Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The gentleness of MJ

I never would have thought I would write about Michael Jackson. While I am aware of the issues he dealt with in his later years, both legal and personal, I do think a lot about the music he shared with the world and the changes he brought about in the music scene - most good, some bad.

Despite his oft-perceived weirdness and different-from-the-norm public personnae I believe Michael Jackson was a gentle soul.

I was reminded of this today as I briefly watched about 10-15 minutes of the trial against his former doctor. I don't know the doctor's name, don't know or care if he is responsible for MJ's death, and don't want to get drawn into a legal discussion that I know little or nothing about.

I am writing about MJ's gentleness. You could hear it in his voice when he was being interviewed on those rare instances before he died. Today on Headline New coverage you could hear it as he spoke during a clip of one of his last rehearsal sessions.

To set the stage for this 3-5 minutes long video clip: this rehearsal was held on stage, there were about 8-10 male dancers behind him, 4 back up singers off to the side, and a band off camera.

During it someone in the band said something to Michael. He replied saying, "yes, it needs to be there." The off stage voice, apologized and said "it'll be there next time." (Apparently cuts had been made in the music and needed to be put back in.) Michael responded gently to the apology by saying, "that's why we practice - to make it right."

As someone who has worked with many termpermental musicians, the gentleness of his response struck me. I wouldn't have expected it from such a "big" man. I have heard/seen lesser musicians fly off the handle when a minor glitch occured. At this moment, MJ portrayed to me the gentleness someone should have when working with others.

Don't get me wrong. MJ knew how to get his point across - otherwise he would not have achieved the greatness he did, but he perhaps did it with a gentleness that is lacking by so many.

I had to chuckle when, after the clip was over, the judge asked: "what are the ages of the dancers on the stage?" He was told, "18-24." My first thought was good grief, the age of the dancers has nothing to do with the trial (it may or may not, again I don't know). BUT I think the judge was noticing that the dancers were VERY active and energetic - AND that MJ, at 50-ish years, was keeping up with them. I just thought to myself - KUDOS to MJ!

Maybe there's a lesson in all this for you, dear reader. There was for me. And so I wrote about it.

Now for a video that I was reminded of while writing this. I was thinking gentleness, MJ, Gentle Ben, ...finally the song "Ben." [OK, the reason I was thinking Gentle Ben is that is the book my older brother had me read for him for book reports when he was in high school. I think I read it a few times for him. :)]

"Ben" (1972) by Michael Jackson

Sunday, May 8, 2011

That Our Flag Was Still There...

[This is not intended as an eloquent, well-thought-out blog since I tend to "plan" my blog posts - just something that is on my mind at the moment.]

This phrase from our national anthem came to my mind whilst viewing a collection of pictures of the devastation in the South from recent storms and tornadoes.

The pictures were unbelievable. Homes were completely destroyed. For some the only sign that a house existed was a driveway up to a concrete slab. One picture struck me: while a child was innocently playing in the dirt out in front of a destroyed house adults were walking amongst the debris probably overwhelmed by the devastation.

So why did this phrase from the national anthem of the United States come to my mind? It is because even though destruction was everywhere, in most of the pictures I caught a glimpse, a flutter, a wave of the stars and stripes. There were no fancy flagpoles. Any that had existed were most likely blown away. These flags were attached to fence posts, fallen tree trunks, remains of houses, and etc. Despite the horrors, the flag yet waves and represents the strength, resolve, and courage of the American people. Not just those affected by the storms, but of the entire nation. For when one hurts, we all hurt. Rivalries and competiveness are cast aside as we take care of our own.

Anyway, let's be motivated by this waving flag and do what we can to help our own even if it is just a few words of prayer. Since I try to keep a musical theme with this blog I will but only mention that in addition to the patriotism shown by the flag the turning to God is also a prevailing theme.

Both seem appropriate in times like this.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


While I work on my writings for my dissertation I watched/listened to the movie Songcatcher (2000). How appropriate it is for me to have watched this movie! The movie is about a woman with a doctorate in music who traveled to visit with her sister, a school teacher in the mountains. The doctor, a city woman, was unimpressed by the laborious trip to arrive at her sister's humble home. Not really seeing the worth of her visit she was feeling a bit sorry for herself when a young girl was called upon to sing one of her songs for the doctor. Her interest was peaked and thus the movie really takes action - in a musical sense. The doctor records on cylinders and in notation the songs of the young girl and another mountain woman. She is immersed in the lives of these hillbillies and finds a wealth of musical treasure. I won't ruin the movie for you, dear reader, should you choose to watch it, but let it be said there are love interests and catastrophe.

I was struck by the young girl who said that the songs she knew were "give to her" by her granny. This oral tradition of passing on songs from one generation to the next is, I fear, a dying tradition. Too often children today learn songs from a recording rather than by sitting on the lap or at the feet of their parents and grandparents. I am thankful that I learned the old fashioned way. I recall the songs my grandparents sang to me. I was an avid listener! When I think back to my childhood I can remember my Daddy going about the house singing and whistling; Momma was always singing the songs that I now as an adult associate with household chores and fun songs for entertainment. My parents continue to make music a part of their lives.

The recording of songs in the movie was done through the use of cylinders and music notation after several hearings. Songs which were recorded on the cylinders would later be transcribed into notation. As I watched the doctor in the movie notating songs I was reminded of the importance of ear training - the ability to hear a tune aurally and then be able to write it accurately on staff paper. This is a learned skill, one that takes a boatload of patience and years to accomplish. I often smile as I listen to an interesting song for if I really think about the tune I find myself figuring out the solfege and picturing it on the musical staff.

This movie has a connection with my dissertation. I am writing about Zoltan Kodaly and his work with music education. Part of his work was based upon his own folk song collecting in the countryside of Hungary in the early 1900s. I have read about how he had to develop a relationship with people before they would share their songs with him, how he used the cylinders to collect his songs, and about the importance of scientific collection and indexing. I could see his persistence and dedication in the work of the movie's songcatcher. The great thing is I know what he did with the bulk of his work and I have seen how it has influenced the musical lives of millions of people, both in Hungary and around the world.

A regret that I have is that I will never meet this man, Kodaly. However, I have been blessed over the past 10 years to meet and spend time with people who *did* work with him. If I cannot learn from the Master I am blessed to learn from those who did.