Tag Archives: concerts

A Quick Update

Ideal Koala is also a band now! So don’t be confused if you were looking for the band and found feminism/atheism/all my rants/knitting and vice versa. Though this blog is run by me, Ariana (cellist/singer), most of the views on here are shared by the other member of Ideal Koala, Seb (drummer).

We don’t have any demos to upload yet, but our first official show is on February 16th at the Hollybush Inn in Oxford. We are playing as part of a One Gig Closer to Wittstock Festival show, and, while I haven’t heard who will be on with us yet, I’m sure it will be an awesome night.

Finally, we also have a sad twitter account with no followers yet. Any news about available music and upcoming shows will be there first, so please follow us at @IdealKoala. Thank you!


You’re never too old to make mistakes, so let us make them

I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that at some point you’ve known someone who every once in a while would say “I always wanted to learn how to play the [insert instrument here].” And when it was said that he or she still could learn to play said instrument, maybe one of the reasons for not doing so, along with lack of money and time, was something about being “too old” to start learning an instrument. This reason always confused me, especially since as a child, I had a teacher tell me that being a musician was cooler than being a dancer, cause you could play professionally for pretty much as long as you wanted, while you’re only in peak physical condition for dancing until your mid-to-late-20s(Just to clarify, I am not anti-dancer, I am paraphrasing a teacher). So where did this age limit come from? My theory is that it’s in place because little kids are adorable when they make mistakes.

When I started to learn to play the cello at age 7, there were weekly recitals. I didn’t play in all of them, but every kid in this organisation played in a few a year. The skill levels ranged widely, with the high school kids playing fairly advanced pieces while the youngest children couldn’t get a clear sound out of their instrument. What was important was, everyone performed, and if you slacked off on your practising, well, you still had to perform. And it was all okay. The audience was very understanding, and everyone learned proper stage etiquette. That organisation was more professional in running its recitals than some of the school groups I’ve been in since.

But of course, people grow up, and it’s not so cute to watch an adult make a mistake, not to mention that the adults don’t like to be seen making those mistakes. So we end up with tons of small concerts for children beginners and almost none for the older beginners. Every music performance with adult players features very skilled players, so the beginners think that they’re not good enough to perform yet. Even worse, other people hold the adult beginners to higher standards than they should because they forget that they are beginning, and just think “performance.”

I started to learn how to play the guitar in September. Around the middle of this semester, my teacher told me she wanted to get her students playing in front of an audience, at a concert that will be happening this Sunday. It was originally planned that we’d play in an ensemble, and then a few of us could play solo pieces. The ensemble fell through due to a lack of people, but I was still working on my solo piece. Yesterday, my teacher told me that I probably wouldn’t be allowed to play in the recital because I didn’t meet her standards to perform. I started to say something about how my parents had already made plans to drive 7 hours to see this recital, and she said something about how I shouldn’t embarrass myself in front of my parents and the rest of the audience, and wait until I could have a good experience performing. Now, I’m not perfect on this piece in any sense of the word, and a more experienced guitarist would probably play it twice as fast as I do, but I’m not bad for a beginner. I would almost certainly make a few mistakes, but none on the embarrassment level. Most importantly, just because I’d make a few mistakes does not mean that I would not have a good experience.

Performing isn’t just about showing off what you can do, or entertaining your audience. It gets you used to being on stage, allowing you to deal with performance anxiety, and teaching you how to deal with making mistakes in front of an audience. You can be a great player and still not know how to recover from making a mistake. By acting as if it will be the end of the world if we mess up in front of an audience, we are putting the audience the role of something to be feared, as opposed to people who want to see us succeed.  If we keep putting off performance until we’re perfect, we’ll either never perform, or we’ll never be satisfied with ourselves as musicians.

-8 minutes left.

Some thoughts on Evelyn Evelyn, now that I’ve finally seen it executed

This blog entry is me finally getting my thoughts together about Evelyn Evelyn. For those of you who don’t know, Evelyn Evelyn is Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley dressed up and performing as conjoined twin sisters. For those of you who follow Amanda Palmer and/or Jason Webley more closely, yes, I was aware of the huge internet backlash when Amanda Palmer posted about the twins on her blog. Yes, I know this is coming late. But at the time of the backlash, I decided to wait until I had more to go on than the first blog post, which Amanda, Jason, and everyone else involved were calling hastily-written and poorly thought out.

So I got a ticket to one of their shows and pre-ordered the CD, based off of my fondness for the songs Elephant Elephant and You Only Want Me Cause You Want My Sister. When the CD arrived, I also fell in love with the song Evelyn Evelyn, which I relate to probably more than is healthy. Other than those three songs, I wasn’t very impressed with the album. Still, I had a ticket, so I went to the show.

I don’t think I’ve been so uncomfortable at a show in my life. I was in the front row, close enough to clearly see facial expressions. Amanda and Jason played the twins looking so miserable, I felt guilty for being there. I know they were going for shy, but they looked terrified. I might have felt better if they had smiled when various members of the audience shouted out “We love you Evelyn!”, but they looked even more unhappy.

Adding to the exploitation vibe was Sxip Shirey, who was acting as host. (Oh yeah, did I mention that Evelyn Evelyn never spoke normally? They told the story of their birth, the first Tragic Events track on their album, and they answered questions from the Chalice of Knowledge, using the improv game The Three(or, in this case, two)-Headed Oracle.) Anyways, Sxip announced the songs, and, along with Stage Boy, helped get instruments on Evelyn Evelyn. Which sounds fine in theory, but they played it very poorly. The first time the accordion came out, Sxip stood holding Evelyn Evelyn while Stage Boy put on the accordion, while Jason’s Evelyn had her eyes squeezed tight looking even more miserable than the rest of the evening. The second time the accordion was brought out, Evelyn Evelyn tried to back away, but Sxip caught them and held them again. During Elephant Elephant, Sxip came out and stuck kazoos in their mouths, and they glared after him as they played the instrumental. During the song Chicken Man, Amanda’s Evelyn had a breakdown, screaming and hitting herself with a drumstick. Sxip came out and gave her a Twix bar to calm her down, then, as soon as she had calmed, spent several minutes trying to take it back as the Evelyns shared it. So in addition to making the Evelyns look too mentally unstable to cope with performing, we got the impression that they are performing for small amounts of chocolate. Near the end of the show, Sxip actually gets a monologue about how he’s going to get Evelyn Evelyn to star as Annie and have them repeat every syllable to emphasize that there are two of them, and is interrupted when Amanda’s Evelyn shoots him. However, this came across more as “the abused dog finally attacks” than “we’re not being exploited, we shoot anyone who tries.”

So I’m sorry Amanda and Jason, but no matter how many times you say that Evelyn Evelyn was created with love, and that it’s not meant to come across as a freak show, it does. I went into the show trusting you two to pull it off tastefully, because I really wanted to like it and to see you succeed. In my opinion, you didn’t, which probably doesn’t matter to you too much, as the rest of the audience seemed to have a great time. But it’s big for me – I get to deal with my first disappointment by one of my favorite musicians.

Oh god oh god oh god (Or, the first show)

So last night I did my first show. It has taken me this long to get my thoughts enough past “god that was so scary!” to write a coherent post about it. First of all, a LOT more people showed up than I expected. There were even a couple I didn’t know. But I am sending my thanks for coming to all of you, family, friends, and people who just thought “why not watch this? it might be fun.” You are all awesome, even if I was terrified because of you. Also, the people who are awesome plus a million: Andy, Mum, Dad, and Alison.

Now that I have thanked people for helping and showing up, I guess I should say something about this show. My problem is the only way I can think to describe it as is “scary!” We didn’t have monitor speakers, so I could barely hear the piano and cello. On the quieter songs I was constantly thinking “please let me have come in in the right spot just now.” One thing I did notice was I got a lot less scared once I actually said to the audience “sorry, I’m a little nervous.” Unfortunately, I said that near the end of the show. Maybe I should start saying that at the beginning at the every performance, to get it out of the way. What makes me really feel better about my nervousness is that despite my shaking, and my slip-ups on stage, I did not leave thinking “I never want to do that again.” I just made a conscious decision to practice a lot more, and to perform so much that hopefully it will be not quite such a big deal.

I did make an amazing poster for Cyclops, but I forgot to take a picture of it. The drawing style is reminiscent of a 5-year-old. There are various fluffy animals, one turtle, and a puddle of blood thrown in for good measure. I am quite proud of it. Hopefully either Andy or I will get a picture taken of it this week. Hopefully.

5 minutes to go.

Self-Pity Conquers All

After what I consider the success of my previous blog, I have decided to write probably almost all of these entries spur of the moment with a half hour time limit. It gives the critic that is my brain less time  to realize that I’m being somewhat creative.

I’ve been working on what I’ve been referring to as my self-pity song, but it really has a better title than that. Of course, all of my songs are self-pitying in some way or other, but this is the one where I go all out. I just like the idea of having a song to work on where I can dump all the angst I want and no one can call me out on it because hey, I’ve told them what they’re getting into by listening to it. This song, I don’t have to worry whether it’s bad, so bad it’s good, or even somewhat bearable to listen to. I can write whatever I want for it and it doesn’t matter because hey, this is my self-pity song, and self-pity has an excuse for being annoying.

My first performance is in two weeks and I’m being extremely nervous. As much as I’ve performed in the past, the spotlight has never really been on me. I’ve been one of the cellists, or just another piece in the line-up, and, with one exception, all things written by someone else. Obviously, this paragraph belongs in the self-pity song. I am excited, too. I think, I hope my songs are good, and I hope I’ll have an audience, and logically I know I can’t have a worse screw-up than I did at my cello recital when I was 11, but not knowing how this will go gets to me.

I’m not quite sure what else to say, I am publishing this entry with 10 minutes to go.

You Think You Get Bad Audiences?

DECEMBER 11th COMMENT: Recently, a friend of mine and I were talking about horrible opening acts we’d seen. I was referring to the one from this concert, and he was referring to a Regina Spektor concert he had gone to. After a few minutes of comparing notes, I asked him who the opening act was. It turned out to be the same one. Someone needs to find out who their booking agent is.

This post is a rant on what not to do as an audience member, opening band, or sound technician.

Yesterday morning I found out that one of my favourite bands, The Guggenheim Grotto, was playing in WTMD’s First Thursday* event. I of course went tosee them, getting there about an hour earlt. The concert was outdoors, at the foot of the real Washington memorial. The one in D.C. doesn’t count because 1)it doesn’t have a statue of Washington at the top, and 2) because if it did, I doubt Washington would be wearing a toga.** But back to the concert. When my parents and I got there, sound checks for the opening band, Pressing Strings, were being done. Based on the volume, we decided to sit a little ways back from the stage. This proved to be a very bad decision.

As it got closer to 5:30, the park started to fill with camp chairs, blankets, and people asking each other if they had cash to buy cotton candy and beer from stalls that had been set up. Once most of the space in the park had been filled, a group of people set up their camp chairs about a foot in front of where I was sitting on the ground, effectively blocking my view. The worst part? If they had set up one chair a few inches to the right, which they had room to do, they wouldn’t have. They then spent the rest of the evening talking about radio stations.

Prize quote: “But I’ve already pledged to NPR. Can I still pledge to WTMD?”

The concert started with our lovely local band, Pressing Strings. Before we start critiquing them(and by critiquing, I mean criticizing), let’s review what an opening band is supposed to be. An opening band is a group that has a complementary sound to the main act, and plays for about a half hour in order to get the audience excited about being at the concert. Now, Pressing strings was introduced as a mix of acoustic rock, blues and reggae. Go to their Myspace page, which I linked to above, and listen to one of their songs. It doesn’t matter which one, they all sound the same. Now, listen to this song by The Guggenheim Grotto. Does this sound at all like something you’d expect after Pressing Strings? Not only that, Pressing Strings was horrible at talking to the audience. It felt like after every song they said something along the lines of “First Thursday is a great event, it’s great to be here, our mailing list is over there, and you can buy our CD as well, are you excited about Guggenheim Grotto?” After the third repetition of this, I would have been excited about watching comatose patients undergoing group therap, just so Pressing Strings would get off the stage. It took them a good hour and a half to leave.

If their music was decent, I wouldn’t be complaining quite so much, but I believe the reason, they repeated this spiel was so that the audience could tell where one song ended and another started. Remember how I said an opening band is supposed to get the audience excited about being there? This is usually accomplished by playing upbeat(or at least uptempo) songs that are fun to listen to. Not only did it all sound the same, Pressing Strings’ music was amazingly low-key. I think this may have contributed(though I severely doubt it was the sole cause) to the audience’s horrific behavior.

The audience seemed to think that these bands were the outdoor equivalent of their stereo. They almost completely ignored the stage. I saw many who were sitting with their backs to it. Everyone talked loudly to their friends, everyone was constantly getting up to get more cotton candy and beer(obviously since the members of The Guggenheim Grotto are Irish, there has to be beer, right?). And what do the sound technicians do to deal with this noise? They turned the mics down. Yes, down. Audience members, these bands are coming here specifically to entertain you, they don’t even get paid for this gig. They’re not only sacrificing the time they’re on stage, they’re giving you the time and money it took to get here, the time and work it took to rehearse, to set up all their instruments, and do the sound check. If you’re that desperate to talk, go somewhere where you won’t be being rude. The most painful moment was when The Guggenheim Grotto told the audience they could sing along with the chorus of their song Fee Da Da Dee, and no one, at least no one anywhere near where I was sitting, did. I don’t think the majority of the audience even noticed.

So now that I’ve spent about 750 words on complaints, I will go into the good part of this concert. Three words. The Guggenheim Grotto. They were incredible. They were funny, and so, so talented. I don’t think I’ve ever heard two people create such a full sound before. They were signing CDs afterwards, and I bought one specifically so that I could tell them they did a great job. I also signed up for their mailing list. Pressing Strings, take notes. Mentioning the CDs and mailing list once or twice, good, after every song, I won’t do it because you were so annoying about it.

To close off, were there way too many annoying people? Yes. Was it worth it? Definitely, but only because it was The Guggenheim Grotto. I left the concert all giddy and wishing I had a CD player on me.

*WTMD is Towson University’s radio station. They host First Thursdays, free outdoor concerts in West Mt. Vernon Park, which is in downtown Baltimore.

**Not kidding.

(Don’t) Play It Again

Note: The part about Emilie Autumn is only vaguely accurate, thanks to Wikipedia’s inaccuracy. This interview not only explains the inaccuracy, it basically says everything I say here, but better. http://www.shrednews.com/chat-with-emilie-autumn/

I was classically trained on the cello for a long time. I started when I was in elementary school. A local music organization came to visit my class and I begged my mum to sign me up for lessons. This was a fairly low stress environment, as, other than the teachers, the majority of of people there were younger than 14, their instruments chosen for them. I stayed with this organization until I auditioned for a high school that specialized in the arts. I got in and went there for two years before transferring to another high school for my junior year. I kept my private lessons for that year, stopping them when I went away to college, and “forgot” to sign up for lessons at my new school. Why? Because I’m sick of the standards the classical community seems to hold.

The classical music community is resistant to anything new. There is a reason symphonies rarely play contemporary classical. You have to have a name like Mozart or Tchaikovsky to get your music played. And if you’re a musician, don’t even try to play something new unless you’ve been hailed as a prodigy or the best {fill in your instrument here} in the world. And while you’re playing the accepted music, make sure to play exactly like {musician who is associated with playing the piece}. I recently watched a YouTube video of one of my high school friends playing the first movement of Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata.* I looked through the comments, and saw that they ranged from “great job!” posts to lengthy posts about how he was playing at the “wrong” tempo. One poster said “much better than arrau in my opinion.. just need a little more practice in some parts and you will be the king of this piece :)”. The response to this encouraging post was “much better than Arrau? lol.” I am not saying that they should be saying that my friend was as good as Arrau, or that they shouldn’t be saying he was worse. I’m saying that there doesn’t need to be such a strong focus on comparing his performance to Arrau’s. This is his interpretation of the piece, not Arrau’s. Yet the classical community says Arrau’s interpretation is necessary to discuss other performances of the same piece.

Think of it this way . When a musician plays a piece originally performed by another, he is doing a cover. Let’s switch from classical music for a minute. I recently heard Marilyn Manson’s cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams(Are Made of This).” His version did not sound like the Eurythmics’ for the very reason that he is not the Eurythmics. The two artists have very different styles. Yet I wouldn’t say his version was bad(aside from being slightly annoyed that he didn’t pronounce the “s”s in “use” and “abuse”). I don’t see how I can even compare the two versions because they are so different. I can say I prefer one, but that preference is completely subjective. In classical music, however, we are not allowed to stray so far from he well-known version. But why? What’s the point in listening to any of the newer musicians if they sound exactly like the ones we already know?

While I was in my first high school, I saw more of the same. If you were playing the Elgar Cello Concerto, you had to play it like Jacqueline du Pré. In fact, to the cellists at my school(myself following in their lead), if you liked any classical cellist more than Jacqueline du Pré, you didn’t know what you were talking about. And heaven forbid if you had never heard of her.**

The classical community isn’t just restrictive in its music, it’s restrictive in its appearance as well. Emilie Autumn, a classically trained violinist turned solo artist, was accepted to the Indiana University School of Music when she was 15 and left after two years due to “clashes” with the university over her style in dress and music. I interpret this message as “if you won’t look right, if you won’t play right, don’t bother.”

Growing up in a family of performers, I always believed that the people in the arts are the most accepting, as they work in a field built around self-expression. However, as I have viewed more of the classical community I have realized that this broad generalization does not apply to everyone in the arts, and is just as much of a stereotype as the businessman who only cares about turning a profit. The classical community is stuck in the past. The great composers that everyone knows are still only from previous centuries. New composers are shot down or ignored while we feign amazement that all our beloved composers weren’t as well-known or liked until well after their deaths. We forget that Bach and Mozart were once the ones doing new things, changing the classical genre drastically. It is this resistance to change that I believe threatens to doom the classical genre. The only way to keep a genre alive is to continue to make new music for it, to keep it evolving. Unless the classical community stops stifling its musicians and composers, the genre will fade out of the general public’s awareness. We’re sick of hearing the same old pieces played the same old way. We’ve already bought the CDs. Play us something new.

*Patrick Merrill plays the first movement of the Waldstein Sonata

**Jacqueline du Pré