A sax player recently told me, “you gotta keep your repertoire fresh, dude.”

Boy, is that hard.

For one thing, not many people call me dude.  I’m not in high school anymore, after all.  But this isn’t about the person behind the remark, it’s about the remark itself. Yes, you have to keep your repertoire fresh. Dude. If you don’t, you lose your desire to play the song.  You fall into a rut where it feels like nothing will change and you’re going to be a miserable hack for the rest of your life. Ain’t that a pretty picture?

Lately (always) it feels like my repertoire has been less than fresh.  However, it’s hard to inject it with new material.  The storage locker in my brain where I keep lyrics like they’re a magnetic poetry set is built like a sieve.  Melody I can recall like no one’s business, but the words are another story altogether. Maybe that’s why I like jazz so much–there’s so much room for improvisation, it’s the sound that’s integral to the song, not the words themselves.

Sadly, the words are kinda important in most other genres of music.  You can flub them a little, but when you forget the majority of the lyrics to a song like…oh, say “Let It Be” (which I have in front of about fifty people, not fun) it get’s a little trickier to hide behind the melody, such as it is.

This week I learned a new song.  It’s not a terribly difficult song, and truthfully, I learned the lyrics long ago because it’s a favourite of mine.  However, I took it upon myself to learn how to play the song on the piano so I could accompany myself.  Playing and singing, now that’s a whole other ball of wax.  There’s rhythm, there’s actual finger movement that is not always simultaneous and then of course there are the words.  Thank God I know the words because otherwise I’d be banging my head against the keys instead of learning to play the simple tune.

When you don’t have to think about the words, the melody comes out as it should. And then you can play with it. The same thing happens when you’re playing an instrument: once you have the keystrokes (or strums, if you’re a Bob Dylan-type) the music comes out as it should.

So no, Virginia, it ain’t easy to keep your rep fresh, but do it you must if you wish to keep yourself happy.



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