Music for Mermaids, Hobbits and Unicorns from Western Australian Harpist - Adam B Harris
I've just finished watching a great BBC documentary called "When Albums Ruled the World". It put forward the proposition that the years between 1967 and 1980 represented a golden age in the history and development of the long playing record format. It cites Sgt Pepper as being the catalyst for this development and theorises that the golden age ended with the advent of MTV because record companies budgets shifted from the recording process to the marketting of the record. In addition to this other forms of entertainment were becoming available.
As these years were formative and development times for me, it may explain my preference for the album format. I think I would have bought less than half a dozen singles ever (when such a thing was available in a record store). With the introduction of iTunes, I maybe have bought a few more, but generally for teaching of performance purposes, not for personal listening. My music collection would probably contain a few compilation records, but generally I am more interested in listening to the songs in the original context in which they were recorded.
This may also explain my preference for working within the album format rather than releasing things bit by bit. I find it more artistically satisfied to work on a programme of material that has a cohesive flow rather than one off projects. I imagine I will continue to release music in the album format until such a stage where it is sending me bankrupt.
While it may not be the flavour of the day, I still find the album format to be relevant.
Back in the dark ages when I was in high school, one of the things that I wasn't very good at was homework. I would do anything to keep myself distracted from the task at hand. One of my favourite distractions was a cop show on Thursday nights called "The Streets of San Fransisco". It featured screen veteran Karl Marlden and a young(ish) Michael Douglas as an odd couple pairing that helped to keep the streets safe. It was one of those "Quin Martin" productions if you are old enough to remember them.
Well the other day I found myself in the position of not wanting to do my homework once more, so I orded a DVD set of the show. Its actually pretty much as I remember it. Being set in 72 everything is a bit hip and groovy - the pimps are wearing those big hats, but apart from that, some outlandish plot lines and dubious police methods, it has dated pretty well as the show had some great production values.
Talking about the production values leads me to make a special mention of the incidental music. Increasingly since the early 90s, the synthesizer and then later the computer has taken the place of real instruments in movies and television. Like many areas of real life, music is often the last priority and gets budgeted for accordingly. This makes one man production teams working with a computer very attractive. The composer will use the computer to emulate "real instruments" and these days there are fewer and fewer people that can tell the difference.
The trouble is, I'm one of the people that can.
This is one of the reasons that watching these DVDs has been such a delight for me. The drums you hear are being played by a real drummer. The strings are played by a real string section. The trombones are being played by, well, real trombone guys. You get the picture. The score is written by an experienced Hollywood arranger, not some director's assistant doing it on the side to save money.
The end result is music to my ears.
Ok, so you've decided you want to learn to play an instrument and you've decided to look for a music teacher. What are the type of qualities you should be looking for?
1. Can they play the instrument that you want to learn to a degree of technical proficiency? Well you would think that this would be a given, but there are many people that put themselves up as instrument teachers that cannot play the instrument themselves. There is an episode of The Simpsons where Marge is considering music teaching as an income stream and she says something like "how hard can it be, you've just got to stay one lesson ahead of the kid". Its more prevalent than you think.
2. Performance experience in the instrument being taught. Somebody with a bunch of gigs under their belt may be in a better position to help students with performance anxiety issues.
3. Can the teacher play the instrument in the style you wish to learn? You may be able to learn how to play heavy metal really well from the jazz or classical guy, on the other hand you may not.
4. Instrumental or teaching qualifications. While these do not a good teacher make, they can act as indication of the teacher's dedication to their craft. [sidenote: you may hear somebody explaining that they are a "qualified Simply Music Teacher". Simply music is a teaching franchise, if you pay them a licensing fee for using their programme (used to be $600) then you become a "qualified Simply Music Teacher". Not really a qualification in my opinion]
5. Enthusiasm. Many musicians (and others) teach music as a revenue stream only and have no real interest or passion in passing on the skills. Enthusiastic teachers will encourage you to network with different players, listen to different music and they will tailor their approach to help you as much as possible.
Sure, there are other things to consider I know. All I'm saying is just don't go looking for the cheapest teacher out there, you may not be getting the most appropriate help.
Somebody asked me my opinion on this the other day. With the amount of information we have available through the net with regards to music theory and youtube tutorials are music teachers really necessary? Even going back to the dark ages before the silicon chip, if you read biographies about famous musicians you will find that many of the greats have been self taught. How did they do it? Well, usually from listening to records and trying to work out what was being played, from watching stage performers and through experimentation with their peers.
My belief is that if somebody has the innate ability to play an instrument and sufficient motivation and time to allocate to the activity, the are going to "get it" regardless of whether they have formal tuition or not. The right teacher would probably help them get to where they want quicker though and prevent bad playing habits from happening that inhibit growth. They can also be good in keeping motivation up and broadening the students horizons.
Me? I had a term or two of piano lessons as a young child and five years of (group) clarinet lessons in high school. That was pretty much it until I studied keyboard as a mature age student at univesity. All the rest I do is pretty much self taught.
I'm going to do a follow up post for those interested about finding the right teacher. Until then, adios.
When I was in grade one in Victoria, somebody, it could have been a fellow student but I seem to remember that it was an idiot teacher explained to me that there was a strict protocol that must be adhered to when eating hot cross buns. You have to eat around the cross first before you eat the cross. If you didn't do this, all sorts of bad stuff was going to go down culminating with your soul being in everlasting torment etc etc. Unfortunately, I had already by the time I had heard this eaten several of these not using the correct procedure.
I sort of lost interest in hot cross buns after that. I will not buy them and will only eat them when visiting others if they are really pressed upon me.
If there is a correct way to eat chocolate bunnies PLEASE KEEP IT TO YOURSELF.
My father was a salesman. Over the course of a long and successful career he sold pretty much everything except for cars and insurance. I don't know if he had some sort of ethical thing in mind for steering clear of both those products, but it wouldn't surprise me. Over various points in his life, he sold through an office via appointments, doing the dreaded telemarketting and even doing door to door. Its something that never really interested me, but I admired his guts and determination for doing it. Continually being told no more times than yes and still managing to come home with a smile on his face. In later years he lectured and helped others learn how to do it. He must have loved it I suppose.
Well having dramas with my computer the other week caused much disruption as you would probably have experienced at one stage. I couldn't do much in the recording process or make videos. I learn some new tunes but quickly got bored with that. So I decided to drive into Perth and see if I could sell some of my CDs door to door.
I don't know that I would ever want to become a fultime salesman but I found the experience fascinating. You may live in a community for years, but now I believe you never really know what goes on until you start going around knocking on doors. I met the out of work contractor, the artist at work, several little old ladies living by themselves who probably shouldn't be and some naked guy washing his car. All this in four days and probably only twelve hours of work.
Yes I did sell some CDs and will probably do it again sometime. Was it worth it? For the money maybe, for the experience definately.
The teaching studio is looking very lonely as you can see. Probably because it hasn't been used much in the last three years. This year it hasn't been used at all, and probably won't be.
Teaching music can be very lucrative, and its relatively easy to set up and maintain a practice. Indeed many musicians survive on that alone even if they don't particularly like what they are doing. Myself, I loved it. I have knowledge that has taken me a lifetime to learn, and I'm constantly worried about the knowledge not being passed on. Its also great from the perspective that you learn so much from teaching even simple things. Anybody that has been an instructor of some sort would agree with me I'm sure.
I'm leaving it behind for a few reasons:
1. Everybody, wants to play the guitar but not many want to learn to play the guitar. Lets face it, if it were easy then everybody would be doing it. I myself would like to speak fluent Spanish but its not going to happen unless I put the work in. People don't want commit the time required in many cases to further themselves on their chosen instrument and that stops them from getting to where they want to be. I'm not prepared to put up with failure anymore, just for the sake of income.
2. Quite often the person paying for the lesson is not the same person as the one that is having the lesson. I suppose we are talking children here. In many cases they don't appreciate the opportunity or the value of the money being spent on them. I'm not prepared to see time and money wasted anymore, just for the sake of income.
3. For some reason, students of this field are very picky about what they will and will not learn, and I'm talking about all ages here. Imagine if you were studying mathematics and you refused to learn fractions or you wouldn't perform any calculation with the number "7" in it. Ridiculous as this sounds, many students are only interested in learning one song/style/idiom and won't spend time on anything that they perceive is not directly related even if you are trying to teach them a technique to get them to where they want. I'm not prepared anymore to deal with difficult people (and parents), just for the sake of income.
I still feel strongly about music and music education but I believe that I can better serve this purpose as a performer and act as a role manner in that fashion. If people are genuinely interested in learning and replicating what I do, they can watch my performances and listen to my recordings and anylise what is going on. There are plenty of other people and resources out there that can show them the basics.
Thats all I want to say for the moment. I might write a pt2 one day if anybody wants to hear some stories from the front line.
If the title of this post sounds familiar its probably because its a quote from a Paul McCartney song. Not one of his finest moments lyrically, but he has given us many nice tunes over the years so we forgive.
The picture is of my latest toy, a decibel meter. You probably already know this but decibels (db) are a measurement of the relative volume of a sound and you use a decibel meter to test how loud something is. No, I didn't get it to point at my neighbours. It just that the freight trains that come through here all seem to have been fitted with new whistles over the past couple months and every time I hear one I shoot up in the air. I just want to find out if I am shooting up in the air because its too loud or because its the pitch of the sound that is bothering me.
I also thought it would be a fun gadget to point at my neighbours.
Rustling Leaves 20db
Quiet Rural Area 30db
Quiet Suburb 50db
Office Noise 60db
Car at 25ft 70db
Jet Takeoff 100db
I subscribe to the messy desk principle. Rather than waste precious time sorting through piles of stuff I use the power of my mind to organize the clutter and can usually lay my hand on anything at any time. I must admit though, every two years or so things get to the stage where the clutter wins and starts to compromise my ability to work at my best.
So I figure while I'm waiting for the air conditioning guy, what better opportunity am I going to get to sort some of this out? Plus there is the added bonus of finding forgotten treasures like a jar of slightly more expensive instant coffee.
So how was your day?
So last night after I finished playing in the caravan park, Fred who co manages the park with his wife Verna, was telling me about this CD project that he had heard once. I can't recall the exact details, but essentially it was instrumental coupled with nature sounds, and he suggested that I might like to try something similar. Speaking as a musician and an artist, this is a bit of an eye roller, the sort of suggestion that makes me want to do the sticking your fingers down your throat and gagging gesture, so I pretty much dismissed the idea out of hand.
Thinking about it today though, not everything always has to be about me and what I like. I accept that there are people that like this sort of thing, its a valid genre and there is nothing wrong with that. After recording four CDs of other peoples material though, I had my heart set on just recording my own compositions for the forseeable future, and apart from maybe the odd effect here and there, recording nature sounds didn't fit in with my plans. Having said this though, I have a number of tunes that I play in my shows that have never been recorded, and it occured to me that maybe I could use a project like Fred suggested as an opportunity to document those tunes. Just do a simple solo harp recording of the tunes (mainly O'Carolan and traditional material we are talking about here - similar to what is on the "Wildflower" CD) and do a mix down including various nature sounds. These are all good tunes, but without the benefit of a project like this, they probably wouldn't see the light of day.
So maybe after the air conditioner guy gets here, I will take a couple of days out to record the tunes. I already know them inside out so it wouldn't hurt to record them, if I don't like what I hear, it needn't get released. Maybe I could do a limited "internet only" release, or just give it away as a download package to people that are on my mailing list, a sort of present for putting up with me.
I'm going to need to give this some more thought....
Copyright ©2013 Adam B Harris