Why I Teach Music by Melanie Ida Chopko

The last class round up of singing skills

The last class round up of singing skills

I'm super excited to be back in the rhythm of writing for this blog, and sharing some reflections I have as I continue down the road of both studying and writing music, and supporting adults to do the same.

I think alot about why our culture tends to classify a select few people as "singers" and musicians, and why learning music is seen as a sort of elite task unlike, say, learning how to drive. When I visited Brasil during Carnaval, for example, this was far from the case! I wonder if partly it has to do with that fact that music is made with our bodies, with vocal chords and fingers and hands. With a common denominator of body parts, it's pretty simple to imagine some fingers and vocal chords are just magically gifted from the heavens, rather than having a skill that is cultivated. And with our culture of ATMS and downloading stuff from the sky in seconds, it would be an understandable mistake.

One of my heroes Danny Gregory wrote a bit about this in his book The Creative License - What if we spoke about driving the same way? "I didn't learn how to drive as a kid, so there's no hope now." Or, "When I was a kid, I didn't show a special interest in cars, so I must not be meant to drive." Sounds crazy, right? 

What has become more interesting to me as a learner and teacher is recentering the word 'singer' around the verb - A singer is simply one who sings. She could be singing on a stage, sure, or for big money, but that verb lives also in a practice room, in a child's bedroom, while walking down the street. The very act of DOING it means I am it. Of course once I'm doing it, I can put time in on learning how to do all sorts of cool stuff - to shape my tone, how to sing harmony or melismas/vocal runs, how to be a storyteller. But it all comes back to the verb.

For a very long time, way longer than I'm proud to calculate, I lived with a sort of metta-fizzle when it came to the music verbs.  "If it takes time, if its hard and unfamiliar, it's not in the cards for me. My body can't do it." (I can still catch myself stuck in that mud, when I'm working on something unfamiliar and new). Seeing the freedom that comes from unbuckling that assumption is pretty much the reason I teach music at all. And, another amazing by product of being a verb is that it stacks up time and experiences that I can look back at, and see, holy moly, I learned stuff. The idea of cultivating a skill, just like growing a plant, just plain works.

I believe making sound, singing, is our birth rite as human beings - a practice intertwined with spoken language, and the very roots of human culture. What would be possible if these verbs were linked with the other verbs formerly so essential to human culture, verbs like growing, cultivating, tending to? What if I saw the harvest as inevitable?

You Were Always on My Mind - for my mom. by Melanie Ida Chopko

As I played this over the spring, You Were Always on My Mind became a song for my mom, and a story of my own commitment to continue knowing my parents more fully as an adult. A commitment to savoring however much time I have left with them, with greater joy and connection. I hope you enjoy it.

(And, in a behind the scenes note, I was super glad to get away with wearing my favorite earring, since the second one is sadly lost...)


The Big Summer Show June 25th

The Big Summer Show with M'Gilvery Allen (Live Debut!)
Sunday June 25th 4-6pm
The Backroom
, Berkeley - 1984 Bontina Ave at MLK
Tickets here: $12 adv / $15 at the door
I'm super excited to share a bunch of new songs, and support the debut of my friend Gordon "M'Gilvery" Allen and his ethereal "post apocalyptic railroad blues."  Gordon and I mostly collaborate by punching each other in silence at Aikido of Berkeley, so it will be a treat to publicly share our music collaborations as well.  More info here.
 

Beginner Class

Harmonies for the Hot Tub with Carl Oser
Saturday, June 17th 3-6pm
The Freight & Salvage

more info and registration here
Carl and I had a blast doing this workshop a few months ago, so we're doin' it again! Continue down the road of demystifying two and three-part harmonies, so you're ready to add extra melodic pizazz the next time you're singing with friends. Using the building blocks of major and minor chords, we'll learn how to create harmony goosebumps and add parts to compliment melodies. more info


On a more public note

When the news broke last week about the Paris climate agreement, I couldn't help thinking of a story I heard about the Dali Lama. The reporter asked him "Who is your greatest spiritual teacher?" and the Dali Lama replied, to much surprise, "Chairman Mao," He later wrote, "It is the enemy who can truly teach us to practice the virtues of compassion and tolerance."

Of course, it is perfectly available to me to spin like Chicken Little in the face of such an epic issue, feeding on fear and worry and media. But maybe waaaay more interesting is feeling our anger and grief as power, and seeing what's possible if we ask "So what's next here, to do what we need to do?" I just loved reading about how governors and now over 200 mayors, including Pittsburgh's, did just that.  (More in Small Victories.)

And who knew Thomas Jefferson would hit the nail on the head: "One person with courage is a majority." This will sure be an interesting time to be alive, and I'm really glad to get to do it with YOU.

Love,
MelanieAs I played this over the spring, You Were Always on My Mind became a song for my mom, and a story of my own commitment to continue knowing my parents more fully as an adult. A commitment to savoring however much time I have left with them, with greater joy and connection. I hope you enjoy it.

(And, in a behind the scenes note, I was super glad to get away with wearing my favorite earring, since the second one is sadly lost...)


The Big Summer Show June 25th

The Big Summer Show with M'Gilvery Allen (Live Debut!)
Sunday June 25th 4-6pm
The Backroom
, Berkeley - 1984 Bontina Ave at MLK
Tickets here: $12 adv / $15 at the door
I'm super excited to share a bunch of new songs, and support the debut of my friend Gordon "M'Gilvery" Allen and his ethereal "post apocalyptic railroad blues."  Gordon and I mostly collaborate by punching each other in silence at Aikido of Berkeley, so it will be a treat to publicly share our music collaborations as well.  More info here.
 

Beginner Class

Harmonies for the Hot Tub with Carl Oser
Saturday, June 17th 3-6pm
The Freight & Salvage

more info and registration here
Carl and I had a blast doing this workshop a few months ago, so we're doin' it again! Continue down the road of demystifying two and three-part harmonies, so you're ready to add extra melodic pizazz the next time you're singing with friends. Using the building blocks of major and minor chords, we'll learn how to create harmony goosebumps and add parts to compliment melodies. more info


On a more public note

When the news broke last week about the Paris climate agreement, I couldn't help thinking of a story I heard about the Dali Lama. The reporter asked him "Who is your greatest spiritual teacher?" and the Dali Lama replied, to much surprise, "Chairman Mao," He later wrote, "It is the enemy who can truly teach us to practice the virtues of compassion and tolerance."

Of course, it is perfectly available to me to spin like Chicken Little in the face of such an epic issue, feeding on fear and worry and media. But maybe waaaay more interesting is feeling our anger and grief as power, and seeing what's possible if we ask "So what's next here, to do what we need to do?" I just loved reading about how governors and now over 200 mayors, including Pittsburgh's, did just that.  (More in Small Victories.)

And who knew Thomas Jefferson would hit the nail on the head: "One person with courage is a majority." This will sure be an interesting time to be alive, and I'm really glad to get to do it with YOU.

Love,
Melanie

Rice Song - A wider love story by Melanie Ida Chopko

Recorded and filmed live at Maybeck Studio for the Performing Arts, Berkeley, CA on December 4th, 2016

I wrote Rice Song a few years ago, after reading about thousands of Chinese people uprooted by a forced modernization project. But now, on this Valentine’s Day, it seems important share this one story as one of many wider love stories, the love I see in the faces of the immigrants I know when they speak of their homeland. It’s a relationship with place that remains long after their departure, even if leaving the land of their ancestors for food or safety or work was the most logical thing to do.

Their stories also tell a piece of mine - not just as a granddaughter of immigrants, but my own need to build a life alongside vast open spaces and the rhythms of the natural world. To learn from the traditions of my ancestors, and in turn, know and preserve this place.

This video piece was created alongside the genius of filmmaker Kevin Dorman, editor Manon Rudant, co-producer Isidro 'CiD' Pineda, and engineers Morgan Maudière and Gordon Allen. Special thanks to Jack Eastman at The Maybeck Studio, Mariam El Quessny, Motaz & Taha Attalla, Moorea Dickason, Rachel Efron, Katie Walker, Carl Oser and Pete Weiss for all the equipment, late night phone calls, and the early morning eye-makeup bonanza.