definition library, ranging from electronic, orchestral, world and other sounds.
PUREtouch Electronic Cymbal Pack
Each e/Merge Electronic Drum Kit includes a PUREtouch Electronic Cymbal pack. Consisting of an 18” three zone ride, a 15” two zone crash and 14” two zone hi-hats. The PUREtouch ride and crash cymbals feature a natural, authentic playing action with a slightly softer feel due to the rubber casing to control the volume. The cymbals all feature frequency based zone blending consistent with where you strike the cymbal. The PUREtouch cymbals also feature a natural cymbal choke function where choking the cymbals eliminates the sound and instantaneously triggers the natural ring inherent to choking natural cymbals, providing the most authentic electronic cymbals yet.
- Incredibly advanced features provide authentic and responsive playing experience
- Uses features from Korg’s Wave Drum for a powerfully natural feel
- PUREtouch cymbals ride and crash cymbals feature zone blending and choking
- Features 700 different HD sounds, 35 preset kits & 36 effects recorded in Music City, Nashville
- Play your own WAV samples via USB-A
- Electronic bass pad swivel legs provide complete customisation
- Icon e-Rack provides complete flexibility, security and the option to expand your kit
- Drum Module: e/Merge MDL-1
- Snare Pad: PUREtouch EM-14S 14” Snare Drum Pad
- Tom Pad 1: PUREtouch EM-10T 10” Tom Pad
- Tom Pad 2: PUREtouch EM-12T 12” Tom Pad
- Tom Pad 3: PUREtouch EM-14T 14” Tom Pad
- Bass Drum Pad: PUREtouch EM-KCPC Kick Pad
- Hi-Hat: PUREtouch EM-14HH 14” Hi-Hat Cymbal Pad Set
- Crash: EM-15C 15” Crash Cymbal Pad
- Ride: EM-18R 18” Ride Cymbal Pad
- Rack: Icon e-Rack
- Sounds: 700
- Drum Kits: 35
- Effects: 36
- Song Recording Type: 44.1kHz, 16bit WAV
- Master Out L/Mono & R
- Direct Out x 8
- Headphones Out
- AUX In TRS Mini
- Main Trigger Inputs (DB-25 Connector)
- Accessory Inputs x 3
- USB to PC Port
- MIDI Out
- Power Supply: 120V – 240V, 50-60Hz
It’s not a secret that musician brains are a little different from “normal” brains. As with any skill or profession, most of it can be learned, but certain things that you need to be a good musician come from nature, not nurture.
Do you show the symptoms of musicianship? Here are 10 established correlations.
1. You’re naturally curious
That door in your apartment that’s nailed shut? You’ve got to know what’s behind it. That trail through the woods that you see when you’re riding the bus? Sooner or later, you’ll get off a stop early to explore it. What happens when you put a bunch of big ball bearings on piano strings? You’re just the person to find out. Curiosity, exploration, and experimentation are bread and butter for musicians.
2. You’re not slowed down by rejection
Like salespeople, musicians have to hear “no” on a regular basis. No matter how great your act is, it won’t be right for every gig or every venue. No matter how talented you are, you’ll lose opportunities to someone who got there just a little sooner, someone who knows someone, or someone who sounds a little bit more like that club owner’s favorite artist. Although these rejections always sting, they also don’t deter you. You believe in your own voice and will keep working until it’s heard.
3. You have systems and rules for yourself and your surroundings
If musicians have a hard time accepting external structures, we tend to be eager to impose rules and restrictions of our own making. Musicians know intuitively what the right thing is. We’re likely to have strong opinions about domestic issues like dishwashing, laundry, and home organization.
A musician might have a no-eating rule in his or her car, or insist that all T-shirts have to be hung up rather than folded. This sense of correct practice is what builds the conventions and habits that form an artist’s personal style.
4. You’re reasonable in your dealings with others
Musicianship takes a lot of teamwork. You collaborate with bandmates, session players, studio staff, live sound techs, and (of course) your audience. You might be the brightest light in the room, but it’s highly unlikely that you’re the biggest diva.
If someone has unreasonable expectations or inflexible demands, it’s not you. Whether this skill is learned through your art, or whether your natural talents led you to become a performer, you’re always more likely to be peacemaker and negotiator than an instigator.
5. You don’t stay down for long
Ever work in the studio all day and hate the result? Ever lose a bandmate right before a series of shows? If you tackle anything passionately, you’ll have lots of little triumphs and little disappointments along the way. But if you’re moping on Monday, you’ll be back in the studio or on the stage on Tuesday. You don’t let a bad mood engulf you and color what you’re trying to do.
6. You have a lot of empathy
What makes a good songwriter? It’s not just wordsmithing – it’s empathy. How many great songs have been written about hardworking people crushed under some harsh system? Songwriters feel for others, so much so that they write songs from others’ points of view. This is why you’ll see so many musicians who have day jobs in caring professions, particularly helping the disabled in schools or job-coaching environments.
7. You get along well with animals
That empathy also translates into a love for animals. Tons of musicians have pets and many are animal lovers. Quite a few are animal rights activists. I challenge anyone to think about Sarah McLachlan without visualizing that ad with the sad puppies and hearing “In the Arms of an Angel.”You probably cried, too, even if you’re in a nasty punk band and have a safety pin through your nose.
8. You like science fiction books and movies
The real world? Boring. Artistic types like to create new worlds and explore worlds created by others. We like sci-fi and fantasy for this reason, and enjoy shows in which new viewers would be completely lost because they don’t understand the complex backstory.
Of course, since we’re veterans of creating things ourselves, we also tend to deconstruct scripts, calling out predictable lines that actors are about to utter. We like making fun of bad special effects, clunky direction, and bad acting.
9. You like fixing and building things
Music is a hands-on field, made to order for people who hate lectures and chalkboard notes and want to just jump in and do it. That’s why so many musicians modify their instruments, customize their band vans, and build all sorts of hacks in the studio or rehearsal space. A lot of us are drawn to carpentry, computers, electronics, and mechanics. We’re not afraid to rip things apart and see what makes them tick.
10. You laugh a lot
News cycle got you down? We’re all stuck on planet Earth, dealing with violent extremism, climate threats, and atrocious fast food. And we all have two weapons to battle the blues: art and humor.
Musicians are some of the funniest people you’ll meet, especially in groups. Ride to a show with any band that’s been together for a while, and you’ll be spitting out your drink. It’s a kind of amazing, vulgar, politically incorrect banter that screenwriters rarely get right. If we could just record chunks of that, we’d have enough material for a stand-up routine… or the lyrics to our next album.
Jesse Sterling Harrison is an author, recording artist, and part-time farmer. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three daughters, and a herd of ducks.
If you’ve seen Easy A, you probably remember the scene where Emma Stone receives a card that plays Natasha Bedingfield’s “Pocketful of Sunshine” and how Stone’s character hates the song – at first. Flash forward to a few days later, and she can’t stop singing it.
There are songs that we can’t stand, yet can’t get out of our heads. There are also songs that we love and feel addicted to. For whatever reason, songs get lodged in our brains – and often stay there for a maddeningly long time.
Labled “earworms” by the scientific community, it’s been suggested that these ditties hang around longer in musicians’ minds than non-musicians’. What makes a song have such a huge impact on our brains? Below, we’ll run through the four main components of creating a catchy song that you can’t get out of your head, even if you want to.
But first, let’s revisit that clip of Emma Stone and “Pocketful of Sunshine” as a prime example of earworm invasion:
1. Song structure
There are a variety of song structures often used in today’s popular music. Formats such as ABABCB (A = verse, B = chorus, C = bridge or solo) and AABA (A = verse and B = bridge) are very common and easy for listeners to remember.
While songs don’t necessarily have to follow any specific layout, catchy songs generally tend to follow one of the more common structures listed above or a variation of some sort. Finding the right balance between meeting listeners’ expectations and throwing in something surprising is a surefire way to create an earworm.
In today’s music market, many fantastic songwriters write elaborate lyrics. That said, the majority of catchy songs feature smaller amounts of words or words that are easy to remember, and often repeat portions (see ABABCB above), which, in turn, create a difficult song to get out of your head.
When the focus is on the song’s hook and chorus, keeping the fancy lyrics for the verses will lure listeners in and leave them humming the most memorable parts throughout the day.
3. Chord progressions and melodies
There are certain progressions that create addictive songs. Similar to song structure, catchy chord progressions must balance expectations and artistic expression. By tying the simplicity of commonality to the unexpected, listeners are drawn into the comfort of what they know and the excitement of what lies ahead.
Building off the chord progressions, the melody is usually what we retain in our heads. A catchy melody is generally upbeat, though there are some hauntingly beautiful melancholy melodies out there as well. Even the most irritating songs have a well-written line that our minds can’t escape. A melody that is both interesting and recognizable is a key component of a catchy song.
4. Production quality
This last category is dependent on what exactly you do in the music industry. Are you writing for other artists? If so, the production quality may be out of your hands. If you’re in charge of the production of your song, however, this absolutely contributes to its popularity. Though there’s an audience for less polished recordings, not many people want to listen to a poorly recorded album version of a song that sounds like a demo. In order to have a catchy song that appeals to the masses, the production quality must be high. This isn’t to say that someone who can’t afford to record in a professional studio hasn’t written a catchy song, but a high-quality recording of the song will open up a larger market and make it more likely to receive favorable reviews and airplay.
Whether it’s a song you love or can’t stand, you have to admit there’s great science behind songwriting. Creating something that piques a large audience’s interest, even those who consider it a guilty pleasure, is a tough task to take on. For a fun exercise, try figuring out what makes that song you can’t get out of your head so addictive. If you’re a songwriter, you could even adapt that writing format and see what you come up with.
What do you think makes a catchy song? Let us know in the comments below!
Kathleen Parrish is a singer and songwriter from Seattle, WA. While she specializes in lyrics, she enjoys writing short stories, poetry, and journalism. For more information, please visit www.kathleenparrish.com.
At the beginning of 2016, I had an idea that I wanted to do something digitally/online that would help fellow musicians and be something that I could give back to the industry. My legacy if you like.
Now, I had no idea what it would be or how to do it so I set about learning the tech, digital marketing and website building. This was quite daunting for this fifty-something dinosaur but I quickly discovered that this modern sorcery was actually pretty easy. (Big thanks to DBL and SFM )
Hence, Freedom for Musicians was born. To be honest, the early manifestation of FFM was quite embarrassing in hindsight with no real identity and clumsy tech. However, I persevered and we now have a thriving online music magazine, independent record label and growing community of nearly 5000 musicians worldwide. FFM has Ambassadors representing Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Canada, India, Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Italy, USA, UK, Jersey CI and Indonesia. My initial concept has come a long way in a very short amount of time and I am immensely proud of our achievements so far,
Our focus now is to serve our members through publishing their music, videos and blogs. We advertise their products and services and release their music digitally in all stores world wide.
Please take a few moments to check out Freedom for Musicians as it now exists:
For more information and to contact me, Roger Moisan, email email@example.com or message me at Linkedin
One line is all it takes. Sometimes, it’s just one word.
It happened to me this morning. “Jeff, how long have you been standing there in that same spot? You looked so focused, but content.” This was the first greeting I received at my office today. It’s because I was thumbing through the song list on my phone like I was throwing a discus, trying to find the one song I needed to hear in that moment — all for one line. It was “The Bones of You” by Elbow.
“When out of a doorway
The tentacles stretch of a song that I know
And the world moves in slow-mo
Straight to my head like the first cigarette of the day….
… and I dealt with this years ago
I took a hammer to every memento
But image on image like beads on a rosary
Pulled through my head as the music takes hold”
Had to have it.
At this point, I had not had my morning coffee yet so the ‘The Bones of You” was to go straight to my head like the first cigarette of the day. Consider it a healthy hit.
Six years ago, I had no idea who Elbow was. I had Palladia on in my living room and they airing a Glastonbury Festival special. Elbow happened to be performing. I was in the process of fixing a front door when all of sudden I whipped my head around at the sound of Guy Garvey’s voice. That’s just it — I’m talking about a particular line of song here, but much of the gravitation has to do with the singer’s delivery. Garvey took a deep breath, dug deep, and fired out … “And IIIIIII dealt with this years ago….”
Dealt with this years ago? What does that mean? A recurring problem? A beautiful persistence? I still don’t know, but I am continually fascinated by that line and how it connects back to the verse that precedes it (quoted above). It strings together the song, the passion and a “high” all through word placement and it’s position within the composition. Garvey recognizes that then shoots it into the sky like a flaming arrow.
There are a few songs like this for me. It’s like having a shiny pair of sneakers right in front of you, but you have to wear your worn-out Nike’s in the closet because they are reliable and give you a stability to take on the day like no other pair. It’s trust, but it’s also a calibration. That one line or word matches what you feel in that moment. It gives you an injection of exactly what you need to get right. It’s an understanding.
With that in mind, here are my five. What are yours?
“Hard to Imagine” by: Pearl Jam
Line — “…I hope this works somehow.” Disclaimer — this is one of my favorite songs in the universe. But at the last chorus, Eddie Vedder changes one line. Gone is the floating lone “somehow.” Three words are added to the front in …”I hope this works.” It’s so strong and vulnerable at the same time, and I feel it encapsulates the movement of the entire song.
Line — “And the ocean of time.” The ocean of time? I’ve never heard anyone make that analogy before, but Daniel Johns does it perfectly. This is such a melodic (and rare) song to begin with. The verses are like smooth waves and this is the 4th swell. The ironic thing is the line before this reads “in the dark of my mind.” Whoa. Intense. But “and the ocean of time” balances it out. What a mirage. An ocean of time — it could be anything.
“Overjoyed” by: Stevie Wonder
Word — “Over”. This is a unique one because it does not center around a particular moment in the song. I’m not eagerly anticipating the 1:47 mark. The word “over” is used 13 times throughout the 3 minute, 43 second song and I’m constantly focused on it. Over — time, over — dreams, over — hearts, over — love, over — me, over — you, over-joyed. The genius that is Stevie Wonder uses the word “over” to guide the entire journey. He stresses the two-syllables each time and leverages it to send you on your way through the next topic. It’s like one of those toys that you open up where there’s a smaller version of the exact toy inside. Then you do it again and again until you find there are about 12 renditions of the same figure all contained in one. “Overjoyed” has a bunch of tiny “overs” all layered into the main figure, which is overjoyed. Off topic — but this also song reminds me of my mom who always encourages me to continuing writing pieces like this.
“All Night Thing” by: Temple of the Dog/Chris Cornell
Line — “I do not know… what’s going on?” It’s the pause between “know” and “what’s.” These lyrics soar above an organ and for me, it’s multi-dimensional. Cornell always had an uncanny ability to have profound lyrics that were deep and could serve as your friend. If I ever I feel puzzled by life’s twists and turns I listen to “All Night Thing” and feel a reassurance by Cornell’s spiritual admittance of I do not know what’s going on. Speaking of which — I miss Chris Cornell terribly.
“The Bones of You” by: Elbow
Line —”And IIIIII dealt with this (years ago)” already in the intro, but I just got re-mesmerized (?)… like the first cigarette of the day.
The double album blurred the lines between musical genres and refused to let blackness be narrowcast.
For a kid born in 1960, I came to Jimi Hendrix’s music late. While I fondly recall lurking outside the door of my sister’s bedroom to sneak a listen of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and loving the iconic introductory guitar on the Temptations’ “My Girl” emanating from my brother’s room, I can’t claim that I stood in the hallway of my childhood home, in Chicago, playing air guitar to the power chords that introduced “Purple Haze.”
Then I went college. One night in 1979, probably in between Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and the Velvet Underground’s Loaded, a friend put on Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland and, like millions of other listeners, I was absolutely transfixed. At the time, I’d known Hendrix for remarkable three- and four-minute singles like “Manic Depression” and “Foxy Lady.” But hearing Electric Ladyland, whose 10th anniversary coincided with my freshman year, and whose 50th anniversary is upon us, was a game-changer.
On a personal level, it was an affirmation of sorts. As an African American with a diverse sonic appetite dating back to childhood, I’d been called an “Uncle Tom” by junior high classmates for liking Steely Dan more than B.T. Express, a taunt that left me with physical and emotional scars. Electric Ladyland confirmed that my interests were, and always had been, cool. Way cool. The album had a little bit of everything.
The jazz aficionado in me loved “Rainy Day, Dream Away,” while my inner blues lover dug Jimi’s take on Earl King’s “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll).” The rock head banger inside me loved “Crosstown Traffic.” By the time the recording ended, with a searing cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” and a fiery “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” I knew I’d found my church.
So had a lot of people, especially African American listeners and musicians. More than any recording up to that point, Electric Ladyland refused to allow blackness to be narrowcast, and presented a vision of a diverse, accomplished African American future. Which is why it’s as powerful in 2018 as it was half a century ago.
In1969, legendary rock critic Robert Christgau raved that “no previous rock album flowed like [Electric Ladyland], and while jazz albums often support as many contrasting sonic moods, Louis Armstrong himself didn’t match Hendrix’s appetite for sound effects and general silliness. His spaced-out spirituality is the fullest musicalization of ‘psychedelic’ ever accomplished.” In 2017, Pitchfork ranked the recording number 11 in its top 200 recordings of the sixties. In his assessment, Nate Patrin wrote, “Hendrix was a master of both the boundless potential and the immediate simplicity of rock.” Yet this praise only skims the surface.
Electric Ladyland was released in October of ’68, a little less than a year before Hendrix’s landmark appearance at Woodstock, where his solo guitar version of “The Star Spangled Banner” would solidify his place in the pantheon of American musicians. It’s fairly easy to draw a direct line from him to other great guitarists like Robin Trower, Joe Satriani, Ernie Isley, Prince, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, as well as shredders in different genres like Robert Randolph (gospel/Americana), Gary Clark (blues/rock) Eddie Hazel (funk), and Mary Halvorson (jazz), just to name a few. But Electric Ladyland’s impact goes deeper than just the work of a virtuoso guitar player.
“I think that the impact Hendrix’s work had on me was the sheer power of his visionary imagination,” Vernon Reid, a guitar wizard and leader of the group Living Colour, tells Timeline via email:
Hendrix painted murals of sound, a cosmology of artistic freedom. He didn’t seem to have any boundaries to his expression. Even as he was deeply connected to blues, he was not hemmed in by that traditional structure. He managed to find a way to be free within it. Jimi became a capital-O Obsession. The opener of Electric Ladyland, “And the Gods Made Love,” was hardcore psychedelia, total aural strangeness, a preamble to a dream question, “Have You Ever Been to Electric Ladyland?” The answer was decidedly NO, but I really, REALLY wanted to go.
Hendrix’s vision, his uncanny ability to be rooted in many genres yet see beyond aesthetic boundaries, is what makes Electric Ladyland an inspirational touchstone for so many artists. Reid notes that his group’s 1990 recording Time’s Up owes a significant debt to the Hendrix classic, adding that “a record like Prince’s 1999 or Sign ‘O’ the Times doesn’t happen without the existence of Electric Ladyland.” Neither, he says, does Lenny Kravitz’s Let Love Rule or Miles Davis’s Agharta or Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain or any seventies-era tunes by the Isley Brothers. And of course, he says, “the DNA of rock from Seattle is suffused with what Hendrix accomplished with Electric Ladyland, which makes all the more sense, given that Seattle was Hendrix’s hometown.
Evidently, Electric Ladyland’s DNA still runs strong in the current generation of musical artists. Or perhaps the confluence of Barack Obama’s presidency and the rise of Black Lives Matter have played a part in supporting a vision for a strong African American future. Either way, several recent, sprawling, epic recordings suggest a sonic itinerary that includes the multi-dimensional realm of Electric Ladyland.
A Seat at the Table, Solange Knowles’s 2016 exploration of contemporary black womanhood, draws on many styles, such as jazz, gospel, and hip-hop, and reimagines each to create a polyglot rhythm-and-blues sound that both is rooted in the past and reaches far into the future. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, a 2015 meditation on African American masculinity, features a broad base of musical styles and goes so deep on the jazz tip that it provided the breakout moment for saxophonist Kamasi Washington, who then released his own appropriately titled recording, The Epic, which presents an Afro-futurist vision.
Flutist and composer Nicole Mitchell had her breakout in 2017 with Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds, which depicts a future world where technology and nature coexist peacefully. Mitchell, who was based in Chicago for more than 20 years, draws on blues, house music, and gospel, blending them seamlessly into an improvised context. None of these recordings are rock albums, so they haven’t been presented in the lineage of Electric Ladyland. But it isn’t hard to see their eclecticism and vision in a similar mold as Hendrix’s timeless double LP.
“Jimi Hendrix was lighting a pathway for, and setting a challenge to, subsequent generations of artists,” says Reid. “He showed me and many others what was possible to create and make happen. The greatest lesson of Electric Ladyland for me was finding myself.”
Back in college, while looking at the album’s liner notes (remember those?), I noticed that Hendrix was credited not just with producing the record but directing it, title that’s rarely used in recorded music. That’s because it isn’t simply a collection of songs; it’s one of the first concept recordings in popular music. What that concept is, of course, varies from ear to ear, listener to listener, artist to artist. “It wasn’t just slopped together,” Hendrix has said. “Every little thing you hear means something.”
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 venues, libraries 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:
- 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?
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.
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 Organisations, The 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.
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.
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.”