Friday, December 27, 2013

Unity Extended


Certainly elusive
yet with discipline
and will
the path is opened.

Trudge onward

Then again tomorrow
and tomorrow's tomorrow.

 Fleeting moments
becoming the way.

Fleeting moments - forming days.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Long Notes on the Longest Night

Long exposure on a small stream near Lake Sabrina

Reflecting on how to begin my practice tonight on the longest night of the year the thought "play long notes arrived."  Clever perhaps, but I saw the opportunity to work with my use by keeping what I was to play simple.  I had 20 minutes to practice before heading out with my wife, and this seemed to be efficient.

I began with the AT directions I was working with last night, Freedom & Curiosity.  As I played with applying this to long notes, a simple joy arose.  Just listening, inviting random long notes, & playing with vibrato as I kept the directions alive.  Especially allowing the full length of my arms to just be.

After ten minutes or so, I decided to play a piece, the one that arose when my brother passed away this summer, Forget-Me-Knot.  I noticed the longing to connect with him arise in my heart.  Another aspect of 'long notes' I had never considered.  As I began to play, my mind began to wander.  Once again the ability to "just play' was escaping me.  Then the direction arrived " I am not just playing."

I held this thought, noticing how the mind was stumped and settling.  At one point I began to play the piece again, with a new freedom and presence.  Towards the end this wavered.  C'est la vie. In searching for the photo for this blog, the term long exposure was used in the photo's title.  Yes I also need a long exposure to working in this way.  Time to slip in a few more minutes of playing before retiring.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Free to Be Curious

Strange Dream c

Before practicing this evening I read this blog post by Jennifer Roig-Francoli called An Exercise in Moving From Our Curiosity.  She began with remembering we are free, then arousing our curiosity, and then allowing the eyes to lead the head, the spine, and the limbs into movement.  I played with this before I picked up my guitar case.  Picking up my case with awareness gave rise to the next curious question - what will the clasps sound like as I open the case?  Can I imagine this sound I've heard thousands of time?  Sensing I was onto something I began writing this post after those two questions arose.

Pausing to reflect on what to type next I become curios about how am I sitting at my computer?  Which led to me to listening to the act of typing - different rhythms, variations in tone and dynamics.  Must all 'periods' be done with greater force relative to rest of the typing?  Will I ever get to open the case?

As I stood before the case I played with Opening the Three Energy Gates, a Qi Gong exercise.  Coming back to my thought of freedom, I became curious about the act of opening the case. Then the negative direction " I am not free" arrived from nowhere.   I smiled as I noticed a slight release in my legs and torso.  Listening as the case opened I heard the soft sound of the strings coming  to life as the lid moved about.  The two staccato notes that sounded a I removed the humidifier from between the strings was suddenly delightful.  I heard my footfalls as I approached my stool, the slight squeak elicited as I settled in. 

I took in the space around me, finding the thought of freedom again, I aroused my curiosity about what does my spine do as I move my hands to the guitar?   I have no idea, but this arousing thought heightened my awareness.  Free & curios I let my eyes land on the neck of the guitar and then my hands followed.  Beginning with an improvisation, I just let the hands go.  Listening, returning to the thought of freedom and being curious what this means to me.

I began playing through a piece and became lost.  Again I was playing and became lost.  I decided to take Jennifer's exercise and twist it with a sense of Missy Vineyard's negative directions:

I am not free.
I am not curious.
I am not allowing my spine to be free.

I came back to the I am not curious, a very strange sense of curiosity about how this affected my thinking and subsequent movement arose.  Even now as I entertain this thought,  a release upward occurs.  I began to play again.   Lost another time.  I paused and let this go, but wondered why after arriving in such a rich place was I getting so lost?  I had a glimpse of ease and freedom that is possible from this place, a glimpse that is not foreign to me, yet remains elusive.  More to practice and I am curious to see where this goes.  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Not Holding On

Tired, very tired.  When I began to play tonight, I just launched into Here We Are.  No warm up, no directing of my thinking, no intentions nor plan about my practice session, just playing the piece.  As I continued the thought arrived "I am not holding onto anything as I play."  There it was, plain and simple - a negative Alexander Technique direction that I continued to come back to.

As I used this direction I noticed that my body was staying loose as was my attitude towards my playing.  Not holding onto anything included my notions about what it means to play a piece;  my underlying inspirations and conceptions about a given piece, and any concern as to how I was doing what I was doing.  Instead I was just playing.  So simple but so difficult for me.  But after years of 'just sitting,' perhaps something is shifting.  But I'll not hold onto that concept either.

An after thought. 

When I woke this morning I recalled that at the end of my practice a beautiful possible intro arrived. I played with this idea a few minutes and as the hour was getting late, I decided to tape what I had for later reflection.  With the recorder running, the idea fell apart. After three attempted beginnings I recalled that I was not holding onto anything as I play and let it go.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Movin' Da Funk

As the man said - Everybody gets the blues sometimes ...

Today was my turn.  Exposed to just a little too much sadness, too many memories, too much blight in our world, loss was overwhelming me.  Fortunately I have a wonderful wife and a way of life that works in good times and bad.  Returning home from much needed visits to relatives, we rested, ate and talked.  Joann mentioned that I really would feel better when I picked up my guitar and I knew she was right.

But first I needed to meditate and allow my feelings to subside.  To water positive seeds within me, within all of us, and to tune my perspective.  I followed this with Qi Gong, a reversal of our usual morning practice.  Moving the body while following the breath, the energy blockages dissolved.  Then onto my guitar.  Without demand nor judgement I played, allowing the power of music to move me, soothe me, and to invite in wholeness.  The pieces I  played did not matter so much as the act of surrender to the notes as they were, as I am.  At the end a spirited improvisation with notes flying off the fretboard without concern.  My body responding with movement not usually associated with the act of music and myself.  So be it.

The chocolate fudge brownie ice cream before a walk under the nearly full moon completed the shift.  Truly I am grateful for all of the loved ones who support my life, for the practices I have learned, and for music, sweet music.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

What is is About the Unknown?

unknown fungal growth
While journaling this morning, the question of what is it about the unknown that can disturb me like it did last night arose.  Under the direction of my instructor, I spend part of every practice session just playing, improvising to see what develops.  Sometimes this is at the beginning, sometimes at the end, and rarely in the middle of the session.  When nothing is there I move on. This determination is usually a recognition of the truth of the situation, and is not harsh nor full of judgement.  And when the recognition is one of something is happening I stick with the exploration.

Every now & then, circumstances like last night arrive.  No idea why and while I could certainly create possible & plausible causes & conditions, I'm not certain this analysis would serve moving my musical development further?  What remains important to me, was when I heard the negative self talk, I did not listen and abandon the work.  In hindsight I see that when the talk was developing, I was drifting away from the present moment.  By pausing and taking a few breaths, I was able to bring myself back to the moment.  My body relaxed a bit, the chatter lessened, and the emotion calmed.  Approaching the task with a more unified presence, I was able to enter back into the unknown and not remain stuck.

I know that there as a time to let go of an exploration, a pursuit or a relationship, but when is that?  Elusive at best without a clear cut answer.  No need to engage if all that is going on is frustration & brow beating, but sensitivity to the moment at hand is pertinent. In the act of learning might letting go really mean giving up?  Is there a place that arises when you have exhausted your known options and your brain is stimulated and you find something new? When the emotions are aroused in the act of learning, might a subtle biochemical shift develop that also stimulates the brain differently than when an improvisation is proceeding smoothly?  Then in quieting the body mind complex with the breath, this new harmonized approach has a fresh territory to explore.  Being somewhat free to roam in this unknown place instead of walking away from a sense of stuckness and failure gave rise to new energy.

Again and again I learn and apply these lessons to my musical practice and to life.  May I continue to recognize when to remain with a process, when to pause, and when to let go.  May the breath of life continue to inform me and all beings.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Accepting What Comes II

L'Oiseau bleu Cosmos_20
Our plan had been to be on a retreat this weekend.  That was until my wife came down with a bug that's kept her wiped out most of this week. Thus I woke this morning with a planned day off but without a clear schedule.  Not that I need a schedule, just had not had time to rethink what I might do. Part of this time was devoted to a longer meditation and to more practice Qi Gong.   A few errands and lunch with my wife led to a nap. Then a few more errands.

I knew I would practice guitar, just not sure when nor what I would do.  I even noticed a bit of resistance about practicing which is rare for me.  What is going on I wondered? After another meditation and 15 minutes of Qi Gong I did sit down to practice.  I recalled a blog post from 2010 titled Accepting What Comes which I reread this week.  Three years later and I still do not have any formal composition process but I do have an inquiring and curious mind.  One night while practicing this week, I began playing around with Scriabin's Prometheus Chord. I based this chord on "C" and found a potential introduction that did not go any further.

Tonight in the spirit of accepting what the muse had to offer, I decided to begin with this nugget from earlier this week and see what developed.  After 25 minutes I was lost, nothing was emerging, and I found myself beginning to talk negatively to myself.  While questioning my abilities and knowledge, I felt uneasy about continuing. I also noticed that this was an opportunity.  I was already wandering about in the unknown, why pull back now, just stay with the process.  Having exhausted what I knew, and what I had already experimented with I decided to continue.

And it got worse.  Nothing was making sense, nothing developing, and the negativity was hovering nearby.  Suddenly I craved playing a known piece of music.  To hear what made sense and worked, to get a bit of joy from that.  But why?  Why abandon where I was?  Acceptance was not part of this process.  When I saw this, I took a few breaths and began again.  What would happen if the chord was based on "G" I thought.  As I played with this, a whisper of music emerged, building in strength and giving a lift to my will to continue.  When my left hand tired I took a short break.

I returned and played with this more.  Still not a piece, but by staying with the unknown; accepting my shortcomings and by practicing persistence something came alive.  Was it music?  Was it me?  The door is open once again.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Day's Listening

Sound of Silence

Slurping coffee, perhaps I need to begin again.

Hearing the sound of the clothes dryer in the basement and noticing the similarity to my thinking.

Waterfall cascading from the faucet cleansing life from our dishes.

Concern in the voice of a colleague about an approaching weather event on my day off.

Pedro's de Alcantara's new piece of music arising from SoundCloud, almost as good as being with him.

Debussy arising from nowhere, everywhere takes me by surprise.  Ah Debussy ...

Plop, stop, go on and listen.

My beloved's gentle shriek as cold lotion caresses her back.

Noticing that when I am quiet, I hear the sound of my breathing.

What is that sound of the unasked question?

The sound of I love you leaving my lips, echoed back with such beauty by my beloved.

Listening to Evan Parker playing in an unusual context.  I hear same Evan, new Evan.

Gargles destroying life, protecting life in my mouth.

Laughter & chatter amongst old and new friends.  Pain, sorrow, hope, inspiration and caution also arise.

Eno, dear Eno - what more can I say.

The sound of my book closing.

In a dream the sound of myself playing to an elderly person in bed in an institutional setting.  This is the second night in a row I woke and recalled this dream. What question am I not asking?

Friday, December 6, 2013

When Does a Sound Begin?

When does a sound begin?

When fingers caress a string,
breath vibrates membranes,
or sticks invite skins to respond?

Does a sound begin in the mind,
the heart,
even the beyond?

Perhaps a sound begins with a message.
Perhaps with causes and condition seeking to be voiced.

Can the, will the performer offer a reconciling voice?
Bring the beyond into the here and now?
Allow freedom to be heard?

How does a sound begin?

With an intention,
an action,

Who forms the sound?
The sound forms who?


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Restrained Freedom

As I began my practice tonight I glanced at the clock and realized that David Jernigan was probably conducting his weekly Alexander Technique class about a mile away from me.  Due to my taking Qi Gong class for the past 10 weeks at around the same time, I have not seen David in a while.  This does not mean that I do not practice AT, but I do not think of it as frequently as when I have ongoing contact with an AT Instructor.

I decided to vary a warm up exercise I frequently begin with by using inhibition throughout the exercise.  After 4 bars of the exercise I would pause, reconnect with myself and the space around me, and then play through another 4 bars.  Using these pauses to release and lengthen, I smiled.

Towards the end of this exercise I was pleased with the direction I was heading in and decided to apply inhibition to a piece of music.  I choose Senseless Loss, a tremolo piece.  Since most of the piece is in 7/4 I decided to begin by playing a bar and then resting for 2 beats, moving to the next bar, resting for 2 beats and so on.  I played through the piece once in this manner.  On the second play through I began to make it 4 beats of rest.  Keeping the rests to a fixed time felt important to keep me connected with the music.  The main thing I noticed playing through in this manner was that I had absolutely no sense of how to build a crescendo.  More importantly I noticed how present I was with what I was doing and decided to take this further.

I increased the playing to two bars of 7/4 with a 4 beat rest in between.  The act of inhibiting my playing and allowing my length and width to re-establish themselves was pleasant and my playing still effortless.  After two play throughs in this manner, I moved onto 4 bars with then a 4 beat rest.

Here my habits began to reassert themselves a bit.  During the 12th bar I noticed a familiar tension and miscue in my right hand fingers.  And then the rest to let go of this mistake and allow a breath of lengthening and widening enter my being.  The next four bars comprise  tricky left hand fingering and while the tremolo switches from the E to the high G string(NST.) Midway through playing this part I noticed a grimace forming about my mouth.  Smiling I was able to release this.  During the next section my focus fell apart and I let go of playing.

As I played through again in this manner, I noticed that when the crescendo was beginning to gain in intensity where I tripped up the last time that there was a slight pulling at the bottom of my right shoulder and I was holding on with my right elbow.  Noticing this allowed it to release somewhat and the right hand fingering miscue did not happen.  In the next section the facial grimace again arose and by the end of this 4 bar section I would have held my breath at the next transition was it not for the pause.  Has the grimace become part of my performance of this piece?  I suspect the grimace has been practiced below my level of awareness.  Are the other tensions noted part of how I perform this piece or part of my regular act of playing?  This was turning into a very rich exercise.

Now I really wanted to play through the piece and see if any progress was made.  And then from my early days of Guitar Craft the notion of restraint arrived.  Restraint was practiced in performance when you think you can play your part, but no that you really can't.  This is somewhat harder than it sounds.  So why move into the whole piece, when I was having success at identifying and working with issues that were yet to be resolved?

Practicing restraint I played through in 4 bar sections one more time.  Then I let go and played through a different piece.  I could sense the improvement of my playing by what had come before.  Smiling I continued to play, but left Senseless Loss for another session.  Perhaps my unnecessary habitual quirks can begin to unravel due to restrained freedom.