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INSIDER'S ADVICE COLUMN
of The Professor AKA "The Insider"
If requested, replies can be
kept confidential and not printed here
You may telephone your music
Or you may E-mail
your questions for
faster response to:
Dear Insider: How do I go about hiring quality entertainment? How can I be assured that a DJ, musical entertainer, or band is professional and won't somehow unexpectedly ruin our special event? Are there any agencies that police entertainment businesses to insure they do what they say they will do? How can I be sure we won't get screwed? Sincerely, Need to Know in Bloomington
Dear Need to Know: Your questions get to the real heart of the matter, don't they? How can one be sure one is hiring truly professional entertainment? What are the important questions to ask a prospective musician or DJ business to find out who is reliable and who is not? I have prepared a list of questions which follows. This list is NOT exhaustive, but any truly professional entertainer or entertainment business will be able to answer these questions in a positive and forthright manner without hedging. Listen for EXCUSES. EXCUSES are reasons to look elsewhere. True professionals will not shy away from these important questions. Here's what the "DJ POLICE" would ask:
1. DO YOU HAVE UP-TO-DATE BUSINESS INSURANCE? Peace of Mind comes from knowing your special day won't result in litigation by any guest who trips and falls on the dance floor or whatever. EVERY legitimate and professiona business carries CURRENT, UP-TO-DATE INSURANCE with all premiums paid. . Ask them if they have BUSINESS INSURANCE that includes LIABILITY INSURANCE (up to two million is recommended these days), EQUIPMENT INSURANCE (on every piece of gear they bring to your show), VEHICLE INSURANCE (on the vehicle driven to your show), and WORKER'S COMPENSATION INSURANCE (on all their employees, if they have any). All reputable main event venues these days refuse to hire entertainment companies who DO NOT have the insurance described above. You can request PROOF OF INSURANCE from your any DJ or entertainer. If they CAN'T of WON'T of HESITATE to provide it - RUN! It's not worth the LIABILITY that YOU will be responsible for if you hire these wannabes.
2. DO YOU HAVE A LIST OF PROFESSIONAL REFERENCES I CAN CONTACT? A bonafide professional entertainer or entertainment business should have MANY positive PROFESSIONAL references on hand for you to contact. Note the key words MANY and PROFESSIONAL. Please remember that two or three references is NOT enough. We recommend at least ten recommendations from previously satisfied clients to assure a HISTORY of professionalism. And remember that the word PROFESSIONAL denotes CLIENTS, NOT FAMILY members or friends. Plus, be sure to contact the references. Follow-up, and let the proof be in the pudding. FYI - we have more than 300 (three hundred) professional references.
3. DO YOU PERFORM MUSIC FULL-TIME, OR ARE YOU JUST A "PART-TIME WEEKENDER"? In the music entertainment business, the REAL professionals are employed in the music business FULL-TIME. They are totally immersed in the music field (as opposed to just tinkering in it) and are the best qualified to assist you because they are in touch with music and musicians ALL DAY, EVERY DAY. Since his / her ENTIRE LIVELIHOOD depends on it, he/she is compelled to saturate themselves in the field of music, to continue to learn and grow to meet the demands of the listening public. "PART-TIME WEEK-ENDERS" are usually employed full-time or part-time in another field and only supplement their income with occasional gigs here and there. Some scam entertainers are actually unemployed, work only for cash, and enter the entertainment field trying to make a fast buck. These schmucks give our industry a bad name. Incidently, fact is, the author of this music advice column has been performing music professionally full-time for over twenty-five years. And STILL learning!
4. HOW MANY CONTINUOUS COMPLETE YEARS OF PROFESSIONAL MUSIC EXPERIENCE DO YOU HAVE? Many musicians and DJs, unfortunately, have only worked intermittently or occasionally. That means "on and off", "hot and cold" for their entire career, working very few nights a month or even a year. Remember that "A FEW WEEKENDS A YEAR" does NOT equal "A YEAR OR EXPERIENCE". Look for a no nonsense answer here. TEN YEARS of continuous full-time experience is a good rule of thumb to start with. Too little experience means they have not encountered a wide enough variety of audiences to have the tools necessary to do the job effectively. Being interested in a subject (like performing music) and being QUALIFIED in it are two different things completely. SEEK QUALITY, EXPERIENCED PROFESSIONALS with a MINIMUM of TEN (10) YEARS EXPERIENCE. FYI - The author of this music blog is still learning, even after twenty-five years in the music industry full-time.
5. WHAT IS YOUR SPECIALTY? A typical radio DJ or school dance DJ, for example, is simply not qualified to do weddings. Weddings take an experienced DJ who knows how to play to the WHOLE CROWD, not just one or two segments of it. They know how to MOTIVATE your guests to GET INVOLVED in the party by being INTERACTIVE with them. Having done HUNDREDS of dances, they have MANY TRICKS UP THEIR SLEEVE, and they can find out what the crowd wants and serve it to them on a silver platter. They know WHAT to play and WHEN to play it. Be sure the entertainer has done hundreds of successful shows that fit the type and style of dance you envision for your event. Don't make the mistake of trying to fit the proverbial square peg in a round hole. A radio station that plays all pop and top 40 won't have a clue about country, swing, or 50s & 60s, for example, just like you won't find Classic Rock on MTV. Find out what the entertainers' STRENGTHS are, what their SPECIALTY is. And whatever you do, don't try to take those spots off that leopard. Incidentally, the author's specialties are performing live piano & vocals, producing and engineering audio recording projects, emceeing and performing as a mobile DJ, operating sound reinforcement equipment for concerts, and teaching piano and voice lessons to all ages and abilities.
6. WHAT BRAND NAMES OF SOUND & LIGHTING GEAR WILL YOU HAVE AT OUR EVENT? True professionals invest what it takes to own the very best professional audio and lighting gear available. Be aware of name brands you see advertized at Best Buy and other department stores. These brands are fine for home stereo systems but are not designed to take the night-after-night peak performance of a professional road show. I have heard horror stories of well-meaning folks hiring a relative or a "friend of a friend" who just happens to have a "cool stereo" and a nice home CD collection. Usually these parties are an embarrassment to both the host or hostess and the "wannabe" entertainer, if not a total disaster caused by blown speakers or amps that are cranked up way too high for too long. A true professional should be able to rattle off a detailed list of equipment, including BACK-UP EQUIPMENT in case the first system fails. A true professional is prepared for the worst case scenario and has a plan of action in case Murphy's Law rears its ugly head. FYI - we own and operate only the finest music equipment on the planet, including the following recommended Pro manufacturers: Allen & Heath, Neumann, QSC & Audio Technica, and the "Minnesota Piano Man" plays Steinway and Yamaha pianos exclusively.
7. DO YOU HAVE LIABILITY INSURANCE IN CASE OF INJURY TO GUESTS DURING THE EVENT? Repeated to stress - This is VERY important. You would not believe how many businesses DO NOT CARRY any sort of liability insurance. This is a big indicator whether or not you are dealing with a professional business or not. "Fly-by-night" entertainers do not carry insurance, largely because they don't work enough to be able to afford it. But just like hiring a roofer or other contractor, MAKE SURE the entertainer or DJ carries A MINIMUM OF ONE MILLION DOLLARS LIABILITY INSURANCE. What if something happens at your special event, like a guest trips and breaks a leg, or perhaps even worse. YOU CAN BE HELD LIABLE if your entertainer is not covered. This if a no-brainer. There is too much to risk here, too much potential for getting into a world of hurt. DON'T SETTLE FOR A CHEAPER ENTERTAINER WHO WILL LEAVE YOU VULNERABLE TO LEGAL ACTION. A true professional will have a minimum of one million dollars liability insurance. Don't take a chance on this one. Incidentally, the PEACE OF MIND which comes with every Living Water Music performance is that our company insurance exceeds all the necessary requirements for any festival, fair, tour, venue or event in the Midwest.
I could go on and on, but these seven (7) important guidelines and questions ask of any prospective music entertainer or entertainment company will give you a very good idea who is professional and who is not. These questions will be a big help in weeding out 95% of the "wannabees". Please do everyone (especially your guests) a favor and avoid the hassle and embarrassment of hiring non-professionals who can't answer these questions without making excuses. You owe it to yourself to avoid that whole mess, and these questions will help point you in the right direction. Enjoy your party!
Sincerely, The Insider AKA Craig LiaBraaten
P.S. If you have not already
please check out our
Insider: I'm an adult, and I play piano. I took lessons as
a child, but it seems I forgot a lot. I want to learn to play
and I don't really have the time. I can read music very
slowly. Should I take lessons, or can I learn with a self-help book?
should I practice if my time is limited? Are there any secrets to
succes in my case, or is it too late? Signed, No Time to Practice P.S.
When you were at Louisiana U, did you ever visit my home state? (Alabama)
Dear No Time: Often after playing a concert, while signing programs I'm frequently asked some of these very same questions. Plus, I do have a number of adult beginners and adult "refresher students" of all ages, from college level up to senior citizens (my oldest student currently is eighty-two). Among these adults are professionals and home-makers who struggle with the same time issues you encounter, so I feel I can respond with some level of experience to your questions.
To the P.S. first, let me relate that I have visited and concertized in Alabama, most notably at the University of Alabama (the Crimson Tide, I believe you are called), and I simply love your beautiful state and southern hospitality. I would love to visit again, perhaps when my agent schedules another engagement there. If you'd like us to keep you on our E-mail list of Concert Appearances in your area, please request at contact insider. Now to your questions regarding piano:
First of all, let me commend you for your interest in refreshing your skills at the piano. What an absolutely fun and fascinating time it can be, especially with a teacher who can answer your questions face to face.
It certainly would be convenient if we could use some sort of self-help book to guide us. But the reality of it is that WE ALL NEED A TEACHER, and here are just a handful of reasons why:
1) WEEKLY LESSONS KEEP US ON TRACK, even with a busy schedule. Regular lessons provide us short-and medium-range goals to achieve and a sure way to evaluate our progress. Without weekly lessons from a qualified teacher (and I recommend weekly lessons instead of bi-weekly or monthly), even the most self-motivated students tend to lose interest quickly. Weekly lessons can be, therefore, a great motivator.
2) WITHOUT PRIVATE LESSONS, WE LEARN BAD HABITS. Our teacher can see what we are doing more objectively and more accurately, because they observe our playing from a vantage point OUTSIDE OURSELVES. Many times we are unable to adequately assess our problem areas ~ for example, PROPER TECHNIQUE ~ and because we are too easily distracted by the mundane and rudimentary aspects of playing ~ for example, note reading. An objective observer can always shed light on our deficiencies BEFORE they become engrained as bad habits. Remember that BAD HABITS ARE HARD TO BREAK, AND GOOD HABITS NEED TIME AND PROPER GUIDANCE TO DEVELOP.
PLAYING IS A SKILL, NOT A THEORY OR CONCEPT. I remember
high school when I fell in love with, of all things, bowling, and
a league. I wanted to be a good bowler, so I checked out all the
books on bowling from the library. One day a teacher of mine
me reading these "self-help" bowling books, and he taught me something
I'll never forget. What I really needed to do to learn to bowl
not to read about it, but to GET OUT AND
4) TO LEARN EFFICIENTLY, YOU MUST LEARN HOW TO PRACTICE. Too many students of all ages ~ especially adults ~ WASTE TIME PRACTICING. Considering you have, as you and so many others complain, so little time to spare, then it would be prudent to use your practice time wisely, and to achieve the maximum results in the minimum amount of time. Competent teachers not only show their students WHAT to practice, but also HOW to practice to maximize your effort. Well-meaning students spend hours when they could spend minutes getting results. Your personal trainer ~ your private piano teacher ~ can help personalize your practice regimen to achieve the most efficient progress possible.
TEACHERS RECOMMEND ASSIGNMENTS THAT FIT YOUR SKILL LEVEL. Again,
precious time is lost if the assignments are either too
or too easy for you. And too often time is not expendable in today's
and vocations. Without
often fail to reinforce one another, or fail to achieve a meaningful
from one to the other. With no rhyme or reason, a student without
a teacher is destined for frustration and,
In short, SUCCESSFUL PIANO PLAYING WILL ALWAYS BE LEARNED THE "OLD-FASHIONED" WAY, SITTING ONE-ON-ONE WITH THE MENTOR TO GUIDE AND LEAD FACE TO FACE AND BY EXAMPLE, something no "self-help" book can ever do.
So good luck in your search
for a qualified,
competent teacher. If you readers need help finding a mentor in
area, feel free to E-mail me anytime at contact
and I will do all I can to assist your search. Let me know how
turn out for you. For info on our music lessons, CHECK HERE.
Sincerely, Craig LiaBraaten (AKA, The Insider).
Insider: I find that when I'm practicing the piano, I get
pain in my wrists, and occasionally in my elbow, too. What am I
wrong? I want to be a good player, but it really hurts sometimes.
Sincerely, Tired of Hurting in Wisconsin.
Dear Tired: You have touched on an important problem many musicians face, especially those who devote a lot of time to practicing.
Two famous pianists who experienced pain while practicing/playing and who today have ruined their careers are Leon Fleischer and Gary Grafman. Both of these concert pianists, at the height of their international careers, became incapacitated by pain while playing, and both are severely handicapped today. Fleischer's hand curled up in a grotesque way, and to this day he is a one-handed pianist. How terrible are the results of not addressing this issue properly, and how sad these pianists must be at their great loss.
Now while repetitive movements, like those of a typist, are apt to create an environment where pain and injury can occur (carpal tunnel syndrome, for example), the real culprit is not the movements required, but tension produced by improper stance and technique. I believe ALL PAIN IN PRACTICING IS THE RESULT OF INCORRECT TECHNIQUE, which, if left unaddressed or unchanged, can ruin a gifted artist or even a talented beginner.
I am appalled at those who attempt to teach with NO CLUE as to what PROPER TECHNIQUE is all about. These "so-called" teachers do more harm than good, for they allow well-meaning students to hurt themselves because they never learned the ABC's of PROPER TECHNIQUE themselves. How I wish there were at least minimum requirements for private music teachers, for many have no basis or education upon which to teach their students how to play or sing without pain or discomfort. Most of these teachers never mastered their own technique, so how could we expect them to be able to demonstrate PROPER TECHNIQUE. Always remember my motto: "THE BEST TEACHER IS A GOOD EXAMPLE". If your teacher cannot play well, or no longer plays in public, take a clue and look for instruction from a competent instructor.
PROPER TECHNIQUE IS THE KEY TO UNLOCKING EVERY INSTRUMENT, including my two areas of expertise, voice and piano. It takes an understanding of many aspects ~ physiology, science, physics, logic, common sense ~ to fully comprehend what is required of the human body in accomplishing complex, difficult, even strenuous tasks WITH THE UTMOST RELAXATION AND RELEASE.
When I decided to study music, I wanted to find the best teachers available, and I did ~ eventually. Coming from a small community in Northern Minnesota, my initial experiences with my first teacher were awkward, because I knew I could play better than her from the start. When she would attempt to demonstrate, I could see her lack of knowledge and talent, and I was embarrassed to be in that situation. We looked around and found a much more competent individual (who lived in the area, and had studied with Josef Levine at Julliard), and so we changed teachers. And I'll tell you, there was so much animosity and jealousy on the part of the first teacher, it was incredible. But for the first time, I had a teacher who knew something about PROPER TECHNIQUE, and my playing really took off. By the time I was a Junior in High School, I had won a national award at Interlochen Academy of Fine Arts in Interlochen, Michigan. And I was playing some incredibly difficult literature (Liszt's Rhapsodies, Chopin's Etudes, Beethoven's Sonatas) with ease. The key to my succes was having a teacher who understood PROPER TECHNIQUE.
The teachers I chose in undergraduate and graduate work, were even more knowledgeable and skilled in PROPER TECHNIQUE. Dr. Wee at St. Olaf was a joy to work with, and he introduced me to the master teacher Gyorgy Sebok, the finest teacher I have ever met. I first played for Distinguished Professor Sebok of Indiana University in a master class out in Oregon, and he immediately took me under his wing. I received a full scholarship to Indiana Univeristy School of Music, where I had the privilege to study each week with Maestro Sebok for six years. And you wouldn't believe what he did.
At this point my resume was quite impressive with national awards of all kinds, so I had that self-assurance ~ let's call it cockiness ~ that I was some big bad piano player. But the Maestro took me aside, and in his broken Hungarian asked, "Do you really want to learn to play the piano?"
Now at first, my pride welled up inside, and I just about blurted out something like "Listen, buddy, have you seen my resume? I'm already a national phenomenon!" But something inside me knew better, and instead I submitted to the wisdom of the master pianist, and I said "Yes, I do."
I honestly did not know what to expect, but what Sebok did is he started me from scratch, back to day one, beginning all over again. Sebok wanted to lose every vestige, every iota of stress, tension and imbalance in my technique, so we started completely over from ground zero. It was very, very trying on my patience, but I believed in the concept of PROPER TECHNIQUE, and since Sebok's teacher was Bartok at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, I knew I was being told the truth and I was learning PROPER TECHNIQUE in the truest sense. (Liszt was, as the informed pianist will tell you, the greatest technician of all time. Liszt revolutionized piano technique in his quest to become "the Paganini of the piano". Liszt wrote pieces in his teens that no other pianist in the world could play. So I am tickled pink to know I am a musical descendant of the greatest pianist the world has ever known.)
While I was working on my PROPER TECHNIQUE, I took nine months off of public performing, just like Liszt himself did when he uncovered the mysteries of PROPER TECHNIQUE. And looking back, I wouldn't change a thing, for now THERE IS NO PIANO PIECE THAT I CANNOT PLAY, and PROPER TECHNIQUE ALLOWS ME TO PLAY THE MOST DIFFICULT WORKS FREE OF STRAIN.
So dear Tired of Hurting, the pain you are experiencing while practicing is a stark indicator to me that you need a teacher who fully understands PROPER TECHNIQUE as Liszt taught it. You owe it to yourself to master PROPER TECHNIQUE before you, too, become a statistic.
Seriously consider you teacher's qualifications, and inquire of your propective teachers what their knowledge and background are with regard to Liszt's technique. Ask them if they have battled with tension and pain in their own performing, and if they have been successful overcoming it. Have they ever had to stop practicing or playing because of pain? You see, we don't want the blind leading the blind. You need a real teacher who does not still battle with these issues, but has found the answers. You need a teacher who is an active performer who can actually DEMONSTRATE what PROPER TECHNIQUE is.
Always remember my motto: "THE BEST TEACHER IS A GOOD EXAMPLE"
Please write to me again at contact the insider to let me know of your progress in finding a competent teacher. Be willing to travel some distance to find the best teacher available. If you need help locating a qualified teacher in your area, I would do my best to help. Take care and good luck. FYI CLICK HERE.
Sincerely, The Insider
Insider: I'm 12 years old and I already play piano better
than my teacher. What should I do? Sincerely, T.N.
Dear T.N.: Find a good teacher. My first teacher taught me bad habits and wrong information and they had no clue about proper technique. I learned that too late. It's very hard to unlearn bad habits. It's much better to have a teacher tell you the truth (the facts) when you're young. Then you get it right the first time. It's sad that anybody can hang out a shingle and teach private lessons but few are really qualified. Find someone with a music performance degree from a real music school. Have they won awards? Graduated with honors? Are they a Recording Artist? Do they still perform as a soloist regularly in public? Do they love to teach? If you can answer yes to these questions, then you won't learn bad habits.
Your teacher MUST be a performer ~ don't take lessons from a piano teacher who can't or doesn't play in public, or voice lessons from someone with a speaking difficulty (lisp). The key to learning is PROPER TECHNIQUE. Correct technique unlocks the instrument, and a teacher who can't play, can't show you how. They are out of touch. MY MOTTO has always been ~ THE BEST TEACHER IS A GOOD EXAMPLE!
Insider: I'm a senior and I can't decide where to go for
college education. I love my music and I want to make the right
Dear Desperate: If you are majoring in music, be sure to check the major, not just the school. A music school may be recommended for one type of music (band or choir, for example) but may be terrible for another (piano, for example). Also, a school that may have been good in the past in one area may not be good today in that field. If you wonder about a specific school and a specific major, write to me again and I'll try to find out for you.
Insider: What is required of music majors in
college? I'm considering piano performance as a career, but I'm not
sure at this
Dear Mikey B : Remember that we still learn to perform music the old-fashioned way. One-on-one we sit with a great teacher and learn the craft. Find a teacher who is qualified, not just convenient. Sometimes that means traveling a good distance. Then soak it in like a sponge just like Luke Skywalker did with YODA! Are you thirsty to learn? I met a lot of frustrated musicians in music school. Most of them weren't prepared to enter college in music. They didn't have a clue what is required of a music major. So you are asking good questions, Mikey.
If you are considering becoming a music major, you need to know some basic facts. The following five disciplines are required of every music major (unless, of course, you attend Podunk U where there is no commitment to quality in education). The five disciplines to get a grip on now are:
1) Music Theory: required of all music majors. Minimum four years of theory are required even for a Bachelor of Ed. in Music. If you haven't had much theory, get ready for your fill of it. Theory is different from some aspects of music (for example, style and interpretation) in that theory has black or white answers with little gray areas for discussion. Theory is the MATH of music, and it is either right or wrong. Many talented folks flunk out of college because they can't or won't pass the theory requirement. This is avoidable by enrolling in theory courses (like the ones we offer at Living Water Music) while you are yet in high school, or preferably, even younger. When I got to St. Olaf I tested out of most of the theory requirements because I was prepared when I got there. The results? I was TEACHING theory and keyboard at St. Olaf my freshman year! You can too, if you prepare well beforehand.
2) Singing: required of all music majors. Surprise, Surprise! No, you won't have to sing a recital (unless voice is your major or cognate field), but you will have to be able to sing a melody at sight that you have never seen before without touching an instrument. You'll have to do this in class in front of your classmates, and in tests with your teacher or assistant teacher. You will not NOT be graded on your tone production, but you WILL be graded on singing the correct pitches, intervals, rhythms, basic intonations and melodies ~ some of which are surprisingly complex. Sight singing is a required part (lab) in every quality music curriculum.
3) Piano: Important! All music majors, regardless of their major or their principle instrument are required to pass what is called piano proficiency, which is a certain level of competency on the keyboard. Specific requirements vary from school to school, but take my word for it, if you haven't had a piano lesson before you go to college, you will be wasting hour after hour in the practice room learning keyboard fundamentals, and you'll wish you had that time for other classwork, extra curriculars, or free time for your own sanity. Why not get prepared BEFORE you go? I have taught piano classes at St. Olaf College, Indiana University, and Louisiana State University, so I do know a bit about piano proficiency requirements. Drop a line if you need help or want to register for a piano class if you live in Northern Minnesota or Wisconsin.
Concerning public performance, my students (I have 170 currently) are all encouraged (not forced) to do so, and most think it is fun. My students have appeared at virtually every festival and venue of stature in Northern Minnesota ~ Including Hibbing's Jubilee, Virginia's Land of the Loon, Ely's Blueberry Arts, Tower's Wild Rice Festival, Grand Rapids Judy Garland, Ironworld U.S.A., area schools and colleges and the DECC. By PARTICIPATING, students always learn more.
5) Heavy Course Load: To the uninitiated, it might seem like music curriculum could be a cakewalk. Unfortunately, unless you attend a small community college program where little is offered in the music department, you will find the coursework to range from heavy to downright impossible. I roomed with a pre-med student as an undergraduate at St. Olaf, and I know my course-load was heavier than his, mainly because, in music, you put in comparable hours to earn 3 credits in another major but it earns you just a third or half of one credit in music. The labs are time-consuming, tedious, and you can expect to receive little reward for your intense labor, other than the pride in your work and (hopefully) a nice GPA. It seems the music faculties do this on purpose to weed out those less-industrious, less-disciplined characters from the rank and file.
If you want to excel in music school (I had a graduate school GPA of 3.98), then expect to pay your dues big time. For our competitions, CLICK HERE.
Trust me, there are a lot of hoops to jump through. But after you're finished, it's all worthwhile. Take it from one who has been there, who has tread those long and lonely paths, and who now DONATES more to worthwhile causes (such as benefits for The American Cancer Society, Muscular Dystrophy, and local food shelves) each year than the average American MAKES in four years. Giving back to the community is a "way of life" for us. And here's the beauty of it: If I can do it, you can do it, and if you're so inclined, write to 'THE INSIDER", and very likely I could help you get there, too.
Insider: I read in the Hibbing Tribune, Dylan's home town,
that some local Minnesota fan thinks Dylan is quote "the greatest
composer of the 21st century" and that Hibbing, where he grew up,
should recognize Dylan for his contributions to the city of Hibbing. I
read your biography on line and see you are from Hibbing, too. What do
you think of Dylan and his contributions to your area?
Dear Undecided: The day I received your Dear Insider
inquiry, I made the time in my busy schedule to research this timely
question. Thank you for your inquisitiveness and curiosity, for
inspiring me to put cyber pen to cyber paper, and ultimately, inspiring
me to write a letter to editor Wanda Moeller of the Hibbing Daily
Tribune. Fortunately freedom of the press still lives in Hibbing, MN.
My letter was recently published 04-22-07. Undecided, below in my
response to you here, is that letter in its entirety.
Undecided, the article about
Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman) and Dylan Days that you describe appeared
in the Hibbing Daily Tribune in April 2007 during a time in which
Dylan's songs were being introduced to children in the Hibbing public
school system (ISD 701) at the Lincoln Middle School. The HDT article
was entitled: "Youth: Dedicating Class Time to Dylan" and Subtitled:
"Students Prepare for Performances at Dylan Days" and written by
Hibbing Daily Tribune staff writer Kjerstin Lang.
I believe the quote you refer
to is attributed to Mike Miesbauer, a fifth-grade teacher at Lincoln
Elementary School in Hibbing. The complete quote in context is as
follows: "Miesbauer said he couldn't believe that many students didn't
know who Dylan was. 'They do now', said Miesbauer. 'I think they should
know him because when everything is said and done, I think history will
show him [Dylan] as the greatest composer of the 20th century.'
Miesbauer said although Dylan's music isn't very complicated, he is a
musical genius when the lyrics and music are combined."
Later on in the same article
there is this passage: "The [Lincoln Elementary] teachers agree Dylan
is an important subject. 'It is important for the kids to know who Bob
Dylan was and that he contributed to the community through poetry and
music,' said [Lincoln Elementary Choir Director Judy] Laliberte.
'Perhaps through this we will tap the talents of one of the students
here and inspire them to continue with music like Dylan did.' In a
broader aspect it teaches about community pride, thought [Lincoln
Elementary Co-Choir Director Karen] Adam. 'It is part of teaching our
students about our community and taking pride in our community,' [Adam]
I will attempt to carefully
answer your excellent question and comment on these quotes from the
Hibbing Daily Tribune article on Bob Dylan.
First, here in blue is the
letter which appeared in the Hibbing Daily Tribune on 04-22-07, with a couple small things interjected for
clarity before I sent this into cyberspace:
are your songs about" Bob Dylan was once asked. "Oh," he said, "some of
them are about three minutes..." My point exactly.
attended Interlochen Academy of Fine Arts, St. Olaf College, Indiana
University, LSU, Kindermusik International and other master classes to
passionately and thoroughly study music to be certain that, when I
opened my mouth, I told the truth and not just my "opinion". A Hibbing
Daily Tribune article last week "Dedicating [Lincoln Elementary] Class
Time to Dylan", fifth-grade teacher Mr. Miesbauer relates the following
to reporter Kjerstin Lang: "...he couldn't believe that many students
didn't know who Dylan was" but that "they do now" because "when
everything is said and done, I think history will show [Dylan] as the
greatest composer of the 20th century" and "a musical genius".
goal of education, especially for the youngest and most impressionable
kids in public school, should be to present every student with the
facts - - the truth. Not brainwash the kids with biased and baseless
opinions on a subject area in which the teacher lacks qualifications.
What is needed in school is objectivity and truth.
is, Dylan is a SONGWRITER, not a composer. Literary giant, perhaps.
"Musical genius", NO.
the study of Music Composition is a multi-faceted and complicated
craft. It involves much more than writing words, melody and strumming a
few simple chords or jamming with other musicians. Songwriting is what
Dylan does. Composing is what Stravinsky did (Rite of Spring, Firebird
Suite, Pucinella). Or what Debussy, Ravel, Bartok, Scriabin, Poulenc,
Schoenberg, Rutter, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and Gershwin did, or even what John Williams does.
Thousands of other worthy musical artists have mastered the sister
disciplines of music theory and music composition. Paul McCartney,
Elton John and Billy Joel continue to lament the limitations and
box-like commercialism of the "three-minute song"; all three have
tip-toed into actual composition, understandably without much success
or acclaim. Dylan wouldn't know higher tertian vocabulary,
counterpoint, the art of fugue, three augmented sixth chords, seven
hypo-modes, or authentic Roman Numeral analysis - - to name a few
compositional techniques - - if they jumped up and bit him. Perhaps
they did at University of Minnesota before Dylan dropped out?
to the musically literate, "a musical genius" is something much rarer
than Dylan's few chords. His words may have layers of meaning, but his
musical vocabulary and architecture is more on the level of "The Cat In
The Hat". Let me share a few examples of unfathomable musical geniuses.
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), a gifted 20th century COMPOSER,
performer and conductor, could read an entire symphonic score (more
than twenty lines of music at the same time) and simultaneously play
all the parts at the piano, including all their necessary
transpositions (clarinet and trumpet in b-flat, horn in f, and so
forth) - - at sight and up to tempo! Perhaps the greatest musical
genius of all time was J. S. Bach (1685-1750). Bach created what
experts have coined the "old testament" of piano music, the WTC I &
II (two complete sets of preludes and fugues in all major and minor
keys at a time when equal tempered tuning was just becoming accepted);
but his true genius was heard in live performances. When given a new
melody "on the spot" by anyone, Bach, the artistic equivalent of a
Baroque-era "super-computer", could IMPROVISE an eight-part fugue on
that subject instantly! Or W. A. Mozart (1756-1791), who, upon hearing
firsthand the famed Sistine Chapel choir perform its highly secretive
and complex antiphonal and polyphonic choral music in Latin, memorized
the music upon hearing it once, went home and promptly wrote out all
the parts note for note! In my "musical family tree" there is Beethoven
(1770-1827), who wrote his "Chorale" Symphony and the Missa Solemnis
while totally deaf! Then there is my musical great-great grandfather,
pedagogically speaking, Franz Liszt (1811-1886), who, when presented
the most difficult compositions that world-famous composers Frederic
Chopin and Edvard Grieg had just penned, sight read from these original
handwritten manuscripts and performed these compositions (which today's
concert pianists practice for years) up to tempo the very first time he
saw them! More examples exist - - but musical genius is indeed rare.
may be an effective SONGWRITER, poet, popular performer, and an astute
businessman. COMPOSER he is not. Mr. Miesbauer's opinion that Dylan is
"the greatest composer of the 20th century" is ridiculous because Dylan
is not even a composer. If he has anywhere near that level of musical
expertise, his output thus far has not revealed it.
the phrase "Musical Genius" is neither a popularity poll nor a
bankroll. Few there be in history and in the 20th or 21st century (or
any century, for that matter) who can be so described. Dylan is NOT one
of them. More importantly to Hibbing, let's face the facts: Dylan's
heart is not in his hometown. But I digress.
the same Hibbing Daily Tribune article on Dylan and Dylan Days, Lincoln
Choir Director Judy Laliberte is quoted saying "It is important for
kids to know who Bob Dylan was and that he contributed to the [Hibbing]
community through poetry and music", and that the Dylan Days "is part
of teaching our [Hibbing's] students about our community and taking
pride in our community."
me. What has Dylan contributed to this community? Has he performed here
once in the last forty years? Played one benefit or fund raiser? Paid
one local salary? Donated one penny to support our local chamber or
other non-profits? Served in one local position? Patronized our
businesses? Do his taxes support our local schools and help pay for Mr.
Meisbauer's and Ms. Laliberte's positions? Was the school song he wrote
performed at his HHS graduation? Do the profits from his CDs go back
into this community? Does he volunteer in a local church? Does he teach
our kids one-on-one life skills, music skills and self-confidence? Does
he sacrifice year after year for Hibbing? Isn't it ironic?
to everyone who called, wrote and stopped by since our last letter to
the HDT offering their kind support. Thanks to our loyal customer base,
our students, and businesses, city representatives and friends who
support what we're doing and who are just as surprised as we are that
our community-minded efforts sometimes seem forgotten. Hibbing School
of Music and Living Water Music, Inc. continue to sacrifice, to
contribute, to donate our time, talents and treasure for innumerable
local grassroots events. Does Bob Dylan have this effect on our
hometown? Does the dollar bill from his wallet go around Hibbing?
is, Dylan continues to make millions yet ignores Hibbing. Ask yourself,
should our children be taught that Dylan's an important contributor to
our community? What has his "poetry and music" done for us - - for you?
Should public school teachers teach their exaggerated opinions to our
children as if they are fact? Who brainstormed this strange campaign?
Who endorsed it? Why is Dylan lauded yet we're ignored?
our dilemma. We can look in the mirror and know we've done everything
we've been asked for Hibbing. We've been blessed in the past. Now we
find ourselves in a challenging position. Forgive our honesty, but if
enrollment and bookings don't improve - - and we're unable to make a
living here in music - - frankly tough decisions will be made. Perhaps
more than a quarter million in unique student music scholarships may
cease in our area. Forty some odd years after Dylan left town, will the
same happen to one of Hibbing's most devoted sons?
Businesses, schools, community - -
please make the choice to support the Hibbing School of Music and
Living Water Music before it's too late.
The above blue font section of
this reply concludes the letter to the editor which was inspired by
your timely question, Undecided. Can see why this topic received an
immediate response by yours truly? Your question touches on the
tremendous differences between a musician like myself, who takes his
time, talent and treasure and invests it in Hibbing - - and Bob Dylan,
who has the wherewithal to do great things for Hibbing, but as of
04-23-07 has done nothing. Moreover, I don't believe Dylan has ever
sanctioned or given his personal permission for the events given in
Hibbing in his honor or the local for-profit restaurant-bar business
that bears his namesake. To my knowledge, he has never granted
permission. Presumably, since Dylan owns the trademark and rights to
the professional use of his stage name and image for financial
purposes, certain Hibbingites could potentially be in hot water for
starting all these marketing and profit-making ventures without first
getting his permission.
It's interesting to
see how various photos of Dylan are being used in for-profit
advertisements here locally in Hibbing with digital alterations - -
such as a tacky Santa cap - - to fit the season's marketing message. I
wonder if Bob is aware of this practice? So far it appears Dylan has
much bigger fish to fry and is much too distracted with more important
things than what is going on in his hometown.
Dylan did grant a rare
telephone interview to the Hibbing High School Newspaper back when I was the HHS news staff artist - - I seem to remember my classmate at
Greenhaven Elementary Pam Coleman was granted the interview, a copy of
which I believe I have somewhere. But for the past 30 years it appears
he's been too busy to give Hibbing the time of day. Consequently,
Dylan's "contributions" to this great, historic community in northern
Minnesota - - if any exist
at all - - are neither
direct nor tangible.
So the real question to ask is
not how Dylan contributed to Hibbing, but, during Dylan's most
impressionable and formative years, how my wonderful hometown of
Hibbing contributed to Dylan's developing talent and metamorphosis as a
human being, poet, songwriter and performer. All these years have we
had the cart before the horse? Perhaps Bob Dylan is quiet on this
subject because of this: Perhaps the impact Hibbing had on Mr. Robert
Zimmerman has always been significantly greater than the impact he will
ever have on Hibbing or any other community for that matter. This
reality might be challenging and humbling for anyone, including Bob
Dylan, to admit. I know firsthand how positively Hibbing influenced my
early development. From delivering papers for the Hibbing Daily Tribune
to attending the historic Alice School the last year it was open, I'm
proud of my hometown.
Hibbing is a great place to
raise a family - - with the single exception that the arts are not
valued on par with sports around here. Folks will spend hundreds of
dollars a week outfitting their son or daughter with hockey equipment,
traveling two hundred miles for a game, paying for lodging and dining
for their family, and so forth. But when it comes to paying $25 a week
for music lessons from a qualified teacher, they decline and cite their
concerns about the cost, or forget altogether to educate the whole
child. There have only been a few hockey players who graduated from
northern Minnesota who have made a living in professional hockey, but
there are hundreds of area graduates who have made a living in music -
- like Bob Dylan and yours truly, as well as many of my former
students. Hockey lasts the typical student until they graduate high
school. Music lasts until the day you die. There is no good reason to
"retire" from music. It is a lifetime of learning, enjoyment,
self-discipline and fulfillment. Considering all the research that has
been done and published about the life-changing effects of music
lessons (particularly piano lessons) on the development and enhancement
of a child's brain, you would think more folks would value music and
prioritize it around Hibbing. Alas, we at the Hibbing School of Music
have surely done our part over the last fourteen years to try to
educate the area on the benefits of taking private music lessons from a
highly qualified and passionate teacher. If there be any negatives to
living here, and I'm just being honest, this may be the one worst
strike against Hibbing: music as an essential part of education is
Undecided, now you have the
facts of the matter. Now you can make an educated decision.
Let me footnote one
afterthought: My hope in publishing this Dylan discourse on the world
wide web is to hopefully one day inspire Mr. Bob Dylan to do something
marvelous for Hibbing. Just in case this cyber blog ever reaches the
Dylan family, here is my open letter to Mr. Dylan: "Bob, you certainly
have the ability and the wherewithal to do something big for Hibbing.
All you need is the desire. Come on, Bob. Come and visit us. Come and
spend time to get to know the great people of Hibbing. Come to Hibbing
and give a concert. Give the city of Hibbing a nice chunk of dough (I
suggest at least a few million) for the fine arts around here - - which
are declining and dying due to lack of financial support. Why don't you
donate some cool personal memorabalia for the Dylan museum at the
Hibbing Public Library? Come and acknowledge the people in Hibbing who
acknowledge you. Take the time to do the right thing, Bob. Use the
amazing tools at your disposal to make a difference here. You can do
it, Bob. All you have to do is hear that still small voice and heed it.
Truthfully, Bob, after all that Hibbing did to shape you, mould you,
introduce you to great writers, and inspire you, don't you agree the
city deserves not only your acknowledgement but also your timely,
sacrificial investment? Do it now, Bob,
before the arts in this old town wither away and die completely. Can't
you see it now, Bob? Just east down Dupont Road right by the shores of
picturesque Lake Carey, there it sits: "Bob Dylan Cultural &
Performing Arts Center" with "Zimmy's 'Blood On The Tracks'
Preservation Concert Hall". Wouldn't that be great? If anybody can make
it happen - - you can, Bob. This time I promise, Hibbing will be right
there to support you. Thanks for your consideration, Bob. And if my
music business survives and I'm still in town, I'd love to sit down and
show you some cool music theory and music composition stuff. Deep
stuff, fascinating gold nuggets and worthy of your time. We can sing
some duets (I probably know more of your songs than you know of mine,
but trust me, what you can teach me lyrically I can teach you
musically). It's time, Bob, to celebrate the town that shaped you. Let
me close by putting it this way: I know it for a fact, Bob. ' You can
go home again.' "
To all you budding musicians out there, write me or call me toll-free at (800) 248-7225 if I can be of service. Best wishes to everyone.
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