Legendary Organist with '60s Supergroup The Band
by Bob DoerschukFrom Keyboard Magazine, December 1983. The text and the photos are copyrighted, please do not copy or redistribute.
"CHEST FEVER" SAID it all. The grinding drone of the unaccompanied Lowrey organ, overdriven to the point of distortion, slashing through deep echo like the wail of bagpipes against distant hills. Stark voicings, an almost mechanical sense of power, yet also a kind of timbral delicacy unheard in rock up to that point. The Band released that cut fifteen years ago on the album Music From Big Pink, and although Garth Hudson has turned in many bracing performances since then, "Chest Fever" is all the evidence you need in order to know that no one on any bank of keyboard instruments has ever really been able to match him at what he does best. Even now, few people have been able to bring songs to life with such exciting and unexpected tone color blends, or develop as original an approach to phrasing rock keyboard solos, as Hudson, the first true rock keyboard virtuoso.
Where most rock organists fifteen years ago were infusing their organ work with the razzle-dazzle of gospel, Hudson cultivated a more pastoral sound. Unlike Billy Preston, Felix Cavaliere, Alan Price, and in a different sense, Ray Manzarek and Doug Ingle, Hudson worked in the background, letting the rhythm instruments and vocalists in the Band stand in the footlights while he spun his intricate musical webs so deeply into the fabric of each song that it was almost impossible to separately identify the keyboard parts at all. The fact that Hudson didn't treat his organ as a rhythm instrument was also a novel attitude, only now coming into acceptance as a viable alternative for rock synthesists.
Time put it simply in their cover story on the Band back in 1970: "Garth is beyond question the most brilliant organist in the rock world. His improvised variations, drawn from a vast knowledge of popular and classical music, provide both the decorative scroll-work and depth to the Band's total impact." Time, as well as Time, seems to have borne out that tribute.
Despite the unquestioned skills of the other performers in the Band - guitarist Robbie Robertson, pianist Richard Manuel, drummer Levon Helm, and bassist Rick Danko - it is impossible to imagine them without Hudson. Their folksy, straightforward sound, a refreshing break from late-'60s psychedelia, might have been indistinguishable from the sound of less imaginative country-oriented rockers if not for Garth. His frequent use of open fifths, his avoidance of jazzy accidentals, perfectly complemented Helms' and Manuel's rugged harmonies, and his attention to the words in each song helped bring Robertson's evocative lyrics to life.
He was interested in more academic music as well. Hudson's upbringing in th Anglican church instilled in him an appreciation for choral voice-leading, echoes of which crop up in his work to this day. He also put in one year as a music major at the Uni versity of Western Ontario, where he worked through a lot of Bach, including The Well, Tempered Clavier and about 300 chorales before leaving to turn pro and go on the road. In the Time article, he looked back or his musical development, stating, "I found out I could improvise. I probably found out too young. I could never really adhere very strictly to classical music, could never become a good classical player, could never get anything 'down."'
When he helped put together a rock band in Detroit in the early '60s, Hudson was already an accomplished organist. In 1962, he accepted an invitation to join the Hawks, singer Ronnie Hawkins' band back in Canada. Eventually, the Hawks severed their connection with Hawkins and began travelling the northern bar circuits on their own. The American singer John Hammond Jr. heard them playing in Toronto in 1964, and invited them to join him in New York, where he was working the booming folk club scene. Hudson and his colleagues made the trip, recorded one album with Hammond, and made the acquaintance of the rising star of that musical community, Bob Dylan. When Dylan decided to switch from a solo acoustic to an electric format, he summoned the Hawks (minus drummer Levon Helm) from a gig in Atlantic City to accompany him on his 1965-'66 world tour, beginning at the Hollywood Bowl. Submerged beneath the glare of Dylan's own fame, they began losing what recognition they had as the Hawks. People who left Dylan's concert dazzled by their impeccable accompaniment could only refer to them as the singer's band. So, after the end of the tour, the Band is what they became.
With Helm back on hand, they moved to Woodstock, New York, recording their debut album,
Music From Big Pink, in the basement of their shared house. With the release of their follow-up LP, The Band, and their premiere appearance under that name at San Francisco's Winterland in 1969, Hudson and company became one of the most anachronistic success stories in rock history. No feedback guitar leads or multi-track sleight-of-hand clashed with the rustic images in songs like "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "The Weight," or "Unfaithful Servant." Hudson provided all the electronic wizardry they needed by, for instance, manipulating the registration in "The Great Pretender" from Moondog Matinee to create almost a talk-box effect, delicately riding the Lowrey volume pedal with quick little crescendos or diminuendos to suggest an impression of tapes running backward, or painting a shimmering string texture in lush romantic hues at the beginning of "Georgia On My Mind," from their last album, Islands.
A landmark concert with supplementary horn section at New York's Academy of Music in 1971, an appearance at the Watkins Glen rock festival before 600,000 people in 1973, a second tour with Dylan in 1974 - these are the milestones marking the Band's trek toward their farewell appearance back at Winterland, which was immortalized in Martin Scorsese's poetic documentary film, The Last Waltz. Following that historic concert, the big question confronting Garth Hudson's many admirers has been: Where is he? Always a reclusive personality, he dropped quickly from the scene, and his whereabouts became the object of speculation. Ethnomusicology magazine, in analyzing his work, thought it found a clue to his alleged disillusioned withdrawal from the frenzies of fame in a line from a tune on the Band's album Cahoots, "The Last Of The Blacksmiths":
"Frozen fingers at the keyboard, could this be the reward?"In fact, Garth had merely resettled at what he amiably refers to as his "dude ranch" in southern California. There, he slowed the pace of his life down a bit,and began looking into a wide array of musical projects: movie music for Scorsese's Raging Bull and King Of Comedy, some taped meditative electronic music titled "Our Lady, Queen Of The Angels" for a sculpture exhibition staged by his friend Tony Duquette, a bit of producing for country guitar whiz Thumbs Carllile and poet Hirth Martinez, some country keyboard licks of his own with an L.A. band called the Shutouts, even some new wave synthesis with a Santa Cruz group, the Call. On their albums, The Call and Modern Romans, the sound is harder, the mood harsher, than on the Band's nostalgic records, yet Hudson fits in perfectly, his slow attacks, rich vibrato, and array of tone colors rolling and billowing behind the vocals in the same unmistakable style that marked his organ work.
Most importantly for his older fans, Hudson participated in a reunion tour with the rest of the Band, excepting Robertson, earlier this year. It was a short hop across parts of Canada and the West Coast, but sufficient to convince audiences and Band members alike that the magic was still there. For the musicians involved, one of the greatest incentives for a reunion lay in the opportunity of playing with Hudson again. As Levon Helm explained to the San Francisco Chronicle, "Anybody who gets a chance to play with Garth Hudson, they'd be a fool not to. As far as the Band is concerned, he's the one who rubbed off on the rest of us and made us sound as good as we did."
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SINCE YOUR WORK WITH the Band reflects so many diverse influences, what kind of music were you specializing in when you first began working with bands back in Canada?
I did both rock and jazz when I started, playing piano and saxophone. I played in a little rock group, the Capers, and I also played piano with big bands in the '50s, some very good bands around London, Ontario. We did all the old charts. I saw 'em all, from "In The Mood" to "Paradiddle Joe."I don't remember "Paradiddle Joe."
Not many people do, but the members of Johnny Down's band will [laughs].You were also playing organ back then weren't you? In fact, you and your father would restore old organs together.
My dad bought a reed pump organ and began fixing it, then I began to get into it and repair things. All these little wooden part were always breaking, and the reeds needed cleaning. When you buy an antique like that you find that there'll always be dirt in the reeds, so you have to go through and clean all of them to begin with. Then you wait til one stops sounding, go in, pull that one clean it out, and so on. They need repair constantly.Were those organs the first keyboard. you had ever played?
No, I started with piano and accordion My mother had an accordion.What kind of lessons did you receive as child?
I took private lessons in theory, harmony and counterpoint with Thomas Chattoe composition with John Cooke, and piano with Clifford von Kuster. I can still recommend certain exercise books to young keyboard players. I would recommend reading a Bach chorale every other day, and continuing on to improvise to maintain an awarenes of four-part voice leading. I'm continuing to devise my own exercises, a whole study in illegitimate techniques, techniques that are not taught.Can you share some of them with us?
Not yet. It can't be put into any form now but I've made notes with the idea of passing it along someday. If it can't be passed along, it's worthless.Are you planning to publish a method book?
I might put it into type, but it could take any form. It could be a video tape, or an interaction game.What kind of techniques did you develop beyond your classical lessons that later served as foundation for your rock style?
I watched a tabla player, which made me begin to think about other ways of developing dexterity. The tabla technique does help in loosening the hands. Also, one should think about separating the hand into two or three areas. One exercise that helps do this on the keyboard is to play for half an hour using just two fingers, then play for ten minutes using the thumb in the left hand only.Do you have specific patterns for these exercises?
You should just see what you can come up with that's musical, and if it's good and easy for you, remember it, reiterate it, and work on it.Which keyboard did you feel most at home on in the early days?
Piano, of course.What were your first electric keyboards?
I played a Minshall organ. I worked for the Minshall electronic organ company - in Canada, it was a branch of Minshall/Estey from Brattleboro, Vermont. I did everything with them. I worked in the factory, and I demonstrated their instruments at fairs and at churches.Did you ever work as a church organist?
As a summer replacement. That was the Anglican church, so we had the Venite, the Jubilate Deo, the Magnificat, and the Book Of Common Prayer, and we did some of the chants that are sung in English in the Mass.What kind of classical organ repertoire interested you in those days? I listened to the Baroque style. I actually preferred listening to and playing on tracker-action pipe organs, but then I became interested in the theatre organ, with the vox humana, the tibias, and so on. I never actually played a gig on a theatre organ, but I have played on various old clunkers. The American Theatre Organ Society deserves a lot of credit for restoring so many of them. When you played the Lowrey with the Band, you often seemed to be using a theatre organ, tremulant-type vibrato.
Well, every maker - Thomas, Lowrey, Gulbransen, Baldwin - made some attempt to put in a moderately priced Doppler effect, which was a kind of Leslie sound that was similar to the wide vibrato of the tibias, but at that time I wasn't really looking for a theatre organ sound at all. There were other organs that got that sound - Gulbransen, I thought, did it very well. But the Lowrey had enough bite, and I could make it distort enough, to fit in with what we were doing. The early Lowries had a nice little growl. I began with a Lowrey Festival, which had something like ninety or a hundred tubes in it, and that gave it a great distorted sound when you turned everything up.Do you still have your old Lowrey at home?
Yes, I still have the Festival, and I got another Lowrey that was new in 1974.Have you done many modifications to them?
Yes, we did do some things to them, along with Ed Anderson, who was our technical person for years on the road. We also kept in touch with Alberto Kniepkamp at CMI, the Chicago Musical Instrument company, which became Norlin. He's a brilliant technician and designer. We'd talk to him a lot on the telephone, and he'd send us extra parts and so on. One thing we did was to modify the pitchbend so it began a semitone lower than on the factory preset. There was a little switch on the left side of the volume pedal, and when you pressed it and released it, that allowed the pitch to fall and return to normal. On the original Festival they had an automatic preset rate at which you would return to normal pitch, but there was also a switch where you could vary the rate of return by moving your foot carefully to the right. The return to pitch rate was either factory preset, or based on the speed at which you moved your foot back and let the spring-loaded switch return to normal.And that's how you did the pitch-bending that so many people associate with your organ style?
Well, Lowrey always had that feature. It worked best on string sounds. I liked the Lowrey strings. They were a little softer than some of the string units that came out later on.So many organists were playing Hammonds in the '60s. Did you ever use those instruments?
Here and there. Never owned one, though. When you play a Hammond organ, it sounds like a Hammond organ. I thought that the strings, some of the brass sounds, and the little pitch-bend thing on the Lowrey made it worth investing in a "maverick" company. I mean, Lowrey organs are well accepted as a home organ in mid-America, and they're great toys. Electronically they're very well designed. But nobody was using them in bands.You're playing synthesizers now onstage instead of the old Lowrey. How long has that been going on?
The Yamaha CS-80 prototype had been brought out before we stopped touring. I was aware of it before we did The Last Waltz. I even had the prototype, but I didn't know how to use it. I tried a couple of things with it, but I had not fitted in with it,so I stuck mostly with the Lowrey for The Last Waltz. I can very easily do things now that I always wanted to do on the Lowrey as far as texture is concerned, and I play along with the bass more easily, so it remains a constant source of amusement. We have certain basic sounds that I've found when we're recording or playing that will always be in those tunes, but I never play the songs the same way twice.Do you try to approximate the kind of pitchbend phrasing you got on the Lowrey when playing the CS-80?
No. I know how to do that, but I really haven't been too concerned with that in the last ten concerts. The instruments I have will do that, but they encourage me to do other things too.What do you like about the CS-80?
The CS-80 is polyphonic, and I can come up with a strong section sound. It has a wide variety of sounds, and one interesting thing about the instrument is that you never really return to a particular preset sound, because most of the controls do not have detentes, so that you can move a control to within an eighth of an inch of where it was to get a particular brass sound, and it'll be a little different. It won't be a tuba this time, it'll be more like a trombone. And you can't really see where you're moving the little green filter tab, just to the right of center, or the red resonance tab to the right of the filter, so you do get a varied performance.It gives you a sense of adventure, then.
Oh, sure. That's the whole deal. I also need an instrument that has presets and digital memory, so that I can work out a sound and then tailor it over a period of time, however long it might take to get the thing to respond right, until I have what I want right there on number 42, or whatever. So I have a Rhodes Chroma.Do you layer sounds on it much?
Yes, I've combined sounds on it. just last week I did that and came up with two new presets that seem to work fairly well.How do you use the Chroma levers - for pitch-bend or filter?
I haven't been too concerned with the two levers. I've found that they had done that with the presets I had, so I just marked down the various sounds on masking tape above the preset membranes.Do you like to blend the CS-80 and Chroma sounds?
Oh, yes. All the time.How would you characterize the in sound difference between the two?
The Chroma is more transparent. It doesn't have the rough edge or cut through quite as much. It hasn't the midrange quality, but it does have a very good high end, so it's more like the digital synthesizers.Do you keep many of the original factory programs on the Chroma?
I've selected 50 from the 150 factory presets to use with the Band and with country music. Most of them are safe, you know. Nothing really odd there [laughs]. Four or five strings, five brass, five Clavinet sounds, five piano sounds, five sounds to complement a steel guitar, and so on.You must take a very different approach to sound selection when doing more new-wave-oriented music with the Call.
It is quite a bit different. I like their music, because I've liked the distorted guitar sound ever since I heard "Wild Thing" [by the Troggs, out of print]. I don't know what year that was , but I think that was probably for me the beginning of new wave.How did you get involved with the Call?
The members of the Call had been aware of the Band's work for a long time. They knew a whole lot of our songs, and had apparently performed them. In fact, they once asked me about the bridge of one song we did on Cahoots that I had forgotten and that they couldn't quite figure out. Anyway, they wanted me to play on their demo, so I played five songs on their demo, which went to Mercury/Polygram, and Polygram picked up the group. I wound up doing five songs on the first album, The Call, and five more on their second album, Modern Romans. I also played various places with them. We played in the Veterans' Hall in Santa Cruz for a flood relief fund, and we were playing this tune that I didn't recognize at first. We got into it, and I began learning it as we went along, and it turned out to be "Knockin' Lost John," from Islands [laughs].Your work with them differs from that of most young synthesists in that style. The prevailing idea seems to encourage repetition of a certain riff or sound, where your work emphasizes constant shifts in texture and structure.
Well, repeated phrases are an old device, going back to the Jazz At The Philharmonic tours. They're part of the art of the tenor saxophone player, and it's just going on now in keyboards with sequencers and people who play passages that sound like they're being played by sequencers. Now, I have worked up certain sequences as kind of a challenge to find things a sequencer cannot do, but that won't fit with the music. I don't know whether the majority of the young players see it that way or not, but you try to devise real-time exercises that somebody cannot program with an Apple Computer, or that can't be done easily in real time on a Fairlight or whatever other digital instrument may be around.Was it easy for you to get into synthesizers when they first came out?
Well, I didn't find it a great source of entertainment to develop the type of memory you needed to remember what each of those little holes meant on the old patch-cord synthesizers. I had an ARP 2600; still have it. But I mainly learned about synthesizers on my Minimoog. I also have it too. It needs a little service; it could use some new components.Do you play many synthesizer leads with the Band?
Yes. I favor the CS-80 for solos, then 'I bring in the Chroma for a little variety later on, or possibly the Rhodes. I use a smalI 54-key suitcase model. You seem to like envelopes with slow gradual attacks in your synthesizer programs Yes, for the complementary work, for the backgrounds and textures. Slow envelope allow you to snake in and out easier. Now, lot of that comes through my focus on the pedal board, the volume pedals and effect you gradually bring in.What effects do you use?
I have an Ibanez floor unit that has limiter, compressor, tube-simulated distortion, chorus or chorale, and a master on/off. I only use that on the Rhodes. I've been using a [Roland] Boss Chorus 1 on the CS-80, an another one I use occasionally on the Chroma.You have your own mixer too. Do you do your own EQ?
Sure. Sometimes I add a little highs to the Rhodes. It's a new instrument, though, and it seems to be getting brighter. I give them one signal from the back of the mixer. Richard Manuel has a number of keyboards closer to the front of the stage.Do you ever go out there and play on his stack
I play the [Yamaha] CP-80 on a couple of numbers. I leave everything on it set up just the way he has it.How do you and Richard work in dividin the keyboard parts?
He's great at organizing, very good with chords, so he works closer at the beginning with the guitar players and the bass. Then later on I come in and do whatever I can figure out. I come up with a riff or a soung that suits the tune after I've heard it a few times.You've also been playing accordion on the Band reunion tour.
I've even done a couple of gigs with Greg Harris and the Bandini Brothers on accordion only. I hadn't done anything like that in.... oh, forty or fifty years [laughs]. That was good.What kind of accordion music do you like?
I listen to the norteņo players, and admire many of them. My favorite group is Los Tremendos Gavilanes; Solomon Prado plays guitar and sings, and Juan Torres plays accordion. I have a collection of records by all these groups that work six nights a week and that's their living.What kind of accordions did you take on this last Band tour?
For the last two concerts I tried out Galente, which has some promise, but I still prefer the one I got back from Bell Accordion in New York City back in 1970. I've had the same one for years.What do you look for in choosing an accordion?
Well, I have to have a musette tuning; musette is accordion language, and it mean two sets of reeds on each note that are basically in unison, but one is tuned a little sharp so that there is some beating. The ideal musette is three sets of reeds, one dead or one sharp, and one flat, so you get your chorus effect, which is pipe organ terminology. Almost all accordions have three or four sets of reeds, but a lot of them do not have a musette select button; they'll have an octave above, an octave below, and the fundamental.Do you run your accordions through any effects?
Not onstage, but when I record in the studio I sometimes put the accordion directly onto one track, then do it again with some kind of treatment through a pedal device on another track, so that I can brighten it up or introduce a choral or vibrato type of thing.The Band also backed up some important singers in concert and on record. When you played behind Van Morrison, for example, how did you adjust your playing to fit his style?
Van sings very well with horn parts, you know, and he plays saxophone himself, so I played parts that were more in that vein, attempting to imitate a horn section a little bit, to bring that out.Of course you also performed extensively behind Bob Dylan. Was there anything about the Band's work with him that was out of your ordinary approach?
No. Everything seemed to be right in line. The wonderful thing in working with Dylan was the imagery in his lyrics, and I was allowed to play with these words. I didn't do it incessantly; I didn't try to catch the clouds or the moon or whatever it might be every time. But I would try and introduce some little thing at one point a third of the way through a song, which might have something to do with the words that were going by.What about some of the classic Band keyboard sounds - the Jew's harp on "Up On Cripple Creek," from The Band, for instance? Originally you played that on a Clavinet run through a wah-wah pedal. Do you still play it that way?
We play that tune, but Ernie Cates [who supplemented the Band's lineup on their reunion tour] plays the Clavinet sound now. I just add the occasional note or two with the Clavinet sound in the Chroma, and do some of an organ-like part, which seems to fit with the vocals more.How did you get the almost oral tone qualities in your organ part on "The Great Pretender," from Moondog Matinee?
I believe part of that came from Robbie [Robertson] using some effect pedal on his guitar, but we also borrowed a Mellotron for that, which we mixed in with the Lowrey strings. That could have been part of it.At the end of the chorus on "This Wheel's On Fire," from Big Pink, there are some real fast repeated chords. How did you do that effect?
It could've been the mechanical reiteration on an RMI [Rocky Mountain Instruments] keyboard that we had then; I can't remember the name of the instrument. But it also could have been a telegraph key. I had hooked up a telegraph key to whatever the instrument was, a very nice key. I had picked up a couple of them in a war surplus store. I still have that key. It has a reiteration feature, so that if you move the key in one direction, you would get one dot or dash, and if you move it the other way, you would get reiterated dots. I got a little box and mounted some quarter-inch receptacles into it through which you could connect the key to the instrument. Then you set the reiteration rate, and you were ready to play.Did you do a lot of modification work in those days based on odds and ends you would find in surplus stores?
Oh, yeah, but they're all still top secret [laughs]. I got everything I needed from hardware stores, military surplus, old music stores, and pawn shops.Do you still take time to gather materials from these places?
Not too much recently. The instruments I work with now keep me going. I had a shop set up in Woodstock, though, where I hooked up with an excellent technician, designer, and craftsman named Bill Putnam. We designed a little miniature pipe organ together. I also bought a dude ranch near Malibu where I began designing and building acoustic instruments, mostly keyboard instruments. I bought a theatre organ that was only partly there. A lot of the pipes were missing, but the toy counter [percussion effects] was pretty well all there, with the drums and the marimba and the xylophone and the orchestral bells. These were actuated by electropneumatic devices. Some organs have been made with direct electric action -a solenoid that would open the pallet that allows air to enter the pipe - but I don't believe they are really that popular. There's still a preference for the old feeling you get from the electropneumatic action, and of course there's also been a revival of interest in tracker action because of new materials. You can build a tracker organ now that doesn't need as much service as the old ones did.You've been involved in a lot of other outside activities over these past few years, like the electronic music you composed and performed on tape for Tony Duquette's sculpture exhibition. How did you get into that?
Tony and I had talked about music, then I didn't see him again for two or three years. I rented this little ranch from him, and I can't begin to describe it: cactus, plants, little environments here and there. It feels like a Shangri-La type of place. Tony had one of his angel statues set up in his studios, along with several tapestries and models, incredible little models that were not just angels, but other characters as well. As a set and costume designer, he would make a model first, so he had a model of the entire exhibition floor in a little glass case about three feet wide and five feet long. It was an amazing little display. He told me about his whole project, and he thought I could do music for it. It was a wonderful challenge to work with those people.You've also been involved with an organization called the Visual Music Alliance.
This is an organization that Tom Seuffert founded for young people involved in film special effects, video work, and combining video with music. They meet every month, and I go there and talk. I've also worked with Tom on his piece for Triple I, Information International Inc., an agency that does commercials. We applied music to their demo tape, which they take to product manufacturers to show the quality of their work.That sounds somewhat similar to the Producer's Music Organization, another video music group that you've been working with in L.A.
No, not really. Producer's Music is much smaller than Tom's studio, which is built into a house. Gary Chang, who was with Fairlight, is behind them. I visited with him occasionally, and we talked about what could be done with music and video, but I never became involved with the typewriter keyboard on his Fairlight because I could see that Gary was very fast with it, and it was fun for me to sit back, think of something, and watch him come up with it - you know, try to trick the machine. He did some tricks with it that were amazing. We've worked together on various little projects. Gary is now independent, and he has a wonderful little studio in Santa Monica that allows you to think that maybe you can do the same kind of thing in your own garage or living room.You've done some film music of your own too - Raging Bull, for instance.
I just did a little section there where they had a band in the background of one scene. Martin [Scorsese] wanted some music from the mid-'40s, so I listened a bit to Count Basie's "One 0' Clock Jump" [many different versions available on Roulette, Everett, MCA, and Columbia] and Harry James' "Two 0' Clock Jump" [from Comin' From A Good Place, Sheffield Lab (Box 5332, Santa Barbara, CA 92108), LAB-6) and we came up with something from that period.Did you write charts out for that scene
No, it was improvised on a chord progression.For other film music you've done, do yo generally write the music out, or compose by playing onto tape?
Both of those methods, the traditional scoring and several other ways of going about it that I've worked up in my home studio, where I do something in my living room and take it back to my studio. In couple or three years I suppose a wonderft toy will appear on the scene where you wi be able to carry an attachesize digital thin with a video screen, headphones, and poss bly a little keyboard, and score a film as yo fly off to Keokuk, Iowa. You can already se these devices that sync a recording machin to a copy of the film or video cassette. I'r interested in all the little toys that the kids wi be dealing with in four, five, or six years.It doesn't bother you that many young players are learning their way around the keys on electronic or even portable mini keyboards, rather than the piano?
I don't care. Who wants to win the game? The young people will know that in order to become strong in this whole endeavor, they may have to go back to the piano and do a lot of hard work, other than just rehearsing with a group and remembering patterns and arrangements. There are many people who get by on that, but the ones who really want to learn will see that it really takes a lot more than that.