I would love to say that one of my first musical memories was the song, “Help!” by The Beatles or the hip “Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan. But alas, I must freely admit that it was “Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies and the 60’s pop hit “Jam Up and Jelly Tight” that captured my attention. Then again, even “Venus”, written by Ed Marshall and Peter DeAngelis and released by the UK’s Dickie Valentine a week before Frankie Avalon’s version in 1959, was far cooler than those two. In fact, so cool and hoppin’ that Avalon released a new disco version of “Venus” in 1976 that helped revive his career.
My musical journey has been quite amazing, from those early days in New Jersey when my friends and I would cut out the back of cereal boxes to play the unique cardboard ’45 musical creations on our turntables to where I am today. I assume anyone over the age of 50 might know what I’m talking about in regards to the cereal boxes. Heck, I even remember Nabisco Team Flakes and still consider it a travesty that the cereal product did not survive.
Where I find myself now is at every corner of the globe sharing music with people of all ages – from The Orkney Islands above northern Scotland to Rock Springs, Wyoming and Tasmania, Australia (4 trips there in the past 2 years). Never did I think that Tasmanians might start considering me a local!
I must admit that often my greatest joy in touring is the opportunity to share the stage with some absolutely world-class musicians. Currently on a trip to the frozen tundra of Wyoming for my annual Avenues of Success-Music in the Schools In-Residency, I’m meeting up with my friends Tim May and Gretchen Priest-May of Nashville to play for just about every kid in sight for five days in Rock Springs and Green River.
My recent trip to Australia included a segment of the tour with Australian guitar wizard Michael Fix, who is arguably the nicest guitar player on planet earth (sorry Tim, but you are a very, very close second!). Hands down though, nobody can out-nice Michael.
Once again a challenge was presented when Michael and I sat down in a hotel room to prepare our tour and realized although we are both fingerstyle guitar players, we had vastly different repertoires. Rather astounding considering the extensive depth of both of our musical libraries. Somehow things fell into place very quickly and within two hours we had an entire presentable set of music prepared for the tour.
How was that possible? Simply put, music is without a doubt a universal language that includes the most basic concepts of rhythm, melody, restraint, textures and nuances – all impervious to cultural and language barriers. Communication is key, along with experience, patience and mutual respect. And in the case of performing, always remembering to have a good time. Hey, it’s showbiz!
One of the points I’d like to make, if not the point, is the importance of rehearsal. During multiple rehearsals, if all the participants are paying attention and egos are left at the door, you can’t help but tighten up the music. Checking with each other on a rhythm or groove, who takes a break and when, how to complement each other’s playing with dynamic attacks, how to launch into the tune effectively, how to close out the tune, and when to soften your part to secure a platform for the lead instrument in a segment are all components that enable a good group to lock into the groove.
To be perfectly honest, having never been in a band, this is exactly what I’ve been going through for the past few years and it’s sometimes like walking a tightrope. But more often, it is one of the more joyous times to play music. I was once told by a fellow player that my playing was like a Russian Dragon, which I first took as a complement until I realized he meant that my timing was either Rushin’ or Draggin’, which lead me to sleep with a metronome under my pillow for a while and daily prayers to the timing genies.
The other point is whether you’re playing with others on either a professional level or as a weekend warrior in an amateur setting, the playground of music is still the same and, most important of all, is the human connection with others. It’s socialization at a magical level. Unless your timing is like a Russian Dragon!
By the way, I’m thinking of getting a battery for that metronome.
– Richard Gilewitz