Benjamin Zander gave a TED talk called “The Transformative Power of Classical Music.” He talks about everything from the theory of composition to how music can touch the the hearts and minds of of people. He captures the feelings of all music lovers in this spectacular presentation.
A guest post from longtime B. B. King fan, James Green.
Someone once said that getting old was like crossing a frozen lake on thin ice. You look around you and see your contemporaries one by one falling through. And you know there’s no turning back. I was having such maudlin thoughts yesterday as I listened to B.B. King and Bobby “Blue” Bland singing “Ain’t it Funny How Time Slips Away” on B’s album 80. Two old bluesmen, reminiscing, “and it seems like only yesterday,” and it did. Bobby’s gone now, and now B.
Two years ago I sat outside in the sultry Virginia twilight, me and a couple of thousand others, waiting for B to take the stage. It was the usual concert crowd, the true believers mixed in with the rowdier, louder “here to be seen”. But when B walked on, everybody settled down. I couldn’t see him at first, but there was no mistaking that Lucille was there just as procacious and just as timeless as she ever was. B sounded tired, and he didn’t last long, and it was sad. So sad I even left early, B and Lucille closing out the set with “You Are My Sunshine.”
It’s one of those things we put up with as we see the world we’re accustomed to erode away bit by bit only to be replaced with a new one that we only marginally understand. B and Bobby are gone, along with the Wolf, Muddy, and Jimmy Reed. Ain’t it funny how time slips away.
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.
Just saw Pretty Gritty‘s video for “Cliche,” and can only say color me impressed. The song is sweet and catchy, using instruments ranging from a guitar to spoons to the top of a washing machine. The lyrics are fun, including lines like “I can’t ever seem to wake up on time.”
It is filmed in an apartment laundry room, and includes someone coming in mid-video to do laundry, which sparks a good-natured whistle from the duet’s Blaine Heinonen when he sees lingerie is included. Sarah Wolff plays on through being edged aside for loading laundry.
The music is foot-tapping, the idea for the video is clever, and the song is pure whimsy.
“I Never Knew” is crying set to music. It has a mournful feel, but retains the sweetness of first love lost. The lyrics are simple: “But you don’t want to walk with me, you just watch me as I leave.” The simple ending, “I. . .miss. . .you” captures the feel of the song perfectly.
Simple and direct, both songs showcase the charming harmonies that make Pretty Gritty’s sound. Their homey instruments are comforting, like the deceptively simple music itself.
Pretty Gritty’s members are from Maryland and are currently based in the Portland, OR area. They describe themselves as “Soulful Americana” and the description fits perfectly. You can see their show schedule here.
I discovered David Wilcox with my husband on the way to our honeymoon in Asheville, NC. We heard “Johnny’s Camaro” on a local radio station. My husband, who usually takes a long time to warm to new music, instantly loved it. To this day, when we see a sports car or hyped-up truck taking more than its fair share of a strip mall, we call out in unison, “It takes TWO PARKING SPACES!”
David’s new album is called blaze, and we’ll be reviewing it here sometime soon. Here’s the video for “Ocean Soul” from the album:
David is known for his touching and sometimes hilarious lyrics. I know him as one of the musicians of my honeymoon. You can buy blaze here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I once had a professor in college who was also a musician. He took his music seriously, and used to lecture us on the disrespect he felt it showed to listen to music “as background music.” If you listened to music, especially his favorite, classical music, you should listen. Set aside your work, don’t do laundry, or work out–listen. “For thousands of years,” he sagely said, “only the very wealthy got to hear music. No one else could afford to hire musicians.”
I disagree. I believe music should fill our lives. As something to enjoy on its own, and as the backdrop to everything around us–our meals, our important events, even our housecleaning. And I especially think we should include musicians in our lives–by searching out places that bring music together with that ancient group activity–sharing a meal. Because I do not believe only the wealthy hired musicians in ancient times. I think people found ways to have music in their community. From singing in beer halls to sitting in the finest auditorium for opera, the desire for sound and rhythm, melody and harmony, is universal.
Today, we are blessed with the chance to hear talented men and women share their skills in concert halls, coffee shops, restaurants, and even on a busy street. That Green Hen wants to bring musician and listener together by sharing great places to hear great performers making music. Stay tuned for band interviews, venue reviews, and ideas for the best music experience–for both the listener and the musician. If there’s a topic you particularly want addressed, or a group you want spotlighted, please leave us a comment!