What’s That Sound?


ear anatomyWe all have ears. Why do we not all hear the same way? Barring physical anomalies, all the parts of the ear are standard in pretty much every human. Male or female, an ear’s an ear, right. Or is it?

According to a brain imaging study done by the Indiana University School of Medicine, men listen with only one side of their brains, while women use both.

I said, MEN LISTEN WITH ONLY ONE SIDE OF THEIR BRAIN.

men don't listenSorry … that was to engage the other side, guys.

You can’t actually hear how your own voice really sounds without recording it. When we speak or sing, the sound is transmitted through the bone of the skull and jaw, combined with the sound coming through the air. What you are really hearing are the vibrations of your vocal chords, mixed with the air passing through your mouth, and bouncing off all that bone.

Which might be why we just love singing in the shower – it acts like our own personal sound booth, amplifying and perfecting what we think we hear. Most showers are small, and made with ceramic tile, which absorbs very little sound. All of that proximity bounces sound around, adding volume, power, and resonance to what you’re hearing. The reverb even helps to correct your pitch, and enhance the bass, making it sound deeper. Thanks, science!

But in a nutshell, that’s why you sound better in the shower than you do at your local karaoke bar. I have a dream … karaoke shower

We know that sounds hit your ear differently at different times of the day, and in different places and circumstances.

My hearing is a lot more acute in the morning. Hearing is the first sense I experience when I wake, likely a throwback to our cavemen days, when it was an important defence mechanism. I sleep like the dead, and rarely hear any noises during the night, but come morning, I’m as sensitive to vibrvenus fly trapations as a Venus fly trap.

I wake very early, and for a while, I keep my environment nearly soundless, save the odd meow from my furry overlords. I tend to turn off the beeps, boops and bings from my computerized devices, and use the time for contemplation and writing. Once I decide to enter the world of sound, my ears are primed and capable of hearing and understanding recorded words, even in foreign accents, at the lowest possible volume setting.

Sound sounds differently at different temperatures. The colder the temperature, the further sound can travel. Since most of us live in countries where it’s colder at night than in the day, we tend to hear noises in the night more clearly than we do in the daytime hours.

When music is involved, however, things get very complicated. That difference in how we hear at different hours applies across the ‘board,’ as many sound engineers have found to their shame. Bass notes ‘soften’ as the night wears on. What can sound amazing during a late night session is very likely to sound muddy and overly bassy the next morning. For the clearest mixes, daytime sessions are generally the smartest way to go.

For musicians in general, and vocalists in particular, pitch and tone are our tools of the trade. Some people are born with perfect pitch – not I, though I do have very good relative pitch, making it easier for me to hear and create vocal harmonies.

perfect_pitch“Perfect pitch (also referred to as absolute pitch) is the incredibly rare ability of a person to instantaneously identify or sing any given musical note without a reference pitch. It is estimated that 1/10,000 people in the USA are born with this cognitive trait.

There are two types of perfect pitch: active and passive. A person with active perfect pitch is able to sing or hum any given pitch; that is, if they are asked to sing a B flat without hearing the said note or any reference note, they can sing it without any problem.

If a person with passive perfect pitch is asked to sing the same B flat note, they cannot. However, if a random note is played for them, a person with passive perfect patch will be able to name it without any problem.

For many, perfect pitch can be a blessing and a curse at the same time. On the plus side, the possessor of perfect pitch can tune a musical instrument without aid, correctly judge whether or not a piece of music is being played in the correct key, and identify specific instruments as playing in or out of tune.

This skill would certainly come in handy for a piano tuner, instrument maker, or conductor. On the negative side, those with perfect pitch are likely to find it harder to enjoy music. They can hear all of a performance’s flaws in intonation. What’s more, if the performance is played in a key other than the original, those with perfect pitch will likely find it to be cringe inducing.

In their mind, they already know what the performance should sound like as far as pitch is concerned, so anything they hear is going to be compared to their internal tuning fork. Basically, anything that doesn’t align to their mind’s perfect pitch will sound out of tune. For some, that’s as bad as nails on a chalk board. “  (https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-perfect-pitch-723911)

You cannot learn perfect pitch; it is a gift/curse you have to be born with. Most musicians have a good relative pitch sense, which allows them to play songs by ear and improvise. Relative pitch, however, is a skill that can be learned with enough training and practice.

If you are lucky enough to have become an old musician,this one goes to 11 you may have discovered the downside of ‘”if it’s too loud, you’re too old.” Professional musicians are about 57% more likely than non-musicians to suffer from tinnitus (constant ringing in the ears,) and suffer noise induced hearing loss four times more often than other people. Neither of these afflictions are fun, just to be clear.

That drinking habit might also be a culprit; high alcohol consumption over a long period of time may lead to brain shrinkage, which can damage the auditory nerves. Researchers also believe that a regular ingestion of alcohol may lead to permanent hearing loss in the long term, and some loss of low frequency sounds, at least temporarily. All that yelling to hear each other in the club? Yeah, that’s not good for your ears.

And you need to be good TO your ears. Humans love sound, we love to communicate. Music has been found in every culture, past and present, across the planet. Music is woven from every influence in our society – social, economic, climate, technology and politics – to create the image that we choose to present to our pmusic-quoteseers. It’s integral to creating societies that can come together as one, to move civilization forward.

When we lose the ability to hear each other, whether through physical hearing loss, or a decision to stop listening to those who think and act differently, we impede society’s progress to the next level of humanity.

music unites.jpgMusic is a universal language, but in order for all to hear what is said, there must be a generosity of listening, and that can only happen in a calm, open, giving environment. When everyone is being compelled to think and feel the same, you get a lot less ‘moon in June‘ love songs, and a lot more marches and songs glorifying dying for the Fatherland, eventually leading to the sounds of silence.

But when our world is in ‘receiving’ mode, we can easily accept and even appreciate the differences of others.

Musical Friends Are Making Me Happy


No matter how you’ve lived your life … saintly, and with a whiff of heaven in your aura, Dora, or a little naughtily, with a more checkered past than you’d care to admit … you want to be rounding third base and heading into home plate with a fine group of worthy team mates, and a cheering section that still likes you, whether because of, or despite, your resume and reputation.

I must have done something right, because I’m blessed with a lot of wonderful people in my corner. And so many of us share a musical background.

I’m writing this on Friday night, because the weekend kicks off in about an hour, with the arrival of my old friend and band mate, Sharon (Kaid) Kaczmarczyk. We go waaaay back, to the days of Lady, before Lady morphed into Performer with my addition, when she was the haughty, sexy, blonde drummer, and I was the shy and mostly innocent new ‘chick singer’ the group reluctantly admitted to their midst. Where it not for Sharon and Helen Dreyer (on keys,) both far more seasoned and experienced than I was at the time, I’d likely still be wearing my Peter Pan getaway boots with a tie-dyed tunic, and sporting a Cleo Laine ‘fro. Hey, it had worked for me in my pop/jazz quartet, Tangents! 😉

Performer 81Sharon and Helen taught me how to make up, ‘zizzed’ my hair so that it stood up in a jaunty rock helmet, maintained with a zillion cans of heavy duty hair spray, and encouraged me to experience the joys of spandex, glitter, and six inch spiked heels.

Through my connections with this group, I went on to meet so very many wonderful players, and devotees of the music we created. Sure, some were jerks, but you weed out the losers, and if you’re lucky, you get to know and love a lot of funny, talented, professionals who are experiencing life slightly differently than the average citizen. Not necessarily better lives – but usually a great deal more challenging, and thus, great candidates for long, convoluted, and very interesting tales around the campfire.

So yeah .. Sharon. She didn’t know what to make of me at the beginning. I was Little Suzy Sunshine, the Pollyanna of the group, always chipper, up with the dawn, busily scouring the thrift stores for stage clothes and shoes, doing my daily 500 leg lifts, endlessly practicing scales. I was not rock n roll at all!

(before and after shots of the first Performer band shoot. At some point, our manager said, “Say, I wonder what would happen if we got the girls high enough to take off their tops?” The topless shot went on to be banned at most of the high schools we’d been booked to play.)

Before:    Performer original poster 001

After:    Performer nude top poster 001

 

But at some point, I must have worn down her resistance to my infernal cheerfulness. Or maybe it was because in most hotels that had band accommodation, there was a minimum of band rooms, and with 2 guys and 3 girls in the band, we had to double up at times. Helen was a Tequila drinker; Sharon and I were fond of the cheap white wine,   Colli Albani .. or as we renamed it .. New York Dog. Sharon and I teamed up in many a room to kill a litre or two of the dog, gulped down between sets and daytime drug store forays. Long days and nights on the road turned into long weeks and months of bonding.

Beyond being a powerful drummer and vocalist, Sharon was also a terrific songwriter. I’d know – I vocalised and demoed a lot of her songs. “Blue Eyed Boys,” “Show Me,” “Girls on Top” .. it was the 80’s and the messages were short, sweet and to the point.

While a lot of our Toronto contemporaries were getting media exposure and getting signed to record deals, Performer spent far too much time out of town, and as far out of town and up north as you could go. Kirkland Lake, Kap, Timmins, Chapleau, Thunder Bay … for months at a time we’d be enduring Northern tours that would have crushed the spirits of younger bands. On one famous “Moose Tour,” we narrowly escaped death by Bull Moose three times in three weeks. Bullwinkle was not our friend.

But we were young, enthusiastic, hardy, and possessed – thankfully! – of a good sense of humour. Even our road crew knew enough to temper their grumblings with a heavy dose of levity.

Now, here’s the thing about just about every single female musician I’ve ever known in the last fifty years … none of us ever thought of ourselves as much more than pretty ok looking, and marginally talented. Which is odd, because of nearly every male musician I’ve met in those same five decades, the reverse is true. The guys would generally overestimate their own attractiveness, and were convinced that they were natural born leaders and stars, possessed of legendary talent and ability.

And they had the groupies to prove it. While most female musicians had an entirely different crop of stalkers and weirdos to ward off.

Helen, Sharon and I spent months at a time on the road with nary a beau in sight. It’s an odd thing, being desired while on stage, but being either ignored or feared as being untouchable, off stage. Road time is tough enough; filling the hours between waking up and playing, while living on very little money and with few resources, is challenging. Moreover, it was lonely.  And rockers are generally pretty sexualized people – seems to go with the territory – so it wasn’t the best place to be companionless. That’s why you’d see so many hook-ups within bands and crews … a lot of times it was just proximity, a release from the coming down after whipping up the audience, and ourselves in the process. We’d have much preferred to be on home turf, where our own, pre-qualified letches lurked, but when in Collingwood

kaid foreign affairs great head shotSharon had it worse than Helen or I. Blonde, statuesque, with laser focused blue eyes that could burn a hole into a wannabe suitor at 20 paces, she worked her Amazonic magic from atop a drum riser.  On stage or off, she had presence. Although single and looking, few males could see through her powerful appearance to the warm, caring woman within.

And those that did have the guts to approach her tended to either be fuelled by liquid courage, or to be in possession of egos far larger than the sum of their intelligence …  I’ll never forgot one road trip that had left us exhausted and fit for nothing more than 48 hours in our own beds. At a truck stop, at about 4 a.m., and about two hours out of Toronto, the band, running on depleted adrenaline and road coffee, and still dressed in our spandex, glitter, and rock and roll hair we’d rocked hours before, ran into another band also heading home from a gig.  The male lead singer of the other band went into full peacock mode and approached Sharon. “Hey, blonde,” he said, “You need a lift?”

Sharon kept her cool, but the rest of us were falling about at the very idea that this fellow could actually think that his mere presence (and perhaps the promise of candy,) would lure a blonde rock goddess into his stinky van in the wee hours. Never happen. Trust me. We weren’t that lonely.

Performer live shot 001.jpgBut we did live in rarefied air. The images we presented of ourselves took time, money, and considerable energy. Women in rock, especially in the eighties, were expected to look a certain way, and to emphasize their sexuality. When you’re getting up on stage in front of live audiences, night after night, you can never let the mask slip. Your attention is on taking whatever raw material you’ve been given, and shaping it into something worthy of posters and album covers.

Guys in rock, on the other hand, usually had it easier .. and damned if they didn’t often look better in makeup than the women did! Depending on the musical genre they represented, they could get away with a lot less primping. And people rarely commented on them wearing the same outfit, night after night.

Despite our constant vigilance, and belief that we had to keep fine tuning how we looked, Sharon and I were both good eaters and reluctant dieters. Nothing made us happier than a Sunday night on the road that featured an all you can eat pasta buffet! We’d get out the fat pants and have at ‘er. “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we diet!

If only we were as fat today as we thought we were then! We were so very hard on ourselves, firm in our beliefs that it was only by reaching an elusive physical perfection that we could catch life’s brass ring. But sometimes, the ring is elusive, and the grasp just a trick of fate.

Just as the band entity “Lady” had morphed into “Performer”, Performer eventually fell victim to road fatigue and cynicism. A reformed quartet, of Shawn O’Shea, Al Corbeil, Sharon and myself had a brief stint as Foreign Affairs, before taking one last kick at the can, showcasing at the El Mocambo as Ice Age, with the late, and very much missed, Phil Parmentier on bass.

Thirty five years later, Sharon and I remain good friends. We still giggle like teenagers, rejoice at each other’s good news, and mourn each other’s losses.  The base of friendship that was formed in proximity and happenstance has widened to include a deep love and commitment to each other that I can’t see ever ending while we can still draw breath. Perhaps for even longer than that.

Addendum:  Bilan BBQ Aug 2016On Saturday we were invited to a BBQ hosted by yet another long-time friend and his family, and attended by still more of our musical comrades-in-arms. Some of us have known each for nearly fifty years. We marveled at how we’ve navigated our lives and careers, celebrated our successes, and commiserated on our war wounds. Pictures of past glories were produced and admired, greeted with gusts of laughter at how dated our band pics, head shots, and press clippings seem today.  We’re older and wiser, and there might be a little more of us to love than there was in our heyday, but damn! We’ve made it this far and haven’t lost our sense of humour or our commitment to creating and enjoying music. I’d call that a legacy worth celebrating.

 

(first published in  bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/08/07/roxanne-tellier-musical-friends-are-making-me-happy/)