June 17, 2015
I’ve written a short article examining the music in the new “Do You Know A Muffin Man” commercial that’s been broadcasting recently. It’s written for more of a general audience than what you find on IPAP, but I thought that many of you might be interested nonetheless. It’s cross-posted from my personal blog: 12-Tone Telephone. If any of you feel moved to make comments, please do so there.
Rhythm and Message in America’s Hottest Spot
Abstract: Thumbtack’s “Do You Know A Muffin Man” distinguishes itself by using an old-fashioned jingle to present its message. While it does an undeniably excellent job at communicating Thumbtack’s brand promise, certain details of the music’s rhythm inhibit Thumbtack’s product identity from being efficiently impressed upon the viewer. In this essay, I will attempt to answer the following questions: 1) Why is it hard to acquire and retain Thumbtack’s identity? 2) Is there an easy fix for this problem, and 3) Are there principles embedded in this solution that can be applied to future projects outside of Thumbtack?
Meeting the Muffin Man
As we enter Mid-June of 2015, Thumbtack’s new “Do You Know A Muffin Man” is easily my favorite broadcast advertisment of the moment. Its jaunty music, sympathetic plotlines, and friendly wit all combine to make for an engaging and memorable 30-second spot in which a variety of hapless do-it-yourselfers turn their small tragedies into small triumphs with the help of the professional service providers found through the Thumbtack app.
Based on my experience as a viewer, ‘Muffin Man’ is clearly an attention-grabber that does an excellent job at educating the viewer about Thumbtack’s brand promise. The situations the characters find themselves in are highly amusing yet also highly relatable. I can immediately understand the types of problems in my life that this app will solve. However… after three or four viewings of the spot, I realized that I still had little to no idea of the product identity. That is, I knew there was an app that would fix my lights, my deck, and my life, but I didn’t really know that it was called Thumbtack.
Why is this? After thinking about it, I believe that the reason it was difficult for me to process and retain Thumbtack’s product identity stems from some extremely specific interactions between the words and rhythms of the jingle.
December 2, 2014
After a long, lazy break, the second part of the inclusion series fell right into my lap. I was planning on moving on to another topic in inclusion when my Oliver Sacks’ newsletter appeared in my inbox. His book, Seeing Voices, was the topic this morning.
There are two short items to share here:
First, watch this 15 year old boys transformation – when the light bulb goes on and he can communicate through sign language for the first time. His epiphanic moment can’t help but bring a smile to your day.
The trailer is though-provoking and I sincerely hope this project gets the funding it needs.
I wish you all well and hope these posts allow us all to reflect on our precious senses that we use every day.
September 22, 2014
While I was teaching flute to a student with a hearing impairment, I became more aware of the flute under my fingers as being warm. Warmth from my breath, and putting warmth into a room took on another dimension. Breathing warmth and life into the music became my focus.
I became more intrigued when I learned about Gallaudet University – “the world’s only university with programs and services specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing students” This first video talks about the design innovations to the buildings and classrooms. They focus on space, visibility and soft lighting.
I found this video, without sound, to be a clear teacher. I suppose nothing else needs to be said as to the experience of watching this.
Not all of us assume music is only to be heard. Recently, I took my family to see the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus and was so moved by the work of LeWana Clark. LeWana is on staff of the choir and gives musically meaningful sign language interpretations during their concerts.
Do any of you have more you can share about inclusion of the deaf community in music?
It’s a conversation often not held.
September 30, 2013
A bassoonist friend of mine suggested that you all might be interested in this recent article by Sarah Robinson of Classical Revolution and noted critic Greg Sandow. It discusses a wide range of topics, but primarily focuses on how to adapt your music and performance style to different types of venues and the pros and cons of performing in alternative spaces.
September 25, 2013
Although things have been quiet around here recently, there are some exciting features that will be coming in the next few weeks, including an interview with a very special guest who will of great interest to most of you.
In the meantime, have some fun with this fantastic web page called “Boil The Frog”. It creates a playlist that will connect (almost) any two artists. For example, I’ve had great luck connecting Guillaume de Machaut to Katy Perry, and John Williams to the Pet Shop Boys. You can find it here:
June 4, 2013
Having been immersed in studying pedagogy for the past 8 years, I’ve been unravelling the mystery of what worked and what didn’t. I had always been a good, dutiful student, but I needed to transcend this in order to become an autonomous musician. I’m starting a short series of essays on this process here.
This post focuses on auditions.
Below is a letter on behalf of musicians, past and present, who experienced this approach to audition preparation.
Dear master teachers,
When we come to your master class, we are a room full of passionate people who would die for music. We are no yet finished paintings, but we love music to the core of our beings. We come because we want it so badly. We are hungry for advice and hang onto every word you say. For instance, at a master class that I attended back in the day, a teacher made a recommendation in passing, an innocuous one, that we eat a banana before an audition. Six months later, word had gotten out and there was not a single auditionee in the warmup room that was banana-less. It was as if the banana became a the magic food that would calm our nerves, create refined musicianship and repair faulty technique. The passing comment became an irrefutable truth. We heard banana and we came with bananas. I’m not for or against the banana but I think this illustrates the craving we have for advice and the respect we have for you.
We’ve been micro-managed. We’ve been told exactly where and how to play everything. How loud, how soft, how long, how short, how everything. We’ve been told what to think, when to breathe, before and during an audition. We prepare with metronomes and tuners. We prepare with pianists. We study recordings and scores. Your teaching, an unfortunate consequence of its nature, touches a childlike, subservient place in us. You teach us what to eat and how to breathe.
What we haven’t been given is freedom. We rarely hear about autonomy. We haven’t been taught that the audition is a comfortable a place, a private space. We haven’t been taught that an audition is a place where you can let spontaneous musical expression happen. We haven’t been taught that an audition can inspire musicianship and bring out new ideas, even experimentation. We’ve been taught to have a plan and to strategize.
In German, they say, “lass es passieren” or, let it happen. This isn’t the American idea of letting go, as in letting go of attachment to the outcome. It is an active space of letting ideas happen: allowing for a spontaneous new ornament or seeing a phrase in a new way. We’ve all felt energized when we’ve been able to perform this way and as listeners, we cherish this in live performances. We can move from auditions that are well executed to auditions that are alive.
To all of the teachers, please allow me to show you how differently the audition looks without you. I can, even through a closed door, hear the musical plan. I can see the desire, the nerves, the effort to clam the nerves, the strategy. I can hear the strategy. What was missing was you. You weren’t there inspiring us. There aren’t genuine smiles. There’s not even nervous laughter that comes when we stand up to play for you. I didn’t see joy. I didn’t see fun.
Can I ask you a favor? I am too old and too far out of school for this to apply to me, but can you encourage independence? Can you treat them as artists and help them develop their own voice? Can you teach them to support each other? Can you honor their musical ideas, even debate them?
To the students who have read along, can you change things yourselves? Can you can change the mood of an audition and make it a party. Can you make it like it is in the summer master class? In those classes, you support each other, get new ideas and come through changed. Can you huddle around the door and clap for the person who comes out. Can that person then bow, proud of having taken another step along the path?
Please, if you dare to try this, let me know! I’d love to see this somber audition mood transformed. I’d love to see you play better for having been there.
Thanks everybody! Thanks for reading. This is a letter and therefore welcomes replies.