Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Sky's the Limit

                                     Photo by Jake Liefer

Written on 7/14/10

Why am I preparing for a live recording project next week? Why not keep practicing and composing as time permits within the constraints of the day job?  Feeling a bit of pressure as to how I will fare next week. Some of the self talk turning to the negative.  But then I remember why I play music - for  sheer love and joy.

Written 7/27/10

Obviously I began this post prior to the four days of performances I arranged for last week. The recording is done and now I wait for the rough edits to listen to what was played. Now what?  There is something about performing for small intimate audiences that I prefer. The quality of listening that occurs with a small audience in the right space certainly has an appeal to me.  I am not interested in competing with the sounds of drinking and dining in cafes and restaurants as I play.  What I really enjoyed were the improvisations that arose while the audience was playing with temple bells. The joy on their faces as they participated in the act of music was wonderful and brought me back to the reason I play.  To be able to share this joy with others is nourishing.

Back to 'trusting' as the verb that will reveal the next step(s.)  Any ideas? Private concerts for two to dazzle your new date? I could even plan the menu for you, if you need assistance with that. Hmmm, perhaps I am onto something.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Alive Day 4

                           Sign and photo by my granddaughter.

Close to performance time I was looking back to the beginning of this particular project in what my granddaughter dubbed "the ultimate green room."  Suddenly I touched my beginnings with Guitar Craft. Somehow this series of performances now appeared larger in my personal cycle than I have realized. There is much for me to digest. I am seeing how I function in performance. Finding what works for me, how much can I give, how far I have to go. But so much is possible when I commit to the process and allow others to support.

Today was overwhelming. I teared up in the green room for 21 years of the impossible. So very grateful to Joann, Tony, Robert, Sandra, Peter, Steve and all the others who have worked with me, challenged me, and supported me over the years.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Alive Two

                                        Photo by mauspray

The second performance of the four night live recording project is complete. Two very supportive small audiences that also wish for music to come alive. Overall tonight my playing felt better, though the tape holds the answer. We did one improvisation, where  I invited the audience to play with temple bells and then improvised over/under this. We all had fun with this.

I decided to revise the set list for tomorrow night. Change the energy flow a bit and perhaps get the rushed tempo in Dandelion Wish down to where I can play the piece. Very animated conversation after the set with some dear friends. The creative spirit speaks in so many ways.

I am finding it interesting to have gigs on successive nights. Tony and Joann have been an amazing support team. Don't leave home without them!

Of course I need to change my strings again tomorrow, and pick up batteries, and stay out of the way.

First Night of Alive

I was still tired when I woke today and wanted to fall back asleep. The phone rang and it was from work. The problem was resolved immediately but I was awake. Qi Gong with my wife followed by meditation.
 A rare weekday breakfast in the yard and then we began preparing the space. We worked on this until 10:30 am then off to do some errands.

I picked Tony Geballe up at 1pm. With mics and lap top in tow he was ready to get to work. A light lunch and we began setting the space at 3pm. We completed the sound check at 5:15. We had a light dinner of zucchini feta pancakes and veggie sausage and then I rested for 20 minutes. Being as tired as I was negative thoughts about myself and this live recording process were invading my mind. I began watering the postive seeds in me, knowing that these negative thoughts are not truth.

The first of the audience arrived promptly at the appointed hour of 7pm followed shortly by the remaining members. I finished warming up and began to play at 7:30pm. The set-list was:

Gathered Hearts
Steppin' Stones
Matka Boska
Scattered Hearts
Livin' the Dream
Dancin' Free
Lost Ballon
Dandelion Wish
Here We Are

Peter suggested an improvisation. I passed out three temple bells and Joann had another bell. I used me ebow. A second improv also occurred. Peter wanted to do something together. First he played In a Silent Way and then Shifting Shadows. We then played a circulation together.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Should I be tired?

Long day at work today. Home for some deliciosa zucchini-feta pancakes and then off to my Alexander Technique with David Jernigan. Some good conversation and understanding of the process. Into the basement for a run through of the for the summer performance project. Ten pieces and perhaps an improvisation. The tape will be rolling. Will I?

Time to rest.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Be Here Now


The key to success in guitar practice - Being here right now with what I am doing. Be Here Now. It really is that simple. It really is that hard.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

One Phrase at at Time

                                     Photo by Crosathoria

I began practicing at 11am, wish I could do this more often. In preparing for the upcoming performances this week I have continued to apply the principles of the Alexander Technique. This has meant more time spent with working with how I "use the self," which has taken away from time spent on 'playing notes.' In embracing the technique in this way I have also introduced much confusion in my playing. At times thinking of the directions while playing, judging myself for how I am applying AT or not, and wondering when I'll find my way through this. Recently I feel as if I have turned the corner, reaping the benefits from my recent AT practice

Today I began my practice with using the Guitar Craft primary for cross - picking, but using finger picking instead.  I have always loved this simple theme, finding it soothing and focusing. I paused between each six note segment of the theme. Giving the AT directions, releasing, lengthening, widening, and in doing this simple breakdown of my playing I noticed subtle aspects of my right hand fingers at work.

I moved on to the new piece Steppin' Stones, which is a piece that I am very much still learning. I decided to break it down one phrase at a time to see what I could learn. The intent was to pause between the playing of the phrase to give myself the AT directions and to unveil areas of my playing that needed clarification. In the opening phrase I heard again the one hammer-on that has been played carelessly for long wnough to now be the way it is played. I had to further break down my investigation to just the notes prior to this hammer-on. Then I moved the pattern around the fret board to look at it. Finally I saw and heard what is going on. Giving the directions again I played these notes. I worked with this until the hammer on was reliable and took a break. All told this had taken close to 15 minutes on just this one phrase.

During the break I did 20 minutes of Qi Gong, further releasing unnecessary tensions, and allowing my bodies energies to move around. Back to the guitar and I played through the opening phrase and was satisfied. On to the following phrase. I continued in this manner through the first two sections. No other issues as major as the first phrase were observed.  I noticed that in general my playing of these other phrases were improving as a result of the work that had been done on the first phrase and my overall working with paying attention to "my use of the self."

I arrived at the trickiest part of the piece with the triad power pull-offs that I had written about earlier this week. Working in the same manner as above for a few more minutes I realized I was loosing my attention. I sat for a bit and then returned for a few minutes of clarifying work. Recognizing that I needed a longer break I decided write these notes.

Now it is 12:20 pm and time to return to the guitar. I worked on the opening notes of this phrase a bit and then moved on the entire phrase. I played it beautifully twice with the pause in between and after the second play through. I was ready to break for lunch but decided to go for one more time. A couple false starts and then the pause for directions again. A good play through, pause, and another beautiful effort. Decided to address the final section later and allow this practicing to be digested. Where's the PBJ sandwich?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Power of Gentleness

                                         Photo by jtravism

While practicing guitar tonight for next weeks four live recording dates  I had an interesting insight. I had been working with incorporating the AT principles in particular with a challenging part in Stepping Stones. This part involves a power pull-off of a triad and then hitting nearby harmonics, followed by another power pull-off of a different triad and then playing harmonics further away. There is a power in this section, yet tonight when playing amplified I heard too much string noise in the pull-offs.

I generally have worked on this piece acoustically. Now that I was hearing the part as it will be recorded, amplified, I knew I needed to get to work on this. Paying careful attention to the use of my left hand and thinking out the movements before actually making them was bearing fruit. But still the result was uneven. I had a thought to play the part as gently as possible. I did and was immediately delighted by the quality of the sound. I continued practicing this part gently, realizing that in playing it gently I was allowing my fingers to learn '"their role" in this part. From the place of power of my fingers really knowing the part I can increase the volume and have the part sound good.

I inhibited my desire to move from the gentle practicing to playing the part as intended to see where the practicing had taken me. This felt too quick to evaluate the part and would hinder the process of muscle memory. Instead I played through the entire piece as gently as possible. When done I completed my practice, smiling at a good nights work.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Generally when we do Qi Gong in the morning the last exercise we do is the word for the day. We then do a free form movement tracing the word in the air. Yesterday I was thinking of learning as I was heading off to the the Alexander Technique/Body Mapping workshop with Bill Conable. I knew the first session was going have several AT Teachers in attendance and participants who had been together on the previous days. Suddenly I found myself intimidated. That was when the word openness arrived. I have to be open to truly learn anything.

Within the first hour of the morning session Bill used the word "openness" or "being open" three times. I smiled.

Photo Courtesy of Ignacio Gracian

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Under Construction

              Build the castle of your mind - The Dhammapada

                                        Photo by RichardO

The wandering of the mind may be my biggest obstacle while playing guitar. On one level this is obvious,the monkey mind is not just an issue with playing guitar but with all aspects of life. The moment when I see the mind has wandered is key. Can I allow the thought(s) to fade or to replace them with constructive thoughts related to the process I am undertaking? Can I connect with my breathe or with my body?

The Dhammapada goes on to state:

               Your worst enemy cannot harm you
               As much as your own thoughts,

               But once mastered,
               No one can help you as much ...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The In's and Out's of the Performer

At my Alexander Technique class last evening, we began an investigation. With upcoming performances to prepare for, I wish to be able to sustain a "good use of self" as I play. David continues to work with "having my awareness be larger and taking in the room."  I prefer to draw inward. In going inward my gaze is averted, and I think my focus on the music is better. What I am finding when I stay "out" is that I am more distracted by the room, eye contact, and reading people's reactions.

The music I play solo tends to be meditative,  and "going inward" appears to support the music. Or is this just my habit? Is this just a way of playing that has become comfortable? David asked me what is my intention as a performer? When I came home and was taking notes on the session, I asked myself what best serves the intention? These questions remain to be examined in depth.

I played Gathered Hearts for my wife, maintaining eye contact for most of the piece with a couple glances in the mirror. So easy to do with her, my favorite person in the whole world, who usually is the first one to listen to any of my musical ideas or pieces. I left her with her novel and then played through Dancin' Free and Gathered Hearts working at keeping my awareness "out" to the room.  At times during my playing,  I reminded myself of the AT directions. My playing was confident and I noticed a certain freedom in exercising this choice.

I moved onto playing Kinnara. I began thinking about playing this for David while maintaining eye contact, and other fantasy thoughts began to materialize. My sense of self was gone. Where was I? My thinking was not in the present moment supporting what I was playing.  I was lost. At this point I took a short break to write these notes in my notebook.

After 10 minutes I returned to playing Kinnara. Part of the issue is that I have not played this piece in a while, but the larger issue is my wandering attention. Is this because the rests are more frequent and longer in this piece? I need to "play the rests" and allow these spaces to hold the mystery of the music.

Going back to David's question about my intention as a performer, I thought of Thich Nhat Hanh. When he meditates, he meditates; when he walks, he walks; and when he talks, he beams! My dharma talk is my music. Can I be with the music - open, joyful, loving, sad, mysterious ...? Is this too big a question to ask myself? I was surprised at how quickly I wrote "No" in my notes. I recall the crafty aphorism "The only limits we have are those we place on ourselves."

Moving back to the guitar, I played Kinnara with "playing the rests" in mind. While there was still some uncertainty in my left hand, I know this can be addressed with practice. I moved onto Lost Balloon and thought of my granddaughter who inspired this piece. I saw the picture of us doing mock singing on a stage in Malaysia and smiled. Again lost in my thinking, I was not present with the music, I was not directing myself. I began again with this piece, played it through, and then brought my evening to completion.

A few more moments of reflection led to my asking again if my wanting to go inward during the AT class is just my habit? A need to clarify or assert myself in some way? Or a subtle manifestation of fear (another habit perhaps)? Am I holding onto what works, but what may not be the best use of my self? Holding on to what may not be best for the music?

                                            Photo by dvs

Friday, July 2, 2010

Time is Free

I was writing about the role of time in the culinary arts and relating this to the role of time in food safety, specifically when using sanitizing agents. Microbes die at a constant rate known as logarithmic death, thus making time of application of a sanitizing agent a key measure of safety. So what does this have to do with being a guitarist. Well it is called my day job and may well give birth to another blog on operating a safe kitchen. In the process of this I went to flickr and found this beautiful photo titled Time is Free.

Which also had this quote with it: “Time is free, but it's priceless. You can't own it, but you can use it. You can't keep it, but you can spend it. Once you've lost it you can never get it back.”
Harvey MacKay

So how am I using my time? Generating income takes up a large part of my day, then taking care of my animal needs of food, rest, shelter, and social time. Then that precious period of time each day that I can devote to music; creating, listening, or playing my guitar. There are also the ancillary practices of Qi Gong and the Alexander Technique which inform, support, and nourish my musical activities.

Then sometimes I need to construct a vehicle to act as a catalyst in my life . A brief period where I can up the ante of activity and strive to perform at a higher level. With the support of the right people a creative action may occur. At the very least information about myself will be gathered and moments of delight and hell will surface. Where is all this going?

A four day series of live performances with the aspiration to produce a release of "live" music.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


On Tuesday, the night of my last post I used this as a status update - "Back from a great Alexander Technique class. Trust is one word I took away that is always key when I remember it." Tonight I am seeing that trusting, the action, is the key to success in my next project and most likely in life in general.

I practice because I trust that I will improve from the work undertaken. Be this my guitar practice, meditation, Alexander Technique, or how I chop vegetables, I know that they all support one another. Acts of quality interpenetrate everything we do; everything in the world. By trusting that my body is free, my mind clear, and my heart open and available to music, I can play. 

Photo by Kevin Dooley