Sunday, August 26, 2012

I'll be ready for you next time!

This one took me by surprise!

Last Saturday evening I was sitting in on keys with a newly formed 18 piece swing band. This band is priding itself on playing modern songs in the traditional 1940s swing era style. I must say that; despite the arrangement's being so technically difficult, they were simply fantastic!

We were playing for a very large festival venue, so the age of the crowd was as varied as you can get. I was familiar with some of the newer pop tunes from overhearing my daughters, KIDS BOP® CDs at her pool parties, I had to admit that these guys are really on to something!

My total surprise was just how much of the new stuff called for sight reading some really tough piano parts. Although the band thought I did a great job, I wasn't impressed with my sight reading abilities as I could have been.

The bright side of this situation is that I hand the answer right in the palm of my hand (no really, I'm meaning quite literally).

After any tume that I thought I could have played better, I whipped out my smart phone and took a picture of the tricky parts of the sheet music. I did this on stage while the other band members were getting out the new chart. I must have taken a few dozen photos!

Unfortunately, I can't go back in time and replay all the klinkers after a reasonable amount of rehearsal preparation. What I can do though, is to print out the pictures of the solos and make a book for me to run through just before I perform with them again.

I also decided to dust off my Back inventions, Chopin preludes, and Beethoven piano  sonatas to get my sight reading up and running again.

One last point........

Even when I was frantically struggling to keep up with those flurry of notes zooming by, I portrayed a pleasant disposition and acted like I nailed every passage. Never let them see you sweat!

The good news is that:

 I'll be ready for you next time!

good gigging,

Larry Marra

Friday, August 17, 2012

Music and Mayhem Don’t Mix

Submitted by featured writer Lily McCann

Here’s a list of people who have died of drug related causes. And another, of people who have died of alcohol related causes. Look down those lists and see how many of them are musicians.

This sobering exercise will demonstrate just how dangerous drugs and alcohol addiction are, particularly it would seem to those in the music industry, which is over-represented in this particularly unwelcome category. Names such as Chet Baker, Jim Morrison, Elvis and Hank Williams are familiar to us as musicians who have died through drug or alcohol use.  But the sheer number of musicians on the lists is shocking. Sonny Clark – jazz pianist; Bix Beiderbeck – jazz legend; Janis Joplin – trailblazer; Jimi Hendrix – innovator; Amy Winehouse – deep contralto jazz singer… the list rolls on and on. All of these musicians were great in their own very different ways. Each contributed to the world of music, and spread happiness through their musical talent. Each was cut off before their time.

Drug Dangers

In the world of music, whether popular or classical, there will always be drug and alcohol temptations. What is it about musicians that makes them vulnerable to this sort of influence? In the world of rock and roll drugs have always been associated with rebellion, glamour and success. This remains the case. But the tragic recent death of gifted, award-winning singer Amy Winehouse, who had fallen victim to severe alcohol and drug addiction, should be a lesson to all those who think it is possible to control drug use. Despite many months of treatment, a supportive family, giving up her career for months on end and moving home, Amy still could not conquer her alcohol addiction. She had done well to beat her heroin addiction, and was preparing for a comeback, when she suffered an alcohol induced seizure and died in her London home, aged just 27.  What are we to make of this senseless loss, and how can this sort of tragedy be prevented?

Drugs and Alcohol Aren’t Glamorous

One association in the minds of an impressionable young musician looking to their heroes as role models, is the equation of drug use with rebellion and glamour. The reality of drug use is, in fact far from glamorous. We all know about ‘addiction’. It’s what celebrities get, and then recover and do well, or don’t, and die. The word is so common that it’s easy to lose sight of the physical pain and suffering that true addiction causes. It is only through education that the association between glamour, celebrity and addiction can be broken. Reading an account of heroin withdrawal is a good place to start. Aching limbs, severe stomach cramps, jittery nerves, vomiting, diarrhea, shaking, sweating, neck pain, loss of appetite. Drug addiction is simply a terrible path to choose, and a million miles away from the joyous freedom we associate with making beautiful music. Music has the power to transcend the physical world and lift the spirit onto a higher level. When the body of a musician is trapped on in the physical world of pain and addiction, how can he be a great musician? The answer is that the addiction usually destroys the musical gift long before its time.

The Creative Spirit

The list of musicians who have died of drug and alcohol addiction is inhabited by many other creative minds. Perhaps the greater sensitivity of those with an artistic gift makes then particularly vulnerable to the dangers of drugs and alcohol addiction. There are very few famous scientists on the list, or engineers, for example. They are perhaps happier choosing smoking as their addiction, and the risk of cancer related deaths. Chantix prices are affordable, and they have plenty of time to make the choice to quit. Those grounded in the practical every day activities perhaps don’t aspire to escape in quite the same way, or seek higher inspiration which so many artists claim to long for when taking drugs. Writers, musicians, composers, actresses – those who work with the imagination and possess a creative nature seem indeed to be more likely to die early from drug and drink related causes. This is further reason for vigilance amongst young aspiring musicians. By all means emulate your musical heroes, but don’t make the same mistakes they made. Their gifts were there with or without drugs and alcohol, and in the end were destroyed by those things. How many more years of happiness could they have had for themselves and given to the rest of the world, without their untimely deaths? Drugs never made a single one of them a better musician, whatever they may have believed. Drugs just prevented them remaining alive to be the best they already were.

A few images of musicians who have died prematurely through drink or drugs:

Amy Winehouse

Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky – Russian composer

Leon Bismark "Bix" Beiderbecke Leon Bismark "Bix" Beiderbecke

Monday, August 13, 2012

Piano Summer Games 2012

I'm very excited to share with you our new title, Piano Summer Games, a new Olympic themed music-ed app that lets any child learn to play the national anthems of countries in the Olympics, and then represent her country competing in the world's first global piano competition app.

The price - Free.
Here's a short trailer -

Piano Summer Games let's anybody (no musical background needed) learn to play the national anthems for countries in the Olympics using an on-screen touch piano or his own home piano or keyboard. He can then compete against people all over the world on the best performance and win medals (gold, silver and bronze) that are added to his country's medal ranking. Just today, America's users have gotten the US to the 3rd place worldwide! (live medal count feed is always available HERE)

Available for free for iPhone/iPad users.

App URL -

Best wishes,
Yoni Tsafir

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Get the Lead Out!!!

I have a personal friend and amazing guitarist, Greg Jones, who just landed a position as Praise Band Music Director of a local Methodist church. He called to ask if I would play keys this Sunday for his first Contemporary Christian service.

Rehearsal was Friday night.

I was so excited to find a beautiful (and tuned!) grand piano and very nice digital keyboard already plugged into the sound board and ready to go.

The first song was very funky and reminded my of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition", so I dialed up the clavinet patch and started dancing on the keys.

Well, it came to pass in the process of time that I learned that there were no less than six key modulations in the course of the song.

Most of the band are very sweet and well meaning non-musicians who were not picking up on Greg's key change cues.

The music ground to a halt as Greg started to explain where the changes should occur.

I was very surprised to find that I was the only one band member who brought a pencil to mark the editions on the sheet music.

Please remember that a sharpened  #2 pencil is a must when attending all rehearsals and performances.

Keep one in your case or gig bag.

good gigging!

Larry Marra