Saturday, August 15, 2009

Play What You Don't Know

Compound Image from 77 Million Paintings by Brian Eno

Wednesday morning I read the following from Rumi:
"What could be luckier than to have the ocean come to court the drop?
For God's sake don't postpone your Yes!
Give up and become the giver."

I so loved the sentiment of this that I copied to paper and placed it in my shirt pocket. I read it at work a few times and again this paper accompanied to work on Thursday. In the morning I recalled Miles Davis famous "Play what you don't know," while seeing a quote by Einstein " A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new."

Later I encountered this pearl of wisdom and insight from F.M Alexander " ... it is impossible to separate the 'mental & physical' processes in any form of human activity." I thought of my meditation practice and how this harmonizes the body and the mind. Suddenly I had an idea to conduct some improvisations using the breath as bar lines. I have read variations of this elsewhere but never worked with this myself. Even came up with a structure of playing only on the 'in breaths' for 3 breaths then play for a full breath, rest a breath and come play on two of the "out breaths", and repeat. Thought this would give my mind something to do.

I decided to tape these improvisations just in case the happy accident occurred. Did not take me long to notice that I was not following the breath playing past the first in breath. I also noticed that I needed to trust myself and just let go. Only an exercise, my whole existence was not at stake. But the " all hearing ears" of the tape machine were bothering me. I persisted for three attempts and then let go. Much trickier than I first imagined and perhaps an exercise to attempt periodically.

Moving on I played through Dandelion Wish. Enjoyed this and noted that I actually played all of the harmonics in time. I was about to remove the capo and then found a chord in the 13th position. When I heard this chord I though again of Rumi's line: "to have the ocean come to court the drop?" I began to explore and quickly saw that a piece was forming. I noticed that now I was trusting myself and the process. Had I watered this seed earlier in the improvs so that now it could sprout?

I played with this a bit and took a short break. Increasingly I am noticing how I misuse my body with the guitar especially when excited by new musical whisperings. While stretching I decided to notate what had just come out. Then I moved back to the guitar. A new section appeared. Again I notated. Then I turned on the tape and played what I had so far for documentary purposes, while taping the next section came out. Excited I played with this a bit and before I knew it I had a rough sketch of a piece. I began this process at 9pm and it was now 11:30. I wanted to keep going but I knew I needed to wind down before I would fall asleep. All was notated & three takes recorded. I played through a one more time before retiring.

I woke Friday tired but happy. Twenty minutes of Qi Gong had my body humming along and then it was on to the rest of my morning routine. I really wanted to stay home from work and play but ... I came home from work and after stretching and warming up I consulted my notes and played through the piece a few times. Something musical was there and I needed to flesh the rest out. I began exploring. A break for a walk on Sligo Creek at dusk to listen to the insects and the creek and let the musical ideas percolate.

Refreshed and back at the guitar I worked on this some more. Holding onto Rumi's poem seemed to nurture my playing and the development of the piece. At times I could sense the 'ocean swell' with in me and in the playing. Also a bit of a dark twist emerged which appears to strengthen the music. Additions to the original tabulature notes were creating a mess on the staff paper. So what, I can clean this up later. I kept note of my posture to a greater degree than usual. Perhaps if I take care with my body while developing the piece it will be easier when I actually learn the piece. Time will tell on this front. Another recording of where the piece was and I completed my practice for the evening. I was tempted to listen to the recordings of this work in progress, but I know at times doing this for purposes other than to check a part out can deflate the process for me. I hear the warts of my playing and loose the sense of the energy of the emerging piece. Armed with this reminder I restrained from listening.

A beautiful summer morning today found me practicing Qi Gong on the back yard. Needed to leave my shoes on as the acorns have began falling. After sitting and breakfast I returned to this piece. A couple additions and the piece appears close to being complete.

Off to address personal returns and later in the day a dear friend who is a talented pianist surprised me with a visit. She was interested in hearing what I have been working on. I played through two pieces for her and then took a deep breath. Usually my dear wife Joann is the first person to hear my musical ideas. She is away on retreat this week. I relish the value of bringing a piece of music alive by playing for someone so I took the leap. Although there was hesitation at two of the transitions I played the piece fairly well. I received good feedback from Gina and off to lunch we went. Much enlivened conversation followed.

Perhaps I should return to my breath improvisations again and just trust while waiting for the door to open. Stay tuned!

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