Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘popular music

My Musical Journey (A Collaboration with a Purpose Post)

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Folks, World Music Day is later this month, June 21st to be exact. And the folks at Collaboration with a Purpose decided to write about what music is, why it matters, and why we care about it in our own words.

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I’m a musician. If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you likely know this. I play the clarinet, the saxophone, and the oboe. I also compose music, though mostly for myself, and tend to think first in music, and only later in words.

I’ve played instruments since I was ten or eleven years old. Music always called to me. I loved the sound of a saxophone in particular, and remember telling my Mom that I would play that someday. (When my teacher in graduate school, Dr. Fought, said to me that the saxophone sounded the most like a human voice, I agreed with him. Perhaps that’s why I insisted I’d play it.) Whether it was someone like Clarence Clemons wailing away with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band or later, jazz musician Art Pepper’s clear and beautiful sound with advanced and interesting harmonic and rhythmic melodies (yes, you can have it all!), I was hooked.

So why did I end up on the oboe first, then?

I think they needed oboists, as it’s difficult to play well. (One of the common sayings, at least among musicians, about the oboe is that “it’s an ill wind that nobody blows good.”) And no one was going to tell me I couldn’t play a difficult instrument…that’s where psychology came into play, I suppose. (But I was only eleven, at most. You can see why this might appeal?)

I learned all sorts of things about the oboe. It has a beautiful sound if played well, a distinctive one, and for whatever reason, the sound I could get was a bit lower than most, tonally — this is very hard to explain in words, so bear with me — and a bit closer to the sound of an English horn, according to a few of my music teachers.

Personally, though, I think the reason my sound on the oboe was a little different was because I wanted to play the saxophone. And I wanted my oboe playing to be different, interesting, and memorable; I learned how to play jazz on the oboe, even, as there was one musical group — Oregon — that had a jazz oboist.

“But get to picking up the sax, Barb! That’s what we want to hear about…”

Yeah. Well, I wanted to play in jazz band. But they didn’t have arrangements for a jazz oboe player. And my band director, Mr. Stilley, believed that I could pick up the sax in a month or so. The school had an awful alto saxophone available to play; it was held together by string and tape. But I didn’t let this stop me, and I did indeed learn how to play the sax in a month as some of the skills I already had were transferable.

Then, I took up private lessons with two different instructors: one for the oboe, one for the sax. I found out quickly that the alto sax was the instrument most classical musicians play. Most of the good repertoire, including the Jacques Ibert Concertino da Camera and Paul Creston’s Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano, was written for alto rather than tenor, baritone, or soprano saxophones. And of course I learned these pieces, along with one that later became one of my favorites, Alexander Glazunov’s Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra.

I found that while I loved jazz, I loved classical even more. There were so many different ways to say things in classical music. From Robert Schumann’s Unfinished Symphony to Paul Hindemith’s Symphony for Band in B-flat, from Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D Minor to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (and it’s famous “Ode to Joy”), there were so many, many different ways music could be expressed.

And then, there was Debussy, Haydn, Mozart, Bach, Bernstein, Brahms, and the one composer I sometimes loved, sometimes hated: Gustav Mahler. (Mahler’s music can be beautiful. It can make me laugh. And it can make me scratch my head and go, “What the Hell?”)

I listened to jazz, too. And pop music, as I found along the way that I rather liked the diverse influences Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and even Linkin Park brought to the table. (Linkin Park in particular was a very big surprise, as they combined some aleatoric elements along with rock-rap and solid music theory, with not one but two singers: the late Chester Bennington with his soulful voice that could turn to a scream in an instant and Mike Shinoda, who could rap or sing, depending on what was needed from him.) And Creed, too…something about them hit me, emotionally, and I understood why they became popular on the one hand quickly, and didn’t last on the other.

The best of music evokes emotion, no matter what genre you play or sing or hear. Whether it’s Alice in Chains’ “Rotten Apple” or Soundgarden’s “Fell On Black Days” or Linkin Park’s “In the End” (or, much later, “One More Light”), or the second movement of Franck’s Symphony in D Minor, or Elvis (my mother’s personal favorite, and for all his fame, a truly underrated emotional stylist), or Art Pepper’s flights of fancy while playing “Over the Rainbow,” it is all about emotion.

See, words can only take you so far. Music, with all its complexity, all its chords, all its harmony, all its rhythm, can take you much farther.

It’s because of that, and my own, personal journey, that I decided my hero and heroine in CHANGING FACES were both clarinetists and both would use music as a way to survive incredible pain. Because music can describe things words cannot, music is able to heal a great deal more than words.

And that, I think, is why World Music Day is so important.

So do let music heal you, or inspire you, or at least give you the soundtrack to whatever you’re doing/writing/learning at the time. And let me know what music you move to, in the comments!

Also, please go take a look at my fellow collaborators, who’ve also written interesting takes on the subject (links will be posted as they go up, as per usual):

Nicolle K. — Intro Post

Nicolle K. (coming soon)

Sadaf Siddiqi — “A Musical Tribute

Mylene Orillo

Sonyo Estavillo

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Thoughts on David Bowie

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I woke to the news that musician and composer David Bowie passed away yesterday, on January 10, 2016. He was sixty-nine.

You might be asking, “So, Barb. Why does this concern you? Sure, you listened to Bowie’s recordings…but really, what was David Bowie to you, beyond a popular musician?”

Well, Bowie was a composer, an arranger, an actor, a husband, a father…and that’s only part of what he was.

But I’d rather talk about his music, if you don’t mind, because that’s what I understand the most.

Like most musicians, I was aware of David Bowie’s life and career.  His songs were different, in a way that’s hard to describe but easy to understand.

Somehow, in every song David Bowie ever wrote, he transmitted depth. He had it. And he could express it, in a way that seemed to get to the heart of the matter — a way that few other musicians, no matter how gifted, could do.

Those are rare qualities, even in a creative person. And other creative people tend to celebrate that, whenever we find it, even if the person in question is doing something that’s quite a bit different than themselves.

Much has been said about David Bowie’s image, which was reinvented every few years. Much has been said about Bowie’s gift of self-promotion — though, granted, most of that was said long before he passed away.

(Mind, being able to promote yourself isn’t a bad thing. It actually is a very good thing, especially in today’s day and age where the media has fractured and it’s hard to get anyone to pay attention to anything you’re doing. But I digress.)

Little is being said about David Bowie’s true gift, which was depth of feeling. Or of his secondary gift, which was of perspective.

And I wish more was, because that would be much truer to David Bowie’s life and career.

But depth is hard to talk about. Perspective is even harder.

It’s much easier to talk about David Bowie, the artist. Or David Bowie, the self-promoter and showman. Or David Bowie, the philanthropist — though, granted, this last is also getting very short shrift at the moment.

What I want to discuss is elusive, but is at the heart of what art actually is.

The way you see something, the way you express something, is deeply personal. Very few of us can express something in a way nearly everyone can understand at the same time — though in different ways.

David Bowie had that gift of universality, along with depth and perspective. And it’s those three things that are being overlooked in the mountain of tributes that David Bowie’s family is rightfully receiving at the moment.

I mourn that David Bowie has passed from this Earth. But I’m glad he was here, and shared his art with us.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 11, 2016 at 4:53 pm