I have been a pro guitar player my whole life and now that I’m 60 I realize this wild ride has led me to some very interesting places. On the left are the grounds of the palace Schonbrunn in Vienna Austria. I lived about a mile away for a couple years while teaching at an Austrian music school. This was my jogging area. I included this pic because I couldn’t find any royalty-free Grand Ole Opry pics and Vienna is the city where many great operas were written. And Opry is a play on the word Opera.
Here’s a story I thought of while watching Willie Nelson on TV the other day. Of all the hats I have worn, one is as a Boss product specialist. Boss is that great guitar effects company! Years ago I was in Nashville demoing Boss pedals and doing in-store clinics. At that time, Boss’s parent company, Roland was introducing a brand new digital mixing console. The Roland rep who I was traveling with, wanted to show this console to the engineer who mixes the Grand Ole Opry for radio and TV broadcasts. So we dropped by the Opry one afternoon and met him.
If you don know what the Opry is, it’s been called country music’s most famous stage. It’s a theatre in Nashville that does weekly variety shows hosted by a famous country star. These live shows feature up and coming, and well known country, bluegrass, folk and gospel artists along with comedic skits. The Opry is historic. It’s shows has been on the radio since the 1925. It has also been televised since the 1950′s. You can catch the radio broadcast on Sirius XM’s “Willie’s Roadhouse” (as in Willie Nelson).
While talking with the engineer he invited us to the Saturday night show along with backstage passes. The headliner of the show was Willie Nelson. The host was the iconic Porter Wagoner whom I remember watching on TV as a kid. Also another country icon who performed was Charlie Pride, he’s one of the few black country stars. I can’t remember everybody on the show that night, but it was amazing! The theatre holds about 4000 country fans and it was sold out!
I went backstage before the show began. What an experience. There were multiple dressing rooms filled with country artists with sparkle telecasters, glitter cowboy boots, cowboy hats, cowboy shirts, paisley shirts, jeans, big belt buckles galore, bolo ties and beautiful girls wearing short leather, fringed skirts, all getting ready for the show.
I sat in the theatre for most of the show including Willie Nelson’s performance. Wow! Willie was really good! He just has a musicality that eminates from him. I have a theory about that. I divide a music performance into three parts:
One part is technique. This is the skill to make the instrument sound good. Depending on what type of music you play, technique takes a lot of practice. If you are just strumming chords maybe it takes less practice than playing solos but it still takes time to learn how to lock into a solid rhythm and make the chords ring out in tune.
The second part of a performance is what you choose to play. Your songs and either worked out or improvised solos, your musical vocabulary, licks, notes, chords and scales. What you choose to play, these things identify your style. You can practice both parts one and two.
The third part of a music performance is something intangible. I’m not sure if this can be taught or developed by practice. What made Curt Cobain from Nirvana so good? It wasn’t that he was a super, great guitar player. What makes Carlos Santana or Jimi Hendrix identifiable with just one note? I believe there is something being communicated through music beyond our regular senses. Some kind of spiritual communication. That’s why we become musicians, and it’s why music is so important. Because we are sensitive to this intangible part. Call it playing with feeling or emotion or putting your soul into it. Whatever you call it, this is what attracts us to a great performance and Willie has it in loads! This is something to contemplate, maybe it is something you can practice, I don’t know, but it is mysterious. Here’s my previous post about this.
Okay back to my Grand Ole Opry story. After Willie played, I headed to the control room. Maybe I could see the show being engineered by the guy who gave us the passes. I entered the control room and proceeded to be very quiet as he was mixing the show for the broadcast. This is an unwritten rule about recording studios. During a session, unless you are the artist or producer, shut up, and do not talk unless spoken to. As I watched I noticed a rack of about 8 TC Electronic multi FX units along with another rack of about 4 Antares Autotune units. There were multiple singers on stage and I could see by the meters that these TC and Antares units were constantly correcting the pitch of the singers on stage.
After the performance the show went to a commecial and the engineer turned around and said hi to me. I asked him about the auto-tuning and he said he uses them on just about every singer in Nashville. He said everybody in Nashville sings sharp. “Really?” I asked. “Did you auto-tune Willie?” He quickly said, “Oh no, not Willie but most everybody else.”
That’s a true story. Btw, if you are ever in Nashville, even if you’re not a big country fan it’s worth the $50 for a ticket to the Opry! You’ll not regret it!