Music for Surprising Spaces

I’ve had this idea bouncing round my brain for a long time now. Music For Surprising Spaces…

A composition for a guitar ensemble that is performed for, and, in, a space. So the sounds from that space are part of the composition.

I’m very happy to say Elixir Strings have commissioned the project. It’s unique in so many ways making this composition; making the film, finding the artists, performing and recording outside even… finding the right space, getting the permission. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing some of the challenges, the cool bits, the frustrating bits… a kind of ‘this is how I did it’. I hope you enjoy reading.

Part 1…   The Gear and Rehearsal.

First off… its important to grasp what this project is about. The composition, which you’ll eventually hear, is written to include the sounds of the surrounding space. Get it?.. so the ‘noises’ that occur naturally. At this point I don’t want to reveal the venue/space just yet, but Im sure you can understand every space has a sound… sometimes the sound is obvious… a river, a busy coffee house for example, or sometimes its more subtle. That sound is part of the music in this project, and it also inspires the parts I compose.

So, with all that in mind… it’s important that we avoid anything that isn’t fully authentic, as much as possible i.e. miming, or in fact just taking a DI, which tends to be the go to for most of those ‘outdoor videos’. Put simply we need to actually perform in the space to capture the energy and sound of that space.

This comes with logistical issues… many, in fact more than you’d think. Getting the best out of the performers in this situation is one challenge and I’ll cover that in a bit…but, firstly getting power for amps, and even getting the gear to the venue. It seems simple, but acoustic isn’t an option when working with electric guitars and thats not as easy as it seems. In the case of the venue I have chosen, time is of the essence, we need to arrive, film and be gone in a few hours… Thats a lot of people and stuff to get to a space, set up, perform, and set down. Baring in mind no one playing this piece has ever met before…

The solution…. The Boss Cube Street 2. This amp is the answer to my prayers, and to be honest will probably be an answer for many peoples. Its disturbingly light, disturbingly loud and the sounds are incredible – oh yeah, and it can be powered by 6 AA batteries for a gazillion years, problem solved. So I have one each lined up for the guitar ensemble and yes that includes bass.

For me with two outputs coming from my guitar it works a treat too… The red lead is my mic in the guitar and the black is the pickup. All part of my Mimesis Kudos by Mike Vanden.

As mentioned the artists performing the piece have never met before… (I’ll be introducing you to each of them soon). Each artist will be using their axe of choice strung with Elixir’s and going through the Cube. It gives some uniformity of sound and crucial consistency in playing too, we are filming in the morning and that morning moisture is gonna make most strings feel pretty weird, so its cool to know everyone’s going to be picking up their guitars and it feeling like it did at their last rehearsal… when I say rehearsal… I mean, them on their own practicing.

This stuff is important, seriously. However well rehearsed we are when we are put into a different physical space everything changes. If you’ve ever rehearsed more than enough and then stepped onto stage at a festival on a humid day you’ll know everything can change in seconds, your guitar can feel alien and thats down to strings. So strings that can handle that play a big part, I want every player to have a consistent feel on their instrument – And for me… yeah, thats Elixirs.

Logistically we really cant rehearse together, but is that a problem?

Well, if you’ve taken an interest in one one of my ensemble projects before you’ll know I like to work in a way that doesn’t challenge a player too much. Its not because Im just super nice and want to give people an easy ride its because I believe we do our best playing when we are within out comfort zone. In this case when we come together to play together for the first time theres a ‘magic’ in the air. Not ‘panic’ and ‘stress’ everyone knows what they are doing, they focus on detail and on ‘enjoying’ playing the piece.

Everyone has bounced over a recording to me ahead of time so I can feedback and actually make changes to any parts if needed, so there’s plenty of ground work gone in. But the actual getting together to play… thats being held off to the last minute. It’s the big reveal.

I’ll be back next week with more…

Online Guitar Group

Running for well over a year now the ‘Online Guitar Group’ is very much here to stay. Born out of necessity during the pandemic it has now grown into the most amazing, friendly and supportive community of adult guitarists of all ages, abilities, styles and backgrounds. The sessions are proving increasingly popular as we move back to ‘normal’ .

Every Tuesday @ 7pm (UK time) we delve into a new style, song, technique or artist.

Sessions are held on Zoom for approximately one hour. There is no pressure to be heard so even the most shy player is welcome.

All abilities are catered for from beginner to pro. Sessions are ‘pay what you want’, so whatever your financial situation you can enjoy.

Interested to find out more? Wana join our next session?… email me contact@chriswoodsgroove.co.uk or simply join the mailing list to receive the zoom link http://eepurl.com/hnaxBD

Essentially the sessions are group guitar lessons, there is the opportunity to ask questions, contribute, or perhaps you just want to sit and listen. We are a real mix of abilities from absolute beginner to pro, we are friendly, supportive and enjoy all styles.

From Beethoven to the Beatles, Radiohead to Billie Eilish, gypsy jazz to metal. I’ll be visiting it all.

Just drop me an email to find out about joining or ask any questions.. contact@chriswoodsgroove.co.uk or simply join the mailing list to receive the zoom link http://eepurl.com/hnaxBD

Listen, Learn, Play Along, and Enjoy.

 

A Virtual Guitar Ensemble – From LA to Vienna

A new commission from Elixir Strings. You can listen on Spotify here. Working with 8 different artists from across the globe Chris created a unique piece of music that showcases the unqiue stylings of each artist.

Loop of the week series with BOSS RC-10R

A new five part series. A new loop idea every friday. Free tab and all videos can be found here…https://chriswoodsgroove.co.uk/bossrc10r/

New Guitar Orchestra Commission

New live video of a CWGO composition.  A guitar orchestra of all ages and abilities, meeting together for one rehearsal and then performing…

This is a Music Education Hub initiative produced by SoundStorm, supported using funds from Arts Council England.

The Online Guitar Group – ‘Pay What You Want’

The Online Guitar Group started during lockdown and fast became an international community, it’s now a permanent fixture. Every Tuesday on ZOOM at 7pm for one hour. To join get in touch now.  Have a listen to just some of the artists and songs that have inspired the sessions.

 

 

Teaching Music History – Without the Lies

Every year I teach the history of music at a school in the UK. It’s a subject that comes with some serious responsibility.

Students are now more ‘global’ than ever and us musicians and music educators who grew up in a far less global land, are providing information and ideas that may shape the views of these truly international citizens. So, we best bloody get it right…

In this blog, I’m going to share my thoughts and experiences on this quite frankly serious subject, they’ve evolved over some time to get here…

I will let you know why I think the bias towards western classical music, in teaching the history of music, is basically a massive porkie pie and needs to go. How our obsession with that familiar western classical historical timeline is actually just silly – and how now is the time to move on and get it ruddy right. If, of course, you haven’t already.

I’m gonna show you my approach and offer some tools for you to use, if you like it of course – you might hate it, you might love it – who knows, you might want to offer me your tools, I’d be happy to consider adding it in. At the very least I hope it starts a debate between us. This is an opinion piece and Im open to changing it.

What’s wrong with how things are?

Lets lay the cards on the table…

Music history is not a linear development. It is a multifaceted and global collection of individual and unique puzzles. (woh there!)

Some schools Ive had the pleasure of working with are developing and adjusting to this idea in a big way, offering an enriched mix, working with hubs and more to bring an inspiring curriculum and context alongside those ‘wig wearing, rather good at music, dead chaps from Europe’. They, against the odds, are vibrant and provide music with context in their day to day running.

However…

Sadly some are not so lucky, many schools still suffer from a stale music department, devoid of vision, and still offers music history completely at odds with the global and abstract reality (blimey that’s a bit heavy! Sorry).

Often completely biased to ‘western classical’ and presenting this in a linear timeline, whilst occasionally referencing a token Paul McCartney…

You know…like ‘today’s lesson is the history of music’ followed by ‘Renaissance (1400–1600)’ then boom ‘Mozart blah blah’…oh and ‘here’s the Beatles’.

Ultimately the end result of offering a western classical timeline without global, or indeed wider context, teaches children an understanding of musical culture and heritage that is in principal not truthful, and one that is unintentionally contributing to negative attitudes towards culture, class and even race. So, this stuff is important!

Of course, teaching about western classical is fantastic and crucial, and please don’t mistake this as an attack on the music or teaching about it. If you teach the western classical musical era’s, I think its’ wonderful (how could you not!?), but my question would be, have you provided context? If not, why should it be aired more than something else? Context in history, is everything.

I’m currently of the belief that music history in schools when biased towards western classical, holding it in higher regard or prioritising it, is wrong and contributes to building a world view that is unintentionally imperialistic and can help prop up misguided and racist viewpoints, and we haven’t even begun to talk about gender… Are you angry yet?…

Sorry, before anyone gets too excited, I did say unintentionally. I don’t believe any are doing this intentionally, as I’ll mention later, us music educators are products of our own education. But its time to step back and to break the mould.

If you leave school only learning about western classical music for your historical knowledge, would you unintentionally hold a belief that western classical music is of higher value than another type of music?… What about Asian musicians or African musicians?… did they get music from the europeans?…weird how those country folk in europe didn’t ever do any music too? did Africans need to be brutally dragged to the US to create the blues? Is a kora a type of fruit?

I know these are extremes, and please if you are a teacher who currently delivers ‘that’ timeline without a global context insight, please be assured I’m not accusing you of ‘racism’, or indeed ‘being’ anything. But I think its an amazing time to change approach, now is an opportunity to provide a truly global approach to music history, for your truly global students.

Our social media accounts, our newspapers, our TV, quite frankly all media is throwing biased information at our busy brains, and the arts are a last bastion of truth.

We live in a world of mis-information, educators lay the foundations, on which future information will sit. I think it is important they are ones of global context and not ones of unintentional bias – they can be fertile ground for some pretty nasty outlooks. In other words, we have a grave responsibility now more than ever.

The music curriculum in the UK is actually helpfully vague, so to purely blame the curriculum here would be silly, even though in GCSE’S for example the bias is still hugely obvious. This is often a cultural choice amongst us educators, again sometimes by accident. Many of us, in fact, anyone who went to school, were most likely brought up on a staple diet of ‘Renaissance to Romantic’ an obsession with ‘ the composers’ and western classical music, so its logical that it would still be endemic in schools as we are now the teachers.

But why is it a problem? Surely Beethoven trumps Bob Dylan? Or the Romantic Era trumps Flamenco? (does anyone use the term ‘trumps’ anymore?… has Donald ruined it?)

I imagine everyone’s answers to be different. But really any comparison is, well, pointless. What’s important is why we learn about these musicians in the first place. In fact why we feel it’s important to teach students about music history at all.

Most agree its undoubtedly good for children of all ages to learn about the history of music; to be introduced to new sounds, to have an understanding of music from around the world and how it developed, how it symbiotically developed alongside cultural, technological and personal developments.

But WHY!!!??? well music history has a wider benefit for all of us. For me the aim in teaching it is to help make sense of the world, to nurture an enquiring and empathetic mind, and to help present old ideas to new minds in the hope they might reach new conclusions.

So, I think I can safely summarise and say…

The purpose of learning the history of music is to understand the world we live in.’

The ‘world we live in’, is a crucial statement. Not Western Europe, or the United Kingdom. ‘The world’.

So when we learn about ‘the world’ its probably safe to suggest we might need to explore beyond the walls of the EU. Actually, ladies and gentlemen, there is a whole world of culturally rich musical heritages which have enriched our own personal musical lives far more directly than Handel or Bach, and its a teachers responsibility to ensure that is explained.

So to sign things off before I get stuck into in my humble offerings of approaches. I want to say this…

Of course Western Classical Music is relevant. Its a fantastically crucial piece of the puzzle. In a puzzle the pieces come in different shapes and sizes. They are interlocking, they are a part of a whole.

In music education giving children one piece of the puzzle, without demonstrating equal value to the other pieces, or in fact informing them there are other pieces out there, is a massive failure to culture and children.

We can not present every part and piece, nor should we, but we can offer a variety of pieces, show them how they fit together and encourage enquiry to find more.

If we do this we help students to continue a life long approach to enquiry, we show them that culture is intertwined and not hierarchical. We crucially have the opportunity to show them they too are a piece of a puzzle.

How do we fix it?

Here’s several key points I think are really helpful in explaining musical history to all ages, some are completely original some have been inspired by many of the amazing teachers I have had the pleasure of working with. You can obviously use your initiative on whats suitable for what age, but the principals will remain the same. At the very least it might be good brain food.

‘Smash the linear timeline into a chaotic and abstract explosion.’

yup, even for the little ones. Because music didn’t develop in a straight line, anything other than that is a lie. Of course when looking at one specific culture you will find a relatively linear development. But when we present musical history its likely in a school you will have to do so i a short timeframe, you’ll want to give an overview and make it simple… the danger is in your attempt to simplify it, you will completely miscommunicate the idea of how music developed.

Instead focus on small elements within music. And of course offer specific timelines within that. For example a lesson on a specific instrument. Looking at the guitar for example, we can see it develop in various different countries simultaneously and at different times. Or in fact looking at one genre of music, or one specific technology that developed music.

‘Look at four points of investigation and explore musical history.’

The Person
The Society
The Technology
The Art

These four points or aspects of study are fantastic lines of enquiry to offer to older students, or in fact use to underpin or choose the area you are teaching for all ages. These four categories are the most obvious umbrella terms of development in musical history. For example you could look at the personal/emotional life of a specific musician. The affects of recording technology on folk music. The scales in Hungarian folk.

‘Examine your own musical history.’

Its a tried and tested technique of history teachers. History is all around us. It makes us what we are today. My first lesson is to examine our own personal musical histories. Getting students to speak to parents, grandparents, examine their own musical experiences, if technology, politics, personal circumstances and feelings etc played a roll in who they are today, musically.

‘Understand that your musical knowledge is limited’

I can’t say for sure, but it’s very very likely that like me and everyone I have ever met, you are purely a product of your limited experience. You have your own musical history which informs what you believe should be taught as ‘important’. Don’t listen to yourself. Try to offer inspiration to enquire for the older children and inspiration to experience for the younger, rather than facts which you think are key.

So that’s all from me. It’s just ideas. Offerings. But whatever you’re opinion, the responsibility of teaching a cultural history is real and I hope somehow this blog at least made you question how you teach it as an educator or indeed how you respond to it as a student.

Thanks for listening.

C

Capo Evolution – The Finished Product

Capo Evolution has landed. You can read about the process in two different blogs Part 1 and Part 2

Capo Evolution – Part 2

We invited guitarists from all over the world to join our online guitar orchestra… this is what happened.

Capo Evolution’ is a piece I composed, commissioned by the G7th, The Capo Company, for an infinite number of guitars. All styles and abilities of guitarist were welcome; players were invited to learn one of four parts, film it on a smartphone and upload the video to be a part of our online guitar orchestra.

It’s been an amazing process, with players joining from across the world. Thank you to everyone who took part, thought about taking part, and supported in a way they could and of course thank you to G7th for their vision and support.

In this blog, I want to talk about WHY. Why I believe getting together to make music, regardless of ability or background is so important, and why the results are often so stunning?

If you’re not familiar with some of my other more community-minded orchestral projects, have a cheeky look here to see.  https://chriswoodsgroove.co.uk/guitarrevolution/

UNIVERSAL SUPERPOWERS and UNICORNS

Music is an exclusive thing. I know it’s not what you expected to read at the start of this blog, but it’s something I have observed. Music in so many parts of the western world exists as something excruciatingly exclusive. And no, I’m not talking about the class system, the one percent or free musical education in schools…

Fame and success is a divisive thing that dominates music, people’s perceptions of something being good or bad, measured by success, usually alongside fame or Ferraris.

This measurement of music continues in the supposedly more ‘serious’ realms too, away from Facebook Likes and fast cars. Schooling, grades, your musical ‘pedigree’, ‘are you classically trained?’, ‘Oh did you go to the royal college?’… etc.

Then we even have the very simple perception of music as an innate thing; perfect pitch, the ability to be a ‘singer’ or ‘not a singer’, the ‘I’m tone-deaf’ crowd.

Of course, it is all utter, tripe, poppycock, hogwash and baloney (hopefully some slang for everyone there).

These divisions, this exclusivity, exists because it makes us musicians feel better about ourselves and makes the non-musicians feel better about not being musicians. It’s a mutually beneficial agreement that helps everyone to make sense of music. Because music is…. magic, and sometimes it’s hard to understand or articulate.

This is where I appreciate I might lose you as a reader. Sorry, but yup I said ‘music is magic’, and I’m very serious. I think music is a thing that connects people on a level that we can NOT explain or in fact measure. I know that will wind up some of the sofa physicists, but hey, its fun to ruffle some feathers…

(I’m not a total nutter, I understand sound is measured in a million different ways, as indeed are brain patterns in reaction to it. But, the process of musical communication (i.e. playing together) or even the way we individuals react to listening is something of a mystery – seriously, it is.)

So., as far as I’m concerned, if it’s a mystery, it is, therefore, magic…. along with Santa Claus, unicorns, Brexit and money trees.

More than just magic, it appears to be a UNIVERSAL SUPERPOWER. Because unlike Santa Claus, unicorns or Brexit, or growing a tree that excretes money, it’s something we can all actually do; a supernatural power and not just an illusion… we can all ‘do a music’, you just might not like it.

Even Katy Price ‘did a music’ once.

So… now we have established that, let’s look at why I like to do these projects involving any old dick and harry joining in…

ROOM TO FOCUS

Hopefully, you took my suggestion that music is a universal superpower fairly seriously. I’m sure there is a way to word it slightly less sensationally, but where’s the fun in that! This ‘fact’ is the sole reason I love to work with music that is accessible to all players.

I totally accept musicians operate on different ability levels of course, particularly in the realm of accuracy. But if for a moment you think about music as a magical, amazing thing, which is about emotion, humanity and not precision…

(which it is, isn’t it?)

… you can then understand that if a piece of music is built with some reasonably simple physical limitations (by which I mean using ‘minimalist ideas’), all musicians are on an even footing. The pros and the erm… not so pros. The music becomes an exercise in the ability to ‘focus’ and to really ‘get into it’… also called ‘flow’ if you fancy some further reading – Instead of an exercise in, well, exercise.

“Capo Evolution” was another project based on this principle. Using relatively simplistic parts, it gave room for players to express themselves without having to sit in a state of panic about what comes next. The result is, I think, something that sounds great musically and offers something extra; the sound of people coming together to play music without ego or exclusivity… and that, ladies and gentlemen, is real magic.

Happy Christmas x

Chris