Category Archives: For Every Musician

The Singing Revolution (2006)

Between 1986 and 1991 singing was the weapon of choice for the people of Estonia who sought to free themselves from decades of Soviet occupation.  During these years masses of young people, without any political party, gathered in public to sing patriotic songs and to rally for national independence — patriotic songs that had been made forbidden.

People tend not to think of singing when it comes to revolutions, but with the Estonian culture and tradition of song not just tens of thousands but Hundreds Of Thousands gathered to sing and to give their nation a renew spirit.

“The Singing Revolution”, by James Tusty and Maureen Castle Tusty, tells the incredibly moving story of how the people of Estonia peacefully regained their freedom and helped to topple the Soviet empire in the process.

My fellow musicians, If Ever You Question The Importance And The Power Of Our Craft … watch The Singing Revolution.  Imagine a revolution that looks like this with everyone you can see singing

The Singing Revolution at and Wikipedia …. and for no good apparent reason another page about the same film at Wikipedia.  Go figure.

Joyeux Noël AKA Merry Christmas (2005)

I’ve wanted to watch the 2005 film “Joyeux Noël” (AKA Merry Christmas) for years — finally got to and I’m very glad I did!  One could easily say that every piper, every musician, and every person ought to.

We all know the setting…

The Great War, which of course later came to be known as World War I and lasted from 28July1914 to 11November1918.  It is viewed as being the first modern war and the most destructive.

Scottish soldiers in a WWI trench
Emerging from the trenches with Silent Night in the film.

During the first year of the war there were a number of informal and unauthorized “Christmas truces“, where men on both sides of the Western Front line stopped fighting to celebrate the holiday … and in some cases met in the middle to celebrate together.  Joyeux Noël is a dramatization of a group of French, Scottish, and German soldiers.  Having heard Silent Night on bagpipes from trench and the singing of the classic song by a German vocalist in another trench, they rose and met on No Man’s Land in one of these truces.

Maybe I think too much, this gets listed as an anti-war film.  I’m not always sure what makes a song or a film (etc) an anti-war piece — or to say, some are more obvious and direct than others.  What I am clear on is that Joyeux Noël shows that we as different cultures can set aside our differences, meet together peacefully, and share what we have in common.  To me some of the significance of this film has to do with universal languages — among those I believe are math and music.  As musicians we bring people together — in good times, in bad times, and bridging our different languages.  The lyrics may sound different but the music is the same.

Here are my side-notes on this film — in other words, these are the not important things I observed …

To me this film looked great — the costumes were good, there were four languages in this film (so long as you count the priest delivering a sermon in Latin), the acting was good, and so far as I could tell everything was period correct.  According to Wikipedia, Joyeux Noël had a budget of $22 million and brought in only $17,709,155 at the box office.  This happens — a well made film with a beautiful message … clearly it did not go unnoticed, and from when I’ve talked about wanting to see it the film apparently resonates in the collective conscious … but I’m saddened that this didn’t get as much notice in the theater that it profited let alone broke even.

As a musician I of course enjoy seeing when singers and instrumentalists are given focus in a film or in a TV show — especially when pipes are featured in a film.  I’m also accustom to these not actually featuring singers or musicians. In the case of this film the actors-not-singing is glaringly obvious — the lip syncing is painful.  The bagpiping in this film is also synced (pipe-synced?), which is understandable — finding actors who play bagpipes is uncommon (yep, sorry — Viggo Mortensen doesn’t actually play pipes in Captain Fantastic, although the filmmakers did a very good job of making it look like he did and Viggo trained hard to look as-so).  The pipe-syncing is both good & bad in Joyeux Noël.  When pipers start playing and then stop playing but the tune continues … that’s bad.  However, at times in this film the actors-not-pipers are seen playing and they actually do a considerably accurate job of appearing to play … so to some extent these guys actually trained — WOW!

The one other hang-up I had, or call it that if you will — there were four sets of bagpipes in the film.  Four clearly bran new, shiny sets of pipes.  I find it hard to imagine that pipes exposed to such conditions would be in such good shape, but this is a small thing so let’s look past it.

Okay, before I get any more into the weeds, let’s just say this — Joyeux Noël was a heck of a film — see it, it well deserves its time in the sun.

Joyeux Noël AKA Merry Christmas

Make no mistake, this is not a buddy-comedy film


DIY or DIE: How To Survive as an Independent Artist (2002)

If you’re an independent artist of any type, you’ll want to see this. At the beginning of the piece the film-maker states his point to project & what he wanted to explore — and over the course of the film I don’t feel that his interviewees proved, represented or developed his point … at all. However, the interviewees speak a lot about the passion behind their work and doing it successfully their way regardless of what “The Industry” indicates.

DIY or DIE at IMDB and Wikipedia

NOTE – The full title of this film is DIY or DIE: How To Survive as an Independent Artist (AKA DIY or DIE: Burn This DVD)

Once (2007)

I found out about “Once” while watching extras to the film Begin Again.  Once was written & directed by the same director — John Carney — and stars Irish musician/actor Glen Hansard and Czech musician/actress Markéta Irglová.

Usually when I make note of a music-related film it’s because I strongly related to it relative to music — it struck a chord (no pun intended) in me, it spoke to me about the experience and the inexpiable thing that is music … this one is hard to write about.  More than anything I think for me this film speaks to me because of the busking and because of the from-the-core music of the male lead, played by Irish musician/actor Glen Hansard.

Frankly, it’s difficult to write about because I missed about 15 minutes of the film about 1 hour in — the DVD sketched out, which is a typical problem with films I get from the library.  From what I could tell visually I predict that there were important elements to the story line, especially having to do with the ending.  It was very disappointing and I’d like to get my hands on a non-blemished copy so I can get the full story.  I liked that the film was shot hand-held — it made it feel human, that you were with the guy & gal leads having their experience.  Which is another thing … I didn’t realize until I saw the credits that they never have names in the film — as listed in the credits, they are “guy” & “girl”.

Maybe the two areas where this particularly spoke to me …

  • One, it was shot on the streets of Dublin.  I’ve barely spent four days there, but places were familiar.  I particularly recognized parts around the Temple Bar area, and know that a lot of famous performers out of Ireland have come from there.  Despite aspects that didn’t register well with me — that it’s a tourist town with too many poor mannered American college kids, and there are a lot of immigrants and it was hard to find Irish people in Dublin/Ireland — I no less came away knowing that I wanted to return and see more of not just the city but the country.
  • Two, I identified with this film from the standpoint of being a broke musician — dealing with the challenges that come with trying to survive, trying to live your passion (music), and trying to keep your music supported financially when you are struggling to pay rent and for food.

Also, similar to what I got out of Begin Again, I think this film spoke to me about going for it with your music — being venerable with your art and releasing every inhibition to touch the depth of each emotion present in a tune, in a song, and playing it despite judgment, despite an audience, and regardless of what stage you’re on.

Ultimately, about this film, I can’t put my finger on why I’m writing about this one or its importance why a musician or non-musician should see it — but there is something about it that I can’t let it go without note, it touches something inexpiable which is a huge part of music itself.  This film is not just a story, it’s not just a vignette of drama, it does not fall into the ranks of ‘just a music film’ as it is music itself.

I think it’s fair to say that there are some common threads that go through this film that also go through Begin Again, and given how I responded to Begin Again maybe that’s why I respond to its predecessor Once.

PS – I essentially just watched the film a second time.  Without giving anything away, there is an element to the ending – perhaps a few, but one in particular – that to me is beautiful, it is subtle yet it is powerful, it is joy and it is balance.  You might & you might not see it; it may be a musician thing.  If you don’t see it, that’s okay.

Once at IMDB and Wikipedia

Glen Hansard at IMDBWikipedia, and his Official Website

Markéta Irglová at IMDB Wikipedia and her Official website

John Carney at IMDB and Wikipedia

Begin Again (2013)

Cut to the chase — in fact, it makes sense for me me to start on that given how this film struck me.  The story is good, but it wasn’t the important thing to me, but it supported what I saw as the bigger point to the film … which maybe comes out to a musician viewing the film as opposed to a non-musician.  So maybe now you’re saying I haven’t cut to the chase, but you’d be wrong — I’m coming off as cryptic because I haven’t written the rest of my point supporting my what would be cryptic.

Right, so, let’s get on with it.

So here’s the basis of the story …

A British song-writer breaks-up with her rising-pop-star boyfriend and gets noticed for one of her songs by an out-of-work record producer when she performs at an open-mic in NYC the night before she was going to return to England.  The music producer convinces her to stay and record an album with him but they don’t have money or other support to make it.  Through portable gear and musicians of varying abilities they take her songs to the streets and record live around New York.  The first track gets recorded in an alley, another in Central Park, one on a train platform, the last on the roof of a building.

Here’s my thing from this film …

To date I have more than 30 concepts for albums that I want to record.  To date I have done a lot of work toward five or twelve of these and haven’t recorded a single note maybe beyond a few demos.  Five or so years ago I got myself into a playing-skill space over a three-day weekend.  I was back in school at the time — busy — I felt that if I could keep working during the coming school week that I could belt out recording my part the following weekend.  Well, I returned to school, was busy with school work (remember, ‘busy’), and didn’t continue to practice hence I didn’t make the recording.  But what if I had?  What if I just made the recording, even if I wasn’t that little blip further along in my ability.  I thought of it then, figuring that I’d be better off to do it, to make it, — to have a recording to work with it if I didn’t get to push for that little bit better playing ability.

Why not record?  Why not record every performance, record every time you’re close to the idea you want to record?  I’m not talking about studio recording – I can’t record that, many musicians can’t.  I’m talking about personal gear.  These days you can get good equipment that’s pretty easy to use, really for not much money.  At a guess, I’ve spent about a thousand dollars on music gear — about half new and half used.  I’ve read a little how to use it, I’ve experimented with it, I’ve asked advise of folks who are in the know, and I’ve captured recordings that sound at least pretty good – recordings that can be worked with.  Likely, had I recorded and later recorded the other musicians, got the album finished, let’s face it … it wouldn’t have been the last time I played those numbers … and I could have recorded them again.  I could have taken the album and booked myself for small performances, maybe had something special happen on some night, and recorded that too.

I’m not saying playing bad is good or making a garbage recording is acceptable.  Play well and make a good recording, but neither have to be some ideal of ‘perfection’.  It’d be better to play, perform, and record as opposed to never doing any.  The Grateful Dead recorded their songs, released, and once touring always played exactly as they did on their albums?  NO!  Their recordings were a foundation to work from, to create upon.  Record – get the playing, get the moment, do it instead of don’t, you may get something unique.

I didn’t cut to the chase, did I?

By the way … if you like Begin Again — which was directed by John Carney — I urge you to watch Once (2007), which Mr. Carney both wrote & directed.

Begin Again at IMDB and Wikipedia

Rush – Beyond The Lighted Stage (2010)

This film gave me a renewed interest for the band.

I appreciated that the band has always made their music their way rather regardless of industry trends.  For them the creativity and pushing their skill is what is most important.

Using and transitioning between different time signatures has always been an important element to their music — and they do so seamlessly.  With this a musician who understands time signatures follows along and is impressed by their work and yet with the seamless transitions someone who is not musically inclined follows their music and also experiences the energy of their work.  While this makes them a musician’s band they have always also been the people’s band.

Rush – Beyond The Lighted Stage at IMDB and Wikipeida

Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

Written 10Oct2016 – 28Oct2016

“Searching for Sugar Man” is the unbelievable-but-true story of an iconic musician who did not know he was famous – for his influential music and for seeming to have never existed.

Yeah – you read that right.

One night in 1968 Detroit, two renowned producers (Mike Theodore & Dennis Coffey) intentionally went to a back-alley bar to hear a musician known as Sixto Rodriguez.  So impressed with his craft they quickly offered him a recording deal.  To their surprise, when his first albums were released in 1970 & 71, Rodriguez’s albums tanked.

As the singer/songwriter faded into obscurity, bootleg recordings of Rodriguez’s surprised album found their way around apartheid South Africa. Here, unbeknownst to him, over the following two decades Rodriguez became a cultural phenomenon.

“Searching for Sugar Man” gives the account of two Cape Town fans in the late 1990s endeavoring to solve the mysteries surrounding their hero.


NOTE – Dennis Coffey & Mike Theodore also worked with Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Supremes, Gladys Knight, Ringo Starr, The Four Tops, and Wilson Pickett, among others.  Yeah, these guys are no joke.  Also, this film does not draw attention to the fact that Sixto Rodriguez did get attention in Australia – which it receives some criticism for, suggesting that it is ‘myth building.  The argument against that is that it is not attempting to build a story about this artist but instead to tell the story of the two fans and their search into the history of this artist.