Friday, November 30, 2012

Art's Corner: Where piano lessons meet the web

Hi. I'm Art Matthews and music has always been a very central and important part of my life. My father, Dr. Artie Matthews Sr. (1888-1958), was my first piano teacher, and because of him, I fell in love with ragtime, blues, jazz and classical music. Not only did I hear all of this music on 78 records and the technology of his day like wire recorders, I heard it played live at home and at our music school which he founded in 1921.

Here, I'm about to take a lesson and it looks like Mozart is coming up next. I learned the importance of study, practice and patience at a very early age. Rudiments, reading, repertoire and study are four of the main pillars upon which I was taught to base my musicianship. I learned the importance of developing a solid "left hand" which is required in ragtime playing. "Hey dad, which one of these notes is Middle C?"

Like my father, I’ve dedicated the large portion of my life to being a music educator and performer. Although I'm no longer actively performing, I am still actively involved in online music education by conducting live, truly interactive, face-to-face piano and music lessons with students from around the country and around the world via the Internet.

"Art's Corner" is where you'll find me having fun sharing my opinions and views on things related to piano lessons, practicing and the wide wonderful world of music that I love.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The ZOEN Talks Call of Duty: Black Ops II (Part 2) - Jack Wall on Learning Music Online

In Part 2 of The ZOEN’s interview with Jack Wall the composer of Call of Duty: Black Ops II, the discussion turns to the impact of online video on Wall’s career and the power and potential of online music lessons.

Phil:  Call of Duty: Black Ops II has been a huge project, and it’s been consuming much of your life for the past year now.

Jack:  Yeah, well I have another game I’ve been doing at the same time called Lost Planet 3. I think I wrote two hours and twenty minutes of music for Call of Duty and I wrote another two hours for Lost Planet 3. I’m just finishing that up so by the first week of December I’ll be done with that one. Yeah, it’s been a good year.

Phil:  I know you’ve had some experience teaching an online course, you’ve taken some online courses.  What impact have online lessons had on your career? How does this fit into your world and the proliferation of learning music in general?

Jack:  I’m the poster child for online music...even when there wasn’t such a thing. I didn’t necessarily want to go back to a university to study music after I was a civil engineer, I’d already done it so what I was more interested in was studying/finding the people that I admired in different fields and studying with them. In 1999 I started working with a guy named Brad Keimach, and he taught me conducting.  He was a protégé of Leonard Bernstein, so I got to learn from a really great instructor, one-on-one instruction, paying a fee for each lesson and all that.

I discovered during that period that the best way for me to learn was to put a camera on me in the lesson, and also on Brad, so I would see how he would do it and I would see what I was doing and I’d look for the difference and figure out what I was doing wrong by watching myself.

Another thing that happened just a few years ago was that a longtime friend Stephanie Henning, became marketing director for Berklee College of Music. She gave me a call after she went to Boston, and said, “Hey, there’s a lot of people here who are real fans of your work, and we were wondering if you might have any interest in teaching online - something about game music and game audio…”

So I jumped on that to see what they were doing. During that time I learned Finale and Sibelius; I didn’t know those programs and it was becoming really important that I had those for my own work, so I took those classes and saw from the student perspective how valuable that was. That mirrored sort of what I was doing with Brad, right - you can photograph or video yourself, see others’ videos, other people doing things. It just helps you learn a lot quicker on a one-on-one basis.   It’s sort of a modern miracle of photo-education. I just love how fast people learn this way.  I think it’s the fast-track of learning, I don’t think there’s any wasted space, there’s no wasted time.  You get right in there and you learn something really fast and you can just apply it immediately.  It’s such an amazing experience.

Everything is going through a Renaissance right now, and I’m very, very positive on what the ZOEN is doing, and I really dig it.  Especially the fact that you can actually play and hear each other over the Internet - that’s a real revelation. That’s something Berklee doesn’t have.

Phil:  Jack, you’ve so many great experiences—what would you say you love the most about what you do?

Jack:  That every day is different.   There are days when it’s very solitary, just working in my studio…..And other days I’m collaborating with other musicians. For this Lost Planet 3 game, we’re doing extraterrestrial, alien country music so I’ve had really great musicians in a recording studio - we made a whole album of music. I wrote sixty minutes of music just for that part of the game where it’s really just songs and they’re like country songs, made in the future. So it was kind of fun imagining that, but working with the musicians, great drummers, great rhythm section - that was just fantastic.  

And then, I just got back from two trips to Abbey Road in London, recording 86 musicians in the world-famous Abbey Road Studio One where Star Wars was recorded.  And what a great experience that was!  I just pinch myself everyday - I love what I do.

Listen to an excerpt of “Anthem” from Call of Duty Black Ops II
Anthem (Excerpt) by Jack Wall Music

Phil:  Jack - thank you!  I look forward to hearing Call of Duty and more of your music.

Jack:  Definitely! Check out the website.  There are lots of videos and music to listen to there if you’re interested: I just finished polishing that up so people could hear some of this music.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The ZOEN Talks Call of Duty: Black Ops II (Part 1): Meet Composer Jack Wall

On the heels of last week’s record breaking release of Call of Duty: Black Ops II, The ZOEN’s Phil Amalong sat down with the game’s composer, Jack Wall. In this two-part post, the longtime friends and musicians explore the path that brought Wall to video games, the tune that got him the gig and the value of online music lessons.

Phil:  Jack—good to see you! Let’s just kick this off with some background.

Jack:  A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, Phil Amalong, and I were classmates. I’ve watched Phil progress as a master musician while I made a decision later in life to become a composer. Phil and I played together when we were young and it was always an awesome way to spend my free time with friends or on my own playing guitar or piano or whatever I could find.

My music career began with an internship at [The Cars] Synchro Sound Studios, on Newbury Street in Boston where I learned how to become an engineer. Within three months I was the studio manager, booking my own gigs as an engineer. I eventually moved to New York, started working with John Cale, David Byrne and Patti Smith - the avant-garde artists in New York City. John gave me a lot to do on his albums, so I had all this great exposure.  

All these wonderful composers were such an influence on me.  They made me feel that I could do it and eventually I just thought “I’ve been doing all this for these other writers, why don’t I start writing myself."  I had an opportunity in 1996 to write a video game score - I jumped on it, and I’ve been writing game scores ever since.

Phil:  Last week’s Call of Duty Black Ops II launch is one of the biggest entertainment launches in history, and music is an integral part of the entire game experience. As the creative force behind many great game titles, tell us how you got this particular gig.

Jack:  Everything in business is about connections and who you know. Ten years ago I worked for a small developer called Gigawatt Studios in Hollywood. Gigawatt did a lot of license games, Disney’s Ultimate Ride - they worked for Disney, Imaginarium. The audio director at Gigawatt was a guy named Brian Tuey who ended up being the audio director for Treyarch. Treyarch is one of the two developer studios for Call of Duty.  A couple years ago, a game I worked on called Mass Effect 2 came out and it was sort of the darling of Treyarch. Everyone was playing it, they really liked the music. When the credits rolled Brian saw my name and immediately gave me a call and said “Hey, do you have any interest in Call of Duty?” and I’m like “absolutely!” and he said “well, you’ve got to audition for that because we love your music and would love to have your input.”

So, I auditioned and the first person I called when I got that opportunity was, you, Phil!  I had this whacky idea of doing a piano concerto, something really emotional that could show some musicality, and I thought it was a really interesting and unique idea.  And they loved it too.  You did an amazing, amazing job, Phil - we should play that now!

Click the play button above to hear the piece 

So I got the gig!  They didn’t want piano in the final score, I’m sad to say, but it was a good effort and I’m glad we did it because it showed that I was going to do something unique, and that’s what they were looking for, more than exactly what I was going to do for the game. Sometimes, what you normally end up composing for a game (that’s based on storyline and visuals, and you get inspired that way) changes quite a bit from the original idea.