Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Last weekend on the island

Saturday, we were naughty and slept in -- the excitement of the week and Friday night's adventure without power had done us in.  Plus it seemed kind of scandalous to check out of a hotel room mere hours after we'd checked in.  :-)

We checked out of the hotel and headed back to Patricia's for a quick visit and good-bye -- and to pick up the gear we'd left at her neighbour's, since we couldn't see it all the night before!  Unfortunately, the power and heat issue was not any more resolvable by daylight -- hopefully it has been figured out since.  We bid adieu to Patricia and her beautiful Golden Retriever (this was the tour of the loveable Retriever, I tell ya -- everywhere we turned!), got back in the Jeep and headed back to Sandra and Landon's (and Amber, the other loveable Retriever) in Victoria.

It was a slightly overcast day, although the views were still magnificent -- I tried taking some photos from the car, but they didn't do anything justice, of course.  Instead, I got wrapped up in writing my own blog on the laptop (don't worry, Don was driving!) about the workshop.  Which I managed to finish just before the battery died -- our luck with power seemed to be improving!

When we got "home" to Victoria, we were greeted by a very excited Amber, a chipper Sandra, and... a very sick Landon.  Uh-oh...  Saturday was going to be our night to take them out on the town as a thank-you for putting up with us for so long, but in Landon's current state, that didn't seem to be something either he would appreciate, nor would the tables around us!  Plus, they had to go to a meeting on the mainland the next day, and were planning to drive up to stay with her mother that night so they didn't have to get up so early the next morning.

So... PLAN B!  We'd do an early dinner at the house, and just do take out from the restaurant we were planning to go to.  Called them in the afternoon to make sure that was a possibility, then spent the afternoon chatting with Sandra while Landon took some meds and tried to sleep it off.  Don spent the afternoon visiting Neil Russell, the maker of his baritone slide, at Celtic Cross instruments, plus haunting chapters to buy Victor Wooten's "The Music Lesson" and a few CDs for the rest of the tour.

He woke up feeling quite a bit better, and wondering why we were all sitting in the same places he'd left us, doing nothing but chatting, nibbling and drinking?

And so, ready for more chatting, nibbling and drinking to begin, we gave the restaurant a call.  Ack!  They just had a huge party show up, their kitchen is swamped, and there's no way they can prepare take-out.

So... PLAN C!  A few more calls around town to a few more very busy restaurants, and we found one that COULD make us take-out, as long as we didn't order anything too complicated.  Phew!  Turned out to be a great choice, even if we didn't make it ourselves -- Cafe Mexico.  The menu was incredible, it was hard to choose, but we each got something different and shared -- well, except with Landon, because we didn't want to get sick on tour!

And so, dinner done, Sandra and Landon packed up (see, Mom?  I'm not the only one who packs last-minute) and headed out, leaving us to dog-sit Amber for a couple of days.  She moped around for a little bit, but then made herself comfortable on Don's feet, as we got some planning and work done for the rest of the trip.  When it was time for bed, she stared pitifully at us... and stared some more as one paw gently came to rest on the foot of the bed... and stared some more...  Yes, we're dog sucks, we ended up sleeping three in the bed -- although Amber is pretty good about not hogging room, considering what a large breed she is!

We awoke Sunday, nicely rested and smelling of dog -- ah, dog!  Spent the earlier part of the day entertaining Amber, and then headed out mid-afternoon to visit with my old friend Ruth (well, she's not that old, but you know what I mean...), and later head to the weekly Victoria Folk Music Society meeting.  Juliana and Douglas had told us about it when we'd played at Pondside the week before, and encouraged us to introduce ourselves to more people at the open stage -- since we didn't have another gig on the island that night, we figured it couldn't hurt!

But first... visiting Ruth.  The last time I saw Ruth was when she brought her then-toddler, Courtenay, to visit her Toronto friends.  Courtenay is now living with her boyfriend and couldn't come visit with us because she was working -- boy, do I feel ancient now!!!  So, it's been... uh... one or two years.

Some kids playing in the courtyard showed Don and I which door belonged to Ruth... eager anticipation... ring bell... more eager anticipation... door opened... and... geez, she hadn't changed a bit!  It was so lovely to just fall back into that old familiarity -- Don having to catch up a bit, having never met her before, but we had a bit of time with just the three of us.  Then Courtenay's "little" sister, Phoenix -- who I'd never met -- dropped in.  And what a lovely woman!  (I was going to call her a girl, but... as I said, it's been one or two years, so I don't think she qualifies as a kid any more, or has for a long while!)

Some more visiting, and then Ruth's new husband (well, new to me, not so much to her!) Brian came in with their eldest, Aidan -- who, fortunately for my sense of ancient-ness, still qualifies as a girl.  Aidan's looks are pure Ruth, and I'm guessing her personality comes much from Brian -- very calm, sweet and soft-spoken (of course, I've only met either of them once -- they might both be totally wild once you get to know them!)  She seems to carefully contemplate everything she says -- when asked a question, she'll ponder for a while, then speak slowly, as if she hasn't quite finished thinking it through and wants to make sure she hasn't left anything out.

Contrast this with Gabbie, who later EXPLODED in from the playground and didn't sit still or stay quiet for more than ten-second bursts.  Gabbie is a force to be reckoned with.  A great source of entertainment and joy, but holy cow I hope she calms down before she becomes a teenager, or her parents are going to have to invest in some heavy-duty restraints.  :-)

The seven of us had a lovely fish dinner together, lots of stories and laughs.  Then it was time for the girls to finish up their valentines for school the next day -- both had procrastinated, oops.  Don and I had to head out early to make sure we got a spot at the open stage, and Ruth and Phoenix were going to join us there later.  Phoenix had practically grown up at the Folk Society, so they were really looking forward to going back, as it had been a while.  And we were looking forward to spending a bit more time with them, and getting to know Phoenix a bit more back in grown-up land (not that Don had any trouble joining in the knock-knock jokes at dinner -- he finally had a new audience for his old classics!).

We headed over to Norway house to sign ourselves up for the open stage -- and good thing we got there early, because it was a full house that night!  One of their long-term volunteers was moving away, so they were having a bit of a celebration that night, and everyone wanted to be there -- turned out, there were about 180 there that night!  Juliana and Douglas arrived, plus Neil Russell, and we were introduced to a number of new folkies.

The first part of each week's gathering is an open jam at the back of the hall, for anyone who feels so inclined.  The group was quite welcoming of these two newcomers, so we joined right in!

Next is the open stage -- their policy is that each act signed up gets 10 minutes or two songs, priority going to out-of-town visitors, people new to the VFMS, then members who haven't played in at least a month.  We were among the furthest out of town (we were beat by a woman from the Maritimes!) and had never played before, so we were put in the second slot.

You could see the eyebrows raise as I brought up my cajon... "that ain't folk music!"  But as we finished the final scats of "A Good Day", the crowd went completely nuts (uh, in a good way...).  Went a bit more mellow with the second one, playing "Live Love Dream", but got the same whoops at the end.  Only two songs, but we sold 14 CDs that night, introduced ourselves to over 180 Victoria folkies, and got an invitation back to play as a feature the next time we're out.  One of the most lucrative non-gigs we've ever had!  (And far better than our next "real" gig, but I'm getting ahead of myself...)  At intermission, we were also approached by a number of other bookers, and chatted away with some new-found admirers.

Now that the "must impress" part of the evening was over, we were able to sit back with Ruth and Phoenix and enjoy being entertained for the rest of the evening!  The feature act that night was Greg Madill, in a trio that included his son, Jevan.  Nice energy and some good songs.  Greg was gracious enough to have Jevan play a couple of his originals too -- would love to hear more someday, because I really enjoyed what he was doing!

The night over much too soon, we gave Ruth and Phoenix huge hugs good-bye, promised to be back, and headed home to let a very patient Amber finally go outside.  Oh yeah, and we stole some of Landon's beer to toast a job well done.  :-)


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Last day of the workshop, first day of the rest of the tour

In my quest to keep the "Thursday" blog short-ish, I completely missed out on a couple of things.  I shall remedy this now!

First of all -- and I think this might have actually happened on Wednesday, but my memory is failing me... -- the incredible full-group improv!  The only "rules" were that we all had to stand up.  The first person would improvise something -- no boundaries, no time limits, just do whatever the moment inspires -- then as they were coming to the end of their bit, they'd walk over to another (standing) person and hand it off, then sit down.  Other than that, it was "anything goes"!  So as the Music travelled through the group, we ended up with human beat-boxes, spoken word, scat-singing, melodies, percussion, complete silence, primal screams and animal noises (OK, those might have been me...).  It was so much fun to see everybody's personalities come out and interact with each other, and to see how the sound travelled throughout the group!

Thursday, we were left with a few questions to ponder:

1. What would make me truly happy?
2. What can I do to make the world a better place?

Once the answers to these two questions are the same, you know you've found your purpose.


If the whole world were to follow you today... where would you lead them?

Also on Thursday, in our explorations of fear, a very brave Pierre volunteered for a very "Haven-eque" exercise.  As with most of the examples, he was first asked to play a solo.  Then to talk about how he felt about his performance, the thoughts that were getting in his way at the moment, the thoughts he had about his life and music in general, etc.  And then every little nagging doubt or thought was given a physical prop.  You didn't pursue music professionally because you were worried about money?  Big, heavy purse hung on the neck of your bass.  Family holding you back?  Big chains wrapped around your arms.  Worried your joint pain will flare up?  Hockey mitts.  And so, Pierre had prop after prop piled on top of him, young Rory yelling at him, and the whole group shouting boos and hisses -- and he had to play his solo again.

As you can probably imagine, it wasn't terribly good.  All the same, the world did not end.  We still liked him and respected him (and were grateful he was the guinea pig and not us!).  He survived it all just fine.  And then got a chance to do it again, without all that weight holding him down.  Guess what?

In life and in music, there are so many stories we tell ourselves that get in our way.  The way we think affects the way we do.  If you don't like what you're doing, change your thinking!

And so, on to Friday:

Victor's float plane off the island was leaving earlier than originally thought, so our final morning session was held in the dining room, right after breakfast.  As can be expected, much of it was a recap of the week's themes, a discussion of the concert the night before and all the lessons learned (by him, too!), plus covering a couple of points he'd missed but wanted to put out there.

He introduced the idea of four stages or rooms (borrowed from someone else, I believe, but I didn't write it down).  These rooms don't have any firm walls, so it's possible to flit in and out, depending on the circumstance, and there are benefits to each.

Unconscious Unknowing
- this is where most beginners are -- innocent, ignorant, having fun and enjoying the wonder of it all

Conscious Unknowing
- this is where most amateurs are -- they know what they don't know, and are trying to learn it

Conscious Knowing
- this is where most professionals are -- they've reached high levels of proficiency, and are still working hard to keep getting better at their craft

Unconscious Knowing
- this is where the true artists are -- the magical, blissful stage of the Music High, where your proficiency in the craft meets the innocent having fun and enjoying the wonder of it all

That's the stage we tapped in to the night before, the Music High, where we weren't bogged down by what we know, but took that cosmic leap into the unknown -- what we knew held us up, what we didn't know made us fly.

We often get trapped in the Conscious Knowing stage, because we think we've arrived, and spend our time perfecting what we know rather than exploring what we don't know.  And not just in music.  We all get stuck in ruts in every aspect of our lives, simply because we've stayed in our comfort zone and haven't bothered exploring the alternatives.

What we know can stop us from learning more.

Staying safe can stop us from learning more.

The Music High from the night before didn't come because we were all showing off how good we were, or cramming all our knowledge into those few moments of performance.  The Music High came from the leap of faith.

This is where he singled out Tina and I.  Tina is nominated for her second Juno award this year, she's not only an excellent trumpeter and singer, she's a multi-instrumentalist and composer, with probably more awards and experience than anyone on that stage, save Victor.  But she didn't jump to centre stage or try to hog the spotlight, she sang back-up to Juhli's lead -- and a very sparse backup at that, not using any of the incredible vocal power we'd heard during the week, or the vocal acrobatics she's certainly capable of.  He referred to the piece he'd heard me play on Tuesday, said he'd almost asked me to play that solo on stage because he found it so amazing (dropped the "virtuoso" quote!) and wanted to share it with the audience... but was glad he didn't.  He told the group I could have probably gone into some fingers-blazing technical solo that would have made the bass players cry, but had instead chosen "one blissful harmonic" for almost the first full minute of the piece, because that's what suited the music.  Because we were all tapped in to the Music.

By letting go of what you know, you can know the unknowable.


And so, Victor made a dash for the seaplane, leaving us with a list of exercises and ideas to keep us all busy for years to come.

We all packed up our gear and said our good-byes and slowly trickled off the property.  Our new friend Harry, who had a large van, offered to take us across the ferry, so we could avoid the sore backs and crankiness of Monday.  He had bought the CD version of Victor's book "The Music Lesson", so we got to listen to the opening chapters en route.  Once we got to Nanaimo, he realized that our car rental place was directly on his route home, so offered to drive us there, saving us yet even more hassle.

The second rental was not as nice as that lovely Subaru we had before the workshop -- it was a big Jeep, completely uncomfortable with lousy cargo space, but we figured it would get us through the mountains in a snow storm, so what the heck...

We were off Gabriola much earlier than expected, but with our first gig that night in Qualicum Beach, we decided to drive straight to town and make sure we could find everything.  Much quicker drive than expected, too!  We gave our host for the evening a call, but she wasn't home, so we got ourselves a quick bite in town.  Patricia called back just after we'd finished, and gave us a couple of "touristy" suggestions of how to spend our afternoon of leisure.

The first was to head towards Port Alberni and visit Cathedral Grove -- a place Harry had also mentioned, but we'd been afraid it would be too far away.  Not at all, so we headed to this beautiful reserve of massive ancient cedars -- many of which are at least 800 years old.  Some have fallen in wind storms (they apparently have very shallow root systems, so there are warnings posted all over the reserve that if you hear a big wind starting, you'd better run out of there fast!!!), some have suffered death at the hands of vandals, but the majority are beautiful old things, covered in all sorts of mosses and lichens, with many a story to tell.  It was a bit chilly and rainy, but there's much overhead cover, and the paths are woven so that if you need to cut your exploration short (wind, for instance) you can get back to your car pretty quickly -- it's a beautiful spot, well worth the short trek, and fully accessible.

The next touristy destination was "Goats on the Roof".  Where... yes... you can see goats on the roof.  Although it was cold and raining, so the goats had obviously chosen less exposed places to nap.  But it's a restaurant / gift shop / tourist trap sort of place with a grass roof... and goats that keep it mowed.

So, no goats... we drove around the countryside for a while, checked out a Buddhist Temple in the middle of a most unlikely field, and meandered our way through the scenic route back to Qualicum Beach to meet our host for a light dinner at Qualicum Foods, just around the corner from the hall we were playing.

The Rotary Hall was a cheery little venue with surprisingly lovely acoustics.  Patricia had set up the tables cabaret-style earlier, so she set up the refreshments in back as we set up our gear at the front.  There was a lovely quarter-page article about us in the local paper, so we had a bit of a "buzz" happening -- though there was much in town that weekend, so she was a bit nervous about ticket sales.  Never mind, we said, it's our first time performing in the area, we don't know a soul here, any audience is a good audience!

That just barely out of our mouths, our first audience member arrived, strode up to us to say hello... I was in the middle of thinking "gee, folks are sure friendly around here!" when he said "I used to come to all your shows in Toronto!"  Blank stare from yours truly... (I don't know anyone in Qualicum Beach, remember?) trying desperately to remember all my shows in Toronto...  "Dianne told me you were playing tonight"  Dianne... oh, OK, Dianne... ohsweetgeez... Bernie!  I had been caught completely out of context, and my poor little brain hadn't known what to do -- but Bernie DID indeed come out all the time, back when I was playing with Tim Harrison, and was part of the group of friends in that circle -- along with Dianne, of course.  Dianne had seen my concert listing on FaceBook and remembered that Bernie had moved to Qualicum Beach, and there you go!  I shall stop cursing FaceBook for a couple of days... but just a couple.  :-)  Never would I have thought I'd run into an old friend in Qualicum Beach!

Despite Patricia's worries, we had a nice little audience that night -- and a very appreciative one!  (A couple of fun troublemakers, too, which helps us out greatly.)  While our programme was identical to the gigs pre-workshop, we were definitely noticing a difference in our performance -- despite the fact we hadn't rehearsed since the week before, we were much more relaxed, much more together, much more into the songs.  A good thing, indeed!

Patricia had arranged for us to sleep at her neighbour's that night, but when we got there, all the power was out, and the place was freezing!  We examined the circuit breakers, the master switch, fiddled with a bunch of things, and got the power back on.  We decided to head over to Patricia's for a visit while the neighbour's heated up again, and had a nice evening chatting away.  Time for bed, we loaded our stuff from the Jeep into the neighbour's, said our thank-yous and good-nights, and -- POOF!  The power went off again.  This time, it could not be revived.  Uh-oh...

So, Don and I enjoyed our one and only hotel stay of the entire tour at the Travelodge up the street.  Where it was nice and warm -- in fact, we jacked up the thermostat.  :-)


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thursday's Workshop -- and CONCERT!

Thursday's theme was FEAR.  All morning.  :-)

"Fear is proof that what you fear hasn't happened yet!"  (Gavin deBecker, "The Gift of Fear")

F.E.A.R. = False Experiences Appearing Real

Fear is, of course, totally legitimate, and an incredibly useful tool.  It does get in the way, however, when we don't actually have anything concrete to be afraid of.  When we're allowing ourselves to be controlled by our fear of a completely imaginary situation, created by our own subconscious.

Being afraid when some guy charges at you with a knife is a good thing -- fight or flight is a useful phenomenon!  Being constantly afraid that someone MIGHT charge at you with a knife rapidly wears down your quality of life, not to mention desensitizes your reflexes should the incident ever actually occur.

Similarly, constantly being afraid of screwing up in music will inevitably cause you to screw up the Music.

When we practise, we're usually practising how to do it right, in order to avoid screwing up.  We rarely practise doing it wrong.  We have this image of perfection, will accept nothing short of it... yet, inevitably, things aren't always going to be perfect.  And when we fail to meet our impossible standards, all hell can break loose!

So... practise doing it wrong.  See what happens.  Notice that the world doesn't end.  And if your mind is clear of what's SUPPOSED to happen, you have room to manoeuvre and make Music.

Practise a passage, giving yourself permission to play the wrong notes.  Concentrate instead on the phrasing, the expression, anything but the notes.  Chances are, your audience is not going to notice every single wrong note -- unless you make a face or let it throw off your groove.  If you've got "two through ten" in place, they'll be right with you.

Meditate five minutes on what you fear would be the worst-case scenario.  Feel the adrenaline, etc., as you visualize going through it to the other side.  What do you feel like after it's done?  Remember that feeling.

We don't learn anything by being coddled or wrapped in bubble-wrap.  We learn from the scraped knees, the heartache, the mistakes.  Making mistakes is the only way to learn, to grow, to improve.  As it is in life, so it is in music -- you won't become a better musician if you don't take risks and allow yourself to make mistakes.

One image Victor often went back to was the high-wire act at a circus.  If all the person did was walk easily from one end of the wire to the other, it wouldn't be a show.  So... the perfectly capable high-wire artist will instead get part-way down the wire, then put in a little wobble to make the audience gasp and wonder how (s)he's gonna pull it off.  And then they're all pulling for the artist for the rest of the journey, and burst into great applause at the end.

Similarly, the audience doesn't want to hear you play C-major scales for an hour, or any of the other stuff you could do in your sleep.  They want to hear you push the boundaries.  They want to hear things get slightly out of control and then travel with you as you find a way to bring it all back.  They don't want perfection, they want some tension in there, to make the release all the sweeter.  And they won't get that if you don't allow yourself a wobble or two.

Falling flat on your face is not great in either situation, obviously.  But think of how we catch ourselves when we fall off balance -- it isn't by getting stiff and rigid, it's by being flexible and fluid, melting into the momentum and pulling ourselves out.

You do the Math = Music.

And instead of stiffening up, getting rigid and pushing AGAINST the fear, EMBRACE IT.  That's what makes the magic happen.

In music, what are we usually the most afraid of?  Playing the wrong notes.  OK, fair enough.  Victor lays down a pretty basic bass line into his looper, C major.  What are the "wrong" notes in C major?  Anything sharp or flat (the black notes, as he pointed out, tongue-in-cheek).  So... over the white-note-only C major loop, he played us a solo, using only the black notes.  And it was an awesome solo, indeed.  Why?  Because he used two through ten.  Skipped one, concentrated on two through ten.  Never even resolved to a white note, stayed on black notes the whole time.  Awesome.  (There's a seventies saying I will spare you, but... you get the picture!)

One thing Victor said that really caught my attention:  We all say we want to be a light in the world.  But a little candle doesn't do much in a bright space.  So, in order to grant our wish, the world has to get dark.  But then we curse the darkness, even though we just got exactly what we asked for!

Don't push against it unless you want it to push back.  To stop it pushing back, embrace it.

Music = Life = Love = God = Everything = Music

Victor took us through a bunch of technical exercises to practise "wrong", rhythmic challenges, meditations, confidence-builders -- tons of stuff that will hopefully be part of our practise for many years to come!  I'm looking back at my notes from the workshop and am amazed we managed to squeeze this all into just one morning...

As Victor was performing a public show at the Phoenix Auditorium that night, our afternoon session was cancelled (so they could set up the room -- which was the same place most of our sessions took place) and we had several hours free to do... whatever we felt like!  We all got complimentary tickets to the show as part of our workshop fee, yippeee!

The two of us had booked massages with Elfie, who works on-site out of a building at the top of the hill.  One hour each of blissful massage.  :-)  While working on Don, she mentioned she and her husband were thinking of someday taking a sabbatical, but would need someone to look after their house on Gabriola, if we were interested.  Oooh... TEMPTATION!!!  It's such a gorgeous place.  (We're guessing, though, that it wouldn't be replete with cello students, and we'd be a bit too ferry-dependent for gigs...  Still, very tempting, should we some day win the lottery!)

And then... dinner time!  I later regretted taking the second helping (yes, the girl who rarely finishes her first helping went for seconds -- the food at The Haven is THAT good!!!), as, just after I finished my last gluttonous swallow, Victor came up and asked if I would sit in on a tune with him in the concert.

Uh... retain cool composure... well... uh... sure... ???  Why yes, that would be lovely.  (What to wear, what to wear?)  The brief synopsis was that Juhli was going to sing a song, and he'd like me, Tom (piano), Toby (oboe) and Tina (trumpet) to join him in accompanying her.  She'd picked "Stand By Me", but wasn't sure what key she wanted to do it in yet (initial thought -- boring song, lame choice... boy, was I mistaken!)  The instrumentalists would do a couple minutes of improv, then he'd start into the famous bass line and the song would begin.  (Keep this plan in mind, folks, there's going to be a test!)

Remaining cool and composed, I dragged Don back to our room, where I could finally break out into The Happy Dance.  Thank goodness I didn't hurt myself...

Back to cool, calm and collected, we headed up a bit early to the auditorium, so I could set up my cello and talk to the sound tech about my pick-up, etc.  Then we took our seats in an area that, while not specifically cordoned off for this purpose, had become populated with workshop attendees.  The auditorium started filling up (almost 200 in attendance that night), and I started praying that the second helping would behave itself for the next couple of hours (it did).

(Just a little aside here -- I actually blogged about the concert already on my personal blog, which you might like to visit at http://alyssawright.blogspot.com/2011/02/life-and-living.html )

Victor took the stage, and... what a concert!  That man is an oozing bundle of Music and creativity, just magic.  While he was definitely putting on a concert for the general public, he also had this way of inserting things into his chatting and his performance that were obviously intended as "teachables" for us -- you could see the eyebrows raise and the heads nod as we all got the message.  I was completely carried away in it, until...


If you thought my invitation to play just after dinner was last-minute... Tina hadn't even been told she was invited to play, so hadn't brought her trumpet!  Never mind, she was happy to sing back-up to Juhli, what the heck...  We set up, and prepared to execute The Plan (remember The Plan?)

Victor started some atmospheric bass lines, I snuck in on some harmonics, Toby and Tom started adding little licks which we handed back and forth, building and fading, moving in and out... preparing the way for Victor to start the song's bass line... but...

HUH!??  Juhli's already started the song!  Looking back at the photos, you can see the idea to break away from The Plan pop into her head, then see Victor's look of surprise and glee as he realizes she's not following instructions, and all of our heads have popped her way to figure out where the heck she's going to take us.

She took us in some very cool directions, indeed.  This was NOT going to be a repetitive three-chord moment of boredom!  First of all, she'd come in on a chord that didn't sound anything remotely like a root... that atmospheric improv was continuing through the song.  OK, we're rolling with it, Victor is figuring out a new bass line for us to anchor to... although he's throwing in some interesting minors and other strange deviations, just to keep us all on our toes.  Tear-inducing piano solo, cello and oboe duet, build to final chorus, fade, fade, last half-chorus, and... scene.

Whoops of applause, we're all laughing and beaming and -- MUSIC HIGH!!!  The first one many of us have had in ages.  My goodness, how I've missed that feeling!

That music high did NOT come because I'd practised hard, we'd rehearsed it to perfection and pulled it off to plan.  That music high came because none of us had a freakin' clue what we were doing, we were all (including Victor) flying completely by the seat of our pants -- wobbling our way through completely uncharted (literally!) territory.  We were on stage in front of 200 paying audience members, not knowing what we were doing or where we were going -- which forced us to listen, connect with each other, become a six-part living organic being that was also interacting with the audience and the space.  AND WE DID IT.

Had we rehearsed, had everything gone perfectly to plan, it would have been a nice tune and people would have probably clapped politely.  But we wobbled, we flowed, we took a leap of faith into uncharted territory, kicked some dragons' sorry arses and brought it back home to a ticker-tape parade.

Risk, connection, peripheral awareness of the ripples coming our way, internal awareness of the ripples we were sending out... THAT's what gave us the music high.  AND... that's how we unwittingly became -- and learned -- another great lesson from the week's workshop.  We weren't the only ones with a music high.  Our workshop-mates had it too, because they felt what was going on, understood it, absorbed it, will hopefully never forget it -- not our performance, but The Music, The Music High.

And, to be honest, while I'm still practising meditation each day, I find myself wondering if I wouldn't be better spending my time flinging myself off of musical tall buildings instead -- that instant connection of Music = Life = Love = God = Everything = Music was so big, powerful and overwhelmingly true... I'm definitely questioning whether the best path for me is really sitting quietly and danger-free in my living room.  Maybe my path should be more like the Norse god Odin, who pierced himself with his own spear and hung himself from a tree for nine days and nights, in order to gain wisdom... enlightenment... the Music High.  (Don't worry, I've had enough of hospitals in the last couple of months, so I'm just talking musical spears and hangings!)  For me, that does seem to return more direct, immediate results...

Ahem, but back to the concert.  Believe it or not, it wasn't just about me!  :-)

Victor invited Jason, his workshop assistant, to come on stage and play one of his compositions -- and provided us all with yet another unplanned, serendipitous lesson.  You see, Jason is also a bass player, Jason's composition also employs a loop pedal.  So... rather than worry about a complicated set-up and switch-over for the stage and sound tech, Victor let Jason use his equipment for the piece.

And so, Jason starts into a bit of improv, which leads into a funky groove line that is obviously going to be the bed of the next section of his piece.  His foot hits the pedal to start recording, the lick sounds great, he's happy, foot hits the other pedal to complete the recording and start the loop.  But... uh... there's no loop.  Hmm... well, try again -- pedal one, play funky groove line, hit pedal two, and HOLY CRAP!!!  That's not the line he just recorded -- it's something else from the box's memory!!!

Does Jason freeze like a deer in the headlights?  Nope.  He laughs, shrugs, says "that's not what's supposed to happen!" and keeps going.  Keeps trying to get the loop in -- never does, but the audience sure enjoys the wobbles and is totally pulling for him.  And Jason just plays through, not missing a beat, probably sweating a little, but with a smile on his face and groove in his boots.  We ALL know that the technology failed him, but we don't care, because he's just working with it, staying on his feet, making Music.

Afterwards, Victor publicly apologizes, as he'd forgotten to turn off one of the programs on the loop pedal before handing it over.  But nobody really minds... Music was made, even if it wasn't the music planned.

A couple more pieces by Victor, including his famous arrangement of "Amazing Grace", and he leaves the stage -- leaving a spellbound audience on their feet, clamouring for an encore.

He graciously consents.

And summarizes our entire week in one kick-ass encore NOBODY in that room will ever forget -- ESPECIALLY not the workshop members, who all realized, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this encore was directed to all of us, Musical proof that what he'd been talking about all week was True.

It started out innocently enough -- the familiar tones of "Norwegian Wood" ringing out in harmonics, variations on a theme, the improvisation gradually building in complexity, taking on rhythmic drive, exploding into a beautiful barrage of tapping and groove, totally ignoring the notes but still somehow keeping the song in our heads, getting wilder and wilder and... somehow not missing a beat of all this percussive two-handed groove, one hand flies up and detunes his lowest string, until it's so loose it's just flopping around, making drunken whale noises as the note-tapping continues... then, another hand flies up and detunes the next string... more wild sound effects and rhythmic extravaganza... and now every single string is flying around like a kid's jump-rope and he's playing this awe-inspiring kick-ass bass solo with absolutely no notes whatsoever, yet it's still somehow melodic and, holy crap, how's he... oh yeah...

"TWO THROUGH TEN!!!" Mark is shouting from the audience, "TWO THROUGH TEN!!!", and the entire workshop crew is laughing so hard we're crying, while the rest of the audience stands mesmerized and totally oblivious to just how crazy we must seem, because Victor's caught them in that drunken whale-net of a bass solo, and everyone's trying to follow his hands and figure out if he's got someone hiding behind him or if he's using his toes or...

OH MY GOD... one hand just flew up and started tightening a string!  There's no way... no... of course not... the barrage of percussion and whale song is still going completely nuts, but... there it flies up again... well maybe he just wanted help with that last swoopy sound, and... here he goes, building and building and building and building to the obvious climax of rhythmic whale cries...

... 2-second pause for effect

Sweet, perfectly-tuned harmonics -- "I... once had a girl..."

We are no longer laughing, crying and shouting.  We are all standing, dumbfounded, unable to move or make a sound.  Don literally couldn't move again until about three minutes after the applause was finished.

Music High

Yes, it's incredibly, technically astounding that he could have brought his bass back to perfect pitch without having even a split-second to listen to the tuning, as he brought us all through his high-energy world of sound.  But the music high doesn't come from us understanding the technical difficultues of what he did to make that happen.  The Music High comes because he dragged us all into uncharted, whale-infested waters, pushed us all beyond our boundaries and known horizons, so we had not a clue where we were or how we were going to get back -- and then he brought us home, safe and sound.

And dumbfounded.

And... over a month later, still moved to tears as I type this, because it was such a moment of sheer joy and beauty and Music = Life = Love = God = Everything = Music (Ahn, for those of you who knew me when...), that it will never leave me -- and I don't really want it to.  :-)

The concert was over, but... for the 200 in the room, it will never be over.

Sleep wasn't going to come any time soon, though, so after some celebratory group photos, the majority of the workshoppees headed down to the Lodge for some tasty beverages and even tastier conversation.  I think it's safe to say, we closed the place.  :-)

Musically (with all the respect that word holds),

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Workshop - Wednesday

Wednesday morning, we were told to get our coats and boots, because the morning session was going to be outside.  And it was pretty darned chilly that day!

And so, the group huddled in a clearing, learning about peripheral vision and peripheral hearing, how to keep our awareness wide-angle and our footprint (or "splash") tiny.  It's all vibrations... concentric rings of influence from and upon us.  We learned how to fox-run, use our coyote ears, know the various alarms in the woods, how to know a mountain lion is present before you actually sense it...  We learned how to embrace hypothermia (that lesson was lost on me, I think!), and spent the last hour tracking deer (and a dog or two).

All in the name of music.

Because Music is Life is Love is God is Everything is Music.  And it's all vibrations, and concentric rings of influence.

It's impossible to undo a vibration you've sent out, but you CAN send out a new one that can alter the first. And if somebody or something sends a vibration your way, you need to know how to recognize it and deal with it -- whether to join in with the merry chirping or run away from the yet-unseen mountain lion.

If you look at the concentric rings formed by a splash, you will note that the vibration isn't a whole lot of something -- it's the alternation between something and nothing something and nothing something and nothing... the valleys are just as important as the peaks, the emptiness takes as much space as the fullness.  In music, we tend to take notice of the fullness -- most of us don't spend time practicing the emptiness, paying attention to the space.

After drowning our hypothermia in ginger tea and fireside chat, we all headed back up to the auditorium to apply our fox-running and coyote-ears to our playing.  But wait, we aren't doing group work?  Nope, it's all solos.  How the heck can we practise listening if we're playing by ourselves?

By not listening to ourselves as we play.

By listening to the space.

By listening to the audience.

And brave volunteer after brave volunteer proved this over and over again.  You could see heads pop up in the group whenever the performer started listening to themselves and losing the music -- and then the eyes light up when the performer started listening to the space and letting the music blossom and thrive.  It was truly magic!

And then more magic.  Victor invited that handsome, fashionably-clad man who'd been lurking in the back all afternoon to come up front and say hello -- and introduced us all to Eric Bibb.  Eric will be leading a songwriting workshop in September (we're going!), and had done some recording on the island, so was just in visiting for the day.  Victor asked him to sing a couple of tunes for us -- alas, Eric didn't have his guitar with him.  So Victor asked Don if Eric could use his new Gord Barry guitar.

Uh, YES!

So Eric talked to the group and played two beautiful new songs for us... on Don's guitar.  We're hoping some of his joy and spirit has imbued itself into the wood.

More ginger tea and awe-struck fireside conversation, and then we were back, this time for some more jamming -- not just with the room, but with each other.  A fairly large group of us got up to do a version of "Summertime", including the beautifully-sensitive-why-isn't-he-world-famous pianist Tom, sassy-and-classy-Juno-nominee trumpeter Tina, scat-singer-extraordinaire Juhli, tone-to-weep-to oboist Toby, some-bass-dude Victor, a handful of other singers and instrumentalists, and myself (Alyssa) on cello.  I realize now that it was probably a test, although I'm not sure if it was a conscious or purposeful one on Victor's part.

But I have to say, we passed it.  :-)  The messages were sinking in, we were catching ourselves in our assumptions and rolling with the waves.  For instance, I heard Tina was going to take the lead in one of the instrumental breaks, and figured I'd try noodling some harmonies around her part as accompaniment. Well, she heard me put in a bit of a crescendo and decided to back out of the way for me to take the lead.  So there I was, having started what I thought was going to be harmony, and ended up doing a lead that I probably wouldn't have naturally chosen to do, but since I had already started with that figure, I just kept going with it -- accompanied by Tina.  And then Toby was soaring on the oboe, Tom had the most exquisite piano... ah, gorgeous, and everyone giving each other space and listening and being.


After dinner, Victor had promised the bass players (over half of the group) a question-and-answer period just for them, since some of the earlier classes had gotten a bit bogged down in bass-specific stuff that didn't really apply to the rest of us.  We ended up dropping in on that as well, because even though it was bass-specific, there's still much to be learned.  And, of course, Don always enjoys tech talk about looping pedals, etc.  :-)

It was in this session that he dished out the most important info any bass player -- or side musician in general -- oughta know.  YOUR JOB IS TO NOT BE NOTICED.  Your job is to support the music and the lead singer/player.  You are the foundation of the building, not the stained-glass window.  If you're cracked, the whole thing will fall apart.  If you're wonderful, nobody will notice.  If you're given a solo, take it, but make sure you're in service of the music.  If it's not your solo, and somebody notices you're there, you've done something wrong.

This was the night the jam session stopped being cranked up to eleven.  It probably wasn't even cranked up to four.  The bass players were no longer trying to impress each other (and Victor) with how many notes they could play in a riff, or how kick-ass they were.  They were now trying to impress the world with how little they played, how quietly they played, how much they listened, how much space they gave.

This was the night we could actually stick around for the jam session, without needing earplugs.

An awesome night, indeed.


Monday, March 14, 2011

The Workshop - Tuesday

Hi folks,

(Geeeessshhhh!  We've been really bad about blogging this tour...  a month behind?!?  Sorry, it's been kind of nuts!)

So... the Victor Wooten workshop at The Haven.  How to do it ANY justice?  Well, the first step is accepting that we can't -- but we believe he's doing it again next winter, so we'd heartily encourage everyone to go, as it's so very much worth the time and money.  If you don't have the time or the money, then at least buy his book, "The Music Lesson -- A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music", also available as a CD set.

Major premise number one is Music is Life is Love is God is Everything is Music.  Simple enough, right?

More-easily-notated major premise number two is that Music is made up of ten equal and interactive parts:

          1.  Notes
          2.  Space
          3.  Dynamics
          4.  Rhythm / Tempo
          5.  Articulation
          6.  Feel / Emotion
          7.  Technique
          8.  Phrasing
          9.  Listening
          10. Tone Colour

The notes are the part that many of us obsess over and freak out about, but if numbers two through ten (the "groove") are all right, the notes can be completely wrong ("wrong", of course, being a completely subjective and self-subjected concept).

Which leads into the next premise (and conclusion) -- there are no wrong notes.  There can be wrong groove, if you're only thinking of the notes, and lack of groove makes the music suck for everyone (OK, he didn't actually use the word "suck", but you know what I mean).

And so we listened and discussed and experimented on many different variations on the theme during the course of this week.

Oh yes, and he also tortured us regularly with some physically nasty warm-up exercises that just got worse as the week progressed.  But don't let that stop you from going.  :-)

Much of the experimentation came from putting people on the spot -- solo or in groups -- seeing what happened, discussing it in terms of "two through ten" and what our own brains did to get in the way of our performance, then doing it again in a different way.

One of the first volunteers (actually, she was "voluntold"!) was a wheelchair-bound woman who had never played an instrument but really wanted to explore her musical side.  Victor brought her up and gave her a bass to play, jamming with a couple of other musicians.  Although the instrument was physically difficult for her to play (her husband had to come up and help her hold it), she ended up playing a pretty kick-ass solo -- and the pure joy on her face was breathtaking!  So... if someone who's never played the instrument before, and doesn't even know where the notes are can jam with a group... why the heck can't a trained musician?  (Yup, that was a rhetorical question...)  Two through ten, baybee, two through ten.

Don was one of the early volunteers Tuesday morning, playing "I Will Never Forget", that sweet song about his first slow dance -- as always, it made the ladies swoon and got the men all nostalgic (this is obviously Alyssa writing...), and he pulled off a really good performance of the song.  Victor and the group were all impressed with his guitar playing, voice and the song.  So... where to go from there?  Ah, don't you worry, our fearless leader had plans.  :-)  He told Don to turn the song off, forget about the lyrics completely, forget about the intricate finger-picking, forget about the song structure, forget everything.  Close his eyes and think about that dance, about Dorothy, about the room, about how he felt, just immerse himself in that moment of the dance and all the feelings and emotions it evoked.  Then play.  Not the song, not what he knows, just play the pictures.  Yes, the man who claims not to be able to improvise was going to play a two-minute improvisation on his first dance.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, that improv had everyone practically in tears.  As beautiful and well-crafted his song is, when he tapped into his heart and gut and played the emotions and pictures... and invited us to share his emotions and pictures.  Well... WOW pretty much sums it up.  (And I have to say that, later in the tour, when he played that song again in concert, those emotions and pictures were coming through in the song as well, to a much greater extent than I've heard before.)

Later that day, Alyssa got pulled up for a group improvisation.  Two of us who were seasoned jammers, one who was a trained musician but no experience with jamming, one who used to play a bit as a kid but had limited confidence in her current abilities.  And... one-two-three START!  Oooh... that kind of sucked.  And NOT because of the inexperienced ones -- the two of us who thought we knew what we were doing just learned a BIG lesson about listening -- not for what we expected to hear, but for what's actually happening.  Ouch.  We were so used to working within a certain structure, and all the non-verbal cues we give each other to work within said structure, that we completely failed at working without it.

Pretty darned humbling.

Major premise number four -- making Music is a conversation.  Don't assume you know what the other has to say.  Listen to what's actually being said.  Don't talk over, or try to bulldoze the conversation into just what you want to talk about.

Oh geez, how many times have I said this about the belligerent twits in the world... and now *I'm* the belligerent twit?!?  Did I mention the word "humbling"?

So... take two, forget what you know, find the groove.  Yeah, that's it.  Ahh... conversation!  We redeemed ourselves... with much to ponder and explore.

Tuesday's night-time jam session was still cranked up to eleven, so a bunch of us sensitive acoustic types (dare we say 'old'?) sought out our own space in another building, for a jam session where we could actually hear each other.  While we shared our... er... maturity and sensitivities, our genres were all over the map, which made for some interesting moments.  A couple of guitars (including a quiet classical nylon-string), Don's slide, cello, oboe, saxophone.  Classical, jazz, folk, bluegrass... some very interesting moments, as we tried to navigate the differences.

Later in the evening, as is his wont, Don insisted I play my solo cello arrangement of "Both Sides Now".  I protested it wasn't a jam song, but everyone wanted to hear it, so I reluctantly agreed -- figuring it would be a good chance to practise working on digging more into the emotion.  So I tried to put away any idea of "performance" or worrying about what people thought, and just dig deep.  Did the introduction and got partway through the first verse when I saw Jay (the sax player) waving excitedly -- thinking he was just happy he'd figured out the tune, I decided that I'd better close my eyes and stop paying attention to people's reactions.  Finished the piece (Don says it was one of the best renditions he's heard me do) and opened my eyes, only to see a beaming, laughing Victor Wooten hiding behind the door, applauding, nodding, giving me thanks.

Oh, so THAT's why Jay was waving.  SOOOO glad I didn't figure it out, or I would have probably been a total mess.  Victor, of course, knew that, which was why he was hiding behind the door the whole time, just in case I opened my eyes.  He headed back to his room that night, but later, to the group, he said he had been trying to get back to his room to do some work before he went to sleep, but as he was walking by the building we were in, he heard my cello and "that sound just grabbed me!"  He'd wanted to stay hidden from EVERYONE in the room, but heard that I was bowing chords and plucking at the same time, and really wanted to figure out how the heck I was doing that (geez, he's stealing my tricks?), so had to pop his head around and look.  "She's a virtuoso!"

OK, so much for humbled -- although he was good enough to wait until our last day to say those things, so I wasn't totally freaked out.  At least until then...  Guess whose quote is going at the top of my bio?

Ahem, back to humbled.

After a few more songs, the group decided it was time to disband and try for some shut-eye.  Still totally buzzed from the applause and approval of The Man (yeah, I'm field-dependent, so sue me!), I knew I wasn't going to sleep any time soon.  So we headed to the Lodge for a tasty beverage... or two... with host Roxanne and a couple of other workshop attendees, talking about all we'd learned in just a day and a half, and anticipating what the next days were going to bring.