What are the implications of this for improvising pianists? Students often say that they have difficulty figuring out what to do with their left hand while improvising in the right. Now that we know we can’t focus and actively improvise with both hands at the same time, the only solution is to put one hand on autopilot. The left hand will have to rely on muscle memory while we focus on new ideas for the right hand, or vise versa. It’s physically impossible to do otherwise!
More on autopilot and muscle memory soon!
Tempos were generally slower than I’m used to. I felt the conductor was trying to milk every drop of emotion out of every sweet spot. Critics might have called it an indulgent performance. I wasn’t moved. But that’s not my point.
A sweet spot could be a number of different things. It could be a tempo, a melody, a groove, a climax, a note, or a chord. Anything that gives you that feeling.
We can’t get enough of the sweet spots. So it’s only natural to indulge in them. We’ll take these powerful moments and emphasize them somehow in our own performances. I thought that the conductor I heard tonight was slowing down and dragging out every melodic climax and sweet spot to the point of over emphasis and over indulgence. Again, I didn’t enjoy it, but there were other members of audience so moved that they couldn’t hold back the tears.
The interesting part:
In that audience was the next generation of listeners and performers, moved to tears from those emphasized and indulged sweet spots. What will their performances sound like? As I sat listening, I began to imagine the performance history of this opera. I heard a lineage of over-indulged indulgences. What about the next generation? When this opera is performed 100 years from now, how slow will those sweet spots be?
Who knows…. But this raises some interesting points about the performing lineage of classic, timeless works. I would argue that studying pieces of music to perform them as it was originally performed is a futile task. They’re inevitably going to change with the rest of us!
1. Do Jazz musicians have a responsibility to be culturally relevant?
Musicians are culturally relevant whether they accept the responsibility or not. People are culturally relevant whether they accept the responsibility or not. How is it possible to be culturally irrelevant?
2. Do post-secondary institutions have a responsibility to highlight the supply vs. demand problem (i.e. too many players vs. too few gigs)?
If we’re analyzing from a supply/demand perspective, we would have do be more specific about what is being consumed (music, jazz music, listening music, background music, etc.). I’m also not convinced this is a problem. Is there any documentation on the subject? Could you give me an example of how an institution could highlight the ‘problem?’
3. What is your idea of career success?
Success can be measured in many different ways and there are many different paths one can take to achieve it. It’s a very important question to ask, but it’s also very personal and subjective.
4. To what extent ought musicians train to be creative artists? To what extent ought musicians train to be tradespeople? Does one come at the expense of the other?
What’s the difference between the two? Why is it exclusive? I think the answers depend a lot of an individual’s idea of career success.
5. What, if any, problems are inherent in identifying as a jazz musician?
From a marketing perspective, it’s potentially limiting to consistently group your music within a particular genre. When targeting a particular market, why not wait for them to identify you? If they call you a jazz musician, you’re a jazz musician. If they call you a pop musician, you’re a pop musician. You can’t change how they identify you, so why does it matter? Personally, if you’re hiring me, you can call my music anything you’d like. As long as I can still play what I play!
I’m thinking too much. I have to narrow in on the issue and not cloud it with fancy words and long sentences. Think of the economy of expression.
There! Isn’t that an interesting thought? Only three sentences long!
For every performer, composer, teacher and entrepreneur: Is this relevant to what we’re doing as artists? Let’s explore. Of course, I’m going to assume we’re all dedicated to keeping our integrity!
The undertones in Seth Godin’s message are powerful. He assumes you have ambitions to take things to the next level. He assumes you think your product isn’t achieving the success it deserves. The diagnosis can be related to the product and/or the personality.
(Side note: He also hints that traditional means of marketing are breaking down and new methods are of the essence. We’ll save that for another discussion!)
Let me try to put this into context. I think it works in two ways. Either you’re offering something that’s already abundantly available in the marketplace, or you’re trying to introduce something different to the marketplace with little or no success. Regardless, the symptom is the same: People are ignoring you. Who are they? They’re the audience you hope to have! They’re the success you hope to achieve!
From a marketing perspective, the solutions to these two scenarios seem to complement each other. If you’re offering something already in abundance, you’ll have to promote yourself as something new, different and innovative. On the other hand, if you’re offering something new, different or innovative to the marketplace, you’ll have to promote your product as something that’s already in high demand; convince them they want you, or else they’ll ignore you! Does that make sense? Seth?!
Here are a few specific scenarios. I’ll focus on scenarios related to performers because that’s what I’m most familiar with.
- You’re new to the scene and you want to break in
- You’re 1 of 50 collaborative pianists in the city
- You lead 1 of 30 jazz quartets in the city
- You have a Bachelor in Music Performance
- You’re trying to get a gig at the local club
- You’re trying to get more gigs at more clubs
- You’re talented
Competition is fierce just with the sheer volume of supply. Yes, on a deep level, everyone is different and has their own unique style and sound. But they’re still ignoring you! Why? Because this is what they see:
- You sound like everyone else sounds
- You act how everyone else acts
- You look how everyone else looks
- You want what everyone else wants
So far, I’ve reiterated what Seth said, only in music speak. For artists and musicians, the solution is clear: Be remarkable. How? Easy answer: Be the best! Master your craft! This way, you’re almost guaranteed to bypass the competition.
Another way is to use creative thinking. Look at what everyone else does, find the common element and enhance it. How do they present themselves? How can you do better? A simple example: You’re hired to play in a band that plays original music. You may notice that members of this kind of band are usually reading from a score. My advice: Memorize the music!
There are many other ways musicians and entrepreneurs can enhance their efforts in order to stand out (and still keep the artistic integrity!) Don’t take any part of your career for granted. Try looking at yourself objectively. Try to see what they see. How are your people skills? How do you dress? How do you act? How do you connect with an audience? How do you compare? What can you offer that nobody else can?
My original post
My second post
Dalton Ridenhour’s response
My response to Dalton:
Thanks for your post. I'm happy that you're passionate about stride piano! I love stride piano and ragtime and grew up listening and playing Scott Joplin, Art Tatum and Jelly Roll. In university, I spent many hours in the library reading about the history of ragtime and practicing ragtime pieces. I wrote essays on the subject, did a number of presentations and performances. Earlier this year, I memorized Gershwin's piano preludes, and all his popular song arrangements. I have plans in the next year to fully transcribe a bunch of Teddy Wilson's recordings. I hope to post the transcriptions for everyone to download on my website soon.
Although we're blogging in a light-hearted sense, and I enjoy a good debate, I take slight offense that you think I'm not educating myself properly, or that I expect to be spoon-fed. It's also presumptuous to think that of the other piano players. Our music, resumes and accomplishments speak for themselves.
These presumptions also further divide the community on an issue that's supposed to unite us! Nowhere in my posts on this issue do I say responsibility rests solely on the teacher. Please don't ignore the title of the post: It's a compromise!
One note about the Kodaly quote. Don't forget that he says culture will vanish unless each new generation wins it for itself. It doesn't say 'each individual,' or 'each person.' It says 'each new generation,' which implies a collective effort. Everyone is a student and everyone is a teacher...that's the compromise.
“It is not advisable to venture unsolicited opinions. You should spare yourself the embarrassing discovery of their exact value to your listener.”
- Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged
Generally, unsolicited opinions are only problematic when the opinion is negative or critical. Nobody minds a positive attitude! Negative opinions can come across as being rude and ignorant. Sometimes critical opinions are welcome, especially among friends and close colleagues. Context is everything. Learn to read it.
Don’t let your ego do the thinking. Maybe you feel a need to establish dominance or prove competency for people of more experience. That’s risky. Is it worth putting a damper on the relationship? Besides, what do you know? If you recognize that they’re of more experience, that’s good reading, but you’re probably better off listening than speaking. Be aware of the imaginary line that’s often drawn between you and the experienced. Don’t cross it. Respect it. It’s all about reading people and the context.
Your listeners will all handle your unsolicited, inexperienced, ignorant and rude opinions differently. If you’re lucky, they’ll embarrass you. But sometimes you’re not given that insight. You’ll never know how low you just sank!
Accept this: There are people who are less talented who will be more successful than you. There are also people who are more talented who will be less successful than you.
Talent isn’t everything. Nobody has said otherwise. If those ‘less-talented’ and ‘less-deserving’ people are achieving the things you should be achieving, then they’re doing something you’re not! And if you’re measuring your career against theirs, then you should be learning from people who are more successful instead of passing judgment.
Narrow in and focus on your own career. Remember why you became an artist in the first place, and understand that recognition will never be a guarantee.
In case you missed it:
The original post
Peter Hum’s response
Ted Gioia’s response
Jacob Teichroew's response
A quick recap: Ten diligent pianists (me included) are sitting in a room. We don’t know the song Carolina Shout. Whose fault is it?
A quick defense: As I said in my previous post, I consider myself a diligent student of music. Trust me, I’ve checked out lots of music including music from the early 1900’s. No, I didn’t see the Ken Burns documentary; I was probably busy in the other room practicing Scott Joplin!
(Side note: right now I’m working on some Teddy Wilson, Nikolai Kapustin and Doug Riley. Do you know who they are and their contribution to culture? That’s okay if you don’t. Hopefully one of these days we can have a listening session!)
Don’t forget the title of my original post. It’s a compromise! We’re all in this together. We’re all students of music and we’re all part of the culture! I can’t stress this enough.
Understand that if ten young pianists don’t know Carolina Shout, there is something more meaningful happening. Whether you believe it or not, it means that the culture of Carolina Shout is fading. 50 years ago, it was five young pianists. 100 years from now, it will be twenty. You can’t assume they all lack in diligence.
Do you feel passionately about Carolina Shout? Do you feel passionately about early jazz? Do you feel passionately about music in general? That’s great! What are you going to do about it? First, don’t assume that everybody has seen the Ken Burns documentary, or reads Do the Math, or had a father playing so-and-so’s rendition of Carolina Shout when they were young. Not everybody shares your experience. A few thoughts:
How can we share our passions? How can we preserve Carolina Shout?
Do you perform? When was the last time you recorded and performed Carolina Shout?
Do you write? When was the last time you wrote about Carolina Shout?
Do you lecture? When was the last time you spoke about Carolina Shout?
Important: When was the last time you tried to promote this music to kindergarten students?
Lastly, I’d like to close with a quote that my good friend Cathy Mitro sent me. She is extremely diligent and is at the forefront of jazz education in Canada and North America. ‘Food for thought’ as she put it:
“Culture cannot be inherited. The culture of previous ages will vanish unless each new generation wins it for itself again and again. Only that for which we have worked, or even suffered, truly belongs to us. Music will only enter our souls, live within us, if we plow our souls with our own efforts, with our own music making.” Zoltán Kodály
UPDATE - I wrote a response to Dalton Ridenhour (Link)
Why do we learn how to play fast? It’s because we’re preparing for repertoire that requires fast playing.
What if we can’t play fast, and never will play fast? Then we re-think the repertoire. Develop the skills to learn, play and compose slower music.
Kudos to the artist who passively and actively creates new music intelligibly crafted out of a need to battle technical and physical limitations. They are using their skills most efficiently and effectively. They are also freeing themselves from expectations that they must play and sound a certain way.