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

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


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   .   .   .


Tuesday, December 8, 2009


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.