Playing Around with Ed Vogel

Edward Patrick Vogel is a Minneapolis Creative that is playing around with music. Ed has a real passion for making music and helping others make it too.  He has developed a series of coloring books that teach iconic music and art history all in one fell swoop. His studio is a little like a playground. Which makes perfect sense because he's having such a good time playing around. And, by toying around with the way we learn music, Ed has stumbled on an entertaining way to plunk away while you play. Here's what he had to say about his colorful idea.

Tell me about your project.
I am interested in associations and how they can enhance an experience. In this case it is presenting music to learn at the piano in the form of a coloring book. Here's how it works!

How long have you been playing the piano?
Off and on for about 15 years

How did you come up with the idea for this project?
I was teaching a "hands on" course in music theory at a summer camp in Albuquerque. I had twelve little keyboards and was expecting class sizes of twelve and the kids to be ten to fifteen years old. I ended up with classes of fifteen and twenty with kids from five to eighteen years old. The keyboards are too small to share so I needed to rotate groups of kids at the keyboards and something else. I chose music themed coloring books. One of the things I noticed during the sessions were that in addition to coloring many of the kids were dancing. Dancing to the music that they were learning right before they were going to sit down and play it. I thought to myself "there has got to be a way to throw a lasso around this!" Playing music, dancing, and coloring as an integrated activity would be a great way to learn and recreate. That was in 1998... think I am getting closer to being able to throw that lasso. 

What motivates you to create?
Nothing!
I am motivated by the possibility of an impossible task, to create something from nothing. 

What do you think connects music, dance, and art?
A mind body connection that is a very important part of being human. I suspect (hope) that this mind body connection is an aspect of all living things perhaps even core to a shared consciousness.

Where do you do most of your work?
I do some at home but I prefer to take sketch pads, computer, keyboards, and music out into the world. Coffee shops, parks, just sitting in my car enjoying a sunset or moonrise.

Do you come from a musical/artistic family?
Yes and no. We certainly did all enjoy music but only some of us played instruments. My father played piano and hated it as a child. He started learning and playing guitar much later in life, I think I was twelve or so. My brother Tony is a guitar impresario. Myself, I didn't start 

What's your day job?
I work in product development for a medical device company. A nice combination of analytical thinking and working with my hands. On any given day I might design an electronic circuit, build it, write a computer program, and work in the machine shop. It is pretty sweet.

What is your vision for your project?
Twin Cities Piano Lab is going to become a group piano education program along the lines of the Yamaha teaching system and Maryron Cole Group Piano. Yamaha is rigorous and Mayron Cole has fun and games. I am tending towards fun and games. An enrichment activity that creates works of art that illustrate a piece of music. 

What's on the horizon?
I am collecting images and music themes for several more "color and play piano today books" of the single page size. I think my primary emphasis is going to be on melodic themes and colorful pictures of classic art. 
1. Ravel's Mother Goose Suite
2. Nutcracker Dances - in progress but I think I need to change the art to scenes illustrative of what is going on in the ballet rather than Paul Klee abstracts
3. "You're Playing Leo's Song!" - a series of jazz standards themes for Leo the piano guy at the Normandy. Leo's thing is also in puzzle format which should I hope turn into something comparable to "Where's Waldo?" with music that you can play. Another aspect of working with Leo is the booklet is a souvenir when you tip him and I am hoping to send him to all of the "Pianos on Parade" pianos this summer.
4. Schumman's "Album of the Young"

Tell me about the French Connection. 
I went to Paris for Thanksgiving Holiday 2011 to walk around where Erik Satie lived and composed and played the music that I very dearly love myself. Also on a whim, the trip was priced at $799 for air and 5 nights lodging with breakfasts.

Erik Satie began his music career at Le Chat Noir in the 1890s and it just happened that someone had restored the the cafe in recent years so I had to pay a visit. I sat down with a drink and listened to a woman sing in French and English a variety of jazz standards. I stammered out some compliments and small talk in French and found out that Keri was from the US originally and now lived in Paris for the most part. She also has a company based there "Arts Embassy International." We stay in touch via email and Facebook.

Recently I discovered the music of Michel Legrand and "The Umbrellas of Cherborg" a "pop opera" and approached Keri with the idea of a complete graphic novel of the shown with the music in "color and play piano today" format. Along the lines of this:

The opera "Carmen" in storybook format.  The music shown is the "Toreador's Song"
She has to finish her current show and it is likely we will start with a single song as an insert to a program but the whole thing does have me thinking Paris for Thanksgiving 2014 may be a good idea.

Tell me about a Minneapolis Creator or Artist that you admire.
Joan Vorderbruggen. Joan really is emerging as the Twin Cities' Joan of Art post Joan Mondale. Her leadership in Artist's in Storefronts and at Block E is very inspiring to me because she includes lots of everyday people in her process. Also her exhibit at the Ledge "Letter from Carl" hits on all cylinders for me as a multimedia work. She communicated a very personal relationship that spanned a decade in a very accessible way. Carl's letters also read like poetry. Just a great show.

What is your favorite place in Minneapolis to see creative people doing what they do best?
Northrup King on open studio nights. House of Balls which is Allen Christian's studio and gallery. 

Tell me about your Cigar Box Guitar!
 I was teaching piano as a volunteer at a Pentecostal church in North Minneapolis.  None of the kids had money for a decent keyboard to have at home to practice on so I thought a nice project might be to design and activity where they made a real, tune-able, playable musical instrument.  Also incredibly inexpensive.  I did some research and discovered "cigar box guitars" and decided to take some example designs I found in a book "Cardboard Musical Instruments" (I believe) and adapt them to suit my student's needs.  It ended up taking several months and the church moved somewhere else and so the kids never saw the project.  I did do it with kids at a couple after school programs and Leonardo's Basement.  

Make Magazine!!! How did that Happen?
I was listening to NPR's "The Tech Report" (I think) and Mark Frauenfelder the chief editor of MAKE was on talking about DIY and new spirit of craft and I thought it was really interesting so I visited the MAKE website.   I saw a link "Write for MAKE" and clicked on it.  Instead of a bunch of gooblydegook legalese and stuff there was a simple contact form.  I don't think I even wrote anything.  I attached a picture of one of my guitars and a sound file.  Mark Fraunfelder emailed me back 10 minutes later.  "You have to write this article!"  

So we talked a couple days later on the phone and he explained how he liked to do stuff and his editing process which we agreed was a good fit.  Then he said "so 2500 words . . . does twelve fifty sound ok?"  The last magazine article I wrote was about that length and I was paid $100.  I was pretty sure he didn't mean twelve dollars and fifty cents so I said "sure fifty cents a words sounds reasonable."   I got it done in June and when the magazine came out in Oct 2006 I had no idea it was going to be the cover article.

Where can people purchase your books and learn more about you and what you do?
"Playing Around with the Moon" is available on Amazon. I also have books for sale on my website: http://twincitiespianolab.weebly.com/store/c1/Featured_Products.html

Copy & Photos by Jennifer Sandquist
Video by Ed Vogel