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Riley Music Academy Music Cast: Loyalty and other misconceptions

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Normally I manage to form some sort of topic of discussion in my mind before sitting down at the keyboard, but today I have so many ideas that I sense this post may be a bit of a mishmash.

On Monday I finished my last day of teaching music at SMC. I’ve worked there for 15 years. Let me just read that back….what?…15 years?!

I had some great times at that place and I’ve taught so many students in that time that it brings a smile to my face. It’s really nice when I get an email out the blue from someone I taught years ago. Coincidentally, this happened this week and he explained that he was still playing and using the tips and techniques I had showed him. It’s also really nice to know that some of my students have gone on to do some amazing things in music. I guess there will always be star students but its also great to hear from the people who didn’t pursue a career in music but have fond memories of their lessons.

When I first started, I didn’t really want to be a teacher. I just wanted to play live and I was naive enough to think that I was ready. The reality was quite different and I’m glad. Through teaching I’ve learnt far more about myself and the subject I love. It did take a while for this realisation to bed in though so for the first few years I used to turn up to my 8.30 Saturday morning lessons straight from gigs and after show parties. One time I deliberately sat on the other side of the room from my student so that he couldn’t smell the alcohol on my breath. Ironically, he thanked me that day for “….the best lesson I’ve ever had!” [I feel I may have to write another post sometime on receiving praise when its completely undeserved!]

One of the words that has kept cropping up this week is:


Being loyal is an admirable quality, right? Yet, it doesn’t seem to be encouraged. I am certainly not ‘loyal’ to my broadband provider or my electricity company. Perhaps being loyal is more of an inward attribute as I try to be loyal to myself, which inevitably means being honest. Being true to yourself and those you care about is definitely something I aspire to, even if it means telling them something they don’t want to hear. Loyalty is perhaps a rose tinted disguise for convenience or comfort. Staying in a situation out of loyalty is perhaps a fear of not exploring something new. I could be wrong. Anyway, 15 years is a good stretch of time and I’m ready for a new challenge.

Say what you really think

Here’s a complete change of direction form the previous topic. Since taking a more prominent social role in the form of ‘jazz club director’, I now have the opportunity to interact with a whole new circle of people. It’s interesting to witness peoples attitudes. Here are a few examples:

  • People say what they really think to complete strangers who look like they have authority. The phrase “I want to speak with the Manager” is a sentence I think we all recognise!
  • If you hand something to someone, they will read it even if you are engaged in conversation  with them. Teachers understand this. Don’t give out the handout until you have finished talking
  • If you provide chairs, people will fall over themselves to sit on them. Often the people that sit on them don’t really need to and the people who really need to sit down choose to stand.
  • When someone thanks you, they have made a real effort to do so and it should be remembered and cherished.

Presentation is important but don’t forget the content

I always encourage people to play with feeling and perform with more than just sound. A bit of body movement and some facial expressions can go a long way. The visual element of performance is important to any musician (especially in an age where everything is recorded on a smart phone and posted online). I often liken it to wrapping a gift. This is one of the biggest life lessons out there in my opinion. I have to constantly remind myself of this and I often fail. Wrapping a gift is a reflection of who you are and what you think about someone. Obviously the gift itself matters but if someone has taken the time to fold the edges of the paper symmetrically, tried to hide the sellotape fastenings, secured a huge bow and scored the ribbon with scissors, you know that person gives a shit about you!

Sometimes the gift itself is so awesome that you can forgive it being hurriedly wrapped, or in my case, buying an overpriced gift bag, or wait…. even better…reusing an overpriced gift bag from someone else!

What you really don’t want to do is buy a crappy present, envelop it in a  load of Pound Land paper and swizzle a whole reel of sellotape round it.

Analogy over. Content is important. Presentation is important.

Here’s a beautiful example I saw this week of when you forget about content and try in vain to make up for it with presentation!

Otway & Barrett on the Old Grey Whistle Test

If in doubt….rip your shirt off!

Have a wonderful week and enjoy the festive run up to Christmas.

Jay x

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