December 17, 2014

Johann von Herbeck: Hipster Vampire Composer of Your Dreams

Have you listened to this sick podcast I composed?

November 26, 2014

Feel The Pain: What I Learned When I Got Injured

Here in the Upper Midwest, the first large snowfall of the season is a big deal. People rush to the stores to purchase shovels, salt, and snowblowers; they finish their yard work and bring in the lawn furniture. We got our first snow storm unseasonably early this year. I was preparing by cleaning out my parking space, shoveling the last leaves of the fall into a garbage can (where I probably wasn't supposed to be putting them anyway). I brought the leaf-loaded shovel up, and flipped it over to bang against the can, trying to knock loose any last bits of junk holding on. I slammed the shovel down against the lip of the can and recoiled in pain. I had failed to notice that my right ring finger was sitting squarely between the shovel and the can. The tip of my finger screamed in pain for a few minutes, then I went back to business as usual. 

Later, my finger ached but I figured it would go away with a bit of time. The next day it was the same. I had a big recital coming up the next weekend that I was nervous for and I needed to practice a couple of hours each day, as well as perform my piece for whoever would listen. The pain was noticeable, but ignoreable, after a few minutes of practice and a few grazes to the right side of my finger, where the pain was the worst, I would get used to it and pay it no mind. As the recital got closer I could feel the pain growing more acute but I just put it down.

The recital went great, but the next day the pain was the worst it had been since I had first injured it against the garbage can. I took my first day off of practicing, this time not because of a preventive measure, but because I couldn't take the pain. A few days later I started wrapping it, and then after a few more I called the nurse hotline and started to "buddy tape" it against my middle finger. That was five days ago and nearly two and a half weeks since the initial injury and it's finally starting to feel better. Here's what I've learned:

It's Really Scary
I called the nurse's hotline provided through my insurance because I was freaked out. I was afraid that I had broken my finger even though it sure didn't look or feel like it. I was afraid that I'd ended my piano playing career. I was afraid I wouldn't get better in time for my upcoming solo recitals. I've had some other injuries before but this one was the scariest, probably because it didn't feel like it was getting better, 

It was also frightening because I didn't know how much money I would lose. I could still teach, but I had an upcoming gig that paid and another bigger one in a few weeks. If I lost those, I was looking at $400 in lost income. Additionally, my insurance is not good enough to cover a clinic visit so I was looking at potentially getting hit with a huge medical bill if I went to the doctor and needed X-rays. 

I Spend a Lot of Time Playing Piano
I realized that I play on the piano for a huge portion of the day. Between 2-4 hours of practicing and 5 hours of teaching, not to mention any recording I'm doing, abstaining from the piano was really difficult. Taping my fingers together was beneficial as a way to stabilize my hurt finger, but it was also a great way to keep myself from playing. For a few days when I was just wrapping the injured digit, I would still play on it. At one point in particular during a lesson, I winged it against the fall board by accident and felt like I had just re-injured it all over again. I had to learn to avoid playing with my right hand completely.

I had so much more free time without practicing it was difficult to figure out what to do. On my first day off after deciding to abstain from practicing I just wandered around my apartment with no clue as to how to spend my time. The answer turned out to be Lost and CodeAcademy, although typing, again, was a poor decision.

I Should Have Been More Responsible
This recital I played in a week after my injury was a big deal. I had invited a lot of people and was playing the most difficult piece I've ever learned. I had been preparing for this recital since the end of the summer. I needed to do this recital. 

In retrospect I should have pulled out, rested my finger and cut my losses. The nurse told me that my initial injury probably wasn't bad, but that with my intense use and repeated impact trauma I had likely made it much worse. Regardless, I didn't allow it to heal whatsoever for the first week and a half. I now know that I need to take these kind of injuries much more seriously.

I Really Love Piano and Music
This abstention from the piano has made me miss it more than anything. It's been the longest stretch without playing that I can remember and it's been very depressing having to stay away. I had a gig a few days ago in which I played for an hour with a bandage still on my finger and it felt like I had been freed from a prison. 

I'm getting better now. I don't feel pain when I apply pressure and in the next few days I'll try some light practice again. It's been enlightening, getting injured. I'll definitely be more careful from now on, both in avoiding injury and reacting better after it happens. 

I'd recommend to other pianists to have some money set aside in case of injury, and honestly take care of yourself if it happens. A missed gig is often better than two weeks of missed practice and the uncertainty of not knowing when you'll be be back to normal.

November 19, 2014

November 14, 2014

Drifting in The Current: Alternatives to Minnesota's Favorite Radio Station

Here, in the Twin Cities we are fortunate enough to have multiple radio stations that play ad-free music. We have our trifecta of public radio, MPR News, Classical MPR, and of course, The Current. The Current has come to be the trendsetter of the Twin Cities music scene, both providing a platform for local bands to be heard, and shaping the sound that now defines our region.

There is a definite "Current Sound". Songs tend to be standard classic pop forms, in mostly major keys, largely guitar driven, and upbeat in presentation if not always in content. It's the place to hear music that's A) New, B) Not Top-40, C) Local.

I've been irritated though over the last couple of years by the homogeneity of music I hear coming through the station. Whereas the Current used to feel like "my station" against the brainless pop of our other Clear-Channel outlets, it now often feels like a top-40 for people who don't think of themselves as top-40. What might have been formerly classified as "alternative" music, simply because it's an alternative to the computer-processed dance music currently on our Billboard-100 countdowns, now has it's own elite, it's own pop-mainstream.

I still appreciate The Current. It's strengths lie in its special programming like Sunday night's Local Show with Dave Campbell, Sunday morning's United States of Americana, and late Saturday's P.O.S. is ruining The Current. My own music has been played on The Current for which I'm extremely grateful. I just wish that the breadth of musical style that was played on these special shows would be played all of the time. Maybe people only want to listen to radio that's peppy and filled with hooks, but music is a reflection of emotions and I want to listen to radio that can satisfy all facets of my personality.

When I voice this complaint to other people, they often say "well, I don't want to listen to commercials, and this is the only station that plays music that doesn't make me want to chop my ears off." Keep your ears on your head buddy, there are more stations than this that play ad-free music. Two in particular:

KFAI is our "other" public radio station. It's much less professional than MPR stations, and as such can be a bit woolly around the edges. But that's part of what makes it great fun. On Tuesday nights I can listen to a broadcast of entirely French language music hosted by French-speaking hosts who sometimes forget their words. I can listen to a rap show where people enter and leave the studio willy-nilly. Interviews with local artists that would never get featured on the Current. What I love the most about this station is that there isn't a "rotation", every show is different so every time you dial it up you can expect something new. I rocked out one Saturday afternoon to Caribbean Soca music (a genre I'd never heard of) and another night heard really brutal punk rock. There are also good talk-radio and interviews with local authors.

Radio K is my favorite radio station in the Twin Cities. As someone who worked in college radio at one time I can attest to the fact that this is where all music is listened to. Sure, the tastes are formed by college students who may or may not appreciate all the nuances of your favorite bands, but on the whole, these kids try really hard. Short slots mean that you can listen to a different DJ every couple of hours and tune in for themed shows at night. This is the only station in the Twin Cities where you can hear a 7-minute long industrial punk jam. You can careen from grindcore to graduate-level jazz studies. Their signal strength is much weaker than either of the other stations listed here, but if you're in your car, it's worth trying to dial it up.

Embrace variety, support all of your ad-free radio stations!

November 10, 2014

I'm Not Listening: How Music School Destroyed My Love and A Subscription Streaming Service Resurrected It Again

I have a deep secret to admit. With only a very small handful of exceptions I haven't been consuming new music for the last five years. It seems like poor form, I know. A musician should probably engage in music, absorb new sounds, and look for inspiration in as many places as possible. The truth is that after four years of music school and another two years of graduate school, my ears were tired. Exhausted even.

A typical day in my college and university life broke down in the following way:

4-6 hours of practicing piano
3-4 hours of classes talking about music
3-4 hours of homework that involved listening to music, reading about music, and studying music

If you add those up, then add in eating and sleeping I was spending nearly every moment involved in music in some way. At some point fatigue set in and I didn't want to fill my silences with music anymore. As an undergraduate I helped manage a radio station which required me to listen to and be knowledgeable about current bands and trends, but after graduation I completely shut myself off to music that wasn't involved in my immediate education. I immersed myself completely in the classical world.

After graduate school I returned home, excited at the prospect of reacquainting myself with music again. I craved background tunes in the apartment, listening to a local public radio station in the car, and generally being able to be a fan again. What I found was a void. Keeping up with trends was too far gone, the Current (our local commercial-free music station) was playing vapid power-pop, and my ears just couldn't return to normal. The beautiful world I knew in high-school had vanished in my absence.

Then I discovered podcasts. Years after everyone else had caught on, I became addicted to hour-long talk-radio escapes. It started on my long car trips to and from Illinois and once I moved back home it exploded. I was wading through 2 hours or more of podcasts a day, and on days when I couldn't keep up I'd get backlogs hours and hours long. I'd spend a day playing video games and listening to podcasts just to make a dent. My fear of missing some juicy tidbit kept me from just deleting them and being done with it.

During those several years I was also writing, recording, and mixing a lot of music which meant hours in front of the computer. Because I write music that is really just a summation of all the music that personally enjoy, I found myself listening to my own music much more than anyone else's. Even classical music, which had been such a huge part of my life took a backseat. For about three years, I listened to little besides my own music, the music of my friends, and the occasional car-trip binge of top-40 and satellite radio.

It all reached a peak (or nadir, depending on the view) a few weeks ago when I realized I was spending every free moment either listening to a podcast or wishing I was listening to a podcast. I would get in the car, turn on the Current, and turn it off immediately. I recognized for a long time that I had cut music largely out of my non-professional life, and now it was time to do something about it.

I'm preparing a piano recital right now and have been writing some extensive program notes to accompany it. During the research and writing process for these notes I turned on Spotify, the music streaming service, and searched the classical album collection. I had downloaded the program about a year ago and used it off-and-on but never really gotten into it. When I wanted to listen to music, I would usually turn to my own iTunes library or my CD collection. This time something was different. I found myself listening to pieces I had never heard of by some of my favorite composers. It was suddenly so easy to compare the performances of different pianists, and it was all right there.

As I write this, I'm listening to new punk rock. I haven't listened to a new punk band since my first years in college. I'm discovering new bands that I like. This all may sound mundane or obvious, but it is a massive relief to me. I was afraid at many points over the past half-decade that I no longer liked listening to music. The thought occurred to me, just recently, that maybe I would only ever like music that I had personally written, turning into my own echo-chamber.

I purchased a subscription to Spotify, something that I never usually do, not because I think it's necessarily the best service for what it does (I haven't really tried other things extensively), but because it provided hope to me that my ears haven't been ruined, and a gateway back into a world I thought that I had lost.

October 27, 2014

Album Review: U2 - Songs of Innocence

My first concert was sweaty and dangerous. Or rather, it had the distinct heaviness of danger. That pressure that starts in your chest and travels to your knees alternately locking and loosening them, synchronizing to the quickening pulse in your temple as you fear for your safety while simultaneously feeling the rush of adrenaline as it careens through your body. It was at the storied (storied among certain circles) Triple Rock in Minneapolis. The singer had tattoos on his neck that resembled like necrotizing fasciitis. His voice sounded the same. Like a sawtooth wave, his screaming could shock the devil. The creamy violence of the guitars and sixteenth-note barrage of bass drum hits blended the crowd into a meringue of black t-shirts, facial jewelry, and fists. Being thin, not prone to violence, and literally weak of heart I stayed on the outskirts, which while saving my body, left me prone to receive a Converse to the skull as a young man attempted flight over my head.

Actually, that wasn't my first concert.

My first concert was a few years earlier, in that same space. Three of my favorite bands were somehow all playing on the same tour. Two were instrumental, one was not. At the end of the evening, when the Japanese musicians took their places, all standing save one seated guitarist, I was prepared. I stood in the front, my hands on a studio monitor bracing for impact. This was not a a rough crowd. These were patrons enjoying art. Words were not necessary, the screaming fortes and imperceptible pianos did all the necessary talking. When a group fires all together, coup d'archet, one can feel a blow on their body. The slap of air is caused by the speakers all firing at once, displacing gallons of air thrown at the audience. When the blast hits your ears, it is accompanied by a physical sensation. You connect directly, bodily, to the music.

But that wasn't my first concert either.

My first concert was in a dive bar in St. Paul. It had undergone various transformations over time and is now the only expressly "metal" bar in the Twin Cities. It was a miracle my parents allowed me out of the car when they dropped me off with my friends. It was a school-night. This club looked (and was) grimy. People waiting in line were wearing costumes reminiscent of Micky Mouse's wizard robe in Fantasia. The room had pillars throughout the space making any sort of mosh-pit impossible. Pillars is the wrong word though. Pillars imply the grandiosity of ancient Greece. Pillars sound respectable and decorous. This was a dank basement. These were poles. These held the building up.

My first concert?

My first concert was in an arena. It was a tour of some of the biggest bands in hard-rock. One wrote songs about politics and incorporated middle-eastern features. One was German and used flame throwers and a giant phallus. One wore masks and had more drummers than a marching band competition. These tickets must have been expensive although we sat so far from the stage that we had to watch everything on the enormous video screens that flanked the performers. Our favorite band performed second to last. I sang along to every song, although the band didn't seem to notice the effort. The masked men played last. We stayed for a few songs, then in the ultimate display of superiority, we left partway through their set. As we crossed the street in downtown St. Paul, seeking the corner my parents had agreed to pick us up at, we spotted a few members of the German band. The one with the donut hair had his arms around two women, while the skinny one nuzzled a third. They walked to the corner we were standing on. "Are you Rammstein?" I asked. "Ja," replied one of the blond women, "ve are vith Rammstein."

No, that wasn't my first concert

My first concert was in Minneapolis at the Target Center. I was with my father. He was taking me to see a Canadian band that was easily one of the most famous bands in the world at the time. They peddled in upbeat clever folksy rock, didn't swear, and had the kind of homey humor that made them a safe group to listen to with ones own parents. They made jokes on stage that at the time felt like they were just for us, all 20,000 of us. Despite being a middle-schooler I wasn't embarrassed to be there with my father. He didn't know the music as well as I did (my massive CD wallet had two whole pages dedicated to their albums) so I was excited to expose him to their songs. We sat the entire time, squinting at the stage, glancing at the screens, laughing at the jokes, cheering at the local references. I would go on to see them again the next year. Different venue, same experience.

That was my first concert.

October 21, 2014

Music Typefaces: Bass Clef

A handwritten bass clef from Satie's Sports and Diversions
Previously I wrote about the different types of clefs, but in this post I'll get to what really started my head spinning. People obsess over design. I've always been appreciative of the way something looks, but I tend to favor functionality over pizzazz. That may explain why I've never noticed the differences in music fonts before. There was the obvious difference between jazz fonts and...well, everything else, but beyond that I'd never given thought to the design of music notes or clefs. In this post I'll focus on the bass clef. There won't be any discussion of the evolution of the bass clef, just how it's been designed in publications over the past century.

For this post I'll be ignoring hand-written bass-clefs, extended technique markings, and neumes. I'll focus solely on the little differences, some mundane, some trivial, and some fantastic that go into the design of a bass clef.

First, I'll lay down some terminology that I use over the course of this post. I couldn't find any set of words to describe the parts of the bass clef so I've made some up and tried to stay consistent with them over the course of this post.

original image from Wikipedia user Popadius. Markings added by WMPT

I've use the word "dot" to mean either the two floating dots to the right of the clef or "central dot" for the large point of origination on the left. When I refer to the symbol not including the dots I'll usually call it the "swirl". The "top line" refers to the area at the top of the symbol. "Right wall" refers to the entire thick area on the right side of the swirl. "Tail" refers to the point at the bottom.

Most of the differences between typesets I found concerned thicknesses and height. Sometimes it was difficult to tell if the thickness varied due to excess ink on the plates, or were intentional design characteristics but I tried to find representative examples from the scores. 

from Gottschalk's Souvenir de Puerto Rico, publisher unkown

The above clef (and subsequent six flats) are from a Gottschalk piece Souvenir de Puerto Rico. I think this design fits what many would view as "standard". It sports a thickness on the right wall and tapers as it moves to the bottom. The top segment of the swirl thins as well, almost disappearing into the top line of the staff. The central dot is also thick, which I think gives it the appearance of being the origination of the swirl. I've always drawn my bass clefs from that center dot, as I imagine most do. Perhaps that thickness comes from extra ink that comes off the pen from the initial contact? My favorite part of this bass clef is at its bottom. Some clefs will extend into the bottom space, while others stop short. The real reason I included this one was the fact that it barely sneaks in. An immeasurable bit of it dangles into the bottom space, giving it a bit of whimsy and brashness. As you'll notice moving on, the dots, which are maybe the bass clef's most characteristic part, rarely change much between designs.

from Kabalevsky's op. 27, Schirmer Ed.

The above clef from a Kabalevsky children's piece has a more fluid design than the Gottshalk but has a bulbous central dot. After that large dot, it doesn't taper, but immediately thins to the top, which appears to barely creep over the top line before plunging into a thick (but not too thick) wall before tapering to the bottom. This clef stops directly on the B-line, not extending whatsoever into the low A. It's a clean, very standard looking clef. Not the type of F-clef you'd write home about.

from Joplin's The Sycamore, pub Will Rossiter (Dover Reprint)

I love this bass clef, from a Dover reprint of a Will Rossiter published Joplin rag. Whereas most clefs usually touch the top line and dance around the second-to-bottom, this clef is content floating in the middle. Its squatness allows us to see the top curve more clearly and shows us that the tapering from the right wall to the top curve is more severe than it appears when the top is flush with the staff. The tail is docked so short that it doesn't line up vertically with the left edge of the central dot, giving it a more upright look. What really set this design apart for me is the way the entire clef is pressed up against the left barline. They are not touching, but nearly so. On a few of the systems throughout the piece the clef appeared to be touching the line, but the majority appeared as above. The dots on this design are also exquisitely round, proportional to the swirl component, and appear to be slightly off-center from the F-line, sinking down toward the bottom of the staff.

from Chou Wen-Chen's The Willows are New, Peters Ed.

This Peters Edition bass clef from Chinese-American composer Chou Wen-Chen's The Willows are New has one of my favorite aspects, the tail that barely peeks over into the bottom space, and also softly grazes the top line, giving the appearance that it should be just a touch higher in order to line up more snugly. I think the proportions in thickness are very elegant in this bass clef, although for some reason the fact that the dots are too high stresses me out.

from Cecile Chaminade's Concert Etudes, Masters Music
The design used in this Masters Music publication of Chaminades Concert Etudes is similar to the Chou Wen-Chen above, but with a bit more thickness. It appears squatter, and the dots are thicker as well.

from Kabalevsky, Schirmer Ed
I'm uncertain if these Kabalevsky scores are reprints of original plates or if Schirmer handled the original publication but this clef comes from the same book as the one up above. It's a really heavy design with a thick right wall, bold central dot, and large dots on the right. One of the things I love about this bass cleff is the tiny thickness that's added at the bottom tip of the tail. I checked this one against other bass clefs in the same opus and most of them have that widening at the end. The longer tail also appears to extend past the central dot, giving it an interesting asymmetry.

from David Diamond's A Myriologue, Southern Music Publishing Co.
The thickness of the Kabalevsky bass clef has nothing on this Southern Music clef. In this design the heavily slumping dots are dwarfed by the super thick swirl. The right wall is so thick that it almost connects to the dots (if you squint you can see the F of the F-clef). The coupling of a short tail and miniscule tapering gives the tip a stubby appearance. Paradoxically, the entire thing appears very thin in total, despite the width of the lines.

from Poulenc's Piano Concerto, Salabert Ed.
This Salabert bass clef from Poulenc's Piano Concerto gets so thin that it pretty much disappears above the central dot, Most of the clefs in this score were like this, although the break in the top line of the staff that shows up in this particular image may be indicative of thin inking in the printing.

from Joplin's Breeze from Alabama, John Stark and Son (Dover Reprint)
I adore this bass clef from another Joplin rag. These early American publishers had a keen sense of individuality and whimsy in their design. I think the design of this clef mirrors the fun, freewheeling nature of ragtime. The tail clearly extends far past the central dot, making the clef appear to list to the side and rest on the extended right wall. The central dot is thick and the top is thin, the exaggerated proportions reflecting the outbursts and syncopated rhythms that made this music so popular.

from Joplin's Rag-Time Dance, John Stark and Son (Dover Reprint)
Another Joplin rag printed by John Stark and Son. It's got a lot of the features of the design from "Breeze from Alabama", the bulbous central dot, the long tail, and thin ceiling. It's not nearly as extravagant as the former clef though, nor the small clef from "The Sycamore" but it contains an appealing compactness. It doesn't quite touch the top line and asserts itself in the bottom space with a nice clean confidence that sets it apart from most other bass clefs.

from Leschetizky Op. 2, Century Music Publishing
This one is bizarre for so many reasons. The swirl itself appears elongated with the top not even coming close to touching the line and a tail that juts with an accusatory point to the bottom of the staff. The central dot is extremely close to the right wall and the entire thing seems stretched in a fun-house mirror. Oh, and that's not even talking about the dots. This is the only clef that I found in my library with altered dots. Most of the time the dots are the fun but standard component of the bass clef. They're charismatic but stalwart. You know what you're getting with bass clef dots. This design not only plays with the dots, it completely alters them. The diamonds that take the place of the dots are shocking and huge. The top dot extends above the top line. The dots touch each other. What is happening here? I was also struck by the flats in the key signature. Their close proximity to each other assumes a pianist who will know the key with a simple glance and doesn't need to take the time to read each note. They are so close in fact, that the stem of the Ab collides with bulb of the Eb. Combined with the thinness of the bass clef everything here look spiky and tall.

from Benjamin Carr's Fantasia on Air "Gramachree" published RH Hobson 183-
 Finally, the bass clef that started this entire thing. I featured it in the last post, but here it is again. This fantastical rvferse swirl from Carr's Fantasia. It speaks for itself in its far-flunged-ness so I'll remain quiet.

This string I started pulling on has really sparked an interest in a world I've never thought of before. We toy with and document our typesets and fonts in the world of literature but it's not something that musicians reflect on. In what ways do these designs affect our interpretation of the music? There are some conventions in these designs but what defines a "standard" bass clef? In my mind, there's no such thing as standard anymore. I hope that these are conscious, difficult decisions that are made by composer and publisher and that they don't go away with the rise of computer publishing. Mostly, I wish that publishers were willing to take risks on these sorts of things. They don't get in the way of the music, and if anything can give extra information to a performer. 

I'm obsessed.

October 13, 2014

St Paul 8/18, 2012

Old keys, old picture

October 12, 2014

Clefs, Movable and Otherwise

Recently I've been working on a piece of music composed by early American composer Benjamin Carr. The piece, Fantasia on Air "Gramachree" can be found for free on, which is good as works by the composer are relatively difficult to come by. The date of publication for this work is unknown although it's estimated in several places to be from the 1830s by Philadelphia publisher R.H. Hobson. The piece itself is unusual and interesting, but what immediately caught my eye was the alluring bass clef used in this particular typeface.

from Benjamin Carr's Fantasia on Air "Gramachree" published RH Hobson 183-
I'm not sure if I've seen a bass clef like this before. My eye may have skimmed over one in the past but it jumped out to me this time. I showed it to a student and her eyes lit up. The bass clef is one of the first non-note musical symbols that most students learn to draw. It's easier to handle than its treble counterpart and its distinguishing characteristic, the two floating dots, seem to capture students' imaginations. This particular bass clef, with its retrograde swirl (the normal bass clef swirls clock-wise from the center), its compact stature, and extra turn looks wholly wholly unfamiliar compared to the "standard" bass clef. It got me curious though. What is a standard bass clef? Is there such a thing?

In this post I'm going to give a little run-down of clefs, what they used to look like, and what they look like now. This will not be a thorough history of the clef. There will be no neumes.
from Wikipedia Page: Clef

In the graphic above, on the far left is the Treble clef, or "G-clef". G-clef refers to the fact that the line that passes through the swirl  (it makes a sort of bulls-eye) is the note G above-middle-C. It is thought that the symbol evolved from the actual letter G, or possibly a G and an S for the note "G" plus the solfege syllable "Sol". Of course, some don't think either is true, and our symbol just evolved as a sort of convention over time.

from The Smithsonian via Harvard Dictionary of Music and Wikipedia

The second clef of the four written above is the bass clef. Our humble Bass Clef is sometimes referred to as the F-clef because those cute little dots surround the F below-middle-C. Whereas the treble clef is appropriate for most melodic instruments, the bass clef is a bit more specialized. Naturally, only low instruments use it keeping it the domain of bassists, cellists, trombones, timpani and piano to name a few. The bass clef is also an F-clef in a different way. It is understood that the bass clef evolved from the written letter F. This can be easily seen by drawing a horizontal line from the dots to the swirl component of the clef.

graphic from Sensimilla blog

The third and fourth clefs are both types of C-clef. They are named this because the line that passes through the center of the clef is Middle-C. This is our only remaining "movable clef" (technically the others can move as well, but they usually don't) in that it can be moved up and down the staff to suit the instrument that's using it. These clefs are also sometimes seen in older choral music, to fit the parts of the choir better than a treble clef can. For example, an alto voice which spends a lot of time between A below-middle-C and B above-middle-C would need to use a whole bunch of ledger lines and wast half of the treble clef staff. With a C-clef (Alto clef above) you can fit more of her notes onto the staff.

We don't use movable clefs nearly as much anymore and even the C-clef is a bit of a rarity. Violists use it all the time, and other instruments that have a low to middle range such as the cello also dabble in its use. Even though the C-clef is the only one that still moves around, it was once common to have the other clefs move as well. By moving your bass clef you can change the line that F is located on. The same is possible with the treble clef.

The graphic below shows the different ways the clefs can be moved around:
from Wikipedia Page: Clef

Other alterations of the clef can be made as well. One of the most common is the use of a treble clef for tenors despite the fact that the notes they sing are an octave below where they are written. Use of a bass clef would make more sense, but because the notes that a tenor sings fit more nicely onto an octave-adjusted treble clef, they are written up there. Often this is just understood and no marking is made in the score, but sometimes the symbol below is used to denote that the notes being sung or played should be happening an octave lower than written.
from Wikipedia Page: Clef

Our clefs have evolved and largely settled where they are now. With a connected society and a couple centuries of printing behind us, it is unlikely that further developments as drastic as the ones in the 1600s will take place. But even though our clefs have settled into position and look largely the same, what about that crazy Benjamin Carr bass clef that started this whole thing?

A shoe is still recognizable as a shoe even if each model looks drastically different. Imagine if there existed a wild-west era of musical fonts. Individual publishers had their own typesets meaning you could pick up two different pieces of music and notice tiny details that vary. In the next post I collected a dozen differently designed bass clefs and analyzed the small, but striking differences between them. If you thought there was only one way to draw a bass clef, you were so wrong.

October 8, 2014

Shopping Around: The Traveler Student

One of the big benefits of working at a school rather than from your home is that you can get transfer students from other teachers. Sometimes the transfers happen because a teacher recommended it, sometimes because of scheduling conflicts, and sometimes because the parents want someone else. Then there are the travelers. Students who have had three, four, five teachers over the course of their lives. I have a number of students for whom I'm their third teacher in the last couple of years. It's an experience I didn't have as a young student. I had one teacher for part of a year who I didn't like very much and my parents moved me to another studio, which I stayed in until I went to college. Sometimes these moves are completely justified. There are other things to watch out for.

The Multi-Instrumentalist
There exists a point at which an instrument becomes truly challenging. Once the basics are out of the way, the music reading is all firmly in place, and students get their first taste of true intermediate repertoire it can be a make-or-break moment. Many students at this point will start to look at other instruments. Whenever I have students who are going to quit in order to take up another instrument I always warn their parents about this. Learning a new instrument is easy at first, but once it gets difficult the same thing is likely to happen. If you have a transfer student who took a year and half of more than one other instrument, watch out, you may lose her to flugelhorn next summer. 

The "Go Easy" Parents
Some parents like a strict teacher, many do not. Maybe it's a generational thing, that current parents grew up in a border zone between knuckle slapping schoolmarms and laissez-faire households, but it seems like the stern, nagging piano teacher is a figure of the past. I've had a number of parents insist to me that they're looking for a teacher who wouldn't push their children too hard. Often the more you get into it, it looks like they're seeking a teacher who has exceedingly low expectations. This is a tricky situation, because although you may not be a particularly strict teacher, you also know that learning an instrument takes discipline. At some point you will want to be able to say "Yes, your child will have to practice. Because he will never learn anything if he doesn't." But you will probably just say "We'll see what we can do!" because in the end, you're a pushover.

The Miracle Teacher
Some parents are not looking for a teacher who will motivate and get their kid interested in piano, they are looking for a teacher who will transform their child into a perfect musician, with little to no work on the student's part. If your transfer student has had more teachers than years of lessons, there's a good chance that this is the underlying problem. There is a belief in our country that teachers are the beginning and end of education. A good teacher is important, but the student also has to have good habits. Parents need to emphasize to the child that hard work is the road to any acquisition of skill. A good teacher can work tirelessly to teach a brick wall how to play piano, but that wall will never progress to early-advanced repertoire. If your student has taken lessons from every other teacher in the school, talk to those teachers and find out why they transferred. Then watch for those same signs.

I've only received (and lost) a few students who are as well traveled as these. Some of them have even stuck around for quite awhile now. One thing that I offer is a pop-piano curriculum which is a nice break from the standard fare that most teachers will offer. Students who are transferring around a lot often enjoy playing piano, but get frustrated with the weekly grind of difficult classical pieces. I emphasize that learning a new style of playing is not going to be easy, and takes just as much discipline, but I think the very act of changing tracks can be refreshing enough to settle students down for a bit. We'll see though, the future is wide and there are still other teachers out there.

October 3, 2014

Hospice Students: What to do with students who are quitting

I didn't come up with the term "hospice students". One of my fellow teachers dropped that little nugget as we walked out of our school a couple nights ago. We were talking about the need occasionally to space out a bit in lessons and not give 100%. I know, it sounds like we're basically making excuses for being bad teachers, but after you spend some time giving private music lessons you understand that it's impossible to be your best self at all times. Some days you will be an exemplary educator, and some days you won't. Alternately, sometimes your students deserve a great teacher, and sometimes they don't.

Then my friend used this term "hospice" to refer to some of her students and after a moment of genuine concern for the health of her young wards I understood fully what she was talking about. A hospice student is not one that needs special home lessons because of a grave illness, a hospice student is one who is going to quit.

Usually a student acquires this status mid-term when the perfect storm brews of student deciding they want to quit, parent deciding it isn't worth fighting them, and 5 weeks left in the term that mom has already paid for. The teacher ends up with the unsavory job of taking care of the student for those final weeks and coming up with anything that will make those 30 minutes as painless as possible. Sometimes the information is sprung on you at the end of a lesson ("This will be Billy's last semester of piano.") and sometimes you can see it a couple of months out. Piano teachers have to plan for this. I actually keep a mental list going at all times of the students who are likely to drop over the next year so I can work on replacing them as quickly as possible.

Hospice students can be painful. They often stop practicing completely (in all honesty they probably haven't been practicing much up to this point at all). Sometimes they can have extreme attitude problems, stemming from parental insistence that they finish the term. They represent two things for the teacher. One is a developmental dead end that you have to keep teaching. If your student has expressed that they never want to play the instrument again, how are you supposed to stay motivated as a teacher knowing that the information you're imparting is basically being flushed down the toilet? The other thing that a hospice student represents is a hole in your future schedule and consequently in your finances. And because often the parent doesn't make it explicit that they are going to drop at the end of the term, you may not be able to fill the spot immediately.

I've found that there are some useful things to do with one of these hospice students. If the student is moving on to a new instrument (which carries a whole other bundle of issues) try to shape some lessons that will help with the new instrument. For kids moving to guitar, I try to do some basic music theory work, showing them how to build chords, what a normal harmonic progression looks and sounds like, and how certain melodic notes fit into a harmony. For kids moving to percussion, I do rhythmic reading, rhythm transcriptions, and other kinds of non-melodic exercises. Honestly, those are the two most common instruments I've lost kids to, although I'm sure plenty of teachers have lost students to other melodic instruments. If my student is moving to a new instrument, I try to give them a taste of what they might be in for, rather than just trying to plug away at the piano for a few more weeks.

If the student is quitting but is not going to a new instrument there are fewer options. I will often do the same kinds of things as I mentioned before, with a "general music" kind of flavor to them. Sometimes we'll do improvising, or play some pop songs. Often I'll teach them how to interpret lead sheets and chord charts, in the hope of giving them something to grab onto in the long term. I believe that many of these kids will regret their decision to quit when they reach adulthood, so giving them something that's more utilitarian is a nice parting gift.

Sometimes there are students for whom none of the above ideas work. They aren't doing a new instrument, don't really like music at all, and maybe don't really like you. I'll try these other ideas, try to give them some enrichment in their final lessons, but we often fall back into what we were doing all along: playing the same piece over and over. There are some kids for whom it seems like the thing they despised the most about learning an instrument becomes their self-inflicted penance. Faced with alternative options, they would rather return to what's familiar. Like Sisyphus being relieved of his boulder only to pick up a job in a rock quarry, I've ended up with students who play the same piece every week for their final month of lessons. There's a poeticism to it for sure, the refining of this piece which represents the height of their piano education but will never be performed. Maybe that's what some students need as they wind down their music lessons.

Every student at some point will enter this faze. No student continues lessons forever. In my own life I've been this student a number of times, often because I was graduating and moving on, but other times because I've just felt it was time to stop taking lessons on some instrument or another. It's a part of every student's cycle and their relationship with a teacher. We get excited about new students, we're thrilled for the ones who do well, and we get frustrated and try to lift the ones who struggle. How will you treat the ones who are at the end of their musical life? Every student you have now will one day be a former student, so it's worth thinking about what you will do with them when they say that they're leaving.

Baby Genius

Babies are real smart. They're smarter than 3 year-olds.

"I don't think that makes sense"

They're always grabbin'! If you gave them stuff to paint with.....they'd do real good.
I seen it on YouTube.

September 7, 2014

The Party's Ovaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

Sing all the vowels!

When my students make fun of singers, this is exactly how they do it.

September 5, 2014

September 2, 2014

August 29, 2014

When It's Time to Drop Your Kid's Piano Lessons

I had a discussion with a parent recently whose son wanted to drop piano lessons. He's been taking lessons with me for a little over two years and has hit a major plateau recently. The student had become frustrated with the difficulty of his pieces and had told his mother that he wanted to quit. She then came to me asking for advice.

Handling this situation is my least favorite part of the job. It puts the teacher in an incredibly awkward position because as I've written about before, although I have relationships with these students and I enjoy teaching them they are also my sources of income. Even if a student should probably drop lessons it is hard to admit this to parents when I know that it means a loss of somewhere between $160 and $500 into the foreseeable future. In the end though, I find that it's valuable to be honest with a parent. The spot will usually get filled within a term or two, and if the student is struggling the lessons usually aren't very fun. It's easy to view these things as a number game, but it's also important to think of the mental toll, and the value of finding a new student who may be more committed.

I think parents understand some of this. They know that I'm thinking of a combination of student happiness, my happiness, parent happiness, and my financial happiness. Often when I'm asked about this, the parents already know the answer. I usually figure that after I'm seriously asked about dropping lessons, the student will only be around for another one or two terms.

The mother in this particular case gave me some of the best reasoning I've heard on this topic. She told me that while she understood her child's frustrations, she also knew that it was a damaging message to send that when something gets difficult, quitting is an easy solution. I've lost several students because piano was "getting too difficult" and I loved that this parent understood that difficulty should not be a contributing factor in choosing when to quit.

There are definitely times when it's okay to stop lessons. When neither the parent or the student are invested, and haven't been for some time, the teacher will often welcome their withdrawal from lessons. I had a student who hadn't practiced for around 4 months but still kept taking lessons. When his mother didn't write me back for scheduling purposes I was extremely relieved. If you find that you, as a parent, have to apologize for your child's lack of practicing for weeks in a row, it's probably a sign that neither of you are ready for it.

If your child is visibly miserable taking lessons, it's probably time to look for another teacher or take a break. I had a student who sometimes cried before coming into lessons and would frequently cry in the lessons. She didn't like piano lessons, didn't like practicing, and didn't really like music. Those are pretty good qualifiers for dropping lessons.

Unfortunately, kids are not always the best judges of their own status and mood. If given the opportunity to drop piano lessons many of them will say yes even if they aren't struggling at all. Parents have to see through their bullshit and work it out on their own. Many of my students have gone through the following phases:

Beginner's Excitement 
Inability to Coast
Loss of Motivation
Want to Drop
Bust Through

It seems simplistic I know, but you'll find with lots of students that the rise in difficulty of music coincides strongly with a loss in motivation. Kids love things that are easy and very few actually want to be challenged. The middle area, when kids plateau and struggle, will be different lengths for different kids. Some of my students emerge quickly, some never struggle through it at all, and some spend months if not years in there. Most of them though, when they get through it, become fine musicians on the other side.

It's important to remember, as a parent, that struggling should not be confused with inability. Musicians have to struggle every day with their craft. Dropping music because of difficulty is never a good route to take. But if you and your child are unhappy, talk to your teacher candidly and ask them to be honest as well. Remember that your child and their teacher have a relationship, and despite any struggled perceived on your end, the teacher may have a different view. Try to judge if the teacher is keeping with your student because they see something, because they enjoy the student, or if they simply need the money. Ultimately the choice is up to you, and it may not be entirely obvious, but try to take everything into consideration and remember, you can always go back again later. Or at least constantly remind them when, as adults, they complain that they shouldn't have dropped piano.

August 25, 2014

Mendota Heights Block Party 8/13, 2014

Yep, I played drums for a gig

August 24, 2014

Advice Stickers

One of my favorite things to do with stickers is to make them into a functional reminder placed directly on the kid's music. Teachers know that simply writing a note or a comment on the page is often not enough to make a kid pay attention to what you want.

I had a student playing a piece in G-major, and I knew he wouldn't remember his F# in the key signature so I wrote a giant F# and put a box around it. He came back the next week without any F#s in the piece. I drew a circle around the F# and put some big arrows pointing toward it. The second week: nothing. If aliens had discovered this page of music by the time we were done with it, they'd assume that we worshiped some sort of god called F#.

Simple pencil marking just don't cut it sometimes. Why not use a sticker to create something eye-grabbing, fun, and possibly even relevant to your point.

"Play strong, like me!"

What better way to tell a student to slow down than with a giant-eyed turtle?

Threats of extinction are always effective
Let's ignore the fact that my student chose to write a bunch of note names in and instead focus on the glorious use of an advice sticker.

August 19, 2014

August 18, 2014

Why You Should Never Start Lessons Early (But You Will Anyway)

A while back I wrote about the economic cul-de-sac that is the make-up lesson. Makeups are a losing prospect for teachers, particularly when the makeups are due to a skipped lesson from the student. A less obvious, but equally (maybe even more) tricky situation is what to do with the early student.

Late students are simple to deal with. Their lesson has already technically begun so the student just scrambles in, throws their music on the piano and you make the most of whatever time remains before your next student. There is rarely an expectation from the parent that you will go long to make up for their missed time and if anything you, as the piano teacher, finally get a bathroom break while waiting for the tardy pupil.

But what do you do when and empty slot is interrupted by a kid who shows up 15 minutes early? Or even 5 minutes early? Kids will typically pace around the door, peek in the little window until they catch my eye, and proceed to enter the room. At this point, as the teacher, I have two options: begin the lesson, or kick them out and keep practicing while they wait. I've only ever booted a few students, and only because they were 20 minutes early and I had some sort of deadline that I needed to practice for. But really, is it a big deal? So what if you start their lesson early? You can end earlier right?

The reason for being a stickler to the clock is, of course, money. Well, money and being realistic about how long your lessons typically run. If you go to a piano teacher convention (and who of us hasn't?) you'll inevitably overhear some version of the following statement: "I'd love to do more _____, but I just can't fit it into the lesson!" Then all surrounding teachers will nod knowingly and agree that yes, 30 minutes is too short a time to teach everything that is required. Given extra time, teachers will fill it with extra things.You can try to end a lesson early to even out the time that was taken by the early student, but between adding extra stuff at the piano and having more time to gab with the parents, you've likely just given your 30 minute student a 35 or 40 minute lesson. By starting this lesson earlier, you've just given them an extra 5 minutes that you won't get paid for.

So your first student showed up five minutes early, and most other students show up five minutes you can finish your entire teaching day five minutes early, right? Probably not. You may luck out and have all of your students arrive five minutes early but if the last student arrives on time (and why shouldn't they?) then you're still leaving at the normal time. And, even if a miracle like that were to happen, you'll likely give extra time to your first few students and end up back on your normal schedule anyway.

It's important to remember what it is we're selling as piano teachers. We are in the business of renting our time out. Our expertise is important yes, but the actual product that's being sold is the time. If you start watering down your time by throwing an extra 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there you are losing immense amounts of money. If you start 10 minutes early every day, but still end the day on time, you've lost an entire lesson's worth of time every three days and probably two lessons worth in a week. By the end of the year that adds up to several hundred dollars that you won't see despite putting the hours in.

Think of how you would rather be spending that time as well. I usually practice before students arrive. Let's say that I arrive to work 30 minutes before my first student is scheduled. I practice for 15 minutes and then my student arrives forcing me to stop. I teach that student for 30 minutes, talk to the parent for 5 minutes and then head back into practice. I've probably only got about 5 minutes before my next student will begin loitering outside the studio. My beautiful 30 minute practice period has been nibbled down to 20 minutes and with warm-up time and the near uselessness of a 5-minute chunk, it's really more like 10. Now imagine you have a concert coming up and you see where the extra stress starts to come in.

So, we've established why it's annoying, why it's unproductive (for you), and why it's bad business to start lessons early. Will you continue to do it? Of course you will. It's in the parent's (or student's) best interest to get started early. They don't have to wait around as long, the parent gets to drop the kid off and go run errands, and they might get to go home just a little bit earlier. And even if they do the math and realize that their kid is getting extra time, that's great too! Free lesson time!

It's really difficult to turn a kid away who has already walked through the door. I've chastised kids for not knocking, I've berated them for interrupting my practicing, and I've even continued about my business for minutes while the kid stands in the doorway, but I've only had the guts to turn them away a couple of times. You can make up a policy for entering the room, but only expect a handful of families to observe it. Plus, even if you don't invite the kids in until it's their turn, get ready for little eyes staring at you through the window, and banging as the student leans against the door.

It's unfortunate, but unless you terrify your students so much that they stay away in fear, you'll always have early students. Try to be tough, make your policy known, but don't be surprised when you lose money and time to eager parents and students. Always try to remember though, you are a teacher, but you're also running a business, and you need to think about yourself as much as you think about the students.

May 21, 2014

Album Review: Phillip Phillips - Behind the Light

Phillip Phillips - Behind the Light

  • A box of macaroni and cheese, must be one with the powdered cheese. Kraft will work, Target brand is great. Liquid cheese won't work.
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp sour cream
  • 1 individually wrapped american cheese slice
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Sprinkling of pepper, nutmeg
  • Optional: heaping spoonful of portwine cheese
  • Optional: a protein, chunks of ham are always good, or a sliced hot-dog 
  • Optional: peas

This update on one of the top 10 laziest meals of all time will leave you satisfied, if only for about an hour. By substituting more milk, sour cream, and a variety of extra cheeses for the normal half-stick of butter you're creating the illusion of having a healthier meal while actually improving the flavor. The key is cooking it long enough after you've added the cheese and milk to let the sauce thicken up. You should end up with a tasty, creamy, sauce rich pasta meal that cost very little to make, required minimal mental energy and gives the appearance of being something greater than it actually is.

  1. Cook pasta as directed on box
  2. Meanwhile prepare milk, butter, sour cream and cheeses in a separate bowl or measuring glass
  3. Remove from heat, strain pasta and return to pot
  4. Add the powdered cheese packet and extra ingredients into pot
  5. Return pot to low heat while you stir
  6. Leave on low heat until sauce thickens
  7. Enjoy

February 14, 2014

So This is How It Feels

Apparently this is what I look like to my students:

Also, note the excellent use of an advice sticker. The monkey speaks the truth.

February 4, 2014

Bon Iver- Beth/Rest

Wait, what the hell?

February 1, 2014

The 10-Song CD Swap

Recently a close friend proposed a project for everyone to take part in. We would all make a 10-song mix CD of tunes that were particularly meaningful or hold some special place in our heart. Then we'd burn enough copies for everyone and swap them.

The concept on the surface didn't seem that exciting, just making another mix, something I've done for friends, girlfriends, and long car rides since burned CDs existed. Once I really dove in to the project though it became clear how awesome this would be. I cruised through my library, scanning artist names for ones that popped out and it became a great chance to revisit some of my old favorite songs and the memories that came along with them.

The most crucial element is the limitation of 10 songs. By limiting yourself to 10 songs it forces you to make difficult decisions about what your most influential songs are. Not only was I choosing which songs I wanted to share with my friends, I was choosing which parts of myself I thought were the most important and most formative elements of my life (I took this really seriously). The social element of the project meant that I was more selective as well, leaving off songs that I thought would be skipped by my friends.

I may have taken a more personal, biographical approach to the project than others in the group. Some people tried to show the breadth of their music tastes while others just picked their favorite songs whether they carried emotional attachment or not.

After finishing my mix I thought of some other variations on the project such as "10 songs you'd want on a desert island", "10 songs to play for future humanity", "10 songs for aliens", "the 10 you'd time travel to the past with", "10 of your favorite bad songs", and so on. This project is also great because after you're all done you get to trade and listen to your friends' choices!

To make my CD (which I'm including below) I selected something like 25-30 songs, then narrowed it down to 12 and finally down to 10 with a few additions and subtractions. I decided not to include any classical music as it would have made the whole process much more difficult. I went with a theme of "songs that have influenced me musically" but like I mentioned above, left off some of the more difficult artists. Here are the 10 songs that I settled on. And no, I'm not writing the memories they are associated with.

1. The Outfield - All the Love

2. Son House - Death Letter

3. Million Dead - I Gave My Eyes to Stevie Wonder

4. Millencolin - Kemp

5. Catch-22 - Keasby Nights

6. The Falcon - Building the Perfect Asshole Parade

7. Donna Lewis - Always Forever

8. Dizzee Rascal - Fix Up Look Sharp

9. Kid Dakota - 10,000 Lakes

10. Bon Iver - Beth/Rest

January 30, 2014

Welcome the Plague Year

At my high-school as seniors we were allowed to leave school during the day if we didn't have classes. It wasn't a luxury we took advantage of every day, but when we did we inevitably found ourselves at Cheapo records, a used record store on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul.

We would flip our way through the stacks of CDs with the satisfying "click-click-click" that has come to define record stores in the digital era. We'd pull oddball CDs out, giggle at funny looking covers, tick off the bands on our lists and make our purchases. I kept a disc-man at school for the sole purpose of listening to my most recent finds while I did homework at school, scrunching my forehead at math problems while tapping my foot to some new, brutal band I had discovered.

Oftentimes the bands I'd purchase were ones I'd heard of and I went to the store with the sole intention of checking out. Sometimes I'd pick up a random album only to sell it right back while other bands were lucky guesses. My prized discovery was the band Welcome the Plague Year.

I bought this weird looking album in the hard-rock section of the store, liking the long name and longer song titles. I didn't listen to it for awhile, adding to a pile of unopened CDs in my car. When I finally opened it up and shoved it into my car stereo I thought something had broken. There was a high-pitched squeal, like my speakers had melted down. I turned the stereo off. Maybe it's one of those things that will go away, I thought. I turned the stereo back on and heard the same thing. Maybe if I just wait, the squeal will go away. It did go away, and was replaced by one of the most intense rock songs I'd ever heard.

Welcome the Plague Year is whats termed a "screamo" band. In the mid-2000's screamo gained a correlation with any type of mainstream punk or rock that involved people screaming and was quickly relegated to the bin of "Fad Music for Hot Topic Kids". In reality, especially on the eastern side of the country, screamo was a more progressive style of rock characterized by thick guitars, thick instrumentation, fast playing, and yes screaming. It was an emotional style of music but not so blatant and pandering like some of the more maligned bands. These bands didn't sing about the emotions, they inhabited the emotion. There was a sincerity and complexity in this music that elevated it beyond the more obvious bands.

One of my favorite things about Welcome the Plague year is that I don't understand any of the words. Not a single one. I didn't know if the singer was a man or a woman and it didn't matter. The songs are dark, but in an organic way, not as if they were putting anything on. At the time I loved metal but I hated the pageantry and machisimo. I loved post-rock but wanted things to be faster. Welcome the Plague year was like Godspeed You Black Emperor mixed with The Locust. They were the classical music of punk-rock.

Welcome the Plague Year was unlike anything I had ever heard and taught me that music could be absolutely anything. In their songs I heard that voices could be just as driving as electric guitars, and electric guitars could sing in the band like violins in the orchestra. No band has held a place in my imagination quite like this one. I'm still blown away by the song writing and innovation on this album. If you don't own this album and you liked the samples above I encourage you buy it. As for where to buy it...I'm not sure. I saw one copy on Amazon for $20. Maybe you can find one on Cheapo.

Why U No Practice?

1 Student - Annoyed

2 Students - Angry

3 Students - Depressed

4 Students - Consider changing careers

5 Students - Music is the devil

January 18, 2014

How Napster Ruined A Favorite Song

I was fortunate enough to grow up in the era of Napster, as well as fortunate enough to not get sued. For those who are young or have short memories, Napster was a program that allowed people to download music for free, very easily. Its legality was questionable but it ushered in the modern era of online content and was a harbinger of our present day Anything-Anytime conveniences.

One of the things that people who used Napster still remember is the labeling inaccuracy of songs being traded around the web. You could download what you thought was a System of a Down song only to get a pop-punk band from New York, and similar sounding musicians would get mixed up all of the time (maybe on purpose). Many bands would record themselves playing and then label the file with a more popular band to get their song sent around the country. Music labels would flood the system with fake tracks labeled as their popular artists to try to beat the downloaders. You could download what you thought was a leaked Offspring album only to have it be three hours of high pitched squeeling.

One of my favorite songs I discovered on Napster came when I was searching for Frank Sinatra hits. I got recordings of "New York, New York" and "Mack the Knife" but I struck gold when I found "It Had to Be You". I loved his effortless vocals, the power in his voice on the high notes at the end, and most of all the blaring trumpets. The instrumental bridge with its up-tempo rhythm and brass made me roll the windows down and crank the volume up while I drove around the suburbs, expressing myself alongside Frank. I loved that recording, and I loved Sinatra for it. "Sinatra's recording of "It Had to Be You" is by far the best" I would tell everyone. I said that to a student this morning.

Minutes ago I listened to that recording again, dragging it out of the depths of my hard drive. "Huh," I thought, "Frank sounds really strange in this recording." So I went on YouTube to search for Frank Sinatra's rendition. I found it. I also found what I had been listening to for the last dozen or so years of my life.

Thanks to a combination of mislabeling by some other hack at the turn of the millennium, losing this recording on my computer, and my own young ignorance of the vocal qualities of different singers I had been mistaking HARRY CONNICK JR for Frank Sinatra. This is almost half of my life I'm talking about here. Not only am I now questioning the origins of nearly every song I downloaded in high-school, I'm not sure I like this song now. This mislabeling may have ruined the song for me and there's no good reason why

Napster, you may be gone and buried, but your dark tendrils of deceit and misfortune have extended far into the future. Kazaa gave me viruses, but you Napster, you have ruined art.