Saturday, October 25, 2014

Roots Music Composition - Canadian Fiddler Gordon Stobbe and Mandolinist Matt Flinner on Writing A Tune A Day

I've always had to have a creative outlet.  Most of the time this pursuit has been in the form of writing.  I suppose this blog is one of them.  But, over the last few years my "artistic" focus has transitioned more into the learning of music.  Up until now, music playing has consisted of fairly rote tunebook versions of fiddle tunes, like the kind found in the Portland Collection books; sticking to the notes as someone else predetermined they should be...not really playing by ear, from the heart or improvising.

Simultaneous to the memorization of tunes I've also been cultivating a study of music theory.  Actually, way more music theory than most players of Irish and Appalachian tunes ever delve into.  I just find it interesting.  Sprinkle in a little bit of ear training and the lightbulb moments associated with learning how to learn, and voilà I'm ready to take the next step toward "writing" music.

Well, not really writing in the most original sense; I plan to start by attempting to transcribe snippets of melody from the bands that had a big impact on my life before I ever picked up an instrument, and/or bands that I want to be inspired by now.  Bands like Phish, Dr. Dog, STS9, Medeski Martin and Wood, Amiina, Bill Frisell, Tortoise, Tom Waits, Ween, Uakti, Laika and the Cosmonauts, and Cowboy Junkies to name a few.  Plus styles and rhythms like the music of South America, Latin America, France, the Caribbean, Africa, as well as more urban beats.

In addition, I want to formalize this process by setting a goal of "writing" at least one new piece of music every week for a year.  Perhaps a melody inspired by Dr. Dog, mixed with a lick from an STS9 song, then tweaked by being played over a Biguine rhythm from Martinique.  The painter Chuck Close said, "Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work."

So, to get to the point of this post, I've found some information on a couple unrelated musicians who have experience with writing a tune per day - Canadian Fiddler Gordon Stobbe and Mandolinist Matt Flinner.

In the current (Fall 2014) issue of Fiddler Magazine, Editor & Publisher Mary Larsen has an interview Gordon Stobbe where he mentions this:
Gordon Stobbe
"Maybe six years ago, I set myself a task of writing a tune a day.  From January 1 to the end of April I was able to stick to that.  There were about a hundred tunes that came out of that.  Out of those tunes, there were probably fifty good ideas; there were probably thirty well-developed and fulfilled ideas; and there are probably twelve or fifteen really good tunes.  I don't think it's really the right thing to sit around and wait for inspiration to strike.  I think there's a lot more perspiration involved in this than inspiration. There are a lot of ways to get into that.  Sometimes a rhythmic groove will really inspire - whether that comes from a drum patch on Garage Band that kind of kicks you into some start, or you hear some kind of a rhythmic groove somewhere, that's a good way to start.  And once in a while little scraps of melody will pop into your head." (Gordon Stobbe, fiddler)

Matt Flinner
Matt Flinner does it a little bit differently.  Since 2006 the Matt Flinner Trio (Matt Flinner, mandolin; Ross Martin, guitar and Eric Thorin, bass) has been performing "Music du Jour" shows, where each member of the trio writes a new tune the day of the show, and all three new tunes are debuted as part of that night's concert.  They are writing these tunes on the road, often while driving between gigs, fine-tuning them right up until it is time to debut them on stage.

Imposing such a quick turnaround time definitely changes the way the tunes turn out, adding pressure that wouldn't otherwise be there.  In an interview Flinner mentions that the landscape can also have an effect.  For example, he said the wide open spaces of the West give songs written while on tour out there "an expansive, spacious" feel.

Flinner also said, "I've noticed that the overall style does seem to evolve over the course of the week.  All three of us seem to be writing partly in response to the previous night's show - or the last few nights'.  So we try not to get ourselves stuck in any stylistic rut, and we try to keep the variety flowing. Sometimes two of us will have tunes that are somewhat similar in character. We just separate those in the set list."

After reading about Flinner and Stobbe, I can only imagine how fun it must be to attempt to write a new tune per day (or week) on a self-imposed deadline.  Flinner even teaches workshops on Roots Music Composition.  That would be fun to attend, because even though I'm looking outside of roots music for inspiration, I still anticipate these tunes being roots-music oriented in structure, such as AA/BB melodies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sound Tribe Sector 9 This Thursday

Sound Tribe Sector 9 is playing at The National in Richmond, VA this Thursday and I feel like it might be time to go see them again. STS9, or Sector Nine (the name I first came to know them as) is a band that I saw well over 20 times between the years of 1999 to 2003. During those glory days they were always among my favorite bands to see live and I still have dozens of live shows on CD that I collected through kind trades during that span of time, although it’s been over 10 years since I’ve stepped into one of their shows.
STS9 back in the goodle days, circa 2000
I first saw Sector 9 on 5/22/99 at Wilmer’s Park in Brandywine, MD as part of the All Good Festival. They were the first band out that Saturday, and for an unknown band with a lunch time set they were really impressive. Other standout performances along the way include Tulagi’s in Boulder, CO (in the year 2000); the 2001 High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, CA; Starr Hill Music Hall in Charlottesville, VA on 4/1/02; and STS9’s own Harmonic Convergence event in August 2002 at Deerfields near Asheville, NC where it all seemed to come together.

STS9 then (12/5/02) music starts about about 2 minutes in

My cynical, skeptical, and atheistic self was not always aligned with STS9’s new age philosophies, with references to the Mayan calendar, heady crystals and frankincense.  It was quite easy to make light of these asides, although I will admit that it did at least add to the band’s mystique early on...and if it fueled their creativity then more power to it.

What I was really drawn to was the guitar playing of pigtailed Hunter Brown - organic and restrained, melodic yet minimalist, ego-free, anti-soloing.  He's not technical, and he doesn't shred - thank Jah - but the purity of his tone will get you every time.  In fact, when I first got a tenor banjo one of my intentions was to learn some of Hunter’s melodic lines on that 4-string instrument! (A goal that 8 years later I can finally begin to realize). 

Of course, my appreciation was also on STS9 as a whole.  Being instrumental and relatively unique, it wasn't easy to categorize them.  The best thing to do was to just dig the music.  The main observation being that they could consistently take what seemed like a very simple idea or piece and slowly build it up to something transcendent.

There were elements of 70's jazz fusion such as Mahavishnu Orchestra, mixed with 90's techno and an association with the jamband scene.  But if you put your ear to the ground there was also a perceivable connection to the most divine of roots reggae, the pureness of the chants of Mongolian monks, and the authenticity of Indian snake charmer music.  Without getting too colorful or grandiose, at times you could feel the winds of our human ancestors blowing through STS9's platform of indigenous musical zeitgeist.  Or maybe it was just the sage they were burning?
STS9 in 2014
I faded from the Sound Tribe scene just as they were relying more and more upon laptops, samples and other electronics to further their sound. My shying away was not a result of this change, but more in parallel to it, as I'm sure they had valid artistic reasons for pursuing this technology as a means of composition.  As fast as you can say "click, lang, echo" here it is 2014 and they now have a new bass player Alana Rocklin and from what I can tell, a renewed focus on the use of their “traditional” instrumentation (guitar, bass, piano, drums, percussion) in the making of music. 

STS9 now (9/6/14 Red Rocks)

The year is not 1999 and I’m not 25 years old anymore (and neither are they) but maybe it’s time to check back in with old favorites STS9 by harmonically converging upon one of their shows on this Fall 2014 tour as they swing through a nearby city!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Mary Halvorson on Writing Your Own Exercises and Etudes

Mary Halvorson
Mary Halvorson is a guitarist that I find to be very interesting.  She likes to create her own exercises on guitar, targeting specific things that she wants to get better at.  By zoning in on one simple scale or pattern and creating her own exercises based on that scale, she absorbs that information in a personal way.

In a 2012 article for Premier Guitar Magazine, she describes the process of creating your own exercises and demonstrates how they can help with ear training, technique, getting your fingers to move in new ways, and developing a personal style of playing.  For example, you could play a scale in all 12 keys in the same position on the guitar, starting in the key of C and going through the cycle of fourths.

By staying in one place on the neck you can't just repeat the same pattern over and over again - with each new key you have to move up a fourth or down a fifth to stay in position.  (FYI:  this works for mandolin or guitar).

To add another level of complexity to this exercise, she plays each scale descending, starting on the 2nd note of the scale, which makes it a 7-note scale.  Playing the seven notes scales as a steady stream of 16th notes creates rhythmic displacement that threw me for a loop when I tried it!  (B - A - G - F- E - D - C - E / D - C - Bb - A - G - F - A - G / F - Eb - D - C - Bb - D - C - B and so on...I think!).  This is shown in Fig. 4 of her magazine article.

For a further level of variation, she makes it a nine note ascending scale by incorporating open strings before the first and second notes of each scale.  This creates a nine note pattern which you still play in a steady stream of 16th notes.  See Fig. 5 in the Premier Guitar lesson for the tab to this and good luck trying it!

Mary says that once you get the hang of this the variations are endless.  You could arpeggiate the scale, you could start on a note other than the root, you could alternate ascending and descending, you could slide into the third note of each scale, you could double up or triple up on each note.

In this video for Jazz at Lincoln Center she further discusses the topic of writing your own exercises.

You can basically take anything you're learning or working on and create your own exercises to better absorb it - ideas that come from you.

Mining the Melody Part 2 - Transcription as a means of Composition

Yesterday I shared some information about Melody Mining - using things such as speech, rhythms and bird calls as sources for composing your own melodies.  Now that I'm starting to experiment with ear training, there's a long list of bands, styles and sounds that I'd like to utilize in this way.

For my first five or six years of playing music nothing was "by ear".  Everything I played was a melody straight from mandolin tab and/or sheet music (the "dots").  Ironically, since it was so easy to find the tab/dots to Appalachian fiddle tunes and Irish tunes - music traditionally played by ear - that this was the music I played.

But now I'm ready to try something completely different by attempting to write a new tune or short melodic piece every week for a year, which I plan on starting in late November.  I've been kicking around some ideas on how to do this, with the main idea being to simply transcribe melodies or take ideas from music that I like or find influential.

If I perfectly transcribe something, then great, I'm developing an important skill and I'll then use some formula or technique to purposely veer from that transcription in some way.  What is more likely, at least initially, is that my transcription will be very inaccurate so that I'll then have an "original" piece of music by default.  Either way, this will be great musical practice.

Here are some of the bands, sounds, styles and techniques I anticipate using as inspiration.  In any given week I will probably mix and match two or three of these ideas in an effort to meet the goal of writing a new tune every week for a year.

Phish - the music deep in their jams and in some compositions
Medeski, Martin and Wood - grooves
Laika and the Cosmonauts - surf rock melodies
Bill Frisell - jazzy original compositions
Amiina - dreamy, earthy Icelandic music
Uakti - dreamy, earthy Brazilian music
Chapinlandia - Marimba Music of Guatemala
Camper Van Beethoven - they have some catchy instrumentals
Bela Fleck's Throwdown Your Heart Africa Sessions
Sound Tribe Sector Nine - I love some of their hooks
Tommy Guerrero's Lifeboats and Follies CD - funky
AfroCubism - merger of music from Mali and Cuba
Raymond Scott - early electronic music, cartoon-like
Moondog - avante-garde composer
Newband/Harry Partch - more avante-garde
Arvo Pärt - Tintinnabuli technique
Carlos Chavez: Xochipilli - An Imagined Aztec Music - "native" Aztec music
Elena Moon Park "Rabbit Days and Dumplings" - folk and children's songs from China, Tibet, Taiwan, Japan and Korea
Ratatat - electronic music
The Dr. No soundtrack - 1960's islandy music
Augustus Pablo - melodica reggae
Tin Hat Trio - eclectic chamber jazz
Tortoise - sections of their compositions
West African Highlife music
Biguines from Martinique (Eugene Delouche, Alphonso Et Son Orchestre)
Field Recordings from the Seychelles (Anse Boileau Kamtole Band)
Illy B eats - drummer Billy Martin's series of dance-hall beat CDs
Peruvian psychedelic music - cumbias and chicas like the ones played by Juaneco Y Su Combo
Haitian Voodoo rhythms and melodies
Dutch Immigrant songbook - using melody lines in book
Japanese flute music and scales
Klezmer music scales
Writing a "mixolydian rag"
Ice cream truck music
The solo from song So Much Blood by The Sadies
"How to play like Jerry Garcia" style YouTube videos
High Country Guitar blog
Field Book of Wild Birds and their music - sheet music transcriptions of bird calls
French phrase book - making melodies from the sounds of these phrases
Caribbean drumming styles CD - rhythms
Adding music to song lyrics I wrote many years ago
Melody mining from abstract "poems" also written many years ago

That last reference to poems alludes to an abstract writing exercise I sometimes do where I fill up an entire page with a cryptic flow of words (see linguistic photo examples).  This writing exercise calls upon my language vocabulary and is all about the act of creation with little or no concern for the quality or coherence of the result.  I intend to call upon this writing experience as I extend it to the realm of a musical vocabulary.
Linguistic improv example 1
Linguistic improv example 2
You might have noticed that there's little or no Oldtime, bluegrass or Celtic type music on the above list of potential tune sources.  I want to break free of such form and structure by pursuing melodies that have no ties to a predetermined genre, style or "tradition".  However, the Irish/Oldtime foundation will still be there because I really dig the AA/BB melodic (not chord based) nature of traditional tunes and will probably (loosely) work out of that format as part of this experiment.

I am waiting until around Thanksgiving to kick-off this project because I just started the free online Berklee College of Music MOOC on Jazz Improvisation, taught by Gary Burton.  I expect this class to be difficult and time consuming, so I'm going to wait until it ends five weeks from now.  Hopefully I'll have also learned some things in that class which can help me with this next project.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Melody Mining - Songwriter Tips (Archived Content)

A few weeks back I came across a blog post on Melody Mining.  I've been meaning to create my own entry on this topic, where I highlight some of the main points and then link to the actual article.  However, I just checked and it appears that the original post has been taken down.  I was able to find the cached content, so instead of writing a summary and to help preserve the actual info, which i found to be very interesting and helpful, I'll just re-blog it in-full here in the words of the original author, along with his video at the bottom.  See below. 

Melody Mining

I have this technique called Melody Mining, that’s just great for pulling melodies out of the air we breathe.  Basically what we’re going to do is look at the words we use for melodic inspiration. If you listen to the way you speak, there are notes and rhythms hiding inside of them. All you have to do is…Start listening and you’ll be Digging for gold!
If you know what you’re listening for, you’ll always have endless, endless sources for melodies.
So what’s so good about Melody Mining?

It's Natural

First of all, its extremely natural sounding. If you write your melodies based on the way that human beings speak, it's going to sound real; it's going to sound like someone talking.

It's Easier to Sing

It's a lot easier to sing melodies written from Melody Mining because generally you’re not going to be saying sentences in any way that your vocal chords aren’t used to. You’re not going to be throwing crazy Celine Dion notes into the way you speak. If you’re going to write melodies based on the way you talk, it's going to be very simple to sing.

It Resonates

Melody Mined Melodies resonate with people. The idea is that you’re speaking from your heart – you’re saying words that you actually use in your real life. When the listener hears a melody that sounds like something that someone actually says in real life it has a better chance to touch them deeper.

It Communicates

If you’re taking melodies from actual human speech, you’re going to be singing the listeners' language, and they’re going to be able to hear what you’re trying to say.

Melody is 90% Rhythm and 10% Notes

I have a theory (that maybe not everybody subscribes to) that really helps me as I write my melodies. I believe that what comprises a melody is 90% the rhythm and just 10% the notes.  The thought behind that is there are only 12 notes (and if you’re sticking to a chord, its going to be even fewer) so there are only a limited number of original combinations to choose from. You only have a defined number of patterns notes that you can create out of notes.

Rhythm is Infinite

But there are infinite combinations of rests and beats that you can use. Its easier to be original in a place where patterns are infinite. So, if you’re thinking about creating original melodies – the bulk of your effort is going to be spent focussed on creating original rhythms.  And that’s what’s so great about Melody Mining!  You’re pulling melodies from natural rhythms. If you listen to people speaking around you, there are tons and tons of natural rhythms to base your melodies on.

When to use Melody Mining?

Melody Mining is great for when you’re stuck. When you have no idea where to go with your rhythm – go have a conversation with someone, go hit up Youtube (see video for examples) – and just listen to the natural melodies.

This is also very useful if you write your lyrics before your melodies. If you have a giant page of lyrics, this is a great way to write your melodies. If you can say the words out loud and listen to the way you’re saying them – the melodies will just write themselves.

It's also really good for beginners starting to learn to write melodies. When you’re first starting out with songwriting, it's all about just getting something on the paper – throwing something out there. This is a really great way to just get started.

How To Do It

Lets say you don’t have any lyrics written.  You’ve got your chord progression, but you are totally at a loss for melodies….
1. Hit up YouTube for some natural inspiration.
Search for professional speakers, rappers, baby videos, or bird calls. You can hear melodies anywhere if you’re looking for them.  (I particularly love getting inspired by hip hop. All a rapper has to work with is rhythms – they’re not really hitting any notes. All the creativity in rap is in the rhythm.)
2. Pick a small phrase to focus on.
It doesn’t matter what you pick. Just pick the first thing that sticks out.
3. Repeat it over and over.
Try to crank up the emotion in your voice, over enunciate the words.
4. Try to mimic the phrase musically.
Play along with your words with your piano or guitar. Try follow the phrase – if it goes up, pick a higher note. Just do you best color the phrase with notes.

Check out the video to see me doing it live and try it right now for yourself!

I particularly like his suggestion of listening to bird calls for inspiration!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Richmond Folk Festival Saturday Re-Cap

Skies were overcast, the weather was a bit chilly, but the music was superb at the Richmond Folk Festival yesterday!  In fact the music was about as good as I ever remember it being, but I probably say that every year.  I also really liked the new stage layout - it felt more condensed and easy to navigate - with the stages on more equal footing.  I never really liked the old Altria stage (main stage)  anyway, as performances there always felt a little stale compared to some of the other stages.

Just about every act I saw was a highlight.  I began the day with steel guitarist Kayton Roberts and his country music friends on the Community Foundation Stage, who put on a good show of traditional country.  The only downside of that set being the constant needing to applaud every solo taken by his guitarist and 85 year old fiddler, but that's part of that style, I suppose.

The Hot Seats Short Band (missing Ben Belcher) put on a good, very oldtime oriented, set at the children's stage.  I only wish they could get to play on one of the less out of the way stages.  Imagine what they could do on, say, the Dance Pavilion stage, with Benny boy in tow.

As we left The Hot Seats a surprisingly good band was playing on the Community Foundation Stage:  The West African Highlife Band.  I love those West African rhythms and melodies, and these guys really jammed it out.  I'm looking forward to checking out one of their sets again today!

We saw a little bit of Furnace Mountain Band - who can really mesmerize and delight an audience - but chose to leave their set early to catch a little bit of the French-Canadian band Le Vent du Nord.  I'm glad we did.  Le Vent du Nord tore it up!  Tres bien!
The mighty James River - as seen from the side of the Dominion Dance Pavilion
Then we hoofed it on over to Brown's Island to catch a few minutes of William Bell's soul / rhythm and blues.  I definitely wanted to see some of this kind of music this weekend and although this stage was packed we made it up toward the front.  Unfortunately, his set was the same time as the mariachi band (Mariachi los Camperos de Nati Cano)  so we meandered back over to where we had just seen Le Vent du Nord to give that a shot.

With so much going on at one time - all the time - it's hard to stay at one stage for long.  After getting a taste of the Mariachi band we took a few minutes to watch the Balkan brass band (Boban and Marko Markovic Orkestar).  For some reason, this Balkan music didn't really grab me; probably because I was anxious to head back over to Brown's Island to the MWV stage for the Global Rhythms workshop.

I love and hate the workshops at the Richmond Folk Festival.  I'm there to see the musicians from different styles and cultures jam together, but usually the moderator takes so long talking to each individual musician that very little music gets played and the jamming is saved for an awkward moment at the end.  Not so for this drumming meetup, because the drummers - representing India, West Africa, the Dominican Republic, Egypt and more - collectively took it upon themselves to get multiple drum jams going, resulting in a standing ovation from the audience.  The beatboxer Shodekeh held his own with these guys.  This was probably the highlight of the day for me.

When we left the drum workshop Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers were still playing in the Dance Pavilion so we got to see a good bit of their set and they were killing it!  We made it to the front of the stage just as Dwayne Bopsie and his rub-board player jumped down into the crowd to play in the midst of the people tightly packed in up front.  This was awesome, but might have been lost on those toward the back of this crowded stage.  This zydeco band was almost more like a jamband in flavor and feel - they really kept the energy going.

The Holmes Brothers were playing when we walked by Community Foundation Stage, so we got to check out their old school gospel and rhythm and blues music for a few minutes.  They played the best version of Amazing Grace I have ever heard.  As the Holmes Brothers were playing, I looked behind me to see that the Mayan Sundance ritual had already commenced.  Four (?) guys in Tezcatlipoca Voladores had just started to make their descent by swinging around the 80 foot pole, while one guy sat on top. Watching this as the Holmes Brothers played was a surreal experience.
Jazz pianist Lafayette Gilcrhist and beatboxer Shodekeh getting funky!
The stage they now call the Altria stage is a great stage with a natural amphitheater.  We were ready and waiting when Lafayette Gilchrist and the New Volcanoes - featuring Shodekeh - took to the stage to debut his new go-go suite for the first time in public.  The first two movements were one long 30 minute jam that had me thinking of both P-Funk and King Sunny Ade.  He briefly paused to introduce the band, before playing the 3rd part of this new piece of music, which was equally as enticing as the first two parts.  So much good music in one day!

We had plans to stay for Le Vent du Nord on the Altria Stage, but were too wiped out and overly stimulated from the constant exposure to awesome music, non-stop for 7 straight hours, so we left after Lafayette Gilchrist, knowing that we could listen to Le Vent du Nord on 88.9 WCVE on the ride home.  Unfortunately, that set wasn't being broadcast.  I wonder why?  Oh well, Ian Stewart's World Music Show wasn't a bad alternative.

Looking at today's Richmond Folk Festival schedule, I am equally excited to head down there soon for another great day of music.  They pack it all in between noon and 6pm today, then it's gone for another year, so get it while you can!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Richmond Folk Festival Weekend Itinerary

The Richmond Folk Festival is October 10-12, 2014.

The Richmond Folk Festival is a three day event, but here's a potential Saturday/Sunday itinerary that takes in many of the performers.
Kayton Roberts
You could start Saturday with Kayton Roberts and Friends (country and western) at noon on the Community Foundation Stage. Kayton is heralded as a master of the classic steel guitar and was a member of Hank Snow’s Rainbow Ranch Boys. From there head over to the Dominion Dance Pavilion for the “Throwdown on Brown” breakdance competition at 1:15 pm. Sure to be a crowd favorite.

You won’t want to stay at the breakdancing competition for too long though, because The Hot Seats take to the Genworth Financial Family Stage at 1:30 pm. Trek on over to The Hot Seats, kids, and do some breakdancing of your own to their particular brand of old-timey music! Shortly after The Hot Seats finish you can keep the Appalachian vibe rolling with Furnace Mountain Band at 2:45 on the Union/UR Virginia Folklife Stage. But, in between The Hot Seats and Furnace Mountain you’d be well advised to sneak back on over to the Community Foundation Stage to catch a little bit of the West African Highlife Band, who play from 2:00-2:45.
Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati
Either way, you definitely will want to return to the Community Foundation Stage at 4pm for Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati. Yes, this is Mexican mariachi music and it looks like it’ll be good! After the mariachi band is done try and squeeze in the Global Rhythms workshop from 5-6 pm at the MWV Stage.  Beware though, from 5:30-6:15 pm The Bailey Hummingbirds – a shout band – play on the Union/UR Virginia Folklife Stage. Shout Bands are all-brass, gospel-based groups from House of Prayer churches. The 20+ member Bailey Hummingbirds are based in Porsmouth, VA and feature trombones, a baritone horn, a sousaphone and percussion.

From this point on close out Saturday evening at the Altria Stage. Make sure you are there by 6:15pm to witness the Mayan Sundance – a five person acrobatic “dance” on an eighty foot pole with an ancient history and deep religious significance. Then, at 6:45 pm Lafayette Gilchrist and the New Volcanoes, featuring beatboxer Shodekeh, will perform funky go-go/jazz straight outta Baltimore. They will be immediately followed on the Altria stage by Quebecois group Le Vent du Nord at 7:30 pm, who play high-spirted French-Canadian music. That’s your Saturday.
Le Vent du Nord
Why not begin Sunday with some gospel music from Maggie Ingram and the Ingranettes at noon on the Community Foundation Stage? At 1pm the traditional country group Wild Ponies will be getting their honky-tonk on at the Union/UR Virginia Folklife Stage. At 2pm Pontic Greek musicians Kostas Fetfatsidis and Evan Karapanagiotides perform on the Richmond Times Dispatch/ stage. Pontic Greek music is supposed to have a haunting and mysterious Near Eastern feel.

A must-see is the 3pm “From Africa to Appalachia” set at the Union/UR Virginia Folklife Stage featuring Danny Knicely, Sammy Shelor and Cheick Hamala Diabate. Any time these guys get together magic happens. Another good thing about seeing the Africa to Appalachia set is you’ll be well positioned to witness the winners of the breakdance competition, giving a special performance at that same Folklife stage starting at 4pm.
Joaquin Diaz
Then, if you like, head to the Altria stage to close out another day with Le Vent du Nord, who play from 5:00-5:45pm. Or, better yet, find some time to check out accordion master Joaquin Diaz and his meringue music - the vibrant dance music of the Dominican Republic. Joaquin plays 5-6pm at the Dominion Dance Pavilion. That’s it folks!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

John Medeski's Advice for Young Musicians

In a 2011 interview with JAZZed, pianist John Medeski of the trio Medeski, Martin and Wood had this advice for young musicians:

JM: Slow down the process in terms of your study. We’re constantly on random play and things are changing all the time, but I think it’s really important to stop and slow down. Set aside time to really dive into things and absorb them. Work on slowing down and really hearing from deep inside. Take time to dive into one artist for a month or two at a time. Pick somebody you really love and just dive into their music. Find pieces that will give you the quintessential sort of essence of their sound and study it, learn it, absorb it. Take time to listen to it until you can hear it, sing it and feel it inside you – until you don’t need to listen to it or read it to sit down and play it.

I also recommend playing free as part of your practice. First do your technique warm-up and then sit down and play free. You can sit down and play a sunset, you can play an emotion, you can play a scenario – it can be programmatic, it can be romantic, it can be whatever but do it every day as part of your practice. Then you can go work on learning tunes, writing, studying harmony, lines, approach tones – all that other stuff that you need to learn – but first get yourself in a warmed up state and connected to your instrument and then play free. That’s how you find your voice and stay connected to it. That way you know what all these sounds mean to you. You can’t be taking your cues from everybody else – we need to know what every chord and every note means to us and what every combination of those notes means to us. Then when we play them it is coming from us.

Bassist Chris Wood and drummer Billy Martin also offered these comments in the same interview:

CW: Just persist. If you really want to do it and you love it – if you love music you just have to keep playing and playing and playing until you really are doing what you believe in.

BM: Think about developing your language. Think about your instrument as a means to express yourself with the language and the vocabulary that you have. Work on being in the moment of soloing and improvising and composing on the spot. Even if it’s just a one minute solo, work on developing a piece of music on your instrument right there on the spot and your vocabulary will grow very quickly.