Writing about World Music

Section F, Fall 2016

Month: August 2016 (page 1 of 2)

My Expression

http://www.freeimages.com/photo/piano-keyspiano keys-1532959

Outpoor of feeling

When words cease, Music begins

Landscape of emotion

Piano and Voice has always been something more than an instrument or hobby to me. It has been an escape. It has been my canvas and brush. When I first started studying piano under a strict Belarussian teacher I didn’t speak the language so lessons consisted of me repeating musical phrases after her. Frustratingly slow bars one by one. A meticulous practice that taught me nothing technical. However, I learned to use my ear. I would spend hours improving on the piano in our home. Learning to rely on me ear, hearing the different ways a melody could turn, or the different voicings a chord could assume. When I listened to music I learned to predict the next strum, run, riff and all that. It wasn’t a musical genius, it was simply the manifestation of the way I was taught for three years. However, to my extreme frustration, I never could translate what I “heard,” beautiful chords, and  lilting melodies, into what I actually played. Yet this disappointment was also the motivation for my continued lessons in Budapest, Hungary where I finally learned to read music.

A whole new facet of music opened up before me as I carefully practiced and perfected various pieces. By the time I was a sophomore I had enough though. Piano lessons weren’t for me, and classical music was dull in my eyes. The musical fire in me was still bright though. I continued to mess around on the piano now and again and I never stopped singing. Then at the beginning of my senior year I decided I wanted to explore jazz. I watched hours of YouTube videos and listened to many different jazz artists. Jazz was everything I wanted in a style. It was the perfect medium through which I could “release.” For the amount of years I have taken piano my technical skill and musical understanding is very poor. But honestly, I don’t mind. I am equipped sufficiently to express myself through voice and piano and frankly, I can always watch another YouTube video to get more ideas.

Music is a journey for me. It’s an important part of who I am. It’s what I love to do. And if you understand this about me, I’ve successfully introduced myself :).

My Hidden Talent

My story in music began in the 6th grade when I began playing the tuba. Even though it was somewhat random and I had no real reason to play the tuba of all instruments, I committed to learning how to play music. This task was not very easy and I started slow, but once I got the hang of it playing the tuba was one of the most fulfilling activities of my life. Playing in the band helped me meet some of my best friends and people I relied on throughout middle school and even high school. I played through 6th grade and into 7th grade and I began to not just learn about the tuba, but master it.
I auditioned for the Georgia All State Band and earned a spot as the 8th best tuba player in Georgia, travelling down to Savannah to represent our middle school and play the instrument I loved.
I played the tuba again in the 8th grade and decided to cruise my last year of middle school. I relaxed and didn’t fully pursue my attempt to repeat being an All State musician. In my final year of playing the tuba, I enjoyed the ride and really just had fun. I also met my “first love,” but that’s another story!
Playing the tuba has introduced me to new people, helped me find out an unknown talent, and taken me new places. The tuba has truly changed my life.

Like Pieces of a Puzzle

Since before I can remember, I have always had a fascination with music.  The combinations of different pitches and organized sounds made my ears hum with pleasure.  It is what has driven me to learn to play so many different instruments, what has inspired me to join a number of musical organizations, and what has caused me to pursue musical academic courses in both high school and college. I didn’t always understand music, but I gradually came to befriend it, and discover the rules and inner working of the musical craft.

From the age of two, when I ran up to a professional pianist in a department store and asked him to play “Old McDonald Had A Farm”, to the age of ten, I never really understood music. I had a strong appreciation for the sounds of music, but never really played an instrument. I enjoyed listening to songs and picking out the melody on a piano note-by-note, but otherwise, my journey with music had not called me to learn to play an instrument yet. However, when picking out classes for my sixth grade year, my mother insisted that I take Band, claiming that I had a talent for music that both she and my father could not comprehend. I was confused, as I had never really played an instrument, but obliged. I decided to play the trombone, and took lessons for a year before deciding that I could learn the instrument better by teaching myself. And now, seven years later, I still play the trombone, and have played the instrument in my school’s wind ensemble, marching band, and even in an All-State level jazz band, in addition to teaching myself to play similar brass instruments such as the baritone, trumpet, and tuba.


During my seventh grade year, I joined my middle school’s jazz band as a trombonist. I noticed that the band was missing a bass player, and for some odd reason, I felt called to fill this position. So over the next few months, I took it upon myself to save up money and purchase a bass guitar, and then teach myself to play it. Six years later, the same bass is currently sitting under my bed in my dorm room. During the years after taking the position of bassist for my middle school’s jazz band, I have played bass in my high school’s jazz band during my junior and senior years, played in my church’s contemporary worship band, and even taught my self how to play the upright/string bass.


From there, where do you go? For some reason, I felt called to play the drums next.  I had no clue why, but I decided to trust my gut. Honestly, of all instruments, I think that the drums took me the longest to learn how to play.  Every time I play, I find myself learning new rhythms, and improving my techniques, which I believe is a microcosm for life.  Every day you learn something new and become more confident in your abilities. Since beginning to play drums five years ago, I have played in a band with my high school friends, and played both tenors and snare drums on my high school’s Drumline.








My freshman year of high school, I realized that I already knew how to play 2/3rds of the normal rock band instruments, so I thought “Why not learn how to play the guitar?” and so I took it upon myself to do so. Guitar came much simpler to me, which was honestly surprising. I was confused as to why, but didn’t question it. Four years later, and through this time, I have come to love taking improvised solos over jazz backing tracks, playing along to recordings of classic rock music, and have even played in the pit band of one of my high school’s musicals. Also, with playing guitar, I have taught myself to play similar stringed instruments, such as the banjo and ukulele.


Finally, I learned to play the piano my sophomore year of high school. I enjoy playing the piano, because of all instruments, it is the one I can play most easily by ear. This came as a shock to me. After five years of learning to play new instruments with ease, I wondered why everything seemed to go so smoothly. As a senior, I took AP Music Theory, and throughout the year, everything regarding music began to make sense to me. These abstract ideas I had formed over my years began to come together like pieces of a puzzle. I finally understood why certain chords naturally went together, and why there were so many similarities between instruments, which allowed me to transfer knowledge between these instruments, and seemingly learn to play new instruments with ease. To describe this newfound sense of amazement with music is difficult to do in words, but I hope that after this semester, I will have improved my writing skills enough to do so.

Music, for me, has always been one of those things to fill long car rides or to listen to with friends. Beyond that, I wouldn’t call myself a very musical person. The only exposure I’ve ever had with music was fifth grade music class where we all had to learn how to play the recorder and come up with our own little tunes. Looking back, it’s something that I wished I got into, maybe just enough to read sheet music or understand the difference between countertenor and bass. With that being said, I do find myself enjoying music a lot. It was a way to calm down as I drove to school last year or to get rowdy as I left.

However, the most meaningful experience I have had with music was down in South America. I lived in Ecuador for two months the summer of my junior year and used music as a way to connect with people. As a “gringo” living in an indigenous community 60 miles away from the Amazon jungle, I found it very difficult to connect with a culture and people very different than my own. During the day we would wake up to me playing chance the rapper as I rolled out of bed and “taxi” by Pitbull as we went about our day. We would work in the bakery during the day and dance with the kids at night. We’d walk down the mountain with our piece-of-junk iPhone speakers playing the music and a train of kids would follow us. They’d be laughing and dancing and it’s really helped shape me into the person that I am today. Without music, it probably would never have happened, or at least not to the degree that it did. Although my Spanish was good, it wasn’t fluent and I generally missed out on all the cultural innuendos and inside jokes they shared.  Music helped even the playing field and make me feel more connected to the people. Looking back on the experience, I miss it like crazy and it was definitely one of the top experiences of my life. More than the place, I miss the people and the friendships I made. Without the music, helping to create the connections that I formed there, my experience would have been vastly different and lacking something crucial and human.



Good Cooks Eat Alot!

My baptism into the world of music began nearly 11 years ago with a conversation between my mother and I. As with most any second-grader, my thoughts were completely concerned with friends, cartoons, and sports. As with most any mother, she was concerned with raising me to be a polite, well-rounded, and educated young man. The premise of the conversation was, of course, music lessons. To be more specific, my mother wanted me to learn how to play the piano. In her youth, she had also learned to play at the suggestion of her mother. So now it was my turn.

I never resisted those lessons, and to this day I am thankful I did not. My teacher, Mrs. Chiou, came to our home once a week on Mondays for a period of nearly ten years. She started with the basics, and patiently waited for me to become more experienced so that we could progress to more complex, classical music. Recitals were not uncommon as I participated in about two or three per year. Parents and siblings would sit in our living room as each of us students went up to the piano and performed our songs. These memories are some of my most treasured.



But alas, a threshold had been reached by the time I was a junior in high school. Taking AP Music Theory, I began to understand the piano–and music in general–as being more concerned with production of beautiful music than with the memorization and repetition of beautiful music. Essentially, my studies in AP Music Theory showed me how to improvise music. I was no longer concerned with spending hours practicing a classical piece until I knew it by heart; instead, I fell in love with the ability to produce harmonious music instantly using the skills I had sharpened under Dr. Alan Hirsh, my AP teacher. Learning about chords, cadences, and modulations in an academic environment changed my entire musical outlook.



So where does that leave me currently? Well I stopped taking regular piano lessons and began to teach myself songs I wanted to learn on the piano (songs such as “River Flows in you” and other popular songs). Last year, on black Friday, I bought myself a massively discounted ukulele. Who doesn’t enjoy the soft, tropical sound of the distinctly Pacific four-stringed instrument that is the ukulele? I learned a few chords on the instrument and came up with a few songs to boot. The strings on the ukulele are tuned to G, C, E, and A, thus resulting in the mnemonic “Good Cooks Eat Alot.” With this class, I intend to further my knowledge of world music, particularly in Southeast Asian, Eastern Asian, and Pacific styles. I hope that the curriculum will allow my ukulele to make an appearance or two!

-Alex Strasser

A Feel for the Blues

Most people get into the blues through the “blues interpreters,” like Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and Cream, and I am no exception. When I discovered that I was especially into the blues covers they did, I traced the music back in time to Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Howlin’ Wolf, and the like. When I heard the power and tone of Big Walter Horton, I got hooked really deep and really fast, and decided to learn harmonica. This journey has led me all over Georgia, and I have played with people who are touring the nation and the world, and learned from some of the greatest living harp players.

Most blues musicians worth their salt will tell you that blues is a feeling. Many of us don’t have technical backgrounds in music theory, and tend to play by ear and by feel. The blues is something you feel in your soul, something old and natural that just flows through you. People evaluate each other on the blues scene by whether or not they have “the feel.” “The feel” is a visceral pull you feel in your gut that moves you to play and weave your soul and emotion into the music.

Blues is commonly and erroneously perceived to be a mere expression of sorrow or negativity. You don’t have to be sad to play the blues, your woman need not have left you, and you can have plenty of money and still play the blues.

The Atlanta blues community has become a second family for me. I typically spend 3-4 nights a week playing for hours at jams, or sitting in with friends’ bands. Blues harp is my greatest passion in life, and one I intend to bring to Davidson and continue to pursue in the clubs in Charlotte.

Here is a video of me doing what I do from several months again. I’ve gotten better since then and started singing too.


More than Just Playing

I remember sitting on the grass surrounded by various instrumental sounds–a trumpet here, a violin there, a clarinet in the distance. Then there were the halls, where in complete silence you could hear the muffled pianos in the practice rooms, the melodic singing, the smooth sound of a cello. Every Tuesday and every Thursday, entire evenings—too much, perhaps, for a seven year old.

This constituted four years of my life at the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City. Not that I produced any of the musical sounds—rather my sister had the classes and my brother and I just came along with my mother. For us this was “park time” out in the grass followed by quiet homework time in the silent halls. It was in this place that I was first introduced to the idea of actually learning to play an instrument, and my instrument of choice at the time was the string bass. However, I was unable to start at the conservatory until the fifth grade and by that time I had moved to the United States. Starting in the fifth grade in Texas public schools, orchestra classes were available and so my mother signed me up to play the violin, her favorite instrument. Although I wanted the bass, I conformed to the violin with the idea that I would eventually change instruments after starting my first year with the violin. The first day of class, however, led me to think that I had sealed my fate as I realized different instruments require different techniques and different clefs!  And thus, to my fifth grade mind, I could not possibly learn another way of reading music once I learned the violin way—that would become too confusing. And so fifth grade passed and come sixth grade, I remained in the orchestra playing the violin. I am proud to say, however, that by the end of fifth grade I had learned that different instruments may share the same clef and thus I had signed up for the middle school band to play the oboe.

My oboe experiences were filled with embarrassment and disillusion as many times I simply could not get a single note out and most of the time I just fingered along, pretending I could play. Disillusionment came even when I managed to get a sound out as it was untrained and, plainly put, ugly. This short paragraph thus parallels my experience with the oboe—ephemeral and leaving much wished for.

After sixth grade I quit the band but remained in the orchestra until high school. The All-Region competition gave my orchestra experience a new challenge that I pursued all four years of my high school career. Playing surrounded by the best players in the region was inspiration for improvement and each year I worked harder to make it higher up in the sittings. At the same time, I was introduced to a different manner of experiencing music—the Academic Decathlon.

Throughout my years in the Academic Decathlon, I favored the music section due to its expansive approach to the subject. The section provided not only an introduction to music theory but also specific pieces that were analyzed in terms of motifs, rhythm, instrumentation, style, among others. The part of the section I preferred, however, was the history behind the composer, the style and genre, and the piece itself that combined to provide a deeper understanding of the work and the context. It was then that I realized that what I liked most about music was not performing it or even listening to it but rather learning about it and its significance. My experiences, from fifth grade orchestra to short lived band to academic decathlon, have  taught me different aspects of music and a different appreciation for it.

Brand New Experience

I used to only play my guitar alone, in my room, and away from any sort of criticism. That quickly changed one night when I was volunteered to play at my high school’s Young Life club. At the conclusion of club one night we were notified that our usual guitarist would not be able to attend the next meeting and they needed someone to step up and fill the role. I sheepishly hid in the back and didn’t say a word. My good friend, also the student president of our Young Life, had a different idea. She stood up and yelled, “Brian can do it!” And that was that. Next thing you know I had a list of five songs I needed to learn how to play and only a week to do so. I was scared, but didn’t want to let anyone down so I happily accepted the role and locked in. I had not even been playing guitar for a full year yet, and here I was about to play in front of a big crowd.

Thanks to YouTube learning the songs was not too difficult. I practiced plenty though in fear of messing up. A week later the big day arrived and I was ready to go have some fun. It was such a cool experience having everyone singing along with and dancing together to the chords I strummed. I rocked it that night. From then on I was Lamar Young Life’s relief guitarist and was invited back to play again later in the year. They only ended up needing me for one other night, but it was satisfying to know that I at least had that role. Also, I owe my friend a huge thank you for helping me overcome a fear of mine. I have played in front of people plenty of times since then and even once on a busy street corner with a flipped over cowboy hat at my feet as a self-conducted social experiment.


I left the electric guitar back home and stuck with merely my acoustic for dorm etiquette reasons, but I cannot wait to get back home, turn the amp up to ten, and have my whole house booming. There’s nothing like that feeling of getting lost in the music you are playing. I do love playing music, but everything I have learned is from YouTube tutorials. I cannot read sheet music and I do not know a whole lot of musical vocabulary, but one thing I do know is that music is a beautiful thing that enriches our lives regardless. It brings us to different places, teaches us new ideas, and touches our souls.

I am pumped to be taking this class. When I came across this option on the course catalog I did not even read the rest of them. I added it to my WebTree instantly. I love music and am awfully excited to be exploring it on so many new levels with all you guys this year.

Havana Nights

Our bus was clear in sight. I quickly hurried onto it, as I was unsure of my surroundings. Doom and gloom hit me, as I saw the faded grandeur of the city. It was time to hop off. I walked through the decrepit, musty streets, and a pulse began to reverberate off of the colonial era buildings. Locals broke out into song, and began to liven the atmosphere. Focus was put on the music and having a good time, rather than being overtaken by a cell phone. Havana Nights are still very real and authentic.


My first time out of the country deepened my love of music. Ever since I was little I watched as my cousins performed in front of hundreds at Busch Gardens. I was fascinated by the crowd’s reaction to my cousins’ voices. Yeah, they always sang well, but to me it was  just another cover of a pop song.  After going to Havana, however, I gained a new appreciation for music. Havana offers so many different pure styles: rap, pop, reggae, etc. After being cut off from the rest of the world, Havana’s music was able to foster its own identity, and not be corrupted by the current fads the rest of the world take part in.

Music pumped out of every car, every window, and every mouth. Music is the true escape for Cubans. Havana opened me up, and pushed me to explore other unique music from different cultures. This lead me to joining my high school’s choir. We sang music from all around the world: South African Prayers, Gregorian Chants, and much more. Havana taught me to appreciate the rhythms and beats of songs like these, as they are more than just another cash grab; they are outlets of expression.

Music is able to trigger endorphins within our bodies which can change our emotions. Music, for example, can make a gloomy street into the most vibrant piece of land on the planet within a matter of seconds. Music can take a bad day, and wrap it up into one of the happiest moments of our lives. I am excited to learn how this occurrence can be a byproduct of culture by studying ethnography.

I am also excited about furthering my knowledge of music. From listening to all of my cousins sing on the stage at Busch Gardens, playing the piano myself, and to singing in my high school’s choir, music has always been a huge part of my life. I may not have always appreciated music to the fullest extent, but now I am ready to fully delve into it. I am open to experiencing new types of music, as it can broaden my horizons, and help me to find a different culture that I never knew existed.

Havana opened my eyes to the rest of the musical world. It made me realize that music is much more than just a catchy tune. Music instead should be treated as emotional expression. Music is a way humans emit their feelings. Havana Nights took me from the Billboard Hot 100, to the homegrown music that generations have passed down.

From Manilow to Berlioz

My parents always joke that my musical career started when I was in a high chair. My mom is an avid fan of Barry Manilow and my parents shortly found that I too loved Barry Manilow- especially “Copacabana.” Whenever my parents played “Copacabana” I would start bouncing and dancing to the rhythm in my high chair, so within a few years my parents started me in dance and piano classes. Little did they know that these music lessons would create a large foundation for the woman I am today. As a kid, I really had no appreciation for music. It was just a fun activity and something my friends thought was cool.

Barry Manilow- Even Now

This began to change in the fifth grade when I joined my middle school’s orchestra as a violin player. I signed up mainly because my friends were doing it and the teacher seemed really fun. However, as I matured I found that orchestra led me to a much deeper meaning behind music. In high school, as I sat in the front section of the first violinists during our tuning procedures, I heard different instruments, pitches, tunes, intonations, and voices. I heard the low registers of the bass, reminding me of my lessons with African drummers in elementary school. I heard the beautiful, low vibrato of the cello, producing goose bumps from the remembrance of Yo-Yo Ma performing Bach’s Cello Suite. I heard the high squeal of a violinist tuning the E string, taking me back to mandatory recorder lessons. I noticed not only the differences in the noises of a talented orchestra, but also the diversity in the backgrounds producing these noises. The orchestra was just students from one school and contains only five types of instruments, but we all came from different areas and were composed of several races, each with our own heritage, beliefs, and goals.








Although music started as something that I certainly enjoyed listening to as an infant, now music allows me to understand cultural differences and to appreciate the reflection of different cultures and personalities in a musician’s art. Music has also been an outlet for my personality, as I let my character reflect in the subtleties of violin and piano playing. Even in dance class, I have an alternative approach to the music embodied by our movements. The music is not just simply background noise to me, but it is the inspiration for the choreography and by dancing to a particular song, we are producing an image from sound. I am endlessly thankful to my parents for providing me with the means to express my personality through music and dance.


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