So many things to share...
Hello friends. I hope everyone is safe and sound. For my friends and family in the United States, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.
English is continuing to work on their five song EP. We're in the mixing and art work stage. Mixing is a challenging job. Constant questions: do the instruments sound right? Is the right instrument being heard in the right spot of the song? English contains the following instruments: voice, guitar, trumpet, tenor saxophone, bass, and drum set. For this new album, we avoided layering too many instruments. It was a conscious decision to sound like the five of us playing instead of filling up the song with additional parts. My mixing education came from working with acoustic instruments. There is a reason why, for example, that an orchestra works the way it does. A single oboe is heard over 20 violins, 10 violas, 5 cellos and 5 basses because of its frequency range and timbre not because of volume. "Timbre" is a musical term that means the unique sound characteristic of an instrument. The oboe isn't competing with the strings for musical space; it cuts through the mix on its own. [insert oboe joke here] This knowledge of an orchestra is very helpful when mixing the recording of a rock band. Many of our instruments are competing for musical space. The upper range of my tenor saxophone is in the same space as Chris' voice. The lower range of my tenor saxophone occupies the same space as Chris' guitar. Some issues are solved by quality songwriting. English spends time working out individual parts. Hans' is not only a fine trumpet player but also a great harmonizer. He's always on the lookout for the note that will compliment the chord and fill up the space. The trumpet and tenor sax will sometimes take on the roll of vocal harmonies. Other moments, we act like a horn section with Chris' guitar as the third horn part. In some ways, the pandemic is helping our mixing process. Instead of all together in a room with Phil Young and yelling out what we want to hear or don't want to hear, we're instead, individually listening, making notes, and then finally sharing our compiled list of notes with Phil. This way, Phil goes through our notes at his leisure and then sends us a mix.
Do you want to support English? Do you need a unique gift for someone you love? Buy some English merchandise! Everything is based on the beautiful art work from our first album, There's Nothing New Under the Sun.
I started reading a book that I've waited eight years to read. When I first learned about Brian Eno's A Year with Swollen Appendices, it was already out of print. I would occasionally look for it on Amazon and at Half Price Books. When I would find it, it would be marked at some unreasonable price. I saw it on Amazon once selling used for $300! Well...the wait paid off. It has just been reprinted and the 25 anniversary edition is beautiful with a new forward by Eno. The book is his diary from 1995 while working with David Bowie, U2, art installations, and much more. I need to reread it when I finish it but go back through and color code my markings. Maybe, one color for the topic of music and other color for technology. Brian Eno is so creative and thoughtful.
Every day, I am thankful for my school district. Urbandale Community Schools recently went 100% Online Learning. Like everything this year, it was a change and a challenge. I will do anything knowing my students and colleagues are safe. Since April of this year, I've been teaching one-on-one music lessons online. Working with 72 students at once might seem like a challenge but with the right amount of planning and ideas, it's going really well. Technology isn't at a place where we can all play together as a band. What we can do, is utilize the time to practice and share ideas. I've also included a listening portion to class where I pick a song and after listening, the students share their thoughts. There's a lot of creativity in my students. They have ideas and I'm thankful for the opportunity to enrich their lives. To get the job done, I've found that a large screen is best to see them but a smaller screen is best for my notes. I keep instruments close by to demonstrate musical examples.
I received an email from a student recently that I think is worth sharing. I would describe this student as a very competent musician and quite smart. Here's what she asked followed by response:
Do you happen to have any tips for getting fast fingerings and articulations up to tempo? I’m trying to practice both the etudes and my next concert band recording assignment and keep getting frustrated. I’ve been slowing it down and making sure I nail it at slower speeds before I jump to a quicker tempo, but anytime I move a little faster my fingers don’t align with my articulation and I start to miss notes that I don’t usually at the slower tempo.
Just curious if you had tips to help with that when practicing.
I do have tips…I think…let’s find out.
Quite often, what feels right at one tempo doesn’t feel right at another tempo. Most of the time, it’s the performer's state of mind. You want 120 bpm to feel the same as 60 bpm…but they’re two different tempos. Does a car ride feel the same as walking? No! When you walk down the street, you see your neighbors lawn, you see the mulch around their flower bed, you see the toys their children left in the yard, you see recycling bin that they haven’t taken in the house yet. When you drive down the street, you see your neighbors yard. It doesn’t mean the mulch, toys, and recycling aren’t there; it’s that your speed is causing you to pay attention to other things…like the other neighbor who doesn’t look when backing out onto the street. This is the difference between tempos. At 60 bpm, your tongue is aware, your lungs are aware, your fingers, your eyes, your ears; all aware of minute details. To play at 120 bpm, the same awareness needs to happen but how you process it is completely different. All-Star athletes all say the same thing, they talk about the game slowing down. The opposing team, the ball, the crowd noise; it all slows down. Brain research calls this Flow. Flow is when you’re hyperaware of your activity but certain parts of the brain are actually turned off. It’s your brain’s way of conserving energy. What’s all of this have to do with playing the clarinet? You’ve got your entire brain on. The goal of practicing at a slow tempo is to get you to a place where you don’t think about it anymore. The reps are about familiarity. Remember the first time you backed out of the driveway and you used every vulgar word in your vocabulary to express your level of stress as you avoided running into anything? Now what do you do? You most likely don’t think about backing out of the driveway. That’s the state of mind you need to get to with the clarinet. I’ve witnessed it in you before; I have seen moments where you simply kick in and play. If you’re stressing out, the best thing you can do is go to bed, read a book, or talk to someone you love. You know how to play. You know the notes and rhythms, and articulations, and blah blah blah…now you just need to do it…or better yet: allow yourself to do it.
That’s all I got…for now. I’m going to bed. Check in with me tomorrow and let me know how you’re doing.
I'll leave you with a recipe for my favorite dessert. I made it with my son for Thanksgiving and it turned out great. The only thing I don't like about it is the title...and to be honest, it's the problem I have with all vegan dishes: the title tells you what isn't in it. I like to call it a Cashew and Almond Cake with Caramel Sauce but the actual title is: Vegan Carmel Cheesecake. It's really good and loved by all. Give yourself plenty of time to make it and I recommend watching the video first.