Thursday, September 30, 2021

Ted Giola on Criticism

 Check out this recent post from great writer Ted Giola on how to deal with critics and their opinions…..


10 Rules for Musicians (and Everybody Else) on How to Deal with Criticism

Ted Gioia

Sep 26

Even I felt awkward about this.

An interviewer recently asked Rickie Lee Jones to respond to something I wrote about her. I’m grateful that the journalist quoted some of the more positive things I’d said in a very long essay on Jones’s music and career—there were other passages not quite so flattering, which were quietly ignored. Even so, I found the whole situation a little unsettling.

After all, I’m writing for readers, and not to interrogate musicians. In fact, I came to the sad conclusion long ago that my vocation as a music writer makes it almost impossible—except in rare instances—to have genuine friendships with the artists I write about. So if Paul McCartney phones and asks me to join him for dinner, I simply must refuse.

Just joking there. I’m actually having dinner with Paul tomorrow.

In all seriousness, there are trade-offs in any vocation. I wish I didn’t have to be so professional in my dealing with many musicians, but the implicit covenant between a music writer and the reader imposes legitimate constraints. A writer’s responsibility to the reader comes first, overriding all other agendas—at least that’s how I see it. And that’s that.

But I have to say I loved Rickie Lee Jones’s response to the interviewer—which was, more or less, that she didn’t give a rat’s ass what Ted Gioia thinks.

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See, she grasps that her vocation also has its demands. And the last thing any musician should do is construct songs in order to please critics. Her responsibility is to her art, just as mine is to speak honestly and forthrightly to my reader. The only genuine, heartfelt advice I’d give to talented musicians is to have the courage of their convictions, and pursue their projects at the highest level they can achieve. Only they know how to do that, and what demands it imposes.

But this raises a much larger question—which is how musicians should deal with criticism. I’m claiming this is a bigger subject, because it’s relevant for everyone, whether you’re a rock star or a factory worker on the assembly line. Everybody gets criticized in this world. (And if you’re active on social media, get ready for a triple dose of it.) None of us can change that, but we can adjust how we respond to criticism.

I consider it a great advantage (although sometimes a painful one) that I have been criticized in public regularly over the years. Unlike many music writers, I have focused most of my energy on writing books, not articles. When you write books, you must deal with the reviews. And after you’ve written as many books as I have, you have learned to deal with every kind of review—harsh, kind, glowing, cruel, fastidious, dishonest, erudite, reductionist, and every other flavor.

The Art Critic by Georges Croegaert,1848–1923 (Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve had the unadulterated joy of reading a few reviewers who seemed to understand what I wrote even better than I did—they explain my viewpoint so much better than I did myself, that I wish I had hired them to write parts of the book. On the other extreme, I’ve dealt with reviewers who attribute all sorts of ridiculous viewpoints to me, filling their reviews with supposed paraphrases of my work that have no resemblance to what I wrote. The mismatch is so great that even I walk away from the review saying to myself: “This Gioia dude is a total idiot—how can that damned fool hold such nonsensical opinions?”

But the simple fact that I’ve been reviewed hundreds of times has had a sobering impact on my own reviewing. I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of these journalistic exercises. This unwanted education has made me a better critic, or at least a less clumsy and heavy-handed one.

Having experienced the process on both sides, let me offer some suggestions on how musicians (and others) ought to deal with criticism. Here are ten rules I try to live by in my own experiences with harsh feedback.

(1) Never let a total stranger control or define your sense of who you are, and what your mission in life is. Of course, there are some people whose criticisms I must take to heart—starting with my wife, and close family members. But it’s not a large number of people. And it certainly doesn’t include the reviewer at the Poughkeepsie Times.

(2) That said, you can’t just ignore criticism. I applaud writers who claim never to read reviews, but I don’t suggest you emulate them. And for the simple reason that critics impact your life, and you often need to deal with the fallout. That’s true if your boss takes you to task. (“Ted, you’re not making enough widgets on the widget assembly line—I’m taking away your overtime hours.”) And it’s also true if a hit piece on you runs in the New York Times. So you pay attention to the criticism, not because it defines you (it doesn’t), but because as a professional you responsibly deal with the consequences of your actions, whether deserved or not.

(3) Absolutely try to learn from every bit of criticism, if at all possible—although you shouldn’t assume the critic understands what you do better than you do yourself. In general, people are overly polite in our day-to-day lives, and will avoid telling us unpleasant truths. So it’s a great favor to us when they speak bluntly and honestly. Receiving tough feedback is never fun, but it can be one of the most productive experiences in your life. However. . . .

(4) Much of what passes for criticism can be safely ignored because—and I hate to say this—it isn’t honest criticism. So it’s impossible to get much useful feedback from it. It pains me to make that admission. As a critic, I like to think highly of my tribe. But so much of what is published nowadays is grandstanding, posturing, click-chasing, score-settling, spin, hot takes, and the exact opposite of the frank, honest guidance we want and deserve from critics. This is sad for many reasons, but one of them is that it limits our ability to learn and genuinely benefit from criticism.

(5) It’s almost never a good idea to respond to a critic. Don’t do this unless it is absolutely unavoidable. If the original criticism is valid, you learn from it and move on. But if the criticism is dishonest or angry or openly hostile, follow-up exchanges won’t be any better.

I can only recall two times in my entire life when I wrote a response to a negative review. And it might have been better to let even those two instances pass by unnoticed. I do believe it’s acceptable to clarify specific factual errors in someone’s account of your work. But just debating opinions—which, after all, are the reviewer’s stock in trade—is almost pointless. Let people who disagree with you have their chance to speak their mind, and live with it.

(6) If your creative work is taking you in new and bold directions, don't let critics see it until it’s ready for their feedback. I’ve learned this the hard way. I won’t even whisper about the books and essays I’m writing nowadays until they are almost completely finished. I’ve had promising projects destroyed because I let outsiders critique them too soon. You can’t judge a vacation by the plane trip to the destination, and no critic can fairly assess your work if it’s still in embryonic (or even post-embryonic) condition. So protect yourself by keeping the engine room of your creativity well guarded.

(7)  Don’t let your emotions rule you when dealing with criticism. I saw this at work in my early years. The boss would walk in the door and scream in people’s faces. Some of my colleagues would fume for days after these incidents, but I saw that as letting the boss live rent-free inside your head. Just on principle, you shouldn’t let anybody do that, whether a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a teacher in school, or even a columnist at the Altoona Daily News.

(8) Even unfair criticism can make you stronger. The world is far gentler today than it once was, but back in the day, I encountered sports coaches, bosses, teachers, and other people in positions of authority whose criticism was as subtle as a hand grenade in a foxhole. They often crossed the line, and I absolutely don’t condone their techniques. They espoused a theory of criticsm that would get you fired in the current day, and legitimately so. But here’s the good news: almost nothing phases me at this stage in my life. I couldn’t have gotten to that rare place without having lived through those over-the-top experiences. Like the boy named Sue, you can benefit from even the most unfair labels and critiques.

(9) And consider this: If criticism is getting more intense, it’s often a sign that you’re having an impact and some success. During the first decade of my work as a musician and writer, no one ever criticized what I did—and for the simple fact that nobody paid the slightest attention to it. But when I started selling books in larger quantities, the intensity of criticism increased in direct proportion to my royalty checks.

I didn’t experience my first genuine hatchet job until the age of 40—what a shock that was! But it’s no coincidence that this hostile rant came in response to the breakout book that would give me access to a large global audience. I now grasp that this is a fairly common rite of passage. And, as far as I can tell, it’s the same in every sphere of life. If you shoot hoops at the gym, no one cares, but if you play in the NBA Finals, a million people criticize your every move. And it’s just as true in everyday work environments—the more responsibility you take on, the more you will be scrutinized and found wanting. So at least comfort yourself with the realization that tough and even unwarranted criticism is typically a sign that you’ve made some genuine progress.

And, finally. . .

(10) The only way to avoid criticism completely is to say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.  If you go down that path, the critics will disappear. But don’t ever give them that much power over you.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Curating Your Work

"Sure Warren's use of perspective is good, but where are all the double kick chops and blast beats, Maaannn?

Step 1- Learn to play something
Step 2- Go to the gig and don't play it.

 Sometimes it's good to be reminded of what practice is, and why it's different from performance. This happened when I checked out a recent Four On the Floor post. The great John Riley was featured, and as I watched and listened to him play through some very challenging material, I was struck by a few things. Firstly, I realized how well he knew the material as he went from one challenging coordination pattern to another without changing the ride beat & groove at all, and playing each example flawlessly. Secondly, actions speak louder than words so let's check out a relatively recent performance of Mr. Riley playing with a quartet.

What do I notice? Well, great time, ideas, and dynamic control for one thing. What do I NOT notice? He doesn't appear to be playing a bunch of planned out licks, especially related to the material in the Four On the Floor post. Nope, despite all the work that went into getting MANY things together on the drums, when he's playing, Mr. Riley is simply letting all the things he's practiced come through him in an organic way while he's listening and reacting to the music around him. In short, he's a great example of working hard in the woodshed and then being willing to let it go on the bandstand. We represent the music best when we have a context for what we're playing rather than justifying something we worked on to merely satisfy our ego. :) 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Ted Warren describes his approach to teaching

In this video I briefly discuss my teaching philosophy and how I assist students of all ages, temperaments, and backgrounds in becoming the drummer of their dreams…..

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Quote via Gary Husband

 ′′ My jump isn't high enough, my spins aren't perfect, I can't put my leg behind my ear Please don't do that. Sometimes there is such an obsession with technique that it can kill your best impulses. Remember that communicating with an art form means being vulnerable, being imperfect. And most of the time it's much more interesting. Believe me ".



Friday, September 17, 2021

Developing A Great Practise Routine

Hello everyone,
Posting has been a little light lately. I was working for Elections Canada and then I got injured. So, here's great bassist and musical thinker Rich Brown with some great advice on practicing, that definitely applies to all instruments!

And here's Rich, practicing what he's preaching in a performance of my tune "Shipwrecked" with Broadview (trio with myself and Mike Murley) from a gig about 10 years ago. I have to get this band some more work! :) 

Alright! That's it for now…….

Monday, September 6, 2021

Mindfullness and Concentration

 Lately, my wife and I have been enjoying Marc Lesser's teaching on mindfulness. Check out how he relates his experiences with high school wrestling with a greater understanding of concentration….

I was captain of my high school wrestling team during my senior year of Colonia High School in north-central New Jersey. One of the teams we regularly faced was J. P. Stevens High School from Edison. They were consistently one of the top-rated teams in the state and often sent wrestlers to the state championship. During the warm-up period, my team behaved like most high school wrestling teams. We ran briskly onto the mats, did some exercises, and made a lot of noise. The main objective of our warm-up was to demonstrate our prowess to the opposing team.

In contrast, the J. P. Stevens team walked out slowly and quietly onto the wrestling mat. They were poised, focused, and concentrated, preparing themselves for the task ahead by settling and quieting their minds. They seemed disinterested in our team. Their uniforms were black, and their heads were nearly shaved. They didn’t talk or smile. I knew right away that this was the team I wanted to be on. I think of this as an early sign of my desire to be a Zen student (and at times a Zen monk.)

One of the things that intrigued me in high school wrestling was the power, passion, and complexity of concentration. I noticed that my desire to win and my fear of losing often interfered with my performance, my concentration, and my enjoyment. I knew that something very important was going on, and I also felt that something very vital was missing. By my senior year I was a fairly good wrestler, having faced some of the better competition in the state. Competing with the best in the state was, as my coach proclaimed, a good way to develop. Our coach used to ask, “Do you want to be a big fish in a small pond, or a big fish in a large pond?” This was his way of explaining that although we were a new and inexperienced team, it was useful to wrestle against the best teams in the state, even if it meant being utterly demolished and embarrassed.

In watching other wrestlers, I noticed that the good ones were usually strong and athletic and really wanted to win. The best wrestlers, those who became state champions, seemed different. They weren’t always the strongest or quickest or the most athletic looking. They certainly cared about winning, but they did not seem caught up in winning and losing. Rather, they appeared focused on what they were doing. They seemed to move and act from a deeper place than the good wrestlers. They often seemed a little odd and appeared not to care what others thought of them. I knew that there was something to learn from these wrestlers and that the lessons to be learned would translate far beyond the wrestling mat.

Lots for us musicians to chew on as well. Why are we doing this? If it's just to be the fastest/loudest/most impressive we're not going to be doing this as deeply as someone who is just fascinated by every part of making music………...


Thursday, September 2, 2021

Gary Burton Quintet 1974 feat Metheny Goodrick Swallow Moses - HQ audio

Wow. Here's some great footage of Gary Burton's quintet in 1974. Bob Moses sounds so good!
I'm aware that a lot of these youtube embeds are rather ephemeral, so if even in the future, if this link is broken, go get the album "Ring' which is this band plus Eberhard Weber. A lot of Jazz from the '70s, particularly coming out of the states, gets maligned a lot. True, it was a strange time for Jazz, but then there's great stuff like this! Enjoy!