Monday, January 31, 2011

Reflecting Relations

beneath pigeons on the Millennium Bridge

Again applying the Alexander Technique, specifically looking at Sandra Bain Cushman's The Five Relations, to my music making tonight.  Allowing my body to let go of my day, to let go of the strain from my recent encounter with the flu, to let go of my notions of myself.  While thinking about these relations, I wondered where have my habits of use come from.  Certainly from reactions to events in my life; mimicking others that at some time I deemed worthy of such; and from a lack of thinking about, studying, and understanding how to use myself.

When I am alive in the moment, the hold of my habits lessen.  As my relationship to my body develops, my relationship to the present moment deepens.  The Alexander Technique is a practice of being mindful of my movement, which is another path to the present moment.  I find my breath in this moment, my "length" in this moment; I experience harmony and beyond in this moment.

So tonight as I reflected on my relationship to my habits, I found myself focusing on the relationship of the notes I was playing.  Working on a section of Broken Wing, I found myself allowing some of the notes in the arpeggios to lengthen, just like me spine and arms.  Letting the relationships between the various chords be more fluid, releasing the beat, and allowing breath into my playing.  Looking at a photo of my friend Jay, to whom this piece is dedicated, my relationship to the world and the beyond "lengthened." 

As this section of music came alive, I found that my emotions were engaged in my playing.  My heart supporting the music; reaching out to soothe me, to honor Jay, to touch those who loved him.  Where am I in relationship to the room, to the world?  Am I breathing?  Am I thinking about my actions, alive to my experiences?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Releasing the Relations


I had one of those moments where the value of thinking about my experience, while I am experiencing the act of playing, bears fruit.  Before picking up my guitar, I was working with Sandra Bain Cushman's Five Relations , a practical scheme for applying the Alexander Technique.  She particularly had me thinking about the "three directional release" of my elbows.  I worked with this away from the guitar first, and then with the guitar.  Then moving onto the relation of the ribs "releasing into the back."

While I had no idea what this release of the ribs into the back means, I trust the Alexander Technique enough to just allow the thought to be.  My guitar playing was gentle, yet accurate, and the music was flowing.  Our friend with whom we have been staying during the power outage arrived and I played Broken Wing for him.

Returning to the guitar later, I again worked with Sandra's Relations.  I was playing with bringing either hand to the guitar, or both, just mixing it up, staying with the AT work being my primary aim.  Somehow in this process, my right hand assumed the position of holding the plectrum.  When I brought it the guitar, I simply released the four fingers and thumb from this position, and found my hand was where I needed it to be with no arch in my wrist.  This was relaxed, natural, and a delight for me to find.   Information is available, from thinking while experiencing.  So simple and yet very powerful.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Warming Up

Carlos Santana

The flu is slowly loosening it's grip on my system, thanks to rest, fluids, medications, & warmth. At least until the power went out on 8:30pm Wednesday night, due to a very wet snowstorm, snapping tree limbs throughout the DC Metro area.  Nearly 48 hours later, we still have not had power restored to our home, and have taken shelter with a friend. 

While still layered up at home yesterday, I began coming back to a relationship with my body that was more than covering my cough and noticing how fatigued I was.  Occasionally during the past two days when standing I would work with connecting with my body via AT, but would quickly let go of the effort.  Yesterday as I approached my guitar, I did give myself the directions, noticing my body seeming to enjoy being invited to lengthen and widen.  The invitation calling to my health.  Finding the energy within my hands once again, I slowly played the same note, slightly varying the attack and duration.  Enjoying listening to my sweet guitar.  Too many layers on my upper body to feel the vibrations, but listening to them was delightful.

Yesterday was the 90th day anniversary of the passing of our dear friend Jay Bott, so I played through Broken Wing, a piece inspired by him.  I savored the very act of playing, especially this piece on this day.  Life changes so suddenly, here I am with no electricity nor heat; yet others, just as quickly are without love or life.  Yes, I am a fortunate man, I remind myself.  Such a rich life, so full of wonder, health, learning, and love; that even in my weakened state I can easily find gratitude.

From here I moved onto working with Nick' Song, which has a beginning and a middle, but the ending has remained elusive.  When I had briefly played my guitar the evening before, I looked at Nick's Song and thought I had found the first chords of a new direction.  And I had.  Yesterday, an ending flowed out of me.  I played it through a couple times, and as the sun was setting, I notated the chord forms by candlelight.  Seemed a fitting end to this particular piece.

After this brief, but heart warming practice,  we heated our soup and dined with candles.  We then packed our car and drove to a nearby friends home, relishing the heat and the friendship.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Through the Mist

Rocks in the sea through the mist after the big winter storm, Ocean Beach San Francisco 1/4/2008 - 1103

The flu.  Slowing down my body, zapping my energy, and just no fun.  Reading and resting at home, and also addressing what I can of my professional duties.  But mostly, just feeling awful. I did not play at all yesterday, though I did listen to Malevaje, Live in Italy 1999,  a wonderful guitar trio recording.  I noticed how the music began to make me feel better.  I've read that music causes the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that elicits good feelings.  All of us have experienced this in life, but on a day like yesterday the change was palpable and much needed.

This afternoon, wanting to play, but knowing that my system was not up to it, I decided to listen through mp3 recordings I needed to organize.  As I was listening through various takes of the same work in progress, I again noticed an elevation in my mood.  After 30 minutes or so, I let go of this task to rest.  The work in progress I had listened to the most continued to resound in my mind.  Through the mist of my illness, I felt useful and whole for a while.

I did pick up my guitar for a few minutes, to investigate an idea I heard on two of the earlier recordings which was then lost in later efforts. The idea does fit the piece, and while not much work was done, progress was made.   I think I'll listen some more now, as once again the disease is getting the better of me.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Begin With A Wish

Stroove, Co. Donegal

Within the constraints of a busy three day weekend, I was making progress on my musical "to do" list, when a team of microbes began munching on my lungs.  Their biochemistry interpenetrating mine; eliciting aches, coughs, and general malaise.  Fortunately I had a brief practice session in the early morning yesterday, and another one in the afternoon, before the microbes hit critical mass.

I went to pick up my guitar in the evening, as I had canceled my plans to join the sangha, but when I looked at the case, I knew I was in no condition to connect with my guitar.  I wish it was this easy when I have to connect with certain people, to just let go and tend to my needs.  With developing my awareness through meditation, Qi Gong, and the Alexander Technique, I have better strategies to assess where I am.  Knowing where I am, I may also have a sense of how I am. And then, I may see my choice of action.  This falls into the "music of life," an area like guitar where I continue to practice  Beginning with the wish is sufficient I suppose.  Once I had a wish to play music and now I do.

Begin with a wish - for my neck to be free, to be aware of my thinking, or to bring joy into our world. What are you wishing for?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Cageian View

I've been reading, Begin Again: A Biography of John Cage, by Kenneth Silverman.  What a man, constantly striving to allow what is, through his music, writing, and being.  I met John Cage twice; he was truly a gentle man, making himself available to someone like me, once only because I asked.

He worked extensively with creating mesostics, a form of poetry, usually drawing from the works of others.  Over the years I have played with this idea, sometimes using Cage's writing, sometimes others.  Recently, I've been playing with mesostics and the twitter stream.  Today I used John Cage to "write through" the blog this month.  This was what I found.  I took one line or word from post beginning with What Get's Caught in the Web? and then moved to the next post for the next line.

            inviting freedOm
                               wHen i returned
     this did not happeN
                       get praCticing
                   still primArily
                    do not cEnsor

Friday, January 21, 2011

When Discipline Evolves


                            When discipline evolves
                                     into devotion,
                               Practice becomes an
                                     an act of love.

Photo by Tj Matthews

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Minding My Choices

Release was the word for the day today, as we completed our Qi Gong practice.  I was tempted to go with Listen, but when my wife suggested "Release," I followed.  A real pleasure to trace this word with my hands, and again being aware of 'release' served me well in my day.  A situation arose regarding a project I am leading a team on.  With my feelings looking to stir, I asked myself what could I release.  My need to be right, the internal chatter that was erupting, and taking a defensive attitude were a good beginning.  As I calmed my mind, I realized I could release my entire story around this project.  Ah, momentary freedom; but to maintain any freedom I needed to be mindful of my feeling and thoughts.

Using the AT directions, I was able to stay within my body.  Releasing unneeded tension, as my habit of reacting to a stimulus I perceived as unfavorable was attempting to surface.  Reminding myself of my aim, and also that how I live my life is more important than what others think or feel.  Harmony, while edging towards the dissonant was maintained, and the project pretty much stayed on track.  Pleased with myself, I needed to choose again how to process this new information.  Quietly was my best response.

After a beautiful walk, delightful dinner, and time organizing my writings I was ready to practice.  Knowing that I was tired I choose to do an AT lie down.  As soon as my back hit the floor I knew this was the right choice.  After tuning my guitar, I questioned myself as to how I would spend my time practicing.  A part of me had let go of the idea of blogging tonight and playing longer.  As I directed my thinking to release my body, I saw that I had a choice to practice mindfully or to degrade into habit.  Habit energy is so strong, that it is so easy for me to get lost in the playing, and loose my sense of myself.  When I loose this sense, the habits begin to exert themselves, and poor use slips in.

The first piece I played, Gathered Hearts,  was flowing beautifully.  Pausing to give the AT directions again, I played Kinnara, which also sounded full and rich.  But the internal chatter began, oh what a good student I am, and then the noise began to increase.  Once again I gave myself space and time to direct, and then began Here We Are.  I then choose to get up and release my guitar from my body, while I was still relatively relaxed.  Disrupt my urge to continue, since overall my playing and use were going along relatively well.

After writing, I decided it was time to hit the floor again for a few.  This second lie down was a bit of a struggle.  "Come on the hour's getting late," I heard myself thinking.  I could really feel my tiredness and a strong urge to get up and play.  But I stayed with the lie down, until the struggle eased.

I began with an improvisation which was fun. Where's the engineer when I need him?  Suddenly I found myself singing intervals and enjoying the resonance. Whenever I do this, I find I easily arrive in the present moment.  Besides being good for my ear, singing intervals may very well be good for my being.  Playing through a few more pieces that needed dusting off, I was still enjoying myself.  Letting go to my tiredness I completed my practice.

To glimpse another important part of my day go here Full Moon Awareness.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Moments of Release

Our word for the day during Qi Gong practice today was - Release.  Many times during this day, "release" returned to guide and assist me.  Often through my application of the Alexander Technique and my awareness cultivated by finding my breath.  Below are a few moments when "release" entered the day.

Release my neck.

Release the notes.

Release my left hand fingers from the fretboard.

Release others to be free.

Release judgement.

Release the brake.

Watching the ice release from car roofs in front of me. 

Release  my expectations.

Release my spine.

Release kindness.

Release desire.

Release my breath.

Release judgement.

Release judgement. (I wonder how many of these I have missed.)

Release my neck and pelvis.

Release my history with another. (perhaps a variation on release judgement.)

Releasing nasty and vindictive thoughts.

Releasing demands on myself.

Release love.

Release my guitar from the case.

Release my heart into music.

Release this blog post.

I noticed today that release invites freedom into my life, into life.  What can you release?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Collapsing on the Music

                Photo by Tj Mathews Inside Lighting Series 2011

Last night after posting, I played through the new musical idea a couple more times before retiring.  While preparing to go to work this morning, I heard in my mind a possibility of where this may lead.  Now while tending to my professional duties another possibility emerges in my ear.  I always love how the brain continues to work on these musical challenges away from the instrument. 

I rested after my post work dental appointment and reluctantly moved to my guitar.  The cumulative tiredness is still weighing on me.  From experience I know to just pick up the guitar anyhow.  Pausing for a few minutes, I tuned, and then began looking at the new piece.  The ideas from earlier today either did not now capture my attention or I was no longer hearing them as I did.  The good news is that I had the guitar in my hands and I was searching.  Reminding myself that the journey is the path, I explored what I had.

At one point an idea sparked a bit.  Excited I began exploring this, when I saw that I was collapsing around my guitar.  Pausing to give myself the AT directions I then moved to play again.  Almost immediately I collapsed again.  Recognizing that I was beginning to "end gain," I paused.  Bringing my attention back to my body, noticing that my emotions were becoming attached to a 'successful' outcome, I practiced inhibition with returning to the guitar.  Making the decision to play, but then choosing to move my hands away from the guitar.  Another decision to play and stretching my hands toward the ceiling instead.

Then I felt my feet on the floor, allowed my body to lengthen, and brought my hands to the guitar.  Playing, but paying attention to how I was using myself.  As soon as I noticed I was collapsing, I paused and began again.  Feeling energized now, I began the piece again, and the magic happened.  My hands played something new, something musical.  Immediately my concern shifted to will I remember these new phrases.  Pausing, finding my length, I began to play again with the recorder on.
Unconcerned with the absolute capture of the music, I saw that when I focus on remaining free in my use, something shifted positively to allow music in. 

Another example of what Robert told me concerning music.  That he knew that music was always available, he could trust that.  The question was am I available to music?  The question remains.

Sunday, January 16, 2011



The Sunset Tree
A laughter filled day with family, shooting hoops, swimming, and just enjoying one another's company.  Home late, but still I need to connect with my guitar, with music.  Beginning with the theme I discovered on Friday evening, I found yet another twist within these simple chords.  Fascinated I probe the cell that has been given me, to see where the music would like to go.  Hidden from me, I continue to investigate what I have, trusting that when the time is right, the music will flow.

How to realize what is available to me in this particular beginning?  Imagination, desire, presence, commitment and patience.  When the right state is attained, the music simply emerges.  Developing the proper frame of mind, body, and spirit regularly allows this to be possible.  In a sense this can be practiced.  But that initial creative whisper of notes is surely a gift.  Ever grateful for this gift, I bring to bear what I am able, sometimes even a bit more.  And then I probe, practice, investigate, and wait.

The wait must be active; learning, listening, and encouraging the sense of wonder. I am feeding the creative spirit, while nurturing the musician. What can I do today to move this process of being forward?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Seed of Inspiration


A relatively gentle day, once I was able to begin it properly.  Qi Gong and sitting with my wife finally got me grounded this morning.  Just being with her, tending to our home, cooking, and allowing one another space was wonderful.  Two naps interspersed with watching a basketball game and even some uncharacteristic football watching, the Ravens that is, my hometown team.

I began randomly playing intervals and singing them tonight.  Thinking of my daughter-in-law and the book she is writing, I then played through Kinnara, which was inspired on one of our visits to Cambodia. I followed this with Gathered Hearts and Broken Wing.  Then I began playing the beginning I found last night.  On the first play through, a found a new approach to it.  After playing with this and recording it, I began to notate the opening theme.

And then it hit me.  Can I compose a piece of music inspired by the death of a prostitute on an episode of CSI Las Vegas?  Many of my pieces have been inspired by loss, or another personal experience, even a title from a poem.  Film and television shows are drama.  They do recount human experiences, complete with the attendant emotional cues and responses.  Yet somehow this feels very strange to me.  However that will not keep me from investigating this piece further.  Should I call the piece Nick's Song?

The Stimulus of Anticipation

For the past two months my life has been played fast at a volume of 10.  Now the day after the last major professional task is done, my body twitches.  Looking, almost needing to create pressure on myself.  Though tired I had to get out of bed and stretch.  I suspect a nap or two is in my future, but for now I found it hard to even complete an AT lie down.  Physics tells us that an object in motion prefers to remain in motion, and today my body is this object. 

Day after day I practice returning to the Present Moment using Mindfulness Meditation, Qi Gong, the Alexander Technique.  In the midst of the pressures of life, these moments of return during my day, where I reconnect with what is real and true, are precious and sustain me.  Now here today, with no looming major professional event(s) on my horizon, I crave the stimulus of anticipation.  I did a little Qi Gong, sat for a few minutes, and then moved to a lie down.  None of them were satisfying, unable to maintain my discipline that has been developed over decades.  Which brings me back to my favorite Guitar Craft aphorism We Begin Again Constantly. 

My wife is now awake and soon I'll practice Qi Gong and sitting with her.  The power of a sangha, even if it is only one other person; whose energy, commitment, and practice can permeate mine.  Perhaps I'll play a song or two while I wait for her.  Connection remains key.  Connection with my body, my aims, the Present Moment, with Music and Life.  Letting go of the unnecessary demands I am creating for myself today, and embracing what is important - right now!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Stay Curious

fields of bean

Exhausted.  Simply no more economical way to state this.  Napped, had dinner, and then watched a CSI. At the beginning of this investigation, one of the team asked Grissom how they would deal with all the information at this crime scene.  "Stay curious," was his reply.  Hell yes, was my response to Grissom's answer.

As I was resting in my chair, watching this show, I became curious as to how I would connect with my body in this exhausted state? How would I connect with my guitar? I could call it a night off and even I would not fault me for this.  But then the sheer joy and exhilaration that pulsed through me the past evenings, when I was also wiped out, nudged me.  Again my work tonight may not be of a long duration, but I will pick up my guitar was the decision I arrived at.

To prepare myself, I began with an AT lie down.  Surprised to find that my back did not ache at all, I did notice that my attention wandered immensely.  Grissoms words returned to me, how might I be curious with my guitar?   A thought emerged to pick one note on one of the middle strings, in the middle of the neck, and explore the various dyads available to my hand.  And so I did.

Nothing happened; and yet everything happened.  I was playing, listening, even singing some of the intervals.  Then I let go and played through Here We Are.  I noticed that being exhausted my body was somehow different while playing.  Certain habitual reactions were not kicking in.  I began to improvise and then let go of this also.  I thought of playing White to see where this was, but instead I began to just play around.  A dyad followed by a harmonic, followed by another dyad and a harmonic had my attention.  Following where this might lead me, I was engaged, delighted even. 

I paused to stretch a bit, and then returned to the guitar.  I played through the idea again, and then recorded this potential beginning.  Further investigations did not take develop this further, though I did discover an underlying emotional theme.  Letting go, I have a bridge to my practice tomorrow, and more importantly a connection to music today.

Be curious, not judgmental.
Walt Whitman 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Power of 20 Minutes

Long exhausting days at work this week as we undergo our annual surprise licensure inspection.  Three days of constant scrutiny and we are not done.  The past two nights I have been physically exhausted and my emotions are touchy.  Most of this is due to the interpenetrating affects of an already stressful workplace being driven to explain, defend, and sometimes regret actions made during the day to day care we provide.  But this is not a blog about working with those ill and dying, rather it is about my life as a musician.

Being a musician is a major part of how I deal with the stress of my days.  I love playing guitar, but my attention and energy are not always at the place to play as I wish.  What to do?  I pick up the guitar anyhow, even of for only 20 minutes.  This is the case for the past two evenings, only 20 minutes.  Yet during those minutes, the surge of music touched my heart, gave meaning to my feelings, and have made me smile.  And I want to continue, but I also need to rest.  Assured that music has not abandoned me, I can rest well.  Soon the inspection shall end, but my life as a musician will go on.  For this I am extremely grateful.

I'll connect for a longer time soon, but being certain to maintain the quality of the connection is more important than how long.  Twenty minutes is powerful when approached mindfully.  Twenty minutes can change your life.  What are you waiting for?

color and texture

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Do Not Censor

I woke in the middle of the night with this thought - Do Not Censor.  I wrote it down and went back to sleep.  Saw it again while dressing, and then off to a very long day at the office.  A couple times this thought came back to me today.

Do Not Censor is what I have done when music appears to be whispering to me.  Rather than judge the notes as to not be interesting enough or to decide that I am not skilled enough to develop them, I merely play with the notes.  They guide me or not, but I follow where I am able.  Occasionally the creative spark is so great that I see the way to complete the piece.

Do Not Censor holds for this blog also.  I never considered myself a write and still do not.  But I keep pushing the publish button.  The words appear and I follow, the best that I am able.  Knowing that some posts are better than others, I continue to move forward.  Getting out of the way the best that I am able.  Knowing that the spark needs me to gather the kindling.

Are you censoring yourself?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Expanding Freedom


Arriving in the basement at 8pm to practice tonight.  Beginning with an Alexander Technique lie down, I recalled that in a lesson with David he slightly increased the height of the books I was using.  This increase allowed a slight "stretching" of the spine.  So tonight I added another thin paperback.  Today has been a productive day with very little emotional charge.  I was subject to the usual environmental stress of a professional kitchen, but mindfully connected with myself many times throughout the day.  These quiet moments of connection are when I give myself the AT directions, or focus on my breath,  and allow myself a brief rest in the moment.

When I began my lie down tonight, my back did not ache and my mind was relatively quiet.  After 10 minutes I thought of getting up and moving to my guitar.  Instead I stayed on the floor and contemplated my body.  Towards the end of the lie down, I noticed a lengthening in my arm muscles that was similar to what has been achieved under the direction of an AT teacher.  The energy was freely flowing through my shoulders, arms, hands, & fingers.  Enjoying this sensation, I stayed down for a few more minutes and during this time I again noticed a movement in my chest below my rib cage. Is this noticing of the movement below the rib cage the result of increased kinesthetic awareness or from tension being released and freeing up this movement?  Perhaps both.

After writing about the lie down, I began exploring a single note, an A.  Suddenly I played this note so gently that I thought of Morton Feldman and began a soft improvisation in the spirit of Feldman's work.  After enjoying this for a few minutes, I began working with the ending of Aftermath.  A respectable reliability is developing, and for a few attempts I extended my playing to the 32 bars preceding this.  Then I let go and moved onto Dancin' Free. 

On my second run through of DF,  a mild chatter developed in my thinking.  Should I write this in the blog, or what about that phone call ...  Certainly not the first nor last time, that thinking of other than what I am doing, entered my practice.  My usual approach to this is to look to go inward, focusing on my breath, and while this certainly has merits, tonight I decided to think " I'm free," while playing.  This worked for a while, bringing my attention out into the room while also having a sense of freedom in my body and playing.  Enjoying this I moved to play Gathered Hearts.  I wish Tony had been here to capture this take,  this wonderful piece being beautifully played, as if for the first time.  How will I continue developing my freedom?  Back to the guitar.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Establishing the Possible


Friday evening while practicing, I began reviewing Aftermath, a tremolo piece I wrote many years ago when I first began playing solo.  At the time I was still primarily using a plectrum, but I was beginning a return to explore fingerstyle guitar.  Not that I necessarily planned to be a soloist, circumstances at the time had just evolved to this point.  FingerPaint had dissolved, I had done some work with a sax player and also played with electronic music on my own.  But I really felt the need to play live material again, to let go of the signal processing, synth programing, computer editing and just play.

A technical problem with Aftermath is that for the entirety of the piece my second & fourth fingers of my left hand are "anchored" to the fretboard, while my first and third fingers dance about the bass notes.  This anchored interval of a fourth induces and stress and strain into my left hand.  Since this piece is already complete I have an option on how I learn this as a fingerstyle piece.  My immediate concern is how to allow the left hand to be relaxed, flexible, and maintain the quality of the notes.

One of my favorite Guitar Craft aphorisms came to mind - Establish the possible, and move gradually towards the impossible.  How can I apply this to this piece of music, any piece of music?    I began by simply reviewing the chord shapes to clarify that I still knew the piece.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that with out much trouble score that I had still knew the piece.  There are two places that are very difficult to play, especially as they come at the end of the piece.  I avoided these and played with the tremolo a bit. Three more reviews of the chord sequence and then let go piece for that night.

Yesterday I again began working with Aftermath briefly.  At this point I decided to incorporate the Alexander Technique as much as possible whenever I work on this piece.  A gentle review of the structure of the music while paying attention to releasing my neck and allowing my shoulders to be wide.  Connecting my hips and my head and my feet, inviting in length, before I bring my hands to the guitar.

Today I began by coming into a relationship with my body before I picked up my guitar.  Then I looked at the structure of Aftermath in brief bits, releasing my hands from the guitar and allowing them to swing about gently, to and  fro,  before moving to the next section.  I focused on beginning to play only during my out breath.  Such a simple idea, that I forget about regularly.  But when I do this my body does not "prepare" for the notes with tension and holding of my breath, as much as allows the notes to sound.  When I was certain I had the structure clear, I began playing only the bass notes.  In this way I was establishing the possibility of fluid transitions while playing.  I continued in this way for 20 minutes and then did an AT lie down.

During the lie down I had a sense of the depth and length of how my neck muscles continue into the chest area.  I first had this sense using a visualization by an AT teacher whose name now escapes me.  Slowly the area of my back that I always notice aching when I begin a lie down released and my shoulders let go into the earth.  The notion of Stephen Covey's "begin with the end in mind," came to me and I recalled a  recent blog post I read concerning learning a piece of music by working backwards.  Check out this informative post by Erica Sipes titled Look Before You Play.  She learns her piano pieces from beginning with the last bars of music.

Working backwards is the way for me to approach this piece.  Besides the issue of hand fatigue the two trickiest part of this piece await me at the end.  I began with the seven bars leading up to the end, where I must release my second finger, which has been anchored for 3 minutes, and smoothly replace it with my first finger.  Then the second finger can play the fourth of five bass notes in a chromatic run. Slowly I just played the bass notes, with an aim of allowing my neck, shoulders, and arms to be free.  Playing the notes, releasing my hands from the guitar, and then mindfully returning them to play the seven bars again. Eventually adding in the second bass note that is a D# played alternately from the lower bass note in the chromatic run.  Pausing again and again, to reestablish my connection with my body and occasionally practicing inhibition of what I intended to play. This mindful approach to learning this part, allowed me to remain calm and alert to my body.  Occasionally I noticed when my right wrist would begin to arch or my right shoulder would pull in.  Applying the AT principles over and over like this will influence not just this section, or piece of music, but all of my actions.

 I eventually added the bass notes from the final eight bars to what I was practicing.  I restrained myself from adding in the high notes.  My left hand remained relaxed and the confidence of my fingerings increased.  And so it goes.

Friday, January 7, 2011


large rusty tuning fork = art

Catching up on some tasks after a long day at the office, I see the time is 7:45pm.  Thinking that I better get practicing,  I wash my hands.  I notice I'm rushing, my breath is shallow, my body tired, and my back has a little ache.  Slow down I hear myself thinking.  If I want the results like I have had a few nights this week, I need to bring my body and mind into the same space.  Not rushing in my thought nor my body, but as one being.  An Alexander Technique lie down seems to be the way to begin tonight.  Tune my primary instrument, my body.  Let go of the stress and strains of this day and begin again.

When my back contacted the floor there was a bit of a surge of ache in a familiar spot. This passed quickly as the muscles began to relax.  Then the noise of my mind increased, or perhaps I was just able to hear it better.  My mind, or my body, or both wanted me to get up from the lie down.  Too much to do, what about this, and tomorrow, oh I forgot - mindless yammering going on and on.  Slowly as my back began to relax , the roar of my mind lessened, and as the chatter slowed, the muscles lengthened and the mind slowed and ...  My chest appeared to let go of something and my feelings began to calm.  Slowly my being was becoming integrated once again; rather than this overdriven mish-mash of twitching muscles and beguiling thoughts.  Slowly flowing towards harmony, I became content with the process, though the occasional thought to get up and begin playing did arrive.  I simply ignored these thoughts and continued to allow my body to relax, lengthen, and widen and for my thoughts to slow down. 

As I rose from the floor I was tempted to resume this blog post, but instead a simply moved a bit in a playful manner and then picked up my guitar.  Improvising a simple melody, while I enjoyed the sound of my Godin guitar.  "On a journey to nowhere" as the song goes, I was enjoying this simple act.  I recalled an intention I formulated earlier today and smiled.  I may have arrived at the form to support and explore my practice for the coming days.  Playing around with improvisation,  I was happy that I did not move directly into playing a piece.  No need to trigger potential habitual responses in my self as I begin to play.

Pausing to reconnect, I then moved onto playing Here We Are, which always brings joy to me as it was inspired by my granddaughter.  From here I played through Gathered Hearts, Dancin' Free, and Stepping Stones.  An hour had passed, one in which through the simple technique of an AT lie down, and doing what I loved, had changed my day for the better.  

Thursday, January 6, 2011


blurred landscape

Blue, my favorite color.  Suddenly I'm humming "Call me Mr. Blue," a hit by Pat Boone on the radio when I was very young.  I remember asking my brother what the line "painting the town" meant.  I was young enough to be sitting on his lap in a rocking chair, and am now old enough to not recall his reply.  Blue Cheer was an early favorite band of mine once I started to investigate music on my own.  I still love their version of Summertime Blues.  As a teenager, I decided if I was to have my own rock band that Blue Rebellion might be a good name for the group.  This did not happen, but hey I'm still young at heart.

Then in college along came Cyndi Lauper's band Blue Angel.  I had three versions of this on vinyl, because twice a friend returned it when I was not at home and left it leaning against the front door on a hot day and it warped.  Somewhere around this time I was turned onto Miles Davis so I know that Kind of Blue entered into my musical haze.  My roommate at this time had the largest blues collection of anyone I've ever known, he also played a mean harp.

On the first live gig that I did that had a lighting designer I asked for us to be lit in blue.  She replied something about our skin color would be off.  C'est la vie, what do I know.  Perhaps I should perform wearing blue rather than black sometime. FingerPaint, the guitar driven electronic music project I was in, was to release a series  of three CD's called Primary Colors. Our only release was Blue with the final track titled Blues Unexpected.

I have a friend who played in the Blue Men, tough I never saw their show.  Then of course I love the Wallace Stevens poem The Man with the Blue Guitar.  And Robert Motherwell's Blue Elegy,  is my favorite of his Elegies to the Spanish Republic series.  Picasso's Blue period, of course you know the answer to that one.

To this day when buying dress shirts I need to look away from the blue ones or I'll come home with an armload of them.  But then those darn Tar Heels had to pick blue as their uniform color, and I dare not sully this blog with the other carolina team with blue  in their name.  Even blue, my blue; my favorite color can be led astray.  But then I learned a long time ago that everybody get's the blue's sometimes.

Funny how a blurred photo with beautiful blue hues can unleash these memories.  Grateful that they still arrive in my mind. Now I remember that a couple of weeks ago I began a piece called Blue Mazes.   Where this title came from I know not, but I hear my guitar calling me to the basement.  I don't think I'll play the blues but who knows.

                 Blue are the life giving waters taking for granted,
                      They quietly understand
                                                                 Jimi Hendrix

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


When I read Joann's comment from yesterday's post of "What a beautiful evening of integrating your practices," I recognized the word or quality that properly described my state - integrated.  My body was relaxed, functioning efficiently and possibly at a higher than normal energy level.  My mind was quiet and my emotions were calm.  As one definition for integrate states: to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole.  There I was united, body, mind, and spirit, all blended and freely playing my guitar. 

When I returned to the guitar after posting last night, there was still this higher functioning in my use.  Marvelous actually, I did not want to stop playing but the hour was getting late.  I slept soundly, a bit late actually, so my usual morning routine had to be abbreviated.  I did practice Qi Gong and still reaped benefits in my use based on our AT work last night.  I wished that I had more time to practice, but I still needed a few minutes to tend to my sitting, so I let go of taking my Qi Gong further.

Throughout the day, I experienced a calmness in my body and found the act of returning and making contact with my body to be easier.  Less noise in the environment of my mind/body connection is one way to put this.  I played with using AT inhibition, as  a way to continue my investigation into how I use myself.  I suspect that if I were to search the Alexander Technique literature that the term integration would be a working part of the vocabulary, but of this I am not sure, nor does my concern lie there.

While this was not my first experience of such a state, I did find last night last to be particularly powerful.  A taste of freedom in my playing that will nourish me and keep me going for days.  And some very good clues as to how to arrive there again. Practice, practice, practice and  ...

now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened - e.e. cummings

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Moving the Qi With the Alexander Technique

An interesting and good Alexander Technique class with David Jernigan tonight. We chatted for a bit as I have not seen him in a month. Then David did some hands on work with me.  He really connected my hips with my head and I noticed a movement or space beneath my rib cage that was new to me.  A certain spaciousness in my breathing might be an apt description.  He commented on my seated repose after this work and I also noticed the calmness and relaxation that had arrived.  My back was long and wide, my shoulders and my body were somehow better.

David then suggested that we do some AT work while I did Qi Gong. I began showing him my routine and then as I did certain exercises he worked with inviting freedom into my movement as only an AT instructor can.  At first this felt weird, which for me means different.  As we continued this my energy was moving and I was experiencing where I might be partially blocking the energy.  We continued on this way going through three Qi Gong exercises.  When we were done my energy had shifted,  my awareness deepened, and my sense of myself improved.

Arriving home, I picked up my guitar, and noticed my overall generally relaxation.  When I brought my hands to the guitar, my shoulders seemed a bit wider apart, which impacted positively on my right hand positioning.  My arms felt longer and relaxed, and as David had asked me several times this evening, I then asked myself what was my intention for my hands before I moved them to the guitar.  I played trough Livin' the Dream, and then worked on a difficult section of Broken Wing.  My hands relaxed yet assured, my attention with the guitar and the space around me.  My tone was sweet. After 20 minutes of good work I took a break to write this.  Even now sitting here typing there is a ease and length to my use that is different. Now back to the guitar.

Photo by James Landry.

Monday, January 3, 2011

What Gets Caught in the Web?

early in the morning

Just like the spider creates a silken web to capture his food, the musician also constructs a web.  My musical silk is composed of a certain facility with the instrument, some theory, careful listening, and a strong desire to connect  with music.  The silk becomes stronger with continued practice, slowly learning more about music, the guitar, and myself.  What is the role of an open heart I wonder?  An innocent ear?  Love?

Patiently, at least most days, I pick up my guitar not knowing if music will appear.  I hear myself asking "If I stop caring about music appearing, will music flow more easily?"  Another subtle manipulation of my mind looking for an easier way to connect.  Laughing at myself, I know it's time to clear my mind and play.  So simple, yet so challenging.  What gets caught in the web - music or the mind?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

This Too Shall Pass

Souls Entwined

I had a friend, Willie C., who had a humorous way of bringing home this truth to me. Willie would say " Now I'm no Bible thumper, but every now and then I read the good book.  I've never seen it say 'that it came to stay,' it always says that 'It came to pass.'" As I type this I can still hear him stretching the "Iiii'vvvvvve" with his particular twang.  Smiling now, as I did then when he would intone his wisdom for me.

I'm still tired from the intensity of my professional life, the major food holidays behind me fortunately. Now for some end of year paperwork, and an annual inspection that we all dread.  After spending a couple hours bringing order to our home today I took a nap.  I woke but did not want to get out of bed.  Generally this is not good for me as my thinking tends to drift to the negative when I do this.  Today was no exception, and even with working with following my breath, I moved into a funk.  I knew I needed sometime with my guitar, and at the same time had no energy for this.

I took a hot shower and then invoked  my two times to practice rule - when I want to and when I don't want to.  Into the basement, smiling as I opened the case revealing my six string friend.  Within ten minutes my mood was shifting, after 15 minutes I wondered why I would ever not want to play.  Just simple the act of picking up my guitar is  so healing.  Yet when my resistance flowers, only my commitment can pull me through.

What is it about notes, melodies, harmonies, sound that can change our mood?  How does music lift our spirits to the greater aspects of life?  What neuronal pathways are charged when I play fast?  What emotions calmed when I play slow?  There are scientific studies out there that may answer these questions. My own experiences have shown me that I need music in my life, and so I practice once again.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Every Note - My Teacher

Window to the sea....

We are always on the path, yet I am frequently blinded to the path.  Why?  The elusive quality of presence, due to my wandering mind.  But then the sound of the surf, the birds, or my guitar brings me back to this moment, if only for a moment.  Thus I practice, again and again, finding the present moment and wandering away.

Looking through the windows of life I sense beauty and truth.  Coming alive while seeking, I am touched by the creative spirit and music appears.  Daily, devotional listening for the whispers, while practicing the instrument.  Every note I play is my teacher - am I present or wandering away?  When I am present I may hear the notes the Muse is offering to me.  Every note I play is a gentle teacher; yet I can be hard on the student, hard on others.  And in this hardness I move farther away from the moment and deeper into negative habitual reactions.  Every note I play is a true statement of my condition.  How then to harmonize my condition?  How to bring body, heart, and mind into the act of playing the note, the act of being alive? 

Through practice - sitting, Qi Gong, Alexander Technique, Mindful Walking all serve to bring me back to this precious moment.  Any activity of daily living can be approached mindfully and bring me into the present moment - cooking, cleaning, listening to others, or even listening to myself.

How do I listen to others? As if everyone were my Teacher, speaking to me his cherished last words.
 - Hafiz

Suppose I could play my notes as if they were my "cherished last words?"  Suppose I could listen "as if everyone were my Teacher, speaking to me ... ?"  How do I  listen?

This New Day

A New Day

As the sun rises on the first day of the New Year, I pause to reflect on the path ahead.  Each new day, offers opportunities to expand, inspire, and to be.  To grasp these opportunities I need first to notice them; to have a measure of freedom to act and then to make that first conscious step.  Here I sit, this collection of habits, both good and bad, striving for clarity.

Last night I was asked the question - "What is the one word you could use to describe 2011?" Immediately, "expansive" came to mind.  An expanded freedom of use, an increased capacity to listen, and an open heart and mind to serve the Muse.  On this note, I shall begin my morning practice; I shall begin my year.