Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My Kingdom for a monitor!

This week I played the electric bass for the Sinclair College "Welcome Back" festival held in the Sinclair Campus Courtyard. the event was nicely attended and the weather was perfect. The balance of the band and Gospel choir, however, was not.

Allow me to explain.......

The Choir consisted of 16 singers all on wireless handheld mics on separate channels to a master soundboard in the crowd. The piano was playing quietly through a small amp behind the singers but also through the board and very loudly out through the main speakers. The guitar and bass were using amps but NOT through the board. They were sitting directly next to the Choir and their director. I was standing in front of the main speakers and there were no monitors for the Choir or Director. (big mistake)

Since I was out near the crowd, I turned my amp up to blend with the main front speakers playing the choir and piano sounds. From my vantage point, the sound the crowd was hearing was well balanced. I must say however that the main speakers were deafeningly loud and hurt my ears whenever I got within 20 feet of them.

From the vantage point of the choir & director, however, it sounded understandably as if the bass was entirely too loud. If the choir had monitors, they would have all heard that the vocals and piano were projecting very well. (Maybe too well).

As a result of this, the director proceeded to the bass amp and turned it down so that he and the choir could hear themselves better. From where I was in the crowd, the bass guitar line ceased to be heard from me (the bass guitar player). The pianist is young and rather "set in his ways". He insists on playing the bass keys of the electric piano loudly which clashes with the bass guitar lines I play anyway.

So what did we learn?

Here are two options.....

1.  Run the bass guitar directly from the board



If there are no choir monitors, the bass amp should be abeam with the mains and I out in front manually balancing the bass and choir mix. With the bas amp in front of the choir by the main speakers, the bass guitar sound will not be too prominent for the choir or their directors ears.

One final comment abut the keyboard player...

When there is an acoustic piano being used, the low keys surprisingly do not conflict with the bass guitar lines. This is due to the pronounced difference in their timbres. When an electric piano is used, the sound is muddled and conflicted.

I know that, even when I play acoustic piano with the Hauer Swing Band, I never play a key below middle C as to keep the keyboard and bass guitar lines separate.

Of course, this stylistic decision came after lots of experience hearing recordings of live performances I've done on both acoustic and electric pianos over the past 40 years. 

It is my sincerest wish that the Choir director educate his talented, but very young, keyboardist on this technique. If not, I will chose to play bass on only those venues that provide an acoustic piano such as their quarterly concerts and various church services.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

the good, the bad, and the angry

Thursday, I played electric bass at a rehearsal of a volunteer Christian Contemporary band. I was invited by the guitar player from our Sinclair College Gospel Choir for the Jesus Jam to occur Saturday. He is such a great guy and very upbeat as well as talented. I like him and he needed a favor, so I agreed.

The band consisted of guitar, bass, drums, piano, two backing female vocals and a male vocal.

The rehearsal went well but I felt that all their songs sounded too much alike. They were all even in the same key! Note to bands, your playlist should include songs of varying tempos, styles, keys, and mood so as to keep the interest of the audience. I did notice at rehearsal that everything was running through the sound board except the piano but wasn't concerned. I know now that I should have been. More on this later.

Friday, I played a 9 foot Steinway grand piano with the Hauer Swing Band for a 50th wedding anniversary at the Dayton Women's Club. The piano was huge, but the stage was small. The first row of saxes had to set up on the floor in front of the stage. I liked it because I got a stereo effect by having the saxes in front of me and the rest of the band behind me. Note to keyboardists. Whenever you perform with a bass player, stay off all keys below middle C so as not to make the band sound too muddy what with the bass and piano having the same low range. Also, when playing with a big band. DO NOT OVERPLAY! Many times when all the horns were playing, the harmonic structure of the sing was being covered.  I just stopped playing altogether. I came in during horn solos when all the other horns dropped out when the chords weren't being played and a few piano solos here and there when written in the chart. In swing and jazz, most of the time, the melodies and counter melodies come in after the beat. Many times I would play just on the first beat very high in piano register to give a little punch and harmonic variety to the songs. Here's one for the honesty books. My piano sub is a better piano player than I! Why on earth would he be the sub and I be the main pianist? It's really simple. He plays band gigs as if he were doing a solo piano performance. He invades the bass players notes and clashes harmonically with the horns. He often doubles the melody but uses a different rhythm (this just plain sounds bad). IMPORTANT, playing a gig isn't about having your part out in front drowning out and clashing with the other instruments, but having the entire sound of the band balanced and musical!  I use my piano as if it were salt and the song were a recipe in which the band is the cuisine. A little goes a long way. Too much is just pain tasteless. Why would I go on about this? 

Let's fast forward to Saturday......

Saturday was the performance of the Christian band for the Jesus Jam. We take the stage and now the piano is going through the main mixing board. We start the first song in a blues style and the piano is twice as loud as everything else! Remember that I am on bass and the piano is pounding out low notes drowning me out. He was so loud that you couldn't even hear the vocals! After about 20 seconds of this, the director in me raises his ugly head and I tell the pianist to turn down and not to play with his left hand. He looks at me and says, "This is the way I play man".  All this is happening during the first song. The drummer shot me a look as if to say, "What's the piano players problem?" Then shrugs his shoulders as if to say, Oh well, let just keep playing (but I don't)

I stop playing. When a song as two bass lines sounding, the overall sound of the song gets too muddy. I didn't play the rest of the show but sat there with my left arm resting over the neck.I was fuming mad!

The song had ample bass from the piano so the bass guitar wasn't even missed. Why the heck was I even there? I felt like leaving the stage right then and there, but felt obligated to the guitarist not to rock the boat.

But, I was still angry at the pianist's blatant lack of concern for the others in the band, especially the vocalists. The piano player knew that I wasn't playing but it didn't seem to bother him in the least. The first song ended with silence and confusion from the audience. Not one single song then entire set got any response from the crowd. Thursday, I found out that the pianist is a lawyer. I am guessing that he isn't a very good one as he doesn't listen to anyone but himself! When the set ended, I got the heck out of there as fast as I could.

So what did I learn?  

1. don't expect inexperienced musicians to understand the concept of musical balance in an ensemble setting. Not everyone was lucky enough to have a good music teacher.

2 don't expect others to listen to you as if you were still the band director in charge and your word is law.

3 remember that your instrument is the salt. When someone else is salting the recipe (song), put your own salt shaker  (instrument) down.

4 never stop doing favors for friends as they are important

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Skype me

I just completed a wonderful interview for the musicteachers911 podcast with Eugene Cantera from the Dallas School of Music. We were using an internet based application called Skype. 
For those who would like to hear it, it is episode 13 and can be found by searching the iTunes store using the apple application iTunes. The podcast just got a bump to being the #2 music teacher education podcast on iTunes.

Skype allows people to make free long distance calls using the internet. I recorded our conversation using an inexpensive program called Audio Hijack to create an mp3 file to import to my garageband podcast file.

Afterwards, he posted a few comments on his blog at http://discoverlearnplay@blogspot.com.

Tonight is rehearsal for Saturday's big "Jesus Jam" and I will be playing bass with a Gospel Band that I will meet tonight. I got this through the guitar player for the Sinclair Gospel Choir.

Tuesday, I head for Piqua to present an inservice to the music staff for Macmillan Publishing.

I will be traveling with Macmillan Sales rep, Larry Bohannon, who is a fantastic person and was instrumental in getting me hired with Macmillan in the first place.

Monday, September 8, 2008


Yesterday, I was asked to be the Masters of Ceremonies for the Guitar-fest at Stubbs Amphitheater in Centerville, Ohio. Some of the finest guitarist in the country were there. The weather was absolutely perfect and the entire event went off without a single hitch. The park was packed and I was surprised to find that our local Television Station was broadcasting the entire event. I was glad that I wore nice clothes. Afterwards, all the performers and I went to our local pizzeria to celebrate. With any luck, I'll be asked to do this event again next year.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen......

Thursday evening, I traveled to Xenia OH to rehearse with the Wilberforce University Choir. I was hired to play electric Bass Guitar for their "Motown Hits" performance at the outdoor  Fraze Pavilion in Kettering OH. They will be opening for the Ohio Players. The Choir is quite good and I was most impressed with their young but very talented director, Jeremy Winston. The songs were very easy and the bass parts interesting. I really enjoyed the practice and the rehearsal time went quickly. The next day I went to the Fraze at 5 for a sound check and short run through. The Ohio Players took up most of the stage and the Choir was squeezed in together very tightly. The performance was a blast and the audience really responded well. Right after we played it began to pour down rain and the Ohio Players had to wait 90 minutes to get a dry soundboard from Cincinnati to finally perform. I was backstage and found out that the bass player for the Ohio Players was a former band member in the High School Marching Band I directed. He thanked me for teaching him how to play the bass. We had a big laugh about how his teacher was his warm-up band and he was the headliner. I wasn't jealous as my passion has always been teaching and not performance. I was very proud of his success. 

The next day I was hired to play the drums for a live radio Show at the Montgomery County Fair. I had to borrow the drums from the former Centerville High School Band Director as the music director for the show doesn't like electronic drums. I have a Roland V-drum electronic set that I love. The day was hot and we only played a total of about five minutes the entire hour. We backed up two songs for the show vocalist and then played a bunch of 20 second spot bumper music before the commercial and show segments. I walked around the fair and was saddened by the lack of live music offered. I did however get to pet a camel!

Sunday I am the MC for the Guitarfest at Stubbs Park in Centerville. This is another outdoor bandshell and I am hoping for good weather. It is in the 90s as I write this, but the forecast is for cooler weather starting tomorrow. The next blog should be a short recap of this event.