Presents

I have been lucky, in my role as piano teacher, to receive many presents from students over the years. You can see one of my favourites in the picture below.

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I love it. It’s clear that a lot of thought and time went into it, and every time I play or hear this song I think of it.

Teresa hit the sweet spot with this present – where her idea, combined with the talent and time to create it happened to be something I didn’t know I wanted, but now cherish.

And you won’t hit the sweet spot every time. Especially if you are buying/making something for lots of people. Every year or sometimes more.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t think a bit more deeply about it, or try a bit harder to get  it right.

Causing damage

Last night was the second year in a row that on a Monday gig in December I caused some expensive equipment to fall on the floor.

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Last year it was my keyboard – I set up the stand in a rush and when I placed the keyboard on it, it collapsed. A few hundred euros worth of damage.

Last night it was my colleague’s phone and tablet. I was pointing my arm in her direction to acknowledge her vocal on a song when I knocked over the stand with her gear on it. Thankfully no damage but it could have been a lot worse.

All because I was too excited.

You see I love playing the panto every year, but I also love playing gigs where you can let loose a bit more, and so when I emerge from a series of panto gigs to the outside world, it seems I get a bit excited.

A bit like the footballer who has been sitting on the bench, and is so determined to make an impact on the game when he comes on, that the first thing he does is commit over-zealously to a tackle and gets himself sent off.

Excitement is good, adrenalin is good, energy is good – they can all lead to great music and performances – but next December I’ll try to channel them a little bit more effectively.

 

What is my job in this world?

This morning I remembered a half-serious discussion I had 15 years ago or so with a physiotherapist friend of mine. I was suggesting that a more effective way to manage your sleep was to do like dogs and cats do – i.e. work/play until you get tired, then sleep until you woke, then repeat, regardless of the time of day. My friend disagreed with me, saying it is best for the human body to sleep for longer, more regular stretches.

I remembered it because I was reading about a man called Richard Buckminster Fuller, who according to Wikipedia, lived a full life, and contributed much to our world.

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There are many interesting facts about his life, including the fact that he often wore three watches simultaneously, died within 36 hours of his wife of 66 years, was the second president of Mensa, and for two whole years slept according to my suggestion above, only stopping because it conflicted with the sleep habits of his business associates.

There was one quote of his I found particularly useful though, and I want to share it with you, as we approach the reflective time of year that the Christmas and New Year period is for many.

“What is my job on this planet? What is it that needs doing, that I know something about, that probably won’t happen unless I take responsibility for it?”

One More Year

It’s understandable I guess – you don’t really think about Christmas songs once one December finishes until the next one starts.

I started getting notifications over the weekend that people were liking and sharing this song again. And so I listened to it for the first time in a year last night. And it made me smile.

Kris and Dominika Manulak on video did a great job of capturing the joy that singing brings to people’s faces and hearts. And that’s what the song is all about really.

Sing out while the music lives inside you.

 

Turning Flax into Gold…into music.

The skill of changing flax to gold (or the lack of it) got a certain lady in a lot of trouble in the famous fairytale Rumpelstiltskin.

Coolera Dramatic Society open their 40th consecutive pantomime tonight in Sligo – and you’ve guessed it – this year it’s Rumpelstiltskin. In the pantomime version, the leading lady gets herself in trouble with the evil gnome when there is a mix-up about her ability to turn flax into gold. She manages to do it in a village word game, but in true pantomime style this is misunderstood by the king, who hears that a village girl can turn actual flax into real gold, and insists that he does it for her – with some (almost) tragic consequences….

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The word game itself (see pic above) reminds me of one I played as a child. Change one four-letter word into another by changing one letter at a time, but each change has to result in a real word.

I was reminded of this game during the week, when one of my piano students was learning to play a solo piano piece called Comptine d’Un Autre Été from the film Amélie.

There is a 4-chord left hand pattern that continues through the whole song, with different melodies playing out above it.

It begins with E minor (the notes E, G, B), then to G major with a D bass (D, G, B), then to B minor with a D bass (D, F#, B) and finally to D major (D, F#, A).

Moving from E minor to D major, changing one note at a time, but always creating a new chord with each change. Remind you of anything?

Knowing how to play chords in many positions (not just the root position) is a key skill for pianists and guitarists. It means that with minimal movement you can subtly change the harmony while accompanying a melody.

And in the minds of singers and lead instrument players, the difference between being accompanied by someone who can do this and someone who can’t…well you might say it’s as big as the difference between flax and gold.

 

Lunchtime in Cootehall…

I played a gig in this pub about 10 years ago. It was a jazz gig, in rural Co. Roscommon (not a noted jazz hotspot), and it was packed. A great atmosphere – the management obviously knew what they were doing and had built their business up to the point where people would travel to it to hear good music.

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I haven’t been there since, until this morning. There was a wedding on in the church across the road, and the pub was packed at 12.30 before the bride arrived, and again at 2.30 after she got married. I have no idea if the pub is under the same management or not as it was 10 years ago, but it looked a little more lonely today. The corner shop next door was closed, and bar the church, there wasn’t much else around.

And so I wondered – was it now a pub that relied on weddings and other big one-off events to draw a crowd? Like the pubs in Clones in Co. Monaghan, whose annual takings significantly depend on how many big GAA matches are played in the town each summer.

They are two completely different business models – positioning yourself as the only show in town and waiting for the people who come to your town and need your services, or building something so good that your location doesn’t hugely matter because people will travel to see what you’re doing?

And so I hoped that M. J. Henry’s was still the second type, so that when a wedding happens to come to town like today, it’s a bonus for them, not their bread and butter.

 

Ready to work

“Tonight’s office”.

It’s a common social media post for musicians, usually accompanied with a picture of their instrument/instruments proudly displayed, set up and ready to go.

Ready to work. It’s a good feeling. Far better than not being ready, arriving late, setting up your gear in a rush and trying to catch up with what the rest of the band is doing.

Of course working for musicians is not just playing the gig – it’s rehearsing, it’s writing, it’s arranging, it’s booking gigs.

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Be ready to work. It might require more planning, but it makes for better work. And it feels good.