Jamming in C-demented
Jamming in C-demented
Pop week between corona waves
Guts. You certainly cannot deny that to the organisers of the Halewyn Foundation. While the whole of Europe was on lockdown due to the Corona crisis and the cultural sector was already raising a death rattle here and there, the foundation managed to keep its summer courses going - except one - in the bizarre year 2020. Unperturbed, it traditionally closed that strange summer at the end of August with the 'pop clinic' in training centre Destelheide in Dworp.
Text and photos: Ivan Declercq
We had no idea what to expect from a ' week full of pop'. At the jazz camp, a month earlier, you more or less know what kind of music will be on the menu. But pop? What is contemporary pop? Tomorrowland thumpers? Billie Eilish and Miley Cyrus? Ed Sheeran or Dua Lipa perhaps? Or would Coldplay, Radiohead, and U2 also be acceptable? Who knows, maybe even Beatles and Rolling Stones? And who will go to a pop music stage for a week? Especially teenagers are the expectation.
Sunday, 23 August: 34 masked students gather in a large hall of the training center and sign a form that they will donate a kidney and some other things if they dare not to observe the six golden coronation measures. Washing hands, putting on a mouth mask, keeping your distance - we have already lost the other three.
Many young people, indeed. But not exclusively, is that a walker over there in the corner? The 'singing' department proves especially popular: 10 ladies and 1 young man. A boyish dream, it seems. Sorry, we digress. Furthermore: 6 pianists, 4 bassists, 4 guitarists, 4 wind players, 5 drummers.
Who are they and what are they doing here? We pick one from each department to ask them. Unmasked, but at a safe distance.
Richard (19) from Mol passed his entrance exam at the conservatoire, but decided to study socio-economic sciences. He was born into music: they have a music shop at home. Classical music training, but then switched to pop. "I have also played in jazz combos, but my preference is for pop."
He was here last year too, at the pop clinic. His guitar teacher had taught there and told him that this was really something for him. "I had no idea what the level would be here. Then it turned out that there were some very good musicians. It turned out to be a great success. That's why I'm here again."
"I think it is important to play in a group. And then the main thing is not how well the others can play, but how well you get along with them. The level of difficulty here? That is adjusted from person to person. Last year I was in a combo with all conservatory students. Actually, it was above my level, but you learn a lot that way. The teachers here are not only excellent musicians, but also good teachers. The ratio of the number of hours of instrument lessons and combo is fine by me.
One more tip from Richard: don't buy things before you come to the camp. "Last year I bought a guitar pedal beforehand. Don't do! You don't only learn playing technique and theory here, but also more about the proper materials. So it's better to buy something after the workshop, then you have more knowledge about gear.
Amber (18) from Ostend has just finished secondary school and is starting an education in music education in Ghent. She has been involved with music for as long as she can remember. First she studied classical piano for five years, then she switched to jazz singing.
"I feel I can express myself better in that than in pop. Four years ago, I did my first pop stage here. Jazz was a bit intimidating for me then. But for the last two or three years, I've been mostly into jazz. Last month, I also did the jazz internship here."
"The difference? I have the impression that during the jazz training you work more on technique and improvisation, which is typical for jazz. In the pop class, the emphasis is more on learning to sing together. Body awareness is also very important during the pop stage.
Amber learned of the internship through her teacher in Ostend. "That first time here? More individual than I had expected. I thought we would all start together with a song. I also didn't know that we would have to sing something for the teachers, to assess your level. That was a bit scary. But in the end it was quite useful, because it enabled the teacher to work with everyone's individual strengths and weaknesses."
The atmosphere, the meetings with like-minded people is what makes her return to Dworp every year. "In the neighbourhood where I live, I don't know many passionate musicians, at least not of my age. Here, I get to know those people. There is a utopian atmosphere. Maybe because of the location, a bit remote. We spend five days here doing nothing but music, you're in a musical bubble."
"Difficult? Four years ago I was a beginner, and that was taken into account. Now I can do a bit more than then and they also take that into account. If you need challenges, the teachers will give you challenges. If you need help, they will give you help. If you come here for the first time, as a young and timid beginner, it might seem a bit 'too difficult'. If I compare the pop stage with the jazz stage? Jazz is more difficult. Or more challenging, shall we say."
She is full of praise for the teachers. "They are all great people and I learn so much here every year. You just have to listen to what they say. And you have to ask questions, because the teacher can't smell what you don't know yet, can he? If you don't show them what you want to learn, they can't teach you properly. By the way, the teachers ask us what we would like to learn. This year, for example, we learned something about stage techniques."
The students are assigned to a combo according to their level. A list of the combos is put up: at the bottom the beginners and then it goes up to the combo with the most advanced students. This order is also followed during the concert on the last evening of the internship. Amber has some reservations about this: "That has a rather competitive effect. I do understand that you put musicians in combos according to their level, but perhaps the ranking on the list should be different. Because the best at the top, the beginners at the bottom... there are more discussions about this than you might think. Especially among young people it is a hot topic.
"The first year that I came here, I was in a combo 'from the bottom of the paper' and I had no problem with that: I was timid, while others could improvise wildly. That did not mean that I was a bad singer: a number of elements were just not there yet and the teacher can help. Now I am 'on top of the paper', and I still get help in various areas. But some people don't understand that. I do notice some disappointment with young people who are placed in combos in the middle or a bit lower on the list. A solution? Maybe mix up the levels instead of putting them in an ascending order?"
Lieven (70) from Merksem is a retired Dutch history teacher. He received private lessons when he was 6, two years before he went to music school. There he followed a classical piano course. Fun anecdote: when he went to play his pieces for his piano teacher on Wednesday afternoon, Kris De Bruyne was playing just before him. "His brother Koen was there too. And Jos Van Immerseel."
In his parents' home, only classical music was listened to; Lieven only came into contact with pop music - "something of the devil" - later on. Five years ago, he bought a keyboard and has been playing for at least an hour every day since.
"I was interested in playing in a group and so I started looking at the possibility of an internship. I had the choice between jazz and pop. I have no emotional attachment to jazz, so I chose the pop stage. For me, it's the first time I've been on a music internship."
Lieven knew the Halewyn Foundation: his grandfather, a professional musician, was a good friend of Walter Weyler, grandfather of Maarten and Mies and founder of the Halewyn Foundation. What expectations did he have? "The intention was to learn something and to play in a group. I did expect that I would be the oldest, that there would be many young people from art schools. But I thought there would be some older people too, even more than now. There are only three or four of my generation here.
He especially appreciates the listening ear of the teachers. "You can just talk to them about music and about the life of a musician. And these are people who are not only famous in Belgium. That they want to occupy themselves with losers like us..." It's just like being a football player at FC Borsbeek and then being allowed to play a match at Anderlecht...".
When asked for suggestions for the internship, he had to think for a moment. "Maybe the young guys would enjoy doing something completely different for an hour, like a football match, or dance or something. Or they could have a music quiz in the evening, for example."
The surroundings do charm him. "You come off the main road and immediately you have the impression that you are in Austria. I also notice that I never wake up at night here, something that happens at home. That means it is psychologically demanding, such an internship. I am really tired in the evenings. But be careful: it's good for your head, against dementia and stuff.
Hein, mouth organ
Hein (49), from Anderlecht, lives in Leuven and is a psychologist. Plays piano and harmonica, but graduated from the music academy on baroque recorder. Last year, he was on the jazz stage with recorder, this year for jazz piano and now on the pop stage with harmonica.
He started playing music as a toddler, in a kind of preparation for music school. It probably runs in the family: his deceased brother Bart was a talented professional bass player, whose career actually started during the jazz course in Dworp.
Jazz is actually his preferred music, just like his brother. "That freedom, being able to 'play', in the sense of how a child plays, having fun... When I was younger, with my brother playing music all the time, The Real Book was lying around the house in various copies. But there is no jazz department at the music school in Leuven. So I went through The Jazz Theory Book and The Jazz Piano Book by Mark Levine on my own, and the 'Aebersoldekes', which you used to be able to borrow from the Passage 44, were also quite popular. Because I started playing music at such a young age, I have absolute hearing. That's not always an advantage, especially when you have to play with saxophones: they say si b and I hear a do, and 'that's not right' in my head. Or when people say: you can transpose on that piano, that's easy. But then I get a kind of short circuit in my head, because a re is a re, that's not a do.
Why a pop studio now? "I want to get my horizons as wide as possible, and become good at both piano and harmonica playing. I also play the two together, with one of those racks around my neck. As a psychologist, I specialise in positive psychology, which looks at what makes people grow and happy. You then have the concept of 'flow': when people are intensely engaged in something and are challenged. Playing the piano and the harmonica at the same time puts me in flow, because your brain bandwidth is completely absorbed by three things: your left and your right hand, plus the harmonica. Then there is no more room to think: 'who am I', or 'what do people think of me'. You are just music then. The feeling that the music is playing you, not that you are playing music. And a 'mouth music' like that, you can really put your soul into that."
"You won't hear me say that pop is easier than classical or jazz. Playing a melody really according to the genre, according to the idiom, that it is good and beautiful, that is not easy."
But jazz in particular is his thing, and his first stage, last year in Dworp, felt like coming home. But jazz with recorder, no, "that was a big stretch.(laughs) So this year he took the jazz course for piano and now the pop course for harmonica. "These courses are a kind of rites de passage in Belgium. In the sense of: if you play jazz - but I think also pop - then you must have been here. It's also very good educationally: I have the feeling that in one week I get enough material to be able to work on in the coming year.
Wouldn't he like to see anything changed about the internship? After thinking about it for a while: "It is a lot - which is what I want in the end - and it is tiring. The ratio instrument lesson-combo? I am quite shy and the instrumental lessons are nice and safe. While combo: oh dear, that's with other people, other instruments. That is more outside my comfort zone, but it is outside that zone that you learn the most. And I can also enjoy playing with others, eh."
"Thanks to corona, the week is now divided into a few days of instrument lessons, followed by a few days of combo. I think the cross-pollination is actually better, where during the instrument lessons you can enthusiastically come up with a new chord that you learned in the combo or ask your instrument teacher how something you have to do in the combo works. So the formula of daily instrument lessons and combo is actually better for me."
Hein likes the atmosphere in the centre: "I have met some very interesting people here. For example, my roommate is a police commissioner who has been involved in murder and kidnapping cases. There is also an astronomer here. Very interesting. And if I may add this: I think that Mies should be honoured from time to time." Maarten is doing a great job here, but I think that behind the scenes Mies is doing a lot of work. That is not always seen.
Stanny (18) from Knokke-Heist has just finished secondary school and is starting a course in pop-drums in Ghent. His goal is to become a professional musician.
He was early on: from the first year of school, he went to music school. Not a musical family, but his parents gave him chances, without pushing him, he says. At the music school, he started in the classical direction of drums, from secondary school on it became pop and jazz, "to be able to play in ensembles."
"My preference is for pop. Also solid rock and funk." Despite his young age, Stanny, like Amber, is a habitué of the internships: he has been coming there for about four years. Also on the advice of a teacher at his music school and fellow students who had already been there.
"I think I expected to find people here with the same mindset. Similar musicians and musicians who were better than me. And that expectation came true. Before my first internship, I didn't know anyone outside of Knokke-Heist and of my age who also played music. Thanks to these internships, I now know musicians from all over Belgium. I have stayed in touch with a number of drummers and I see them again here.
Why does he come every year? "On the one hand because of the teachers, because they are great teachers, who often teach at conservatoires as well. But also for the connections: I like getting to know lots of people. And I want to keep improving my playing, especially the playing together with others. It is good to take lessons from a different teacher than the one you have been with all year. He immediately notices little things that can be improved.
"I think this is a good preparation for those who consider going to a conservatoire, but also for people for whom music is just a hobby: You are taught here by teachers of a high level without having to be at conservatoire level yourself. The teachers are very accessible.
Stanny also prefers instrument lessons in the morning and combo in the afternoon. "Sometimes in the combo you bump into things and then you can ask your instrument teacher for advice. Because of the corona measures, that was not possible now. And if I may give another tip: the possibility of a different kind of group lesson or workshop, for all students. Two years ago I was here on a jazz course and we did something with the whole group, something with African rhythms.
He has another piece of advice for the organisers, which will be especially helpful to drummers: "If you have instrument lessons in the morning and combo lessons in the afternoon, then dragging your equipment around can be a problem. The rooms where the combos rehearse should be in easily accessible locations, and preferably on the ground floor."
"There is the possibility of jamming in the evening, but I think it is a bit more difficult for beginners to participate if you are not an initiator. There is a big threshold: you see better musicians jamming and then it is difficult to say that you would like to play as well. Maybe it would be good to have an organised jam, led by a teacher. Or you could split up: in one room a guided jam and in another room a free jam."
Stanny doesn't mind the fact that they are in a remote area and can't go into town for a drink. "The day is well filled, so you don't feel the need to go out at night. Besides, there is a bar here where you can meet each other."
And as a final remark: "Perhaps the optional theory lessons in the evening should be advertised a bit more. You learn so much and with Maarten as your teacher, it's entertainment."
Jonathan (16) from Halle wants to become a professional musician, just like Stanny. He has been playing music for 11 years and is now studying jazz at the Kunsthumaniora in Brussels.
"I play jazz music there every day. But later on I want to be a session musician half-time and record pop songs and accompany pop singers in the studios.
Normally, I would have come to the jazz stage in July, together with my sister, but she had the coronavirus, so we couldn't come then. Because there were not many bass players for the pop week, the foundation invited me to participate now. I thought that was a good opportunity to broaden my musical understanding."
By the way, he had already followed the jazz training last year, on the advice of bassist Janos Bruneel, his teacher at school and bass instructor during the jazz training. He came especially to master the technique of the double bass. "My main instrument is electric bass guitar, but because I play a lot of traditional jazz, you also need to be able to play double bass, to have a good traditional sound. I learned a lot here and there are exercises that I am still working on. But it was also fun, a fantastic week, and that's why I wanted to come back this year."
But because of his sister's corona infection, the jazz stage fell through. The pop stage then. "It is called 'pop week', but the advantage - certainly compared to the jazz stage - is that it is broader. I've seen that pop is a very broad concept here: they play rock, a bit of jazz, blues, mainstream, Motown, everything actually. Whereas jazz week is more focused on playing standards. I think jazz week is more closed-minded, focused on one genre of music, while the pop stage is more open to what interests you personally and what can help you in what you want to do later in terms of music. So I think it's quite interesting."
He does not understand the corona arrangement for instrument and ensemble lessons. "We are all here in the same bubble, aren't we? So why not have instrument lessons in the morning and combo lessons in the afternoon every day like in the past? In itself, I don't mind the corona arrangement, but a whole day of instrument lessons is a lot. So is a whole day of combo. I think a mix during the day is better. Then you're not doing the same lessons and with the same teachers all day."
The daily move from instrument class to combo class in such a case? Jonathan looks at it pragmatically: "That way you also practise moving things around when you go to concerts, don't you? Moreover, the combo members helped each other with the lugging of material. That way you have social contact and you create a bond between the combo members."
At the start of the pop week, there were only two bass players: Jonathan, who was an advanced student, and another student who had not been playing for very long. Not easy for the teacher. "But he found the right middle ground, he let us discover many things, exercises that you can actually keep doing at any level. For example, I learned that I have to pay attention to my rhythm and especially that I have to learn to hold back. I usually play instrumental music, complicated music, in which I am often a soloist. Now I had to learn to play simply. To play purely in the service of the music, to listen to what the music needs. That is easier said than done. Yes, I am learning to restrain myself, to put my ego aside. By that I mean: just do what the music demands."
"The teachers? They are very open. You can ask them anything. Look, an arrogant teacher would not be a good teacher. A good teacher should not show you what he can do, he should improve what you cannot do yet. And it's good to get different views. Janos Bruneel, for example, explains something to me and I think it's right. When I go to Christophe Devisscher, I get a totally different explanation. And a third teacher will tell me something else. That can seem confusing, but actually I like it, because then I see different perspectives. I can see who I agree with the most. Or I can make a good mix. That's why I don't always want to stay with the same teacher. I already know that I won't stay at the same conservatoire for five years. I was told by bassist Nic Thys: leave after two years, change teachers. So I want to go to Amsterdam first, and then I might go to Sweden, to learn Scandinavian jazz. And once I have a master's degree, I might go to India for a few months. The more influences, the better my music will be. I'll keep learning all my life, I'm sure of that."