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.