A Reflection on the “Play” Jam Session and Documentary

by Nia Blankson

Two Fridays ago, I had the pleasure of receiving an invitation to an event that I could only dream about prior to participating in Sound Thinking NYC. Whilst in the middle of my vacation, an email appeared in my inbox stating I, along with 6 other members of the cohort were selected to preview an unreleased documentary by Dave Grohl, as well as perform in an in-studio jam session, all in Downtown Music Publishing Studios. My immediate reaction, of course, was to re-read the email a few more times to make sure I read correctly, but I instantly started panicking, as I realized I’d never actually played piano with other people before. The extent of my playing up to that point was playing extremely rehearsed classical pieces alone on a stage in front of an audience in a performance hall. Regardless of how daunting that seems, I was feeling more overwhelmed by the fact that I would have to play unrehearsed, among other people, and having to add onto what they were doing on the spot.

STNYC-Play-piano

Finally, the day arrived, and unaware of what really to expect, I headed down to CAT, then to Downtown Music Publishing Studios to meet the other 6 chosen. When we arrived, we met Max, who was going to be the bassist of the group, and we found out that he was seventeen, plays other instruments as well as the bass, and has had quite a bit of experience working in studios. After our friendly introductions, we were seated in studio to preview Dave Grohl’s short documentary, “Play.” The first part of the documentary featured Grohl talking about music, and interviewing kids who are a part of a music program where they learn how to play instruments in private lessons, as well as come together in a band to play through the same program. This was quite interesting to see, as the music schools I have attended, as well as most others I’ve heard about, have all been centered around teaching children how to be solo musicians, unless you’re playing in an orchestra, or an occasional duet with your teacher. It was quite inspiring to watch the kids working things out by themselves (of course under the tutelage of their instructor,) and get a glimpse into their lives in music, plus being able to relate to them in several ways as well.

The second part of the documentary included the 23 minute instrumental completely composed and played by Dave Grohl himself, in which he plays multiple instruments edited together to create a lengthy masterpiece. We all listened and watched in awe as Grohl’s instrumental took many twists and turns, almost experimenting in various genres, showcasing his multifaceted skill-set and expertise of every instrument. When the documentary and the giant, high quality speakers in the studio went quiet, everyone in the room followed suit, and you could almost hear a pin drop. It remained completely silent for a few seconds, everyone exchanging glances, before we all burst into applause.

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If I’m being completely honest, strangely enough, my favorite part of the documentary was just before it showed the final cut of the instrumental piece, and there were scenes of Dave Grohl making mistakes, doing parts of his instrumental over and over again until he got it perfect. He would either mess up a part, or simply want to give it another go as he knew for a fact he could perform much better than what he just played. These scenes highlighted my personal favorite section that stood out as it showed me that no one is perfect, and a huge part of music is trial and error. Even a professional like Dave Grohl needed multiple takes in order to get his piece to a standard that was acceptable for him.

STNYC-Play-drums

After the documentary ended, we ate lunch, and got ready to play in the recording studio. I personally have never been in a setting like this, and I hadn’t a clue as to how things would work. For the most part, I played the piano, occasionally switching between the synthesizer and the keyboard, but I wasn’t as comfortable with them. However, as we came up with our first melody, and began to add on to each other, although I was extremely nervous, I was becoming more comfortable with playing, and was able to figure out what to play, and how to fit in what I was playing into what everyone else was doing. The whole experience was extremely fun, and it challenged me to think quickly and collaborate with others live, but I also found it extremely helpful when Keith Johnston (CAT Program Director) was giving us some advice as we were playing that enabled us to try new things and think outside of the box.

The fact that the guest bassist, Max, that was playing with us was a male was of no real importance to me. In fact, I was quite excited that we were going to be working with someone who was already experienced working in music studios, and we all got along with him from the start. Everyone had the same goal, as at the end of the day, were just 7 musicians working together creating songs from scratch.

From watching Dave Grohl’s documentary to actually playing in the recording studio, I feel there needs to be more of an emphasis on music education. This experience had a positive impact on me, and I feel that more people could easily benefit from music education as a part of the core curriculum. Not only did both the documentary and the experience itself give me a deeper understanding into the music world, but they both highlighted the importance of collaboration, trial and error, and trying new things. Having to work with others to spontaneously produce a song, making mistakes, and attempting new things were all very prevalent in our jam session, and these are attributes that should be given more attention when it comes to music education.

I was fortunate enough to be able to be a part of this experience first-hand, and my wish is that more students who are passionate about music have the opportunity to go through something even similar to this. Through watching the documentary, and being able to participate in a jam session in a recording studio, I was able to understand how important it is to sometimes just set everything aside, focus, and simply play.

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A Day at ‘Play’

by Annalise Jaffe

A few weeks ago, me and five other Sound Thinkers had the opportunity to go to Downtown Music Publishing, a legendary studio in Soho. Filled to the brim with equipment used to make groundbreaking records, we were asked to spend a few hours in this incredible setting to experiment with collaboration and improvisation.

STNYC-Play-group

How did we end up here? Dave Grohl, the highly talented musician and the lead in the Foo Fighters and former drummer for Nirvana, made a documentary about the process of learning to play an instruments as a young person. He wanted young musicians around the country to watch the documentary and then, inspired by the film, collaborate in making music.

As a singer songwriter, I often write songs alone in my room and rarely have a space where I am composing music with others. Jamming was difficult. I had to be attentive to other musicians, aware not to take up too much space. Everyone has their own genre that they play.  Collaborating with no set genre in mind let me practice a whole new style of singing. Through this experience I found new appreciation of getting out my comfort zone, abandoning my fear of making mistakes, and recognizing you kind of need to mess up, to find your sound.

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Sound Thinking NYC: My Summer Intensive Reflection

by Jasmin Bota

This past summer, I became part of the Sound Thinking NYC family and it has completely changed the way I view the music industry. Joining Sound Thinking NYC with the majority of my music background coming from choral environments, was definitely daunting at first due to the fact that I knew this program would be heavily technology based. Up until Sound Thinking NYC, I had no clue what ProTools was or how to use it. I had never tried recording my own music or even thought about producing beats before due to its difficulty but this program has completely changed my mind.

STNYC-Orientation

Through many workshops in various studios and workplaces such as Downtown Music Publishing, Platinum Sound Recording Studios, and many more, I was able to not only learn about music production and its many steps, but to see a future in music for myself. Being part of this program has given me this new appreciation for music and has helped me listen to my favorite songs from a different perspective. Learning to use ProTools, my musical ear was trained on new levels that helped me create beats from scratch as well as learning how to sample from some of my favorite songs to create a beat to enhance it. I met many people in the music industry that shared inspirational advice about confidence, speaking out, and how tough it is being a woman in music. Hearing from real people within the industry and learning about their endless uphill climbs has inspired me to become more confident and passionate about the career I would love to pursue in music.

In Sound Thinking NYC I was also taught what it means to be an effective leader. I was taught how to balance attention and ideas to minimize problems within a group as well as how important it is to make relationships with the people around you. Sound Thinking NYC became my family this summer and I couldn’t be happier to check in on them every once in a while to see how they are doing. Though the intention through this summer intensive was to learn about music and to really understand the ins and out of the industry, I think as a person I gained a lot more than music knowledge from this wonderful experience. I now have a huge supportive family that I know will accept me and support me on the long road ahead of me. There really isn’t a program quite like this one and I am beyond grateful I was able to experience this opportunity. I cannot wait for what the future holds.