In The Shadows

Happy 1st Birthday to my blog! It’s hard to believe that it has been one year to the day since I started this thing up! Hopefully there are many more birthdays to come.

Anyway, it’s time for an update on what I have been doing lately! As I mentioned briefly at the end of my Joining The Real World blog post, I was looking into the possibility of doing some shadowing work as a volunteer at my former college, North Glasgow College, in Springburn. Since the 4th of September, I have spent a total of six days shadowing my former lecturers Campbell and Bert with both HND Year 1 and Year 2 in the Music department. This has mostly involved helping the students with the Live Performance aspect of the course, as well as helping the lecturers assign and then check homework to help every student progress and develop new skills and an understanding of new musical concepts.

With my growing experience of live performance, I felt comfortable in offering lots of advice to the students, particularly as some of them were obviously new to performing in an ensemble. Some of the advice I offered was the following:

  • Wear ear protection!
  • Listen to everyone in the ensemble, not just yourself
  • Communicate during the performance with eye contact
  • Enjoy yourself, or at least look like you are

I was first introduced to one of the HN2 classes, who were preparing for performances at the Fresher’s Gig which was held on the 11th of September at the Admiral Bar on Waterloo Street. Some bands had been given a list of repertoire to perform that had been compiled at the college’s summer school, a lot of which was contemporary pop music, such as Lady Gaga and Olly Murs. This gave them the opportunity to interpret it in their own way, as the original style didn’t necessarily suit the instrumentation that was available.

The HN1’s were all pretty new to the course and were only in their second week when I first started. They have just been put into bands and for now have been given free rein on the material they play. However, the important part for them just now is developing skills required to rehearse efficiently, setting goals and identifying weaknesses to work on, as well as develop their skills of playing in an ensemble.

The Freshers Gig itself was a success and I had a great night and enjoyed all of the performances, particularly the short set performed by the lecturers. I did take note of a few things that I felt were important to bring up in the next class, however. One of these was the recurring problem of the endings of songs being unrehearsed and really taking the shine off of the rest of the performance. When mentioning this to some of the students at the next class, I told them how, if my band are on a very tight schedule, we make sure to at least ‘top and tail’ each song at rehearsal, so that we have the beginning and the end nailed, as we should have practised the rest by ourselves anyway. I highlighted that having a solid ending is very important in leaving a good impression of the performance to the audience and I hope they can work on this for the next gig.

The other problem I noticed was that for some of them, playing while under the influence of alcohol was quite detrimental to the overall performance, and I pointed out in the next class that the two things alcohol will do to you is:

  • Make you play worse
  • Make you think you are playing better than you actually are

Although I, as well as many others do tend to have a drink while playing, these effects are generally diminished with lots of experience of performing. I mentioned that I was too scared to drink alcohol when I first started performing as I didn’t want to make a mistake and ruin the performance.

Since the gig, I have been helping the HN2’s develop an assigned repertoire by Bert. The first song is Sting’s “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You” from his Ten Summoner’s Tales album. This is a great album as it features some incredible musicians on it, such as the incomparable Vinnie Colaiuta on the drums. The song is a real challenge for this level as there are a lot of tricky chords, as well as a key-change, with the singers also having to deal with Sting’s irregular and unconventional phrasing throughout. I have had a great time helping both HN2 classes adapt it. Here is a video of the song below:

Since the intro is quite ‘out-there’ harmonically, I decided to just focus on getting through a couple of verses and choruses with them, to get them used to the form, which is again quite tricky as each verse is 14 bars instead of a more typical 16 bar form. When it came time to work on the intro, I came up with the idea of having it sung instead of played, with one part being the root A note and the other part moving chromatically from C (minor 3rd) to C# (major 3rd) to D (perfect 4th) to D# (tritone). This creates a fantastic tension on the tritone interval at the end and works great with vocals. Unlike the original track, we stick with the for 16 bars instead of 4, with more instruments coming in gradually as the first 8 bars are a capella.

This is getting a little long now, so I’ll stop and keep everyone posted on any updates. Also coming soon will be a new installment in what will be known as my Featured Artist series – taking a look at bands and artists that influence my playing, or my musicianship. I have retroactively categorised my Bill Frisell blog post as the first in the series (although it is a brief entry), and the upcoming entries will be much more informative, with the next one taking a look at Pat Metheny!

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One response to “In The Shadows

  1. Pingback: There and Back Again | Stephen Maxwell·

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