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The Grand Re-Opening. Sort of…

I made the decision a couple of weeks ago that this would be my week to venture back into teaching guitar. I teach out of my home, so I pretty much had to decide for myself how things might be changed around to allow for the protocols that need to be in place now; physical distancing, keeping everything clean and disinfected, and signage to remind students of everything they needed to do, too.

When you’ve been doing things a certain way for 30 years, it takes a fair amount of brain function to change it up, but I think I’ve figured it out. I’m sure there are a lot of people, especially in smaller businesses, who are doing their best to wrap their heads around this new reality. We’re in different times.

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One of the first things I did was go to the WorkSafe BC website where they have a section called “Returning To Safe Operation” for businesses and facilities opening up, to know what protocols need to be in place. I downloaded some posters to use as signage, I marked out the proper spacing between myself and my students on the floor in the studio. I bought new music stands that are easier to clean, got cleaning supplies ready, and I worked out a plan for students to follow when they arrived back. I even recorded a video to send to them so they could see what changes I was making and would know what to do when they got here.

I emailed them all and sent a link to the video.

So far, so good.

About half of my students have returned, which is more or less what I expected. Some of them would have been in classes of 3 or more, and so far, that’s too many people to have together in my small studio yet. Maybe one day soon.

Some students are more nervous than others, or not ready to return for various reasons. I understand that. It’s been rough for a lot of us.

And some may never return. I’m prepared for that.

I’ve been rescheduling returning students with a little time in between each one so I can clean and disinfect between lessons.

So they come in the door, they sanitize their hands, they leave their guitar cases out in the waiting area, they bring their guitars and music into the studio, they tune on their own or with my help, and we begin to play. Then we start to smile a little as the music kind of lifts us up. We can’t help but share some of our stories in between songs. It’s a little like coming back to life.

I’ve been thinking about all the students, clients and customers that have been returning to different businesses this past week. The conversations they must be having, the laughs (behind face masks in some cases!), the getting back to something that almost feels normal. For small businesses like mine, our clients are not just our source of income, they sometimes become good friends. I’ve been teaching some of my students for 10 or 15 years.

These are relationships we’ve all been missing.

For those of you with small businesses or who are self-employed like me, I’m rootin’ for you. If we do everything as we’re told by those in charge, over time it’ll get better. Even if we have that dreaded second wave, I think we can anticipate what to do, and ride it out.

And thanks to my students who’ve done everything the way I asked them to.

Some of them even practiced a little 🙂

IJ

If I Had It All To Do Again


I was 12 when I wrote my first song, and songwriting has been a big part of my life ever since then. It helped me to cope with a lot of life’s events, and gave me a way to express my desires, my opinions, and my sense of humour in some cases. As it turns out, many songwriters start writing at about that time in their lives, and for the same reason. The angst-filled adolescent and teenage years are truly a creative (or destructive, in some cases) hotbed for all kinds of things.

I’ve written dozens and dozens of articles on all aspects of songwriting since I first put up a website in 1995. I’ve met a lot of other songwriters over the years because of that website, and participated in other online sites, some of which are still very active. They include the Muses Muse, a huge songwriting community created by a fellow Canadian Jodi Krangle, and SongU, a kind of songwriting university designed by Danny Arena and his wife Sara Light from Nashville, both of who are very involved in teaching and who have also written songs for a Broadway musical. It was really exciting to watch when they were nominated for a Tony!

I’ve performed hundreds of times for the smallest of events to big ones, for all kinds of people. My smallest audience was an audience of one :-). It was at a coffee shop in Burnaby a few years back in the middle of winter. The evening started out as a poetry reading, and I was supposed to be the second act. Well, once the poetry reading was over, the audience all left too! All except for one. She sat on a couch and patiently listened through a whole set of my songs. We laughed in between at this odd, private concert she was getting. Outside it was dark and raining pretty hard…no wonder there were no stragglers off the street, it was a terrible night!

It would be hard to say what my largest audience was…but I’ve performed for audiences at festivals where there were literally hundreds and probably thousands of people within earshot.

There was a time when I didn’t even perform my own material, I basically just played cover songs at bars in order to make some money. I’d slip the odd original song in, but I had little confidence in my own songs then. I didn’t like that kind of performing much…driving alone up to Duncan, about an hour’s drive from my home, over a pretty tricky part of the highway called the Malahat, playing three hours, and then driving back again after midnight, was not my idea of a good time. I just about gave up performing for good after that!

In the early 90’s I discovered recording and that was the beginning of a whole new aspect of music for me. I began by recording my own songs, of course, but I also got to record others, and had an opportunity to record some music for a television series called “Home Check with Shell Busey”. When I listen now to those first recording attempts, I cringe :-). I didn’t take any training, all of my learning came hands on. And I made a lot of mistakes! Eventually, I got better…the highlight came when I was asked to write the theme music along with many other music beds for CHEK News here in Victoria.

Another aspect of music that blossomed for me was teaching guitar. I made a proposal to a local community organization to teach adults guitar in an eight week program and I did that for a couple of years beginning in 1989. Then I was approached by a woman, Becky Bernson, who was also a guitar teacher, to become a part of an organization called the Whistling Gypsy. It was meant to be a kind of teaching umbrella, but part of the mandate was to put on folk music concerts featuring better known artists and groups travelling through our area. Becky and I would each teach guitar classes and private students out of our homes, and she gathered up other teachers in voice, bass, mandolin, and banjo among others.

At its peak, the Whistling Gypsy did very well, but it was a non-profit organization and it was hard to keep enough volunteers involved to manage the events and keep it going. Still as the Whistling Gypsy came to an end, I continued teaching. These days I average anywhere from 30 to 50 students, some private, some in classes, and teaching continues to be one of my main functions. I can’t tell you how much fun it is for me to watch someone learn to play their first chord on a guitar :-). I do have times when I get a little burned out, but find me a class of adults who have never been near a guitar before and I’m happy as a pig in mud! When I get them playing their first song, the smiles on their faces are priceless.

My Dad didn’t know what to think when I talked about playing guitar and performing when I was a kid. He didn’t see that as anything more than a hobby. And it took many years for me to find the confidence to pursue the many avenues of music that I did. But if I had it all to do again, I wouldn’t change any of it. The song in the video above, however, tells a different story.

There is a poem out there called When I Am An Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple, by Jenny Joseph. If you’ve never come across it, you might find it a treat to read. What it meant to me when I first read it, was the idea of believing that old age would bring with it a kind of liberation from having to do what we have to do now. At the end of the poem, the writer considers that perhaps she should start doing those crazy things in the present so that people won’t get too shocked when she begins to wear purple in her old age.

The underlying message I think is the idea that we really want to live our lives fully and completely NOW. When I was writing this song, I was imaging getting to the end of one’s life and having regrets. I sure hope I don’t. Quick! Get me the purple clothes and the red hat!

IJ

99 Cents or Nuthin’

It has been a rather strange summer.  First of all, it (summer) didn’t show up until about August.  Before that, it was cool, grey and sometimes rainy all the way through the spring and into July.  And although I took the month of August off from teaching, I worked all the way through it trying to come up with a new music theme for CHEK Television.  I’m very happy to have the work, but it certainly kept summer at a distance for me.  My studio is in the basement of my home, and it is dark and kind of secluded, so although I took breaks by going out into the backyard and going for walks, I was locked up in there working for hours at a time.  Next week, many of my students are returning and that’s the end of that “break”!

I consider myself very fortunate to do what I love to do for a living, but the truth of it is that it often isn’t enough of an actual living and if I was on my own without a spouse who supports me, I’d probably not be able to do what I love as much as I have.  Young people who are just starting out as musicians or in bands and who want to make a living at it, have a long road ahead of them.  The simple truth is that the general public does not want to pay for music.  Every time you see artists out there performing, 90% of the time they are either making very little in terms what the venue pays them, or they are making nothing at all!  If they have a CD to sell, they’d be lucky to sell a handful at any one performance.  It’s almost impossible to get on traditional radio unless you’re either Lady Gaga or an oldies band from the 50’s to the 70’s, and if you try to sell your music through iTunes or other digital services, you have to pay for your songs to be there and normally see very little return on actual sales.

I lost a lot of money as a performer.  I spent thousands on the recording and manufacturing of my CDs and traveled quite a bit to the mainland and here on the island to try to sell them, but not nearly enough to break even.  I could have worked harder at it, I could have joined other groups or had longer road trips but I would have been a female on my own out there and that didn’t appeal to me, especially with a young family at home at the time.  But that’s just my own story.

As a whole, the music “business” has struggled terribly in the last few years.  A lot of record labels and publishers went under in the past 10 years for many reasons, including the fact that many of them had lived high off the hog for many years on the backs of their artists, and suddenly traditional CD sales tumbled.  They didn’t figure out how to embrace new technology (ie, internet downloading) before it overcame them.  If you give people the opportunity to have something for free, or to pay for it, what do you think most people will do?  Instead of using the technology to their benefit, record labels and conglomerates were reactionary, simply suing people like single parents with teenagers who did a lot of downloading, for millions of dollars, hoping to discourage the activity.  This made them out to be bullies and didn’t scare anybody.  Not great publicity.

There is now a whole generation of people, my adult children included, who know how to download music on their iPods and other devices, and who have not paid a cent for any of it.   Most of them believe that all music should be free, not because they hold a grudge against the business of it, but because for their generation it has always been that way.  All of this leaves bands and artists at a huge disadvantage.

While we all thought that the internet was going to provide an even playing field for artists and bands, in that anyone in the world could find us and become a fan of our music, instead we have become lost in our sheer numbers.  We got sucked into the idea that “millions of people” would hear our music, which wasn’t anywhere near the truth.  Millions of people were overwhelmed at the amount of music on the web and had no idea how to find something that they liked.  This is what record labels used to be good at (other than just make big money off their artists);  they were a kind of conduit for good music, giving the cream of the crop an opportunity to rise.  Radio stations are also to blame for abandoning the original intent of “just playing good music”;  a lot of them became a part of a huge conglomerate (think Clear Channel in the US), where some executive far away decided what music would be played instead of it being the decision of the local radio station’s music director.  This made it nearly impossible for artists or bands in a community to be heard on their local radio stations.  Besides that, instead of radio stations playing a variety of music, their playlists became narrower and narrower as they hired consultants to tell them what kind of music would bring in the big bucks from their advertisers.

Some social media websites have tried to become “the place” to find new music, and iTunes and Pandora have come up with technology that takes your choice in music and tries to find other artists or bands that might appeal to you.  But those artists and bands have to pay money to be there and many of them simply can’t afford it, or have no idea where to start.  YouTube is a place to freely share your music in the hopes of getting some attention and even some sales, but the majority of these viral musical acts are 10-year-old phenoms who can sing like Rhianna or Justin Bieber, himself a result of millions of YouTube hits, and again, the artist or band gets lost in the cacophony.

I don’t think the future is so bleak that music will disappear, of course.  People LOVE music and they love all kinds of it!  We just haven’t found a model yet that will make it feasible for more new artists to earn a decent living at it.  I admit, I downloaded a lot of music in the “free” way until I finally realized that I was really just defeating my own purpose.  Now I pay the 99 cents or, more often these days, $1.29 for every song that I desire to own.  And even though I know most of that money is only going to iTunes, at least I know I am morally supporting the artist or band who wrote and recorded that song and spent money out of their own pockets to do so.  In these difficult economic times, the arts are the first to have any kind of government funding pulled, so it’s even more important to support artists on an individual basis.

And that’s my appeal to any of you out there reading this blog…do your favourite artists a favour and pay for their music so they can continue to produce it!

Off the soapbox now :-)….and back to the studio for me…

IJ

Shades of Grey

IJ in Maui on the lanai with a beer…

Winter on the wetcoast can be a grey and dreary affair, but for me this last month has been anything but dreary.  At the end of January I spent a marvelous 9 days in Maui with my husband, and only last weekend I was back at the spa with my fabulous friends on our annual getaway.  What a spoiled brat I am!

To top the whole month off, I have finally managed to finish recording my last CD…one that has taken me over 10 years to complete.  I’ve been pondering the question of why it has taken me so long;  the last CD I released was in 2000, and I actually released two of them very close together.   “Catnip” and “undressed” came when I was at the top of my game, having a very prolific period of writing, recording and performing.  But at this point, I haven’t written a song for several years, I have stopped performing completely, and finishing this latest project has been such a long and arduous process.  What gives?

My only conclusion is that I was hijacked by personal events and menopause.  When I first got married and started having children the same thing happened.  Life got in the way of that self-centredness that is needed to write and/or record.  You can’t be so terribly self-involved when you’re raising kids.  But as they got a little older I was able to, for little bits of time, run upstairs and finish my first recording, Foolishly Fantasizing.  And in my 40’s I was a lot freer to do those kinds of things, so writing and recording and performing became more of a focus.  But menopause brought that all to an abrupt halt.

Okay, I guess it wasn’t really abrupt; it probably snuck up on me gradually and then became very apparent in my late 40’s and into my 50’s.  The inability to concentrate, the moodiness (which, you would think, would somehow drive some kind of creativity, but it didn’t), the depressing physical symptoms, all came together in the form of a ‘writus interruptous’ and my usual creative flow was gone.  And other personal challenges with my family didn’t help either.

So it was with great shock that I sat down two weeks ago and realized that I had actually finished the recording of “Shades of Grey”.  And yesterday I came very close to finishing the mastering stage.  For those of you who don’t know anything about recording, the mastering process in recording is like the final polish on a sculpture or the framing of a painting;  it essentially balances and equalizes all of the recorded songs so that they work together as a collection on a CD.

Now I’m very aware that in the 10 years since my last release, the music world has changed considerably.  It isn’t as much about collections of songs in a CD these days;  now it’s about “singles” the way it was back in the 50’s and 60’s.  You can simply put one song at a time out there in the universe and possibly see some sales from it on its own, but for me this is a collection of songs that all belong together.  The subjects of the songs range from longing and lust and letting go, to recognizing the reality of relationships, to getting older.  I’ve always been attracted to writing about what I consider the “grey areas” of life, so the CD title is a play on the word grey which is also the colour of a few strands of my hair these days!

And in a way, there is something very final and finished about it.  I said to my husband a year ago that I just wanted to get it done.  And if I never write again, at least I will feel that I’ve finished something rather than just letting it all just hang there.  So I am finally reaching that point.  Once the CD is done and the cover, which is being designed by myself and my daughter, is finished, I’ll announce it here.  You’ll be able to sample bits of it and I’ll likely do another blog entry just about the songs themselves.  So stay tuned.

Now that I think of it, maybe the events of the last last few years will give me a new crop of songs!  You just never know…

IJ

Estipod Rocks the ‘Monds

Poster for the 2002 re-release of the Last WaltzImage via Wikipedia

Like many teenagers, I was in a garage band in high school.  That’s when garage bands actually played in the garage, or the basement, or in our case the loft of one of our members parent’s house.  There were eight of us in the band and I was the last to join, although we did add another member a few years later.

I was the only girl in the band when I joined…so there were seven guys and me.  And the reason I joined was because I had a crush on the drummer :-).  The reason I was ALLOWED to join is still a mystery to me.  I think they needed a singer.  I got kicked out when I tried to play guitar.  I guess I wasn’t very good then, or, at least, I didn’t play the songs that these guys played, so it didn’t work out.  But they still needed a singer, so somehow I was allowed back.  It was customary to kick somebody out of the band every now and then, just to keep it fresh 🙂

We had a funny name:  Estipod.  It was a sort of bastardized version of a Welsh word meaning a group of musicians.  The drummer found it in the dictionary when we were looking for a name and nobody could think of anything else.  Actually I wasn’t in the band then, otherwise I’m sure I would have come up with something more memorable.  Ahem.

Well as soon as you put a band name on posters, you’re kind of stuck with it.  And even though we tried several times to change it, we could never agree on anything else.  So Estipod it was.  Over time I think we realized that we could never change that name;  it was who we were.

Most of our practices were at the parent’s place of two of our members.  They had an odd sort of house;  it was a split level which they had built on top of to create extra rooms…essentially it looked like someone had just dropped a barn on top of a house.  But we would cram ourselves in there and blow a fuse or two almost every weekend.  A few times the neighbours complained and we ended up with the police knocking on the door.  The father of the house was occasionally known to turn off the power in the house when he’d had enough of us.  I don’t know how they put up with us really…we had a full drum kit, tons of amps and several brass instruments and mics pounding away on top of them for hours on end sometimes.

It was a little strange being the only girl in the band.  First of all, I never got their jokes.  There was always some reference to something the guys had seen or done together that I was just not privy to.  But I’d laugh along and pretend I knew what they were talking about.  Then there were the songs.  Most of the cover songs we played were written for a male voice and the topics were often around female love interests, and there was little I could do to re-word the lyrics to fit me (ie David Bowie‘s “wham, bang, thank you ma’am” from Suffragette City particularly annoyed me), but I would belt them out as best I could.  I never could hear myself anyway.

We really didn’t get anywhere other than playing a few gigs in a couple of roller rinks (that’s when people actually tied on roller skates and skated around a rink to live music) and pizza joints and the odd backyard performance for our friends.  Eventually we all went our separate ways, some off to higher education, others to jobs, moving out of our parent’s neighbourhoods and off on our own.  And at some point, we decided we should have a reunion.  This was around the time when The Band released “The Last Waltz”, so we decided to call our reunion “The Last Polka”.  I think we held this event about 4 or 5 times in as many years.  We  rented a hall and invited all of our friends, some of the guys’ girlfriends made lots of food and we got a liquor license so we could have beer.  It was great fun…probably the reason we kept doing it.

Over time, even the polkas fell by the wayside as we all grew up and got married (I married the drummer) and started families.  In more recent years with most of our kids grown and some nostalgia setting in, we’ve have a few more reunions and they’ve always been great fun.  When we can find an excuse together, we do.  And an excuse came a few weeks ago when we heard that the barn-house was going to be sold (well, probably leveled, actually), and we decided to get together for one last jam in the same room, just the eight of us.

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So there we were a little older (okay, a lot older) crammed into the loft once again, two elderly parents downstairs, one with a set of headphones on so he could tolerate us, and the other upstairs with us, thoroughly enjoying the idea of all of us being together in her house again.  We played poorly but we laughed well 🙂  And a few times we actually sounded like something…we rocked the “Monds.  The “Monds” was our nickname for the subdivision the house is in…every street name ends in “mond”, as in Desmond and Trumond.

We took lots of pictures and video (hopefully they’ll never show up on YouTube!), and kept it down to about an hour.  In the end, we thanked the old folks went our merry way.  And we told ourselves that we are going to do this again.  Soon.  It’s amazing how quickly soon goes by…

The members of Estipod, laughing at some inside joke…this time I think I get it 🙂