Archive for July, 2010

The Idols Factor

Every year at around about this time, those of us who are musicians get swept up in the frenzy that is SA Idols. Many of you will also have felt the addictive effects of American Idol, Britain’s Got Talent, The X Factor and all our local versions of the “rags to riches” shortcut to fame. To me, the most  disturbing undercurrent of all these shows is the over-riding desire of the contestants to become a celebrity rather than merely a musician or a performer. These programmes promise easy fame and fortune. They make only passing mention of the hard-slog behind the scenes. The daily vocal training, the bone-grinding exhausting dance classes, the endless rehearsing and sitting around waiting for the techies to do their job – and in many cases having to do it yourself. No one tells you of the long hours spent traveling to and from gigs, carrying your 20kg speakers up three flights of stairs, and the night after night strain of performing live until your fingers ache and your voice goes hoarse.

Everyone who enters this competition needs to be prepared to compete. The competition is fierce and the programme is designed to create tension and stress. For everyone who enters  Idols there are hundreds of talented individuals who would never put themselves through a tortuous process which ultimately tests resilience and nerve. You have to be prepared for rejection and nothing really prepares you for rejection. Perhaps you can bounce back from the disappointment of not making it – you tell yourself only 25 people were picked out of thousands that tried out so that’s fine. But it does cut deeper than you think!  You really need to develop a thick hide in this business and for Idols it has to be 10 times as thick!

To those students who still believe that winning Idols is a ticket to the big time I ask them and their parents to think about what that life entails. Do you really want to be on stage every night when the rest of the world has got its feet up? Just from my own experience, until 4 years ago I have spent virtually every Friday night on stage since I was 16. That includes birthdays, holidays, when I was pregnant, when my children were little, every New Year’s Eve and believe me the material rewards were not great! With regard to the industry though  I would be classed as a successful musician – having always had work and now, in recent years being able to work on my own terms.

If you still want to be famous it means huge personal sacrifice. It means burning ambition and a will to do whatever is necessary to get ahead. I cannot emphasise how much discipline and hard work is required. You will also need to have your own material, your own band – that is if you don’t play an instrument yourself – and a clear sense of what your act is. If you can’t perform for at least 2 hours you don’t have a product and as a result you won’t get a gig! A nice voice and a pretty outfit will only get you as far as the Idols audition.

A Work in Progress

I regard everyone here at the studio, including myself, as a work in progress. Forget what you have heard, no-one just has a voice. Singers need to sing and the more you train the better you will get. It may come more naturally for some people but that’s life and we all have to be realistic about our limitations.

Which brings me to another point: I will never tell anyone that they cannot sing! Exactly the same thing happened to me as has happened to a number of students before coming to this studio. When I was in junior primary in the UK I was in the Welsh border schools choir and performed as a soloist. Upon arriving in Johannesburg at age 10 I was told by Mrs Impson (obviously I still remember her name) not only that I couldn’t sing but that my voice was hurting her ears. No doubt my immigrant version of Die Stem offended her musical sensibilities but I was mortified nonetheless. Music teachers can be very quick to dismiss a child’s voice and make them reluctant to sing at all. Beware also of jealous “best friends” or family members who undermine your child’s or your efforts. I will help everyone here to sing better than they currently do or help to show them what they can realistically be expected to achieve. It takes me at least 3 lessons to properly evaluate a voice. The truth is that not many children sing perfectly in key. Some can more or less hold a tune but their voices tend to be unstable, particularly as teenagers – that goes for boys and girls. They typically do better when singing along with someone else, in a choir for example. We also all have days when we struggle with our voices and others when we are in particularly good voice.

So don’t be alarmed if you or your child lets loose with a few bum notes from time to time … it’s OK to make mistakes. And do remember that those voices you hear on the radio and TV have often had a lot of post – production during the recording process to make them sound the way they do. So just sing and be the best singer you can be. I promise to be honest about everyone’s capabilities because not everyone has the talent to make this their profession, but most people can get some enjoyment out of a singalong!

For the Love of Music

The first rule of showbusiness is: Show up. On time. No matter what. When I was a student at Wits University School of Dramatic Arts our Professor, (David Horner – those

who remember Springbok radio will remember him as a familiar voice on Friends and Neighbours), told us on Day One that there were only two reasons for missing his class or a rehearsal – you were on your death bed or in your coffin. Whilst you might think this a bit extreme we all got the point – especially one, very talented, girl who failed to show up for a rehearsal and found the very next day that she had been replaced. I can’t remember her reason for skipping rehearsal, but it fell well short of the deathbed benchmark!

Whilst I am by no means this rigorous, I do adhere to an old-school approach to the performing arts. Obviously I enjoy teaching talented students – this studio is brimming with talent – but for me commitment, discipline and perseverance win out every time. There have been many valid reasons for students not attending class this past term but there have been others which are more suspect. In this regard I too often sense a lethargy and a lackadaisical approach which parents collude with. I have heard parents and domestic workers blamed for “not looking after my music” or “forgetting my class”. “A bit sick”, “a bit tired”, “too stressed” or (and this is my favourite)”his head is not in a good place right now” are some of the reasons I’ve been given for missing class – often only after the event. My new policy of pay in advance no matter what, will hopefully ensure that I am no longer compromised financially but I don’t really think that is the most beneficial outcome.

In the long term not promoting responsible habits and not creating accountability in young people cannot be healthy. At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old woman, if my mother ever heard me complain about being tired she would simply lop an hour off my bedtime. If my parents had to pay for any of their children to do anything, we had to show up for it uncomplaining and fully prepared. Our piano teacher was a dragon and my sister’s dance teacher used to walk the class with a stick she felt no compunction in using to lift any lazy barre work! We were terrified of them both but neither of us or any of the other kids had any thought that we were stressed, or that our schedule was too “hectic” or that our head’s might be in a bad place. An ideal world somewhere in between ours and theirs would be nice don’t you think …

On the other hand, I love seeing the hunger and enjoyment that some students have for their music. Just the other day one of my students walked to class from the village in the freezing cold and arrived 20 minutes early because she was nervous about being late. Another had to be restrained from coming because she was full of cold and her Mum was nervous about all of us getting sick just before the holidays so she re-scheduled. I enjoy the get up and go that certain students have exhibited by going to auditions, performing for their class in school, insisting they be given a chance to perform for others and overcoming the nerves that go before the big event! I love the fact that young people are discovering a guitar can be a best friend, something that is precious and special when life gets busy and you need to shut out the world and just play. When playing and singing is a need and not a chore then you can truly call yourself a musician!

The first rule of showbusiness is: Show up. On time. No matter what. When I was a student at Wits University School of Dramatic Arts our Professor, (David Horner – those who remember Springbok radio will remember him as a familiar voice on Friends and Neighbours), told us on Day One that there were only two reasons for missing his class or a rehearsal – you were on your death bed or in your coffin. Whilst you might think this a bit extreme we all got the point – especially one, very talented, girl who failed to show up for a rehearsal and found the very next day that she had been replaced. I can’t remember her reason for skipping rehearsal, but it fell well short of the deathbed benchmark! Whilst I am by no means this rigorous, I do adhere to an old-school approach to the performing arts. Obviously I enjoy teaching talented students – this studio is brimming with talent – but for me commitment, discipline and perseverance win out every time. There have been many valid reasons for students not attending class this past term but there have been others which are more suspect. In this regard I too often sense a lethargy and a lackadaisical approach which parents collude with. I have heard parents and domestic workers blamed for “not looking after my music” or “forgetting my class”. “A bit sick”, “a bit tired”, “too stressed” or (and this is my favourite)”his head is not in a good place right now” are some of the reasons I’ve been given for missing class – often only after the event. My new policy of pay in advance no matter what, will hopefully ensure that I am no longer compromised financially but I don’t really think that is the most beneficial outcome. In the long term not promoting responsible habits and not creating accountability in young people cannot be healthy. At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old woman, if my mother ever heard me complain about being tired she would simply lop an hour off my bedtime. If my parents had to pay for any of their children to do anything, we had to show up for it uncomplaining and fully prepared. Our piano teacher was a dragon and my sister’s dance teacher used to walk the class with a stick she felt no compunction in using to lift any lazy barre work! We were terrified of them both but neither of us or any of the other kids had any thought that we were stressed, or that our schedule was too “hectic” or that our head’s might be in a bad place. An ideal world somewhere in between ours and theirs would be nice don’t you think … On the other hand, I love seeing the hunger and enjoyment that some students have for their music. Just the other day one of my students walked to class from the village in the freezing cold and arrived 20 minutes early because she was nervous about being late. Another had to be restrained from coming because she was full of cold and her Mum was nervous about all of us getting sick just before the holidays so she re-scheduled. I enjoy the get up and go that certain students have exhibited by going to auditions, performing for their class in school, insisting they be given a chance to perform for others and overcoming the nerves that go before the big event! I love the fact that young people are discovering a guitar can be a best friend, something that is precious and special when life gets busy and you need to shut out the world and just play. When playing and singing is a need and not a chore then you can truly call yourself a musician!