Wonder

I always associate this word with Patrick Kavanagh.

‘Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder’ – from Advent.

Reminds me of Leonard Cohen actually – ‘There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in’ – from Anthem.

Anyway back to wonder. I always remember my English teacher in secondary school telling us how Kavanagh rediscovered the wonder in simple things later in life while recovering from lung cancer. It has been a barometer for me since – I have always figured that if I amn’t seeing the wonder in things that I used to, then I need to reevaluate some part of my life.

Yesterday over 20 talented teenagers came to The Blue Room Recording Studio in Grange, Co. Sligo and recorded drums, violins and choir parts to complete a track on which I’m working at the moment.

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Bar one, it was their first time in a studio. I could hear the wonder in their voices and see it in their faces when they entered the studio, then as they heard their parts played back to them and joked with each other about it.

And I saw the wonder in that.

PS audio and video for the track, my only original music release of 2018, will be with you within the next 2 weeks.

“Short accounts make long friends”.

A man uttered this phrase to me yesterday when paying me (promptly) for a gig. I liked it.

Immediately I was reminded of another business-related phrase…”It’s just business”.

Two different ways of doing things.

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The first one encourages friendship in business dealings, the second can be used to excuse actions in business dealings that would rarely be seen between friends.

You can’t be friends with everyone you do business with. Respect should be a minimum though.

Play That Funky Music

Rob Parissi, the founder and lead singer of Wild Cherry, also wrote their only hit – Play That Funky Music, which was a no. 1 hit single in the US in 1976 and reached no. 4 in 1990 after Vanilla Ice released it as a single (Ice Ice Baby was the B-side ). He was inspired to do so after the band’s drummer recounted hearing a fan shout at a gig ‘Are you white boys gonna play some funky music?”

According to Wikipedia, there have been 14 members of Wild Cherry over the years, with Parissi the only ever-present. I’m not sure if Eddie Fitzpatrick (trombone) knew this, and the mainly teenage band he put together for the below performance featured only the 13, but I’d be surprised if Wild Cherry ever had as much fun playing it.

 

Teenagers, music and being yourself…

This morning I’m reflecting on the 15th in the series of the Teenage Theme Nights. We had two wonderful nights where almost 70 teenage musicians performed their favourites from the 1970s.

The four teenagers in this photo – Julie, Joy, Eoin and Conor were our emcees for the two nights. Julie performed an instrumental version of Billy Joel’s Scenes from an Italian Restaurant on piano, Joy arranged strings for and sang Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain, Eoin arranged and sang a Neil Young medley accompanying himself with harmonica and guitar, and Conor led a keys/piano/bass/drums quartet to play Chick Corea’s Spain. And there were many other standout performances over the weekend, too many to list.

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But that’s not the point I want to make today.

Expressing yourself, being true to yourself can be difficult as an adult. It can be even more difficult as a teenager. However it’s key to your happiness.

And so when I see these teenagers be true to themselves through their performances, the way they introduce their song, through the jokes they make when introducing their peers, or through the jokes they don’t make when introducing their peers, I know that’s another step in the right direction for them not just as musicians, but as people.

Playing music has helped me hugely along the journey to be myself. And it’s why I enjoy the theme nights (adults and teenage) so much – because through music, I believe they help others do the same.

It won’t be music for everyone, but if you can find something that plays that role for you…stick with it, embrace it, work at it, do more of it. It’s invaluable.

When life isn’t fair…

Waiting to play a gig one Saturday evening I observed two children playing in the car park at the back of the venue. They were no more than 7 and they had one bike between the two of them. They took turns to ride it down a steep hill, turn sharply around a parked car and then come to a quick stop before they hit the fence.

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Improvised fun, making a game out of nothing – I loved watching it!

The mood darkened however when one child took two goes in a row. The other child started shouting at her – things like ‘It’s my turn’, ‘You had two goes’, ‘That’s not fair’. He was angry – convinced he was right, but hurt and upset that the other child didn’t seem to care. His emotions were laid bare for all to see, but he didn’t care, he kept fighting for what he perceived to be his right to a turn on the bike.

The gig was put back a half an hour so I walked up the road to find a pub which was showing the Kildare v Mayo gaelic football championship match. There had been a bit of controversy about the game earlier in the week so I was keen to see how it played out.

What had happened was that the ruling body – the GAA – had tried to take Kildare’s home advantage (to which they were entitled) away from them, because they could fit more fans in a bigger, neutral venue. Kildare believed this to be unfair, and insisted they wouldn’t play the game unless it was played in their home ground of Newbridge. Eventually the GAA backed down, agreed the game would be played in Newbridge, and Kildare backed up their off-field statement by winning a match on the field that they weren’t expected to.

Fairness, or the perception of something being unfair can be a powerful driver. The world is a better place when we forget about other people’s opinions of us and simply stand up against what we believe to be unfair.

On being discovered

Back in my college years I took a trip to California. And on that trip I took a bus from San Diego to San Francisco. And on that bus we passed a series of huge vineyards. And I was fascinated.

It wasn’t the longest bus journey I ever made, but it was long nonetheless. And in the era before smartphones, and when roaming charges were prohibitive, all there was to do was read a book or think. And I had run out of books. Thankfully it was a great place to think. It was on a different bus journey a few thousand miles further south that thinking led me to making the choice to be a musician, but that’s a story for another blog.

Anyway back to the vineyards. They seemed to go on forever. Lines and lines of vines, meticulously planted. Diagonal to the road but each line at exactly the same angle to the next.

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When passing them at speed on a bus they would pass by in a flash. And while if you looked out into the distance all you would see was plants, when you looked closely from the bus window, between each line of vines was a equally straight, equally long line of nothing, a space where pickers or machines could harvest or tend to the vines.

These lines would appear out of nowhere. For a split second you would see them in all their glory and then suddenly they would disappear again, masked by the vines. There was a kind of beauty about each one however, a geometrical yet natural beauty.

I was reminded of these vineyards when listening to one of Seth Godin’s podcasts recently. It was about being discovered, being picked.

You see as an artist seeking to be discovered by a record label, a business looking for the right investor to make them an offer, or a guy hoping to be noticed by that girl who he met once in a coffee shop, you are just like one of those lines between vines in the vineyard. You may be beautiful in your own right, but there are millions out there like you, and the ones you want to see you for who you really are may only see you for a split second.

For years being discovered or picked was the only way to be successful in certain industries. That’s not the case any more.

So instead of waiting to be discovered, perhaps it’s better instead to make what you do so good that people seek you out, that they make the bus slow down as they are passing your line, because they know that yours is the one they want.

Autumn Leaves

They fall every year. Without fail. There will be lots of them and if you don’t deal with them properly they will stop the light getting to the grass and it will suffer.

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Autumn Leaves is also the title of a jazz standard. Often one of the first that jazz students learn, and possibly because of this it’s not one that seasoned professional musicians tend to play very often. However they all can play it inside out, upside down and backwards.

Because like its counterparts in the picture, the chord progressions from the tune will fall to you in every gig. Without fail. There will be lots of them, and if you don’t deal with them properly as a student, the light won’t get to your playing and it too will suffer.

Do the basics well and the rest will follow.