Duets

The first time I can remember playing music with someone else was a classical piano duet at the age of 14 with Darragh Kelly. The piece of music was Anitra’s Dance from Grieg’s Peer Gynt suite, and although I hadn’t heard the piece of music before, and indeed haven’t heard it since it is still lodegd in my head over 20 years later because of the amount we practiced and played it.

Hotel California won a Grammy for Record of the Year in 1978, and the guitar solo was voted the greatest of all time by readers of the renowned Guitarist magazine in 1998.

It is a duet between Don Felder and Joe Walsh, written over three days by the two guitarists, and features first one, then the other and culminates in a twin guitar pattern repeated till fade, changed slightly each time to fit over the changing chords underneath.

A great duet must not only show off what each individual has to offer, but the chemistry between the two must be such that it brings the performance to a place to where neither one could have got on their own.

Of course, as well as instrumental duets, there are many famous vocal duets. Two that spring to mind immediately include Islands in the Stream (sung by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton) and Endless Love (Lionel Richie and Diana Ross), and as promised at the weekend I am very happy to announce that the theme for Theme Night 21 will be Duets.

It will be a nice open theme that will mean twice as many people as usual will get to perform as well as providing great variety throughout the night.

Note from Kieran – Hi everybody – I am aware that I initially promised that there would be no sales pitches in this blog. However a significant number of you have been in touch over the past week disappointed to have missed out on tickets for Theme Night #20 and said that you would love to hear in advance about events such as these theme nights.

So – in the spirit of thanking you all for signing up and continuing to read these emails, you are the first to know that tickets for Theme Night #21 (26&27 Sept in the Hawk’s Well Theatre, Sligo) will go on sale tomorrow morning (Tuesday 1 May) at 10am from the Hawk’s Well’s website or 071-9161518.

Comparison is the thief of joy.

I was asked to be a judge at a fundraiser recently. It was a dancing competition along the lines of Strictly Come Dancing or Dancing With the Stars in aid of Sligo Rugby Club. It was a really well organised night, great entertainment and huge effort had been put in the organising committee and by all 15 couples.

Everyone had a great time…I must have been the only person in the room that didn’t enjoy it.

Now don’t get me wrong – I loved the dancing, the craic, and pretty much everything else about the night itself – I just didn’t enjoy being a judge.

I had to give a mark out of 10 and some sort of entertaining/controversial comment to each couple. I was encouraged by the organisers to be ‘the Simon Cowell’ and I tried one or two half-critical comments but I couldn’t do it with any conviction.

We were only allowed give a 7, 8, 9 or 10. I gave one 7 towards the start of the night and I felt so bad afterwards that it was the only 7 of the night that I apologised to the couple involved.

Why? Well in my mind each of these people had given significantly of their time, tried something most of them had never done before, and gave it socks in front of 800 people. How could that deserve anything but a 10?!

But if it’s a competition you can’t give a 10 to everyone.

For me, playing music is the same. The minute you start comparing yourself to others is the minute the joy starts disappearing from it. And it should be joyful!!

A good friend and wonderful musician – Seamie O’Dowd – said it best when he said, regarding music – ‘It’s not how good you are at it, it’s how good it is for you’.

What to do with good ideas.

People are always looking for new ideas. The world would be a boring place without those people. Many are worth trying. Most won’t work. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try them.

Every so often one will really connect with people, and the results can be amazing, for everybody involved.

If you’re lucky enough to find one of these, mind it. Work at it. Look after it. Stay true to it. Respect it and everyone who believes in it.

Don’t stop looking for new ideas, but the really good ones don’t come around too often, so enjoy them when they do.

Do your job.

Randy Meisner was fed up. His marriage was breaking up, he was exhausted, and this tour seemed like it was never going to end.

What’s more, deep down, he was struggling with his new-found stardom. He was a shy man at heart, and while he was OK with being the bass player in the band, he struggled when the fact that he wrote and sang one of the band’s biggest hits meant that he had to sing it every night as one of the centrepoints of the set.

So says the picture painted by the Netflix documentary History of the Eagles. It came to a head one night backstage when Meisner refused to sing Take it to the Limit as the encore number. The co-leader of the band, Glenn Frey insisted he do it, the two fell out, and Meisner left the band soon after.

It was Frey’s explanation for his insistence that struck me though. ‘Randy – there’s thousands of people waiting to hear you sing that song. You can’t just say F*** ‘em I don’t feel like it. Do you think I like singing Take it Easy and Peaceful Easy Feeling – I mean I’m tired of those songs, but there’s people in the audience who have been waiting years to see us do those songs’.

It never occurred to me that a hugely successful band like the Eagles would get tired of singing the same song every night. But it makes complete sense. Of course they would. Especially when they seemed to try to reproduce every note played on the recordings live which meant no room for improvisation or changing things up from night to night.

If you’re in that situation there are two things you can do.

  1. Change the situation – i.e. leave the band or try and convince the others to change things up a little.
  2. Do the songs the same way each night, but commit to it. If you think that is the best thing for the band and for your fans, well then do it, but do it to the best of your ability. Make that groove a little tighter, get that bit more in tune with your harmonies, connect with the song on a deeper level emotionally. Take it to the limit…one more time.

It’s easier said than done of course, but for me Frey was right – think of the audience, and do what’s best for them. This is what we do, this is what The Eagles do. If that means doing the same thing night after night, then believe it and do it. That’s your job.

V-I (with a few stops in between)

We have a big weekend coming up in Sligo – Theme Night 20 takes place this coming Friday and Saturday
It’s like a blind date with The Eagles. Audiences know we’ll be playing their music, but they don’t know who will be in the band, who is singing what, or who has decided to put their own twist on something.

I love these nights for many reasons – one of which is that I get to know the music of a particular artist really well for a period of time. The challenges of each theme are different, and this time I reckon if we can get the guitars and the harmonies right we’ll go a long way to putting on a good show. If we do, I hope to show you some footage of the performances next week.

The Eagles wouldn’t be renowned for tricky chord sequences, but you’d be surprised when you get into the music. The first chord of the chorus of Witchy Woman had me stuck for a while…would be interested to hear what anyone thinks it is!
However this time one of my favourites is Take It to the Limit, and I love the chord changes between the 1st and 2nd Verse (0:40-0:48). Billy Joel uses exactly the same sequence at the end of the Bridge in Piano Man (in C, 1:27-1:31), as does Elton John between Verses 1 and 2 in Tiny Dancer (also in C, 1:01-1:05).

Music is full of V-I sequences. This is a nice way of getting from V-I. 5 chord, then 5 over 4, then the 1 over 3, the 5 (dominant) over 2 which leads you back nicely to the 1. Any musicians out there try it!

Daydreaming in Irish Class

I’ll always remember one particular Irish class when I was 15. I was daydreaming – humming the bass line of U2’s With Or Without You in my head.
Not trying to see the notes on a stave, which was the extent of my musical education up to that, but trying to sing them (in my silent voice!) and figure out how they fit onto the major scale.

The first one – OK that sounds like it’s the home note of the song – so it must be doh. So if that is doh, what is the second one? Sing the first note, then the second one, back to the first one and try and sing down note by note to the second…doh, ti, lah, soh – soh – is it soh? – It’s SOH! Then sing back up to the next one –it’s Lah, then Fah…wow this is a m a z i n g!

I’ll never forget the feeling when I got up to a piano after class and it confirmed to me that I was right, and with this discovery began my journey into playing piano by ear.

Last night I read my daughter a story about Alicia Alonso – a Cuban ballet dancer who, with the help of her husband, learned to dance the iconic part of Giselle in her head while lying in bed recovering from eye surgery. She performed the piece in a prestigious production in New York soon after.

Now I’m not claiming there is any sort of a comparison to be made between my teenage breakthrough and Ms. Alonso’s extraordinary feat, but either way there’s no denying that our minds are remarkable.

Use yours.

The First Dance

The First Dance – the title of the track played by Seamie O’Dowd, John Joe Kelly and I in this video. My first attempt at writing a jig, but also the opening track of our Melodic Reflection album – a musical dance between piano and guitar explored in more detail as the album progresses.

And today, this tune also represents my first dance with blogging. I will publish a blog post each day for the next 35 days – some short and some longer, some written and some filmed, some you’ll find interesting and some you won’t, but hopefully enough of the former that you will stay with me on this short trip!

No sales pitches. No politics or religion. No clickbait. Just some stories, insights, and above all honesty from me about all things musical and the piano.

The safest way to make sure you get to read these blogs is by signing up to my newsletter, but they will also be available on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Feel free to share with your friends, and to respond to me on anything that sparks some thought in you.

 

So…the first of 35 dances….hope you like the tune.