Gig Day VII: TJC Spring Jam III

It’s time for another front porch concert!  This event—the TJC Spring Jam and Recital—will be the sixth Front Porch concert I’ve hosted (I think), and I’ve learned quite a bit from the others, including the last Spooktacular.

This year marks the third Spring Jam, which has become a popular event with my private music students.  These front porch concerts started out as a way for my buddy John and me to play gigs during The Age of The Virus, when nobody was open for live music.  I realized that if I wanted to play in front of a live audience, I’d have to circumvent the hysteria and become the venue and talent.

Gradually, the concept morphed from a self-indulgent concert into a recital for my private music students.  The Lord has really blessed me—far beyond what I deserve—with a large clientele of private music students (around twenty-two at the time of writing, working out in practice to anywhere from twenty-to-twenty-four lessons a week), so it made sense to offer a couple of recital opportunities a  year for them.

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Open Mic Adventures XXXI: “Carousel”

Last week Ponty asked for more open mic material, thus proving the heavy burden of talent—the fans are never satisfied.  I’ll note that Ponty has a significant backlog of requests, all of which I’ll get around to approximately whenever I feel like it (or, more accurately, when I have time to learn the pieces—they’re quite challenging for a hedge-pianist like myself).  Perhaps I should ask him to favor us with some of his guitar repertoire.

I’ll certainly get back to the “true” open mic material soon.  Summer looms, and I’ll finally have the time and energy to get back out to open mic nights on a regular basis.  In the meantime, I’m continuing to experiment with short piano compositions, and wrote this little ditty, “Carousel,” between classes on 2 May 2023.

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Dorothy Sayers and “The Lost Tools of Learning”

“For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain.” —Dorothy Sayers

What a powerful sentiment, because it is True! I recently had occasion to read Dorothy Sayers’s speech—later adapted into an essay—entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning“; it was akin to my first reading of Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences: a lightning bolt of the True and the Good striking directly upon my mind.

In the speech, Sayers lays out the medieval method of learning, the Trivium, consisting of Grammar, Dialectic (or Logic), and Rhetoric, we she argues should be divided into age-appropriate stages (the “Poll-Parrot,” the “Pert,” and the “Poetic”).  Each stage corresponds with one aspect of the Trivium (the Poll-Parrot studies Grammar, the Pert studies Logic, and the Poetic studies Rhetoric), and while the ages aren’t precise, they basically include when children are knowledge sponges and can learn anything (the parrot, roughly elementary school and earlier); the stage when children start questioning everything and love trapping adults in logical contradictions (the pert, roughly middle school); and the age in which children are on the cusp of adulthood (around fourteen- or fifteen-years old).

This essay is an absolute must-read.  It is long, however, so I’m offering up some of my thoughts on the essay, which has already taken root in my soul, forcing me to re-examine and reconsider how I approach teaching.

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Open Mic Adventures XXX: “Chorale for a Sleepy Wednesday”

Yes, it’s Tuesday—the traditional day of the week for Open Mic Adventures.  No need to check your calendars—or to question my sanity.

I wrote this piece, “Chorale for a Sleepy Wednesday,” last Wednesday, 26 April 2023, during one of my planning periods.  I thought it would make a fun sightreading exercise for my Middle School Music Ensemble, and we spent class that afternoon sightreading this piece and “Song of the Bigfoot.”

When I write chorales (as I’ll explain in the video), I tend to do it as a music theory exercise.  I used to write them with the idea of sustaining one or even two notes for as long as possible, and always keeping notes within stepwise motion of one another.  That stepwise motion is largely maintained, with a few exceptions, in the manuscript below.

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Open Mic Adventures XXVI: “Sonatina”

Last night was my student’s big Spring Concert, which I am sure I will write about soon, but because of that concert—and the busy weekend preceding it—I’m actually writing this blog a full week early.  Ergo, I’ll likely have some footage from that concert for the next installment of Open Mic Adventures.

For this one, however, I’m sticking to my recent bout of pianistic noodling videos.  This week’s installment pulls from the Alfred’s Basic Piano Library Complete Level 1: For Late Beginners book.  It’s the book my one-eyed Aunt Cheryl used to teach me to play piano, and it’s the one I use with my own piano students.

The piece is near the end of the book, and is called “Sonatina.”  “Sonatina” literally means “a little sonata,” but there is no fixed definition for what constitutes a sonatina.  They are usually light in nature, even amusing, and often meant to reinforce some technique (like an etude, which literally means “study”).

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SubscribeStar Saturday: SCISA Music Festival 2023

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

T.S. Eliot begins The Wasteland with the memorable line “April is the cruellest month….”  It is, indeed, one of the busiest times of the year for yours portly, and while I love work, I love intentional, deliberate work.  Hasty, panicked slapdashery is not my cup of coffee, but for many years, it was—by dent of necessity and my own personal shortcomings—a necessity.

In order to minimize that panicked rushing, I’ve forced myself to become incredibly organized.  That, too, is born of necessity:  with over twenty lessons each week, ladled atop my normal schedule of classes and my Town Council duties, requires that I keep a detailed schedule—and do a great deal of prep work in advance.

It took me into my thirty-eighth year of life to get it down—finally!—but I seem to have some semblance of a grasp on my schedule.  If I could just find time to do the dishes, I’d be thrumming along like a well-worn-but-maintained performance engine, stretching those oil changes out a bit longer than proper, but getting the job done.

As for April, yes—it’s a hard month.  March, however, is something of the rapid build-up, the grand accelerando into the end of the academic year.  After the drowsiness of January and the yawning indolence of February, March, indeed, comes in, roaring, like a lion.

For you see, dear reader, it is in March that I embark—along with forty-odd students—on an annual pilgrimage to the University of South Carolina to engage in the South Carolina Independent School Association (SCISA) Music Festival.  It’s an event that tests the very limits of my organizational and logistical skills (such as they are), but that work and preparation reap dividends in terms of musical experience for my students.  It is an event that does more to sharpen their musical skills than any other throughout the year, and is second only to our major concerts in edifying their confidence as musicians.

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Open Mic Adventures XVI: “Please Come Home for Christmas”

I finally got around to writing the detailed review (it’s around 2200 words!) of my school’s Christmas Concert this year.  The full review is over at my SubscribeStar page, and includes the video for this performance andO Holy Night,” which I wrote about last week.  It was a really stellar performance, and I am super proud of the kids.

This week I’m featuring the video of our grand finale, “Please Come Home for Christmas.”  Most readers will be familiar with the version by The Eagles, which was the version my High School Music Ensemble used as its primary reference.  The song goes back to 1961 and Charles Brown, a blues pianist.

It’s also quite challenging, with a lot of secondary dominant chords and a slightly irregular structure.  For example, sometimes students would hang on the B7 chord for four beats before resolving to E major, which shifted after two beats to a delightful E augmented chord.  Other times, though, the B7 would only play for two beats, followed by E major (or E7), before resolving to the tonic, A major.

A number of my private lessons leading up to the concert involved diving into some of the nuances of the piece in more detail (naturally, quite a few of the students enrolled in High School Music Ensemble also take private lessons with me after school).  The barre chords are challenging for guitarists, and the different ways of playing that fun little E augmented chord also provided some educational mischief.  For my bassists, we worked quite a bit on the various walkdowns, such as the opening A->Amaj.7/G#->A7/G sequence.  That’s not hard to play, but there’s a lot a budding young bassist can do with it.

Regardless, as you’ll hear, this piece brought the house down, and the young man singing it was a hero the rest of the day—I heard him greeted to wild applause and cheers upon arriving to his first period class after the morning concert.  The video here is from the same mother who took the “O Holy Night” video, so if you see her lingering on a particular guitarist/bassist for an extended period of time, that’s why.

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Delayed SubscribeStar Saturday Delivered!: Christmas Concert 2022 Review

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

I never got around to writing about the annual school Christmas Concert last Saturday, so subscribers are getting a double dose of SubscribeStar Saturday today.  Despite this past week being exam week—historically full of free time—I was quite busy with a number of things related to closing out a semester of school.  Some Town Council things came up, too, so it was a fairly productive week.

All excuses aside, I’m finally getting around to it.

The short version is as follows:  it was amazing.  The kids performed extremely well.  Some of them gave what I would consider to be career-best performances.  There’s something magical about the stress and excitement and anticipation that bring out the best in students.

It wasn’t without glitches, but those small bits aside, it was fantastic.

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TBT^4: O Little Town of Bethlehem and the Pressures of Songwriting

It’s another Exam Week, a welcome respite after two weeks of madness.  Proctoring exams is a pain, but it’s the kind of tedious pain that we’re all used to enduring from time to time.  Fortunately, it’s basically two hours of boredom at a time, followed by frantic grading.  The sooner that’s done, the sooner Christmas Break can truly begin.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about how pressure creates diamonds.  I was incredibly, almost superhumanly productive in the two weeks after Thanksgiving because I had to be.  I was putting in twelve-to-sixteen-hour days to get everything done, and while I was exhausted, I felt like a champion.

Then this last Saturday I had an endless day before me, and accomplished almost nothing.  Part of that was recovering from the craziness of the week before; part of it was woman problems (the greatest drain on energy and resources); part of it was the lack of anything to do.  I understand why retirees die within six months if they don’t find something productive to do—I was starting to think that all my endeavors meant nothing (maybe they do mean nothing, but as a Christian I know they do; if they didn’t mean anything, it’s all the more reason to keep myself moving so I don’t have time to dwell on The Darkness).

Anyway, that pressure can create Beauty.  All this pressure has had me thinking about Neo’s comment on my post “You’ll Get Everything and Not Like It“: “I always remember that our soldiers in France in 1944 had a saying, ‘The road home goes through Berlin’. Berlin is on all of our ways home.”  That’s the end of a very long and poignant comment, but those two sentences say it all.

With that, here is “TBT^2: O Little Town of Bethlehem and the Pressures of Songwriting“:

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