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18 Apr 2013

The Remarkable Leonard Cohen: 10 Rare Facts

Time has come to spotlight another successful and influential persona in the world music community – today let it be Leonard Cohen.

During his almost-80-years Leonard Cohen no doubt earned a reputation as an outstanding song-writer, musician and poet. But besides having exceptional music and poetic talents, Leonard is also a very enigmatic and eccentric person with an original worldview. This post will gather some of the rare things concerning this outstanding man. Here are some of the pretty curious facts.

Leonard Cohen
  1. Leonard Cohen has received a couple of sad unofficial ‘labels’ like "the grocer of despair", "the poet laureate of pessimism", "the godfather of gloom". That was mostly because of the seemingly endless depression he was suffering from. That was reflected in his music too. However, at the same time Cohen was full of witty jokes and sarcastic gags, being able to make millions of people laugh heartily.
  2. He decided to switch from poetry to music pretty late thinking it will get him a better pay. Agents addressed him carefully wondering whether he was not too old for such a switch. He wasn’t. And he started singing.
  3. Leonard has always been popular among women, had many romances during his life and has now two children. However, he never got married admitting that he was too frightened to do it.
  4. Cohen likes nature. Long ago he bought a Greek island called Hydra for $1500. He used to earn money and come there to spend for a whole year of swimming and sailing. Then he would go back to Canada and earn more money to afford himself return to the island for another year.
  5. He sang “Suzanne” to Judy Collins over the phone and played a couple of songs to John Hammond in a hotel room. Both immediately agreed to record them. Since then, “Suzanne” and “Hallelujah” have been best-selling songs.
  6. Cohen has suffered from various health issues. To fight depression he used various types of drugs, became a vegetarian and took up yoga.
  7. Leonard’s daughter, Lorca, was named after musician’s ‘hero’ - Federico García Lorca, a Spanish poet and dramatist.
  8. Leonard Cohen has tried on various personae and roles in his lifetime: he used to be a writer, a folk singer, a rock star and even a monk in the 90-ies. He joined Buddhists and received the name of Jikan, which meant ‘a silent one’.
  9. Unlike many stars who meet aging with denial and plastic surgery, Cohen finds charm in every age and faces it calmly. On September 21, 2014 Leonard is celebrating his 80th birthday.
  10. Cohen had somehow special connection with ‘the French’: he was widely admired in France in the 60s, he was a favorite of the French president Georges Pompidou; and his son Adam, who is a song-writer, too, released an album in French.

Honorable member of various Halls of Fame, winner of numerous awards, owner of Canada’s highest civilian honor (Order of Canada) and simply a talented man with a strong character – Leonard Cohen keeps fascinating the audience.

09 Apr 2013

A Proper Concertgoer: How to Avoid Embarrassment?


In January 2012 tweeters and blogs of New Yorkers were bursting with indignant messages about the improper behavior of an elderly gentleman who brought the performance of the New York Philharmonic to a halt. At the end of the last climax of Mahler’s “haunting” Ninth Symphony when silence and music became almost indistinguishable a disturbing ringing of a cell phone went off from the front row. Alan Gilbert, the conductor with years of experience under his belt, fell in stupor shocked by such an outrageous act. He dropped the hands indicating the no-less-stunned musicians to stop playing, and the great hall was silenced, except the persistent ringing sounds of the mobile device. “Are you finished?” – Alan addressed the man. No reply followed. “Fine, we’ll wait.”

So what are those obligatory rules concertgoers should diligently follow when going to a classical music concert not to find themselves in an extremely embarrassing and rude situation? It will do no harm to both experienced and inexperienced concertgoers to go through these general rules again.

Should I prepare beforehand? There is no strict necessity to study in detail the music pieces before the concert, unless you feel strong interest in it. But normally one should at least go through the program notes and study what the concert will be like: a continuous performance or a few movements, a 90 or 120 minutes act, single composer show or various authors’ works. Also, do not forget to arrive at least 20 min earlier to absorb the ambiance, settle comfortably and study the notes. As concerts start dead on time, in case of being at least a minute late you might end up listening the first part on the other side of the door – the usher will let you in only when your entrance does not bother the audience.

Any dress code? Unless it’s a fancy gala concert when the dress code is indicated in the invitation, no official dress code exists. However, there is an unspoken tradition to dress up for a classical concert making it a more festive occasion and retain from sport clothing and colorful loud sneakers.

When’s clapping appropriate? It is of course normal to greet the conductor and musicians with cheering clapping before the beginning and to shout ‘bravo!’s after the performance’s over. But you should also remember about the long-ish tricky silence pauses that normally occur between the score movements and can be mistaken for the final giving you the urge to clap. Unlike pop or jazz concerts when applauding is heard during the music, at classical concerts it might distract the musicians. So watch the conductor closely – he doesn’t drop the hands between movements but freezes them tensely in the air instead. That’s a good clue to contain the applause. The preliminary program notes’ study will help you get better oriented, too.

How to deal with the cough? That’s natural to feel the urge to cough sometimes. But during the most silent moments of the concert your cough might go off like thunder. What do we do about it? The funny thing is that the less we worry about it, the less likely we’ll cough. Drink some water before the performance and take a few coughing pills (sometimes they are even served for free in the lobby). If you feel the coughing fit is too strong and you can’t wait till the intermission, it’s quite acceptable to silently leave the hall – the listeners will only appreciate your concern.

“I need my gadgets!” You have to understand that a classical music concert is a very specific experience; it’s a different world that you have to fully immerse in if you want to live this experience. Therefore, make sure all of your electronic devices are switched off – not ‘silenced’ but switched OFF completely. Cameras are distractors too, so pictures can be taken only in the lobby, not during the concert. If you are on call duty, you can hand in your phone/pager to the usher and in case of emergency they will find a way to summon you.

Are kids allowed? A standard classical concert is quite hard for a youngster to ‘survive’ without moving: the long attention span is too complicated for them to maintain. That’s why small children are usually not allowed (it can be checked before buying the tickets). But if you want to acquaint your kid with classical music, start with something simple like classical CDs playing around the house, attending special daytime concerts for children at the weekend, and only then, when the child grows up a bit, bring him/her to a standard concert.

All that highlighted, the remaining thing to say is “Enjoy yourself!” and take the most out of your every single visit to the concert. And remember, in case you are not sure how to behave properly at a certain moment – watch the experienced concertgoers around you and follow their example. Good luck!

03 Apr 2013

Why Good Musicians Don’t Make it to the Top: Common Mistakes


In every sphere of our life – be it sport, business, art and so on – we often come across an interesting phenomenon. People who seem to us really worthy and competent in what they do, for some reason are not in a place good enough as to what they would deserve. And we wonder – but why, it seems that he/she has got all that’s needed to make it to the top. In the music industry, that’s a pretty common situation. A good neighbor hearing a boy from the next door playing the guitar will kindly ask his father “Your boy’s so talented! Why isn’t he already on the big stage?”. But talent, no matter how huge it may be, turns out to be an important yet insufficient condition for reaching the peak of success. And money - often considered to be the means for solving any problem - is not the solution either. There needs to be something beyond these obvious things, the ‘it’-factor, which will lead to worthwhile achievements. However, too often musicians make “traditional” mistakes that hamper their progress on the way to the top.

We’ve tried to more or less sort out what’s there in this regard and come up with a few of the most general mistakes that musicians/music bands make about their career. Let’s have a closer look at the top 5 of them.

Seeking approval. It’s important to remember that you are not to convince anyone that your music is good and worth listening to. Your major focus should lie on what you create and not on what someone should think about it. Be sincere in what you convey through your music and don’t try to please everyone – it’s impossible anyway. A strong idea and diligence is bound to find its addressee. It shouldn’t be you saying “Look, I write good music, really” but instead your listener saying “I like his/her music and what it expresses”. If you stop mixing the essential with the superficial, your target audience will be built from true connoisseurs.

Forgetting to establish firm relationship with fans. Once you have at least a small fan base (it may even consist of just your relatives and acquaintances for the moment), start learning to build a close relationship with them. Interested people know they are marketed to – and they don’t mind. All they want is a quality product they are ready to pay for. If you show them you care, they will keep loyal. Don’t skimp on small pleasant trivia: free music pieces, thank-you posts, little appreciation shows, fan message board at your website, comments section and so on. Reach out to people who are looking forward to it, attention matters.

Putting it all on the table. Keep in mind that people are not only interested in your music but in your persona too. It’s always interesting to learn what’s behind this or that music piece. So go ahead and share it. However, be selective about what you bring to light. In a certain sense people are willing to see an example to follow in you, someone to look up to and get motivated by. The more inspiring you sound, the better. Try not to be too whimpering about what’s currently going on with you and about how bad you feel. Since you got people following you, you’ve become a leader to some extent, so keep it up duly.

Neglecting marketing. Good music is good. But not good enough to just stand up and go into the world on its own. You have to help it get into the right ears. There is no need to reinvent anything, as there are quite a lot of established marketing mechanisms that will help you do the job. Do not forget that you yourself are your best promoter, even if you have someone (publisher, record labels, etc.) helping you in your endeavors. You are the most interested party and the result will greatly depend on your personality. Having your work performed at the local festival might be a good start but it will not take that far if you do nothing. Don’t be shy to ask for help of the knowing people, ask around, read, surf the network – “Carpe Diem”!

Saying yes to everything. Carpe Diem is a nice motto but do not overdo it. You do not need to jump at every single opportunity just because it pops up when you seem to need something for a kick-start. Try to sort out your tasks and purposes first – it will help you to be more specific when deciding in favor of a certain possibility. The thing is that sometimes the opportunities that are offered to you (shows, concerts, ads, commercials, contests, etc.) are simply not worth jumping at, after a short analysis you might realize that they are nothing more than a fruitless waste of time. Set your own plan and act accordingly.

These are just a few examples of the things that may either retard the desired success or lead you the wrong way depriving you of precious time. Once a decent music work is ready, the real work only begins! Pull yourself together and spare no effort in order to get what you want.

Good luck!

14 Feb 2013

A couple of curious facts about Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the most exuberant composers of the past. It is still barely understandable how it became possible to write down all of his compositions on paper: according to the roughest estimate, Bach’s entire life would have hardly been enough to record all of his sheet music, even if the composer had taken down only the final version without pausing for a single minute.

Johann Sebastian Bach

The music of J.S. Bach, one of the most famous composers in the world today, fell into oblivion for a long time, shortly after his death. It was considered out-dated und unfashionable in the epoch of Classicism. And even though Bach’s works were highly valued in the narrow musicians’ circles at the time, it was only due to the efforts of another German composer – Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy – that J.S. Bach’s musical heritage became available to the general public.

Bach’s skillful playing always evoked listeners’ admiration. But the great musician only retorted that his performing was not worth that much praise, as one just needs to hit the right key at the right time – the organ would do the rest. It’s known that the competition between Bach and his famous virtuoso contemporary Louis Marchand was never completed as the Frenchman, fearing the inevitable defeat, simply fled shortly after arriving in Dresden.

It’s hardly possible to overestimate Bach’s influence on composers of the next generations. According to New York Times, Bach is ranked number No.1 on the list of Top 10 most prominent composers of all time, including Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Debussy, Stravinsky, Verdi, Brahms, Wagner and Bartok.

Three compositions by J.S. Bach – "The Well-Tempered Clavier", the "Brandenburg Concerto No.2" and the "Gavotte in Rondo" – are among the 27 best pieces included in the "Voyager Golden Record", a collection of the best music samples made by the human race for the spacecraft Voyager.