Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Well-Oiled Machine

Last night I had the great fortune to be asked to play with the West Philadelphia Orchestra at a private party.  If you haven’t heard these guys before, you’re doing yourself a disservice.  WPO authentically plays Balkan tunes with crazy beats and dizzying melodies, literally whipping their audience into dancing frenzies.  They are a treat to listen to as well as to play with.  Their music is challenging, interesting, and fun as hell!

Whipping Picture

Just a quick acknowledgment that this author does understand what the word “literally” means.

Right before we played, the host of the party asked us what our craziest shows were like.  I’m sure he was thinking of a show where everyone took their pants off or one guy danced for 12 hours straight, but I thought back to the beginning of the year with a different group in which I played a New Year’s Eve gospel show at the Prince Music Theater.  The whole thing was pretty poorly run, with rehearsals starting up to an hour late and running over by at least an hour.  The charts were hastily written, and the director painfully rehearsed us through problem sections by having us play them over an over again.  Overall, the respect for the musicians and their time just wasn’t there.  That was a memorable night for me, although not in a positive way at all.

Then the WPO show started, and I got a completely different picture.  I’ve only played with the group a handful of times, so my knowledge of the material is rudimentary, especially when the song form gets wild.  The big difference in how the show was run, however, was the ease with which I was able to do my job with them.  Larry, one of the founders of the group, was right by my side at all times.  When the form would meander, he was right on top of the chart, pointing out what needed to happen.  That’s no small feat when you have a baritone horn pressed against your face.  When a particular rhythm had to be played that wasn’t in the chart, he would conduct it for me in a way that was easy to follow.  The rest of the band members were regulars, so it helped that they were also doing their part adding to the rhythm, melody, or feel of each song.  I felt like I was a part of a well-oiled machine.

One of the hallmarks of great musicians is that they make it incredibly easy to play with them.  Rather than having to constantly watch out for snags and roadblocks, I’m at leisure to do what I want to do, which is just play my best.  I have found several qualities that contribute to that ease of playing.

1. Skills of an Artist

There’s a certain level of fluency that we get to as musicians at some point.  Before that point, we struggle and doubt what we’re offering.  After that point… well, the struggle and doubt probably never goes away, buy we’re able to participate in the musical conversation without hindrance.  I haven’t specifically discovered exactly what it is that pushes it over the edge, but once we get there, a whole new world opens up before us.  It’s possible that unbridled optimism and confidence play a large role in this.

2. Communication Skills

Being able to explain exactly what you need to happen is vitally important.  A good musician needs to be able to hear what is happening and assess exactly what a fellow performer needs to hear to convey what he or she wants.  All too many rehearsals get bogged down when a director misunderstands what the problem is and spends the next 20 minutes solving a non-existent problem.  I have seen directors have an ensemble play one section repeatedly because “we’re not getting it right,” when I can hear and see the issue is an error in the score.  There’s an efficiency of language required as well, to make sure a small problem gets pinpointed and doesn’t end up ballooning.

It goes so much more beyond that though, especially since while you’re playing, you can’t use your verbal skills.  I need to be constantly vigilant for clues as to the direction the music might take.  This involves listening to what my fellow performers are playing and watching for any gestures they might be making.  This ability makes the difference between a good show and going through the motions.  I’ve had the misfortune of playing with musicians with their heads in the stand, and whether or not the audience can notice it, I’m bored out of my mind.  Being part of a living and evolving ensemble breathes life into the performance and makes it so much more enjoyable to play.

Counselor Troi3. Empathy Skills

A well-oiled machine has to respect each of its parts and understand where its members are coming from.  This is probably why these types of groups tend to be composed of like-minded individuals.  Having a common interest outside of the music often leads to a genuine caring and empathy that manifests itself within the music.  You then become an ensemble that is striving to work together and incorporate all the talents that each person brings to the table.

Unsurprisingly, these same skills are important in creating any kind of well-oiled machine.  Just to run down some examples:

Office Job
1.) You must have fluent knowledge of your field.
2.) You must be able to efficiently communicate with your co-workers.
3.) You must have a stake in the well-being of your co-workers so you can bring out the best in them and they can bring out the best in you.

Relationship
1.) You must have sufficient emotional intelligence to understand the tools it takes to make a relationship work.
2.) You must be able to communicate with your partner in such a way that they can and want to hear you.
3.) You must be able to see issues from multiple perspectives to understand where they’re coming from.

Sports Team
1.) You must understand how the game works.
2.) You must be able to communicate with your teammates through your words as well as subtle cues in your actions.
3.) You have to understand the motivations behind the actions your teammates are performing.

When we approach any team-based activity with high-level skills, good communication, and empathy, we transform ourselves into the well-oiled machine.  We become a part of a living process that has a stake in the satisfaction of its individual members.  Most importantly, we make it easy for our teammate(s) to do the things that we do best, and we have more fun with it in the process.  Whether you’re an employee working in a business environment or a dominatrix whipping dancers into a frenzy, take satisfaction in knowing that what you do is a joy for everybody involved.

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Post-show Jitters and the Sweepstakes

Saturday’s CD Release party went great!  Great turnout, great space, great food, great drinks, and a great show.  It was a wonderful culmination of the process I began about a year and a half ago.  Those of you who attended, thank you so much.  Those of you who couldn’t make it, well next time!  And in case you couldn’t make it, here’s a nice montage of what you missed, filmed by my good friend (and pro banjoist) Rich Barnes:

There were of course a few snags.  Though the lucky Jim H. won the I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend necklace, I had unfortunately forgotten to bring it with me.  So I’ll be dropping that off to him this week. Due to a family emergency, my friend E.J. was unable to attend and open the show, so I ended up doing two sets.  The first set went through the songs on the album, and the second had a bit more miscellany.  I broke into the Burrito song moments after the piñata was split open.  I sang the seminal favorites from Sesame Street, Capital I and Lower-case n.  And of course, no show is complete without hearing the Kool and the Gang allegory of losing one’s virginity performed on toy piano.

It was a tremendously fun time, despite the absolute exhaustion of it all.  The next day, I took some time to recover, but suddenly felt energized by the lack of need to prepare the album.  I’m of course going to be playing a lot to support the album I just released, but I’m so excited to move onto other things.  In fact, the first thing I did was revisit an old project I had devised a while ago.  A few of my friends do a podcast called the Third Power about the card game Magic the Gathering.  The theme for the podcast is a great little chiptune by Hyphen Jones that has a sweet groove to it.

I’ve always wanted to do an acoustic version of it, pioneering the elusive genre of Acoustic Electronica.  This is (totally made up and) where I take a song with electronica elements and perform it on acoustic instruments.  Last night I was finally able to make it happen, so I present to you now, Up On a SoapBox by Hyphen Jones, performed by Neon and Shy:

A little fresh air, a little distance, and I’ll be ready to tackle some new projects.  One more piece of old business to take care of, though…

As mentioned above, there was a winner of the I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend necklace, but there is actually a second one that can be yours to win in the Neon and Shy Pendantic Sweepstakes!

Neon and Shy Pendantic Sweepstakes

Necklace

This too can be yours!

From 8/27 to 9/7 I’m running the Neon and Shy Pendantic Sweepstakes in which you can win entries into the drawing for the necklace just by sharing your new favorite album (mine). Just do any of the following pieces of promotion:

1. Share the link to my album on your facebook page.
2. Share the link to my album on your twitter feed.
3. Write a review of my album on iTunes, Amazon, or CD Baby. That’s one entry for each review. Copy and paste away.
4. Write a review of my album on a blog.When you do any of these things, send me a message to dan AT neonandshy DOT com and I’ll tally you down. On September 7th at noon, I’ll use a pseudo-random number generator, probably set up in Excel, and draw the winner of the necklace and ship it out to you.Here’s the link to the album:
http://neonandshy.bandcamp.com/

Here’s the link to the sites to promote it on:
iTunes: http://bit.ly/RfPahA
Amazon: http://amzn.to/MVvS4A
CD Baby: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/neonandshy

Facebook: facebook.com/neonandshy
Twitter: @neonandshy

Good luck to you all!

Pre-show Jitters

Well this is it!  Tomorrow is the the CD Release of I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend, a project in the works formally for almost a year and a half, and encompassing songs I’ve written as far back as 10 years ago.  I’ve been coordinating the performers for the evening, helping my mother with planning the food, contacting the Maas Building for last-minute requests, and practicing to make it the best show it can be.  It seems like not a minute goes by where I’m not mentally bookmarking something I need to remember: in the last minute, it was beer and cups.  In the midst of it, it’s almost impossible to concentrate on anything else, and it’s running me down.

Last night, I got a call from my friend Samantha who is playing ukelele at the show.  She was asking about some of the chords in the serenade to Dairyland, but she started the conversation, “Are you excited about the show?”  Her voice sounded genuinely excited, and she told me that she was really looking forward to it.  I, however, realized that I was more worried about it than excited.  I have all these pieces to put together, combined with a desire for perfection.  Sometimes no amount of “well nothing is perfect,” or “just do your best enjoy yourself” is enough to snap me out of it.  But in this case, one “are you excited about the show,” did wonders for me.

I’m not going to stop worrying (not sure that I even could), but I am going to do everything I can to enjoy myself.  I’ve got a CD that’s making waves in the blogging community.  I’m learning more and more about what I can do to be successful in this industry.  I’m improving as a player and a performer.  I have scads of ideas for new songs, such as the girl who preferred to write letters, and the ode to Philadelphia.  I have some fun projects in the works coming up, including a podcast and a class on songwriting and recording.  My life is driven by creative endeavors, and there are days where I feel like the luckiest person alive to be able to explore them.

So even though tomorrow continues to be the opportunity for me to put on the best show I can , I’m also using it to celebrate the confluence of factors that have come together to make me so lucky to be happy.  If you’re in Philadelphia, come out and share in the good food, good music, and good spirit of the occasion.  I hope to see you there!

Dan with arms

Here I am offering free hugs to the first 30 attendees!

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