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.


  1. juicy subject Patrick - what I know and experience about composing is that we, the composers, are so close to the music that we can forget how intimate we are while our audience is not. It can be difficult to gauge what is too much or not enough of something. I hear you stepping back and playing the role of audience as well as composer and performer. I love that you found a way to drop the judgment and, in a sense, listen for what the music wanted to say and whether or not you were satisfied with having translated it well enough.

    Perhaps there is some tweaking to do. There often is. It's a relationship afterall.

    Thanks for sharing this process with us. As always, I appreciate it deeply.

  2. Thank you Kathy. Yes there is always tweaking. Tonight I played with the two ideas that arose this morning and they appear to have merit. I practiced the changes a bit and then recorded two rough takes for tomorrows commute. The process continues to unfold.