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 )

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),

No comments:

Post a Comment