Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Learning in The Field

A learning experience at The Field DC last night.  Fieldwork is a 10 week process where we show our works to the other participants and receive feedback.  This particular session has been very juicy for myself.  Consisting of twelve artists, primarily dance, but also three writers,  all of whom are committed to developing their work.  Besides the value of the feedback offered along guidelines that sidestep like and dislike and address what the piece(s) elicited in the audience, just being within a creative community brings an energy to each of us.

Last night I planned to show two works.  The first piece I have shown there twice now, and generally can play through.  The second piece came out four weeks ago; has been shown three times and continues to challenge both my left hand and my ability to sustain the rhythm.  My executions of this piece has increased dramatically  but still needs work.  Arriving at The Field to a smallish group last night I learned that I'd be able to show twice if desired.  Why not, I knew that a good learning experience would unfold.

The first piece began well, and as I approached the middle I became fascinated with the shape of my left hand on the fretboard. Wondering does it all look like that when I play this piece.  Then I noticed an old habit had arrived in my right hand. Two much attention was being pulled into my use of the hands and I lost my place in the most challenging section of the piece.  Somehow I made it through, but the piece was disrupted in it's build of intensity and notes were flubbed.  At one point my playing fell apart, but I dove back in.  Not a good sign as this was the piece that I "knew."

Early on in Turning the Wheel, I transitioned to a section and began playing the wrong melody.  What to do - improvise.  I did  and somehow negotiated my way back to the piece.  I'm not sure if the audience noticed this, and I forgot about it until I returned home.  This act of improvisation within a "serious mistake" was a vital learning experience.  As I recalled this, what I had been describing to myself as a rough night, turned into a good night. 

Others showed their work and then we moved to the actual performing theater of Dance Place where our works in progress showing will be next month.  I took the opportunity to "walk" onto the stage in this setting.  Again I got overly concerned about what my hands were doing and faltered in performing both pieces.  Fortunately this is exactly what The Field is for.  A time and space to work and discover what is and what is not working in a new piece, in myself,  and in performance.  Valuable, oh so very valuable. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

What Does It Take?

This morning before my session with David Jernigan to work with the Alexander Technique,  I decided to listen to John Nicholls A New View of the Alexander Technique, a podcast from Body Learning.  Early in the talk, while introducing the concept of "automatic postural responses,"  he stated "our nervous system is continually learning even at the level of how much muscle tone needs to be distributed throughout the body for whatever action we wish to perform."

At this point I paused the podcast to play with my own continuous learning.  I did a lie down and wondered what is required of my neuromuscular system to play the guitar?  Over the years I have learned that considerably less effort is required than I thought.  How and what might I learn about this system I inhabit on this day?

After the lie down I moved to my practice room and began asking myself questions. What does it take for me to stand?  Holding this question for a bit, a slight release occurred in my feet and my legs shifted. Had I been merely standing in a habitual way that required more of me than is needed?  What does it take for me to lift the guitar from the stand was the next question.  My awareness growing as I picked up my guitar.  What does it take to stand with the guitar on?  With this question I noticed a bit of tension in the upper part of my right arm and around the right elbow.  Why?  Decades of improper use of myself while playing.  And yet I was not playing.  I worked with my breath and my thinking to release the tension in these areas.

Next I queried - what does it take to bring my hands to the guitar?  Barely anything is required for this action.  Very very little.  Enjoying this process I played with bringing both hands or one at a time to the guitar.  Relishing this moment of increased awareness of my motion. Perhaps a bit of freedom was introduced into my system.  This is subtle investigation, not guaraunteed to do anything.

Finally - what does it take to play the guitar.  I brought my hands to the guitar, without thinking or directing, and began playing Turning the Wheel.  The tone was sweet for the minute or so that I
 played.  The time had come for me to leave for my AT session.

I reviewed these questions again with David observing and sometimes directing my body with his hands as only an AT Teacher can.  Awareness and focus were free and open.  Two trouble spots within the piece were there, but did not derail the playing nor take too much of my attention away from the what and the how of my doing. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

My Walls

                                             The Wall

Tomorrow is the 25th Anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down.  Change is possible.  But what does it take to manifest the desire to take down the walls I build around myself; let alone to let those walls come down?  I just caught myself doing maintenance on one of my walls.

Thinking of someone I am likely to encounter today, my story of them begins to flow in my mind.  Then I queried - “Who is talking.”  The building chatter dissipated, evaporating as quickly and quietly as it arose.  Instead I now chose to send this person loving and healing thoughts.  Looking at their positive attributes, their love.  A crack forms and a few bricks loosen.

I have two small pieces of “The Wall” my friend Hernan brought me back from Berlin that year.  Two nondescript pieces of rock, formed with fear, maybe even hate, into a large solid obstruction of the flow of life.  I grew up hearing about “The Wall” and fear was instilled about “those people” who were behind it.  Yet now I see that perhaps we were all behind it; under it; smothered in it. 

I keep those tiny pieces of Berlin to remind me of what is possible in the lives of men - the good and the bad.  What is possible in my life?  Today?  Now?  May I and all of us find the people, the reasons, the hope and the love to begin to tear down our walls - to open what is truly possible for us and for everyone. Let us build tiny walls within gardens; walls that shelter the homeless; and walls that protect the fragile.

Let us begin right now.

Photo by Paul Downey

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Seeming Disadvantage

Monday in a moment of inattention in my kitchen, I nicked the top of my first finger on the left hand slicing a bagel.  What to do?   I had intended to perform at least one piece at The Field on Tuesday night, maybe two.  I was fairly certain the moment this happened that was out of the question.

Instead of returning to practice Monday afternoon, I addressed some piles of paper.  I found a poem A Measure of Time I wrote in late October.  In Guitar Craft we have an aphorism - Turn a seeming disadvantage into an advantage.  I could work on my performance skills, by undertaking the reciting of this poem.  Reading it again, I warmed to the idea of reading it on Tuesday.  The recitation was close to 3 minutes so I knew I'd learn something in the process.  As I rehearsed the reading my confidence grew and I made some minor edits to the poem.  While driving on Tuesday I suddenly heard a new twist and pulled over to jot it down.  Working with this later I decided the changes enhanced the poem. 

Arriving at The Field with no guitar, I did state that I was showing.  A brief bit of nervousness fluttered - me reading a ---- poem.  I did.   Easier than playing a musical work in progress or a finished piece for that matter.  Received encouraging feedback. 

This morning I picked up the guitar to see if it was possible to play yet.  I loved hearing and feeling the vibrations.  Soon the finger began to ache and I did not want to reopen the wound so I let go.

Besides allowing my hands, arms and back to rest from playing guitar, I've also practiced more Qi Gong than usual.  This can only have good returns long term.  Appointments made and kept; and yes the piles are growing a little bit smaller.  I do miss my guitar though.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Day's Journey