Posts Tagged ‘music festivals’

Adjudication

Posted by Brian on 13th February 2012 in Beginners, Musicianship, Performing

A regular theme of mine since starting this blog has been the importance of getting out and performing for people. Around the time I started this blog I committed to practicing what I preach and I’ve been a regular attendee at one local open mic and have put in a couple of appearances at a couple of others. Long time readers will know that I also entered the Sunderland Music Festival a year ago:

“The Sunderland Lions Music Festival is intended to promote higher standards of musical awareness and achievement in our community by providing young musicians with opportunities for public performance and professional assessment.” — Mission Statement

While “young musician” doesn’t quite describe me in terms of chronological age, it does describe me in terms of the potential for growth in my musicianship. And the experience of entering the festival last year was a great one. The festival is “adjudicated“. This means that a professional musician actively listens to your playing and critiques it. This is a very different experience from participating in an open mic, or singing around the campfire, or pretty much any other performance experience available to amateur performers. Most people after hearing you play will describe it in terms that are some variation on “good” or “bad”. An adjudicator will comment on your tempo, phrasing, dynamics, and other aspects of your playing. These are the things that make your playing “good” or “bad”, but most people are not musically literate enough (or energetic enough) to break down the elements of your playing and categorize the things that you do well – or not-so-well.

Last year the adjudicator praised my phrasing, but pointed out a lack of dynamics in my playing. So now, I pay more attention to my dynamics. I’ve discovered, both by playing and listening, that dynamics can really grab the attention of your audience and can really help to convey the emotion of a tune. I also found it very interesting listening to the critiques of other musicians, particularly those who played other instruments.

This year, I’ve signed up again and I’ve persuaded a number of my students to sign up as well. I’m really looking forward to hearing what the adjudicator will say about my playing this year. I’m also curious as to what he will say about my students’ playing. As a teacher I imagine that the experience of having someone analyzing my students’ playing will be very educational as well.

If you are interested in checking out an adjudicated performance, the Open Guitar Class of the Sunderland Music Festival will take place at 7 pm on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at the Sunderland United Church, 10 Church St., Sunderland.

 

Let Them Go

Posted by Brian on 2nd September 2011 in General Music, Performing

Last weekend I was at the Eaglewood Folk Festival where I attended a wonderful guitar workshop hosted by David Ross MacDonald, an Australian singer-songwriter who also has excellent fingerstyle guitar chops. He had a number of excellent suggestions for improving ones playing, which will show up in a later post, but for today I want to share what he had to say about making mistakes.

He talked about going to school and studying jazz and how that experience made him far too analytical about his playing – to the point that he hated his playing and was reduced to playing washboard in a jug band. (Not sure if that was literal or figurative – he had that dry Aussie humour that can be hard to read.) Anyways, he had to learn to make peace with his mistakes.

According to David, it takes us about 150 milliseconds to realize that we’ve made a mistake. (I’m not sure where that number comes from, but I have no reason to doubt it.) He observed that sound travels at 340 metres per second and that by the time you realize that you’ve made a mistake, that mistake is “somewhere out in the car park.” He encouraged us to set our mistakes free. If we wince or shrug or duck or otherwise wallow in our error, we’ve just spent about 10 seconds focused on a mistake that lasted for a fraction of a second. We need to let them go.

Here is David Ross MacDonald playing his instrumental Old Mac’s Tractor:

David Ross MacDonald’s website: www.DavidRossMacDonald.com

Rant: The Most Dangerous Instrument…

Posted by Brian on 17th June 2011 in General Music, Jamming, Mildly Off-Topic, Playing well with others, Rant

Today I’m going to let off a little steam. I’m going to talk about what a friend calls “the most dangerous musical instrument ever devised”. And no, I’m not referring to Woody Guthrie labeling his guitar with “This Machine Kills Fascists”. I’m talking about the dreaded tambourine.

It’s a simple instrument, so it must be simple to play, right?

It seems that at every open jam, song circle, or folk festival, someone brings one along thinking that “it will be fun”. And it may well be – for the one playing it. But, for everyone else within earshot, it can be a song killer. The tambourine, by its very nature is a powerful rhythm instrument – and in the right hands can really fill out a song, but sadly it is rarely found in the right hands. It is a rare player that can maintain a steady tempo with a tambourine, and it is a rare musician who can ignore it when it is being played off the beat. At best, it is played a fraction of a second behind the beat, slowly turning every tune into a dirge. At worst, it is rhythmically “all-over-the-map” leaving everyone wondering where the next downbeat will fall.

I should clarify, tambourines don’t kill songs, people with tambourines kill songs. In fact, one of my greatest “festival moments” involved a tambourine solo. We were at The Lunenburg Folk Festival at a percussion workshop given by a professor of percussion from Acadia University. He came out on stage and sat down, pulling out a tiny tambourine with one lonely jingle on it. I’ll admit it, I rather sarcastically thought, “Here we go… forty-five minutes of this???” He then proceeded to bring down the house with an amazing tambourine solo and went on to enthrall us for the rest of the workshop.

So, in the hands of a trained percussionist the tambourine can be a wonderful instrument, but for the rest of us, we need to do everyone a favour and leave it in the store. And if it’s too late for that (as it is for me), then at least leave it at home.

Why I Love Music Festivals

Posted by Brian on 28th August 2010 in General Music

I was at the Eaglewood Folk Festival today and as usual, I was checking out one of the workshops. This particular workshop was called “First Verse and Chorus” and the description in the programme read like this:

No talking, no introductions. Just the first verse and chorus (or first two verses) of any song you didn’t write. Audience is also in the rotation (there will be a mic setup in the audience). Sing-alongs encouraged.

There were at least ten performers on stage, representing at least three bands plus a couple of singer/songwriters. For the finale, someone in the audience requested “Momma Don’t Allow” – a fun, traditional, 16-bar blues tune. (You can see J.J. Cale’s version here.) One of the performers said “Let’s do it in E”, and off they went with an up-tempo, rollicking version of the song.

The lyrics go like this:

Mama don’t allow no guitar playing ’round here
Mama don’t allow no guitar playing ’round here
I don’t care what mama don’t allow I’ll play my guitar anyhow
Mama don’t allow no guitar playing ’round here

And continue, substituting “guitar playing” with “banjo picking”, “accordian playing”, etc as each performer leads a verse. The idea being that after each verse, the dis-allowed instrument would play a solo. I was thoroughly enjoying the obviously unrehearsed, but very well rendered performance when one of the performers sang, “Mama don’t allow no scat singing round here,” and I held my breath. (Scat singing is improvised singing using meaningless sounds.) What followed was one of those unforgettable musical moments that can only happen at a festival workshop: At least eight or nine vocalists simultaneously improvising so harmoniously that you couldn’t perform it better if you rehearsed for a thousand years. It was absolute magic! And if you weren’t there, then you missed it, because it will never happen again.