Music is Important 14

That Casio keyboard belonged in the trash.

Music is an expression of the heart and soul of people – and their very interesting thoughts. Songwriting is often a cathartic exercise, which I’ll talk about at length in future articles. As I’ve said before in this blog, you can learn a lot about people through listening to their music with them and hearing them describe what they like about certain artists or songs. I’ve heard why my one friend – just one – loves Taylor Swift (empowerment), why my kids like hip hop (creativity) or classic jazz (horn lines sound like freedom), and why my wife listens to 90s rock that has returned to radio (recapturing those early years of our marriage). 
 
Ok, maybe I made that last reason up; I need to ask her.
 
This week I listened to a new worship song from Hope VanDouser on our Madison Line Records label, something she’s writing, heard (and watched) an interesting tune from clipping. based on an irritating alarm clock and no beats in a hip hop track, and scanned old time AM radio country classics on a cross-country journey. I listen for words and emotions from real people and find they are ultimately more similar than we realize. Gain and loss, love and frustration, passion and resignation fill the airwaves (yes I love terrestrial radio) and I feel I grow as a person by knowing more about and from many people. Inventive sounds and new combinations bring fresh togetherness across common dividing lines.
 
What does not bring me pleasure in listening is the irritating sound of a Casio keyboard. I will talk in future blogs about my wonderful college experience with a Casio based group, but the common cheap keyboard is a nuisance and I reveled this week in seeing one in a trash can. The sounds cheapen the musical experience of people who love the real instruments and the quality is at a level that I maintain should not be allowed – lowest. It is unnecessary even in the child’s room when the real sounds are available in community and even smart phone based keyboards sound more resonant and sonorous than a Casio.
 
And, most importantly, when I was broke in college Casio refused to remedy their terrible “craftsmanship” with an item I bought with my few dollars and their “customer service” produced a lifelong Casio critic. I resist mentioning them except in the opportunity here to show the photo of one of these tormenting keyboards that I discovered snugly resting where it belonged this week – in the trash. 
 
Everyone share your musical ideas with real instruments and not Casios.

#kensteorts

Music is Important 13

I worshiped God in Punjabi last weekend.
 
Each human soul, each person created by God, longs to cry out in praise to him for receiving life and talk with (at?) him for the struggle of life. We have a built in dichotomy of experience, each of us at varying levels, of celebration and anguish. As a creative, I feel that pull in both directions often simultaneously. Because of the miracle of interconnected global video, we can share instantly with people around the world. Brothers and sisters, I call them.
 
Recently, one of my mentors in India has been organizing a worship and prayer service with churches across India and bringing programmatic training and encouragement to the (marginalized, pressurized, and brutalized) church of Jesus Christ in their country. As he has pastored through so many trials, his wisdom and leadership is invaluable to the next generation and he plans to spend it on them. As a college leader and a Christian, I love this model and am joining them weekly. 
 
What strikes me most visibly, coming from the American perspective, is how joyful and demonstrative he is in his service to God and passion and expectation for the next generation of leaders. Me too! I am with creatives all day and when I’m at my best I recognize a stored up energy and frustrated lack of expression that many in the US are discerning as anger and struggle, when the answer is sometimes in release – in joyful celebration or impassioned expression. We live. We are here. We are not finished. Besides the fact of our existence and the relative comfort within which most of us live across the world today, we are also made to create, born to learn and connect, designed to be in community, and anxious for something tangibly real.
 
I worshipped God in the Punjabi language last weekend. I listened to a brother playing his original Punjabi song on a Sunday morning (it was not yet even dark on Saturday night for me) and I worshiped God because his heart matched mine. We are so alike to one another and we just need to see it – I see it when I’m closest to God. And when I’m uncomfortably listening to others and listening to the still small voice of creation.
 
#kensteorts

Music is Important 12

My friend Emilee is a band nerd. She does her job every day at the music store and serves band directors and musicians behind the scenes with support and information and service. Emilee is what you might call “high energy” and she does not easily withhold her thoughts on things (we are actually in a prayer group together and she is working on that!) but her heart is gold towards people and God, with her best effort.
 
We all need a support person and musicians are no different.
 
Emilee wrote a blog for her music store and deeply researched how we can all come back to music class with COVID-19 going on and used a lot of resources and detailed multiple opinions to help band directors think through a lot of angles. When she shared this, in the “cancel culture” on social media, she was surprised at how many people maligned her motives and intentions without examining the merit of the actual information and assistance she brought to people. People were impolite and presumptive about her support. I thought, “Even if it were for a music store, that’s her job and it was well done, so relax everyone, right?” 
 
Emilee got to see her reward. Her post went viral and hundreds of thousands of people saw it and shared it and she did a great service to music people around the world. I was so pleased to see her satisfaction. She was helpful to people and, in the end, although there will always be naysayers, she used her gift of research and gathered opinion to support some people who really need our hands and prayers right now – band directors across the world who love seeing their students progress in music.
 
And as we all know, music is important.
 
#kensteorts

Music is Important 11

Some music is timeless and elicits a special reaction every time you hear it. It has been heard before and it has been set in many movies and events and even commercials. It becomes the standard theme you hear when a type of event occurs, a true theme of life at basketball games, school functions, campaigns, and ads. You might think “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey, but I’m talking about “Carmina Burana” from Carl Orff or Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyrie”. Music is used to inspire, honor, excite, or create a mood. No matter if you are surrounded by popular music or music from a bygone era of the classical period, we are inspired daily by “keep up the good fight” themes in music. Why is that?

So much of life is difficult.

I was listening to the soundtrack an old 80s movie this week and when the passion was really desperately needed, they resorted to scoring ancient horns and orchestra and when the evil or mysterious things were happening, it was moody and electronic modern movie soundtrack music with ambling melody and the latest synths of the time. I could not help but notice that we need directive and powerful music to cut through the noise of daily doldrums and dawdling days. We need the power of the large ensemble. We need the community of the many instrumentalists playing together, the big choir, and the loud marching group.

We need music to focus us on those heroic and powerful actions we take in giving of ourselves to others, serving a bigger vision than our self, and caring for other human beings physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. We need our big themes and to recognize that for inspiration and action – music is important.

#kensteorts

Music is Important 10

Music is Important 10 We encourage children to sing and dance. We know that their focus on singing and expressing their natural inhibition when dancing and performing are good for their energy release, self-esteem in accomplishment (especially if cared for and encouraged by parents and adults), and building up their brain with music and motion. But what do we do with a really talented kid?

I watched the unflappable Ashley Marina on America’s Got Talent a week ago because a friend of mine manages her artistic development as an 11 year old from Pittsburgh. She’s very talented and incredibly sweet but something deeper is there. She does not project her fear, she exudes confidence and calmly adapts to incredibly stressful situations around her music and with a high level of professionalism. Some of this you cannot teach, but you nurture it in the family, in the friend groups, and in the professional artist development cycle.

I invite you to watch her here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8naCiB4CLzU

Ashley does choose some songs that don’t feature her voice well quickly enough for a competition like this. Simon pushes her when the crowd is ready to accept her talent alone. But he pushes her into a place where she can really shine – adaptability and personal emotive experience. The result is a Father’s Day gift for everyone.

#kensteorts

Music is Important 9

Music is Important

“Give that kid a drum to bang on,” said no parent ever. Kids are just going to make noise and I was reminded of that this week with little nephews-become-parents and extended family with little ones around. You don’t have to give a kid an instrument for music to happen – but it might sound better if you do. Maybe I’ll go with that explanation for parents and school districts to buy musical instruments, because someone needs to listen to what music can do for growing up young people.

Music is important for social development and math.

Everyone just read on the effects of music on the brain, ok? It’s obvious, needed, essential, and full of moments of beauty too. I was watching a class on music education at Visible Music College recently and saw five cool pop musicians learning how to play violin, harp, and clarinet. Not your coolest stage instruments, generally. But I was reminded of the intense focus and calm and progress and success kids (of all ages) go through when they pursue music. The mind bends towards the variety of sounds, intense or subtle, and the patterns work on our brains to develop concentration, determination, and a resonant calm. All kids need music in their schools all the way through to graduation. Making something beautiful or meaningful and intense with your hands and mouth is fantastic.

Music is important.

#kensteorts

Music is Important 8

Otis Redding said “Don’t mess with Cupid”. I took that message to heart while lying on shag carpet with big, brown Koss headphones on and was suddenly wary of that girl I liked across my fifth grade classroom. Maybe I even carried that message into my adult life and kept a distance from those who might damage my heart. When I get low or distant in a relationship today, Otis’ gripping voice reminds me in my head of the dangers of love and how desperate lament was in my adult future. Maybe he gives me permission in a way to be mournful of how hard it is and that we all experience frustration in life and love and can bemoan that together.

Music is important in freeing emotion and pain and we humans need that.

Music also has a way of teaching us as we listen. We may not even notice the lessons we are assimilating from the artists that bring us so much pleasure and release. I will often notice how a song just feels tied to an emotion or event from my past or just some recent memory with a chorus ringing through. For instance, Taylor Swift’s 2011 hit “Mean” (an artist I rarely take notice of) reminds me of driving through the winding roads outside Nashville when I first heard it, moved by the bridge. And Run DMC’s 1987 classic “Christmas in Hollis” (also only think of this around Christmas, obviously) reminds me of Corey (Cayerio) and Robin Sanders, dear friends and their sweet (big) babies in Homewood, Florida. Then, a long line of early 80’s metal songs that remind me of my teenage bedroom learning riffs from vinyl records.

More than singular moments, music transforms our perceptions of the world and helps us identify emotional outlets and ideas and flow into the world of those artists a little bit to share the human touch with someone outside ourselves. With our world so isolated and verbally hostile, I recommend some Otis therapy for everyone.

Music is important.

#kensteorts

Music is Important 7

Everyone loves a successful concert.

My friend Jim Green passed away last week in Memphis with only fifty years of life behind him. Jim was a dynamic and big personality, experienced in making things happen and bringing people together for incredible music concerts. More specifically, he booked shows daily and nationally and smartly, so he wasn’t bringing people together by personally singing sweet songs, he was working the entertainment industry. Many people appreciated that.

Jim was direct and clear, which made his interaction with musicians and artists (“creatives” like me)….interesting. I loved it and we spent hours on the phone (he had that business acumen of being able to stay on the phone for a long time or being completely done with the call instantly, depending on his feel for the moment). I heard his excitement for music and shows and artists and people gathering and doing business. I was all in.

We had been planning some really exciting connections with Crosstown Theatre in Memphis and his steady booking of artists at venues across the city. He was genuinely excited and grateful for the connection of people working in the same field. Always seeing the way competition can flow alongside rather than against, Jim was ready for a new day in Memphis music it seemed and also wanting to share his knowledge with students. Granted, he may have scared some of them, but the ready ones would be fired up.

It wasn’t to happen in 2020. I will miss him and I will miss the counterbalance of creatives doing art and visionaries doing business. This interaction is needed and when we can all appreciate the individuals involved in both creation of music and art AND the business of entertainment, it’s special.

[Rick Tarrant announcing student artists at one of Jim Green’s last booked shows through our partnership with Lafayette’s in February 2020]

#kensteorts

Music is Important 6

Music Is Important

Listening is the greatest lesson I never wanted to learn from school. I remember the teacher constantly pushing the class to listen – listen to her teach, listen to each other, listen to the video, listen to the woodwinds (“For all that is holy, woodwinds, why can’t you learn your part?”). Okay, so I was in Band, but we were all involved in some activity that required a lot of listening. “Don’t just hear….listen!” was the cry.

I spent twelve hours alone in the car this weekend in three states listening to radio – music and local chatter. As I wrote previously, music is one of those embedded opportunities for people to listen to what others are feeling and saying. We say it from our cars, from our stores, from our homes, and everywhere we go. We have a wide diversity of experiences that are reflected in our music. Songs “take us back” or get us ready for a workout or bring joy and even praise to our lips. Artists touch our deep hurts and express our wildest dreams, bringing freedom and peace to our minds. Entire genres of music speak to our angst and passions and experience in a deep way.

As it turns out, it is true. Listen to others and learn.

[Devin Westbrook listens to his band and guides their work on his song in the Visible Music College Studios in Memphis in May 2020]. Photo courtesy Ken Steorts.

#kensteorts

Music is Important 5

Music is Important 5

Dozens of UK Christian churches sang “The Blessing” over their country this week, engaging in a common religious practice of the Christian church for twenty centuries (and many thousands of years prior in Judaism), singing songs of gratefulness to God and songs of blessing “over” their homeland. They gave this gift to everyone via the global internet and demonstrated a love for others through the gift and voice they have, sharing across multiple types of churches, ethnic backgrounds of people, and parts of the United Kingdom. I received it as intended – over my many friends across the Atlantic, and doubly, as a applied blessing to my own homeland, the United States of America.
 
A lot of “United” in that first paragraph, and I stay focused on that word today in the wake of understandable grief-turned-anger over remnants of hundreds of years (since time began?) of demonstrated negligence and certainly violence against peoples. This week, as the nation boils here in the farther West, music is still and also needed. Painful music, assertive music, healing music, and frustrated music. Many are united in the music of absolute grief over another senseless and very public murder, as am I. I could quote “People Get Ready” or “What’s Going On?” or something from the Stax catalog from here in Memphis, but it would ring hollow – instead I work for justice through Visible Music College weekly and I invoke today “The Blessing” with a powerful “May His favor be upon you, and a thousand generations, and their children, and their children.”
 
 
Music is important.