Santa and the Xmas break is a good opportunity to get some new books and so some reading. I bought four books recently, Investigating musical styles, General Musicianship and History of Music (all second hand) by Roy Bennet and one sight singing book by Paul Harris and Mike Brewer. The Roy Bennet ones are useful in giving a fairly potted account of all things classical (and not just the classical period). So by January, I shall obviously know it all !! I wish! Here are the links to Amazon if you are interested. I recommend them.
I was married on 21 December - a long time ago. To celebrate we went to see We will Rock You at the Edinburgh Playhouse. Wow - what a show! It was fabulous. The singing performances were great. Especially Amanda Coutts as Scaramouche. And they had a LOT to live up to.
Freddy Mercury, Queen
There will only ever be one Freddy Mercury. He was larger than life and so creative! And what a voice. Queen turned out some masterpieces e.g. Bohemian Rhapsody, We will Rock You, Somebody to Love, Who Wants to Live Forever? These and others have stood the test of time. How on earth did they come up with these classics? There was really nothing else even close (musically) at the time. You can't replace or repeat it. It was down to those individuals at that particular time. They were just fantastic.
But the stage show interpretation was just about right. They did not try to mimic Freddy's performances but gave an energising, fun performance around a light story.
I loved it. I also liked the Scottish twists - kilts, tartan and stuff.
It must be tough and tiring to turn in such full-on performances that seem fresh every night for months on end. But that's professionalism.
The cast were brilliant and the dancing high octane. It must be very difficult. It was difficult enough for our choir to all sway in the same direction!
The only slight downside for our family was my 16 year old came away with a headache from the flashing lights and noise! Can you believe it? He has very blue eyes and is a bit photosensitive. Just shows that youngsters can't stand the pace - or maybe he really does need some cool shades!.
Performance block this week. I joined the Rock Choir and we are singing Rocking Around the Xmas Tree, originally sung by Brenda Lee as well as Mariah Carey's All I need for Christmas is You. Rehearsals in Monday and Tuesday. The performance was on Wednesday 21 December.
We worked to a tight timescale - only a couple of rehearsals, Learning the words was the challenge! I am a musician and I normally have such a strong ear for the melody that I often don't notice the words. Quite a few fiddlers I know are the same.
The discipline of choir singing has been a great experience. This is now the second choral performance I have done and I'd like to sing more. I have signed up for a fiddle singing workshop at the Sage on 14 January.
There is also something very emotional about singing in a group. I quite often feel a bit teary - more so than playing the fiddle. It was great fun.
The staff also did a few numbers and there were various other acts too including the concert band. Tricky timing on the flutes. Well done to everyone!
I think our choir was at least as good as Mariah Carey. Samantha, our wonderful soloist could certainly give Mariah a run for her money. I wish I had a video of our choir - but in the meantime here is Mariah Carey to get you in the Xmas mood
Lots of practice in singing scales, triads, sevenths, intervals, rythmn dictation over the last week, all using www.teoria.com - a great free resource.
I am getting better. ..
Working on major, minor and dominant sevenths
Youtube has some good videos for internalising sevenths. Its has just struck me that the a dominant seventh is the first few notes of Pretty Woman. Ah - haaa! I have it now!
For intervals, I now have quite a few songs in my head that helps me recognise them.
Earmaster has a good free resource online for intervals that you can personalise for songs that you know. For me, The Simpsons for a third, Amazing Grace for a perfect fourth, Stat Wars for a fifth. My Bonnie for a sixth etc.
Practising scales G, A, Ab, Bb C, D, and relative minors two octaves to the shruti box. Also with grace notes.
Doing G, C and D pentatonic scales for improvisation. We've moved onto country style improvisation - which is closer to home for me than playing in Bb or F blues and jazz styles. Doing a LOT of tunes as well. Metronome on to do a particular lament that I am learning which is technically very challenging. I have listened to recordings but they are definitely pushed and pulled and not played according to the strict score - often the case with folk. I am trying to learn to have more discipline - at least to learn the tune and then you can decide whether to push/pull it.
Fiddle lesson tomorrow. Exams later this week - lots of swotting, ear training and general hard work!
Spent ages today (and over the last few weeks) ear training. Major and minor triads, augmented and diminished. Singing scales (major, natural minor, pentatonic and blues). Seventh chords, rythmns. It has been a lot to take on board. The best free resource seems to www.teoria.com.
For singing scales I have also been doing this with a keyboard - singing first and checking. Its amazing that if you don't practice for a few days (because you are busy on something else) its easy to forget. So regular practice is important! I have found recognition of the chords difficult.
Although I play be ear I have not had formal aural training in the past and so this is a steep learning curve for me. I have been taking it small steps limiting to two types of chord at a time and trying to work out strategies to differentiate them.
Listening for the thirds and fifths is important. I am improving but I find that after I've been doing it for a long time I start to get worse again. Why is that? Too tired? Ear gets confused because by the end of the session you have done so many? Hey ho.
SCE's Music Society was recruiting members on 9 December. I agreed to perform at lunchtime in the cafe to provide some music. Played a few tunes (solo) - The Barrowburn Reel, High Drive and Walking on the Moon. Quite a few people signed up while I was playing so that was good.
Its been a busy time in my voluntary role as non executive Director with the Scots Music Group. Spent all day Saturday 4th December at an away day planning for the future. Its a challenging time for small arts organisations with cuts in funding due to the recession. We depend on volunteers to make a lot of our activity happen. We are dreaming BIG but the various constraints (staff time and funding) mean we need to prioritise and take small steps.
Also, our AGM was on 7th December. I was elected as a Director again for the next year. We heard an interesting talk form Scot Murray about the Inspire project that Scots Music Group delivered last year. This a fantastic project bringing traditional music and song to disadvantaged groups. A group of men singers from the Bethany Christian Trust came to the meeting and sang their songs. It was very emotional. Then I played with another of the Directors and a long time member.
I am struck at how the Scots Music Group changes peoples lives - students, tutors and staff! It has certainly changed mine.
It got me into music at a time when I was completely submerged in my career and bringing up young children. And music in turn has brought me such a lot - learning, friends and joy. Its also got me through some very difficult times in life -as it has for many of my friends. Music therapy is an interesting field.
We are applying for funding this year from Creative Scotland and we also hope to do a project with young people in Edinburgh's schools.Our core activity of a range of classes for adults and ceilidhs will continue and we are also hoping to try some masterclasses in the spring term. Here is the link if you are interested in finding more.
In comparison to the blues, jazz is said to be looser, has more interesting chord changes, is based on improvisation, has more varied structures (i.e. moves away from 12 bar blues) and is happy!
I thought I would put this to the test with a bebop tune from Charlie Parker. Charlie Parker was nicknamed the "Yardbird". There are apparently two stories about this. One is that he lived free as a bird. The other that he was in a car that accidentally hit and killed a chicken (yardbird). Charlie Parker made the car stop so he could take the chicken home and cook it. Whatever. The name stuck and sounds quite cool. He must have liked the name too as one of his defining albums, made at his peak (around 1947), was Yardbird Suite.
There is a tune by the same name. I looked at this a little in the last jazz blog. But lets analyse this in more detail now to check out if it meets the jazz criteria above. Here is a lead sheet of the tune below.
Lets take a look at it. The tune is in C (although the melody finishes on the dominant G). The melody uses the blue notes, b3, b7 but also b6, b2 (and indeed other chromatics).
The chords sequence starts with a ii, V7 (intro) and then the I. In the 3rd bar (at the melody b flat) the chord is Fm (F,A, C) i.e. the iv chord. But is quite clashy with the Bb. Then we see use of Bb7 (blues flat 7th of the C scale - dominant chord). This progression suggests a ii, V, I sequence but it does't change key but goes back to C7 chord. Its a fairly common technique in jazz.
Next system begins with a C7 (i.e. Ist chord), bVII7, VI 7 (interesting as A would normally be a minor chord). In this case its dominant. This was often used to give a stronger sound, then back to II 7 (dominant again) going to the dominant.
The next system begins with an Em i.e iii, which moves down a 5th to A7 (VI the chord) then down another 5th to Dm (ii). Again this sequence almost sounds like a ii, V, I sequence but its doesn't change key - sticks to the D minor and then back to G7 (V7). The next system repeats the key chords (but omits the iii, VI, ii sequence.
However, in the fifth system , we have Em (iii) followed by F#m7 b5 - in line with the E minor harmonic scale. Next is B7 followed but he iii, VI 7 , ii - this time moving back to, iii b5 7 , VI 7 , II7 (stronger movement), then ii, V, I (relief!). This is followed by iv to Bb 7 and back to I 7. On the home run, Bb7 (i.e. bVII 7), VI, then a step down II (dominant again), ii (minor this time) to I, and finishing with a ii, V7, I progression.
So does this meet the criteria. Well it certainly is looser than the blues, has more interesting chord changes and goes way beyond the blues structures and progressions. Is it happy and based on improvisation? Here's a Youtube video of the Charlie Parker original. There are several solos based on improvisation before returning to the melody- saxes, muted trumpet, electric guitar, piano. Sounds happy to me!
You can see how complicated this is - at least to analyse. Don't try to do this while driving! The BBC news announced that people who listen to jazz int he car are convicting of speeding offences more than others! A music psychologist puts this down to people being distracted as they are too busy trying to analyse jazz.
Did Charlie Parker work this out as he was improvisating or was it instinctive? Charlie Parker apparently once said:
‘You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice,practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.’
Last week I volunteered to perform on 1 December so I have been busy. I felt I needed to time this performance now to enable me to put it behind me so that I could then turn my attention to the various exams coming up soon. First there was the choice of tunes. My fiddle lessons so far have been mainly spent on technique and scales. I have been playing scales in third position and the tune I am working on involves third and second position but its not ready.
So I decided to play a jig, Sheep on the Moor and also a seven/eight tune, the Prophecy. They are both in A but quite different. The Prophecy is challenging both in timing but also to play. First mistake.
Looking at the specification we are supposed to aim at quite a high level and choose a range of different music. different tempos etc. So these tunes fitted the bill. But after the performance there was discussion (for those performing next week) that performing something easier and to concentrating on dynamics might be better. Wish I had known that before.
I had been working hard on tunes. I had my fiddle lesson on Tuesday and discussed them with my teacher. She also gave me some different bowing to try. To prepare for this performance I had been advised to slow down the tune and then speed it up again. This was a learning curve for me. So I had the metronome on constantly. I knew the tunes well by the performance and felt fairly secure.
So how did it go? Hmmm. The jig went OK but the seven eight tune was difficult to play with an accompaniment and we weren't quite together. I was given feedback on timing and that my violin bow was too long (?!). Very odd as its a standard bow….. I found it all quite disheartening, as I had worked hard.
But what I also took from all this, is that choice of what you play is important. And whereas, I stretched (because I want to be challenged and get better) I probably should have played something. Tricky balance given the outcomes.
Also, solo performance needs a formal and disciplined approach to practice with attention to detail and accurate timing. As I do not come from a classical background, I will find out more about practice techniques.
Ah well - onward and upwards.