Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Playing Music For The Kids

I was hired recently to play classical music for a children's program at a Baltimore City public library. It was part of a series the Enoch Pratt library is doing to give city pre-schoolers a chance to see and hear real musicians playing classical music. I was warned that the last event didn't go too well and the musicians, a string trio, were, shall we say, not well received. Nevertheless I was encouraged by the fact that some other musician friends of mine had done similar things, and I thought it was well worth the effort, even with the outcome less than certain. I could never have guessed how much fun it was going to turn out be.

The staff at the Forest Park library were great. They obviously had plenty of experience managing kids. They had a prepared a fairy tale theme with costumes for the kids to wear, activities, and story time. Everybody made crowns for themselves, and I got one too. I got busy with my assignment: to provide music and entertain the kids while keeping it in a classical style. It didn't take long before a number of little boys and girls came closer and started looking at the guitar and the music. Some started asking questions: how did you learn how to do that? How do you know what those notes on the paper mean?

One guy wanted a little more. He was one of the oldest, maybe five or six years old. He watched me intently for several minutes before coming up and telling me that he'd been rocking out since he was three years old. I invited him to strum the strings while I formed chords with my left hand. He obviously had no experience at all, but nevertheless, in a few moments we were rocking out together. Eventually he moved over and tried to do the left hand, which he quickly found was much harder.

I was throwing in classical ditties in between encounters with the kids; it was all good. The point was obvious, one I have seen many times in my years of teaching guitar: you simply have to let kids know that there are possibilities, things that they can do too, if they want. The level of difficulty doesn't seem to matter. You simply show them that it is being done, and they will simply accept it as possible. Not all will achieve it, but some will, and they will do so more easily with the knowledge that they have already seen someone do it.
Thanks to Petra and PW Feats for providing this opportunity for me.

Be sure to read Painting Queen's blog entry about this very special gig!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Spectrum Reunion

On April 3 2010 we had a spectacular reunion of my very first band, Spectrum (well there was one earlier band, but it was too short lived to mention) (OK, it was called Future Shock). We were invited to reunite as part of a big multi-band event being developed to celebrate the golden years of a legendary Baltimore rock nightclub called Maxwell's. The Spectrum people had already been meeting up socially and talking about playing together, and this event gave us a ready made reason to do it. 

It was to be held at the Recher Theatre in Towson MD, a terrific venue with a 700 person capacity, a great stage and very high quality sound and lights. We rehearsed several times before the show, and it was great to see how good everyone was still playing, since, unlike me, most of the members had not been actively playing much since our last show in 1985. We quickly and easily gelled as a group again.

It was also amazing to discover how many fans were still around who remembered us. We started a Facebook page and quickly amassed over 400 friends. That helped the show turn into an advance sell-out.
That night, our set was scheduled at about two hours into the event. The energy in the room was at its peak and the enthusiasm coming from the crowd was amazing. It fired us up, and we played with all the power, precision and flair that we used to have. It was more than just re-living the glory days; we were still really doing it.

Back in 1975, we were all in 10th or 11th grade at South Carroll High School together. All of us who became part of Spectrum were crazy about rock and roll music. Once the group started, we were totally committed to being the best possible band we could be. And yes, we were all a little bit out in left field, shall we say, but that was probably an essential part of why we bonded together so tightly.

Spectrum existed in a time, the late 1970's - early 1980's, that was unique in the history of the Maryland area's local music scene. Just about every high school in Maryland had live bands for dances on a regular basis. There were also teen centers, and teen dances at Fire Halls and rec centers all over the region where bands could play. As high school kids, we went to see bands, and it got us excited and motivated. This is how Spectrum got started, as fans of live music.

We worked very hard to be as good as the best bands we loved to go see. We raised ourselves up to the highest levels of musicianship, professionalism, showmanship and production. We were very successful, and we had more fun than you can imagine, and we became best friends. Then we made the transition to nightclubs, and that scene was also vibrant and exciting for local bands at the time. There were big clubs everywhere, and they were all doing well. It could have had something to do with the fact that the minimum drinking age at the time was only 18! There was a huge number of young people going out to party and hear live bands, all the time.

We were them, and we played for them. We had the time of our lives, and we did it as long as we could, until many factors conspired to bring it to an end. The problems included raising the minimum drinking age to 21 (a good idea in retrospect), the introduction of Karaoke and DJ's into nightclubs, the rise of punk and New Wave synth-based music, financial mis-management, an economic downturn, personnel changes - it all became too much to cope with. But we all came out of it with the knowledge that we had gone through an amazing experience shared by a very few lucky people.

After our set at the Recher Theatre, we basked in the glow of overwhelming enthusiasm and appreciation from the many friends and fans, many not seen for 25 years, who came back to see us again. I think it's safe to say you'll be hearing more from Spectrum. Keep up with the band on their Facebook page.
For more great pics of the band from back in the day, check out this photo album.
Check out photos from the reunion in this photo album - pictures and digital artistic magic by Crystal.
Please read Crystal's blog on the Spectrum Reunion, "Spectrum Rocks Again." from her wonderful blog, The Painting Queen.