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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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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The most unusual place you ever …..

“Singer stages gig in store window
May 16, 2014″

That was the headline that caught my eye, and started this train of thought.

When I was in high-school, my girlfriends and I once had a conversation in which we were supposed to name the most unusual place we’d ever kissed a boy. (Yes, I know that can be taken more than one way, but it was a more innocent time.) Some of the suggestions were under a street lamp, behind the garage (We lived in the city. No barns.), on the football field, under the bleachers, backstage.  All sorts of places that are available to teenagers. No bedrooms or airplanes ever came into play.

The question that occurred to me after I saw this headline was, where are some of the more unusual places you’ve put on a show? I’ll start the ball rolling and I’d love your comments.

One night I dreamed that I was playing a show in a dance studio, complete with mirrors, a barre and an audience of about 100 people. On waking, I thought that was such a good idea that I started calling around to tell people about my dream. No one took the bait and the idea languished, unfulfilled. Until I was having dinner with a couple of friends, one of whom was a dancer.  When I was suddenly reminded of my dream, and said something about it, she said “That’s totally possible, and I even know where you could do it.”  We ended up doing several shows at Cafe Dance in Austin, TX. We had a great time despite obstacles like the acoustic unsuitability of the space, and the fact that it was pretty much off the beaten track, as music venues go. Still, it was a dream come true, and we got a radio interview out of the press release — never hurts.

I’ve also had several friends that played in store-front windows to an audience standing on the street. Most notably, when SXSW first started expanding into “official” and “unofficial” showcases, a band I knew convinced a store owner in the heart of Austin’s 6th street entertainment district to let them take over for the night. The passing crowd loved it, and most stopped to listen for a song or two, which is as much as anyone can  hope for during SXSW.

The most truly unusual gig I’ve ever had as far as location was concerned, was also one of the sweetest.  I received a call from a gentleman who told me that his wife was about to go into the hospital for brain surgery. But before that could happen, she had to have her head shaved. He asked me to come to the beauty salon and sing love songs from him to her, including “You Are So Beautiful”, while the haircut was happening.  He told me after I’d finished that his wife was formerly a singer with the Dallas Opera, had studied under Beverly Sills. I’m glad I didn’t know that while I was singing. And she really was beautiful, even when her hair was gone.I also sang her the song which I’ve included at the bottom of this post, which is one of my own.

So how about you? Street corner? Subway? Living room? Standing on a table? Comment with the ones you found the most surprising.

Oh, and here’s the song I sang her:

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About that absence of protest songs ….

Screen shot 2014-06-02 at 10.38.16 PMIn January, when Pete Seeger died, there were many tributes to him, in all forms of media. Most of them talked about his championing of various left-wing causes, his responses to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, his support of labor unions, and, of course, his music. Though not many mentioned it, his fostering of leftist causes was based solidly on his experience and love of folk music, and vice versa.

I have been seeing comments in the media since  the beginning of the millennium, and especially since Pete Seeger died,  about how there is a a noticeable absence of anti-war songs, based on the abundance produced during the Viet Nam War. While it’s true that if you turn on the radio, you hear very little music about social issues of any kind, far less even than in the 1990s, songs protesting war, among other things, both old and new songs, are far from absent.

If you go out on any night of the week in Austin, Texas, for example, and listen to those playing in “listening rooms”, you’ll hear plenty of songs about social issues. Good thought-provoking, rebel-rousing ones too. And I suspect Austin is not alone in this regard, given that there are listening rooms all over the country and in Europe.  That music is also being recorded, though those recordings not being produced and promoted by record labels, but by the artists/songwriters themselves – out of their own pockets or through crowd-funding mechanisms.

Those who bewail the absence of folk songs, or anti-war songs, or whatever they mean when they say there are no good protest songs anymore, have clearly not been paying attention. To start with there are Steve Earl, Neal Young, Utah Phillips, or they can listen among their local crop of songwriters (They’re everywhere!). Every major city, and quite a few of the smaller ones, boast venues where the subjects of pure food, Citizens United, climate change, domestic abuse, and, yes, war  (to name a few) come up in songs all the time. It’s not that there are none. It’s that one must be paying attention.

The truth is, there are lots of politically  and socially committed performers and songwriters. If that’s what you like to hear, get out and look for them, because you sure as heck won’t find them on the radio. But they are still out there. I hear them all the time. Seek and ye shall find, I promise.

Some folks in Austin, TX who are dwriting and singing songs about social justice:  The Therapy Sisters, Steve Brooks, Gina Chavez, Patrick Dodd, Mary Gautheir, Darden Smith, Eliza Gilkyson, to name a few. And that’s just one city.

If you woiuld like to hear some of my own songs go to http://www.janseidesmusic.com/siren-song/  While the songs are not specifically social protest, they touch on those subjects. Or check out the entire album at  http://janseides.com/music and click on “Behind Closed Doors” in particular.

 

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A Dozen Tunes for Earth Day

Rise Up – Works Progress Administration

Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell

Paradise – John Prine

Everyday People – Jan Seides

Portrait Photographer - jryan@jryanroberts.com

 

 

 

 

 

Earth Song – Michael Jackson

Eyes Wide Open – Gotye

Already On Their Way – Ben Bochner

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Man in the Mirror – Michael Jackson

Gentle Arms of Eden – David Carter and Tracy Grammar

This Land is Your Land – Woody Guthrie

Dust Bowl Refugee – Woody Guthrie

R U Ready for a Change — Jan Seides
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Great Books for Artists (of Any Kind) Pt. 4

Over the years, I’ve found a number of books that got me motivated, thrust me into action, or helped me resolve some of the many stumbling blocks artists are prone to.  I discovered them mostly in random fashion, or they were recommended by a friend, or mentioned in something else I was reading. Here is an aggregated list (about 5 at a time, so you’ll have time to investigate them) of all the ones I found useful, and usually entertaining. (Disclaimer: I am not financially involved in any of these. Just appreciative.)

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 12.57.11 AMJohn Braheny’s The Craft and Business of Songwriting is a comprehensive and eloquent instruction book for those who dream of a career in songwriting. In it are answers, fuel, anecdotes, exercises, and examples from talented and well-known songwriters. This is not a book to sit and read and finish, but rather a reference book that you will want to keep handy.

Much of the information is culled from John’s years of experience, the workshops he presented and from those he interviewed who became his fans and his friends. He has passed on, but his wife, JoAnn is still working on their common legacy and is very active in the community.

John’s book goes all the way from defining creativity and developing a good song, to marketing and making money from your music. An invaluable book to have in one’s collection.

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 1.13.55 AMThe plain, unadulterated fun of making art in any form is often overlooked in the serious discussions of making “good” art.  These two workbooks are about that fun aspect, and they are so appropriately named, I just love using them. Both Songwriter’s Playground, by Barbara Jordan , and Songwriters Coloring Book, by Bill Pere, seem to capture that quality of fun that is what keeps us all addicted to creating art.

 

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 1.12.57 AMBoth contain exercises, scenarios, challenges and the like, all very entertaining and absorbing, and …. well …. fun!

 

 

 

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 9.38.21 PMAnd finally, a book just about creativity. Once again, an all-around explanation, defining the term, and how to develop it (We all have it!) How to ignore your inner critic.  What drew me to this one was the title: A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative.  It’s actually about using creativity in business, but applies to the artistic endeavor as well, of course. The author, Roger von Oech, Ph.D. wrote another one called A Kick in the Seat of the Pants.  Clearly this man understands the impact of a new idea!

 

If you would like to investigate how this played out in my own songwriting, please check out my music at http://janseidesmusic.com and I’ll send you some examples for free!