Tasmanian Street Musicians

Yesterday I walked to the Salamanca Market in Hobart, Tasmania, a street market that opens every Saturday. Much like everything else I’ve experienced here in Tasmania, the market had ‘calmly dramatic’ feel to it, filled with three hundred stalls and bustling with thousands of people, yet not feeling one bit chaotic or rushed.

There were lots of street musicians strewn about. There was a teenage girl on the flute, a young man singing to an acoustic guitar, an older gentleman attempting to play the ukulele, and another selling CDs.

After walking around a bit, I noticed the young man with the acoustic guitar had joined another young musician. The two men, who did not seem to know each other, started playing as one, carefully watching each other as they tried to find a rhythm.

A few of these musicians seemed comfortable performing, but there were many others who made it obvious they were struggling with stage-fright. I remember seeing a young man sitting on a bench through one of the stalls, set back away from the crowds as he quietly sang to himself and tapped on his guitar. I wondered what he was thinking.

At one end of the market there was a young girl, perhaps ten or eleven, holding a violin and glancing around nervously. She found the courage to start playing just I walked past her and several people turned as they heard the music, their faces going from curious to astonished when they saw her age.

Walking down Kennedy Lane, into Salamanca Square where families gathered to relax around a water fountain, there was a young boy band playing. One boy on the drums, one on the keyboard, and two more standing up with guitars. The lead singer wasn’t more than eight, his flushed red face and closed eyes telling me he didn’t want to see all the people stopping to smile at him. His singing was horribly off pitch, but his soul made that irrelevant.

Down the other end of Kennedy Lane, down the quiet narrow end with tall stone walls on either side blocking the already diffused sunlight, there was another musician standing in the shadows. I recognized him immediately from my walks around the city earlier in the week. But I had never seen his face. Or was it a girl? I couldn’t tell. He wore a expressionless white mask, baggy jeans, and a faded blue sweatshirt with the hood pulled over. The only thing more unsettling than his ghostly appearance was the tune that he added to the scene. Picking gently at a closely clutched guitar, he played with the sound of each string ever so carefully, clearly having more experience than a casual passerby would notice. Perhaps that’s why he wore an expressionless white mask.

I walked around the market a few more times, not really knowing where I was going or what I was looking for. Around the middle of the market, at the end of a closed street, there were two men playing music and generating a crowd. Not being much for crowds myself, I stepped off to the side, a bit behind the musicians. There I noticed several guys in black suits sitting on the ground, with bags of wires and instruments and other musical equipment sitting on the street around them. As they laughed and watched the crowd, I realized they were next in line, awaiting their turn in the spotlight.

It was here, facing in the same direction as the musicians, that I noticed a man in the crowd step up and throw some money into a guitar case. He smiled and stepped back into the crowd to continue watching. There was something about his posture that told me he was standing there simply to encourage others to step up and give. Not many did.

Every single one of the musicians I had walked by, from the young girl playing the violin, to the person picking at the guitar in a white mask, had a bucket or instrument case in front of them collecting donations. But I hadn’t given anything.

As I ate breakfast this morning, I reflected on all the musicians I walked by and I felt bad for not giving anything, especially not to the children. I realized that even if I had given money to every single one of the musicians, it wouldn’t have amounted to more than a few dollars.

But how much hope and validation might I have given in the process? What if my giving something meant that one of those children felt inspired to see their dreams through? How could any amount of money be valued higher than that possibility?

Perhaps the problem lies in my relationship to money. Perhaps deep down inside there is still a lot of insecurity and scarcity that I’m not recognizing, a part of me that is reluctant to give because I’ve spent so much of my life living in fear of not having enough.

I do have enough. In fact, I have more than enough.

Next week I’m going back to the Salamanca Market. I’m going to give something to every musician that I can find. In fact, maybe I should make this a permanent habit, to always give something to street musicians. Unlike beggars, they’re clearly offering something in return. Instead of just asking, they’re creating something and hoping that you’ll find value in it.

But more likely than not, they’re also asking for you to support their dream, to show them that it’s a dream worth working towards.

All dreams are worth working towards and I believe there is no better way to invest in others than to help them achieve those dreams. What’s your dream and how are you working towards it? Let me know and I will send you something. (Please include your PayPal email address.)

Developing Intimate Familiarity

When I started taking piano lessons, my tutor was constantly stressing the importance of becoming intimately familiar with all 88 keys, the sound each one made, and the musical notation that corresponded to each key. I understood why all that was important, but I really had no idea how becoming intimately familiar felt or even looked like. That changed today.

My tutor has me practicing several different areas simultaneously. There are seven separate sections but they can roughly be split up into three areas: exercises on the piano, reading and recognizing notes on paper, and rhythm and ear training. The most difficult part for me has been joining these different areas. I can practice stuff on the piano and then stop and read notes on paper, but connecting the notes on the paper to the keys on the piano just doesn't seem to happen.

Then today, just as I was finishing a one hour practice session and writing down what I had practiced, I had an idea for how I could work on connecting the various areas as I practiced them: I would start using my little music notation notebook (a Moleskin) for keeping track of not only time but the actual notes that I practiced. Instead of just writing "Practiced the D Major scale: 20 min", I would actually write out the musical notes for the D Major scale that I played and then make a note of how much time I spent practicing them. Making a habit of writing the notes every time would mean automatically strengthening the connection between the notes and the keys that I'm playing.

When you watch a good musician play an instrument, you can tell the instrument has become an extension of him or herself. It has become as familiar and comfortable to them as their own hands and feet. Once that happens, there is no discomfort limiting their ability to create music; the music can just flow through them. Learning a new instrument (especially a first instrument) is basically like adding a new body part to yourself -- a third arm or leg. Becoming intimately familiar and comfortable with such a new body part takes a lot of concentrated practice.

I spent about twenty minutes writing notes and playing them at the same time and wow. Everything feels like it's starting to connect! It's almost like I finally figured out how to attach nerves to this new body part, instead of just brainlessly moving things around.

Manu Delago – Hang Drums

The sound of Hang Drums is absolutely amazing. Today was the first time I heard them and I'm already hooked. Manu Delago's site has an audio player (top right corner of the site) and I've been listening to his music all day.

I recognized the way Manu's fingers hit the Hang Drums. After reading his background I discovered he's had experience with the Indian Tabla; a percussion instrument that I took a few classes for when I was young.

Loituma Clock

I was clicking through a bunch of flash loops on a site that I found on Raf's tumblr blog. Some of them were pretty funny and a lot of them have really cool songs. Now I know this is really old (2006) but one in particular has been stuck in my head all day:

Edit 2020-12-08: Since Flash has essentially gone extinct, I've updated the link on the graphic above to a ten-hour YouTube loop of the original, because who can't get enough of this?

Apparently the music comes from the traditional Finnish folk song "Ievan Polkka" -- a part of the song that has absolutely no meaning at all (yes, the part in the flash is all gibberish!). Click on the picture above to see the actual flash I'm talking about.

There are a bunch of variations of Loituma Clock, including a real clock, a longer 5 minute techno version, and even a Darth Vader version! If you're interested in the Flash SWF file, you can find it here.

This site is the closest I can find to an "official" site for the Loituma Clock itself, while the Loituma Girl (taken from episode two of the Bleach anime series) has her own Wikipedia page. And of course this post wouldn't be complete without a link to the video of the real authors singing the original song.

Van Helsing's Curse – Oculus Infernum

If you're going to listen to even one Halloween album this year, this has to be it! I heard a song on the radio the other night while driving back to Cambridge. All I could remember the DJ (Dee Snider) saying at the end of the song was "Van Helsing". After a little Googling, I determined I had listened to a song from Van Helsing's Curse - Oculus Infernum, an album inspired by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

I don't normally care for "Halloween" music, but this album is definitely an exception. It's an amazing compilation of different music styles, sounds, and instruments. If you've seen a handful of well-known horror flicks, you'll recognize many of the tunes in this compilation. If you know how, get the album through the BitTorrent network.

SongBird: A formidable replacement for iTunes?

I've been looking for something to replace iTunes as the main library for my 20,000+ mp3s. Whatever application replaces it needs to stand up to some high expectations, including the ability to manage such a large number of mp3s without slowing down or crashing, and a rating system that allows me to rate my favorite songs (I'm always finding new songs in my huge collection, so rating them is important for when I want to come back to them). Of course, the ability to import my current iTunes library and support for my iPod would be huge pluses.

Welcome SongBird, a multi-platform media player developed by a group known as the Pioneers of the Inevitable. They're responsible for the creation of Winamp and the Yahoo! Music Engine. The current version of SongBird is 0.2.5 and although it's a bit rough around the edges (literally, the edges don't look as smooth as they should) it still shows a lot of promise:

The list of features is very impressive and includes support for importing your iTunes library, interfacing with your iPod, and of course, an iTunes-like rating system. SongBird also has a built-in web browser which automatically searches the current webpage for any available music and allows you to play the music in SongBird as if it were a local file. Check out the SongBird Screencast to get a better idea of how all this stuff works.

I've started using SongBird on my Mac and so far I love it. A couple more skins (known stylishly as feathers in SongBird) would be nice, especially an iTunes skin. 🙂 SongBird is still in the development stages and, as far as I can tell, is not an open-source project. However the website says the group does "support the Mozilla Foundation's mission to preserve innovation and choice on the Internet". This means that even if there is a cost associated with SongBird when it's finally released, I'll be happy to purchase it knowing the money will go towards a good cause.

Coding to Classical Music

I have gained a sudden interest in classical music! It's strange because classical music is nothing 'new' to me. Growing up, I would constantly hear classical music playing in the retail stores my parents owned. My mom would often listen to it in the car during our long commutes between the different stores (sometimes the entire day would be spent delivering product to the different stores). I eventually grew a strong distaste for classical music and found it very annoying after only a few minutes. It was always very difficult to concentrate while listening to it.

Today I randomly started listening to a classical music station after becoming frustrated about not being able to decide what kind of music I wanted to listen to (Internet radio). Although I am not entirely sure where the interest is coming from, for the first time (at least as far as I can remember), I loved what I was hearing. It was music to my ears (pardon the pun)!

Now I've been listening to classical music for the past 9 hours and it's simply amazing. It doesn't randomly cause me lose my train of thought while I'm in the middle of coding and there are so many variations that becoming repetitive and boring seems impossible. I have read programmer polls where the majority of programmers stated they listened to classical music while programming, and I've read articles about how listening to classical music while studying can help you retain information. Until now, I've never been able to understand how that was. I have tried coding to classical music in the past but quickly found it distracting.

I don't know what flipped the switch, but I think I've finally discovered the calming and concentration-enhancing effects of classical music!

Sprint Commercial

I can't get this song, and commercial, out of my head. I finally found the song and downloaded the album (through mininova.org). The song is Souvenirs by Architecture In Helsinki.

After listening to the whole song, I discovered the beginning is the only part I seem to really like, and as such, I'm considering cropping out the portion of the song from the commercial and creating my own mp3 to put on repeat. 🙂

The melody of life

I have had music in my life for as long as I can remember. My entire life, even before I was born, I have been surrounded by music. My dad is a musician (even though he'd probably argue otherwise), and he used to play the flute while I was still in my mothers womb. I would listen to music going to sleep, while driving in my dad's car, everywhere. When I was young, my parents forbid me to listen to "American" music because they did not agree with things in the lyrics. They worried I would be influenced in a negative way by the music. They allowed me to listen to anything instrumental, as well as most music in any language I (or they) did not understand.

My mom would generally listen to classical music in the car and in the retail stores she owned while I was growing up. My dad usually listened to some form of Indian music (that's India Indian, not Native American Indian, a distinction I feel I must always make clear). I remember when I was about 13 or 14 years old, I bought (or was probably given, I can't recall) my own cassette player (yes, I had one of those). I bought Indian music tapes, and then Native American Indian tapes, and Inca music with pan flutes (my favorite). Continue reading