Sunday, February 28, 2010

Honor Thy Mistake

Honor thy mistake as a hidden intention is one of Brian Eno and Peter Schmitt's Oblique Strategies, one that I have always liked.  Of late I have been in a bit of a quandary musically. Many new musical pieces and ideas have presented themselves in the past months while increased family and personal commitments have increased the complexity of my life.

I have been examining this and looking for clarity and direction in my musical pursuits. Today I wrote down three lists. The first one titled "What Can I Play Today?" and listed those pieces currently known to me. The second list was titled "What Might I Play Soon?" meaning pieces that could be polished and brought back into my regular practice routine. The third list was called "What Do I Want to Develop and Learn?" So far this last list is blank but two candidates will be added when I am complete here.

This process introduced clarity concerning where I am and where I am going. Always good for me to know this while remaining open to new possibilities. I then took a long brisk walk in the light of the full moon. Admiring the moon through the barren tree tops of the neighborhood, reflecting  on all of the good in my life, & enjoying the crisp air and shadows.

Returning home I was ready to enjoy playing. I played through Gathered Hearts giving a bit more attention to the opening notes, enjoying the rest before the second section, allowing the piece to be. My intention was to then play through Kinnara. I thought how might I play this if it was the last piece I would ever play? I sat with this a bit on my stool and brought my hands to play when suddenly a different chord was played. I followed this gently, probing what might be there, finding immediately the next chord then another and ...

I continued to explore the gentle dissonant chords I was finding, delighting in seeing where they might go. Allowing myself to let go of the piece I wanted to play and Honoring My Mistake.



Friday, February 19, 2010

A Touch of Dark

On the way home from work this evening I was listening to a podcast called Personal Performances podcast by Sami Abu Shumays. He invites various middle eastern musicians on this podcast to discuss and perform their works. Tonight a performer was discussing the importance of the spirit when improvising Iraqi Maqams and illustrated this using the same basic melodies sung with a different spirit. I found myself mimicking the singing, allowing myself to play a bit in my car.

As I do many evenings when I began my practice I improvised, still vaguely hearing this musician in my ear. Had some fun for a while and was being gentle with my left wrist. After a short I left to attend an opening of collaborative art and poetry works at the Takoma Park Community Center. My friend Jim Landry whose photo is featured above was part of this project. For the opening there was a  performance of poetry, music, and dance. Some pieces worked better than others for me but the spirit that infused the evening was welcome. The creative act always so nourishing.

Back home  I returned to look at the piece I am calling Chocolate Melodies. I soon realized that my body is very tired and my wrist was more sensitive than earlier. I gently played around with the piece shading it with a touch of dark chocolate.

Thursday, February 18, 2010



Twenty some years ago I had surgery to remove part of my medial meniscus in my left knee. I damaged this playing basketball. During my rehab the physical therapist constantly reminded me that rest was an important part of exercise. I was eager to get well and ready to play hoops and ride my bike some more. I was also 32 at the time and getting my first hints of the aging process.

The hints continue, often times getting louder. Last night I wrote that my tendon was sore in my left wrist. I woke this morning and felt fine. Off to work and slowly the tendon caught my attention, as did stiffness in my left shoulder. Both of these areas are guitar related issues. One aspect of working in a health care facility is access to moist heating pads. On the shoulder while typing in an order and also around the wrist later brought some relief. The decision to take tonight off from playing to allow these areas to rest was also made and has been followed, even though the "chocolate" piece that began to emerge last night is calling to me. But I need to allow my body to rest. I did not take my normal Monday night off and actually played for hours that night, now the forced night off.

I trust the piece will be there tomorrow. Listened to Evening Star by Fripp & Eno while doing an Alexander Technique lie down to stretch out my back. Also did a stretch suggested by a PT today that brought relief to the shoulder. Catching up on personal matters.  The notes I scored last night to capture the beginning of the new possibility just caught my eye. Perhaps it is time to clean my desk so tomorrow I am ready for what the guitar may present to me.

Resting on my breath as I complete this post. My life is good.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Chocolate Melodies

Heard melodies are sweet, 
           but those unheard are sweeter. - John Keats

A gentle focused warm up this evening. A  tendon in my left wrist is a bit tender after two nights of heavy playing. Taking a break after 25 minutes.  Ready to have some very chocolaty cake, that remains from our birthday celebration. I wonder if this will lead to sweeter melodies when I return?

                                                The quick answer: probably maybe.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Being Open


I made a decision three days ago to learn the Etude no 7 in A minor, by Matteo Carcassi that has been transcribed to the Guitar Craft Standard Tuning by Bert Lams of the California Guitar Trio. I took classical guitar lessons for two years prior to my taking my first Guitar Craft course where work with a plectrum is the standard. I stayed with the plectrum for the first 16 years or so, but at the time when I began playing solo work during The Field DC workshops I returned to fingerpicking.

An occasional lesson with Tony Geballe on right hand (RH) technique from a fingerstyle perspective has been useful, but I have not undertaken a regular study of the right hand from this perspective. As  pieces that I have written have required specific techniques or right hand combinations I have addressed there in isolation. I have adapted some of the GC exercises for the RH to my fingerstyle approach and also adapted some of the Guliani exercises for the RH.

Back to my study of the Etude. I am learning this etude as an exercise for my right hand not so much as learning a piece to perform at some point. I told myself that I will take it slow and learn 4 bars over the course of 3 days. If this occurs faster it is fine but I am setting this up for success without overwhelming my limited practice time. Many nights it is difficult for me have a good focused hour of practice on working nights. I want to keep up certain pieces of my own and always want to be able to respond to any creative promptings that may arise. Last evening was such a case. I spent ten minutes with the 4 bars and moved on to working on Stepping Stones. After a short break I began exploring chord forms in the tuning used for Stepping Stones and I continued this exploration for the remainder of my time.

I worked with the Etude for 10 minutes this morning along with some other guitar work and then had to address other areas of my life. While resting this afternoon I visualized the four bars I am working on and later when  I returned for another practice session I decided it was time to apply the metronome to my work. I determined a setting of 48 bpm to be the tempo to work at and began my review.

Last weekend while participating on a Guitar Craft Course,  Sandra Bain Cushman, an Alexander Technician, was working with me on being open while playing. I focused on being "forward and up" on my stool, gently allowing myself to return to this sense when I noticed myself collapsing. I have a tendency to hold my breath and to collapse my upper body when learning and making mistakes. I approached these 4 bars with care and attention, watching my mind wanting to jump in and criticize, pausing, breathing and letting go when this happened. Finding my hands and then resuming, taking a small break to check in after each four bar effort. Slowly I quieted down and began to get this section into my hands. I stopped looking at the score and the second time through after this I played the section well. I stopped to allow the muscle memory to take in this information and to write.

So the theme for this Etude for me is being open to my right hand technique, in my posture, and in my method of learning. To observe how I learn a piece and to be open to the interferences that arise mentally, physically, and in my spirit. During a discussion with my wife I realized I could also be open to the struggles of certain people in my life. They too are learning the piece of music that is their life and if I as an audient can remain open, perhaps they can learn their part. At the very least I might learn mine.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Contemplating Silence

                                          Photo by James Landry
                                          Music From the Film

Silence - so precious, elusive, and necessary for my life.

                      A few collected thoughts.

Silence is the field of creative musical intelligence that dwells in the space between the notes, and holds them in place.  - Guitar Craft Aphorism

A man is known by the silence he keeps.
Oliver Herford

True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment. ~William Penn

And with that I'll be quiet.