Friday, September 26, 2014

Today's Questions

Another day of opportunity lies before us.  Can I meet this day with courage, grace and gratitude?  Can I deepen my understanding of myself and transform the negative which arises?  Will I be gentle with others?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

How to Work With the Unseen Patterns?

Walk.  Walk amongst the patterns of the mind.  Is there a pattern?  Walk more.

Play with the notion.  Let go,    play some more.

Trust the nudges; knowing they may only be a path to learning, but not the end result.

Play with someone else.

Trust the intelligence of the body.


Don't trust the intelligence of the body.

Listen, probe, look, and prepare.

Consult your heart, but ...

Walk with someone else.

Read something on a different topic.

Listen to new music.

Ponder visual art, perhaps abstract art.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Digging in the Dark



w/o a key
just a?


digging in

digging deep
                          in the dark

notes flutter
too close for -         comfort
why?  avoid the dark?

when we avoid the?
w/o a key
we're in the dark


digging in


photo by xJorgiimx

Saturday, September 20, 2014


            Today's circumstances and guitar work yielded this:

      Practice patient trust and trust your patience will bear fruit.

Photo by Robb North.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Questioning Without

Without shadows where is form?

Without an eraser would I ever compose a sentence?  A melody?  Without intent would I ever complete one?

Without mistakes when do I learn?  How do I learn?  What do I learn?

Without longing would I ever ever change?

Without love who would I be?  Why would I be?  How would I be?

                      Without questions ...

Photo by Daniel Q-DJah.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

True Blue Lake

  It's all very puzzling, but I am not a puzzle.  Willem de Kooning

Last night I had the opportunity to play music in a very beautiful and inspiring setting.  In the home of my friend Annie.  The setting was music, dinner, and a talk by a Tibetan Buddhist Teacher.  I'm always inspired in this lovely home, with walls adorned with contemporary art, open spaces, and just an overall loving feel.

In the afternoon while still in my home, an idea arose as I was playing.  I toyed with this a bit, jotted down some notes, and then it was time to pack up and head out.  While warming up later, in the living room of my friend, another idea arrived.  I felt this was related to the first idea but had no time to explore.   Today I returned to the first idea and liked what I heard.  Unsure of how to proceed I took a break.

My thoughts wandered to last night.  I remembered a book I have of the late paintings of Willem de Kooning.  Years ago these paintings inspired some very interesting ideas, while I was working with solo guitar and effects.  I found this book in a shop, sometime after seeing these works in the East Building of The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.  Beautiful freely flowing lines which I lack the words to describe, yet they somehow spoke to me of a similar energy in my friend.  Suddenly I remembered the second idea that had arrived at the gig.  At the same time the working title arrived, True Blue Lake, which captures a good sense of Annie - deep, reflective, and beautiful.

There is a relationship between the two ideas and while I developed the each a bit more, I currently lack the connection between the two main parts.  I did find a way in the development of the second part to transition to another place that works back on itself and connects with the opening idea.  Dare I say publicly, that I'll complete this piece?  

A part of me was afraid to say I was undertaking this.  So be it.  All fear ever does is hold one back. 

Photograph on UNTITLED XVII, 1984 by Christie's.

Monday, September 8, 2014


Perhaps the most important lesson I received related to guitar practice was to just play as part of each session.  Play without concern of technique, just play and see what was available.  Doing this an occasional snippet flew out of my hands that attracted my attention.  Most of the time, I could do nothing with these phrases, but through the act of working to develop these ideas, I learned about composition and about myself.  Over time these ideas developed into pieces.  To this day, I have no idea why these pieces arrive.  When one does, I recognize that a gift has been offered to me.

The gift arrives over the bridge of discipline - my daily pursuit of practice and moving from the known towards the unknown.  Discipline allows me to travel to the edge of what I know and glimpse a tiny bit of the beyond.  Attention to what I am doing allows me to listen and discern when a gift is being offered.  Practice readies the piece to be heard by others.

Moving into the unknown space of performing is a journey to another edge.  Another gift, one which brings a new level to the creative act.  I have learned first from the experience of my teacher, now through my own practice that music changes when people listen.  Sometimes the audience also changes; sometimes the musician also.  To effect this change the musician must be available to the gift of music he has been given, to the audience, and to himself.  Nearly impossible for this musician, yet the aspiration remains, so the path to the edge is followed. 

Tonight I wonder, what might be possible, if I offer music to an audience rather than perform music?  Might the innocence of the moment the muse has whispered be enlivened again? Sounding impossible again, yet with a bit more hope.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Composing Free From Desire

Does composing a piece of music differ from composing my life?  I want integrity and truth in my notes as I do in my life.  Variety in pieces as I do in my days.  Logic and coherence, efficiency and color, mystery and clarity, are all important in both music and life.  Perhaps this is why when listening to a group of people sharing about their lives today, Eno's Oblique Strategy Disconnect From Desire arose again in my mind.

I am a musician, not a conductor.  Certainly I have enough difficulties conducting my own life, so why do I frequently "know" how others should be conducting theirs?  As a musician I have my part to play, same as in life.  I may know how I'd play another's part, but alas it is theirs to play.  Of course I have my opinions, some knowledge, and always hope for a situation.  But how do I know when my "desire" is in the best interest of a piece of music, let alone in the life of another, or for humanity in general?

Disconnect From Desire became a guiding light while listening. Connect with the now and leave the mental noise.  Connect with the now and increase the signal I'm hearing.  I saw where this can guide my practice for the next few days as I prepare for my next gig.  Disconnect From Desire for the outcome of my practice and just play the notes.  Be there now with the notes; no where else, ever.  Rise above my desires.  When I care for the head, the heart, and the hands; music just might be available.  At the very least I'll be available.

Photo:  What the Eye Sees by Jack Mallon.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Disconnect From Desire

Last night was the works-in-progress showing with The Field/DC.  Having this opportunity to perform meant a lot to me and even though I understand that it is about works-in-progress,  it still carries the weight of a performance.  In a black box setting no less.

 My performance began poorly.  This permeated the set, keeping the music tethered.  Why?  Certainly the inspiration from the muse is in the notes and several members of the audience heard this. I could offer reasons and have to myself in my journal.  I've also seen how I can be more effective in the next opportunity.  No matter how I practice getting ready for performance, there is no other situation I can manufacture that provides that additional edge to be navigated.  As the aphorism states - we begin again constantly, so I will, always do. 

A bit of a funk was about me this morning as I rose.  I did practice my morning routine, but it was clouded by this negative impression from last night.   I knew it would pass, everything does.  Rather than work with music, I did some practical work and then went to an afternoon showing of A Most Wanted Man with my wife, followed by a late lunch.  Arriving home I picked up the guitar and played the opening phrase from last night beautifully.  Ahhh, a bit of teeth grinding.  Can I live with the uncertainty of live performance?   Sensing it was not yet time to practice as I was tired and the mood could tip back, I read and had a short nap.

Upon awakening, I picked up the guitar again.  I re-familiarized myself with a piece that I've not played in a while and decided I could keep this one in my pocket for a longer performance this coming Tuesday night.  I then allowed my fingers to find an arpeggio and played this in five.  Another one appeared and then another.  The whisper of the muse, urging me to follow, to connect.  I worked with this a bit, and then a break to eat.   Returning to the spark, more notes arrived.  Happy with the guitar now, knowing why I devote myself to this each day.  A darker twist in the music arrived and I'm smiling.

Since I was not certain where to go next with this idea, I notate what is there.  I title it Study in Five. Then returning to the guitar, the darker phase lengthens a bit.  Stuck again, I consult the web version of Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies.  The oracle offers - Disconnect From Desire.  As I ponder how this relates to the evenings work, I sense a larger offering is being made.  What desires did I hold regarding last night?  About performing music in general?  My head, my heart, and my hands are fallible, yet still the muse invites me back.  If tonight's idea is only a way to soften my heart and to kindle my head with a musical challenge,  my hands were ready to create the sounds.

After pondering the strategy, I returned to the guitar.  Playing what I had so far, I listened for what was next.  More notes arrived, leading up to a possible ending.  My spirit is ready for a new beginning.

Photo by Tankawho

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Walking With Alexander

This morning I practiced meditation with the Still water Mindfulness Practice Center.  A wonderful way to begin my day, especially on a gig day.  The extra added support and energy provided by a group of practicioners is nourishing.  When the period of sitting meditation ends there is always a brief period for people to unfold their legs and stretch before we stand and begin walking meditation.  I sit in a chair due to vein issues I developed years back.  As I saw the bell inviter reach for the walking bell, I thought how am I going to get out of this chair?  An opportunity to practice the Alexander Technique from a calm and clear state of mind and body.

I directed my head forward and up and continued to practice this simple act along the directions we have worked with in class and lessons over the years.  Smiling as I faced the community, the thought arrived that I could incorporate AT into my walking meditation this morning.  The practice of walking meditation is a practice where each step is taken mindfully.  One step on the in breath and one on the out breath.  During each breath one is invited be aware of the breath, the step and a thought such as peace, love, or joy.  I usually use this practice to manifest positive attributes in myself.  Today I worked with walking meditation and AT in this manner.

Breathing in - I know I am breathing in ( or simply "in)
Breathing out - I know I am breathing out ( or simply "out")

Breathing in - Forward
Breathing out - Up

Breathing in - Long
Breathing out - wide.

I walked for about 5 minutes in this manner, repeating the triplet of directions while maintaining awareness of my steps.  Thinking-in-activity would be the Alexandrian concept behind this.  For me this was easy as the practice of walking meditation is deeply rooted in me.  Due to the slowness of the steps, this is possible for anyone wishing to experiment with AT directing while walking.  I kept this somewhat alive as we sat again and had a reading and brief discussion.  As I left the building and saw the beautiful day unfolding, while my steps were now 3-4 to each breath, I again kept the directions alive.  This is a way to practice walking meditation outside in public view.  Still slower than many pedestrians hustling to school and work, but not drawing attention to oneself.

Now if only I could keep the AT directions alive while typing.  Progress not perfection I suppose.

Photo By Paul Davis.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Exercising Freedom Part II

Since my intent was to explore my freedom in this practice session, I began with an Alexander Technique lie down as  this simple yet powerful process opens my body and mind. From there I moved onto a little vocal improvisation, a bit goofy & scat-like by my untrained voice. From there onto a guitar improvisation, not as free as the vocal one, but exploratory, even fun.

I sat down and began working with some of Balk’s Facial Mode Exercises.  Playing the opening sections to the three pieces I’ll be performing at The Field, I worked with taking in the room with my eyes, then eyes closed,  and eyes and mouth wide open.  I also played with a couple facial expressions.  Though I’m not sure I’d ever perform with any of these, certainly the eyes and mouth wide open, it is the freedom to do so, while playing them I am looking for. Next I moved to standing and repeated this sequence.

Moving onto exercising the kinesthetic mode things got a bit playful. I was playing while standing on one leg and then shifting to the other one, when the Alexander Technique  arrived uninvited by myself into my thinking.  I wondered was my neck free?  From here I began to direct my use actively while still playing with standing on one leg. When both legs were on the floor I would direct myself forward & up, long and wide; then lift the opposite leg for a few seconds and repeat.  An energetic shift and a new sense of freedom arrived.

From here I began to work with playing each piece in a different order than the set.  While also working with exercising the three modes as Balk describes them - the facial, the kinesthetic, and the emotional in a manner that would support the individual piece.  Moving about my practice space, sometimes gracefully, sometimes with detachment, other times  seductively, I explored these choices.  Activating the face and emotions to support the movements continued to add to this energetic shift. 

While playing through Forget-Me-Knot I turned towards the dining room and saw the flowers on our table.  Such pure and simple beauty penetrating me as I played.  My motion stopped as the notes flowed.  I completed the piece and gently took in the process.

Soon the thought arrived to play through the set.  Instead I decided that I was free to choose to not do this, not just yet.  I could continue to explore and expand my freedom of choices while being in no hurry to measure their success or not.  This felt very right.

Moving onto a new idea that recently arrived I explored the theme with some new twists.  Seated without concern for Balk’s exercises just  playing with the notes.  Satisfied I moved onto a piece I’ll be performing next week that has a  very thorny section in it.

I took on this new piece of work in a seated position and played a bit with the facial exercises seeing if this might disrupt my habitual playing of this section.  I focused solely on this section and slowed my playing way down.  Randomly moving  through the section I would play a few bars and then apply AT inhibition. A few times, even at this slow pace, I found myself flinching and or tightening my neck.  Then I slowed the playing even more, looking for smooth and fluid execution from a free body and mind.  Then I stood and began to slowly move as I played with random measures, sometime recombining ideas, oftentimes inhibiting my next action.  A freshness arrived as this came alive.  Similar to the shift that had occurred earlier I wanted to play through this piece and measure the results  Instead I choose to do an AT lie down and let the changes settle in.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Exercising Freedom

In 19  , Robert suggested to our group of local crafties a book - The Radiant Performer, by H. Wesley Balk, which is an approach to exercising different parts of a performer, particularly as  demanded by singing-acting.  I dutifully found a copy and for years maybe even over a decade, could not really make heads nor tails of how to apply this to myself.  Yet I am persistent and would investigate the work at different periods.  First I had to work through my severe entanglement wrought by fear during the lead up to and through the act of performance.

The past few years I periodically work with applying some of Balk's exercises with the intent of freeing myself to the act of performing music.  Approaching freedom comes in various ways - meditation, the Alexander Technique,  and a disciplined approach to learning a piece.  Balk's approach uses exercises that deal with the physical and emotional centers of the performer and provides ways to access and develop these. My interpretation of some of his exercises is my own, as I have never  worked with anyone versed in his approach.

Recently I've been reading parts of this book again and was captivated by these words:

  The performer can develop a freedom of performance choice that will give his every action a different quality than if he did not know that freedom of choice.  This is a somewhat mystical but down-to-earth principle that one of my very bright students christened "the synergy of the known but unused."  It means that each individual choice has power in proportion to the number of other choices that could have been made even if these choices have not been actually practiced.

One choice I move between is do I perform seated or standing?  In a relatively short performance of 10 minutes as I am facing with The Field/DC this week, there is little difference to me.  Overall I tend towards more freedom in my body and perhaps my emotions when standing, but over a longer time period of performing my focus holds up better when seated.  Having spent much more time both practicing and performing seated than standing I may also have developed more habits, both useful and not, that have built up over time.

Today I choose to exercise myself both seated and standing and tossed in some playing while moving for good measure. An interesting energetic shift occurred which I lack the time to detail now.  More coming very soon.  Stay tuned.