Wednesday, March 30, 2011


 The word question is derived from the Latin quarrier (to seek), which is the same root as the word for quest. A creative life is a continued quest and good questions can be very useful guides. Most useful are open-ended questions; they allow for fresh unanticipated answers to reveal themselves.  Unknown

Where does my quest for music lead me?  


By touching the present moment what am I experiencing?

What serves to unleash the potential within?

                                                                                  Am I?

       What am I serving?

Where does music live?

What question best serves the quest?

                                                            Are habits - answers? 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Notes Come, Notes Go

Sol o Luna ?

Still looking at This Longing tonight.  More ideas surface as others are laid to rest.  So as the title says - Notes Come, Notes Go ...  And that is just the way the process goes for me.  Sometimes a piece downloads in its' entirety, others times can take a while, and most times the idea never comes to fruition.  Yet I'm making myself available, learning, and coming back night after night.  The ongoing commitment is what matters most.

I can not catch a cloud with my hands,  but I can open my heart to the possibility.  I see that This Longing may be aptly titled.  Tomorrow, I will pick up the guitar and present myself to what is there and what is not.   I'll be doing what is necessary to invite in silence and then I'll be listening to the sounds I create to hear if music has arrived.  If not, the following night, I will begin again.  And so it goes.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Where's the Music?

                                 Photo by James Landry

 I woke feeling wonderful today.   A late night with music, but a good night.  A new piece was born, the second one this week, always good for my being.  Tonight I played through a couple pieces to warm up and then turned my attention to the tremolo piece.  This piece has been neglected this week and I do not intend to let it slip away.  Then I played through the piece from last night, This Longing.  Felt like something was missing, but hey it is new, just play it again.  Still something missing, so one more time. What?

A bit dismayed I turned on the tape recorder to listen back to the rough take I had recorded.  The beginning was good, but then their were notes, but where was the music?  Yet last night my feelings were strong and confident about this piece, was I deluded then?  No, I was just doing the work, and while there is an underlying feeling to this piece, I did not express this last night as well as I thought I did. But I did do good work.  What to do?  Simple - begin again.  I listened through two more times, while following the score.  Hearing what was strong and what was muddled.  There is a beginning and some other musical ideas, just not a flow of music throughout.

Briefly disheartened, I returned to work on This Longing.  After all this is how I have always learned.  Some feeling or notion is wanting to be expressed, I am touching it, but not fully capable of expressing it, yet.  Often times it is a matter of technique, other times insufficient musical vocabulary, but seldom a lack of desire to continue to learn and explore.  As a musician, I must show up to do the work.  Using the same opening, I began again.  Listening, exploring, and listening again. Can I hear what needs to be played?  Tonight the piece is not complete, but progress was made and I learned something.

This Longing

                                Photo by Jackie Dervichian

While practicing tonight, I was playing a slow piece, Kinnara, which I have not played in a while.  I was also working with the Alexander Technique, allowing thoughts of freedom, to guide my movements.  Kinnara is slow enough that I could more or less pay attention to the sense of energy in my arms. Then a mistake in the piece occurred and I noticed my right shoulder gently pulling my arm back and maybe even up a bit.  Pausing, I gave the AT directions, and began playing again.  Two more mistakes in the same part of the piece, each time I noticed a slight pulling back of my head.

Subtle reactions, certainly much less dramatic reactions, than those I had in my youth to mistakes.  But these reactions, disrupt the flow of my use, and contribute to unnecessary tension as I continue to practice.  And I'm certain they happen all the time, but tonight I noticed and was able to exercise a choice to begin again by directing my thinking.  I worked with thinking of the directions while playing the piece.  Making some 'intentional mistakes' did not cause a reaction. While playing through a section I had forgotten, I did not notice any pulling nor tensing of my neck nor shoulders.  One key here is that I did not notice any, this work is subtle, some poor use may have been occurring beyond my perception.

I moved onto playing Gathered Hearts, keeping the directions alive while also hearing the piece in my mind.  A good exercise that kept me focused and relatively free.  Playing a couple harmonics, I was off chasing the muse.  The tones were generally long and somewhat sparse and of course the hour was getting late.  But I followed the idea and notated what I was finding.

After using myself poorly while notating and playing earlier this week, tonight I worked a bit differently.  Using a clipboard and the music stand; even taking the guitar off several times, returning to the the AT directions.  Slowly the piece unfolded and then appeared to be complete.   Stretching I noticed a collection of poems, stories, & letters by Rumi on my shelf that is titled This Longing.  Smiling as I knew I now had the title for this piece of music.  I recorded what I had and then completed my practice.  As we approach midnight, I'll wait until morning to edit this.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Mount Calvary Monastery and Retreat House - Santa Barbara, California.  Destroyed by fire November 14, 2008

Retreat, a time away from my regular routines, a time to reflect and restore, a time to study with others, a time to be.  Can I retreat into the sound of one note? Can I retreat into the sound of the words I utter?  Can I retreat into the souls of my ancestors - looking deeply, letting go, and restoring wholeness?

Beginning with a single breath, I softly retreat into my being.  Inspire - expire, and then again, and again, and then we don't.  What lies between the first inspiration and the final expiration?  Listen deeply to your answer, and sing the song that you hear.  Sing in such a way that all will listen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Laying Down the End

Today is the middle day of my vacation.  While small tasks are being completed and general order being improved, I also have more time to dedicate to the guitar today.   An hour in the morning, one plus in the afternoon, and about another 2.5 hours this evening.  Throughout this day, as most days, I worked with the Alexander Technique.  While I apply this particularly to the guitar, I find opportunities to pause and check in with AT regularly.  These moments away from the guitar are just as valuable as those with the guitar, because AT is concerned with how we use our self.  Thus how I pick up a book, open a door, or chop garlic are opportunities to practice AT. 

Now the evening session was going to be much shorter, but around 9 pm I played with a beginning that arose during an improvisation in the afternoon. Standing there playing with this idea, the possibilities began to unfold. I had a sense that once again I would not be going to bed early.  As I continued to play with the music, I knew I was going to need to notate what I had.  In general, I use myself well when playing the guitar either standing or sitting.  But when I sit down to notate I contort and tense in more ways than I knew possible.  With the guitar around my body and notating on the paper on the desk any sense of good use disappears.

During the act of notation this piece began to develop more. So I would write, and play, explore what I had, write, and play.  Noticing odd ways of using my right leg to support the guitar as I crane to see the neck and write down what I was doing.  My back getting tense and tired, my neck no longer free.  But the piece was developing, and my end gaining was in full stride.  The piece taking off in different directions than when I was improvising, is this better or not I hear myself questioning.  After an hour or so of this I know I must take a break.  Not purely out of a sense of being good to myself, I had run out of ideas to explore and notate.  Taking off my guitar, I sensed the stress in my body.  I was already tired when I began this part of the evening, and now even more so.  A good time to call it a night.

But I also knew that I could not yet curl up with my novel.  An AT lie down was in order to relax my back and undo what my end gaining had caused.  As I lay on the floor, my books supporting my neck, I found my thinking wandering what to do next with this piece.  Directing my thoughts back to my body, to lengthen and widen, noticing the relaxation seep in as tired muscles released.  Suddenly I remembered a chord sequence in the bass register, that was near the beginning of the original improvisation, and had been left out once I began notating and exploring.  I had a sense this part would work where I was currently stopped on the piece and was ready to get up and investigate.  End gaining returning, what was I to do?

Fortunately I continued the lie down.  Not meaning any disrespect to the muse, I would return to the music that was being given to me, but what was happening in the lie down was also very important.  I suspect I probably ended the lie down a few minutes sooner than if no idea had arrived, but I did resist the initial impulse to just leap from the floor and return to work.  As I sat at my desk, guitar strapped to my body, I explored this sequence and before I knew what had happened, I had an ending to the piece. 

Now I can curl up with my copy of Ilium.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What Tunes Me to Love?

The heart is the thousand-stringed instrument. Our sadness and fear come from being out of tune with Love. ~ Hafiz

Lotus Flower Bud

What tunes me to love?  Meditation, prayer, contemplation, insight, sangha, music, the touch of a dear one.  As Hafiz so eloquently expresses "sadness and fear come from being out of tune with love. " I wonder if it is also from being out of time with love?  My fear is seldom in the present moment, nor is my sadness.  To bring my instrument into tune, I must be there in the moment listening, just listening.  Sadness and fear are powerful emotions, watered by family, community, country, and life itself. Yet as one wise sage has said "in the end there are three things that last - faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love." So again I ask what tunes me to love?  When do I tune?

When a piece of music touches someone, this becomes part of their memory, life, and being.  One of a multitude of subtle shifts and insights forming one life, yet forming all of life.  Seek truth in yourself, and  truth will manifest in your art.  In the ocean of my heart there are depths that words cannot touch.  The language which expresses that which is inexpressible - music - can stir these depths, bring them into light, and allow them to heal and blossom into understanding.  And as I have been taught in the Fourth Awareness - "We are aware that understanding is the very foundation of love." 

As cycles of suffering surround us, we pause, tuning our instrument carefully with the breath.  Finding the present moment, finding love, tuning and turning towards love.  There is no end in mind.  There just is.  So I breathe, I tune, I play my notes listening to the melodies of life, pausing to tune as needed.  Becoming lost in the flow, distracted, and then the muse reminds me to tune again, to begin again, to connect again with life.  Will I ever stay in tune?  What a question as I smile. Never will I stay in tune, so I practice.  To tune a thousand strings takes a lifetime, needs a craft of loving care, requires help from a Sangha, and beyond.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Closer walk with thee

I'm on vacation from the day job this week, this time just a week to be at home.  Vacation comes from the Latin root - vacare: to be empty.  I began my emptying by attending a silent meditation retreat this weekend.  Such a precious time, a needed time for me.

Awakened this morning by thunderclap so loud, that Zeus must have been very angry, I tried to return to dreamland but could not.   Happy to have the opportunity to pick up my guitar in the early morning, but I found my playing was off and uninspired.   I continued until it was time to leave for a meeting.  My afternoon and early evening were dedicated to tax preparation and errands.  When my tax work was done for the evening, I picked up my guitar again. Just playing for fun, I eventually ripped off a good take on Dandelion Wish which I had not played for a while now.  The hour was late and this seemed to be a good place to complete my playing for the evening.

Suddenly I found myself playing a percussive bass line and knew I needed to follow where this might lead me. Yes it was already 10:20 pm, but when the whisper of music is present, I wake up.  I played around with this bass line to see where we might go.  When this seemed as if this was all there was, I turned on the tape machine and then notated what I had.  Still ready for more, the muse was silent.  I can still play this line in my head and will rest, perhaps tomorrow,  we will progress with this, perhaps not.  Why do these musical ideas so frequently arrive late at night?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Morning Thought

May all of my sounds of protection and alarm today, be expressed like bird song.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lie Down and Find Myself

                                    Photo by James Landry

Tonight was one of those nights I knew I needed an AT lie down before practicing.  My body tired from the long months of work, ready to let go into vacation mode, but I still have one more day to tend to my professional duties.  Wrapping up details, completing reports, leaving instructions, and anticipating the unknown.  But now refreshed from my lie down, my energy is flowing and I'll report to practice.

There is that part of me, present daily to be dealt with - my resistance.  The best way I know to deal with my resistance, is to ask for help and to move onto the task at hand.  How many of thousands of times have I pushed out of bed to go to work.  I treat my practice the same.  In desperate times, invoking my  two times to practice rule - when I want to and when I don't want to.  The respite from demands on myself offered by the lie down is nourishing and energizing, not in any way giving into the resistance.  Rather it is a method of preparing myself for a quality beginning.

When I sat on my stool, my body was ready to receive my guitar and to take as fresh a look as possible at how I play.  Beginning with an exercise dealing with accents and the right hand, I enjoyed the simple act of playing notes.  The sound drawing me into the moment, my listening deepening as I shifted the accent between the thumb and various fingers.  Such joy to be found when I am using myself well, and working in a way to improve overall.  From there I played through Gathered Hearts and then Stepping Stones.  Taking time to stay connected with myself as I played, keeping the AT directions alive with my thinking.  As I worked on the power pull-off section of SS, I wondered why I do not always begin with a lie down?  A very good question indeed.

Pausing and marveling at how this simple action, also known as active rest, can be so restorative and generative.  My muscles lengthened, my Qi flowing, and my mind quieted.  A very simple and powerful practice.  And now back to the guitar.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

One Step

I never know where the next creative spark will come, when it will come, or not even how this manifests.  I do know I show up with the guitar night after night, and as many other hours that I can.  Curiosity has always been a strong trait of mine, and has paid off in numerous way.  Boredom has never been a word in my personal vocabulary.

Be it discipline, devotion, commitment, or just the pure joy of playing, I find a way to connect with the Muse.  Writing this now I see the connection is a result of all those qualities being in my life.  Tonight I had this insight - Take a step towards your dream and watch the world change.  Clever words?  Not at all. Take the step for yourself and see the results.  Each day I have to take that step over and over again; some days this is easier than others.  But my world has changed, please go and take your step - Now!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Reminder

As my sitting came to a close this morning, the birds began to sing.  A pleasant reminder that life goes on, as my sleep and my sitting had been clouded by the news of the loss of a friend.  Combined with the collective sense of loss in Japan right now, the feelings can settle in and overwhelm.  But I am more than my feelings.  The birds continue to serenade me. Where would I be without their song, calling me back to life?  May we all sing our song as beautifully and fully as the birds.

Monday, March 14, 2011

To Find a Better Way to Play


Is that anyway to begin a blog post?  Most of this evening, I had that sense about me.  I've been looking for a folder with a few scores of works in progress that I misplaced for a week.  Tonight I did some serious looking, which irritated  me as this took away from my practice time.  At one point, after about 50 minutes of looking, I let go and began practicing.

I did an exercise on right hand accents, I picked up off a classical guitar blog.  Last night I worked with this exercise for the first time and found it useful.  Tonight when I moved from the exercise to playing through Here We Are, two things happened.  I played with the accents in this piece to see the affect of the exercise, and I noticed that I was happier playing than when I was looking for the file.  I moved onto the tremolo piece, and incorporated AT work with inhibition, as I played through the entire piece.  Yesterday I noticed tension as the playing of the piece progressed, so I want to use the process of inhibition every few bars to see how I am using myself to cause this tension.

What might our world be like if we all took the time to find how we create tension in ourselves and then found a better way of using ourselves?

Sunday, March 13, 2011


A bit adrift this morning, no better way to describe where I am. Various routines disrupted of late, most for good reasons; but those routines are in place for good reasons and the occasional reminder of their necessity in my life keeps me on track.  While checking the stats on this blog, I saw someone had read a post from July of 2009, titled Answering My Own Question, so I decided to read this also.  And there was my immediate way back in - go pick up my guitar, mindfully of course. 

Just the act of tuning began to moor me to the present moment.  Hearing my granddaughter upstairs, I played through Here We Are, a piece she inspired years ago.  I had a couple ideas of what else I wanted to look at, but then moved onto the new tremolo piece.  I began playing through it and hit a snag, after beginning again the same issue arose.  I already know this particular transition is troublesome so I decided to focus my work here.

I began from the two bars preceding this transition and played it through a three times.  Noticing that the transition derailed in different spots each time, I realized that I do not thoroughly understand what I am asking my hands to do here.  And this is a great opportunity for me to apply the Alexander Technique.  Giving myself the AT directions, I decided I would practice inhibition by just playing the two bars preceding the transition and then pausing.  Am I doing anything at this point to my head/neck relationship just before moving my left hand to the new sequence?  Beginning on an outbreath, and patiently playing these two bars and then again the pause.  My relationship with my body deepening with each pause, my breathing calming, my thinking focused.

From here I decided to play just the bass notes of the transition, while again working with allowing my body to lengthen & widen.  Pausing and directing, playing, and then again pausing & directing.  I added in the tremolo and played from the two bars and added in the next one.  Directing, playing, and watching to see if I began to misuse myself.  Continuing in this fashion, I then added in the next three bars, one at a time.   After playing through this section three times, I allowed myself to continue through the end of this piece.  I'm always pleasantly surprised how detailed work on one section, improves my performance of a piece overall.  Noticing that my left hand was a bit fatigued, I took  break to write this.

I returned to play through this and my granddaughter came with me.  I played through the transition seamlessly, though I did notice a tightening in my neck as I approached the end of the piece.  More work for a later time.  For now we're off to enjoy this beautiful spring day.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Close to Heaven

We saw the California Guitar Trio in a beautiful church in Frederick, Maryland last night.  I have lost track of how many times I have heard them play over the years, both on tour and during Guitar Craft Courses.  Each time I experience them live is a unique communion with the creative spirit.  This is not going to be a review of their show, the quality of their musicianship, nor the depth & range of the music they play. In a word, they are astounding.  Rather this will be a reflection of where the CGT took me.

One factor that was unique for me last night was that this was the first time that my daughter-in-law and granddaughter were with me at a CGT performance.  I had no concern whether they would enjoy the show, as I know the ability of the trio to delight a very diverse musical audience.  I was aware that as a ten year old, my granddaughter would be challenged by 90 minutes of unfamiliar music.  I'm certain she has heard some of their recordings, because of my own listening; but she is developing her own musical aesthetic at this point.  This is precisely why I wanted her to see and hear these three wonderful guitarists live.

Her attention was riveted during the first few pieces, the power and presence of Paul, Bert, & Hideyo put a sparkle in her eye.  Then she began to tire, sitting still on a Friday night, close to bed time.  A church pew, surrounded by thunderous & glorious sounds, does not make for an ideal bed, so I held her.  As she curled towards me, with the swirls of magic emanating from the trio's guitars, I was very close to heaven.  Love and tenderness of family, friends, music, and musicians filled my heart with joy. During their rendition of Pink Floyd's Echoes, she began to listen again; soon her body responding to the music.  During Classical Gas I realized I was around her age when I first heard this piece by Mason Williams.  As Bach's Tocatto & Fugue filled this hallowed space,  I was deeply touched with love, gratitude, and happiness for all that Guitar Craft has brought into our troubled world. 

In the presence of music, we were all able to let go of our concerns for an evening.  Revived and nourished by music, I am a better man this morning.  Wishing that my granddaughter's relationship with music continues to grow and flourish, and for us all to touch the present moment of the creative process.  My deep thanks to Paul, Bert, and Hideyo for continuing to challenge themselves to grow musically, and endure the hardships of the touring musician, to share their work with audiences.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

On Developing Accuracy

              Silence is so accurate.   
                                              Mark Rothko


Monday, March 7, 2011

A Little Help for Some Friends

What would you do if I sang out of tune ...
                                   - Lennon & McCartney

Well, they don't sing, but still they may need a little help from their friends, fans, and people who still browse for new music and even pay.  Imagine being on the road, the beginning of a month tour, and you're awakened by the hotel manager telling you to move your van quick.  This is what happened this morning to the California Guitar Trio. Fortunately, Bert & Paul, with the assistance of two firemen, pushed the van out of flood waters  in Danbury, Connecticut.  While their gear was saved, the CD's & DVD's were stowed in the front part of the van which did take on water and all of these were ruined.

And they have a gig tonight at BB King's in New York City!  An act like this never comes at a good time, but this is totally rotten. I know any touring musician with sense has their instrument insured.  But CD's & DVD's I doubt are covered.  Touring is not guaranteed income, and the sale of recorded material is vital to the musicians' financial success.   The members of the CGT, Bert, Paul, & Hideyo are great people, fantastic musicians, and now have an obstacle to face.  Even with loss of inventory and sales opportunity the show will go on tonight at BB Kings.  And these guys will make the best of anything.  But there is also an opportunity here.  To spread the word about this great group of musicians and urge your friends drop by their website, have a listen, and make a purchase.

Their latest album Andromeda is sure to satisfy the most discriminating ear.  A mixture of compositions and improvisations, including special guest Tony Levin and others, offers a wide range of music. From subtle introspective pieces to the flamenco, influenced Hazardous Z, and onto rocking guitar music like only the CGT can deliver.  My personal favorite is the layered circulation on Improv VIII.

So what are you waiting for, head over to their site or to your own favorite musical outlet. You can find their work on itunes, amazon, or the vinyl version at Karate Body Records. And don't forget to catch them on tour.

And please spread the word!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Glimpse


Every now and then I receive a glimpse.  Receive appears to be the proper word, because this glimpse is a gift.  I want to rationalize and say it is because of dedicated efforts, reflections, and honoring commitments.  While this does play a part in my arriving in the place to receive the glimpse, by it's very nature any glimpse is a gift.

Today I received such a gift at a day of retreat with my Sangha.  Arising from the silence, I heard my Dharma name.  One that was chosen for me by a wise and loving teacher.  For years, I have loved this name, recognized it's validity, and was honored by the sentiment.  Today I saw that I may be able to use this name to guide me and assist me in my musical pursuits.  Can I, will I fully embody the spirit and truth, allowing all sound that flows from me to be informed by and informing of it's spirit?

Knowing always that while my personal practice is needed, that it is only with the help of others that I can see, learn, and transform what is me.  Who would have known, that the desire to play the guitar would lead me to such places; to the spaces where I can listen, know, and be.   I am a fortunate man; I have music.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Other Times

Time out

- Call a friend.

- Take a lesson.

- Go to an art museum.

- Do something different.

- Perform a ritual.

And always embrace your uncertainty.

Oh and pick up your guitar.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Sometimes the Abyss is within' oneself.

- Sometimes I just need to change the orientation of a piece of paper.

- Sometimes I just need to Begin on the out breath.

- Sometimes I just need to pick up the guitar.

- Many times I just need to listen.

            Most times - all you need is love.

Let's make that last one - ALL THE TIME.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Low Energy

A personal success at work today.  The conditions were ripe to get lost in anger, but by finding my breath, working with the AT directions, and taking a walk, a better way was found to resolve the situation.  My energy was conserved and no great toll taken on my body.

I had class with David tonight.  My energy was low by this time, and I seemed to want to have something done for me or to me.  Towards the end he made a statement that I need to examine over time.  He suggested a variation on the adding in a rest exercise of Pedro de Alcantara, where I would play the bass note, rest, play the 3 notes of the tremolo, and rest before the next bass note, and so on.  I worked with this at home and found that I was able to maintain a better overall sense of myself & while my hands were playing. 

Now to address my low energy, but heading off to bed.