In the midst of a hectic day, a student sent this video splicing together musicians from around the world as they perform “Stand by Me.”
At this rate, November 2008 will go down in my history as The Month Beauty Kept Making Me Cry. I swear, I’m not usually a crier.
Stand By Me
If you have the time, watch the whole PBS show where this video was featured. It’s great.
Bill Moyers Interview with Mark Johnson, PBS
Here’s a transcript from a portion of the interview:
Bill Moyers sits down with Mark Johnson, the producer of a remarkable documentary about the simple but transformative power of music: PLAYING FOR CHANGE: PEACE THROUGH MUSIC. The film brings together musicians from around the world — blues singers in a waterlogged New Orleans, chamber groups in Moscow, a South African choir — to collaborate on songs familiar and new, in the effort to foster a new, greater understanding of our commonality.
Johnson traveled around the globe and recorded tracks for such classics as “Stand By Me” and Bob Marley’s “One World” — creating a new mix in which essentially the performers are all performing together — worlds apart. Often recording with just battery-powered equipment, Johnson found musicians on street corners or in small clubs and they would in turn gather their friends and colleagues — in all, they recorded over 100 musicians from Tibet to Zimbabwe.
The unique composition of the film which has musicians playing together yet in their own traditions, made Johnson think anew about what world music means:
“Just thinking in my mind… what would be unique instruments to juxtapose against each other that had never been heard before: a talking drum and a tabla, they’re very similar but they never really come together, or a sitar and a dobro, very similar but how often do you hear them play together? The idea was to go to places that would have some sort of instruments that they could add to the spectrum of the global music that we were trying to find.”
The Playing For Change Foundation provides resources (facilities, supplies, educational programs, etc) to musicians and communities around the world. The foundation is working with South African poet Lesego Rampolokenga to build the Mehlo Arts Center in Johannesburg, South Africa and building and supporting the Ntonga Music School in the South African township of Guguletu. In addition, Playing For Change is working to enhance and rebuild Tibetan refugee centers in Dharamasala, India and Kathmandu, Nepal. You can find news about their benefit concerts and programs, and listen to additional songs, on their Web site: Playingforchange.com (for Flash users) or Playingforchange.org.
There are some guitar skills you can only teach by nagging. Again and again, you remind the student, until finally, they start reminding themselves.
And which skill is The Naggest Of Them All? Play slowly and carefully when you’re practicing something hard.
Invariably, when I teach a beginner a hard piece of music, they launch into it much too fast, and as a result, they make mistakes all over the place. If you’ve read my blog post on muscle memory, you know that mistakes should be avoided as much as possible: How To Practice Guitar.
I’m always looking for ways to spruce up my nags, instead of just mumbling, “Slow down. Slow down. Slow Down…” all day. Yesterday I came up with a good one:
Imagine you’re writing a love letter in ink, and you only have one piece of paper.
I’ve followed every crisis in my life with a transformation. I was bullied in middle school until my parents finally transferred me to a different school, where I made friends and discovered my love for the theater. After a bad breakup with a girlfriend, I found a counselor who taught me how improve my relationships with everyone I loved. And after three brutal years of teaching high school English, I quit and, after two years groping in the dark, found my dream job teaching guitar.
My recent arm injury also has a happy outcome. While I was out of work, I started a side-business optimizing people’s websites for search engines. I got into Search Engine Optimization (SEO) when I was building my guitar teaching website, and after I saw what a huge benefit it is to a small business owner, I began helping friends. Now, I’m doing it for hire.
What started as a way of diversifying my income sources has become a really fun business. I’m currently working for one of PayPal’s competitors, a service-learning school, and several small businesses. I’m especially enjoying helping other small business owners whose websites have been living in obscurity. The work I do for them is going to transform their businesses. I can get pretty much any guitar teacher, yoga instructor, or acupuncturist to the #1 in Google, and this brings them a gravy train of clients.
Here’s my new website: Seattle’s SEO Guru
Newsletter subscribers get 10% off. Let me know if you’d like my help.
As many of you know, I hurt my arms this past spring by simultaneously cramming for the first performance with my new band (three days after joining it), preparing for my students’ Coffee Shop Jam (which happened two weeks later), and, in a fit of vanity, trying to do as many push-ups as I could at the gym. Writing that last bit hurts almost as much as my arms did.
I’m happy to say I’m almost all better. For those of you who are interested, here’s the story.
I first got symptoms in early May, during a rehearsal of Eric Johnson’s “Cliffs of Dover,” in preparation for the Spring Coffee Shop Jam (YouTube video here). I’d been practicing it like mad, and I remember my shoulders being tied in knots. I went for a bend during the solo, and felt a disconcerting twanging sensation in my left forearm.
By the time the Jam rolled around, my arm and shoulder were feeling pretty tight and sore. Normally I would have rested, but there was no way I was going to sit out of the Jam–I had a dozen students counting on me to back them up.
I limped my way through the show. A week later I went hiking, and the pressure of the daypack on my shoulders caused numbness and tingling in my left hand, and sharp pain up and down my arm. My right arm started hurting too.
I spent the hike totally horrified. My mind raced as it pursued one catastrophic scenario after another: I’d have to stop playing guitar. My rock climbing days were over. I had to wake up from my dream job and go work for Microsoft, using voice recognition software. My arms would shrivel to twigs and I’d be shunned by women for the rest of my days….
When I got home, I canceled most of my lessons and Googled hospitals until I found the Clinic for Performing Artists at Virginia Mason Hospital here in Seattle. Two miserable weeks later, I had my first appointment with Hans Van Buuren, PT, DPT, OCS, who’s responsible for bringing me back to health.
I had all these fears that I’d pinched a nerve or slipped a disk in my neck, but Hans’ diagnosis was quite simple: I’d increased my arm activity too quickly. That, combined with poor posture and too much muscle tension, had overloaded my body. I can’t remember the diagnostic term he used in my chart, but when I looked it up later, I discovered it meant “hurt arms.” I was disappointed–surely this catastrophe had a long, impressive-sounding Latin name worthy of the pain I was in.
As it turned out, Hans was right–it was just sore arms caused by overuse and too much muscle tension. Over the next five months, we used a biofeedback machine which registered muscle activity in my shoulders and back. He’d have me do simple exercises with an elastic band, with the goal of relaxing my trapezius muscles (on the tops of the shoulders) while using the small muscles between the shoulder blades. This, he said, was how I should be using my body when I played guitar: Shoulders down and back, and very relaxed, with just the lightest bit of tension in those muscles between the shoulder blades to keep them stable.
Take note, guitarists! We tend to tense our shoulders when we’re playing something difficult, but it’s bad for our bodies, and doesn’t help our playing. You can change this habit by catching yourself tensing up, and then reminding yourself to relax. Keep nagging yourself as you play until relaxing becomes second-nature.
It took several months to learn how to do this, and I didn’t see much progress for a long while. But finally, about four months into my treatment, I suddenly found myself being able to sleep on my side, sit at the computer, and play guitar for short periods without pain. What a relief.