Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rallentando...Lento.

A gradual slowing of tempo...slow.

I have recently received a few e-mails asking me, "What's up with your blog?" I appreciate the inquiries and it's very nice to know that people are reading my articles. Apparently, I have an audience. So what IS up?

After about a year and half or so - since my last CD, Many Moods, was released - I have taken my foot off of the gas pedal. No longer in a full court press of self-promotion and all the generally unpleasant (from my perspective) details that go along with that process. I am sick of myself (see the irony here?). I have not come to a stop per se, certainly not a Fine, just a gradual slowing of tempo. Moving on to a new section? A new development? A recapitulation? Or, a new piece altogether? I haven't figured it out yet.

Every few years I am handed an exceptional show that ends up being a peak performance of the time. This year, it was an opening spot for Adrian Legg at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis. It was an absolutely wonderful evening in every respect. I was on top of my game and certainly felt that while my playing took a leap forward (upward?), it also felt like the final show of my current stage; the end of this particular epoch. Time to regroup and move forward. I must reiterate, it was positive in every respect, however, with any peak performance comes the inevitable decompression period - the "post-show blues" as many performing musicians know all too well. It happens every time. The higher I fly, the harder I fall. This particular decompression period continues to linger.

So, currently I AM regrouping and moving forward though at times struggling to keep up.

I am still playing most days, keeping the chops functional for the handful of shows I have this Summer and Fall.

Really loving the new work I have taken on for Hal Leonard.

Every week marveling at the progress my students make.

Ready to run another half marathon.

Working on posting more blog articles as I continue to develop my writing.

And, certainly, I am very much looking forward to spending some super high-def - 3D quality time with the family this Summer.

Speaking of which...every night I think about how fast Sadie is growing up. I am both thrilled by how well she is doing and saddened as I see her gradually drifting away - becoming more independent and needing Daddy less and less. Nothing new. I know. Just need to figure out how to hang on to the sweetness a little longer.

Rallentando...Lento.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Step by Step Guide to Writing a Tune (sort of) - Part II

I present you with Part II (and the conclusion) of my first vlog entry which offers some insight into my composition process. Here is a  link to Part I in case you missed it! I often video myself to help remember the ideas - both good and bad. Also, since the writing is often spread out over several months, or more, it is a solid reference point to get me back to the essence of the tune in process. I hope you find this amusing and somewhat insightful. I have.

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Time for a change of pace. I have established a pretty solid and consistent groove up to this point. Here, I am pretty much playing off what has already been established, but, slowing things down and re-arranging some notes. This is what will become the C section and will open up some space for a little improvisation later on.

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The missing link. I needed a way to get out of the breakdown and establish a connection back to the intro. It is a slow build back to the main groove with some slight melodic variation.

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Frustration sets in. After spending several hours (days) on a piece, things can tend to get muddled and oddly worse before it all gets better. I hate these moments but thoroughly believe they are a necessary part of the process. It really challenges you to believe in what you are creating.

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 Sewing together the B-C-D and sections. Now all I need is...

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...the end.

I will post a performance of the completed tune next month on my YouTube channel. Thanks for viewing, reading, and listening!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Step by Step Guide to Writing a Tune (sort of) - Part I

I present you with my first vlog entry which offers some insight into my composition process. I often video myself to help remember the ideas - both good and bad. Also, since the writing is often spread out over several months, or more, it is a solid reference point to get me back to the essence of the tune in process. I hope you find this amusing and somewhat insightful. I have.
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The gathering stage where I record the initial ideas soon after discovery. This is what will be the Intro and the A section of the tune. 

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This is one of many searching stages. It is the initial process of developing the tune after landing on the hook. Just brainstorming and trying to figure out where the tune is going to go. This is the infant stage of what will become the B section.

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Distractions. The initial process of writing this tune was accomplished sneaking away while Sadie (my daughter) had friends over. At the end of this clip you will hear the tune Footloose cranked. They were playing a game they called, "Let's annoy Daddy". An apt title. Also, I have no idea why there is a shirt draped over my shoulder.
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The next morning after the initial gathering. Here you will see more searching and a hefty dose of WTF?

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Starting to gel now. The tune is starting to come together as I clarify the parts and start to assemble a form. This is the Intro - A section - B section. Also, I had just installed my new webcam. Looks and sounds sooo much better.

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I often drink coffee while I write. I often need to drink coffee while I write. Especially when I am stuck. To be continued...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

In Praise of the Background Gig

For the concert guitarist, a background gig is a grind. They are a work of necessity, well paid functional playing, essentially, music as a service. Period. Whether it be a restaurant, wine bar, cocktail party, etc. it is no place to concertize, to express your art, or to push your product. You play among endless chatter, feeling ignored, playing but not being heard, filling the cracks between conversation or becoming a conversation piece for the awkward couple. In fact the only attention you usually get from such a gig is to be interrupted mid-tune by someone asking a question, "Hey! Is that a Martin yer playing there?" As I attempt to maintain the music, I may nod (sometimes I stop suddenly just to make a point), then the comments continue, "Yep, sure sounds like a Martin to me! Should have known by the sound!" (Yep, it has nothing to do with me mister. It's all the guitar.) After 3 hours of this, it can tear up anyone's fortitude, especially the fragile guitar man who needs to be listened to, who desperately needs to be understood.

When I finished the final piece of a recent gig (playing background music for a formal dinner), a funny thing happened; the patrons applauded. This wasn't applause as in, "Well thank God THAT'S over with!" No, this was appreciation. Appreciation for the service that I had provided. I think this was the first time I have EVER been applauded for my work at such an event. So what went wrong? These people didn't care what I was doing, they didn't listen, they don't even know my name! You know what was different? I cared and I listened. I guess they did too in a different way.

For years I have had a dismissive attitude toward such events grumbling my way through to the pay check. But more recently I am just happy to be working. My ego has stepped aside (or at least is on a break) and I have learned to embrace the background gig, to get out of myself (no easy task), to look up and survey the scene, and realize there is a lot of value to be found among the chatter.

I embraced this particular gig from the first note forward and I committed myself to my playing. It was not all about ME after all (guitarists are so arrogant), it was about the music and about them, the diners who were there to enjoy the evening with their friends, families, or lovers. They were into the night and I was into providing good vibes. I was adding value to the experience.

I noticed the joy around me and, lo and behold, the joy of playing! I was in the zone and playing for real. I mean, how may times have I checked out at the midpoint? Not on this night. I was fueled by the occasional tapping foot, the smiles sent my way, the food, the wine, and the warmth. When I paused - between tunes - there was a noticeable change in the dynamic of the room. I was in control and I too was having fun.

What are those silly sayings? "Dance like no one is watching!" "Work like you don't need the money!" Maybe I have a new one: "Play like no one is listening!" or rather,  "Play like everyone listening!" or maybe just "Play like one person is listening!" No bother. Just play and mean it. By giving the people an honest effort, you just might get what every sensitive performer needs, maybe, you will get some applause.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Snowbound State of Mind


Snowbound, looking down, drifting all around, white and falling. 
Cold wind blowing, can't see but the two feet in front of me. 
One foot in front of the other, heavy, falling down, incomplete, melting as I move, freezing as I stand. Snowbound, looking up, drifting all around, white and falling.
Deep, deep, snow, one foot in front of the other, one step more. 
My shoulder aches, my head aches, my soul sings to the music flooding my ears
The job will be done.

Five days a week, for five years early on, I participated in the ritual of the working man. My paper route; a time of solitude and a time of learning. "How many pages today?" was the foremost question as I approached the daily drop of newspapers. The number of pages determined the workload, determined the weight on my shoulders, and determined the pain. The cassette in my Walkman determined the pleasure. It always got me through.

Delivering newspapers in the dead of a Minnesota Winter was a perfect crash course in preparing me for the hard lessons and sweet rewards of working as an independent artist. Today, as I decompress from the end of a relatively major project - organizing, and performing at, the MN Guitar Society Acoustic Guitarathon - I observe the snow drifts piled up outside my window. I am revisiting the paper route in search of the focus needed to move forward with the next round of projects. Getting unstuck and getting on to the next round of work can be overwhelming. I am feeling snowbound as the projects keep drifting. Just figuring out where to begin is a challenge, but, it is best, to simply begin; beginning with this blog entry.

Walking along all of those early formative years I found strength in solitude. I was getting a taste of the long and lonely work of writing. It is an odd rhythm. A slow, step-by-step pace where progress is often barely perceptible. Yet, you have to keep moving forward to get the job done. Self-discipline and self-reliance is all you have as you face the inevitable obstacles of inclement weather, overstuffed papers, late papers, lost papers, incomplete ideas, and the occasional warm blast of inspiration; from the Dentist office on the corner. Just enough to set up your next move. It was a process of adaption. It was also an exercise in repetition and dealing with the sameness of day-to-day routine, even when I don't feel like it. Finding the necessary optimism is key. And where did I find the optimism? In the music. Under the headphones. The music always got me through.

And of course there is the sweet reward of hard labor paying huge dividends: the euphoria accompanying a solid day's work and feeling productive, the more tangible money (for the papers) and the even more direct music (for all), that hopefully will inspire another young laborer, learning some hard lessons of his own, trudging through the snow, delivering his papers, writing his songs, his soul singing to the music.

Blog entry complete. On to the next project. But first, the headphones...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My Writing Manifesto

Tell it like it is.
Get to the point.
Speak the truth.
Real emotion will carry the piece, the work, the art.
Focus.
You can never be too specific.
Read out loud.
Listen.
Rhythmic flow and variation.
Ask questions.
Reduce the clutter.
Re-write again.
Every word must have a function.
Check your logic.
Make sense.
For now, no one else exists.