It is such a simple concept. First you begin with a seed, a thought or intuitive sense extracted from somewhere inside of yourself, whether deep down in the depths of the subconscious hidden from view or floating lightly on the surface newly tilled and expectant of attention. With time, you allow the seed to grow and change until it has developed into an entity with it’s own unique shape and character. Upon reflecting on the thing which you created, you allow your curiosity to take hold and the engine of elaboration grinds into gear turning that which you had into something not dissimilar from the first but with a distinctly different character. The beauty of creation.
It is a wonder that this process happens a billion times over in every moment that our world exists. Life is curious and adaptive, always surveying the landscape while trying to figure out how to fit in to whatever tiny niche may be available. It is also wonderful how we have been able to harness this natural creative impulse to create fantastic art. What begins as a simple melody twists and turns and develops into an entire symphony before our eyes (and ears). Part of the joy of playing music for me, in particular improvised music, is searching for new melodies. There is so much melodic possibility in a simple triad turned upside down, inside out, stretched or compressed. Inversions, retrogrades, ascending or descending, octave displacement, pattern movement by various intervals, and jumbling of notes in a sequence provide endless hours of variation on a particular theme. Applying this process to the creation of meaningful melodies is the ultimate goal but there is still so much fun in seeing what new sound is just around the corner.
Back to the shed…
Throughout my life I have experienced the slight sinking feeling in my stomach before beginning a practice session. It can be such a struggle to pick up the horn when you feel like you can’t play what you want to play. This is the struggle of someone who has lots of ideas but hasn’t spent enough time on the horn to realize them on the instrument. When I was practicing in preparation for my graduate school auditions I remember a moment when I could consciously hear myself playing things that I had once only been able to hear in my head. I was playing faster, my range seemed to suddenly expand, my intonation was solid, and best of all I could focus on what I was playing instead of how to play the instrument.
What a rush to feel that you are a master of your own expression! That moment of excitement provides so much momentum and as Conrad Herwig has noted in our lessons, that is the time where you put in the extra hours. Don’t sit back content in your recent achievements. Forge on ahead! It is almost painful to put the horn down at the end of the day and the next morning it is invigorating to pick it back up. For some, this surge of momentum happens early in their musical lives and I would be lying if I said I was not a bit envious of those people. For while I have enjoyed performing for many years, it has been a relatively new experience to feel compelled to practice. There are many technical and expressive plateaus that we will discover as musicians and the only way to move forward is to get into a groove and keep charging ahead. When you reach a new height, keep on moving forward. While there is certainly talent to be accounted for in those who develop their voice quickly, nothing beats the hours and hours spent on the instrument learning how to work with it so that it becomes a part of your natural voice instead of an obstacle for expression. Of course this is challenging but when those hours are spent in the groove, slowly digging deeper and deeper, there are few things more satisfying than being able to reach out and grab something that was previously unattainable.
Back to the shed…
Looking to the future…
Photo by Cathy Foreman
There is so much to learn in this world. The more that you know, the more you realize how much there is to learn. At times it can feel like the whole world is in one big hurry to get to wherever the hell it seems to be going and if you don’t move with the tide you are somehow falling behind. The giant race towards progress seems to demand our constant collective attention. Make money. Move faster. Be constantly connected. Yet, when the racket of daily movement subsides for a moment, there is a quiet voice that reminds me to stop and breathe. I want to take a deep breath. I want to live in this moment. To live in silence for a brief moment seems nearly unattainable.
I am currently entering the last semester of my Master’s degree at Rutgers University and it is now time to once again consider how to live in the world outside of school. Short term plans most likely put me where I left off before I made the move up I-95 to New Jersey in 2012. Playing gigs. Teaching lessons. Being a self-employed musician. While the prospect of leaving the safe ideological nest of academia and returning to the hustle and bustle of daily movement seems like an unfortunate eventuality, I am bolstered by the feelings of a new level of self-awareness and self-actualization. I feel like I have the tools to do more with my life than I thought was possible when I entered school. In many ways I feel accomplished already that my time is school was spent searching for my own strength. I look forward to the future and to the life that is possible!