Posts from the ‘Music’ Category

Covers vs Originals … ?

Many of us start life as creative, professional musicians with an absolute aversion to playing anyone else music ever at all. No way! We want to tell our own stories and have something original and unique to say that no-one else has. For others, it’s the opposite – not everyone is a natural at songwriting and composing and there is a fine career to be had just playing and interpreting what’s already been written.

 

I prioritise my own material 90%, confident to call myself in general terms a ‘jazz musician’ as the idiomatic jazz references in my work are unmistakable. Over the years I’ve found an increasingly interesting (and sometimes rocky) relationship between covers and original music and getting known for doing both.

 

Here’s my Top Ten (and somewhat random) Tips and crazy notions to navigate and have fun with the covers/originals balance.

 

  1. Never forget that what lies in your own brain, imagination and invention is your gift to the world. You have a duty to bring it forth. Original art is everything. You’ll know if you have something to say with your songs as they will write you – you won’t have a choice. Never block the flow, you will make yourself ill if you do. Trust that you have something to say and get out of the way of creation speaking through you!

  2. As a child, I was told off, (in a grudgingly admiring way) by my piano tutor for using our lessons to show her my own compositions. She wanted me to focus on the Purcell (yuk …) and Mozart (yawn …) that we had to study. In her head, this was clearly the concert pianist path. I was more interested in making up my own chord sequences, although I felt guilty for including a hooky progression from a current TV show…

  3.  It was at this point that she was more helpful and told me not to worry about little steals and derivations and that the famous composers quoted from each other all the time – both deliberately and unconsciously.

  4. One huge and obvious advantage of sticking to your own work is that the royalties and rights are yours. No need to negotiate or buy access or clear it with anyone before you record. If original work is your default process then you find yourself wanting to record a cover and then sell the resulting album, it can feel (and is) somewhat more complicated.

  5. An advantage of doing covers is that (for me) there is a blissful and much needed buffer zone of objectivity. What a relief to leave my own stories behind and put something less risky on the line! If the audience rejects it, (either the storyline or the melody) it’s so much less personal.

  6. Approaching and arranging  great popular standards can and will make you a better player and composer for your own stuff. Tackle John Coltranes ‘Giant Steps’ just for fun – it’s such a good theory lesson and can be treated and redone in endless ways. (A repertoire of classic covers also serves as ready teaching material.) Program your set so that you hit a new audience with 4 originals, then a really well known standard that shows off your skills but continues the theme. Like dominos, make sure they’re connected by something – subject matter/mood/tempo/key. If you can get your original songs mistaken for classics then this is a good thing and means you’re writing the standards of the future! I had a (not very pleasant but certainly interesting) post gig scenario once at the Isle of Wight jazz festival. A well known festival director accused me of plagiarising my own songs. He was drunk and out of order and quite aggressive. Horrible – but it was proof that my songs are strong!

  7. Unless the fee is really good, (weddings!) only choose covers that you genuinely love and will stand the test of time and endless repetition as part of your set. Be steadfast in refusing requests (to perform/arrange/prepare/record/deliver) popular songs that you honestly don’t like – it will erode your soul.

  8. Check out other musicians who’ve covered songs maybe more or less successfully than the original songwriter. What makes a great song? One that can be endlessly reinterpreted or one that is untouchable? I fell in love with Carmen McCraes version of ‘New York State of Mind’, then Oleta Adams version – long before I realised that Billy Joel wrote it. It’s a truly solid song, great melody, feel, structure and storytelling. Removed enough from the author that it can live an independent life. In my own set, I include a few K pop songs – which have been translated (into Japanese) for the (huge) Japanese market. One of these, ‘Juliette’ started off as ‘Deal With It’ released by ‘High School Musical’ singer, Corbin Bleu. Then K pop giants Seoul Media bought the rights and transformed it utterly for their top boy band ShinEE – but kept the melody and structure. (Geeks and enthusiasts, listen to the original HERE. The Korean cover/transformation HERE and the Japanese translation HERE.)

  9. Choose wisely – though if you fall on your face, that’s half the fun. I refuse to do Joni Mitchell covers, despite being asked. To ‘superfans’, she is an immortal (rightly so!) and only Joni can do Joni. Likewise Prince – if you attempt it, better do it right! When choosing a cover, have fun taking it as far away from its original incarnation as you can. Mess with the tempo and instrumentation. Strip everything back to the song. See if you can take an industrial metal number and redo it for acoustic jazz guitar. Check out Amy Winehouses version of The Beatles ‘All My Loving’ – which in my opinion is better than the original.

  10. In these days of social media and Youtube – well placed (and non copyright infringing) cover versions and treatments of other artists songs can really work in your favour by drawing fans into your world, your website, your mailing list. The next generation of music lovers is always growing up in waves, discovering the great artists for the first time – they may be led to your version first – or next – through search engines, key words and hash tags.

No one has covered my work to my knowledge. How would I feel … I think I would hate it! I want to be the unique legend that non-one else can do! (But one day I guess it might happen.)

 

Here’s a clip of me singing ‘Feeling Good’ (Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newly) in Trafalgar Square, with my own pre-recorded piano arrangement. (I like this song so much, I later did a different version for guitar.)

Lastly, find out what you need to know to protect your work (copyright – there’s more than one way to do it) and tread respectfully and honestly around others. If your songs are out there, live, recorded or online – there are multiple royalty avenues that you can and should access. Be clear (onstage and everywhere else) about the intellectual ownership of your own work and seek advice before recording others.

 

Resources:

 

Musicians Union – Benefits, protection, legal advice, community.

 

BASCA – British Academy of Songwriters, composers and authors.

 

Performing Rights Society – Music copyright, royalties and licensing.

 


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Collaborate! Er…or not? …

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”If you want to travel fast, go alone. If you want to travel far, go together.”

(Generic truism attributed to just about everyone from Al Gore to Richard Branson. Likely to crop up in entrepreneurial self-help or business speak – oft quoted as traditional African folklore. But … is it true?)

 

I was inspired to think and write a bit about this when reading a random tweet from a jazz enthusiast. She said she sometimes felt tired of seeing musicians cropping up in each others bands all the time and felt the sound and vibe would be too samey and predictable. I thought about times in my life when collaborating felt like the right path and when it didn’t. I think both ways – solo artist and team member on others projects are great and necessary – at different times.

 

Here’s 5 advantages of each. Thoughts that might be of use to beginners and learners, (read it here my Middlesex students, since you never show up to class!) and seasoned (even jaded) semi or full professionals.

 

COLLABORATION PROS – Music is life, is communication. The more we live, breathe and play music, it becomes one more way of being. It should be as natural as breathing and creative projects should feel as organic as any other conversation. Our fellow musicians are closer than family and what we do is in some ways more intimate than partners. Even if we ARE partners. Creating art and community together, is pure strength and joy. It’s about the ‘we’ not just the ‘I’ and everyone benefits.

 

  1. Do something as a team and your other members get to shoulder some of the work. Putting on a night with a group of co-promoters? You can get to delegate roles and responsibilities and portion out tasks according to genuine areas of strength and enthusiasm.

  2. In these days of pressure to get bums on seats, a shared project means a shared demographic and shared crowd. In this way you can bring in a lot of audience through the door and hopefully keep them via a shared mailing list/data base. Funders seem to like group projects and collectives. And since funding applications are such hard work – a team environment can really help. You can pool your all your skills, labour and industry contacts and move forward as a whole.

  3. Doing things together is fun – less loneliness, more camaraderie, shared anecdotes and laughter. Including when things are going wrong or getting discouraging or where an extra viewpoint is needed. Writing songs together is joyful and playful and sharing dreams and ambitions for the future is energising. Approaching the industry together lessens some of the pressure provides a buffer – especially when the doors are slamming.

  4.  If you put in the hours, pay your dues and earn your keep as a session player or singer in other peoples bands, choirs, recordings or gigs, you will certainly improve. Nothing like instrumental session playing to get your chops (and your reputation) to the next level. Also it’s worth being that indispensably reliable person in someones teaching deputy Rolodex.

  5. Ever notice how playing other peoples music has that emotional distance that can be liberating? It’s the vulnerability of someone elses story and history on the line. All you have to do is enhance it and get the notes right. The session player can often appreciate something new and fresh that the songwriter can’t hear. Plus doing something for someone else (for wages or not) often behooves us to work in a way that it’s harder to do for ourselves.

And ….

 

COLLABORATION CONS – I’m a bandleader. I don’t share power easily and I get uncomfortable when someone mentions ‘co-creating’ or ‘community’. I don’t welcome suggestions or feedback on my songs. I can’t help the lone wolf tendency. I have a need for and a simultaneous fear of artistic intimacy. I don’t delegate well. I like defined roles. I’ll follow, (playing/composing/arranging – for a fee) or I’ll lead. Lead the band, write the songs, book the gigs, promote the gigs, pay my players, liaise with venues/media/competitions/festivals and deal with the endless run arounds and rejections. In return for shouldering those responsibilities, it’s my name on the poster and me who owns the copyright.

 

 

  1. Writing music ‘together’ can tie you together more surely than marriage and for longer, if a dispute occurs. Personally I avoid it. It’s my song or it’s your song. I don’t share. It can get too delicate with copyright and royalty issues.

  2. Time is a factor. Just as it’s a good thing to want to do your best contributing to someone elses event – imagine if you put that great, selfless, unconditional energy into your own work and creativity. Food for thought. When is it going to be time for you? Especially if the group project starts to gain momentum. You could be tied up for a while. Which is the whole point, but don’t get spread too thin with conflicting interests.

  3. Some people are just loners. We emerge and submerge and re-emerge but do most of our creative work privately. If you’re the kind of artist who doesn’t like to share the process or keeps things secret until they’re finished – group collaborations can feel weird and forming collectives can feel too much like commitment.

  4. Even in an ideal world, it’s hard to get reciprocity and know that your fellow collaborators are truly as reliable as you. Is their definition of hard work the same as yours? Is their concept of an ‘early start’ or a ‘thorough’ job, the same as yours? Do they take too long to do stuff and are you just carrying them because they’re scared (and unable) to work alone?

  5. The necessary evil that is money and that weird boundary between work and play. If I’m being paid, then I have the energy (literally the fuel) and therefore the liberty to do the job. If I’m paying someone I can expect that they’ll deliver. It comes down again to rock solid roles and responsibilities. If something is freeform play and maybe it’s professional maybe it isn’t, then the boundary is elastic – literally. Exciting and creative for sure. Potentially draining and dissipating too.

My final analysis is that creative intimacy (like other kinds of  love relationships) has an on/off rhythm to it. Too far into ‘solo artist mode’ and it’s time to play on someone elses tunes, or work as an accompanist. Time spent giving ones all in another band inevitably has to give way to going back and prioritising the individual career. The one helps the other, for sure. I come out of ‘session player’ mode burning to get back into my own stuff and often with better technique and faster memorisation. But if I don’t have my time alone in the woodshed, (days, months, years) I have nothing to give. The magic happens in the dance between the two.

 


 

 

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Poetic Flow and Gender Fluidity in K Pop

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I am a secret K pop fan. Actually I’m secret K pop addict. Get me talking, or read on and you’ll find I know way more than I should. I know that a SHAWOL (linguistic mashup) is a fan (usually teenage, American, female) who spends too much time on the internet appreciating heartthrob K pop band ShinEE. I know that 2MIN is the slang mash-up for the constant fan speculation over whether Taemin and Minho from ShinEE are gay bromance partners. I know that the Girls Generation members might have surgical enhancements – or so says word on the street. I know that the internet is full of fan made homage to K pop stars, sometimes in the form of wishful written or pictorial pornography embroidering both gay and straight fantasy scenarios between K pop personalities.

… … … …

Why is K pop culture so seductive?

… … … …

Cursory research reveals the K pop machine to be exactly that – a comprehensive in-house assembly line of picture perfect 20 somethings with athletes bodies and models faces, made even more slick by makeup and in some cases, plastic surgery. The music, lyrics and dance moves, which are shamelessly derivative of US R ‘n’B are created in studio by cadres of session musicians and composers employed by Seoul Media – the centralised empire of K pop product. Seoul Media is its own world, with an olympic sized stadium at which acts ‘debut’, then regularly present shows or ‘stages’ – during which fans chant and wave glo-sticks in ecstatic unison. K pop is often written in English, translated back in to Korean, then peppered with English phrases spoken in American accents, finished off with devilishly slick production and dance routines which inspire mass devotion and group participation. K pop stars may enjoy the celebrity spotlight but they work for their money. Already virtuoso singers, dancers, actors and athletes, they perform and record relentlessly, with an obligatory round of product endorsements, game show appearances, solo projects, soap opera roles and promotional stunts – some of which are deliberately compromising, challenging and embarrassing. Like being made to kiss seedy game show hosts or being hypnotised on national TV. Shows like ‘We Got Married’, (self-explanatory) ‘Hello Baby’ (pop stars get to baby sit a toddler for a month) and ‘Running Man’ (silly sport stunts) really take this to hilarious extremes. Every now and again, boy groups will do their own version of the girl group songs, a few keys down, with the same dance moves. The air hostess glamour of Girls Generation song ‘Genie’ translates into high camp when the boys do it dressed as pink ribboned sailors. It’s hard to say which version is better. (You decide – watch the girls HERE and the boys HERE.)

… … … …

It could be said that K pop is uniquely Korean – a national character of steadfast service, obedience to tradition and goodwill, a must try harder and better, (whilst having fun) work ethic – which at the end of K pop concerts erupts into orgies of repressed emotion. Watch any of ShinEEs big concerts – by the penultimate song, lead singer Jonghyun will start crying and can barely sing, to the point where I have wondered whether it’s a stunt.  It’s not, it’s real. Footage of their French tour has them all in hysterics with the entire crowd chanting in French, ‘Don’t Cry.’ (which they must have heard in every language by now)

… … … …

But, K pop is also an incredibly skilful mimicry of Western, American pop and soul, with acutely observed and replicated physical and vocal motifs that owe everything to Michael and Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul and Prince. K pop singers can also rap like African-American rappers and dress accordingly too – almost past the point of good taste/political sensitivity, with nuances that might well be lost on the performers themselves. K pop is a performance art that has done the West better that  it could do itself – then exported the product back across the water. South Korea as a nation has in the last 20 years seen a meteoric rise, especially in the realm of technology and business and the ‘soft power’ of the creative and entertainment industries. Always in the shadow of the unpredictable North, a war survivor and a ‘catch up’ nation good at copying, not innovation, South Korea has now emerged into an undisputed global contender, with brand names, catch phrases, fast foods and household names that economists foresee will become ubiquitous in the West. K pop is an energy exchange, manipulated, arguably, by the older generation for the young, but in the hands of the young, has a life of its own. Go on YouTube and you will find that US high school girls are learning Korean just so they can understand their favourite K pop lyrics. They are also crushing heavily on the androgynous beauty of Korean men as a welcome contrast to American standards of  hyper masculinity. From the other side, delve behind the Korean fashion industry and you will see beauty products, accessories, makeup tutorials and whole streets of plastic surgery clinics devoted to making Korean eyes look more European. (also prevalent in China)

… … … …

Is this East/West love affair unbelievably messed up or – is something potentially more interesting going on?

… … … …

OK, so pop culture is mass manipulation – which has suckered me along with everyone else – but let me now focus on the positive. I first saw the the video to ShinEE’S ‘Hello’ playing at my favourite Korean restaurant where I sometimes stop before going to my teaching job. I was utterly taken. My first thought was how like Michael Jackson they were, in sound and choreography. Then, what genuinely good singing. But mainly they seemed to have a pink haired drag queen/LadyBoy singing with them – how progressive, unusual and refreshing. How gay! Was this a gay act? Of course it was K pop phenomenon Lee Taemin, youngest member and ‘maknae’ (trainee) of the group, (joined at 14 now 22) whom SHAWOL fag hags all over the world passionately hope is fellow member Choi Minhos gay lover.

… … … …

I began to follow ShinEE, to the point of even tracking down imports from now defunct HMV. Their whole act fascinated me. Not just their music, (they are great singers, each very distinctive) but also hilarious fan-made mashups, parodies and mistranslations that gently satirise group members quirks and also manage to reference the down low yet obvious gay undertones of the group. Here’s what was refreshing to me, since I am a gay act with virtually no role models.  I don’t like all their releases or – fashion phases, (blue contact lenses – no!) but at best, their energy is a perfect storm of male and female energy that makes more sense to me than anything I am seeing in the western music world, male or female, gay or straight. As a lesbian person, songwriter and performer – I am craving some sort of reflection back to myself of something that feels like me – a kind of third path. Femininity that’s tough, baggy trousered, streetwise, desirous of female company and not afraid to grab it’s crotch. Masculinity that’s camp, glam, kind, silly, funny, gentle and homo-erotic. They really are my honorary lesbians…

… … … …

And what about Amber (pictured above) – female rapper and dancer with K pop group FX? This super fit and bendy dancer was born and raised in the US, and can be under no illusions as to what her style suggests to a generation used to ‘The L Word’, ‘Orange Is The New Black’ and Ruby Rose. Amber is a pure delight, whether body popping on daytime TV, promoting her cosmetic line, ‘Talent’, filming her army reality TV experience (which positions her as a straight tomboy falling for the male officer – but we don’t believe her) or hanging out with the ShinEE boys singing, (google it) the Llama song. She radiates affability, humour and ease. She’s especially cute hanging out on the Eat Your Kimchi show – eating Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour beans – which may be a a fictional confection from the Harry Potter books – but also exist as a real product that’s big in South East Asia. She too, has attracted speculation as to whether she was involved with ShinEE members. They all grew up around each other in a celebrity environment so, who knows?

.. … … …

At the end of the day, K pop kids, your gay fans don’t care that much if you are gay or not – we love that you might be. You make a product that is inspiring and ever so slightly challenging enough that it might just soften up the world we live in. We hope you didn’t have to sleep with unsavoury people to get to the top, that you are not too tired, dieting and working out constantly, and that you are not contractually forced into plastic surgery and that you are not mind controlled robots and that you get to see and spend some of those earnings. In the West we have a LGBT movement with lots of visibility and social acceptance. I understand that in South Korea – for all that Seoul has Gay Pride and a gay district – that things are much more on the ‘down low’ and less accepted in the conservative mainstream, especially with the older generation. Still, like in Thailand there seems to be a very unaffected natural same sex erotic flow that is actually more laid back than in UK media and society. No-one shouts ‘gay’ as a insult if men hold hands in the street (do they?) whereas in the UK, they will. Amber can look like a dyke in broad daylight on national TV and is safe to do so. Maybe visible K pop Bromance is a way for hidden but ‘genuine gays’ to hide in plain sight. Maybe it’s just affection and us ‘real gays’ in the west are guilty of sexualising everything. It’s hard to believe the love between this lot is not real. It comes across onstage as more than an act. And the widely available fan cam, candid and casual footage of these stars just hanging out, is filled with chemistry, attraction and affection. Who knows for sure?  Can these worlds meet? The wonderful combination of not having to call it what it is, but having the human right to do so, and yet one day not even having to. AND YET, being proud. Because love is love. Even as a distant dream – this is a world worth imagining.  So come out when you’re ready, guys and gals.

… … … …

 ShinEE fighting! 화이팅 ! Amber too! Gay Icons (or not) forever! 

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Resources:

Eat Your Kimchi  Hugely enjoyable quirky travel and culture show by straight, but gay friendly Canadian couple Simon and Martina.

What the Pineapple  Ambers recently launched entertainment channel.

Sweet and Tasty TV  Language lessons, travel, food, culture and ‘KWOW’ (Korean word of the week) from sweet and tasty, age-defying, gender-bending Professor Oh.


 

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A Woman’s Worth…

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(The picture is of Norma Jean Wofford, also known as ‘The Duchess’ – lead guitarist with Bo Diddley from ’62-’66. She doesn’t appear in the book I’m talking about here, but this image goes very well with my blog post title. There were dozens of artists that I could have envisaged in the project. Would I like to see Giving Birth to Sound volume II and III and beyond? Yes.  Also a CD compilation and a dedicated music festival? You bet. I’m dreaming big…)

This post is about the worth and significance of musicians – female ones in particular – our capacity as story-tellers, mediums, healers, visionaries, agitators, collaborators entertainers and communicators. Every week, I am still riding the wave of momentum generated by ‘Giving Birth To Sound’ – the new book by Cologne jazz publisher Buddy’s Knife. With a foreword by legendary jazz pianist Amina Claudine Myers and featuring 48 female musicians – including myself. Over a year ago, I was approached by the editor, Renate da Rin. Would I like to be interviewed for a book about female musicians in jazz and creative music? I was up for it of course, and now suddenly the book has arrived and it’s an absolute dream. I am honoured and happy to be sitting side by side with some of my influences and industry legends. A rich collection of personal histories and records of incredible achievement. The contributions have all been translated into English but each artist tells of a very personal relationship to sound, with a diverse range of nationalities, cultures, languages and instrumentation.

All the artists in the book are receiving our copies at different times and reading the final creation at different paces. Needless to say, with a sense of unfolding wonder and high hopes for further contact and projects. This feels unstoppable! For my part, I feel determined to draw attention to what has been achieved here and why it’s important. Despite distinct differences in age, race, language, education and geography, attitude to music, society and concepts of ‘womanhood’, there are common themes amongst the participants – which speak volumes about the times we are living in. An awareness of injustice, a recognition of global inequality and an economic climate where poverty is being demonised and money worshipped, the natural world being destroyed. A recognition that things are in some ways worse not better. A proud, fearless independence, but love of collaboration. An almost mystical, ecstatic reverie that comes from the creative process. Early exposure not just to musical stimulus, but to the worlds of the imagination. A generous passion and hope for the music above all – often expressed in words that are non-linear, poetic, idiomatic and rhapsodic. The book actually reads like a piece of music itself.

Women and girls have been told so many times that we can’t do stuff – either that we’re weak, incompetent and decorative … or in other periods of history and geography, that we are only good for sex, childcare, menial labour and social scapegoating, physical/emotional punchbags, with no access to self-improvement. I don’t say that lightly. In some areas, women have lower status than a domestic animal. Though happily, neither extreme is my own personal experience – the reality of worldwide abuse of women and girls is now so widely known about, that the concept of  female emancipation can no longer be ridiculed as some special interest feminist minority issue. It’s affecting the gender which is actually the majority. So it brings me joy when I see initiatives that really celebrate women. Our stories need to be heard. Some of them are shocking.

 (Here’s what I wrote to the editors:)

”The more I read of the book, the more I am blown away, with love and inspiration, heart quakes and shakes, tears of solidarity and empathy and also a fair bit of socio-political outrage. Today, reading the story of the musician who was accused as a child of being a liar – (TWICE) as her work was so advanced they didn’t believe it was hers… (this happened to me at school, with a play I wrote.)”  * I remember too, after a performance at the Isle of Wight Jazz festival, being approached by the (drunk) director of another prominent UK jazz festival. He accused me of not being the author of my own songs, which he threatened to  research and expose as classic standards which I had in fact plagiarised. Talk about a compliment and insult at the same time. I later received an apology …

 (I also wrote this to the editors:)

”I have to say, a book, (so much more than just a ‘book’) of this nature could not have happened at this time in the UK. We’re beset here with a governmental drive towards austerity that is unbelievable. But there are valiant pockets of rebellion and creativity resourcefulness, generosity and people-power all the more amazing, as we are operating against the odds here. A common theme amongst some of the contributors seems to be the increasing punishment of the poor and of poverty by government and media, affecting all artists – so maybe this economic trend is worldwide. BUT I am so thankful to you creative jazz loving folks at Buddys Knife – for your intellectual courage, determination and artistic integrity in doing this project.
Each one of these 48 contributors is not just a musical creator, but leader, visionary and dare I say it – shaman/sorcerer/witch/wizard/world-bridger and changer of epic proportions. Each with her own networks of international creativity. There are some global possibilities here. As with all creations – a mixture of strong desire/intent and a trust and ALLOWING… the inevitability and momentum of dreams coming to fruit : ) Thinking big. Loving large. Powering the imagination. Women are rising again.”

Here is the intro on the back cover, which says it beautifully. Here’s why you need to read this book! Please order it and buy copies for your friends, libraries, schools, jazz cafes. By doing so you will be helping to support the next stage of our journey – you too will be ‘giving birth to sound!’

”Giving Birth to Sound is about Her-story as told by some of the most brilliant and creative women musicians in the world. Individual thinkers and movers who have been brave enough to devote their lives to the making of music the way they hear it. They were not afraid to sing and speak in the name of sound, showing us that they are a family of unique individuals, separate but united. Read their words and listen to their music whenever you can – it will take you even closer to the great mystery called life.”
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   How to buy the book:
   http://www.buddysknife.de/our-titles/
   info@buddysknife.de
   Available on amazon.com and amazon.de.
Thank you for reading!

 

 

 

Giving Birth To Sound

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This month I am pleased and proud to announce that I am featured in this amazing book, Giving Birth To Sound. Created by specialist Cologne jazz publisher Buddys Knife and a host of contributors working in the field of music – not just jazz, but uniquely personal interpretations of jazz, improvisation and creative sound. The line-up includes some major artists of the 20th century, some of which have influenced and inspired me greatly. What an honour – and I can’t wait to see what happens next! Here is some background from the website:

”Renate Da Rin and William Parker have invited 48 creative women sound artists to share their experiences in the process of creating music and living as an artist. These women come from North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.”giving birth to sound” is about Her-story as told by some of the most brilliant and creative women musicians in the world. Individual thinkers and movers who have been brave enough to devote their lives to the making of music the way they hear it. They were not afraid to sing and speak in the name of sound, showing us that they are a family of unique individuals, separate but united.

Read their words and listen to their music whenever you can – it will take you even closer to the great mystery called life. Foreword by Amina Claudine Myers.

Among the great musicians we find Jay Clayton, Marilyn Crispell, Claudine François, Terry Jenoure, Joëlle Léandre, Marilyn Mazur, Nicole Mitchell, Maggie Nicols, Angelika Niescier, Lisa Sokolov, Ijeoma Chinue Thomas, Fay Victor, Jessica Williams … ”

Excited? Like a copy of the book? CLICK HERE  to order.

 


 

 

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Core Strength for Singers and Musicians.


 

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Abdominal strength. Why is it so important for singers and instrumentalists?

I use a selection of ‘for the core’ exercises when I teach singing, and am always amazed at how many people aren’t used to connecting here – and the revelations that come when they do. Vocalists, if you want to make that long note something extra special, it’s the corsetry of your abdomen that’s going to make the difference. Your vital capacity, (the extent that you can hold your breath) will fuel it – but the layers of the abdomen (including but not restricted to the diaphragm) will support the breath and will also keep you standing rooted but tall, anchoring your whole body as you sing. I think of the voice as a divine instrument – it’s like lightning coursing down to earth – energetically, metaphorically and physically. You need to be as stable as possible when this power pays you a visit and to be the best lightning rod you can be.

I don’t necessarily advocate stomach workouts for the sake of vanity, bombarded as we are with unrealistic fashion images that can be very harmful to self-worth, (especially for women) if taken too seriously. Very few people have the kind of washboard torso glamourised by popular magazine culture. But if you do take some time to get to know your abs, you will certainly have a stronger back – great if you have to wear a guitar or bass, or sit upright at a piano, or carry heavy gear.

The internet is full of information, so this post is not supposed to be a comprehensive index or a definitive ‘how-to’ manual, just some pointers that I find useful as a musician (and martial artist) who likes to function at my optimum strength and fitness.

About Pilates. Joseph Pilates was a German bodywork pioneer who, according to accounts, discovered that his could rebuild his body, after prolonged illness, by using his core to lift his own body weight. He came from parents who were involved in alternative and progressive healing modalities, at a time when many holistic explorations of mind and body were becoming more popular. ‘Controlology’ is a term associated with his work. As a German stranded in the UK during the war, he used the time to hone his methods. ‘Pilates’ as a method works the deep core layers of muscle – rather than the surface six-pack (rectus abdominus) that most of us find so impressive, but are unlikely to have.

Some of what I’ve found useful is based on Pilates, but I don’t think anyone needs to pay loads of money for classes. At the risk of upsetting Pilates teachers, I would say that a decent book or video will do, then explore it for yourself at home. (Also have a look at those who have reframed the principles to create their own workouts, such as tennis player Martina Navratilova and ballerina Darcey Bussell.)

The most important thing to get right, is that before you attempt any of the exercises, your entire abdomen must be fully engaged. This is a workout in itself and will yield results. Then that state of tension must be maintained throughout all the lifting exercises. This creates the necessary resistance that works the muscles. This is the key. The more slowly and consciously you can work, the better. I don’t recommend any special breathing counts, just breath deeply and evenly. Some people will disagree with me on this and other content.

(*Always work within your limits and fee free to explore other opinions and methods.)

Here Goes: 

1. Lie on your back comfortably with feet on ground and legs at a 90 degree angle. Engage abdomen. Place cushion between knees and squeeze to keep it there. Lift pelvis completely off the ground in one movement. Raise arms above head. Slowly lower pelvis. Slowly lower arms. Feel the sensation as the torso lengthens. Works the upper abs. Do 10 very slow reps if you can. Breathe evenly. Simple but deceptively effective. You’ll feel it the next day.

2.  Lie on back as above with feet on ground and legs bent at 90 degree. Engage abdomen. Then lift legs into air so they are parallel with ground. Lift up shoulders and back and crunch. In this position lift your arms, palms down a few inches from the floor and ‘beat’ them gently up and down. Breathe evenly. Feel the resistance in the upper abdomen.

3. ‘The Roll.’ Lie flat on the ground. Engage abdomen. Visualise your navel touching your spine and try to flatten yourself against the floor. Maintain this throughout. Point toes. Extend arms above head. Breathe in and raise arms, fingertips to sky at 90 degree angle. Breath out and slowly roll up all the way, flex toes and touch them. Roll back in same way very slowly. 10 slow reps if you can.

4. The ‘Sally Gunnell’. I can’t remember where I read this but this is a great one from an athlete who knows what she’s talking about. Lie flat on ground. Legs bent at 90 degree angle. Engage abdomen. Arms supporting head. Roll up in classic crunch movement, in 3 distinct stages – the upper abs, then mid, then a full crunch. Reverse steps very slowly and consciously. 20 slow reps if you can.

5. Lie on ground with legs at 90 angle. Engage abdomen. Then lay both legs to the side but still be facing up. Feeling the stretch this creates on the upper abs. Arms behind head. Lift upper body up the sky. Not rolling or crunching, but UP. Works upper and transverse muscles. 20-50 reps each side. 100 once you get strong enough.

6. Lie on back with legs straight as you can pointing to the ceiling. Engage abdomen and flatten your spine against the floor. Arms behind head. Lift upper body off the ground, not rolling but UP. 20-50 reps. 100 once you get strong enough.

7. Lie flat on ground. Legs at 90 degree angle. Engage abdomen. Hook one leg over the other. Arms behind head. Lift and twist whole upper body aiming to touch opposite knee. Works transverse and upper abs.

8. Lie flat on ground. Engage abdomen. Place hands under buttocks, palms down. Curl upper body and remain crunched while looking at feet. Lift legs, keep them straight and pointed. Lift up and down in smooth, controlled movements. Do between 10-100 reps, as you get stronger. Works lower abs. Very intense. Not great for beginners – but one to work up to gradually. The upper abs first need to be strong enough to curl properly, otherwise the neck starts to strain.

9. Begin this as above. When engaged and curled up with upper abdomen, lift legs as a unit about 12 inches off the ground. Cross and uncross legs at the ankles. Between 10-100 reps. variation: lift legs as a unit and rotate clockwise, counterclockwise, then in opposing circles. Smooth, controlled movements. Advanced.

10. Whole core exercise. Sit cross-legged. Engage abdomen. Then stretch out legs in front of you. Reach with arms towards toes in an almost balletic gesture. Then lower yourself  slowly backwards and to the side, all the way down to the ground. Roll shoulders across ground and rise up in smooth controlled movement on other side back up to sitting position. Then reverse or as a variation can go in circles one direction. Must be very smooth, slow and controlled. Very intense and almost meditational. Takes 100 % abdominal engagement, deep breathing and mental focus.

As you go through your daily life, notice how your abdomen is one of those key areas, (unlike the bicep or tricep) which doesn’t need an opposing lever system to work. You can simply command it. Even just tensing and engaging your core muscles will strengthen them. Even more so, if simultaneously engaged in other exercise such as running, weightlifting, push-ups and/or intimate activities with significant others that I’ll leave to the imagination! Always remember, especially in the initial stages, to support and rest your neck and head as these will try to do the work for you until your abs develop enough strength to lift your weight. Practice eventually makes this easier. Also it’s as well remember the saying, ”abs are made in the kitchen.” Diet is the crucial other part of any exercise regime – but not part of this blog post – that’s for another day!

Have fun!

 


You think this was tough? Check this out!  http://youtu.be/axeHMu3rk80

You might also be interested in my blog post about running:  https://fayepatton.wordpress.com/2014/08/20/the-benefits-of-running/

 


 

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Faye Patton Camden ‘mini-tour’… ‘Gilgalive’ 11th March

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Just a quick bulletin – I am really excited to be appearing at Gilgalive @ Camden’s sumptuous Gilgamesh club on March 11th.  I have dates at the Green Note on March 22nd and April 19th, so am going to be glad to warm up and gather a cool Camden crowd around me! Come on down – it’s free entry and if you haven’t visited Gilgamesh yet, it’s a beautiful venue and vibe.

GILGAMESH LIVE! is a regular Wednesday night showcase of some of the most talented acoustic musicians in the UK. Hosted by Rachel Rose in the Gilgamesh Lounge.

Come and enjoy 2-4-1 on selected drinks from 6pm, with performances kicking off from 8 ’till late.

Enjoy a mid-week beverage and some pan Asian aperitifs to the accompaniment of live music. To book a table, call 07534676008.

Gilgamesh, The Stables Market, Camden Market, Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8AH 020 7428 4922


 

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