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This is Page 2 of the Online Edition of the 2007-2008 Harvey Reid Newsletter...

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Yours truly in the summer of 1976 at a bluegrass festival in Virginia, playing with the "Valley View Hog Roast & Squirrel Gravy String Band." I'm getting younger looking, huh?

I have kept a mailing list for over 20 years, and I swear it is getting harder and messier than ever to keep up. We now have to keep both e-mail and snail-mail lists, and when you people move, the last thing you want to do is notify some musician like me, so either you switch e-mail providers or you move to a new address, and some of you keep the same e-mail or the same address, and I am left with a dwindling list of names that are partially correct. All I want to do is send you a postcard or an e-mail a couple times a year, and one newsletter, and you would think it would be simpler.
Many of you have multiple e-mails, and though it has been a while since any porno spammers used my e-mail address as a return address, I think I am still on people's anti-spam lists.


I worry that everyone has reached a state of "information overload" and I can't say I blame anyone. I face a massive pile of mail, faxes, e-mails and phone messages every day, and the harder I work to answer them, the worse they get. The reward you get for working hard and replying is that people send you even more. The spiral apparently has no way of lessening. Each e-mail begets about 1.06 e-mails, and we are all playing simultaneous ping-pong with all these people, and though we never want to give it up and go back to the world that had none, dealing with all this pseudo-communication does not make us happy or free. My wife surrendered recently with several thousand e-mails in her inbox and just shut down and lost all interest in dealing with it. I talked to a friend who has 13000 in her inbox and was valiantly trying to find the ones that mattered.

 

On April 8 the Washington Post ran a long feature article by Gene Weingarten called "Pearls Before Breakfast" in the Sunday magazine. Rarely have I been more intrigued with a story, and it is one that I think musicians will be talking about for years to come. In case you missed it, it's worth passing on.
The author convinced violinist Joshua Bell, who is considered one of the greatest players of this era, to put on a T-shirt and a baseball cap and open the case to his $3 million Stradivarius and play for an hour in the subway station at L'Enfant Plaza, to see what would happen. Would passers-by recognize genius and talent? Would the crowd obstruct the rush hour commuter traffic? How much money would he make?
Those of us who have played street music and who play music for a living often wonder about this kind of thing, and when people talk through our gigs we wonder if we are not good enough. Are people somehow unable or unwilling to recognize, or even to want quality music without fanfare and packaging? Joshua's results were pretty conclusive. A hidden camera documented that during a 43 minute period, while Bell played some of the greatest music ever written for the violin (opening with Bach's 14-minute Chaconne,) on one of the finest instruments the world has ever seen (the so-called Gibson Stradivarius) and in a place where the acoustics were not bad, 1097 people walked by, leaving him $32 plus some change. Only 7 people stopped for more than a minute. A number of young children wanted to stop and there was heart-breaking footage of their parents pulling them away. Only one person recognized Bell, and the other 6 who stopped just thought he was good, but when interviewed later they admitted that they didn't realize how good, they just liked it. Lots of people stood in line to buy lottery tickets nearby and did not even glance his way, and of course the music fans with their iPod earbuds missed everything.
There is something vindicating about this for all us musicians, since Bell, the Strad and the Chaconne make a strong case that somehow the listeners flunked the test and not the musician. I vividly remember in 1981 when I came home from winning the national fingerpicking championship. Thousands of people cheered and clapped at the contest, but when I played the same pieces in a local bar a week later, much better, not one person even bothered to look up. I have made it a point all through my career not to blame people or be resentful when people don't notice that I am playing well, and to just be glad that there are some who do. I will always remember Joshua's brave experiment, and though I won't ever claim to understand what happened, there is great comfort in knowing that a lot of us have shared experiences.

All of us suffer setbacks along the way, but I came across a remarkable review that Peter Tchaikovsky got in 1881 for his brand new Violin Concerto, now pretty universally considered one of the greatest works ever written for the instrument. Vienna music critic Eduard Hanslick wrote:


“The Russian composer Tchaikovsky is surely no ordinary talent, but rather, and inflated one, obsessed with posturing as a genius, lacking discrimination and taste... The same can be said for his new, long and ambitious Violin Concerto. For a while, it proceeds soberly, musically, and not mindlessly, but soon vulgarity gains the upper hand and dominates until the end of the first movement. The violin is no longer played; it is tugged about, torn and beaten black and blue... The Adagio is well on the way to reconciling us and winning us over, but it soon breaks off to make way for a finale that transports us to the brutal and wretched jollity of a Russian church festival. We see a host of savage, vulgar faces, we hear crude curses, and smell the booze. In the course of a discussion of obscene illustrations, Friederich Vischer once maintained that there were pictures which one could see stink. Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto for the first time confronts us with the hideous idea that there may be compositions whose stink one can hear.”


Ouch, or however they say it in Russian– http://cspeech.ucd.ie/~fred/research/ouch.html says "oy" or "blin."

 


 

 

 


This review comes from

ANDY ELLIS (Guitar Player Magazine)

 

 

“A timeless collection of sounds and images, it’s destined to become a classic in the folk and acoustic music world. The level of creativity embodied within the book is simply astonishing. With its beautifully recorded songs, historic photos, insightful essays, and cool guitar instruction, The Song Train offers a deeply satisfying experience for the ears, eyes, and imagination. And, of course, the music on the four discs is outstanding. Harvey and Joyce have a magic touch, a way of making both traditional and contemporary music come alive.
While trends come and go, and hip new bands become yesterday’s news, The Song Train will continue to roll along...” 
ANDY ELLIS (Guitar Player Magazine)

 


NEWSLETTER ESSAY

About the only news there seems to be this year in the media is about the continuing death spiral of the music business, and how it is being replaced by digital downloads. Of course, just like everything I have seen on this subject, only a few points of view get represented, and mine never seems to be the prevailing opinion. When Napster blew up as a cultural phenomenon, it became a battle between college students swapping files, and big record companies and rock stars getting mad. Very few of my fans are college students, and the business world I live in barely resembles that of Madonna or The Rolling Stones. So here is my current analysis of the supposed "crisis" from my vantage point.
First of all, the crisis is with the huge, money-grubbing entertainment corporations who have controlled an unbelievable amount of what music you can buy, see, hear or read about, for an amazingly long time, and due to a number of factors, they are losing their stranglehold. Companies like Seagram's and Vivendi bought into the music business in the 1980's because it looked like such a party. Own the songs that define a generation and you print money for almost 100 years. No worries about theft, fire, OSHA, injured workers, environment-- the stuff that has bogged down heavy industry for a while-- music was one of the few art forms (along with books and movies) that can make huge corporations a lot of nice clean money. Now that they can't make so much and they can no longer monopolize and control what music people are able to find out about-- we are supposed to be sad? I personally can't wait until they all go bankrupt or rush off in search of easier money, which is all they really wanted anyway. (I have hated watching greedy bastards like them pretend to be aesthetes and acting like the music is what matters most.) They have dominated and subverted a sacred thing (music) and made it into a mass-merchandised commodity, dumbed down, plastic-wrapped and odor-free. You would think I was a conspiracy theorist if I told you about the databases they had of every radio station and record store, with fields for the employee's spouses, birthdays and pet's names, so their slimy sweatshops of people with headsets on could call them all day and say "Hi Jim-- how is your wife ___ doing? Little Brianna must be about 3 now? Oh and how did you like the new __ record?"
I don't see real music losing its ability to move people. In fact, the world is such a mess that people might need music more than ever, just to escape. I also don't need to sell a million copies of a CD to break even. There are some people in the world who like my kind of music, and I actually have an easier time reaching them than I used to. I made LP's in the early 1980's. They weighed over a pound each, cost a lot to make, and it was really hard to send them to radio and magazines--

your only outlets for "getting the word out" other than direct mail. If people heard a song on the radio, they had to write the radio station a letter or make a phone call to find out the artist and album name, then try to locate the source of the recording and write them a letter and wait weeks for a catalog to be mailed so they could send a money order to buy it and wait for more weeks. Or they went to a record store, and the record store did all that legwork. It was so slow and so hard.
I personally think that the continued reliance on studio production and mechanized music is also causing recordings to be less compelling artistically. With once-expensive computer recording and editing tools now cheap, more and more musicians are forgetting that their job is to capture the magic of real music on a recording, not to create a digital fantasy world. Like a real photo of a real event, a real recording can have amazing power.
For those of us who are content to exist on the fringes of the "industry" these are still pretty good times. It is finally fashionable to be an "indie" artist, after years of being sneered at for not having a "real" record label. Classical and jazz music, who also have audiences who care about things like sound quality and liner notes, are not selling much downloaded music, and for them (and for me) CD sales are still very strong. I get a feeling that people are getting off the couch and being less glued to their TV's than ever before, and I even wonder if it is because digital and hi-def TV is not as hypnotic as the swirling pixels of the old analog cathode-ray tubes. It seems like millions of people are bored, and searching YouTube, blogging, and calling and texting each other all the time. Few of them were my audience anyway, so if they are looking for the next TV-like thing, I am not hugely concerned.
There is also a sort of a lemming phenomenon involved. I learned a while ago that if I get a "Pick of the Week" plug in a newspaper, and people come to my show somewhere, that those same people don't automatically become fans, no matter how good a show I do. They didn't come to see me-- they came to see the "in" thing. And next week they go to see the pick of that week. Most of these people were automatically vacuumed up by the machinery of the music industry for decades, but now they seem to be getting bored, and 300,000 of them will watch a stupid video online. A musician who makes a video that gets "browsed" is not going to be able to build a career and pay a mortgage based on a single rush of bored people "checking out" their cool web video.
And the more that everyone is online and digital and downloading, the more special it will be for those of us who are hard-core musicians and fans who traffic in real performances and recordings. I am so happy that this year's "Song Train" project is all about the 80-page book, and not just some invisible downloaded files in somebody's iPod.


My wife & music partner Joyce Andersen did a lot of gigs this year with her band, some tours with me, plus some solo concert gigs. She has turned into a formidable rock & roll singer and bandleader, but I am still hoping we can keep her in the acoustic music world. She may make a fiddle album, and is looking for music and collaborators for some musical projects of her own. We will probably take a break from duo recordings after doing 3 in a row, and with the last one being so big. (see front page about the Song Train...)


Visit Joyce at www.joyscream.com

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