The magic of things

When I teach music, one of my key values going into every lesson with a student is to tap into the magic of it.

Because when you really think of it, music is really magical. The fact that emotions, drama, narrative, representation and impressions can be achieved through the combination of frequencies and silence is pretty phenomenal.

And that is only the start!

The symmetry of some certain musical patterns, the circle of 4ths and 5ths, the harmonic series, scales are mind bogglingly beautiful in their design.

The combination of elements, both simple and complex, the axes of sound and textures over time, the different sonorities that can be achieved through one instrument, let alone another, I could spend another 10,000 words going on.

If you put yourself in the shoes of a child who is new to all of this, there is a wealth of information that you can be infinitely curious about. When we become adults, I fear that we sometimes lose that sense of curiosity and become jaded. I am privileged to teach because it reminds me of the magic of music, keeps me curious and makes me a better musician yourself.

When I think about the moments where I felt truly engaged in school or in a lesson, it was when a teacher was fully enrolled into the idea that there is magic in what they are teaching.

This is not limited to education.

Within many disciplines, I believe there is an opportunity to create magic.

And if the people you are working for experience that, you are on to a winner.

Showing up

This is seemingly more difficult than people realise.

Writing a book, making a record, starting your own business, it all starts with showing up and we all deserve an environment where we feel like we can show up.

And when you have a talent, a skill set, a chance to contribute, it should be your duty to show up when you commit to something.

Because failing to show up when you say you will damages relations, damages reputation and damages yourself.

You can have all of the potential in the world, but it doesn’t mean anything if your not willing to follow through on your promises.

Practise your craft by all means, but if you want to make a living from it, practise showing up too.

CPR and split second choices

Watching the footage of Christian Ericksen yesterday was so distressing.

Euro 2020 is a sport many of us have been looking forward to but yesterday’s event really puts a perspective on the importance of life and the fragility we are all subject to.

We are perhaps more fragile than we’d like to think and reminding ourselves of this is a bittersweet reminder to really seize the moments in our life.

The way everyone responded to the situation, the surrounding of the player, the teammates attending to him, consoling each other, and the quick actions that medical staff and the referee took were all thoroughly commendable. Those quick choices saved a life. The respect for each other from the fans from both sides in attendance was also lovely to see.

I think everyone should learn CPR and first aid basics. It’s a mandatory requirement for many jobs but for those moments where tragedy strikes, being as prepared as we can for dealing with those moments is of upmost importance.

Let’s hope we don’t see this again as the Euros entertain us all and may Ericksen recover swiftly.

Surfing

I went surfing with some friends today. Sports such as cycling, surfing and skiing possess a wonderful quality that in many ways plays a fundamental part in our wellbeing.

The physical exercise is of course a huge beneficial pay off from doing it but there’s also a mental one as well.

When I go surfing, I gain a sense of many things that are there, pure and in the moment. The sea air, the first impact of the water as it touches my feet, the waves crashing against my body, watching the swell carefully as I attempt to catch a wave, feeling the move of the current underneath me and the ecstasy of riding with a wave and standing on the board. There’s also the cathartic quality of the sound of waves as they move in and out, an ebb and flow where tides are connected to the movement of the moon. It’s phenomenal when you think about it.

As all of those things happen to me when I surf, I am there in that moment in the here and now.

It’s easy to spend our lives thinking about where we are going or what directions we are steering towards, but when I surf, all of that disappears and I ride the waves.

Technicality vs. Personality

Thinking about the former too much can lead you into a trap.

I was recording vocals yesterday and it’s the best vocal session I’ve ever done, simply because I felt I had mixed technicality with personality in a way I’d never achieved previously.

Besides having figured out ways to use my voice technically in a way that suits me over the last few years, I’ve written songs to that as well and yesterday I was able to engage with that rather well, courtesy of the guidance of my engineer. (Always record vocals with someone there who can get the best out of you).

However, one trap I fell into was thinking far too much about diction and pronouncing words correctly. If I was reciting something that needed to be heard clearly, I would be correct in needing to consider this but in the instance of my songs which needed some genuine feeling in it, I had to sometimes disregard diction for sake of expression.

It’s a constant, careful balancing act involved in knowing what is needed of you technically but that’s in service of achieving what you need to do artistically.

There’s no exact right way, but there are ways to make it better.

Mark Hollis of Talk Talk mumbles his way through words so convincingly, it pulls me in.

Whatever it is you are trying to express, the question should be, what do you need to do to express it in the best way?

Technique plays a part in it, but so does, context, interpretation and sincerity.

Several ways to do one thing.

When you are in a creative environment, it’s always good to give yourself variables in terms of approach.

For instance, if you are creating a sketch, the colour schemes, fonts, layout and positioning of certain areas of interest all provide a myriad of options.

When I’ve rehearsed with bands and writing music, we’ve had a lot of fun exploring one idea or the other and fleshing out what approach works best.

Giving yourself creative options allows you to explore the deeper potential of an idea and collectively decide whether one approach is better than another.

And ultimately, you might just find the one best way to execute that particular idea.

The power of small talk

When I lived in Dubai, there was a Cafe Nero in a street about a 15 minute walk away from my flat.

I loved going there on the weekends (and sometimes on the weekdays if I had had a long day) and treat myself to a coffee or an iced tea.

I often did this in solitude, with a book, music or my laptop and would sit there for an hour or so.

But thinking back to those times, I was always uplifted by a small but simple interaction with the barristers who worked there.

There was one particular guy from the Philippines who was the most well mannered and friendliest person you could imagine, he’d always ask how I was, engage with genuine interest how my day was, what musical things I was up to and where I’d been if I had not been around in a while.

Such a simple but lovely chat with someone who’s job was to make coffee elevated my day, and I hoped my interaction elevated his day too.

Making that effort to engage with someone encourages the social connections we all desire as human beings, (even if I was in the cafe by myself). Upon a quick search, there has been psychological research that has started to show that small talk can increase wellbeing and boost mood levels.

I’ve always admired people who can be so friendly to people they barely know, and whatever our status, discipline, profession or age, we have the chance to make every interaction positive and feed that energy to others.

I think of those barristers who used to serve me fondly, and they added a lovely bit of interaction to what could otherwise be solitary weekends.

I thank them for making me coffee, and making me happier.

Jubilee

I love it when I discover a record that hooks me.

There are only a few that really do it for me each year, but hearing ‘Jubilee’ Japanese Breakfast absolutely did just that.

I was aware of Michelle Zauner and listened with great intrigue to her earlier work including soft sounds from another planet. A lot of female artists are out there doing work that isn’t confined to the constraints of specific genres or sound worlds and it is some of the most innovative music I’ve heard. I wonder if Male artists find it more challenging to do this and if so, why?

Her voice is lovely, but so is the production. Not least starting with the fact that I can hear guitars on a pop record. They are creative guitar parts as well. Some amazing funky popping lines and passages.

I haven’t dived into the lyrics but there’s something ethereal and otherworldly about Zauner’s music and there is moments of introspection and joy to be heard.

The single ‘be sweet’ very much sums this up with it’s reflective verses, contrasted with a chorus that cries for genuine affection.

If you like music that is different and has a lot more depth to anything you’d hear on the radio, this record will definitely interest you.

The Ocean is made of drops

When I work on a big and ambitious project, I sometimes take to my notepad and not everything down that comes to mind in terms of what I need to do.

Take an album, there’s the songwriting, the instrumentation, the lyrics, the concepts, the track list, there’s the personnel, the artwork, the layout, the presentation and distribution and a myriad of other aspects to the work.

This is why they take a long time to ship and release, especially if you are working independently and on a tight budget.

And sometimes it’s easy to get overwhelmed with it all, or anxious about the level of control or simply that you are barely getting anywhere whilst waiting for certain pieces of the process to come into place.

But with each day is a chance to make connections, make progress, put pen to paper and make objectives and a plan of action.

It’s all certainly achievable with smart planning that’s reasonable, measurable and focused.

Each day is a chance to make small drips of progress, working towards an endpoint that with persistent and resilience comes along at some point.

Good luck to everyone out there making their work.

National cycle routes

Since moving back to the United Kingdom and in particular Wales, there has been a huge improvement in terms of the cycle networks that are available to me from my home to the city of Cardiff and across the countryside.

The city itself has new designated cycle roads, for both directions and they are integrated with the main roads running through town. What is also interesting to see is the amount of Deliveroo cyclists as well as the public bikes and how often they are used.

These are great initiatives and it is genuinely wonderful to see cycling become so integrated into life here.

I have loved cycling for a long time, I am doing it regularly at the moment and did a long cycle to Barry over the barrage from Penarth to Cardiff and then home and the surroundings are absolutely stunning this time of year.

Cycling is great exercise, it is adventurous, it is liberating. It is also affordable. There are cheap bikes available from charity centres such as the one in Gabalfa, and maintaining them isn’t too much of an expense either. Cycling is also liberating and allows you to get out there and enjoy your surroundings in a way you could never possibly achieve in a car. It is also worth mentioning that it is sustainable, and the more people can be encouraged to do short trips on cycles as opposed to cars is one way to tackle the climate crisis.

I am glad to say that me and Jiff cycle regularly and have successfully encouraged our friends to do it as well. The national cycle routes mean that cycling is getting safer in regards to negotiating space with cars. Of course, there is the consideration of wearing a helmet and cycling at reasonable speeds but generally the beauty of Wales for those who live here is on our doorstep to be enjoyed on two wheels and a handlebar.

Those involved in the development of the cycle routes have my respect and gratitude.