Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Early Years Course

The best thing about being a freelancer is knowing there will never be enough food on the table to have to worry about a weight problem. A close second is choosing what sort of direction life will take at any given time. I say 'choosing' but the art of freelancing is being open to all manner of possibilities and taking the most interesting path offered.

So yesterday and today found me on an Early Years course called Magic Adventures with the Beautiful Little Humans. In a nutshell this involved a bunch of adults creating an interactive theatre piece for a group of 0-4 year old children. This took place in an environment which had been specially created by the course organisers and was so magical and stimulating as to make anything we did almost superfluous. But we created some extra magic all the same with sounds, lights and shadows. And of course letting them lead us in play.

I suppose the pervading attitude for much of my own childhood was that children are empty vessels that need to be filled. The ethos here was that they are rockets primed to learn. They will learn in spite of us. Or role is to facilitate and provide opportunity and environment for that learning.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

On the road again

I did a bit of touring back in the 80s and loved the excitement of setting off for a new destination, the camaraderie, the shared sense of purpose. And of course, having my bad habits reinforced by hanging out with people who had made the same lifestyle choices.

What I didn't like was sitting in the back of a windowless transit, with amps and the PA for seats, playing cards to pass the time. There were nine in the band/crew and only one of them (the sax player) didn't smoke. Guess who played sax.

Touring with Indefinite Articles is a wholly different experience. No one smokes, the gigs end in time for tea (and sometimes in time for lunch). The sax player plays clarinet and flute now and handles all kinds of lighting, video and audio cues. He always sits on a seat and often actually drives the van. Nobody smokes.

Last weekend we went to Havant for a performance of The Chalk Giants. The sun was beginning to set by the time I took the pictures. Parts of the town are very pretty, others a bit run down. If you look closely you'll see those shops aren't shops at all.

See? I told you.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

The speed of sound

Every so often I play in a very large hotel, jazz for eating to in a restaurant where the band is foisted on staff who really don't want it. Although some favourable comments come from diners I think many of them are also perturbed by music that isn't entirely bland, predictable and disembodied; piped as opposed to 'live'.

So what are we doing there? Believe me, I ask myself the same question every time we play. There are two benefits to ourselves, both slightly dubious. One is the money (poor, especially after the agent's removal of 15%) and the other is that in three one-hour sets we can play through the bulk of our repertoire, even tunes that don't often get an airing.

The benefit to the establishment is certainly lost on the senior waiting staff who never greet us on arrival, not even with a glance of recognition, nor return our goodbyes at the end. I can only think we are part of some corporate vision - somehow, dressed up in dinner jackets and bow ties, we go with the decor and pot plants.

Of course I exaggerate when I say the staff don't speak to us. Last time I was spoken to twice in the first number. First the head waitress pointed to the instrument I was playing and, without risking eye contact said
"That one, turn it down."
I duly complied. And a few moments later, while a customer stood with his five year old twins, actually listening (!) the head waiter came flapping his arms and saying
"Too loud, too loud."
(I spent the rest of the evening playing off-mic and as quietly as possible. No one asked me to turn up.)

In fairness, our sound-checking is rudimentary at this type of event, and we usually rely on co-operative staff to give us an indication of sound balance, so on this occasion the clarinet may have been a little shrill. But in the past it has usually been after an up-tempo number that we are asked to turn down. And this brings me to my point.

We are never asked to slow down but to turn down. And this is because fast music is more disturbing to the senses than slow music of the same volume. It is therefore perceived as being louder.

So jobbing musicians everywhere, remember to ascertain the nature of the gig. There are customers who love what we do. And there are customers who believe that, like children, jazz should be seen and not heard.