Child Star Who Charmed a Generation: Shirley Temple

Your Weekly Listen for Tuesday, October 14 is the unmistakeable Shirley Temple!

This song is an excerpt from a film called “Curly Top”, about a little orphan girl named Elizabeth. First, a bit about the social context of the film. In the early 1900s, America had close to a thousand so-called “orphanages”, housing as many as 100,000 children, although perhaps no more than 1/5 of the children they contained were actual orphans. Many had living parents who were just too poor to support them. Orphanages had a reputation for being highly regimented: Children had to wear uniforms, and were required to march to meals and eat in silence. Corporal punishment was common. Fortunately, by the 1930s, orphanages had fallen out of favor in the public eye and President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed legislation to give public aid to indigent families so that poor children could stay at home with their parents. So this film reflected the progressive attitudes of the time.

Shirley Temple was one of America’s very first child stars and is widely considered to be the most popular child star of all time. Born in 1928, she was discovered by a film producer at the age of 3, appearing in a series of “baby burlesks”, (short films featuring toddlers). From there she went on to appear in many Hollywood blockbuster hits in the 1930s. She continued to appear in films into her 20s and then retired from show business to pursue a successful career in public service. Shirley was a U.S. Representative to the United Nations, the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Ghana, the first woman to be U.S. Chief of Protocol, during Gerald Ford’s administration, and the U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia. She also had three children and a long happy marriage to Charles Black, a former Naval Officer. She died of natural causes at the age of 85.

As a performer, Shirley was primarily and actress and a dancer (you can see how expressive she was, and easily understand why so many audiences fell in love with her adorable, cheerful performances). Obviously she was a competent singer too, but she possessed no extraordinary musical ability. Her appeal lay primarily in her sincere and engaging countenance. Though just a child, she came across as being very warm, down-to-earth and happy-go-lucky. If there is one thing musical performers of any age can learn from her, it may be that unless you are in a punk or hard rock band, or some other musical style that prides itself on expressing anger or indifference, audiences generally respond best to performers who can reach out and relate to them on their level. I believe Shirley Temple did this exceptionally well, and it may also account for her great success as an international diplomat.



Revolutionary Acoustic Guitarist Playing Double-Necked Guitar: Michael Hedges

Your weekly listen for October 7-14 is the legendary Michael Hedges. A trained classical multi-instrumentalist, he is best known for his percussive acoustic guitar style, and influenced musicians such noteworthy musicians as Pete Townsend, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Cosby, Stills and Nash. The techniques he used – alternative tunings, two-handed tapping, slap harmonics and use of unique guitars such as the harp guitar he plays here – all existed before in separate musical realms, but by bringing together these and other elements, he developed his own very unique style. Since his tragic and untimely death in 1997, a generation of acoustic guitarists have followed in his footsteps. Andy McKee and Jason Kertson, featured in last week’s blog post, were certainly both influenced by Michael Hedges. Had Michael lived longer, I’m sure his music and his name would be more widely known. As it is, he is legendary among guitarists and revered by a small but fiercely loyal fan base.

Let’s look at just one of Michael’s distinctive techniques: right-hand tapping. This is where the player takes the right hand, usually reserved for strumming and picking, and brings it up on the fretboard. This technique has existed for centuries in folk and classical music, and has also been explored in North America by guitar pioneers such as Dave Bunker, the developer of the Touch Guitar, and Emmett Chapman, who invented the “Chapman Stick” (both electric instruments). The right-hand tapping technique was later popularized in the heavy metal sphere by Eddie Van Halen. However, Michael Hedges was the first modern acoustic guitarist to utilize right-hand tapping extensively throughout his music, and he used it in a very different way. Heavy metal guitarists employ tapping mainly to get as many notes out as fast as possible. Michael used the technique to layer the music, playing bass (low notes) and melody (the tune) at the same time, which resulted in a much fuller and more complex musical tapestry. People have described Michael’s playing as being more like an “orchestra” than like one man playing a guitar.

I mentioned that right hand tapping had its origins in folk and classical music from centuries ago. Here is an example of a technique known as selpe on a Turkish instrument called the baglama. (The selpe starts about 1:15 in.) The artist is Kemal Alacayir. The style he plays is Turkish classical music, and as you can see, selpe is the exact same thing as the right hand tapping used by guitarists playing modern styles.


Teen Guitar Prodigy Plays Two Guitars at Once: Jason Kertson!

Your weekly listen for 9/28/2014 is Jason Kertson of Seattle, WA. Now seventeen years old, Jason began learning to play the guitar at age 7 and began performing in coffee houses and other venues when he was 9. Here he presents an instrumental piece by guitarist Andy McKee entitled “Drifting” on two guitars, using one guitar for bass and percussion and the other for melody.

This piece isn’t actually all that technically hard to play in terms of requiring a lot of hand strength or speed. However, it does involve a lot of hand and rhythmic co-ordination. Both hands are doing a lot of different kinds of movements simultaneously. If you can pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time, you’ll be off to a good start on “Drifting”. This kind of co-ordination just takes patience and practice to develop.

For intermediate or advanced guitar students, there’s a great breakdown of how to play this piece on one guitar below. Fortunately, Andy McKee, the composer who generously posted this instructional video of his own tune, was a guitar teacher before he became a full-time touring performer, so he does a superb job of explaining it in relatively easy terms. Note: Andy’s guitar here is in DADGAD tuning, as opposed to the standard guitar tuning EADGBE. For whatever reason, Jason’s version on two guitars is actually in DADGAD flat (which would be Db, Ab, Db, Gb, Ab, Db).

I haven’t learned to play this piece, but after studying both these videos, I’ve concluded the reason Jason decided to do it on two guitars was probably to address the problem of having his hands run into each other on the guitar neck (which Andy discusses at around 5:13 in the instructional video). I haven’t been able to figure out any other advantage to doing it this way, although of course it looks like a super badass guitar stunt in a video (and I’m not saying it’s not)!

Jason Kertson plays in and around Seattle quite a bit. Keep your eye on his facebook page for his next upcoming performance:

Andy McKee hails from Topeka, KS, and now tours internationally. He’s coming to Benaroya Hall on December 11. Buy tickets or check out his full tour schedule here:!tour/c1yk3
(Special note for guitar nerds: His website features dozens of tabs also! Check it out.)

Kudos to both these gentlemen for some very fine acoustic offerings.

– Charlotte


Nine-Year-Old Country Singer Kicks It Out of the Park: Emi Sunshine!

Your Weekly Listen for the week of 9/22/14 is Emi Sunshine, a remarkable nine-year-old country singer and ukelele player. Here she is on the Today Show:

A note about the music: this song is actually called “Little Weeping Willow”. not “Blue Yodel #6”. If you listen closely, you’ll hear her quickly making that correction before the song starts. “Little Weeping Willow” is an original song by her band, and it’s on her most recent album “Black Sunday’35”. The “Blue Yodels” are a series of songs written and recorded by Jimmie Rodgers.

Now before everyone starts ooh-ing and aah-ing about her “natural born talent”, I’m gonna stop you right there. As far as her musical chops (that’s music slang for skill level), what she’s doing here is not at all beyond what any average nine-year-old kid could do with the right kind of support and encouragement. I’ve taught kids for 10 years, and if your nine-year-old can apply herself and practice, I could certainly teach her to sing and play this song. It isn’t hard, just a few simple chords and notes on a ukelele (which is the easiest stringed instrument to play and a great one for kids to start on). The melody is simple too.

What’s impressive about Emi is her great sense of rhythm, confident command of her voice, and a ton of personal style and showmanship. All these qualities come of playing a lot and being in an environment where she hears people making music around her. Her dad, brother and uncle are all musicians, and two of her grandmothers were gospel singers. I’m sure her house is full of music pretty much all the time. She’s been listening since she was a baby, and as soon as she could talk, she was probably encouraged to participate in sing-a-longs and jam sessions in her own living room. Of course, the most essential element that will determine a child’s musical ability is his or her own passion for music. There is much parents and teachers can do to cultivate and support a child’s own initiative, but perhaps what I love best about watching and listening to Emi is the sense of joy she imparts through her performance. I get the feeling that she is the driving force behind her own music, and kudos to her family for supporting and encouraging her!

Parents, this seems like a great opportunity to remind you that you don’t have to be a great musician to be a great musical role model. If you can sing a song and put your heart into it, if you can strum or plunk out even a couple of chords on the guitar or piano and stomp your foot along in something resembling a steady beat, you’ll be sending your kids the message that singing and playing music is fun, and they can do it, too. Too many kids grow up hiding and suppressing their voices because they see their parents doing the same thing. They internalize messages like “I can’t sing” or “I don’t have a good voice”. Sure, Emi Sunshine had two great gospel-singing grandmothers singing her to sleep as a baby. But you don’t need to be a gospel singer for your baby to love hearing a lullaby. I imagine that the biggest musical gift Emi gets from her family is the message that making music is easy and natural. When you hear her sing, it’s clear that this child doesn’t even understand the concept of being ashamed or embarrassed about her voice. That’s an idea she’s never been exposed to – and that I wish no child had ever been exposed to! Contrary to popular belief, great singers are great because they are liberated from fear and shame about their voices, not the other way around. Of course, mastering your voice, or any instrument, still requires practice, but you’ll find that practice goes about 1000 times more easily when you’re not burdened by emotional baggage about the sounds you’re making.

Let’s take a look at Emi’s musical influences. The Dolly Parton influence is obvious (if you don’t know who Dolly Parton is, kids, definitely look her up.) Emi also mentions Mac Ferris and Buddy Miller. Here’s Buddy Miller performing at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. I was quite taken both with the song (“All My Tears”, written by his wife Julie Miller) and his performance of it. I definitely hear the same kind of unreserved, raw feeling in his singing style that Emi conveys so well.

Til next week – Keep Listening – and Keep Singing!



Amazing Beatbox Flute Player: Greg Patillo!

Your weekly listen for the week of September 15 is Greg Patillo, a native of Seattle, now touring internationally with his mesmerizing combination of beatbox and flute:

Greg started putting beatbox and flute together when he was busking in the subways in New York. (A former busker myself, I have extra respect for someone who got his start playing on the street and subsequently rose to greatness!) And yes, he is really making all those sounds with just his mouth and his flute!

Several folks I showed this video too postulated that one of Greg’s musical influences was likely Ian Anderson, the lead singer, writer and flautist from the legendary folk-prog-rock band Jethro Tull, (“right down to the eyebrows”, one friend observed).

So, let’s take a listen to Ian Anderson next, performing live in 1976. Right around the 53 second mark I do believe you can catch your first glimpse of the signature maniacal raised eyebrow. Keep listening and you’ll hear a fantastic array of sounds and see a whole lot more wild facial expressions. What a great performer!

Cool, huh? You can see the similarity. Two great artists, two musical generations. One picked up on the style of the other, and at the same time, took his music to a whole new place with the incorporation of modern beatboxing. So your message for the day, music students, is don’t be afraid to emulate artists you admire (imitation is after all the highest form of flattery), and especially, don’t be afraid to explore a direction that is totally new and different.

Even cooler: Greg Patillo comes to the Northwest this November. He has shows confirmed in Eugene, Portland and Walla Walla, WA. Chances are he’ll be adding some more dates and will try to book something in Seattle, so keep your eye on his tour schedule here:

‘Til next week – keep listening!

Charlotte Thistle

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