News

Creativity Strikes At Unexpected Times 

It's a quiet time for me with nothing on the horizon until the end of July. I've noticed many of my musician friends have been quite busy. I said aloud, "everyone is gigging but me."

My mind went to the jazz standard "It Could Happen To You" and I found I could replace that title with "Everyone Is Gigging But Me." So, I wrote new lyrics to the song and sang them in a video in my Insider Facebook Group to test it with listeners.

I'd appreciate feedback, positive and negative.

Incremental Discovery Tonight 

Practicing music is a little like doing science. You must experiment, repeat, experiment, repeat...until something goes right and a breakthrough is made, even if it is miniscule. Every realization makes a performer better. Sometimes, the breakthrough happens when not searching for it.

I've had a long-standing problem positioning my headset microphone, and the problem was compounded by the use of a flute. If the microphone was not in a good position, the flute would hit the microphone or be too loud, causing a performance difficulty. Also I had issues with a popping sound made by the consonant "P" and "S" (a phenomenon called sibilance). I have a gig on Friday, so tonight, I thought I should practice with the microphone. The solution revealed itself to me.

I first tried to place the microphone above my lips but I discovered the sibilance was worse there. I moved the microphone farther from my face but the signal decreased. Finally, I tried placing the microphone below my lips and eureka! The sibilance disappeared, and the microphone still picked up the flute without interfering with it. I may have to increase some gain to compensate but I hope the issue is resolved now.

One less distraction from equipment means more attention to the performance. Hopefully this adjustment will do the trick on Friday!

Getting Back At It After Three Weeks 

April was a crazy-busy month between my own lesson studio, giving lessons at two high schools, coaching saxophone at a community band, and being on a committee for organizing a mini-jazz festival honouring International Jazz Day. My own contribution to the festival was organizing a jazz combo workshop. Between all of that, I had no time or energy for practicing or doing anything concerning my solo act. I was stressed because I was worried I would be set back from being out of shape and not prepared for my next gig on May 11.

Well, I just finished my first serious practice session in about a month, and I was surprised that it went quite well. I think the long diversion actually helped to cement the songs in my head.

I believe another thing that helped was my effort to seek out better nutrition starting about two weeks ago. I found I had gained some weight over the winter, was feeling tired throughout the day, needing afternoon naps. I weighed more than I had ever before, so I resolved to get back to my normal. I am close to my normal weight again with a few more pounds to go. I replaced breakfast with a healthy shake that has lots of good stuff in it and I cut down on carbs and sugar (I can post the recipe if anyone wants it). My sugar intake was already low, but because manufacturers and restaurants put sugar in just about everything, I was even more vigilant. Lately, I have had more energy and I don't need to nap anymore. I rest up, but I don't fall asleep.

So my schedule has lightened up a lot now that the jazz festival is over . My time teaching lessons at the high schools is finished, and my coaching contract ends in two weeks. I won't be renewing either one next year so I have time for performance work. I have also decided not to play slow pitch this summer to free up my Sundays. My studio seems to have a good footing with enough students. Next year, I will be restricting lesson times between the hours of 3 and 8 pm weekdays. That should give me good blocks of time to work and take care of day-to-day things.

Now that I have some balance back, I hope to perform more and improve my act. I feel good going forward.


Entering Phase Two of The Plan 

Phase One

At the beginning of 2015, I started my retooling effort to become a soloist. I quit all my steady bands as a saxophonist, including my own jazz band The Sean Hully Jazz Group. I needed to focus my energies to undergo training that would take a great investment of time and money. It was in 2015 that I bought my Boomerang 3 loop pedal to be the centre of my journey. My concept was to incorporate most of my instrumental skills into one musical entity.

I put the saxophone aside in favour of the guitar to memorize some favourite cover songs and to create interesting accompaniments. Where appropriate, I learned to insert saxophone, flute, or guitar leads using live looping. From that effort, I recognized how physically coordinated I needed to be, and how well I had to know the songs to perform without mental struggle.

I took voice lessons in the summer of 2017 to improve vocally. The lessons helped a lot, but I am still not quite where I'd like to be. However, I am more comfortable singing now.

My breakthrough happened last month, when I was suddenly booked for a weekend at Maplefest, followed by a local pub debut the next weekend. The pub gig went well, and was booked three more times, once in April, May, and June.

I now feel more confident playing solo in this style, as people seemed accepting of what I was doing. It is certainly a different concept, and I have been complemented on the variety of my repertoire. My repertoire will be adjusted over time I am sure.


Phase Two

Now that I can fill a three-hour cover gig,  I can go out and get working! I can turn my attention to adapting my original music to the solo concept, as ultimately, I want to play original music live.  I need to record another album too. I want to record in my own studio, but that is big learning curve to put out a great sounding album. I've been so focused on being a musician that I haven't had time to invest in learning about my gear. My album Interaction was recorded and engineered by professionals, but I'm not sure if I can risk that kind of money this time around.

I'm happy that I am finally moving forward with my performance career. I feel more in control now than I ever have. I hope I can bring more people onboard as opportunities arise.

A Small, Meaningful Act Can Lead to Great Things 

I haven't done anything great that has had any kind of impact, except for one time. I did something small and easy, yet important. Several years ago, city council was going to cut funding to local transit. I was opposed to this, and I innocuously started a community Facebook event called Stand Up for Local Transit (I substituted Local for the name of my city). At the next council meeting, hundreds of people showed up to protest the cuts and council backed down on the measure. All I did was start a Facebook event, and I was shocked by the result of my small anonymous action.

Today, I did something similar, but I don't yet know if my action will have an impact. There was a meeting today about the state of the local music scene. Ideas were being sought on how to make the music scene great which would lead to making my city a tourist destination for music. Being a full-time musician who often works outside of my own community, I had a serious personal stake.

As well intentioned as this grassroots initiative was, I couldn't take it seriously without the involvement of the Canadian Federation of Musicians of which I am a member. Therefore I invited representatives from the CFM to the meeting, and they came. Several musicians really appreciated the attendance of CFM reps. One older musician even gave me a hug to thank me.

My community lost it's CFM local in the 1990s, and since then, it has become increasing difficult to receive fair compensation for work here. However, musicians are dealing with this reality all across Canada and the U.S.A. Since my town doesn't have its own local anymore, we now fall under the jurisdiction of another city. As a result of my invitation, I will become the informal (or perhaps formal) liaison between my town and our CFM local.

I truly hope that this grassroots initiative gains traction and that it makes a difference in the long run. There were many great ideas generated today from stakeholders of every age. Hopefully, the collective mind will find a way to invigorate my community's music scene.

I firmly believe that when musicians can earn a living wage, they can invest time into their craft so they can compete for paid gigs. This leads to higher quality music, leading to more patrons coming out to listen, leading to a thriving music scene. There are many more facets involved, but I maintain that fair compensation for musicians' work is fundamental to the effort.

A New Year 

I woke up thinking about new beginnings this Labour Day. For me, the first Tuesday in September has always been a new year. School resumes, I'm refreshed after the summer, and ready to get back into a routine.

I then thought of the calendar New Year and realized how unmeaningful it is to me. I can't get excited at the stroke of midnight when a four-digit number increases by 1. I've worked as a musician on many New Year's Eves and I have to fake being excited at midnight, but at least I'm playing Auld Lang Syne to cover it up. I wonder how many other people fake it too, or just go to bed early that night. When you think about it, January 1st is in the middle of the dark, cold, Canadian winter. It is after the Christmas season, people are tired, have less money, and don't go out much. It's a dark, cold month and a continuation of what I stopped doing in December. Maybe I'm just thinking like a jaded Gen-Xer again.

September has so many things starting or changing, and this year I am genuinely optimistic going forward. I'm a little sad that summer is finished, but there are new beginnings ahead. Perhaps it's because my life is linked with the education system. For those people who love the January 1st New Year, you still have your big party in less than four months. I'll be busy playing Auld Lang Syne in a small town in Quebec. Quebecers know how to party though.

The "Simon" Method of Practising a Lick 

I was working on a melodic phrase on the guitar today. I was getting a bit frustrated because I could play the phrase intuitively on the saxophone but not on guitar. Intellectually I knew it, but the guitar mechanics were not there for me yet.

Then I remembered to try the "Simon" method of practising that I use with my students occasionally. I call it the Simon method after the electronic game that plays a sequence of colours and tones which you memorise and play back to the machine. Each turn, the machine adds one more colour/tone. I've adapted the premise of this game to music practising.

Let's say the music phrase that you need to practise has 10 notes in it. Play it as far as you can and notice how far you can play it perfectly. Pretend you can go as far as 5 notes. Practice those 5 notes until you can play them easily. Then add note number 6. Once you can play the first 6 notes easily, add note 7. Keep adding notes until you can play the whole phrase.

It's another approach if you are getting bogged down. Let me know if it works for you!

Observing Basic Stress In Time Signatures Can Lead To Better Musicality 

In music notation, time signatures really do mean something. Time signatures present the notation in a way that is more visually clear and they convey how the music should be felt. In the process of learning the technical aspects of a piece, it is easy to overlook the feel of the piece. This is okay when you're first learning the pitches and rhythms on your instrument.

Eventually, musicality needs to be incorporated. I've discovered that the first step is observing the time signature and playing the piece with a stress on beat 1. Doing this will start the process of flow of the music. However, be careful with this guideline when approaching jazz music.

Each time signature has its own unique stress with beat one being the strongest stress in the measure.

          >      >
4/4     1  2  3  4  

          >
3/4     1  2  3

           >
2/4      1  2

           >          >
6/8      1  2  3  4  5  6

There are many other time signatures but incorporating the natural stresses in the music early on in the learning process helps to internalize musicality.


Lack Of Good Music? 

I've seen the occasional post or meme about the lack of "good" music these days. As a GenXer musician and teacher, I know enough not to judge the taste of younger generations. I remember a time when my own generation's musical tastes were being judged and questioned. However, I would like to address one point about the music industry that has changed for the worse and may have a role in the supposed decline of "good" music.

Today, there are limited opportunities for working musicians to earn a decent living by playing live. The consequences are that musicians have limited opportunity to improve, create, and compete between themselves. As a result, the general quality of music suffers. The more incentives there are through work, the greater the chance that "good" music (and good musicians) will be developed.

Many of the highest-skilled musicians today are attached to educational institutions. However, without a strong live music scene, the general public has limited opportunity to listen to them play.

I wish I had the time and energy to contribute to a local scene where musicians are paid fairly. Some inroads have been maid in Portland Oregon with the Fair Trade Music movement. However, it's been slow to be used as a model in other cities.

Songwriting Contest 

I entered a songwriting contest today, something I haven't tried in a long time. I had a couple of songs in the archives, so I decided to try it again with a labour song I wrote and recorded in 2009. It will likely be my only labour song, as my experience with organized labour was short lived. However, my experience was intense enough to inspire writing about it. To listen, follow the link below:

I Will Hold The Line