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.


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