Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Music in 2018

The following post is the text of a note that I just sent out to participants in our music program. Our program at Mill Swamp Indian Horses is unique. To learn more about what we do and how it all fits together take a look at our blog

This spring we are ready to move into our own. We are going to have some requirements for participation in the music program. First of all everyone who participates has to agree to practice every week. There is no way to get better if you only play during our Monday night sessions. Very soon Pam and I will make a disk that you each can practice with.

My goal is to not have to sing the lead parts on any song. That means that you all will have to be ready to take different parts and do different songs on your own.

Dulcimer players and mandolin players will have to learn to play the melody on most of the songs that we do. Instruments are to be played loud enough with confidence--confidence comes from practicing.

Each week one person will be assigned a performer to give a presentation of about five minutes on. The presentation will include information such as personal background, their contribution to their type of music, influences on their style of playing, etc. I will be assigning you people that you often will not have heard of and you will have a week to become familiar with who they were and why they matter.

I plan to get us on stage more this spring with an eye toward having regular performances this summer.

We may have to find a larger place to have our Monday night practices if we continue to expand.

Keep this in mind about Monday night sessions. On Mondays I am in Juvenile court standing up trying cases for at least 1/2 the day. The Friday, Saturday and Sunday before that Monday night are generally taken up with a great deal of physical work and I get limited sleep on Sunday nights. When we get together on Monday nights I do not care if you are tired or have a headache or any other malady. It is simply irrelevant. Get yourself together, focus, and do a first rate job. That is an important part of growing up. When you are a toddler you can get away with anything if you "have not had your nap today." The older you get the less that is true.

The sooner you learn to get the job done whether you feel like it or not the happier you will be as an adult.

Lastly, I have been giving a lot of thought to what contributes to some people's ability to quickly learn to play various instruments. Some are beyond one's control. Some are genetic. If you are not genetically predisposed to music that cannot be used as an excuse--It just means that you have to work harder.

There are other important factors that you can control. In separate interviews conducted years apart Dale Jett, (A.P. Carter's grandson) and Mike Seeger, performer and musical preservationist, both mentioned one factor that I can really see in my life. Jett said that we "had the music around us very night when we went to bed and every morning when we woke up." Seeger says that to learn to play old time music one must listen to it, a lot. You tube and other computer resources make it possible for you all to access more authentic music in an afternoon than Seeger and Lomax and other great preservationists could access in months. Don't waste that opportunity.

I hold the minority view on this point but I do not believe that learning to play an instrument means learning to play it the way other people play it. One can play when one can make music that sounds good. Too often music has been considered good not because it sounded good, but because it looked difficult and was very hard to do. Modern bluegrass is filled with banjo licks and mandolin expositions that are nothing but very difficult noise to make. It takes a lot of skill and practice to make that noise. Most people cannot make that noise.

Why would anyone ever want to? Remember, the test of music is "does it sound good", not "does it look hard to do". Of what value would a banquet be if it tasted absolutely horrible but looked like it took a tremendous amount of work to put together?

Listen to the music. Listen to the words. Understand the social context that the music grew out of. Understand the difference between commercial success and artistic achievement. Old time is bluegrass with a heart. Americana is modern country music with a brain. Gospel is church music with a pulse and blues is hi-hop music with a soul.

The flower is the part of the plant that everyone sees but it is the root that keeps the plant alive trough the winter.

This spring we will build on what we have done musically.

And we will have fun.

No comments: