Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Opening to Inhibition


Does inhibiting, in an Alexander Technique sense, opening my guitar case, improve my playing?

Early this morning I was journaling about my AT session with David Jernigan last night.  Besides teaching AT, David is also a professional musician.  Last night was one of those sessions, which was part AT and part music lesson.  Many good questions were raised for myself to examine and take action on. 

I began my guitar practice session tonight with an AT lie-down.  Though I was not overly tired, this day has been very active, and I felt the need to tune my body first.  After rising from the floor, I approached my guitar case.  Noticing the freedom and length that was currently available to myself, I inhibited the action of opening the case.  Instead I began to play with the Critical Moment exercise, first shown to me by Frank Sheldon, and worked with and discussed again last night with David.  Keeping the AT directions going in my thinking, I instead choose to speak about opening my case, rather than actually opening the case.  I played with a few variations on this, including taking no action, all the while thinking through the directions.  When I did open the case, I removed the guitar, but before putting the guitar on my body, I simply returned it to the case.

Again practicing inhibition and giving myself the AT directions.  When I did put the guitar on and begin to play, there was a richness to my tone, that generally eludes me in my sessions with David.  But tonight I was there in an AT sense and also in a musical sense.  As I write this, I know this is what I strive for, what is needed to play music.  But this remains elusive for me.  Often in the AT sessions, I am perhaps lost in the thinking process of AT, and have yet to gain the requisite attention to keep both AT and music alive.   Tonight they came together.

Singing Gathered Hearts as I played it, I found an expressive quality that may alter my way of playing this piece.  Continuing to come back to the AT directions as I worked on two other pieces.  I then completed my session with a spirited improvisation.  Debating whether to blog or not, I reviewed the last pages of the chapter Evolution of A Technique, from F.M. Alexander's The Use of the Self.  Much more work lies ahead of me with the Alexander Technique, yet as I continue to reap the fortunes from the freedom I have achieved, I am happy to make the investment of time.  And going back to the question that is the title of this post, tonight my answer is Yes!  What is yours?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bars of Freedom


Tonight I returned to the guitar after two days of no playing.  Travel, tiredness, celebration, and tasks requiring my attention took precedence.  How to reconnect in a qualitative manner?  I played a few bars of a piece and was feeling relatively free.  I paused and wondered how I might maintain this freedom?  Applying the Alexander Technique quickly came to mind.  Before I began again, I connected with my body via the AT directions.  Playing the first arpeggio of the piece I then paused again before shifting to the second chord.  Finding length & width with the AT directions, I played the second arpeggio.  Pausing again in this manner before returning to the first chord, I found my attention riveted to my use.

I proceeded through the piece in this manner.  When approaching the end, I had an urge to play an entire section, which I did.  Then I finished playing the piece one bar at a time and pausing in the described manner.  Moving on to an exercise in fourths and sixths, I simply took pleasure in these relaxed and efficient moments of playing and pausing.  Noticing my body, how I was using myself and the occasional tendency to do more than was necessary.  In these moments when, I began to use myself poorly, I found an ease of letting go, with the continued pauses.

Deciding to continue in this manner with another piece, I decided I would play a piece I know well.  I choose Livin' the Dream.  Playing a bar and pausing, I was really allowing my left hand to release the previous chord shape.  My tone was pleasing to me, and at times I found I had to play through to the next chord and rely on the knowing in my hands to find this chord shape.  At the end of this piece, I paused to write.  A gentle but thorough reconnection with my guitar and myself.  As the venerable Thich Naht Hahn has said "... freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Today's Glimpse


                        Heart Open

                        Body Free

                        Mind Engaged

                        Music Flows

Thursday, June 23, 2011



Development of the body. mind, or spirit requires exercise.  Gaining proficiency in a craft is attained by exercises passed on by the Masters, and applying them in your own voice.  This morning as I began to practice, a series of notes presented themselves to me.  Hearing the music within these notes I began to follow where they led.  At first this was relatively simple, but then we were stuck.

The whisper from the muse was gone, and I began to exercise what craft I have in composition.  Slowly, a piece was taking form.  In the act of taping what I had so far, a happy accident occurred and I found my way into the next section.  Slyly the creative process had whispered to me once again.  Moving forward I once again did not know how to proceed.  Time for an AT lie down.  My back was grateful as I sunk into the floor.  Taking this time to contemplate and relax my body, distracted my mind from the task at hand.

When I returned to the guitar, the next transition introduced themself to me and I followed along.  Close but no resolution, I took a break for coffee.  Auralizing what I had so far, I found myself humming a possible phrase.  Sure enough this worked and the piece and I continued developing.  Taping what I had and doing a rough notation, I then began tho play the piece again.  Now I found that the ending of the first phrase was being influenced by where the piece had developed to.  Again I followed, but with the changes made,  the next transition no longer worked.  Patiently finding a way to work this out, I smiled, knowing that this was one of those sessions where I was stretching my compositional abilities.  Exersing my capacity to listen and apply.  I just need to allow the process to unfold and weather this actually turns into a piece or just an extended effort is not the point.  Learning and growing as a musician requires exercising the various aspects of musicianship.  One poignant place in the process was adding in what I thought was a "wrong note."

But this "wrong note," was exactly what was needed in this point of the piece.  No need to think, just play, discover, and listen.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Beyond the Fences

Black undulating wire fence

Always inspiring to do Qi Gong in the surf.  Watching the endless shapes of the waves coming to shore; listening to the volume of the crashes rising & falling, and feeling the water swirling about my feet - all inviting me back to the present moment - back to freedom.  Breathing and moving, while noticing my body bask in the energy, I inhibit my desire to dive in.  With endless time, we enjoy our movements as if there was no where else to be.  Listening, moving; smiling with the sun as the cool ocean waters caress our feet.

After completing our practice with gratitude, I jump into the surf.  My warm body shivers as I dive through the first wave, exiting with a scream of joy.  Freedom ... nothing like it.  Can I extend this quality of play in the moment into my guitar playing?  An aspiration perhaps, slow progress already being made with merely thinking in this way. 

Breakfast, followed by housekeeping and I am ready to play.  Where to begin I ask myself, with the Danse Vivante or to move somewhere new? Then I notice my body and decide to begin with an AT lie down.  As my back touches the floor, I know I made the right choice.  Contemplating my body, I release and restore what is naturally true.  Relishing these moments of freedom, I am again grateful for this life and all of those who have shown me the way; grateful for all of those I meet along the way.

Gently strumming the opening chords of Danse Vivante, my wife asks me to play this for her.  I do - twice, minding the subtle shifts and an inclination to continue to explore the musical options of what has been delivered so far.  No need to fence this piece in as finished, I just allow what is there to continue to flow.  A subtle freedom, that has not always been of my nature.   Building on this freedom, I begin to improvise from an Ab major chord.  Where do I go; where might music lead me in this harmonic area outside of my regular haunt?  Remain as free as possible, I tell myself. Ignore any fence my mind may encounter or create.  Lean against or incorporate the fence, perhaps even rest in it's shade; but gently and freely move beyond the fence.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Shy Guitar


In between walking in the surf, dancing in the waves, and generally relaxing, I have continued working with Danse Vivante today.  Slowly, the piece is coming alive.  A gentle undulating quality pervades what I have so far.  Reminiscent of the womb that inspired these notes; today the piece was also being softly embraced by the ocean waves.

After exploring the notes this morning, I celebrated the Solstice, jumping through the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.  After lunch, I wrote in my journal and then took a walk in the surf.  While walking I began auralizing what I had of Danse Vivante so far.  Then I heard where the notes wanted to flow.  Auralizing from the beginning a few more times, I was drawn to where I was hearing the Danse leading me.

Back home and showered I began to play what I had heard on the beach.  Taping this new development, I then continued to explore.  Soon, the Danse felt as if complete.  One more taping and then a nap.  This evening while perusing music blogs I came upon this description of an album by Mark Kozelek  "shy guitars that played chords as if they were reciting rosaries."  Smiling as I resonated with this sentiment as to how the Danse Vivante is to be played.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Making a Brick


Circumstances and exhaustion allowed me to sleep in today.  Picking up my guitar on a rainy morning, I was searching for how to begin, how to reconnect with my guitar.  Since the Laboratory Collaboration performance on Friday night, I have not played much.  When in doubt, work on technique was my thought.  And so I did.  Beginning with using the AT directions, I then did some work on my right hand arpeggios.  Pausing frequently to check in how I was using my body, thinking length and width.

After 30 minutes of this, I began improvising in D.  Playing around with drones, and also how to move between the major and minor scales in a musical way.  Still paying attention to the AT work, I was once again feeling like a guitarist.  I then played through Livin' the Dream and Matka Boska.

Remembering the musical idea I had for a poem by Ahron Taub from the Laboratory Collaboration called Danse Vivante, I began to explore what I had.  When I presented the idea to the other musicians we were able to take off from there, yet I also had the notion that a solo piece may be contained within this nugget.  As I continued exploring this one of my favorite Oblique Strategies came to mind - " not building a wall, but making a brick."  I took the idea a little farther and made the effort to both record and notate what I had. 

The bridge back to my practice has been crossed and tomorrow, I have a place to begin work on my next brick.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Choose - to breath ...

                      to be open to the possible.

                                  to be long   and  w i  d     e.

Exercise freedom, however limited.  Are those limitations self-imposed?

Allow ... experience ... question perceptions - Are you sure?

                                Listen; love; choose.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tonights Lessons

Band Lesson

Expect the Unexpected

Be open to the possible. 

Actively look for freedom.

Practice understanding.

Laugh often.

Let go ...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Challenging Myself

Challenge #1 Warning Sign

I've been feeling a bit disconnected from the guitar the past few days.  Partially due to tiredness from work and the intense heat of the past few days, family gatherings, and watching the NBA Finals.  Viewing this from a slightly longer arc, my past few Saturdays have been very busy, so I have not had a nice long session with music. Today, the DC Guitar Circle was meeting from 2-5pm.  Time and circumstance would make joining them in the flesh difficult, but I did decide to join them at a distance.

I mulled over how to best use my three hours, feeling the need for a practice that would challenge one of my weaknesses.  Last night I was looking at some partial scores, that need to be transcribed from tape. Most of these are musical ideas that are not completed.  Could I work at this for three hours I heard myself ask?  Almost immediately I began making excuses as to why not, and thus knew that this was my guitar work for today.

Beginning at 2pm, I chose three potential partial scores to work with and one idea, Corvus, that is only on tape.  Deciding to begin with Corvus, I put on the head phones.  Sitting with  the guitar and headphones on I thought through the AT directions, as I wanted to maintain my freedom of use while transcribing.  Historically I contort my body when transcribing, but with a little added attention, this need not be the case.  Just a little over 90 seconds of music took me almost 30 minutes to transcribe, which is part of why I avoid this act.  Yet I know that this skill can and will be developed, if and when I practice the process.

As I played through what I had, I heard how this idea could develop.  Forty-five minutes later, I thought I might have a completed piece.  At this point, my body was tired, so I did an AT lie down for 15 minutes.  Arising from the floor I decided to play through what I had once and then to record the piece with the new additions.  As I was playing I found that a transition was missing between sections and a couple other issues.  I worked with this for a while and began to be disheartened about what I had done.  The time was now 4:30 pm.

Much had been accomplished which I did feel good about, particularly having a qualitative and lengthy connection with the guitar.   I felt like letting go and having a nap, but I still had 30 minutes to go on what I said I would do.  The thought of writing the blog crossed my mind, but before I began I said that this would be work with the guitar, not writing about what I did.  Fine to blog about the afternoon, but later.  I could not work with Corvus any longer, so I looked at what else I had selected to transcribe.

I was so tempted to let go, but I know the value of honoring commitments, so I continued.  Listening through Frame #10, which had a few bars transcribed I was back to my task.  I had two versions recorded with significant variation from one another after the first four bars.  Arrggh.  Decisions, what to transcribe.  Not wanting to spend my time on this,  I moved on to the next section where both takes agreed.   At 5pm, I completed my practice,  noticing that freedom arose by keeping to my commitment.  With gratitude I put away my guitar, and grabbed my novel.  Twenty minutes later I had completed Anathem by Neal Stephenson, a great story which thoroughly held my interest for 890 pages. And then a much needed nap.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What If

what if you stay this time? (final version)

What if one musician harmonized all of his relationships?

What if one dancer moved us to the truth?

What if one poets words delivered us to freedom?

What if you did your work for right now, always?

Let go of your "if" and embrace the way.  Defy gravity, today.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pleasures of Collaboration

Kilauea Volcano at Mauna Ulu

What do nine poets, four dancers, and five musicians have in common?

“Pleasures of Collaboration” Poets, Dancers and Musicians at Play
Friday, June 17, 2011 7:30 p.m.
Takoma Park Auditorium, 7500 Maple Avenue, Takoma Park

Enjoy an evening of performance pieces that combine dance, music and spoken word—and join in the fun when the audience is invited to contribute to new work. Meet characters such as the wolf at the door, Jane Bowles, a gay fetus, a sea violet, and a green conflagration.
These    experiments    in    collaboration    were developed by a multi-talented group of artists from    Maryland    and    Washington,    DC,    during Collaboration    Laboratory,    the    culminating project of Anne Becker’s tenure as Takoma Park poet laureate. Over a 6 week period, these artists, including Karren Alenier, Jodi Beder, Rima Faber, Craig Flaherty, Greta Ehrig, Kate Jordan,    James    Landry,    Hannah    Leatherbury, Ashira Malka, Sydney March, Shakaya McFarland, Ken Moss, Orit Sherman, Rosanne Singer, Patrick Smith and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, explored the layering of movement with the voices of humans and cello, keyboard, guitar, saxophone, flute
and percussion. For more information contact Anne Becker at

Brought to you by the City of Takoma Park’s Arts and Humanities Commission
celebrating the creative spirit of our community

Friday, June 3, 2011

Releasing the Hold on My Holding Hand

Prince in wax 8

Yesterday and again today at various times I paused and checked in and directed my body with the AT directions.  I continue to notice the left hand assuming some type of position relative to the right.  The left elbow appears to be "held" to a degree resulting in tension, whereas in the right elbow this is not noticed.  Working with my guitar tonight I was reviewing how I bring my left hand to the guitar.

Using inhibition of the act, I did notice a slight tensing in my left shoulder as I thought of moving the hand to the guitar.  This is in the area beneath my strap, an area I had issues with years ago resulting from lifting the shoulder to meet the weight of the guitar.  My dear friend and dance legend Robert Ellis Dunn, noticed me doing this and helped me to correct this situation.  So I removed the guitar and began bringing my left hand to the guitar, looking to see if I can maintain my length and freedom while not having the weight of the guitar on my body.

Still I noticed a certain holding in the hand, but then again how long have I been doing this?  How long has this been "working" for me?  Then I began performing the same motion with my right hand and arm, as if I was going to fret the notes with my right hand.  As this arm does not usually move in this way, the habit of how my right hand would arrive at the fretboard is not ingrained in me.  After a few times with this motion on the right, I began to alternate between the right and left arms.  Slowly the movement on the left seemed to let go a bit, as if bilateral transfer was taking place.  Slight degrees of freedom being attained.

When I returned to the guitar, I mimicked bringing my right hand up to the neck.  Mind you, my right arm is not encumbered by the weight of the guitar, but I just wanted to play with the concept of bilateral transfer some more.  After a few times of alternating the right and the left I played a few notes.  The quality of these notes were noticeably better than my earlier playing.  Resisting my desire to end gain and keep playing, I continued to experiment with bringing my arms to the guitar neck, real and imagined.  Then I allowed my left arm to extend out away from my body along the line of the shoulder and then drawing my arm back to the body while releasing the elbow and turning the arm to bring the hand to the neck.  I'm certain I have never used my left arm in this manner before.

After doing this a few times, I began to play, the notes were beautiful, but then something happened, where I flinched my neck and/or left shoulder.  This was not a conscious choice, nor a habit, but did introduce tension.  Beginning again, I extended the arm and brought my hand to the guitar in this unorthodox manner.  I began to improvise and enjoyed a freedom of use which fed the improvisation.  From here I played portions of pieces and enjoyed the joy of music making.

Thursday, June 2, 2011



Awaken was the word for today that I chose or that perhaps chose me as I completed my Qi Gong practice this morning.  Awaken to the precious moments of life is the aim, but how to achieve this?  By following my breath, and by using various mindfulness of the body practices, including the Alexander Technique, I can waken to the here and now.  Almost immediately I think, will I remember to breath, to come into a relationship with myself?  Why am I concerned about the future opportunities of this day, just be awake and aware right now?  So elusive to remain present.  So easy to be carried away by habit, thinking, or the actions of others.  When I do wake up to this moment, I can touch joy and peace.  When I do wake up to this moment, I conserve my energies and can exercise a choice in how to use myself in the work in front of me.

During a beautiful spring morning commute, I come to rest at a traffic light.   Breathing in the sparkling sunlight in the tree tops, I hear the sounds of The Who, wafting in from someones radio encouraging me with the refrain " You Better, You Better!"  Smiling, I release 300 facial muscles, relishing the beauty of  this simple ordinary moment, With noticing this moment, I transform the moment into one that is alive. My spirit soars as I connect with my body with the AT directions, allowing my spine to lengthen and widen within the confines on my car.  With the subtle release provided by the AT work, my mindfulness is deepened, my body relaxing into driving, without concern for the destination - just driving.

Twice during morning the words of "You Better" arise in my mind.  Enjoying how I can allow my monkey mind to invite me back to this moment with music from my youth.  Usually the concept of monkey mind is viewed in a negative light, but today as this ear worm beckons to me, I see my view of monkey mind shift positively.  During both of these reminders I connect with my breath and my body.  Tending to the necessary tasks of my professional day, while waking to life, shifts my state to one of gratitude.  So much easier to accomplish much, when energy is not wasted in emotional shifts and fits.

While walking down the hall I notice my left hand is tense and possibly assuming "the position" that David uncovered on Tuesday evening during our AT session.  By thinking thoughts of lengthening my left arm, I notice a tightness in my left elbow.  Perhaps this is related to the tension in the hand.  While breathing and connecting with my left arm I sense the long muscle within my bicep that is always tight when I do Qi Gong.  I sense lifetime of holding on is present in this arm.  I wonder how my guitar playing will be affected as I learn to let go of this manifestation of unnecessary tension?

Tonight as I played, I did not notice any shift in my use of the left hand and arm.  I am not surprised by this; habits unfurl slowly.  The memory of the body, besides holding muscular patterns of use, also retains emotional information.  So much there, hidden beneath my awareness.  Perhaps deemed useful at some point in time, most likely developed unconsciously.  Awakening requires patience and dedication, just like guitar playing.  The playing provides the impetus to look and probe, and like the breath provides sustenance for my being.  Tommy, can you hear me?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Collaboration Laboratory Continues

Yet another configuration tonight - four poets, two dancers, a keyboard player and myself, with poets occasionally moving.  Hannah introduced a group warm-up based on the breath and sound which had a good centering effect.  We worked with three poems and a movement improvisation which elicited words and phrases.  A musical idea that came to me since our last session did fit the poem that I thought it might.  Lots of fun and the pieces are taking form.  Forgot my ebow and a decent pic, so used my fingers exclusively.  I personally felt as if I did more musical exploration and less relying on my own cliches.  Limitations does indeed give rise to increase.

More work and less talking kept the process alive.  The performance is on June 17th.

                           Photo by Tj Matthews