Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pitch Pipes for Today's Singers

Last weekend our costumed carolers strolled Woodbury Lakes Mall and sang holiday songs for the shoppers. I always bring two pitch pipes for our a cappella quartet: one electronic and one traditional. I primarily use the electronic push button pitch pipe and have the traditional round pitch pipe as a back up. I needed that back up when the electronic one stopped working in the cold this last weekend. It started working again when we warmed up on our break.  Luckily we don't have too many outdoor events.

Below is my comparison of the two pitch pipes.

Electronic Pitch Pipe (Farley's)

  • Pitches - always perfectly in tune
  • Sound - electronic beep with a volume control
  • Working Reliability - relies on batteries (3 watch batteries) with no battery level gauge
  • Accidental Trigger - the buttons can get bumped while in a vest or pants pocket and the sound doesn't stop until you hit it again

Traditional Pitch Pipe (Master-Key)

  • Pitches - the pitches can vary slightly from blowing too hard or from very cold temperature
  • Sound - like a single note on a harmonica
  • Working Reliability - sometimes it can start to have problems in cold conditions but continues to work poorly.  I've read that debris obstruction can stop it from making any sound.
  • Accidental Trigger - not an issue
The Caroling Company, MN
I've found that the electronic pitch pipe works best when I need a pitch fast, but I still need that traditional back up every now and then. With the electronic pitch pipe I've had the batteries die while on the job, I've had the cold make it stop working temporarily, and I've had it slip through a vest pocket hole to be found later in the lining at the small of my back.

A third option would be for me to get a pitch pipe app for a smart phone. I just don't like the way it would look if one of our Victorian carolers was "checking his phone between songs" - not an option for our group.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Levels Of Musicality

Musicality in Performance

There are different ways to think about musicality. When I think about the musicians I enjoy listening to or performing with, my own definition becomes clear to me. I think that their musicality isn't in how perfectly they execute a song, as much as it is in how they adjust their performance as it happens.

To me it's all about being in the moment, listening and adjusting to what's going on as the emotional energy is transformed into sound. As the musician hears the sound being created, they adjust their performance to make their next sounds continue the intent of the music, rather than sticking to the planned execution. This definition of musicality works on multiple levels.

One fundamental level of musicality is phrasing. As you build a phrase to emphasize a part, you have to take into account not only how loud or intense you want a targeted note to be, but how loud or intense what you just heard was. If you play a note too loud, you can sculpt the rest of the phrase to fit musically. Many times these are micro-adjustments that the audience wouldn't be able to notice and the performer does instinctively.

Another level is improvisation. Here the expectation of playing exact notes is removed, and what exists is a reaction to the moment. There are certain rules that work as a guide, but any of them can be broken. I find that I appreciate someone's musicality in improvisation when I can hear the musician acknowledging what has already happened. They may build a simple idea into something more complex, or return to a previously heard riff, or take a clam (a bad sounding note) and turn it into something that works.

Group performances bring out another level of musicality, by how performers adjust to what each other are doing. Accompanying musicians support the lead's changing dynamics while keeping the focus on the lead. In improvisational groups musicians play off of each other's ideas. Having the right groove and blending are other important aspects of group musicality.

To me the most exciting and interesting level of musicality is emoting. This is when the feelings of the performer or the connection with the audience have moved the musician to reinterpret the music. It's amazing and powerful when the musician finds special meaning in the song during the performance and brings out the unseen connections that music bridges between sound and feeling.

Musicality to me is the ability to hear and adjust to the moment. I appreciate how a performer must hear and feel what's going on in order to react with musicality.

Musicality in My Life

I try to take my definition of musicality outside of musical performance and apply it to how I live my life. I try to focus on living in the moment instead of being perfect.

When I don't live with a sense of musicality I get tripped up by reacting to expectations. I have trouble seeing my keys if they aren't where I expect to find them. I focus on what I'm going to say more than what someone else is trying to tell me. I listen to that inner judgemental voice instead of learning from a mistake. I miss something new because I'm focused on the routine.

When I live with a sense of musicality I listen to the world around me and inside me. I'm open to new ways of looking at things. Communication becomes more about understanding, than about being right. I focus on growing from experiences and trying new things. Most importantly, I hear and I feel what's going on presently. I strive to bring that level of musicality to my life.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Perfect Fit

Earlier this month it was an honor for Diane Martinson and I to play for Alyssah and Chase's wedding reception in Minneapolis.  The private dining room we were in at CafĂ© Lurcat was packed with their friends and family, but the feeling was cozy more than crowded. Having the two of us for live music gave them enough space in the room for dancing and socializing. 

Our vocal / piano duo performed a variety of styles from one corner of the room, with me on the portable piano and Diane singing.

It was fun doing the music selections they had requested from our song list.  One thing I love about our duo is the wide variety of songs we get to perform - Stevie Wonder, Alison Krauss, The Beatles, Elvis, and Sinatra all in one night. Alyssah and Chase chose a perfect selection of songs, judging by how often their guests sang along with us.

By the end of the event the newlyweds were still beaming with optimistic enthusiasm. Chase remarked that the rain outside was a good sign.  I wish them continued happiness and closeness.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Embellished Vows and Very First Dance

It felt great to be a part of Patty and Brian's wedding celebration.  They chose Diane Martinson as vocalist for the ceremony (with myself on piano) and our Jazz Trio for the reception.  Both took place in the Fireside Room of the Minneapolis Marriott Northwest.

The Ceremony

The wedding party consisted of the bride and groom, 3 flower girls, and a ring bearer.  For the processional and bridal entrance they chose Canon in D.  The young ring bearer was very poised escorting each of the flower girls separately.  Then I brought up the music, playing the grandest section of the piece, for the bridal entrance.

+Diane Martinson and
Rev. Derek Kiewatt
For the solo between readings they chose the Apache Wedding Blessing.  Diane and I wrote the music to this well known blessing.  You can hear the intent behind the words when she sings it.  You can find a recording of it on Spotify or iTunes.

During the vows the groom, Brian, added words like "really" and "always" to what he was asked to repeat.  It was a nice touch, and I also appreciated that Rev. Derek Kiewatt acknowledged that he "liked the embellishment" during the ceremony.  It was obvious that he enjoys officiating and I found him personable and easy to work with.

The ceremony recessional was Purcel's Trumpet Tune.  The wedding party left to receive guests outside the room before returning for cocktails and dinner.  Between the ceremony and reception we moved our portable piano and sound PA next to the dance floor for the jazz trio dinner and dance music.

The Reception

The reception band was Diane on vocals, myself on piano, and Kevin Teachout on drums.  We started off with light dinner music, and continued on to more upbeat dance music after dinner.  Patty chose "All For Love" by Bryan Adams as a special request for the first dance.  We arranged the song for the trio, and I must say that our rendition went over well.  Later in the evening Patty told us that this was actually the first time they had ever danced together.  They were out dancing for other songs with other couples joining in, as well as the kids having fun throughout the evening.

As we were packing up one guest said to us "Thank you, your music was wonderful.  It was a heart-felt performance, very professional."  It gives me a sense of purpose to add an emotional element to the celebration, and it's always a treat to perform with both Diane and Kevin.