My mentor David Lanz has told me that amateurs borrow, but professionals steal. Having stolen his title from his blog post, I am officially a professional! Seriously though, David wrote an excellent blog entry called
Using Your Musical Influences to Energize Your Piano Playing!
And of course, I do just about every Sunday night at the Malt Shop. But what about in composing? As probably most of you know, I’ve had this awful composing block for years. I don’t even enjoy playing piano at home, which is sad for many reasons. I have a wonderful instrument, and composing used to bring me such joy. It was almost effortless, and I just sat back and let the music form itself. even though David’s entry is the truth, it has taken my thoughts in very very different directions. most people know that I’ve had ongoing issues with depression, and some of that has had to do with Phil’s precarious health of late. I take medication to keep me from the darkest of it, but I also have gone to therapy just about every week for the last eleven months. Being in therapy isn’t unusual for me, but this has been a very different, more intense kind of therapy. Having a Master’s in Community Counseling myself, I learned how insurance companies work. They like the quick fix therapy comparatively speaking called cognitive behavioral therapy. The theory is basically that if your thoughts and behaviors change, the problems will resolve themselves. And sometimes it works. The psychiatrist who monitors my medication referred me to a therapist right next door to him, and her approach is different and deeper. We’ve concluded that for reasons I won’t express here other than my blindness and related issues, I am a people pleaser in many areas of my life. I always feel like I have to compensate and work ten times harder than the next person, because who I am isn’t good enough, or there’s always something wrong with me. If I don’t contribute in one area, I have to find a way to contribute doubly in others. This heavily contributes to my depression.
What does this have to do with musical roots? Everything! David Lanz and other pianists and new age artists are definitely some of my influences, but I’ve always known they weren’t the whole picture. For anyone who follows me on twitter, you know I follow a lot of different kinds of musicians. I love Christian contemporary, gospel, and
R&B music. But it probably doesn’t show as much in my compositions, because I’ve been afraid to let it. I’m so scared of alienating my audience by any reference to these kinds of music, and it’s heart breaking. My therapist has theorized that my psyche has shut down the music until I can figure out how to get around the barriers of my low self worth and my motivation to please others first in my music before pleasing myself. It is a resounding theme through a lot of my life, and in many areas, I can put my needs aside and let others come first. But because the music is a part of me, I can’t do that without it becoming totally obvious and lackluster. That doesn’t please anyone. There’s always a certain amount of tension between being fulfilled as an artist and that customer service stuff, but right now, the wrestling match has shut down the whole operation. Even on the periphery of music, I think about the customers verses myself. People aren’t buying CD’s anymore. I made a pledge to try to only get digital files to keep the piles from getting anymore out of control. Everyone is moving that direction with IDevices and other MP3 players. So even if somehow I put together a decent album, do I go to the considerable expense of getting physical CD’s? I’m not selling in any stores besides CD Baby, so I’m just not sure. If I don’t create a physical CD, what kind of package do I create in terms of digital booklets etc.? Again, people buy the digital music. Is a digital booklet important? Is there a way to sell something physical other than CD’s with the digital files on it which would be lower cost? So I continue to be frozen in terms of composition until I figure out how to free myself.
I’m also dealing with another quandary having to do with music and worth. People often ask me if I teach piano lessons, and I generally say I don’t with one exception. If someone has the talent to work up a piece, and they want my help enhancing it, I charge $20 an hour to work with them. This is for people I don’t know. If someone I knew who considered me a friend asked me to do this in the name of friendship as has happened, I have no problem giving him/her ideas over the phone about how to make it better. This is the thing David has done for me, and from there I took the ball and ran with it. That wasn’t enough for this person, so I have committed to helping at the person’s house once. If I was making more money than I am, I might consider doing something like this on an ongoing basis for a friend. David certainly gave me his time and attention, and I really believe in passing it on,. the problems I see coming are several fold. First, this person is talented in certain genres but claims not to be able to play others. I am to help with a project for which this person is being asked to play an uncomfortable genre, and it’s probably a fair bet this person is going to get paid. If we go beyond the commitment of this first session, do I ask for money? Where does friendship end and professional capacity begin?
am I able to teach this person how to play something from square 1? My proviso about giving lessons has always been that the “pupils” have to have the talent to work up the song they want to learn, and I’ll help them find ways of enhancing it. To learn note for note, as in a classical piece, sometimes the hands have to be separated and put back together to get the whole picture. For jazz, break-down and analysis of chords and slowing down melody during the learning process can be helpful if they race by too fast to catch them by ear. Aside from classical and some jazz which can be highly intricate, I believe anyone who has an ear for one genre can pick up others fairly easily within reason. One instrument can’t replicate the full sound of an album full of instruments or the specific sound of voices and other instruments. One friend told me that making up for that is where imagination comes, and I think that’s accurate. This person is saying he/she “can’t” play this genre, so I’m guessing no work-up or preparation will have been done before my visit. What am I worth, and how much do I do in the name of friendship? is my teaching it for them really going to in the long run? Or will I be getting another phone call asking in the name of friendship to teach more songs in this genre? Am I really going to have the patience for this? Aside from methodologies for more teaching/learning classical and jazz, I don’t know if this can really be taught without some innate talent to begin. It’s difficult for me to understand how one genre can be learned but another is completely impossible to start.