Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sketches of Truth

This morning I was reading a blog of Susan Mossman Taylor titled Yes, and.... She talked about the actor's improvisation rule of saying Yes to what another has done in an improv setting and then adding to it.  This is not a verbal 'yes' but is an agreement to move the story along.  I've seen this in action at times and it amazes me how these improv actors create on the spot.

I was thinking of the random word association exercise by Edward de Bono I played with yesterday and decided to apply it to her blog.  Since today is the 30th day of April,  I picked the 30th word in the first paragraph which is "sketches."  Then I selected "Truth" from the next paragraph.  Hence the title of Sketches of Truth to serve as a guide to a musical improvisation.

As I pondered the word truth, understanding came to mind and resonated as an underlying theme to feed the improv.  I needed a first note and looked at her name "A" became that note.  For some reason in the early morning hour I thought Susan had six letters in the name so perhaps the rhythm could be in six.  This did not work, but a simple beautiful six note melody did arrive.  After saying Yes to this melody, I decided the next phrase would be seven notes.  When I found this the next phrase was eight notes long. A simple "adding to what had already been done.  Then I abandoned this strategy and a few simple arpeggios arrived and I found an ending.

What theme might nourish tomorrows Sketch? 

Photo by Cliff

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Rusty Frames

Needing a topic for this blog tonight, I thought about an exercise on Lateral Thinking developed by Edward de Bono.  Using a list of random words to stimulate thoughts and associations I arrived at "rust" and "frames."  Smiling as I've just returned from teaching a Qi Gong class where the work we do is to stimulate our energy systems.  Prior to the class and afterwards I demonstrated the Alexander Technique Lie Down to two different students with little aches and stiffness in their necks.

All of us put much stress on our physical and mental frames and after decades of less than optimal care we begin to harvest the consequences.  But fortunately with disciplines like AT and Qi Gong  we can unlock the causes and conditions that have led us to where we are in how we use our selves.  Neither of these disciplines are quick fixes but they are effective.  And as Neil Young astutely pointed out years ago Rust Never Sleeps.

Frames reminded me of some improvisations I did years ago that generated a couple scores I recently came across and want to look at again. Now I have an area to begin my next practice session. 

 Photo by Horia Varlane

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Shoot the Arrow

I shoot the arrow, then paint the target around it. You make the niches in which you finally reside. 
Brian Eno 

First an acoustic guitar quartet
then a trio
an electronic music duet
now a soloist.

Not planned
just following
the aim
to be a musician.

Find a note or three
expand the feeling,
just maybe
Music arrives.

Honor those that came before,
Offer hope to those to come.

Find a note 
just be one.


Photo by Jar Away

Monday, April 27, 2015

Let Go

If you want to make someone feel emotion,
you have to make them let go.
Listening is an act of surrender
Brian Eno

And so is playing. 



Just be alive.

Photo by Jar Away

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Possible Silence

... what I loved about Webb were the possibilities in his silence.  He was just there, like a small noon shadow 
 Michael Ondaatje
Coming Through Slaughter

What are the possibilities for me to be in silence?

To dwell in silence?

Silence must be cultivated.



Possible Silences 

Possible lives.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Be In It


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Just For One Note

Remember, you are a cell in a larger body, creating energy and nourishment for the whole. Each note is an awakening, its' sounds a reminder.  Just for one note be fully alive.  Seek humility and strive to stay alive, allow the breath to harmonize your attention and lack thereof.  Stay alive - one phrase at a time.  Stay alive - one piece at a time.  Seek guidance from beauty and be open to truth.  Who could harm if capable of listening deeply?  Contemplate listening; your listening and then become one ... just one note at a time.

Photo by Peter James 
You can check out Peter's Bandcamp page here

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Arriving at Easy

After performing recently someone told me that I made playing the guitar look easy.  His perception at least, not always mine.  Reflecting on this the following acrostic arrived, rather easily I might add.

                             Studiously for

Photo by Bert Kaufman

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Change one small part and the whole is changed.  
Guitar Craft Aphorism

I experienced a vivid example of this aphorism as I practiced Qi Gong this morning.  While practicing outside on a cool spring morning, I noticed that my legs were tight.  I began working with the 12 Daoist Postures which do not directly stretch the legs.  After about 10 to 12 minutes of practice I noticed my legs were much freer.  The focus of the 12 postures are to free the spine or Heavenly Column as it is referred to in Mandarin Qi Gong circles.  The postures work directly with the spine and upper torso, but as freedom is found anywhere within the whole, the whole is changed.

Wonderful to have concise words to describe an experience, but even more wonder filled to have the experience.  Keep practicing! 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Listening to Now

A note has a beginning,  a middle, and an end.  Some notes and pieces of music are so exquisitely played that we never want them to end.  But they do - impermanence - everything changes. Do we so yearn for the music that has been played divinely that we dwell in the past, thus missing our present moment?  Or do we fret about how to repeat that experience in the future, again missing our present moment?

Can I listen to every note, every sound, as a bell of mindfulness inviting me to wake up - Now?

Photo by Kenny Louie

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Learning, Still Learning

Asking myself what assumptions and constraints are inherent in the way I do things yielded some obvious answers as I journaled this morning.  A bit later I was watching a Qi Gong video of Master Li in preparation for class today.  My wife was helping me by writing down some comments of his as I was working with the movements.  Frustration mounted as I worked with the movements.  Then I saw something inherent that I first noticed as a teenager.  Anxiety arising when learning on front of others and I'm struggling.  As this arises it gives way to some aspect of fear.  Left unchecked this will turn to anger, generally directed at another. 

After my practice I added this to my journal and it was a good thing I did.  Early in our practice with Master Li, he began correcting me on a part of the form I thought I knew.  As I watched him I could see what he was doing, but was locking into how I do things.  I paused, and took a few quiet breaths, quieting my mind and seeing the emotion looking to sprout.  Staying with awareness of my emotions I was able to keep following his direction and gradually let go of what I was doing. My mind offered up some excuses, reasons even during this learning process, but by continuing to cultivate my awareness I was able to let these thoughts go as easily as they had arrived. 

Progress, not perfection.

photo by Rosa Menkman

Saturday, April 18, 2015


 nothing can harm me at all 

What stops me?
What if I was like a waterfall?

No magic
 follow the path
be the path

True to the source
 flow over the edge

a million times down

Photo by Iqbal Osman

Friday, April 17, 2015

Practicing With Intentional Distraction

As I pondered what to practice today, my thoughts shifted to how to practice.  With quality of course and in pursuit of excellence.  What would best serve me as a performing musician?  The first piece in a performance has always challenged me, particularly as a soloist.  I want to begin with a piece that has energy, yet I begin it to fast.  I can not imitate a new space within my home, just need lots of different stage for that.  Nor can I imitate many of the other distractions that arise from people around the venue.  While reflecting on this, I also recalled how the struggle with beginning pieces is not isolated to the first piece in a performance context.  So how to practice with this?

As an experiment I decided to not any warm up nor undertake any intentional acts to focus myself.  Just sit down and begin a piece, even a couple takes of the same beginning.  Then I did about five minutes work organizing a pile of papers, filing, chucking and get little emotional jolts of things I need to get done.  I would then sit down and begin another piece, then back to the pile.  Another beginning, followed by a different beginning, followed by more organizing.  Research has found that switching between tasks is a strain on brains and focus.

As is performance.  Things happen. People move about.  Some chatter.  Lights are in your eyes.  External distractions abound, yet the internal ones remain the most difficult to deal with and today I found one way to work with some.  I continued this for an hour, even playing an entire piece at times.  Then I decided to move back from the pile and play a three song set.  Horrible, it was absolutely horrible.  My focus was shot.  But just as if I was on stage I kept playing through the set.

This will not become my normal practice routine, but I may experiment with it again.  Onwards!

Photo by birgerking

Thursday, April 16, 2015


There was an open mic at The Electric Maid tonight and I decided to take advantage of this opportunity.  At first I thought I might just play three new pieces in progress.  After all this is in the spirit of an open mic, but so is working on performance.  As I saw again Sunday night, I tend to begin playing the first piece of a set too fast, Dancin' Free in this case.  So why not focus on the performance of this piece, can I walk on stage and nail the tempo?  Well not yet, but I did hold on for the ride.

The second piece I chose was Forgive Me, which began as an improvisation on my Sister's Birthday in February.  To date only my wife has heard this work.  I gave a brief introduction to this piece, which got my heart riled up.  Not necessarily a bad thing mind you, but with uncertain hands being led by a mind that still does not fully know the piece this added distraction was a challenge.  The piece was played well, except a couple spots where it was not.  The good news I learned a bit about the perils of how I introduce a piece, especially a new one with emotionally charged content or background.

I closed with Steppin' Stone which I know, played well and is a great closer.   I decided to use this so that I knew where I was heading in this brief set and because it has great energy.  Steppin' Stones is not an easy piece to play, actually has challenges that can disrupt me, but tonight I nailed it. 

The other performers shared great music and comedy, much of it original.  They were also a great audience.  On to the next study.

Photo by Mike Licht

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


May I welcome the muse when she whispers a new idea.  May I then do the work required to see this idea to fruition.

May I welcome the music practice sessions when my attention is drifting and my body tired as these prepare me for real life performance situations.

May I welcome the opportunity to grow in understanding.  Not necessarily to understand why another acts as they do, but as to why I react as I do.  Reactions are quick, most likely habitual.  Frequently, though not always the best I can do.  To respond takes times and is a choice, hence the term a considered response.

May I welcome truth and cultivate beauty. 

May I welcome love and nourish happiness.

Photo by Iqbal Osman

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Freedom in the Hands

Latent content 

The hands - so important to a guitarist, any instrumentalist; actually to any human being.  I'm just home from a Qi Gong class where tonight my hands came alive more and more as I was able to release my arms and allow my waist to drive there motion.  In some other exercises in Qi Gong I can allow this freedom, and tonight in the form we are studying there they went, just following the laws of physics.

Watching Master Li and following his grace filled movements.  Slowly my energy channels opening and the Qi flowing.  Remembering that how we do one thing is how we do everything.  Now time to apply these hands and these principles to the guitar.  There is a question formulating within me about this, that I think will not arrive without a guitar in hand. 

Photo by Neve in My Mind

Monday, April 13, 2015

Learning in Action

Yesterday was a bit of a low energy day for me and I had the gig at Electric Maid.  A nice spot to perform but with no green room, the performer is exposed.  Good stuff for me to work with.  How to connect with arriving friends and keep a sense of myself and the intentions to which I aspire.  I was the second performer of the evening after a solo electric guitarist Jon Camp. 

Asking for help as I hit the stage the first piece began too quick.  The energy of Dancin' Free was bubbling and I held on for the ride.  Gathered Hearts was fine and The Call had a special quality hovering about.  Senseless Loss was intense, and Dandelion Wish was a bit sloppy.  Livin' the Dream appeared fine.   Scattered Hearts was also intense as it should be, but then I really began to notice my energy and focus was draining.

I had trouble beginning the next piece, Opening, and I fumbled in it a few times.  I began thinking of dropping the next piece Forget-Me-Knot as the emotional content of this piece hits close to home.  Forget-Me-Knot arrived in the aftermath of my Brother's death.  There was one other piece after this and then I could be off the stage.  Then I heard myself and I knew I must play the Forget-Me-Knot.  I must execute the set in the order written and maintain the balance of the music.  What was going on inside of me, I am not sure.  But with focus fading, and the mistakes within Opening, I suspect that fear was manifesting.  And it was, but the fear was not allowed to flower.  I learned and grew from it, and the last two pieces were played strong.

Photo by Jackie Moore

Sunday, April 12, 2015

What Degree is Right?

Every man becomes, to a certain degree, what the people he generally converses with are. 
 Robert Motherwell

And yet I prefer to converse but a little.

Photo by Kim Eriksson

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Play It Backwards

After practicing yesterday we drove to Dillsburg, Pennsylvania.  My wife and I offered a day long Meditation and Qi Gong retreat today that was well received and as always happens when we do these events we were energized.  Pack up and drive home with a stop in a small town for dinner.  Unpacking our car at 7:30, we took a quick walk around our block to take in our local Cherry Blossoms.

Ordinarily this would be enough for me, but I do have the gig at Electric Maid  tomorrow.  I knew if I did not review the pieces in the set, I'd be concerned about my performance.  Too close for a night off and the show must go on.  After a hot shower, I sat for a few minutes to summon my energies.  Pick particular pieces or run the set were the options I saw.  Then the thought arrived, play the set backwards. Which is what I've done so far.  Beginning with the last piece and working my way back to the beginning.  Very tired, but exercising my memory, my heart, and my commitment.  When I arrived at the middle I decided a short break was in order.

Maybe now when I go back, I'll play from the beginning of the set and see the middle from both directions.

Photo by Suzette.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Letting Go of the Good Stuff

How long did it take me to learn to let go of mistakes when rehearsing and especially when performing?  Hold onto a mistake while playing and more will quickly follow.  As I prepare for Sunday's gig at The Electric Maid,  I've gotten caught a couple times with the good stuff.  Phrases that I've worked on for weeks sometimes longer have been coming together nicely.  Playing them within the context of the piece the anticipation anxiety of this part coming up has lessened considerably.

But I noticed yesterday and then again this morning, that I sailed through a couple of these difficult spots, assumed a rather smug inner attitude and thud, flop, fizz other notes suffered.  Let go, let go and let go.  Of the good and the bad.  I am reminded of the first line in the Dhammapada - all problems arise in the mind ... and so it goes.

Photo by Todd Hryck

Thursday, April 9, 2015


Standing on the Earth, I am rooted in the Earth, rooted in the tradition, and nourished by Love.  If I play music with attention, I can share and grow Love.  With my feet standing on the Earth, my arms, hands, & fingers embrace the guitar as my mind engages with the impossible.  Harmony being nurtured and fostered by an open heart and awareness of my breath.  Rooted, alive and full of aspiration.  Asking for help along the way and being grateful for that which comes.

First one note, then another.  First hope, second understanding, then love follows the unseen score.  Faith in the unknown reconciles the trials of tribulation of hours of practice and the possible public failure.  One step, one practice session and then many many others.  Vibrations sounding, attracting and inviting all that is.  But first I must pick up the guitar, then ask for help.

Free this coming Sunday 4/12/15 at 7pm.  Support with your ears is welcome and needed.  More information at the link below.

Photo by Fred Bigio

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Live at the Electric Maid 

Taking a break from practice this morning, I was organizing my desk when I came across my notes form Phillipe Petite's Creativity: The Perfect Crime.  Interesting character who does high wire walks outdoors.  One nugget I wrote down is territory is a three dimensional detail.  This holds true for a stage also.  As I'll be on one this coming Sunday night 4/12/15 at the Electric Maid beginning at 7pm, Petite got me thinking about the details.  Shall I perform standing or seated.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages for me.  What best serves the music is the question I must consider.  I have more freedom in my body when I stand & play, but for a 40 minute set my focus is better seated.  When I stand I sometimes I move into positions that compromise my playing, yet when I sit I stiffen.  Both could be an option, but would require a different set of details to be worked out.

Besides having some new material for this show I'll be joined by Naan Violence ( ) does wonderful sitar instrumentals, sometimes with drone and is on a label that specializes in cassette tapes and avant garde music. And Jon Camp ( or ) will be performing solo electric guitar instrumental compositions. One critic said of him "Jon Camp's short but fully formed compositions have a time traveling effect on the listener. These songs inhabit their own world...."

Overall a great night of music.  Come on out, support the artists and support the Electric Maid.  A bit about the Electric Maid - this is neither a bar nor a restaurant. Just a nice space to come out & hear live music.  Let's help to keep the doors open of this one of a kind venue located mere steps from the Takoma Park Metro Station. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Art is the elimination of the unnecessary Pablo Picasso
Release the "r" from "Art" and you have AT or Alexander Technique,
which is central to the "art" of movement.
Eliminate extra mental chatter and you have  meditation,
which is central to the art of living.
Elimination leads to mastery.
How many notes do I discard to create a piece of music that moves me and maybe even others?  
How much tension needs to be released in my spinal cord to allow for an effective use of myself?  
To allow for an energy flow that enlivens all of me?
 How much study do I need to recognize the unnecessary?

                                                     Misunderstanding and
                                                      Aggregates of


Monday, April 6, 2015

The Obstacle is the Path

While walking along Sligo Creek on this beautiful spring day, I paused in wonder as the sun dances upon the ripples of the creek.  A favorite little spot of mine where the rocks stimulate the flow of the creek, causing her to sing and delight.  Watching the water flow about the rocks the Zen Proverb the obstacle is the path arose in my thinking.  Before me I had an illustrated example with sound bites to confirm this wisdom.

Gazing at the creek I wondered about the obstacles I face regularly.  Habits, emotions and lack of knowledge immediately sprung to mind followed by a dose of gratitude that I have daily discipline to address these as they arise.  Not seeing when my habits, emotions or lack of knowledge is the obstacle is a subtler more challenging one.  Yes their are other obstacles, physical, financial and loss. The disciplines also work with these so long as I aim to remain on the path.  Keep trudging.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Standing on the Earth

In Qi Gong there is a suggestion to stand on the Earth, not on your feet.  You are invited to allow the Earth to support you, to sense your body extending into the Earth like the roots of a tree while also extending up and out from the Earth, blossoming beautifully where you are planted.  As my morning practice moved to the guitar the thought arose to sit on the Earth, not on my buttocks.  Again to sense the support, the rootedness and extension.  To sense and allow the freedom in my arms, hands & fingers to sway like a tree in the wind. 

Since the Earth is always in motion rotating about her axis, than I too remain in motion.  Is my motion free and directed following the principles of the Alexander Technique?  Or am I unaware of my support, unaware of the possibilities available through my musculoskeletal system when right directions are offered to the pyschophysical domain?

My guitar is of the Earth - her wood harvested from trees, her strings and frets mined from ores deep within our planet.  I am of the Earth - carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and other elements combining and recombining as my needs change.  Since we both are of the Earth, we are one.  But I must work to recognize my unity, work to allow the freedom to sustain this unity.

Our air circulates freely about the Earth.  May I allow my breath to do the same.  Just breathe in, then out, again and again, without any hindrance of anticipation or holding on in fright.  May the breath let go of past errors as easily as the wind goes round or over a mountain.

The Earth is ever changing as am I.  Even when I am not aware of the changes they transform us, over and over and forever.  May I be able to dwell within this impermanence with peace and oneness of mind.  Just sitting on the Earth,  just playing.  Happy to be sitting and happy to be playing.  Dare I nourish the seed of happiness while playing? 

photo by NASA

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Pause That Delivers

Whether at the beginning of or in the midst of an activity, to pause and consider your actions requires a choice.  To choose to pause and direct our thinking with the Alexander Technique or to follow our breath introduces freedom and change.  Our energy shifts as does our relationship within and to the space around us.  If we are interacting with others, we are now more fully engaged, alert, and aware.

Why then does the act of pausing require so much discipline?  Habit, habits and more habit is the quick answer.  Over decades I have developed the habit of pausing and my relationships to myself, the guitar, and to others has shown improvement.  For this I am truly grateful.  So I continue to instill the discipline of pausing to foster my development.  What has been delivered far outweighs the occasional agony of "what again?" that sometimes arises within.  Pause right now, before you surf off.  Connect with your body, your thinking, perhaps even your heart.  Consider your aim.  How does it feel to be alive?

Photo by Anders Sandberg

Friday, April 3, 2015

Walk Away From Failure

Failure will happen.  You work hard, sometimes very hard, and then the desired outcome does not come to be.  You take an energy hit and your pride maybe bruised, but not for long if you take a step; then another.  Take one even when you really don't feel like it and you find yourself walking on the path again.  The path guides you with light and warns you with shadows.  Remember the shadows are merely the edge of light.  Step after step, the motion provides you with energy.  Then as physics teaches us, an object in motion tends to remain in motion. But first - just one step.

Photo by Reddy Aprianto

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Let My Fingers Be Free

While practicing the Earthly Circles, a Qi Gong, exercise this morning, the thought arose in me to let my fingers be free.  Just let the fingers flow.  Allow them to follow the path the body has put into motion.  Let the energy move through the fingers from within and to them from the Earth.  Waking up to this exercise I practice most days in a new way I was grateful for this little articulation.  I reflected on our session with Master Li on Tuesday night.

His hands move so beautifully, his whole being actually.  My wife noted that his hands seem to always express his intention and I have to agree.  I have learned particular forms, understand to the underlying principles, but have quite a ways to go to embody the intention as Master Li does.  Establishing free fingers in my Qi Gong exercises will establish free hands.  With time this will be transferred to the guitar, in fact this has been happening in increments over time.  Back to work. 

Photo by D Mallen

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

How Did That Happen?

After three hours in a recording studio today, my body was a wreck.  Five friendly microphones capturing every nuance of my playing, intended or not.  Good work was done by myself, the engineer and the mics, but my neck was sore and my body cramped.  How did this happen?  I worked with my breath, stretched and even worked a bit with the Alexander Technique directions.  Obviously not enough attention was given to how I used myself.  Understandable.  New situation with a new person and the subtle pressures of recording.

I will continue to learn, apply and move forward.  A walk and some Qi Gong along Sligo Creek began the restoration.  A nap followed by teaching the first session of Sunlight Qi Gong at the Takoma Park Community Center completed the release of unnecessary tension.  The work continues.  I am grateful for the daily disciplines that guide me.  As the aphorism states - we begin again constantly.