Last Monday, I had a practice with my band The Boris Pink. We've been practising a lot lately because we have a gig coming up on August 15th and we're not quite ready. Anyway, near the start of the rehearsal, I was playing keyboard and singing backup vocals as usual, when the band-leader Boris said, "Watch your pitch."
I hate it when Boris says "watch your pitch", because what he's really saying is "you're singing badly Stephen, sing better." Boris generally gets me to sing the harmony which is higher than what he sings, and sometimes it's so high that I can only sing it correctly about sixty percent of the time it's almost out of my range. So I tried to sing better, but it still wasn't good enough for Boris he stopped the song and went through the chorus slowly and repetitively, with just guitar and vocals, and everyone listened to my vocals to decide whether I was doing it properly. I did my best, but Boris kept saying things like "Watch your pitch" and "You're still sounding a little out of tune" and "Almost, but not quite."
My voice has good days and bad days, and this was one of the bad days. I was thinking, "The vocal practice that I do now is not going to make any difference to how well I sing at the gig." As Boris continued his little criticisms, I began to feel very uncomfortable, and my discomfort only made my singing less confident. And then the bass-player was saying that I was going in too hard on the first syllable. I felt as if nothing I did was good enough for them. I've had singing lessons before so I knew basically what was required pull the diaphragm in, drop the jaw, use the tongue and the pallette to aim the note at a particular spot depending on how high it is, and don't stress the face. But all that technical stuff tends to go out the window when my nerves are frayed, and meanwhile I have to play keyboard at the same time.
The longer it continued, the worse my emotional state became. I thought, if it gets much worse, I'm going to cry. That can't happen I haven't cried in six years. I don't want to let Boris and the others see me so vulnerable. But if they continue this contant criticism and correcting, I may have to do something, like turn off the microphone and say "There will be no more singing from me tonight." Or maybe I just need to have a break and go for a walk alone outside. But I can't explain to them what's wrong without telling them that I'm in danger of crying.
They did stop their criticism of me eventually, as I sang with one hand over my ear constantly so that I could hear my voice inside my head and thus pitch it better. We moved on to the next song and that didn't have any backup vocals so all I had to do was play keyboard. But I was still in a fragile state.
"What can I do to improve my mood?" I wondered. "Normally singing makes me happy. It would make me happy now if Boris would just stop criticising me, and then my improved mental state would in turn lead to better singing. I need to stop thinking about it. I need to think about something happy instead. What's something happy that I can think about?"
So I cast my mind back to what happened two days before, on Saturday night. I went over to my friend Cat's house, and Cat was there with her friend Ian. Cat said to Ian, "Stephen and I are going out now, so you'll be here alone, Ian. Promise me you'll take care and not burn the house down."
Ian replied, with a twinkle in his eye, "Oh, I don't make promises anymore."
So Cat said, "If you burn the house down, you're grounded."
"In a burning house?" Ian answered. "Well, at least I'll be warm."
I went out with my friend Cat, and we both waited at the tram-stop on High-Street. She said to me, "Stephen, I'm a little nervous about meeting with your parents tonight. What if I say the wrong thing, or do the wrong thing, and offend them?"
"Relax," I said.
But she couldn't quite relax. "Should I offer to pay my own way, or "
"No," I assured her. "They said they would pay for dinner."
"Do your parents know about that novel that you wrote? The one that you showed me?"
"No. I think I might tell them about it tonight."
Cat asked, "Why haven't you told them about it?"
I said, "Because it's a secret book."
"Honestly Stephen, you're the most unassuming artist I've ever known. You're the kind of guy who lives alone and hides his art away from the world, until after he dies, and then everyone finds out."
"But I have a web-site!" I said. And she couldn't argue with that.
We caught a tram southwards and ended up at the place called the Alphabet City Café, which was the place that Cat had chosen for dinner. My parents were a quarter of an hour late. This was especially worrying for me because I had given them the address of the café, and if I had given it to them wrong or something then they would never arrive.
But they did arrive, and when they walked in they met my friend Cat. They shook her hand and said, "Hello Cat." Then they started talking about all kinds of stuff. From the outset it was clear that they were getting on very well and the conversation just flowed between them without being awkward. The food was good too I had a sort of stir-fry dish with chicken. They discussed art, and photography, and boats, and rock-climbing, and even religion, without anyone taking offence. And towards the end, I told my parents that I had written a novel, and I gave them a copy of it.
"It's not published," I said, "But I printed thirty copies. It's sort of a science-fiction fantasy comedy that's partly based on my own life."
Mum, clutching a copy of the book that I wrote
There was cake for dessert. It's always nice to have one's friends and family on good terms with eachother. My parents gave Cat a lift home afterwards, and while we were riding together in the car, Cat got my attention silently and then gave me a "thumbs up" signal, as if she were giving my parents (and our dinner together) the thumbs up. It gave me warm gooey feeling inside
"Stephen," said Boris, interrupting my train of thought. "There's no keyboard in this bit."
My mental wanderings had caused me to make a bad keyboard mistake.
The happy memories had brought me back from the edge of tears, but I still didn't feel right throughout the rest of the rehearsal. Band practices are sometimes fun, and the singing adds to the fun, usually. But singing with one hand in my ear is no fun, and that's what I had to do tonight in order to improve my pitch precision. Another way to improve stay in tune is to always wear an ear-plug. Performing with a plug in my ear is not much fun I feel like I'm in a different room from the rest of the band. But maybe I will get used to it after a while. Boris gave me a lift on the way home it was a dangerous ride because the brakes on his car were faulty and sometimes when he had to stop at a red light, he couldn't stop in time because of the faulty brakes. But we didn't crash.
Flash animation roll your mouse on it then off it then on it again
It's been a busy, busy week in which I went out every night for one reason or another. On Tuesday night I had a practice with my Pink Floyd Tribute band, and we auditioned another drummer, but it didn't go very late and I was able to get home in time to watch the second last episode of Buffy and then to do some work on my painting. I bought a new paint-brush on Monday, a tiny one, which means I can work on a whole new level of intricate detail. And that's what I did this week fine details in the painting of the girl's face, arms, and hair.
The band Jamiroquai has a ten year history of making funky dance music I bought their album "Travelling Without Moving" in 1997 after I heard one of their mellow songs on the radio, and I noticed that they had some good ideas about musical texture and chord sequences. More recently I found their album "A Funk Odyssey" in the secondhand shop so I decided to buy that too. Listening to it, I noticed that their songs are very well structured and they use those infectious danceable disco grooves better than most bands. Some of their lyrics are lacking in depth, although I recall they wrote that song called "Virtual Insanity" which is like an anti-technology song I don't agree with it, but you've got to admire them for having a social conscience.
This Wednesday I went to the karaoke and it felt different in some ways because for the first time there was a banner up the front behind the stage which said "Extreme Karaoke" and there were other new decorations like a transluscent fabric structure covering one part of the room. It was a highly active night so I sang just one song, "All Over You" by Live. I sang it mostly okay but I hadn't studied the song in detail beforehand so I didn't get all the little melody bits that change from chorus to chorus. I doubt if many people in the audience noticed.
Historical photo of the week:
Stephen Clark, 20 years old.
Everyone's talking about that new reality television show, Australian Idol. It's a show where people have to sing in front of judges, and the one who sings the best gets a recording contract. I'm not very interested in this program but I watched part of the first episode thousands of people all around Australia competed in the initial stages. Some of them were good, others were bad, and the judges said some insulting things to the ones who were bad. I wish I could have participated in that first stage of selection they probably wouldn't have picked me, but it would have been fun. And sometimes this show is entertaining because we get to listen to talented singers and feel good for them as they succeed. But you know where it's going the winner will become a "pop star", and pop music is stupid. So I can feel my interest waning already.