When giving up is good

Giving up has a bad name. But sometimes it’s the right thing to do. For example I have a private Facebook Community Group where a great gang of people are helping each other become better piano players. And this weekend some brave souls in this group posted videos of themselves playing the tune on which we have been working recently. There for everyone else to see. And the thing is – none of them were perfect. Each participant could play a slightly better version. If they waited long enough to practise and then produce it. It’s the same with a new project for which we’re currently trying to find a title. There will always be a better title out there. If we wait long enough to think of it. But after a certain point, spending any more time on either activity becomes futile. Because it prevents you from spending time at the real task in hand – becoming a better

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Make it easy to do the right thing…

My new teaching term starts tomorrow. And just like everyone in charge of classes which are finding their feet again for the first time since March, a lot of thought has gone into how to make them work safely for everyone involved. And then last Wednesday I heard about a company on the radio who were making their employees take annual leave if they had to stay home with a sick child who couldn’t go to school. And I wondered at the short-sightedness of this decision. Because if you penalise people for doing the right thing, they won’t do it for long. And then where will we be? So I wrote to my students, telling them that for anyone who misses a piano lesson because they or someone in their family are doing the right thing by isolating, or staying at home awaiting a test result or feeling unwell, then that lesson will be made up at a later date.

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Peaking too soon…

I’m enjoying the Talking Sopranos podcast at the moment. Michael Imperioli (Christopher) and Steve Schrippa (Bobby Baccala) are going through the show bit by bit – one podcast per episode – with special guests and great insights into the writing, directing, acting and behind the scenes stories that shaped one of, if not the landmark TV series of our time. Robert Iler was their special guest on Episode 7. In the show, he was the youngest regular member of the cast, playing the main character Tony Soprano’s son AJ (Anthony Junior). He was 12 when the pilot was shot, and 22 when the show finished, so spent his formative years among this crew. For anyone who doesn’t want to immediately feel old, skip to the next paragraph, but he is now 35. But it was clear from the way he spoke on the podcast that this was an amazing time in his life. And not just in his life, but

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Missed milestones…

I turned 40 in January. If I knew what was around the corner I possibly would have thrown a big party but I didn’t and so I didn’t. Instead I had a few smaller-scale celebrations with various groups of family and friends. One of these took place in early February on the night that Theme Night #25 finished. After the final show of that run I celebrated both milestones with the Theme Night gang in the Hawk’s Well and then further afield in McLynn’s. But on the night of my actual birthday it was 18-year old trumpeter Tom Flanagan who bought me my first pint as a 40 year-old. We had just finished a gig together and a few of us had a quick pint in the Swagman before heading home. I bring up Tom firstly because that was a very kind thing for him to do, but secondly because it was supposed to be a big year for him,

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500 songs by age 22

So head piano tutor on SJP for the last few years Malcolm Edmonstone claimed he had learned. And I’d well believe him. He’s a fantastic musician and teacher. But he didn’t learn them note by note, chord by chord from the sheet music or chord chart. Maybe the first few, but after that he began to see patterns that repeated throughout these jazz standards. 4 bars here, 2 bars there, even 8 bars sometimes. And so once he saw these patterns and got used to playing them, learning the songs as a whole became easier. It’s the same process that enable master chess players to scan a board and sum it up for themselves in an incredibly short amount of time. Chunking. But it’s not just in jazz that this is relevant. It’s across music. Get used to your chord shapes, get used to playing them across a variety of keys, and you’ll find that they apply in not just

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Go on – ask the question…

Yesterday I said yes to a request to which I had previously answered no every other time I was asked it in the last decade. Separately, this afternoon a lady told me of her determination to accept the invitations she had previously declined if she was asked again. When the world is upside down, many of the old rules and conventions don’t apply any more, and people can behave differently and make different decisions as a result. So if the chances of getting a ‘yes’ are bigger than they were, who would you ask, and what would you ask them?

Speaking from the heart

In the right situation and when it’s done well there’s nothing to beat it. It’s usually passionate, often persuasive, and can leave a feeling of admiration and even awe in listeners. It often looks like it’s unscripted, off-the-cuff, in the moment, and much or indeed all of it might be, but that doesn’t mean you can’t think about it beforehand. Preparing some sort of structure in your head can mean you make every point you wish to make, in an order that works. Indeed the amount of preparation you need to do is directly related to your skill and experience in this regard. Someone who is really good at this is able to stand up and deliver something top class on the spot. We have all seen it happen, and it can be very impressive. But I have seen other equally good speeches, undoubtedly from the heart and having the desired impact, but which I found out afterwards were practiced

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Collaborations and nominations…

A friend said to me the other day that it won’t be until this pandemic has passed that we realise how difficult a time it has been. Right now we all have our heads down, doing our best to do the right thing and get through it, but when it is over and we come up for air, we will reflect on a really hard few months/years/whatever it turns out to be. She may well be right. I guess we won’t know for a while. But I was surprised today at the depth of emotion I felt when guitarist Ed Mullarkey joined in with Sinéad Conway and I during the penultimate song of a particularly engaging funeral ceremony. Ed is a great friend of one of the sons of the deceased lady. He was due to play for the last song and came over to where we were a little bit early in order to get ready to do so.

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To-do Lists

It’s Sunday night. Thoughts turn to the week ahead. Things to do. Maybe you decide to put some sort of order on them by writing a list. Now you have a list. And if you’re lucky you will be looking forward to most things on the list. But quite possibly you won’t, and so you’re starting off the week on a negative note, with some sense of dread of the things you have to do in the coming days. So maybe rethink your list slightly, and at the top of it put three things that you know excite you, or make you feel good. Even if these things weren’t originally on the list. Things that you will enjoy, be challenged by, or will genuinely look forward to. They don’t have to all be done on Monday – maybe space them throughout the week. It might just put a new complexion on the days ahead, and maybe those tasks facing you

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On late bloomers

Late bloomers are the opposite of child prodigies. Their notable achievements come later in life, and that success is usually down to hard work and persistence rather than raw talent. But there are lots of examples of these people. Not so much in sport, but especially in the arts and in business. So it is possible to succeed big time in our later years, but difficult because of the following factors. Many of their early efforts will be poor, and may attract criticism and even derision. So they must be able to bounce back from this and learn, practice more, and try again. They also need financial support, maybe even a patron. Because when years of failure are to be expected, that means years of very little or no income, which comes with its own set of difficulties. At the top level therefore, many potential late bloomers are no doubt lost along the way because either they find the idea

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