My Friend is Not Only a DJ

I love music and I have met some very talented musicians who create the music they play. Street musicians, classical musicians, pop, rock, jazz musicians, I have met them all. A friend of mine is a DJ. A really good DJ actually. Met him in a club right after he finished with his set. I approached him and complimented his mix, and from that moment on we hit it off. As I got to know him, I realized that he is not only a DJ who is good in his craft, but a really talented person with an eye for aesthetics and a sense of art, but most of all, he is really good with his hands.

Once I visited his place. He wanted to show me his new beats. When you enter his house, the first thing you notice is that he built the entire interior with his own hands. He simply can’t sit still, which is why in his courtyard he has a shack with different tools and materials that he uses for his creative outbursts. And just when you think that he’s exhausted his creative energy, he has a new project going on. My favorite project of his is definitely the table he made out of wood, glass, and plastic. The design was futuristic while the materials gave it a contemporary look.

Another interesting project he showed me was a collaboration with other artists. The project mainly had to do with the production of video art. To be frank, their video art was really experimental and I could not fully get involved in the idea. But I saw that they were on to something.

Nonetheless, we finally went to his room where I noticed a drum set, a Clean Breathing air-purifier made out of a ventilator, and a drilling machine. At first, I was stunned, but then he showed me that he uses this stuff to create new beats. Apparently one night he was inspired and decided to experiment. He assembled all the necessary material for several days and was working on this project for a month. Then he recorded the sound onto his computer. I think I was the first one who heard the beats. Maybe at first, I was stunned by his creative energy, but after I heard those beats, I came to the realization that he truly is one of the most talented individuals I know. 

A Heartbreaking Story

For today’s blog, I have a sad story about a member of a local string quartet from my community. I frequent the concerts and know the violinist well. Having your instrument harmed or stolen is the worst thing that can happen to a musician. Violins of great quality are enormously expensive, but it is more than that. The instrument may be borrowed from a noted collector or is on loan from an orchestra. In most cases, it is selected for its beauty and quality of sound. The player gets used to it and losing the precious object can be devastating. But it happened to this woman. After a rehearsal for an upcoming performance, this lovely person was attacked behind the concert hall. The violin was grabbed as a last-minute thought since she was helpless and on the ground. By the time she was erect, the aggressor was long gone. She looked far and wide in pawn shops and did not find the instrument. She is still hoping and has informed all managers to be on the lookout for this priceless violin

I can imagine her suffering. It will be some time before she can secure an equivalent violin. The cost is prohibitive. Meanwhile, she is talking to people about self defense and what measures a woman can take if she finds herself in a dangerous position. She doesn’t have time to take martial arts classes although they come highly recommended. They give you self confidence and the kind of assurance you need to face an assailant without paralyzing fear. Otherwise, you might give in without a fight. Men are more likely to want to retaliate, making this option all the more vital for the opposite sex.

While learning hand-to-hand combat or at least some strategic karate moves takes time and effort, you can also buy many products like the ones at this web site that will serve as deterrents should you be attacked. Probably the best known is pepper spray. It comes in a small purse size for the ladies and is easily accessible in seconds. A quick blast is all you need to immobilize your mugger for up to forty-five minutes. He will suffer quite a bit of pain in the eyes and nose in the interim. Some models come on a keychain that includes an LED light. It is very effective at surprising a robber in the dark and is likely to make him run. Yelling or screaming has the same effect. A combination of tactics is advised in quick succession.

Protecting yourself is vital for anyone who has faced peril in the past because you know what it feels like to be a victim. Even if you have gone unscathed, surely you have heard enough horror stories like this one about the young violinist. She had anxiety for weeks after her confrontation. She couldn’t sleep at night and kept the lights on inside the house. Learning about self defense can help you take control of a dire situation and give you the ability to react appropriately without incurring additional aggression.

Musical Muscle

Have you seen the size of a bass? Have you ever lifted a piano? Drums are not on the smaller end of the weight scale nor are gongs. You have to be fit as a fiddle, pun intended, to wield about certain instruments of the symphony orchestra if you are a professional, or even a novice going to class. It is not always an easy task. You do eventually get into shape, but if you are on the puny side, you may eschew certain choices and stick with the violin.

Stamina is required for more than lifting a treasured implement. Long pieces and fast paced music also take their toll in energy, especially if you perform with gusto and vitality, as dictated by the score. Music is all about interpretation and expression, so it has to be there in spades for audiences to respond. It is what separates the geniuses from the routine practitioners. It is a gift. Anyone who plays a musical instrument worth his or her salt will aspire to that spiritual realm. When it is achieved, the results are spectacular with accolades forthcoming.

How do musicians therefore get fit to perform and carry the devices of their craft? Well, guess what. They go to the gym like everyone else and follow an exercise program suited to their needs. Yes, they do reps of sit-ups, use the pull up bar, do crunches, lift weights, toss heavy balls, wield the kettle bells, and work the treadmill with enthusiasm. They know what an elliptical is. They also know it will all pay off at concert time. You don’t have to be Arnold Schwarzenegger of course, just strong enough to accomplish the task.

To get your muscle, I recommend concentrating on the arms and upper body. The following exercises were given to me by a trainer: select a pair of weights, say ten pounds. Standing firmly on the ground, life them in a parallel position overhead ten times, coming down to the shoulders in between. Then lift them straight to the side ten times shoulder height and back down. Perform ten curls with the same weights. Finally, placing them overhead touching, bend the elbows so the weights are over the upper back. Do this ten times. After one circuit, repeat one to two times more.

This can be done at home as well and a daily session will get you in shape fast. When lifting anything including a heavy musical instrument, be sure to bend the knees and spare your lower back. Never bend over with straight legs. You may be stretched out enough to do this, but why take the chance on a strain. I assume that most veteran players know all this, but I am sharing for beginners and those who are spectators only. If a musician continually abuses his or her body, it will take a toll on quality of performance. By the way, being mentally agile is also part of the process. Meditation and other relaxation exercises will keep the mind fit and fertile.

Playing on My Harp Strings

The harp is, in my opinion, the most romantic instrument ever made.  It is perfect when played at a wedding and I have even heard it played at a funeral and it was quite touching as well.  The harp is even in modern music in songs you might never suspect.

“The Pretenders’ had the harp in the song “Middle of the Road” featured Chrissie Hynde on the harp, solo.  The Rolling Stones used the harp too in the song “Miss You” where Mick Jaggar played the harp.  Now that was something and actually was quite good.  Bonnie Raitt had the harp in “Runaway” which was pretty amazing.

There are all different types of harps and of course, they all create their own unique sounds.  There are the ancient harps which are intriguing to me because they take me back in time to the days of old.  I can almost taste, feel and smell the culture of that era when I hear the beautiful music.

Then there is the more classic sounds of the harp such as in the orchestra or at a wedding or even in a church service.  The harp has a presence and is romantic and soft yet bold with its undertones and as well.

There are modern sounds of the harp like the electric harp.  It is somewhat like the electric guitar in contrast to the acoustical sound.  Some electric harps can play both electric and acoustic which is very appealing but a true electric harp with a solid body can only be played as an electrical.  There is a modern air to the way it sounds, with a distinct different connotation than that of its counterpart.

Most every nation has a version of harp and most date back to ancient times.  It seems that the harp is timeless.  It has been loved throughout the ages and that will probably never change.  I know I fell in love with the harp the first time I heard it played solo.  It was at a wedding and I knew that I had to learn to play.

I am not gifted at harp playing although I don’t sound bad either.  I love to try though.  It wipes away my worries for the day and leaves my soul refreshed, the way I feel when I listen to a harpist play but it is rewarding to be attempting to play on my own.

I think the more I let loose and don’t think about what I am doing and let the strings bring me in, the better I play.  It’s like a trance when I am letting go but if I think too much about what I am doing, the notes sound stringy and very awkward.  The same is true when I play the piano.  If I overanalyze the notes, I sound downright horrible.  So, it’s really no different but seems to be more dramatic when coming from the harp.

To me, the harp is the most amazing musical instrument ever created.  It has been around for hundreds of thousands of years and is made in so many fashions by so many people but yet there is a common note among those of us who worship the sound of its strings and the joy it brings us.

Home Is Where The Strum Is

If you have done much traveling, you know how fun it is to go out to a restaurant or night club and be entertained by a string instrument that’s unique to that particular country.  Some are funny, some are great and some are downright amazing.

If you visit South Africa you’ll probably hear the Goura.  The Goura is a stringed instrument made from a coconut shell. It actually sounds really nice and festive for sure.  The funny thing is that it’s blown, not plucked but it’s still a stringed instrument.  If you haven’t had the opportunity to hear one, you simply must.

Another really unusual foreign instrument is from India called the Sitar which can have a good number of strings.  The Beatles actually used a Sitar in their music.  Another one, probably the most popular, is the Tatnpura which is used more as an undertone or harmony when played alongside other instruments.  There are over one hundred stringed instruments that originate in India which says a lot about their love for them.

Years ago I visited Israel and had the pleasure of going to a dinner where we were all serenaded by a Kinnor which is a Hebrew harp.  It is built like a harp but played like a guitar because it is strummed rather than plucked.  It was romantic and a memory I will never forget like going back in time.  The Kinnor is so important it is embedded in a Jewish coin as a symbol.

On the same trip, I got to experience the sounds of the Ancient Egyptian shovel-shaped harp. It was, indeed, the most peculiar stringed instrument I have ever seen or heard and I fell in love with it.  The smaller the harp, the higher the pitch it produces.  The one I had the chance to hear was quite large with a low and very pleasant, mesmerizing pitch.

The Greek Lyre is intriguing.  It will hypnotize you.  In ancient days, the Lyre was often made from a tortoise shell and was called a Chelys.  The Greek were well known for their stringed instruments and still are.

The three stringed Japanese Shamisen is very rich in culture.  It’s plucked and resembles a guitar or banjo of sorts.  The eerie thing is that sometimes a Shamisen is made out of dog skin.  Other than that, it is a remarkable piece of work that is quite interesting to hear.  There are many, many variations of the Shamisen and it is used in a myriad of genres of music. If you visit Japan, you are sure to hear one and can even purchase one for a song.  But do be careful because the less expensive ones are the ones that are sometimes made of dog skin.

One of my favorite things to do when visiting another country is to look up different places where I can hear the instruments of that country.  While I love music and instruments of all kinds, the stringed ones are the closest to my heart.  I’m not sure what it is about them but it seems that no matter how far I travel or how different the culture is, I can find myself feeling quite at home with a simple strum of any stringed instrument.

Scales, Scales, Scales!

There are those scales that fall from one’s eyes when you realize something suddenly. There are lizard scales and skin scales from a nasty disease called psoriasis. There are balance beam scales and the digital bathroom scales for your home that give the truth about size and/or quantity. And finally there are those wonderful musical scales that create aural magic around the world in every time, place, and culture.

In the West, there are seven notes in the scale with half notes, quarter notes, etc. Eastern music has more. My broker says that financial investing is like western scale. There are seven categories and all the rest is packaging in terms of mutual funds, hedge funds, and other special products. Otherwise there are stocks, bonds, bank accounts, real estate, commodities, currencies, and insurance. So I love scales in any way shape or form.

My bathroom scale gets the most practical use but the musical scale is a close second. When I hear a composition and feel in the mood, I can break it down into its components. It’s more fun than breaking down my weight into pounds. Who cares! With the musical scale, the world is at anyone’s oyster. You can devise endless tunes from a piano sonata to a full orchestra symphony. You can make up tonal or atonal works, long or short opuses, and anything in between. It is your gateway to fame, fortune, or just personal pleasure.

I have a friend who plays the guitar but can’t read music. I wonder what that’s like—not being able to see the mathematical relationships of the marks on the page to the sounds you are making. I guess instinct goes a long way, a good ear, and a sense of rhythm. Even if you follow a score, you can interpret it in many ways, so having it in front of you doesn’t guarantee you are doing what the composer intended.

Music is all about feeling and emotion—and to some extend self-expression. It is inherent in a piece and you bring it out with your own skill and sensitivity. The scale is the framework only. It is hard to see this in other cultures sometimes, especially ethnic music, but there are patterns and themes nonetheless. Our ears are accustomed to a limited range, and it is exciting when you can open up the possibilities of aural gratification. Music is an endless exploration into the divine filtered through deft human fingers.

I once visited the music museum in Phoenix and was astounded by the instruments. I had never seen or heard of many. I can’t imagine how music is composed with some. They have the actual instruments, photos, and tapes so you can enter another time and place. I recommend this highly for aficionados or not. It will open your eyes (and make the scales fall for sure). If you think you have a grip on music history, you probably don’t.

So….scales of all kinds exist in the world from the most mundane sorts to the king of them all. Take my word for it that practicing your scales on your instrument of preference is never a chore, but the road to progress in this wonderful realm.

The Violin: Stealing the Hearts of Many

The Violin  Stealing the Hearts of Many

I am in love with the sound of the violin.  It sweeps me away each and every time I hear it played.  I find it very inspirational, almost spiritual.

I used to think I was being a bit sensitive to feel such emotions all from the sound of the violin.  I mean…it’s just a sound.  Or, is it?

I like to read about the violin too and was researching its history one day when I realized that mankind has worshiped the violin sounds for centuries.  I am not the odd man out like I thought I was.  I’m just one more soul who lost his heart to the magic of this fine instrument.

The first I can find of the violin in history is about 900 AD and was from the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium as it was also called.  The violin of those days was called the lyra back then and was a little different than the violin today but not all that much.

Much to my delight, I have found that the lyra is mentioned in the Bible.  It is mentioned in Genesis and other places as well.  Many times that it is mentioned is in spiritual reference.

I find the notes from the violin to be spiritual but without denomination or any of the arguable differences of organized religions.  It is just there for the taking of the soul and spirit and is uplifting to me as well as motivating too.

Although I love and adore the sounds of the violin, when played solo or with other instruments, I have never tried to play.  I have heard that it is a very disciplined instrument to master if one wants to really excel and to master it.  I have also read that those who do play well are consumed with it and that there is a fine art to reaching that point in playing.

I have a keen ear for music but am not myself musical.  I would love to play but I just do not think it is for me nor that I am for it.  I will respectfully opt to simply listen to others play and enjoy that.

Jascha Heifetz is my most favored violinist.  His talent, in my opinion, is unsurpassed by any other, past or present.  He was born in Lithuania but became an American citizen by choice.  His works span from 1917 to 1967 when he suffered an injury to his arm and went into teaching instead of performing.

My favorite piece by Heifetz is Brahms’s Violin Concerto with Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra which he recorded in 1955.  I am amazed by his talent and cannot get enough of his music.

I also like Arcangelo Corelli as many others do as well.  He was from back in the late 1600’s and early 1700 and was phenomenal.  I especially love Corelli’s Concerti Grossis film soundtracks and recordings as well.  He had a very unique style and was the choice violinist for many royalty in those days.  Queen Christina of Sweden and the Price of Bavaria both had him in their service for a time.

The violin is angelic to me.  It brings to me a spiritual completeness.  The more I learn, the more I find that I am not at all alone in this matter and that the violin has stolen the hearts and souls of many.

Classical Attire a Classical Pain

Unless you don’t have a budget (who are you?), you will want to consider a sewing machine as I did to make and repair items of clothing for your career. Costs for new clothing can add up and wreak havoc on your precious income. Even discounts don’t help if you buy quality. (The axiom you get what you pay for is all too true.) Musicians in particular have to look good in black tie attire so it shouldn’t be cheap. They are viewed by the public and must blend in with others they may perform alongside if in a group or stand out as needed. If you are a soloist, it is vital to appear professional and elegant whether holding a violin, an oboe, or a clarinet.

Musicians do repeat their wardrobe of course. Few people see you twice in a week or even a month other than your colleagues. They don’t count. However, dressy clothing wears out eventually if you give a lot of concerts. It has to be dry cleaned as a rule if it is quality fabric. Machine washing and takes a huge toll. If you can whip up something new once in a while or fix a few rips and tears with the trusty sewing machine, you are well ahead of the game. Plus it is fun and enjoyable.

Now the question is: do you have time? I recommend that you keep it simple. Women wear long dresses, even intricate gowns, and have been known in the better venues to look like they are at a black-tie or inaugural ball. Sequins and rhinestones abound. Opera singers are no exception. These can be expensive, even if they are vintage. This does bring to mind the fact that great deals can be obtained in second-hand stores or online in places like eBay. Ladies don’t like to wear their apparel too many times so used items are usually in great shape. A designer dress, like a used car, drops in value when it leaves the store, but it can be like new. Take advantage of this unique opportunity.

Men who perform wear tuxes and unless they are a conductor, they are journeyman in style and cut. They don’t need to grab attention; it’s the music that counts. However, repairs are always in order to keep them looking fresh and new. You never want the public to spot anything off. Sure, you can repair by hand, but sewing machines are fast and functional and always my first choice. The bigger stars no doubt go for better brand name suits, but the same issues apply.

You say you don’t know how to operate a sewing machine? Not a problem. Your local fabric supply store no doubt will have classes. You can shop after right in the same place. If you want to make gowns, of course, you will need some skill and ability to design and execute. It can be a wonderful relaxing pastime for a musician. Again, if time permits!

Getting in Tune With the Violin

I am an avid violin fan.  I find the soothing and invigorating sounds of the violin to be my favorite of all the musical instruments.   Knowing that, you would probably take me for a classical music guru or lover of the orchestra.  What type person enjoys listening to violin music?

I am neither a classic music listener nor a huge orchestra fan.  I wish I did appreciate them more but I am just not one to listen to those genres.  I am a rocker, a die-hard rock-and-roller and love alternative rock too,

So just where does the violin fit in where rock music is concerned?  Everywhere, just about!  Rock star legend, Frank Zappa, not only used violin instrumentals in his music like the song “All of My Love”, his father actually taught violin lessons.  Train uses the violin in their hit song “Drops of Jupiter”. “Everybody Finds Out” by one of my favorite groups, Fleetwood Mac, has some wonderful violin in it.  Bruce Springsteen has been known to feature the violin as well.   “Silverchair”, “Yellowcard”, “Electric Light Orchestra” and “The Who” had violin pieces too.  I mean…who knew that the violin could be so mainstream and so very cool?

If you are like me, you have been a fan of the violin for some time now and didn’t even know it.  I knew I loved the soothing sounds in a lullaby or the romance the stings bring to a wedding ceremony, but I didn’t know that many of my very best tunes have violin within.

The violin is timeless.  The origin of the violin dates way back to 1600’s with variations of it going back even further, possible to the 800’s.  It has been notable throughout history and is one of the most popular musical instruments of all.  It is played in most every country, in one form or another and is in a very wide genre of music.  The violin also adds so much to movie soundtracks and even commercial ads that come on television. The violin is everywhere and has been for a very, very long time.

The more I get to know the violin and its wonders sounds, the more I learn just how much I love it.  It is so diverse and emotional.  It can take you from somber and sad to celebration and exhilaration in a heartbeat and it can do so without you even being aware of it.  It’s a subtle but captivating sound that sometimes takes a trained ear to recognize.

I think that much of the misconception about the violin is that many do not know how to recognize the sound of it in songs.  In a classic song, people listen for the violin but it’s often overlooked otherwise.  It’s not always front and center but in so many great tunes, it’s there.  The violin has probably pulled on your heartstrings more often than you will ever know but you’ll begin to pick up on it, the more you get in tune.

 

Transporting Musical Instruments

When you play and tote around a musical instrument, you must be agile and strong. You also have to be a bit ingenious. You often have some weight to lug around and you better be coordinated. Remember the student who got his Strad stuck in a subway door in New York. I don’t think it had a good outcome. It was a scary lesson to us all to be careful and mindful of unforeseen events. It was downright tragic! You never know when terror will strike next. Doors are notorious for snapping shut when you are not ready. These may be in a building, a car, a train, or other types.

A good backpack helps a musician a lot. You can load stuff in and carry it hands-free to make room for your precious gem which counts a lot more than any books or papers. Even if it is small like a violin or clarinet, you still have to balance everything as you walk about. If you travel frequently by car, you don’t want to have to crowd your instrument with oversized suitcases. If you play the cello or bass, you are no doubt a genius at adapting to circumstances.

Musicians carry wallets, appointment books, changes of clothing, gym shoes, etc. just like anyone else. The difference is that their other cargo is usually a very expensive work of musical art. They have to be more than practical. They can be banging everything around indiscriminately. They have to be quick as quail and light on their feet.

James Galway is noted for buying a high-end brand backpack in fine brown leather. He travels a lot for concerts and stores gear of all types in it. His wife has a matching one in navy blue. They don’t need a suitcase for short plane rides and can put them in the storage units above the seats. They keep their cell phones, ipods, and precious calendars inside. They want everything at their fingertips. Jimmy also reads a lot and has his latest mystery on hand for those very few casual moments. The Irish flautist and his lovely wife Jeanne are both professional performers who need to be organized and efficient. This is where owning a cool backpack comes in. Now their piano accompanist, Phillip Moll, has a better deal. He can use a small, more convenient carry-all and has elected to use a water-proof nylon utility backpack. This illustrious trio knows their needs and has made careful purchase selections.

So when looking for a new backpack, take a tip from me. Go for multiple zippered compartments that don’t spill out their contents. The strap should be adjustable and secure, wide enough to spare your shoulders when filled with extra weight. Waterproof, sleek, expandable, and roomy are also great descriptors for a practical choice. The pockets can be inside and/or out to accommodate phones, sunglasses, money, documents, and personal items like combs, brushes, and a compact (for the ladies). Musicians with a burden of responsibility can’t spend enough to protect their belongings.

Violins: I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now

Violin-Lessons-Orlando

You don’t have to be a geek to learn the violin.  I wish I had known that as a child because I could have had a head start on playing.

The picture in my head was of a homely little girl who wore a plaid skirted uniform and white knee socks and whose only companion was the violin on which she played.  I also thought violin lessons were reserved for the well-to-do.

I always thought that I was not near nerdy nor rich enough for the violin.  So, I never learned it as a child.  It was as an adult that I picked up a bow and was shocked at how mistaken I had been.  I regret not learning earlier but better now than never.

Now that I am a grown up, I hold a fondness in my heart for geeks anyway.  If you are a computer geek, that generally means you know a lot about computers.  If you are a gamer geek, you most likely are good at video games.  Being an expert on anything is commendable so hats off to the geek community no matter if your specialty is video gaming or violin playing.

You know how they say to be careful about making fun of the geekiest, brainiest kid in school because he or she is quite likely to be your attorney or, even better, your physician.  The same is true for violinists.  They may be playing front and center of the orchestra symphony you pay a fortune to attend or they may be on the cover of the next CD you purchase.  What is often not regarded as the coolest thing to be into as a kid can be a paradigm shift as an adult.

I experienced this change of heart while watching and listening to Lara St. John who is an awesome and talented Canadian violinist.  She is mesmerizing to listen to and has a very unique style that made me want to learn to play myself.

Lara is not your stereotyped violinist.  She is a little on the risqué side and quite hip if you ask me.  She has a cat that looks like Hitler name Kitler, has a YouTube video in which she is playing the violin with her iguana o her head and has even made music with the notorious alternative rock band from Scotland, “The Vaselines”.  I mean, come on…this lady is the coolest violin geek I’ve ever known of!

Another thing I did not realize as a youngster was that the violin is not limited to classic music.  It I found in rock, bluegrass, country and practically every type of music you can think of.  Who knew the violin could be so amazingly versatile?

To me, geek is cool now.  It probably always has been, it was just me who took some time in coming around.  The loss is mine though.  I respectfully salute those who let their passion lead them even in their younger years and can now say, “I was a violin geek before being a geek was cool”.