Keeping It Simple


Sang at a dinner last night, and it was not a sophisticated affair. Also it was a voluntary gig, unpaid, so I teamed up with two other amateurs. Only the previous Sunday I had sang in a similar arrangement, and we’d attempted some complex sophisticated stuff. This time I thought I’d choose only really simple, even trivial stuff. It went well, it went better, we avoided all the difficulties, and this audience was perfectly satisfied with obvious well known stuff. “Hey Jude”, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, “What a Wonderful World”, “I don’t want to wait in vain for your love”. all played on acoustic guitar, Nord Electro and very quiet sensitive drum kit.

The question I’m left with is,.. if you spend an evening playing really simple stuff, are you less of a musician or less entertaining, or less satisfied, . I have answers!

less of a musician?
Definitely not. If you play cleverly, then you’ve proven it, and will get cheap cheers. Ellis told his son Winton (Marsalis) that if he kept doing circular breathing in every solo, then he’d get applause, but that would be all he’d get. And beyond that,.. it actually turns out that playing something simple and making it sound great – that’s a real feat. As they say about Mozart, “Too easy for children, too hard for grown-ups”. The barrier to overcome is approaching a simple piece with the same vision and determination you would a piece of Tippett or Bach. Let’s not mention Children’s music and worship at this point.

less entertaining?
This depends on what you’re hoping for. Generally it’s musicians that will enjoy virtuosity. And most people are not musicians. Most people are hoping for an emotional response. I have found it is invariably after a passionate rendition of a simple song that people come up to me moist eyed with thanks.

less satisfying?
It depends what you want. There has to be a balance. If you are not enjoying what you do, then your audience will eventually see through you. However, for me, I am equally happy playing something that took a lot of practice, or alternatively jamming for a good dance groove, or doing the three chord trick for “People Get Ready”, even “You Send Me”.

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