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THE GREATEST GIG

While itís a privilege to play a gig for any audience, regardless of the numbers, some gigs will be a true honor, even for an audience of one.  I was called by the palliative care unit of the Providence VA.  They asked me to come in and spend some time and play for a Viet Nam veteran with no more then a couple days left to his life.  My answer was yes.  It was an early morning conversation, I asked what time theyíd like me to be there, they said 11am, and I told them Iíd be there.  When I arrived they told me of his life, his military service and family situation, and his condition.  They told me that because of his condition he might not always know Iím there.  I entered his room, dressed formally in dress pants, shirt and tie with my guitar.  We were introduced, and exchanged a few appropriate words of greetings.  I told him I played guitar, he acknowledged my words, and I said ďlet me play you somethingĒ.  I stayed standing so he wouldnít have to strain to see me should he decide to look over at me.  I put my foot up on a chair, the guitar on my leg and got to work.  I played Amazing Grace; he was in and out of consciousness.  I went into Somewhere Over The Rainbow and spoke to him at the end.  I noticed a large pencil sketch of an early baseball game hanging on the wall.  I thought it possible that it was put there to surround him with joys of his life in his final days, so I played Take Me Out To The Ball Game.  He went into distress, and the medical staff came in to attend him, and I left the room so as not to intrude on his dignity.  My gig was done now.  Amongst thankyous of appreciation from the medical staff, I said my good byes. 
      
To this day, it remains the most honored gig of my life.  To be there in the final days of this manís life.  Knowing that the last thing he may take from this world was the sound of my guitar playing.  Right there, in that room, a man who fought for this country bestowed on me the honor of his presence.  An honor I humbly accepted with great gratitude.  My honored audience of one.    


THE ROLE OF THE TEACHER

The role of the teacher is to inspire and encourage the student. The student should never be made to feel as though they donít live up to the teacherís expectations. If the student does not achieve the desired results, the teacher needs to fully consider their own failing in guiding the student in their quest. As long as the student is earnest in their devotion to the cause, itís the teacherís responsibility to get them there.


The teacher must recognize the studentís strengths and weaknesses. The teacher should use the studentís strengths to overcome the weaknesses. Whether itís rhythmic, melodic or harmonic in nature, the strengths in any of these areas can be used to overcome the weaknesses in any of the others. Itís simple, start with one note and add to it.
The teacher is in the position of not only sharing a subject that is dear to their heart, but also helping to further that subject by teaching the students that will take it into the future.


ABOUT IMPROVISATION

My approach to improvisation is simple. Thereís only one scale, the chromatic scale. All the others are in that one scale. If you apply and use the notes from the chromatic scale, you will have full range to express yourself musically. But along with teaching how all the notes apply, students must also learn about the vocabulary that is built into the tune already. The rhythmic and intervallic characteristics of the tune go along with the notes chosen to be used. And all the information you need is already in the tune. No one plays any notes that we havenít heard already. But why does Parker sound like Parker and Coltrane sound like Coltrane? Often times Iíll talk with someone from chord-scale theory background, and theyíll justify their approach by lining up notes from a Parker solo and saying ďsee, Parker used this scale thereĒ, and Iíll say ďso all you have to do is use that scale and youíll sound like Parker, right? Of course they answer ďnoĒ. Because they line up the notes from chord to chord and give them scale names they miss the ideas from one end to another of phrase to phrase that goes on throughout the solo. Itís as if theyíre reading Shakespeare and saying ďso whatís the big deal, itís just a bunch of wordsĒ. Well Shakespeare may be using words that are from the same dictionary that you and I use, but listen to the way he uses those words.

To play over any harmony, the chromatic scale can be divided in to three categoriesí, chord tones, upper extensions and passing tones. The chord tones of a chord define the harmony specifically and tend to be stagnant against the chord of the moment. If you use only chord tones in your solo youíll never be wrong, but it might not be the hippest solo in the world. Upper extensions are taught in their relationship to the chord tones and the way they resolve. I teach the student to hear the pull toward and away from the chord of the moment using upper extensions. The rest of the notes of the chromatic scale are used over any chord as passing tones, leading from chord tone to chord tone, or chord tone to upper extension or vice versa. But these notes can also be used, with or without upper extensions, to create an in and out effect harmonically in relationship to the chord of the moment. All of this theory is added to an analysis of the tune involved, the overall shape of the tune, the intervallic and rhythmic makeup of the tune, and the relationship of the melody notes to the supporting harmonies.

The expression of the emotion of any tune is a personal thing. The practice of chord-scale improvisation has turned soloing into a generic approach.




GIVING BACK

I have always felt honored and proud to be included in the ranks of the veterans. The military has helped me with my education through the GI Bill, provided health care from the VA Medical Center, and respect from those who know of my service. I have also believed this generosity is best repaid by volunteer efforts to benefit fellow veterans, as well as the community at large.

I have a Bachelorís and Masterís Degree in Jazz Composition. My instrument is the guitar. Over the years, Iíve volunteered my services as a guitarist playing music for holiday meals at homeless shelters, trauma rehab centers and charitable events. While living in New Jersey, I gave guitar lessons to kids living in depressed areas. My latest effort is a plan to benefit veterans by providing them with music lessons.

To help put this plan into place I created an ongoing program of private, one-on-one weekly guitar lessons for veterans. The program was designed to be open to all, regardless of their circumstances or resources. My education and years of experience have made me aware of the therapeutic benefits of music. As a band leader and self-employed musician I knew I could use my skills to put this program of service into action.

In order to fund the guitars needed for this program, I solicited financial support from friends. The owners of the music studio from which I teach, Ray Mullin Music, offered their help in finding affordable guitars. Ibanez Guitar Company also offered their aid, providing guitars at discount prices. Donors were happy to contribute monies so these instruments could be purchased.

Once the plan and the instruments it called for were in place, I contacted the Providence VA Medical Center and was directed to Peter Gauthier, Occupational Therapist in the Psychosocial Rehab and Recovery Center. I met with him, presented my resume and told him about the program in full. I let him know that all I needed from the VA was space in which to give the lessons and the students who might be interested in taking them. Peter welcomed the idea and thought it would be beneficial to the Medical Center and the veterans. He agreed to secure a space for the lessons, and to find students for me. He then informed me that I needed to clear the plan with Donna Ruthwicz, Chief of Voluntary Service. When I talked with Donna, she also saw the clear benefits to be realized from this program. She told me I would have to become a volunteer, which would include a background check and training. I agreed to become a volunteer for the Medical Center.

The program has become what I hoped it would be. One day a week is now fully scheduled with guitar lessons for veterans. Though I canít presume to know the benefits of the lessons to their lives, I can say that they show up every week, on time, with enthusiasm and with words of appreciation, ending each lesson with a gracious handshake. It seems to me this experience has added to their musical enjoyment and involvement outside of the lessons. A number participate in a Music Therapy Group for veterans organized by Peter Gauthier, enjoy musical social gatherings in homes, and even participate in jam sessions.

I continue to feel honored, but also humbled, to be in a position to give something to these veterans, my friends. I also feel privileged to be a volunteer at the VA Center. I strongly urge all those who are interested to become involved.

Contact Info: Steve Young, 508 636-6757, email: steve@steveyoungmusic.com 

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(C) Steve Young