Monday, December 28, 2009

The Clock is Ticking



 

Times Square Ball 2010



Time waits for no one. So what am I doing with my day, this moment, my life? I have dreams, aspirations, & projects. Am I working on what is important to me right now? My needs are met and then some, my dreams are known to me. Am I doing everything I can to pursue my dreams? Particularly the dream of being a musician. Something I wanted since childhood that was sidetracked by behaviors that did not serve that dream nor even the practical aspects of my life.  But then I put those behaviors behind me and began chasing my dreams. Today I have love in my life, great family, music, and hope.

I have enjoyed many hours practicing, listening, learning about music. Taking risks with other musicians to stretch my musical abilities and personal comfort. Bearing countless encounters with my inadequacies relating to performance. As the Guitar Craft aphorism states: Small incremental changes are transformative.  I know this is true through experience. As this year winds down, my years wind down am I doing all that I can to truly be Livin' the Dream?

Now back to practicing...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

One Note at a Time

Yesterday we were cleaning our home prior to making dinner for family. I was tired and knew there was much work ahead of me. Frustration creeping in as I would have preferred a nap. While moving a dining room chair the notion of playing a piece came to me. This piece of music known as my life. Can I play one note at a time? Move this chair with the same care & attention as I give to a note on my guitar?




Viewing my life as a grand symphonic work what movement am I now composing? Are the themes coherent?  The melodies flowing effortlessly? The sounding of the notes resonant? The players being conducted harmoniously? The conductor relaxed, alert, and free to choose?  Can I be with just this one note?


The Marvel

I always marvel how birds can sing in the morning without any guarantee of finding the next worm.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Tonight I almost did not play ...




photo by: chun http://www.flickr.com/photos/chung660326/

Tonight I almost did not play my guitar. After all it is Christmas Day, I had a full day of laughter, love, and time spent with family. A late night last night with friends, food, & frolicking. A long month professionally. But I love playing my guitar. Love what comes over me when I am present with the notes. The nourishment for my heart when a note rings true.


So tired tonight, my right hand nails needing attention before I played. I followed a link to You Tube and heard Renaud Garcia-Fons play a five string double bass. So beautiful and inspiring. Then I knew - pick up my guitar. I may never reach his heights, but I can strive to reach my own. Took me a few minutes to settle in, and then music whispered a phrase. I looked at this a while and then played through Lost Ballon, followed by Dandelion Wish. Then another phrase appeared, soft & sensitive, supportive of my state. Played with this and smiled, kissed my guitar and put her away. I knew I did not need to develop these phrases or capture the idea. just let go. Music is always there, always.


Tonight I did not need to make great demands on myself, but I did need to play my guitar. The perfect ending to a lovely day. May we all find our connection with the creative spirit. Merry Christmas to all, Santa is never far away.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Learning

I am now trusting that music is always available to us all.


                                                     The question remains - am I?

                                                          

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gratitude


I am always grateful for music in my life. Really can not imagine my life without music. Since my youngest days music has been there providing joy, insight, & passion.

Over the years I have developed a ritual to taking my guitar from the case. Tonight as I went to take the guitar into my hands I paused. I felt the energy field of the guitar. Suddenly I was grateful for the guitar itself & the man who made it. Grateful for the tree that provided the wood, the water and minerals that nourished the tree and the people that harvested the wood. Grateful for the men who mined the ores that made the strings and the people and machines that made the strings. Grateful for all the accumulated knowledge, craft, & skills that brought my guitar into being.

When we touch any part of life we touch all of life.

The guitar was my introduction to the dharma I now follow. The dharma that nourishes me; that allows me to listen, to hear when music is whispering. Whispering the melodies of all of the interrelated lives that are my ancestors, the ancestors of my teachers, the ancestors of us all. Whispering the harmonies of life.                                                                                                                     Listen ...

Photo courtesy of Ignacio Gracian

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I wonder ...


I find myself saying " I wonder if ..." frequently of late. Perhaps this is what has lead to the Frames series to which was added Frame #7 on Friday and Frame #8 tonight. I heard the formulation of "I wonder" clearly tonight. I had 4 chords that I liked together, then in my mind "I wonder if" and I followed where that query led. At times I am hard on myself for certain areas of musical ignorance that I possess, yet in this ignorance, at times even innocence, I can allow myself to go places musically that a trained musician would not.

So I sit and wonder.

Photo by Pablo Mandel Circular Studio

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

. . . . . Five Approaches

Letting go ...
       
                  Allowing ...

                                        Watching . . .

                                                            Waiting   .   .   .

                                                                                Wondering.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Simplicity

Picked up The Art of Practicing by Madeline Bruser and opened to a chapter by this name. I knew I needed help this evening, so far the day had been tough & discouraging. As I approached my practice time I sat for a few minutes, connected with my body, watched my mind, & breathed softly. Happy to know that I had music to turn to.

I went through my ritual of opening my case. By the time I was embracing my guitar I was smiling, yet I knew that tonight needed to be simple. No great demands, perhaps play through some pieces and allow these melodies to sooth me, open me, even inspire me. After a few minutes of warm up improvisation, I began with Gathered Hearts, my focus less than I desired it to be. I began again, abadoning the tempo, listening to the notes, feeling them vibrate against my chest. I moved onto Livin' the Dream, addressed an issue in one section and realized I needed to file my left hand nails - again. Having strong nails that grow fast is a blessing,  but as with all of life maintenance  is required.

Back to Livin' the Dream, playing it gently. Acknowledging my departed friend Mark who it was written for, allowing the notes to wash over me. I then played the first piece that ever came through me, the title of which is the name of this blog. But that is a story for another time. While I was not prepared to move onto something new, I found myself playing some arpeggios I have recently found. One chord in a pattern of 5 + 6, then another chord played in two different patterns of 7. This rhythmic structure is different than my original conception, but I am exploring the possible. Tonight this felt right, maybe even more musical. Learning more and more to let go of the initial idea that has led me to an interesting place and to just dwell & develop the new space.

I worked with this for 15 minutes and wondered 'is this musical or am I just enjoying the challenge of playing this.' I noticed this years ago and this still surfaces. Nothing wrong whith extending my ability if that is all that comes from the pursuit. I added the next set of chords, played with these transitions for another 15 minutes. Then time for a break which I have spent typing.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sing Beautifully


Yesterday I was a bit tense in the morning. My anger sparked twice but did not ignite. I knew I needed to breathe and see what was fueling the sparks. So easy to displace anger on the minor events of others. Finding the true cause(s) can be subtle. While breathing I remembered how happy I have been while the new pieces have been taking shape. I heard myself say I wish I was home working on one of my compositions.

And then the whisper that I was. I am always making music. At this particular instance I was composing my solo voice piece for "Friday Morning Work Song." Presto and agitito were the tempo markings, the notes staccato, improvised in a dire key.  All of which is wonderful if this is the music I wish to be 'singing.'

What is music? Notes organized in time is one view. A quality organized in sound. That gives me pause. What is this quality I was hinting at in my "vocal piece" and is this the music that would best serve life in this moment? Now I was moving my "musical piece" from an  improvisation to a composition. Not that one is inherently superior, just moving from a piece "composed' in the moment to one where the structure, timbre, and notes were being considered and reflected upon. The theme being reworked. Tempo slowing to largo, timbre shifting to tasto, melodies evolving sensitively. The intention to Sing Beautifully, to Sing Joyfully being formed. Acknowledging the seed of fear, but not nourishing it. Choosing instead to water the seeds of peace, joy, and wonder in me; in life. Grateful for the practice that sustains my song. Breathing in I step back into the stream of life, breathing out I smile. Composing life one breath at a time, when I remember.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Possible Rhythmic Streams

I had sent Stream Ohrstrom a message about the blog from December 2 mentioning our pursuit of 31. He read the posting played with his vibraphone and messaged me that a breakdown of 5+6+7+7+6 had a better flow for him. This coupled with some of my orginal chords in C phygrian from last night was my jumping off point for tonight. Always good to have that bridge between practices. I did enjoy how this felt and began a musical investigation using chords from C phygrian, C Lydian & F# minor. Was using 3 chords from each mode and could not quite find the third chord that worked.




My body tense and tired so I decided to take a walk. Moon was full last night but it was pouring down rain here. I was enjoying the moonlight and a sprinkling of Christmas lights when another possibilty to explore these relationships came to me. Good to move those muscles and relax, allowing different solutions to appear. Back home to give this a look and there is promise. But for tonight I need to let go, curl up with Dr. Faustus and get a good nights rest. The day job beckons to be busy tomorrow and the remainder of this month.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dives and Leaps


                                          More of Frame # 6

Last night when updating this blog I gave in to my tiredness and did not elaborate on the genesis of Frame # 6. I made notes on the process this morning before leaving for work because it was interesting to me and could be useful to myself or others. I was sitting quietly for 15 minutes before playing last night, allowing the days events to fade and my mind to quiet. A thought arrived of using the low C as the basis for arpeggios again in a rhythm of 31. The divisions might be 7,7,7,7, & 3. The chords based on C Dorian, C Phrygian, C Lydian with an Bb & F#, & C Mixolydian. Not my usual way of investigating but a place to take a dive into and perhaps a leap from.

Picking up my guitar I found chords to make an initial representation of these mods of C and began playing. The arpeggios in 7 were musical but I could do nothing with the 3. I changed the arpeggios to be in 9 and investigated a pattern of 9,9, 9 & 4. The nines be subdivived as 4 & 5. Again musical but could not find a working solution. Having my attention sufficiently engaged now I abandoned the rhythmic framework and began to play.

I arrived in interesting musical areas based on the previous investigations. The search for musical patterns had pushed my brain and now led me into areas I otherwise would not have found. When I let go of my preconceived notions I was able to hear tonights whisper from the muse. I made notes on the piece, three rough takes and played it for my wife twice. When I was finished with my work for the evening I looked at a bookshelf and borrowed part of  a title as the working title for this piece - Taking the Veil.

And I still have the arpeggios in 9 to use as a diving board for another evening, perhaps right now.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Frames #4, 5, and 6


                         Trust. What is trust? Is it learned? Earned?

Listening to an excerpt from Stones off of This Fragile Moment as I type. Toyah words juxtaposed on my own are generating interesting & fleeting thoughts. Should I keep this excerpt on repeat as I type? " It's a beautiful question ... but your answer is wrong ..."

Since playing the benefit Saturday night I have not played an established piece. On Sunday a new piece inspired by the notion of Frames that I have been holding came out. I was exhausted in Sunday and in this slowly paced piece just followed where the next note chose to be. Quick notation and a rough recording to mp3 to secure the idea.


Stream Ohrstrom and the Blue Dragon Band was the final act at the benefit on Saturday night. I met Stream in my early days of Guitar Craft when struggling with odd rythms. Tony Geballe suggested I get a set of Bongos to work on  rhythms so as to just focus on getting them down and not concerning myself with the challenges of playing the guitar. I went to HMT and Stream introduced me to the dumbek, a middle eastern goblet shape hand drum that I fell in love with. I played the thing in the car as my now wife drove to Baltimore to visit family. What a woman!

I took lessons with Stream for some time and enjoyed many musical moments with him alone and during the weekly Beat Jam that he still hosts on Friday nights. I recently reconnected with him in October and he recalled how my favorite rhythm then was a pattern of 31, with both of us playing it differently but syncing on the one.

On Monday evening when I sat to practice I again began investigating where the notes might take me. An arpeggio in seven appeared and was followed by one in six. Another one in seven and then I hit on the framework of 31. A structure of 7,6,7,6, 5. I played with this for the next hour and 45 minutes, not even stopping to get a drink of water. Something emerged. I can not play it yet so no rough take with the mp3 recorder. Thought I might work with it tonight but...

Another piece emerged. Quiet & mysterious. Notated and recorded and then played for Joann twice.

Where does music come from? Why does music come into being?  A recent conversation with Robert about performance had him telling me that music is always available. While I have heard this before I heard him differently this time. The challenge is for me to be available to music.  Can I trust music to be there? Yes. Can I be available?


I am not sure why the creative output this week. I suspect it has something to do with the focus of the past weeks preparing for the performance. For now I am just trusting the process. And returning to listen to Stone one more time ...

Photo Credit: Ignacio Gracian, permission pending.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Darhyl Lyons Benefit

A very enjoyable event with much love expressed for Darhyl and by him. I am privledged to have been included.

I opened this diverse evening with a 30 minute solo set. Felt good playing, part of the crowd was listening, part merrymaking. Expected at a gathering such as this. Saw some old friends and met some new ones.

The set:

Dandelion Wish
August Born
Matka Boska
Scattered Hearts
Livin' the Dream
Gathered Hearts
Dancin' Free

Today was a day of spending time with family and a couple short naps. I picked up my guitar this evening with the notion to explore Frame # 4. I altered my tuning using my new spider capo and began playing notes slowly. A slow introspective motion seems to be present in these experiments & examinations I am calling Frames. I taped this one 3 times to listen and then continue the piece a bit further. Currently weighing in at 2 minutes.

Nice to have a refreshing pause such as this. Just play with my guitar, explore what the muse might have me find, let go of polishing pieces. Learn, love, & let go ...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Frames #3




Thanksgiving Day - a day to pause, reflect, and nourish our seeds of gratitude. Certainly I am blessed with abundance. Family, love, music, and good friends provide me with a life that is so worth living. I spent most of the day with family and loved ones. There was much laughter and harmony.

I found 45 minutes in the afternoon in which I was intending to practice the set for Saturday night. However I began warming up with an improvisation and heard what I needed to hear. The time was spent playing with an idea that appears to fit into what I am calling Frames. This is the third one of which generally will be very short solo guitar pieces that provide a Frame, a window looking in or out. A catalyst for introspection perhaps.

After dinner preparation and a short trip to join family I returned home happy and tired. I did not feel like practicing, but I invoked my two times to practice rule and carried on. My work was not the most spirited but I did what was needed to keep the set list alive in my hands, heart, and head. A small effort, one in a long series of efforts, for which I am grateful to have the time and ability. May the muse whisper to us all today and always.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

One Small Part

In Guitar Craft I have learned how changing one small part changes everything. This is subtle, something I have experienced in my guitar practice many times before, and I continue to be amazed when I experience this again. Tonight I decided to focus on one section of Dandelion Wish that I play poorly. Has to do with moving from playing lots of arpeggios into playing an artificial harmonic, getting my right hand back to more arpeggios and then playing two artificial harmonics in the 15th position, and then right back to arpeggios.

Since I am opening with this piece at the benefit for Darhyl Lyons on Saturday I need this piece to take off. To do so I need these harmonics to be crisp and in time. I slowed the metronome down to 60 bpm to facilitate seeing what I am and am not doing. After about 12 minutes I could play this reliably. I took a quick look at August Born and then returned to this part again. After a couple minutes I increased to 62 bpm. Played at this tempo for 5 minutes then played through Scattered Hearts. Back to the part at 62, nailed it and incresed to 64.  After getting it reliable at 68 I took a break.

Returning from the break I played it at performance tempo and was able to nail it. Happy I returned to 68 and slowly increased to 76bpm. Once I was satisfied at this tempo I played through the piece with the metronome. I played the artificial harmonics with confidence botht times this section appears. I then moved on to run the set. This was when I saw how this quality of care and attention had spread. The set was well played for 6 pieces. I stumbled a bit in the final piece, part of this was fatigue in my hands, part getting tired overall. A good nights work. What small part shall I focus on tomorrow?


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Designing a Set List


I am playing at a benefit this coming Saturday in Takoma Park, MD for Darhyl Lyons a musician who has been active for the community in a variety of ways. Stream Ohrstrom & the Blue Dragon will also be performing music. There will also be a dance performance, martial arts display, a fashion show, food,  and other events. If your in the area this is sure to be an inspiring event.

I wrote a set list this past Sunday consisting of seven pieces, two new pieces and one that I needed to relearn. Playing through this last night I was unhappy with the flow of the set. Tonight I played the first four pieces where the energy seemed to get stuck and listened to her feedback. I now have a modified seven piece set list that is stronger. Need to brush up on two older pieces now, August Born & Scattered Hearts. I dropped one of the new pieces Kinnara, but will retain Dancin' Free.

I am not sure why I was hesitant to include Scattered Hearts in this set. I have always enjoyed performing this piece and has an energy that is different from most of my pieces. I have not always utilized it wisely in my placement in a set and am my own emotional response can be strong with this piece. But for now she sits in the middle of the set. Amen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Listening II

Today I need to practice listening. Every day actually but some days this is more apparent to me than others.

I need to listen skillfully. Listen without assigning guilt, without judgement. I need to listen while allowing my emotional response(s) to play at pianissimio. To listen to myself listening . To listen with my heart in this improvisation of life while knowing that my melodic and harmonic choices will affect others playing, others responses, and the future of the ensemble.

For now I will sit quietly and prepare myself to listen.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Etude

In the early part of my guitar practice tonight I was working with  the Allegro in A minor Etude by Matteo Carcassi as transcribed for New Standard Tuning by Bert Lams. Decided to use this to broaden my fingerstyle technique. A bit distracted at first then I began settling into playing. I thought this is the best part of my day when I sit down with my guitar. But then I said wait I minute I love seeing Joann when I come home from work.

And I love embracing the day upon awakening, and Qi Gong in the morning, and my sitting. Generally I really enjoy seeing most of my collegues at work. And my family. And ... suddenly I realized most of my day and days are truly blessed. I have love, family music, health, and a way of life that sustains me.

So while I was working with the Etude to broaden my guitar technique it rapidly broadened my perspective. Life is very good.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sounds of Life

6:30 pm

Sitting quietly in my living room when suddenly the wind invites a crashing chord on the wind chime. The wind, the chimes, and myself return to silence.

Then the bass sound of a car door closing as the furnace crescendoes into a pulsing drone, the clatter of little feet playing an accelerando on the pavement. Key change as my grandaughter bursts through the door reciting text from a book on tape she had been listening to. Laughter, shrieks, and racket ensues in a post modern Ode to Joy.

8:30 pm
Happy to pick up my guitar as she lays down to rest. Life is very good. Began with ear training and work on Dandelion Wish. Break over. Time to play through and examine Why?


Photo by Ted Andes all rights reserved



Thursday, November 12, 2009

Frames

8:30pm EST

After my usual Qi Gong and sitting this morning I left for work. I choose to drive in quiet and take in the leaves and rain for the beginning of my commute today. Then I played some ear training exercises for the final 10 minutes. When I got out of my car I noticed that the rain sounded in a way I have never heard. I wondered was it all the leaves on the parking lot or my concentrated listening with the exercises. I posted this to Facebook and one musician said both. The good news I was present to notice and happy for this intriguing sound.

Various quotes arose to frame my day today.



Photo by Baron von Willig. All rights reserved.


"It is not we who create performance but performance which creates us" (Daevid Allen)

Certainly true for me, but I leave you to ponder this.

From an AT person: Alexander Technique -because we create habits. Are you creating what you hope for in your habits?

And later I found- "A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence." ~Leopold Stokowski

Finally from our book discussion group tonight, the book we are using "you are here" by Thich Nhat Hahn. "Has the most wonderful moment of your life already happened?"

A rich and thoughtful day. Smiling as I remember now that the Tuning the Air team is setting up for tonight's show in Seattle. Now I am off to practice.

10:10 pm EST

Just completed a practice that had joy throughout. I want to say this is rare but these days that my be more my norm. Need to look at this. Anyhow I began with improvising. One phrase really resounded with me and I followed where it led. Called this Frames as this was in my brain from the earlier posting. So far it is short and that is wonderful. Perhaps a series of minature pieces called Frames is in order. Perhaps not. Worked on Stepping Stones,  a new piece that came to me & I am now learning how to play. Delighted in playing through Livin' the Dream and then Gathered Hearts.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why?

We killed a man tonight. We called him the sniper. Easier that way, put a label on him, let go of the name his mother gave him, let go of his pain, his life.

He did horrible things, so many suffered, many enduring pain and loss that is unimaginable. More of us suffered smaller discomforts – fear of gassing our cars, of going shopping, of … living our lives.

So we killed him. Our society, our culture, our fear, all that shaped him, that taught him how to kill.

I do not know the man. Guess I need to rephrase that I did not know this man, John Allen Muhammed. I know he had parents, family, people like us. He was sick and he killed.

I thought of him tonight. Could not watch the hype on TV, just took out my guitar at 7pm, like I hope they (us) would let me on my last day if our fear had caught up with me. After my final meal, after family, if there was any, had to leave. I wrote a piece, perhaps his piece,a piece he will not hear. I was able to get lost in the sound of my strings, listening, following where the notes wanted to go. Grateful I could forget what we were about to do. I wanted to hold what he might be feeling, what I might be feeling if it was me watching my final moments tick away. But then it was time to join my wife. As I put away my guitar I wondered what it would be like to know that I was wiping down my guitar strings for the final time. Closing my case, now a casket of memories.


At 8:45 EST my wife and I quietly sat. Images of ‘the snipers’ acts flowed into my mind. I wondered how he was feeling? What it would be like to count my final breaths … Then I found my breath, my mind slowed; I sent him good wishes. I sent the families and friends of his acts love and understanding. I saw him walking his final steps with our officers of the law holding him, guiding him on his walk with justice.

Again I found my breath. At 9:06 EST I sensed that his life was over as I looked at the clock. I do not know how long we take to kill someone, but I knew that his bowels had evacuated, his blood stilled, his breath no more. His curtain had been drawn, yet we are still on the stage.

9:40 pm EST November 10, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

Listening


Musicians need to listen. Actually everyone needs to listen. The world is getting louder all the time. So tune in and listen:

- to yourself while playing.
- to others you are playing with
- to your muse. For this I need silence.
- to your body (if I did this faithfully I never would have had tendonitis nor would I be so tired right now.
- to yourself while playing via a recorder and then listen to this. Now what do you hear? Do this in a positive constructive manner.
- to your loved ones, the world will be a better place.
- to those you dislike, they have a lesson for you also.
- to learn period!
- to the messages you tell yourself.
- to the birds and the insects, the oceans and streams, the stars and children.

And listen to what you say to others, please listen.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Evenness & Passion


Listening, listening, more listening all the time. Currently insects singing outside over the dehumidified drone in the basement. Tonight I began transcribing the lesson I had with Tony Geballe last week addressing my right hand in Dancin' Free. As always Tony had good insight into my playing and gave me an approach for the piece and that will improve my right hand in general. Found a comfortable place to work with these exercises on the metronome and enjoyed the practice.

I have always enjoyed working on exercises, looking at technique, the subtle use of my hands. At one point I was told I was spending too much of my practice time on exercises and needed to spend more time with music. A balanced approach to my instrument. These days the emphasis is more on music, but when the music needs assistance out come the exercises. And as I said tonight I really enjoyed them. I am aiming for an evenness of sound and rhythm as I play these arpeggios in triplets at the beginning of this piece. To not rush the rests nor cut the note values of any of the notes.

Recently I have been at three outstanding musical performances. The first was Todd Rundgren performing the entire album of his epic work A Wizard, A True Star. Last Thursday I heard the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra perform Bela Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra and then this past Sunday The Fry Street Quartet performed Bartok's First String Quartet. All of these performances were powerful and the music played with great passion and I was transported. My wish is that I may reliably play with power and passion. With an evenness in my approach coupled with my passion for music and the discipline to work and develop my skills - all is possible.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Juggling Priorities


Could be subtitled - A Day in the Life.

Up at 4:30 today, rested and ready. After grooming and sitting out the door at 6:15.

Good to be at work early as I am behind from my recent illness. Listened to Dancin' Free on the way to work and sang along with the notes. I really have this piece in my ear now, but the opening arpeggios are not in my hand. Went to play "air fingerstyle" with the right hand at a stoplight and realized I need to sit with this and write out the fingering. While Tony was here he helped me map out a systematic approach to mastering these arpeggios. An added benefit to have an engineer/producer who is also an accomplished guitarist.

After 9 plus hours at work home for dinner and delightful conversation with my wife. Spent 40 minutes with my guitar working on the revisions of a piece. Played this for Joann and received her feedback. Off for a 45 minute walk and played with this piece in my head. Back home to work on the menus for the upcoming Guitar Craft course in Seattle this month. Now back for another look at the new piece before retiring.

No matter how busy I am I find that hour to work with the guitar, sometimes more.

After listening to a rough take of this piece I heard where editing is in order for one section and an idea to experiment with in another section. Now I have the bridge to my practice tomorrow.

What have you done today to further that which you love?

Photo by: Sandra Prow

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Write Your Goals

First day at full strength since the flu invaded me. I wrote out my monthly goals and with a bit of terror began addressing the musical ones. Great progress made on one piece. Was able to address my errands and had a nice walk in the sun and one by moonlight. Never underestimate the power of writing down your goals. Many thanks to Tom Redmond for always telling my to write it down.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Distortion


Planning; so much practicing; listening, visualizing, & practicing again. Dissecting pieces, playing ever so slowly. Then finally yesterday wonderful engineer, producer, guitarist extraodinaire and dear friend Tony Geballe arrived. We knew my acoustic amp was dying and went shopping and found an out of production Genz Benz that fit our needs and was less money than I was prepared to spend. Experimented with the amp and mic placement, set levels, and put on new strings last night.

Today we hit record and arrgggh distortion in the mix. Checking cables and switched preamps and still this low end presence. Off to buy a new mic, perhaps the dampness of the basement affected the condenser mic. Upon returning back to setting levels and to work we went. We recorded good takes of Kinnara and Prayer From a Small Room. We worked with Dancin' Free but I could not play the opening bars with conviction.

So not the way we planned this day but some very good work was accomplished. Personally I am happiest that the distortion only affected the mic. I was fine, Tony was fine. One very important piece of information I gleaned from my last recording process that I intend to apply to this one is very clear. How we get there is more important than when. I do not want to allow a technical issue distort my relationship with myself or those I am working with. Distortion is fine on an electric guitar but I must strive for clarity.

Photo by:

Friday, September 25, 2009

Recording Blues and Flues




I had scheduled a recording project with Tony Geballe this weekend to begin work on my next solo guitar release. Being an organized sort of fellow I set this up months ago. I did not take into account a sneak attack by the flu. For one that prides himself on his planning skills ... Needless to say guitar work the past four days has been minimal so hopefully the preparation of the past few weeks will suffice.

During the past weeks I have applied a variety of techniques to learning the pieces I wish to record. All are solo compositions of my own that came to me sometime in the past year. The past few months the muse has favored me with several new pieces that kept me busy. Thus three of the four pieces needed to be relearned and one of them went through a fairly major revision. Perhaps this is why I am the least confident of that particular piece " Leaving Song."

Beside dissecting the pieces and practicing transitions and phrasing; I recorded rough takes of all them over time. Much time has been spent listening to these takes primarily on my commute to work to get these pieces in my ear. I can now hear them with out playing them. Even sing them a bit. Plus they have all been notated. This is all new ground for me as I continue to learn what works for me to achieve growth in my musical abilities.

I have also worked with visualizing the pieces. Visualization of the fretboard has never come easy to me. Progress has been made in this area recently probably due to having the pieces in my auditory memory. Last night and tonight while doing my Alexander Technique lie downs I was visualizing while resting my left elbow on the floor and allowing my left hand to move and form the needed chord shapes. I can not verify if this is adding anything to my performance of the pieces but will experiment more.

Photo by:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

360 Degrees of Sound


Tuning the Air

This unique guitar performance concept demands to be heard. Nine guitarists with you in the middle. A circle of musicians enveloping you in their dynamic performance. The new season begins tonight September 24, 2009 and runs through December 17th at the Freemont Abbey Arts Center in Seattle, Washington. If you are anywhere close to Seattle on a Thursday make sure you experience this.

For more information go to: http://www.tuningtheair.com/

For a sense of their performance visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZDi1KOIQOM

Sunday, September 20, 2009

We All Have Our Song to Sing


I've been quiet on the blog this past week, but still active musically. Preparing for a recording session next weekend with Tony. Spending my time addressing parts of four pieces that will be recorded. Also had some work done on my guitar by a fantastic luthier, John Warden, who in a conversation reignited the desire to pursue a musical approach I have played with briefly in the past. Of course finding the time to experiment with this is another consideration, but when the passion arises I tend to find the time.

While walking on Sligo Creek just now the evening insects have begun their serenade. Accompanied but the occasional siren, car radios blaring, helicopters, and the creek another symphony unfolds. When one car passed on the road with spanish music blaring and the driver singing at the tops of his lungs, I felt his joy from music, even though this form of music does not appeal to me. And that is when tonight's blog title hit me, we do all have our song to sing.

Are you singing yours?

Photo generated by Brian Eno's 77 Million Paintings.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Focus


Qi Gong on the beach this morning. Sun was shining & the surf delightful. A great way to begin my day; & coupled with my sitting, a great benefit to my guitar practice. Focusing on my breath and movement, fostering harmony in body and mind. I know my practice of Qi Gong has positively impacted my guitar playing. These gentle movements that align my energies and awaken the sensation of my flesh. Preparing me to sit with my guitar and aim to have this same presence while playing.

At one point watching the Ocean’s relentless, yet focused motion I realized that the ocean, like the breath, goes on regardless of whether I am paying attention. The ocean, like the breath, is magnificent when I am observing. Both are life. What happens to my playing when I am paying attention? Does the mystery of music come alive? Do I become alive?

What is the volume of air that has moved through my lungs in this lifetime? Could this fill the oceans? Fill the spheres? All life is one, all inter-are. One song is all songs when sung by the heart.

Music Sweet Music.

Life Beloved Life.

Sit; breathe, learn; love; let go…
Sit; breathe, learn; love; let go…

Always beginning – Always letting go.

I love music. Can I love the musician? But, of course, I can. Slowly … ever so slowly, I learn, love, let go over time. Just as a piece of music develops through time; love of life evolves through time. The melody of life ebbs and flows; harmonies flowering and then dischord takes root. Another line begins, develops, crescendos. My practice is the audience allowing the music of life to evolve.

Listen … Listen … Play …

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Swimming in an Ocean of Music


After warming up tonight I decided that it would be good to record takes of what I will be recording with Tony Geballe later this month. I do rough takes often these days to capture ideas that I am working on. Generally these takes are for my own listening, perhaps my wife if she is in the car. I was a bit amazed when I hit record tonight at the mental activity that ensued. Something about knowing that someone else would be listening to these takes as my plan was to email them to Tony to give him an idea of the music we will be recording.

Eventually I got up to stretch and practice Qi Gong to get my energy flowing and my mind and body harmonized. At one point I was just moving in a swimming manner, when the notion that I am swimming in an ocean of music came to me. I suggested this to myself when I returned to my stool. This quality of swimming in music rather than playing my guitar brought out a sensitiveness in my movements which was lacking earlier. Prior to recording the following takes I allowed my hands to gently move to and fro and sense the energy mount. Then I brought them to my guitar. I will work with this notion more.

Takes of three pieces were recorded. Soon to be sent off to Tony.

Are you swimming? Stay tuned.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Slow Practice


Startled awake at an ungodly hour today with a phone call from work regarding an urgent issue. Nearly thirteen hours later I arrived back home, tired to say the least.

Shower, snack, and some relaxing led up to guitar time. Decided to be easy on my self. Work at known areas of pieces that need improving for the recording project and to not plan to take on new challenges. Perhaps this notion borne from exhaustion is a pearl of wisdom to be examined more often.

I recall from Madeline Bruser's The Art of Practicing: A Guide to Making Music from the Heart that one most be in love with the mechanics of playing. I certainly am. After playing through Kinnara I focused on a section with tricky fingering and slowly played through. Soon found myself taking joy in the movements of my fingers, praising the progress being made. The long day was forgotten, I just sitting, playing, and listening.

Moved on to "the bridge" from last evenings practice. I felt it deserved to be played with to respect where this took me last night. My practice could have come to a halt, energy lost, but instead I was able to complete my efforts. I have been listening to rough takes of this piece and the others I am working on in the car during my commutes. This is paying off by getting the pieces in my ear and allowing me to hear where some parts need fleshing out or trimming.

Tonight while slowly working on the second section the notes opened up for me in a new way and what I already felt was good became better. Now I can transition to the next section in a musical way. I incorporated an idea I have heard in my mind. This has not worked in past attempts, but tonight I heard what followed in a different way and changed this section drastically. The idea was weak and needed firming. I recorded a rough take and will listen in the morning.

After a peek at the full moon I am going to play through two other pieces and then sacrifice myself to the gods of sleep.

Stay tuned! Keep making music.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Bridge


The Bridge is an interesting concept I found in Twlya Tharp's book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life . She strives to end a practice session with a bridge to the next days work.

Tonight was one of those nights where I needed to draw on my discipline to even pick up my guitar. Thursdays are always tough professional days and today had added challenges. I arrived home later than I prefer, had dinner, and prepared our home for a book discussion group.

By 8:30pm I was ready to curl up in a big chair, but I had my night off on Tuesday. Plus I do have a recording session with Tony at the end of this month so to the basement I went. Good work with Kinnara and I moved on to Leaving Song. A short break and I decided to take a look at one of the newer pieces. Very difficult to get this piece flowing tonight. I have not played it in a few days. Negativity began creeping in. I struggled a bit.

Then I let go. Stretched a bit and remembered the bridge. I decided to just work on the first two sections and get myself to a place for where I could begin tomorrow night. Progress made. I felt good as I completed the session.

Photo by:

Monday, August 31, 2009

Beautiful, Solid, & Free



I began reading a book of Thich Nhat Hahn this week titled "you are here." On the first page he describes how he begins his day offering incense and making "the vow to live each moment of it in a way that is beautiful, solid, and free." I was touched by this beautiful aspiration of this renowned Zen Master.


How to apply to my own practice? Certainly a simple vow for one to undertake, though I am well aware of how formidable the challenge. I practice daily, find a place of peace and serenity, and then as the day progresses' I lose my sense of the breath. Then I remember and return, lose the breath, and again remember. The moments of remembering are what is precious, when I have the opportunity to wake up, to live. But still something about Thay's vow woke a desire in me to practice with this vow.

In my guitar practice I usually have goals, exercises to work with, pieces to learn and polish, and being open to respond to the creative impulse. I center myself at the beginning of my practice period in various way, some of which have been described in previous posts. Tonight I made this vow for the time of my guitar practice. Simply to be alive and to enjoy my passion for music is beautiful.

This vow changed the quality of my work tonight. Changed the quality of my playing. Every note like every breath is beautiful when I am present. To be relatively free of judgements while I learn this piece is precious. I suspect that I may even learn this and any other pieces I approach in this way easier; at the very least more enjoyable and fun.

More soon.

What are you practicing?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Addressing the Instrument

Some buzzing developed of late on my Godin on two of the strings. Off to see John Warden, a local luthier of great reputation. He tweaked my neck, the guitar one that is, and the buzz is gone. Action a bit high now but still playable. Need to go back in a couple weeks when the local humidity decreases to have a set-up prior to my next recording session at the end of September.

Listened to Chris Anderson's Free: The Future of a Radical Price during the commute. This is available as a free podcast or for sale.

After a gentle warm up I played through several works that I now and just enjoyed listening to the pieces. So much time lately has been devoted to new works that I felt the need to relax and enjoy my playing. Reviewed three other pieces.

Had a delightful conversation with my friend Pablo Mandel who did the design work for Scattered Hearts and the website. Such a wonderful man. We discussed two potential titles I have for the next release. He preferred the one I have been favoring so looks as if that decision is made.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Communion

Some nights I just need a quiet communion with my guitar, with myself, perhaps with music. Actually every night I need the communion with music, just at times this does not happen. Sometimes I am not available. So I practice.

For the first time in my life I just noticed that communion and communication appear to share the same root.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Trust the Process



Currently having concerns about balance in my guitar work. Recently I have been blessed with a download of new material from the muse. Three new solo guitar pieces in the past 4 weeks and a couple solid ideas for pieces. All of this is blurring in my ear. Plus there are pieces that were written during our holiday in Cambodia this spring which I have yet to get into my hands. On top of this I need to prepare for a recording session with Tony Geballe next month.

I find myself concerned with possibly loosing some of this material. This has happened in the past when I have not been as reliable in my recording rough takes and notating new material. And so what if I do loose a piece of music. Music is a gift to me. Perhaps the gift had accomplished what was needed? Trust the process.

I listened to the new works on my commute again today. Had one of them floating in and out of my brain during the day. This always helps my process when I have the music in my ear. While listening on the way home I suddenly heard the ending crystallize for "When Love is Taken." Fortunately I was listening on my portable mp3 recorded so I pulled over, hit record and sung the new ending into the machine. Good thing I did as I can not hear this ending now.

Same solution to this concern as any other - Pick up the guitar. Played two pieces that are known for a warm up. Reviewed two pieces that I know we will record, then looked at the three new works. Ended on a positive note by playing the first piece that ever came to me.

How are you maintaining balance in your pursuits.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

One Hour Forty-Five Minutes

I invited three local crafty guitarists to come over today and work on group improvisation. Long time friends Steve Geest and Peter Legowski were able to take part. I have played more notes with these two people in various configurations than any one else on the planet. Four different groups: oDD CamP, Solaris Guitar Trio, FingerPaint, and Special Guest.

Due to various family obligations amongst us we had 1 hour and 45 minutes to play with. We began with circulations for the first 15 minutes. There were so many extended beautiful melodies coming out of us, that I could have been satisfied circulating the entire time. After a brief pause an improvisation began. Then another one. Spirited exploration by all three so us. I was happy to watch myself being free enough to play. I was not holding back, just listening and experimenting. Occasionally even responding. Very valuable information for myself.

Quickly showed them the japanese scale based on C and we were off exploring again. A suggestion to play "water." There was a hesitancy to begin this, but then slowly, surely music evolved. The next improv began with groups of harmonics being played in five. What developed had many moments of sheer beauty for me. Most of the time I held the simple pattern of harmonics with some variations as Steve and Peter took this places. I wish we had been recording to be able to learn from this one. An embroidery was introduced which after two times around took off in various directions of the unordered kind. During this time my body began tightening. We had decided not to take a break after 45 minutes and now at around the hour and 15 minute mark I was losing any semblance of a relaxed relationship with my body.

When that improv completed it did not seem to make sense to take a break, yet even a brief shaking out of the limbs would have helped me. Perhaps I should have suggested it, but I did not want to disturb our process. Another improv with some actual dialogue between Peter and myself trading licks. This was fun and a personal highlight. Both Steve and Peter possess very musical natures, are good players, have played in a variety of contexts, and can play fearlessly.

Our final improvisation began with circulating dyads. Again many beautiful moments emerged as we allowed this to take form.

A good piece of work with very few words being uttered during the time we played. We shared a glass of water and goodbyes.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Playground


Amazed when I did an AT lie down before practicing tonight. The section of my back behind my sternum was not a tight knot. And this on a Friday night when I did not sleep well last night. My efforts with applying the Alexander Technique during my work day and my ongoing Qi Gong practice bearing fruit.

The past two days on my commute to work I have been listening to rough recordings of the new solo guitar pieces I am learning. I began reviewing two of these pieces. Suddenly I found my hands arpeggiating a chord and then another. Trusting my instincts I followed. By the end of the hour I was onto something. A brief break for a lie down. My back and hands felt good and I wanted to keep them that way. Also I was getting emotionally excited about the developing piece and did not want that type of interference.

Back to the piece for another hour and I definitely have a beginning, middle, and an end. All of this was notated. By the end my left hand was feeling like a dish rag. I took a brief break and rubbed some linament into my left wrist to keep it loose. I wanted to create a rough recording for archival purposes but this was not to be tonight. Hand was too tired and the mind uncertain of the piece. Better to let go and protect my body. Onto the floor for another lie down.

What are you doing to protect your body from harm?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Desire Deficiency

Long but productive day professionally and for the family. Too tired to now practice, yet I will practice. Why? This is the life I choose - I am a musician.


45 minutes later.

After a long lie down, I began by listening while warming up. Then into a slow look at the new piece. I am becoming convinced that beginning my practice session with a lie down is a very productive way to begin. My body is relaxed when I begin, mind calm, and I can notice more often when I am tightening. Now I am ready to return to practice. Amazing how just an intention and a small effort can transform my desire.

And then an hour later.

Played through the new piece again and then worked on one section of it. Played through Gathered Hearts. And then moved on to learning from tape and notating a piece that came out in July. Learning by ear is challenging for me but rewarding when accomplished. Made a major dent towards completing the notation. Off to read and relax before bed.

Stay Tuned!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Trust the Abundance


Back to practicing tonight. Busy day at work and needed to put some attention into an important family matter coming to completion tomorrow. Overall I was feeling a bit overwhelmed in a funny kind of way with the abundance of musical material that has been flowing of late.

Several new pieces have emerged since coming home from the course on Raft Island. They are not committed to memory, and are in various stages of documentation. Some notation and rough recordings of various takes of each exist. I need to trust the process that allows these gifts to come forth. When a new idea is there I will continue to follow. This is actually a problem of luxury. Perhaps I am a bit nervous as I committed to a recording date in late September.

I've had a name for the next release for over a year and now I think I have another one. One that has a wider berth and a different flavor that I am finding nourishing. Hmmm may have just clearly made a decision with that last sentence. One of the reasons it is good for me to write about my experiences.

Most important is that I continue picking up the guitar. This is a given actually. I'll bring order and completion to the notation and learning of the pieces as time permits. I just need to keep trusting the abundance and myself. More will follow.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Play What You Don't Know



Compound Image from 77 Million Paintings by Brian Eno

Wednesday morning I read the following from Rumi:
"What could be luckier than to have the ocean come to court the drop?
For God's sake don't postpone your Yes!
Give up and become the giver."

I so loved the sentiment of this that I copied to paper and placed it in my shirt pocket. I read it at work a few times and again this paper accompanied to work on Thursday. In the morning I recalled Miles Davis famous "Play what you don't know," while seeing a quote by Einstein " A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new."

Later I encountered this pearl of wisdom and insight from F.M Alexander " ... it is impossible to separate the 'mental & physical' processes in any form of human activity." I thought of my meditation practice and how this harmonizes the body and the mind. Suddenly I had an idea to conduct some improvisations using the breath as bar lines. I have read variations of this elsewhere but never worked with this myself. Even came up with a structure of playing only on the 'in breaths' for 3 breaths then play for a full breath, rest a breath and come play on two of the "out breaths", and repeat. Thought this would give my mind something to do.

I decided to tape these improvisations just in case the happy accident occurred. Did not take me long to notice that I was not following the breath playing past the first in breath. I also noticed that I needed to trust myself and just let go. Only an exercise, my whole existence was not at stake. But the " all hearing ears" of the tape machine were bothering me. I persisted for three attempts and then let go. Much trickier than I first imagined and perhaps an exercise to attempt periodically.

Moving on I played through Dandelion Wish. Enjoyed this and noted that I actually played all of the harmonics in time. I was about to remove the capo and then found a chord in the 13th position. When I heard this chord I though again of Rumi's line: "to have the ocean come to court the drop?" I began to explore and quickly saw that a piece was forming. I noticed that now I was trusting myself and the process. Had I watered this seed earlier in the improvs so that now it could sprout?

I played with this a bit and took a short break. Increasingly I am noticing how I misuse my body with the guitar especially when excited by new musical whisperings. While stretching I decided to notate what had just come out. Then I moved back to the guitar. A new section appeared. Again I notated. Then I turned on the tape and played what I had so far for documentary purposes, while taping the next section came out. Excited I played with this a bit and before I knew it I had a rough sketch of a piece. I began this process at 9pm and it was now 11:30. I wanted to keep going but I knew I needed to wind down before I would fall asleep. All was notated & three takes recorded. I played through a one more time before retiring.

I woke Friday tired but happy. Twenty minutes of Qi Gong had my body humming along and then it was on to the rest of my morning routine. I really wanted to stay home from work and play but ... I came home from work and after stretching and warming up I consulted my notes and played through the piece a few times. Something musical was there and I needed to flesh the rest out. I began exploring. A break for a walk on Sligo Creek at dusk to listen to the insects and the creek and let the musical ideas percolate.

Refreshed and back at the guitar I worked on this some more. Holding onto Rumi's poem seemed to nurture my playing and the development of the piece. At times I could sense the 'ocean swell' with in me and in the playing. Also a bit of a dark twist emerged which appears to strengthen the music. Additions to the original tabulature notes were creating a mess on the staff paper. So what, I can clean this up later. I kept note of my posture to a greater degree than usual. Perhaps if I take care with my body while developing the piece it will be easier when I actually learn the piece. Time will tell on this front. Another recording of where the piece was and I completed my practice for the evening. I was tempted to listen to the recordings of this work in progress, but I know at times doing this for purposes other than to check a part out can deflate the process for me. I hear the warts of my playing and loose the sense of the energy of the emerging piece. Armed with this reminder I restrained from listening.

A beautiful summer morning today found me practicing Qi Gong on the back yard. Needed to leave my shoes on as the acorns have began falling. After sitting and breakfast I returned to this piece. A couple additions and the piece appears close to being complete.

Off to address personal returns and later in the day a dear friend who is a talented pianist surprised me with a visit. She was interested in hearing what I have been working on. I played through two pieces for her and then took a deep breath. Usually my dear wife Joann is the first person to hear my musical ideas. She is away on retreat this week. I relish the value of bringing a piece of music alive by playing for someone so I took the leap. Although there was hesitation at two of the transitions I played the piece fairly well. I received good feedback from Gina and off to lunch we went. Much enlivened conversation followed.

Perhaps I should return to my breath improvisations again and just trust while waiting for the door to open. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

For the Love of Sound



Photo titled "Magic Light" Created by robokow

Tonight I was a bit wary about playing as my shoulder & neck were still tight this morning. After a lie down I picked up my dumbek. I have not played this lovely drum in some time, yet I always enjoy playing the dumbek when I do. Just listening to the various timbres I can produce on the drum and the always fun placing the hand inside of the goblet to modulate the sound. As I set it down I was reminded of how much I love sounds. Love listening to birds, insects, machines, the fade in of an approaching train as it enters the valley around Harpers Ferry.

Yes, the love of sound. And I love what the sound of music can do to me and to others. So tonight I pick up my guitar and just listen to the sound of seconds being lightly played up and down the neck. So lovely. On to a few different brief improvisations, holding onto nothing, letting the vibrations in. A certain measure of needed freedom.

Some gentle play throughs of material known and some in progress. All for the love of sound.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I is for ?


Intelligence, Intermission, or Injury.

I woke this morning with stiffness in my left shoulder, just about where the weight of the guitar rests. This happens at times. Years ago I learned to relax this area as I was "lifting' this shoulder to meet the weight of the guitar. Of course I did not know I was doing this until a friend of mine from the world of dance, Bob Dunn, watched me play. I have also had irritation in the area if I turn my neck to watch my hands while I play. And perhaps I just plain old slept funny last night.

While at work I did a bit of stretching and noticed that the tendon that leads to the outside of my left wrist was also sore. I had tendinitis in this area a couple years ago so I am very aware of being gentle when noticing any pain or discomfort here. Ignoring anything out of the ordinary in this area of my body is no longer an option. My adventure with tendinitis had me seeing an orthopedist, an acupuncturist, and a practitioner of the Muscle Release Technique. MRT was great as I was taught a series of stretches to do to alleviate the situation and to keep me healthy. MRT was developed in response to the growing Repetitive Use Injuries common to people who use their hands intensively. If you live in the Washington DC area, Robert True, a certified practitioner is located in Ashton, MD and did amazing work with me.

So for tonight I will apply my intelligence and take the night off from playing. I normally do this one night a week and Monday seems to work best. As I age I had to accept that I need an intermittent break from the demands the guitar places on my body. I had my wife massage the area and apply a liniment, Zheng Gu Shui, originally recommended by my acupuncturist.

If not and I choose to "play through the pain" then I is for Idiocy and eventually for INJURY. In fact maybe while I am listening to my body, I'll get out my mp3 recorder and listen to the solo works in progress that I am currently writing and/or learning. Seems like an intelligent response to my situation, musical progress without muscle injury.

Check out my solo guitar work on Scattered Hearts.  For only $4.99 you can receive a download that will support this blog, support my musical pursuits, and warm your soul to boot. Be kind to musicians, be kind to yourself.

Addendum to this post.

If you search this blog for Alexander Technique you will find quite a few postings on this topic. I was first exposed to the Alexander Technique 21 years ago on a Guitar Craft Course. Over the years whenever I had AT done to me I always benefited, but my individual application was sporadic and consisted mainly of doing a "lie down." While doing the "lie downs" is valuable to allowing your back to lengthen & widen and your entire body to rest, AT offers so much more.

In February of 2010 I began to study AT outside of participation in courses. I describe the change as that previously I had AT done to me, now I am embracing the work for myself. Issues in my left arm and shoulder are gone. Overall my use of myself is more efficient and relaxed, my awareness deepening. Individual instruction is vital in this work but a great guide to musicians is Indirect Procedures: A Musician's Guide to the Alexander Technique (Clarendon Paperbacks)  by Pedro de Alcantara. I can not recommend this book enough for insight into your musical process.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Space


Sunday 8/9/09 11am

Space the final frontier. These are the voyages of ...
Only kidding.

Began my practice with an Alexander Technique lie down for 15 minutes. I am very tired today. Difficult nights sleeping Thursday after the open mic and then again on Friday night due to noisy neighbors. Decided with Joann this morning to have a gentle day, one where I can consolidate. During the lie down I thought of beginning my practice session with my variation of the Berio exercise of playing the same note 11 different ways. There is something about working at playing the variation on the method of attack, etc 11 times that I enjoy and find that this focuses my listening efficiently.

Usually when I do this exercise I allow my fingers to choose a note and go from there. But while on the floor G# came to mind. Toyed with should this be a low or high G# and then leaned towards one on the middle register. That is until I though of a Morton Feldman interview where he said " there is a lot of space within the interval of a second." I decided to explore playing the same interval 11 different ways, 11 times each. This really became fun for me when one of the ways I choose was to slide into FG# in the 13th position from EbF in the 11th position and then hammering on the F on the second string. Subsequent variations took on a playful look at ways to play this interval with the notes being played different number of times, etc.

The other though that Feldman's quote triggered in me is that there is a lot of space between the vertebra of my spine. How to keep these free and open while playing? As I took my seat with my guitar I slowly scanned my body, making sure all joints we as open as possible, spine erect, generally relaxed. Then after the warm up exercise I removed the guitar and checked in with my body again. Was I still loose in my joints, feet on the floor, aware of my head and neck?

Onto a look at The Etude. Slow and gentle playing of the theme and variations I have so far. Additional variations being greeted with verbal exclamations of wonderful or beautiful or interesting. These additional variations have not been written on the page by Tony Geballe but are a result of moments of inattention. I first encountered "praising mistakes' in the book Effortless Mastery by pianist Kenny Werner. I still find this somewhat 'hokey' when I do it, yet when I do praise mistakes I do not fall into a habitual spiral of negative judgements that lead to tension and feeds voraciously on itself.

A gentle play through of "Prayer From a Small Room" which I am relearning.

Time to return to practice.`

Another body scan as I prepared to play, a bit rushed this time as I was excited where this was heading. Returned to playing through "Prayer," this time as I began to play I thought of paying attention to the space between the notes. This is a slow piece with enough space between notes that does indeed need to be played. Interesting how the notion of 'space' has emerged today. Two more takes of this piece and I was satisfied that thanks to muscle memory I am well on the way to knowing it again.

I briefly removed the guitar and stretched for the floor, releasing the weight of my head from my neck. Felt a release in the upper section of my spine. Back to the stool for a slow take of Dancin' Free. I have been focusing on a couple transitions in this piece and when I do play the entire piece I do so at the tempo I have been practicing the changes. This take revealed that I can now play the piece at this slow tempo and can take it up a notch.

I removed the guitar and did some Qi Gong exercises and again stretched to the floor. Back feeling relaxed. Sat down and did a body scan. As I moved my hands to the guitar I became aware of the 'space' between the fingers of my hands. Amazing how this concept is overtaking me today. Looked up at a hanging on the wall and I remembered a great man, Scott Buckner, that I used to share space with 20 years ago. I must find him. Dancin' Free was played as freely as I have ever played it.

I moved on to look at "When Love is Taken," feels like the piece is finished now I need to learn to play it.

Put my guitar away and am ready for a refreshing walk along Sligo Creek.

Friday, August 7, 2009



Photo credit: Sharona Gott

What a week. Much happened, some documented in this, some being digested. This photo put me in a state of wonder after work today. Heard a Nino Rota soundtrack begin to roll.

Two quotes that had me coming back to them this week.

All music is what awakens from you when you are reminded by the
instruments,
It is not the violins and the cornets .... it is not the oboe nor the
beating drums-nor the notes of the baritone singer singing his
sweet romanza .... nor those of the men's chorus, nor those of
the women's chorus,
It is nearer and farther than they.

Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass
A Song for Occupations


And this line in: From A to X, A Story in Letters by John Berger

What if babies laughed after being delivered?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Key of Healing


Composer Arthur Bloom responds to the request by wounded vets wanting probably even needing to mke music. A great op-ed piece in Tuesday's August 4th edition of the Washington Post about arehabilitative music program for injured combat veterans. Composer Arthur Bloom responding to the musical needs of wounded vets wanting to play music. So healing. Read more at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/03/AR2009080302258.html



For more details on Musicorps go to: http://www.Musicorps.net

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Practice Away From the Guitar


During my Qi Gong session this morning I paid attention to my head. Afterwards I choose to do an AT lie down in lieu of my normal sitting. Followed my breath but with my back on the floor and head resting on paperbacks. The tension in my back behind my sternum was relatively minor this early in the day. Twenty minutes later I was off the floor with some stiffness in my lower back. I have noticed this stiffness before and should check in with my fave AT person.

Upon standing I became aware of the top of my head and the place inside that Sandra has pointed out to me previously. Shifting my weight over the balls of my feet, I felt odd but stable. Did this two other times while getting dressed, stunned at one point by the shear beauty of the sunlight playing on the leaves of our dieffenbachia.

At a red light I became aware of how the car seat supported me and allowed my breath to enter the region of my sternum and possibly expand this area. Throughout the morning I noticed how my chair supported me and checked in with how I was using my body. As I took this gentler approach with my body today I wondered how my body would feel when I strapped on my guitar. Now at home I am about to find out, but first a lie down.

After 15 minutes I felt great, my back was much more relaxed than usual. Sat on my stool for a few minutes without the guitar to plot my evening. Very excited by the arrival of the first page of the Etude that Tony Geballe has written for me. Ready to dive in when I remember I needed to work on my right hand nails first.


A brief 10 minute warm up and I was ready to play through the first bars of The Etude. First back to the floor. What looks deceptively simple is not easy to play, but I asked for a piece that would stretch me. The piece is intriguing and I was joyful hearing these notes written for me. Excited and ready to continue I took a break after 15 minutes to stretch a bit. Back to The Etude for 25 minutes. After continually catching myself holding my breath as I played through the first measures it was back to the floor.

My back was tighter this time, most likely from my habitual response to struggling through learning new works. I felt very refreshed when I stood. I decided to let go of work on The Etude and to look at possible pieces to play an an open mic on Thursday. Really hate going to open mics but now I said it and will follow through.

Set up the amp and decided on a 3 song set list. Always jars me when I first play amplified. Most of my nights are playing/practicing acoustically. The first bars of August Born wavered. Halfway through the piece I stopped because of all my internal chatter. A few breaths and I began again. A bit more controlled, aware of my feet, energy of the piece coming through now. Onto Lost Balloon and Dandelion Wish.

Another visit to the floor. Realized I had lost track of the number of times I did a lie down today. Laughed. Up for another run through now that I had a clear decision on Thursday. Much better this time. After I put away my guitar I realized I was more relaxed at the end of my session than I have been in a long time. Of course I did not work as hard on the guitar and I am certain that my disruption of habits will prove fruitful at the right time. More joy present tonight and a lot of gratitude.

Back a bit tired as I type. Grateful that I typed half of this prior to practicing. Stay tuned.