Join the Foothills Methodist Church, 17 Fremont St. in Gloversville on Sunday, October 30, at 3:00 p.m. in the church sanctuary for an exciting Halloween organ recital featuring a smorgasbord of classics, favorites and surprises. Malcolm Kogut will perform pieces such as the vivid and bristling with energy Dubois Toccata and the ubiquitous Toccata in D Minor by J. S. Bach. Other music will include Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," Boellmann's famous suite Toccata, and "In the Garden." The organ recital is free and open to the public.
Every once in a while I come across a piano teacher or musician who think that they need to stretch their hands or run scales to "warm up." The myth behind warming up is that you are able to isolate a body part such as the hands and move them to warm them up. If that were true, the blood that you think you warm up in your hands while moving them, because of circulation, doesn't stay there. It circulates throughout the rest of the body meaning "cold" blood is coming back into the hands. Furthermore, you are not warming up the blood or muscles, the blood is already at its maximum temperature. The real issue is circulation.
A danger in moving cold hands or other body parts is that the elasticity of the muscles and tendons are compromised because they are in a contracted state and if you try to move cold body parts fast, you can cause damage to the tissue such as micro tears and pulls to either the muscles or the tendons. Slow movement and in the medium range of motion is always advised when the extremities are cold.
When the body is cold, the blood is kept near the core vital organs and circulation is slowed to the extremities such as the hands and feet. That makes our hands and fingers feel cold and stiff. Stretching is not a solution and our teachers and coaches have been teaching this mistruth about stretching for years.
When you stretch beyond the mid range of motion you are creating micro tears in the muscle tissue or tendons and the body's response is to rush blood to that site to both immobilize and repair the damage. This process gives us the sensation of "warming up" when in reality we are damaging our tissue structures. Whenever we move, we must only move as far as the mid range of motion, not the extreme where we will stretch, tear and damage tissue.
There are actually two categories of muscle, fast twitch and slow twitch. Musicians should take the time to learn which ones are which and how to utilize them in their craft. Even so, forcing fast twitch muscles to move fast or to stretch them when they are cold and in their contracted state could damage them. Think of your muscles as being like warm gravy. The gravy can easily pour out of the bowl when it is warm. Now put the bowl in the fridge for half an hour and note that it no longer pours fluidly. You can't just run a spoon through the gravy to warm it up, it needs to come out of the fridge and be warmed totally.
If you have a teacher or coach who prescribes stretching and isolation exercises to warm up the body, find another teacher. It is not their fault that they have been given erroneous information themselves from their own teachers, but, their ignorance on the subject can cause you permanent damage. Ignorance is not bliss if it results in tendon, nerve or muscular disorders. That is like going to a mechanic who says that your tires are bald but you can probably get away on them for another few months. He may be the best mechanic in the world but he is risking your life.
If one wishes to truly warm up the body and consequently the hands, one needs to sit in a warm room so that the whole body warms up, not just the part they are going to use. Another solution is to do some mild whole body movement to get the blood pumping throughout the circulatory system.
There are mini steppers on the market for under $50 that a musician can take to a gig with them and use in the green room before a performance. After doing twenty minutes or about 2,000 steps on one of those, the blood will be circulating efficiently throughout the whole body and one may even break a small sweat. You won't have to warm up your legs because you've already been walking all day and, movement that is well known such as walking is as simple as the brain turning on and off a switch. One doesn't need to warm up to remember how to ride a bike. The brain just knows what to do, like flicking a switch.
Conditioning is important, too. If you can only do three minutes on the stair stepper before fatigue sets in then you're not going to achieve a full body warm up in that amount of time so, it would behoove you to do this every day so the body is conditioned to work at that level without fatigue. One doesn't want to go on stage exhausted and weak. It is also advised to be hydrated before, during and after this simple body warm up procedure.
I'll not endorse any particular brand but you can find mini steppers on Ebay, tax and shipping free. Read the user reviews on Amazon to find a brand you think you can trust.
A pudgy high-school kid who likes classical music isn’t bound for much of a social life, especially in the photogenic wilds of Fairfield County, Connecticut. Fortunately for Byron Nilsson, there was salvation. It came in the form of an LP he swiped from a radio station in nearby Danbury, an album on the back of which one song title was scribbled out, with the added inscription: “NOT SUITABLE FOR AIRPLAY.” The album was “Noël Coward in Las Vegas.” The song was “Uncle Harry.” The lyrics were mildly suggestive.
That Coward album – and a book of Tom Lehrer songs and recordings by Flanders & Swann – inspired a love of well-crafted light verse. Which means it rhymes. And can get a delightfully nasty before you realize it. Byron not only enjoyed those songs, he learned them. His social life didn’t improve, but he gained a measure of frightened respect.
“Rhyme on My Hands” is the latest excuse for a cabaret performance by Byron and his longtime musical director, Malcolm Kogut, spinning the fantastic story of how he weathered a life of scorn and heartache in order to sing these songs for you. Songs like “Lydia the Tattooed Lady,” “The Irish Ballad,” “The Sloth,” and “The Butler’s Song” will liven the proceedings.
The show takes place at 3 PM Sunday, January 2016, at the legendary Caffè Lena (47 Phila Street, Saratoga Springs) and tickets are available at brownpapertickets.com or by calling 1-800-838-3006. Their recent Valentine’s Day and Christmas shows played to sold-out houses, so they’re hoping they can inveigle an audience once more. Warm yourself on a chilly afternoon – or come see this show!
I had heard of and seen pictures of the fabled Sprakers Falls but couldn't verify their existence or location from any online source. Internet searches only yielded that the waterfall is rumored to be near the town of Sprakers or is "lost."
My friend Doug searched a topo map and upon further investigation of drone maps, they helped me to discern where I thought the falls to be.
We parked at an Eerie Canal Bike Path parking lot across from the Sprakers Reformed Church. Our original plan was to drive up Canyon Road and look for parking spots or herd trails leading into the canyon but upon perusal of the Canyon Road entrance, a narrow, single lane, no shoulder dirt road, we decided to park at the lot and traverse up the creek.
Looking at the shaded spot on the topo map I calculated that the waterfall was only eight tenths of a mile upstream. I used a phone app called MAPMYHIKE and at an average speed of 1.7 mph and a distance of about one mile, 35 minutes and 12 seconds later we arrived at the falls.
The water level in the creek seemed low and very manageable. Evidence of high water debris deposits and entanglements showed that the creek must have recently been a raging river up to four feet deep. At that level it would have been absolutely unnavigable.
We intentionally wore old sneakers and simply trudged through the water which was actually a welcome relief as the temperatures were a humid 85 degrees. There were a few locations where the water was about four feet deep and there was one impressive swimming hole beneath a medium sized waterfall half way upstream which had no discernible bottom. It was a fine reward for the intrepid adventurer. At this point we could hear the turbulent roar of the larger falls slightly upstream.
The rocks in the stream were predominately slimy and slippery. Bristling with mistrust, whenever we could, we hopped on the top of dry rocks or walked along the shore. I advise bringing a walking stick to catch your balance should you slip in the slime or mud which sometimes caked the shoreline. I speak from experience.
There was evidence of wild life such as the footprints of deer and racoon. We did see two hawks, possibly a Cooper and Sharpshin. There were an assortment of smaller birds plus two Kingfishers who zigzagged the stream ahead of us. In the water there were minnows and crayfish. At one point the air became rapidly charged with the unmistakable effluvium of skunk and at another there was a strong odor of rotting flesh. We looked around for its source but it was probably above the creek-line in the woods and the scent of decay was just wafting down the canyon walls.
The actual waterfall flume was resplendent and impressive with a small grotto hollowed out to the right of the main fall. The water was turgid, most likely with the water of the previous days storm. There was poison ivy up in the grotto area so we didn't venture too far under its overhang. Our original plan was to climb the falls and bushwhack to Canyon Road then take the road down from there. I was told there were private homes up there but while walking upstream along the creek bank there were no discernible trails or access to properties above the canyon.
The creek had an assortment of man made debris such as car bumpers, radiators, a bike frame and tires. Most likely these were washed down from a dump site or farm after various heavy rains over the years.
Around the actual waterfall, there was evidence of human partiers who left their empty soda and beer cans for others to enjoy. My friend Doug would have carried them out but I am more passive aggressive and left them in the hope that should they ever return they will be ashamed at seeing the mess that they left. Probably not. Only now do I realize that after the next storm, their nickel valued aluminum detritus will be transported downstream to eventually adorn the mighty Mohawk River.
Video - Malcolm Kogut
Music Patrick Moraz from the album THE STORY OF I
These are photos from a three day hike through the Adirondack Mountain range in upstate NY. We ascended eight arresting peaks in twelve hour excursions. The steep ascents, rocks and roots in the trail, crowded trails, occasional black flies and carrying about four liters of water made for an arduous trip but the worst offender was the 90 degree temperatures and high humidity. I need to invest in more moisture wicking clothing. Most all of the mountain streams were dry so there was no chance of filtering water en route. Pictured are my partners in crime, Doug, Jim and me, Malcolm Kogut.
The pictures include Ausable Lake from Blake Mountain, the fire tower at the top of St. Regis mountain, a distant view of Giant, Noonmark and Sawteeth, the ridge walk of Whiteface Mountain, Mirror Lake in Lake Placid and a sign designating the "Ladies Mile" trail from back in the day when women were considered the more "dainty" of the sexes.
I was watching the news this morning, one day after the opening Olympic ceremony in Rio and you know that period during the news when the anchors have no real news to report so they just banter off the top of their heads? I call it verbal detritus. One of the anchors said that she cheered when the American team came out. I know that anchors are probably required to be college graduates but I don't think this one was paying attention during Geography 101. It's okay, I am smart enough to know what she meant but this is what she really meant to say.
There is a super-continent known as the Americas or the New World. It is divided into two sections, North America and South America. In North America there are at least 23 officially recognized independent states or countries. To the far north is the state or country of Canada. Then there is a conglomeration of states comprising of the county The United States. Both those countries are of America. Below that is Mexico and assortment of other American countries such as Nicaragua, Panama, Belize, Cuba, Honduras, Jamaica and many more. They are all part of America and they had teams at the Olympics representing their state in the Americas. They are all American teams. So "America" isn't just the United States, it is a whole super-continent.
To further complicate things for our anchor who wasn't paying attention in class, there are a couple dozen independent territories owned by countries or states from the European continent such as the Cayman Islands (UK), Martinique (France), Aruba (Netherlands), Greenland (Denmark) and many more. So, does that mean France is part of America? I don't know. Maybe a news anchor will be able to tell us.
Singing and speaking from the diaphragm is so easy that a baby can do it. Then why do so many voice students spend thousands of dollars and many hours on lessons trying to learn how to do it and many, despite years of practice still never fully learn the skill?
Let's first look at a few reasons why we lose this skill. When babies are born, they instinctively breath from the diaphragm because it is the most efficient way to breath and it is natural. That is why you can hear a baby babble across a crowded church yet can barely hear some members of the adult choir from ten feet away.
What is the first thing a parent will say to a child who is making loud noises? Shhhhh . . . quiet . . . shut up. Infants and toddlers quickly learn that being heard is wrong so they stifle the natural process of breath support in an effort not to be heard. Likewise, teens and adults who are insecure, self conscious and don't want to stand out suppress the natural mechanics of support so they are less noticed. This also causes people to slouch, bring their shoulders together, bend their neck or close their throat. Another reason is that proper breathing comes from the belly region and nobody wants to make their belly look bigger. Fear of what other people think of us is very stifling to creativity.
Finally, gravity pulls down on the body and people instinctively think that raising the shoulders is how we breath because that is what they think it feels like to breath. Breathing doesn't come from the shoulders or lungs.
Let's first look at our anatomy. The lungs are beneath our ribs and right beneath the lungs, still under the ribs, is a parachute shaped sheet of muscle called the diaphragm. When we breath, we pull down on the diaphragm muscle which creates a vacuum in the lungs and air simply falls down or is sucked into the lungs. Our chest and lungs are not necessarily directly involved in that process. There is no need to raise the shoulders although, maintaining an expanded chest allows more air to fill the lungs. Bigger expanded lungs means more space for more air intake. Every good soldier knows to "STICK OUT YOUR CHEST. SUCK IN THAT GUT!"
When you exhale you push the diaphragm muscle upward and it pushes the air out of the lungs. If you only breath from the upper chest and shoulders you will only use half the air in your lungs causing you to run out of breath or have other issues with your vocal production. If you use the diaphragm, you will use all the air in all of your lungs.
Expanding the chest and only breathing partially through the diaphragm is also the secret to the dead man float. The lungs are like balloons and if you expand and fill up the upper lungs with air, then only breath through the lower lungs, you'll float without effort.
Let's do a few exercises to show you how effortless, natural and efficient breathing from the diaphragm can be.
Let's start by lying on the floor. Bend your knees if you like. Breath naturally. Feel that your breathing comes from the stomach area. That's it. Simple. Now let's try a few things with your voice. Cough. Notice from where it emanated from. Pretend you are a fire engine making siren sounds and get louder and higher each time you sound the siren. Yell "HEY" like you just caught someone stealing. Yell "Bad" as if your dog just messed on the floor. Yell "GIT" to a cat in your trash. Call for help three times with increasing volume as if no one can hear you. Say "BOO" like you are jumping out from behind a door to scare someone. Now, playfully say "Woof!" as if you are a puppy trying to entice its owner to play. Now get on all fours and pant like a dog. Where does it all come from?
Do you see how easy and effortless all that was? The challenge now is to stand up and continue to breath that way after years of training your body to accept ignorance, misuse and abuse as normal.
While you are still on the floor, try not to breath from the stomach and only breath from the upper chest. After five minutes of breathing properly and effortlessly, can you now feel how wrong it is to breath from the chest and shoulders? Proper movement always makes improper movement to feel bad, like it really is.
I have included a video link to an example of what it looks like to breath properly. This clip is taken from the movie ROCK STAR starring Mark Wahlberg or "Marky Mark." Notice that he takes his breath from his stomach then pushes in or contracts his muscles to expel the air. If we had cameras from his back and side you'd also see expansion there, too. There are intercostal muscles between each of the ribs and because of the intensity of what he is singing, he is expanding and contracting those, too. Also watch the swimming competitions at the summer Olympics and pay close attention when the swimmers get out of the water or do interviews immediately after competitions. They are trained to breath from the diaphragm. Some of them may raise the shoulders but they are at least instructed properly otherwise. The professional dancers on Dancing With the Stars are well trained in breathing since they are also reprimanded for raising the shoulders. There are many great examples all around us in our professional athletes. Musicians need to remember that they too are athletes and can sometimes benefit more by a few lessons from a sports coach than a singing coach. Singers will also benefit by singing WITH the lost, lonely, homeless, dying and the sick. Technique is worthless if it is not connected to an emotion. Too many of our trained singers are also devoid of soul.
I will add that if anyone is suffering from any form of COPD, this type of breathing can prolong their life and also rescue them from a shortness of breath panic attack. Diaphragmatic breathing also increases oxygen in our blood stream which aids in healing, repair and clear thinking because oxygen is needed for brain function.
So, new moms, please think twice before saying to you infant "Shhhhh . . . " At least, if you have to say "Shhhh . . . " do it from the diaphragm.
I recently presented a workshop called "Playing With Fire" which was designed to teach people how to move ergonomically whether they are musicians, computer users or stay at home moms who make arts and crafts with the kids during the day. There is an epidemic of repetitive strain injuries and the current treatment options presented by the medical community are flawed, destructive and unnecessary.
The first thing everyone needs to know is what causes the most common of repetitive strains: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. It's medical name is Median Nerve Entrapment. If someone misuses their hands to the point that they inflame the long flexor tendons in the forearm and wrist, the inflamed tendons which now takes up more space, has no place to go. There are bones on one side of the wrist and the traverse carpal ligament on the other. So when the tendon inflames it presses on the only other tissue in the tunnel - the median nerve. Much like sitting between two overweight people on an airplane. The symptoms of a crushed nerve are pain, numbness and tingling. The reasons for the inflammation are quite easy to understand. The most common is a break in the wrist while performing repetitive tasks. The other is dual muscular pulls. Obviously we can only move one body part in one direction at a time but we often move our fingers in two directions at a time. We may flex one and either abduct or extend another. Even though we can do this, the extender and flexor muscles are still interconnected and we are using both at the same time. This act of tension usually puts all the strain on the tendons. In the piano world, our teachers either tell us to practice more, build up the muscles or relax. That is all bad advice. Practicing more bad movement, building up the wrong muscles and relaxing the wrong muscles will only create more problems.
When someone develops symptoms of median nerve entrapment they go to see their doctor who then begins to treat the symptom. They may ask what you think caused the strain and may suggest that you stop doing it for a while. This logic is greatly flawed. If you are moving incorrectly and rest for a while, the inflammation may indeed dissipate however, the erroneous movement is still part of you and when you take up the practice again, the problem will still be there and the symptom will come back. Symptoms are actually good. They tell us that something is wrong. Fix what is wrong, not the symptom.
Other treatment options may include anti inflammatory drugs, cortisone injections (which do a lovely job at dissolving tissue), splints which goes against everything we know about movement or, surgery, which is often totally unnecessary.
The actual solution and "cure" is simply movement re-education. The patient needs only to learn how to move properly. This could include not bending or twisting the wrist, not moving the fingers while bending the wrist, learning to not use tiny muscles to do some movements but instead use the larger muscles which are naturally designed to do that movement, learn the proper alignment of the arm and how it is the arm that must support the hand and not the hand moving independent of it, avoiding dual muscular pulls which can be crippling to the hand.
Not everyone has the capacity, patience, intellect or determination to heal. We've come to beleive that a doctor can fix our problems and we all want a quick fix. Who wants to spend months or even years learning to undo bad habits when a doctor can make a slice with a scalpel and like magic, the issue seemingly disappears. As I said, doctors tend to treat symptoms and not the problems. If the problem is we are moving incorrectly, we shouldn't be seeing a doctor. My favorite analogy to use is if your wheels are out of alignment and wearing down your tires, you don't just get new tires, you have to fix the alignment. If your body is out of alignment and wearing down the soft tissue in your wrists, you don't just make room for the inflammation by having surgery, you need to fix the alignment.