My blog

My blog is a place where I can tell you a bit more about me, the venues I have played and other things I have found or done in my life’s travels!

You can read in more detail about how a gig went, how great (or bad) the venue was and if anything new or exciting happened as a result of my playing somewhere!

I will also tell you about any new updates and releases I may be making or thinking about, things I have done, and quite possibly just the odd rant about things now and then.

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The three Rs: Re-writing , Re-mixing, Re-recording

Every songwriter, every storyteller, every painter, every choreographer, indeed every creator, knows the rush of well-being that comes from bringing their creation out into the world. Something from nothing. Often that creation has kept its parent up all night, tweaking the details until everything is just “so”. Only it doesn’t feel like it’s keeping its parent up all night, as the creator doesn’t feel sleepy or hungry or in need of anything but bringing that creation as close to perfection as is possible for humans.

Screen shot 2014-09-19 at 9.52.42 PMNothing compares with that feeling, the one Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to as “Flow” and describes it as “the secret to happiness”. (If you’d like to hear him talk about it, go here.)

Speaking, of course, from my role as songwriter, I know that there is another side to this. I go to bed, the song “completed”, and when I wake up in the morning, I’m excited. It’s time to learn to play and sing my new song, so that I can show it off to its best advantage. I begin to sing, and… Uh-oh…. There’s a part here that doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t sing smoothly. Perhaps a few too many syllables, perhaps the word here is too harsh, not concrete enough. The song needs more “furniture” to make it a more sensory experience for the listener. Whatever.

 

Screen shot 2014-09-19 at 9.54.55 PMAt that point, I have a choice.

I can shrug my shoulders and say “Wow! I put in so much work on this already. No one is going to know about this little flaw I think I’ve found. Maybe it’s my imagination. No one is going to be a picky as that. If they’re focused that hard on the details, they’ve got the problem, not me. Well, maybe so. But every time I sing the song, I know it’s not quite right. And so, probably it’s time to knuckle down and re-write. (Ugh. Drudgery. I’d rather do housework.)

Not long ago, I discovered that seeking out just the right word, changing the phrase so that it fits snugly in the format, exploring metaphors until the exact right one is found, is also a flow experience. Plus, the added attraction of saying exactly what you meant, and OMG, it rhymes! I invite you to try it. You can get so involved in the investigation, and the hunt, and the performance of the necessary surgery (please pardon the mixed metaphor), that it begins to feel just like writing the song in the first place. Flow. Surprise!

Screen shot 2014-09-19 at 10.02.07 PMNow it’s time to record. And again, it feels great. The arranging, the inviting of other instrumentalists to contribute, their contribution (I try not to control that beyond a few suggestions to imply boundaries.), et voilà! The recording. Let’s put it on and listen. Oh dear. The flute’s a little too loud, isn’t it. And there’s a bad note in the bass. Not the end of the world, though. Because we can re-mix. (Ugh. Drudgery. I’d rather clean toilets).

And again, it turns out that the process of re-mixing is so absorbing that hours later, you had no idea that much time has passed, until someone calls to find out where you are, because you’re supposed to be somewhere else.

And, even if the recording needs to be done over, which it sometimes does (*sigh*), I’ll bet you’ll find that it’s not quite the chore you were expecting. You may even find some new, better way of treating the song that makes it a better song.

Oh …. and the housework? That can turn out to be a “flow” experience too. A lot depends on your

attitude.

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International Sing Like a Pirate Day

Arrgh!!!!

There are so many aspects to what we here in the United States call “folk music”, it is difficult to keep track of them all. But, as it happens, I had a friend, no longer among us, who was a student of sea chanteys, and as a result, I have a special affection for them.

So imagine my delight to find out that the Folk Music Society of New York was going to host an evening of sea chantey singing they are billing as “Sing Like a Pirate Friday” on International Talk Like A Pirate Day, the 19th of September, 2014.

According to Evy Mayer, sea chanteys are easy to sing, as they were once used to keep the men at the same tempo as they hauled in lines, or rowed, or any other jobs on a sea-going ship that required a steady rhythm. Of necessity, they were simple songs, with call-and-response and easy-to-remember choruses.

Like this one, that you can’t swing a dead cat without hearing as you grow up:

Or this:

(Listen closely for the “Arrrrgh!” near the end, tucked under the music!)

Story songs abound, full of derring-do, and swashes buckled and unbuckled. One of the more famous ones involves Captain Kidd, out of New York City, who became a pirate in 1699, but ended up hanged not long after.

And finally, as a tribute to my friend, Caryl P. Weiss, here’s one of my favorites of her performances:

If you’re in New York City and you’d like to partake of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, by singing like a pirate, here are all the details:

The Talk-Like-a-Pirate Extravaganza and chantey sing will take place Friday, Sept. 19th at 7:30 P.M. at OSA Hall, 220 East 23rd St, suite 707, Manhattan (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues). Snacks will be served. Contribution is any pieces of silver one might wish to spare. For more information, call (718) 549-1344 (after 11 AM) or see http://www.folkmusicny.org/.”

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New Discovery: Yiddish Tango

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 10.47.21 PMThose who know me are aware that I have a show of Yiddish songs I learned growing up, which of course, I love and perform when and wherever I can. I stumbled across the Yiddish tango quite by accident, and wanted to share my delight.

Ultimately, you could argue that this is either Yiddish music being played with a tango beat, or else tangos being played by klezmer instruments. And you’d be more-or-less right. But it’s actually much more than that, and has a long and intricate history, some of it ugly, some shining.

We can start with the tango developing out of other dance forms in Buenos Aires in the early 1900s. Most of this was occurring at the brothels and such on the waterfront, attended by the less savory portion of the population. Originally, the dance was designed to portray a prostitute and her pimp, and so was not danced in polite company. But as time went on, the music became less raucous, and though the dance remained more or less the same, it became more acceptable as a result. This video was apparently made at a tango contest in the 1900, and the tango had already gained enough popularity to be competitive.

Just so you know, I make no claims upon the videos that follow, or the music in them.

TANGO (Old film from 1900)

I mostly included this next video because, even though it’s a computer simulation, it shows the setting most of the participants would be in for an evening of tango.

TANGO – Computer simulation of dance with 1920s tango

Over the years, the tango music began to acquire lyrics, resulting in singers achieving stardom and increasing the popularity of the music.

At the same time as this was developing, there was a heavy influx of immigrants from mid and eastern-Europe. A large proportion of the newcomers were Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Slavic Jews, who were seeking escape from the pogroms and other persecutions in the area.  Part of that population ended up in the United States, but many went to South America, and particularly to Argentina, which was calling for laborers at the time (large areas of land to be developed now that the native population had been slaughtered). The immigrants gravitated to the dancing and good times as a way of easing their distress at being uprooted and displaced into a new and foreign setting.

So, into this musical environment came the influx of Jews from Eastern Europe, invited by the Argentinian government to work the land.  Between 1910 and 1940, 250,000 Jews entered Argentina, making Buenos Aires the largest Jewish community after New York. In much the same way as the Jewish cultural heritage made its way into the general culture in New York, so it also did in Buenos Aires. Jewish musicians began to become prominent in the world of tango as performers, composers and lyricists.

And as the Yiddish Theater, which thrived in New York and Buenos Aires, continued on into the 30s and 40s, songwriters from the theater began to write tangos, both for theater pieces and as stand-alone songs, suitable for dancing. One of the most popular players from Yiddish theater was Molly Picon, who was Yenta in the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof. She  wrote the lyrics for a lovely song called Oygn, set to a tango beat (also known as “milonga” with accents as follows 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8)

Yiddish Tango – Friling

JACOB SANDLER Git mir ob main hartz tzurik

The tango became more and more popular, and it made its way back to Europe, in the tracks of American blues and Jazz (and later, rock and roll.) Soon you could find Yiddish-speaking musicians writing tangos for their own performances, especially in Eastern Europe, where there was still a strong Yiddish culture.

Old Polish tango in Polish and Hebrew: Graj skrzypku, graj!

By the time of World War II, Tango was the rage in Europe, in city and ghetto. But as the Nazis came to power, and began absorbing their neighbors, life became untenable for the Jewish population in general. Those musicians who did not escape, and ended up in the concentration camps, found themselves enlisted in Lagernkapellen orchestras by the Nazis.  They were required to play tango, in preference to jazz. This was because the Nazis saw jazz as more likely, and tango as less likely to inspire rebellion. And they were required to play tangos,  in particular the Tango of Death, as accompaniment to mass executions.

Jewish Music from Holocaust – Yiddish Tango

An example of El Tango de la Muerte:

El Tango de la Muerte

In the U.S., the Yiddish Theater continued to thrive, and tango was often the vehicle for the songs.  The Barry Sisters recorded this one:

Ikh hob dikh tsi fil lib

And today, in Buenos Aires, Yiddish tango is alive and well, in the form of the Yiddish Tango Club, founded by Gustavo Bulgach. Have a listen. You won’t be sorry:

Librescu Tango – Gustavo Bulgach KLEZMER JUICE

And if you’d like to hear a sampling of my Yiddish show, go here:

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On Getting Reviewed

Of course, if you never got a bad review, you won’t have the least idea of what this post is about. And how wonderful for you!

But most of those of an artistic bent who have ventured into the public arena, know perfectly well what a bad review feels like. Devastating, not to put too fine a point on it.

For example, early in my recording efforts, I read a review of one of my albums that began with “First of all, you should know that I hate this kind of music, but…..” and the reviewer went on to inadvertently reveal that he hadn’t listened to more than the first track. My music is very eclectic, a fact which marketers apparently hate, and my fans appear to love. So his detailed description applied only to the first track, and not to the rest, a clear sign that he’d based his review on one track. Be that as it may, it was still shocking and painful to read. Especially since it was my first foray into the public arena. (Fortunately, others liked the album better.)

More recently, a reviewer attacked the production on an album, describing it as “crying out” for more simple treatment. The word “tedious” came up. Ouch.

With any luck, after one recovers from that initial pained surprise, one learns from the legitimate points. Hopefully. And picks up the pen/brush/instrument and lives to write/paint/play another day. And it must be said that most reviewers try to publish well-thought-out, constructive criticism, not mean-spirited one-liners. But because of that, it can feel especially painful when their opinion of your work doesn’t include glowing praise.

OK. But how about when glowing praise is  included?  How about when the reviewer loves every word/stroke/note? How does one respond to that?

“Hah! I knew I was right!” doesn’t really seem appropriate, does it.

I know, of course, to post the good reviews where others can see them. After all, this is a business too, and I want to encourage people to take a chance on my music. But as far as what it does or doesn’t do for me as an artist, that’s kind of a mixed bag.

That being the case, I found a couple of quotes that I have hanging where I can see them easily in my work-space:

“Success is nothing more than going from failure to failure with undiminished enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

and

“Think of yourself as a sieve when it comes to the opinions of others. You’re going to hear wonderful things about yourself. You’re going to hear horrible things. Because you are a sieve, they’re all going to pass through. Do not believe the positive any more than you believe the negative. All feedback falls through the sieve. The only opinion that should matter to you is your own. That is the only opinion that should be solid enough that it doesn’t pass through the sieve.” – (no attribution, I’m afraid. If you know who said this or wrote it, please comment below.)

Both of these quotes speak to the point of not letting “failure” or “horrible things” derail you from your artistic efforts, and that, I think, is a good point to take to heart. (I have a musician friend who is a perfect illustration of that idea. When he started out, people used to wince at his music and smile behind their hands. Now he is an international household name.) But I also believe there is another point to keep in your heart. Don’t let the “successes” and the “good things” derail you either. Smile. Say thank you. Move on. With undiminished enthusiasm.

PS:  Here is one of the reviews for my latest CD.

“Beautifully arranged and sober orchestrated self-penned songs are forming the basics of Jan Seides’ newest record ‘Siren Song’. Her soft and relaxing lovely voice is the so-called ‘cherry on the pie’. She should not keep us waiting for another six years to hear her compositions on a new album.” – www.rootstime.be

If you’d like to hear the music, please go to http://janseides.com/music. There, you’ll find samples and instructions for purchasing. :-)

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Making Sure All the Kids Get Music

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Every once in awhile I get a call from a mom or dad who has recognized an interest in music in their son or daughter, and would like them to take lessons. It seems they have a little electronic keyboard, or what amounts to a toy guitar that an uncle gave for a birthday, or sometimes not even that. But the child has been picking out tunes on the piano at church, or at someone else’s house.

 

I personally believe that every child should receive some kind of music instruction, and I have lots of scientific evidence regarding the benefits of music education to make my opinion pretty unswerving (The abstract from one such paper is below. If you’d like to see the whole thing, just email me through this site, or request it in the comments section, and I’ll send it). But in order for them to get any benefit from lessons, private or not, they must have some way to practice.

I used to refer the parents to the band or choir director at school, if they didn’t have any instruments at home. And up until recently, there was time made weekly for instruction in music, art and physical education. (When I was in the school system, there were music and art classes twice a week, and PE every day.) But lately, a lot of the school boards across the country have been pulling the reins back on a lot of activities they consider “frivolous”, music, art and PE being in the vanguard of those headed to the chopping block. You’ll hear claims about the budget, mandates coming from higher up, or the like. But the fact is, despite all the various studies, there is still a strong belief among those controlling the agenda that those activities should happen outside of school.  That they are “extra” and “unnecessary”. I find that horrifying to say the least, as I know it means that not every child will be exposed to a skill that is increasingly important as their education continues. Or doesn’t.

In some cases, those things can happen outside of school, it’s true. If the parents have money for it, or the time and attention it requires for someone’s child to learn a complex skill at home. But sometimes not.

We are fortunate in our town to have the University of Texas, with its Butler School of Music. For a long time there have been programs like the String Project, that not only trains children as young as 3, but supplies instruments to them as well.  And I’ve been told there is a new program of free piano lessons taught by University students. So, if the parents can get the kids there, an opportunity exists.

But the other day, I was browsing articles about music in general from all over the country, and I ran across this one:    Ministry seeks musical instrument donations at Dana Point festival

The article describes the charitable work of a couple in Orange County, CA. They collect used instruments from the community and pass them along to children who otherwise could not access them.

What a brilliant idea, and so easily duplicable in communities across the US. Don’t you agree?

Now all they need is teachers to donate a little time. Anyone?

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