Category Archives: Music and Life

From the Heart, In the Heart—the essence of One Quality Note

A young jazz bass player, a student at Berklee in Boston, posted a facebook status that  a) allowed me to remember again why I do what I do and b) embodied the principle of One Quality Note for me.

Marika was playing background music for a marriage proposal (which in and of itself is a great idea! kudos, young man— and lucky woman!) and she said it put so much in perspective.

What’s Important in Music?

Here’s what she wrote:
Playing my best on my jury or in an audition (or whatever ‘meaningful’ situation) is cool and seems so very important at the time, but it matters most in real life, in moments of the heart… I’ve never played a note more earnestly than when I saw what was going on…

It then occurred to me that I don’t keep at this music thing every day for the sake of being a virtuoso or some musical freak of nature. It’s all so that I can be a part, to the best of my ability, of moments like that.

“Playing My Best Matters Most in Real Life”

Ain’t that the truth!

It doesn’t matter so much, really, in those situations where others are there to judge us. All the accolades and awards in the world mean nothing if, in those real life moments, we detach. Money, awards, accolades, fame—nothing inherently wrong with them. It’s what we value, what is truly important that matters. And at the end of our life, we’ll be more grateful and better for the heart connections we’ve made than for all the hardware we’ve collected. The two are not connected.

The Value of Being Earnest

There can be no faking earnestness. I’ve come to enjoy and appreciate this word a lot lately. I appreciate earnestness. Earnestness has solidness to it and stability. Marika said she’d never played a note more earnestly as when she saw what was going on.

Why? Why would this moment be any more special than another?

When our heart is activated and we can see meaning in a gesture of great love or great significance, we become entrained in that vibration. When we become entrained, the wave, the signature of that vibration, gets bigger. When people in a group are on the ‘same wavelength’ it’s not just a saying; it’s the truth.

If all the musicians in Marika’s group that day also played their earnest best… then imagine the force of that proposal! Magnification times awesome!

Make Every Moment a One Quality Moment

I love that Marika uncovered this stupendous truth: that making one’s best music (or any other ‘thing’) in real life is when it really counts.

My hope, too, is that she and all of us can aspire to live each moment with that same earnestness and attention. It requires attention and presence and understanding the love that is behind whatever is happening.  It requires practice. It requires a willingness to fail, because, well… it’s an aspiration and we have to take small steps towards that idea.

Small Steps

Marika has taken the first step. She recognized a moment when she was fully present to the awesomeness of the moment and was able to act on that presence with full awareness. That, in itself, is brilliant.

Every time we recognize and lean into one of “those” moments. Every time we leave our inner critic and inner chatterer at the curb and bring all of our parts together, we take another small step into that earnestness she spoke of. We can take another step into living our life as One Quality Note.

The First Carol of the Season

I happened upon this album in 2009 and it’s the very first song I put on before I start decorating for Christmas. I’d love to have a choral arrangement of this for my women’s choir. It reminds me of what it’s really all about and it sets a gentle mood. Particularly on a rainy December morning.

 

 

Tonight the Treble Makers Women’s Choir (a choir I founded in 2007 to provide women in our rural area a safe and encouraging place to sing and learn to sing) sings for a local church Christmas concert. Wednesday, we’re at the second of two seniors’ home concerts/visits. This busy week needs a strong backdrop of calm, gratitude… and a heartfelt smile.

Stop. Be Silent. You’ll Be More Creative.

We’ve all heard it and we’ve all ignored it to some extent or other.

Meditate. Find a quiet space. Be in solitude. Sit.

We all need it; we all know we need it. And yet, we’re more likely to get hyped about drinking all that water we’ve been told to guzzle or about visualizing our dreams or about adding value to everything we do in our business than this. We’re likely to spend more time doing our makeup or washing our car, updating our status or cuddling with the cats than taking the 20 minutes needed to meditate, or to sit absolutely still, with no agenda, or to walk through a park on the way home. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

We’re more focused on the technical aspects of building our business, or the skills needed to teach the children. We attend meetings, network, connect on facebook. We listen to webinars, dash to the gym, get trapped in the agendas of others through the inbox. Children take music lessons, gymnastics class, play hockey and have play dates (really, WHAT IS THAT?! Can’t they just play?!)

We’re too busy and yet we can’t stop. This talk has been going on for at least 40 years: in the 70’s we started talking about stress and we developed stress “management” techniques. We might be able to manage the stress, but we’re still stressed. And getting sick of and from it.

We must Stop.  Every day. Sometimes we need to stop for several days and unplug. Apart from vacations, which many times is just another excuse for being busy somewhere else.

The Point of Silence

For the musician, the artist, the writer, the creative, the silence is the ground. Everything comes from a silent centre. That centre, the soul, infuses us with the energy— that creative, soulful energy—which has inspired the creative impulse in us since the beginning of life. Since the beginning of the beginning.

Recognizing the Soul

We can recognize, though perhaps not name, that soulful connection when we see it in a leader, a teacher, a conductor. We can recognize, too, when a conductor or a teacher has not done the necessary inner work: we can’t name it, but we can sense it.

Be Do Be Do Be

… while many musicians have developed highly sophisticated technical skill, and teachers have developed highly sophisticated teaching methods and strategies, they are devoid of the very spiritual energy which has provided creative impulse in humankind since the beginning of life. One simply cannot grow as a musician without serious and profound work on self in order to access soul.

The search to find and understand soul must be the foundation for all musical experience. It is to that end that every musician, regardless of ability or calling, should commit his or her entire being.”

from “The Musician’s Soul” by James Jordan (p. 46)

What I wonder is… if this is so important, why

a) do we hide the process of our journey from others

b) don’t we talk about this more often

c) do we spend SO much time in school on the doing.

I know of very few musicians, music teachers or conductors who have a defined, focused, regular, intentional—yes, that’s it, intentional— spiritual practice.

For the record, when I was teaching in school, I took the bus, biked or walked. This gave me time to focus, to unwind, to get into a rhythm. When I took the bus, I got off a stop early and did tai chi in the park, or went into the gym to do it. I did a 10 minute meditation every morning for most of those years.

Now, my practice is longer and involves writing, meditation, reading and qi gong. Every day… about 57 days out of 60. I consider it mandatory.

The excuse that “there’s no time” is bogus. Create it. Spend 5 minutes less on Facebook or Twitter. Get up 15 minutes earlier and really get UP. It’s a choice and we have control over this part of our life.

Make 10 minutes of quiet alone meditative space a priority. Every day.

The (Musician’s) Soul

Music teachers…looking for things they can DO with their kids on Monday. New technique this, new ideas that, new technologies, new ways to include , to diversify, everything you need to know, move, drum, sing, play. (I’ve been at a music teachers’ conference for the past three days)

Music teachers…a daily marathon to inspire, encourage, uplift, direct, pull up, put up, shout out, cheer on

It’s not just here, but in all journeys. Is it the doing or the being that is more important? When a conductor steps in front of a choir, a band, an orchestra, a classroom, a lunchroom, an office full of employees, WHO is it that does the stepping?

We bring all the who we are to all we do.

Resting, emptying, stilling, holding, letting go, living from the centre— these are the things to spend our efforts on, the things music teachers, leaders, directors, managers, visionaries, impulsers need to learn to do with the kids on Monday.

To teach from the inner place, the calm place, the high place, the focused, directed, together place.

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. (Tolstoy)

The only thing we CAN change is ourself. And our relationship and response apparatus.

Do THAT on Monday, and it won’t matter what you do.

Rite of Spring…in October?

When the Rite of Spring (Stravinsky) premiered in 1913, a riot ensued at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. If you haven’t heard it, you should. If you haven’t seen the ballet, you should. I should.

 

La façade du théâtre des Champs Elysées

La façade du théâtre des Champs Elysées (Photo credit: dalbera)

 

Live is better, but Disney’s Fantasia (the 1940 version) gives you a taste. (Would love to see a contemporary animation of it!) Just as a side note, check out the Rite of Spring 100 celebrations here.

 

In any case, it’s an aggressive, lurching, severe, brash, exciting piece of music. Oh, to have been in that first audience!

 

I heard it on the radio on Saturday as I drove north along Highway 76, heading home. (I’m listening to it now!) The wind was forcing its way across the fields, bending trees over, the leaves clenching, gripping  the branches. Roiling, stormy clouds bowled across the heavens, tumbling through open blue spaces, dragging a storm with them, pushing, shoving everything ahead of them.

 

The match was perfect.

 

What’s Old is New Again—I Can’t Believe I Think I’m in the Same Place—But I’m Not!

I began this blog about 2 years ago. Almost to the date! I had just returned from a spectacular weekend with Music for People grads, the first time in 10 years. Inspiration, sadness, joy and a desire to give myself a quick kick in the butt. Which I did.

Is it something about October?

 

Week Three- and I’m still at it

Piano

Piano (Photo credit: esc861)

 

Things don’t typically go as planned— my three-time a week at 9 AM practising plan among them.

 

However, I’ve stuck to the hour a day commitment for three weeks now, relaxing a bit about my schedule, just making sure it gets done —in the morning. Showing up is the main thing. Once I walk up the stairs, the next hour of playing is given.

 

Every day has started with drums. Drum sticks on a practice pad. This helps calm my brain, empty it of wandering thoughts and clearing it for focus. It also helps my drumming! Whatever I’ve been pondering up to that point in the morning goes into park, on to the back burner, off to the side, percolating, while I focus on right left right left, in some combination. I remember to breathe, to relax, to have fun doing it.

 

The piano requires a different approach. It’s an instrument I know, one upon which I’ve practised for years, and so know how the practising is ‘supposed’ to go. As I go through scales and arpeggios, broken chords and Hanon, I’m also breaking some old patterns. I don’t have to spend the whole time on one scale. Today, I did 4 or 5 scales, 4 octaves, 2 octave splits, in thirds and tenths, then plowed through arpeggios using the cycle of fifths.

 

This is not revolutionary stuff. However, releasing the old requirement to stick to one scale day after day, has been important. The flow is better now and I’m listening for fluffy notes—those times when my fingers aren’t quite precise enough to hit the key squarely.

 

One note at a time—full and complete and precise and heard.

 

I’ve opened up the Grade 9 book. Didn’t spend much time on it when I was 13, so there are lots of pieces I haven’t played at all. It’s and easy sell. The pieces are easy enough that I can learn them in a few days and interesting enough to provide a challenge—speed, expression, mood, colour.

 

Bach‘s Prelude in C- is my current best friend. It’s such a training and requires a precision I’m looking for in pieces right now. It trains me, leads me, teaches me. I listen. I’m beating my old practice patterns out of myself and Bach insists better than most. For once, I’m really learning a piece, bar by bar, listening, looking, watching my fingers, paying attention to the line, the interweavings. It’s going deeper. I’m going deeper, insisting on precision and right notes and right fingerings— not just letting everything slide under.

 

I have to breathe more, practising this way. I have to relax my shoulders, sit squarely on the bench, start again, go slower and enjoy it. The going slower. How many times did I hear “Slow Down!” when I was a kid. I say the same things now with my students. It really does work.

 

I have no expectations or aspirations — yet. Right now it is enough that I play, and practise and repeat and slow down. It is enough that I do this for three hours a week— and find myself able to do it without difficulty. It is enough that I play up and down the keyboard, using all the things I know. I DO want to get better. Not just on the piano.

 

My hour ran out today without improvising and without playing unusual scales or learning something jazz. I have to watch that I don’t make practising the classical stuff an excuse for not improvising and chopping away at something new.