Friday, December 31, 2010

Here We Are Again

Weird outdoor xmas tree, middle of nowhere, Northumberland

      Here we are again, the start of the end, but there's more ...
                                 Todd Rundgren

This is my 135th blog post of 2010.  What began as an experiment in the summer of 2009, has now become another regular practice.  Blogging has sharpened my observational skills, informed my practices, and allowed me to get to know interesting people.

Last night I began organizing various mp3 files I have of various works in progress.  These audio files, coupled with rough scores, allow me to go back to revisit and develop the various musical ideas and pieces that come to me.  While journaling this morning, I asked myself "How can I better organize myself to work with music?" One goal is to create the time to better tend to the scores and audio captures, so that I can address any idea or piece when I'm ready.  At times I have avoided working on a piece because I do not want to organize the mp3 files.

Musically this past year has been exciting.  My participation with the Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists in Sassoferrato, Italy was illuminating.  More consistent work with the Alexander Technique has nourished my guitar work and my practice of Qi Gong.  The two live recording sessions, with Tony Geballe, were a stretch that has resulted in some very good takes of both old and new works.  With the addition of a few more pieces, I will be able to release these live recordings.

Music, sweet music, continues to whisper.  I suppose I should count up the new works that have come into being this year, but not tonight.  I have undertaken a systematic approach to ear training to continue to court the muse and to increase the possibilities of my response.  Life is good, very good.  Thanks for reading and taking an interest in my work. Wishing you peace, love, health, and prosperity in the coming year.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

When Will "It" Get Done?

heart in pages

What are the areas where I need to grow musically?  Ear training, improvisation, right hand fingerpicking technique, composition, rhythm and the list can grow into ever greater specifics.  Good to know where I am and where I want to go.  But when am I going to do these things?  So easy to make lists, but they do not get much done.  Unless I am  committed to them and work out the method and time to address what needs doing.

Then as the fruits of practicing come forth, I have this energy available to feed my commitment.  Slow steady progress unfolds once I am in motion.  Overcoming my inertia is the initial obstacle and then staying true to the path.

Now is the time, the only time I have to practice.  Coming into my relationship with the present moment remains the struggle.  Enough lists, books, ideas, and clever insights. Do it now!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Why I Play Music


I was finally able to sleep in a couple of extra hours today.  The Holiday demands of both my professional and personal life now being met.  Yesterday I woke with an invading microbe looking to live within my body.  So I did slip in some rest yesterday, while still tending to our Christmas celebration.

Today I needed to rest, and I have.  A gentle morning followed by an afternoon nap.  A cold, windy, and snowy Sunday keeping me inside to rest and stay warm.  Earlier, while resting, I was reflecting on why I play music?  On some level I know the answer, yet today I found it a good time to reflect on how I live my life.

So in my journal I asked the question - "What are my motivations for making music?"

          - The healing that my practice of music has given me.
          - The healing that my practice of music has given others.
          - My love of learning and the different opportunities my study
            of music has exposed to me.
          - The joy, peace, and sense of well being my practice brings to
          - The wonderful and amazing people, to whom this pursuit has
            introduced me.

After writing this I picked up my guitar for the first time since early Friday morning.  Gently allowing the opening notes of Gathered Hearts to resonate as I sang along.  Making no great demands on myself, I was just playing and listening.  As I allowed my body to release with the Alexander Technique directions, the tone of my guitar sweetened.  Moving onto Dancin' Free I watched the swirling snow through my window.  Pausing at times to hear certain intervals of this piece, I sang them, and then resumed my playing.  Forgetting my tiredness as I connected with Music; my body, heart, & mind united in the moment. Yes this is why I play.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What's a Model?

Epcot - Model Pillaging 3D Stereogram

Well I was playing with Robert Henri's ideas about studying my beginnings, I chose the scale mentioned two days ago to serve as my "model."  Last night I composed another beginning with this scale.  While driving to work today I was visualizing part of what I wrote last night on the fretboard, as I could not hear this yet. Then I noticed that a couple of C#'s had slipped in though they are outside of the scale.  Not a problem really, just may need to create another beginning within the scale.

When I went to review the beginning from the first night I also found a couple of C#'s.  Laughing I thought well this is what happens when you practice and you're so tired.  Of course I am almost always tired when I practice so what to do?  I decided that I may look at this scale again or I may not.  Perhaps this is another manifestation of Eno's "mistake as a hidden intention."  The important point is that I chose a "model" and used this as a springboard for musical ideas.  Where this "model" takes me in either a learning or a musical context is what is important, not how strictly I adhere to my own initiating ideas.  I'll see how this develops over time, but for now I'm off to curl up with Begin Again: A Biography of John Cage by Kenneth Silverman.  A truly great read about a very influential man.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Studying Beginnings Day 2

In keeping with my stated desire to begin two pieces in the same scale but differently, and then alternate working on them, I have decided to not play through last nights work.  I had a rhythmic and harmonic idea about this as I drove to work this morning so I have a place to begin my investigation.  But first I need connect with myself, and then with my guitar.  Tonight I want to pay more attention to how I use myself in this process than I did last night.

The idea bore fruit, at least enough for a beginning that has attracted my attention.  Time for a little fun with my guitar and then to bed. I did complete the third of four major professional food events today.  My body is tired, but my spirits enlivened by seeing the end in sight. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Studying Beginnings


This is now.  Now is,
all there is.  Don't wait for Then;
                                        strike the spark, 
                                           light the fire.

I found the above words in a draft from many months ago, which made me think of  Robert Henri and his wonderful book, The Art Spirit.  In a letter to a class he stressed the value of studying beginnings of drawing.  This notion has intrigued me.  Tonight I was unclear how to begin my practice. Thinking of Henri I decided that perhaps I could make my own study of beginning a piece.  Then I thought I could begin three pieces.

I took my copy of Slonimsky's Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns and began flipping through the pages.  Just as I was prepared to put this down, I saw Scale 21 C D E F F# G# A# B C.  No idea what to do with this.  I ran through the scale a few times in one octave, and then found a chord based on C in fourths and was off and running.  I worked with this for 40 minutes and took a break.  During this time  I decided that this scale could be my "model" for the coming days, and I would create two beginnings. Then as Henri suggested to his students, I will alternate between the two 'pieces' and see how they develop.  Letting go of the idea of three pieces and focusing on working in a different way.

Something about this challenge is thrilling and also frightening.  Let the fun begin.  Now ...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Good Tone

As we ended our Qi Gong session this morning I thought the word for today was going to be Gratitude, and suddenly I heard myself say - Freedom.  As I formed these letters with my hands, this felt right.   Later in the day I found myself trapped in habit that wanted to be expressed in harsh dissonant tones.  Yet this type of tone was not appropriate to the music of this day.  But I wanted to play loud, aggressive, get someone's attention, perhaps maybe even teach them something.

And then Freedom floated into my thoughts.  What am I playing right now?  Is this the right tone?  Do I even need to be playing in this piece?  Then I found this gem -
    Good tone is active.  It is willfully produced, it is not something
    that just happens because of the harp you use or the amplification
    equipment you play through.  Tone is something the player
    puts in the note. Something the player does, actively, willfully,
    by exercising control over him/herself, his breathing, her playing,
    their music.

Getting through this session required constant tuning of the player, reminding myself that Good Tone is  Active.  Beginning again, and again, with Freedom as the aim to navigate this self composed difficult music.  What is the player doing now, is he active?  Or passive and unaware?  Exercising the skills developed through practice, while feeling the pull of how he wants to be heard.  Practicing Freedom, but oh what a struggle.  What can this player put in his notes?  Can I choose my tone?  Can I choose silence? 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Glimpse

Frozen rock-garden

Art intrigues me.  So much possibility in this frozen rock garden. Life abounds here, even in this moment of restricted repose.  Is the archway leading to a quiet inner space or opening to a huge vista of insight?  The trees dusted with life, silently watching us watch this scene.  Can I draw out the trace* within this piece of art?  Or just allow this photo to inspire me to continue seeking my own muse? Both are possible, both are honorable.  Grateful to this artist who opened this particular path of inquiry in my mind.

I am reminded that the mind is a tool; yet how often does the free flowing thoughts of my mind appear to me more as a hindrance?  But yes it is a tool, and like any tool I must undertake to study the craft of how the mind works.  The guitar, mindfulness meditation, Qi Gong, and the Alexander Technique are different ways for me to study and to hone my skills with the mind.  Art, be it in the form of painting, sculpture, literature, photography, dance, or music allows me to glimpse this trace that others have experienced.  And in this glimpse, I draw closer to this precious moment they have awakened me to.  What I do with this moment remains key.

And then, in mere moments I am the frozen rock garden.  My emotions steeled at a perceived slight.  Stuck in the archway that leads to habitual responses, while simultaneously desiring a better way.  Slowly my breath cracks the ice that has stifled my energy.  I stand and allow the graceful movements of Qi Gong to unfreeze the rocks that my limbs have become.  Allowing my body to lengthen rather than collapse around  my heart I begin again.  The mind, the body, and the heart all must be tended to with care.  When the body is tired, the heart is vulnerable, the mind fickle.  Choosing to apply the practices balance is restored, at least for now.

Note: * "Art is, after all, only a trace – like a footprint which shows that one has walked bravely and in great happiness."
Robert Henri

Saturday, December 18, 2010

With a Little Help From My Wife.

Today was my sixth day in a row at work, one that spread Holiday joy, but drained me physically.  After a shower, rest, and a light dinner I was ready to spend the night in a chair watching CSI and  related programs.  Rare behavior for me, but I really am tired.  Then my wife told me that I would practice, that I needed to practice.  She is a wise person, so I listened.

Unlike last night, I found it easy to pick up my guitar. Fortunately strings and nails remained intact tonight. Like last night I focused on using the Alexander Technique to address my use in relationship to the guitar. I was looking at how I begin a piece of music.  Beginning, pausing, coming into a relationship with my body, and beginning again.  Beginning at times in the middle of the piece, just a different look at how I begin.  Was I there when I began to play?

Connection seemed to be the theme for tonight. Connection with my body, with my length, with the earth below me and the universe above me.  At one point, with my guitar on my body I was playing with my arms in space, similar to something David and I did in class recently.  My right hand came into position from below the body of the guitar rather than from my across. I noticed a freedom in my elbow and an advantageous positioning of my wrist from this. This new movement was free of habitual patterning.

I worked with two different parts of pieces which challenge my right hand, to see if this "freedom" impacted my execution.  And then I noticed that my energy was flowing.  After playing with pieces,  I began to improvise.  A sweet little melody tinkled out which I worked with for the remainder of my time.  A loving push from my wife, aligned with my ongoing commitment to music and my intentional connection with life energies led to an insight about my playing and a gentle kiss with music. A brief but fruitful practice.  What is your commitment?  How do you connect?

10 minutes later:

I forgot to mention that to honor the life of Don Von Vliet I practiced with my hat on tonight. May he Rest in Peace, thanks for the memories and the music Captain. Here are his Ten Rules for Guitar Playing.

Friday, December 17, 2010

When You Have Nothing

Feels like Friday, probably because it is Friday.  Only problem is that I still have the opportunity to also work tomorrow.  Our annual Holiday Open House is upon us at work tomorrow so I will be there.  And I love it, our residents and their families love it, just a lot of joy being generated.  But I'm also very tired. All I really want to do is to lie on the sofa and look at out Christmas Tree.  Yet I know that it is at times like this, when I simply move towards my guitar, that something becomes available to me, perhaps even to the world.

What will occur? I do not know.  Will it be inspiring, fun, or a trying period of time when my fingers just flail?  Who knows?  But the desire to connect, however weak this may be right now, will be nourished. The vibrations of the strings will affect me positively even if I do not notice.  This I know from experience.

When you have nothing left to give, everything is possible. This sounded profound as it stumbled from my fingers. Off I went to tune my guitar and then my A string snapped. A sign? No not really, just time to change the string.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A December Night

I miss the symphony of insects that spring, summer, & fall provide in the DC night.  Tonight I hear plows scraping against asphalt, road salt slapping against my car, and the heater firing up to blow more warm air.  My guitar always becomes a bit quieter in this month as my professional responsibilities amp up. Long but satisfying days with our residents, many of whom may be enjoying their final Holiday Season.

Another year when I did not learn a version of "What Child is This" to have available to play.  C'est la vie.  Perhaps a score in NST will arrive in my mailbox to urge me on to my own wish.  Life is good.  Last night though my practice was short in duration, I was nourished deeply.  All it takes is a few notes of the guitar vibrating against my chest, and I begin to approach a better state of being.  One note at a time.

Tonight again, my practice will be brief, but I trust, I know that Music is waiting.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

All One Practice

Railroad weeds

After blogging yesterday, I turned to my guitar.  While playing with an older musical idea, I saw I needed to work on my right hand technique if I want this idea to come into being.  When I played with a plectrum, I regularly worked various right hand exercises.  These days any musical exercises I work on are driven by the need(s) of a piece I am working with. I actually love doing exercises, my musical development has been formed by them.  But I can also hide behind exercises, patiently working on a particular skill. I did this for years and was told by my instructor to find a balance in my practice.  To leave room for play in each practice session, so that the musical impulse can appear.

When I began working with the metronome last night I quickly found myself end gaining*.  My sense of how I use myself compromised as I just wanted to make progress now!  Why does this device that measures time for a musician, elicit this habitual mechanical striving to be other than where I am?  Knowing that I am again going to address this aspect of my right hand technique tonight, I began my practice with an Alexander Technique lie down.  Always good to connect with and relax my body as a way of tuning myself for practice.

Pausing to find my breath, I took a few minutes to again connect with my body, my heart, and the creative spirit.  Two fun left hand scaler patterns came to me over the next twenty minutes to assist in addressing my right hand needs.  I worked with the AT directions as best as I could, striving to maintain a sense of myself as I played.  While I was enjoying this I took a brief break at this time to connect with myself again through a couple Qi Gong exercises.

Feeling my neck release and then my spine let go, I knew that my sense of how I think I was using myself and how I was actually using myself were different.  Alexander noted that this faulty sensory awareness is a nearly universal phenomenon.  Another good reason for me to incorporate frequent breaks in my guitar practice and to continue to work with AT and Qi Gong.  Smiling as I once again see the interconnections of my various practices.  Now if I can just remember to breath ...

* For those unfamiliar with the language of the Alexander Technique I offer this definition in Alexander's own words. 

            'End gaining is a universal habit' (F M Alexander ~ The Use of the Self).  End gaining is the tendency we have to keep our mind and actions focused on an end result whilst losing sight of, and frequently at the expense of, the means-whereby the result is achieved.  

Thanks to Hillary King for this definition.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Possibilities of One Note

Christmas #5

What are the possibilities of a single note?  The Berio exercise of playing the same note 11 different ways has certainly opened up the possibilities of one note to me.  But then what about the possibilities of the next note that follows in a melody?  Or the possibilities of a note used in harmony?  This can easily become overwhelming, unless I am listening.  When I am listening, I am present to what I am doing. Being present is powerful and open to the possible and the practical.

Driving to work today, I wondered how many pieces of music have begun with the note "C?"  How many symphonies, concerti, string quartets, dances, and popular songs begin with this particular note?  I am certainly not going to spend a lot of time researching the answer, but I did enjoy the questions.  The point is that a piece of music has to begin with at least one note, or a dyad, or a chord, or a cluster.  Begin where you are.  Where am I?

I was listening to Aybdos on Fingering the Devil by Sir Richard Bishop on my evening commute tonight and was reminded of a piece I began months ago that has a similar feel.   Enjoying his music,  I decided I should play with this idea again.  Ironically this idea began with a C, C5 to be accurate, the scale is C Hijaz.  These two limits, a first note and a scale are enough to begin.  Throw in a rhythmic feel for the piece and I am well on my way.  To quote Robert Henri from the Art Spirit "Those who cannot begin, do not finish."  What are you waiting for?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Simple Practice

I am again learning about music composition by composing. When I sat down with my guitar tonight I was indecisive. Should I work on older pieces, or investigate the idea that began last night. Even bring "White" back from last weekend back to look at. I choose to explore the new compositional idea.

There are exercises in books on composition, and I am certain I could learn that way also. But time is precious and I am a guitarist, so I practice my composing by working on solo pieces for the guitar. Really quite simple and really quite powerful.

To paraphrase & modify the words of Robert Henri - If you are studying music and not making compositions, my advice is to begin immediately. Back to work.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Accepting What Comes

I've been reading Begin Again, a biography of John Cage by Kenneth Silverman. While I've known of his influence, had a good friend who worked with him, and even spent an afternoon with John Cage once, I am still astounded at the people that he worked with. One of those people that I love is Morton Feldman. Cage met Feldman as a young man, and when looking over one of Feldman's scores asked Morton how did he make this. Morton reply was that he did not know and Cage loved that is was "so beautiful and he doesn't know how he made it." Later when Cage gave his "Lecture on Something" he eulogized Morton Feldman in these words:

    He has changed
    the responsibility of    the composer    from making    to accepting

When I read these words a few evenings ago, there was a resonance in me. Generally with the music that has come to me, I have no system. Like Cage and Feldman I have been open to experimenting with music, these days as a solo guitarist, but previously with two racks full of effects, synthesizers, and delays. Always probing, seeing what happens and listening. A gift that has been given to me is to hear when Music is whispering and to take note.

Tonight when I returned to my guitar I allowed myself to improvise. A simple phrase came out, followed by another one. I played this again and more notes followed. After a few minutes I let go and played through some pieces that have been neglected of late. Then the simple phrase returned and I began exploring the possibilities this offered. Knowing that whether or not a piece materializes that the practice of composing would be nurtured and this alone was sufficient. Thinking of Morton Feldman, I accepted what was coming out. Now to let go of writing and return to this investigation. Are you making or accepting?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Day of the Gig

I had a difficult time falling asleep due to discomfort in my left leg last night. Upon arising I noticed the rash on my left cheek was spreading, and my leg was still tightening up. A hot pad and distracted attempt at sitting, followed by a guided meditation led by my wife helped me to leave our home in proper condition. Driving to work I was wondering how am I going to perform tonight?

The leg continued to trouble me throughout the morning. Around 11:30 am, one of the nurses where I worked was concerned about my rash. She suggested that I see my doctor, that it may be a viral infection. A call to his office to find out he was not working tomorrow and all the slots for today were full. Fortunately the receptionists squeezed me in. Of course leaving work unexpectedly has ramifications. The thought perhaps I should cancel performing tonight raced through my mind. I did not entertain this thought for long, so I knew I would need to tough it out.  After a reasonable wait to see the doctor, I raced to the pharmacy and swiftly received my meds. Back home for an hours worth of phone calls to complete my professional responsibilities. Sometime during the wait in the doctors office my leg calmed down.

A rest with the hot pad, followed by a light supper, and then off to the Atlas Performing Arts Center for the show. A small but attentive audience, were rewarded by a diverse series of performances. During my first piece, part of the nail on my first finger disappeared. I heard it happen and knew what it was. This bothered my playing in a few instances, but the break was smooth enough to be manageable. My playing felt good and the audience was appreciative. I made some great connections in the process of this Fieldwork sessions. Now to let go of my post gig energy and rest, because in six hours I will be rising again. Happy that I found my way through this day.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

One Response to an Improvisation


Maintaining focus, while others were whirling emotionally, was the necessity of this day.  In the midst of a difficult encounter, my left leg began to ache again.   I remembered what David Jernigan reminded me during our Alexander Technique session last night. "I have a practice to deal with stress" was his gentle reminder. So when the ache began, I knew the out of tune ensemble I was currently playing with was an opportunity to breath. To come back to myself, to the music that I wish to play in this life.  Then I directed my back and spine to lengthen and widen, and the ache in my leg dulled.  My refrain to the cacophony being carelessly played around me was to say nothing, just rest on my breath, and not feed the energy.  No need to defend, explain, nor to point out the weakness in the others playing, but to listen, hold what was true and to leave the rest. My heart went out to one of the other players in this group. I am not sure why they were invited in today. His skill, buffered with a real sense of good will,  allowed them to remain in tune and put a few good notes into the noise.

At home I retreated to my guitar, allowing the strings to soothe me, to point me to my true home. Working on the rough spots in the pieces I am to perform tomorrow night. Resting on the beauty of music, allowing the vibrations to enter and to comfort me. Soon a run through for my wife and a friend. Then to change my strings and rest. Ever so grateful for my practice and all the wonderful musical souls I have played with throughout the years. Without them today would have been hell, instead just some time in purgatory. Keep breathing.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Alexander Wonder

Hibiscus Wonder

My left leg was killing me today. I left work early to rest. This seems to come & go since I had a procedure for varicose veins a month ago. Gig coming on Thursday, the Holidays, increased stress at work, all seem to be taking their toll on my left leg. How to practice tonight I thought while driving home?

Fortunately I had my Alexander Technique appointment for tonight. I was hoping that David Jernigan could somehow free the stress in my left calf & thigh. We worked a little bit before he put me on the table. Slowly the muscle in my left leg lengthened and relaxed. The details of what happened are beyond my ability or desire to go into but the pain was lessened considerably. David did have me take out my guitar.

I chose play a chord sequence on Broken Wing which is not fluid. He talked me through some suggestions. Then I found a quality in my right hand that had been lacking. Just arpeggiating one chord at a time. By the time I came home my left leg was free. I practiced gently for a while reviewing the trouble spots in Beneath Dark Images and Broken Wing. Feeling my leg tightening I took a break. Then a quick run through of the three song set for the Dinner Party/Fieldwork showing on Thursday.

David gave me some wonderful suggestions to work with tonight. I am very grateful for his work. I wonder why everyone isn't taking lessons in the Alexander Technique?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Accept What I Play

While resting after dinner, I thought about how to structure my practice tonight. I will be performing three pieces this Thursday evening as part of The Fieldwork process. Two of the pieces continue to offer me difficulties with playing them. One of these Broken Wing is only a month old, while Beneath Dark Images began a long time ago and was only recently completed.

On my commute this morning I was working with visualizing BDI. I have worked with visualizing parts of this piece previously, but today I took on the entire piece. I found out that I am uncertain of the form. Reflecting on this after dinner I saw how this is true when I have played the piece. Though simple, the form has subtle changes that trip my up when I am not paying attention. There is also a tricky section with the left hand fingering where I frequently play it less than beautifully.

Knowing where I would begin my practice, I moved to the basement. I wanted to practice while suspending judgement of my playing, an idea I took from Pedro de Alcantara's excellent book on the Alexander Technique Indirect Procedures. My intention is to play beautifully and I wrote this down prior to picking up my guitar. I began to write an intention to play without judgement, when I realized that I wanted to frame this positively. My intention is to accept what I play, is where I arrived.

I began reviewing the form of BDI by simply playing the chords. Letting go of the arpeggios, and the difficult fingering, I focused on the form. Almost immediately I was pleasantly surprised with what I learned. I continued to move through the piece by section and now have a greater understanding of how the piece moves. I also clarified a choice I have been making in the bass line which may lead to improved performance and musicality.

After a short break to take in this information I went to work on the section with the difficult fingering. The second and fourth fingers of my left hand are anchored on the first and second strings while a four note bass figure is repeated twice. The difficulty arises. when I use my third finger to stretch to its' limit and play the final note on the sixth string. I was playing with just playing the bass note and the top two notes that are anchored as a chord to see where I could relax my hand. Then the Guitar Craft aphorism to "Establish the possible, while gradually moving towards the impossible," came to mind.

Allowing the second and fourth fingers to remain anchored I only played the fourth final note of the bass line with my third finger. Gently exploring how it is possible for this finger to move to the desired note. With this established I then added in the third note which is played with the first finger. Slowly working backwards through the bass line, and most importantly, I was not reinforcing the habit of use that had already been established in this section. Then I played the bass line from the beginning with the arpeggios. While I then wanted to fold this part into the entire piece and see "my improvement," I resisted this urge and began to write instead. Allowing the body time to take in this new information and for me to capture this process.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fieldwork Showing

I went to the final meeting of this ten week session of Fieldwork. We have our showing this Thursday December 9th night at 8pm at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Based on what I have experienced this should be great evening. New and compelling works for dance, video, music, and theater created by a creative group of committed artists. Come on out and support our work.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Bride in Cornell

There is beauty in the cold /in the white fresh and clean /The nature like a bride in wedding dress /shyly hiding pulsating blood. Gunilla Ciasson

Reading these words on a cold winter morning, I wished we had snow outside today.  But we do not, just cold.  Though I would love to gaze at the familiar yet different forms evoked by snow, I accept what is and read more.

On the Full Moon Path blog I find this definition of interference “the disturbing effect of new learning on the performance of previously learned behavior with which it is inconsistent.”  Lately I think of interference from an Alexander Technique perspective,  how we habitually get in the way of a good use of the self from habits learned long ago. Through the Alexander practice of inhibition I can sometimes see and let go of my habitual interference in my use. According to this definition, does inhibition foster interference of a positive nature? Now I knew I needed coffee.

While making coffee I begin to put away the clean dishes. I played with inhibiting my actions to pick up items or to move to the cabinets. No need to hurry, I can enjoy mindfully putting away the dishes and learn a bit about how I use myself.  When this is done, I think of bringing order to the piles on my bureau while also practicing inhibition, and to find a small box for cd's to ship. Then I pause, realizing I am now interfering with my own desires. A precious morning when I am not heading off to work and have time to play guitar while I am rested and calm.

Where to begin was the question that formed as I sat on my stool?  Recalling the words from the poem I yearned for something fresh and pure - White.  Last night at the end of my practice, I began an improvisation that caught my attention.  If I had not had a celebration to attend last night I would have followed the idea that came to me.  I began with this germ of an idea and watched it take form.  A beginning was there, and sensing that I was in a good place, I inhibited myself. Using the Alexander Technique directions assisted me in maintaining a sense of my use and my energy to flow.  Another section tinkled out from the universe and then I recorded what I had so far.

Again I inhibited myself from plunging forward and used the AT directions to foster my movements and flow.  Playing through what I had so far a mistake appeared on the final note. Calling on Brian Eno's sage advice to "Honor thy mistake as a hidden intention," I asked myself how to incorporate this new aspect.  "What would 'White' sound like," I  thought?  I noticed a picture of my parents and sister on the shelf and lit a candle in front of them.

Returning to the guitar, I inverted the final chord, with it's "wrong note" and began a new section. Smiling as this section also flowed, I hit record again.  Noticing that I would need to leave soon I notated the chords and completed my practice. Many hours later my bureau is still messy and I did not look for the box. But music is waiting and I will work to make myself available. How are you interfering with the music in your life?

Friday, December 3, 2010

To Come Into Being

While I was preparing to go to work this morning there was a piece playing in my mind.  I knew it was there, slipping in and out of prominence when I spoke with my wife.  I could hear this one section repeating, and realized I was not sure what piece it was from, but knew it was one of mine.  I listened and realized that it was the rocking section from Becoming, the new piece I've blogged about already.  What struck me as odd was the fact that I did not work on Becoming last night. I focused on the three pieces I'll be performing next week.

Often I wake during the night and have whatever piece I was working playing in my mind.  To have something reverberating that I did not focus on last night was odd.  As I was driving to work with no audio playing, the piece continued to play on in my mind.  As I listened I heard that a new line that wants to come in.  If I had been carrying my mp3 recorder I could have captured this. Smiling I tried to visualize where this line was being played on the guitar.  The higher positions on the A & D strings was what I could surmise.  Looks as if this piece really wants to come into being. I practiced tonight for 45 minutes, focusing on the three pieces for next week, and then attended a celebration with my wife.  Dare I pick up my guitar now as I recall the events of this morning, and see if I can nail down this part?  Dare I not?

 I can no longer hear the part.  I am very tired, but that has not stopped me before.  What is stopping you?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What is a Good Note?

I was flipping through Robert Henri's The Art Spirit before I began my guitar practice tonight.  This book has more pieces of paper sticking out of it then any book on art theory that I own. So many great thoughts that apply to any creative process.  Henri had a connection with his muse on all levels that I admire.  He was more than capable to express his connection in words.  He says: " A line is not good because it is like a line. A line is good because of it's relations to other lines ..."

Does this not hold true for a note?  One note can be beautiful, powerful, & true which is a testament to the player; but where does one note take us?  An inspired moment perhaps, but this same note related to other notes, has the power of all of the notes and their relationships to inspire, transform, and transcend our world.

Holding these thoughts, I quietly moved my arms in the manner of Qi Gong, but with no specific form in mind.  As I opened my case, I knew I would begin with the Berio exercise to play the same note 11 different ways. This simple exercise aligns my listening and playing faster than any other exercise I know.   As I played with this exercise, I decided I would work on the intro to Stepping Stones next, as there are many long notes in the introduction of this piece.  I enjoyed playing with these notes, savoring the making of the sounds while listening to them, feeling the power in their relationships.  Noticing how a change in timbre or volume of one note affected all the others before and after.

When I decided to play through the piece, I noticed my mind had begun to chatter as I was playing the arpeggios in the second section.  Then the thought arrived "When playing the guitar - play the guitar." Alone or on stage isn't this enough?  A glimpse of Mastery perhaps? As I applied this thought to my playing, I played.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Conserve the Energy

  XXI: Azathoth Pleroma

During my commute this morning, I focused on listening to the two takes of Becoming that I recorded last night. I quickly settled on the second one as having the juice of the revision. I listened to this twice, and then drove in silence taking the piece in. On the next listening, I decided that this revision definitely has merit. On my final listen, I was happy with the two new high energy sections that revealed themselves last night, but unsure how the piece will work.

My evening commute found me again listening to Becoming. The piece has an opening theme which is slow and then begins to rock out a bit. The first new section continues this energy, but then the piece slowed down in the original conception. The more I listened, I became convinced that I needed to find a way to keep the energy of the piece high, if I wanted to effectively incorporate the second new section. I let the piece play in my head and then heard a potential solution.

As I was ready to begin my practice the phrase "Conserve the Energy" came to mind as to the task before me. In this spirit I began my practice with an Alexander Technique lie down. During the lie down I decided that before I began working with Becoming, I must address the other three pieces which are candidates for being performed next week. I had not played Stepping Stones in over two weeks and this is a definite for the set. So I began with SS and played it twice. Some work on the chord sequence which is still troubling me with Broken Wing was fruitful as revealed in my play through of it. Then I moved onto Becoming.

I played with the notion that came to me during the drive home, but could not find a way to make it work. Returning to what I knew of the piece, I found that I was now confused. The rhythms were muddled and the melodies lost. Rather than push on I decided to 'Conserve the Energy" and introduced another AT lie down. I was going to listen to last nights take, but I was on the floor with my books supporting my neck and decided to stay put.

When I returned to my guitar, I worked on Beneath Dark Images for a while. I began to play  Becoming and it came alive as a piece of music once more. I worked out the phrasing for the new parts and recorded them. I'll be listening to this on my commute tomorrow, trusting that the potential energy of Becoming will come forth.