Thursday, January 18, 2018

Ian's email

I received an email from a former student over the holiday break. His name is Ian Tuski and he is one of those I can easily point to as a success story. Still in his twenties, he is completing his doctorate in guitar at the University of Texas in Austin. The danger here is the temptation to talk as though I were the primary reason for his success. I'm not. I helped at the beginning stages and I'm sure some would say, "But if it wasn't for you....."  But after leaving my studio, Ian went on to study with many fine teachers. More importantly, his success to date is due largely to his own hard work and sacrifice. And that ethic is due to his parents influence, not mine.

Ian is currently working with an organization called Austin Classical Guitar and I urge you to check them out when you have a moment. Their education outreach program is nothing short of heroic and they are making a difference in their community.

All teachers, public or private, can recall the moments when they influenced students. Students who were at risk due to reasons economic, social, or emotional disposition. When I am asked about my "successes" I will mention Ian and others like him, but I am often thinking of the students that slip under the radar. The "slow learner" who can finally excel, or the autistic child who finds acceptance, or the young teen who finds the weight of middle school to be crushing and finds respite in the arts.

Classical guitar is such a gentle sound that it becomes a balm for the soul. Chicken soup for a bad day. Music is a healing force, but classical guitar also soothes. Introducing it to my students has, over time, become something of a mission for me. I think of its influence as a very small part of most lives, but sometimes a little nudge is all it takes to make a lasting impression. I wish I could say that this was my plan from the beginning, but the truth is I stumbled into it and got lucky.

I'm always flattered when a former student reconnects. In Ian's case I am reluctant to take much credit for his success, but I'm relieved that I didn't screw up too bad. "First - do no harm" as the hippocratic oath begins. Still, I am proud of Ian and my brief association with him. Not only his musical achievements, but his social conscience and activism. And once again the student influences the teacher.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Anniversary issue

It's been a little over two years since I started this blog. I noted then that I didn't know how it would evolve over time. I had a lot of ideas about art education, funding, presentation, etc so I had a starting place, but it was a borderline rant so I wanted to be cautious. It turns out I didn't have that many ideas after all. So I spent the first couple months picking the low hanging fruit. After that the real work of writing a blog began.

Today is my 200th entry. When I began I had a vague idea about how to do this and a couple of specific ideas about what I didn't want.  I subscribe to one blog and regularly visit several others. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some resemble ever changing websites with articles, photos, and videos. The one I subscribe to is a music industry specialty. But the guy who writes it is sporadic. Nothing for a week or two and then suddenly three in a day. Some are several pages long and others are a couple of paragraphs. He's worth it, but it makes me crazy.

I put myself on a schedule. I publish on Mondays and Thursdays. If I had been strict with that schedule I would have published no. 200 a month ago. For those who are keeping score, I missed a couple here and there due to illness. But two a week is the goal. And that is totally arbitrary. There was no research done. It just sounded good at the time. I also didn't want the entries to be too long. Most of my readers have stuff to do and don't have the time to read some lengthy tome.

I was advised to keep them funny. But I write and publish as one activity and who feels funny on any early Monday morning? And I'm not really that funny anyway. I'm more of a smart alec with a snide retort or rude observation.

But I have learned a few things along the way. Top of the list: I can't be productive trying to be someone I'm not. As I said, I'm not really that funny. But I'm also NOT living in New York or L.A. My art world is way different. So this has become more of a celebration of local artists. Some are friends of mine. Not much different than the artists that live and work in towns all around the world.

In the future I hope to be able to add additional links for your enjoyment. Perhaps some recorded interviews. I'm not really sure. But the evolution of this blog continues.

I want to take a moment to thank my readers. As blogs go, there aren't many of you, but I'll take quality over quantity every time.  I've had readers from nearly every corner of the world except sub-Saharan Africa and Antartica. I know your time is valuable and I really do appreciate you spending a bit of it with me.  Please leave a comment when you are moved to. "Like" and share the blog if you feel it's appropriate. But above all, don't be a stranger.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Social media

I became active on social media several years ago. First with MySpace and then Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  The consistent message that I heard was how important it was for my business. The thing no one explained to me when I was young was just how much of my time would be needed for marketing. Most people think that my day is consumed with playing the guitar. In fact, I can put in a full days work before I ever pick up my instrument.

I'm not sure if my business has been affected by social media, but being involved has brought me other pleasures. I have the pleasure of "knowing" many other musicians from all over the world. Some are concert artists, some are event performers, and most of them teach. I am impressed with how much we have in common. We post pictures of our food, our families, our students, and the venues we are privileged to perform in.

On Instagram I've become acquainted with many adult students. They often post videos of themselves  playing music at home. It's usually a simple, but very cool sounding study. This is not concert level performing, but in some ways it's almost better. The music is played with such sincerity and respect that I'm reminded of how much I loved learning it many years earlier. I'm also reminded that a great composer can create a lovely piece without the demands of finger busting technique.

I'm also surprised by the number of these students. There's a lot of them. I've seen videos of students in Mexico, Japan, Russia, Germany, Australia, etc. playing many of the same pieces that I would teach them if they studied with me. An easy example of music as the universal language.

As a teacher I am responsible to introduce new music to my students. To show them the possibilities and to give them the means to realize their dreams. The balance in the equation is that they remind me of the beautiful music in my past. Either way, it is the love of the music that brings us together.

Social media has been severely criticized for being a massive waste of time. But when I'm introduced to an entire generation of people from all around the world who love and respect this music as much as I, then I'm inclined to disagree. I regularly look forward to their enthusiasm and optimism to replenish my own.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Back to work

I return to teaching tomorrow after a two week vacation. Actually more of a lay off than vacation. I haven't gone anywhere or done anything except rest up. I've read a tiny bit, played far too many games of solitaire, and made some noise with my guitar. But nothing that would be "postcard worthy".

Several of my students have contacted me asking when we start up again. I prefer to think that they are impatient and anxious to resume. I may be wrong but I don't think so.  At least I don't want to think so.

The long rest has been nice, but I'm anxious to get back too. I've jump started the process by publishing a new video tutorial and sending some supplemental materials to a student. And I've taken the time to do some admin. tasks. Those never go on vacation.

Like most people, I receive a lot of junk email every day. Most of it I delete, but some I read and others I save for another day. So I wandered through that pile and finally deleted a bunch. Because they don't know me and are just spamming the world, certain things make me chuckle. "Where would you like to be in 10 years?" read one. And my immediate answer was, "Alive. I think I'd like to still be alive in 10 years."  What a stupid question to ask an old guy.

So tomorrow I will give a half dozen lessons and begin the routine all over again. With renewed energy (theirs and mine) I will attempt to advance their technique, expand their musical horizons, and turn bad notes into good ones. And I will try to be patient enough to allow them to return the favor. Because anytime one person is showing something to another, there are two people learning.

If you would like to watch my obviously home-made video just click this link:

Or here if you prefer YouTube:

Monday, January 1, 2018

Different musicians

I haven't played a New Years Eve gig in years. A classical guitarist is not usually the first thing folks think of when planning a boisterous party like that. But that doesn't mean that I'm not busy during this time. I am also a church musician and Christmas is a pretty busy time. But it goes a bit beyond that too. Our organist was out of town for New Years so I played all of the music for that service as well.

It has caused me to think about the various rolls a musician plays in society. Many of my friends are entertainers and are hired to perform at parties, dances, public festivals, etc. This is how we often picture the profession. Whether at a local bar or arena. Loud music, flashing lights, and some strutting. I used to think that this was the pinnacle of a musicians career. That this was what the other musicians aspired to. I was wrong. Although I was very deep into my own career before I realized it.

There are also the artists. Classical, Jazz, or Folk who give concerts and not only entertain but educate us as well. We sit and listen and become immersed in the moment. These musicians are the only reason we attend. We're not there for a party. 

I am primarily a ceremony musician. I play services at my church, many weddings, and the occasional funeral, wake, open house, etc. There are times when I feel like a centerpiece on a dining table. A nice addition but not really necessary. Things will happen with or without me. It's no place for someone who craves attention. I seem to thrive in this environment.

Nearly all musicians will take time to teach. Some more than others. I've taught more than performed and consider myself a teacher first and performer second. As I stumble into the new year I look forward to continuing to do the same. I'm not only comfortable with this mantle, I wear it proudly.

Some claim "a new year - a new me". But I simply think "another year of me doing the same old thing" and I'm grateful for it.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Moving forward

Each year I take two weeks off from teaching for Christmas and New Years. The first week is hectic as we prepare for and celebrate Christmas. It's not just at home. I'm fairly active in my church so I have some obligations there too.

As I wander into the second week of my time off I get to relax some. Read, play music, nap...all of the essentials. I might even be able to spend time with my wife. Historically a rare treat.

It's also a time to reflect. I don't make resolutions any more. I haven't for years. But I do take time to think about the past and the future. One of the things I realized long ago was that I need to have a future. Yeah, I know death can disrupt that somewhat. But as long as I'm living I need to keep moving forward.

A cousin suggested recently that I should retire. Nope! I'm not ready for that yet, but I am slowing down. I don't have the physical stamina or mental strength to go at the pace I did just a few years ago.  I'm not capable of just stopping either. Perhaps it's professional inertia.

I also realize that there are new professional challenges. So I look forward to meeting them head on. But mostly I just look forward.

Professionally I think the one thing I detest the most is "business-as-usual".  I'm always looking for ways to improve my teaching. These past few years I've introduced online video lessons into my business. Although used mostly for make-up lessons, I have a few remote students that I see weekly online only. This year I began making supplemental lesson videos for my students. Then I email a link so they can access them at their convenience. I've made quite a few and have many more to do. These have proven to work well.

I've got a couple of other ideas that I will look at this coming year. I'm not sure if they will pan out. That's the thing about ideas. I usually don't know if they are good ideas until I try to use them. But I have to keep moving be engaged.

Whatever your plans are for the coming year I hope your new year brings you peace and prosperity.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A little CD biz.

My CDs are distributed to various outlets via one company. They make sure that my music is available through all of the popular streaming services and can be downloaded through a couple of others. All of the revenue generated funnels through them into my account. The amount of money generated is very small. Enough so that at times I just laugh and shake my head. One song was recently streamed and put $0.0002 into my account. Yep! You read that right. It would take 50 listens to put one penny in my account.

It's tempting to get angry at these various companies but it would do no good. There are many reasons that the numbers are what they are. I just look at it from a different angle. My music has been heard all around the world. I've been played in Europe, the Orient, and throughout the Americas. That's very humbling and I'm extremely grateful.

As I think of this I'm reminded that this is pretty much how the music business worked back in the day. Recordings only made money for others, rarely for the artists. The Beatles kind of changed that with "Sgt. Peppers..." and we thought the change was forever. Turns out it wasn't. Just like before, if you want to make money today you need to perform live.

To be sure, there are a handful of artists today who can actually make money from streaming services. They are the popular music and hip-hop artists who have huge fan bases and can deliver big, and I mean really big, numbers. My numbers are pretty puny, but the accumulated efforts of my five CDs generated about $100.00 this past year. Not too bad for an unknown classical artist.

Recently I've been asked if I'm going to record any more CDs. My answer right now is "No". The cost associated with it, as well as the time and effort required, make it hard to justify. If I played concerts then I might consider it. People will buy CDs as a souvenir.  But I'm a guitar teacher who occasionally plays at weddings. There are no concerts in my immediate future.

I do however make home recordings and put them online. You can find me on Soundcloud (rhumphrey223) and on YouTube. Actually you can listen to all of my CDs for free on YouTube (roger humphrey - topic) and Spotify. Although I don't get paid much, I do get paid every time you listen to a song. That's a little self-serving I know. But if only 50 of you listen....