Music for the sake of it…

This day last week I wrote a blog about the various checks and balances you need to keep an eye on in order to keep life as a working musician more satisfying and less stressful. One thing I mentioned was to remember why you got into it in the first place. And I was reminded of one of those reasons last night. The first time I got to play regularly with a ‘band’ as such – i.e. anything along the lines of bass drums guitar piano vocals – was in music college at the age of 24. It was ensemble class on a Wednesday afternoon and I came out at 5 o’clock every week feeling on top of the world after experiencing the thrill of this group dynamic. It was the sheer joy of making music with friends, for the sake of nothing else but that. And last night I did the same. A late call for a local gig.

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When the last part of a job is the most irritating…

The thing about cutting hedges is that the easy and satisfying part comes first. The growl of the engine and the effortless way the hedgetrimmer scythes through mounds of leaves and branches gives the gardener a buzz second only to that of getting every last root of a huge weed out of her precious soil. But that’s only the start of the job. The hedges may look great but the ground is a mess. The next part isn’t quite as gratifying, but there’s still a good feeling about gathering big piles of foliage into your hands and filling the wheelbarrow quickly. There is still a sense of progress being made quickly. But the last part is a killer. The hundreds or thousands of individual leaves scattered on the ground – and depending on what type of ground it is there’s sometimes no better way to get rid of them than to gather them up one by one, or else to

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When you know you know…

When David Lynch was working on his second feature film The Elephant Man, he heard Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings on the radio one day and in his own words – ‘fell in love with it’ for the last scene of the film. He asked his producer to find the piece of music for him, and he duly came back with nine versions, none of which were the version Lynch had heard. So he sent him off again, and eventually found it. This piece of music was later used as the main theme for Platoon, and indeed some would say it has now been used in too many films and TV shows, but Lynch was among the first to recognise it’s potential. It’s beautiful. Two things about this. When he heard it, the piece of music must have profoundly affected Lynch and entered his consciousness at a deep level. How else could he have subsequently known it well enough to

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Comparing musicianship…

Sligo Jazz used to be my one of least favourite weeks of the year. It was the week where I got my yearly reminder that there are many musicians out there who can do things that I can’t do. The week where in the past, I often felt inadequate and inferior as a musician, and was so busy feeling like this that I couldn’t enjoy the amazing music that was on show. Now I love Sligo Jazz. I still get reminded every year that there are many musicians out there who can do things I can’t do, but I now realise that it’s not anything I should get upset over, or allow to interfere with my enjoyment of the music. It’s just that they have done more practice than I have, committed more hours to their instrument. Students in my class this morning doing the 3-min scales challenge got vastly different results, not because some are better musicians than others,

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Religion, football and arguments

According to some estimates, there are over 4,000 religions in the world, all with different beliefs. Some diametrically opposed to others – so they can’t all be correct. But that’s OK, because religion is faith-based, and scientific proof isn’t necessary to have faith, or belief in something. It reminds me of my friend and his unwavering belief in Manchester United. In all other aspects of his life, he is a rational adult human being, but when it comes to football he sometimes no longer looks for truth but rather for confirmation of his beliefs. He doesn’t always seem to see the difference though. And he’s not the only one. Which is why many people argue passionately about the merits of various football teams and religions. Because they believe they are arguing for truth. But there will never be a winner in those arguments, firstly because there is no absolute truth, and secondly because when people are arguing based on beliefs it’s

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Bohemian Rhapsody III

It’s always the kids that let you know first. And they all want to learn Bohemian Rhapsody – which as far as I can see is in it’s third wave of worldwide popularity and acclaim. The first one came in 1975 – in spite of Queen’s record label, who felt it was too long for radio. The second one came in 1991 – after the untimely death of its composer – Freddie Mercury, and was extended by it’s appearance in the 1992 film Wayne’s World. Only the third one – the current one – has been in any way planned. The song has been brought to a new generation of listeners by the 2018 biographical film of the same name – a film co-produced by Queen’s manager and on which two of Queen’s members – Brian May and Roger Taylor – served as consultants. I have heard many times of the importance of not only making art but of the

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Some wisdom from Quincy…

Whatever way you look at it, Quincy Jones has had a remarkable music career. The recent Netflix documentary on his life provided some wonderful insights into his life and methods. I really enjoyed the three below quotes. On hard work – “I always write at night. The muses come out then. Keep your score paper and pen right beside you…cause if you’re not up, God will take them down the road to Mancini” (Henry Mancini – another prolific and successful composer at the time). On learning from those you admire – here is what legendary French teacher Nadia Boulanger said to Quincy when he went to study with her – “There are only 12 notes…so you should really investigate what everybody did with those 12 notes”. And a nice but powerful rhyme on persistence and dedication that Quincy’s father used repeat to him – “Once a task has just begun, never leave it till it’s done. Be the labour great

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Do you want music to be your job?

A guy in his late 40s called to see me yesterday on the recommendation of a friend. He has what I’m guessing is a steady, well-paid job – but has recorded and is looking to release an album of his own stuff this year. And he wants to put some money behind it, promote it, tour it and give it every chance of succeeding. I encouraged him to go for it and gave him some advice based on what I learnt from my various album releases – which included the tip not to put any money he couldn’t afford to lose into it. Another guy I know recently spoke of losing his love for music, of how it has become merely a way of making ends meet for him. He is doing it the hard way – a full-time musician, touring Ireland and the UK with his own music, trying to build an audience and get his music heard. He

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When your students make you proud…!

It’s summer camp season, and I had the pleasure of once again spending a week at the Donegal Summer School of Music, now in it’s 20th year. Here are some of the highlights… The bass player in my teenage ensemble who commits all the chord changes to memory and grooves his way through the tunes in his own way. The girl in the same group who gave up two of her evenings in order to arrange one of the pieces for clarinet, alto sax, trombone, cello and violin. Getting to work up close with a visually impaired piano player. Watching her feel and hear her way effortlessly through the chords. Seeing my daughter become the latest in the long line of violinists who don’t smile and finally getting an explanation of why. Telling one of the (secretly competitive) teaching staff about the high mark of 39 achieved by one of my students in the ‘how many correct 2-octave hands together

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When you’re weary….feeling small…

When you feel you’re not very good at something, especially if it’s something that is personal, or something at which you really want to be good, it’s not a nice place to be. I wrote a blog last year about feeling this way in relation to music. And unfortunately it’s true. Trying to become skilled at something new can be hard. The older you get the harder it is. In this context, I have often come across the example of the baby trying to walk. If she falls down, she just gets up and tries again – and the implication is that so should we when we fail at whatever new skill we are attempting. The complications of life mean that it mightn’t always be this easy, but the sentiment is a good one. However the other thing about the baby trying to walk is the attention she gets from interested parents and other relatives. The constant concern and encouragement from

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