In 2008, I conducted a series of interviews with music educators, professionals, musicians, and advocates articulating the universal benefits of music education and participation. One of the most memorable of those discussions was with Dave Wish, founder and Executive Director of the non-profit, “Little Kids Rock.” LKR provides musical instruments and instruction to at-risk kids and teachers.
Great points made by Dave that should be staples of any music enthusiast’s/advocate’s discussions!
In a previous post we highlighted a YouTube video for the shampoo/hair products company Pantene featured a young deaf girl playing violin in a music competition. This “commercial for the viral video era” illustrated the future of advertising – the ability to engage hearts and minds, tell stories, and associate those popular snippets of media with your product – rather than simply 30 seconds on television telling people how wonderful your product or service might be.
This stunning video of a musical flash mob aboard the Copenhagen Metro in cooperation with Radio Klassik is another wonderful illustration of such an engaging short film, and nothing engages hearts and minds more effectively than music.
What I love most about the video are smiles on the faces of people of diverse ages and ethnicities, and the look of wonder and amazement on the faces of the young children.
I love movies about music/musicians, and I had heard great things about the movie Once, but didn’t get around to seeing it until recently. It’s about a singer/songwriter who performs on the streets of Ireland while working in a vacuum cleaner repair shop by day. He meets a piano player and they collaborate to bring their musical aspirations to life.
The storyline of artists struggling to develop their God-given talents pursue the dream in a world where the deck is stacked against them never gets old for me. It also brings to mind the reality of how committed one must be to overcome those odds. I once asked vocalist Irma Thomas, known as the “Soul Queen of New Orleans” what she did when times in the music business got tough. She stated simply, ” I went out and got a job.” Sometimes it’s that simple, but it’s never easy.
The movie also avoids so many of the typical movie clichés, making it more real and believable. It’s magical in its understated simplicity.
And the storyline mirrors the career of the musician who co-wrote the soundtrack and who played the lead role in the movie, Glen Hansard, who dropped out of school at age 13 to perform on the streets of Dublin and is now a successful songwriter and Academy award winner.
So you say you love music. That’s great. But when time are tough, you must ask yourself, “How committed am I and what am I willing to do to overcome the obstacles in front of me?
Here’s a performance of the Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly” at the Sundance Film Festival.
I recall watching Amy Winehouse perform during the GRAMMY awards in 2008, and I watched her get showered with awards and accolades shortly thereafter (5 GRAMMYS that evening). There were 2 things that were plainly obvious to those inside and outside of the recording industry that night: 1) This is an immensely talented performer with enormous upside potential 2) Winehouse was on a dangerous path and perhaps the tip of a downward spiral, given her problems with addiction and the underlying emotional issues that all too often derail the careers of emerging artists. I couldn’t help think that there was something terribly afoul and enabling with the idea of heaping praise on a woman in such peril after she declared in song, “They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, no, no, no.”
We speak of the power and merits of artistic expression in this forum a great deal, but the story of Amy Winehouse is a cautionary tale. Exposing children to music and the arts provides a valuable outlet for their emotions, and is a tool in teaching them to live productive and healthy lives – but it’s just a start. It’s important to realize and acknowledge its limitations as well. I’m no expert, but I think it’s safe to say that Winehouse’s underlying issues could not be resolved by a piano, guitar, or microphone.
I’ve spoken to music therapy experts, and they’ve echoed these sentiments as well. We must be realistic and practical in espousing the power and benefits of music and music education. Those who oversell its potential provide ammunition for the skeptics and sabotage the scientific advances made by the true practitioners of music and sound therapy, arts integration, and arts education in general.
I have a certain affinity for the music of the early 80′s and the dawn of the music video era. The new wave era on balance will not be remembered for the virtuosity of the musicians nor the sophistication of the music, though it’s noteworthy to mention that The Police, Elvis Costello, Blondie, The Pretenders, and The Tubes were born of that time. Yet there was an energy and excitement that captivated the music world back then.
The disco age was dead. Punk rock had shaken the music world out of its doldrums, but had faded as brilliantly as it had emerged. More importantly, music has the ability to connect us to other times in our lives.
I’ve also had the privilege of speaking to music therapists regarding the connection between music and mood. In the simplest sense, even a non-trained musical ear knows that certain (major) chords or sounds seem “happy,” while others (minor chords) evoke sadness or are more appropriate for horror movies. Of course, their science goes well beyond those basic theories, allowing breakthroughs with patients suffering from Alzheimer’s, Down Syndrome, and Autism.
That brings me to yesterday.
I was having a bad day – No particular tragedies, just a series of life’s little aggravations. Then, while strolling through the grocery store, a tune played from the speakers above. The recognizable intro to “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. It was the 1st video ever played on MTV back in the day, and the video production levels were so primitive that there was an innocence that permeated the music videos of that era. The song “Our House” by Madness followed. From what moment forward, my day and my attitude changed for the better.
What music changes your mood?
It is said that truly great musicians give the same inspired performance whether the audience numbers 5 or 5,000. I was reminded of that fact when we traveled down to the French Quarter last Saturday night to let my son Michael capture a few late night photos. On the “Moonwalk” that borders the Mississippi River, we came across this New Orleans Street Musician with nothing but a harmonica, a microphone, and a small amplifier. We encountered him, alternatively blowing his instrument and wailing bluesy lines for a handful of late night strollers around 11:00 p.m.
For more great New Orleans photos, visit Michael Cortello Photography .
This week my cover story for local entertainment publication Where Y’at magazine’s New Orleans Jazz Fest issue: Interview/profile of legendary jazz musicians/educators Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, and Irvin Mayfield.
Thanks again to Laura Tennyson, Communications Strategist for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra for arranging this interview and to Josh Danzig and the staff at Where Y’at magazine for the assignment. Photo credits: Romney Photography
(From left to right: Ed Petersen (standing – recent performance paying tribute to the music of Harold Battiste), Harold Battiste, Irvin Mayfield, Jr., Victor Atkins (standing – recent performance paying tribute to the music of Ellis Marsalis, Jr.), and Ellis Marsalis, Jr.
Virtually every creativity expert concurs – all children are creative, yet we often lose our capacity for creativity as we get older and diminish our creative activities. That brings us to today’s music and arts education advocacy quote of the day:
“Creativity is like a muscle. It gets stronger with use, and withers with inactivity. If we cut music and arts education funding, where will our children exercise?”
- Craig M. Cortello
On Wednesday’s episode of American Idol, the contestants were tasked with performing a song from the movies. Casey Abrams was leaning toward the song “Nature Boy,” recorded famously by Nat King Cole among others. Jimmy Iovine, legendary music producer, and will.i.am (hope I got the punctuation right) of the Black Eyed Peas have been coaching the contestants and helping with song selection, and they weren’t thrilled with his choice.
They asked if he had another song in mind, and he threw out (I Can Feel it Coming) “In the Air Tonight” (by Phil Collins and from the film Buster, in which he also had an acting role) but you could tell his heart wasn’t in it. Iovine and “.am” were more supportive of that tune. At the 11th hour Casey did an about-face and reverted back to “Nature Boy,” his original choice. A skeptical and slightly perturbed Iovine said in a clip that aired just prior to the performance (paraphrasing) “At this point in the competition they need to listen to their coaches. He’d better kill it out there”…and he did!
Once again, Casey accompanied himself on the upright bass, as he did during an audition when he sang another jazz standard, “Georgia (On My Mind).” Though jazz vocalist/bassist Esperanza Spalding has attained commercial success, it’s a brave choice for a young singer, as the upright bass requires a sophisticated ear for the vocalist to stay on pitch.
More impressive though, is the fact that the 20 year-old artist stayed true to himself in the face of scrutiny from a legendary music producer/executive nearly three times his age and a member of one of the most successful pop groups on the planet. The pressure in the face of their resistance must have been overwhelming, especially when singing a song that required sensitivity and nuance vs. a tune that he could “belt out” so to speak. Though his vocal wasn’t perfect, it was stylish, heartfelt, and it was beautiful in contrast to the selections from the other contestants.
My Point Here:
It’s a great lesson to all artists. While there are mentors, coaches, educators, fans, and others who will give advice, much of which is very beneficial, ultimately you know who you are as an artist. More importantly, you have to live with the consequences. And if you listen to others and fail, you’ll never forgive yourself to ignoring your inner voice.
And finding your own voice and developing individuality is important, even if you’re not an artist or up and coming pop music star.