First off, if you’ve missed the last few blog entries, you’ll want to check them out… I rolled out some big announcements for the coming year! A chance to subscribe to new music in 2012, a songbook project w/ pianist Nick Rieser, and ‘Home for the Holidays’! Check out the last few entries at www.maxwellmanmusic.com/blog or on my Facebook music page.
I finished Malcom Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’ last week. I’m not a fan of non-fiction reading, but I was looking to mix it up a bit. A few of my friends had strongly recommended ‘Outliers’, so I gave it a shot. As it turns out, Gladwell’s stunning research on the concept of self-made success was one of the most interesting books I have ever read. One of the most striking ideas presented in the book was his ’10,000 hour’ theory. Before you scoff, let me say that I had heard of this theory before and thought it was ridiculous until I read the book. Basically, Gladwell argues that the human brain requires 10,000 hours of practice at a craft before it completely masters the art. There are exceptions, but Gladwell does in-depth studies of so-called prodigies from Mozart to Bill Gates and proves his theory’s validity. When people are young, one might have a bit more ability than others in certain subject, but it is quite literally practice and practice alone that leads to true success.
This got me thinking about my own practice routines. I mean, I for one can admit that I haven’t spent nearly 10,000 hours in a practice room. If I’m going to master the art of something, I’d better figure out what it is and start logging those hours! Mainly, it made me take a long look at my musical ambitions. What do I really spend my time on? What is it that I feel driven to do every single day?
I started playing the piano and trumpet in grade school, a few years after I had started to take singing seriously. I think even then I hadn’t considered myself a ‘musician’ until I picked up an instrument. I mean, everyone sang in choirs, right? Singing was always a different thing to me. It came easily, so I didn’t think it was technically a ‘hard’ thing to do. In contrast, piano and trumpet were very challenging. When I played each of them I felt great potential, but it took serious practice. I did not consider the hours each day I spent singing along to Ella, Sinatra, and Connick to be the same thing.
As I continued to study all three instruments, my regard for the art of singing only continued to fall. It bothered me quite a bit to consider the idea of growing up to be a measly singer . Just a singer. I would listen to great singers like Diana Krall or Jamie Cullum and think, “Man, listen to them! They are great singers AND they play the piano better than most people in the world.” It seemed to me that I was selling myself short to just continue singing.
As time has gone by, I have completely readjusted the way that I view vocalists, though. I think there are different levels of artistry that go into singing. One only has to put on a Sinatra record or listen to someone like Tina Haase Findlay to be struck by the real potential of a master-singer. There is something honorable about being the singer, the true interpreter of words, the middle man between the brilliant instrumentalists and the audience.
Yes, it was Tina that first taught me this concept. All of my closest musical friends were instrumentalists and so I had grown up paranoid that the musical world had a giant chip on its shoulder toward the Divas. While this has some substantial truth to it, there are reasons for that and it is a topic for another day.
I began listening to Ms. Haase Findlay more intently throughout high school. I often think of her as I think of a great character of fiction. This woman was referred to as simply ‘Lady Blue’ when I met her… is that not something out of a story? Her voice has the power of a full orchestra and the intimacy of a single cello. I have heard her on more than one occasion slyly remark to the crowd, “I’m just the little singer!” Yeah, right.
I got to share the stage w/ Tina for the first time in May of 2010. We didn’t sing together, but I sang right before her at an event at the DSM Playhouse. Thank God I didn’t have to sing after her. I thought I had knocked my performance out of the park. People loved it and my voice felt great. Tina gave me congrats and promptly took her stage back. She sang “At Last”. I normally hate it when people sing that song. It’s Etta’s, after all. It’s like people singing Darin’s “Mack the Knife” or Sinatra’s “New York, New York” (I’m not crazy about that song anyway, but most people identify it solely w/ him). It’s weird. However, Lady Blue put on the single most overwhelming performance I have ever experienced. The silky way she sang the more subtle parts of the tune were sweet enough to make you cry (people did) and the climax of the tune (an unamplified belting of “a thrill that I have never known!” that overpowered the big band accompanying her) pulled people to their feet mid-song in the formally decorated theater. It was amazing.
Before she went on that night, she talked to me about the honor of being the singer. It is your stage, she said, and you’d better make sure it’s all set up the way you want it before you bare your naked soul on it.
She’s just the singer, you know. Yeah, right. I’m looking forward to working harder on my craft throughout this year. I’m just going to sing and see what happens. This all makes me even more excited for the songbook project w/ Nick Rieser.
Stay tuned! As always feel free to send your thoughts to me at max(at)maxwellmanmusic(dot)com or at my music page on Facebook!