Recent Happenings

In my business being too busy to do much blogging is a good thing. So in lieu of something more interesting today, here is a rundown of some of the various happenings around here.

The most exciting news for me is that I have taken on administrative duties with MusicWorks! Asheville, now serving both as a teaching artist and site administrator for the program. MusicWorks! is a El Sistema inspired program of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra. I like to describe El Sistema as social activism through music education. We are a free, after-school music program that specifically targets at-risk children. Our goal is to teach them important life skills through teaching them music.

Tonight, Monday August 31, 2015, is the final night of the weekly Speakeasy Mondays series that have been held at the Dirty South Lounge in Asheville, NC. I’ve been performing there with the Low-Down Sires from 9 to midnight almost every Monday for the past three months. It’s been neat to see the event get built up from just a handful of swing dancing friends of the band into a pretty well-attended party. Andrew, the bartender who has managed the night, is moving on to bigger and better things so the Speakeasy Mondays will end after tonight. That said, it looks like the whole party may be moving to another venue and when it becomes official I’ll try to announce it here.

Lastly, some of you may have noticed the recent comments section here have been frequently in Japanese. That’s because Basil, an American horn player living in Japan, came across Wilktone and asked if it would be OK with me to translate some of my embouchure posts into Japanese for his readers. I, of course, said yes and he has been translating a storm. I’m excited about this because my main goal has been to make the information I’ve come across more accessible to more brass players and having my articles available in another language is a great way to introduce this research to a whole new population. I’ve gotten requests over the years to translate my articles and videos into Spanish and Portuguese especially, so if you speak one of those languages, or another, please let me know if you’re interested in taking on some translation.

Why Is Sheet Music Necessary For Music Education?

Robbie Gennet, a “songwriter, musician, educator and journalist,” tried to make the case that learning to read music notation is irrelevant for music education. His case is that none of the following musicians learned to read music:

All four Beatles. Elvis Presley. Jimi Hendrix. Jimmy Page. Eric Clapton. B.B. King. Stevie Ray Vaughan. The Bee Gees. Eddie Van Halen. Robert Johnson. Slash. Angus Young of AC/DC. Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath. Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine. Adam Jones of Tool. James Hetfield of Metallica. Danny Elfman. Stevie Wonder. Dave Brubeck. Andrea Bocelli. Wes Montgomery. Jimmy Smith. Charles Mingus. Erroll Garner. Irving Berlin. Chet Baker. Pete Townsend. Tori Amos. Jerry Garcia. Bob Dylan. Kurt Cobain. Taylor Swift. Bob Marley.

Many of the commenters on the article have already deconstructed Gennet’s argument and offered many strong reasons why learning to be musically literate is not only useful, but necessary in most musical professions. His rationalization is similar to saying one could become a great actor without learning to read a script. It’s certainly possible, but very limiting to learn your lines and communicate with your colleagues without being literate. Similarly, you will limit your musical abilities and possibilities if you eschew learning to read music. Gennet wrote:

As a musician, your ability in most live situations to quickly transpose a piece or adapt to sudden deviations is way more valuable than being locked to an inflexible script, as is your ability to stretch out and at times improvise.

He creates a false dichotomy here. Your ability to read notation has no bearing whatsoever on your abilities to adapt and improvise. While Gennet lists some exceptional jazz musicians in his list of musically illiterate musicians, by and large jazz musicians both work hard to be able to sight read and perform from sheet music as well as to improvise and deviate from the notation. They are two sides of the same coin, not two mutually exclusive skills. Many orchestral musicians, trumpet players for example, also work very hard to be able to transpose sheet music by sight as well. Learning to read notation is integral to this skill.

Furthermore, I call shenanigans on the list of musicians Gennet claims did not read music. As some of the commenters on his article have pointed out, many of those musicians had other folks in the background that were highly musically literate helping them out. The Beatles, for example, had George Martin notate parts for their recordings. Others, such as Charles Mingus, Danny Elfman, and Dave Brubeck may have not learned to sight read well, but certainly were musically literate.

I don’t know Gennet’s music or his musical literacy, however my suspicion is that his article will get used more as justification for musical illiteracy, rather than evidence that ear training, transposition, and improvisation are useful tools for creativity. Shame on Gennet, as a proclaimed educator, to rationalize illiteracy of any kind.