The Bright Future of Marriage Equality in Australia

After several false starts it seems we’re finally on a path to marriage equality in Australia.

A great opportunity to share some of the support shown around Melbourne (and Freo). Thanks to all the organisations, individuals, campaigners, unions and good human beings that have pushed the Yes vote.

Take a minute to think of what comes next. If our country, that has built its culture on the immigration of so many diverse nations, agree that our queer community also deserve the right to marry just as those of so many different cultures have, we can only expect to see many happy faces adorn news articles, the birth of the queer wedding industry (growth and jobs!) and hopefully more open-mindedness to what the media are calling ‘rainbow families’.

 

Flying a Nord Stage 2 EX88 Across Australia

So you decide to move from Perth to Melbourne and put the car on a truck. Should be easy to get the keys over right? I’ll preface this by saying I’m not a touring muso and I generally gig solo.

I have the standard Nord soft case for my Nord Stage 2 EX88 – a beautiful thing, but designed for your car. As with most companies, the interstate car transport I chose requires the car to be empty. Some charge $300 for the privilege of 80kg (?!) contents. Uninsured. Um… no.

As you imagine, sticking a ‘Fragile’ sticker on the road bag and taking it to the airport doesn’t seem to mitigate the risk.

A Nord Stage 2 Ex88 weighs 18.5kg. With the soft case, it’s about 27/28kg depending what else you have in there (music stand, leads etc.). I looked at a three hardcase options, one aluminium hardcase (second hand custom for a similar size keyboard) and two factory standard. If you want your baby on a plane, the limit is 32kg with domestic accompanied baggage*. And of course, trying out even the lightest hard case weighed in over 32kg’s. I’m sure alternatives are out there but spending an additional $700 AUD plus for a second case is a hard call.

I checked road transport – one estimate for a hard case of approximate dimensions was $110 and about a week to get interstate. Not bad, but it takes a week and you definitely need a musicians insurance policy as unaccompanied goods were not covered in a portable valuables policy I looked at. Weight isn’t an issue but a hard case is a must as more than likely it will be stacked up.

The airline couldn’t give me a straight answer over the phone so I took my keyboard in its soft case to the Perth Airport. And yes, parking at Perth airport was about $10 for 15 minutes…

The keyboard dimensions mean it won’t fit on the airport’s regular baggage conveyor. Good news was that the oversize luggage desk assures me their conveyor goes a short distance straight to a collection location without any turns on the conveyor belt. They were familiar with handling music gear from bands travelling in and out of Perth.

Here are the suggestions from the airline and the oversize luggage desk

  1. Buy an extra bag allowance online with your ticket – roughly half price by doing it in advance with Virgin ($35).
  2. Inside the soft case, wrap the keyboard with bubble wrap. It’s a snug fit but a bit of additional risk mitigation. I easily got in two layers and taped the ends over for extra end padding.
  3. Put a sign on top of the keyboard stating “Top Load Only”. This should ensure the instrument is loaded on top of other luggage and nothing placed on top. I used a plastic sleeve and a few rounds of masking tape around the case to ensure it didn’t get ripped off.
  4. You will be charged an overweight luggage fee of $70 above 23kg – go to the ticket desk on the day before you check your luggage. Aka total cost $105.
  5. (And I asked for Fragile tape when doing bag drop – Virgin were happy to oblige).

A couple weeks later I followed the airline’s advice, got on the plane and landed in Melbourne. The oversize luggage desk wheeled out my baby and put her gently on the ground for me to pick up. Quick inspection showed no damage to the bag. Getting home the corners showed no damage, all functionality is normal and seems to be in the same condition I dropped her off in.

All in all happy with the outcome but took more investigation that I would have liked. I hope this helps other Nord Stage owners weigh up the risks of accompanied air transport.

*Inquiries were made with Virgin Australia – I have no affiliation with this airline.

How to kill “The Fear” (of performing) – Part 2 – Performance Tactics

I recognise Part 1 may seem to reiterate some of the fears about performing. In many ways the fundamentals are the concrete slab beneath your performance. For me, it’s about getting your mind in order before deploying performance tactics.

This part furthers the little things that help me on the day before the gig and during execution. Again, this isn’t professional advice, but I hope it may prompt some thought to help leave “The Fear” at home.

Preparation

The five P’s (poor preparation leads to…) always apply. However, if you don’t perform frequently, you can be caught off guard by unexpected things that impact your gig. So:

  1. Orientate yourself at the venue before the gig. If possible, play the piece/s at the venue in advance and make note of the good and the bad to prepare for.
  2. Plenty of exercise. Cardio. I used to go for a long bike ride the day before a gig. Burn as much nervous energy as you can. This helped me a lot after bad performance anxiety in high school.
  3. At home the night before, eliminate problems like sheet music falling off the stand, possibility of poor lighting. Tape single sheets of music together, bring a lamp if it might be dark, consider wind when playing outside (bring sticky tape or pegs).
  4. Your gig bag. Keep a few extra essentials in there like duct tape, tissues, spare leads etc.
  5. What are you wearing? Always wear comfortable and familiar clothing and shoes to associate the performance more with your comforts of practice. If a uniform is mandatory, practice in it and make it comfy on the inside if necessary with other clothes.
  6. Warm up – see below section.
  7. Arrive to a gig early. There will always be that one time you are late and you regret it in a big way. Only let it be once – learn from it. Planning to arrive two hours early where set up or load in is required lets you get everything in order. Running around last minute before performing does you no good.
  8. Before playing, have some down time. Be alone if you need to. Nothing worse than talking to other musicians that are nervous wrecks. Distance yourself from any negative or worried people.

Warm up before performing

The verdict is unclear on this one. Some suggest not to play the piece you are going to perform when warming up (e.g. making minor errors may add to the fear before a performance). If this worries you, and it’s a big performance, do a dry run with family present and try it out (in advance mind you – days before the gig). It may be enough for you to warm up with a different piece before performing. For singers, definitely warm up your vocal range to prevent vocal damage.

When I’m under time pressure now with a new piece, I may not be fully prepared for a performance. I may warm up using on the bits I struggle with and be prepared to keep going if I make mistakes during the actual performance. This is something that gets better in time for musicians like myself not dedicated to a life of classical music perfection.

Your Set List

My high school music teacher George Scicluna always told me to start strong. Choose a piece that you can perform very well, will be popular with the audience, and that will give you resounding confidence for the rest of the set. Remain genre or venue appropriate with your song choice. It doesn’t need to be a banger or a technical masterpiece. Sometimes it’s good to start with an easy piece on the set list, using it as a warm up if you’re short on time before the gig.

Enjoy the performance

Absolute number one priority is to have a bloody great time. Take your time with pieces, don’t rush through them. Make the audience hang on moments of silence in songs. Smile. Display the emotion of the music in your body language. Allowing these emotions to fill you will channel the adrenaline into positive performing. And you will not be thinking so much about the fear…

How to kill “The Fear” (of performing) – Part 1 – The Fundamentals

Performance anxiety can be a frightful experience for anyone that stands above sometimes even small groups of people to proclaim something. For public speaking there is Toastmasters – a group to prepare you for off the cuff public speaking in a group setting. I’m told a great group for building confidence for wedding speeches among others.

But for musicians, the resources are limited. Books aren’t readily available and the practicalities are buried in the music lessons and performance experiences to date. Young musicians may not get many opportunities to play in a group setting and can inadvertently be encouraged to dread performing. We all know “the fear”. What’s sad is that this can turn very promising music students away from their instruments or their voice and years of practice.

I struggled with performance anxiety in high school. Picking up classical music at the age of 14 (two years before TEE music), I felt I was always on the back foot despite 6 years of lessons prior. By the end of year 12 I had achieved much academically and musically. A memory blank half way through a piece at a music festival was reasonably well covered but unnerved me. It is only recently that I understand the things that make me more comfortable performing and get to experience the true rush that it should be.

Here are the fundamentals that work for me accumulated from teachers, mentors, fellow musicians and my studies. I do not claim they are my ideas, I’m not a music grad, nor a mental health professional, and I paraphrase them here as I think of them.

Reprogram your thoughts on anxiety

I must give credit to my speech therapist Thea Peterson for this one a few years ago. Following a vocal injury, she taught me many things to regain my full voice. This one resonated with me.

Turn the way you experience negative/worry feelings about making mistakes when performing into enjoyment. This is about reprogramming your thought process. Recognise your increased heart rate, adrenaline etc.  Instead of allowing your mind to tell you “I’m worried and nervous” – respond to your body that you should feel a rush and that they mean you are excited to perform. Reinforce that there will be adoration for your performance and that you only need to touch one person with a song to make the performance worthwhile. For the petrified performer, this may take some convincing but it is a good mantra nonetheless.

The role of practice

All my teachers have said, you need to practice so you’re not worried about making a mistake. True, but something is missing. We all know you can still have that awful feeling that something may go wrong part way through performing a piece. If you’ve got it bad, your brain may even tell you something ‘will’ go wrong.

So… if you have done enough practice to consistently play a piece/song/set/gig three or four times in a row without error in your own company, you should be able to pull it off in front of a group. Consider the environment around you that adds confidence to perform this piece alone without error (see Environment below).

For the busier muso’s you may genuinely not have enough time to learn a piece or whole set to this degree. Accept it. This means, accepting you will make mistakes on the fly. If you are reading a score/tab/notes while playing, be familiar with the pages and use your own handwriting to flag important points in a piece where you may not be strong.

Environment

If you are a muso that can play alone fine but gets “the fear” when people are listening you must ask yourself “what is it about me performing alone that makes me comfortable”. As a piano player, you typically learn on an upright piano. Sitting alone for hours a month, facing a wall. Maybe a guitarist learns in their bedroom, seated on the bed. A clarinetist, sitting staring down at a music stand. That’s just the way it is.

So consider, if you have the luxury, pick where you perform. If you feel comfortable on your bed, consider what makes it comfortable for you and replicate that when you’re playing for people. It might be not facing a crowd directly, facing off to one side of the stage instead of full frontal.

For me it’s having to face people and step up on a stage that can trigger the jitters. A comfy seat and no squeaky piano pedals always help me. I bring my own stool and a tube of graphite powder with me just in case to most gigs. Fortunately most of the gigs I get to accept aren’t on a stage but my reaction to stages has also improved with time.

Part 2 will cover tactics of performing …

An offsiders tips for a great wedding reception

A lot of couples come to me after finding out a venue has a grand piano or for a genuine love of live music. It’s usually at this time they’re only beginning to investigate the ins and outs of their big day.

Treasure the time spent planning together – don’t let it become bigger than both of you.

A few thoughts I hope will help.

 

  1. Don’t neglect the reception over the ceremony

So much time is spent planning for the big day that you may forget about the night. Even if your ceremony stretches out to one hour, there are at least 5 more coming that night. Don’t overcompensate, just balance your efforts.

 

  1. Set two responsible people in charge for the night

Your MC and another member of the bridal party are a good start. You want someone organised to keep you out of the firing line on the night and act as the go-to for last minute questions from caterers, DJ etc. The MC will need to be front of house (could be your DJ) – the second person should do all the dirty work.

 

  1. Set an easy runsheet

If you plan for too many parts in your reception, it only makes it harder to execute. Keep it simple:

  • Predrinks with light entertainment
  • Everyone seated – MC and second in charge to move crowd as required
  • Bridal party enter – welcomed by MC (short and sweet)
  • Food
  • 2-3 Speeches – end with bride and groom speech then cutting of the cake. Any speech longer than a couple of minutes is too long
  • Dessert
  • MC to announce first dance then everyone on the dance floor
  • Dance until close with DJ in charge

 

  1. Vito your speeches

Everyone jokes about long speeches. Truth is, a long boring speech is what people talk about on the way home – the last thing you want after all your efforts to make it your most beautiful day.

Some tips

  • Choose your speakers wisely – funny yet warm
  • Set boundaries knowing they will be broken
  • Search for great wedding speeches on YouTube/social media and send them to your speakers to guide them towards what you hope for. Don’t hound them though…

 

  1. Get a DJ

Truth is, DJ’s are expensive and people say “I’ll just plug in my ipod”. Here’s why they’re usually worth it

  • Music needs to reflect what’s going on at the time
  • While people are sitting, it should be unobtrusive
  • When you want people to dance, they will only get up for the right songs
  • Once they’re on the dance floor, it’s hard to keep them there – this is when your DJ earns his keep
  • You don’t want someone meddling with the playlist during the night – this is what an ipod encourages…

Social Change From Same-sex Weddings

Australia has been waiting only too long for marriage equality.

Seventeen countries currently allow same-sex couples to wed, most changing laws since 2010. We are restrained in Australia by constitutional paperwork and voter opinions ranking priority elsewhere (1).

Not only do the constitutional amendments provide resolve and legal protection for many couples, but will drive so much positive social change.

Australia is set to enter a new generation of social acceptance after same-sex marriage is introduced. Gay parents will become more common in the community and recognised for the loving and caring environment they provide. Open displays of affection will stop raising eyebrows and the gay migration from Perth to Sydney may slow.

Closet, transgender and questioning teens will gain confidence from strong role models as old stereotypes are blown out of the water (Modern Family?). We can only hope LGBTI youth suicide rates decrease from double that of their peers (2). The gay children of tomorrow will be better equipped to live fulfilling lives in the supporting country that Australia should be.

Hopefully before too long the LGBTI community wont need to travel the world seeking refuge for legalised marriage and do it only by choice.

Check out Australian Marriage Equality.org (3) or show your support through GetUp (4), facebook groups like I’m Australian and I support marriage equality (5), Equal Love (6), Equal Marriage Rights Australia (7) among many more. For the more politically minded, the Greens are a strong force (8) we cant ignore.

Watch the phenomenal production from GetUp. It says so much without saying much at all.

 

Buying a used piano

Someone dear to you has fallen in love with a second hand piano on Gumtree and just can’t resist the purchase. They’ve either always wanted to learn piano or think it would be the perfect piece of furniture. If it’s a piano for a student, consult first with their teacher – often learning on a 5 octave keyboard is sufficient for a few years.

Purchasing the right second hand piano will retain much of its value. If music lessons are abandoned, chances are you can recoup most if not all of the expense (less moving and tuning costs). Alternatively you could be better off with a bonfire.

Be prepared for looking at least three pianos and additional costs of transport and tuning. Pianos are HEAVY, pay a professional to move it for you.

Step 1: check what else you can get for the same price. Yamaha pianos are a good yard stick for comparison. A second hand grand at $5000 may be great for looks but a second hand upright for the same money will probably play better.

Step 2: how old is it? Less than 5 years, expect to pay within a  few thousand of retail. There are many old pianos 1900-1950 in circulation for $200- $1000 that still play well but be careful of paying too much.

Step 3: face to face with the keys. Play every note on the keyboard, lowest to highest and make sure they all work. Also make sure when you let go of the key the note stops playing. Sometimes one or two dampers are not working and require a quick fix by your tuner. The top octave or two of pianos wont have dampers, don’t worry if they continue to ring out. Broken dampers are commonly in the lower or middle register. Check general signs of wear on the outside of the instrument as tell tale of its history. If a piano has had a hard life, it will show first on the outside from broken edging, damaged keys and stains. Check your sustain pedal works – the right one will let the note ring out after hitting and letting go of a key.

Step 4: internal assessment. For a grand piano, fold back the lid that covers the music stand and prop the lid up with the largest stand available. Lift the lid of an upright piano (up the top, not over the keys) and unlock any wooden joinery hidden inside the piano that holds the front cover on. Once the front cover is removed, continue for both grand or upright pianos. Check the hammers that hit the strings for wear and the condition of felts. Older pianos may have signs of mold but this is not a worry if it’s not going to be a performance grade instrument. If keys don’t work, check if hammers are missing or broken. A piano tuner can quickly fix a broken hammer or two. If all the felts, hammers and dampers are perished this could be an expensive fix.  Check all the strings are in reasonable condition (none snapped or rusty). One snapped string is easily replaced.

Step 5: open the cabinet below the keyboard for upright pianos . There is often a latch under the keyboard that will let you pull it open. I look for mouse poo as an indicator. A bit is often expected for an old girl but you don’t want a chewed instrument.

Rule number 1: never buy a piano with an internal wooden frame behind the strings (well over 100 years old). Will never stay in tune. Only buy an iron frame.

Rule number 2: never buy a piano that has lots of missing internal parts, missing keys, any signs of cracks on the sound board (wood behind the frame and strings) or cracks in the iron frame. These damages can be irreparable.

Step 6: make the offer. You get what you pay for but there is wide variation in old models. Looking at three different ones for sale beforehand will help identify the best deal. If theyr’e all bad, wait it out another week or two for other options.

What you should ask before starting music lessons

I often get asked for advice by parents considering music lessons for their children.

There are lots of options for music lessons, the three main questions I would ask:

 – What style of music do you want your children to learn (popular, classical, jazz)? I’d lean towards popular to start with and a  little classical mixed in rather than pure classical (AMEB is usually purely classical).

– Are teachers following AMEB standards or less rigorous training. I prefer less rigorous and encourage love of music first. Kids can do theory exams etc. when they get to high school if need be.

– Is the teacher going to stay in the area? They often seem to move around and stability is important.

 I learnt piano from the local music shop owner Daryl Ingvarson in Geraldton for 6-7 years. He started on short songs to learn the notes using a mixture of simplified classical (ode to joy etc) and popular music. He got me into jazz and I learnt a bit of everything. Most importantly I was introduced to a variety of music and the core skills to play solo piano.  My skills early on weren’t great in theory and I struggled to read music well but my aural was really good and I had a large repertoire from an early age. I changed teacher in year 10  and did 2.5 years classical to do TEE music under Mrs Anne Luk.  This meant theory, scales, sight reading and catch up on what most other kids would have done since starting piano under AMEB. I went on to receive the highest keyboard performance in yr 12 at the local music festival (classical) and highest grade in my class for TEE music.

About 4 years ago I took jazz lessons with Jeff Carroll for a year in East Perth.  He helped refine some of the core techniques for jazz piano.

Maybe 6 months after that I studied classical piano for a year under Eva Korzeniewska in South Perth. She helped refine my technique for higher performance levels and helped me play pieces I would never have thought I could. After a year of intensive practice, I came to understand why concert pianists play for 6 or more hours a day. I am finally happy with my performance level and would need to devote my working life to performance to go further.

Regardless of where you start in piano lessons, it will be a journey. You just need to encourage kids to pursue the styles of music they enjoy and open their mind to new genres.

I suppose provided the first teacher encourages their love of music, how they go about it is less important. Just don’t book them in for weeks of theory straight away – needs to be well balanced.

Live wedding music and function music Melbourne, Australia.