We saw two different kinds of hoopoes on this trip, the african hoopoe and the green-wood hoopoe. This was the bird I wanted to get shots of so much on previous trips but could never find any that would sit still long enough for pictures. So this trip made up for it in a big way. Enjoy!
Once again, I am about a decade ahead of the trends. I just read an article that says very well what I have been saying for about ten years. I invite you to read it then come back here to let me know what you think:
You Worked Hard
Pearl and I used to watch a Korean TV series called Gormet. One of the many things I liked so much about that show was that the most treasured compliment was “you worked hard.” The chef who received this sort of praise esteemed it as one of life’s highest honors. You don’t get “you worked hard” without doing the work to deserve the compliment.
I have known for a long time that empty praise, meant only to make people feel good about themselves, is misleading at best and destructive at worse. Children who grow up in such an environment will tend to be ill-equipped for the trials they will face as adults.
Emotions Like Weather
I agree completely with the article when it says that emotions are like the weather. There are sunny days and rainy days. Personally, I do not believe in the “pursuit of happiness.” I believe in hard work and realized potential. Emotions are the clouds that float over the surface of every day life.
What Do You Think?
I am very curious what other people think about this. Do you think it’s right to shield your children from “unhappiness”? Do you believe that life’s value should be measured in terms of happiness? Is it wrong or bad if you are not happy all the time?
You already know my thoughts.
This week I am posting the Oystercatcher pictures I took from the recent trip to South Africa. Most of these were taken in Gonubie (black rocks) and the rest were taken at Schoenmakerskop.
One of the very first musical topics I ever wrote an article about was the importance of going to jam sessions. My opinion has not changed, but I have a lot more to add to what I originally wrote, over twenty years ago.
Today I want to focus on one aspect of the importance of jazz jam sessions: communication. I’m not talking about verbal communication. I’m talking about the conversations we have while we improvise, conversations with the other members of the band.
Have you ever had a conversation with a group of friends when someone blurted out something completely unrelated to what the group was talking about? Even better, have you ever done this? Every time we improvise in a jazz setting, we are in a conversation with the other guys in the band. That communication occurs on a variety of levels, but it is ever present. To “say” something completely unrelated to what the rest of the band is saying is just like bringing up a completely unrelated topic in a verbal conversation.
One of the beautiful things about jam sessions is that you never know who you will be playing with. You never know what direction the conversation will turn. You never know, before you start, what your role will be in that musical conversation. As improvisers, if we are to do this right, it forces us to forget all the technical stuff we practiced and open our ears. It forces us to make an extra effort to match styles, to listen to the band’s rhythms, to match intensity and dissonance levels.
The Failings of Jazz Education
Unfortunately, this concept of communication is rarely taught to up and coming jazz students. We live in an age when the budding student jazz musicians sit at home and “solo” over Band-In-A-Box or Aebersold tracks. Even if they manage to learn “how to do it”, they are training for the wrong gig. One does not learn to give lectures or speeches when preparing for a party or social gathering.
All of the licks you learned, the scales you know, the cool ideas you worked on, none of it is relevant if you can’t communicate in context with the rest of the members of the band. Jazz education typically focuses on that side of the art. Most jazz teachers will drill you on scales or make you practice licks in every key. But very few of them will even mention the true to life aspects of this beautiful art.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying all of the jazz teachers are like this. I know a handful of wonderful teachers who do teach something more than just plug-n-play patterns and licks. But those teachers will undoubtedly agree with me when I say that they are in the minority.
Perhaps this is because of the nature of jazz improvisation. Because jazz is a spontaneous art form, composing music in real time, on the fly, someone who cannot improvise well himself will not know how to teach. There are a lot of things you can teach in this world, even if you cannot do it yourself. But I do not believe that jazz improvisation is one of them.
Hitting the Jams
For this reason, it is extremely important for the younger players to go out and sit in at the local jam sessions. What you learn from the jam sessions you will never learn any other way. That’s why they have been a big part of the jazz tradition since the earliest days of its history.
There are a lot of other reasons to go to the jazz jam sessions. Part of it is social. Some of it is a matter of spending time improvising with other people to help your creative juices to flow. It’s also a great way to do networking. I remember when the term “networking” became popular in the early 90’s as a way to do business, but us jazz musicians have been doing it for a hundred years now.
But for all the good reasons there are for going to the jam sessions, I believe the most important of them all is to spend time communicating with the other musicians in the musical language we call jazz. It’s a matter of “use it or lose it.” If you don’t spend time in musical conversation with other jazz musicians, you will, without a doubt, develop into one of those rude players who “solos” over the unimportant rhythm section. You don’t want to be the guy who gives a lecture about quantum mechanics at some dude’s birthday party. The only way you can learn to listen and speak appropriately is to spend time doing it.
I have become a firm believer in the importance of selflessness in every area of our lives. Music is no exception. What makes these Wholesome Musical Priorities a bit controversial is that most musicians tend to be narcissists. Music is a performance art and it is easy to be fooled into believing that, as a performer, you are the center of everyone’s attention. In contrast, the Wholesome Musical Priorities list looks at the importance of putting our family’s needs above our own musical, narcissistic desires.
Needs Always Come Before Desires
I like to think that I am slow to anger. And perhaps most people would probably agree with me when I say so. But one thing that will push my buttons faster than anything else is when someone places his/her own desires higher on the priority list than his/her family’s needs. Such is the essence of hedonism.
Some people today celebrate hedonism (see Hedonism Resorts) because of the sensuality. They see it as a sexual thing. But when you look at its definition, hedonism is when you judge right and wrong according to what feels good to you. It is an extremely hedonistic act for a musician to do the whole “starving artist” bit while his/her family suffers through a life of poverty. Hedonism says that “pleasure is the highest good.” But it is short sided to believe that one man’s pleasure is another man’s good. It is short sided to believe that a musician seeking his own pleasure will somehow translate into equal amounts of pleasure for the people in his family. In that sense, being a hedonistic “starving artist” is a very selfish, self centered way to live when you have a family to support.
Family Comes Before Music
I came up with this Wholesome Musical Priorities list as a result of many years of teaching private music lessons. When students come to lessons unprepared because their family was out of town for a funeral, I do NOT want them to apologize to me for not practicing. I don’t want them to feel bad about it. I don’t want them to be frustrated about it. What I want is for them to know that it is inappropriate for them to be practicing when they should be grieving and attending to funeral business. During such times, they need to be there for their families.
I feel the same way about family vacations, weddings, visitors, graduations and any other family celebration. I also feel this way about family obligations.
If you choose to practice instead of helping your sister with her homework when she really needs your help, then you have crossed the line…you have made your music more important than your sister. If you choose to practice instead of doing your chores, taking out the garbage, making your bed, cleaning your room, mowing the lawn, then you have placed music higher on your priority list than your family.
For the adult musicians, if you refuse to take your family on vacation because you think you need to spend that time practicing, then you have placed music above the needs of your family. If you spend more time with your trumpet than you do with your spouse, then you have made music more important than your family. If you spend thousands of dollars on music equipment but claim you don’t have money to put your children through college, then you are saying that your own family is less important to you than your music.
All of these scenarios are examples of a hedonistic lifestyle. Any time you put your own pleasure, your own selfish desires over and above the real life, practical needs of your family, you are a practicing hedonist.
To give you an example about how serious I am about this, I once fired an adult student who came to his lesson and told me that he was going to divorce his wife. When I asked him why he wanted to divorce her, he said that they couldn’t see eye to eye when it came to his music. The trumpet was coming between them and his answer was to go with the music and dump the wife.
I told him I would not teach him again until he got his marriage straightened out. I also told him that I keep an eye on the online trumpet forums and if I caught him participating, then I would never teach him again after that. A married man who is having marital problems, especially marital problems centered on his love for music, has no business spending hours every day participating on trumpet forums.
The good news was that I heard from that student again several years later and he told me that his marriage problems had been worked out. He got a good job and they were getting along a lot better.
Expressing Family Is Expressing Who We Are
Always remember that our family life is a large part of who we are as people. If we push our families out of our lives for the sake of our music, we then have less to express. Music is supposed to be an expression of our lives. But someone who has rejected his family is someone who has amputated some of the most important parts of his life. What then will he express through his music?
I understand that misery likes company. Certainly, if you do place your own selfish desires over and above the needs of your family, you will experience bitterness and disappointment in your life. You will be able to express your misery through your music and some people will enjoy that, because they are as miserable as you are. But I ask you, is it your best work to operate that way?
Is bitter, angry, hateful, vengeful, dark music the best that you are capable of sharing with the world?
That’s the irony of this Wholesome Musical Priorities list is that the people who put their music ahead of their family’s needs don’t really have much to offer. Their music isn’t what sells. When you get down to it, with that kind of music it is the anger that sells, the hate, the darkness, not the music itself. And yes, those musicians may sell more of it than the people who create beautiful music, but their popularity does not define the quality of their work.
As I have said many times over on this blog, evil is contagious. You can sell things very easily if you go that route. But as a music teacher, I am more concerned with the quality of your work, not how many gold albums you can sell.
When we honor our families and put them first in our lives, it opens up a pathway for us to create better music. It’s not only about creating more beautiful music. But when we put our families’ needs first in our lives, above our musical, narcissistic desires, the people who hear our music will hear that selflessness shining through. It will touch them more deeply, more intimately, because they will feel that you actually care about people. Then your music will have great power for good. Your music will heal people and bring peace where there was none before.