April 30, 2017

“Music Confounds the Machines”

tboneburnettby Steve Eulberg

Focusing on the challenges that artists face in the current digital and mechanistic day and age, T Bone Burnett gave the keynote address at the AmericanFest in September of this year.

I found these words echoing in my soul:

“Music is to the United States as wine is to France. We have spread our culture all over the world with the soft power of American music.  We both have regions- France has Champagne, we have the Mississippi Delta.  France has Bordeaux, we have the Appalachian Mountains. France has Epernay, we have Nashville. Recorded music has been our best good will ambassador. The actual reason the Iron Curtain fell, is because the Russian kids wanted Beatles records. Louis Armstrong did more to spread our message of freedom and innovation than any single person in the last hundred years.  Our history, our language, and our soul are recorded in our music. There is no deeper expression of the soul of this country than the profound archive of music we have recorded over the last century.”

This is my experience of the power of music to bring people together across the divides of background, experience, age, culture, gender.

I see it six days a week in my Music Together classes with preschool children and families who speak languages from Korea, Russia, Greece, China, Serbian, Japan, Israel, India, Pakistan, Mexico, the Philippines, Brazil, Germany, Australia, England, Canada and the USA (and probably several more that I can’t even identify!)

But what confounds the machines and the census takers is what T Bone said, which is the reason for what we pursue in music:

“Art is a holy pursuit.

Beneath the subatomic particle level, there are fibers that vibrate at different intensities. Different frequencies. Like violin strings. The physicists say that the particles we are able to see are the notes of the strings vibrating beneath them.

If string theory is correct, then music is not only the way our brains work, as the neuroscientists have shown, but also, it is what we are made of, what everything is made of. These are the stakes musicians are playing for.”  (read the entire address here: keynote address)

These are certainly the stakes that I am playing for.

What experiences do you have to share which relate to these descriptions?

 


“I Have to Practice every day…

by Linda Ratcliff

…to play as bad as I do.    —Woody Allen

Woody Allen (born Allan Stewart Konigsberg) is a passionate fan of jazz, and jazz music has often been featured prominently in the soundtracks of his movies. He started playing the clarinet when he was a teenager and actually chose his stage name, Woody, after the famous clarinet player Woody Herman.

Woody will be 81 in December, and these days he is performing with the Eddy David New Orleans Jazz Band.  They play every Monday night at the Carlyle Hotel.


What made me take a closer look at Woody was a quote by him about his own playing: “I have to practice every day to play as bad as I do.” I love his statement because it mirrors the way I feel about my own playing.We all need to practice – and not just to prepare for the next jam session or performance.

Practicing an instrument sharpens your brain, increases your eye-hand coordination, teaches you perseverance, and creates a sense of achievement when you overcome the challenge of learning a new tune.
I’ve also discovered a lot about the history of our country and its musicians by researching the stories behind those old fiddle tunes dulcimer players enjoy.
 (This post originally appeared in the DulcimerCrossing Newsletter.  You can subscribe here)

Historical Music Printing

renaissancemusictypesetby Steve Eulberg

Now, for a taste of History!

Luís Henriques has posted a terrific video that illustrates and describes the challenge and results of printing music using a printing press in the Renaissance.

Understanding the challenges of musical notation in the printing process can help us better appreciate the tools that are available to us today as we produce original music, arrange music for playing with friends and create tablature to translate our ideas for playing on dulcimers.

Stay tuned for more explorations!


Quantity vs. Quality

by Steve Eulberg

Which is more important in art:

Quantity or Quality?

Very often in the artistic world some believe we have settled this classic debate by choosing the benefits of quality over the benefits of quantity.

ok_signWe want to have qualities of timbre and phrasing in music, quality of graceful movement in dance, qualities of taste and smell in cooking, qualities of joy and cleverness in humor, qualities of color, depth and placement in visual art.

So, choosing the end goal of this discussion as the most important can lead us into the mistaken of mixing up the ends and the means.

Because, as this story by David Bayles and Ted Orland in their book Art & Fear:  Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking illustrates, the quality of the result may rest upon the quantity of production that precedes it.

“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups.

All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple:  on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group:  50 pounds of pots rated an “A”, 40 pounds a “B”, and so on.

Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot—albeit a perfect one— to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged:  the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.

It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work-and learning from their mistakes—they “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

 

In my experience in learning, performing and teaching music, I have found the same to be true.

The only way I can perfect a phrase that I can never play perfectly once, is to try and play it 20 times….only to discover that out of twenty times I can play it perfectly three times; and then eight times, then fourteen times….all of which demonstrates the quantity needed to produce the quality I desire.

 


“Sweet Harmonies”

honeyimageby Steve Eulberg

We play dulcimers, whose name incorporates the Latin word for “sweet” (dulce).  So when I talk about sweet harmonies, in a broad sense, they are the beautiful tunes that we play on our lovely instruments.

However, in a more specific way, there are harmonies that reflect the intervals between notes that, at least to Western ears, trained to expect Western harmonies, that are “sweet.”

The space between two notes that are played simultaneously, or one after the other, is called an interval.

In the diatonic scale (the 7-step, or “white-key” scale around which both mountain and hammered dulcimers are organized) the intervals are a series of whole and half steps between each note in the scale.

The Ionian (or major) scale can be written like this:  1-2-34-5-6-78, or whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half.  (See this related post or this one)

The interval between do and mi in this mode is a Major 3rd. It is composed of 2 whole steps. It is this interval which determines that the scale or mode is considered a Major scale or mode.    In the scale of D, a Major 3rd from Do=D is F#, two whole steps away.  This can be called a 3rd harmony.  And this is in close voicing.

If we play these same notes further apart from each other, for example, playing F# and then the D above that one, the interval between the two notes is a 6th and can be called a 6th harmony.  The notes have the same name and same sweet feel, but their relationship to each other is separated and so their is some more space between the notes.

If we play that first D and then skip and octave and play the F# in the next octave, then we have a 10th interval.

When I talk about “sweet harmonies” then I’m talking about harmonies that utilize this interval.

Which songs do you use that feature these sweet harmonies?  Do you tend to prefer the closer 3rds or the more distant 6ths?

Which harmony are you “sweet on?”

 

 

 

 


What is Your Method of Exercise?

swimmingimageby Steve Eulberg

I remember the question from the cardiologist I visited on my 33rd birthday.

I was there because my heart was skipping beats periodically and heart disease runs in my family.

After the stress test failed to produce any abnormalities they concluded that the source of this anomaly may be just day-to-day stress, rather than being physical activity-induced.

So their strategy was to be certain that I was building a strong physical system that could withstand the mental, social and emotional stressors of an inner-city pastor.

But still the question made me pause….

“In what forms of exercise do you regularly participate?”

“Hmmm,” I thought to myself, “I remember how to spell that word: e-x-e-r-c-i-s-e.”

(There were NO forms of exercise in which I was regularly engaged.)

The following week I began a program of swimming, which has always been my preferred method of exercise:  low-to-no impact, aerobic and using many muscles groups, in addition to focusing on breathing.  That program has continued to this day. Everywhere I have lived and travel, I do my best to find a swimming pool and make being there regularly and often a priority in my schedule

So, by now you might be wondering what this has to do with music?

Usually when we speak of exercises in music, we are playing a fingering pattern, or developing a hammering pattern, or becoming more dextrous with hammer-ons or pull-offs, or learning bends and releases, not something aerobic like, well, swimming!

Patrick Gannon, PhD, in an article written for the International Musician (journal of the American Federation of Musicians), borrows from the world of sports psychology to help the kinds of mental training needed to deal with performance anxiety.

He begins with Exercise As Medicine for Your Music.  (This short article is full of tips for how exercise can help you relax and learn more effectively!)

Just this week, as I began to feel the weight and pressure of decisions and preparations and deadlines and schedules that I face, I decided to take his advice and increase the length of time I was swimming in my daily swim sessions.

Wow, the sense of calm and centeredness, the depth of sleep without anxiety of dreams, were very noticeable.

So now, my question is for you:

In what regular exercise do you participate?

 

 


Visionaries (The language of roses)





Here is another poem that captures my attention

Visionaries

(In Memory of Mary Rudge)

Seekers of the exotic,
riders of water and wind,
shapers of jewels and images,
builders of bridges/breakthroughs,
explorers of Mars, the psyche,
artists, students,
celebrants, elders,
embryos this moment conceived—

whatever we will be in an hour,
tomorrow, a hundred years
or at the last turn of the earth
under moonlight's incantations,
whatever comes
   may we lean toward
      the language of roses.

-Claire J. Baker

from San Francisco Peace and Hope (A literary journal devoted to poetry and art)

Gig Stories: Fan Connections at F.A.N. Benefit in Ballard



Musicians say,  "There are great gigs and then there are great stories."

And then there are some gigs which are full of great stories!

This benefit concert for Faith Action Network (FAN) in Seattle, hosted by Ballard First Lutheran Church in July was a great gig that was full of stories.

A benefit for F.A.N. with amazing "fan" stories, that is:

1)  I had finished the first set and was standing in the reception hall where the goodies and cold drinks were being served when a woman walks up to me and says,

"You haven't seen me in 37 years.  My name is Cheryl Cooper-Kohring, and I used to be a member of your church in Pemberville, Ohio, and was a good friend of your mother's."

Me:  "Wow!" (in amazing recognition!) "We sang a duet together on Christmas Eve one year."

She:  "Wow! I can't believe you remember that!"....

And the stories and conversations continued as we unraveled the tales of where both of us have been in the intervening years,  after the loss of her first husband to an accident, she found the new life and love which produced her now-grown children in Seattle, where she has lived more than 30 years.

She continued:  "When I saw the flyer publicizing the concert, and read your name, I said to myself, 'That has to be the same guy' and so I "googled' you and sure enough, you are!  So I just had to come tonight.

I just live around the corner and I often go into Dusty Strings and think that I need to play a dulcimer.

2)  A second woman, visiting Seattle from Argentina, transfixed by the mountain sound, wanted to know how she could get a mountain dulcimer and learn to play it in her home country when she returns.  (I remember that longing well!)

3)  A third woman said that she is a member of the church that my good friend Jeff Lilley pastors in Honolulu.  (I had begun the concert, as I often to, with the song and story "a ship may be safe" which Jeff and I finished writing after our maiden voyage on his handmade sailing boat on Thanksgiving Eve in Kansas several years ago.)  She lives part time in Honolulu and part-time in Seattle.

4)  A fourth woman brought me greetings from a fellow song-writing retreat participant from the Grünewald Guild.  It turns out that she is the one who encouraged her friend, Diane from Kent, Washington to attend that retreat.  My daughter, employed by the host congregation in Seattle, is the one who invited me to attend that gathering!  This particular longitude and latitude brought people from opposite areas together in a third location to begin a friendship!

Prime the Pump at Grunewald Guild

The Centrum
COMING UP:  Sept 8-11, 2016  Space is limited, sign up early!

After experiencing the marvelous songwriting retreat at the Guild this spring,
I am honored to be leading this Musicianship & Creativity retreat (with the exciting cooperation of visual artist, Sarah Jane) at the Grünewald Guild in Leavenworth, Washington next month and would love to have you join us!

There is limited space available (only 12-count'em, twelve),
AND, if you sign up by August 15th, you get a discount! (Is that cool or what?)

What is this about?

Often we have scouted the terrain and have the well dug and the pump installed but nothing is being brought up to the surface.

Or, we can recall the excitement of the gusher days when all the cool, refreshing underground well-water came pouring forth freely, but these days the pump cranks and cranks and nothing is coming.

And we can feel fear and the encroaching doubts of our clinical interior critics pointing out our failures and nagging us with reasons why we do not deserve to be creating at all.

Or we are just anxious to find our audience, the thirsty seekers of what flows from our fountains.

Sometimes we need to focus our attention on Priming the Pump which in this retreat we will do by exploring some different, hands-on art forms to uncover the fruits of this cross-pollination for our own musicianship.

Start your Fall Season off by Priming your Pump in this focused, intentional setting!

I'd love to be able to share this experience with you in this marvelous setting.

Here are some of my photos from the gathering in March & April.  
I can't wait to see the late summer/beginning of Autumn in the Cascades, 
and I'd love to celebrate it with you!
While she plays my soul is filled

Labyrinth

The fallen stump sprouts new growth...

Perfect outdoor office!