Tuesday, March 5, 2013

MBMU 1st music session

Tonight the cast - well most of the cast (we missed you Neil!), of My Bed My Universe met me at my wee Queen Street studio to begin our musical training. Sam (Director), Gary (Writer) and actors Miriama, Max, Dominic, Tuyet, and Wesley.
We started out clapping some subdivisions along to a metronome. Without explaining too much about what they were called at first, we got familiar with clapping crotchets, quavers, quaver triplets and semi-quavers.
Soon I introduced the common note value names using both the "crotchets" and "quarter notes" terminology interchangeably, as well as their counts. We discussed time signatures, and had a crack at playing in 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4, swapping subdivisions, and going up and down the Rhythm Pyramid.
The group did very well indeed! I love working with actors. In general they tend to be very fleet of brain, with excellent kinetic skills - a great combo for getting percussive skills together.
We then moved onto an extremely fun stomping/clapping game from the From Scratch Rhythm Book called Call and Response. I think this will be a regular exercise for us.
After this I armed the guys with sticks and I taught them about rudiments, starting with singles, doubles and paradiddles. We played these along to a metronome pulse, weaving the rudiments into some subdivisions and time signature structures. Again the crew caught on fast.
Two hours went real quick!
Tomorrow will be my first session with NZTrio, and I'm very excited about that too.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I have just played a wonderful set of music with the Spoilers of Utopia Brass Band. The group has been put together by John Bell to play the music of jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler and some other brass band gems. I love this music. I hardly played a beat, as such, all night. I was able to range freely through the sound world of the drum kit in support of the music.

It was an excellently timed gig in relation to some persistent thought grooves I been jamming around - what is the relationship between music (or any discipline) and play? 

I keep coming back to this possible answer - master some simple fundamentals to get started, master them so you can forget them. The more "second nature" the techniques become, the more freely you can play. Up-skill as you go to make the game more sophisticated but never lose sight of playing. 

My not quite 2 year old daughter already knows how to play... it seems the essential ingredients of real play, when you are actually, really, forgetting yourself in the fun of a game, have to do with strong contrasts:

Now you see me, now you don't! 

Keep the ball and run with it or pass it to someone else. 

I have to get to there and you have to try and stop me.

It strikes me that in music we are presented with a series of contrasts that comprise the material of play, and the contrasts can be two extremes of a continuum - quiet to loud (silence/sound), slow to fast (tempo/frequency), sparse to dense (rhythm/harmony), low to high (pitch), rough to smooth (texture), relaxing to agitating (intentionality). 

The implications are profound. There are life affirming skills and attitudes to be gleaned from this process, the process being acquiring/exploring techniques and subsuming them in the service of play.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I am a master of shoe lace tying.

Human beings are sophisticated and confused creatures.

Here in New Zealand, the confused part comes to the fore in our attitudes towards the so called 'creative arts'. Take facility in music for example. It's commonly understood that participation in music requires something mysterious called 'natural talent' and unless one has this 'gift' then well, its just not worth the trouble. But the acquisition of this facility, to play music, is misunderstood.

My belief is that we are inherently sophisticated enough to be exceptional musicians, all of us.

Acquiring the skills to operate an instrument is not too dissimilar to learning how to tie ones shoe laces - an exceptionally sophisticated act if one stops to think about it... I, like you dear reader, am a master of shoe lace tying. I have done it every day, numerous times, since I was a young child. I come from a family of master shoe lace tiers. Both my parents, my grandparents... this tradition goes back many generations in my family, and I witnessed the act many times every day. It is such a common and ordinary thing that it seems a bit ridiculous to apply words like talent and genius to the act of tying shoe laces. With master musicians I bet it's quite a similar picture. And I would suggest that it is society, not the musician, who feels the need to use these labels.

My bone of contention is that our use of the words 'mastery' and 'genius' are too selective, and that the range of activities we are willing to call 'creative' are too narrow. We are all 'masters' of the things we take for granted because of our inherent brilliance (through repetition) in their execution - writing txt messages, driving forklifts, reading braille, tying shoe laces, preparing food... its a long list.

Of course, making music is NOT as common place as say making a good cup of coffee, and so it seems a special thing, but that is more a reflection of an impoverished culture than our innate ability to do this or that.. Of course there are individuals that will outshine others in every field, but why should that mean that others can no longer participate? I meet too many people who would love to be involved in making music and feel they can't because of some perceived lack, and this is a state of confusion i lament greatly.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rhythm School

Had a great session this morning at Rhythm School. Three students came at three different levels.. Young Bella, all of 10 years old and her first lesson. Stephen Thomas the boy wonder, studying under Ron Samson at AK Uni, and Rich Pharoah, working man and keen drummer, purveyor of solid beats and seeker for more proficiency... We played some rhythm pyramids, some Concertina Hand Teasers, working basic rudiments, each taking it as far as they could comfortably go. It works wonderfully. looking forward to growing this class. I can imagine a room of 15 - 20 folks tapping happily away... My vision is for an open class that anyone interested in learning about rhythm can attend. See YOU there.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My website

I have made a website for myself at long last. There you can see what I've done, what I'm up too, and other bits and bobs... Go check it out: http://musicworkings.weebly.com/

Monday, August 22, 2011

music that hurts and music that heals

Julie Hill is writer of plays and maker of radio programs. She made a couple of interesting ones for Radio National a while back - Music that Hurts and Music that Heals. She talked with me a bit in the Music that Heals section.
Here is a blurb and photo.
Listen to it here.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Carriage of Angels

On the train from Henderson back into town and there is a carriage full of disabled folks many in wheel chairs and some not, I'm guessing cerebral palsy issues… hmmm my knowledge of what their conditions might be is very sketchy… but its a joyous ride! They are enjoying being on the train en mass I think. Most of the commuters have scampered to the other end of the train but I have come to join the 'outcasts'. The train guard felt he had to apologize to me, which is sad. These folks have a right to be on this train as much as any the rest of us.
Its the sounds I'm enjoying. Beautiful repetitive groans and whines, sudden rhythmic iterations bu! bu! bu! bu! bu! Its a lively trip! I won't be falling asleep on this journey. The gentleman in front of me has found delight in something and is half singing and half laughing, then breaking into a conversation about next Friday - "it IS next Friday!!" "Whats next Friday?!" "No its Thursday!"
Snatches of conversations being yelled across the carriage. It makes such a refreshing change from the usual polite quite.
Keening and wheezing. Clapping and whistling. But not a riot of sound… more an excited gentle hubbub.
At each stop passengers ready to enter at the rear of the train are asked to go to the front as our carriage is packed to the rafters. The gestures of the guard are echoed by the more able bodied ones, his requests too - "Move up the front of the train thanks." "Up the front!" "Other door!"
The carers traveling with these folks are angels. I bask in their presence.