Wednesday 27-Aug-2003

It's been over a month since I've had a chance to write anything here. Part of that was due to being away for a week at the Music for People Art of Improvisation workshop in Fredonia, NY. It was a fun and interesting time, which I would recommend to experienced/professional level instrumental and vocal musicians of any genre.

Music for People is a nonprofit organization that promotes self-expression through music and improvisation (one of their favorite sayings is "There are no wrong notes"), which grew out of cellist David Darling's performances and workshops. Every morning at the workshop we had a whole-group class (about 60 people) led by David along with other trained musician/facilitators, followed by break-outs into facilitated groups of 8-10 players, and then into self-guided quartets. At each of these levels there was plenty of opportunity to play - and it was ALL improv (the closest to non-improv were a few sets of playing over some jazz standards).

There were a number of violinists, violists and cellists attending, as well as every other type of musician (much was made of the attendance of four brass players, a record number). I was the only electric violinist - one of the cellists also had a Yamaha Silent Cello. There were some guitarists and an electric bass with amps. I was really glad I had my battery-powered Pignose amp, since I didn't need to struggle to get near an electric outlet if I just wanted to play straight through it (which I did mostly, after wiping myself out the first day carrying the violin, amp, and GT-3 around in the steamy heat).

One really great part of the workshop was that we all had a 90-minute session (in groups of 6-8 players) with their professional recording studio setup to record whatever improvisations we wanted. Three of the four MP3 samples currently posted on my performing page came from my session. Also, the engineers recorded most of the lectures and playing that took place in the main classroom space, so I didn't have to try to record with my small cassette recorder. For about $75 I got 23 CDs of the week (the classes plus everyone's recording sessions) - a great deal!

The best part of the experience for me was that I got to play (a LOT) with other very competent musicians, and to realize/confirm that I can more than hold my own in very varied musical situations (e.g., where else would I ever get to improvise over Boomwackers, a children's rhythm toy?!).


Another piece of news: I'm getting a new, very impressive amp! Meredith and I went amp shopping last Saturday with the assistance of sound engineer/DJ Matt Mascolo. We first checked out the Zeta AP-12 and Acoustic Image Coda-R, which were being sold for string players at Rayburn's in Boston. Both were reasonable, though neither worked very well for my acoustic with Fishman pickup.

Then we went to Guitar Center and tried a SWR California Blonde and some Trace Elliots. Although I'd read some good reviews by violinists on the Blonde and its little cousin the Strawberry Blonde, we were disappointed in its sound for both of our electrics. But the Trace Elliot TR50R and TR100R both had great sound, and lots of EQ possibilities (5-band, plus an adjustable notch filter, etc.). Of course they were the most expensive amps we were considering!

Meredith decided she liked the 100W, and I was quite taken with the 50W - I don't have a really loud band to play with yet, and though the 4 drivers of the 100W did sound richer than the 2 driver 50W, the latter was no slouch, either, so I couldn't see spending $450 more right now. Fortunately I had printed out their listing on Musicians Friend (which is owned by Guitar Center), because the online prices were $20 less for the 100W and $50 less for the 50W than what was posted in the store, and Guitar Center will honor those web prices. We negotiated even better prices on the floor models, but I decided to have them order me a fresh one because the 50W was missing several knobs and otherwise very shopworn, so a $50 savings wasn't worth it.

Now I'm waiting to find out when my amp will get shipped from Trace Elliot - still wondering why Guitar Center would have floor models but nothing in their warehouse: is the economy so bad they don't think anyone will put out the $ for high-end equipment? People had also warned me that the staff there tended to assume in a mixed-gender group it was always the man who was buying the gear. We got a little of that from a manager who assumed Matt was the shopper, but the weirder assumption surfaced later, when I called our salesman to inquire if they had a delivery estimate for me yet: he had assumed that Meredith was my daughter! Technically, I guess I am old enough for that to be possible, if I'd gotten pregnant around the end of high school.... maybe I should think about coloring my now-abundant gray hairs (though I hate the thought of committing to regular dye-jobs to cope with roots); or maybe I can just assume it's not that I look old, but that Meredith looks young!


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