Thursday, 2 December 2021

ABBA "Voyage" - A Review

 I have read some rather disparaging reviews from professional critics about this album.  They know not of what they speak, at least in this case.

Oh, and I'm a critic too, should that matter.  Maybe not published, but I have all the letters after my name that suggests I should know what I'm talking about, and speak I do!  I also write and produce pop music.

The album is ABBA's first in 40 years.  And it is remarkable.  As usual, the music arrangements are the gold standard to which others should aspire.  Lyrically, the music is representative of lives lived and there's nothing wrong with that.  And the women's voices - still beautiful and emotional after all these years.

Having previewed "I Still Have Faith in You" and "Don't Shut Me Down" on YouTube as singles, I was relieved when I heard the old ABBA was essentially back.  Some have maligned this group for not sticking with current musical trends and all I can say is thank goodness for that!  There is, in my opinion, not much worthy in current pop trends that should be emulated, and Benny, Bjorn and the gals had to good sense to stick with their winning formula.  

Some critics have said there's no new "Dancing Queen" or "Voulez Vous" equivalent in the new tracks.  That is debatable, but whether or not its there is irrelevant.  ABBA  members are now in their 70s and their music shouldn't be expected to necessarily light the dance floor.  They've been there, done that.  What they have opted to do instead is provide listeners with a well-thought-out, well-crafted piece of musical art which reflects their style and their age.

"Voyage" may not grab you at first listening.  It is not typical pop-music ear candy that is full of glitter and empty calories.  Rather, it is an album that seems to get better with every listening, much like viewing an old film.  You may surprise yourself at how often you end up randomly humming a melody from "Voyage" whether you want to or not.

It has been said that this is ABBA's final goodbye.  I hope not.  The group has exhibited a talent and maturity that has stood the test of time.  ABBA, let your record sales speak for themselves - people still want you!  Keep the music coming!

Monday, 21 June 2021

The (un)Joy of Music, (II)

 All professions have their frustrations and music teachers are no exception.

One of the toughest things for a music teacher is seeing someone with talent, sometimes great talent, being flippant about what they can do.

I have encountered a number of individuals who could have (past tense) easily excelled at music, perhaps even as a career choice.  They exhibited talent and understanding and when coaxed, they accomplished great things.  

And yet in some, there appeared no incentive to accel even when encouraged by teachers, their fellow musicians, or family and friends.  They shrug.  They find ways to excuse themselves from this task of learning with some admittedly clever excuses.

As a teacher this can be heartbreaking, especially since we know of lesser-talented individuals who would love to be be able to soar on their respective musical instruments and create glorious audio art for all to hear.  There is an ecstasy to this which many will try to achieve but not experience.

So for the talented student to disregard this or deliberately throw this away seems incomprehensible to some, including me.  To be able to do something well above the norm is often a cause of elation and self-encouragement.  To ignore that seems tragic.

In some cases, that individual may eventually realize their folly (There! I've said it) and return at a later time.  And better late than never.  Others however, will never return because life got in the way, and that's fair enough; life does have its priorities and everyone should be allowed to make their own choices.

But there are some of us teachers who can't put the decision of others to rest... and that's our problem.

But it's still a shame.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

The Best Things in Life Are Free...Except

One of the services I offer as a piano teacher is assisting my students in their endeavor to find a decent piano.

In some instances, particularly in those cases involving  younger children, parents may be hesitant to shell out the big bucks for a quality musical instrument until they are sure that little Tommy or Suzy actually does want to learn and play the piano.  They may buy a cheap digital keyboard; or they might think about getting one of those "free" pianos that are so commonly advertised on home marketplaces or Kijiji.

And here is where I offer my advice: most of these free pianos are junk.

Unlike some other items, pianos don't "antique" well.  If they have been neglected or are very old, they are often not worth restoring.  Over time, the wood ages and the mechanisms wear out.  Key tops may become loose and fall off or the pedal might stop working.  And these are all expensive fixes.  So folks who offer grandma's old Heintzman for free (which YOU have to move) may not be as magnanimous as you might think.  Having someone else to move the old clunker out of their house is saving them the expense of paying to have it hauled to the dump.

How sure I am of this?

I used to work in a piano shop.  One thing I noticed was the dozens of old pianos taking up space.  I asked my boss about this.  He just smiled and said they are all destined for the land fill.  They just weren't worth fixing; their time had passed.  

Now, there are companies who do specialize in piano restoration and do a terrific job of it.  An eighty year old piano that has been fixed up from top to bottom can be a great choice, but that will be reflected in the price.  Why? Because restoration experts, like any other professionals, charge appropriately for their skills.  Most of these refurbished old-timers won't be free.  In fact, some of them can rival the cost of a new instrument.

So if you are tempted to get a "free" piano, consider paying for a piano technician to join you at the prospective give-away to see if it's a decent piano.  If it is, then you'll be in a positive position to think further on this.  If it's not worth it, you just saved yourself a heap of money...and frustration.

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

The Enemy Within

COVID-19 has been with us for over a year now, and in spite of promising new vaccines, it still doesn't appear that it will fade away anytime soon.

Stringent isolation protocols are still in effect in most jurisdictions and while that, along with wearing face masks, has had some impact, the numbers are still too high according to some government health agencies.

And the effects to society are really starting to show.

Even the most amiable of folks are starting to become irritable, resenting that they can't go anywhere beyond their immediate surroundings (government members apparently excluded).  Even worse are the sacrifices these same folks are making by not visiting friends and family.

So what do we do?  Do we continue down this isolationist road?  Businesses, including mine, have taken a huge hit.  Will we continue to survive?  At this rate, some of us will be presented with two choices: close up shop, or open up on the sly hoping we don't get caught.

Or there might be a third way:

Target and isolate the most vulnerable to ensure their safety and open up the rest of society.  

This was an idea proposed by Emergency Expert Lt. Colonel David Redman (

Is this controversial?  Is it THE answer?

Society is ill right now, not only with just COVID, but also with the effects of constantly being at home and away from other people.

What do the numbers need to look like before we are given the "all clear" by government? Will we ever be totally rid of this pestilence?

So what is the answer?  Should we isolate the few most at risk and open up society once again, accepting COVID as a part of life like we do the flu or the cold?  Or do we stay the course for however long?

Something has to change.

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Why I Will No Longer Recycle

Some time ago, I watched CBC's "Marketplace," a rather unusual occurrence for me since I normally avoid "Canada's broadcaster."  But in this case, I made an exception and I'm glad I did, because what I saw not only surprised me, but it also caused me to re-think about something I thought was under proper government control.

For years and decades, I felt I was doing my bit by recycling.  When the blue bins were introduced and my monthly City bill went up, I grumbled because now I was paying for something I was already doing.  Nevertheless, I had no choice, so every week the usual paper and plastics went into the bin.

But no more.

Paper is still fine but leftover plastics now go into my regular garbage.  Why?  Because it's not recycled, or at least not very much of it.

According to "Marketplace," only 9% (NINE PERCENT) of all Canadian plastic is recycled.  The rest is either tossed in with the landfill (surprise!), incinerated (ick!), or...

It is sent via boat to Malaysia where it clutters their forests.  Piles and piles of it.  Just one storage area of plastic was two stores high, about 50 feet wide and 100's of feet long.  In amongst the plastic were shopping bags from Superstore, Canada Safeway, various Co-ops, and Canadian Tire.

Not all the plastic in these dumps are from Canada, but it angered me to see that we were well represented.

In Malaysia, much of the post-consumer plastic is illegally obtained with false permits and bogus shipping labels, and of course, corrupt businessmen on both the shipping and receiving ends.  Burning the plastic, which is common in that country, causes horrible conditions for the workers and the surrounding population.  Toxic gases and sicknesses abound and workers are often denied basic safety protection when working.

Honestly, I don't what Calgary's record is on this issue, but I'm taking a small stand.  No more plastic recycling me for.  But if we are to continue to keep using plastic instead of alternatives, then it's at least going to stay in Calgary where it belongs.

It's not going to Malaysia.

Friday, 23 October 2020

The Unwelcome Shadow

The times of freely consorting with your fellow human being seems so far in the past now.  Gone are the days, for many of us, of dropping in on family and friends without the special accommodation of wearing a mask and keeping about six feet apart.

The shadow of COVID-19 is now a part of life.

Governments have, in varying degrees, tried to cope with this menace.  In addition to social distancing and masks, many businesses have either voluntarily or been mandated to restrict access to their premises.  And in some cases, the result has not been a pretty one.  Small businesses, large businesses, and even iconic businesses who we all thought would be around forever have shuttered their doors for good.

Locally, it was August 1st, 2020 when the government decided to make masks and social distancing mandatory in public spaces.  A bit inconvenient perhaps but for the greater good.  And this seemed fine to many provided we could stamp this pestilence into a manageable part of our lives.

But what has happened?  As of this date, October 23, there are still over 3500 active cases with 427 new cases reported.  And there will be more to come.

How can this be?

Even with the minority failing to adhere to any regulation, it was thought the masks and social distancing would help.  Yet the numbers seem to suggest that very little has changed pre-mask to present day.  Are these two measures actually doing any good?

Don't get me wrong.  I have no problem with the government-imposed regulations (in this case!) and I am happy to follow them provided they really do make a difference.  But are they?  Are we going about this the wrong way and if so, what is the right way?

We have turned our economy on its head with record unemployment; we have also accepted self-isolation as our new religion.  There is depression, loneliness and even hopelessness.  

If we have to do these unpleasant things to our society, at least let the measures taken show that they are making a difference.

Because right now, the numbers don't bear this out.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

The (un)JOY of MUSIC, (I)

Have you ever heard a wonderful piece of music, performed to near perfection, that left you emotional?  Perhaps it made you happy or even sad, but sad in such a way that you'd happily go back for seconds if you could.

Such is the wonder of music.  It has the ability to move you.

And a good deal of credit goes to those practitioners who have developed their art to allow the listener to experience such emotions.

But let's look under the hood.  What will you see?

You will see the dedicated artist.  He or she will spend the majority of their available time attempting to master their craft.  If they are a performer, they will spend countless hours working on their instrument trying to achieve a mastery and fluency that few achieve.  And it's not exciting.

Hours are spent on technical exercises; numbing, and often boring, but necessary nonetheless.  More hours are spent on repertoire that can be so complex as to be discouraging, yet the performer carries on.

And like I said, it is BORING.

But that's the thing about music.  It's not about instant gratification for the performer.  If you want an instant music high, listen to the radio where the work has already been done by someone else.  There are no shortcuts.  If you wish to be a master of your craft, you have to put in the time.

I have encountered folks who think there is a shortcut.  However, in every successful music circumstance there is someone who has "done their time," whether they are out front performing or behind the scenes calling the shots.  And music in particular is a harsh master where near perfection has to be the goal or it doesn't fulfill the listener.  Think of how many lousy performers are out there.

Music is an endeavor that will seem to be joyless at times, especially in the learning phase.  It will frustrate as you try to master the nuances.  It may even cause you to pace restlessly as it did Chopin when he was writing some of his finest works.

But with focus, determination, and an openness to criticism, a performer can achieve an ecstasy and present a work of art that cannot be achieved in any other way.  And that is what music is all about.