Saturday, April 30, 2011

Senseless Loss

How much longer?

While working on the etude this morning, it's name appeared based on certain thoughts and feelings that have arisen within me during the past 12 hours - Senseless Loss.  This piece is dedicated to the victims of gun violence.  I have been working with this etude in varying capacities for the past two months.  Originally conceived as a fingerstyle piece, to develop my right hand tremolo technique, I actually switched to using a pic.  All the years of practicing with a pic, have my speed & evenness with the tremolo in place, allowing me to work out the tricky left hand positions.  Not that there has also not been issues arising with the right hand.  Just feels right to play this with a pic.

With this recognition of the name, something else has entered into this piece.  Perhaps just another fantasy of my imagination, but there is a yearning within me now to play this piece with passion.  Life is short; life is precious, and too often wasted by how easy it is to pull the trigger in my beloved America.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Tuning the Heart

                                  Photo by James Landry

On Sunday I made a list of five items related to music, that I wanted to work with this week.  One of which was to attend the Collaboration Laboratory.  I promptly forgot three of the other four, and did nothing related to accomplishing the other one I remembered.  Then last night I pulled out the list and got to working on two of the other goals.  Good progress was made and after dinner tonight I was prepared to return to these.

A comment on a friends link on Facebook, brought up an old issue with me, one where my emotional entanglement is still alive.  Going back & forth a bit with this person, brought up times from my youth, which still have the power to disturb me.  Nothing wrong with looking at issues, but when my emotions are flaring and the mind engaging them, I find it difficult to do anything well.  I played for a bit, and then took a walk to let go of the energy and to reflect.  Back with the guitar I began working with the Etude in 7, and coupling this with ear training.  Focusing my listening in this way, brought me back to what I am doing right now.  Finding the space I was in with the Alexander Technique was also useful.

As I continued this, I began to allow the emotions I was feeling to inform the music in the Etude.  This is a tremolo piece, sad and reflective.  I began to dedicate this piece to the victims of gun violence.  Perhaps a title other than Etude will emerge.  Here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, there is so much violence.  I am so grateful that my musical pursuits have led to the transformation of much fear within me.  Fear that often was expressed as anger.  Time to return to the guitar.  To feel those vibrations against my chest and allow them to tune my heart.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Soar & Glide

110426 Seattle and Bremerton (41)

Awake at 5 am this morning, listening to the birds sing praises to the end of night and celebrating another glorious sunrise.  Inspired by the birds I decided to seize the opportunity and play for 15 minutes.  This could have been longer, but I did some work on my right hand nails.

My wife joined me for Qi Gong, and while doing one of the Crane forms this thought came into my mind - May you soar and glide throughout the day.   This sentiment returned to me during the Collaboration Laboratory meeting tonight.  A collection of 7 poets, 5 musician, and 2 dancers, with 2 of the musicians also being poets.  As a way of introducing ourselves to one another, each presented a poem, music, or movement.  Then the process for investigation in this particular Lab project was introduced.  A poet would present a line and then the musicians and dancers would improvise.  Perhaps the poet would be influenced by what was seen and heard and incorporate this into the poem.  Some of the poets repeated the line, some changed it, and at times others added words.

In all we undertook this four times with discussion in between.  Some of the poets repeated the line, some changed it, and at times others added words.  A really good group of articulate people with a broad depth of experiences.  There were moments when we did soar & glide, which were very satisfying.  More questions raised than answers found,  a certain feeling one another out.  Laughter, wonder, magic and the mundane all arose and evolved.  A gentle stretch, connections made, and an evening well spent.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Look Out

                                    Photo by James Landry

Tomorrow, I will be attending the Collaboration Laboratory, which will be a group of poets, dancers, and musicians looking to share their work and explore possible collaborations.  I was invited by the organizer, who finds something of interest in my work.  A good thing all in all.  But tonight my mind is like James photo.  Either chattering away, not there, or fixed but not focused.  Who will be there?  What will I do?  Will they like me?  Ah welcome to my life, my mind.

I've been watching myself long enough to know that this is another of the 1000 faces of fear manifesting subtly.  What to do?  Bring my attention back to my body, then the guitar, breath out, and play.  Listen to what I'm playing and keep returning to this moment, the only moment of my life.  As the Guitar Craft aphorism, that I've quoted a few times in the blog reminds me, we begin again constantly.

I remind myself that entering into unknown situations are good for me.  I'll be stretched, learn, and keep moving.  One thing is certain, if I'm still breathing, I will show up on time and be as open as possible.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Movin' On With AT and The Piece


A beautiful Easter morning with breakfast in the back yard as the birds sang.  Sounds of neighborhood children shouting joyfully as they found another egg brought smiles to my face.  Then off to work on building a tree house for our granddaughter.  My role, primarily to hold the heavy timbers in place until they were secured.  Frequently during this patient labor I practiced AT, as the level was used and screws found and drilled into place.  I'm not used to this kind of labor anymore, and though I may be stiff tomorrow, I'm certain the AT work affected my use positively today.

We arrived back home beat and happy.  After shower and dinner, I hit the floor for a lie down.  My back so grateful for the support, as I contemplated my body.  Slowly but surely the spine lengthened, the back widened, and my shoulders released.  When I rose, I was still tired but restored.  Moving to my guitar, I began to improvise a melody, just having fun and being open to the possible.  I began to work on the Etude in 7, but my heart was not into this.  Pausing to direct via AT and take in the space of the room, I decided to work with Movin' On.  I worked with this for close to 40 minutes, exploring and looking for where this might go.  Then a simple chord inversion opened another door.

A quick break to extend Easter Wishes via the phone to family and a friend and then I returned to the guitar.  Movin' On began to develop further.   An interesting chromatic melody emerged taking the piece in a direction I was attracted to.  I noticed that my back and  my left shoulder were tired so I hit the floor for another lie down.  Happy that the piece was developing; grateful I had the sense to pause and take care of my body.   After the lie down,  I played through the new section a few times and found a possible ending.  Turning on the tape machine I played through the piece twice.  During the second take at least two happy accidents occurred, breathing more life into the notes.  Letting go of the guitar, I listened to the final take, satisfied with what I had captured on tape, I completed my practice.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Moving On

    This morning I returned to the melody that came to me last night.  I heard the mood captured by our friends letting go.  Tonight I played with this more, and the first two sections are working, now what to do?  The piece is not complete, yet I have not heard where the music wants to go. 

Well our friends are still with us, so my first order will be to play it for them and my wife and see what might happen.  One of many powerful lessons I learned in Guitar Craft is that music needs listeners to really come alive.

I just played what I have and nothing new came out, but I did hear that these notes have life and I trust that the piece will continue.  Back to work with this some more.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Letting Go

So don't sing me the songs about the good times

Rain came to the area today, so while I'm still congested, my breathing is easier.  A delightful dinner with old friends tonight, friends who used to live around the corner.  Today they cleaned their home in which they raised a family for the final time.  On Monday, new life will enter this space and make a new home.  Letting go, moving on, all part of this life.  I'm happy that they are with us this weekend, to allow our home provide them a familiar space in which to be, as they complete this phase of their life.  After conversation, they moved to rest and I to play.

After warming up, I did some work with the Etude in 7, and then began to just play.  A melody appeared. And then the melody lengthened taking me on a journey for an hour.  Teasing me, urging me to find the space within the melody, within me.  Let go of my desires, just be with the notes that I had.  Slowly a possibility for the next section appeared.  Playing with this, wondering if I would be up late, taking note of what the muse was offering.  A shift of mood with the piece came out.  A good shift, one that let go of what was already established.  Recording what I had, noticing my tiredness, I decided to let go and trust that the muse will return again, as long as I do.  Slowly I am learning there is a time for rest, a time to let go ...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

When You Just Do the Work

Doorway (1), Estremoz, Alentejo, Portugal, 29 September 2005

I woke last night suffering from my allergies several different times.  After dragging out of bed, I really did not feel like doing Qi Gong, nor anything else for that matter.  I could have easily rationalized that I am actually ill, right now, and let it go at that.  But this also seemed to be my resistance lurking, looking for a chink in my morning routine.  Deciding to do a "little bit" of Qi Gong, we began.  Within minutes, I noticed that I was feeling slightly better.  As we continued to practice, my energy shifted, and while I was not ready to climb Mt. Everest, I was prepared to face my day.  My sitting followed and enhanced the flow of positive energy that had begun with the decision to do that "little bit."

During the day, I found out that today was a particularly horrendous day for tree pollen in the DC metro area.  On a scale of 0-12, we were at 11.5, and this put my allergic reaction into perspective.  After work I napped a bit and then did an errand with my wife.  Our house guests arrived and after they settled in, I was again faced with a decision.  Tired, ill, and lacking in desire, should I take the night off from music.  Again the subtle voice of resistance, which I know so well.  Once recognized there is only one answer - do the opposite, do the work.

I decided to focus on the difficult part of the Etude in 7, which is improving.  I worked with the notes in various ways to see where my left hand and right hand issues were.  Then mindfully practicing this part at varying tempi and with & without the tremolo, I worked out the left hand shifts.  After 25 minutes of this, for the second time this day, I noticed how much better I was feeling.  As I continued to practice, I continued to feel better.  Why is this?  Certainly somehow related to doing the work that matters to me.  And then there are the subtle energetic shifts that occur with Qi Gong and my musical practice.  Perhaps even a bit more subtle, is that I am noticing that as a practice develops over time, through effort and discipline, the practice can then give more back to the practitioner.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why Doors Remain Closed

 While continuing to bring order to the "stuff" in my practice space, I came across this gem I had written on a piece of paper by Anh-Huong Nguyen.

            So many doors remain closed because of fear, habits, or knowledge.
 Anh-Huong is my local meditation teacher who runs the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax with her husband Thu.  They have shed so much light in my life and when I found this quote I just beamed.  Reflecting on this I saw the relationship of these closed doors to my musical pursuits.  For years fear had me so locked into myself that performing music was an ordeal.  Shaking, sweats, and the negative self-talk before and after was debilitating.  Slowly through meditation, reflection, and experience this has lessened to an amazing degree.  And this change has permeated the rest of my life.

Habits continue to manifest and again are being released through my mindfulness practices, with a particular emphasis with the Alexander Technique.  AT allows me to see and change my psycho-physical habits of use.  Meditation and the mindfulness trainings give me guidance to dealing with all of my habit energies.

Knowledge, the word which philosophers have been dissecting for centuries, gives me pause with in this quote.  Yet I have a sense of how my "justified, true, beliefs" to quote Plato, do keep me behind certain doors.  The same mindfulness practices will unlock these doors, I am certain. Sounds like a "justified, true, belief" to me.  So I continue to probe, to breath, to listen, and to learn.  When I release my fears, habits, and knowledge - the creative spirit just might have an opportunity to be heard.

                                        Photo by Carbon 111

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Touch

I'm tired.  The trees in the DC metro area are pollinating the air at levels that are hazardous to my health.  I began my antihistamines yesterday, did not sleep well, and still managed to have a very productive day at work.  Came home to a rare treat of having our granddaughter with us on a week night, as this is her spring break.  Lots of fun and laughs ensued, and while my energy is no match for hers, I still go for it.

I was ready to curl up with a novel, or at least catch some of the Celtics - Knicks game, but I knew I needed to connect with my guitar.  And I was happy to do so, because I know that when I hear those strings, and feel their vibrations against my chest that I receive a gift.  I'll search for the words, but am not sure that I possess them.  But after years of disciplined practice, the act of practicing nourishes me in a way that nothing else does.  Some nights like tonight, my practice is not long.  But by making that small effort, and giving what I can plus a little bit more, I become attuned to what is important in this life.  What more could anyone ask?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Transitioning the Transitions

                                     Photo by Carbon 111

A tweet by Elissa Milne about playing the C Harmonic Major Scale beginning on the 3rd scale position (E) and moving in contrary motion caught my eye this morning.  I decided to begin my practice by exploring this.  While I begin with certainty in my approach to the guitar, I find it useful to embrace the unknown as a way to disrupt habitual reactions, while also expanding my knowledge.

Moving to working with the difficult section in the tremolo piece, I am slowly bringing this up to speed.  Taking a brief break from this I picked up a folder with a print version of an older blog post - Transitions.  After reading this,  I thought about transitioning between takes of this difficult part.  I have used the AT principle of inhibition in working with this, as a way to keep my aware of my use.  Today I decided after one take of the difficult part to play the theme from Aspiration, so simple and beautiful. Pausing to direct my use via AT, I then I returned to the difficult section and after this play through I played the opening to A Journeyman's Way Home.  Again something that I can play effortlessly and also connect with positively.  I continued this moving between the difficult section interspersed with sections of pieces that I have mastered.  There seemed to be a qualitative flow from the effortless sections to the difficult section.  Between each 'playing' I paused to work with AT.  I'll continue to explore this over time.

After a break to work on this blog I returned to the guitar, and began exploring the Harmonic Major scale again.  Moving from this unknown improvisation, I then played through a different difficult section I am working with.  Then back to improvising in Harmonic Major and then returning to the difficult.  Again paying attention to my use via the Alexander Technique when my playing paused.  A different flavor from my earlier efforts, but again I stayed within my body more, and am learning from the mixing of these efforts.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Begin With Certainty

July 7 2009 Extravaganza - Prediction = True

The remainder being taped to the music stand this evening - Begin With Certainty.

To know when I bring my hands to the instrument that I am playing my guitar.  To be where I am; aware of the space, breathing, with my mind leading my hands.  To open my heart and allow joy, love, sorrow, and whatever else needs to be expressed to find a voice.  And as so eloquently expressed by Robert Henri to know why.

A common defect of modern art study is that too many students do not know why they draw.  Robert Henri

Friday, April 15, 2011

Various Reminders


Fridays.  Always nice to come home, knowing that I have two days off to use as I please.  While taking breaks during practicing tonight, I continue to bring order to our home.  Lots of shredding tonight - paper that is.  I did review a few pieces and then began looking at the C Hijaz scale once again. 

During this last break, I began to address a small pile, where I found various reminders, that I have attached to my music stand at some point.  I'll share them with you now in the order that I found them.

Can I Approach any note with Innocence and Delight?

Be Here Now!

Find the Space                         Connect


I think I can let go of these particular pieces of paper now, the reminders are good, and I am sure will resurface again.  My process is like that.  Allow something to direct my attention for a while, and then use another construct.  Be Here Now, just leaped off the page at me right now.  Where are you?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Interview On Harmonious Bodies

Diana Rumrill is a physical therapist and completing her Alexander Technique teacher training.  She works with musicians and takes a holistic approach to their health.  The Harmonious Bodies Podcast is a great series of interviews she has conducted with my particular favorites being Pedro de Alcantara and Madeline Bruser.

Diana has read this blog and contacted me to do an interview. You may find the interview here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tuning to Joy

Joy (Explored)

Bringing order to the shelves in my practice studio.  Memories abound as I shift books, files, CD-R's, cassettes, & floppies around.  A stack of photo's & cards from some other unresolved encounter with entropy grab my attention.  One particularly favorite photo is of my granddaughter and I on a karoake stage in Penang, Malaysia.  So much joy captured in this photo, as we were playing around on this empty stage with enough vigor that you might believe we were actually performing until you notice there is no mic plugged into the cables.  In a sense we were performing though, for the camera and for the rest of our family.   Entering into a creative moment with what talent we had and plenty of innocence, joy and love in our delivery.

May I carry this day onto the stage with me again and again.  One thing from my experience as a performer and as a listener, is that when the heart is tuned to higher aspirations, everything changes.  How to tune my heart remains an ongoing practice.  How to touch the innocence and sincerity of a child and tune my concerns to these wavelengths?  How to be spontaneous and free in my playing?  How to bask in the sunshine of love?  A wise man once told me to begin where you are.  Breathing in ...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Can It Really Be This Simple?

Frost wave

Tonight in my AT lesson with David Jernigan, we worked with just being in the space that I am in, as a way to address the two issues I brought to class tonight.  Some stiffness in my upper left arm, and a general tightness that arises in the right side of my back when I play for a while.   David had me being aware of the room and being aware of myself.  I was thinking forward and up, thinking of my shoulders having more width, and everything in between.  He also shared some insights from an AT workshop he participated in this weekend.  Basically AT is just a mindfulness practice.  Be where you are, right now.  Be who you are.  Nothing more, nothing less.

As Peter Noad, the workshop leader put it, problems in use arise when we are somewhere else, or "somewhen else," or someone else.  Certainly all issues that are common to me.  I have practiced mindful breathing, mindful walking, and other practices regularly for many years.  Yet the mind can be so persistently elusive and take me away from the wonderful present moment.  I love music, I always have, since singing Mr. Blue in a rocking chair on my brothers lap.  I love the guitar.  And all I have to do is to be with the guitar in the room right here, right now.  So simple, yet ...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Free the Notes


 Working with a difficult part in a piece, unfortunately the mistake seems ingrained at this point.  So I am practicing the difficult part but changing the part that precedes it.  While keeping the general idea harmonically and rhythmically but I am simplifying it a bit.  Hoping to circumvent the habit that has been established, perfect the troubled part, and then restore the preceding part.  By simplifying the part I am changing my habitual approach to the difficult part and thus not being caught by my previous muscle memory.

This is not an original idea, I read about this somewhere, perhaps in Pedro de Alcantara's great book Indirect Procedures.  I've worked this way before with some success.  This is the second evening I've been taking this approach with this section.  Tonight I began utilizing the Alexander concept of inhibition, pausing right before my right hand would move to the troubled part.  I also incorporated this use of inhibition with another problem in a different piece.  This is allowing me to see what I am and what I am not doing.  With this clarity I may be able to free these notes, may even be able to free myself.  Perhaps they are one and the same.

Stay Tuned.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Something to Think About

"Use the talents you possess, for the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except the best." - Henry Van Dyke  

 "I would advise you to keep your overhead down; avoid a major drug habit; play everyday and take it in front of other people. They need to hear it and you need them to hear it." -James Taylor

"... although one can get very clever at home, progress comes a lot quicker if you step into a room with other people and start playing .. " - Steve Howe / Yes
Now what am I thinking?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Final Frontier

The Final Frontier

Space. What does space have to do with guitar playing? Awareness of the space around me has been part of the Alexander Technique training that I have been exposed to for years. Yet my habit wants to take me inward. Bodies move through space. When I play guitar I am playing in space. Can being aware of this space support myself as I play?

In my work with AT David has worked with me on allowing space beneath my armpits. To just think of this space not to do anything, but to think of it as being available. This notion was not new, Sandra has raised my awareness of this over the years, but this week something became alive for me. Subtle yet palpable. Even now as I think of this a sense lightness and "up" arrives, a greater sense of being in the room, that is a sense of the space in which I am.  We also played with my arms making gestures and being supported by the space beneath them.  More subtle work involved here, informed by my practice of Qi Gong. Then we added the guitar into our work.

Yesterday morning "connect with space" was my word for the day as I completed my morning Qi Gong session.  This became alive when I sat in my car. A confined but comfortable space where my movements are limited. Noticing the trees along Sligo Creek as I drove to work. Life bursting forth as spring arrives.  The different relationships to space as I paused in the parking lot and took in the morning sun. Do I have space beneath my arms I found myself asking? Throughout my morning I notice the different spaces I enter at my workplace. Hallways, my office, the kitchen,  the elevator, other offices and hallways all become part of my space. When I notice them a certain lightness arrives in my upper torso.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Can You?


Can you play your instrument while talking to yourself?  You know That incessant internal chatter.  Well I can't, not very well anyhow.  I begin from a place of relative quiet and then my persistent mind jumps from branch to branch.  Yet there is another persistent part of me which continues to practice communing with silence in various ways.  Dualistic aspects of persistence I suppose.  Slowly...patiently...quietly.  We begin again constantly.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sounds of a Day

                                 Photo by Tj Mathews

My day began gently enough, with Qi Gong and my sitting.  The morning was still cool enough that the windows were closed, but I could hear faint sounds of the birds awakening as I sat.  My sitting was distracted to a degree, but I persevered until the end.  The drive to work was uneventful, as I enjoyed listening to some new pieces by my friend Jim Landry.

Thursdays are always demanding professional days for me and today was no different.  The usual sounds of a professional kitchen at work, provide a sonic annoyance on most days and the cumulative effect of this on me seems to be taking a toll.  Today a repair being made to an area of the kitchen, conjured up the delightful sounds of hammering, busting pieces of wall, and the occasional sawing of metal.  Most of these sounds were generated during the time when the kitchen is relatively quiet.  By the end of the day I was beat, and my ears needed a break.

At home I read a bit and then napped.  Dinner in the backyard with the sounds of the breeze followed by 40 minutes of reading to complete Ilium.  What a story!  I was about to move to the basement to practice when I noticed the tightness in my body.  The sun was still up and I knew our local cherry blossoms around the corner were still blooming so out the door.  Immediately I smiled as the birds welcomed me in full force with their evening song.  As I walked through the cherry blossoms, the birds serenading me, welcoming me back to life.  Some of the delicate blossoms have begun to fall from the trees, leaving a pink and white carpet on the roadway and lawns which reminds me of snow.

I paused to look and listen, meditating on the birds.  Then I noticed that my body was letting go, as if my neck was releasing and my spine lengthening, during AT work.  But I was not giving myself the directions, just standing.  This moment was almost as if the Alexander Technique was doing me, except that the body's releasing was then guiding my thinking.  I've noticed similar moments in between Qi Gong exercises or sometimes when standing, but never quit like this one. Marveling at the sensations, I began to slowly walk back up the street and through the trees a second time.  I began thinking how I much prefer the sounds of bird to the sounds of the kitchen and wondered about the difference.  Certainly I am not alone in this preference, but why are some sounds refreshing and healing, while others are alarming?  Intensity, timbre, and rhythm have their role, as does intention I suppose.  Feeling relaxed I walked a bit further and returned home.

Part of me was ready to play guitar, yet I knew I still would benefit from a lie down before playing.  I also wanted to begin playing soon so that I might get to bed sooner.  Recognizing this as a subtle form of end-gaining, I took my books and found the floor for a lie down.  I noticed the sound of my breath exhaling through my nostrils.  Why was this so loud right now?  Perhaps my heart rate was up from the walk still.  Slowly my back relaxed into the floor, and my body let go to this simple but powerful process of the the lie down.  Our home and neighborhood were quiet allowing my ears to rest.

I began playing a pattern of seven on two open strings, the D and A strings.  The lovely sound of fifths resonating and drawing me in while the pattern required enough of my attention to keep me awake.  I altered the pattern and then moved onto the first cross picking exercise I learned in Guitar Craft which still strikes me as profoundly beautiful.  Now, firmly rooted in these moments of playing, I moved onto the tremolo piece.

I played through the first four bars and then paused to give myself the AT directions.  Noticing just a slight build up of tension in my right arm, I let it go.  I moved through the piece four bars at a time and then pausing to direct for a total of three times.  Then I really wanted to play through the piece in its' entirety to see if I could do so effortlessly.  Laughing, I moved onto an idea that surfaced last night.  Then after playing through a couple pieces before taking a break to write.  Back to playing.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Laughing My Way to Freedom

I had a class in AT with David Jernigan tonight, good to be sharing this with Peter.  Today I am tired from a late night watching the NCAA Basketball Final and then be awakened at 4:20am by a fierce thunderstorm.  Part of me wanted to stay home, but I knew I always get energized by working with an AT teacher so I went.  David continues to invite me to find ways to incorporate thinking about how I am going to do something.

David has slowly and subtly expanded and opened my presence.  Reminding me to be in the space that I am in.  As I pause to think of this now at my desk, I sense my shoulders begin to widen, my spine lengthening, and in general I feel a lightness.  Remembering, finding the space, or opening to my breath are windows into the present moment.  When I arrive in the moment,  I have an opportunity to make a choice or to go with my habit(s.) By becoming aware of and exercising my thinking, I may even have the choice to act in a more constructive way; particularly when certain persistent mental formations manifest.  All is interrelated, and one part affects all others.  Thus a change in thinking can positively influence a lifetime of reactions, while this change of reaction can influence future thinking.  My experience has been that all of this happens slowly, and requires my active participation.

I always enjoy playing guitar after class, as being awake in my body is what I need to play well.  Tonight I began working with the tremolo piece, playing just one bar at a time.  Pausing between transitions to think of the AT directions and maintain my freedom.  After playing through the piece in this manner, I moved to the middle section where I still work too hard to play.  One bar of each, with a pause was how I played these six bars for several takes.  Then I played through these bars regularly, pausing between the repetitions of the section.  Finally I began to play the entire piece.  After successfully navigating the middle section, I found my thinking wandering to when am I going to find the name for this piece, can I call it the Tremolo Etude in Seven?  My playing collapsed.  I laughed.  And then I laughed some more.  No need to take myself too seriously in these pursuits, I thought.  Then I noticed there was a certain freedom as I began to play again, the laughter having shifted something in myself.

Finding myself in the room once again, allowing my body to expand and become free, I began playing on an out breath.  How many times do I forget to do this?  Always opportunities to remember, to connect with the body, the breath, my thinking, my guitar, and even music.  Yes, laughter is appropriate in my practice session, I've been serious for too many hours of this joyous life.  Pausing and smiling now, I am soon to resume playing.  May my smile connect me to life and my laughter lighten my efforts.  May music continue to inspire me and to connect me to what is real. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Clearing, Creating, & Updating

Spring arrived here in full force today.  Temperatures in the 80's allowed us to have our first dinner in the back yard for the first time this year.  Afterward I spent some time working on my nails, while I listened to the birds and the occasional swelling of the wind through the top of the trees.  The joyous cries of children playing outside and the occasional sound of neighbors working in their yards.

Overall, I felt good as I moved to practice guitar.  My body was relaxed and my mind calm.  Even from this good place I choose to do an AT lie down before picking up my guitar.  I do want to watch the NCAA Championship game tonight so there is a slight time pressure, but then again Monday is frequently my night off.  I did not get to play as much as I needed to this weekend, all for good reasons mind you, so that's why the  effort tonight.  But back to the lie down.  As I was in the semi-supine position, allowing and directing my body to lengthen and widen, I noticed how much better I was feeling as the lie down proceeded.  And then the light bulb, no matter what my state before a lie down, even a good one like tonight, I always feel better.  Such a simple noticing, yet a profound one, especially if I use this to guide me in the future.

I picked up my guitar and immediately began playing what wanted to be played.  Enjoying the freedom and ease brought about by the lie down.  Then I dove into the tremolo piece and while not perfect, noticed again the ease that was present in my playing.  The importance of this pre-practice lie down becoming more apparent with every bar of music in this demanding piece.  By beginning with the lie-down, I am allowing myself to play from a position of relative freedom.  I think it would be correct to call this a place of mechanical advantage.

I saw a tweet today by Franis Engel in which she stated that the shortest description of teaching the Alexander Technique is "how to create, update, or clear muscle memory."  The AT lie down clears the results of my use throughout the day, and brings me to a better place from which to engage in the delicate movements needed to play my guitar.  If I am skillful in how I then use myself in playing, I may be able to update or create new patterns of use in my technique.  This education is ongoing; requiring care, attention, and direction.  Working with AT also makes me feel good, shows noticeable results in my playing, and supports my other activities of living.


suffering is permanent - obscure and dark

The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.
Agnes De Mille

Never talk bad to yourself about yourself, especially about your abilities and aspirations.

Never allow technique to get in the way of your music.

Never give into the resistance to pursue your dreams. When you notice the resistance speaking, you know it is time to practice.

Never stay comfortable in your artistic pursuit.

Never try to be anyone else, just strive to be you.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Value of Playing

Known as toxic weed and pest in parts of the world.

I am increasingly finding that the moments that I spend with my guitar are very precious. Listening with my heart and soul, just playing; right here, right now.  These Moments change me and the world.  What more could I ask of myself, of my guitar?  Right practice serves to lengthen these moments, to better prepare me to respond to any moment; to be in this moment. 

As Homer so eloquently asked the muse - "Sustain for me this song, make this tale live for us in all it's many bearings."  Echoing this prayer, may I play my notes unfettered by concern, and be free to listen, to follow and to learn. Then these moments of freedom expand and they serve.  May I embrace this moment, resting in the understanding that there is no other.  May I Listen, play and just be.

Giving myself permission to improvise, I venture into the unknown.  I may uncover myself for fleeting moments; or yet again see myself in habitual manners of use; or I may touch my feelings in a new way.  What happens in these moments? A harmony within, reaching out to hold and reveal.  As the moments pass, do I devolve into end-gaining, holding onto what was?  Or can I sustain my freedom to explore, lengthening in each moment to what is?  Maintaining the freedom of how I use myself now appears key.   Say yes to this musical moment and connect with all that I am.

May I connect with this moment, bringing my desires to rest.  In doing so, I release who I was and open to the possible. Slowly my muscles lengthen and widen to the freedom and lightness of being.  All begins with the breath, with awareness of the breath.  Connect, breath out and release the note into this present moment, into all moments.  Connect, inspire and release who I am meant to be.