It’s The Little Things (2016May02)


Monday, May 02, 2016                                            3:02 PM

When it comes to the fine arts, we are always prepared to follow the examples of those how have come before—in spite of also recognizing that past artists are of a greatness few can match. Thus we end up with grade-schoolers trying to emulate Mozart or Da Vinci, which is all well and good, especially if the youngster in question has a spark of talent that needs fanning into flame. But, as I have often put forward before, I believe the arts should not be a fenced-in preserve for the talented.

When we are in kindergarten, or even K-thru-3, we often sing songs together—this is both educational and fun, and little notice is paid to a lack of rhythm or tonal ear by any one child—though there is often material there for a critic, to be sure—and greatness is put to the side. Entire schools would gather for ‘auditorium’, which usually ended with a sing-along.

Later on, as early as high school, ‘choir’ becomes a class subject, weaning out those with little interest or ability. That’s fine—that’s understandable—it is school, after all, and they’re there to learn. But are all those other children meant to spend the rest of their lives without a song? That seems rather unlively to me. So I have been a one-man protest movement for music—aided these last ten years by YouTube, which allows my amateur efforts to reach far beyond the few people that walk past our house and sometimes hear tinkling inside.

Lately, I’ve had a few good improvs—but they’ve only lasted a minute or so. I have had to teach myself to sometimes be satisfied with that—there is a temptation to keep going, to create something of awesome architecture, like the musical greats of the past. But I am not a ‘musical great’—I’m not even a ‘musical so-so’—so if I record a mere minute of something nice, I try to accept that with good grace rather than try for something more traditional. And you would be surprised, as I have often been, by just how slowly the seconds tick by when you’re trying to be creative at the keyboard—a minute of decent improvisation is no small feat, not for me anyhow.

Also, while improvising, the longer one plays the more likely one will fall back on old tropes, familiar filler that one has used before—and one edges away from true improvisation and turns more towards rehearsal of the familiar. This is okay once in a while, but it should be recognized as such, or one’s improvs will come to sound like a familiar refrain. One’s personal musical style will make that problem enough without willingly pursuing the familiar. I’m proud that my daughter has told me that she can always tell it’s me at the piano—but I’d feel much differently if she had said I always sound the same.

Anyway, here are today’s selections—two very short improvs and one that is longer but is really three separate improvs (in different keys) in one video. Then there’s a long one that isn’t quite audience-ready—it’s a sample of the practicing of classical composers that I do to help keep my improvs changing and growing. One of my favorite songs is the old classic by Spanky McFarlane, “Sing Your Own Kind Of Music”—lyrics to live by, I’ve always thought.

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