The beach.

I love the beach.

You can dig, draw, or build whatever you choose on it, safe in the knowledge that by the next day, the tide will have returned it to exactly how it was before your artistic efforts.

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And people aren’t afraid on the beach. The everyday fear that curbs the creative instincts of many people isn’t present on the beach. That fear we have of being wrong, of being not good enough, of what others will think.

Because some of your ideas will be bad ones. Some of your creations won’t work. Some of your notes will be duds.

But thankfully our minds are like a beach. The tide will come in. Today’s creation can be wiped away if you want. And tomorrow you can create again.

Freedom (George Michael)

When I hear (or play) this song, I always find myself belting out the chorus.

‘Aaaaaaaalllll you have to Dooo now….’

Why? What makes this chorus so addictive? Let’s look into it from a songwriting point of view.

This song is percussive and rhythmic, and conveys this message from the start with the choice of instruments to start the song. Then the piano theme comes in on 0:24 – again very rhythmic. Over this are the vocals – all quite syncopated (offbeat) and percussive in themselves. No long notes – lots of syllables fitted into each line.

On 1:46 the bridge or pre-chorus comes in. The song is a minute and a half old at this point and still he is building us up, creating tension but also funk with these consistent rhythmic themes on the drums/percussion, piano and vocal lines.

But now the bass joins in. It starts to meander more here than it had been up to now, and instead of marking the root note of the chord, it plays around a bit more, again in a funky percussive way. You also have extra vocal lines, Building, building.

Also consider the placement of the vocal lines.

The first line of the verse…’heaven knows I was such a young boy’ – ‘Heaven’ comes in on beat 2. The next line – ‘I was every’ – comes in before beat 1 – on the ‘i’ of 4 to be exact.

The first line of the bridge…’I think there’s something you should know’ – ‘I’ comes in a fraction after beat 1 – again on the ‘i’ of 1 to be exact. Each line of the bridge follows this pattern.

So, by the end of the bridge, we’re almost 2 minutes in, and what we’re crying out for is a long strong note, something on beat 1, something that makes us feel at home and that we want to celebrate that fact. And right on cue, at 2:07 the chorus hits us. ‘Aaaaaaaaaaaalllll you have to Dooo now’…

Boom. This is what we have been building to. A long note, on the home chord, on beat 1 of the bar.

Release. Relax. Sing. Freedom.

You make me feel…

Maya Angelou was an American poet, singer, writer and civil rights activist. One of her most famous quotes goes as follows – ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’.

That’s why you see such an outpouring of emotion when a world giant of music, of theatre, or of the screen dies. They make people feel. And the better they are the more we feel.

And feeling is living.

Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote a song about it.

 

Go ahead, make someone feel something today…

 

Don’t let the tiger catch you…

I had an interesting conversation last night. It started in a fairly gloomy fashion, about signs in Ireland that the latest economic boom is coming to an end. About the growth in the property market slowing, and about the expected rise in interest rates. About small businesses being worried about people tightening their belts.

And then a friend of mine piped up – ‘If a tiger’s chasing you’, he said, ‘don’t worry about being faster than the tiger, just be faster than the other guy’.

Tigers are everywhere. And they are fast. External factors which threaten our work and the possibility of it succeeding are a fact of life.

Macroeconomic trends are one example, but equally as dangerous sometimes are the distractions on your phone, and the voices that tell you something can’t be done.

If you can keep your focus on doing good work, there’ll always be someone else for the tiger to catch first.

 

 

Ol’ Man River

To use today’s language in it’s simplest terms…I ❤️ this.

Liane Carroll and Meilana Gillard performing Ol’ Man River in Sligo earlier last month.

I love it for many reasons – but I’m going to focus on just one here. I do recommend listening to the whole piece first before reading on.

In lessons people often ask me about the ‘tasty’ stuff piano players do – by that they often mean those bits that link chords together between melody lines. They are often improvised on the spot which makes them difficult to learn and also sometimes difficult to teach.

Let me have a go – there’s a great example early in this piece.

At 0:46 Liane plays what I hear to be a Bb (add9) chord – ie the Bb major triad with a C added. It seems to be a sound she likes – the previous chord was an F (add9). But listen to her fill after the word Mississippi.

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If you don’t read sheet music, the notes in the fill are as follows…A Bb F’ E’ F F E

She starts with a passing note (a note either a semitone above or below a chord tone), then to the root (Bb), up to the 5th (F), another passing note (E), two more 5ths (F – low this time) and finally another E.

This line works firstly because of its shape. It starts on A, which crucially is close to where the first melody phrase ended (F), then jumps up to create a sweet sound but quickly comes back down again to bring you back to where she will start the next melody line (C).

A line can have a nice shape but will only work if the note choice is good however. Here, she chooses to stick to strong chord tones throughout – the root and 5th, and also the notes a semitone below each. The choice of the E is interesting – if taken in the context of a Bb chord it is the #11, and it gives a slightly mysterious Lydian flavour to the line, which is perfect at the start of a song because it gets you interested.

I’m guessing on the spot or in the moment Liane didn’t think about any of this. It was instinctive, what the musician in her brain subconsciously told her fingers to do.

I’m also guessing that not even Liane Carroll could always do things like that instinctively, but she has dedicated her life to this music, and this is the result.

What makes a good duet?

Well among other things…Good writing. Good song structure. Harmony. Good blend of voices. And chemistry.

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Chris Baillie (above left) is a performer to his bones. This is a shot from last Thursday’s 80s gig at the Sligo Summerfest during his rendition of Midnight Oil’s Beds are Burning. Another song that sounds easy by the way until you try to play it! If you are interested see can you work out the time signature of both the intro and the bars leading into each chorus.

 

Back to my point though. Chris strutted around the stage and energised not only the audience but also the band to the point where I am shouting along with him as if my life depended on it in the picture above. There is clear chemistry there, not sure about a good blend of voices or harmony, but that’s OK because as you can see I’m well away from the mic!

And this is what really excites me about the next theme night (#21 – Duets, Sept 26&27).

We will have at least three sets of sisters singing together, two father/son combinations and lots of other really interesting pairings. The song choices are wonderful, and I have no doubt that the harmonies and blend of voices will be top notch in all cases.

However, what will elevate a performance to the next level is the chemistry between the perfomers. Can two people who don’t usually sing together convince the audience that this song was written for them, that they believe every word of it, and they wouldn’t sing it with anyone else??!

The good news…is that you can come to see these questions answered for yourself! There are a small number of tickets left – and you can snap them up here.

The mystery of the waves…

I was sitting on some rocks on the edge of a lake recently. Taking some time for myself, not paying attention to anything in particular. My feet and the bottom half of my shins were in the water – it was very pleasant.

Suddenly I felt the water rise and my shorts got wet. I looked up and a series of waves were coming my way. Nothing too big, maybe 6-9 inches above the regular water level.

The funny thing was, I couldn’t tell what had caused them.

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There was nothing to be seen on the lake. I had seen ferries crossing it the previous day so my best guess was that a ferry had passed by some minutes before and the waves caused by its movement were just reaching me now.

You see – all around you, near and far, there are people being wet by waves caused to rise by your movements and actions.

Like the ferry, you may well be out of their sight when the moment of contact happens, and neither of you may be aware of why or how it did.

It’s worth remembering that every one of your actions have a consequence for the wider world, in ways that you can see, and in other ways that you can’t.

Make them worthwhile.