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December, 2008:

Pasquale Policelli – My Father

papa closeup 3.jpgPasquale Policelli, my father, passed away one month ago today. He spent the past two years prior to his death fighting hard – lung cancer, lobectomy, COPD and asthma – left him struggling to breathe at the best of times… a bout with pneumonia in the Summer of 2007 left him on oxygen, and two more bouts with pneumonia this Fall led to his passing… He kept his wits about him throughout and he never lost his positive spirit, even with all he had to face he was always there for my mother, my brothers and me, his grandchildren, and all his brothers and sisters…

My father was not an educated man, but he is the smartest man I’ve known and I will miss his love and support, always tempered by his guidance and wisdom. I hope even the tiniest bit of his spirit is embodied in me and that I can live up to his high standards. He never once complained while dealing with his illness these past couple of years. He never once asked “Why me?”. He only asked that he not needlessly suffer, and his peaceful passing during the night, in his sleep, was an answer to that request.

Thank you for indulging this blog post of mine. I had to go into at least a little detail about him – he deserves no less…

I wrote the following verse some time ago from a song entitled My Papa’s Clothes:

I want to wear my papa’s clothes
I want to know what papa knows
The pistol dreams he once supposed
The barrel-chested man with the strength of gods inside him
His fear of life subsiding
Secure in the path he chose
I want to wear my papa’s clothes

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Spectacle: Elvis Costello With…

Well, I’m still waiting to hear back from CTV as to when this show (Spectacle: Elvis Costello With…) will be airing in Canada. CTV is supposedly one of the owners of the show and made much fanfare in April 2008 that this series would be showing by the end of the year… well, there’s like a day left to that…

When the series began a few weeks ago in the U.S. on the Sundance cable network, I emailed CTV and asked when we could look for it here in Canada… and I emailed again and a third time… not one response! They’re not exactly making this viewer feel welcome…

But that’s what Elvis’ job would be if I was able to watch the show… I can’t even catch the clips from the Sundance site (though a couple have been posted on YouTube) as they are “georestricted” (probably at CTV’s request, no less, then they fail to put the show on here). Oh well, if you go to the show’s site you’ll see the list of guests (past, present and future) and see that there is a marathon of sorts tomorrow on New Year’s Eve starting at 5 p.m… (hmmm… maybe I can find a grey market satellite to watch a couple of these episodes…)

Anywho, there’s Elton John, Lou Reed, Bill Clinton, James Taylor, Tony Bennett, The Police, Herbie Hancock, Smokey Robinson, Rufus Wainwright and Diana Krall (I wonder if Rufus’ and/or Diana’s own Canuck families will get to watch the show!) and more… so quite a range and I’m sure it will be interesting, to say the least…

Come on CTV… let’s get this show on the air! And may the Muse be with you…

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Copyfight in Canada

Precedent, a magazine about the “new rules of law and style” for lawyers in Canada, had an article entitled “Copyfight” in its latest issue. There was a bill (C-61) that fell by the wayside because of the last federal election being called. Various lawyers discuss the merits (or lack thereof) of C-61 which was assailed by its critics for making most of the public into “copyright criminals”. As the premise of the article goes:

Not long ago, a copyright protest would have seemed like a piece of absurdist parody (“Actuaries of the world, unite!”). But the federal government has made it clear that it intends to rewrite Canada’s creaky copyright laws, and in a world awash with media, everyone has something at stake. Creators want to be paid for their creativity, while consumers want to enjoy, share, and re-purpose it. Copyright has never been as clear as property rights, and deciding what’s legal hasn’t always been easy. In fact, it’s turned into a very public, very bitter tug-of-war – an out-and-out copyfight.

One of my favourite writers/bloggers in the area of copyright/intellectual property matters in Canada is Michael Geist, a lawyer in Ottawa who is the “go to” guy for the media on these sorts of issues. I’ll leave the last words for him, but I have that good old-fashioned contradiction inside of me on this issue – I certainly make “fair use” of many songs out there (if I own the album, I don’t see why I can’t download the mp3 version), but if I ever do publish a song, I wonder how “fair” it will seem to me then… Oh that I would have such a problem!

“We ought to recognize that copyright is not the only incentive to creativity,” says Michael Geist, leaning over a table at a tiny, packed Second Cup on the University of Ottawa campus (“his second office,” noted a colleague).

Geist isn’t a free-everything activist (of which there are plenty on the Internet). But he has argued loud and long that overprotection can be as dangerous and innovation-stifling as underprotection.

Geist argues that users’ rights to use copyrighted works for fair purposes shouldn’t be restricted by contracts or digital locks. His vision recognizes that, like it or not, users are increasingly becoming creators in their own rights. With the advent of “Web 2.0,” the technological barriers to accessing, altering, and rebroadcasting copyrighted material have evaporated. And, adds Geist, “what used to be a relatively small community of geeks became us. It became the Canadian public.”

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Professor George Michael?

Okay, this article speaks for itself, so I’ll only preface it with – Huh, what are they thinking? The concept is good (breaking street violence through encouragement of artistic endeavours) but I don’t know if the practice works if George Michael is to be relied upon for seeing this through. No offence to Mr. Michael, but I don’t believe that he has a reputation of being particularly reliable:

Anne Lu – Celebrity News Service News Writer

London, England (BANG) – George Michael’s neighbors want him to fight knife crime. Residents and school officials in Highgate, north London, wrote to the “Faith” singer asking him to support a scheme designed to reduce knife crime in the area where he lives.

A source said: “In the interests on discouraging knife crime, a safer neighborhood group in Highgate has written to ask George for help.”

The former “Wham!” star – who sponsored this year’s Highgate Summer Festival – has been asked to get involved with a program that encourages children to express themselves through music instead of violent behavior.

The source added to Britain’s Daily Star newspaper: “They’re trying to get local children to focus on the challenges they face living in the area and express it in creative songwriting instead of violence. They’ve asked George to use his contacts ideally in organizing a songwriting competition in schools.”

Since January, 65 British teenagers have died as a result of violent crime. Almost 60 percent were stabbed to death.

The 45-year-old singer – whose fans can download his festive single “I Dreamed of Christmas” for free on Christmas Day – is yet to respond to the request.

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Esther O’Connor on Songwriting

Emerging Scottish singer-songwriter, Esther O’Connor, provides some of her fresh thoughts on songwriting in an online article here. Faith plays a part in Ms. O’Connor’s artistry and she is alive to its process in her songwriting and her performing, however, it’s not only “praise and worship” music that she writes, as she’s been described as “somewhere between Suzanne Vega and Sheryl Crowe” by BBC Radio.

“When I was about 14,15, I began to sing with my friends, writing songs and playing about on a guitar. I started to showcase for major record companies while I was still at school. I remember going away for a week and I was supposed to be studying but instead of studying, I took my guitar and wrote half a song. So I was definitely much more interested in music than I was in biology.”

After some success in landing a publishing/recording deal with a major music company at 17, that led to nowhere, she did not give up, but perservered.

But despite the big publishing and record deals nothing got issued and eventually Esther was released from the contracts, seemingly another talent whose potential hadn’t been realised. Then, in 2003, Esther decided to record and release an independent album. Under the simple billing of Esther, the singer/songwriter put out ‘The Place Where We Are’. Explained Esther, “The album was recorded after I’d just come out of my deal. I was in a bit of a space that things had not exactly gone as I’d pictured or wanted. It was an album I enjoyed making. I felt it was a therapy thing for me, getting back into the studio and writing and channelling all the different experiences – relationship experiences, career experiences, spiritual experiences and channelling those things that you feel life is kind of teaching you into your art and into your craft. It gave me a great sense of fulfilment.”

And on her new album, ‘Right Here’, can be found a lifetime of influence.

“It’s an album that’s got a lot of continuity and it’s got an Americana-Celtic-y, folky, pop sort of feel to it and all the songs just sort of locked in together. My musical influences are reflected in it as well. I’ve got quite a lot of ’70s stuff in my collection, people like Bonny Rait and Janis Joplin, James Taylor, Carole King and Joni Mitchell – these fantastic greats. Fleetwood Mac was another big influence.”

To have been “developed” as a teenager and, to be melodramatic here, “cast aside” by EMI without any production (though there appears to be no bitterness in Ms. O’Connor’s version of events), and then to still realize the dream on one’s own must be wholly satisfying… it gives me inspiration (spiritual and otherwise) and confirms the Muse is with Esther O’Connor… and may she be with us all…

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Serena Ryder on Songwriting

Serena Ryder is featured in the Arts section of today’s National Post (article: Supertramp finally gets its apologist) speaking about her upcoming album Is It O.K. The accomplished/effervescent Canadian singer-songwriter (can you tell I like her) discusses the personal nature of songwriting and of this upcoming album recorded in L.A. after the death of a close friend. Some poignant quotes follow:

“The title is about checking yourself when you’re going through a lot of different things in life. Being human can be really painful; it’s full-on. [The album] is about being inside of yourself through the whole process.”

“All music is autobiographical,” Ryder said. “I don’t care what anybody says. Everyone shares a part of their soul in music … regardless of whether a song is 100% factual.”

I have to agree with Serena. We talk about the songcraft but I don’t think you can ever separate the observer from the observed, or rather the songwriter from the song… The Muse is with Ryder… and may she be with you too…

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Ovation Arts – Songwriting Program for Teens in York Region

Ovation Performing Arts Academy in the Richmond Hill Centre for Performing Arts is offering a Songwriting Program for teens in the New Year. Click the link for more information. The program is NEW and appears to go through Songwriting 101 as well as taking the teens to the process of effectively linking music and lyrics into a successful song.

I wish the program all the best and use this as an opportunity to remind the local community of the Stellula program I posted about a few weeks back. May the Muse be with all the young songwriters…

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More from Daniel Levitin

I really enjoy Daniel Levitin’s musings on music/song, and in particular “songcraft” and the “science” of listening to music. See my previous posts here and here

Today, he appeared in an article in the Arts section of the National Post entitled “Hear My Song“. As always, the remarks are insightful, illuminating and entertaining. On the issue of a person’s desire NOT to learn too much about what is going on as they listen to their favourite music (in hopes of keeping the mystery alive), Dr. Levitin responds in kind:

“I’ve heard that from a lot of people before they start reading about music and the brain, that they’re afraid of learning too much. I’ve never heard from anybody afterwards that they regretted it because they don’t enjoy music any more. In fact, I think people are curious by nature. You go to a magic show, you want to know how the trick was done. Usually when people meet a musician they’ll ask, ‘What were you thinking when you wrote that song.’ I think that understanding the complexity of it increases one’s appreciation.”

And from his recent book, The World In Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature, the “music doctor” professes as follows:

“The brain learns music and language because it is configured to acquire rules about how musical and linguistic elements are combined; its computational circuits (in the prefrontal cortex) ‘know’ the rules about hierarchical organization and are primed to receive musical and linguistic input during the early years of development. This is why the child who is denied exposure to music or language before a certain age (believed to be somewhere between 8 and 12) will never acquire normal music or language skills – the pruning process has already begun, and those neural circuits that were waiting to be activated become eliminated.”

Ah, it may seem so dry, but it is a basic building block… my daughter has been “writing” music since she was 3 – humming melodies and writing lyrics to everyday situations… and I can’t remember when I didn’t do so either… let the Muse be with us…

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