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Teen Music

Teen boy listening to headphones

Joan Baez singingWhen I was a teenager, I pretty much liked any music that my parents didn’t like—especially if it was being played by long haired guys dressed in black leather. I mean, that’s just typical for teens to be that way, right? That dynamic has changed some by now, and I know teens who actually like their parents and hang out and listen to music with them. Back in our day not all DJs had to adhere to programming rules or meet quotas of how many Beach Boys songs they played per hour, so sometimes they actually played some interesting music. Of course, in those days payola was still very much part of the computation and it was more or less expected since the greedy studio fat cats were still running things.

Now don’t get me wrong—I liked and still like the Beach Boys, but as music listeners in the 60s and 70s, many of us were angry and looking for musical ways to express that anger, or we were in a kind of clueless pot fog. Or maybe that was just me… The Vietnam war, unjust drug laws, crass commercialism, the lack of support for women’s issues, the double standard for equal pay and opportunities, civil rights for all people…the list was long and is STILL long, but I am encouraged by the fact that many teens are still listening to the same music that used to get our juices going back in the day. Relevant and important music and pretty darn creative.

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Fiddlin’ Around – August 2019

Fiddlin'Around headerAll songwriters start out with a scary blank page, and most of them have their own particular approach for filling it up. Everybody’s got to find the muse and method that works for them, but like most artistic endeavors there is no one ‘right’ way to go about writing a song. There are lots of different reasons for writing a song—to tell a story, to make a buck, to give yourself or another singer a vehicle for showing what they are capable of, to influence others, or because that’s just what songwriters do! There are books written on the subject, and plenty of folks with advice about how to write a hit song, but eventually it’s all gonna boil down to HONESTY and HEART. Of course it is useful to learn how to read music and to understand keys and scales and harmony—but somehow the listener can always tell when music is fake or contrived and it just doesn’t work.

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Fiddlin’ Around – July 2019

Fiddlin'Around headerRainy season down here in the southern Pacific zone of Costa Rica is usually full of beautiful mornings, birds singing, spectacular plants blooming, clear streams babbling away, and unless it’s been relentlessly raining for weeks, it is a very pleasant time to be here. If you do find it a bit overwhelming this time of year, then find some goofy old movies or cartoons with a musical sound track and watch them on your TV or computer! Before talkies, the movie studios flagrantly stole from great classical and symphonic works for the sound tracks to their animated films. Wily E. Coyote freefalling off a cliff to the strains of Beethoven. Baby chimps settling down to bed in their jungle cradles, to the sound of a Brahms lullaby. The characters didn’t find their voices for a while, so the early cartoons were all about interpreting the music. The artists would painstakingly draw frame after frame to fit the musical selections as much as the story line. I remember seeing an ancient cartoon that had a bunch of barnyard animals playing Dixieland music, and many of us were permanently disturbed by Disney’s scary interpretation of Night on Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky, in his epic animated film Fantasia. Disney could be very funny—he could also be dark and frightening and his characters raw evil.

At the same time that movie soundtracks were getting popular, music theatre was evolving from burlesque, and attempting to kind of upgrade the slapstick style that they had been using. Much of it is kind of silly and certainly unrealistic—navy guys dancing and singing on the deck of their ship, pool-playing shysters leading a parade, aristocrats singing in the kitchen with the help. Often the lyrics to a song wouldn’t have anything to do with the story line, but would merely be clever or humorous rhymes.

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Rhythm

Rythm headerOne year, during a particularly dismal rainy season here, several of my lady friends organized aerobic and dance and step classes so they could get their exercise fix. Being the nice, inclusive types that they are, they invited me join in their sessions, which started at some ungodly early part of the day, like 8:00 am. Frankly, I prefer to indulge myself in being grumpy in the morning, but I eventually lighten up and surface into niceness behind a couple of cups of strong coffee, a cigarette or two, and some loud music. By then it’s more like brunch time, so needless to say, I never actually made it to a class. But one of my friends told me that exercising to music and a strong beat made her feel rhythmic, and it was clearly some kind of personal breakthrough. People often argue with me when I say everyone has music inside of them, but it is true. It is also true that we all have rhythm inside of us.

Carlos SantanaHello, how about that ever-present heartbeat? It marches along with very little influence from us and permeates our entire body. Respiration—we breathe in, we breathe out, we breathe in, we breathe out. Most of the time these things happen without our even noticing them and it takes doctors with high tech machines to determine deviations in our silent but ever present body rhythms. Brain waves, nerve impulses, glandular releases, and even our throbbing pain sites. Synapses’ firing, adrenaline being released, cells multiplying, hair growing—geez we’re probably just a cacophony of wacko sounds if we could just hear it all. All of these body functions respond to outside stimulus as well, whether it’s exercise, coffee, discomfort, temperature, fear, joy, or listening to Carlos Santana. And until we’re pushing up daisies they just keep on playing their own part in the rhythm section.

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Fiddlin’ Around – April 2019

Fiddlin'Around headerWhen people can’t communicate with each other verbally, when age or physical differences keep us apart, when we share no common history or experiences—there is always music to bring us together! OK, so this is not exactly earth-shattering news, but I am writing this on Fat Tuesday, where in my beloved town of New Orleans people are going crazy right now and are dancing in the streets to all kinds of different music and rhythms. Mardi Gras music is its own category and lingo and everybody knows the songs—from little kids tap dancing to ‘Hey Pocky Way’ to Little Queenie singing ‘My Darlin’ New Orleans’ to Dr. John growling about ‘Going Back to New Orleans’. Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, the folks there will put away their costumes, donate all those beads that they were diving on the filthy ground to retrieve to a charity and trying new hangover remedies.

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras

But also as I write this, the folks from the Envision Festival are cleaning up the area and the beach after days of relentless partying to techno and dj and live music. They will be donating money and effort to local charities and everyone’s consciousness will have been raised. Well, in theory anyway. They’ll be slamming down fruit juice and smoothies and doing their yoga stretches and exchanging phone info with the other survivors. Up the road by Quepos the cowboys who participated in the local rodeo are sore from dancing to Cumbia music and battling bulls and are probably drinking shots of chili guaro to get them through their day. We are all feeling a bit beat up and weary, but most of us will be back at it next year, ‘cause the impulse and the drive to dance and sing is the same no matter where you are or where you’re from!

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Fiddlin’ Around – March 2019

Time header
Time fliesTime flies when you’re having fun…Time has passed me by…Time has taken its toll…Time stood still…I don’t have Time for that… She’s gotten better with Time…that’s a Timeless melody…to everything there is a Time… We all talk about Time as if we had a clue what it’s all about. We try to manipulate time or control it, or measure it, or define it—and we certainly write lyrics and songs about it. My personal favorite saying about Time doesn’t really mean a damn thing—it just looks good scrawled on a wall. ‘Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like bananas…’

Songwriters have penned some truly cheesy and simplistic things about time, but they occasionally hit on some profound thoughts that we can all relate to. The Stones wrote about being “Out of Time” (it was never played live—and is only on the UK version of the recording “Aftermath”). They also wrote “Time Waits for No One” and optimistically that “Time is On My Side”. Their fascination with the subject also resulted in “The Last Time”. The Doors asked the world to “Love Me Two Times”, Cyndi Lauper wrote about “Time After Time” and even vapid little Brittney Spears wants “Baby, One More Time”. That great band Chicago asked the big question—“Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” Cher had a hit with the song “If I Could Turn Back Time”, which she has apparently spent a good chunk of her life trying to do, at least physically! Clint Black wrote “Killin’ Time” and Ray Charles can make us weep with his song “Crying Time”.

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Fiddlin’ Around – February 2019

Fiddlin'Around headerEnvision festivalEnvision Fest time is rolling around again, and most of us here in Dominical are happy for the diversion and happy to witness the folks attending the fest’s commitment to global and spiritual ideals and progress. Over the years I have met many young people with lofty goals who came here hoping to meet others with the same interests, and clearly this festival is not just about the music. Actually, it’s not even mainly about the music—it’s about yoga and meditation and healing arts and dance and permaculture and visual art and global awareness and eco-consciousness and alternative lifestyles. But browsing through the bios of some of the live musicians, I must confess that I do not understand a lot of the labels that are used now to describe different types of music. I have nothing but vague ideas of what global bass is, or glitch hop, or psydub, or what makes it sacred drumming as opposed to plain old drumming.

2 guys playing drums and fluteIt’s hard for me to relate to relentless rhythms and electronically produced sounds. I’m not going to apologize for that—I’ve enjoyed a lifetime of melodies and meaningful lyrics and harmonies and exploration of sounds produced by actual people, not machines. To me much of the techno stuff is just taking a cheesy 60s style drum machine from the mediocre band at the local Hotel Notell and elaborating on it. But I will defend anyone’s right to listen to what they want, and truth be told I can sometimes be found dancing along…

There are several stages at Envision, and the beautiful yet functional designs used to showcase what is happening on them is inspiring. Outstanding artistry and imagination goes into their making. You’re gonna have to go to the Envision 2019 website and read up on the different acts and which stages are used for techno or dance or acoustic or reggae so you can find the musical medium you like. The Sol stage is described as having big band music, but I am pretty sure they aren’t talking about Tommy Dorsey or Benny Goodman. But I’m clueless about what it is. It’s hard for me to tell by the names whether it is a DJ or a band or a combination of both. I am happy that reggae music still has a place at this festival—I like reggae and over the years it has been an important genre both musically and politically. There will be plenty of jamming going on—especially with drums and flutes and homemade instruments. To me, sitting on the beach with a bunch of others banging on stuff and being mesmerized by a bonfire is time well spent!

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Fiddlin’ Around – January 2019

Fiddlin'Around headerHallelujah brothers and sisters—we have survived another trip around the sun, so HAPPY NEW YEAR to us all! Despite global uncertainty, intolerance and animosity, the manipulation of information, wildfires, floods, earthquakes and personal frustrations, a bunch of us are still here! What we need to do now is to notice the optimistic new beginnings around us! Like a kid’s first piano or flute or violin recital. Little girls in their finest frilly dresses, nervously tuning up and looking for their friends in the audience. Little guys squirming in their new duds and shiny shoes. Proud families, turning out in herds to applaud and cheer for everyone. Gawky teen-agers, walking onstage with newfound poise and purpose. That first glimpse that the hours spent in focused practice actually turns into MUSIC—something that makes everyone feel closer and happier. That thrill—that pride—that awareness of being part of a human artistic brotherhood—it never goes away, and every musician remembers their first experiences and new beginnings.

Boy playing violinI see the transformation that happens with my students at the Escuela de Musica Sinfonica in San Isidro. At the beginning of the year many of them are shy or maybe intimidated by the amount and power of the new experiences they are having, but once they settle in they eagerly look forward to the new and exciting paths they can take musically. An incredible spirit dwells in our school—it’s full of inspiration and wonder and laughter and noise and wonderful chaos. I have literally ‘seen’ that proverbial light bulb go on over their heads when they master a little bit of Bach, or finally get comfortable enough with the posture of holding a cello to actually become one with it. As adults and mentors, we need to nurture and nourish these kids to follow their musical dreams, ‘cause a whole world of ‘new beginnings’ will be opened up for them. Different cultures and history—pride and discipline—art and beauty—love and compassion.

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Fiddlin’ Around – December 2018

Fiddlin'Around headerSan Jose topeWelcome to all you travelers who have shown the good judgement and the necessary spirit of adventure to visit this beautiful and diverse part of the world! December, and the holiday season in general, is a fine time to be here. The rains will have subsided, everything is still green and lush, and the local musicians are waking up from their long naps and tuning up. If we can all manage to remember what Christmas is supposed to be about, maybe, just maybe, we can remember to be kind to each other! And laugh and sing together!

Last month my article was about music and horses being sources of emotional and physical therapy. For the un-initiated, there are horse gatherings and parades and exhibitions that go on all over Costa Rica this time of year, so if you hear about a Cabalgata or Tope happening somewhere, go see it! It is an amazing thing to witness dozens—sometimes hundreds—of magnificent animals and their riders all spiffed up and showing off their skills. There are excellent horsemen and women here, and often they are riding pretty spectacular looking South American and Spanish bred animals. It’s big fun to watch or participate in for everyone from Gramps to little kids, and they prepare for these events and look forward to them all year long. The granddaddy of them all is the Tope in San Jose during Christmas—literally hundreds of entrants parading through the streets. They broadcast it all day long on the TV, and it is big fun to watch or participate in, even if horses ain’t your thang…

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Fiddlin’ Around -November 2018

Fiddlin'Around headerWoman on a horseHorses and music have been the two most consistently wonderful and important and therapeutic things in my life. When I was a kid my parents scrimped to pay for violin lessons and the expenses for the beautiful mare my Dad indulgently bought me, but they wouldn’t let me gallop away until I had practiced the violin. In my case the apple didn’t fall too far from the parental tree—my Dad was a classical and jazz violinist and a bit of a clown, and he was also a member of the U.S. Horse Calvary and was a fine rider. I used to think I was Annie Oakley reincarnated….

It is well documented by scientists, health care providers, shrinks and educators that music has healing powers on many levels. Folks with physical or mental challenges can be positively affected by either playing music or listening to it. I’ve talked about this before—lower blood pressure, better diabetic numbers, pain management, increased attention and memory. There are many reasons why music is beneficial to us humans, besides the obvious facts that it is fun and communal and makes us think and feel deep emotions and get up and dance.

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Gary Sancho Esquivel

Fiddlin'Around headerGary Sancho EsquivelA wonderful and inspiring young man told me recently that MUSIC had saved his life—and that he could not live without hearing and playing classical music. Wow. I thought that was quite a statement to make, especially once I learned a bit about his circumstances and how he has gotten to this realization and personal truth. His name is Gary Sancho Esquivel and I want to tell you folks about him, ‘cause he is going places!! Hopefully to Utah!! Yep—that’s what I said—Utah!

Gary grew up as the youngest of 6 kids, and though his father was an elementary school teacher everyone else was expected to work on the family farm near San Vito, a nice town of about 14,000 people in the pretty foothills of the Talamanca mountain range. Colonization of this area (ignoring the indigenous people already there), was organized by the Costa Rican government in 1952 with the goal of populating the area with foreign settlers, many of whom came over from Italy. The town is about 170 miles southeast of San Jose, close to the Panama border, and the people there mainly raise coffee and other crops, or cattle. A nice enough area, but not exactly full of academic or musical opportunities.

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Fiddlin’ Around August 2018

Fiddlin'Around headerSunshine SupermanThere have been so many beautiful days here lately in our little corner of the planet that it’s prompted me to think about weather, and of course, how it relates to music. The sunsets are spectacular, the critters and birds are super active and the rains aren’t intimidating yet. When I started looking through my songbooks and searching my leaky memory, I noticed the words ‘sunny’ and ‘sunshine’ are in about as many songs as the word ‘love’. ‘Course some of these songs are about the lack of sunshine in our lives, or the absence of love. “You are my sunshine—my only sunshine—you make me happy when skies are grey!” No sunshine and no love is a double whammy and darned hard to recover from.

Then there’s the ‘Sunny side of the Street’, ‘Sunny Skies’ by James Taylor, ‘Sunny’, the band Cream singing ‘Sunshine of Your Love’, or Stevie Wonder’s beautiful song ‘You Are the Sunshine of My Life’. Jonathan Edwards sang ‘Sunshine’, Donovan penned ‘Sunshine Superman’, and we were all ‘Walkin’ On Sunshine’. John Denver’s love of the natural world and his song, ‘Sunshine on My Shoulder’ connected us to the elements. He described the fickleness of weather and life—both bring us happiness and tears. A guy named Terry Jacks had a #1 hit in the USA and the UK in 1974 with a haunting song called ‘Seasons in the Sun’. It was an unusual theme for the pop music world—a dying man fondly recalls his life and loves, knowing it’s all nearly over with. The Walker Brothers had a hit in 1966 with ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’. These guys had weather on their brains, because the next year they followed it up with ‘Walkin’ in the Rain’. Country music fans might remember Dottie West’s song ‘Country Sunshine’, a catchy upbeat song that was used to the point of annoyance in ads for Coca- Cola to help us feel that their product would make our lives happier. Well, when rum is added, I suppose it could work that way. At least for a while.

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Audience Etiquette

Fiddlin'Around headerIt makes me happy to play music, either as a soloist or with a band, and to realize that real, live people are actually listening! Seeing your musical choices and decisions connect with or move someone emotionally is a beautiful thing. I know there are fine musicians who don’t want or need feedback from anyone and who are content to play to the birds while sitting alone on their front porch, but that is usually not enough for me. Especially when the birds aren’t even listening. All musicians are acquainted with being ignored by people in the audience who aren’t paying any attention to us, and while it can hurt our feelings, we make excuses for them or try to act like it doesn’t matter. Well, I don’t think I’ve ever written mean things about an audience before, but sometimes you guys just don’t act right! There is such a thing as audience etiquette.

Audience member talking on cell phoneAges ago I was fixin’ to get on a plane headed for Europe on a tour with a blues guy named Coco Robicheaux, and for some reason that I can’t remember now, our guitarist was being replaced at the last minute with a guy who none of the rest of us knew. We had one small gig in New Orleans before leaving, and it was really kind of a rehearsal as it was our only chance to run through those tricky songs of Coco’s with the new guy. We had a small though attentive and forgiving audience, but after a couple of songs two women came in and sat fairly close to the band and proceeded to talk to each other throughout the entire performance. Loudly and about trivial crap. By the end of the night, I was so steamed about having had to listen to these women talk about their stupid boss, and their stupid new shoes and their stupid lives that I went over to them and told them I’d be at their workplace on Monday morning where I would sit on their stupid desk and play the violin. Serious righteous indignation on my part. So we go on tour, and after being ignored for like three weeks by the new guitarist, I was completely clueless and freaked out about why he and I were having such crummy communication and no comradery. The drummer finally fessed up to me that one of the women I had chastised was actually the fiancé of the guitarist and he now hated me for talking to her the way I did. Sigh. We all lost—the European audiences cause we were giving less than stellar performances, the promoters, the other band members for having to walk on eggshells the whole tour, and I was pissed all over again that he didn’t come talk to me with his grievances like an adult. All because these women just weren’t sensitive to what was going on.

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Fiddlin’ Around – May/June 2018

Fiddlin'Around headerUsually at some point in my articles I nag you folks to get out and listen to real people playing music together, and there are good reasons for my nagging! Now of course this is partly self-serving, as I play around here a lot and I totally prefer to play for people as opposed to empty chairs. Most musicians love it when an audience is receptive and having fun and getting into the music, but it’s also because something special happens during live performances. It’s a one-time-only kind of deal that will never be repeated in exactly the same way. A live show is always unique, no matter how rehearsed or scripted or pre-meditated it might be. Part of it is the energy and spirit coming from the audience. Part of it is the time and place. Part of it is the communication between the musicians. Maybe it’s about the moon or how much sleep the players got the night before or how many cups of coffee they’ve had or whether the guitar player is getting along with the drummer, but it will never happen exactly the same way again.

Edison and his phonograph

Edison and his phonograph

Thanks to Thomas Edison, a recording device was invented which brought music and speech to listeners with the proper equipment. Later, flat records evolved which remained the playback medium for the next 60 years or so. There were reel to reel tapes, and cassettes and 8 tracks and CDs. The radio brought previously recorded music to the masses, and nowadays there are many ways to hear music through the internet, whether it be live broadcasts or the recording some guy with a ukulele made in his basement. With a click on your computer you can hear radio stations from all over the planet, or download stuff from years past or last nights’ show. But standing in front of a speaker listening to a band playing live is still a special and wonderful thing.

I like doing studio work, but it requires a different set of skills, equipment and approach than playing live. Many times I have been called in to a studio to play just a few pertinent parts, never really hearing the whole song or knowing what it was about. The recording part of my career started back when actual tape was used to record onto, and the mixing part was as important to the ultimate sound as was the musical content. Sometimes we tried to record as many of the instruments and vocals at the same time, striving for a ‘live’ sound. Sometimes all the parts would be recorded separately onto their own track, cleaned up later of any unwanted noise, adjusting the volume levels and tone of the instruments or vocals, then it would all be finalized in the mix. Engineers who were really good at mixing would make notes about little details—where to turn up the singers volume for 5 seconds, or erase an unwanted cymbal crash or brighten up the horn parts for a short time. Back then, when you made a final mix it often involved several people manipulating the tracks, and sometimes the mix was inspired and everyone worked beautifully together. Sometimes it was lackluster and stiff or over-produced. I can remember the tension and cooperation between the studio engineers and the musicians when doing a final mix—there might be half a dozen people hovering over the mixing board, each with their role to play. Now you can do anything you dream up in the studio and there is no ‘final’ mix that can’t be changed. If someone sings one note that is flat, you can isolate that note on the computer, correct the pitch and save that adjustment to the computer and never have to worry about it again. Or worry about the singer hitting the right note. All the technical advances have in some respects made recording much easier, but you can also lose that ‘live’ enthusiasm and spontaneity in the process and end up with robot music.

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Fiddlin’ Around – April 2018

Fiddlin'Around headerYou can tune a guitar. You can play a tune on it. Some people can ‘carry’ a tune. Some people couldn’t sing in tune if their life depended on it. You can tune an instrument with ‘perfect pitch’ or with ‘relative pitch’. There are tuning forks and electronic tuners. What does it all mean?? Well, basically it’s all about adjusting an instrument to play a note which everyone has agreed upon. A pitch that is defined by the number of vibrations per second that are produced. Electronic tunerThat’s what is meant when someone says they are tuning to standard A 440 Hz—they have adjusted the A note above middle C on their violin or their oboe or their harp to produce 440 cycles. But if you think it’s difficult to get a group of folks to agree on where to go for lunch, then imagine trying to get millions of musicians throughout history to agree on a common note to tune their instruments to. I’m not even going to mention Middle Eastern tuning, or Oriental, or Indian, or even Louisiana home-grown Cajun music!

First I’m gonna talk about orchestras. There are four different designations within an orchestra. The String section, the largest of the four, includes the upright bass, (the lowest in pitch) cello, viola, and violin. Since the strings make up more than half of the total musicians in an orchestra, the violins are usually separated into first and second sections. The first section players generally deal with the slightly more important and difficult parts, and there could be as many as 15 violinists in each section.

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