Archive for 02010-01

Two Years Ago

02010-01-21 @ 05:01

I get up a little before 4AM and start to get ready. While I shower this comes into my mind:
Whatever you want, this world has it.
If it is greed and ignorance you are looking for, we got that.
Selfishness and inflated egos, yes, got that.
Hatred and violence, yes, plenty.
but also…
Poetry and wonder, yes.
Love and care and gentleness, yes.
Beauty, creativity and awe, yes.
Disliking greed and ignorance does not make it go away. Instead we notice more of it.
Hating violence and hatred doesn’t make them go away. It amplifies them and we see hate and violence everywhere.

Sure, we may know this. But, it slips my mind all the time.

All that and a marvelous moon!

Touring Schedule

02010-01-20 @ 13:01

We are adding more dates to our Spring and Summer schedule – with more to come.

Spring – East Coast

Summer – West Coast

Letter to a Young Musician #5

02010-01-01 @ 13:01

Dear Friend,

There is practicing and there is performing and they are two very different sides of a coin. Practice is a solitary act while performance involves an audience, large or small. Having an audience changes everything.

Practice is something you will get used to doing every day, like eating, drinking, sleeping. Few artists perform every single day.

The truth is, you can’t practice performing. You practice to practice and you can practice to get ready to perform, but performing is so very different…

You can practice landing, rolling and catching your fall, but you can’t practice parachuting – unless you jump out of a plane. You can train your body to run a long distance, but you can’t train running a marathon race in a large pack of runners – unless you run many marathons.

So that’s how you practice performing – by performing. It’s as simple as that. The more you perform, the better you become at performing. The more you perform the more at ease with performing will you become. True, some people are natural performers, but I find that they are rare exceptions. Most people grow into themselves on stage over time.

After we returned from our first tour in 1990, we did a benefit concert in Santa Fe. Everyone in the band had lots of friends in the audience and we were excited and nervous. As a result we raced through 90 minutes of material in about an hour. Now, many years later the band seems to settle into a certain tempo for a song and that tempo doesn’t change much from performance to performance.

And remember: practicing is practicing and performing is performing. Do both!

Letter to a Young Musician #4

02010-01-01 @ 12:01

Dear Friend,

Today I am thinking about time. Time is important to a musician, that’s obvious. Music consists of time and pitch. Without time there can be no song. A melody can only exist in time. A melody can only be heard because our minds can store time, for without memory a melody would remain a series of unconnected sonic events. The beauty of music lies in the many different associations and memories a mind can attach to the flow of a melody.

Our perception of those sounds-connected-through-time, or melody, varies from person to person and can be improved by practice. Modern classical music or Bebop Jazz often contain very long melodies that evaporate in most listeners brains. It takes training to follow these long lines, and may be an excellent antidote to a short attention span. I read somewhere that the average listener can hold about 7-9 notes in their attention. Bebop melodies are usually much longer than that.

Time is the essence of music in its guise as the sisters rhythm and melody. And time is also the duration of your practice. Most musicians serve a good portion of their lifelong practice as teenagers. We may never regain that sense of time we have as teenagers – everything is still ahead of us… and four or even eight hours of playing our instrument feels completely natural.

Allow me to give you this advice:
Don’t worry about being popular in school or in college. The unpopular kids have time to practice their musical instruments or paint, take photographs or devise science projects. The popular kids on the other hand are busy going to parties, their social calendars packed with events. Sure, you might watch them with longing, but being popular in school isn’t all that. (((although honestly, how would I know, I wasn’t popular in school and spent most of my free time playing guitar and reading…)))

What happens to the popular kids when they grow up? Maybe they become real estate agents or sell cars or find another profession where they can use the social skills they learned as teenagers?

And since I am on the subject of time…

We always look for the quick fix, don’t we, the silver bullet, the advantage?

That is true in terms of becoming a better player and also true for getting signed by a record company, finding a manager or agent etc. We never think it happens fast enough. What if I tell you that I was signed by a record label exactly when I lost interest in getting signed? Or at least stopped pursuing a recording deal and instead made the music I wanted to make.

I think this also parallels our search for happiness or enlightenment. We may find either exactly when we give up searching. Unfortunately we can’t start out by giving-up-searching… the quest must come first.

Time is the best teacher, but you’ll have to allow yourself and your music to ferment. Think of yourself as a cauldron of soup – let the spices mix, let the flavors develop, let the ingredients get softer… and play the music that makes you happy.

I shall end my letter with this observation:
In the beginning we play out-of-time, because we are scrambling to find the correct notes. When the fingering becomes more familiar, time remains sloppy while we learn to move from note to note. Later the correct rhythm emerges, at first clumsily and then more fluid… and when we listen to a master play music we can hear him/her stretch and squeeze time, playing before or after the beat… but returning to the downbeat at will. Another spiral of learning. At some point we arrive at a new stretching-of-time, only now it has become our choice and an expression of emotion, rather than the inability to move to the next note smoothly.

Time. It is the great puzzler. Enjoy your time…

Letter to a Young Musician #3

02010-01-01 @ 11:01

Dear Friend,

How should you find your sound?

Well, every hand is different, every nail strikes the strings at a slightly different angle. So, if you play long enough, your sound will eventually emerge somehow. There are rules, but they can all be broken. For example, I file my nails to a shape that is “wrong” according to some experts.

I think there are two elements to “your” sound. The first is the sound-production itself, how your fingers strike the string, where they strike the string. Many guitarists don’t make use of the many different sounds one can coax from the nylon strings and the box. That length of guitar from the fretboard-side of the soundhole all the way to the bridge is rich with different sounds. This can also help with the tuning of the guitar. Sometimes plucking the string in a different position will sound more in tune. (I recently watched a Julian Bream video and was impressed at how he would bend this note in a chord here and that note there… he was always aware of the pitfalls of a fretted instrument and the well-tempered scale)

The second element is what you play. Some guitarists are instantly recognizable, like Carlos Santana for example. Others have a more chameleon-like approach and it takes a while to hear their personality. One is not better than the other. Just different.

Finding your sound is a little bit like finding what you should do for a living, or finding your place in life. It seems to come to us of itself, almost sneaks up in the dead of the night. One day we wake up and from then on we wear our heart in our melodies. Maybe finding your sound has a lot to do with finding yourself and finding yourself comes out of being natural. In the West natural refers to whatever humans have not manipulated, controlled, or despoiled. That’s a dualistic view. It separates humans from nature. In the East, what is natural is what exists according to its true nature. There is no separation, no dualism. That also means that there is no despoiled nature devoid of humans to return to.

What is your nature? What does your nature sound like?

I discovered that at the core of my melody is a slightly melancholy feeling. Even when I am expressing happiness you will find a few notes that speak of longing. But, that is as much a part of me as my crooked right index finger – it turns to the right and because of that turn the nail is perfectly parallel to the string. A flaw may become a pearl in time.

Don’t forget to practice. And keep thinking about what your nature sounds like!

Letter to a Young Musician #2

02010-01-01 @ 10:01

Dear Friend,

To listen with a mind that flows freely is to listen with your whole body. In Western thought we often separate Body and Brain. But is that correct?

I think Mind happens where Body and Brain meet.

In a groundbreaking New York Times story, Sandra Blakeslee disclosed that new scientific evidence is giving credence to the notion that the human body actually possesses two centers to process knowledge and dictate physical actions. Blakeslee reports:

[Scientists say] that the body has two brains–the familiar one encased in the skull and a lesser known but vitally important one found in the human gut….The gut’s brain, known as the enteric nervous system, is located in sheaths of tissue lining the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and colon. Considered a single entity, it is a network of neurons, neurotransmitters and proteins that zap messages between neurons, support cells like those found in the brain proper and a complex circuitry that enables it to act independently, learn, remember, and as the saying goes, produce gut feelings.

Musicians can learn to perform with their whole body, that is to follow the flow of the music with their mind, using the brain, ears, body and their “gut”. Eventually we can learn to LIVE with our whole body – if we are willing to do the training. The main obstacle is our own ego/brain that can get in the way by jealously guarding the self it has created. There is nothing to fear but fear itself, and there is nothing separating us from life itself but our own small selves…

Now check out the definitions of Hara and Qi.

Go with your gut! And integrate Body and Brain through your music.

And remember to practice.

(Reference: “Complex and Hidden Brain in the Gut Makes Cramps, Butterflies, and Valium,” Sandra Blakeslee. New York Times, Tuesday, January 23, 1996. p. B5)

Letter to a Young Musician #1

02010-01-01 @ 09:01

Dear Friend,

“I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”

That is what the protagonist says in Herman Hesse’s wonderful novel ‘Siddhartha’, when a prospective employer asks him what he can do. Those three talents would be of great advantage for any young musician as well. Maybe we should replace ‘I can think’ with ‘I can play’…

“I can wait.”

A professional musician WILL spend a good amount of his life waiting – for the start of the concert, for the boarding of the flight, for the bus to reach the next venue, for the recording to get finished, for the CDs to arrive in stores, and most importantly for a check to arrive, months or sometimes years later… Being able to wait is a difficult skill to master. Most people will get bored, but one skilled in waiting will not.

“I can fast.”

Being able to fast is a handy ability as well. Being able to cook for oneself is good – cheaper than going out. Being willing to eat rice and beans and sink one’s money into studio-time can be important…

“I can play.”

This ability is not as obvious you might think. Children can play, but can you, or have you already lost that skill? Most people lose it, you know, sometime in their teenage years. Children play with abandonment and don’t mind if the result isn’t perfect. Most adults on the other hand tend to be self-conscious and try to avoid mistakes. Consequently adults tend to stick with what they know. For a musician that means they keep returning to patterns they have rehearsed, scales they know like the back of their hand. That’s not really playing though… Somewhere between the scales and chords we know and the exuberant noise of abandonment lies the real music, and to get to it is the real dance of creating.

Those three skills may not seem like much to you now, but believe me they are rarer than you think, and much more useful than you can imagine.

Remember to practice.

 


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