“There is power, there is power . . .” – A Remembrance of Joe Hill

Jimmy Tomasello, Colby Maddox, Bill Brickey and I (all teachers at the Old Town School of Folk Music) got together to sing with songwriter and activist Joe Hill this morning, on the 100th anniversary of his execution.

This portrait is by Peggy Lipschutz and hangs in the hallways of the Old Town School of Folk Music.

“There is power. There is power.”

Easy Access to Music: Record Players and B.B. King

My B.B. King Records in my ClassroomI took some of my 4-year-old guitar students to the Resource Center at the Old Town School of Folk Music today to play some of my B.B. King records. For one of them it was a first time using a record player.

We had so much fun and it strengthen my idea that playing records was an important early musical experience for me. It was delightful to see my students marvel at the record jackets and see how carefully these “wild little boys” could set the record on the player and then put the records away at the end.

My earliest musical memory was my Fischer-Price record player. My favorite records were Winnie the Pooh and Pete’s Dragon. I also had the single to Man Eater by Hall & Oats. Looking back, I think it was incredible that my folks bought me my own record player and that I had easy access to music whenever I wanted it from such an early age. I believe that the “easy access to music” idea is something that I have carried into my adult life.

“When will we ever learn?” – Reflections on Last Night’s Gather-All

A young man, aged 14, lead a beautiful rendition of Where Have All the Flowers Gone at last night’s Gather-All at the Old Town School of Folk Music.  He is a wonderful musician, a student, a teacher and a friend.

As he was singing I looked at him and I looked out at all of the young musicians who had come to sing and play.  “Where have all the soldiers gone?”  Tears came to my eyes.

The enlistment age is just four years away for him, and all the young musicians singing and playing their hearts out will get to that age someday, too.  In addition tough streets are recruiting young people in the neighborhoods where I teach in Chicago Public Schools and the topic of “recruiting” continues to be a big part of the discussion about violence all over the world.  There are a lot of people asking generation after generation to go off to war and they are asking for all kinds of different reasons.

What will happen in the coming years?  I looked out at all the young faces at the Gather-All and I thought of all these kids laying down their fiddles and guitars and “going to soldier.”

We can’t let that happen.  There has got be be another way.

When will we ever learn?

Exorcising and Exercising the Demons – On Learning to Play the Piano

I really, really like to play music.  And I like to improve as a musician.  That feels great.

But, I don’t practice every day.  I would like to, but I don’t.  Even though it is so much fun!  Some days it’s just too hard.  Every day  it is very hard, but some days it is TOO HARD.

And the thing that makes it too hard is not the difficulty of the pieces or that piano is too hard, it is that my ego can’t take it.  Sometimes the demons are too strong.

No matter what I do, every time I sit down at the piano (and I mean every time) I have to give myself over to the honest truth that I am not going to sound like this.

But I wanna sound like that!  IT IS FRUSTRATING!  I’ve worked and worked and I only sound like this.

Every time I even look at the piano I can feel the little demons in my stomach.  Questions come up like, “Should I even try?”  I think to myself, “It will probably never happen.  I don’t want to put myself through the pain today.  I can’t practice.”  I get frustrated and I go find something else to do.

Many times I’m able to work through all of those uncomfortable feelings, and after about 20 or 30 minutes I’m able to have a good time.  But I’m not able to work through it every time.  Sometimes my inner demons get the best of me and when they do, I don’t practice.

I write this because I have a lot of conversations with the parents of my youth guitar students.  Often they say things like “[mystery student] really loves the guitar and loves coming to class, but she never practices.  But she says that she really wants to learn.  I don’t know what to do.”

I can’t pretend to know why these students don’t want to practice at home, but I often wonder if it is for reasons that are similar to mine.  Do these young students look at their guitars and start to feel bad that they haven’t put more time in?  Do they think that others (maybe me and their parents) expect them to be further along?  Is it really that they “just want to play video games?”  Or, do they feel so much internal and external pressure to keep up that they decided to do something else, rather than be open to the vulnerability of learning.

What about you, the reader of this blog post?  Do you ever feel this way, either in terms of music or other aspects of your life?

If you have a tough time practicing, please remember that there are lots of folks like you.  And, if you’re the parent of a student who doesn’t want to practice, I recommend asking some questions to help your student figure out why.  I have a feeling that there can be some deep stuff going on in those little minds.  Maybe we can be helpful.

We’re all in it together friends.  I’m glad that we’re here to support each other.

Lincoln’s Birthday 2015 – “Old Abe Lincoln Came out of the Wilderness”

We celebrated the birthday of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, in my Kids’ Guitar Level 2 class at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

The Old Town School of Folk Music is on LINCOLN Ave.  The School is located in the LINCOLN Square neighborhood of Chicago, IL.  Illinois is also known as the “Land of LINCOLN”.

I learned this song from the collection Soldier Songs and Home-Front Ballads of the Civil War, compiled and edited by Irwin Silber.  The song is to the tune of The Old Grey Mare.

Here is a .pdf with the lyrics, the chords in the key of D and the melody and a note map to play it on guitar.  We hope you enjoy it!

Old Abe Lincoln Chart

Old Abe Lincoln came out of the wilderness

Out of the wilderness, out of the wilderness

Old Abe Lincoln came out of the wilderness

many long years ago.

Many long years ago.

Many long years ago.

Old Abe Lincoln came out of the wilderness,

many long years ago.

Additional Verses

Old Jeff Davis tore down the government .  . . etc.

Old Abe Lincoln built up a better one . . . etc.


Frosty Weather Guitar Lesson

There is a big snow storm rolling through Chicago today.  Some appointments got canceled and I found myself with some time around the apartment.  I thought I would take the opportunity share this great little tune from Ireland called Frosty Weather.

The lyrics are

Frosty weather, snowy weather.

When the wind blows we all go together. 

Download a lyric sheet and guitar note map for Frosty Weather.    And watch this quick lesson to hear how to play the song.

Hope you enjoy it!

Quaerendo Invenietis (“By seeking, you will discover.”) – New Year’s Resolution for 2015

FullSizeRender“Quaerendo invenietis” (“By seeking, you will discover.”) – J.S. Bach’s label of one of the canon’s of his Musical Offering.

My 2015 New Year’s Resolution is to more fully understand the music and the musician,  Johann Sebastian Bach.

I’ve been a musician for a long time and his name creeps up everywhere.  Other musicians and historians are always saying things like, “Obviously Bach is the greatest composer ever,” “Bach is my hero,” “Bach was the true genius of improvisation,” and “there is no more beautiful piece of music than [insert piece composed by Bach here].”

I hear people say things like that and I just kind of nod my head.  I understand the words that they are saying, I just don’t know why, and for that reason I can’t simply agree.  I do know that I enjoy his music, but the statements that folks make are so grandiose, as compared to any other composers musicians, people seem to think that Bach was the best.

My goal for 2015 is to know why.  I’ve never studied his compositions.  I’ve rarely listened to his music (at least as compared to artists).  I don’t know anything about his biography.  I couldn’t compare his music to that of his contemporaries and I couldn’t compare his music to more modern composers.  By the end of 2015 I want to have changed that.

This photo depicts some of the tools, recordings and books I will be using to start my journey of discovery.

  • Thelonious Monk – Genius of Modern Music
  • Suzuki Violin Piano Accompaniment
  • Alfred’s Basic Adult All-in-One Course (as I am an adult beginner pianist)
  • What to Listen for in Music – Aaron Copland
  • J.S. Bach – The Well-Tempered Clavier – performed by Bernard Roberts
  • Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven by John Eliot Gardiner
  • Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas R. Hofstadter
  • My 10 Year Anniversary Metronome from the Old Town School of Folk Music
  • My Casio keyboard

Your Voice on the Young Stacke All-Stars Debut Album!

YSAS logoThe Young Stracke All-Stars are  recording one more song for our debut album, and we hope that you’ll sing it with us!

Sunday, December 7, 2014
9:45 to 11:30
(There will be a short lesson to learn the song, followed by the recording.)
Szold Hall – 2nd Floor
Old Town School of Folk Music
4545 N. Lincoln Ave.

Snacks and coffee will be provided.

(This is not a fundraiser or a concert.  It is a recording session!  While OTS is allowing us to use the space, this is not an OTS production.  Contact Jason McInnes at jason@jasonmcinnesmusic.com with any questions.)

The song that we are going to sing is called Simple Gifts.   Zelda, one of the members of the band describes it as being about explains, “accepting everyday things and living a simple life.”  It’s an incredible songs and we think it is perfect to feature it as a community song for the album.  Here is a downloadable pdf. of the song.  –  Simple Gifts chart

Check you these links and videos to learn how to sing the song.  We’ll be singing it in the key of C

Simple Gifts – Spotify hosts the recording that inspired us to learn this song.  It was recorded in 1963 with Win Stracke and his friends.  The recording was made for WFMT.

What follows is a recording that was made at Win Stracke’s gravestone dedication in December of 2012.

Here is a video of the All-Stars teaching part of the arrangement that we use.

Hope to see you on Dec. 7, 2014!  Please RSVP to youngstrackeallstars@jasonmcinnesmusic.com.

Benefit for the Young Stracke All-Stars Featuring Mark Dvorak

YSAS_Benefit full pageSunday, September 14

Drinks and hors d’oeuvres at 4:30.

Music at 5:30

Join “Chicago’s Troubadour” Mark Dvorak in a featured small-venue performance for the benefit of the Young Stracke All-Stars; youth musicians celebrating the legacy of music and education pioneer, Win Stracke.

The Young Stracke All-Stars hope that you will help us continue to build bridges between generations of folk musicians by attending this concert, featuring the band’s friend and mentor, Mark Dvorak. The $75 cost covers the evening’s entertainment and beverages and hor d’oeuvres.

As a way to deepen the roots between generations, this concert will take place at the home of Jane Bradbury, daughter of Win Stracke.

Contact Jason McInnes to reserve your seat. 773-369-8268 or jason@jasonmcinnesmusic.com. Space is limited. The address will be given upon RSVP.

This fall, the Young Stracke All-Stars will be entering the studio to record their debut album. The album will be a celebration of folk music from around the world, a culmination of six years of work by the band, and a homage to Win Stracke, the band’s namesake.

This is a step that we believe will launch us into the next phase of the group as we inspire youth musicians and their families, influence how people think about youth-created music, and leave a legacy of our music and the communal and historical-based ideals of the Young Stracke All-Stars.

To make the album a reality, the we need your support to cover production and post-production costs.

Young Stracke All-Stars is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service
organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of Young Stracke All-Stars must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.

If you can’t make it to the show, but are interested in making a contribution, please visit our page hosted by Fractured Atlas.


RECAP: The Young Stracke All-Stars at Seeger Songs for Kids

Photo by Bill Brickey
Photo by Bill Brickey

“And when these fingers can strum no longer, hand the old banjo to young ones stronger” – Quite Early Morning by Pete Seeger

I was so proud to have the Young Stracke All-Stars present their music as part of yesterday’s Seeger Songs for Kids show at the Old Town School of Folk Music on May 4, 2014.

Huge thank you to all the performers who created such beautiful music for us to listen to and who were so generous with the tight space on the stage. We felt very welcome, and we are thankful for your support.

Pete was very much on my mind throughout the performance. We’re trying to do your work, Pete. Thanks for leading us to such strength.