live performance

Don't You See the Music Here?

by Cloud Cult, from The Meaning of 8 and Unplug

There must be purpose here,
cuz most of us keep waking up

(Don't you think it's pretty here)

It's so unexpectedly predictable,
So sloppily intentional,
Does anyone know the punchline yet?

There must be rhythm here,
cuz all of us have a heartbeat

(Don't you see the music here?)

Inside our ribs we tick 
an average of 60 beats a minute


There must be forgiveness here
cuz most of us have our weaknesses

(Tell me what are your weaknesses)

I don't know myself and I'm afraid of you
I'm happiest on chemicals
The goings come and the comings go
Forgive me I'm just an animal

There must be healing here,
cuz everybody here has been damaged
And we'll wear it like a tattoo
Every scar is a smile
To hell with the going down

There must be afterlife here,
cuz we all pray for resurrection
You see the end comes quick as a bullet,
end comes quick as a bullet

Too Much Time?

"One of the most common criticisms I see with Improve Everywhere, left anonymously on YouTube is, These people have too much time on their hands. 

Not everybody's going to like everything you do, and I've certainly developed a thick skin thanks to Internet comments, but that one's always bothered me, because we don't have too much time on our hands.

The participants in Improv Everywhere events have just as much time as any other New Yorkers. They just occasionally choose to spend it in an unusual way. 

Every Saturday and Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people each fall gather in football stadiums to watch games and I've never seen anybody comment, looking at a football game, and saying, All those people in the stands have too much time on their hands."

~ Charlie Todd

Polishing Someone Else's Gold

Guante - "The Family Business" from Justin Schell | 612 to 651 on Vimeo.

The Family Business
by Guante

Jackie’s been here for twenty-five years and he tells me you get used to it. He says your nose learns to seal itself when you dive headfirst into an ocean of dust; your eyes develop nictitating membranes to keep the chemical sprays out; and your hands… they will grow their own gloves, invisible and tough and permanent. I’ve been a janitor for three weeks and I thought I was made of stronger materials.

We play chess in the break room. Jackie asks me what my favorite piece is. I say the pawn because, you know, he’s the underdog; the odds are against him. Jackie identifies with the pawns too, but he finds nobility in their sacrifice, he sees beauty in their simplicity, in the fact that they’re always moving forward.

Jackie shambles from room to room, moving half as fast as me but somehow getting twice as much done. The night shift will mess with your head like that. Jackie smiles, the saddest face I’ve ever seen. Sometimes I look at that face and feel like we are the servants entombed alive with the pharaoh, polishing someone else’s gold while our oxygen runs out, dutifully preparing a grand feast for a god who will never be hungry.

But Jackie tells me that there is honor in this. A good day’s work. An honest living. There is poetry in this.

But what kind of poetry lives in a can of orange naturalizer, the liquid breath of dragons? The mist dissolves every word creeping up my throat, overwhelms every idea. They got me wiping my reflection from the glass, scrubbing the shadows off the walls. They got me so scared of my alarm clock that I can’t fall asleep, even when my muscles drain out from underneath my fingernails and my thoughts stream out of my ears, and I am left with nothing but two eyes that refuse to close for fear of what they might see. 

Is there really honor in this? Or is that abstract notion the carrot they dangle in front of us pawns to move us across the board? 

But Jackie says you can’t think about it like that. He says that without us, the people who live and work in this building couldn’t function, that we keep the gears turning and that it might not be glamorous but it’s necessary. And maybe he’s right. Maybe I am just a working class kid who somehow hustled my way into college and got delusions of grandeur. Maybe now I’m “too good” to go into the family business: a hundred generations of janitors and farmers and infantry and factory workers and pawns.

So I suck it up… and last for two more months. And on my final day before an uncertain future, I make a point to shake Jackie’s hand, and I say:

"I’ve been thinking man. I think the reason pawns can’t move backwards is because if they could, they’d kill their own kings in a heartbeat. 

"Instead, we are forced to keep moving, believing we can get to the other side and become royalty ourselves, but most likely dying on the way there, sacrificed for a cause we don’t even understand. I wish you… I wish you the best, man. I wish you horses and castles."

Jackie smiles, the saddest face I’ve ever seen, and disappears into his work.

Take Your Medicine

Cloud Cult - Take Your Medicine (Live on KEXP) from Jim Beckmann on Vimeo.

Take Your Medicine
by Cloud Cult, from The Meaning of 8

Bought myself a new look
Something gave me another chance to see
Each time, each time, I will try to do better
Right now, right now, is where I guess I belong

Pull my fist from my mouth
I beat myself for a quarter century
Remind, remind
That it's bigger than me
Dissolve, dissolve
Into evergreens

These are things that I keep hidden in belly
I can't see them but they control my life
For a moment you could see right through me
See right through me
Help me make this right
Look at all those skeletons running from their closets
Get them in the light

These are things that I keep hidden in belly
I can't see them but they control my life
For a moment you could see right through me
See right through me
Help me make this right
Look at all those skeletons running from their closets
Get them in the light
Get them in the light

You can take it in stride
Or you can take it right between the eyes
Suck up, suck up
And take your medicine
It's a good day, it's a good day
To face the hard things

Pull my fist from my mouth
I beat myself for a quarter century
Remind, remind
That it's bigger than me
Dissolve, dissolve
Into evergreens

We found
Beautiful babies
Sleeping in our ribs
Get them in the light
Get them in the light

Absorbing America, Absorbed by America

“So my grandfather told me when I was a little girl, ‘If you say a word often enough, it becomes you.’ And having grown up in a segregated city, Baltimore, Maryland, I sort of use that idea to go around America with a tape recorder — thank God for technology — to interview people, thinking that if I walked in their words—which is also why I don't wear shoes when I perform — if I walked in their words, that I could sort of absorb America. I was also inspired by Walt Whitman, who wanted to absorb America and have it absorb him.”

~ Anna Deavere Smith, from “Four American Characters,” TED Talks, Feb. 2005


See also: “What has happened to the human voice?Studs Terkel, from a 2005 interview.


"Transience is the force of time that makes a ghost of every experience. There was never a dawn, regardless how beautiful or promising, that did not grow into a noontime. There was never a noon that did not fall into afternoon. There was never an afternoon that did not fade toward evening. There never was a day yet that did not get buried in the graveyard of the night."

~ John O'Donohue

"Círculo" by Joaquín Turina performed by Trio Suleika. Movements: Amanecer (Dawn)-Mediodía (Noon)-Crepúsculo (Twilight). Live from the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, excerpt from the Dutch television programme "VPRO's Vrije Geluiden", February 2006. Trio Suleika consists of pianist Maurice Lammerts van Bueren, violinist Sanne Hunfeld and cellist Pepijn Meeuws.


A Complete Experience of Listening
by Daron Larson

We tend to respect and admire the development of musical performance skills while overlooking the benefits of cultivating a bit of discipline and training of our ability to listen. By default, most of us have developed a stunning and sophisticated repertoire for blocking out the world around us. We allocate the bulk of our attention inwardly toward the stories playing out in our minds.

Instead of seeing this as a flaw to obsess about, we can instead begin to explore the elements of this personal narrative. With consistent practice over time, we can become intimately familiar with its various component parts. We can even gain insight into the process working to edit it all together and making it seem so dramatic and difficult to ignore. We can become fascinated with the composition of this narrative and less caught up in its content. Paradoxically, the more familiar we become with the flow of our thoughts and feelings, the more directly and completely we experience the objective world around us.

At any given moment, we have a limited amount of attention to spend. Just being clear about what we are noticing can begin to change ordinary experience in simple yet profound ways. Listening to music offers a compelling doorway into this perspective. When we focus on one or more aspects of listening, we strengthen our ability to concentrate. When we explore music as an opportunity to cultivate attention, we also strengthen the ability to hear the musicality within the ordinary sounds we encounter in daily life. With consistent practice over time, we can even begin to experience the sense of wonder which sparks the human impulse to create music in the first place.

Explore this strategy from the beginning to end of a piece of music:

Restrict the main focus of your attention to listening to sounds around you and to verbal thinking.

There will almost certainly be additional stimulus in the background (visual activity, mental images, pleasant or unpleasant physical sensations, and sensations in the body that seem to be emotional in nature). There is no need to wrestle with any of these or to try to suppress them in any way. To the best of your ability, allow them to operate in the background while your primary attention rests on external or internal sounds.

Whenever you become aware that your primary attention has become focused on one of these background activities, gently bring it back to listening.

Let your attention drift and wander freely within the acoustic space around you as well as in the space where verbal thinking seems to be take place. This internal space varies for each individual. Not being completely sure if you are identifying it properly is a significant part of the process of becoming more familiar with it. We give musicians time to find their way into virtuosity, right? Give yourself time to become more intimately familiar with where verbal (and visual) thinking occurs.

Every few seconds, try to be as clear as possible whether you are listening to external sounds or internal sounds. Then just hang out with the activity of sound that you’ve noticed. Savor it. External sounds and verbal thinking count equally in this exercise. Try not to prefer one over the other. There is no need to try to suppress thinking. Get acquainted with it as internal sound. What matters is that you bring some effort to noticing where your attention is and whether it is focused externally (out) or inwardly (in).

You can support this process by using mental labels to help clarify and aim your attention. If you notice that your attention is resting on the activity of sounds around you, you can say to yourself in a soft, mentally whispered voice: OUT. If you notice that your attention is resting on the activity of internal conversations, you can say to yourself in a soft, mentally whispered voice: IN.

That’s it! Just keep going until the end of the song and enjoy. Take breaks between practice periods as needed then try again. You might also want to explore some of these alternative strategies.


I Have No Priest, My Tongue is My Choir

Samurai Song
by Robert Pinsky, from Jersey Rain

When I had no roof I made
Audacity my roof. When I had
No supper my eyes dined.

When I had no eyes I listened.
When I had no ears I thought.
When I had no thought I waited.

When I had no father I made
Care my father. When I had
No mother I embraced order.

When I had no friend I made
Quiet my friend. When I had no
Enemy I opposed my body.

When I had no temple I made
My voice my temple. I have
No priest, my tongue is my choir.

When I have no means fortune
Is my means. When I have
Nothing, death will be my fortune.

Need is my tactic, detachment
Is my strategy. When I had
No lover I courted my sleep.


[Thanks Stacey Donovan!]

I Had a Dream Last Night

Josh Ritter - "Change of Time" (Live, Solo Acoustic) at Fingerprints (Long Beach, California) from Doug Rice on Vimeo.

Change of Time
by Josh Ritter, from So Runs the World Away

I had a dream last night
I dreamt that I was swimming
And the stars up above
Directionless and drifting
Somewhere in the dark
Were the sirens and the thunder
And around me as I swam
The drifters who'd gone under

Time, Love
Time, Love
Time, Love
It's only a change of time

I had a dream last night
And rusting far below me
Battered hulls and broken hardships
Leviathan and lonely
I was thirsty so I drank
And though it was salt water
There was something 'bout the way
It tasted so familiar

The black clouds I'm hanging
This anchor I'm dragging
The sails of memory rip open in silence
We cut through the lowlands
All hands through the saltlands
The white caps of memory
Confusing and violent

I had a dream last night
And when I opened my eyes
Your shoulder blade, your spine
Were shorelines in the moonlight
New worlds for the weary
New lands for the living
I could make it if I tried
I closed my eyes I kept on swimming


What Happened to Fiery Romance?

Andrew Bird Live at the Guthrie Theatre 2008


by Andrew Bird

Why? Why’d you do that
You shouldn’t have done that
If I told you once I told you three times
You’ll get your punishments when you show me your crimes
It’s not a spell or a curse you put on me
Or the way you make me smile so tenderly
But how I wish it was your temper you were throwing
Damn you for being so easygoing

I thought that time would tell
My sins would provoke you to raise some hell
Not a chance
Whatever happened to fiery romance
Oh how I wish it was those dishes you were throwing
Damn you for being so easygoing

No, don’t give that line
Don’t try to tell me that inaction is not a crime
Can’t you see what kind of seeds you’re sowing?
Damn you for being so easygoing


Strict Joy

Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard recently broke up but are still making music together as The Swell Season. Their new project, Strict Joy, comes out next week.

Marketa tells the New York Times, “Like Glen always puts it, you live your life, and the residue of that life you lead becomes the music. The same way it turned from friends to lovers, it somehow managed to turn the other way around at the end of it, which I’m delighted about because I’d hate for it to be drama.”

I Know that I Love

by Paula Cole

I am not the person who is singing
I am the silent one inside
I am not the one who laughs at people's jokes
I just pacify their egos
I am not my house, my car, my songs
They are only just stops along my way
I am like the winter
I'm a dark cold female
With a golden ring of wisdom in my cave

And it’s me who is my enemy
Me who beats me up
Me who makes the monsters
Me who strips my confidence

I am carrying my voice
I am carrying my heart
I am carrying my rhythm
I am carrying my prayers
But you can't kill my spirit
It's soaring and it's strong
Like a mountain
I'll go on and on
But when my wings are folded
The brightly colored moth
Blends into the dirt into the ground

And it's me who's too weak
And it's me who's too shy
To ask for the thing I love
And it's me who's too weak
And it's me who's too shy
To ask for the thing I love
That I love

I am walking on the bridge
I am over the water
And I'm scared as hell
But I know there's something better
Yes I know there's something
Yes I know, I know, yes I know

That I love

But it's me
And it's me
But it's me

Infinite Variety

KURT ANDERSON: When you wake up in the morning and you sit down to practice, as I assume you do, what do you first play?

YO-YO MA: I do something like [plays long, random notes that sound like tuning]. I become friends with the instrument. I try not to tax it too much. It's really like warming up a car or warming up your body. You stretch it. You don't go into a fast run. You don't take it to sixty in three seconds. Because what's funny about an instrument made out of wood, every day the humidity is different. EVery day the temperature is different. And wood, as well as our bodies, are slightly different. I think it's actually making that relationship happen.

KURT: And once you do get it warmed up, what are you inclined to play?

YO-YO: I might play some Bach, which is something I started learning as soon as I started playing. And it's also something that's written for cello alone. This is music that is somewhat meditative...I think of the flow of water. The afternoon light playing on leaves. If you see something that is familiar and yet it's different every day. What's amazing is that with a great friend, you could see them thousands of times and you don't look at them and say, Well today I'm really bored with you. ...Bach was a pictorial composer. One of the things that he coded was infinite variety. Instead of materiality, of saying, this is the same thing, I need a new product, it's something new every time.

From Studio 360 (Oct. 19, 2007)

Yo-Yo performs J.S. Bach's "Suite for Solo Cello
No. 1 in G Major: V. Menuett" in Studio 360.

Constantly Whistling

From “Andrew Bird Discovers His Inner Operatic Folkie,” by Jonathan Mahler, New York Times Sunday Magazine (1.02.09):

Compositionally, Bird takes simple melodies and gradually extends them into complex arrangements. These melodies pop into his head unannounced. The way it usually works, he will suddenly find himself whistling a new one — Bird is constantly whistling — or even chewing his food to it. He never records melodies or even writes them down. He assumes that if they’re worth remembering, he’ll remember them. The longer they remain lodged in his head, the more likely it is that they will eventually be fashioned into a song. “It’s like I’m my own Top 40 radio station, playing the things that get under my skin,” Bird says. “The ones that really stick are the hits.”

Andrew Bird performing 'Oh No' in Cincinnati, April 5, 2008.


His new CD, Noble Beast, drops Tuesday. Listen to Useless Creatures, the collection of new instrumental works that is included with the deluxe edition.