Monday, August 20, 2012

Songs Aren't As Strong As You May Think

Everyday teaches me something new.

Last night I went to Callaghan's. I feel privileged to live in a place that has such a cool venue as Callaghan's. I've seen a plethora of amazing and memorable shows there. JT (the booking agent/manager/king/proprietor) always keeps the calendar filled with cool shows. I make sure I see all my favorites there when I can but I also like to randomly stop in because I know I will hear great music. It's one of my favorite places to find new music.

Anyway, last night I went to Callaghan's to watch my friend, Lisa Mills perform with the legendary Randall Bramblett.

They were absolutely spectacular.

I was so incredibly impressed by Randall's songwriting and even more impressed by his singing and musicianship. He is a force to be reckoned with.

I found it equally impressive (but not surprising) that my buddy, Lisa, had the songs and talent to rightfully be on stage next to Randall.

I have played enough shows with Lisa to know she's a world class talent (it only takes one song to understand that) but it's always fun to have your friends shine right in front of your eyes and ears.

I was enjoying the very intimate performance. I was also enjoying the stories they told between songs.

Lisa and Randall are both powerful powerful blues singers that can honky tonk or rock a joint to the ground. However the show last night was more of a singer/songwriter quiet living room storytellers shows and that was obvious. was obvious to me and 55 of the 60 people in attendance. There was a group of 5 folks who were talking loudly and disregarding the songs and stories. It made me wonder why they even bought tickets to a song writer show.

Neither Randall nor Lisa seemed to be affected by the boisterous folks at all. But it affected me. And it got my wheels to turning.  Being a singer/songwriter, I probably have a hypersensitivity to the oblivious loud talkers. But I've just seen how loud talking can instantly destroy the vibe of an entire show.

I am by no means against being rowdy, rambunctious and having a good time. I am actually for it and enjoy getting out of control myself from time to time I am simply saying EVERY place is not the appropriate place to be loud and rowdy.

I mean a person hopefully would have the common courtesy and respect to not carry on the same raucous behavior in a Art gallery, library, synagogue, church, etc as they would in a saloon. It's common sense.

People that talk loud, let their phone ring 20 times, etc at intimate concerts are rude. They are highly disrespecting the person performing and they are also disregarding all the audience members who paid good money and took an evening out of their lives to listen to the performer.
When I'm at a singer/songwriter intimate "living room Sequa" show and someone is disruptive, I feel they are my enemy.

This has always been my stance.

Until last night.

Last night I slightly changed my mind. (They are still enemies but I realized they need help not attacking).

Last night I was very very close to the talkers. Therefore I was unable to avoid hearing everything they said.

My usual knee jerk reaction kicked in and my brain labelled this group "enemies of the performance".

But as the show continued (as best it could), I realized that these people weren't evil and mean. They were being rude but they seemed to be nice people.

This got me to thinking.

I would imagine any person, 8 to 80, drunk or sober, from any culture would be perceptive enough to understand when they are in a listening room. I watched and listened to these folks loudly talk and then turned my attention to the other 55 people in the room. Everyone of them was not only silent but also hanging on every note and phrase coming from the stage. It was amazing how any person could be so oblivious to their surroundings.

That's when my epiphany occurred.

For my whole life these people have been my foes. Even before I played music I hated these people. I'd go to listen to a musical performance, I'd try to enjoy but I would be foiled by loud talking, etc. I would always think, "You obviously aren't listening to the music , why did you come to a concert? Did you come specifically to annoy the people who did come to listen?"

But at Callaghan's last I thought, I've been going about it all wrong. The people talking were nice people. I have no doubt of it. They were just completely unconcerned with their surroundings. These people had no idea they were killing songs.

This made me want to help those people and people like them.

So here is a Performing Singer/Songwriter's Public Service Announcement:

Songs aren't as strong as you apparently think they are.

I don't mean songs are weak. Songs can have more of a cultural impact than bullets. They are powerful.

But songs' power is sometime woven into the songs' fragile nature.

I ignorantly thought people knew that. But I realize now people mistake songs' power for meaning they are always robust and sturdy. But at a singer/songwriter intimate concert most of the time the songs' power actually depends on this brittle sentimentality.

So if you have a propensity to be loud and rowdy (I aim this comment at myself also) firstly take note of your surroundings.

If you find yourself in an Art Gallery, Church, Singer/Songwriter performance, or the like, turn off the loud and rowdy. As a matter of fact, turn off everything except your ears. These situations depend on silence to thrive.

As proven by the people last night, that idea still sometimes unbelievably slips passed.

I will therefore give you the following questionnaire :

1) Did you purchase a ticket to the event you are attending?
2) Upon entering do you notice the seating is arranged in a peculiar manner that looks as if the people who are sitting or will be sitting in the seats will have their attention directed at one point......let's say, a musician?
3) Once the show starts, does the musician/performer greet you with, "ARE YOU READY TO ROCK?!!!!!!!" or something along the lines of "good evening everyone. so glad you came to listen this evening"?
4) and this is the most important, Has EVERY SINGLE person in the entire room you are in completely stopped making noise and turned their attention to the entertainer?

(NOTE: I realize that this may be tricky as answering questions 3 and 4 require you to perceive your surroundings in some manner, but I have faith in can do it.)

If you answered yes to most of the above questions, I hate to inform you, but you accidentally entered a listening room.

There is a very very peculiar, unique attribute of a Listening Room, namely in a Listening Room music is NOT background noise.

I know that in the era of iPods and iPhones music seems to ALWAYS be background. Music is background noise for working out, it is background noise for driving, working, flying, grocery shopping. Virtually every activity in today's society has music as a subconscious background.

Therefore I can see how it may be confusing. All day everyday music is ignored and loud conversations are carried on over the top of the songs.

Well that's not how Listening Rooms function. Listening Rooms are the last sanctuary of the fragile song. These fragile songs often times have a a beauty and potency to move you to tears or move you to laughter but what they do not have is the brute force to battle other sounds.

Silence is the only ground they can grow in.
Listening Rooms provide this fertile long as it isn't interrupted.

So the next time you find yourself shouting out a conversation in a confined space, all I'm asking you to do is listen as well. I mean, if what you are saying is important enough to be blasted out so loudly it is worth your attention, right?
Upon hearing your own voice, it mixed in with the sounds of many other loud conversations and a juke box or a loud band? If so, continue on yelling up a good time. If the sound of your voice is accompanied by silence, or maybe even silence with a touch of soft piano or guitar only, or soft music and a subtle heartfelt lyric only, stop (or at least lower it to a whisper).

If you decide to be loud and disruptive at an intimate show you are making the songwriter's job infinitely more difficult, you are greatly diminishing the ambience thereby hurting the venue, and you are ruining the show for all your fellow audience members (who paid just as much as you did to actually hear the music). But you are also doing something much more sinister.

Please remember: these songs are not as strong as you apparently think they are. They NEED silence.

And when you loudly talk during them,

you kill these songs.

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