Kenny G in concert

One of the highest selling artists of all time, Kenny G has single-handedly made the saxophone a hit amongst music lovers. Perhaps it is the raspy mid-tones of the saxophone that lend it an air of intimacy, or maybe it’s Read more

Splashy Fen is the ultimate Easter concert

It’s been going since 1990, and Easter 2015 will be the 26th year for the Splashy Fen music festival. I have yet to learn why the music event is called Splashy Fen, though I do believe that the farm it Read more

Oppikoppi, a whole series of concerts rolled into one

The small town of Northam in Limpopo Province comes to life every August. Technically it’s spring if you calculate that you are halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox and you don’t factor in seasonal lag, but Read more

Richard Clayderman in concert

No doubt the mysterious Frenchman’s greatest gift to the world musically has been “Ballad for Adeline.” Composed by Paul de Senneville and Olivier Toussaint in 1976, the co-writers could never have imagined how big the song would become, because disco Read more

Albert Hammond in concert

This is not a name that rolls off the tongue like Madonna or Michael Jackson or Elvis, but Albert Hammond has had an amazing music career anyway. A native of the UK, he has done a considerable body of work Read more

Mamma Mia! heads back to Jozi in 2015

The smash hit musical based on the music of those 4 Swedes (well, actually 3 Swedes and a half-Norwegian) returns to the Teatro at Montecasino in Johannesburg, for a limited season run from Tuesday 24 March 2015 to Sunday Read more

Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse is NOT too cool for school!

On 1 October the Lyric Theatre at Gold Reef City hosted Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse in concert. It’s been 30 years since his hit “Burnout” tore up the charts, and, according to the write-up for his show, 50 years since Read more


Hunger: the key ingredient

It was Friedrich Nietzsche who said that he who has a why can endure any how. It is also a central philosophy of Viktor Frankl, who found meaning in a Nazi concentration camp and managed to survive as a result. And I know that this is a key theme of many of my blog postings. Perhaps the reason why I keep returning to it is because I want to know what it is that separates an ‘ongoingly’ successful artist from one who has one hit and then fades. Of course persistence and longevity are key factors, but where do they come from?
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Writing songs: hook, line and sinker, part 3

Second, line. It was Drew Barrymore in the movie Music & Lyrics who declared that the music is the carnal attraction and the sexual chemistry that first attracts people to each other, but it is the lyrics which is the period of discovery, where the people get to know each other, as they learn the intimate details.
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Writing songs: hook, line and sinker, part 2

So songwriting is a bit like fishing – you need a hook, a line and a sinker to ‘catch’ fans for the song. Let’s discuss.

First, hook. A hook is a catchy piece of music, a tune that is memorable and easily sticks in the mind. It is similar to the motif and leitmotif, in that it is a self-contained musical idea that identifies the song and gives it its hit quality.
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Writing songs: hook, line and sinker, part 1

Los Angeles, November 2007. I am sitting in a conference room near Los Angeles International Airport, with 2,000 other songwriters. I can either feel overwhelmed like a little fish in a very big pond, or I can just dive in and enjoy the wash of thousands of like minds. I choose to do the latter.
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The Fray? Hooray!

It’s not often that the lead singer of a band was so one-minded and clear about his choices that he knew exactly that music was the only thing that he should study. Enter Isaac Slade, lead singer and main songwriter of American rock band The Fray.
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PJ Powers: still so strong

It must have been at least 10 years ago that I went with some friends to Gillooly’s Farm in Bedfordview, one early spring day before the rains came. There she was, walking down the pathway towards the restaurant, with a couple of her mates. Now I must admit, I have never been much of a groupie, but when saw her (and if I’m not mistaken, it was actually a fellow muso friend who pointed her out to me), I ran up to her like a big kid in a sweet shop, and spoke to her. I first said that I loved her music, and that I was also trying to get more into the music industry.

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Movie Review: Jersey Boys

This blog only ever reviews music movies, or movies either with a strong musical theme or particularly noticeable music.
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The science of singing, part 3: the ear

Following goals and the voice, we have the ear.

A lot of people sing the tune (pardon the pun) that they are tone deaf.

Now many people will disagree with me – but the ability to recognise sounds at a certain frequency is actually a function of the brain. If people were truly ‘tone deaf’ then they would not have the ability to recognise and enjoy songs. If you turn on the radio, your dog does not start dancing to the tune because s/he does not recognise the sounds as a song. Read more

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The science of singing, part 2: the voice

After goals, the next important thing is the voice.

The human voice is both a wind and a string instrument. For wind instruments (flutes, oboes, trumpets, saxophones), the amount of breath blown in the correct way is what makes the instrument work. In orchestras, wind (flute, sax) is separated from brass (trumpet) for the purpose of classification, but both are operated and activated using breath (which is the wind). For string instruments (piano, guitar, violin), the instrument is activated using the vibration of the strings. For piano, the key strikes the string and makes it vibrate. For violin, it is the bow made of horse’s hair. For guitar, it is the fingers that strike the strings. The thickness, tightness and length of the strings then affects the pitch that it rings out at. It was Pythagoras who determined, for example, that a string that is half the length of another string of the same thickness will vibrate at twice the speed and frequency, which then creates the octave.

But now the voice is both wind and string. The length and thickness of the vocal cords determines the pitch at which the voice sings. Up to a point, this is determined by the effects of testosterone – men have thicker and longer cords than women, which is why they speak lower. But the voice is the one amazing instrument where the length of the cords can be changed by muscles that control it. So the wind (breath) comes up from the lungs and vibrates the cords at a certain number of cycles per second. In the case of the note A, which is classified as the vibration of 440 megahertz, the cords are vibrating 440 times per second to create the sound. When the vibration is spend up to 462 MHz, the sound created is a C. We do this instinctively even when we talk, and talking uses exactly the same principles to create sound.

Read on in part 3 for more.

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The science of singing, part 1: goals

Okay, so now that we have established that singing is actually something that anyone can do, let’s see why I say that is the case. There are three elements that I want to discuss, which always relate to the way I assess voices when people start taking lessons with me. These three elements are goals, the voice, and the ear.

Let’s start with goals. As I understand it, it was Viktor Frankl, the psychologist who survived the concentration camps, who said that if the ‘why’ is big enough, we can endure almost any ‘how’ – so if the inspiration for wanting to sing is great enough, then the motivation to do so will be in place, and then the goal to become a better singer is there.

This has a lot to do with the 10,000 hour rule – the general rule of thumb that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become excellent at something. In the case of the voice, this relates mostly to getting the muscles to work in the right way so that enough breath is generated, because the simple truth of the matter is that it is unimpeded breath that is one of the key secrets to creating a great voice.

This in turn also has a lot to do with epigenetics and neuroplasticity – the idea that the brain and the nerves myelinate themselves in a certain way to strengthen the muscles and neurons, to enable you to become a great singer. This is what is so amazing about the human body. If you want to be a great singer, then the body actually facilitates that and strengthens the right muscles and the right parts of the brain, to ensure that your body is best equipped to get you to your goal. That is also one of the reasons why the human mind is such a powerful weapon, and can cause you to live a great life, or a life that can be hideously self-destructive.

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