Saturday, January 25, 2014

Spaces I Find Myself

While writing in my journal this morning, I recalled an older Alexander Technique post the essence of which was Up is Up.  Such a simple thought, practice even, but like many simple ideas this requires a sustained disciplined approach. Just thinking Up is Up, I noticed I was huddled over the notebook on the table, not up at all.

Compressing my spine, pulling on my back, my shoulders pulled inward, and my head pulling on my neck.  There was no poise nor ease.  Muscles holding me in place, but why?  I can write while allowing myself to be forward & up, long & wide.  I am allowing this now as I type.  I wonder if "writing in my journal from this place of freedom" might also allow me to more fully examine & engage the thought processes & feelings I probe in my journal?

This pattern of use that I noticed also reminded me of a space I sometimes find myself within when playing guitar. Perhaps another instance of Alexander's observation of how we do one thing is how we do everything.  What I also find interesting this morning was that I was writing about something I've noticed in my creative process with the guitar.  I journal each morning and I generally play guitar six days a week.  While my intent is to be aware when I am practicing guitar, I need to extend this to how I am within the space of any practice, even the mundane of washing dishes or sweeping floors.

Certainly I pay more attention to my use in my "practice space."  But these everyday acts of living as I am taught in Zen are precious opportunities to wake up to what I am doing, or not.  Like Zen, the Alexander Technique is a path for me to investigate mindfulness of the body and allows me to touch the moments of my life. When I allow more freedom in my body, lo and behold I find it easier to follow my breath.  This allows me to observe my thinking which again can allow for more freedom of use. But first I must notice.  How am I using my body?  Am I breathing?  What am I thinking?  Any of these portals invite me into the present moment, the very moment of life. 

Photo by Joann Malone.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Two Times to Lie Down

Tonight while practicing, I became aware of tightness and unnecessary tension in my lower back and right elbow.  Pausing to think through the Alexander Technique directions I found a bit of freedom, but not enough.  Time to hit the floor for an AT lie down.  As I gathered my books I thought when was the last time I did this?  Not a good sign when I can not remember doing something that always yields positive results.

While on the floor I noticed other tensions below the right shoulder and across the back  in general that are familiar to me.  What happened?  Why so long since I've done this wonderfully freeing practice?  There have been times when I've done 2 & 3 or more lie downs in a day, but in the mist of a full life this has somehow dropped off.  The past few days I've thought of doing a lie down, a sign that one is needed, but for some reason, or rather lack of reasoning I have not.  Fortunately the reminders of a good habit kept whispering to me and finally got my attention.

Thus while my back released into the floor I came up with the two times to do an Alexander Technique lie down rule -  When I think I need a lie down and when I don't!

Friday, January 17, 2014

New Variations in Alexander Technique Negative Directions

          While practicing this evening, I paused to direct my thinking with the basic Alexander Technique directions.  Directing forward & up, long & wide.  I noticed that I was "shortening" my right arm and that the right shoulder was in some type of funny position.  How do I get this way?  Wondering if this goes back to that young boy trying to write cursive that I recalled a couple posts ago while working with AT.

Then the negative direction - I am not concerned with my playing when I play arrived.  Perfect.  Just play, work on the rough sections of the new piece.  Release into the unconcerned. Abandon any concerns with my playing or my process.

After a short break, I moved onto the second piece I'll be recording on Sunday that still is not complete.  Suddenly this arrived - I am not concerned with completing this piece.  Amen.  Freedom to continue to explore what is available.  Nothing to be concerned with.  Just play, play without concern.  And dare I say - don't fret?


I wake from a dream where I arrived at dinner on a Guitar Circle course.  There are plenty of seats still available and no food.  Watching myself as I begin to react.  Doing nothing.  Wondering.  Wanting to do something, but doing nothing.  I see too much food on many but not all plates.  Must have been a self service arrangement.  In this dream, I was not in the role of kitchen coordinator and that person was nowhere to be seen.  Probably getting ready to perform at a meal I thought.  Was getting harder to do nothing, especially not to at least make a comment. Possibly why I woke up.

Working with the graphic scores from Sid Smith's String Quartet collaboration has me stumped at the moment.  Sunday I am scheduled to record these two pieces with my old friend and musical partner Steve Geest, yet the second piece is not complete.  Many others have submitted their works and I am beginning to feel a bit of self-imposed pressure, hence the deadline.  The value of a performance or recording date to spur the process is unique and known.  The other two times I recall waking during the evening the melody from Movement III of String Quartet was playing in my head.  This is a good sign and I  trust the process.

I have also seen how vital my portable mp3 recorder is to my process.  My old R-09 has given up the ghost & I am waiting for a replacement to arrive. This  added to the challenge of working from a photo as a graphic score. Examining this, I can not hear where the melody is leading me yet. I have a two working titles that arose for this piece.  They are on a post-it note next to the photo.  Perhaps if I select one as they are embodying different, even opposing qualities the piece will evolve.  Life is very good. The table is set.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Wide Questions

The past couple days I've been wondering about the Alexander Technique direction of wide and what does this mean for me.   Here is what I have noticed so far.

What happens when I think wide at the hips?  I notice that my hips collapse inward as I sit on my stool.  Is this the nature of this bicycle-ish style seat on the stool or a result of gravity pulling me down? 

What happens when I think wide at the feet? I notice that my feet are not free, but seem to be holding what I suppose is my concept of the foot on the floor.  Simply thinking wide at my feet I notice the arch releases a bit, my legs appear to lengthen a bit to grow into my feet and even a slight release in the neck.

Can an elbow be wide I hear myself think?  Why not, there is a three dimensionality to the body is there not?

Can my neck be wide?  Is it? Is yours?

I recall having a conversation with an AT teacher about the hands and I understood them to say there was no width to the hands.  Did I misunderstand?  As I think wide in my hands I notice a sense of lengthening in my arms, similar to what happened with my feet.

The back is wide, but can I allow my back to widen and give my shoulders the space they need to be free?

What does it mean to be wide when I brink my guitar to my body?

The following morning while writing in my journal I wrote - What is wide?

Bringing my attention to my back I notice my shoulders scrunching inward towards my neck & spine, along with a slight "bending" forward from the "middle" of my spine.  Does this represent a concentrated & focused Patrick?  What happens to my concentration & focus when freed of this habitual tension I wonder?

Returning to my written journal with a bit more awareness about me I notice how I 'Grip" the pen I am using.  My right shoulder tense and this tension coming through the arm, hand, and fingers.  Is this some manifestation of control within me?  I always print for my words to be legibile.  I was atrocious at cursive, the nun giving my my pen the last day of class because I wrote so bad. Can I go back to my pen and print with necessary tension only?  How does this potential issue of control developed in a young child translate into other actions of my right hand such as holding a pick or using playing fingerstyle?   I am amazed at how questions of wide have developed into questions of depth.

Returning to my journal once again, I notice that I am beginning to assume a position to write.  Pausing to inhibit and direct, release my length, my width, where is the dynamism in my being?  Smiling to myself as I see that wide is so much wider than I ever envisioned.

Moving about as I prepare to practice Qi Gong I notice again the unneeded holding in my right hand.  Perhaps this is natural for the dominant hand?  Perhaps if I look for tension I will find it and it I look for release I will find this.  Better to direct for freedom, length, & width.

Later in the day while practicing guitar I think what is wide at the forehead?  I notice a certain scrunching towards the eyes.  Is this another manifestation of focused concentration in me?  As I continue to explore "wide at the forehead" I notice my mental chatters slows down.   At other times during the day when I do this again I notice the same. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Dynamic Pausing

While working with one of the new pieces tonight, I was playing in front of a mirror.  Noticing that I was slumping over the guitar, I paused and thought about my use.  Where was I too relaxed that was allowing this slump to occur?  I came into a relationship with the space about me, then directing up and wide, something let go and realigned in my torso.  Staying with the space I became aware of the front of me and the back of me.  I noticed that I was no longer sitting on my stool, but rather that the stool was supporting me.  Subtle but vital differences in how I was now using myself to play.

When I returned to the music I was working on, a dynamic shift occurred with a new section arising out of the blue.  As if my slightly freer pyscho-physical relationship also allowed a musical connection to be made that mirrored the dynamic tension of my sitting.  As I continued to work on myself by inhibiting my movements and inviting in the Alexander Technique directions, my whole approach to the piece shifted in a more musical way.  Exciting and pleasing playing ensued.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Sweet Moments

Ideas are evolving and coming together, simply by being open to the act of music. Very sweet for me when this happens.  I feel as if I could play forever.  I am amazed at the power these moments have on me and how they fuel my life.  And I am incredibly grateful they occur.  But tomorrow's responsibilities beckon so the case is closed.  C'es la vie.  A very good life.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

How Do You Find Those First Notes?

It was an F#, the first note that I played this year.  That one was easy, I wanted the choice to be intentional and mindful.  In the days since, I've been playing with the two Movements I described yesterday from Sid Smith's String Quartet Collaboration.  The first note of the IV Movement is also a F#.  Yes there is a relationship to the note I chose on January 1st, something about the low F# had me that day and led to the introduction for that movement.

Now I'm looking for the first note(s) of the III Movement.  Thought I had something but then I let that idea go.  Found another approach tonight, but not enough has developed yet to know for sure.  I've been watching this search, the endless possibilities of six strings with 21 notes on each one. Add in that the first notes could be dyads or triads or any combination up to a 6 note chord for a beginning.  And no matter how much I might care for that first note(s), I have to have a second one and third one. No wonder this can seem so daunting at times.

I recall the blog from Seth Godin yesterday titled But What if I Fail?  Seth points out that you will fail and that what is important is what you do next.  Make good choices, fail, and be closer to success.  Works in business and composition.  Resilience serves me well here as does curiosity. Finding the limits that frame an introduction, that frame a piece, and then discarding them if needed. How do you find those first notes?

Monday, January 6, 2014

In the Polar Vortex

The local area is cooling down rapidly, the polar vortex is upon us.  I just found this photo online depicting the vortex and the lover of abstract art in me was moved.  But the artist is Mother Nature, the creator of all abstractions.  The past few days have found me looking at two photos taken by Sid Smith of the windows of his home with rain streaks on them.  Sid posted up a set of 20 String Quartets in his blog The Yellow Room.  Each quartet contains 4 photos and serve as graphic scores for musicians to work with.  I was intrigued by this and have taken on Movements III and IV in SQ IV.

After the commitment was made I found myself in a bit of a vortex with how to interpret these photos.  Part of the vortex of feelings that arose was due to the public nature of this collaboration.  Part was how to limit my options.  In questioning Sid about how to proceed, in a very crafty fashion he said "It's anything you want it to be.  Should I fire up the rack with it's aging synths and effects and return to FingerPaint explorations?  Or maybe find multiple lines for a quartet of guitars?  Too many possibilities and the choice was mine.  Of course the options available on the six strings of an acoustic guitar alone  is always overwhelming.  So I look and play and look and wonder.  What do I hear when I look at photos with their beauty that has grown on me these past few days. 

And then the first notes are found.  I trust that inner part nod in assent to where these notes might lead. Slowly  Movement III has revealed a piece with a working title of  Enclosing.  Movement IV is whispering.  Something about "shadows" seems to be hidden within the subtle color of the photo.   Time will tell. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Friday, January 3, 2014

What Are the Unseen Patterns?

What are the unseen patterns?

Music hovering while waiting for the musician to give her voice.

Nature's laws - those understood & those not understood.

Subtle energy systems.
Stored memories of past musical experiences,
ready to inform current ones.

Our misperceptions. 

Our ancestral transmission.

How we use ourselves.


The patterns within patterns.

The without.


Our Unknowing


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Finding Patterns

Exploring an idea on the guitar while watching the snow fall outside. Barren trees and ground look so beautiful right now. The gentle quiet of the snow invoking a similar state within me. The mood beneath the notes probing, perhaps even covering a sinister notion. The notes like the snow falling into place in accord with the unseen pattern. 

Would love to stay up late and play and watch. Watch the snow, watch me as I explore, and watch for the pattern.  But oh that day job ...

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The First Note

What will be the first note I play this year?  Perhaps more importantly, how will I play this first note of the year?  Will I be present with the note?  Will I be awake, alive, and making a choice - subsequently ensuring that the note is real?   Fortunately I have a path of practice, a way of returning to the present and being with an activity that makes this possible.

So with no sense of rushing nor urgency, I'll first work on my nails, then myself. Then I'll open the case with intention, care and love.  Extending this to the steps of putting on the guitar, tuning, and then making a choice.  Why do I want it to be an Eb I wonder? 

What will be your first note of the year?  How will you play it?