Angie Reilly and I initially connected via an online blues related forum back about 16/17 years ago. She informed me of her very proactive efforts in raising awareness in Grafton and WI, in general, of the importance of Paramount Records. The history, influence and ONGOING impact and legacy of Paramount Records was lost to the people of the Grafton area.
In her efforts to raise awareness of the ‘city fathers’ and the citizens, young and old, regarding Paramount’s worldwide fame amongst blues music fans she arranged to bring me to Grafton to meet with the city council and inform them, as an ‘outsider’, of the important culturally legacy and esteem that Grafton’s Paramount Records is held by the international blues community.
At that time, Ms. Reilly also arranged for me to present blues music and Grafton/Paramount history presentations/programs to in the schools to ALL of the public school students in Grafton. I was happy to oblige her request to come to Grafton and help her with her most worthwhile efforts in honoring Paramount Records, Grafton, and the many iconic blues musicians who recorded in Grafton.
The positive and enduring results of her/our efforts are quite obvious: Grafton honors its Paramount blues music legacy with a permanent Paramount Walk of Fame as the featured aspect of the Grafton City Center, and an annual blues music, The Paramount Blues Festival, festival grew out of the ‘rediscovered’ legacy of Paramount Records in Grafton, WI.
You will find my personal article documenting our efforts to raise the citizens of the Grafton area’s awareness about the important and eternal legacy of Paramount Records in Grafton … as well as a link to my article documenting our mutual work in bringing the Paramount Walk of Fame into reality:
“Embracing The Legacy Of The Blues / From the South To The North – Part 2. Grafton, WI and Paramount Records”By Michael “Hawkeye” Herman http://www.hawkeyeherman.com/pdf/14_EmbracingTheLegacy_Pt.2.pdf to raise the citizens of the Grafton area’s awareness about the important and eternal legacy of Paramount Records in Grafton.
Pitched the idea of a Paramount Blues Festival to the Cedarburg Cultural Center, Grafton Area Live Arts and the Grafton Jaycees. Provided initial groundwork, education, networking, planning and marketing for the festival. Co-managed the historical tent in the first year.
“When Angela Mack first approached me in late 2004 with her Chronic Creativity excerpts, I found her ingenious way of describing the condition Chronic Creativity in diagnostic terms metaphorically apt.
It didn’t take long into reading about the first symptom, Claustrophobia, that I realized Angela possessed a perspective on “being perpetually creative” that I identified with. She gave the state of creative lucidity I’ve been experiencing almost daily since I left my corporate job in 2000 a name that fit so well: Chronic Creativity.
I found each of Angela’s subsequent Chronic Creativity excerpts not only engaging, but also insightful. As an accomplished teacher, musician, composer, and artist, Angela writes from a place of living the dynamic creative mind, and witnessing its fruit in those she guides. Her enthusiasm is contagious, to say the least.
So many ideas and much discussion can come out of Angela’s Chronic Creativity excerpts. Not wanting to miss out on an opportunity to express my own thoughts, I’ll note my impressions on Creative Slush as each excerpt is published on the Creativity Portal. “
There is something inside all of us that yearns to express our deepest emotions in song. The blues is a genre that provides a lot of freedom of expression despite one’s musical background. The blues has traditionally been music that is, first off, authentic and secondly, full of color. As a vocal instructor, I wish to highlight on these issues as well as other essentials to singing.
Some of the best songs sung are from personal experience. Think of those songs that you love to sing to and think about how they relate to your personal life. Sometimes, the songs may be songs of real experience and other times, they may be songs that fulfill a gap. For example, there might be a song that you love whose main message is about being poor. You love the song because you can relate to being poor. This is a song of real experience. On the other hand, you may be one without a true lover and songs about passionate romance might be your thing. They fulfill a need to something lacking in your life. The singer has to personally relate to the song that they are singing. The singer must be able to read, respond to, and communicate the lyrics of the song effectively. In that sense, the singer is often an actor.
Aside from relating to the song, the primary mechanics of singing must be recognized when singing effectively. One of the first exercises that I have my private vocal students do is to lie on their back on the floor. I coach them to place their hands on their belly and pretend to go to sleep. As soon as they relax, they find that their belly rises slowly and rhythmically with each breath. This is the diaphragm and the “powerhouse” from which one’s vocals should spring forth. Singers of all genres need to know how to tap into this wellspring.
Make it Colorful
This leads me to explain that an effective singer must provide what is called “color” to the song. Any great piece of art contains contrast. In my opinion, the greater the contrast, the greater the art is. In singing, this means to be quiet when the lyrics call for quietness and to belt out with gut wrenching passion the words that mean the most. Provide contrast within the song. Perhaps sing some parts with a lazy enunciation then other parts with clear cut and thought provoking speaking. Make the quiets as quiet as you can and then surprise everyone with your loudest statements in song.
Next, the human voice is an instrument. Every instrument is influenced by its size, shape, and material. Some of us have this working for us. Others of us have a real challenge. Let’s say you nail down how to use you “powerhouse” (diaphragm singing). Excellent! But if you are burdened by physical ailments such as asthma or allergies, your sound might naturally become restricted. Likewise, if you have a small mouth or throat, you may have a tougher time belting out the notes that you want to. A full and big sound requires an “instrument” that is free of constrictions (which are what allergies and asthma do) and size limitations (such as mouth and throat size). The goal is to be able to have the capabilities of being open and loud when the proper time warrants. Sometimes, human anatomy can get in the way. I have had vocal students who nailed down their diaphragm breathing yet had chronically swollen tonsils which completely defeated the purpose of loud singing. Remember, the goal is to have the capacity to be open. If you struggle with any of the above, you may have a more difficult time reaching depths of “color”. Please consult your doctor to see if these issues can be resolved.
Further, in regards to tone, blues singers often have that “rough and raspy” tone that naturally comes from drinking and smoking. Please know that these attributes can be learned without damaging the rest of your body. You can learn how to constrict the throat while singing and achieve similar effects without creating other health issues. This requires practice and experimentation.
Pitch, for the adult, is a little more challenging to nail down. It is said that all babies are born with the capabilities to sing on pitch. What we are exposed to as infants, toddlers, and preschoolers can influence the rest of our musical lives. Basically, you have your parents to thank or curse for your sense of pitch. Adults with pitch issues should try to experiment with or take lessons on the piano. Listening to a lot of music also helps the musical ear. If you are an adult and can’t sing on pitch, you have your work cut out for you. Remember, there are always exceptions to the rule. But overall, you need to invest in private instrument lessons and intentionally listen to a lot of different styles of music.
Enunciation is another aspect of singing that must be addressed. Usually, classical singers and musical theater singers learn the art of diction. However, in the blues genre, diction isn’t a high priority. Obviously, you want your audience to understand your words. In which case, vowels sung with the mouth three fingers up and down are a great starting point gauge. “T”s and “D”s are often neglected. Overall, my biggest exhortation to my students is “Open your mouth!” I find that opening ones mouth is very difficult for many. Most are shy and aren’t used to such displays of openness. Not only should the singer open the mouth up and down but also wide at times. “Wide mouth enunciation” brightens the tone and allows for more natural volume.
In closing, “some things are better caught than taught”. Put on that song of your favorite singer and listen. Ask yourself, “Why do I like this song? What is the singer doing that I like? What are the words about? What contrast is in this song? How is the enunciation? Is it lazy or clear? Are the notes correct? Can I sing effectively along?”
My gut is that everyone can sing. Hopefully, I gave you some things to think about. Feel free to contact me at angie@ozaukeet alent.com if you have more questions.
by Angie Mack Reilly written in January 2019 and published on 8.8.20
Especially In this age of artificial intelligence (AI), we need to take another look at the universal language of music. It is an essential component to any culture. The question is, will we embrace all that the gift of music has to offer?
I often tell my private music students that singing and playing an instrument is a sport. I know that, in Wisconsin, we value sports. Musicianship requires rigorous training and mastery over the muscles involved. Because of that, it is considered a “discipline” which takes patience and time. I consider myself a “personal trainer” for musicians of all ages.
After working with thousands of youth over past few decades, I am very concerned that our children are not expressing themselves and innovating as much as they are capable of. “The screens” are robbing them of these two very essential components. Weekly music lessons keep that creative expression alive and spark innovation. Our children are going to have to compete with artificial intelligence (AI). How will they do that? With creative communication, expression, intuition and innovation.
I am the most passionate about people coming together to creatively collaborate. The acronym for team is “together everyone achieves more”. That is why I am involved with so many different music events. Music events create a sense of belonging and are vital for the good health of any culture. Simply put, music events improve our quality of life in Ozaukee County and give us a sense of community.
On the morning of January 10, the cast and crew of NSAA’s Elf Jr. will be featured on Real Milwaukee with Brian Kramp of Fox 6 . Children will get to experience first-hand why improvisation and confidence are essential skills in the television industry.
There needs to be a way for funds to trickle down to the artists themselves. Sadly, this is not happening in our county as much as it should be. The arts scene in Grafton is struggling. I dream of a day when artists and musicians can be adequately compensated for their contributions. I applaud Cedarburg for how much they value the arts with their dollars. In my opinion, this directly results in educational, economic and cultural success.
Can I be frank and say that kids who grow up with the arts as a vital part of their upbringing do not grow up and shoot other people? There is a cure for mass violence. It’s a preventative cure and it’s called the arts. The arts industry naturally teaches an awareness and appreciation for human life and the human experience.
Isolation and disconnect make emotional and mental imbalances even worse. I have used the arts my entire life as a means of coping with childhood trauma and combating depression and anxiety. Socializing and connecting with others does not come naturally to me. I have to work really hard at it. The bulk of my friendships began while working on arts projects with others. The arts provide a place of belonging. The arts can help re-wire a traumatized brain and provide a place of human connection which is also known to help with addiction.
Pure and simple. We need to get busy mentoring the next generation in the arts. And Wisconsin communities need to be financially and generously supportive. Innovation and creative communication need more priority and respect in the business world.
FOR CONSULTING, WORKSHOPS AND SPEAKING: email@example.com
Have you ever seen the show, “Who’s Line is it Anyway?”
It’s an improvisational comedy television show. One feature is that the actors are asked to make up comedic lyrics and a melody on the spot while a band plays music that they’ve never heard before. NOT an easy task!
I have always marveled at the show’s actors’ ability to do this. Decades of teaching music and drama has taught me that improvisation requires a heightened sensitivity and a rapid mind. Improvisation is done without any preparation. It requires having a wealth of knowledge to pull from as well as a bravado of spirit.
This is why I like to listen to jazz. In my opinion, jazz is one of the most difficult and advanced musical art foms to master. Why? Because of the improvisation. Likewise, stand-up comedy. It requires a high skill level of improvisation that is extremely difficult.
Like I was saying. Very few people have this high level of skill that entails composing music, creating lyrics and creating a melody on the spot.
Ben Merens has this skill.
Having been in journalism for over 30 years, Ben is somewhat of a celebrity in the Milwaukee area. Most people know him as the longtime radio host for Wisconsin Public Radio’s At Issue With Ben Merens on the Ideas Network.
As a live radio host, Ben has had to improvise on every program. He has literally spoken on thousands of shows without a full script. Again, not many people can do this.
I find it fascinating that Ben has taken this strongly exercised skill of improvisation and has applied it to music.
Ben came over to record some music recently and met my son Joshua for the first time. Within minutes of meeting Joshua, Ben created a comedic song complete with lyrics, melody and music. The song played on the ironic fact that Joshua is a baker who cannot eat gluten. Check it out.
“Yes. God must have a sense of humor you see. When a baker cannot eat gluten. I think that’s God’s stand-up comedy.” – Ben Merens
Ben explained to me that all of his experience in radio has taught him amazing focus and mindfulness. He is a keen listener which can be a rare commodity in today’s self-centered and busy world. In fact, Ben has written a book called People Are Dying to Be Heard. He is an experienced keynote speaker on the topic of communication. He conducts workshops that help people and organizations find their unique story or voice. His ability to understand people also fuels his ability to create on-the-spot songs.
“And the only constant in life is change. And we all must be willing to rearrange” – Ben Merens lyric from One Hundred Voices
People who have the ability to improvise are highly adaptable. They quickly adjust. They are keenly sensitive. Aware. Flexible toward change. Adaptability knows how to feed an audience while feeding off of the audience. Because no two audiences are the same, you will find that no two versions of Ben’s songs are the same. He adjusts the song to fit the environment.
Forget buying mood lighting at a party. Hire Ben to come and entertain your guests in a way that they won’t ever forget! I’m serious! Hire him to speak or sing at your place of worship, school, workplace or event. Ben has a long track record of connecting with audiences of all demographics.
The Background and the Vision
Ben and I recently started connecting after a music event that we both attended in Cedarburg. The more I have gotten to know him, the more I have appreciated what a gem of a human being he is. Ben loves people. Pure and simple. And he uses his talents to help others in a variety of creative ways. We have a similiar intuitive, improvisational and heartfelt manner in which we share our talents with others. We both understand adaptability or, as I like to call it, fluidity. Ben recently invited me talk with him about creativity on his Riverwest Radio show called Just Talking. You can listen to the link below.
Because of how creatively compatible we are, I thought that it would be great to work on a creative project with Ben. Since we both love networking, I thought that we should invite others who want to join us. It’s a bit improvisational. The musicians and singers will have to be adaptable. But we want to communicate a message as a performance public art piece. Not perfect. But heartfelt. Because a lot of people need a glimmer of light right now. Please join us.
100 Voices: Public Performance Art
WHO: Calling 100 Musicians and Singers for “One Hundred Voices Jiant Jam” (a Flash Mob type performance) Don’t worry. Nobody’s making anyone dance. (lol)
WHAT: We will be performing “One Hundred Voices” written by radio personality Ben Merens(listen to the track above….lyrics are in the comments). This song was inspired by the book 100 Voices: Americans Talk About Change by Mary M. Clare. Mary traveled the nation asking diverse people what change meant to them. Ben wrote the song upon meeting the author.
Event has been cancelled and will hopefully be rescheduled due to Covid-19 crisis
WHEN:Sunday March 22nd, arrive no later than noon. Performance will be videotaped/recorded at 12:30pm. By participating, you are agreeing to be on film, audio recording, social media, television, etc….Rain date of Sunday March 29, same times. Try to gather in the cul de sac just south of the giant piano Walk of Fame when you arrive.
WHERE:Paramount Plaza Walk of Fame in downtown Grafton (outside of Atlas BBQ)
HOW: We will rehearse the song at noon under the musical direction of Angie Mack Reilly. Looking for acoustic instruments such as acoustic guitars, hand drums, voices, violins, saxophones, etc….Please have the song memorized and rehearsed before arriving
WHY: We want to raise awareness about the ripple effect that “one voice” has and how music continues to be a unifying, meaningful and valuable tool to bring people together. This is an attempt to raise awareness about the musicians who recorded for the Paramount record label.
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