Monday, September 27, 2010

Finding Joy, Allowing Joy

Rain (2006 Version)

A very busy weekend, filled with much joy being with my family, friends, & sangha. Then last night I attended a memorial service for an old friend. He lived a good life, was loved, and helped others in their lives. Today I attended a funeral service for a colleague's mother. Much sadder, bringing back memories of my own Mother and the loss I still feel 25 years after her passing. I returned to work, and the regular situations and challenges were just a bit tougher on me today. I was relieved as I made my journey home.

After dinner, we took a walk along Sligo Creek. We had the path to ourselves as this had been a dark, dreary, & rainy day. I needed to hear the Creek singing her song, the crickets singing theirs, and the leaves rustling in the wind. Slowly my mood elevated. Returning home I filed my right hand nails as they were getting to long to be useful as a guitarist.

Being not quite ready to practice I decided to see if there was an older post from this blog that would guide my practice. I rarely do this, but tonight thought there might be something there. I found this post on Disrupting Habit from March. And then I knew how to begin my practice. I picked up on working with bringing my hands to the guitar after giving the AT directions to lengthen. I played with this a bit and then brought both of my hands to the guitar simultaneously.  This was once my habit that David Jernigan had disrupted in the spring. This action now had a different quality to it or perhaps this was another case of my faulty perception. I began playing with arpeggios at random and then suddenly began playing the first piece of music I ever had come through me. This was full of joy and exactly what I needed to continue shifting my emotional state.

Some more AT work with my hands and then onto playing Gathered Hearts . I just enjoyed the act of playing. The world became lighter. I moved on to improvising in C Hijaz and then took a break to write this post. Finding the joy of playing and allowing this joy to spread is important. The world may be dark. But no matter how dense the clouds on your darkest night, the moon, the stars, the entire cosmos - both inner and outer are available to us. My question remains - am I available?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

On Sound

Music is a quality organized in sound is a definition posited by Robert Fripp that works quite well for me. Sound, the energy caused by a voice, string, skin, reed, or other solid that has been vibrated & put into motion, forming the objective cause of our hearing. Every age, culture, & religion has their own methods of organizing sounds; with preferences for particular instruments, melodies, harmonies, & rhythms.

I take my guitar into my hands and invite a note to sound. Even with this limitation of a solo instrument many choices are available to me; the pitch, the of length time the pitch is sounded, the dynamics of the attack, vibrato, and other subtle factors. Why invite a particular note to sound in a particular way for a certain length of time? Why follow it with another note or the same note with these various choices of influencing the energy of the note; the choices of influencing all the notes that follow? Why play a collection of notes simultaneously? Why melodies and counter melodies? Arpeggios? Harmonies? These are questions of organization which are taught in many ways. And these organizations of sound serve the quality in the music.

Courting the quality expressed through organized sounds is the quest that stirs me to practice night after night. That energizes me to embrace my practice when my desire is waning. Sound shows me the way, teaches me how to be. Sound wakes me up when I am not present; invites others in when I am. Allows me to approach giving voice to that which is best expressed with music. Sound is my teacher, so let me listen with rapt attention to all the sounds that I make, tonight and always.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Write a Bad Piece of Music

UF Music Building Music Stand Bench Door Brick

After posting on Sunday night I recalled an exercise in writing music that has been useful for me came from a  book by W.A Mathieu. The particular exercise was either in The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music or The Musical Life. Both are worth reading so I am not going to take the time to dig through them to find which book contains the exercise. If I find it later I'll post it in a comment. The exercise is - write a bad piece of music. At first this blew my mind. Yet at times I have worked with it and the outcome was that I was active in creating music. This activity allowed some very good music to come into being. Just as a result of giving myself the permission to write a bad piece of music.

Last night I ended my practice reviewing the melody that came out at the beach last week. I had not looked at this since Friday. I wanted to allow this to be in my brain as I slept and perhaps find another connection or magic within the framework of what I had. Sitting at my desk after lunch today I sang through the beginning of the piece in my mind and suddenly saw an option for variation in the beginning. I addressed this first in my practice tonight.

The idea did not work, yet I allowed myself to explore other possibilities. None of them were working and I found myself thinking that perhaps this was a 'bad piece of music.' And perhaps it is. What is important is that I am making contact with music, seeing other possibilities, and trusting what I hear. I may not be playing the piece well and then again maybe it is a 'bad piece ...' What I know for certain is that if I do not work with the material there will be no piece of music. So with the blessings of Mathieu's exercise which has worked for me before - I give myself permission to write a bad piece of music now. YES!

I laugh as I remember sharing this idea with a musician friend who was going to return in one week with a new piece. When we met again he had nothing, but was going to have a piece the following week. When next we met he still had nothing. He was unable to allow himself to create a bad piece of music concerned that this might become something to settle for. However he also had not created a good piece of music. He was just stuck. For me this option of writing a bad piece allows me to remain in motion with the process of creating music. Moving musically forward in some fashion. Enough words; back to the melody.

What music are you creating today?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Method of Writing - PLAY!

little monks playing in the afternoon

A friend on line asked me a question last evening regarding creating music - "what is your method of writing?" The quick answer is I have no method, but I do have a guitar and ears. In my early days in Guitar Craft, I was told by Robert that I was practicing too many exercises, too much technique. That part of my practice each day should among other aspects of music making, be to just - PLAY! Play without concern for technique, to see if I could harvest the fruits of my practice. This was terrifying to me at the time and for a long time after. To just PLAY!? I did not know how to play. Well the truth lies closer to I did not know how to play perfectly so I shied away from it.

From the beginning in Guitar Craft we are challenged to create our own music. What a learning process that was and continues to be for me. Since then I have been involved in a few musical projects: oDD CamP - a crafty guitar quartet, Solaris Guitar Trio, FingerPaint, Special Guest, and now my solo work. In all of these we created at least some of the music we performed. In FingerPaint and my solo work, it was all original music. So do I have a method? Well yes, it goes back to the instruction to PLAY.

The music that has come through me is the result of improvising  or playing. This may take the form of varying an exercise or a scale, play with a particular rhythm, or a chord. Maybe even with just one note and seeing where it  may lead. Many nights nothing of significance comes of this, with the great exception that this learning process informs the musical investigations to follow.

So the method is to improvise, even play, & listen. Be aware of what I am doing and when I hear the muse whispering to me through notes to follow faithfully. Knowing that something of value awaits me, and perhaps others, if I persist. I have many musical ideas recorded on tape and/or paper that have not been completed. At times I revisit these and see if I can now move them forward or perhaps they spark a different musical impulse.

What music are you creating?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Shifting Shadows


I woke today from a dream where I was lost and afraid. The factors contributing to this were noted in my journal, but still the physical manifestation of the dream was in my body. Using my meditation practice, I was able to let go of the physical, examine the emotional aspects, and plant new positive seeds in my mind.

Today is our last day at the beach. This time together has been relaxing, inspiring, and creative. The new piece of music continues to challenge me, baffle me, and to surprise me. I sense I am close to completing this piece, but even if I do not find the ending,  the musical learning journey has been time well spent. Time - musicians work with time, play with time. Today unlike earlier this week, I have the sense that there is not enough time. The end of this particular process - the process of Vacation.

Vacation - from the Latin root vacare - to be empty. Certainly this has been achieved to a great degree this week. Now as my return to home and work approaches,  the mind begins to fill once again. May I be able to notice the notes I am placing on the score of my mind, our mind.

Standing in the surf, the sand shifts below my feet. No matter how firmly I may plant my feet, the sand will shift. As does life. Yet before me, when I raise my eyes to see, there is an ocean of love. May I float on this ocean, and in doing so allow my fingers to float across the strings of my guitar. Availability is the key - am I available to music; to love; to life?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Stretch

Towards the end of my practice on Monday I played a C# sus4 chord against an open C. I liked how it sounded and played around with it. Moved to another chord that I could tell was outside the scale of  the first chord so I did a little work with pitch inventory. Decided I was working around C phyrgian with the first chord and what google told me was a Romanian Major scale with the second.

Looked at this again yesterday and was still intrigued with it. Had read about Verdi's C Enigmatic scale so I moved the melodies in that direction. Now what the hell did I think I was doing? This is a new approach for me and decided that if nothing else I might learn something. I played around with it again this afternoon, trimming some notes, altering their values, but I was still unclear.

After a long walk in the surf I  jotted the following in my journal:
What is going on with these 3 scales. I am wondering if this melody was conveying any emotion or just an intellectual exercise. Perhaps this was a path that would lead to another path. What is certain is that I am probing; stretching my knowledge a bit. In itself this is worthy. All efforts interpenetrate all other efforts. One act of learning supports all acts of learning.

After dinner I posted the following status on FaceBook - " Returning to some melodies that are stretching me. While I know this is good, one part of me would rather leave it be and do something easy." Once again resistance rear's it's ugly little head. I've been discussing this with my wife lately and she wrote a post on being Comfortable With Discomfort earlier today. So I nudged forward. Played through the melodies with attention and heard what is there. At one point I found my body a bit tangled up.

I put down my guitar and thought through the Alexander Technique directions. Freeing up my body I then told myself that I am free to write this piece. Eventually the next section was revealed to me. Again due to poor use of self I was tense. After a short walk, this section was taken a bit further and I found a connection to the beginning of the piece. My left hand was tired and it was getting late so I let go for tonight. I did an AT lie down and then began writing. A great day in the creative life. Something learned physically, mentally, & emotionally.

To rest.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

When Buterflies Go to Sea


While doing Qi Gong at the edge of the surf these past two mornings, a butterfly has flown in from the ocean. This puzzles me. Is this butterfly a thrill seeker, improvising to its own drummer, or responding as best it can to the forces of the nature? Perhaps this butterfly is the manifestation of spirits we are mourning; amazing & delighting us while illustrating the fragility and audacity of life. One moment surprising us with beauty, the next gone ...

But don't tell me why you go to the sea, butterfly. Rather keep the mysterious questions alive in me. For the questions trace my growth, spur my inspiration, and lead me to new paths. Will I see your orange and black wings fluttering on the currents again? I do not know. I can not hold you to your path,  just be open to my own.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Mornings Listening


Awakened by the pouring rain as I slept this morning. The sky was dark and I returned to dreamland. The next sound I was aware of was the bell calling me back to the present moment, the sound so rich and full of life. I listened to the rain as I began my meditation, various sounds arising as the rain fell on different surfaces. The same sound source taking on timbres colored by leaves, aluminum, concrete, & plastic.

The occasional drone of an automobile; its’ engine cycling, tires sounding the wet pavement as drivers negotiated the curve of the road. Brief beautiful melodic bursts from the local birds. A plop here, a ping there; life echoing to those who would but listen.

The sound of the bathroom fan inviting me back to the present moment. Where have I been? Now I can hear the towel rubbing against my toes, my foot striking the floor, the deodorant rubbing against my skin. Even now the clatter of the keyboard as gutters drip outside my window. The hum of a compressor winding down.

Soon I will begin my guitar practice. Will I continue to listen? My chair creeks as I sit back with this question. My chair again creeks as I shift,  marveling at the sounds of the ice clinking in two glasses as I negotiate climbing the unfamiliar circular stairs. My feet vibrating this metallic structure, the beverage sloshing, the ice chiming. I listen to the delight in my wife’s words as I hand her a flavored seltzer. So joyful this attentive listening to the sounds of my day. More drones, more flutters of birds; distant conversations, keyboard clacking, sounds of my wife drinking. I must pick up my guitar. May this quality of listening inform my playing.

As I begin my AT lie down I hear the sounds of my body rubbing against the carpet and my head encountering the books. I hear my breath go out; was this a breath or a sigh? As my body relaxes, I notice quieter sounds from the outside. A tiny dog yammering in the distance, small birds chirping, and then again the drip outside my window. The steady pulse of this drip framing my lie down, like the metronome can frame a practice. Has the drip slowed since the last time I noticed it? Suddenly I want to get up to write, but remind myself that the intent is to listen, not to capture.

As I write this now, nearly 40 minutes later, I notice that the drip has stopped.

As I opened the case the sounds of the clasps welcomed me. Noticing how the strap sounded as it went around the strap button, the other end of the strap slapping against the inside of my case. I choose to play through the first piece that came to me in my early days of Guitar Craft. So simple and still so beautiful.  I then moved on to improvising on just the D string. This limit pushing serving to develop melodic sense. A found a six note scale that I explored C E F# G Ab B. From here I moved on to playing through Kinnara & Gathered Hearts. Listening as I played with the occasional thought competing for my attention. Noticing that my right hand nails were just above the quick enough to impede my playing I paused.

I returned to practice and then noticed some of the sounds of our lunch preparation. Listening to Pascal Comelade Haikus for Piano as we ate. Particularly delighted with his subtle and clever arrangement of 96 Tears. Soon we shall walk. Will I be listening? Will you be listening?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Listening for Guidance

The third day of a three day weekend. One where I was home and no guests; pretty much a luxury for me. I have had more time to relax, play guitar, and to take care of other life projects. Today I was awakened  early by the newspaper delivery person riding around with his car stereo on loud. Unfortunate on a night when most people had their windows open.  Must be my karma catching up to me for the ungodly hours I blasted music in my youth.

Plenty of time to practice Qi Gong, sit, and have time to reflect in the back yard on a very beautiful cool morning. Even had a leisurely breakfast with my wife as I listened to see if the birds would return today that I heard yesterday. They had a particularly high pitched melody, and  both their timbre and their song were new to me. Alas they did not return, perhaps a transitory evenings rest in the local trees.

Last night as I ended my practice I played a set of seven pieces straight through with the tape running. I do this often lately, but rarely have the time to listen back. Today I needed to bring some order to my practice space. I decided to play the tape while doing this. I knew this might not be the best listening circumstances but would still be useful to guide my practice. Sure enough I found three sections in three different pieces that have recurring issues. Now I had my practice session mapped out.

But first an Alexander Technique lie down. Then relaxed and ready with my plan I tuned my guitar. I spent 20 minutes on the first problematic section in Dancin' Free, took a brief break, and then played through the piece in it's entirety to place the section in context. I then used this same strategy for Kinnara and Lost Balloon. Then it was time to visit with friends, enjoy a workout, and have lunch. Smiling I told Joann that I could get used to this lifestyle.

Returning home I decided to play through these three pieces as the beginning of a set. I then added four more pieces to the set and taped the session. Dancin' Free and Kinnara both felt better played after this mornings work. Lost Balloon while improved still needs some work in the higher positions.
Perhaps I can listen for more guidance with this recent taping before the day is done. But for now I feel a nap is in my immediate future.

Photo Collage by Ignacio Gracian