Category Archives: essay

The Urge To Create

The urge to create is always there, and can come from the great joys and pains of life. Creation gives life transcendence, and can make the unbearably painful or simply the mundane more tolerable. Creation is a gift to the world.

That Green Hen is about giving people a way to share their gifts with others. We do that in a myriad of ways that are ever-expanding. So far, we’ve done a Facebook page that highlights public art, music, and cultural events, and a blog that shines light on musicians, writers, and artists. More cool things are in the works.

Both Hen and I have a deep need to create. In meetings, we have ten ideas for every one we pursue. Hen goes about his business, trusting the good ideas will appear over and over until he can use one. I frantically write things in the latest app I’ve adopted for productivity, often never to be seen again. But we create. And create some more.

Our site is dedicated to helping you–whether you’re a professional creator or a hobbyist or someone wanting to try something new. Let us know what you like, and how we can help you with your creations. And support your local artists of all types. If you like what they do, giving them your time, purchasing their creations, and sharing the word helps keep our world unique and soft. We all know there is far too many hard edges out there. We hope our small attempt at support makes the creative fire burn just a little brighter in the world.

 

Eclectics in Music

I’ve been a fan of The Carolina Chocolate Drops for years. A band that focuses on “americana music,” the music that came from small towns and mostly untrained musicians that covers bluegrass, blues, gospel, and has a lineage from mountain people to slaves on plantations. The Chocolate Drops have been especially known for highlighting the African American influence on bluegrass and country music. I’m sure Rhiannon Giddens and Dom Flemons, two of the founding members, could teach a class on the history of music in the US from Colonial Times to the present on the spot, with instrumental and dance demonstrations sprinkled throughout. Their music often blends old and new, country and blues, farm and city–with an easy mixing of forms that a casual listener might not find intuitive, but would probably enjoy. “Hit ‘Em Up Style” is a cover of a song by R&B singer Blu Cantrell, but run through the Chocolate Drops, sounds like an update to an old blues song.

I’m no music expert, but I am not bad at making connections. It seems an easy progression reuniting bluegrass with its African American influences. There are strains of it in the old Delta blues, before electric guitars roared in, and the improvisational nature of jazz is right at home with any group of pickers. A less intuitive mix is rap and banjoes. But it was just a matter of time, and a quick internet search of “rap and bluegrass” pulls up one group immediately: Gangstagrass.

I’m a little late in discovering Gangstagrass. Thanks to Hen for recommending the TV series Justified, with its great theme song by the group. The idea sounds like a gimmick, but the reality is sublime. The group hits the exact mix that fully honors both traditions. Their sound is simple–a true mix of bluegrass and rap, with a full complements of steel guitar, banjoes, bass and themes of living from the earth and dealing with violence and oppression. “Bound to Ride” is a good example of their style (language alert).

Musicians today are eclectic–they probably always have been, but with the internet allowing a group to market itself, it is harder to pigeonhole a group into a clean definition of its sound. So classical musicians like YoYo Ma play bluegrass, Loretta Lynn and Jack White do a duet, Lady Gaga sings with Tony Bennett. Run-DMC covering Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” in 1986 was perhaps the closest to the mix Gangstagrass brings, with one difference: Gangstagrass uses original songs that are fully rap and fully bluegrass, not a borrowing from one style into the other. As the internet allows greater collaboration between independent musicians unwilling to accept labels for their style, expect to hear more interesting, imaginative collaborations pulling from all styles of music.

Year End Review: Rhythm, Harmony, and Creativity

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Hi, Green Hen folks! We’ve barely gotten on the ground for 2014, but thought we’d give you a quick look at what the year brought now that we’re in 2015.

This fall, we started a page to promote local music and make it easier for musicians, venues, and listeners to find each other.  While we put the finishing touches on our plans, That Green Hen will cover concerts in our local area, showcase local bands and venues, and share news of music non-profits doing good.

To be great, music needs several components–rhythm, harmony, and creativity, to name a few. We are learning to use those same components on our page.

  1. Rhythm: Music is about beats–some regular, some syncopated, a blend of the expected and unexpected. This page itself was an unexpected gift, unplanned until just a few short weeks ago. We are working out the best “notes” to offer–how often to post, when to post more about music in general, when about specific bands, which regions to highlight, and what blend of audio, video, and text is best. As we hone our working style, we have plans for a wide variety of content–interviews, quizzes, shared music videos and articles, musical collaborations, and links between music and health, music and literature, and music and learning. As we continue our “composing” we will find the sweet spot between a simple solo and a major symphony.
  2. Harmony: Few musicians manage to have a strictly solo existence–and if they share their work with others, there is always collaboration. That Green Hen is made up of two people with different skills and backgrounds–Green brings a (sometimes dizzying) array of ideas good and bad,  strong curiosity, a listener’s interest in music, and the ability to write about it. Hen is all the skills–musician, technical computer talents, and a lifetime of working on projects in all sorts of arenas and bringing them to fruition. Thankfully, a lot of Hen’s music interest is in the world of jazz, so he is rarely thrown off by sudden improvisations from Green. We look forward to working with musicians and music lovers to “strike the right chord” on our page to best promote music.
  3. Creativity: Music is an expression of creativity–whether you are composing a new piece or putting your own spin on someone else’s work. One of Green’s professors once said “Great work resonates.” We are currently looking at what is out there in the music blogosphere. What do we have to offer that is unique? Where can we go from what has already been done? Expect new and fun ideas, as well as sharing the best work of others in the music world.

There is one other area that is crucial to music: the listener. A musician may choose to create or perform with a listener in mind–or may not. But once a work is released to the world, the listener plays a part. What gets shared, what gets emulated, what lives on decades or even centuries after its creation–these are determined by the person receiving the music. That Green Hen knows that our readers and followers are crucial to our success. We welcome feedback. Please feel free to email us ThatGreenHen@ThatGreenHen.com or comment on our FB page or drop us a Tweet about what you see here–one thing about music lovers, we’re used to listening!

Picture Credit: http://www.freeimages.com/profile/djayo

Music and Literature: Mumford & Sons ‘The Cave’

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Image Courtesy of FreeImages.com

By Green

I’m the word geek here at That Green Hen, sometimes more focused on lyrics than the music. My favorite songwriters weave literature references into their songs, and knowing their references increases my appreciation of their work. From time to time, the English major in me will work her way out and decide to analyze a song or two on the blog. Please feel free to share you insights.

Today let’s talk about Mumford and Sons.  The best example of literary allusion, to my mind, is their song “The Cave.”

The title references Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which describes the non-thinking society as people in a cave, looking at the shadows on the wall and not realizing a world outside their experience makes those shadows. Plato invited his readers to challenge assumptions and look at the “real life” around them. (Gary Greg has an excellent article on this song.)  Lyrics such as “So come out of your cave walking on your hands / And see the world hanging upside down / You can understand dependence / When you know the maker’s hand” invite the listener to break out of unchallenged thinking and follow the writer’s choice “To live my life as it’s meant to be.”  They also work in a Homeric reference to the Sirens, those sea nymphs who lured unsuspecting sailors to death with their lovely song in The Odyssey (quick side factoid–the film “O Brother Where Art Thou” is also based on the Odyssey). In order to pass through their territory, Odysseus had his crew stop their ears with wax and chain him to the ship’s mast so the ship could not be compelled to head into the Sirens’ grasp. In the song, the lyrics express being true to your personal calling rather than following the temptations of other people’s plans for you.

These are the two most obvious literary references in the song–did I miss any?

Learning The Musician Code

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Image credit: A. Rothman

That Green Hen is a two-person project. The “Hen” half is a music pro, with decades of experience in the world of chords and cords, gigs and rhythm, and the secret language and feelings of those who love music so much they are compelled to make it with their own hands, breath, and voice.

I’m the other half. I like music–a lot! And I’ve played musical instruments. I sing in the car, and have even sung a few times on stage–but rarely on my own, and always in settings that can politely be called “amateur.”  I don’t like crowds, don’t like to stay up at night, and don’t like loud noises. In spite of these handicaps, I’ve decided to broaden my world to include the local music scene (I think that’s the jargon of the music world).

Why? I’m also a small businessperson. I prefer to buy from family-run businesses, from small companies where the business represents the integrity of an individual, or a family. So when I looked at the music I enjoy, I realized too much of it was pre-packaged. Perhaps very well done, but not made by people I could ever know in person.

Then I started stumbling over musicians everywhere. In my business, in my friendships, in conversations–the guy serving my coffee has a band, the girl at work grew up in a musical family, a client is a saxophone player–I have been wandering around in a world full of music I know nothing about. So Green joined Hen, and now we’re adding our words to promoting local music. First in our respective towns (San Diego, CA, and Richmond VA, with Austin thrown in because we both want to visit), and later spreading across the country and hopefully beyond.

I’m learning I’ve slipped down quite the rabbit hole. To learn about music groups quickly, I’m researching online. I start with one group, then search everyone associated with that band. Musicians are an incestuous lot. After a few clicks, I find one name connects to another, and to another, in an ever-widening circle of associates. With Hen right in the thick of things most of the time. I almost think I could pick one local musician and follow the degrees of separation until I find every musician around the world!

I’m also learning some of the trials of the local musician. The money is rarely good, and the wonders of the internet hurt as much as help the local guy playing his heart out. Yes, internet exposure means you can take your music directly to anyone without needing a record deal from some big recording company, but it also means you are probably selling 99 cent downloads of your songs and trying to compete with sites like Pandora and Spotify offering nearly unlimited music for free. You are looking for places to play that too often don’t want to pay you for your time and effort. And you are encountering people like me–who don’t know you and are as likely to think of you as the background music to my dinner as to recognize you pouring your heart into something you love, that I will only miss when it’s gone.

So one of the things I will write about on That Green Hen is how to appreciate local music, for those who do not go out every night to a new place. We’ll also cover information aimed at the local musicians, to help them best share their talents in a world that needs them more than we sometimes realize.