Sssshhhhh!

I met a friend at Sligo Jazz last week who I hadn’t seen for a year. He asked me how my online piano tuition videos were going…and inside I cringed. Because despite the fact that I told him a year ago that it was a plan I had, it was now 12 months on and they still hadn’t seen the light of day. Thankfully I was able to tell him that they will (in a matter of weeks in fact), but I felt I should have had more to show for my grand boast 52 weeks ago. It’s tempting to tell people about the plans you have, about the great things you are going to do. But in fact the act of telling others reduces the likelihood of you ever actually doing it. Why? Because telling someone about something you’re going to do gives you an unconscious payoff – a rush of dopamine to the brain – making yourself feel

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The helicopter view

One of my favourite pieces of music that I have written is the piano/violin duet – The Wild Atlantic Way. And before playing it at gigs, I often tell the audience of my dream to get in a helicopter with some talented cameramen and take footage of the dramatic western coastline of Ireland to make a video to go with the music. Because being in a helicopter gives you a different perspective. The overhead view can give you a more complete picture, one that’s impossible to get from the ground. I often think it would be equally great for any of us to get in a helicopter when trying to get a better picture of a particular dilemma in which we may find ourselves. Because everything we see in the world is seen through our eyes, which means it is subject to the beliefs, ideas and biases we have acquired from the various experiences we have had in life. It’s

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Practice vs playing

Practice should be ugly. It shouldn’t sound or look good. The point of it is to improve a certain skill or technique. It’s different from playing. When you have practiced something enough, then you can play it. But up to that point it should be thought of and treated as practice. Playing is worthwhile too – otherwise there would be no point in practicing. Just don’t confuse the two. Finally, in order to move something from your practice category to your playing category, practice not until you get it right, practice until you don’t get it wrong.

Farewell Sligo Jazz 2019

Another magical week in Sligo. And it’s not just about the amazing music around all week – it’s as much about the interactions and conversations with students and tutors alike. Like one of the team of volunteers explaining to me what motivates him to give of his time for the week – ‘I just think that if we can treat these amazing musicians as well as possible, it makes it more likely that they and others will want to come back’. Or my class of young piano students telling me on the last day how motivated they were to go home and practice. And the youngest of them all asking the most detailed questions on what exactly he should go home and spend his time at. Or one of many great conversations with one of the drum tutors in which he explained the importance of his job to ‘centre’ the music – i.e. make it easier for others to play

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The other side of the fence…

After a good gig, if you’re lucky, some people will approach you and tell you how much they enjoyed it. If the gig was really good, this might happen a lot. And when something happens a lot, it’s can be easy to forget the importance of the feeling behind each individual comment. I was at the Hawk’s Well Theatre last night to watch Sachal Vasandani, Liane Carroll (both above), Sara Colman and the SJP Big Band (led by pianist and MD Malcolm Edmonstone) bring us through a programme of Nat King Cole numbers and other standards. The gig took a shape not unlike the format of a theme night, and I made sure to go to rehearsal to see how musicians of this calibre did things. The stage was set up along the lines of a theme night setup, and throughout the show I was looking at things with a theme night audience in mind. Indeed I was sitting near

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Bacon, Cabbage, Bread and Butter

For anything good to happen, you need someone to take charge and organise it. The All-Stars gig on tomorrow night (Saturday) to round up another great Sligo Jazz week? Well it features twenty-something musicians in various combinations playing various versions of various tunes. And it will be great. But it will be a mess unless someone organises it. Moving the enormous amount of gear this week from classrooms to venues and back when it’s needed? A huge job, undertaken by some of the legendary Sligo Jazz volunteers. But unless they organised it, the 100+ musicians and students here this week would have nowhere and nothing on which to play. Last night I came across the Bread and Butter Sessions. Organised by two lads not too long out of school who go by the nicknames Bacon and Cabbage. The lads have been part of both the teenage and the adult theme nights over the years and have taken it upon themselves

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Sligo Jazz Day 2 – on legacy

Last night’s Sligo Jazz main event featured the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland – approximately 20 15-21 yr-olds playing big-band arrangements of tunes from a variety of styles. They were under the directorship of SJP head piano tutor Malcolm Edmonstone and it was lovely to see the way the young musicians responded to him. They were obviously having a great time. On tour, with your mates, playing great music – what’s not to love for someone that age. But the culture of the band stood out for me. When one player stood up to take a solo, the player beside them fixed the microphone to face the soloist’s instrument so that the soloist would be heard clearly out front. Rhythm section players regularly switched instruments – changing in the middle of a tune sometimes to get the optimal line-up for whatever was best for the music. The afore-mentioned Malcolm shared piano and keyboard duties with me on a theme night

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Happy Birthday…

…to you! Chances are that at least one of the regular readers of this blog will have a birthday today and that the most famous song in the world will be sung to you. If it’s not your birthday, well then whenever it comes around again I hope it’s a good one, and you too will probably hear that song on that day, and many times in the meantime no doubt. Here’s one of my favourite piano players – Richard Tee – playing it in some of the sweetest ways you will ever hear. It’s a short song, but a great song – one that has lasted the test of time and one to which people all over the world respond. Why? Well firstly it has a great structure. Two short lines to start, using repetition, but the second being a slight development on the first. Brings a sense of familiarity yet also one of movement to the audience. The

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See the big picture in music…

I would love to commission the following study. Surprise Leaving and Junior Cert students one month after their exams with a new set of exams – based on the same curricula, but for which they have had no preparation, bar the 14 years of schooling they completed one month earlier. Well maybe not a full set of exams – that would be cruel (!) – but even a new exam for one subject would suffice. Then when you compare the results from the original exam to the no-prep exam sat one month later you will see how much knowledge has been lost after one month, and hence how much of it was properly encoded in the first place. I know it’s a complicated area, and I’m slow to criticise because right now I don’t have any better suggestions, but it’s leading me on to a similar situation in music and specifically piano education. The grade system has many strengths, but

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Don’t meet the devil until you meet him…

The beauty of proverbs is their ability to sum up in a few words what may take others sentences or even paragraphs to say. So – in the context of worrying – I’m going to let today’s title (heard yesterday for the first time) do the talking. PS many of the pictures I use come from unsplash.com – which provides beautiful and free images and photos on many topics. Thanks to all the talented photographers who share their work there.