Summer Piano Concert 2013

Hello Lovely Parents and Students, Here is the recital info once again for you:

Sunday June 23rd, 2013 at 3pm St. Catherine’s Anglican Church in Edgemont Village.

Please feel free to invite your family and friends. St. Catherine’s Anglican Church is located at 1058 Ridgewood Dr (just off of Highlands Blvd) in North Vancouver. There is no street parking in front of the church, but ample parking in the back lot. Please have a look at the directions on how to access the parking lot: http://saint-catherines.org/HTML/2010/2010-05-18%20Map.html

Also, if you are able, please bring a small dessert or appetizer to share for the reception afterwards.

And here is the program, first draft. Please let me know about any necessary changes.

Concert Performers List
1.Maggie Haugom – Fantasia in E Minor
2.Evan Hancock – Finale from Symphony No. 5
3.Grace Swain – God Give Me
4.Sarah Chernenkoff – Spring and Bounces
5.Janis McKenzie – Black Coffee
6.Rosie Hancock – Magic Man
7.Gabrielle Greenway – Phantom of The Opera
8.Finlay O’Callaghan – Scattered Showers
9.Olivia Moore – Curtain Call
10.Mollie Haugom – Peppermint Toccata
11.Rebecca Knowles – Penguin Heat Wave
12.Joseph Fargey – Sir Duke
13.Bronwen O’Callaghan – Liebstraum
14.Roanan DeMeyer – A Theme From Lost: Life and Death
15.Callem McDougall – Comptine D’un Autre Ete: L’Apres Midi
16.Emma Hughes – Come Back To Sorrento
17.Brendan Greenway – Married Life

End Of Term Piano Lessons Newsletter May 2013

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
It’s that wonderful time of year again! Here is the info for our upcoming Summer Piano Recital. Please RSVP to me regarding your child’s attendance. Church appropriate attire please. Cameras are welcome. No problem if your child changes their mind about playing once they get there. This is a performance opportunity, not an obligation.

Sunday June 23rd, 2013 at 3pm
St. Catherine’s Anglican Church in Edgemont Village.

Please feel free to invite your family and friends.
St. Catherine’s Anglican Church is located at 1058 Ridgewood Dr (just off of Highlands Blvd) in North Vancouver. There is no street parking in front of the church, but ample parking in the back lot. Please have a look at the directions on how to access the parking lot: http://saint-catherines.org/HTML/2010/2010-05-18%20Map.html

Also, if you are able, please bring a small dessert or appetizer to share for the reception afterwards.

Make-Up Lessons and Summer Schedule:
I am teaching regular lessons for the first 3 weeks of June, and then teaching make-up lessons at the normal lesson time for the last week of June. If you have had cancellations and would like a make-up lesson, please contact me to arrange it.
I will be teaching during July and August. Please let me know if you would like to arrange some summer lessons. In my experience, 3 or 4 lessons over the summer go a long way in helping students retain the piano skills they have gained during the school year and definitely prevent the strange affliction of “piano amnesia” which rears its ugly head for September and most of October. I also find that with the more relaxed pace of life in the summer, and with the blessing of fewer competing activities, students often make excellent progress and expand their repertoire considerably. Plus, you always have an answer for “I’m bored”. Why, you can practice your piano a little bit, dear;)

Thank you all very very much for a great year of music study! Looking forward to seeing you at the concert.
Cheerio,
Alison
http://www.alisonmaira.com

How To Practice

In-Home Piano and Music Theory Lessons

How To Practice
A note on practicing and playing for fun: To gain real benefit from your weekly lesson, you should practice your assigned material minimum 20 minutes per session, at least 4 days a week. You should also play piano for fun – and listen to music – at least as much as you practice.

1. Make sure you have a quiet place to practice where no one will interrupt you.

2. Gather your materials ( practice assignment binder, songbooks, lesson books, metronome, pencil) and have them ready at the piano.

3. Open your piano binder and turn to this week’s assignment sheet that I have written for you.

4. Follow your practice instructions carefully. Ask your parents for help if you need it.

5. Practice slowly. Go slow enough to keep a steady beat, play the correct notes, and use the correct fingers.If you make mistakes, you are playing too fast. Slow down and try again. The speed of your playing will gradually increase as your fingers become more confident.

6. Be kind to yourself. Learning how to play music takes a lot of effort and there will be many mistakes along the way. Don’t give up! You can do it. You will feel so proud of yourself every time you master a new song. Share the songs you have learned with your family and friends. Sharing music with others can help spread happiness.

A Note For Parents About Weekly Assignment Sheets:

• Each student’s weekly assignment includes `Your Practice Goal This Week` and a weekly practice log, along with a note stating an appropriate weekly minutes target for the student`s current level of study. Your help with meeting the practice goal and recording the practice minutes would be greatly appreciated.

• These assignment sheets describe my expectations of the student for the following week`s lesson. They are carefully written each week to guide each student along an individualized lesson plan that will provide a well-rounded musical and piano education.

• I understand that piano is only one activity in a busy week of school and sports and that parents don`t have a lot of time to sit down with their kids to work on various projects. However studying music requires time, self discipline, focus and attention to detail for parents and students – there is no way around that.

• Not looking at the assignment sheets and playing only the songs the student likes best, and not focusing on the elements of their pieces that need work is a bit frustrating for teacher and student as we remain stuck on that particular assignment until all of its elements are addressed, re-taking the same lesson week after week.

• Checking in with your child even just once during the week and going over their assignment sheet with them would be increase the value of your financial investment in piano lessons and would definitely help the student get more out of their time at the piano.

Mid-Term Piano Lessons Newsletter January 2013

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
Here are a few newsy tidbits from the wonderful world of piano lessons I wanted to share with you.

Winter Recital (just barely)
Our winter concert is very late this year – a December concert seemed too soon upon resuming lessons in October this year due to my maternity leave – and I am happy to report that the venue and date has been confirmed.

Sunday March 3rd, 2013 at 2pm
St. Catherine’s Anglican Church in Edgemont Village.
St. Catherine’s Anglican Church is located at 1058 Ridgewood Dr (just off of Highlands Blvd) in North Vancouver. There is no street parking in front of the church, but ample parking in the back lot. Please have a look at the directions on how to access the parking lot: http://saint-catherines.org/HTML/2010/2010-05-18%20Map.html

All students are invited to perform a song at the concert. Friends, family, and grandparents are all welcome. Please RSVP to me regarding your child’s attendance at the recital. Following the performances there will be a short reception in the church sanctuary. If you are planning to attend the recital, please bring a plate of desserts or appetizers to share afterwards. Church appropriate attire please.

As I am working part time and have only a few students this year, I have joined forces with another North Van piano teacher and the concert will feature her students as well as mine. Dawn Pemberton is a fantastic teacher and musician and I`m very much looking forward to her students` performances. Her website is http://www.dawnpemberton.ca, check it out if you are hungry for some tasty soul music and musical inspiration.

Studio Policies, How To Practice, Weekly Assignment Sheets
Last week I dropped off Studio Policies 2013 and How To Practice sheets. Please take a look at these, as well as the weekly assignment sheets, and go over the practice tips with your child. It never hurts to reinforce good practice habits or start new ones. Everyone is so busy these days; I hate to see students and parents wasting valuable time with inefficient piano practice. Following the practice guide and the weekly assignment sheets will increase your child`s productivity at the piano and may even lead to having more fun during practice and lessons:)

Practice Schedules
Consistency and routine is so important when practicing any musical instrument. I’ve asked all my students to devise a practice schedule and I humbly ask for your help as parents to make this happen. It doesn’t have to be totally rigid i.e. “Wednesday 4:00-4:25pm” but it could be something like “30 minutes before TV time on days there is no soccer practice”. The idea is to practice at least 4 days a week between lessons for at least 20 minutes at a time. Please record the minutes in the practice logs provided in the weekly assignment sheets, and please help your child come up with at least 4 practice opportunities in your family’s weekly schedule. This is a way for them to take responsibility for their part in piano lessons (they practice; you provide the lessons) and learn how to manage their time. It will also help them make steady progress, which promotes self esteem and enjoyment of music.

Thank you for reading and thank you for supporting and encouraging your child with their piano lessons. We are a team, parents and teacher together working hard to draw out the best in your child and help them explore their full potential in the ancient mysterious world of music. Whether or not they pursue music at its highest levels is irrelevant. The skills they gain from music study is what matters: self expression, pride in challenges met, self discipline, and the sheer pleasure of listening to and playing beautiful music.

I hope to see you all at the recital!
Alison

http://www.alisonmaira.com

Why Study Music?

Why Study Music?
– To have an outlet for creativity and self expression.
– Playing and listening to music stimulates the imagination.
– Music helps the brain grow.  Playing, listening to, and reading music physically develops both hemispheres of the brain.
– To develop listening skills.
– Music is a potential in every person and like all potentials should be developed to its highest possible expression.
– Music study develops focused attention, concentration, and self discipline.
– To develop an understanding of delayed gratification, and the value of sustained effort.
– To develop higher thinking skills such as analysis and synthesis.
– To experience the thrill of challenges met.
– Music study uniquely enhances higher brain functions required for reading, math, chess, and engineering.
– Music provides a glimpse of other cultures and history.
– Music study forces one to conquer fear and take risks.
– Playing a musical instrument is a potent stress reliever.

Piano Lessons Reminder

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
I hope you all had a wonderful summer and a smooth transition to your September routine. Piano lessons resume this week, October 2, 3, 4th 3:30-7:30pm and I for one am really looking forward to teaching you again. Please let me know if you have any scheduling issues.
Cheerio,
Alison

Piano Lessons Fall 2012

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
I’ve had a wonderful month at home with Elisabeth since the piano recital at the end of June. Thank you so much for the beautiful card and flowers and of course the Visa gift card – everything was deeply appreciated.
I’ve decided to make some changes to my teaching practice, changes I’ve wanted to make for years. Now that I’m teaching part time and fewer students it seems like the right time to overhaul my lesson plans and teach better lessons that make the maximum use of my limited time – lessons that will hopefully increase my students enjoyment and benefit from their time with me.
I’m going to be teaching 45 minute lessons instead of 30 minutes for all students. (Please note: I don’t prepare students for Royal Conservatory of Music exams, although I do teach Royal Conservatory repertoire and technique)
There are several elements I will be incorporating into the longer lessons: Theory workbook pages, composition & improvisation, and duets. Each student will now perform two selections at the Winter and Summer Piano Concerts and performance videos; one solo and one duet with me. Students will no longer have to complete their theory assignments during the week between lessons.
I have 12 lesson spots available from 3:30-7:30 on Tues, Wed, and Thurs. I’ll be returning to work on Tues. Oct. 2. Plese let me know if there is a particular time slot you would like to reserve. One more thing – if the price of gas continues to rise and stays above $1.50 per litre I will be increasing my monthly mileage charge to $15.00.

Hope your summer is great and I look forward to seeing you in October,
Alison
http://www.alisonmaira.com
In-Home Piano Lessons

Piano Or Keyboard?

Investing your hard earned money in piano lessons for yourself or your child is a significant outlay of cash, time, and effort. There are many ways to maximize your investment and the benefits of music study. The instrument that the student practices on is a key element that will determine the amount of success (or failure) that the student will have as they embark upon their musical journey.
A real, acoustic piano is the best choice for a piano student. You can rent an instrument for a ‘trial period’, I suggest 6 months of lessons, to see if the student enjoys their lessons, is making good progress, and wants to continue. After 6 months if all is well, it would be worth it to buy a piano. There are new and used models available at local music stores (Long & McQuade, Tom Lee, etc.) and also plenty of secondhand instruments on sale at Craiglist or E-Bay, or any classified section of your local newspaper. Acoustic pianos need yearly maintenance.
A touch sensitive electric keyboard with weighted keys is also a perfectly fine alternative, especially for a beginner player. Electric pianos generally are less expensive and require almost no maintenance. Look for an instrument with on-board speakers. Keyboards can be rented or bought from your local music store, and the staff there will be happy to show you several different models and help you find the one that best suits your needs. Less is more – you don’t need a lot of other fancy sounds or recording capacity, a few piano sounds will be more than adequate. Some popular brands are Roland, Korg, Kurzweil, Yamaha, and Kawai. Casio also has a good entry level model. It’s very important to get a keyboard that has all 88 keys, (so it’s the same size as an acoustic piano) and is touch sensitive, with weighed keys. This will ensure the keyboard has the same feel (or very nearly) as a real piano, which will allow the student to switch back and forth from keyboard to piano with ease – they will have to play on instruments other than their own for recitals and exams.

Summer Piano Concert 2012

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
It’s that wonderful time of year once again. Our annual Summer Piano Concert will be held on Saturday June 23 at 2:00pm at the Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, 1700 Mountain Highway in North Vancouver. All students are invited to perform a song at the concert. Friends, family, and grandparents are all welcome. Please RSVP to me regarding your and/or your child’s attendance at the recital.
Following the performances there will be a short reception in the church sanctuary. I will provide coffee, tea, and juice. If you are planning to attend the recital, please bring a plate of desserts or appetizers to share afterward. Church appropriate attire please.
Looking forward to seeing you at the concert. I’m bringing baby Elisabeth and have told her she will finally have a chance to meet you all:)
Alison

It’s A…

Sweet Baby Girl!

Dear Lovely Parents and Students,

Elisabeth Jane Maira Zobac (also known as Betty Jane) was born on Friday March 16 at 7:20pm, 7 lbs 11 oz. Betty Jane is beautiful and healthy and I am recovering from a difficult delivery, healing more every day. It’s been an amazing week! Thank you so much for all the gifts, cards, and kind words. My heart overflows. Michael and I think she is the perfect baby for us – we are so happy – and so tired:)
I’m really looking forward to seeing you all when I am well again and able to be out in the world,
Alison

Last Week Of Lessons!

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
Just a reminder that next week March 5-9 is my last week of teaching (unless the baby decides otherwise sooner than that). I’m thinking I’ll return at reduced hours 3:30-7:30 in early May, but I’ll have to see how it goes and I will email you again around that time and let you know exactly when I’ll be back in the saddle.
I will be teaching a lot of you for the last time this week and next, and that makes me sad. I know I’m in for an amazing adventure with my baby and figuring out motherhood…but I will really miss the life I have had for the past few years seeing you all every week. I hope to see some of you again in October when I return after my 3 months off. For those of you who have found another teacher, I wish you great and happy lessons.
If you currently have lessons between 3:30 and 7:30 are not planning to study with another teacher during my absence and would like me to draw up a large assignment of material to keep you or your child occupied, please email me to remind me to do so. I know some of you have mentioned this, but I realized today I haven’t been keeping a list and so will need a refresher.
If you would like to study with another teacher but haven’t been able to contact or co-ordinate schedules with my suggested referrals, you may want to try Creativ Music Centre on Brooksbank Ave. in North Van. http://www.creativ.ca They have a great roster of teachers and are quite flexible with scheduling.
I will be leaving invoices for music books and materials this week for those of you who will need new books while I’m away and collecting for this next week.
Thank you all for another great year of music study, and for all your kind words of wisdom about babies and the wonders of having children. It’s been lovely to hear about some of your parenting experiences and stories.
Alison

In-Home Piano Lessons
http://www.alisonmaira.com

Worth A Thousand Words.

This past week I chose my final photos from over 300 proofs that were generated during my album promo photo shoot earlier this month. It was difficult to narrow it down to ten final choices. Well, ok 11. I just couldn’t cut it down any further than that and wonderful Angela was kind enough to let me have an extra one.

I must say though, I’m pretty tired of looking at photos of myself. Even though these are awfully good photos. I think everyone should have the chance to get professional photos done of themselves once in their lives. It’s pretty refreshing to see yourself portrayed in the best possible light.

The shoot itself was fascinating, fun, and very productive. Angela Fama was the photographer. I had first met her at the Parlour Steps photo shoot for the Hidden Names record and I was so impressed with how she handled the shoot and the resulting beautiful pictures. I never thought I’d get a chance to work with her on my own, but then again I never thought I’d be able to write and record my own songs either. Never say never.

Julie Bavalis, bass player extreme and stylish individual extraordinaire is great friends with Angela and wanted to style the entire shoot. Yay for me! We had a nice meeting at Angela’s house, wrote down some ideas and a few days later Julie showed up with feathers, leather string, and an armload of clothes from C’est La Vie, a fantastically hip Main St. vintage clothing store she works at part time. Julie always goes the extra mile for her friends and I have been the grateful recipient of her largesse many times.

Angela recommended a makeup artist named Marie Pierce. Marie had done makeup for Julie and I at the last Parlour Steps photo shoot and I was happy to work with her again.

We convened at Angela’s house on a Saturday night and six hours later had 300 photos to show for it. I was a little nervous, wondering how it was going to work with the wardrobe from C’st La Vie that was not materinity clothes. I’m 8 months pregnant now and I haven’t considered wearing “normal” clothes since oh, about October or so. The ladies made two chic bandeau tops for me by wrapping me in lengths of blue and white fabric and then taping feathers over top.

I didn’t even have to wear a bra, which shocked me. I thought for sure that would violate all sense of decency (and I didn’t want to take that kind of picture) but Julie made everything look so classy.
We were going for the blue/gray/feathery vibe that the ferociously talented Jim Miller had drawn for the album artwork.

Jim and I knew each other in high school. He was an impressive artist then; he is a seasoned professional now. He’s one of the only people I know who realized early what they were supposed to be, never stopped doing that, and has subsequently risen to a very high level in his career due to years of non stop effort and improvement. He’s now a storyboard supervisor at My Little Pony, for god’s sake (All the pre-teen girls I teach are impressed beyond words that I know someone who works on My Little Pony). I’m so glad Jim and I ran into each other again as grownups, and I’m completely delighted he found the time to design and paint a gorgeous picture for my album cover. Without his asthetic, this photo shoot may not have even happened.

We did a few different looks and included some full length body shots that probably won’t be used for album promo. But I wanted some nice pictures of me as a pregnant lady. It’s been an amazing time in my life and it’s worth commemorating.

It wasn’t all hard work, though. There were some girls with mustaches.

Angela had a studio space set up in her basement and we laughed, ate snacks, drank tea, listened to music, and were relentlessly productive.

It was exhilarating and completely absorbing. I think this was my first work project that was all female. These women and I were on exactly the same page and it was amazing and joyful to accomplish so much, so efficiently, in such a short time.

Angela Fama is truly a creative force to be reckoned with.

I found myself thinking, wow she’s so talented and confident. I will be like that too, from this moment on! I thought it was cool that her vibe was one of inspiration, not intimidation. She was working very hard, but I didn’t feel anxious or pressured. I had decided to do whatever she suggested and trust her professional eye.

This approach has served me stunningly well during the entire process of making this album and it’s getting so easy to shut up and take direction. It’s a relief to work with people who are skilled and confident and know more than me. It’s a joy to relax and learn from them. My record sounds a lot more expensive than it was, due to talented professionals who gave me incredible discounts for their time because of our friendship and their connections to other professionals. My photos look a lot more expensive than they were for the same reason. The final results have far eclipsed anything I could have done on my own, with my own meager resources. I am so grateful. And very impressed frankly, that so many of my friends have blossomed into very high level artists.

Here are some of those final results. Photos by Angela Fama

photo by Angela Fama

ohoto by Angela Fama

Yes well, life in general has an amazing, sparkling sheen to it these days. I think it’s mostly due to the amazing, sparkly incredibly high doses of estrogen, progesterone, and oxytocin surging through my body. This hormone bath is picking my brain. But it’s a great pickling and a lovely bath to be in. I see more tenderness, joy, beauty and humor in everyday life thna I ever thought possible. How could I have missed all that before? If it’s a temporary phenomenon of pregnancy, I’ll miss it. And I’ll never forget it.

I see more pain and suffering too. My eyes constantly well up with tears of joy, and sorrow. I feel like my heart has grown ten sizes – not that I was really grinchy before I got pregnant – that my capacity for empathy and compassion has increased to delicious, almost unbearable levels. I’ve always been a sensitive person. But now my body and mind are frequently overwhelmed with how it feels to be in someone else’s shoes.

It’s a gift that has made me a better listener, more affectionate, kinder, more patient, happier, and infinitely more appreciative of the fleeting fragility of life. All traits that might help make me a good mama. Once again, I am in awe of how beautifully the transition to motherhood is designed by nature and a few million years of evolution. Thanks, hormones.

By this time next month, I’ll probably have a baby. After so many months of being pregnant, it’s hard to believe it’s almost over. And that the biggest transition, the most massive changes and adventure are yet to come.

Substitute Teacher and Tax Credit Info

Hello again Lovely Parents,
A couple of quick tidbits of information for you:

– Hilary Grist, one of the subs on my referral list, is finalizing her teaching schedule and wanted me to pass on to you that she will be unable to accept any more students after Feb. 6. If you were thinking of engaging her to teach your child in my absence, she would appreciate an email in the next week or so.

– Canada Revenue Agency has announced a tax credit for the 2011 tax year that allows parents to claim a maximum of $500 of fees paid towards ” a prescribed program of artistic, cultural, recreational, or developmental activity” Looks like music lessons qualify for this tax credit. Here’s the CRA link:

http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/artscredit/

Apparently you don’t need to include the receipts to claim this, you just need to have a copy of them. Let me know if you get audited and need some receipts for lessons, I have copies of your paid invoices.

Cheerio,
Alison

http://www.alisonmaira.com
In-Home Piano Lessons

It’s An Album!

Hello World,
The Blackbirds EP by OK Maira is freshly completed and eager to imprint itself upon your lovely ears, much like a baby bird does on the first object it sees. Usually its mother, and I’m not saying you should be my album’s mother…I’m just saying this wee record wants to make friends with your ears. Or something like that.


You can listen to and/or buy individual songs (or all of them!) at my page on Bandcamp. Also on the Listen page is the gorgeous album artwork, created by Vancouver artist Jim Miller. You can see more of his work here. Comment, forward, discuss. perhaps sing and dance. Delve into the OK Maira blog and read the story of recording with some of Vancouver’s finest musicians who play and sing all over this damn record.


I’m seven months pregnant now, feeling good but slowing down a little. It’s going to be real interesting to see how much farther along with the digital album release I can get before the baby makes its debut.

Maternity Leave

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
I wanted to let you know my maternity leave plans. I will be working up until Friday March 9, the last day before Spring Break, and returning to work to finish out the year on Thursday May 3. I will be cutting back my hours to 3:30-7:30pm and will be asking some of you to change lesson times as I adjust my schedule so I can be home by 7:30 every night. After the year end concert in June, I will be taking July, August and September off and returning part time 3 days a week 3:30-7:30pm in October.
If you would like to continue lessons after Spring Break from Monday March 26 to Friday April 27 and/or for July, August and September, I have spoken to several teachers I know who are interested in substituting for me while I’m off. All three are currently full time professional teacher/musicians.

Hilary Grist: hilary@hilarygrist.com
Hilary is a close friend of mine, we went to university together. She has a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies. She teaches piano and voice, and I have had some wonderful voice lessons with her. She released a very successful album last year and she’s a fantastic piano player with a beautiful voice. Check out her website hilarygrist.com to get a sense of what she does.

Kathy Fitzpatrick: kathy.music.lessons@gmail.com
Kathy has a Bachelor of Music in Flute, and her RCM grade 8 in piano. She also has a Musical Theatre Diploma and 6 years of teaching experience. She went to Capilano University after I did, and I have met her many times through my friend Hilary.

Paul Miyai: paulmiyai@hotmail.com
I went to university with Paul as well. He has a Diploma in Jazz Studies from Capilano. He is an amazing pianist, specializing in jazz but very comfortable teaching all styles of music. His website is http://paulvancouverpiano.com

If you are interested in continuing with lessons with me when I’m “back in the saddle” in October, please let me know. I would love to keep teaching all of you that my schedule permits.
Thank you for another great, albeit abbreviated, year of music study:)
Alison

I’ve Been Mastered

I went to Alex Degrace at Suite Sound Labs here in Vancouver for mastering. I’d been to Suite Sound before to master The Feminists records, but I’d never worked with Alex before. And, I’d never really learned exactly what mastering was. I knew it was necessary, but in my younger days I couldn’t be bother to find out why. I never heard much of a difference after a recording was mastered, due to my overall impatience and poorly developed ears.


However, when you’re in charge of a project – and paying for it yourself – you start to become more curious and invested in what exactly is going on and why. At least I did. So here is a nutshell summary of what I have learned about mastering:


Mastering is the process of preparing and transferring recorded audio from a source containing the final mix (wave files on Mike Southworth’s ftp site in this case) to a data storage device (the master cd); the source from which all copies will be produced. What’s involved in the mastering process is quite detailed.


Mastering requires critical listening on the part of the engineer; part of their job is to improve upon sound translation on all playback systems, i.e. make the record sound good on your iPod, in your car, on your living room stereo. Basically, mastering “sweetens” audio to maximize the sound quality by editing minor flaws, adding ambience, adjusting volume, and equalizing audio across tracks. Kind of like putting on your makeup and touching up your hair just before you go out for a fabulous night on the town, having already dressed to the nines and made your plans.


Anyway, Alex put some great hair and makeup on my EP. It did seem to sparkle and shine a little bit more after he had applied his critical listening skills. The recording is truly, truly done. It’s time to let you all hear it and release it out into the big world to seek its fortune.



I’m six months into my pregnancy now and I notice some interesting parallels between making art and making babies. I could never understand women who insisted that their ultimate fulfillment comes from having baby after baby. But I sort of do now. It is an amazing process, and unlike most other creative projects, so viscerally physical. Anything that’s grounded so completely in the body will feel incredibly real and immediate. And critically important, which it is. Important to the baby in particular. I feel proud of my album that I made; I feel proud of the person I am making. For me though, I am glad to have had both – creating good works with head and heart and creating a baby with a beautiful man. I could have been quite happy just making art, growing my love and knowledge, and evolving as a human without ever being pregnant. I mean, come on. That’s the lot of all men (and many women) all the time. They seem to do okay. But I’m glad I have a chance to experience this particular kind of creativity too.



I definitely now understand, with the intensity of a thunderclap, that pregnancy takes its meaning from each individual woman and her particular circumstances. It’s very easy to judge when women handle their pregnancies in ways we don’t agree with. But pregnancy at the wrong time, with the wrong man does not feel wondrous and amazing and fulfilling. The complete physicality, the raw immediate-ness of the experience is overwhelming and can be terrifying in a negative context. I’m not saying it’s impossible for a woman to change her mind about a pregnancy that happens in rotten circumstances, that of course happens every day thousands of times around the world. But for the ones who don’t change their mind, their absolute conviction that this pregnancy is a completely unwanted invasion of their body, of their life, is just as powerful as my conviction that my pregnancy is exactly right for me and a welcome, treasured expansion of my life and my body. Knowing it’s wrong for you doesn’t make it easy. Knowing it’s right for you doesn’t make it easy. I have a newfound respect for this fact. It may not solve any problems, but it does enable me to have a lot more compassion towards other women and their struggles.

Mixology 101

My mixing sessions with Mike Southworth had arrived. I’d been so busy growing a human and teaching full time and trying to regain some semblance of normal life that the weeks had passed rather quickly. Mike Zobac and I had flailed around attempting to edit vocals and start the mixing process, but a lack of experience coupled with unfamiliarity with the studio gear gave me the uneasy impression that we were making the songs sound worse, not better.


This was in fact the case. It took Mike a bit of time to undo all the half baked “strategies” and “fixes” that Zobac and I had forced on those poor little songs. But once we were effectively back at zero, things went quickly. A few days later we had a set of first pass initial mixes done.


I popped the cd into my car’s stereo and grinned with amazed delight as I drove home listening. Mike Zobac and I grinned some more when we listened to them together. Mostly from relief, I think. It was deeply satisfying to hear the songs as we originally envisioned. We knew when we were recording that everyone’s parts were really good and the songs had solid arrangements and a decent amount of catchy melodic-ness. It was worrying and disappointing to say the least that after our mixing attempts the songs were missing all of these elements.


In hindsight, it was touchingly naive that we thought we could mix a record. Being decent musicians with decent ears and some computer facility allowed us to engineer, produce, and arrange. But not mix, oh no. And it really came down to familiarity with the studio’s gear and experience. Mike Southworth sat and casually talked to me while he cleaned up, edited, and employed a thousand little shortcuts and tricks to make everything sound rad. Mike Zobac and I sat in mute despair, wondering why we couldn’t hear our keyboard parts, or why we couldn’t line up the vocal parts perfectly, or where the hell was that plug-in that we just used.



We listened carefully for a few days to the initial mixes, and passed our notes on to Mike Southworth. About a week later we had our final mixes. And I knew I hadn’t just wasted a year of my life writing and recording songs.

Here’s Every Single One a la Zobac and Maira. Meh.

Every Single One



Final mix. Yup, I hear a difference.

Every Single One




Blackbirds, pre-awesome.

Blackbirds



Final mix. Warmer, fuller, lusher, more beautiful.

Blackbirds

After a couple of weeks of feeling overjoyed with how my songs sounded, it dawned on me: I am so happy with my art project that I made out of nothing. The depths of despair had completely disappeared. Nausea and fatigue were distant memories. I’m five months now, and I feel fantastic and beautiful. I’m eating well, exercising again, hanging out with my friends, and carefully tending my teaching practice. All the things I couldn’t imagine doing two months ago.

Every day, I am happy to be me. I don’t remember ever feeling like this. I feel my little babe swim and roll around like a goldfish in a bowl and it makes me smile. I’m so, so glad I didn’t give up on making this record. Next, we master.

Winter 2011 Piano Concert!

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
It’s that wonderful time of year once again. Our annual Winter Piano Concert will be held on Saturday December 17 at 2:00pm at the Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, 1700 Mountain Highway in North Vancouver. All students are invited to perform a song at the concert. Friends, family, and grandparents are all welcome. Please RSVP to me regarding your and/or your child’s attendance at the recital.
Following the performances there will be a short reception in the church sanctuary. I will provide coffee, tea, and juice. If you are planning to attend the recital, please bring a plate of desserts or appetizers to share afterward.
This is a performance opportunity, not an obligation. If you or your child become too nervous to perform while at the church please tell me and I will change the program accordingly, this is not a problem. Church appropriate attire please. Cameras are welcome, and feel free to come up to the front when your child is playing to take better pictures or movies.
I’ll be filming short videos of all my students playing their concert songs during their lesson throughout the month of December. The new videos will be posted on my website. This way all the students, whether or not they will be at the concert, will have their performances recorded and posted for their family and friends to admire.
Thanks for another great year of music study,
Alison
ps – here is a link to the latest blog post on my website – your input and comments are welcome.
https://alisonmaira.com/2011/11/13/the-role-of-parents-in-practicing/

The Role Of Parents In Practicing

A few weeks ago, I had a really good lesson with a great student. He had clearly practiced his assignment during the week, and showed wonderful progress in all of his songs. I said to his mom afterward, as I was on my way out “Thank you for your help, he’s sounding really good. I can tell he’s been practicing the material and it shows”. She said ” Oh, I didn’t really do anything. I encourage him a little bit to play when people come over, and I think it helps that the piano is in a central location in the house”.
I went on to my next lesson and thought about what she said. I think that mom has actually done a lot to support her child’s piano studies. She created a comfortable practice environment, which is so important. And she gently encouraged her child to play and practice, which is also key. In my observation, children benefit greatly from parents who are aware and supportive of their music studies. Note, I did not say they benefit from someone who is on their case every day of their lives and criticizes their efforts to play the piano mercilessly. But a little awareness and encouragement go a long way. The most successful, engaged piano students I teach all have parents who are enthusiastic about their lessons, check in with them periodically regarding their practicing, provide a comfortable practice environment (good lighting, not too cold, central location in the house that is not isolated from everyone else, and no tv on while the student is practicing) and build piano practice into their child’s routine. Setting aside consistent, predictable practice time is a really effective way to help a child gain confidence and enjoyment from their playing and in their lessons. This in turn leads to steady progress, which leads to more enjoyment and sometimes, even more practicing. It’s a virtuous circle that if set up early in a child’s first exposure to a musical instrument may last a lifetime.
Of course it’s difficult to find the time (and sometimes, the motivation) to practice; I still struggle with this myself. Life is busy and there’s always something else that can be done first instead of sitting down at the piano. To be honest, I rarely “find” the time if it’s not scheduled.
That’s why I definitely believe that parents who set up a practice routine for their children are doing them a big favor. Procrastination and bargaining can be eliminated early on…now is piano time, it’s in the schedule. I also suspect that many kids secretly feel relieved when boundaries and expectations are set for them in this way. There is no confusion, the task is quickly done, and it feels great to accomplish and finish something.
The younger a child is, the more guidance she or he will need in establishing effective practice habits. A greater proportion of the responsibility falls on the parent to help, support, and encourage. This responsibility gradually passes from parent to child as the student grows and takes on the challenges of self directed practice. And that is a beautiful thing to witness over the years, in my experience. What’s also evident to me is that every child still appreciates parental encouragement regarding their piano playing – even the teenagers – as they grow more independent. I guess that support just takes on more subtle forms, but it’s still important.
Giving your child the ability to express themselves musically is a precious gift. It’s something that could stay with them for their entire lives and give much joy, satisfaction, and inspiration along the way. (not to mention increasing their intelligence, helping them handle stress, and allowing them to connect with others). In my opinion, a parent’s role in helping their child derive the maximum benefit from music study makes the difference between a boring,frustrating, okay experience and a rewarding, confidence building, fun, and creative one.

Mid-Term Piano Lessons Newsletter

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
Normally I send out a Beginning-Of-Term Newsletter, but I’m a little behind the times this year. I’m four and half months pregnant, and to my great surprise this has considerably slowed my work output. Ah, I think I hear some mothers out there chuckling at my naivete. I honestly thought I’d just proceed as normal full steam ahead until the baby is born. Alas, this has not been the case.
I digress. Here is some important information I’d like to share with you all.

* How To Practice
Attached are some suggestions for how to practice effectively. I believe the main component to successful practicing is a consistent, predictable routine. If you can build piano practice time into your (or your child’s) daily routine you will be rewarded with steady, inspiring progress. I’ve also attached a short bio describing my teaching qualifications and experience for those who may be curious.

* Performance Videos Posted

I’ve posted more student videos on my website. (www.alisonmaira.com) This batch is from June 2011 (I told you I was behind the times). There’s some lovely performances, feel free to check them out. Go to the Students section of the site, videos are organized by student name.

* Supervised Practice Sessions

Students under age 10 can really benefit from supervised practice sessions. A parent or caregiver can help the student read and follow their practice assignment and thus insure a more effective practice session.

* Piano Assignment Check-In

All school age students over age 10 can greatly benefit from a parent or caregiver listening to them go through their piano assignment – and checking to see if they are following the instructions – once a week. Bad habits or wrong guesses can be nipped in the bud, and you will get an immediate sense if your child is practicing enough, or effectively.

* General Practice Guidelines

I recommend 4 practice sessions every week – more is better, and if your child loves to play please encourage them to get on the piano at every opportunity. Session times are minimum suggestions. Longer is better, and sometimes a difficult piece will demand longer practice sessions.
Hal Leonard Program, Level 1: 15 minute sessions.
Level 2: 20 minute sessions. Level 3: 25 minute sessions. Level 4: 30 minute sessions. Level 5: 40 minute sessions.
Alfred’s Level 1 All in One: 15 minute sessions. Alfred’s Level 2: 20 minute sessions. Alfred’s Level 3: 30 minute sessions.
Alfred’s Adult All In One: 20 minute sessions. Alfred’s Adult Level 2: 30 minute sessions. Alfred’s Adult Level 3: 45 minute sessions.

* Don’t Forget

To play for fun, to listen to lots of music – familiar and new – and to go see live music when you can. The piano students who love their instrument and practice willingly are the ones who have plenty of musical inspiration.

Thanks for reading. Please contact me with any questions or comments you may have:)
Alison

http://www.alisonmaira.com
In-Home Piano Lessons

A New Normal

I’ve achieved what can be considered to be a ‘new normal’, although it’s a normal that I would have scoffed at before I became with child. The nausea is still there, but it’s a small, growling beast that cowers in dark corners. Not the overwhelming enormous tireless monster it was two weeks ago. If I eat small bits of food constantly throughout the day and during the night, it mostly lets me be. Go too long without feeding it however and it rears up and reminds me exactly who’s in charge here. But it’s not like the nausea is in charge all by itself. Fatigue is just as determined to boss me around. That too is improving, as long as I go to bed early and sleep late. Sleeping all weekend also seems to help.
What’s really wild about this new normal is that I ignore Nausea and Fatigue at my own tremendous peril. Too busy to listen? Oh well. A little gasping and retching or falling asleep at work in the middle of a conversation should teach me a little lesson. And by then, it’s too late to turn the tide and I’m down for the count for a few hours, enraged at my new powerlessness but simultaneously enthralled at the beautiful efficiency of this system. You will eat and sleep so this tadpole can grow. Your schedule and preferences and completely, utterly irrelevant.
If I am properly fed and rested, I can have a few hours every day when I feel…normal. And that, my friends, is a vast improvement and a blessing to cherish.
I am trying to use these precious windows of calm clarity wisely. I realized that dear Michael’s last year of full time computer science studies at BCIT and my full time teaching practice and growing a human would pretty much eliminate the possibility of either one of us being able to focus on mixing the album.
I decided to hand over the whole thing to Mike Southworth and asked him to mix it for us. Sometimes it’s best to accept your limitations (such as a 9:00 bedtime) and surrender gracefully to a professional.
To my relief, Mike responded positively to my request. Yes, he would be happy to do the mixing, but it would have to wait for a few weeks until he was finished working with Hilary his lovely wife on this years Peak Performance Project, a massive indie rock contest I had participated in the previous year with Parlour Steps. I knew that Hilary and Mike would have their hands full with the contest, and would probably work harder on it than any other contestant past, present, or future. No problem, I said. I can wait. I’m too busy eating and sleeping to much notice a delay anyway.
Maybe I should go out and see some music, I thought. I suspected that playing in bands had destroyed my love of playing music, and I wanted to see if that sour taste in my mouth was from cynicism and frustration, or just the nausea.

Hilary Grist’s Peak Performance Showcase at The Red Room:
I rested up all day for this one and nibbled on cheese and apple slices on the dance floor. It was worth it.

It was the best I’ve ever seen her. Joyful and inspiring. Mike Southworth on drums, Noah Walker on guitar and Matt Rogers on bass round out this stellar band. It’s amazing how many of my fellow Selkirk College Professional Music and Cap College Jazz Studies alumni have ended up dominating the Vancouver indie rock scene.

One of my favorite songs, Tall Buildings, from Hilary’s 2010 album Imaginings. Alas, I just missed the very beginning. A great, exciting performance. Noah’s guitar solo and Mike’s exquisitely sensitive drumming behind it give me tingles.





The Nificant, Falconett’s.

Dear Michael plays drums in this band, along with his friends Jason Krickler (guitar) and Dan Silk (bass). It’s mostly a side project I think, for all three guys. But with a high level of musicianship and very weird, very good songs.

This is “Two Teeth” a song about drunk guys at a party playing with a bear trap until somebody’s head gets caught. Quirky, funny, and a valid public safety cautionary tale.





The Deep End, Backstage Lounge.

Mike drums in this band too, and the lovely Dawn Pemberton sings lead. They do funk, soul, and R&B covers from the 1960’s to present. I always make sure I get out and shake my tail feather to their delicious get down-ness a few times a year. On this particular night they were in fine funky form. It is pretty great to have so many friends that play in great bands and sound awesome.

I was glad to realize that music could still be fun and enjoyable. My friends’ music, anyway. I’ve been playing in bands for 10 years, and it’s mostly been crushing disappointment, frustration, and heartbreak interspersed with moments of the most exquisite joy and satisfaction I will ever experience.
I was very worried I’d be totally adrift after leaving Parlour Steps. But then I started writing songs and recording my EP, and then I got knocked up. And now I’m starting to think there is way more to life than playing somebody else’s songs in somebody else’s band. There is way more to life than playing music. It feels blasphemous to say that after dedicating my life to music, but there it is. There’s fun and friends, babies, becoming a better teacher and writer, going back to school and learning new things. If I hadn’t had a total hiatus from music forced on me by the tyranny of early pregnancy, I wouldn’t have been able to gain a new perspective and become aware of what else was possible for me.
This week I started to feel the baby move. It’s not just me anymore, there’s someone else on this journey with me. And that makes the new normal totally worthwhile.

Featured Student, Desiree

Love this lady. Desiree is a full time lawyer, wife, mother of two and piano student. She has a strong natural musical talent that I love to see unfold and deepen every week. You just never know what you might be good at until you give it a try.

The Depths Of Despair

I was, and am a big Anne Of Green Gables fan. As I child, I lost myself completely in the entire series of books and re-read my favorite passages until they were memorized. Anne refers frequently to sinking into “the depths of despair” and I felt like now, as a grown woman I could for the first time truly, deeply empathize.

I’m almost 3 months pregnant and my whole life is “the depths of despair”. Also a “perfect graveyard of buried hopes”, another choice Anne-ism.

Not because I’m unhappy about being pregnant. My sweet husband and I are really, really thrilled to be expecting. It’s just that I had no idea that it was possible to feel this dreadful physically, week after week.

I am nauseous. All the time, constantly feeling like I am about to throw up RIGHT NOW. Sometimes I actually do throw up, like I did today, in the shower. Oh god. A terrible morning. At least it was easy to clean up. Throwing up provides no relief, and I continue to feel incredibly nauseated immediately afterward.

I am exhausted. I can’t get enough sleep and often stay in bed until I absolutely must get up, throw on some clothes and stagger off to work. Or to the studio. Or both. I get home and go back to bed.

But the worst part is, I don’t recognize myself. The things I used to do have completely disappeared from my life. Reading, writing, playing with my band, practicing piano and guitar, daydreaming, socializing, exercising, watering my plants, errands, cooking, cleaning, lesson plans for my students, research about teaching, website maintenance, brainstorming, singing, having ideas, being inspired, listening to music – all gone. I have no motivation or desire for anything beyond staying in bed with a pillow over my head to block out the audacity of the soft summer sunshine and those inconsiderate neighborhood kids with their stupid giggling.

I have a book that I write down ideas about ideas for teaching, recording, writing, whatever projects I’m working on. I’ve filled half a filing cabinet with these books over the past 10 years. I started a new book in July. There is one entry, scrawled rather unsteadily:

“What has become of me? I used to do a lot of things I don’t do anymore. My activities have changed and it’s not
great
challenging
exciting
an adventure
interesting
What does it feel like work on an absorbing project?”

And this is while I’m supposed to be making a record – which I remember being really really excited about when I started it -and now I can’t even force myself to care about it. This would normally cause me great distress. But not now. I’d rather just go back to bed.

I don’t look pregnant yet (just sick). We haven’t told anyone. I’ve dragged myself out a couple of times so my friends don’t think I hate them or anything, and I’m still going to work. The idea of sitting down and focusing on mixing the album is completely out of reach. I’ve realized it is impossible to concentrate on anything when one is constantly nauseous and/or vomiting.

I learned about chronic nausea recently during a quick internet search for nausea remedies. I am horrified, absolutely horrified that such a condition exists. In my case, there’s reason to hope that it’s likely temporary and I’ll soon feel better. I feel deep, deep empathy for anyone who experiences this for months or years at a time.

It would be enough to make you want to stop living I think, knowing that there’s no end in sight. Give these people prescriptions for all the best quality, high grade medical marijuana they need. It works and they deserve to feel human again.

It’s hard to believe that this teeny tiny tadpole is the reason I feel so terrible. My brain understands that if everything goes well, I’ll end up with a baby next spring. My body understands that something seismic is shifting, my entire system has been turned utterly upside down. My heart hasn’t quite put these two things together yet.

Please, please, please let it get better.

Welcome Back! Fall 2011 Piano Lessons

Hello lovely parents and students,
Merciful heavens. Another summer has slipped away, and tomorrow we jump back into our work and school routines. I hope you all had a well deserved break. I just wanted to remind you that piano lessons recommence this week, as of tomorrow Tuesday Sept. 6. If you are unsure what your lesson time is, please contact me as there have been changes for some of you over the summer.
I have attached a copy of my studio polices regarding cancellations and other important info. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Looking forward to seeing you all this week!
Cheerio,
Alison

Just One More Thing

I don’t quite remember how this came about, but Mikes Zobac and Southworth collectively agreed that adding some synth pads (to thicken and warm up the songs, much like a comforting winter soup is thick and warm) and some percussion would be a nice idea.

When they broached the subject to me, naturally my first instinct was to wail “Oh no! COME ON! I thought we were done recording! When are we ever going to be done? More studio time, more scheduling, are you guys NUTS? What’s next, a timpani solo and a gospel choir?” This record will never be done, why did I ever start it, oh woe betide me. Drama? Only in my internal monologue these days, dear reader. A key difference between my 20’s and 30’s and a welcome one.

My policy these days is to listen carefully, breathe before I speak and say yes to the suggestions offered by professionals who know more than me after they have explained themselves compellingly.

These two Mikes have never led me down the garden path, so I pasted a demure smile on my face and said “Sure. When can we do this?” A few days later, Mike Zobac and I were in the studio for two more short sessions, one for synth parts, and one for tambourine and shakers.

Our keyboard session went pretty smoothly – Mike Southworth has about 100 000 sounds in his hard drive – and miraculously we hit upon the perfect warming and thickening agent. I played some simple chords (with impeccable voice leading) and everything was sounding good. We moved on to find a nice Tom Sawyer/churning of the universe sound and sprinkled a light, tasteful dusting over the last chorus.

Satisfied, we leaned back and listened back to our efforts. A terrible, distorted crackly awfulness came wafted back from the speakers. My heart sank, a little. Mike started adjusting settings and talking to himself. Refresh, reset, reboot, restart, still nothing. My fists began to clench, a little. We messed around with the computer for a couple of hours, and finally in despair we started over and I re-recorded the initial keyboard parts. We still couldn’t listen back to the parts and Mike tried everything he could think of to restore them but to no avail. We went home and made arrangements for Mike Southworth to take a look at our files when he came in the next day.

When we came in the following afternoon, all was well. It was a latency issue that sometimes happens and Southworth resolved it quickly. Not for the first time I observed that deep, intimate familiarity with the gear, the programs and their quirks is totally invaluable. Mike Zobac and I have good instincts and a willingness to troubleshoot and experiment, but that is no substitute for knowing the tools and the gear inside out when faced with a quirky random problem.

Our keyboard parts turned out pretty well. It’s kind of subtle without the tracks being properly mixed and mastered, but it actually does sound fuller and warmer in the verses now.

Every Single One

We quickly set up some percussion instruments and I got to engineer (that is, press stop, record, and restart) while Mike Zobac laid down some tasty rhythmic goodness on short sections on a couple more songs. “Are we really done recording?, I asked Mike. “Yes, we really are”, he said with a grin. All righty then. I was smiling too. On to mixing. How long could that possibly take?

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Recently the OK Maira lineup has changed from the original group who played on the recording. Contrary to many other band member changes, this one happened calmly, efficiently, and with no angry screaming whatsoever.

Mike Zobac informed me that, while the bass playing experiment was fun, if he was going to continue playing in this band he would need to play the drums. He didn’t feel that his bass playing would come along fast enough to be worthy of performing, possibly in public, possibly in front of judgmental strangers.

Besides being a barely adequate bass player, Mike is a great drummer and had the good sense to marry me. I would do anything (not harmful to self or others) for him to increase his happiness. He is my favorite human being. So there wasn’t really any hesitation on my part to agree to his request.

This left the bass playing position vacant, however. Good bass players are very hard to find. Well, good bass players who are willing to rehearse for free are hard to find. I thought of Julie, but she had been pretty underwhelmed about playing the bass for awhile and had no qualms about leaving Parlour Steps behind to focus on her optician/vintage eyeglasses collecting and design/blogging/online business/well-paying and inspiring career not related to music. So I didn’t ask, for a long time.

One day, I played my demos for her. And she said, “Oh, I would play these songs”. “Really?” I said, trying to play it cool. “Well, would you maybe consider jumping in here and there, in case Mike’s not available or something?”She said yes to that. I was emboldened. When Mike asked to be transferred to the drum department, I told Julie this. And from there it was a short leap to her agreeing to join the band.

So, ladies and gentlemen: meet the lovely Julie Bavalis. At first glance, she appears to be merely a very cute woman with impeccable style and amazing glasses. And she is all of these things, as well as smart and funny and kind. But she is also a really good bass player. Julie has such good time and good feel (and great intonation and tone).She and Mike had enjoyed playing together 100 years ago when we were all students in the jazz program at Capilano University. They were stoked to play together again. And I was delighted that I had a solid, tasteful rhythm section that liked and respected each other. Not only that, they speak the same language…they can communicate well about feel and groove and they understand each other. This is a luxury, having a drummer and bass player who actually talk and listen to each other. They really really care about making the song sound as good as possible and they’re willing to try a lot of different ideas to get there. Be still, my heart.

Now I have a delicious, solid lineup of players who like each other and aren’t planning to leave town. It’s ridiculous how awesome this group of people are. Gradually I feel the thick layers of cynicism about music melt away from my heart. Maybe it’s worth it to try one more time, make a band out of nothing and see how far it can go.

Besides, I’ve have found the perfect program at UBC that will educate me for my future not related to music career. Might as well cover all the bases.

Torn Between Two Lovers

Recently I took up the guitar. For a long time I was conflicted about this. I was worried that the piano might not understand. After all, we had been together without interruption for 27 years. And it’s not that the piano isn’t exciting or satisfying anymore, it is. It’s not like I’ve mastered the piano and am ready to move on to master the guitar. There is a LONG way to go for me as a piano player.
I wasn’t expecting the guitar to come along and bash me over the head with a sense of urgency to start playing it, right now. But that’s essentially what happened. Coco and I were enjoying some precious lady time together and we were watching “This Is It”, the documentary about Michael Jackson’s rehearsals for his planned comeback shows in London. We were totally gobsmacked by the amazing-ness of MJ’s band. And then this incredible woman marched out onto the catwalk to play her guitar solos with Michael. The awesome Slash rhythm part in Black and White. The awesome Eddie Van Halen solo in Beat It. I was transfixed. The guitar bashed me over the head with a sudden sense of urgency to learn how to play it.
I said to Coco “Oh my god, I want to learn how to play the electric guitar!” “You should!” she said, always supportive.
Two days later I was at Long and McQuade, renting a guitar. I found a teacher and started lessons the following week. As of yet, I do not sound like the woman in the MJ movie.
But that’s okay. It’s intoxicating to be a beginner again with a musical instrument. My guitar lessons are totally helping become a better piano teacher, and if nothing else I am newly reminded to be constantly empathetic and patient with beginners. As long as I don’t watch Strictly Ballroom again and decide to take up ballroom dancing (which my husband sneeringly refers to as “that stupid prancing”) everything should be fine.

The Joys Of Summer

Oh boy summer is almost here, and once again I’m taken straight back to childhood and the memories of all the wonderful things that this glorious season brings.
I played a lot of piano every summer when I was a kid. On rainy days, in the mornings before heading off to the beach, in the cool of the evening before bed.
I played all the songs I wasn’t allowed to play during the school year with my Royal Conservatory teacher. Going to buy songbooks of non-classical music became a happy summer tradition for me. I spent hours slowly figuring out songs I’d been listening to on the radio. I wrote my own pieces and strongarmed my piano playing friends into creating elaborate duets with me on dark stormy days.
Now I teach piano full time. And every summer I look forward to the joys of playing lots of great songs with a fair number of dedicated students who, like me, have discovered the fun of playing music more or less continuously during July and August.
Music can create such a virtuous circle in one’s life. You discover an instrument – maybe even more than one instrument – and you start practicing enough to notice your own improvement. This is incredibly exciting, you start thinking about all the songs you love and that maybe you could learn this one or that one…you practice more, and see more improvement. Material that used to be hard is now undeniably easier. You start setting your sights higher, tackling more and more repertoire. You play the songs you love over and over, they continue to get better, people say nice things about your talent, and you want to play more.
For me, this virtuous circle first appeared during long hot summers at home. Without the distraction of so many other school year activities, the hours and days stretched endlessly ahead and I ended up going to the piano every day, many times a day, playing my current song obsession and hearing it improve before my very ears. Don’t get me wrong, I spent plenty of time outside too cavorting in the sunshine.
In a way, it was the perfect work-life balance that I have yet to replicate as an adult. Devote hours to a solitary creative intellectual pursuit until restlessness sets in, run outside and devote hours to sheer physical exuberance and playing with friends, feel the pull of wondering about that song again and head back indoors to revisit it, until the next bout of restlessness. O, that the adult world allowed this way of life…I guess it does if you’re independently wealthy.
So once again I look forward to slipping into a gentle daze of playing piano and running around outside. And helping a fair number of dedicated summer piano students discover their own virtuous circle.
If you think you might like to fall in love with the piano this summer, please contact me…I can definitely help you out with that.

Year End Newsletter And Recital Information

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
Here we are at the end of another very successful year of piano lessons and music study! There’s lots of news, and changes, and information I have for you regarding piano lessons so here goes:

Summer Piano Concert:
As you know, our year end piano recital is taking place on Saturday June 18 at 2:00pm. The location is Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, 1700 Mountain Hwy in North Vancouver. Church appropriate attire for performers, please. Here is the initial draft of the concert program. Please RSVP to me if your plans have changed and you are no longer attending, if you need a different slot in the lineup, if I have accidentally overlooked someone, or misspelled your name.

1. Bronwen O’Callaghan Fur Elise
2. Finlay O’Callaghan Once A Man Was So So Mad
3. Cecilia Cooper Please No Bees
4. Megan Finch When You Wish Upon A Star
5. Trevor Donohoe Casey Jones
6. Max Faber Star Wars
7. Rebecca Knowles Rockin On the Soccer Field
8. Jacqueline Faivre-Duboz Bingo
9. Emma Zappacosta Watercolors
10. Angela Wall Popeye The Sailor Man
11. McKenna McManus Bayou Blues
12. Averi Duerichen Pachelbel Canon
13. Grace Confortin Happy Days
14. Aidan Faivre-Duboz James Bond
15. Adam Romanick She Loves You
16. Nolan Pomeroy A Day In Vienna
17. Holly Duerichen Ribbons
18. Sylvie Romanick Ob La Di Ob La Da
19. Sheavon McDougall Fifteen
20. Alessa Haas Floating
21. Michaela Gobas Waltz in G Minor
22. Emma Hughes Hello Goodbye
23. Nitara Heywood These Eyes
24. Callem McDougall Postcards From Far Away
25. Alison Maira Ray’s Blues

Deposit for Time Slot Reservation For September 2011:
If you would like to reserve your current time slot, I require a postdated cheque to pre-pay the total for September’s lessons. This deposit is non-refundable should you change your mind about continuing.

Summer Lessons:
If you would like to take piano lessons during the summer, please send me your available dates for July and August (some of you have already done this, I know). An invoice for the total amount of summer lessons will be issued to you, and in the event of cancellations I will make every effort to schedule a make-up lesson with you. No refunds or credits for missed summer lessons.
Summer lessons are my favorite, in a lot of ways. I focus on repertoire from songbooks, composition, duet playing, and music appreciation. We let go of Lesson, Technique, and Theory books temporarily and I encourage the student to choose their own songs whenever possible. It’s great to have a few ‘Summer Projects’ to work on and I find students often make wonderful progress as there is more time to relax and enjoy playing without the distraction of so many other activities. Plus, you always have an answer for a bored child on a rainy day – “Go practice some piano!”

Student Performance Videos:
I’ll be bringing my camera to lessons the week after the recital to film students playing their prepared performance song to be posted on the “Students” section of my website.

Signed Copies of Studio Policies:
This is one of a few business policy changes I will be implementing in the fall. At the first lesson in September, I will drop off 2 copies of my current studio policies (regarding cancellations, etc) that I have signed. Please go over the policies and sign them as well – this will serve as a contract of sorts that we both agree and understand the terms of our professional relationship. I will collect one copy the following week, and we will both have a signed copy that should eliminate any confusion in the future.

Phasing Out 30 Minute Lessons:
All new students will be starting with a 45 minute weekly lesson (60 minutes for adults). As my teaching experience grows, I find there are many additional topics that I wish I could cover with all my students every week but there just isn’t enough time in a 30 minute lesson. These include:
– completing theory pages in the lesson so the student doesn’t have to remember to do them during the week
– rhythm exercises (clapping, singing, etc)
– ear training (recognizing notes and patterns by listening)
– duet playing (to help develop steady beat and listening skills)
– composition
– learning songs ‘by ear’, especially the student’s current favorite songs for which there may not be sheet music, or perhaps no sheet music at the appropriate level.
– music appreciation and analysis (listening to music to introduce the student to different genres, discussing stylistic features, exploring the role of emotion and expression in music)

I have a few available slots for longer lessons. I realize that many of you will prefer to stay with your current 30 minute lesson and that is not a problem at all. But if you would like to change to a longer lesson, please contact me.

Thank you all for a great year! I really feel that this one has been exceptional. With the introduction of note-drill flashcards, the metronome, breaking down the practice sessions into 5/10/15 minute sections for the older students, and 8/10/12x sections for the younger students, I have observed definite, wonderful progress and skill development in everyone. I love my job, and I feel so grateful that you all give me the opportunity to do it, to make it better, and to keep striving to become a better teacher.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any comments, suggestions or concerns you may have.
Looking forward to Saturday,

Alison

http://www.alisonmaira.com
In-Home Piano And Music Theory Lessons

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Book More Studio Time

I knew as we were recording the lead vocals for the second time that it was much better than my first attempt. A few days later we edited the new vocals and I got to hear them. And I was relieved, very very happy and relieved that yes, they did sound very good. Well, very good for me. I wouldn’t say that I sound as good as Aretha Franklin or anything. Does anybody sound as good as Aretha Franklin?

Here’s a bit of Blackbirds with the initial vocal recording.

Blackbirds

It’s ok, but it sounds kind of robotic to me. No color or life to the words, no story being told through the lyrics. No phrasing, and not a great blend with Dawn and Hilary. Competent but nothing more than that. And mere competence will never do, as my friends have already laid down tracks that are beautiful and tasteful.

Here’s the same excerpt after the vocal re-dos. I like it a lot more. The blend between Dawn and Hilary and me is way better, there’s phrasing and dynamics. Better color and personality in the voice. I hear the story more in this version.

Blackbirds2

Where I really hear the difference is on Every Single One. Here’s the barely passable first version. When I first recorded this, it felt like a really hard song to sing and I was worried that I wouldn’t even be able to get through it. And now that’s how it sounds to me. Tense, cautious, and completely devoid of emotion.

Every Single One

And here’s the new version. Lots of bounce and rhythm, better blend with Hils and Dawn, better tuning, and way more life to the story. I think it sounds much more relaxed and dare I say, genuine.

Every Single One2

I’ve learned many things along the way during this recording process. One of the biggest lessons has been, take your time and make it good. At first I just wanted to get everything done as fast as possible and slap it up on the internet. I’m a very impatient person. Always wanting to get shit done and then move on to the next thing. I have a perpetual to-do list that I’m constantly adding stuff to.

And now I think, that really doesn’t make sense. Not with making a record, anyway. You need to step back and listen, lots of times, at every stage of the recording process. And very frequently what sounded fine initially sounds less fine after a few days and repeated listenings. I’m so grateful to the Mikes, Zobac and Southworth. They have repeatedly put the brakes on me and suggested re-dos, fixes, additions and subtractions. I respect those guys a lot so I’ve been gritting my teeth and following their advice. Gradually this EP is becoming something that exceeded my wildest hopes and expectations. So that’s another big lesson. Listen to people who have a different viewpoint and try some things they suggest for the purpose of making the project better. I mean, why not make it as good as we possibly can?

Now we mix! Who knows what wild and crazy suggestions will come about after a few days with the Mikes going over the songs with their enormous ears and impeccable taste?

Give Me Your Head

“Give me your head. No no no. Let me move it. Give me your head.” Why is this so hard, I wondered, lying on the floor in a spare room at Creativ Studios. My head was in Hilary’s lap. We were warming up for the first of two studio sessions to re-do all my lead vocals for the EP. I had now become one of those people who could tell a crazy story about vocalizing (Once I had this teacher who had me lie on the floor while she moved my head around…)

I really wasn’t supposed to be thinking about anything, except completely relaxing my head and allowing Hilary to gently turn it right to left, up and down, around in circles. And I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t let my head fall into her hands. This made no sense. I trust Hilary totally – it’s not like she was going to quickly break my neck and leave me dead on the floor – (I was pretty sure) so what exactly was the problem here?

My brain added its two cents to the situation. Oh great, it snarled. I can’t even relax. I won’t be able to warm up, I won’t be able to sing any better than I did last time and we’re just all going to waste our studio time ALL BECAUSE I CAN’T RELAX JUST RELAX RIGHT NOW MAIRA DO IT NOW! Ah, yes. So helpful. So soothing. Sometimes I would give anything to have a different brain. Mine tends to freak out regularly and needs to be kept on a tight leash.

“Give it. Give it to me. Give me your head”, Hilary kept murmuring calmly as she reminded me to breathe deeply, and practice some vowel sounds. I told my brain to shut up and listen to her. And it worked. With every breath tension flowed out and calmness flooded in. I sank into the floor and began to hope we could just do warm-ups all night.

“And this is the room where we do make-up” said Jim cheerfully as he led the makeup artist for the next popstar video birthday party into the darkened room where Hilary and I were sprawled out. Jim owns Creativ. Hilary and I scrambled to our feet. “Just doing some vocal warmups” Hilary said brightly as I stood mutely, feeling utterly disoriented. “We’ll find another room”. No need to feel sheepish, I reassured myself as we staggered out the door. They probably didn’t expect to see head twisting and lap sitting and dolphin sounds, but no matter. I’m a singer now! We can get away with doing eccentric singer things.

After a few more rounds of “Give me your head”, some visualizing about a deep mysterious swamp of emotion, and a bit of lip flapping Hilary deemed me ready to sing. I felt fantastic. I suspected it was going to be a great session.

We started with Every Single One. “You’re in charge of the talkbalk mic”, I told Hil. “Mike will engineer and push the buttons – you tell us how you want to approach this”.

“One complete pass first”, she said. “Then I’ll know what sections to work on next”. Ok. You tell it, lady. I sang all the way through and it felt way better than my last vocal session. Then we broke it down to Hilary’s specifications. After singing the first half of the song a few times, I timidly said “Hey, is this way better? I think it might be quite good”. “It’s much, much better””, said Mike in the control room. All right then. I wasn’t imagining it.

We did the two hardest songs, Every Single One and Sometimes that night. Hilary was calm and decisive. Mike and I did what she said. I’ve never sounded so good. I was thrilled. “Hilary, I love you”, I blurted out when we were taking a water break between songs. She laughed. “You’re doing great”, she said. ” No, this is because of you”, I gushed. “I could never have had a performance like this on my own”. She laughed again. I knew I was being uncool, but I was so happy with the takes we had done I didn’t care.

Three weeks later we went in and finished the other three songs in about four hours. We got performances that were above my wildest expectations. At Mike’s suggestion I tried a little improvising at the end of Go Away. It turned out excellently. I was dumbfounded. Hilary said I should do a before and after snapshot – actually line up the same clips from the first vocal session against the results from our re-dos, because the difference was so dramatic. I will do exactly that, as soon as we’re done editing, I thought. How cool will that be?

In the meantime here’s a couple of video clips Mike filmed during the recording of Blackbirds. Believe me, it sounds a lot better than our first recording.

Last part of the bridge

Verse and chorus

I Have To Admit It’s Getting Better

I practiced. I sang the songs over and over. At home with my piano, outside while walking in the rain, alone in the car traveling to teach piano lessons. But my first real leap of progress came when I booked a vocal coaching session with Hilary.

“The first thing I would suggest is more bounce”, she said as we sat at her piano with my charts.

“Oh, yes?” I said politely, remembering all the wild and unbelievable stories that my singer friends have told me about crazy voice lessons with crazy voice teachers where they tell students things like “all you have to do is imagine a rainbow, that’s the sound we want”, or they perform the Heimleich maneuver on your diaphragm to help you breathe, set books on your chest while you lie on your back, carry you across the room, say things like “inflate your inner tube”, “think vertically”, etc., etc.

This concerned me. How was I going to get better as a singer if I didn’t understand the instructions on how to do so? I’m not much of a “think of a waterfall” kind of gal. I’m your basic cold fish when it comes to achievement. Explain what I’m doing wrong – clearly, with no extra words – and tell me how to make it better – succinctly and logically- and I’ll go home and practice that until it’s awesome.

“Yeah, like this – WE’re all HUN-gry here/ STARving and SAd/ LOOking for COMfort/ there’s NONE to be had”, Hilary sang the first lines of “Every Single One”. Yes! Yes, of course. Bounce. Bouncy phrases, emphasis on syllables to make it sound more like how you would just say it to somebody. That was what was missing from my initial vocal takes. I was so concerned about singing in tune and delivering a good technical performance that I ended up with a completely lifeless result. And that wasn’t readily apparent (to me) until I heard the harmony vocals, shimmering with life and bounce and emotion. Then I realized, I have to do better. Otherwise it’s going to sound like somebody poured very expensive chocolate over a dry soda cracker and hopes no one will notice the cracker.

I felt a rush of gratitude towards Hilary. She was going to help me, really help me figure this out in a way I could understand. The mark of a great teacher, by the way. If you find a teacher like this, hold on to them. Chances are incredibly high you will learn something.

Things went quickly after that. I dropped deeply into that happy place where everything is clear and easy and time slows down completely. We went through all the songs and mapped out all the phrasing and dynamics. Then Hilary had me explain the story and the feeling behind each song, and had me visualize a setting. Where does this song take place? What do I see around me? I realized I hadn’t considered any of this. But as I started to think about it, the songs became more real to me. The story of each song came to life. The characters gradually came into sharp focus.

Now close your eyes, think about all of that, apply the phrasing and dynamics, and sing.

Much, much, much better. It was obvious, right away. Armed with this new information plus the warm-ups Hilary had shown me, I marched out of her apartment at midnight, afire with enthusiasm and looking forward to the weeks of practice ahead.

A Thick Layer Of Sparkle

Every Single One
Blackbirds

Another weekend in the studio, and this has been one of my most favorite sessions yet. Dawn and Hilary came in to do all the harmony vocal parts. We’d had a couple of good productive rehearsals in the weeks leading up to recording. They composed and arranged all their parts together and I was really looking forward to capturing it all.

And apparently Mike was looking forward to doing some choral conducting.

I realize that we’ve been making this little album on our own, with no outside help or input. Sometimes that worries me a little. Maybe it’ll be terrible. But maybe there’s something to letting a group of really good musicians come up with their own parts and play them together. That is, after all, how an enormous amount of good music has been created over the past hundred years or so. Good musicians have good ideas, especially about their own instruments.

Hilary and Dawn are great musicians. They were very sensitive to each other and thus blended beautifully into one Super Beautiful Singer when they sang together. Individually they have lovely voices and they made me sound much more awesome (thank goodness) when they sang with me. The parts they wrote made the songs come alive. It was like a thick layer of sparkle and color had been spread over the guitars, organ, piano, bass and drums. And I became wildly inspired to learn how to sing better and decided to re-do all my lead vocals. I’d been considering that for awhile, I knew I’d already learned stuff that would produce a better result.

Here’s Dawn recording her part on Every Single One.

And Hilary.

We had one gal record in the big room while the other sang along in the control room to help with balance and blend.

This is Hilary singing along, curled up on the couch with her book. Aw.

There’s still some fixes left to do, but now we have a general idea of how the songs are going to sound. I’ve been listening to them and I can honestly say now, there’s very good moments in all of them. I find the more I listen, the less weirded out I am by hearing my own voice. I’ve got a couple of weeks to practice singing in preparation for my re-dos and this time I’ll be enlisting the help of my dear vocalist friends for some coaching. See, so right there I know it’s going to be better than the first try. Yay for growing and learning.

Sing, Sing a Song

Every Single One
Blackbirds

This weekend we finished all my lead vocal tracks. This is getting serious now, this album-making idea. I feel like we’ve past some kind of point of no return. I mean, any time up until now I could have just pulled the plug and walked away. A bunch of instrumental unmixed tracks, who cares? Doesn’t exactly sound like much of anything. But now I’ve sang the words to all the songs. It’s stored in Mike Southworth’s computer (and a back-up in my external hard drive. Maybe I do want to finish this. At least, I don’t want to lose it). There’s no mistaking it, these definitely sound like songs now.
I’ve never done this before, sang all the words and been the lead singer. Our first vocal session we recorded all the songs in about 7 hours. I was very pleased that I felt fine all day. No sore throat and my voice didn’t give out. So I must have ok technique. I was able sing mostly in tune, yay. We did a few fixes, but they were mostly on Every Single One, which I realized too late (after the bass had been recorded) is a half step too low for me.
I didn’t want to rely on the auto-tune…let me rephrase that, I would have rather died than rely on auto-tune to make me sound good. I’m old school. I’m a musician. I believe in practicing your ass off and playing as excellently as possible, live and in the studio. If you need a computer to take over and compensate for your lack of skill, you suck. And you’re lazy. Too lazy to work and practice and learn how to sound good on your own.
Now, having said that, I realize that I’m not nearly a good enough singer to record a song all the way through with perfect intonation, phrasing, and attitude. Piano tracks, yes. Vocals, maybe in my next life that I devote to singing. I practiced for weeks, but I knew it wouldn’t be enough. I still didn’t want to use the auto-tune though. So we compromised. Mike had me do lots and lots of takes, one verse and chorus at a time. As the day went on I was able to sing longer sections and stay pretty consistent tuning wise. We had a massive editing session to piece together the best takes and I was able to (mostly) avoid the dreaded auto-tuner. I think it sounds like a human being singing, not a computerized robot so I’m pretty happy about that.
I must admit though, I’m fairly unsettled. I’ve never heard my voice so prominently, so naked and alone. I felt ridiculously vulnerable the first time I listened though to the tracks at home. I wanted to crawl under the couch. And the lyrics, oh god. They are definitely audible. I’ve taken to listening to bands I dislike on youtube, trying to reassure myself that my songs aren’t THAT bad. Sometimes it works.
Now the only recording left is the harmony vocals. I had to send my vocal tracks to Dawn and Hilary so they can practice their parts until our rehearsals and recording session. And they are really, really good professional singers. I cringed a little as I pressed ‘send’, but whatever. They haven’t called me up to tell me they have to shampoo their hair and won’t be available to record. Not yet anyway.
After this next recording session it will be editing, morning noon and night. I’m looking forward to that – I do love editing – then we’ll mix, and master. I think that’s a big part of why the songs sound so weird to me. Right now they’re unmixed and the vocals are super loud. Plus the harmonies are missing. I’m hoping I’ll feel better about them once things are balanced out a little and Hilary and Dawn’s parts are added. And then I’ll really have to decide. Do I want to put these songs out there for people to hear? Do I want to draw any attention to this album whatsoever?
I’ve been telling great songwriters (who are sometimes plagued with uncertainty) for years that they’re the worst person to evaluate their own work. Let the band, the fans, anybody else do that for you. You can’t possibly be objective about your own work. Just put it out there and be proud you’ve created art from nothing. It’s bound to resonate with some people, maybe lots of people. So just enjoy the journey of creating it and then let it go, blah blah blah.
For myself, I can’t seem to believe that and follow that advice. It’s so interesting, now that the shoe’s on the other foot. I want to push myself, do things that frighten me so I can grow into a wiser, more beautiful little flower. Now for the first time, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that.
And then I’m like, fuck it. Get over yourself, Maira.
These songs aren’t the best in the world, so what? They aren’t the worst either.

Student Videos Posted

Here is a very large collection of almost every single student playing a song they have recently learned. It’s really neat to see the progress that occurs from one video to the next for the more experienced students. And the beginners are especially adorable. Go to ‘Students’ and click on your student of choice by name to enjoy their performance.

Express Yourself

We find ourselves once more in the dark cave of Mike Southworth’s studio at Creativ, this time to record guitar solos. I’ve really been looking forward to this session. I always enjoy listening to Rees play. Unless it’s overpowering my piano solo, in which case I wish his volume knob was closer to me than to him. But that’s pretty typical of every guitar player I’ve ever worked with. I know, it’s wrong to stereotype. I will say that Rees is a very sensitive guitar player, who rarely tramples on others (musically, at least). Sometimes the music sweeps him away though, and he expresses his joy and excitement by playing more and louder. Hell, I do the same thing. That’s why people play rock and roll. Because you get to play very, very loudly all together and it’s so much fun that you don’t care if it’s dynamically sensitive or fits the song or whatever other bullshit detail you’re supposed to be aware of.
There were three big solos to record, and it took all day to do so. As usual there was a ton of good material and as usual Rees was willing to do hundreds of takes to keep making it better. I made sure Mike and Rees both were well caffeinated, which led to a lot of loud excited talking, and a river of swift-flowing ideas.

Featured Student, Mo

She’s a keeper, this one. Certified accountant, engineer, athlete, piano player, wife, mother of two teens. Makes me tired to think about doing all the stuff but Mo carries it off with strength, razor sharp intelligence, and humor. She is a highlight of my Tuesday evenings.

No E’s, Please

Every Single One

What shall we do this weekend? I know! Let’s record organ parts. Oh, how did you know that would be my favorite thing to do?

Playing organ is an entirely different animal than playing the piano. If you think like a piano player when you’re playing organ, you will sound lame. This is a fact. Although both instruments have white and black keys arranged in the same linear fashion, their physical appearance is about the only thing they share. When recording organ in the studio, using a real leslie speaker is also important. And incorporating the drawbars is a must.

Drawbars are little rods that you pull and push, each one can be set a different length to change the sound of the organ. Don’t even get me started about drawbars. They’re a whole world unto themselves. Here’s a brief summary: (obviously I can’t help myself) Drawbars can be pulled out towards the player, this corresponds with an increase in volume. There are usually 9 drawbars on most Hammond organs. Each one produces a different tone. One will be the fundamental (the pitch of whatever keys you’re playing). The others are: an octave below the fundamental, a fourth below, an octave higher, 2 octaves higher, 3 octaves higher, a octave + fourth, an octave +fifth, and an octave + seventh higher.

Drawbars coupled with the two different keyboards on most Hammonds, in conjunction with the leslie speaker which alters the pitches via the Doppler effect create a vast, endless world of organ sounds which can be specifically tailored for each song, for each different section of a song.

So we set up the leslie and the organ in the studio and I tried to get familiar with the drawbars so I could make a whole bunch of different organ sounds. Keep in mind, I don’t own an organ or a leslie so although I knew what I wanted it to sound like, I was basically flying blind with somebody else’s equipment. But every time I record organ parts I learn more about how to do it better. And I think jeez, I should get myself a real organ.

Mike settles himself in the control room and we begin. Before every take I have to position the leslie speaker in front of the mic. Then I play, turning the leslie on/off with the foot switch while my left hand adjusts the drawbars to a different setting for each section of each song. It’s all very invigorating, keeping track of all that stuff while thinking about notes and chords and so on. Every take was easier and more comfortable until…

“Um, there’s a something really jarring in those chords, try it again?” Mike says. I do. “It’s that E. It totally sticks out, it’s way louder than the others. Can you avoid it?”

Okaaaay. Yes, I can. I think. Sometimes that happens with recording organs, particular notes are way out of whack in relation to the others and you can hear it instantly on playback. Playing it live, probably no one would notice. Except Mike.

I added “avoid the E above middle C” to my mental list of things to keep track of while playing and we recommenced. Soon I was feeling comfortable again, although I had no brainpower left for conversing or assessing the quality of each take. But that’s why you have a producer, right? He’s more than happy to say “Do it again. Nope. Do it again”. So, every single take for me was like a mumbling crazy conversation you might hear from someone on the bus you’d rather sit far away from.

“Ok, set the leslie to mic. White 8, brown 5, brown4, white3, white2, white,5, black2, black4, black6. (drawbars) Foot on leslie switch. C, Am, Em no E’s. Turn leslie on. Turn leslie off. Bridge! White 8, brown3, brown2, leave white, change blacks 4, 4, 8. Leslie on. C, Am no E’s, leslie off.”

Beam me up, Scotty.

After 6 hours of this, we had all the parts recorded. I’m actually a little afraid of the editing session that will have to follow. What if a rebellious E snuck in there and we have to go back and do it all again? The organ sounds fantastic though, and those drawbars and the leslie are always worth the struggle. Hopefully all my burned out brain cells will grow back too.

Thanks for a great recital!

Thank you to all the students who participated in the Winter Piano Concert last month. All 23 of you played very well, and I applaud your bravery in getting up there to perform. It’s never easy, but it does get more comfortable with repeated attempts!
Thank you also to all the parents who have supported and encouraged their child’s piano studies. Without your help during the weekly practice sessions our recitals would not be nearly as wonderful.
Happy New Year! I hope you are all refreshed and recharged after Christmas break. I’m looking forward to a wonderful year of piano lessons with you all.

We Bring Good Things To Life

Every Single One
Blackbirds

This weekend Mike and Rees recorded all the guitar parts, while I was recovering from surgery at home. The drugs were some consolation, although they did not make the awful feelings disappear as effectively as recording piano parts.
There was a great variety and plethora of guitar ideas. It was kind of overwhelming to see how many takes we ended up with. Truly this will require a most tremendous editing session. I have discovered I love editing. Well, I always knew that. Creating the raw material wasn’t really my thing until recently but I’ve always loved to mess with someone else’s raw material that needs shaping, a little snip here, a sprinkling of Maira-fluence there.
But messing with my own raw material is even more fun! It’s been a revelation to create a song out of thin air and then smash it merrily about, adding then editing vocal parts, drums, bass, piano, and now guitars. Once again Mike’s job as a backline tech has come extremely handy in the recording process as his bosses have allowed him to borrow whatever guitar amps and gear he wants from their warehouse for our sessions.
Rees played great. I’d given him charts and demos to listen to well beforehand and I was pretty pleased with what he came up with at the band rehearsals. The volume of takes that he and Mike came up with in the studio was impressive. And I found myself singing along with some of his lines on the second listen. A good indication of catchiness, that elusive and essential quality of all good music. Almost instantaneous catchiness is very encouraging.
For the first time I can get a sense of how these songs might take shape. The guitars have added so much color to the bass, drum and piano tracks. A lot of it wasn’t what I was expecting to hear, and for that I am grateful and delighted. That’s why it’s so fun to work with wonderful musicians who are also close friends. I can trust them to think hard and come up with something good that is in their own voice – their unique musical expression that I have come to know and love over the years, as I have also come to know them as friends. It boggles the mind to think how these beautiful people will sound all together.

Oh Loverboy…

Blackbirds
Every Single One

Got some surprise studio time! Somebody’s cancellation is our delightful gain. We recorded and edited all the piano tracks in 8 hours. The piano at Creativ Studios once belonged to the keyboard player from Loverboy, an excellent omen. I loves me some Loverboy. Especially the keyboard parts.
It was really lovely to play an acoustic piano all day. There’s something so satisfying about playing precisely and firmly, feeling the hammer strike the string. I can feel the impact from each hammer travel through my fingers and hand, up my arm, into my elbow and shoulder. It’s jarring, but in a familiar reassuring way. I’ve been playing piano since I was 7 years old and I’ve always loved to feel the notes go twang! into my joints.
So I played for 5 hours and was deeply, deeply calm and mellow afterwards. But also totally refreshed, like waking up after a satisfying sleep. I wish I could do that every day. Play piano until I fall into a waking dream.
We knocked out those songs one by one, very quickly. Sometimes on the first or second take. Well, I’ve been playing those songs on piano for months now. I would have been kind of horrified if it had been super difficult to play the parts well. The piano at Creativ sounds just gorgeous, which helps a lot. The only thing I was remotely concerned about was the one solo I allowed myself (all the other solos will be guitar). But we ended up with a really good one, something I’ll be happy to share with the world.
All in all it was one of the best days I’ve ever had in the studio. Although I can’t help but notice, each day in the studio is a best day. It’s like going on a fantastic weekend vacation, every time. No matter what other horrible tragedies are going on in my life, it’s amazing that being creative and having access to a mode of personal expression affords me some breathing space, some relief from the awfulness of real life.
I think it really comes down to the ability to concentrate fully on the task at hand. Something as challenging as performing and composing music requires every brain cell I’ve got. There’s just no room to spare for anything else. This doesn’t solve problems, but it does make them disappear temporarily. Sometimes that’s all you can hope for.

Parlour Steps Ring That Bell Video Release

Wow, we all look so cute in this video! Julie did a great job putting together outfits for Rob, Rees, and I. She borrowed the clothes from the vintage clothing store where she works (Thanks C’est La Vie!) so we had access to much cooler stuff than we would have left to our own meager wardrobes.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in this video. Strange, (slow motion chair smashing) unexpected (chair choreography), and funny (Rees’s very skinny jeans).

This video used to be up on youtube, now it’s listed as private:( You can see it on vimeo by clicking the link below.

http://vimeo.com/17101617

It’s great to have an official video of us playing together. What a pleasure it was to perform and make songs with Rees, Julie, Rob and Caleb.

Parlour Steps, Portland OR

Rees, Julie and I drove from Seattle to Portland together. I drove part of the way, in Julie’s silver PT Cruiser (his name is Petey). I was secretly pretty stoked to get a chance to drive her car. There’s a teeny tiny little Main Street hipster buried deep inside my stark minimalist exterior. And that little hipster was pleased as punch to throw on her horn rimmed glasses, thrift store tweed blazer and drive Petey proud and fast.

We stopped for gas and when we went in to pay there was a stack of thick magazines called “Are You Prepared For Armageddon?” right next to the cashier.

“How much is this”, I asked.
“Oh, it’s free”, she said. “That guy’s always in here dropping more off”.
Rees and I promptly grabbed copies for ourselves. I was dying to know who “that guy” was, but I didn’t want to draw any more attention to ourselves.

I thought it was going to be tips and recommendations on appropriate preparations for Judgement Day, like earthquake preparedness guidelines. (“When Armageddon comes, take cover under a sturdy table until the rain of fire stops”) But no. It was pretty disappointing. It turns out to prepare for Armageddon you have to read the Bible a lot, and warn people who don’t read the Bible that they are in for a world of hurt come that glorious day when the Prince Of Peace comes to reign over the righteous.

At least Rees and I had plenty to discuss while Julie slept, though. There was a big accident on the highway coming into Portland and we crawled along in the pouring rain for 2 hours before we arrived at Rees’s cousins’ place where we were staying. I first met Joe and Rochelle 2 years ago when Parlour Steps stayed with them in my first tour with them in 2008. Since then they had reproduced and I was looking forward to meeting their 5 month old son.

We played with the baby – Connor was very friendly and smiley – got changed for the show and arrived at the venue, Mississippi Studios, with just enough time to grab some dinner before we had to play. There was a fast and delicious Thai restaurant right across the street.

I think I’ll always think of Parlour Steps when I eat Thai food. It seemed to be the cuisine we could all agree on so we ate a lot of Thai food together over the years, across many provinces and states.

One last change in a bar washroom. Juile lent me one of her “extra shirts”, much cooler than anything I had. Once I again I reap the benefits of her overpacking!

And yes, this was the last time for bar washroom wardrobe changes. It was the last time for everything. This was our last show together. Julie has decided to leave the band to pursue her career (and eventually her own store) as an optician, and Rob is moving to Montreal. Maybe Caleb will continue Parlour Steps in some form, but it won’t ever be with this specific group of people anymore.

It’s always a little jarring to face big changes, but I’m feeling pretty good about everything. I made some wonderful friends in this band that I’ll stay close with forever. I helped make songs for a really good album, and I had some unique and amazing adventures that would not have been possible without being in Parlour Steps. Who knows what the future holds, and that’s pretty exciting to me.

It was a fantastic show for us. We played very well, the sound was well balanced and comfortable onstage. The room filled up as we played, and Rees had his own cheering section as his Portland relatives screamed in delight for all his guitar solos. A really satisfying bookend to my Parlour Steps experience.

Afterwards we sold some cd’s, and then Julie and I climbed high up onto a catwalk beside the stage to watch Wintersleep again. They packed that place. It was inspiring. After they were done, Julie and I were ready to head back to Joe’s house to crash. But just as we were making our escape, a very tall, polite young man asked Julie if he could borrow her bass, as his had just broken 2 strings. He was in the last band of the night, Hey Marseilles. She of course said yes, and we resigned ourselves to staying put for another couple hours.

And I’m so glad we did! Hey Marseilles were a revelation. They were wonderful, beautiful songs, amazing musicians, great live show. Their keyboard player had a Nord Electro 2 and an accordion. The bass player Sam also played cello. There was a string section, 2 guitars and a great drummer. It’s just so much fun to discover a great band by hearing them play live.

A perfect end to a great night.

Julie, Rob and I drove back together the next morning. It was a beautiful drive.

Except for the massive rush hour we hit coming into Vancouver, spending the last 2 hours of the drive crawling through the Massey tunnel. But other than that, a successful weekend.

Winter Piano Recital 2010!

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
It’s that special time of year once again. Our annual Winter Piano Concert will be held on Sunday December 5 at 4:00pm at the Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, 1700 Mountain Highway in North Vancouver. All students are invited to perform a song at the concert. Friends, family, and grandparents are all welcome. Please let me know if your child (and/or yourself, in some cases) will be performing at the recital.
This is a performance opportunity, not an obligation. If your child becomes too nervous to perform please tell me and I will change the program accordingly, this is not a problem:) Church appropriate attire please. Cameras are welcome, and feel free to come up to the front when your child is playing to take better pictures or movies.
I’ll be filming short videos of all my students playing their concert songs during their lesson throughout the month of December. The new videos will be posted on my website in January. This way all the students, whether or not they will be at the concert, will have their performances recorded and posted for their family and friends to admire.
Thanks for another great year of music study,
Alison

Parlour Steps, Seattle WA

Parlour Steps had the great good fortune to open for Halifax indie band Wintersleep for a couple of their U.S. shows on their most recent tour. We were going to play in Seattle and Portland for the weekend.

Julie, Rob and I drove down together in Julie’s car. We had no problem getting across the border and arrived at the club, The Tractor, in plenty of time. We made checked in with the staff and settled in to wait for Caleb and Rees to show up with the gear.

There were a lot of red cowboy boots hanging around.

We amused ourselves by taking pictures of each other taking pictures, good natured insults, and talking about Caleb and Rees while they weren’t there to defend themselves. Not really, guys. Well, not very much.

Julie and I went for dinner after all our gear was loaded in and set up. We’ve had lovely dinners all over Canada and the U.S. together, just her and I. I’m not sure how it happens, but frequently we end up eating separately from the boys. Sometimes Rees joins our girl-dinners, which is also fun. He’s a man who knows how to be good friends with women. I’m married to a guy who has that same talent, it’s a wonderful thing.

Tonight it was just the gals though. Rees, Caleb and Rob came to meet later on and we all hung out until it was time for the first band to start. They were a local Seattle band called Land Of Pines. Really nice people and good songs.

Another washroom/dressing room wardrobe change, (very cramped)

and then it was our turn. We had a nicely polished set and it was good and loud onstage. People turned their heads towards the dance floor and gradually pressed closer to the stage. Afterwards we sold cd’s, all to people who’d never heard of us before. And extras as gifts for their friends too. That’s always nice when that happens. A total stranger whose first impression of your band playing live is so good that they buy your album for themselves and their friends on the spot

Wintersleep was such a good way to close the night. They are a very powerful, heavy, melodic rock band.

The song they are famous for (Weighty Ghost) is a beautiful, soft ballad. That’s all I knew of Wintersleep before I saw them. As soon as they started their first song, I was immediately impressed by their loud, unified heaviness. Much more prog than I expected, so I was delighted. It’s just fantastic to see a good prog band live. That’s right, I said it. I love prog rock.

Tomorrow, on to Portland.

Rockband: Friend or Foe of Music Teachers?

I guess it was about 2 years ago that a few of my students started requesting to learn songs that seemed quite out of character for them. “You want to learn ‘Highway Star’ by Deep Purple?”, I remember saying to a 9 year old boy, thinking “I wasn’t even born when that song came out, how did YOU hear about it?” This kind of thing started happening more frequently and gradually kids started telling me that they were playing Rockband, a video game with controllers shaped like musical instruments where you have to tap precisely along in rhythm to the guitar, bass, or drum part or sing the vocal part. (And soon there will be a keyboard controller!)
Included in Rockband were many great rock songs from the 70’s onwards. My students were hearing these songs over and over as they tried to “play” them successfully on the game, and this led to them being curious about how to play them on the piano.
Then my husband brought home Rockband for us last Christmas and I became an enthusiastic player immediately. It’s the only video game I’ve ever played, and enjoyed. I’ve discovered songs that I wouldn’t have ever run into otherwise, just like my students.
Sure, there are some drawbacks. The plastic controllers are not musical instruments and mastering the game means nothing in the real world of playing a real instrument. You can’t give a guitar to someone who’s mastered “Highway Star” on Rockband and expect them to be able to play even the first note of the guitar part. In that sense, maybe it is a big fat waste of time.
I think the pros outweigh the cons though, by a considerable margin. Rockband is introducing kids to songs the way radio did for their parents and grandparents. The same songs played over and over, exposing them to new groups, genres, becoming more familiar and beloved to them with every listen. And it doesn’t hurt if Mom and Dad tell them it just sounds like noise and please turn it down.
It’s not just rock songs, or old songs either. You can listen to new songs and different styles now too with the extra ‘track packs’ that are available. I’ve taught my students many songs they’ve first heard on Rockband and in every case they were very pleased to be able to “really” play it.
In my years as a teacher, it’s the only medium that has come along that has sparked children’s curiosity about music and motivated them to learn material that is sometimes much more difficult than what they are currently studying. I would say Rockband has inspired kids about music in much the same way that the Harry Potter books have inspired kids about reading. As a music teacher, I love to see kids light up with passion and enthusiasm about all and all things musical. After all, I know exactly how they feel. Music is awesome.

Recent Ear Candy Discoveries

As some of you already know, I play keyboards and sing in a Vancouver band called Parlour Steps. For the past 5 months we’ve been part of a province wide music competition called The Peak Performance Project. The Top 20 bands have been working together for the past 5 months to complete various challenges and events while being assessed by a panel of judges for our efforts. Sure, there’s a lot of prize money on the line but for me that most amazing part of the competition has been to meet these artists, play shows with them, and hear their songs.
Here are the Top 20 bands I’m currently listening to who have really impressed me with their work:
Yes Nice – “Blindfolded”
Their song “Horses” gave me chills the first time I heard it live, and it remains the most cheerful song about the Apocalypse I’ve ever heard.
Yuca – “Yuca”
Matt has a pure, angelic voice that works amazingly with Justin’s shreddingly awesome guitar skills and a powerhouse rhythm section. Their music is intense and melodic and demands the listener’s full attention.
Aidan Knight – “Versacolor”
Aidan Knight and his band The Friendly Friends have completely charmed the entire audience every time I’ve seen them live. They play beautiful, relaxed, pretty music that sets the listener at ease and provides a moment to breathe deeply.
Said The Whale – “Islands Disappear”
Delicious multi-part harmonies, two delightful gents up front singing with their guitars, and a generous blend of folk/rock/indie makes their songs instantly familiar to me, even from the first listen.
All of these albums can be previewed/purchased on iTunes or you can go to any of these bands’ websites to order physical copies. Besides being great musicians, these people are lovely and decent and struggling to make it as creative artists in B.C. Check them out and I’m sure you’ll find they deserve your support.

Your Teacher Is Away At Breakout West.

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
Just a reminder to you that there will be no lessons on
Thursday October 21. I’m playing with Parlour Steps at Habitat in Kelowna as part of the Breakout West Music Festival. It’s an early all ages show (great!) but unfortunately a 4 hour drive over the mountains to get there. Someday I’ll play an all ages show in Vancouver you can all come to:)

Parlour Steps, Ring That Bell Video Shoot

We had one weekend in mid-October to make a video for “Ring That Bell”. Director Robert Riendreau

and his partner Deborah

had transformed a totally non-descript windowless underground room into a really cool set with nothing more than a few light bulbs and some black electrical tape and vinyl squares.

I seriously underestimated how many times I would hear “Ring That Bell” that weekend. About halfway through day 1 I had completely memorized the whole song and was thinking playback was probably no longer necessary. We could probably lip synch it without even hearing it.

Julie brought her Thunderbird, a gorgeous instrument that is approximately the same size as she is.

You have to be very strong to carry around a Thunderbird all day. Grrrrr!

Everyone took a turn sleeping in my keyboard case. (When they weren’t needed on set, of course).

Except Rees. That guy takes his vitamins and is always very high energy.

This was the first “real” video shoot I had been to, where there’s a director and a set and stuff like that. It was fascinating to see what ideas Robert had and how he went about capturing them.

And of course, no work day would be complete without a light saber battle. Robert pulled the ones his mom gave him and he and Rees entertained us halfway through day 2.

I’m very curious to see what the final video will look like. Release scheduled for late November!

Piano Lessons Newsletter October 2010

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
Here is more news and useful info from the wonderful world of piano lessons for your reading pleasure.

Cancellations and Make-Up Lessons

* As you know, refunds are issued for the first 2 canceled lessons. For subsequent cancellations, I am happy to teach a make-up lesson. Make-up lessons will be offered on Saturday afternoons throughout the school year. These classes will cover different material than the regular lessons. Please contact me if you would like to arrange a make-up for a canceled lesson.
* If you need to cancel a lesson with less than 24 hours notice, please call me rather than email.

Facebook Page Launch

* I’ve started a facebook page to share information about my teaching practice and life as a musician. This is a professional page with family friendly content. I’ll be sending a friend request to parents and students who work with me and I hope to see you all soon online.

Flashcards

* I’ve been incorporating flashcards into my students’ lessons and am encouraged by the results. This is a great way to practice note reading and I’d like all my students to have their own set of flashcards. For those of you who don’t already have them, they cost about $6.00 and will be added to your November or December invoices.

Practicing

* Establishing a consistent, effective practice routine is the best way to maximize your investment in piano lessons, and to ensure the greatest possible benefits of music study for your child (or yourself). I recommend building piano practice time into the student’s daily schedule. This way the student will not “run out of time” during the week and end up with no practice, not enough practice, or a couple of “cram sessions” the day before the lesson.
* Children is grades 1-3 generally require some assistance with their practicing. They might need help reading and following my instructions and a reminder to complete their written assignments.
* Older children (and those independent-minded younger ones) can usually practice well on their own. However I would encourage parents to check on them occasionally. Is the student following their practice assignment? (i.e. opening their piano binder and reading the instructions) Going through the practice assignment even just once during the week with your child would be very helpful for their learning process and it’s a great way to help them use their time practice time effectively.

Guidelines and Goals
These numbers are the minimum amount of practice I recommend. More practice is highly encouraged!

* Hal Leonard Student Piano Library Level 1 – 60 minutes every week. Try four 15 minute sessions, every second day.
* Hal Leonard Level 2 – 80 minutes every week. Try four 20 minute sessions.
* Hal Leonard Level 3 and Older Beginner Level 1 – 100 minutes a week. Try four 25 minute sessions.
* Hal Leonard Level 4, Alfred’s Adult All In One Level 1, and Alfred’s Older Beginner Level 2 – 120 minutes a week. Try four 30 minute sessions.
* Hal Leonard Level 5 and Alfred’s All In One Level 2 – 140 minutes a week. Try four 35 minute sessions.
* Alfred’s All In One Level 3 – 180 minutes a week. Try four 45 minute sessions.

Playing For Fun

* It’s so important to play for fun in addition to practicing. If the student only touches the piano to practice, where’s the fun in that? Music study is so much more than note reading and mastering songs. It’s an exploration of sound, expression, and creativity. Before and after practice sessions, in between practice sessions are all good times to play for fun.

Thanks so much for reading. As always, please send along any comments or questions you may have.
Alison

http://www.alisonmaira.com
In-Home Piano and Music Theory Lessons

Top 20 Peak Performance Showcase Highlights

As part of the Peak Performance Project (which seems to go on and on without end, but the finish line is actually in sight now), each of the Top 20 bands performed at a concert showcase with 3 other fellow Peak bands at the Red Room in Vancouver.

Even though I am an ardent, avowed introvert (Say it quietly, to yourself! I’m an introvert and I’m proud!) I went to all the showcases, which took place every Thursday during September. Every band had to do a cover of a “classic Canadian song”, which led to some unexpected gems.

Vince Vacarro did a nice rendition of a Sam Roberts song. Interesting, as he had been relentlessly compared to Sam Roberts all during Boot Camp.

Acres Of Lions did a fantastic cover of Never Surrender by Corey Hart. They really impressed me at Boot Camp. Very loud, very powerful, very skilled musicians.

Aidan Knight, always a crowd favorite, did not disappoint. I thought it was a brave choice to perform without a drummer in such a rock and roll environment.

Yes Nice. One of my new favorite bands. I loved their showcase at Boot Camp. It was truly exciting. Their cover was “Run With Us”, the theme to “The Raccoons”, which will mean nothing to you if you didn’t watch CBC as a small child in the 80’s. I did, and I shrieked with delight when I recognized this song. Very unique and imaginative. Nathaniel was one of the standout frontmen, I thought.

Debra-Jean and the Means. Dark, scary, very powerful rock songs sung by an amazing voice that really knows how to sing. (And it’s not easy at all to sing properly and well) Very thoughtful harmony, lots of strange minor chords and dissonant voicings. I thought hers were the most adventurous and unusual songs, structurally speaking. Her cover was “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, which seemed to come as a relief to the crowd after several of her originals. I love music that does not reveal itself fully on the first listen. Debra Jean was very intriguing and I’m looking forward to sitting down with her songs and getting to know them.

41st and Home – such nice guys, and they did a standout, very compelling cover of “Life Is A Highway”. You’d think there’d be nothing you could do with such a worn out song, but they really surprised me.

Christopher Arruda. One of the best piano players I saw at Boot Camp (and he also plays guitar) and an incredibly powerful voice. It’s always neat to see a male singer really belt it out.

And then there was Behind Sapphire. They performed in their pajamas,

their lead singer sang into an exquisitely tarnished trophy,

they had people in very convincing astronaut costumes handing out download cards and dancing in the crowd,

and then they threw bags of feathers all over the place. Pretty cool.

Said The Whale. Crowd favorites, fan favorites, one of my favorites. They just have something together, a chemistry that is fun to watch. They did a cover of “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” by Paul Anka. They are very, very smart – they have such good, creative ideas. At Boot Camp they had a horn section playing on a little balcony up in the rafters that surprised almost everyone…we heard horns all of a sudden and had to look up to find them. At the Red Room they threw confetti on the crowd. A lot of confetti. Right after Behind Sapphire’s feathers. The dance floor was buried.

Greg Sczebel. You can’t go wrong with a key-tar. And a string section, and one of the best bass players I’ve ever seen.

Yuca. A very loud, heavy band, with a lead singer who sounds like an angel with a pure clean voice. Very impressive musicianship. And it all goes together perfectly. They did “Say What You Want” by Nelly Furtado, and it really worked.

And finally, Kyprios. His band was awesome, and they looked amazing and polished. His cover was a hip hop re-working of Sweet City Woman by The Stampeders. All the other bands were good, really good. Some were more imaginative than others. Some had better songs than others. But when Kyprios tore the roof off the Red Room, something happened. He had the whole package, I guess. He acted like he was a huge superstar and I think he made everyone believe that he was. Probably exactly what the Peak is looking for. And he had the songs and the band to back it up.

Everyone Needs A Hobby

Every Single One

Mike and I finally had a weekend off together that coincided with the studio being available so yay, we edited drum tracks and recorded bass tracks. I admit, it was pretty weird to see Mike strap on a handsome deep cherry red 5 string bass and play it. I’ve just never seen him play anything other than drums and very rarely guitar. The novelty of it was deeply amusing to me.
I got to push buttons to record Mike while he played. That was fun. It was really fun to be the one who pushed “record”. I think we got some good stuff. I’m having a really good time in the recording process. It’s very satisfying to spend every weekend we possibly have in the studio, recording or editing. I wish we could spend more time in there. I think I’ve found my hobby of choice.

Parlour Steps, Peak Performance Showcase

Fresh from the triumph of Bumbershoot and Foodfest, we rehearsed like mad and were as ready as possible for our show in the Peak Performance Project Concert Series at the Red Room in Vancouver.  There would be a panel of judges. Their marks would factor heavily into the overall points total that would determine the winners of the competition. So it was very important to play as well as we could.

And we did, we played as well as we possibly could. After 2 weeks of intense rehearsing, more preparation than I’ve ever seen happen in this band, we had crafted a wonderful set. And it went off without a hitch. We played before a packed house of 500+ people. The dance floor was hopping. So many of our fans turned out. They sang along to all the songs. It was heartwarming. After our last song, they chanted “PARLOUR STEPS! PARLOUR STEPS!” A delightful first.

I don’t even care what the final result will be. We got a lot of positive feedback from the Peak Performance faculty who were in attendance that night, which was lovely, but also not that important. The main thing is, it was the best show I’ve ever played with this band. Bumbershoot was also really good, but the time we spent in rehearsals and preparation made this Red Room show even more tight and polished. We gained confidence from our repeated practices. How else can you really gain confidence, other than preparation, planning, repetition, practicing? Improvising is fun too. But this was not the venue for improvising.

I was proud of our hard work, and I was ecstatic that it paid off. We reached a new level of achievement as a band, so naturally I was tickled. I just love getting better at stuff. I guess that also means I love hard work and preparation, which I do. And attention to detail. But I’m not as boring as this sounds. After all, I do play in a hip band.

Here’s the Parlour Steps cover of Teenland, by the Northern Pikes. All the Top 20 Peak bands had to do a cover of a ‘classic’ Canadian song for the Red Room showcase series. My first time coming out from behind my keyboard to sing.

Parlour Steps at Foodfest

As part of the Peak Performance Project, all the Top 20 bands were required to stage a charity event that would allow them to interact with the larger community and give something back through the power of music.

Parlour Steps put together a great event that came together surprisingly quickly and easily. We decided to play a benefit concert for the food bank.

This is the kind of thing you ask Rees to work on. He’s blessed with an abundance of charm, salesmanship, and tenacity. Within 2 weeks, he had organized an event in conjunction with Capers on Robson. We would play in their parking lot on a Saturday afternoon, soliciting donations for the food bank, and they would match whatever amount of money and food we raised.

Caleb arranged a portable sound system through his connections at Mediaco, (with a tent, thank god. We started the day in pouring rain) and promoted the concert through local media channels.

The Greater Vancouver Food Bank showed up with a big tent and a couple of volunteers.

They were super nice, and they sold our cd’s while we played. We gave half the money from the sales to the food bank and by the end of the day we had raised over $500, plus a large crate of food donations.

Beginning of Term Newsletter Sept. 2010

Hello there lovely parents and students,
I hope you all had a wonderful summer. I’m fully energized and very excited to embark on another great year of music study and exploration with all my students! Lessons resume tomorrow, Tuesday Sept. 7th, 2010. If you are not sure of your time slot, please contact me for confirmation. Below is a copy of my Studio Policies that contains my cancellation and payment information. Please take a moment to read it over to avoid confusion later on and do send along any questions or comments you may have.
Looking very forward to seeing all of you this week:)
Alison

Studio Policies

Fee Structure:

$25.00 per 30 minute lesson

$37.50 per 45 minute lesson

$50.00 per 60 minute lesson

– School age students have a weekly lesson for 30 minutes.

– Adult students have a weekly lesson for 45 or 60 minutes.

– If the price of gasoline rises above $1.20 per litre, a fuel surcharge of $10.00 will be added to each monthly invoice.

Payment:

All lessons are prepaid on a monthly basis. An invoice will be issued to you one week before payment is due. Cheques only. Please make cheques payable to Alison Maira.

– a 10% late fee will be added to your total if you do not have payment ready one week after your invoice is issued.

Cancellations:

Each student receives two (2) free cancellations per school year. You can reschedule cancelled lessons with me, depending on our mutual availability. You may cancel lessons at your discretion. Refunds or credits will not be issued after the second free cancellation. No lessons on statutory holidays, Christmas Break or Spring Break.

– Lessons cancelled with less than 24 hours notice will not be credited or rescheduled.

– If the student is not at home during their lesson time, the lesson will not be credited or rescheduled.

Books and Materials: Books or materials required or requested by the student will be purchased by me and brought to the next lesson. The cost of these materials will be added onto next month’s invoice.

Termination of Lessons: I require one month’s notice. No refunds for unused lessons.

Parlour Steps @ Bumbershoot, Seattle WA

Yeah, Bumbershoot’s a pretty big deal it turns out. Bob Dylan is playing after us (although not on the same stage, honesty compels me to admit). Weezer and Mary J. Blige are here too.

We arrived in Seattle late last night, checked into our hotel and got some good sleep. Today we were ready for our 3:30pm show at the Experience Music Project Skychurch, looking forward to playing after a great rehearsal. Plus we had a chance to incorporate the stuff we learned from Peak Performance camp, so we were definitely better and further along than before. That made me happy. I love getting better at stuff.

We had a bit of time at the Experience Music Project Museum before our show, not nearly enough though. Someday I’m going to come back for 3 days and really do it right. A whole museum devoted to rock, blues, and hip hop with interactive exhibits, you can’t really have a bad time there.

Here’s the view from backstage. It’s a very large space for 5 people to fill.

There were people backstage whose job it was to carry our gear. That was a first. A really great, amazing first.

Our show was excellent, probably the best show I’ve ever seen this band play. So many new and different elements onstage (thanks Peak Performance), great musicianship, everyone looked great and had fun. The crowd was awesome Skychurch was filled to capacity, 700+. There was a lineup of 200 more people outside who couldn’t get in. The most successful U.S. show for us ever.

And I feel that I can say that without reservation, because here in this interview that Caleb did for Bumbershoot writer Shawn Conner says “Parlour Steps have broken in America”. Bold, Shawn. Very bold.

Here’s us, playing our little hearts out. Easily the biggest stage and the biggest space we’ve ever played in.

I’ve decided I could definitely get used to being a rock star.

Parlour Steps, Peak Performance Camp

In the latest installment of the Peak Performance Project saga, all the top 20 bands were required to attend a week long Boot Camp at the beautiful Rockridge Canyon Resort in Princeton. There would be 7 days of workshops, seminars, and classes on every subject an indie band could ever desire. Copyright law, social media marketing, licensing, songwriting, branding, working with agents and managers, it was all in one place, free for the taking. As an incredibly geeky person who adores learning and information and new ideas I was very excited about how this week might change me. There would also be live performances from all the bands at evening concerts after classes were done. These concerts would be adjudicated, but would not count towards the final score that would determine the prize winners.
Julie and I had a great drive to Rockridge Canyon. We settled into our room that we were sharing with all the other girl players, and then waited for the Parlour Steps gentlemen to arrive.

The setting was gorgeous. What a nice environment to think, practice, and learn in.

There was a hockey game after dinner the first night, faculty vs. musicians.

The next day, it was time to get to work. The week went by so quickly, and I took about 20 pages of notes in addition to the huge binder of materials and handouts we were all provided with. It was invigorating to be back in a music school environment. People practicing and rehearsing everywhere, debating the material covered in class, making new friends. I think I need to go back to school before I die. I just know I’d get so much more out of it than I did the first time around, when I was too young to really appreciate it.
Every night there was a show featuring 20 minute sets from 4 bands. Rockridge Canyon is a Christian owned facility, so there was no alcohol on site, and drinking/drug use was prohibited. Now that was an interesting setting to hear new music. Over 100 hard partying musicians aged 20-35 seated primly on chairs in rows in front of the stage drinking coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. It was actually way better than a bar. People weren’t yelling in each other’s faces and were paying complete attention to the music.
The last concert was a songwriting contest. Anybody could collaborate, and the song had to contain the words “last night”. There were some pretty great costumes.

It was an amazing week. I met some fantastic musicians, producers, lawyers, engineers, agents, and marketing gurus. All the new stuff I learned can be applied to my fledgling new project, which I think will be called OK Maira. I can’t wait to jump into it and spread all those new ideas around.
Julie and I drove back to Vancouver, and dissected the week completely. It was lovely to meet new people, and it was equally lovely to spend a week with Julie and enjoy a new deepening of our friendship. There was just enough time to shower, change, and re-pack before a rehearsal and then the drive to Seattle, where we’ll be playing at an enormous festival called Bumbershoot. Ah, the glamour of indie rock.

Parlour Steps On Degrassi

I could also call this post, “a childhood dream reaches fruition”, but that wasn’t as catchy, or direct. So, Parlour Steps had a song on this week’s episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation. And if you don’t know anything about Degrassi, go ask Kevin Smith – Silent Bob, maker of “Clerks” – he’s a huge fan.

Like many thousands of Canadians who were becoming teenagers in the 90’s, I watched Degrassi High almost every week. If you had told me then that in a few years I’d be hearing my own voice singing on an episode of Degrassi, I would have punched you in the face for your insolence. I guess it’s for the best you never did that, hey? Cause I’m a lover, not a fighter, and a pretty lousy puncher to boot.

Not only did the new single “Little Pieces” make it onto an episode, oh no, much better than that – “Little Pieces” was featured in the conclusion of a two-parter called “Still Fighting It” that contained a critical plot development concluding a season-long story arc. Two of the show’s favorite characters (Eli and Claire) finally get together after Eli reveals a painful secret from his past. They are sitting in Eli’s car, and “Little Pieces” is playing on the car stereo while this secret is revealed.

I was tuned in at home, (watching Degrassi for the first time in 15 years, and it’s still pretty good) waiting with eager anticipation to see where the song would be played. “EEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!” is the sound I made when it finally came on. I could hardly believe our luck that the song was used during such a major plot point. Degrassi routinely pulls in over a million viewers. The thought that so many people heard something that Parlour Steps made was quite intoxicating, and a glorious, glorious first. I’ve had a lot of glorious firsts in this band, I realize.

And lots of people did see it. Within days we had 10 000 plays of the song on you-tube and it became our biggest selling song on iTunes. Here’s a video that a Degrassi fan put together. Another first, someone outside the band making a fan video of Parlour Steps material.

On the “Degrassi Music” you-tube channel there’s almost 32000 views now. Jeez.

I still really love this song, even after playing it hundreds of times over the past 15 months. Sometimes I feel so grateful to be able to do what I do.

Drums and Mikes

Whereupon Mike Zobac has returned from a wild summer of lady-rock on the Lillith Fair 2010 tour! And what a pleasure it was to share a day in the studio with drums and Mikes. In a radical departure from the usual, Mike Zobac was in the engineer’s chair and Mike Southworth was on the other side of the glass at the drum kit.
I recorded some scratch vocal and piano tracks for Southworth to play along to. After the drums were miked (in so many ways) to the satisfaction of both drummer Mikes, and many exclamations of delight and mutual congratulations (“That snare drum sounds awesome” “I know – SO DEEP!” “I love your china crash”, etc. etc) we hunkered down for 8 hours of drumming. Both Mikes were excellent and we ended up with the loveliest drum tracks a girl could ask for.
And I must agree, those drums sound damn good. Now we edit for hours and hours and hours.

That’s really Southworth playing in this clip, but the camera couldn’t see him through the glass with the reflections:(

Parlour Steps, Peak Performance Project Video

So Parlour Steps have made it into the Top 20 for the 2010 Peak Performance Project. The Peak Performance Project is a contest sponsored by Vancouver radio station the Peak 100.5fm. There were over 600 entries. The reason why this contest is important, why so many great bands are participating, is that there is a lot of money involved. $100 000 for first prize, $75 000 for second, $50 000 for third, and $3500 to every top 20 finalist. Way bigger than the biggest Factor grant you could ever get, this is serious money that will help artists break through to the next level.
There’s going to be a lot of projects and assignments that all the bands have to complete over the next 3 months. Everything will be judged by a committee of industry professionals. Last month we had our first event, a 12 hour orientation at the Biltmore where Parlour Steps were chosen as an example band to have our live performance adjudicated by Tom Jackson, who has built an empire by coaching such artists as Taylor Swift. That was a fun day.
Now we have completed the second assignment, make a viral video that promotes your band and the Peak. We spent a Saturday riding bikes in the sun for 8 hours and singing Sleeping City over and over.

Meet The Band

Blackbirds
Every Single One

It’s a delicate, patient process to schedule a rehearsal with 6 people who work full time jobs, go to school, play shows, go on tour, etc. In our case Mike Zobac is going on tour with Lillith Fair as a backline tech for the summer so I really wanted to get everybody together a couple of times before he was gone. So by booking about 3 weeks in advance we were able to find some time to play the songs and come up with ideas for parts and arrangements.
I had a good time at all the rehearsals. I think we had 4 in total. It was interesting to hear my friends play music together. I’m really grateful they made the time to do this. I’m not sure if the songs are good enough, but then I think what qualifies as ‘good enough’ and what does it matter? It will be fun to record songs and play them with these people. If I keep writing and recording and playing, the songs are sure to get better and eventually I’ll feel more confident about them. Yes. Of course.
When I think about the band I’ve assembled I get so pleased that I feel fine about the songs. Even if there are too many Mikes, which require me to identify them by last name. Southworth is playing drums. He’s sheer pleasure to watch with his band Scatterheart. He produced and engineered two of The Feminists albums and we’ll be recording these songs in his gorgeous studio space in North Van. I enjoyed every studio session I’ve ever had with Mike and I am perpetually awed at the deep level of his talent and how hard he is willing to work, always. To be honest, considering how busy he is as a producer and with Scatterheart, I was completely surprised that he said yes to playing these rehearsals. Asking him was a ‘what the hell, why not’ kind of thing. Note to self: Sometimes it pays to aim stupidly high.
Zobac is playing bass. This may come as a surprise for those who know him as a drummer. But he offered, and I became very curious to hear what he and Mike Southworth would sound like together. Zobac was Southworth’s drum teacher another lifetime ago, back in the late 20th century. So they go way back but haven’t played on a band together, seeing as how you don’t generally need two drummers at the same time. Mike and I played together joyfully in The Feminists for 6 years and I know very well how thoroughly talented he is as a musician. I knew he played bass too but hadn’t seen him bust it out until now. He’ll be producing and engineering this record as well.
Rees Haynes is playing guitar. Rees and I have played together in Parlour Steps for the past 2 years, but we first met at the Jazz Studies Program at Capilano College where we were both students years ago. It didn’t take long for me to realize, making songs with him in Parlour Steps, that I love his guitar playing. So melodic! So catchy! Such good parts, such good arrangement ideas.
Hilary Grist is playing keyboard and singing harmony. She’s working away on her own record, which we are all dying to hear. After hearing her parts at our vocal rehearsals, I am newly appreciative of lovely voice. It reminds me of clear, pure cold water flowing. Refreshing and quenching. Plus her mad keyboard skills. And did I mention the wicked vocal parts?
Dawn Pemberton is also playing keyboard and singing harmony. Dawn’s voice is instantly arresting, even your first time hearing her. It’s so familiar to me I have a hard time trying to describe it. I would say it’s a voice that makes people feel safe and loved. She’s always in demand as a session singer and plays in about 7 different groups, all kinds of music. I hadn’t really heard her play keyboard before, and it’s a thrill to hear how good she is.
We recorded all the arrangements at our last rehearsal, with seconds to spare before getting kicked out of the practice space. With one microphone and Dawn’s laptop. Excuse the ungodly distortion. Nothing more to be done now until Mike gets back. Then we’ll record drums.

Piano Lesson Make-Ups

Hello again lovely parents and students,
You are on my list as having make-up lessons available to you if you would like them. My lesson plan for make-ups is more along the lines of a supplemental or enrichment class, so don’t worry if you end up having 2 piano lesson in one week; the make-up lesson will explore different material outside the typical Lesson, Theory, and Technique books.
I am teaching make-up lessons on Saturday June 19th and 26th, 1:00-5:00pm. If you would like to book one, please let me know and indicate what time would work best for you.
Cheerio:)
Alison

http://www.alisonmaira.com
In-Home Piano and Music Theory Lessons

End Of Term Newsletter

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
Thank you all for another successful term of music study. It’s been wonderful to see each student grow and progress and get to know them and their families a little in the process. Here are some important items of information regarding the upcoming concert and summer lessons.

* The Summer Piano Concert will take place on Saturday June 12 at 12:00pm. Originally our start time was 2:00, but there was a time conflict with the venue.

* The concert will take place at the Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, 1700 Mountain Highway, North Vancouver (corner of Mountain Hwy and 17th). I will be there by 11:30am, and students are welcome to come early and warm up on the church’s grand piano. Grandparents, family and friends are all invited.

* Due to a change in church policy, there will be no reception after the concert.

* Performers are asked to wear church appropriate attire.

* This is a performance opportunity, not an obligation. Should your child (or yourself) become too nervous to perform, this is not a problem. Please let me know so I can adjust the program accordingly.

* Reservation of Lesson Time Slots: If you intend to continue with piano lessons in September 2010 and would like to reserve your current time slot, a Non-Refundable Deposit (post-dated cheque for September 1, 2010) for the amount of September lessons is required. If you would like to pursue this option, please let me know by the end of this month. Time slots that are not reserved will be given to the students on my waitlist starting in July 2010.

* Summer Lessons: If you would like to book piano lessons in July and August, please send me your available dates and I will schedule accordingly. Summer lessons are pre-paid and an invoice will be issued at the last lesson in June. Lessons cancelled with less than 24 hours notice will not be rescheduled or credited. Earlier lesson times are available during the summer term. For summer lessons I like to change up the lesson plan to include more repertoire, more listening to music, composition, and music games in addition to continuing with Lesson, Theory, and Technique.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see a lot of you this coming Saturday at the concert.
Cheerio:)
Alison

http://www.alisonmaira.com
In-Home Piano and Music Theory Lessons

Piano Recital Saturday June 12!

Hello there Lovely Parents and Students,
Wow, here we are at the end of the year again! Here’s the latest news from the world of piano lessons…

Recital: This year’s Summer Piano Concert will be held at 2:00-4:00pm Saturday June 12th at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, 1700 Mountain Highway in North Vancouver. All students are invited to perform a song at the concert. Following the performances there will be a short reception in the church sanctuary. I will provide coffee, tea, and juice. If you are planning to attend the concert, please bring a plate of desserts or appetizers to share afterwards. Friends, family, and grandparents are all welcome. Please let me know if your child (and/or yourself, in some cases) will be performing at the recital.

Thank you all so much for another great year of music study! I’ve definitely learned a lot from all my wonderful students and I hope all these wonderful students have learned a thing or two as well:)

Cheerio,
Alison

In-Home Piano and Music Theory Lessons
http://www.alisonmaira.com

And Now We Have Vocal Parts!

Blackbirds
Every Single One

I’ve been to probably 500 rehearsals since I started playing in bands.  The first one I remember was at age 16, in Mike Southworth’s basement, for a band called Funky T Franklin & The Clots.  I was a Clot.  So was Mike. Certainly I had not attained the lofty heights of Funky T, whose privilege it was to put her name out in front. It didn’t matter. I was happy just to be there, playing covers of old R&B songs.  We played one show at the Centenoka Mall in Salmon Arm for a fundraiser for the Red Cross.  I thought that was really poetic.  We Clots were playing to help raise awareness and money for blood donations.

Some rehearsals are boring.  Some are maddeningly frustrating, with essential members strolling in an hour late and sloooooowly setting up their gear. Some are emotional, as personal turmoils burst out in a sneak attack and everybody ends up yelling at each other for no apparent reason. Some are magic, where you are in the middle of great music being created for the first time.

But these most recent rehearsals were something different altogether.  Dawn and Hilary came over to work on vocal parts for my record. We’ve known each other for years, met in music school at the jazz program at Capilano. They are my true lady friends and I’ve had so many good times with them. But we’ve never worked together professionally before.  Played together a bit in school, but that was all. So they show up to my house a few times and we head up to my attic practice space and get cracking. No one is late and there is no yelling.

And I realize, again.  These gals are fantastic musicians.  Sometimes you can forget, that your best friends are also amazingly skilled and are out in the world doing their thing with great aplomb.  Maybe I have doubts about my songs, but I know for sure that Hilary and Dawn have already made them better.

Parlour Steps, Austin TX Part 2

Impressions continued:

Sat. Mar. 20
Our last of 4 days in Austin. I was feeling significantly better, but still sounded awful with a frighteningly thick, deep cough that I’m sure cost poor Julie several hours of sleep in our shared room as I coughed myself to sleep every night.

It was very cold and windy, probably 15 degrees cooler than it had been all week. We arrived perfectly on time at the venue for load in and sound check.

Mobs of shivering hipsters were everywhere, stamping their sneaker clad feet trying to stay warm. Note to self: skinny jeans and thin, vintage t-shirts are not the best body warming options. Very, very cold and raw outside. I was so glad we were playing an indoor show, unlike many unfortunate bands and fans huddled miserably outside, around stacks of marshall amps and drumkits, determined to rock.

The sound guy was from Edmonton, and he was so happy to talk to some fellow Canadians about the recent Olympic hockey triumph. I guess “our game” really does bring us closer together, even thousands of miles from Canadian soil, sigh.

Set up lickety split on a decent sized, well lit stage. After soundcheck there was nothing to do but wait to play, as usual.

It was definitely way too cold and blustery to go exploring outside, so we stayed in and I bonded further (if that is even possible) with Rees and Julie and enjoyed the time we had to talk.

All along we have been so lucky with our shows here. When it was hot and sunny, we played outside where the people were. When it was freezing and dark we played inside where the people were. And we had another prime time slot, 8-9pm, early enough that the crowd was still sort of sober. The room was comfortably full when we started to play and after 2 or 3 songs it was packed.

Definitely our best show in Austin. The band sounded great and everyone played well. The Parlour Steps joy-charm-cuteness-kick ass musicianship tap was flowing freely, as it tends to do on a good night where everything clicks. A wave of people pressed gently, curiously, towards the front of the stage.

I looked out over the growing sea of bobbing heads and smiling faces. Can’t help but smile when I see this, and I mean I can’t stop myself at all. I feel an ecstatic, face-splitting grin creep over my face and it only intensifies as my eyes lock with one stranger after another. They look right back at me and smile even bigger and it’s a very happy feedback loop.

I look to my left and see Caleb and Julie singing and playing so excellently, and Rees playing with the Rees-like skill and intensity that I admire so much. I turn and see Rob behind me, singing along mightily as his arms, hands, legs, and feet bash out the heartbeat of all the songs, the foundation that makes all our textures and layers possible.

I have the best seat in the house for every Parlour Steps show. I remember clearly enjoying PSteps shows as a fan before I joined the band. I was one of the happy upturned faces in the sea of happy faces, jumping somewhat rhythmically in delight as I sang along with my favorite songs. That was fun.

But this is better! Standing in the vortex of a song hurricane, contributing my own melodic noise to this storm, this is bone deep satisfaction. One of my many favorite things about playing music.

Won over the crowd quite intensely, it seems. Photographers running around, snapping pictures of us, a small crush of people with official delegate tags come to talk to me as the last note dies away.

Packed up the gear and walked with it (traffic was so bad it was faster to walk) back to the studio space being used as storage. There were very large blue plastic barrels filled with cans of Red Bull and bottles of vodka, courtesy of illustrious corporate sponsors. Rees liberated several containers, emptied out half a can of Red Bull and filled it back up with vodka for us – not me – I think I’d rather shrivel up with dehydration than drink Red Bull and I’m too much of a lightweight to drink straight vodka. We walked back into downtown Austin for a fabulous meal of Mexican food.

From the restaurant Rees liberated a large plastic water glass so he would have something to pour his vodka into as we strolled the packed, noisy, jubilant, streets of Austin for the last time.

Went to a few bars and saw some good bands. Until about 1:00am, when I saw 3 guys in dark sunglasses and Miami Vice jackets (guitar, guitar, drums) kick into their power pop showcase with sequenced bass, vocal, and keyboard parts.

Bands who play along with computers during a supposedly live show grind my gears SEVERELY. Hello, it’s a live performance. We’re not sitting around in your living room listening to your record. If you can’t play all your parts live, hire more musicians or practice harder.

“WHERE’S YOUR BASS PLAYER?” I shouted belligerently into the moment of silence as the first song ended. Maybe it’s time to go, was my next thought. It would be wrong to embarrass the other Parlour Steps by leaping onstage and unplugging that band’s laptop, thus revealing the emperor was only half dressed.

Moved on to another venue. Julie found the cupcake truck again and tried some more flavors.

All around us were shivering hipsters. Saw a couple more really good bands who played all their parts live, had a couple of drinks and was further overwhelmed by a glowing contentment. We made our way back to Rick and Rebecca’s and collapsed into bed.

Parlour Steps, Austin TX Part 1

Impressions so far:
Wed. Mar. 17:
After a long day of travel we finally arrived in Austin. The airport had a huge display of giant guitars right beside the baggage carousel in honor of the hordes of indie rockers descending on the town for SXSW. The very same baggage carousel that did not contain my luggage, by the way. After a lengthy wait I filed a report with American Airlines and we went back to Rick and Rebecca’s house to crash.

Rick runs Nine Mile Records, the label that Parlour Steps are on. And Rebecca is his lovely, patient wife who seems not to mind that 11 people from two bands are sleeping all over her house.

Thurs. Mar. 18: My bag was delivered by the airline this morning, thank every god. After a hot shower and putting on my own clothes – and carefully going through my belongings and being thankful to see all my stuff – I felt much better. Except for this stupid cold. I haven’t been the slightest bit sick for at least a year, and to have a chest cold wallop me right now is quite demoralizing. I’ve been able to perform, and sing, but I don’t have the usual Maira intensity, wonder, and curiosity about my new surroundings. I just want to sleep and be quiet and zonk out with cold medicine. Not possible, though.

We had our first show tonight at the Nine Mile Records 5th Anniversary Party. Very frequently when I’m on tour playing music, I sit a in a lot of bars and suffer through a lot of bad bands while waiting to play. This makes me bitter, because there is an endless supply of bad bands, and I’m never going to get those hours of my life back. But not tonight! I saw 4 amazing bands before us, all on Nine Mile Records. I was completely impressed with all our labelmates. Delta blues, rockabilly, a Romanian gypsy band from L.A., then Parlour Steps. What a great night of music. In every band there were just blazingly wonderful players. Mind you, after Parlour Steps had finished playing, I was toast. And it was only 8:30. I needed to get back to Rick and Rebecca’s and collapse into bed.

But first I went with Julie and Caleb to their duo interview. They were driven around in a large glass van through the streets of Austin for 20 minutes and it was streamed live in the internet.

I watched them on a small computer screen as they played a couple of songs in this strange moving fishbowl. The van was parked right outside an ice cream shop, so Julie had a Jamison ice cream cone afterward.

They used real Jamison’s in the ice cream, and they also had a Chocolate Guinness flavor made with real Guinness.

Then Julie and I went to Whole Foods – my first time, could have spent thousands of dollars in there – and I got a small vat of vegetable soup to take back to the house. The guys went off to rock and see some bands, while Julie and I ended up in the best cab in Austin going back to Rick and Rebecca’s. The cab driver’s name was Carlos, and he had tiny Christmas lights strung up inside his cab.

Ate soup, and had a nice talk with Julie. Went to bed, coughed a lot, felt really bad for Julie who had to listen to me in our shared room.

Fri. Mar. 19: Slept until noon! Felt noticeably better upon rising. Not back to normal, but I was actually hungry for the first time in 3 days. I ended up eating tortilla soup – I have been eating soup only since I left Vancouver, and tortilla soup is plentiful and delicious here in Austin – with Rees in a yee-haw type family restaurant called The Shady Grove. They did not have espresso coffee, something Rob must have sensed when he and Julie decided at the last minute to go to the restaurant next door. Maybe he has a spidey sense when it comes to coffee. I must ask him about that. Anyway, I got my first dose of “how y’all doin” from our waitress at The Shady Grove.

On the menu there was “Frito Pie”, a ‘bag of fritos topped with ground beef, sour cream, and guacamole’. There were mooseheads mounted on the wall, the chairs and tables were heavy, solid, and dark, and a sign that advised “any possession of unlicensed firearms would result in a $10 000 fine”. All the chairs here seem to be extra wide, and there also seems to be a lot of very big Texans walking around. After our soup we headed next door and met up with the rest of the Steps and made out way back to Rick and Rebecca’s house. It’s warm, sunny, and windy here. No jackets required, feels much like summer does in Vancouver. There are palm trees, cactuses (cacti?) and huge guava plants in the front yards here.


After everyone had changed and glamorized themselves sufficiently, we walked into town to our show.

The gear was already there, thanks to Rick. It was a really nice hour long walk, and I knew I was feeling better because I didn’t have to stop every few metres to gasp and choke and retch with eyes streaming and throat bursting. We played our second show at another industry party and again the bands before and after us were really good.

I thought our show was pretty decent, but I am hampered once again by the lack of a sustain pedal. So, I’m not nearly as rad as I usually am with my own gear but I did the best I could and played no wrong notes or chords like I did at the first show. But honestly, it’s a bit of a letdown to play at this very, very cool festival not being able to contribute as much as I usually do to the melodic and rhythmic goodness of this band.

After the show, Julie and Rebecca and I decided to go for a girls dinner and somehow Rees ended up joining us which always makes things more interesting. We ended up at this beautiful Mexican restaurant in downtown Austin where a mariachi band dressed in gold lame suits and sunglasses were playing.

They were wonderful, and then there was a more rock and roll Mexican band after them who were also great. I’ve heard so many awesome guitar players in the past 3 days. Every band here seems to have one, and tonight was no exception. I had one margarita, which interacted strongly with my cold meds so I thought it best to not order another. It was a deep, genuine pleasure to hang out with Rebecca and Julie and Rees and I found myself leaning over to Rees and saying, as I have on at least 3 other occasions here “We are in in Austin, Texas! To play rock and roll!” To which he responded, as he has consistently “I know!”, with a face splitting grin of joyful delight. Because it really is something to be grateful and amazed by. Is this really happening? Are we in Texas, of all places, just because we play music? It is, and we are. It’s a very long way from Vancouver, and it’s the third time in 4 months that we’ve hopped on a plane and flown thousands of miles from home to play Parlour Steps songs. Pretty wonderful, and these adventures are that much sweeter when one can take a breath, look around, and remind oneself to soak in the present moment and enjoy it.

After dinner Julie and I went to see She and Him, a cute band with pleasant songs featuring Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward. We saw it from a guy’s backyard that faced directly into the concert (through a high iron fence, but still a good vantage point) along with about a hundred of his tipsy friends.

Julie and I leaned against a ramshackle garden shed, my foot resting on a rusty propane tank, and talked about music, bands, Parlour Steps, missing our husbands, and life in general as we usually do. I had thought of going to see Muse tonight, but our show was finished too late for me to race across town to their venue. And the way my evening turned out was unexpected and delightful, as it frequently does when I’m on tour and it’s me and Julie hanging out together.

Walking through downtown Austin after the Her and Him show was quite mind boggling. Several main streets were closed to cars, and thousands of people were walking around dressed in a variety of hipster costumes.

Everywhere, in every restaurant and bar along the way there were bands playing. Every venue was packed, with people jamming the sidewalks to stop and listen. So many different kinds of music, all at high volume, at the same time.

“This reminds me of downtown Vancouver during the Olympics”, I thought. (Although it was much quieter in Vancouver). “This is the Indie Rock Olympics” was my next thought. And it really seems to be: indie rockers from all over the world have gathered to compete (for the attention of agents, record labels, and managers), make connections with each other, and show their talents. For a brief time, they take over the city and Austin becomes “knee deep in indie rockers” as Rick described it when he picked us up from the airport. Ah yes, and these were my people. I was one of them, with my Music Artist Wristband that we were all so proudly displaying. Mind you, I was not wearing a white belt or an ironic trucker’s hat but my black and white Cons were definitely not unique in this crowd.

Julie and I caught a cab relatively easily and were the first ones back at the house again. Now I’m tucked into Lilly’s small bed (Rick and Rebecca’s sweet little girl, who is away during SXSW – probably for the best, as there are 11 grown up indie rockers packed into her house), surrounded by My Little Ponys and Lilly’s original artwork, with Julie listening to her audio book in the loft bed just above me. Hopefully it won’t be as rough as it was last night with all the coughing. This is the latest I’ve stayed up and the busiest day I’ve had since my arrival, and I hope I didn’t push it too hard today. In a few hours the boys will burst into the house noisy and happy and drunken. Another typical day in the land of rock and roll adventure.

Your Teacher Is Away On Tour One More Time

Hello Again Lovely Parents and Students,
A reminder for you that there will be no piano lessons this week Wed. Mar. 17- Fri. Mar. 19. I’m playing at an enormous music festival in Austin, Texas. called South By Southwest with my band Parlour Steps.
Here are some links to Parlour Steps at SXSW if you’re interested. I encourage all my students to take a look and see what musicians do when they grow up (and I use that term very loosely) after years of practice.

http://my.sxsw.com/events/eid/8434 (artist bio and album reviews)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2PtCNMxSm8 (parlour steps video on SXSW youtube channel)

http://www.myspace.com/parloursteps (for everything parlour steps, videos, reviews, music)

If you know anyone in Austin who likes music, please feel free to pass on this info to them and encourage them to come to our shows!

Lessons resume as normal week of Mar. 22. I’ll be issuing invoices for April lessons that week, so please let me know if you have any cancellations coming up next month. Thank you all for your understanding as I pursue my creative musical aspirations. I think it’s good for my students to see where piano lessons can take you if you stick with it and love to play:)

Cheerio,
Alison

http://www.alisonmaira.com
In-Home Piano and Music Theory Lessons

No Piano Lessons March 8-12

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
A reminder for you that there will be no piano lessons this week, due to it being Spring Break and all.
Enjoy your time off:)
Alison

http://www.alisonmaira.com
In-Home Piano And Music Theory Lessons

Evolution

Blackbirds
Every Single One

I definitely believe in taking risks.  Trying new things. How else can one evolve?  And I guess that’s really what I consider to be my greatest purpose. To keep changing, growing, getting smarter, becoming a better human.

So today I did something I have never, ever done before.  I booked a session with my friend Ryen, who also happens to be a professional sound engineer with a home studio. I brought my keyboard and some rumpled sheets of paper that served as my charts for a batch of songs I started writing last summer. Then he recorded me singing and playing my own songs. Now I have demos. Now I have something to give the musicians I hope to be making a record with.  And did I mention these are my own songs?

It’s one thing to think about doing something.  You know, something you’d like to try, something you might even be good at (given enough practice and effort). I’ve thought about writing songs and forming a band to play my stuff. I know I love playing shows, arranging songs, recording, and being in a band with lovely people like my current situation in Parlour Steps. Would I also love creating songs from nothing?

Turns out, sort of. Despite being tortured during every writing session with thoughts of “no one will ever want to hear this”, there were also beautiful moments of barely being able to write down great gushes of ideas, melodies, chords, lyrics. I was proud of myself for sitting down and actually doing something I had daydreamed about.

Now I can hear the songs without me playing them. My singing sounds alien and weird. How can I offer these little scraps to the excellent musicians I want to play with? Fortunately these people are also some of my closest friends. We’ve never played all together in a band before, but we’ve all worked together in various combination. They’re not going to judge me too harshly, right?

Parlour Steps, New York City Part 3

Wow. It’s been a very interesting and fun 10 days or so, being out in the world playing rock and roll with these wonderful chaps. We drove back to NYC from Northampton for our last show with Spouse and the last show of the tour.
There was plenty of time to explore before we had play. Ryen and I took a walk, like a two hour walk. He’d been to New York before, so it was lovely to just relax and let him choose our route knowing we’d get back to the club all right. He was very cool, striding along in his black leather jacket but alas I was not. I was taking pictures like a maniac and exclaiming frequently how beautiful it was to see night fall in the city.

And saying things like “Oh my god! This is Grand Central Station! I’ve only seen it in movies!

As we walked and talked I was reminded how easy it is to hang out with Ryen. I spoke effortlessly about my aspiration and ideas, which is very very rare for me. Usually I’m content to just listen and observe. But Ryen kept saying smart interesting things and asking good questions so I found myself talking a blue streak (in between pictures).

I confessed, as we walked, that I’m going to start recording my own songs. I’ve been thinking about it for awhile, but talking to Ryen I realized I could totally do this. He’s a sound engineer who could help me make some demos. In fact, he agreed to do that very thing. Something completely new to look forward to when we get back home.

We made it back to the appointed meeting place and waited for Caleb and Rob.

Then we met up with Rees at the venue, The Delancey, and loaded in with Spouse. Our show was really good, the best one of the tour. It was an unforgettable night – no matter what failures and defeats life has in store for me, I’ll always be happy to remember that I played with rock and roll with a groovy band in New York City.

Parlour Steps, Northampton MA

It was a great show at The Basement in Northampton. Once again we were playing with Spouse, and they packed that place. It appears that Jose knows an awful lot of people, they all love him and his band, and they come out on droves to support him. Which was a really good situation for pSteps, getting in front of big friendly audiences every night.
Still very cold and winter pretty here.

After some dinner and a bracing walk in the cold we set up and were ready to rock.

See, Spouse brought out a ton of people! It was super fun to have so many people jammed into a small low-ceilinged place with waves of rock and roll crashing around.

Here’s a decent version of Little Pieces. Way too much keyboards again, but my amp was the only place I could put the camera. Note to self – maybe I should buy that tripod off Rees for $30.

And here’s Spouse with “Vampire Love Song”. It’s incredible how many deeply talented bands are out there that no one’s ever heard of. This is my favorite way to discover new music, by seeing it played live.

Back to NYC tomorrow for our show in Manhattan, and then home again to Vancouver.

Parlour Steps, Portland ME

Oh. My. Sometimes I am reminded that I’m no longer 22 and not able to abuse my body through too much partying and too little sleep. Let me revise that – I still do occasionally perpetrate such abuse, but I feel a lot worse the morning after than I did in my early 20’s.
Jose is up there for best indie rock host of all time. We arrived at his house at about 3am after the show in Boston. The rest of Spouse was there too. They are just as rad as their playing. There were deep heart to heart conversations, the kind you can only have with strangers that happen to be kindred spirits. Mind you, the conversations were socially lubricated with a steady stream (river?) of drugs and alcohol. Just weed, Ma. Don’t worry, no intravenous adventures for your little girl. Anymore. Just kidding, Ma.
I was the only gal among 12 men. That hasn’t happened for a long time. I forgot that it can be really fun to be one of the guys. I’ve always noticed that as a solitary female in a group of guys, it takes very little time for the guys to forget I’m a girl. Then they really let themselves go and act as men do when their girlfriends aren’t around. Then I have to put up with the relentless teasing and insults that men hurl good naturedly at their friends. Silver lining, I also get to dish out the hurt – to hold my own, it wouldn’t do to have “hurt feelings” – and say things I could never, ever say to my sweet and lovely girlfriends. It can really be quite liberating to visit The Inner World Of Men.
After 2 hours of sleep, it was very very unpleasant to have to wake up at 6:45am to get ready to do another live radio performance at 8am. Ah, the glamour of indie rock. It was freezing cold and there was deep snow everywhere as we loaded up Jose’s van and headed to the station. He had gotten up even earlier than us and made us breakfast. Aw.

The sunrise and the still, cold, beautiful morning was worth getting up for.

That was the earliest I’ve ever had to perform. It was pretty weird to be drinking my morning coffee while singing and playing keyboard in front of people, but overall it was a very good show. Although I was having trouble remembering the names of the songs at that point.

Later that night we played at a great club called Empire Dine and Dance with Spouse. As usual we got there early and had plenty of time to amuse ourselves before another show with Spouse.

There was a green room for the band that had its own bar.

I think Ryen would make a great bartender.

It was another very cold, very pretty night in Maine.

Our show was really good. Considering we’d never played in Portland before and were completely unknown, the crowd was awesome and nicely enthusiastic.

I had my camera on my keyboard amp to record this, so there’s way too much of my keyboards and vocals. Other than that, it’s not bad.

Parlour Steps, Boston MA

We were up early and packed up quickly for the drive to Boston.

We were scheduled to do a live radio performance and then our first show with Spouse at The Great Scott. Jose from Spouse was going to meet us at the radio station and lend us his band’s gear for our performance. We got there no problem and started setting up.

And by the way, I was playing a 1937 Steinway grand piano. It was a lovely instrument. I wonder how many people have played it before me.

Jose from Spouse was super nice. Very smart, very kind. Also funny. I felt comfortable with him right away. The radio show went really well. We tore down and headed off for dinner with Jose before our gig later on. It was very cold but very pretty in Boston that night.

Between dinner and our show at The Great Scott we had a small adventure. After load in, we went to have some Mexican food. As we were walking there, I stepped on a piece of paper. And I think Ryen did too. He saw handwriting on the paper and bent down to pick it up. It was a letter to Senator John Kerry from a constituent who had tried to vote but whose name wasn’t on the voter’s list. There was also a response from John Kerry on U.S. senate stationery, and a letter about this issue directed to the Boston Herald. The letters had a return address and had stamps on the envelopes. We continued on to the restaurant and ate very well.
After dinner, Ryen decided to find the letter writer (whose address was on the envelope). The rest of us continued on to the bar to wait to play. During sound check Ryen returned and told us what happened.
He found the letter writer, a disabled guy with a stutter and a thick Boston accent who lived in the neighborhood close to the bar and rang the bell repeatedly. The guy finally came down and was in total shock that Ryen had found these letters on the street and then returned them to him. John Kerry will get the letter from his constituent. We didn’t read the letters as they looked very personal.
The whole thing seemed so random. Here we were, Canadians who just happened to be in Boston thousands of miles away from home. Ryen literally stumbled on these letters, and the return address was within walking distance of the one place in Boston we were supposed to be. The guy was home and answered the door. He got his letters to the senator back, which he hadn’t even realized he lost yet.
He thanked Ryen profusely and offered him a gift. Ryen, being a stand up guy of course declined. But afterwards was sorry he didn’t ask for a picture of the man with his letters.
And so the whole episode will live on only in our memories. These kind of strange events happen a lot when I’m on tour. Things you couldn’t possibly predict, but when they come along you just go with the flow and see where it takes you.

I love to see a good deed done. Hopefully Ryen’s accumulated good karma will rub off positively on Parlour Steps for the rest of the tour. It seemed to work tonight. We had a great show, and Spouse was fantastic. I think they’re going to be a new favorite band of mine.
After the show we drove to Jose’s house in Portland. There we would crash for a couple of hours before an 8:00am radio performance and another evening show with Spouse.

Parlour Steps, New York City Part 2

Because we had so prudently arrived in the city the night before our first show here, we had plenty of time today to do a little exploring. Ryen went his own way, off to visit some old friends. Rees, Caleb, Rob and I jumped on the subway after breakfast – most fortunately there’s a fabulous coffee shop that serves enormous bagels next door to the hostel – and headed (I think) uptown? Times Square is where we ended up.

It was amazing. What is it about the vibe in this city? I love it. So busy, proud, overwhelming.

All the people just seemed so small, compared to the gigantic billboards and skyscrapers.

And then we went to MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art. Could have used about 3 days to actually experience the whole thing properly.

It was one of those places that makes you proud to be a human.

Go, humans. Make art. Don’t kill each other.

Rees and I ended up in an incredibly Irish pub, watching a soccer game and drinking Guinness, whilst plotting and scheming to take over the world. Such an action packed day! We walked past Radio City Music Hall on the way back to Brooklyn for our show.

The venue was really nice.

We arrived in plenty of time and waited for the other bands, with whom we were sharing gear.

This was the only show that Spouse wasn’t part of, so Rick from Nine Mile Records had arranged with some friends of his to let me use their keyboard. Except…they never showed up. Can you say, stressful. And desperate, unprofessional, and a lot of other things besides. So I had to ask another keyboard player on the bill if I could borrow ALL his gear, right now.

Luckily, very very luckily for me he was a kind and understanding man who sympathsised with my plight. I don’t use my cute, charming girl superpowers very often, but believe me I had all guns blazing that night.

And then I played our first show of the tour with a complete set of gear I had never seen before. Plus there was no sustain pedal. And I had to sing all of Julie’s vocal parts since she’s not here. It went by in a blur. I think I was too focused on the task at hand to be nervous. The other bands liked us though and so did the bar staff, which always makes me happy. Plus the audience. They liked us too. On to Boston!

Parlour Steps, New York City Part 1

Is this real life? My first time in New York City will be to play two shows because I’m in a groovy band? I got on a plane in Vancouver this morning and got off in New Jersey. Then we rented a van and drove into New York City. Because Parlour Steps have some showcases to play in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Boston. And some additional shows to fill in the gaps in Northampton, Mass. and Portland, Maine. It was news to me that there is a Portland in Maine as well as Oregon. If you had told a 16 year old music-crazed geek Alison Maira that she would be playing rock and roll in NYC someday, I would have said, hey. You’ve got the wrong music-crazed geek here. That can’t be me.
But it is! And this trip is made possible by some Nine Mile Records labelmates, a man named Jose Ayerve and his band Spouse. Parlour Steps and Spouse are playing together on a short New England tour. We’ll also be staying with Jose when we play in his hometown of Portland. And he’s is lending his gear for us to play. Yes, that’s right. I don’t even have to worry about lugging around my own keyboards this time around. I haven’t even met Jose yet, but I’m already impressed by his generosity to a group of strangers.
It was a beautiful day for flying.

After a long day of traveling we arrived at the hostel in Brooklyn where we’ll be staying. Our first show would be the next day, and in the meantime we had some time to walk around and explore the city a little bit. The only really sad part about this trip is that Julie couldn’t come. Luckily we have a lovely replacement bass player, Ryen, who has played with us before. He and I bonded with deeply during a 16 hour drive to a Parlour Steps show at the Starbelly Festival in the East Kootenays last summer. Sometimes you just luck out when you take a road trip with someone new.
So we dropped our stuff in our room and jumped on the subway. A New York subway! I’d only ever seen them in movies on and tv. Off we went to Greenwich Village to meet up with Caleb’s cousin for some drinks.

Oh my. We walked right past the Village Vanguard. Heady stuff for a jazz school graduate.

This little corner of Lower Manhattan was quiet and beautiful that night.

I really liked the subway. It was a great setting to take pictures.

I love the vibe of this city. Especially by night.

Your Teacher Is Away On Tour Again

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
Due to the interest generated by my band Parlour Steps “Single Of The Week” on iTunes last week, we have been offered some shows in some large U.S. cities. So next week, there will be no lessons Tues. January 19 – Mon. Jan. 25 as I will be away in Boston and New York City on a short tour.
I’ll be back at work as normal on Tues. Jan. 26. I will apply a credit to your February invoices for the missed lesson, and I will email those invoices before I return so payment will be due as normal, during the last week of the month. (except for Monday people, who I will see on Feb. 1)
Thanks for your understanding, and sorry for the short notice. Things move quickly in the world of rock and roll!
Cheerio,
Alison

http://www.alisonmaira.com
In-Home Piano and Music Theory Lessons

Piano Recital Sunday December 20

Hello again lovely parents and students,
There’s been a slight change of plans for the piano recital this coming Sunday. We will only have enough time for the performances, no reception afterwards. So you do not need to bring anything except your performer(s) and their songbooks. Hopefully for the summer concert we will have time to chat and relax afterwards.

Christmas Piano Recital, Sunday December 20 5:00pm
Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, 1700 Mountain Highway North Vancouver

This is a performance opportunity, not an obligation. If your child becomes too nervous to perform please tell me and I will change the program accordingly, this is not a problem:) Church appropriate attire please. Cameras are welcome, and feel free to come up to the front when your child is playing to take better pictures or movies.

See you all there!
Alison

End-Of-Term Newsletter.

Hello there Lovely Parents and Students,
Wow, here we are at the end of the year again! Here’s the latest news from the world of piano lessons…

Recital: This year’s Winter Piano Concert will be at 5:00pm Sunday December 20th at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, 1700 Mountain Highway in North Vancouver. Following the concert there will be a short reception in the church sanctuary. I will provide coffee, tea, and juice. If you are planning to attend the concert, please bring a small plate of desserts or appetizers to share afterwards. I know this is not the greatest timing with dinner plans – we’ll probably be done around 6:00 – my apologies, it was the earliest time the church was available.

Invoices for January lessons: Just a reminder that lessons are pre-paid, and I’ll be issuing January invoices this week. Collections will be next week, Dec. 14-18, the last week of December lessons. Postdated cheques for Jan. 1/10 are totally acceptable. Thanks very much!

Christmas Break: Last day of lessons is Fri. Dec. 18, no lessons during the holidays. Piano lessons resume as normal Mon. Jan. 4, 2010 unless you have made alternate arrangements with me.

Thanks for another term allowing me to teach your wonderful kids (and/or yourselves). Once again I have learned a lot and I hope the students have too:) I know some of you are unable to attend the recital, but I hope to see the rest of you there!

Alison Maira
In-Home Piano and Music Theory Lessons
http://www.alisonmaira.com

Parlour Steps, Windsor ON

Another good show at the Phog Lounge in Windsor. Lots of people came, and the crowd was very generous and responsive. Julie pulled out her new Thunderbird.

They look great together.

Home to Vancouver now. Hard to believe it’s back to real life on Monday.

Parlour Steps, Oakville ON

Oakville is a big suburb of Toronto. It was a nice place to spend most of a day. We had an afternoon all ages show there, playing with one of the bands who played with us Montreal. They shall remain nameless. They demanded to use all of my gear in Montreal – the rental gear that isn’t even mine – before they even said hello. No catastrophe had befallen them that required emergency gear borrowing. Their keyboard player just didn’t feel like carrying around her own stuff. Loser.

Luckily, Oakville was a land of beautiful sandwiches.

And apparently the most satisfying cup of coffee Rees ever had.

After lunch, Julie and Rees found a guitar store and Julie bought a 1976 Thunderbird bass. It was pretty amazing, the instrument itself and the fact that Julie was like “I’ll take it”. Voila, you are now the proud new mama of an enormous awkward heavy object (that sings with a throaty, sexy rumble).

The stage was tiny, but this time we all managed to fit. Here’s an invigorating, race to the finish line rendition of “Soft Lies”. The camera was on my amp, so there’s too much keyboard. Other than that, pretty good.

I tried a Guinness, again. This one was the most enjoyable yet. It must be an acquired taste. I’m going to keep trying.

It was a fun drive back to Toronto. Except for that guy we almost killed.

Parlour Steps, Montreal QC

I know I’m not alone when I say, I love Montreal. Someday I’m going to spend a whole summer here, in one of those old brick building apartments with a cast iron spiral staircase and a little balcony. I’ll drink lattes, smoke cigarettes, and write my great Canadian novel. In the meantime, I’ll settle for playing music in a hip little bar with a groovy band.

Our second show of this tour was at a place called Le Divan Orange.

It was a really fun show, very exciting onstage. Julie’s friend Paul Brown took some nice shots of us with my camera.

And filmed us playing “As The World Turned Out”

Parlour Steps, Ottawa ON

Caleb: You’re very inspired this morning.

Rees: I’m always inspired. It’s these fucking vitamins.

*******

Raspberry banana pancakes at a painfully – not tragically – hip Toronto breakfast joint. Lively conversation about Alexander The Great, war elephants, time travel to your favorite historical epoch.

*******

Off to Long and McQuade to rent gear. We assemble a collection of tiny amps, guitars, and a cherry red Nord keyboard for me. Off to Ottawa for art gallery performance, filming, and interview.

Played at The Canteen in Ottawa, a very cool art gallery space. We were in a very small, square room with a low ceiling covered with paintings on 3 sides. I would play excellently a lot more if I was always surrounded by trippy paintings and objet d’art during rock and roll shows.

*******

We were filmed and recorded. There seemed to be a lot of people crammed into the place to hear us play. There was no PA, but Rob played with brushes and Rees and I restrained our awesome rock powers admirably. Caleb’s voice sounded great. Julie and I sang well too. Everyone seemed to really like us, and the filming and recording people were happy.

*******

There was a short group interview where we all were asked about our musical influences. I was delighted to have the chance to warble happily about playing Rockband and my current favorite bands: Queen, Journey, and Blue Oyster Cult. Actually, I’m really loving Weird Al Yankovic right now too, but I felt that might be too much to divulge to the Parlour Steps. Then they wanted two of us to do an interview so I answered a few questions with Caleb. I had been sitting in a van all day, was dressed rather sloppily, had no make-up and my glasses on. Of course there was no time to change beforehand. Ah, the glamour of indie rock.

We loaded our gear and drove 3 blocks to Zaphod Beeblebrox’s for load in and soundcheck. At some point Julie managed to buy a crocheted mustache which she has worn occasionally this week. But not often enough.

The show at Zaphod’s was pretty good. We sold 10 cd’s afterwards! The lead vocal mic became unplugged after sound check so we couldn’t hear Caleb until halfway through As The World Turned Out, the first song. But after that we sounded quite wonderful.

After the show, we stayed with Cara, a lovely woman who loves Parlour Steps. She was a hostest with the mostest. I’ve been very fortunate in my indie rock career to stay at some very nice people’s houses and have slept on all manner of beds, couches, and floors. But Cara really went out of her way to be generous. There were plates of snacks waiting for us, beer, wine, and booze of every description, soft candlelight and warm beds.

We sang songs by candlelight on Cara’s couch, Rees and Caleb played guitar, Rob played tambourine. After everything Cara provided it seemed fitting to provide her with a private Parlour Steps concert. At 3:00 in the morning a joint was passed around. I’m a lightweight now and can only handle one hit. But that was enough to dance around the kitchen singing ‘The Greatest American Hero (Believe It Or Not)’ with Rees, Julie and Caleb.

*******

I collapsed into bed totally satisfied and amazed at our good fortune. Julie and I had our own rooms and our own beds. The perfect end to a perfect evening.

Parlour Steps, Toronto ON

Sunday, November 15

Land in Toronto, 1:30 EST. First mention of “my balls”, 4:00 EST. Not bad. I figured balls would come up before the 2 hour mark.

********

To Walmart to buy bedding. Julie and I get sleeping bags, but all Rees needs is one blue Humble Blanket. We’re thinking of writing a children’s book. Rees And His Humble Blanket.

*******

Went to see ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ as a band. That’s how the PSteps roll. Afterwards Rees had a magazine stuck to his foot. I filmed him walking around in the theatre lobby with the magazine flapping behind him. Julie took pictures of it. That too is how the PSteps roll.

Arrived at Rob’s friends Trish and Aubrey’s house, who are generously allowing Rob, Julie and I to stay at their house. Their dog Winston, who has deep-seated psychological issues, has made noticeable progress since the last time we saw him. Very encouraging.

Your Teacher Is Away On Tour

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
I found out today that my band’s record label will be sending us to Toronto on Monday for a week of shows in Ontario and Quebec. I’ll be away from Mon. Nov. 16 to Mon. Nov. 23, back at work on Tues. Nov. 24. Tuesday-Friday students will have one week off, Monday students have 2 weeks off. I’m sorry for the short notice, and I thank you all for your understanding. I will email your December invoices from the road and apply a credit for these missed lessons.
You can check out the Parlour Steps new album and reviews at http://www.myspace.com/parloursteps and http://www.facebook.com/parloursteps

I’ll be doing some blogs and video postings (hopefully) while on tour. If you would like to receive these updates, please let me know.

I also found out today that Mount Olivet Lutheran Church confirmed my reservation for the Winter Piano Recital. The concert will be Sunday December 20 at 5:00pm. Mark your calandars! I’ll send another email in December to remind you.

About practicing: I’ve been waiting to get confirmation about this tour for the last week or so and so gave most students an extra big assignment this week in case I would be away. It’s up to each family to decide if they would like their piano kid to take a week off, or keep practicing until I get back. The same goes for adult students, of course. If students master everything in the last practice session I’ve written for them, here are some ideas for additional playing:

– start working on the next song in Lesson, Technique, and Songbooks.
– work ahead in Theory and Notespeller books
– get out your Christmas books and start practicing Christmas carols!

See you all again the week of Nov. 24!
Cheerio:)
Alison

http://www.alisonmaira@com
In-Home Piano and Music Theory Lessons

Hello World.

Welcome to my website. I provide in-home piano lessons to students in North Vancouver, West Vancouver, North Burnaby, and East Vancouver. Here is everything you need to know about me, my teaching, and my ideas about music. Thanks for stopping by!

Parlour Steps, World As Large Video

This was another experience brought to us by the always exciting, never predictable Rees Haynes. He told us to meet in a field somewhere out in Langley, and there was a couple guys with some cameras and then for 8 hours we played World As Large and ended up with this video. I used to think it was a waste of time to not have a plan, but I’ve seen wildly passionate improvising work out quite well for Rees time and again.

Parlour Steps @ NXNE

This is the first time I’ve been able to say “I’m off to Toronto for the weekend”. As a mild-mannered music teacher who lives in Vancouver, there just hasn’t been any opportunities to jet off to the middle of the country for 48 hours.
Until now. Parlour Steps got a couple of showcase slots at the enormous music festival/industry conference that is North By Northeast, which takes over Toronto every June for a week or so. And so off we went, to seek our fortunes in the big city.

Our first show was an afternoon slot during the all day conferences that were happening at the Hyatt Regency. It was weird to play rock and roll in the daytime, but it was a good show that was even more fun due to several Vancouver musicians showing up to cheer us on. (Thank you, Kirsten of Arctic, and Hilary and Kristen from Language Arts)

After dinner we piled into a rental car and headed off for our second show. It was at a tiny little bar/restaurant with a stage behind a curtain at the end of a long, narrow room. I can’t remember the name of it – forgot to write it down – but it had some really funny bathroom signs.

My keyboard double-stack didn’t fit on the stage and I ended up playing on the floor to the side, which was fine, because we all ended up on the floor. Only the drums fit on the stage. I saw a wonderful band called Twilight Hotel that played before us. Always such a pleasure to discover a new band by seeing them playing live.

We played well, and it was a packed house by the time we were through. There was a great, enthusiastic response from the (beautiful, intelligent) crowd, and it was really fun to hang out afterwards and let people buy us drinks. After the show (and a respectable amount of alcohol, I must admit) we drove back to the various friend’s houses at which we were staying. Julie and I were going with Rob to his friends Trish and Aubrey, who we had stayed with the last time Parlour Steps were in Toronto. They’re always so kind and hospitable and we were looking forward to crashing on their living room floor.

On our way there, an acapella version of “Miraculous” broke out.

The next day we all had breakfast together and then Julie and I hopped on a plane back to Vancouver.

I very much enjoyed my first whirlwind weekend plane trip and I could get used to flying into big cities and playing great shows. It’s pretty fun to get a teeny tiny taste of what it’s like to be a rock star.

Parlour Steps, In The Studio

We’ve spent a few weeks at Ogre Studios, deep in the heart of East Van. You would never know that there’s a recording studio housed in this tall, faded borderline run-down building at the corner of Quebec and 2nd.

I certainly didn’t, and in fact walked past it several times before I realized, yes, this was indeed the right address.

But then, when I got inside and saw all the gear I was pretty stoked.

I really love recording. It’s so much fun – and so much hard work – to play piano for hours and capture the parts I’ve been practicing and working on for months. I feel fortunate that Parlour Steps are such lovely people to hang out with. If you have to spend hours and days with the same people in a small confined space, it’s much better if said people are relaxed and funny.

Julie and I played with Rob while he recorded his drum tracks.

I had two sessions with Caleb to record all of my parts. We did piano, rhodes, wurlitzer, and vibraphone on the first day. My adorable husband Mike is a much-loved employee at Backline Musician Services, and he arranged for us to borrow a wurlitzer and rhodes from their vast gear inventory.

Vibraphone, you might say. I didn’t know you played vibraphone, Alison. Neither did I, my response would be. I mean, I had to learn the basics when I was at music school. But it’s not like I rush home from work every day and bang out my favorite tunes on the vibes. Caleb asked if I could though, and it turns out I actually can play some pretty mean vibraphone parts. Vibes are very closely related to piano, they are both in the percussion family and structured very similarly. But instead of playing one key with one finger, you play each note with a big fuzzy mallet. Much bigger muscle memory, bigger motions than piano. Very tricky, especially playing chords. A really skilled vibes player (and there are plenty) is amazing to watch. You can hardly believe how fast and accurate they are.

One never knows what’s going to happen in the studio. I think that unpredictability is one of my favorite aspects of recording. For example, who could have predicted I would learn sign language vocabulary for various animals while hanging out in the control during the making of “Miraculous”?

I’ve been loving all the songs we’ve been working on together, so I’m definitely looking forward to hearing the album in its final form!

Parlour Steps, Portland OR

We went to Portland this week, for a fun day of playing a live performance on the radio at the OPB, (Oregon Public Broadcasting) and then another show later on that night.

Our call was 8am at the radio station. To our great surprise, there was a video crew there to film us as we played. I was so glad I’d put on a clean shirt and done my hair and make-up. (sort of) They’d just had their annual telethon at the OPB, so Rees had plenty of telephones to try out.

Pretty soon we were set up and ready to rock.

Here’s the video from our performance, plus some really lovely photos that OPB posted on their website.

Afterwards we went to Kenny’s Deli and enjoyed a nice plate of enormous pickles.

Rees’s Portland relatives came out to see our show so we enjoyed a much warmer, more enthusiastic response than we normally would have had in a big American city. Some of the people from OPB came out as well. It was a really good night.

Parlour Steps, Hamilton ON

Oh my. Hamilton was the last show on our tour and it was so good. The band sounded great. It’s amazing how much a band can improve out on the road, getting tighter, listening to each other more onstage, cementing arrangements and trying new ideas. I’m sorry the tour is over. I feel like we were just getting warmed up.
As usual we were at the venue with plenty of time to spare. Enough time to amuse ourselves with a ukelele.

We also draped ourselves around the van in various artistic configurations.

This was the longest time I’ve ever spent with Parlour Steps in close quarters. To my great relief, I still liked all of them and had no problems getting along with anyone. Of course you’re going to like people who break out into spontaneous song and dance on the mean streets of Hamilton.

During the show we all sang the verses of Blazing Light together. It was loud and wonderful. Although I am looking forward to getting back home to Vancouver, I’m also pretty stoked about the next Parlour Steps outing.

One more, just one more! Best version of “Goin To The Country” on the uklele ever!

Parlour Steps, Toronto ON

It was a jam packed day. We got into Toronto early in the afternoon.

Then we were off to CIUT to do in interview and live performance. After we loaded in we had some time to hang out.

You can say a lot of things about Rees Haynes, but you would never say he’s boring. Or predictable.

Everyone was super nice at the radio station and we were soon set up and ready to rock.

It’s fun to play for radio shows. Nerve wracking, yes. It’s tough to play perfectly, under pressure when you know people are listening (at least it is for me – I can do it, but it’s hard) but in this case our performance and Caleb’s interview would be airing the next day. So we weren’t exactly live, which meant for me a much more relaxed, better performance.

Later on we had a show at the Horseshoe, a very legendary bar in downtown Toronto where pretty much everyone you’ve ever heard of has played, at some point in their career. This was my first Parlour Steps show at the Horseshoe. We were playing at the weekly Tuesday night indie showcase. Maybe that doesn’t sound very impressive, but it really is. Because of the Horseshoe’s reputation for excellent music it’s always pretty packed on a Tuesday night.

They have the cutest bathroom signs there.

It was a great show. We played very well. I think all of our Toronto friends showed up, and they brought their friends, so combined with the usual Tuesday night Horseshoe crowd we had quite a big audience. We sold cd’s afterwards and met lots of nice people who had never heard us before. Julie and I had some drinks at a quiet table at the back of the bar…have I mentioned it’s fucking fantastic to be in a band that contains another girl…and we people-watched and giggled for hours. Toronto is a great place. I could totally live here. Especially during the summer when all the outdoor patios are open.

Parlour Steps, Waterloo ON

What I will remember most about Waterloo is that I couldn’t find a public washroom that was open on a Sunday night downtown. Normally I’d just go at the venue like a normal person, but we were playing in a small community hall that (seriously) had no washroom. It wasn’t exactly a legal venue I don’t think. But it sure was pretty.

The funny thing is – and there were a lot of funny things about Waterloo – is that the show had been moved to this place at the last minute, from another illegal venue in someone’s house.

Anyway. Walking around in a strange city with a growing sense of urgency makes for a good story after the fact, but it was highly unpleasant in the moment. In desperation I even searched the van for an empty bottle, but to no avail. I hesitate to tell you where I gained relief…suffice to say I would not recommend crouching behind a dumpster in an underground parking lot. Definitely one of those ‘what am I doing with my life?’ moments.

Luckily, the show was wonderful. It was packed, we played well, and afterward we ended up crashing at the promoter’s house. Which was a tall, multi-suite heritage house where a collection of young guys into magic and pirate costumes lived. We ended up sitting around with our gracious hosts drinking beer, smoking weed, watching magic tricks, trying on pirate costumes

and passing around a ukelele.

A private Parlour Steps uke concert is a rare event and we were well received.

Another ‘what am I doing with my life?’ moment, but in an awestruck sort of way.

Parlour Steps, Windsor ON

We had a great show in Windsor. Even though it’s just across the river from Detroit, it really felt like a different world. Less threat of violence, more carefree. Or maybe it was just me. No matter.

The venue of choice in Windsor for indie bands is The Phog Lounge, and that is where we were fortunate to play. We showed up for load in with plenty of time to spare.

Tom, the manager is always so generous to the bands and promotes all the shows excellently.

I found Rob, Rees and Julie in a cool little coffeeshop during my pre-show Windsor wander. I’m so happy for them when they find acceptable coffee. They become even more delightful.

Hard to believe there’s only a few shows left! On to Waterloo.

Parlour Steps, Detroit MI

It was a five hour drive from Pittsburgh to Detroit. We traversed Ohio, and I finally got a chance to see some real prairie. Prairies are my favorite landscape. During my first tour across Canada, I was struck dumb by the awesome beauty of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. And every tour since that first one I look forward to seeing the plains. Driving across Ohio gave me my first pang of homesickness. It reminded me of driving across Canada.

At some point in the early afternoon we all heard the drum kit shift on the roof. Thank god we weren’t all plugged in to our iPods. Rob pulled over, across three lanes of traffic on the freeway, just as a wide spot on the road appeared. And just in time. The drums were still on the roof, but had shifted noticeably. No problem, Coll Audio of Toronto. Your rental drum kit is just fine. Covered in dead bugs, but intact.

Rob and Rees re-secured the drum kit and as we were remarking that bungee cords might be useful, Rees found two in the long grass by the highway. Thank you Ohio, for providing free bungee cords to travelers in need. With the drum kit firmly lashed with a length of strong rope and bungee cords we drove on. We reached Detroit around 5pm. There were lots of heavy industry smokestacks on the way into the city. Intricate cloverleaf freeway patterns, lots of concrete, lots of metal.

We found the venue, The Lager House, and loaded in.

With a few hours to kill before the show, we asked the owner Art where we might find a park to relax. Always a strange request here in the States, it seems. With some surprise he raised his eyebrows and said slowly, “There’s an abandoned railway station a few blocks away with grass and trees in front. Probably going to be some bums there, though”, he added. Abandoned railway station? Really?

Really. According to the signs, we were in Corktown,

the oldest neighborhood in Detroit, settled 1850.

And sure enough, a few blocks down the street there was a massive, enormous abandoned railway station. A majestic building in its time, to be sure. But now covered in graffitti and even the highest up windows were smashed.

We saw a tiny playground nearby attached to a small red brick church. That looked safer, so we went there instead.

The church was beautiful.

Tall spiky black bell tower, bright red brick, and brilliant emerald lush lawns. Well tended boxes of geraniums were nestled under the windows. I had a lovely swing in the playground, the boys played frisbee and lounged on the grass and Julie talked on the phone to her husband back home.

I grabbed my camera and ventured as close as I dared to take pictures of the train station.


It was a towering gray building with elaborate pillars and broad steps leading up to the wall of many doors (chained shut) that stretched across the front. Surrounding the station – it was set someways back from the street – were formerly landscaped grounds that contained tall trees, a winding footpath, and plenty of green grass. I could see the idea of what that train station used to be. A lot of time had passed since this building was useful and yet there it still sat, reminding us that everything crumbles and passes away, that all things bright and beautiful become tarnished and ugly.

Even though it was Friday afternoon and I could see clearly into downtown – the GM building was clearly visible in the distance – there were very few cars and very few people about. Eventually we decided to drive into the city and find something to eat. There were plenty of cars downtown and we couldn’t find a place to park. But still not very many people.

Actually, I don’t know if we were truly ‘downtown’ or not, but I did hear someone on the street say this was the financial district. It certainly looked like a big city. A big, empty city. There were skyscrapers everywhere and some gorgeous architecture. Old brick buildings and newer glass ones. But no throng of rush hour commuters hurrying down the street excited about the weekend.

After dinner (Thai food again, and I’m becoming addicted to hot and sour soup) we headed back to the Lager House to get ready for the show. I talked with Art some more, who was a storehouse of information about the music scene in Detroit past and present. He assured me that the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame should be in Detroit, not Cleveland. Because no city has contributed more members to the Hall of Fame than Detroit. The White Stripes and Kid Rock had played the Lager House, as had hundreds of other up and coming Detroit bands.

There was still a massive music scene in the city, mostly electric blues and rock and roll. I was thrilled to listen to him and delighted to be in Detroit. The birthplace of Motown! Thousands of great songs have been created and recorded here! One street down from the club was the Rosa Parks Boulevard. There was all kinds of history here, not just music.

The opening band was a very heavy power trio. Easily the loudest band I’ve seen yet on this tour. Then it was our turn. There were a few people there to watch us. The stage was small and I was jammed up against the wall on my right side. We played fine, but I thought it was not the right bill or venue for the Parlour Steps. Too gritty, too tough, too dirty. PStep songs are bouncy and catchy and pretty. This crowd was not bouncy. Or very pretty.

After we played I got talking to a local guy named Clint. He’s a musician too, but wasn’t playing that night. Twenty one years old, born and raised in Detroit. He told me all about how he had been held up at gunpoint at a gas station earlier that day. They took all his money and he said it was probably for the best that he didn’t have his gun with him then, the situation might have gotten out of hand. He explained that Michigan law allows citizens to carry concealed weapons so probably lots of people there at the Lager House tonight had guns. He was going to a big downtown music festival on the weekend, and would make sure to bring his gun because ‘everybody else would bring theirs too’.

In Clint’s opinion, Detroit was not a friendly place. People expected trouble from most human interactions. If a stranger did talk to you, it was probably going to be to rob you, or worse. He noticed that when he traveled outside Detroit, especially to the southern states, people were always asking ‘how y’all doing today?” and that made him nervous, their friendliness, because he kept expecting to be beaten or robbed when anyone spoke to him.

But there was nothing to fear tonight, Clint and Art both assured me. The club was in a ‘pretty good area’. By which they meant there was only property crime around here, we didn’t have to worry about getting shot. Worst case scenario, our van might get ripped off. Oh. What a relief. Craig the sound guy said as long as we:

-removed all instruments and personal belongings
-parked outside the front door of the club
-under a streetlight
-checked the van every 20 minutes or so

everything would probably be fine. Okay. Oh yeah, one more thing. Craig, Clint and Art told me that people in Detroit generally treat red lights as 4 way stops after dark. To reduce one’s chances of getting carjacked. Only tourists would wait at a red light after dark. And they get carjacked a lot. Good to know.

Mind-boggling stuff to a small town Canadian girl. I managed to play it cool and not gape in open-mouthed amazement during my conversations with them. I was amazed, though. The level of violence and fear these people live with was completely foreign to me. And the way they have adapted to this, convinced it’s no big deal – that’s pretty amazing too.

The band after us was so awful that I became overwhelmed with weariness and boredom and went out to the van to sleep until it was time to load out. I woke up to help load gear, but passed out again and struggled to keep my eyes open for the border crossing.

Sweet, sweet border crossing. Of course, it was a quick drive there what with not stopping at any of the red lights. And fifteen minutes after we loaded the gear, we were back in Canada. What a knee-loosening, bone-deep relief. Windsor was on the other side of the river from Detroit, but it may as well have been a different planet. The streets were clogged with young drunken partiers. Everyone was laughing and yelling and staggering about, arms around each other. The bars were still open, there were plenty of police out. But even they seemed pretty relaxed, moving calmly through the crowds talking to people. It was an atmosphere of fun and exuberance, completely the opposite of the city we had just left. I fell asleep again, smiling. The next thing I remember is staggering into our hotel room in Windsor. I crawled into bed with Julie and woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and grateful to be back in Canada.

Parlour Steps @ The Warhol, Pittsburgh PA

Pittsburgh June 18
Another beautiful day in Pittsburgh. The sun was softly shining, there were gentle breezes and Jeff’s wife Rachel was up and about – breakfast was ready. Rachel herself seemed to embody the radiance of the morning. At eight-and-a-half months pregnant she was lovely, gracious, and full of life. Literally.

We had rolled in too late the night before for us to meet, and I was glad I got a chance to hang out a little bit with her today. I was already sure that she must be one very e-special lady. She had allowed a rock band to invade her house and then provided tasty vittles the next morning – before we got up – while navigating through her life with a front-end beachball sized bump that prevented her from seeing her toes. Frankly, if it had been me and my husband said, “Can five strangers crash at our house, by the way they’re musicians and will be arriving around 1:30 am, and they’d probably appreciate some breakfast in the morning”, I would have said, “Hello, I have a front-end beachball size bump that prevents me from seeing my toes, five strange musicians is the last thing I need right now, tell your little friends to go pound salt”. So right away I liked Rachel because I knew she was a much nicer person than me.

We had a nice chat about marriage, pregnancy, childbirth, the wondrous transition from ‘no-kids’ to ‘parenthood’, and the deep complexity of intimacy in a long term relationship…you know, your basic existential examination of the meaning of life. And this is something that I really, really love about women. We can ‘insta-bond.” In my experience, it’s quick and easy to have a great, interesting, complicated conversation with a woman I’ve never met before. Women are hardwired to talk and be open with each other- how else do you think those hunter-gatherer tribes survived for so long? Communication! Trading information. A hundred thousand years of cultural and genetic programming is a hard thing to override. And so women converse, chat, gossip, manage relationships and frequently ask those really difficult, awful questions i.e. ‘how do you feel’?

When everyone had jogged, yoga-ed, and showered (and breakfasted with Rachel) it was time to go to the Warhol. The Warhol is the Andy Warhol Museum, and we had free passes waiting for us courtesy of Shane, the guitar player in the Metroplitans who we had played with the night before. Gosh, was everybody in Pittsburgh this nice?

Andy Warhol was born in Pittsburgh and grew up there. Who knew? Certainly not me. I always assumed he was one of those New York City artists who appeared there fully formed, with no small-town childhood history. The museum contained seven floors of Warhols. Upon entering the building, one is confronted by a challenging piece. That is to say, there is an office chair spinning around in a glass box at an incredible velocity. You could not possibly sit on this chair, it would fling you all the way to the seventh floor. Hmm, I thought. I think I will see some unusual things today.
Here are some of them. I present them in poetic form for you because I too am an ‘artiste’. Just like Andy.

Meet Me At The Waterwheel (Made Of Giant Dentures)
by Alison Maira

A lifesize stuffed ostrich
recovered in snakeskin panels stitched with yellow rawhide
two metres tall; a sand sculpture half finished castle
giant rakes and shovels protrude

smashed pieces of toy soldiers and their weapons
glued together in haphazard lumps, guns and arms and legs
drenched in twenty four carat gold

a waterwheel made of giant dentures
powered by a tiny origami bird
her flapping wings are tied to a string
that leads to a spinning machine

enormous chess game played by giant bronze hands
peace sign versus clenched fist of power
one room filled with silver helium clouds falling rising spinning slowly

Yup, there was some pretty cool stuff at the Warhol. My favorite exhibits were ‘Julia’ – the one dedicated to his mother – and the Children’s Exhibit. The Children’s Exhibit was paintings for children, not of them. Those paintings were small, no larger than 8×10 and were hung three and a half feet off the floor. Simple, beautiful, sincere pictures of kid stuff – Teddy Bear, Helicopter, Apple, to name a few. Anyone who acknowledges his mother as a formative influence and paints for children is okay in my books. I saw all the famous celebrity portraits. Natalie Wood was my favorite. And the famous Campbell’s Soup boxes that helped him break through to the mainstream. There was also a fantastic display of all the album covers he made along with a letter from Mick Jagger entreating his friend Andy to please find a little time to crank out a cover for ‘Sticky Fingers’. And there was a exhibit featuring the ‘Scum Manifesto’, the book that was written by the woman who shot (and almost killed) Andy Warhol in 1968. She had some objections to patriarchy. If you think feminism is too ‘in your face’ in 2008, you would have hated 1968.

After making my way through all seven floors of Warhols, I found the other pSteps in the gift shop. Which was almost my undoing. I knew I had no money to spend (this is indie rock, not a sold-out stadium tour) but that didn’t stop me from picking up a gorgeous silk-screen bag and kitchy-cool height-of-irony gifts for my loved ones back home. I spent an hour lost in a haze of consumer delight, and got all the way up to the cash register before my self-discipline kicked in. Stupid discipline. How am I ever supposed to have any irresponsible fun? Sadly, I turned away and put my two hundred dollars worth of coolness back. I was already living off my credit card for this tour. Digging a gaping financial hole for myself in the name of rock and roll I can (sort of) justify, but just going shopping with borrowed money wasn’t something I could swallow. Ah, perhaps I’m growing up. No, probably not. I am still throwing money at the indie rock dream after all.

And so, after horsing around in the museum’s photo booth (Q. How do you fit a rock band into a photo booth? A. You stack ‘em in layers) we emerged into the late afternoon sun to take in a little more of Pittsburgh before our show later on. Downtown was quite beautiful. Towering brick buildings, immaculate public squares with fountains and lush grass, and a profusion of wrought iron suspension bridges. Pittsburgh is one of the oldest cities in America. Or so their newspaper said in the articles about the city’s 250th anniversary celebrations. It was founded at a spot where three rivers meet and thus many bridges, some black some yellow, crisscross the rivers around which the city is built.

Then it was back to Jeff and Rachel’s house to change and get ready for the show. Tonight we were playing at a pub called the Fox and Hound (“ An English Bar and Grille” said the sign) opening for Jeff’s pop duo. It was supposed to be an acoustic show, which I was sort of curious about because we have an awful lot of electrification and amplification that would to be rethought, to say the least.
We had enough time before we were on to have some dinner and I had my first experience with U.S. bar food. Pub food in America operates on two basic principles: meat and cheese. There was an entire “Melt” section on the menu, which was your choice of meat with your choice of cheese melted on top. No bread, no salad, just a pile of meat covered in cheese. Does beer count as a vegetable?

Finally it was our turn to play. We sat on tall stools, like folk singers from the sixties. Rees and Caleb played acoustic guitars, Rob played his snare drum, I sang and played tamborine, Julie sang too. It was very pretty all mellow-like. But I am a rock gal at heart and I missed the power and volume we can achieve with our full complement of instruments.

After Jeff’s show was done we headed back to his place again. His duo partner came too and they plied us with red wine. The conversation turned to art and artists and local Pittsburgh artists in particular. As Jeff and his friend described their favorite local artists and their works in their broad, thick Pittsburgh accents I thought ‘this is not what I expected’. Like a lot of Canadians, I have some prejudice towards Americans. I have bought into the stereotype of the stupid, backwards, good-ol-boy American and it was very good for me to hang out with a couple of these working class ‘good ol boys’ and listen to them intelligently discuss the relative merits of various artists and their works.
So far on this tour we have met lovely, kind, generous American people. Individually everyone has been so nice to us. But their government and their politics terrify me. What passes for news on U.S. television stations is so biased and seems (to me) to lean more towards propoganda. Opinions are presented as fact with no sources to back up these assertions. And there was so little coverage of the war. It’s like it’s not even happening. There were countless U.S. flags displayed on everyone’s front porch but overall the war is very distant, very far removed from the citizens here. Unless you count all the ‘Support Our Troops” bumper stickers.

America is a very complicated place. You get everything all at once, all the time. There are good people and beautiful amazing cities. There is an undercurrent of violence, fear, and ugliness. There is great big deep art and utterly vacuous superficial celebrity-obsessed pop culture. And all of it co-exists simultaneously.

Next we were off to an even bigger more famous U.S. city, Detroit. The good people of Pittsburgh had warned us that Detroit was big, and bad. I could hardly wait to see for myself.

Parlour Steps, Pittsburgh PA

Four and a half short hours after the Cambridge show, my trusty alarm went off at 7 am. I was mostly awake already. Generally when it is imperative that I get up at a certain time I compulsively check my alarm repeatedly between long, anxious dreams about sleeping in. I knew I’d have to drive first, a dreadful thought. First a nerve-wracking drive out of Boston the night before, and now the first shift on our longest drive, 12 hours to the next show in Pittsburgh.

Caleb and Rob’s alarms went off about the same time and they awoke, blinking and bleary eyed. Rees had his own room across the hall. Rees is the first one to get his own room in the pSteps because he snores. And I feel I can say this without fear of his wrath. Because, as he told me, he can’t hear it, it doesn’t bother him, and it usually results in him getting his own room. A win-win for Rees, a slightly more crowded prospect for the rest of us. Julie did not stir, next to me in the bed. I sprang up, grabbed my stuff and headed downstairs for a quick shower.

Whenever there’s an available shower to be had, I’ll take it. I never know when there’s going to be another opportunity out here in the land of indie rock adventure. When I returned to our common sleeping room, Julie was sitting up saying “ooh, I really don’t feel good”. Rob and Caleb were asking her what had happened. As near as we could figure it, the combination of Mexican food and whiskey the night before had not been a good one. Regardless of that, we were in the van half an hour after our alarms went off. And that was impressive, getting five people and all their gear organized so quickly, so early in the morning after so little sleep and one person feeling ill.

Tom-tom was all programmed with our route so all I had to do was follow her calm directions. We stopped for gas and I gave Julie my bottle of Pepto-Bismol. I don’t remember exactly when the barfing started, but it was soon after. Oh lord. Now this I could relate to, this felt familiar. Despair and exhaustion in crazy circumstances. In this case, an endless drive through alien territory with someone quietly vomiting in the back seat, for hours.

It poured rain, there were (of course) thunderstorms, and it was obvious early on that we would have no time to stop for anything. And this was an early show in Pittsburgh. There was a DJ starting at 10 which meant the bands had to be finished by 9:30. And how is it possible that we live in a world where live bands open for DJ’s, I mused. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Or can I assume that my seven years of post-secondary music study, thirteen years of experience playing in bands professionally, and twenty five years of playing the piano is but a mere acorn next to the almighty oak tree of knowledge and experience that someone with a pair of turntables and a laptop surely must possess? I mean, it must be so tricky to stop and start and combine those samples of music…probably actually creating music out of thin air as a group of people playing musical instruments exactly together is child’ s play in comparison.

Our time for load in came and went. The time for soundcheck came and went. We drove and drove and drove. Tom-tom became confused because we were travelling on roads under construction that hadn’t been updated into its database yet. Tom-tom’s only major failing, too bad we had to discover that right at the moment we were trying with increased desperation to find our venue. After a repeated loop around the outskirts of Pittsburgh (“No no! DON’T LISTEN TO IT! Turn right this time! It doesn’t know what it’s talking about!” Poor Caleb, who was driving. A stressful situation, with Tom-tom insisting one thing while three people were shouting at him in the van to do the opposite, and Julie quietly gagging and retching…he handled it like a champ.) We pulled up to the club 30 minutes before we were supposed to be on. Poor, poor Julie. She had pretty much barfed continuously – in a moving vehicle – for about 12 hours. Into a plastic bag, which she emptied out the window. Oh, it was grim.

Well, at least they had a green room at The Club Cafe for the bands to use, so we didn’t have to change in the vomitorium, I mean van. We raced upstairs, changed, hair, makeup, and to my amazed delight I saw Julie in fresh clothes calmly putting her hair up and doing her makeup. I think it was at that moment I started to really like her. And I mean, utterly respect her and admire her. I can’t imagine how awful she must have felt at that point. But she didn’t even mention it and it was clear to me that she was going to sing and play the bass that night, no questions asked.

Julie and I walked sedately downstairs into the club and were seated at a table as the opening band played their first note, just as if we had never hurried a day in our lives and everything was completely fine. The Club Cafe was a small room with a tiny stage that had a black curtain backdrop covered with tiny blue lights.
There were lots of people there, every table was full and more standing behind at the bar, which was lit by blue neon the same shade as the stage lights. The Metropolitans, the first band, were so good. Thick soulful horns and a razor-sharp rhythm section. Original songs in funk band format, you don’t see that very much anymore. They had a trombone player with a mohawk and a drummer whose shirt said “Jesus Hates Your Emo Poems”. They were just fantastic, but the crowd didn’t give them much of a reaction.

Then it was our turn. Julie sang and played fine, we all played well, and Caleb broke two strings which I had never seen happen before, not even one string, let alone two in the same show. Whatever. We soldiered on. Caleb managed to change his strings and tune his guitar while singing. Goodness. These Parlour Steps are made of bold stuff indeed. The crowd didn’t seem too impressed with us either, but at least nobody left while we were playing. But lots of people talked to me afterwards, and a couple of people bought me a drink. So maybe that’s how they express their musical appreciation in Pittsburgh. Not a lot of unseemly emotional display, just some quiet compliments and free booze. I can live with that.

Following us was a band called Love Tara. Singer and guitar player Jeff was the wonderful man who would be our host in Pittsburgh. We would be crashing at his house along with his two dogs and eight-and-a-half-months pregnant wife Rachel. After Love Tara was done Jeff took me, Rob, Rees, and Caleb to a bar right around the corner called Jack’s. A working class bar on the fairly tough south side of Pittsburgh. They played pool. We drank $2.00 beers. I looked around and marveled at my life. How did I get here, hanging out with a bunch of tough looking guys and gals shooting pool, smoking, drinking beer, unwinding after a long day…on the south side of Pittsburgh, for pete’s sake. I could never have imagined this, and without Jeff and the other guys I would never have gone into a place like this by myself to people-watch. Oh, baby Jesus! as Julie would say, who was waiting for us in the van. And for that reason we didn’t stay too long. By 11:00 we were all back in the van and on our way to Jeff’s house. Julie and I had our own room, and the next day we would be going to The Andy Warhol Museum (Shane from the Metropolitans hooked us up with free tickets). Pittsburgh was looking good so far.

Parlour Steps, Cambridge MA

We woke up this morning at Rick’s house in Easthampton. Rick is the owner of Nine Mile Records, the label pSteps are currently signed to. It was a long drive from Cornwall yesterday. We traveled through upstate New York, then into Massachusetts. Lush green fields, gentle breezy sunshine, and picturesque small towns gave way to rain, fog, and darkness. Almost every house we passed had a large American flag hanging on its porch. We arrived at Rick and Rebecca’s house late last night. They live on a tiny, quiet lane, no streetlights, surrounded by trees. All the houses were small and white with verandas and screen doors. It was so quiet I could hear crickets chirping as we unloaded our bags and staggered into the house.

Rick and his wife Rebecca fed us homemade bread, cheeses, grapes, strawberries from their garden, and organic honey ale. They were both so nice, and as I was standing in their kitchen listening to the quiet conversation, (there was after all, an adorable 4 year old Lilly asleep upstairs) I was deeply conflicted, like I had been at the mansion in Toronto. I was so grateful and relieved to be there, but was also completely skeptical- and disoriented. This can’t be ‘me on tour’. Where is the crushing disappointment, the total lack of money, the terrible food, the complaining, backstabbing, deception, temper tantrums, deep depression, unpredictable mood swings, dirty clothes, drug and alcohol abuse, sleep deprivation, desperation, constant emotional caretaking, futile attempts to soothe clashing personalities, sleeping outdoors, empty shows? Not in lovely Easthampton, that’s for sure. Here there are smart, kind people. There are wood floors, an old piano, a friendly black lab with an enthusiastically wagging tail, fluffy towels, children’s artwork on the fridge door, and everywhere I look it’s simple, clean, and beautiful.

Rebecca went to bed and we all sat up with Rick for a long time. I think it was a meeting, but it felt like more like hanging out. We talked about politics and music and future plans for Parlour Steps. It was all very productive, but very casual and fun too. I wouldn’t want to be signed some huge media conglomerate/record label. I think they would not have their strategy meetings in an lovely old house with the wind sliding through the trees while the crickets sing and a large black dog rests his head on the president of the record company’s knee.

And so. We awoke the next morning after the meeting. I had locally roasted organic coffee on the back porch. Did some yoga in the backyard next to the strawberry patch. The breezes blew, the birds sang, and the sun shone. I shake my head now as I write this, as I did that day. It was ridiculously idyllic. Played some piano while the others were getting ready, and then it was off to Cambridge for the show, another 80 miles away.

Rick told us we were listed in the TV guide – the widest read publication in the entire country, I’ll have you know- and also in the Boston Globe. Good grief.
We arrived in Cambridge and found the venue, the legendary Middle East.

It’s got three separate rooms, and Rooney was there when we were which explains the hundreds of overwrought teenage girls clogging the sidewalk while I struggled to load in my gear. If you don’t know Rooney, clearly you are not a twelve year old girl who’s hip to what’s hot. I didn’t know Rooney either and was almost attacked when I asked one of the Rooney followers what was going on. That was kind of intense, shoving my way through a block’s worth of screaming, crying, laughing girls over and over with large heavy awkward objects in my hands. Did they clear a path? They did not. They were oblivious to the anything that wasn’t Rooney.

We had a few hours before the show. It poured rain, thunder and lightning. I think we’ve seen thunderstorms every day since we arrived in Toronto. I walked up and down Massachusetts Ave. (that’s Mass. Ave to people in the know), the street the Middle Eastern is on and one of the main arteries through Cambridge. Harvard and MIT are both in this area. Cambridge is the biggest university town/campus I’ve ever seen. It made UBC look like a quaint community college. Everywhere there’s ivy covered brick buildings – but this is Ivy League territory, n’est pas? Tons of bookstores of all descriptions, tattoo parlours, bars, coffeeshops, restaurants, Mcdonald’s and the Gap. Everything a student needs. I finally summoned up my courage to experiment with my fancy new digital camera and took some pictures.

We met back at the club for soundcheck. Found a Boston Globe and there was a huge picture of Parlour Steps on the cover of the entertainment section. And the show was listed in their “places to be” section or whatever they call it. Very impressive. That paper has a circulation in the millions. We had dinner at the Middle East with Rick and his friend Paddy. Then I hustled back to the van to change (such is the glamour of indie rock) and after a hair and makeup touch-up in the club washroom I was ready to go.

The show was very good. Small room, but it was packed and we got a huge response from the audience. We sold lots of cd’s and merch. There was palpable excitement onstage, and we played very loud. Rick was right up front, and I’m glad the show he saw (he had never seen Parlour Steps before) was so thrilling. Caleb kind of blew his voice out. But it was worth it. At least, I thought it was worth it. Mind you, my throat wasn’t raw and shredded. Many people came up to talk to me afterwards. In fact, I was quickly surrounded by people while standing at the bar waiting for a drink. It was a little overwhelming so I retreated back to the merch table where there were bandmates to share the accolades.

It was then that Rees hipchecked me solidly onto the dance floor and proceeded to blind my senses with a flurry of unique dance moves. We ended up right in front of the stage, dancing wildly to a disco-rock band called Black and White Years from Austin, Texas. Soon the rest of the pSteps joined us and we all danced wildly for about an hour. Sweaty good times.

Upon load out it became obvious that I would definitely be driving the van back to Rick’s house. Loading gear with a bunch of happy drunk people is quite amusing. Gone is the careful attention to detail and efficiency, in its place is an dogged determination to just jam everything in so you can close the door. I never thought I’d be able to drive in a huge U.S. city without weeping in fear, but Tom-tom was calm and helpful, as were Caleb and Rob, and we fell gratefully into our beds at Rick’s around 3:30am. On to Pittsburgh.