Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - What Is Folk Music?

Well knock me over with a feather.  Who knew that "folk" music had so many definitions.  One blog I read was asking whether they should reconsider the name of their choir currently World Music Choir.  Gad zooks.  I had not until that moment ever heard the term "world music".  To me folk music is just that; music of the people in which ever country you choose.

I don't understand the need to divide and subdivide the genre.   Folk music originally was the music of the oral tradition passed on from one generation to another.  It really is only recently that these songs have been recorded in any way.

When I started teaching music at the end of the 60"s, it was the time of the folk revival.  My classes and I used to differentiate between traditional folk and folk-like music.  The more modern music written in the folk style was so fun and easy for the young people to sing.  I learned to strum the guitar and they sang along easily.  We had a lot of fun with both the folk and folk-like music.

Of course, following that train of thought brought Ian and Sylvia, the great Canadian recording stars to mind.  We sang lots of their songs.  Sylvia wrote a song call River Road which is about a journey down THE River Road outside Chatham, as Sylvia is running away from home.  Four Strong Winds was and is an absolute favourite.

Of course, no discussion of Ian and Sylvia can be had without sharing my claim to fame.  Sylvia Fricker was born in Chatham Ontario where we moved the summer I turned 11.  I joined the choir at Holy Trinity Anglican Church and Sylvia who was our choir master and organist's daughter, sang alto.  She was just a teen of 19 at that time but had been going to Toronto and performing so her appearances in the choir while I was there were rare.   But, I do remember her long black hair.  Her lovely voice didn't make as much an impression as that hair at the time. However, once I started teach music 10 years later, those memories flooded back.  Her mum, Phyllis Fricker, was a great choir leader and an artist in many genres.  Sylvia's sister, Valerie, went to high school with me and was the person who came down the stairs from art class as I was leaving music class and told me that President Kennedy had been shot.  Okay so that is my famous people connection.  Back to the topic at hand.

Personally, I love singing folk music.  I love the stories and the find the music ultimately singable.  I have not explored the folk music of many cultures outside the celtic and Canadian but anything I have encountered has been very satisfying.  Now, perhaps it is because I have limited background but would those of you out there please share your ideas of folk music and perhaps your understanding of this "world music" title.  I will continue to use the folk term as I can be easily confused, but what do you think?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - Learning New Tricks

In watching a program the other night, there was one of those "learning minutes" between commercials.  It was about how music helps children to learn.  It helps them with cognitive skills such as pattern recognition and with emotional learning.  It is also a social medium when singing in choirs and groups.   The final comment was that music helps  the brain synapse create more and deeper connections.  There is no better testament than this marvellous video.

Without getting overly scientific, music helps us to see the world differently.  I remember even during my high school years that the art class played the radio while they worked on projects.  That of course is to shut down the left side of the brain which is our logical and sequential learning side.  The right brain is our more visual and intuitive thinking which of course is very useful in artistic endeavors.   Many studies abound proving that music helps us learn in many ways.

Music helps plants grow, makes polar bears happy and helps all of us learn.  Nowhere does it say you have to be a certain age to learn or be affected by your music.  So here it is.  If you want to learn something new and perhaps a bit daunting, turn on the music.  Get your mind relaxed and happy and go to it.  Learning is fun and forever.  If you haven't tried to learn something new lately, do it. Put on your iPod or old Walkman and get going.   Choose a new puzzle, figure out a part of your computer, build a bookshelf, learn a dance step.  Do something NEW!!  Hang out with some youngsters for just a little while and see what they learn.  They ask questions and are learning all the time. Think like a kid and learn up a storm (probably a mixed metaphor there but you know what I mean).  And while you are doing that hum a tune, sing a song or play some music that makes you feel good.  Yes old dogs and young dogs can learn new tricks.   Make it so!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - What We Say to Ourselves

How many times have you heard someone say, "Oh I can't sing."  Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics Inc., always said, "If you think you can, you can.  If you think you can't, you're right."

Too many times, people feel they are avoiding a negative or chance at failure by just saying, "I can't" and not even trying something new or different.

However, Zig Ziglar, another of my favourite speakers would be prone to say that, it didn't matter how positively he thought, he would never be a brain surgeon without a lot of training and education.

We looked at Potential v.s. Talent in a previous post.  I know that this was debated by some very well trained and talented musicians.  In that post, I mentioned that you must have "the want" or positive attitude to take the potential to successful result.

This post is more about our self-talk than ability.  Think of a day at work.  Someone said that you did a great job on that report.  Another person smiled as they passed by.  The third person however, frowned and said that he felt you could have worked much faster.  Now, which of those happenings do we hang onto?  I bet that negative comment keeps coming back.  We create self doubt and second guess ourselves wondering when the next shoe will drop and we will be found out for the inadequate workers we really are.

Two thirds of the comments were positive yet we tend to dwell on the one third that was negative.  I think it could be human nature or at least a nature that we have grown into these days. Perhaps it is due to hearing the types of comments such as those made on reality shows that can be biting and I feel,  unnecessarily critical and somehow accepted at "funny".  So if we allow that negative atmosphere to surround us, of course we are going to feel very black and focus on it.

We can combat that negativity.   We choose what we read, listen to and indeed, accept.  This isn't a false Pollyanna painting of the world in positive terms but a considered decision to see what is good - the glass half full idea.

It is important that as choir members and directors, we help foster that positive thinking.  One of the things we do in our choir to foster those positive feelings is that we don't have formal auditions.  That gets rid of the "I can't" cop outs right away.  Our "try-outs" are in situ and we decide if the fit is right for both the choir and the singer.  Often people have said that they aren't sure they are suited to the choir and we always say that we both need to try it on for size.  Once someone has learned some basics and had a few times to give us a try, we can decide if we are a fit on both sides.  Will I tell people if they need to make major changes?  You bet.  But I will do it privately and in as positive a manner as possible.  Minor changes are dealt with at the time.  We keep the communication paths open and I feel like we build a trust so that choir members don't think I am being critical on a personal level.

After that, the singers must bring their positive attitudes with them.  We have fun (you know that is our mandate in ETS).  We are serious about our music and we have a great time working to make it.  Yes there is lots of really challenging music to be sung.  We can choose to all make an effort to honour the music by enjoying every minute we use to create those sounds.  There is enough sad and negative "stuff" in the world.  Let's make our singing part of the upbeat(pun intended) world.  We must each bring our bag of happy thoughts and ideas to our activities including our music.  As Mary Kay says, "If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - The Words

Why do you like your favourite song?  I will predict it is because the words create story for you.  The words are  so very important.

the Embro Thistle Singers spend time with each new song figuring out how the music fits with the words and thus how we will get the meaning across.  Accent, pronunciation, phrasing, dynamics all contribute to getting the audience to hear the words and be able to connect to the meaning of the poetry that is the song.

But, and there is always a but isn't there, sometimes the words are just for fun.  We are looking at doing a medley of songs that contains Supercalifragilisticexpialiocious, Mairzy Doats, and Bibiddy Bobiddy Boo.  I remember as a child, my mum would sing Mairzy Doats and I just loved the feel of those fun words on my tongue.  Check out a young Janet Lennon from the Lawrence Welk  Show singing.
So yes indeed the words are important.  Now you know what that funny title, Mairzy Doats really means. 

You remember when you were a kid or were around other kids, if they didn't know the words they made it up.  I have done that innumerable times as I have sung the words I THOUGHT the song said.  Last year, we did Purple People Eater for the Embro Fair.  I had sung "One eyed, one horned FIVE Purple People Eater"  since forever.  Well imagine my surprise when we got the words and it was a "flyin' Purple People Eater".  Tell us what words mean to you and perhaps what a favourite song might be.