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.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

When An Ending No Longer Works.

Risiera di San Sabba, an italian lager #2
Last night I took an evening off from practicing. The tendon in my left wrist that developed tendonitis a few years back was getting tight. This is never a good sign and with a gig coming up with The Field next week I need to pace myself carefully. If pain develops I stop! Injury is not worth the recovery process.

I was also told to slow down by my vein doctor today. Geesh what do they think I'm getting old? My left calf is still recovering from the procedure and my job has me on my feet enough to distress the recovery. So I came home and rested tonight per the doc's suggestion. I let go of my AT class.

I opened my playing with Journeyman, Gathered Hearts, & Kinnara. Then a good look at Broken Wing which is one of the three pieces I will perform at The Field next week. Worked on two trouble spots and then played through the piece twice. The energy of the music is felling good. I was ready to move on to Stepping Stones but decided to play through a new work called Becoming. This is recorded in a few versions but not notated. Becoming could easily get lost in the coming days with the performance and added pressures on the day job.

While playing through Becoming there is a rocking part for a while. Tonight it rocked a bit more with a new part being exposed to me. Of course this new part does not fit with the current ending. So what I told myself, this piece is less than a week old. Get out of the way and let it flow. There may be a new ending or a new path to the old ending. Play, generate, and let go of preconceived notions.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Be in the Space

As I began doing Qi Gong this morning, I thought of yesterday's phrase for the day - "Be Free". I checked in with my body by giving the Alexander Technique directions as they allow me freedom in movement. As I did the Crane Stretching exercise I became aware of the space that I was moving in. This shift in awareness, waking me up a bit more allowed my movements to be free at the same time. We worked with the Bear movement next. My "bear paws" forming circles in front of my body, I again saw how much space I occupy. Still maintaining a sense of my hands we began the Swimming Dragon sequence. The space around me supporting my movements as my hands guided my body.

We then moved into a movement I learned from Luciano Pietrafesa. My body lengthening as I hung to the ground, I had  a sense of the space of my chest cavity as I continued this movement up and away. As my arms lengthened one at a time to the side of me and traveled across the space above my head, I once again found the space was supporting me as long as I extended my awareness to include it. By now I knew the phrase of this day is "Be in the Space." After a couple more movements, we traced this phrase with our hands to complete our practice.

After sitting meditation, as I opened my eyes I became aware of the space of our living room, the room holding me as I breathed. Again I had a sense of the space within my chest cavity. Slowly this space that supports all of life was breathing in, and then breathing out. This space of life which not only invites in the air that nourishes my tissues but also houses my heart. Can I be in the space of my breathing while I move through the space of my day? Walking meditation is an ongoing  simple and profound practice I use to explore this. Can I be in the space of my desk as my fingers flirt with the keyboard? Releasing my spine into the universe above me and the earth below me, I watch the gentle expansion and release of the space of my chest.

I move within the spray beneath my shower. Expanding and cleansing my body as I delight in the warm flowing water. I again sense my spine lengthening toward the sky and into the earth. My shoulders feel as wide as the horizon, as I recognize that the entire cosmos is within me. From this internal space I can do anything my dreams desire. Finding the space and being in the space remains the crux of life.

Later in the day while walking down the stairs at the local library, I become aware of the space above me and then around me. Smiling I sense my beloved walking next to me, with me. We enter the crisp autumn air with the leaves rustling in the wind. What a delightful sound on our wonderful planet.
Eager to go home and to be with my guitar.

Usually I practice in the basement, but with the sun shining so brightly and my wife at the gym, I moved to the living room. To begin this session I again traced the phrase "Be in the Space," with my hands. Sensing the Qi as I settled onto my stool, I decided to begin by playing Gathered Hearts.  I directed my spine to lengthen in both directions and to allow my pelvis to be free. My arms lengthening from wide shoulders as I brought them to my guitar. I began to play, taking in the space and listening to the different sonic quality of this room. I always enjoy playing this piece and generally feel myself let go of concerns and soften.

I moved onto working with Beneath Dark Images. Setting the metronome to 70 bpm I worked with the second section that is in double time relative to the first section. I focused on two specific changes that currently derail the piece. Paying attention to the metronome and the space around me, I found my mind quieting, directing my hands to relax and to play with ease. I gave myself permission to begin again and again as my hands learned to operate in time at this tempo. Relaxing into the incessant demand of the metronome, I focused on the movement of my left hand's fingers through the space around the fingerboard. "Process" I remind myself is what practice is about. Slow as progress may be, there is no way but through. Being in the space where the process is sufficient and results secondary is nourishing for me.

My practice was cut short, as I heard the leaf collecting truck approach our street. Aghast that I had nothing for them to collect, I sprinted outside and raked furiously for 35 minutes. Driven by urgency, I had no sense of myself being outdoors on a beautiful fall day, just a drive to maximize leaf volume. Chuckling about this when I was putting away the rake, I joined my wife for a late lunch.

The hour after eating is never a good time for me to practice, so I wrote this blog for a while. Again as with the leaf collection, I found myself "end gaining*" rather than being concerned with process. Impatience impeded the flow of my words. Certainly this is part of who I am, and with the help of my various practices my tendency to "end gain" and/or react is evolving. But end gaining is still very much a part of me. I noticed that the sun was setting, so I decided to walk.

Arriving at Sligo Creek I began my walk by softly singing Beneath Dark Images in time with my steps. When I do this I am never certain how to deal with a ritard in relationship to my step. Then I just enjoyed my walk, noticing how the space had changed since my last walk here. Most of the leaves have fallen and now the branches of the trees sketch their maze across the twilight. Marveling at the space between and among the branches, highlighted by the different densities of clouds and clear space I walked slowly and sliently. Looking up at the tree tops, I think of my spine lengthening once again, allowing the base of my spine to mimic the roots of the trees. I begin to walk backwards and observe how different this motion is compared to my walking forward. I sense a freedom in this difference, but perhaps it is only due to the novelty of this movement for me. Then I pause on a bridge and take in the long winding path carved by Sligo Creek.

On my return walk, I again sing through Beneath Dark Images and find my steps slowing when I arrive at the ritard. I realize I never know how to deal with this musical event with the metronome either. As the tempo slows in a ritard, what is the subtle relationship to the original pulse? I choose to maintain the pace of my steps and apply the ritard. I find this difficult and realize there is a learning opportunity for me in this area.

I lay down to nap and look at a collection of Robert Motherwell's ink drawings on paper. I have been attracted to these simple works for years. Tonight I notice his playing in two dimensional space as if for the first time. These drawings are small but powerful.

Upon awakening from my nap, I move to my guitar. I play through Beneath Dark Images, Broken Wing, and Becoming for my wife. I work with taking in the space as I begin and being in it as I play. My recent work in the Alexander Technique has been about being in the space and allowing the space to support me. I always find this easier to do with my wife as the audience than when I am in David's studio. This has everything to do with our relationship and with her ability to be present. Smiling now as I once again touch upon how fortunate I am in this life.

My wife just reminded me of her favorite moment of my "being in the space" today, when we hugged gently after lunch. How right she is!

* 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.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Be Free

I ended my Qi Gong session this morning using my hands to trace the phrase "Be Free."  The energy was flowing in my body and a three day weekend before me.  After breakfast I went to practice for an hour.  I recalled the phrase for today and checked in with my body before opening my case.  Allowing my neck to be free, my spine to lengthen, my leg and arms lengthening I was ready.  I knew what I wanted to work on and played through Here We Are  . Playing through a piece that I know well is becoming my practice to Sanctify the Space as described in this blog previously.

The energy was in my hands and my playing of this piece was good.  I realized that I now also had a recent positive musical experience to guide the remainder of my practice.  I worked with a few chord changes from Broken Heart.  I've recently added a couple of inversions and a few new chords and would like to present this piece to The Field on Sunday.  When I stumbled with one particular chord change, I paused and came back to giving myself the Alexander Technique directions and drawing on the positive play-through of Here We Are.  I gave myself permission to be free of judgment of myself and to just focus on the work at hand. Patiently working with just the chord changes, leaving the arpeggiations until later. When I was confident I had them in my left hand, I began adding in the right hand part.  The changes came together, so I added in the chords that begin this section.

Again I just worked with the changes and then when solid added in the right hand.  Frequently pausing and allowing myself to be free in my body, in my mind, and in my heart. No need to judge a work in progress and certainly no need to judge myself. Deciding that I was also free to continue to explore the possibilities of this piece, I experimented for a while.  Though nothing of musical interest came of this particular exploration, I know that this type of effort is the lifeblood of my music.  Without the experiments, music could not whisper to me.

My wife and I left to meet with some friends. While I was driving, an act of mindless driving occurred in front of me.  I heard myself telling her that I could "be free" to not judge the other drivers. I wish I could drive like that always, but a small beginning is valuable. We returned home and enjoyed our Thanksgiving leftovers with the addition of mashed potatoes and vegetarian mushroom gravy.

A dear friend stopped by and after conversation and some quiet moments, I offered to play Broken Wing for her. She was also a good friend of Jay Bott, our friend who recently passed. A beautiful run-through warmed all of our souls. What a gift that has been given to me - music. Where would I be, where would we be without music? I invite you to "be free" to pursue your art, your life today and always. Go ahead - BE FREE!

Photo by Jim Landry

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Visualizing Positive Musical Experiences

 I came across this post from January Becoming, which was written when I was suffering from the flu and my mind was focusing on negative thinking.  During this time I picked up my old copy of the Inner Game of Music and read a section on trust. In this section Barry Green mentioned the use of visualizing recent positive musical experiences to foster the creative process.  This worked for me that day.  Tonight I am in a much better frame of mind regarding myself and music, and I found myself wondering about the impact of visualizing positive musical experiences from an already positive place.

I sat for a few moments and calmed my thinking.  Then drawing on my recent Alexander Technique work, I became aware of the space around me.  I then decided to improve my studio space slightly, bringing a tiny bit of order to my work.  Back on my stool,  I visualized myself during the recent Alive Again sessions and also the night the piece Broken Wing was revealed.  Then picking up my guitar, I recalled part of my improvisation from last night that stood out. I began playing this and then a section from Broken Wing.  I was with my playing in a way that usually takes me a while to achieve.  I decided to return to the theme from last night.

I played with it a bit and found a new direction to explore. After 15 minutes of this I paused, coming back to myself and the intention to play beautifully. Another attempt with the visualization and then I turned on the mp3 recorder and began to play.  I played what I had worked out so far and when I came to the end of this, I just let my hands go.  Suddenly a new idea emerged, followed by another, and then an ending.  I paused and began playing again but did not find this same twist.  But the first take is captured, thus I know where I will begin with tomorrow's practice.  I'll also be working with this visualization more and would love to hear if this practice improves your musicality?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Play It Again Sam

Making Connection

Finally made it to The Field again yesterday and shared two new works. One of the pieces had not been heard by anyone other than my wife prior to yesterday. While packing up at home, I decided to play the the newest piece twice. The piece is still evolving, and I always listen differently when others are listening. I made this request of the participants and they agreed.

I found myself judging a section of the work on the first play through. Arpeggios are too similar and not dynamic enough. I stumbled as I was not paying attention. As I approached the end of the piece, I began thinking "I do not want to play it twice." Part of the Fieldwork process is that the artist receives feedback on what they present. Was I becoming afraid of the feedback on this new piece? After all the feedback is the reason I am in the workshop. Was this concerning me because the listeners would have more experience with the piece after the second playing? Perhaps this would sharpen their feedback and expose me in some way. The places my mind can go to.

If I did not play it again this decision would have been fine with the other participants, but I sensed something negative and destructive in myself brewing. Perhaps I was actually hearing the work myself for the first time and was not as happy with the music as I thought I was. I decided to honor my original stated intention to play it twice. Odd feelings arose as I went to bring my hands to the guitar. I paused and inhibited the motion, allowing my breath to settle.  I gently allowed my hands to sway similar to Qi Gong and I sensed my space. I thought of freeing my neck and allowing my spine to lengthen. I did not rush nor make any intentional changes to the piece. There were no "happy accidents" during the playing, so the piece remains as it was. Overall my playing "felt" better in the second take, my attention more with the playing rather than my thinking.

Fortunately I taped this session and so I was able to listen back on my morning commute today. I did not care for the first take of this piece. I paused and watched the trees for a while before listening to the second take. I was thinking that perhaps I need to rework the one section.  Maybe the piece is not as solid as I thought. Then when I listened to the second take, the playing was more sensitive, more musical. While a change may be in order for the one section, I was not concerned with the piece overall. I also had two ideas arise that may improve the piece. By not letting go of the second take, I was able to gain a more objective view of the piece and to glimpse something in myself.

I do not know what I might think or feel about this work if I had not played it twice. But my sense is that I may have backed off from continuing with developing the piece. I need to trust the part of me that wanted to play the piece twice. And failing the ability to trust, I just need to show up and do what I say I am going to do.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Matka Boska

She's so lucky, she's a star...

Ninety-one years ago today, my maternal grandparents gave birth to a lovely baby girl named Kashka or Catherine. I am sure that they were proud and happy on this day. I certainly am. Growing up on a farm outside of Baltimore the family spoke Polish at home. When the children went to elementary school they were taught English by Polish nuns.

When mom was upset with one of her children she would intone - Matka Boska meaning Blessed Mother. Her way of asking for help. Over twenty years after her death I was playing one night and a new piece began to emerge. I recognized immediately her presence and named the piece Matka Boska in her honor. Since then on the evening of her birthday my wife and  I light candles and I play this to her.

Tonight we were joined by my granddaughter. A spontaneous music & dance jam followed. While there was no polka the celebration was memorable. Blessings to all of the Mothers of this world today and always.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Care of the Instrument

Upon arising, I tune my instrument. The practice of Qi Gong, followed by meditation, and a petition for help,  harmonizes the tuning. Instruments are sensitive to the conditions to which they are subjected.  The tuning needs to be checked and adjusted throughout the performance of the day. Failure to take care of the instrument will compromise the tone.  The action of the instrument suffers, and ultimately the music of life cannot be played.

Sometimes the adjustments to the instrument are more than the musician can tend to. Certain venues place unusual stress on their functioning. If one continues to subject the instrument to harsh conditions, additional help must be sought or damage may be done to the instrument. Time to connect with the Luthier?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Apply the Aphorism


One of those days at work today. Actually the week has been difficult, with recovering from the two surgical procedures and the subsequent falling behind in my professional duties. My energy pulled in various directions. What is a musician to do? As the aphorism says - We Begin Again Constantly. I'm no longer at work so let them be, yet ...

And then I saw this photo, the tree reminding me of my desire for musical growth and expression. There is plenty of space to support my growth but also the clutter. My worn out methods of reaction and use. These old habits drain my energy and twist my attention to and fro, until I remember to come back to the present moment. So back to the question - what to do? Apply the aphorism, apply the practice, and unpack my guitar. Let go; breath in; release.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sanctify the Space

Often I begin my time with my guitar by playing the first piece of music that ever came to me - A Journeyman's Way Home. I had been challenged to perform at each meal of a particular Guitar Craft Course in March of 1989. I could not play guitar at this time and thinking of my favorite person in the world then and now, Joann,  a simple beautiful piece emerged. This morning I was reading Pedro De Alcantara's excellent Indirect Procedures: A Musician's Guide to the Alexander Technique and he mentions that Pablo Casals would begin his practice sessions by playing Bach as this "sanctified the house."

A wonderfully appealing notion that fits and supports my own practice. So today I played Journeyman's as a beginning; recalling and reclaiming the innocence, enthusiasm, and wonder of that first magical moment when music whispered in my ear. From this space, I moved to playing with a scale - C hijaz. I made this musical, not just a mechanical training of my fingers. I was also using a plectrum from having played Journeyman's and was delighted to what is available to me with this right hand method that I rarely employ anymore. I switched to a finger style exploration of the scale and noted the differences in timbre, speed, and accuracy. Drawing from my recent Alexander Technique lesson I allowed space beneath my arm pits.

I have come to this area of my use frequently since my last session with David. To one that is not versed in AT this may seem trivial and unrelated to guitar playing. Yet allowing awareness to this space around my arms in general has offered me freedom lately. I moved onto working with the harmonics in Dandelion Wish using an exercise I garnered from Pedro's Indirect Procedures. Recently I have applied this particular exercise to Matka Boska and  Stepping Stones and am finding it t be very useful.

The exercise is to introduce a rest on the second beat of a measure. Then play the rest of the measure and the first beat of the following measure. Continue through the section you are working with or an entire piece in this manner. I have found this to be challenging and fruitful. I have to really know the piece to keep introducing these rests and in doing so I find my awareness of what I am doing in the moment deepening. The rest also disrupts what habits I have built into my execution of the music and allows for a moment to direct my use.

Working with Dandelion Wish in this manner was not only fun but freeing. With the exception of the added rest, I worked to play the rest of the phrase in tempo and an intensity consistent with which how I would perform the piece. Thus working with my use in a musical manner. The results as with my work on Matka and  Stepping Stones has been worthwhile.

So back to practice, then to rest. I am still recovering from my second procedure this time on my right leg for varicose veins.

Forty minutes later.

From this space I returned to working with Dandelion and played around with the use of my hands as I approach the guitar and also with the rhythm & phrasing of this section. Progress continues. I moved onto look at Broken Wing the new piece emerging in memory of my dear friend Jay Bott. From this space of fun and exploration I played with the beginning of the piece and am allowing the piece to grow and flow. His Memorial Service is later today, so now I must introduce a rest for myself and let go of practice so that I can attend to this properly. As I shared last night - Enjoy what you are doing right now. This moment is all that matters, ever.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Where Am I?

As I prepared to leave for work today I thought again of Debussy. I fell in love with The String Quartet in G minor when I first heard this. Combing through the classical portion of my CD collection I could not find it today so I settled for Bartok. In the car I realized that my copy is on cassette, one of the reasons I have not heard this in some time.

When I came home I was still thinking of Debussy and thought I might need to make a trip to the Music Library to look at scores. Then I decided to search the internet and minutes later I had a pdf downloaded and an mp3 from legit sources. This was one of those moments when the opportunities for learning that are in front of us these days is staggering. Now I'm not great at reading scores much less following along with the music being played but I now have an opportunity to improve this if I choose.

While practicing with the guitar tonight I decided to review Broken Wing. After I had notated the chord structures for this piece the night it came out, suddenly it is nowhere to be found. I even checked the mixed paper recycling that I'll be putting out in the morning. What a world I have created, where in seconds I can download works of others and at the same desk can not find my own. Help!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Gray Songs

I was listening to two pieces from  Time Remembered on the commute to work today and was struck how this music played by an acoustic guitar ensemble reminded me so much of Debussey. The gentle ambiguity that I love of Debussy so nicely summed up by Verlaine:

        Nothing is more precious than that gray song,
       Where indecision is joined to precision.

If I had not known what I was listening to was written by Bill Evans I would have guessed Debussy, with progressions unresolved or incomplete, the gentle dissonances that keep moving forward like a wave. So lovely.

I then listened to my own improvisations from the Alive Again sessions. I found myself thinking this might not be the time after having just listened to the master John McLaughlin, but I needed to return to making decisions on this project. The gentle bell sounds from the audience cleared my mind and I listened through. 

I was eager to practice tonight but first had to deal with some matters with friends and family on the phone. Good stuff all in all, and great to catch up, but when I was finished I was more in the mood to curl up with a book. So I did, sort of - Harmonic Experience: Tonal Harmony from Its Natural Origins to Its Modern Expressionby W. A Mathieu, which led to picking up the guitar. I really should spend more time with that book, and with my guitar and ... but until my passive income stream becomes more active I'm with the day job. Knowing I can come home first to my loving wife and then to my guitar gives meaning to my day.

Twenty minutes of focused work on a technical issue in Steppin' Stones and then 30 minutes playing with parts of the chord progressions I found last night. Altering the rhythms and adding tones to see what might be there. One particularly Enoesque arpeggio captivated me and I returned to this a few times unsure what to do with the idea. Smiling I packed my guitar and will soon be sleeping.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Time Remembered

On my commute home today I was listening to Time Remembered, a beautiful lyrical interpretation of the music of Bill Evans by John McLaughlin. John assembled a group consisting of The Aighetta Quartet, a classical guitar group, and Yan Maresz on acoustic bass guitar. I've listened to this for years. Always inspired by how gentle yet powerful, composed but improvised, Bill Evans yet John McLaughlin this music is. As soon as My Bells ended I wanted to listen again, yet I had already had this same impulse twice. Rewarded for my patience by a burning solo on the title track Time Remembered.

After dinner I wanted to get to guitar practice as tonight is the first game of the season for Maryland Basketball, the one sport I actively watch. I found a chord and followed it with another. Before I knew it I was engaged with the beauty of discovery. One chord after another gently flowing forward. I began writing this down and continued to explore. Not sure where the chords will go nor if an ending will be revealed. I sense a connection to what I heard on McLaughlin's lovely renditions. Half time is a few minutes away so I'll spend another twenty minutes enjoying the process.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mama Said There'd BE Days Like This

Low energy yet again today. I suspect it is a combination of distress from the vein ablation procedure and general tiredness. Been resting since Friday but still wiped. Any time the body is invaded the energy system is taxed, even if I am not feeling pain nor even  discomfort. I canceled the Field Session this afternoon. Really want to make the Day of Remembrance with the sangha and to perform Matka Boska there.

I worked with Broken Wing this afternoon and just listened back to the recording. I was going to present this at the Field, c'est la vie. I have been pausing for some Alexander Technique work as I move about our home. Today is not the day to make great demands on myself, just be gentle with where I am. Soup making, a little listening, some organizing, and reading are the tasks I can honor. Grateful there is music in my life.

I read this in RF's diary post from October 17, 2010 today:

Music is a society of the imagination: the Good Society where truth prevails. 

The movement of melody represents ordered, intentional & responsible conduct; harmony, moral order; rhythm, the intrinsic joy of being alive.

Good words to ponder as I return to my chair.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Providing Opportunity for the Muse to Arrive

Army Photography Contest - 2007 - FMWRC - Arts and Crafts - Bridge Into Fog

Grateful today for the new piece Broken Wing which arrived last night. Why does this happen? I can not control the time nor circumstance but I do create the opportunity. My musical practice is regular and ongoing. Many years ago in my early days in Guitar Craft my practice was too rigid. Exercise after exercise followed by working on pieces that were very difficult to play. Robert told me that I needed to play more. To provide a time each evening to just play. During this time I should abandon concerns with technique and see what music might be available to me.

This is an ongoing part of my practice, a time to improvise and listen. Last night I noticed the possibility of a state I have experienced before. I stayed with the flow and played with what I had. Within an hour Broken Wing was a piece of music. Moments such as this when the creative spark is kindled energize me for a long time. Tonight I played with Broken Wing, examining possibilities within the inherent structure of the piece, playing with each section to listen to what might be.

Tomorrow I will perform this for The Field, a works in progress structure that meets for ten weeks. The Field is a space to explore, take chances, and to bring works alive. Another reason to be grateful.

The question I had for myself when I began writing tonight concerns the space I create for myself while practicing. The intent is to be quiet  in my mind, at peace with where I am musically, and attentive to the use of myself. Ever striving for greater connection with myself, my guitar, with music, and the unknown. Tonight while practicing and working with a notion from my last Alexander Technique class to allow the space to support me left arm, I wondered what is the energy in the space around me? Can I allow this energy to be love? Will I connect?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Broken Wing

Spread the Wings and break the shackles

A different kind of day for me today. I was up early and writing, looking to explain what I am currently exploring with the Alexander Technique. Moved on to Qi Gong and my sitting. After breakfast I had a vein ablation procedure on my left leg for varicose veins. This led to a relatively quiet day for me - resting, reading, walking, resting, listening & taking notes from Tuesday' s AT class, and walking. After dinner I retired to the basement to practice.

 I did some work with Matka Boska & Livin' the Dream. I'll be offering one of these pieces at the Washington Mindfulness Community's Day of Remembrance this coming Sunday evening. I'm feeling good about both of them. I did a variation on a lie down with my legs propped up and then returned to my guitar. I began to improvise and noticed that music was whispering to me. I listened and followed and sensed that the piece that was developing was for my friend Jay Bott who left this earth recently.  My last visit to Jay inspired the post last month called The Unexpected Music Lesson. He was a dear and sweet man and while I miss him, I also know that he is still with me.

As the piece unfolded I turned on the tape recorder in case something flew by too quickly for me to digest in the moment. Quickly I had a beginning, middle, and was close to the end. I took a piece of staff paper to notate the chord changes. After writing the date and Jay's name down I heard myself give it a working title of Broken Wing. I'm not sure why but will trust this for now. While still notating my wife arrived home and I invited her to listen to what I had. While playing and approaching the end an unexpected twist arrived. I believe I have the ending. After completing notating what I have so far I looked at the time and saw that just an hour had passed. A blessed hour for sure. In gratitude to Jay Bott, Music, and the Creative Spirit that guides us.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Practice & Practicalities

Besides doing my guitar practice tonight I had a good deal of personal matters to also attend to. Tonight I set out to blend my guitar work and practical work to support one another. The way I used tonight was by using the Alexander Technique. The past few days I have been working with a practice out of Pedro de Alcantara's excellent book Indirect Procedures: A Musician's Guide to the Alexander Technique (Clarendon Paperbacks) More on this at another time.

One thing I have learned that I need is to break my guitar practice up into smaller chunks of time. This helps my use of the self. I can maintain my mental focus and my bodily presence by noticing when I am beginning to strain myself. Many times I use the AT lie down at this point or Qi Gong or just sitting quietly. Today I worked with maintaining a sense of the AT work while folding laundry during breaks. Thinking up, allowing my arms to lengthen while folding tee shirts. Then when I sat with the guitar I was ready. During my next break I took notes on what I had been doing to write up for the blog. While making the notes I worked with keep a sense of "up."

I returned to the guitar and let go of the two piece I had been working with and turned to a new piece I began at the beach Sand & Shadows. I've been using AT as I learn the opening to this piece. Tonight I decided to extend the melody in one phrase. Catching myself end-gaining a few moments ago I took a break to write this.

Where are you right now?

365 x28 Carved Park Bench (The Anatomy of a Major Life Decision)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sounds of Gratitude

As I woke this morning I could hear the sound of a train in a distance; softly below this drone I heard my wife's gentle breathing. Her breath especially poignant today since yesterday my favorite resident at work and then later a dear friend both drew their final breaths. For this moment her journey remains tied to mine on this earth, to dream another dream, to serve another day.

Later in the day amidst the clatter of my staff at work, I paused. Grateful for the quality of the work they perform and the grace in which they undertake their duties. I glimpse the lives we touch and brighten during difficult transitional times. Their voices gentle and kind, their hearts full of service.

I listen to the sound of delight from a man grateful that his request was remembered. The whisper of hope as encouragement is offered to a suffering woman. Even the habitual "thank you's" of our professional day give voice to the value our cultures place on expressing gratitude. Suddenly I am grateful that I can still hear, still give voice to my thoughts and feelings, still pause and take note.

During my lunch the tinkle of my fork against my plate draws attention to the sounds of our kitchen at rest. Enjoying the rare relative quiet as only the low hum of the various compressors fans rise & fall as the kitchen breaths. grateful for the relief from the usual sonic assault that accompanies my day. I hear my teeth at work with chewing a broccoli cheese casserole, the taste of thyme slowing me to enjoy this  precious moment.

"California Dreaming" wafts into my listening field and associative memory transports me to 1969 and an auto accident in my brother's black GTO. Why do I remember that this was playing on his car radio when we were struck? Another memory jolt to "Leaving on a Jet Plane" playing in my fathers car in 1981 as my mother bursts into tears. They were taking me to the airport as I was moving to Colorado. Smiling with gratitude that my brain still makes these connections.

Leaving work as I hear my footfalls on the stairwell, gratitude stirs that I still walk. Around me wheelchairs and walkers focus my attention to this activity frequently taken for granted. Soon I hear the grateful cheers of neighborhood children saying "daddy's home," their joy being echoed by a yelping dog. The sizzle of dinner on the stove joins the chorus of my wife welcoming me home. Such simple acts amplified to sacred depths when I pay attention.

I end my day with the sounds of joy. A young woman expressing gratitude for living fully against the odds. Grateful friends surrounding and expressing their support, this very act supporting  their path. I am grateful that these same people are my friends.

I suspect I missed other sounds of gratitude on this day. But when I did listen, I came into the present moment. In doing this I became aware of my body, my thinking, my feelings, &  memories; I became alive. For Life is lived in the present moment.

Will I be grateful if I wake tomorrow? Will I notice another's breath? Will I be listening?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Voice Leading

music notes

At the end of our Qi Gong session this morning I selected "Listen" as the word for today. Influenced by RF's Diary which I read prior to my Qi Gong today. Part of his post he described his practice of listening to himself while speaking. I have heard him describe this practice before and it is also one of the mindfulness trainings in Thich Nhat Hahn's tradition. While I take it on for a brief time this is not an ongoing practice of mine. My wife has mentioned the 'tone' of my voice as recently as last evening and at least one other time in the past days. If there is one person that I always want to sound beautifully to she is the one. Yet frequently I speak automatically, unaware of what I am saying; historical, familial and cultural patterns asserting themselves.

When I see or feel that one is distressed I listen deeply. Then from this place I tend to speak mindfully. But an ongoing practice of mindful speech eludes me. I tune my guitar before inviting her voice to sound, why not tune my own voice?

Various tuning practices that I have are a simple breath or three taken with awareness, sensing a part of my body, or by practicing the Alexander Technique. These compositional devices inform this musician, offering me a choice in my vocal melodies. These practices are a part of my everyday life but  am I capable of maintaining them throughout a day? Focusing them just as I finely tune my instrument? Impossible? For me certainly, but with the intention to begin a practice the possible embraces the impossible. With practice the possible is realized and moves forward. By constructing  this exercise in 'voice leading,' I can practice the discipline of my being aware of when I am speaking, Then I may choose my tone, dynamics, and the 'feel' of the spoken lines I offer to the world.

As my exercise in 'voice leading' unfolds, the other musicians that I am improvising with might respond harmoniously. And when the dissonant chord is sounded, the skills of a musician tuned through practice may take the verse to a new and beautiful chorus. And at the times when the cacophony arises with the vocal music turning dark, may we find rest in the measure of our being and begin tuning again.