Past

Then

The wind makes

no sound

until it wraps itself in the leaves

of the trees.

And that sound is just

a noise

until it makes someone

feel something.

Then

it’s music.

(kb from ‘Jenny’, 1999)

Eventually

kbsitepicscene061_______________

And so the words

roll around and

the sounds form in

rhythm and

melody and

eventually it’s

written

Warm Up And Play

websitemusicfermataI’ve been at this for so long that some of the basics are such a part of my natural rhythm I don’t even think about them any more.  For instance, there’s one small point I was sharing with someone the other day.  We were about to start playing and I suggested that before we begin we first wander through something easy as a warm up.  They said it sounded like a good idea and so off we went.  Turned out to be a great session.

It’s a pretty basic concept, isn’t it?  Warm up.  Get the body and brain in gear first.  Begin the hard work once you’re truly present.  Not a difficult thought to grasp.

So you’d think it would be a no-brainer.  But time after time I’ve been part of some unit directed to jump immediately into the hardest material.  Which usually sets the tone for an absolute grind of a rehearsal.  After watching folks flounder around for a few sessions, as a fellow player I’ll make the suggestion that maybe we could begin with something straightforward, mostly so I can remind myself what playing with these people is like.  But I can’t count the number of times that the leader has growled at me that I don’t know what I’m talking about, and that playing a warmup would just be a waste of our very limited time.  And so we return to their idea of saving time–hours and hours and hours of grind that could easily be avoided by simply remembering that musicians are people, and should be treated as such.

Come to think of it, there’s maybe the problem, eh?  Mind you it also looks to me like they’ve simply forgotten that when it comes to music the verb we use is very specific.

Play.

Let me say it again so we’re clear.

We play music.

What’s so hard about that?

Now excuse me, I’m gonna go warm up.

Strange Moments Again

websitemusicfermataSome performances stick in my mind for odd reasons.  I remember once upon a time working with my partner in a small town in the mid-west, noted for the local university having been converted to all things yogic, two great huge meditation domes and all.   Neat.  Part of why the gig was memorable was playing in a huge stone church, close to cathedral size.  There was a pretty reasonable turn out, people as a group feeling excited, I’m thinking this is going to be a good night.  So we begin playing, the first piece ends, it’s surefire and we’ve nailed it, I notice how long the echo is in the hall.

Then I realise the reason I can tell this is because the audience hasn’t made a sound.  Ten seconds…  twenty seconds…   it goes on forever…  thirty seconds…   I’m thinking, ‘We’re dyin’ up here.  We have so tanked, they are going to rise up en masse and start hurling their meditation pillows at us, death by pillowfight, this is not how I want to be remembered.’  Then, finally, they erupt in applause.   You know the kind, when you’ve really hit the mark, and they have no way of showing how much they appreciate it except to clap, hard, and longtime.  And I can breathe again.  They were just taking their time to appreciate the sounds before they responded.  Okay, we are going to have a good time after all.  And we did.

But just for a moment I wondered.

With No Instrument

You and I have been talking about memorising words for a while now and somehow I’m not sure it’s occurred to me to mention that I do most of my memorising with no instrument in my hand.  The reason is simple–it’s easier when I don’t have to think about what chords to play, or where my fingers go, or whether I’m in tune, or the gazillion other things that can interrupt my stream of recollection.  Actually I prefer to work on words while I’m walking, or doing chores, or anything that keeps my body occupied and leaves my mind free.  Yes, I can do it while I’m playing, but it just seems to take forever.  So no, when I really need to work on the words, that’s when I put the instrument down.  Just thought I’d mention it.

Meditative and Confused

Okay, so when I’m not feeling the best it’s sometimes good for me to move around a bit, maybe to gently do things.  I mean digging ditches is out, but a bit of cleaning up or cooking or something is really a good idea.  Funny to have that as a motivation.  But you can only tidy so much before you’re into something unhealthy.  And I’ve had feeling lousy chase me around the room for a while, it’s no fun.  What’s nice is it turns out that playing the bass is really good for me.  Someone asked me once if it was the low frequencies up close and personal.  I figured no it was the standing up and moving around without a break for a decent stretch of time.  But because I’m not built like a bass player I can only do so much after which whatever conditioning I’ve got just isn’t enough.  So okay, sometimes it’s about moving around and making some food.  And happily it’s considered a good thing that I do this, so I don’t have to enter into a kitchen encounter with any weird baggage.  My job is to enjoy making something, and to eat it.  Alright there have been times when either or both of those were mission impossible, but apparently today is not one of those days.  So I figure next time there’s a potluck I’d like to make a particular tart recipe I used to know quite well.  Except it’s been a while, and over the years I’ve been around way too much other people’s stress to think that doing it without practice is a good idea.  So I get to it.  And it works, fair enough.  I’ve cleaned up and everything’s looking fine, and I made the smallest batch I could, so there’s a dozen sitting there on the rack.  Well, actually there’s nine sitting there on the rack.  I forget that I’m perfectly capable of finishing off the lot.  Yes tonight.  No big deal not to, I’ll enjoy them over the next few days, maybe take a few to a friend.  And as it turned out it was good to do, the hot oven was a little too hot, so a little lower than the recipe says for a little longer and both pastry and cake will benefit.  But yeah, I think if I’m going to do this more often I’m gonna have to switch to making bread.

One other nice thing that comes out of feeling not the best but not the worst is I spend a little more time on my instruments.  I think it’s because I can’t dash off to do something more useful, or do much real work of any kind, but I’m okay enough to get really tired of being horizontal, and there’s only so much sittin’ in a meditative posture this poor boy can stand.  So I sit down at my harp.  It’s something that’s at least vaguely productive.  At least that’s what gets me there.  Once I’m there I remember that the mental place I’m in when I’m working on music is a place I’ve spent years in, and it is in fact deeply meditative.  And very, very good for me.  It’s funny that I’ve never asked myself why I can sit and meditate so easily, often in the oddest places, even though I don’t practice it in any regular fashion.  It’s most likely because that’s kinda where I work.  I have no idea whether other musicians are like that, but it’s sure how it works for me.

So it’s funny, a half hour on the harp and while my body may not feel the best I’m sure in better shape to accept it.  And frankly in that half hour I’ve walked through a lot of what some people would call prayerful attitudes, and a bunch of reminders that being tight is not helping and I don’t want to end up in a wrist brace again so relax, and some thoughts about why that phrase isn’t easier than it turns out, and some reminders of the chores that need doing, and even a bit of time in the zone.  Which sounds to my ear like a pretty normal meditation.  I sure get the same benefits.  And I guess maybe that’s where that focus comes from, that fellow players tell me they see in me when I’m on stage.  Of course what I don’t tell anyone is that it’s more likely that the monitors are so bad I can’t hear a thing so I’m having to concentrate real hard to figure out where the beat really is.  But I don’t want to spoil the magic for anyone, so I guess we’ll call it focus.  In the meantime it is nice to be able to take a little more time when I’m not feeling well and turn it to good use.  And yeah, feel better for doing it.

Although I must admit I’m still a little confused about how something like fifteen years of mostly not playing the harp meant that I could sit down and play any melody I’d written.  No, I couldn’t do that before.  No, I have no idea why.  And yes, it somehow reminds me about the guy asking his doctor if he’ll be able to play the piano.

Only it doesn’t turn out like you think.

Collection

kbsitepicscene054I know I’m a little more organised than some of my brothers and sisters, and a little less than others.  But I think everyone I know has developed one of these at some time or another.  It might be the box that all the odd cables go into, or all the ones that need repairs, or maybe even where All the cables go.  Okay that last one makes me a little twitchy, which I consider a failing in me, but I do know more than one person who uses that method so I understand it really is an option.  When I see an example of it in the wild I’m always reminded of someone sitting at my kitchen table telling me about this performance they’d seen.

Apparently the music was quite fine, but what they remembered most was the guitar player.  It seems that the guy sits down on a chair in front of his amp and opens up a medium-sized suitcase, which is heaped with the most amazing tangle of wiring you and I are ever likely to see .  Now of course we both know that an e-lectric guitar needs a cable to go from the guitar where the playing is done to the amp where the noise is made.  So the guy puts his guitar into playing position and pulls out from the suitcase the end of one cable, which he plugs into his guitar.  Just the end, mind you, the rest of the cord is still fully enmeshed inside the suitcase.  He then pulls another cable end from the suitcase, again just the end, and plugs that into the amp.  Now he begins to play.  There is no sound.  So he unplugs that cable end from the amp and pulls another from the magic suitcase.  Again the plugging.  Again the playing.  Again the nothing.  Again the unplugging.  This is repeated several times until his amp starts making guitar-shaped noises.  At which point he figures he’s got the right guitar cord on both ends and gives the thumbs up that he’s ready.  None of this is part of the act, mind.  At least not intentionally.

kbsitepicscene055I’ve never had the nerve to try it myself, I think in the right hands it could be hilarious, but one day I’d love to write it into a scene somehow.  It’s one of those things that you write and someone assumes it’s fiction and tells you it’s a little far-fetched.  I tend to just smile and nod.  However since you may in fact run across an example of this sort of cable collection one day I thought it would be good to include a depiction of the approved method of closing such a case.  Just as a public service.

You’re welcome.

To Be Present

A few of the Tuesday night gang get together every couple of weeks and play some music for folks at a few of the seniors’ residences and such.  I try to join them when I can, although it’s a bit of a trip it seems easily worth it.  Of course we’re trying to play songs that people might know, which makes for a really interesting range to pull from.  And it’s always neat to hear people’s suggestions and requests, because there’s often one song someone asks for that is such a good idea that you just have to go and learn it.  Over the years some of my favourite songs to play have come to me that way, usually something I wouldn’t have thought of on my own.

Meanwhile I’ve made it a point to arrive at these sessions with some silly song that’s popped into my head.  Anything’s fair game as long as I can recall all the words.  So you never know what might happen.  One night it was Edelweiss.  Why not, made a whole bunch of people smile.  Today on my way in I realised I know all the words to I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.  Why that would be I haven’t got a clue.  But there was nothing for it but to have at it.  And so we did.  Apparently a good time was had by all.

I’ve played for so many different groups of people that I’ve developed a reasonable ear for what kind of pace a roomful of singers want to sing at.  It’s funny, I don’t think of it until I hear someone else stumble over things.  I think it’s especially hard for piano players, who often have their back to the singers, their face in the keys, and can barely hear the voices for all that noise.  Guitar is a breeze in comparison.  And it got even easier when I realised I didn’t have to play every chord and hammer out every beat.  Also that it actually wasn’t my job to lead the singers, more to figure out where they’re headed and make sure I meet up with them there.  Sure there will likely be missteps along the way, but by and large folks know how they want to sing something, my job is to hear it.

My other job is to be present for everyone there.  To look them in the eye when we chat, to actually hear whatever it is they have to say.  A bit of normal human interaction.  No big deal.  And yet somehow the most beautiful thing in the world.  Hey it’s nothing in comparison to the hours and hours that caring professionals put into generating some kind of quality of life for folks.  But it is nice to be able to help in some small way.

And apparently I can sometimes make someone smile.  And sometimes that is the coolest feeling in the world.

Thanks.

Uh oh

Further to the conversation about musician humour beyond the difference between a vacuum and a banjo is a vacuum you have to plug it in for it to suck variety, I think I told you I’m collecting a few amusements.  That was me in a sea of guitars pointing out to the other upright bassist that now there was two of us we had them outnumbered, right?  And that was us a while back figuring out that the plural of bass was more bass, no?  So I guess that was also me the other day when buddy switched his mandolin for another instrument and what falls out of my mouth is ‘Uh oh, there’s a banjo, he’s got us surrounded.’

I have to learn not to say these things out loud.

New Math

Ah friend, as postscript to the other day and the delightful(?!) photographs from the stone age, you might be amused to know how part of it went down.  So I’m looking at the pictures and figuring the dates and merrily doing the math, and I’m thinking to myself, wow, that was twenty years ago, been a while, twenty years.  …  Then I think about that for a minute and check the math.  And I realise I’ve dropped a ten.  It’s actually thirty years.  Okay, ouch.  I guess because it hadn’t really crossed my mind before that number kinda thumped down on me all at once in all its charm and novelty.  If you’d ask me I couldn’t tell you anything I’ve done for thirty years.  But there were a couple of straightforward, clearly documented examples.  Blink.

I did get that it also means that there are some things like writing and making music that I’ve actually been doing for forty years.  But I am completely unready to embrace that thought at the moment.  Truthfully I’m still a little lost on the playing in public for part of my living for thirty years concept.  You’d think I would’ve had the sense to give up by now.

Anyway, thought you’d be amused.  Just another victim of New Math.