Tag Archives: music

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.

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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.

An Unexpected Joy!

Two hours at a new local music store, Alley Kat Music. Just opened up and Josh, the young owner, has invited all the teachers he’s got to teach there to meet the public. I’ll consider teaching there (life is changing) and promised to show up. As one of his advisors and supporters, I need to do that for him.With the intent to give whoever is there MORE than they expect, I’ve created a Practice Tips sheet for whoever signs into his system. Plus, I’ve collected a couple of Making Music magazines and some National Music Camp brochures.

I’m expecting nice chats with a couple of the teachers. I’m expecting to meet a few people I know and a few I don’t. I’m expecting to get a little snack, ’cause I haven’t had dinner.

I was NOT expecting….

  • to meet a very delightful Bert Pepper, a fiddler from Wingham who, with his wife, moved to Rodney a few years ago
  • to see several high school students, including a young flautist who was at camp
  • to play as much as I did!

So, being the good Music for People grad that I am, I saw an opportunity. You see, Tanner, the flautist, had taken a fiddling option at camp. Bert, the fiddler… well, he fiddles. Tanner had brought his flute. I brought the two of them into the lesson room, the one that is finished, the one with the piano.

Tanner was trying to remember the tune he’d learned. Bert and I played along.

And then… oh,the magic, the magic…

Bert, how about you play a short riff and then Tanner, do an answer. You don’t have to copy the same notes, but just play something in response.

Shall we play in “Dog?”

And off we went. Back and forth. Bert and Tanner traded fiddling 4’s. Two of his friends listened in, iPhones recording it all. They navigated the changes, echoed, repeated and added… and we all found the perfect place to end! Woohooooo!!!!

Sufficiently emboldened…

OK, let’s try this, I said, start out with some call and response, and then, at some point, let’s change form 6/8 to 2 and kick it up.

Once again… in Dog!

We Did it!!! The shift was seamless. I let out a hoot! LOVE. IT. The kids were impressed.

It’s all music, said Bert.

Suddenly, I wasn’t sooo sad that I wasn’t at the weekend in Stony Point with some of my best musical, improv, American friends.

But that wasn’t all. Yeah, yeah, I had some snacks, met the other teachers and saw some friends I knew.

But then….

Bert and a local guitarist/singer, Bill, got together and started jamming on some fiddle tunes. I

That would have been enough to ‘make my night’ and I thought of all my MfP friends making music this weekend. We’d be recording and getting caught up and making music and laughing…

I got to play BASS! Haven’t played electric bass for….decades? We played in Dog, we played in Girl. Josh brought out another violin for a visitor and we played Amazing Grace. And then….(OMG, MfP comes to life!) I picked up the fiddle and … off we went again. Of course, I couldn’t play all the tunes, but I could improvise and make it sound like a tune! Traded the fiddle in for Bill’s guitar… and off we went again. (note to self… start playing fiddle!)

But it continues..in a different vein.

  • I taught a 10-year old girl, who is thinking about voice and piano, how to play on the black notes, with both hands and all fingers—and I played with her. Then I taught her how to play Hot Cross Buns in ‘Cat’… she sang as she played and I added the bass lines for her. All in about 8 minutes.

There you go! Your first lesson!

And it was free! she said.

  • I showed a woman that she is not tone-deaf;

You just proved that you have the capacity to sing in tune! All you need is lots of experience. You are NOT tone-deaf. You can sing.

That must made my night, she said.

In two hours… all of this.

WOW… lucky am I!!!

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.

 

The Hour Went By Quickly

I began today on a djembe. Even hands. Left, right, left, right, one, one, one, one. Both hands even. Breathe. Listen. Relax. Listen again. Go deeper. E-ven, e-ven, e-ven, e-ven. One, one, one, one.

It’s all One. Rhythms in 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 12… they’re all collections of one. With different emphases. Rhythms in 4, 5, 6, 7, 11… just altered combinations of 2 and 3. Played around with different emPhases on DifFerent plaCes! Got some sticks out and a practice pad and went at Even Hands again. Not so even! Ha! It’ll get there.

When I was a kid, I hated Hanon. Wasn’t crazy about practising in general, but the scales and exercises drove me nuts. I hated the limits. I wanted to play the pieces– a different kind of limit. Today I started again with Hanon and went through all major keys. Slowly, evenly— another childhood challenge. Today the limits were comforting and relaxing. They let my fingers find their place, allowed me to breathe, allowed my brain to process and re-integrate, re-learn the power of limits.

I’m working on Moment Musical (Opus 94. No. 4), by Schubert. I chose it because the right hand pattern is one upon which I can improvise easily. Rather than sight-reading it and learning it by my quick learn method, I’m going at it in sections, singing as I play, getting the singing pitches right, feeling the spaces between my fingers, the places where my fingers need to stretch, or change order. Feeling the place where my  fingers need to think and listen and feel. I haven’t even looked at the third and fourth pages yet.

But I’ve played the sections, noticed the differences, played right hand alone, right and left hands playing the right hand… it’s been fun! Huh.

I want to work on melody creation. Creating a good melody, a theme that I can remember—at least for the duration of an improv—one I can come back to. That’s how I ended the hour today… finding a melody I like and playing around with it.

Kinda like life.

I already feel happier.

 

Finding the Mus(e)ic Again

The challenge for any artist is, primarily, to show up to one’s art. There are all kinds of ways not to show up. Doing the dishes, hanging out on email or facebook, working, watching TV, taking care of the family… the To Do list goes on, as does life. Then you wake up at the end of your life and realize- you didn’t become the artist you wanted to be. And it would have been so easy.

One of my ways has been to find interesting jobs that take time and a number of talents. Work that pays the bills and allows the creativity to move. Managing a farmers’ market, writing and strategizing for a cultural non-profit, teaching music lessons, starting a youth band, founding a women’s choir.

Ten years ago I graduated from the Musicianship & Leadership Program with Music for People. It was four years of growing, personally and musically. Four years of driving 2 000 km, four times a year to workshops. Four years of Homeplay, teaching, facilitating, thinking and busting through, over, under and around obstacles. And thanking them for the opportunity.

In my head, I knew I could make a life and a living with this. But I haven’t. Detours, Distractions, Dilly Dallying… it’s all added up to a very interesting, imaginative, musical, artful, creative life, but My Music -I’ve ignored it. Completely. Serendipity would have it that I created some work for this month and next— two days of work in a school. This past weekend, I spent a weekend coming out of the Shadow Artist role I’ve played, knowing I’d been missing making music. I made the trip to my first Music for People weekend since 2000.

I celebrated my 10th anniversary of graduation with 3 others who graduated at the same time, on the weekend of 10-10-10. Four new grads joined us, making it 100 MfP grads to date. The numerological significance of this did not slip by me.

At home, I wandered around our bush, on a sunny Thanksgiving Monday, camera in hand. I sang into the woods, I kept silence as my friend, I listened to the leaves rustling— and tried to imitate the sound, I made some photos, thought about “Art” and, let my mind travel.

As one job has ended, time has been released. With harvest in full swing, the house will be empty much of the time. I’ve reduced the number of teaching hours. We’re heading into the quiet season, the deepening time, the period of going inside.

Today I began the recovery process. Along with my meditative and study  practice, I’m committing to spending 1 hour each Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning… making music. No phones, no computer, no dishes, mail, cleaning, making lists… just music.

And I will see where music takes me over the next two months.